Restaurant S Comme – An Experience at Château de Palaga

Everyone has been busy in the kitchen and probably put on the odd ounce, the Chocolate cake above is a multi layer affair, I produced the first, coco-pops with added tempered chocolate, mixed and formed into a circular crispy base (not as simple as it sounds), then a layer of piped Chocolate ‘cream’ as glue, a flourless (ish) cake and more piping with some hazelnuts to dress, it was rich and decadent.

Today has been intense and I did warn them about Jean-Marc, he has a Michelin Star, is beyond professional and probably one of the the nicest people you could ever meet! Actually my new Irish friends loved him, he is an amazing guy, very calm, extremely patient and whilst first impressions may have you wondering, after a while you get where he is coming from and everything falls naturally into place.

It’s actually midnight, I have a bottle of Corbières 2018 open and the excitement and adrenalin of the last few days is rushing through my veins. We have a lie in tomorrow but that seems to pass me by, birds are very active singing their hearts out from about 04:30, it’s beautiful and melodic, rhythms echoing from tree to branch to bush, mesmerising and strangely calming.

As usual I won’t provide a running commentary of my trip as I would rather you come and experience it first hand, I know what you are missing as do my new friends. We have turned into food analysts, critics, judges, discussing how we might change, tweak adjust certain recipes to suit our own styles and preferences.

With that in mind, another one of our evening excursions was to a brilliant little restaurant called ‘S Comme’ in the village of Palaja which is a short distance from Carcassonne. On the way there, our driver Neil was able to stop at one of the best viewpoints of the Citadel and I was able to capture its ‘atmosphere’, a delightful view (above) which really underestimates the impressive structure in all its glory. The atmosphere at the restaurant was calming, the food delicious and very unassuming, the two Belgium’s that cook, take the orders and serve did an amazing job of explaining the menus and producing stunning plates of mouth watering fare. It’s well worth a visit if you are in the area

I fell in love with Carcassonne on my 1st trip, not just ‘La Cité’, the medieval citadel of the fortified city which is stunning, but its rich and generous surrounds, and reaching further out to the ancient and historic region of Gascony and its many castles, rolling countryside and attractive villages and market towns. And without forgetting Domaine St Raymond, the base of The French House Party, with its elegance and stunning sunsets.

Time for a cuppa, it’s 07:30. I did get some sleep and now look forward to a morning of chocolates.

……………….Until next time…………L8ers………..

My Happy Place – Another Trip to The French House Party

Life has been somewhat challenging for a while. New job, multiple bereavements, a 15 year old with ADHD facing exams, a vitamin B12 deficiency making me feel somewhat ’weird’, the news has been ’interesting’, both locally and on a global scale and to be honest, my head needs some space, time to rejuvenate.

Have I ever mentioned I am a bit of a cheese ’nut’. Whilst eating a stunning gourmet lunch at La Barbacane, a 1 Michelin starred restaurant in the centre of Cité de Carcassonne (the ancient citadel) I could not resist the cheese course before dessert, a choice of 5 different goats cheeses, with a truffled honey, it was absolutely delicious.

I have made some amazing new friends on my latest trip to ‘The French House Party’, you should really try it, something different, exploratory if you like, with, in my case a food slant, but boy does it help take away life’s challenges for a few days and gives you a chance to change your focus, learn some new skills in the process, meet new and interesting people and recharge the batteries at the same time. It’s my fourth time here so feels very familiar and like a second home.

The famous and incredible musician and composer ‘Mike Batt’ is here in August for a creative songwriting course! His multitude of hits include ‘Bright Eyes’ – No. 1 in six countries for Art Garfunkel, ‘A Winter’s Tale’ – No. 2 for David Essex, ‘Caravan’ for Barbara Dickson, and ‘Nine Million Bicycles’ and ‘The Closest Thing To Crazy’ for Katie Melua, whom he ‘discovered’ and managed for 10 years, selling 11 million records on his own label!

Carcassonne is a wonder; medieval, old, atmospheric, extremely crowded and hot in the summer, but this is May, it’s mild and there is plenty of space to move about. I am with my new friends in no particular order, Joan, Seamus, Deirdre and Bernard and what a lovely bunch they are, wonderful, full of character, laughing and joking, I couldn’t wish for any other people to be with on my foodie trip, something I did regularly before that dreaded ‘C’ word. We are sharing this adventure of exploration, food, wine, chatting and putting the world to rights.

I don’t want to sound like a moaning old git, but there is something about French Markets, and European markets in general. They are kind of rugged and beautiful at the same time. Dodgy looking vegetables which would unlikely been seen in the UK, rotisseries of Chicken, with their flavoursome fat cooking sliced potatoes served in foil containers for people to take home for lunch. Massive melons, sliced into chunks for people to munch on, every possible variety of Lettuce, Asparagus everywhere, all colours and sizes (the season is well under way) it’s a joy to behold if you have any appreciation of food, and we visited a cracker in Carcassonne, nestled under the ‘younger’ walls of the newer, old city!

I am on the 6 day Gourmet Explorer (for the second time), having also completed the Advanced Course (a couple of times) and this time we have a new tutor in Gregory Legros, a kind, calm and extremely talented Chef, Tutor and maker of wonder. My good friend and 1 Michelin star awarded Jean-Marc Boyer will also be joining us for a couple of days, causing havoc as usual but he is also a kind, patient and extremely talented Chef who I have now known for over 5 years, a dear friend indeed.

Meet Seamus, a cheeky fellow, full of mirth and kindness busy prepping some mushrooms for a super rich………wait for it…….. Porcini and Duck Quiche, well we are in the region famous for ‘Canard’, and Foie Gras of course. The Porcini were dried, so we rehydrated them, and then being careful to remove the grit and nasties, reduced the liquor to a thick syrup a bit like the fluid that collects in Tobacco Smokers pipes, the the gap in the bowl beneath the cup if you have ever seen such things, but shown below to give you an idea!

It was unbelievable being back in The French House Party kitchen with fellow foodie enthusiasts after so long, although I was at a cookery school in November last year, the trip to France, the atmosphere, the location, the weather always gives me an extra level of energy that cannot be described…. And the passion of the French when it comes to food, it’s contagious and difficult to describes unless it’s something that you ‘get’.

During this session we had made short savoury pastry, prepared fillings, stripped confit Duck, made a reduction with the Porcini juice to intensify its flavour and had some fun along the way. The resultant dish was extremely rich, decadent and downright delicious.

I am going to stop now as we have a night out at a local restaurant but suffice to say, I am feeling less anxious, calmer, my head is not so confused about things in general and we have the pleasure of Jean-Marc tommorow.

…………………….Until next time…………………… L8ers……………………

The Finale – Paul Ainsworth at No.6 – Eating Padstow!

The last night had arrived, I had ‘grazed’ less during the day as I had a big evening ahead of me, I had secured a table at a special restaurant, Paul Ainsworth at No.6 and I didn’t want to spoil it by being full up before I even arrived!

I did not know what to expect, well that’s not completely true as in previous weeks I had taken my family to experience Michelin Star Restaurants, and even a Chef’s table and all had been exceptional, until now, this evening was going to be beyond special, but I had no idea, no real understanding as to what would happen……….

The Michelin Guide Uses The Following Ratings:-

1 star : “A very good restaurant in its category” (Une très bonne table dans sa catégorie)
2 stars : “Excellent cooking, worth a detour” (Table excellente, mérite un détour)
3 stars : “Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey” (Une des meilleures tables, vaut le voyage).

A warm welcome on arrival, ushered politely to my table and the first booooom of the night!

My table looked straight into the kitchen, this was going to be an interesting night, I could see the brigade preparing the food, awesome. I loved the ‘Make it Happen’, ‘Make it Happen Together’ signs on the wall, to me it sums up so much, better to work as a team than on your own! I ordered a glass of chardonnay brut, camel valley from Bodmin in Cornwall, it was a special last night so why not go out in style. Rather than a flight of wine, I chose a bottle of de loach, ‘heritage collection’ Chardonnay from California.

I was presented with the menu, the first time a beautifully printed menu I can keep, a memento for me, the night was getter better and better what next? I had to decide what to pick for each course, some were very obvious, and took seconds to decide, Beetroot (well, caviar was involved), Pidgeon (a no brainer in my book), and having had a ‘Cep Fudge’ at an awesome vegetarian restaurant in London that has unfortunately had to close permanently because of COVID, the Chocolate as it had a Cep Caramel and I was intrigued! I noted some other words on the menu, I am not going to describe each event, just book and go like I did, you won’t regret it.

The 1st ‘treat’ was the Tales of Porthilly, I am not going to spoil the story, suffice to say it was fascinating and the delicate, complex morsel of food was good, no very good, no, extremely good, I cannot describe it, just bloody good! I did take tasting notes on my iPhone with descriptions to help write this post as all the food was complex in so many ways.

Crapaudine Beetroot, what on earth! Only probably the oldest variety in existence, translated it means Toad Beetroot, apparently resembling said animal this beast came with a spoon of exclusive Paul Ainsworth No.25 Caviar, jeez this course was blinding, the underlayer of crisp Potato indescribable, it had a soft texture like layers of thin ribbons, sublime, decadent and another booooom!

Anyone for a Scone, yes please, preferably Cheese, your wish sir…………This was a pleasant surprise, I happen to adore Cheese Scones and whilst, like many decent restaurants, you don’t fill yourself up with bread before eating…. Well actually there is another reason, the bakers seem to have been the ones that disappeared during COVID, so rather than buy bread in, they don’t serve it! Anyway, back to the ‘scone’ course, served with No.6 home made butter. There is another local story attached to this delectable morsel, book now!

Kelp Cured Cod (changes textures, helps season), exclusive to Paul Ainsworth Camel Valley Brut Veloute which was delicious, rich, smooth, velvety….. Boooooooom! Throughout the evening the front of house had been the best, especially Olivia, Chelsea and several of the kitchen brigade, who personally served dishes, describing each one with obvious pride and passion, this restaurant was nothing short of epic.

Pidgeon anyone, yes please, how about all of the Pidgeon with an umeboshi condiment….. wait a minute One of the chefs came out of the kitchen and proudly served my Pidgeon, and explained the story behind the dish, nice. And then….

The Pidgeon keeps giving, I am not going into the details of this course other than to say that I have eaten in multiple 1 star and a 2 star restaurants twice (in France), and this is probably the best plate of food I have ever eaten, yes I know its actually 2 plates but who cares it was bloody AWESOME, BOOOOOOOOOOOM!

This is yesterdays scone, to be honest I don’t care if it was last weeks scone, I want the recipe, I want to learn how to make it, it was off the planet, nuts, delicious how many BOOOOOOOMS have we reached ? It was a clever, cunning palate cleanser setting me up for the final course.

And what do we have here I asked? Bit of a Vel au Vent, Ganache type of Milk Ice Cream Arrangement with as my notes say, ‘Mind Blowing Complex Cep Sauce!’ I see and hear another BOOOOOM coming!

During the evening I had been watching and listening to the activity in the kitchen, it was quiet, everyone seemed relaxed, the mechanics of a well oiled machine was in full flow. I had been able to speak to several of the chefs during service, and after service too. I was amazed to see them getting prep done for the next day AFTER they had cleaned down, not seen that before. They were obviously all good friends, the body language gave it away.

Olivia went out of her way to make sure my questions were answered, being a curious nosey foodie, it was a very special evening and one that will stay with me forever.

At the beginning of this post I described the 3 Michelin stars, what you need to do to get each one. I drove 230(ish) miles to get to Padstow, albeit for a foodie week, where would I place Paul Ainsworth at No.6 Well its definitely not 1 Star, it definitely IS 2 Star, and considering how far I drove, and I would do it just to take my family to experience the food, that makes it 3 Stars in my book, but what do I know about food!

………………………..Until Next Time……………………….L8ers……………………

2 Dinners Remaining – Eating Padstow!

So finally Wednesday had arrived, we were on day one of the two day cookery course and on the itinerary, Lobster Risotto, the same dish I ate in The Rick Stein Seafood Restaurant the previous evening, what a result!

There were some obvious differences like the quantity of Lobster meat, the colour of the Risotto stock, the reduction, but I was chuffed, it was a good rendition of the ‘professional’ version I had had the previous evening. Mine is on the left in case you were wondering!

I had received a lovely message from St Petrocs reminding me of my breakfast sitting, whaaaat, surely I had booked the evening meal, what a pillock! A quick call and within minutes I was back on track and booked for Wednesday evening at 19:45, phew that was embarrassing!

The informal Bistro was only a 5 minute walk from the hotel, very convenient, as I arrived the friendly front of house team welcomed me, and showed me to my table, the place was buzzing with excitement and anticipation as guests ordered their food and expectantly awaited its delivery.

As before I made my choices and constructed a ‘wine flight’, a glass of wine to match each dish (hopefully)! The comprehensive menu was very good indeed, with dishes like Pear and Rocket Salad, Oyster Charentaise, Turbot with Bone Marrow Gravy and Truffle Oil, certainly lots of choice and definitely French influenced.

So what to start with, hmmm, yep, Pidgeon, love Pidgeon, served with Watercress and Potatoes and the wine match was Malbec Classico, Kaiken, Mendoza Argentina 2018.

Using the internet: “The grapes were hand picked and sorted, and then cold soaked for seven days to extract aroma and colour. After that the grapes were fermented for 10 to 12 days, and then kept on their skins for 10 days to give colour and structure. Following fermentation, 40% of the wine was transferred into French oak barrels for six months, of which 10% were new and the rest second and third use. The rest of the wine was unoaked to retain the fruit flavours and aromas in the finished wine. The wine was naturally fined and gently filtered before bottling.” Whatever they did it was very very nice!

Now, the Pidgeon, something I have eaten many times, it was cooked perfectly, but if there was one criticism, the dish was a bit too acidic, it needed some sweetness (IMHO). Later that evening (much later), I was chatting with the Head Chef Mark on Instagram, and highlighted my observation which he embraced admirably, this was the 1st of several interactions, something that made my week evermore enjoyable, thank-you so much Mark for your virtual conversations.

Now to mains, another favourite, Plaice, a whole one, with roasted Red Peppers, Chilli, Garlic and Oregano served with buttered Potatoes, wine match was a Rick Stein White Burgundy Macon France 2020, nice.

There is something about Plaice, it has a unique (yes I know all fish,….unique..) flavour, slightly sweet, but different, delicate but with strength at the same time so can stand up to bold additions like Peppers and Garlic, well that’s what I believe…. It was extremely tasty and Ricks Burgundy was very good too.

The front of house had been very attentive all evening, allowing gaps between courses as I had also eaten at the cookery course during the day so definitely needed some respite to get though nights culinary adventure.

I’m really not a dessert person, I tend to find them too much after a big meal and usually go without, honest, I prefer cheese. But, this was a celebration of ‘Padstows Finest’ week so got my courage up and ploughed through, it had to be done!

So the Wednesday night Finale was a Chocolate Pave, Peanut Crumb and Salted Caramel Ice Cream, washed down with a delicious Sauternes Cypres De Climens Barsac Bordeaux 2014, so what can we find on the internet about this beauty: “Cyprès de Climens is the delectable wine for aperitifs, good food and epicureans. It expresses a spring-like character, a gushing temperament. Its nose is redolent of white flowers, mint, lime blossom, citrus fruit, apricot and spices. All delicacy and sensual seduction, it gives itself simply, showing a graceful and youthful lightness.” oooooohhhkaaayy in my opinion it’s very tasty and not too sweet!

So, another epic night, great front of house, extremely competent chefs in the kitchen, delicious food, delicious wine and topped off with chatting to Mark later that evening, another awesome evening.

………………………………Until next time…………………………..L8ers……………………..

(The Finale of the week comes next, it’s very special so watch out if you want to see what happened!)

3 Dinners Remaining – Eating Padstow!

The walk back from ‘Chiddley Pumps’, near St. Georges Cove had been pleasant and was well needed after a thoroughly fantastic lunch at ‘The Mariners in Rock’, ‘tother side of the Estuary facing Padstow. I was stuffed and in a few hours I was going to repeat the exercise, albeit at a different restaurant.

As I reached Padstow harbour I could see my hotel, aptly named “The Harbour Hotel” standing proud over the working fishing port, perched alongside the Camel River. It was a lovely hotel in a fabulous position, and one I would happily return too due to facilities, lovely rooms, seagull wake-up call, perfect location and convenient on-site parking, soon I was inside and settled down to a quick recovery snooze before the evenings experience.

My original intention was to attend The Rick Stein Cookery School for the two day course, and just eat at Rick Steins Seafood Restaurant, but due to matrimonial persuasion, it became a week long epic, “Eating Padstow”, but I wasn’t going to complain as I was in heaven, enjoying every minute, even those bloody seagulls at 6 in the morning!

So the night came and I was sat in ‘Ricks Gaff”! It was buzzing, waiters pirouetting around the tables, delivering wine and food to an expectant audience who all had high expectations, very high expectations indeed. I had chosen my dishes beforehand but the menu had changed, damn, I had to go through the selection process all over again, a long process for me, I am just awkward. Decisions, decisions and more decisions, the menu is comprehensive

In the end I settled on Seared Scallops with Pardina Lentils, Pimenton and Persillade Butter, matched with a glass of Chardonnay Exmoor Xanadu, Magaret River 2018. It was shocking!……………, shockingly good, I mean really very good. The surprise was the persillade, it was not smack in the face garlic, but extremely subtle and delicate, you could taste the scallops, they sang ‘we’re very fresh’ in chorus, followed with a bass note of the lentils in perfect harmony which I had not had in a dish like this before. ‘Delish’ or ‘Yummo’ as Rick would say.

So starter finished and a few minutes to relax, mains turns up, A Lobster Risotto (which I was to cook the following day at Rick’s Seafood Restaurant), matched with a glass of Turning Heads Sauvignon Blanc 2020.

This was a rich and decadent plate of food, it took me back to fond memories of lunch with a good friend In London, many many years ago. We worked together in sales, and decided to take an important customer to lunch and I chose a Risotto dish with Truffle, she moved out of sales into web design and helped me with my blog image, then my mind wandered to my first cookery vacation, In Puglia in Italy, a lovely ‘Nonna’ taught me how to cook Risotto, this one at Ricks was absolutely delicious, and very comforting indeed. The wine helped things go down nicely

Oh, what dessert to choose, Affogato’s are popular in Padstow!

I went for a Hot Chocolate Fondant with Raspberry Marshmallows. For wine I had been looking at options and whilst it might not have been a perfect pairing (its not a specialism of mine, I just like decent wine) I indulged in a glass of Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives, Trimbach 2015 from France, I just love Gewürztraminer and I was determined to try a sweeter version. Its a late harvest wine where the grapes dehydrate, flavours develop and sugars intensify making it sweet.

Boom, the wine was stunning, yes it was the most expensive dessert wine by the glass on the menu, but boy was it worth it. It did match well, the Fondant had a lovely crust, which was very welcome, the Raspberry Marshmallow introduced a sharp acidic note which was very welcome. #satisified

Service was nice, Padstow has massive problems at the moment, staff are difficult to attract, restaurants don’t have the staff/customer ratio they desire and even as you drive into Padstow, there is a massive advert for jobs in Ricks company, and I learnt speaking to the numerous waiters and waitresses the massive problems it has caused, even the Chefs have had to move around helping out to keep things going, so please be kind to these folk, they are struggling and doing their best in extremely difficult times.

The Seafood Restaurant was as I expected, Rick hates fussy, and his ethos is cook not chef, but done extremely well. I had a delicious meal, the staff were attentive, the wine magic, and I would definitely return, probably in combination with another trip to the cookery school.

………………………………………..Until next time …………………………..L8ers………………………….

3 Dinners & 1 Lunch Left – Eating Padstow!

Herring Gulls have a rich repertoire of calls, for example, the long-drawn single note of their mew call, the characteristic ha-ha-ha-ha alarm call may change to a plaintive yeow in flight or a yelping keow. When trumpeted more and more shrilly this becomes the gull’s “long call,” the most elaborate, variable, and individualized call in its repertoire. Lets just say at 6 in the morning, its damn noisy and they definitely let you know your by the sea!

It was an overcast Tuesday morning and I was still thinking about the previous day, the drive, wandering historic Padstow marking out my routes for the next few days (in my mind, not literally before you think otherwise)! Todays adventure was in two halves, taking the foot ferry over the estuary to ‘Rock’ for lunch at Paul Ainsworth’s ‘The Mariners’, followed by an evening foray to Rick Steins Seafood Restaurant after a recovery nap! I had done some research as being an Estuary, there are times when the tide is out and so what happened when water was sparse. It turned out that there are a number of locations where the ferry starts and stops which change with the tides, they are marked on the board in the harbour and I had planned my timings the previous day.

So I hopped on the ferry in plenty of time, you can also see the notice board with times and locations, it was only a 10 minute trip and very enjoyable, although I could feel that the temperature was dropping and I was starting to get cold! The walk from the ferry to The Mariners is only a few minutes. I was early so sat opposite on the wall and started to look at the menu again on my iPhone and try and decide what to eat, also a conundrum in my case, it takes me ages.

I felt I had the best view in the house, did they know I was coming, a table for me right in front of the big window overlooking the estuary and with Padstow in the distance, delightful indeed. The Mariners menus are comprehensive with small plates for grazing, large plates for indulging, sides, grills, salads, wine, cocktails etc. Jade from the previous night had said go for the Fried buttermilk chicken, garam masala, chipotle mayonnaise to start, so I did. And Boy, was I glad I took her recommendation.

I wanted to capture ‘the heart’ of this dish in the photo so i blended three, is was so damn good. The presentation on the plate just sang ‘eat me’, the texture and flavour balance was off the planet, sheer chicken indulgence matched with wine of course, I was doing the wine flight thing again like I did the night before, so first was 2019 Pinot Grigio, Ca’ di Alte, Veneto a lovely white from Venice which matched nicely. It was a mildly spicy dish with the odd kick of Jalapeño, I gazed out towards the estuary dreaming and noticed more sand and less water, the tide was on the ebb.

I was challenged with the main course, due to menu options as there were at least four dishes I wanted to try, but in the end the winner was ‘The Dogs Pollock’, crisp pollock hot dog, pickled cucumber,
triple mustard, dill & Parmesan with salty skinny fries, it sounded cheeky and fun, and not something you were likely to see anywhere else (must google it to see, nope didn’t find anywhere else)!

To match I picked a 2020 Cachapoal Valley Chardonnay, Sanama Reserva from the Andes in Chile. Doing a quick search I found the following information, “The Sanama wines come from the Santa Amalia vineyards, located on the generous alluvial soils of the Cachapoal Andes Valley. They are protected from the moderating influence of the Pacific Ocean by the coastal mountains, but the influence of the Andes ensures warm days and cool nights. This provides ideal ripening conditions for the grapes, resulting in ripe tannins and attractive perfumes.” should be good then! This was another belting plate of food, it looked amazing and tasted equally as good, the textures, the flavours, warmth from the mustard and the saltiness and rich cheese flavour from the parmesan really complimenting every mouthful.

The childhood charm of Steamed strawberry jam & brown butter pudding was the finish post for this excursion over the estuary, matched with a delightful 2016 Sauternes, Château Delmond, Bordeaux. It was a simple but very tasty dessert but after the banging starter and belting main I needed something to bring me back down to planet earth and it did the job admirably.

During my time at lunch the delightful Chloe and customer focussed Fabio had been looking after my usually demanding requirements, different wine with each course, with impeccably timed delivery, space between each dish to savour the tastes and textures and take in the glorious dreamy view and before I knew it, the next indulgent adventure was over, but delightful and memorable it will certainly be…..

During my epic lunch the ebbing tide had flowed further out to the depths of the sea and so the landing point for the ferry was a 1/2 mile across the sand with a lovely view towards the channel, our landing point on the Padstow side could have been a smugglers cove in its ancient past, hiding contraband from the revenue men. There is a fascinating insight into Cornwall and smuggling here

So in summary. The Mariners is brilliant, Head Chef – Joe Rozier and his brigade are knocking out impressive, standout and just damn tasty food, front of house (Fabio and Chloe in my case), are doing a great job looking after the customers and here we have another place that I want to return to with the family.

……………………………………………….Until next time……………………………….L8ers…………………………

(Next post is Rick Steins Seafood Restaurant)

4 Dinners & 1 Lunch – Eating Padstow!

Padstow has a certain charm as I was finding out, day boats both moored whilst mariners caught up on sleep or spending time with loved ones, and others getting ready to set sail while the tide was rising during the flow seemed to set the pace, with all the supporting actors doing their bit.

I had planned this trip in March, 8 months prior and only a week before the event started COVID was to strike a minor blow to my plans, an email in my inbox unfortunately cancelling my reservation due to both staff availability and safety, quite understandable under the circumstances but I had read comments on TripAdvisor being quite vitreolic towards restaurants as if they should remain open under any condition, I can imagine really upsetting to the proprietors under the circumstances and also to me.

I had selected and booked a series of restaurants and now I was having to try and find a reservation last minute, and knowing and hearing how quickly staycations were being booked I was not that hopefull, but luckily I managed to get a table at Paul Ainsworths’ Caffè Rojano, you can read about its history here.

On arrival I was welcomed to my table by Mauro, my waitress Jade would be over shortly to sort out my order. It was a fun, relaxed and welcoming environment, buzzing with patrons, both local and visiting it felt great. The menu is really good, not too many choices which I prefer as I can take ages to decide, but covering small plates, pasta, meat and fish, with a variety of drinks to tempt.

After a 3 1/2 hour drive, I was not going to tackle a ‘traditional’ larger plate of food, but focussed on the small plates of which there was a really good selection. And rather than go for a bottle of wine, for fun would try and create my own wine flight and pick something for each cuisine.

So, dish No.1 Beech-smoked anchovies with a Cabernet sauvignon vinaigrette & parsley. And the wine choice, a 2020 Cantina di Monteforte, Soave Classico from Italy. I wasn’t sure what to expect but these anchovies were damn good, fat, juicy, rich, not at all salty like you get from you know where, just yum. The Vinaigrette, lemon and parsley cut through the rich flavour and the wine worked well. Mauro came over to enquire what I thought, he was passionate about food and when I enquired as to the origin of the anchovies he got me the supplier name which I now have stored on my iPhone, they were delicious.

Now dish No.2 Ham ‘n’ cheese croquetas using Dehesa Solana Iberian ham, Manchego cheese and thyme. This time the wine choice was 2020 Chardonnay ‘16 Stops’, Adelaide, Australia which worked really well. Another great dish, rich, salty, creamy and delicious. The lovely Jade had arranged for the wine and dishes to come out at approximately 10 min gaps between each course which was fab, it was like a ‘tasting’ menu, relaxed and really enjoyable after a days travelling.

Dish No.3 next, Duroc rib using Iberian pork, PX barbecue glaze, wine choice was a 2018 Rioja Crianza, Bodegas LAN, Rioja Alavesa, Spain. Duroc Pigs have an American heritage, and named after a trotting stallion with the same name. The ribs are renowned to be very tender (if cooked correctly of course), and these were just mighty fine, in fact incredibly so being able to ‘cut’ them with the smooth edge of a spoon, they matched the Rioja very nicely indeed, these meal was going very well indeed.

Jade and Mauro were great hosts, spending time with with me and chatting when time allowed they new their trade well, and accommodating my wishes time wise so the evening was not a all rushed, time to savour each mouth of food, and glug of wine!

Next came the Baked Yukon Gold, a Slow-cooked beef Ragu atop a crispy baked potato with sour cream, parmesan and chives, and I decided to stay with the Rioja to match the rich Ragu. Boy this was very rich, very meaty and packed full of flavour, it matched the Rioja nicely and was a great finish to to the savoury section of the meal, not what to do for dessert.

I often struggle with desserts, not being a ‘sweet’ person and more aimed towards savoury things there was one item that attracted my eye, ‘PX’ served with Bella Luna Pedro Ximenez sweet sherry, curious indeed I ordered one and waited to see what would turn up. So, basically an extremely indulgent salted caramel soft ice cream with a bottle of sweet sherry which you poured over the top, er, yummmmmm. It was a delicious end to a fabulous evening with the supporting act of Mauro who had the passion and energy of a Matador and Jade from Somerset, providing a beautiful service both these characters are a credit to Caffè Rojano.

I had a lovely relaxed evening, the food was amazing, the staff were amazing, and I was stuffed, and the next day I had to indulge in two more restaurants, the 1st one ‘The Mariners’, will be the next post. A special shout out to Senior Sous Chef Sam Bessant who was on the pass the evening I was there, his skill along with the rest of the kitchen brigade produced some fantastic food which I will never forget.

Caffè Rojano comes highly recommended, I paid full price for the meal, no discounts for writing a nice story, it was a great place to eat and seeing how many people were seated I was not alone in that view. Add it to your ‘must do’s’ next time you are heading to Padstow.

…………………………………………Until Next Time……………………..L8ers…………………………….

Two Days at Rick Steins Cookery School

It was earlier this year, March to be exact. Like many people, some less open as me, I had just come through a bought of serious anxiety and depression, sick to the teeth with the company was working for, I needed an escape plan! Historically, I had always had a holiday booked in advance, and usually some sort of foodie adventure. It was to take a while to sort out work, which I have done, feeling like a new person within minutes of getting the job offer, but to keep me going I needed to book an escape before that series of events took shape.

Them the boss at home said, ‘try and find a short cookery holiday, see what you can dig up’, so finger at the keyboard I ‘hit’ on Rick Steins Cookery School in Padstow, fish is my preferred protein over meat (most of the time), so I found a two day course that worked, and also a nice hotel, 2 minutes from the School, perfect, so I booked the 2 Day Fish & Shellfish Course for November which looked ‘fab’!

Hun, I have found something, a two day course, Ju Ju (that’s what she sometime calls me), that’s a long way to go for two days, make it a week and see if you can find some nice places to eat…….. Padstow, nice places to eat, hell yeah!

I left first thing on Monday, I had hired a car as my company car was not ready, I used a local firm rather than one of the well known brands and boy was I pleased I did. A mere £362 (including all the optional extras like collision damager waver etc.) and I was the temporary owner of a BMW M Sport Series 530 EDrive, wow what a motor that was! I had booked a series of restaurants for the week which will feature in separate reviews but the itinerary was Monday – Caffè Rojano, Tuesday Lunch – The Mariners in Rock, Tuesday Evening – Rick Steins Seafood Restaurant, Wednesday Evening – St. Petroc Bistro, Thursday Evening – Paul Ainsworth at No.6! I arrived late afternoon and took a wander to get my bearings in Padstow, the restaurants, school were all within a hop, skip and jump of the hotel, perfect.

It was soon Wednesday and after a quick cuppa, I was at the school in minutes. It was very spacious, well laid out with plenty of COVID precautions in operation from individual bacterial hand wash at each station and instructions to wear masks if we went into reception on the way to the toilets. Our Head Tutor for the week was Nick, ably assisted by Arran and the rest of the team, all we had to do was focus on learning and having fun, all the cleaning, ingredients trays, teas’ coffees’ and lots of wine were supplied like magic, there was over 40 years of professional cookery experience available to us and we could ask anything!

There were a mixture of people attending from complete novices, to my newly found friend Graham, who had the station in front of me, and had been a Chef on Naval Submarines for years! I am kind of a really keen cook, amongst the considerable number of courses I have attended over the years, I did a 5 day seafood course in France a while back so understood some of the the basics but there is nothing like practice and spending more time with ‘fish experts’ as these guys really were.

To set the ball rolling (and make our first of several ‘snack’s, it was a grazing kinda day), we were to make a Sliced Salmon with Ponzu and Pink Grapefruit, which was to introduce us to preparing a Sashimi style dish. Nick demonstrated how to prepare a whole salmon and then we got to cut our own ‘steaks’ into appropriately sized slices, whilst the Ponzu dressing we had made rested and developed the distinctive flavours. To add extra interest we also had to finely julienne some daikon radish and deal with nori seaweed, which is more difficult that you think.

Poached Lobster Risotto Anyone? Yes please, well to be honest I had the Lobster Risotto in Nicks famous Seaford Restaurant the night before so it would be really interesting the compare the results! Due to time, the Lobster had been cooked, but we were shown how to tell the difference between Male and Female, had to remove the lobster and head meat from the shell and make the Risotto, a large pot of stock was prepared in front of us to share so we could again, save time on the more laborious tasks which were time consuming but relatively self explanatory.

I was well chuffed with my Lobster Risotto, I have only cooked Risotto 3 times before, once in Italy at a cookery school, the 1st time abroad learning to cook many years ago, the 2nd (a failure to be honest) at home, and then last year on a another Italian themed online (zoom) event which went much much better. I was slowly getting it right, it was very rich and tasty.

Padstow is beautiful, and the school location offers stunning views over the estuary towards ‘Rock’, which I had visited the previous day on the small ferry, great fun indeed. My mind was drifting, I was happy, content, in my personal foodie space and as the day drifted on we learnt more techniques, working with Mussels, Clams, braising fish, emulsions and chowder, it was thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying, and then we had completed day 1, time to rest for a few hours before eating !!!

Being a working harbour, with fish boats constantly leaving and arriving as the tide allows, and nestling in an estuary the harbour entrance needs constant dredging, as I watched my mind wandered to those brave fisherman who often tackle storm waters to bring us a constant supply of whatever they are allowed to catch or fortunate to find in their nets. Much of what you learn on the course is through questions and conversation, the state of the industry both restaurant and fishing, it SHOULD change your perspective on shopping and eating and cooking especially with what has been happening over the last few years, its priceless value just for that alone.

I believe this was one of the whole school’s favourite dishes! Deep Fried Coconut Prawns with a Papaya Dipping Sauce, jeez it was damn good, and came from Rick Stein’s ‘Road to Mexico Book’. The school was originally setup to help chefs working in Ricks’ restaurants, he is a cook not a chef and as we were told on numerous occasions, examples of choice words when things were too ‘cheffy’ which is not his style at all.

So, onto Madras Fish Curry of Sea Bass tomato and tamarind, we had to deal with filleting and pin-boning a beautiful bass, a lovely fish and definitely one of my favourites. We were shown the technique on the two large overhead screens which everyone could see and made some of the explaining so much easier, ok, lets give it a go.

Not too shabby, haven’t done that for a few year too, after a few minutes grappling with the fish, swift smooth knife action and tugging with some seriously good bone pliers the job was done and all that was needed was a little bit of tidying up.

This dish was another belter, the Madras sauce only taking 10-15 minutes to prepare the combination worked very well, and another ‘snack’ was ready to consume. Before you think I eat a lot, I had not had breakfast since Sunday, and I had not eaten all of the dishes in their entirety, especially as evenings had been 3 course meal events my constitution has its limitations!

Each station has its own professional range, they were great fun to work with, in this case doing the final prep for Malaysian fried Lemon Sole with roasted tomato and chilli sambal, another knockout dish.

So, over the two days we cooked 8 dishes and were treated to 2 cooked by Nick and the team as ‘end of the day relax and wind downs, they were all fantastic to cook and eat, and on the way introduced you to a range of cooking techniques you can easily reproduce at home in a normal kitchen without any specialist equipment, although a small temperature probe for getting the fish ‘on-point’ is probably a small investment worth making, I have one and it does make the different between perfect and ‘bugger, overdone’, they are not expensive.,

So to sum up, apart from having an amazing escape to a beautiful and peaceful part of the UK, free parking in the hotel for a week (The Harbour, through Booking.com), enjoying some great food, I went for the school, and it lived beyond expectations from the booking, follow up calls confirming and details of having my own station/bubble, Nick and the team were fab, Harri on the reception desk welcoming us with a beaming smile each morning it was a brilliant experience and one that will remain with me forever.

Would I go back, bit fat yes, when the diary allows, I already have my twice covid postponed annual trip to one of my two French Cookery Schools booked next year but if can enough spare time, The Rick Stein Cookery School is top of the list.

……………………………………Until next time……………………………………L8ers…………………………

The Michelin Experience “Chefs Table” L’Ortolan Style

It’s my last night in Padstow after attending the Rick Stein Cookery School for two days on a Fish and Shellfish course, and eating my way through 5 restaurants, the last being Paul Ainsworth at No.6, which is happening later. To say I have eaten well is a complete and utter understatement, and a bit surprising considering the horror stories of supply chain, availability of ingredients etc. When you hear the difficulties faced by restaurants it a miracle any of them are open, but evidence of the passion and effort they put into making it happen and cooking fine fare available at a price that enables them to pay staff and contribute towards our economy.

Following our recent trip to L’Ortolan in Shinfield near Reading recently we received a thank-you note, and an offer for a discounted “Chefs Table” at a future date, well, why not, none of us had done a Chefs Table, we understood the principle and had loved the previous visit so an ‘intimate’ insight into the workings of a Michelin starred restaurant seemed too good to miss, so we booked a date.

We arrived on-time and were ushered into the conservatory for a glass of Champagne, and very nice it was too. the premise of being invited into the kitchen during a live service was playing on my mind, what would we see, what would we hear! what was going to happen, how long etc. After 15 minutes relaxing we were escorted into the kitchen area, a large historic wooden table that was so robust it would seem equally fitting in a castle awaited us, directly opposite the pass, by a gap of about 3.5 feet, enough for the waiting staff to pass by as they collected dishes to be taken to the diners!

James Greatorex, the Head Chef walked around the pass to say hello, describe the evenings events, and then gave us an introduction to each member of the team and their role in the kitchen, then returning to start service and call out the orders as they arrived from the dinning room, it was utterly fascinating, seeing how each section jumped into gear with each call, ‘oui chef”, well it is a French restaurant!

The Chef’s Table uses the Tasting Menu with the odd subtle change so some dishes were familiar (but still delicious), and others new and exciting to try. Throughout the evening James would prepare dishes for us, and serve us personally explaining the composition, the provenance of the components, why particular ingredients were chosen, which made for a brilliant foray into the life of a kitchen and how particular dishes are constructed, even Justin our 15 year old and my better half of 32 years found the whole experience really interesting, and the food of course was probably the best we have ever eaten, and James could have been my son nearly twice over, he is just brilliant.

I love the above picture, when we arrived at the Chef’s table there was only one ‘Check On’, an order on the way so to speak, and now it was like, oh my god, what is what, who, which table, jeez. Not at all, the skill by which James ran the pass and managed the orders just has to be experienced, especially as there were a combination of people ordering ‘a la carte’ and the tasting menu which requires impeccable timing to start dishes at the right time, assuming how long someone might eat a particular course, or an awkward git like me that often says ‘can we have a 10 minute break between course 3 and 4 please’, it was an example of superb organisation, timing, control and management of a team of chefs and waiters in perfect unison…….. And only to think that if a Michelin inspector is in the restaurant on a ‘bad’ night, you could so easily loose that precious star!

So, we had another fantastic evening, it was a worthwhile investment, it was entertaining, educational, interesting (no fascinating) trying to get your head around what really happens in a high end eatery, we were able to ask James questions all evening about restaurant life today, and he was very open in explaining the highs, lows, challenges in obtaining ingredients, staff etc. The food was amazing (again).

I would thoroughly recommend anyone with the slightest interest in good food, to save for another week or two, or however long it takes and and go for a Chef’s table. It’s a intimate insight into the working of a high end restaurant with, personal chef, waiter and educator, comedian and entertainer all in one and I would like to think that it’s an experience we will continue to repeat as time (and budget) allows, its worth every single penny.

Thanks James and the L’Ortolan team for our best ever eating our night………… ever……

Next time I will be focussing on the Rick Stein Seafood Cookery School I attended for two days, and start on the 5 restaurants I tried whilst on my mini ‘foodcation’ to Padstow.

……………………………………………………..Until Next Time……………………………L8ers……………………………..

The ‘Michelin’ Experience Part Deux!

I am definitely of the opinion that once you have tasted ‘good’ food, then ‘excellent’ food is something very special. So we had several excuses to eat out again, my birthday of course, new job, feeling happy, lockdown easing, I was desperate to actually ‘get out’ being in the class of ‘at risk, stay at home at all costs’, the last two years have been like a prison cell.

It’s a stunning day on the 2nd of my Padstow trip, the sun is shinning on the Estuary, the ferry started crossing to ‘Rock’ earlier, a trip I am taking later to try another eatery. Last night was epic, thanks to Senior Sous Chef Sam Bessant who was heading the brigade at Caffe Rojano, and to Jade and Mauro who’s front of house skills were to be applauded, more of that another day!

Hey Justin, fancy a trip to another restaurant for lunch? Yes please Dad, so we booked L’Ortolan in Shinfield near Reading, another 1* Michelin Restaurant with James Greatorex heading up the kitchen. At Under 25, he is very young to have such an honour bestowed before him, but hey, age is not everything and youth has its advantages, like energy, passion, commitment, a young brain has the ability to soak in lots of information so we were sure it was going to be a great experience, and we were not wrong.

After some obligatory but nonetheless delicious bread and cultured butter was served we were presented with a tray of ‘tasters’, little morsels of deliciousness on a tray indication land and sea. The land was a Wagyu Beef tartare with a little egg yolk in a delicate pastry case, the second was a Cod Brandade Ball, fried, with a topping of a delicate spiced mayonnaise which was utter delight. if this was the of things to come the lunch was going to be fabulous.

Again, a delicious looking tasting menu was on offer, and was a easy choice, let’s see the ‘mettle’ of the chef and we were glad we did. Dad, can we have the ‘Oscietra Caviar‘ course please, booom , that came from nowhere, oh and the Waygu Beef, I have heard its really good! This meal was going to be more of an investment at this rate. So the caviar came and was woofed down by all of us, it was a delicious plate of food, perfectly cooked pommes soufflée a light Crème fraîche, Trout Roe and the Caviar……Yum

Next came the ‘Salad’ of Lamb, with Isle of Wight Tomatoes, Anchovy and Seasonal Leaves, another delicate but accomplished dish the lamb was rich and full of flavour, the tomato, acidic, cutting through the richness, the anchovy adding some seasoning and leafs ,some texture. Another fantastic dish, so where to go next, this was a cast of the rich and famous already?

Let’s cure some beautiful Tuna with Citrus, and serve it with Apple, Cucumber and Nasturtium a real play on Mexico cuisine in my humble opinion but not do much in your face like the traditional ceviche, flavours dancing all over the palate. Yum. Service was unhurried as we tackled each dish, discussion between us the merits of quality (expensive) ingredients treated with the utmost respect, by an extremely competent chef, aided by his equally competent brigade.

Sorry to say I am a sucker for Foie Gras. I have an annual cookery trip to France, to Gascony, where such produce is revered and commonplace on menus in restaurants and in the home, and I was fortunate to be taught three methods of preparing this highly prized ingredient, cru (cured with salt and Piment d’Espelette), mi-cuit (half cooked), and used as a wrapper for a French style of gingerbread. This was a Terrine with Fig and Walnut, I was in heaven, rich, umptious, sweet and savoury it tickled every taste bud available at time, and for many minutes after as it searched out more.

Now something interesting happened, in my previous posting we had Gigha Halibut from the island in Scotland with white beans, snap, here it was again, but with brown shrimp and foraged seaweed, completely honest and back to nature type tastes which went perfectly. And again, I was the bean fan, my wife and son not being so keen. It was interesting to see something so familiar but subtly different cooked in a quality restaurant, another yum. The fish was cooked perfectly.

Are we there yet! at this part of the adventure our son had opted to go for the Waygu, which he stated was the best beef he had ever eaten, after already saying that at the previous restaurant, it looked good and smelt great. Myself and the better half went for the Fallow Deer, I am a sucker for game and regularly get such produce from our local butcher, who also supplies this restaurant too, great minds and all that. It was a very ‘earthy’ dish aided by the addition of beetroot, savoury and grelot, a small French Bell Onion served with a rich sauce, utterly beautiful another winning dish.

The ‘pre-dessert’ arrived, an interesting and delicate looking morsel, an ice-cream sandwich but not as we had ever had before! beautiful crisp wafer layer, encompassing a citrus ice-cream, with a lemon centre, it really cleaned the palate a treat, I could have eaten several of those one after the other they were that delicious, and then we had the finale……

Yes, I know we had already celebrated my birthday, but, we had tried to get bookings in two restaurants and when they both came up it was a kind of ‘sod it, let’s do both of them’ moment, so we did! This was another extremely clever, and delicious dessert, Peach, Yoghurt, Verbena and Szechuan Pepper, it definitely had an after kick, that was very pleasant indeed. I think when you look at how to finish a meal, the results are often over-heavy and leave you feeling a bit ughhhhh, not here, it was a light tasty and perfect finish to a wonderful tasting menu, which we all thoroughly enjoyed.

For someone so young, James Greatorex has more than ticked all the boxes and shown what awesome cookery and presentation should be like, the front of house did a sterling job and we all felt the experience was more than worth the investment.

So the question is would we go back…………. We have already, this time to experience a Chef’s table, that will be the next post but for the moment, thank-you James and the team at L’Ortolan for making my second birthday a celebration to remember it was a delight……

……………………………..Until next time……………..L8ers…………