Sunday 28 February 2010

Horse Guards Inn, Near Petworth, Sussex

What better way to spend Valentine’s Saturday than pumping out 42 miles of cycling down and mainly up the mountains of Surrey and Sussex? After our tricky cycle out of London on our trip to Lewes we decided to catch the train to Leatherhead and cycle from there instead. This increased our range dramatically and made the cycle infinitely more enjoyable. After our disappointing cycle to the Albany in Thames Ditton we resorted back to Diana Henry’s Gastro Pub Cookbook for her recommendation to visit The Horse Guards Inn, near Petworth in Sussex.

Bikes on a train

The route from Leatherhead to Guildford was quick, if a little hairy at times. And before we knew it we were in Godalming which Cowie insists on calling it Goadalminger for some unknown reason. This brought back fond memories of The Paunch’s first blog post about our stay in a tree house nearby.


The road from Godalming to Petworth quickly became more undulating than the FTSE. Steep hills and snow didn’t make things easy. But they did help to build up an almighty appetite that only a monumental pub lunch could sort out.

We arrived at The Horse Guards Inn, just down the road from Petworth Park, in conditions that would have merited a postponement at many a Premier League football match. The warm welcome we received thawed our bodies almost immediately. And a pint or two of Harvey’s didn’t hurt either. The landlord was astonished at the distance we had cycled and couldn’t have made us feel any more welcome.

Cowie Tea 3

We were given a table with a view over the downs and across at the church which is many peoples’ version of the English idyll. Cowie warmed up with some tea that was served in a charming pink tea set whilst we dissected the menu.

Although the staff on the whole were brilliant, our young waiter was a bit of a loose canon. We asked him what he recommended and were quite baffled by his answers. He said he had tried everything on the menu and could vouch for it all. And then when Cowie asked some probing questions, as is her wont, he came unstuck. He hadn’t tried the hake. He suggested having steak even though the rest of the menu looked awesome. So we ignored his advice and ploughed in.

Steak tartar 2

Cowie’s steak tartare was not only beautiful. But it was gorgeous to eat as well. The raw egg yolk added a glossily cocooned the shards of steak and flecks of shallot. And the toasted home made bread was perfect too.

Potted rabbit with rhubarb chutney

My potted rabbit was tremendous. Smeared on toast with a smidgin of salted butter it was good. But when tarted up with some rhubarb chutney it started singing from the rafters. It had everything. So much so that I almost asked for seconds.

Hake and mussel broth

Cowie had a stunning main course that reminded us of a more British version of the fish broth she had at Porthminster Beach Café in St. Ives. This version featured a generous hunk of hake punctuating a broth that was rich with mussels, chorizo and tomato. It was truly brilliant. And just what a tired, cold, damp cyclist needs to perk them up.

Blade of beef

My blade of beef with cavalo nero, rosti and wild mushrooms was almost exceptional. But it bore all the hallmarks of being left under the salamnder for too long. The beef was juicy inside but a singed exterior didn’t help it out. And neither did the charred rosti or slightly acrid cabbage. And whilst I like oriental mushrooms, I don’t think they belong on a plate of slow cooked beef in a country pub. And if we are being mega-picky, how seasonal are beans in February?

Black pudding mash

The star of my main course, in fact, was a side order of black pudding mash which was a revelation. I had worried that it would be crap. But it turned out to be magical.

With our very late lunch at an end we shuffled down the bar to sit in front of the fire and enjoy the rugby with a cup of tea and some home made fudge. The locals were warm and friendly, offering us plenty of advice about how to cycle to the nearest station.

The Horse Guards Inn is a very special place that is definitely worth cycling 42 miles for. It’s almost exactly how I’d like to run my country pub one day. Not only is it a proper pub, but it also serves cracking food, offers accommodation and they also have a mini farm shop where you can pick up home made bread and chutneys. Every village should have their own version of the Horse Guards Inn.

Friday 26 February 2010

Monkfish Lasagne a la Rossini


This recipe is built around monkfish liver. Typically fishermen just lob the liver back into the sea. But this is a terrible waste. Monkfish liver is the foie gras of the sea and is every bit as rich. Because demand for the stuff is so low there isn’t a market for it, which is a real shame. Added to this is the ethical issue of whether it is OK to eat monkfish, given their increasing scarcity. According to the Chelsea Fishmonger anything from the Bay of Biscay is off limits, but nearer Cornwall it’s OK. For much more erudite monkfish liver information read his post here.

I didn’t just want to cook monkfish liver on toast. Or make a pate out of it. And as tasty as monkfish liver, bacon and pea-shoot salad with a poached hen's egg sounds, I wanted to do something more interesting. And then it dawned on me. Given that monkfish liver is often compared to foie gras, why not create a monkfish version of Tornedos a la Rossini. So I drew a picture where the fillet of beef was replaced by a slab of monkfish topped with a slither of it’s own liver.

So I cycled to Chelsea so fast that I got stopped by the police as I crossed Park Lane. I explained that I was late for the fishmonger and that an important recipe depended on getting my hands on a very elusive parcel of monkfish liver. To my amazement the police backed off and sent me on my way with a slap on the wrist. The incident only served to make me cycle even faster as they had taken away valuable seconds. Despite being late my parcel awaited me along with a handful of Barba Di Fratte and an inspiring chat with Mat about the ins and outs of how to cook monkfish liver and the general state of the seas.

With wind in my sails I steamed back to Balham and set about cooking. Here’s what I did.


200 grams monkfish liver
2 monkfish fillets
Pasta fresca
A bunch of barba di fratte
Lots of butter
1 lemon
Glass of white wine
Salt and pepper


Stage 1. Make your pasta as per this post. Roll it out into thin sheets that you will later use to envelop your main ingredients. It needs to be wide enough to encase the monkfish from tip to tail and then be able to wrap back on itself.

Stage 2. Place your 2 monkfish fillets in a roasting dish. Season the fish and anoint with butter. Pour a glass of white wine around the fish and cover in finely chopped barba di fratte. Or if you can’t get your hands on this use samphire if the season is right.

Monkfish pre cooking

Stage 3. Cover with foil and cook for 20 minutes in the oven at around 200’c.

Monkfish liver

Monkfish liver frying

Stage 4. Meanwhile slice your liver about 8mm thick and dust with seasoned flour. When you take the fish out of the oven fry your liver in a hot pan so the liver crisps up.

Stage 5. Pour the juice from the fish into a pan and reduce to a fragrant sauce, adding a touch of flour if necessary.

Assembling lasagne

Stage 6. Then assemble your lasagne by laying a sheet of pasta on the bottom of the plate, followed by the fish and then some watercress. Then pour over some sauce and then top with two slices of liver. Then close the pasta and pour over more sauce. Season with salt and pepper, squeeze some lemon over it. And serve.

Monkfish liver lasagne

It was delicious. The liver is very rich so you need the lemon to lift it and the herbs to add a nuance of greenery. Monkfish liver has got a lot going for it and I am delighted with how this new recipe turned out. We drank a very fresh bottle of dry Riesling with this which worked very well.

Further reading:

A London Fishmonger Blog on monkfish liver
Mark Hix on monkfish liver, bacon, pea and egg salad
Monkfish Liver on Toast on Chocolate and Zucchini
Japanese Monkfish Liver (AKA Ankimo)

Monday 22 February 2010

A lunch worthy of beatification at St. John

I’ve re-written this introduction four and half times now. Which is quite apt given that the occasion was to celebrate my departure from my current job after the same number of years of busy toil. And for the same amount of time I’ve been gagging to eat at St. John and have developed a zealous love of off-beat cuts of meat and English cooking styles. So to say I had high hopes is like suggesting that John Terry has got an eye for the ladies. I just prayed that all my pent up enthusiasm wasn’t going to be let down. Fortunately, it wasn’t.

From the moment we arrived in the stark but light atrium, surrounded by institutional white paint and police station glass, until the moment we left four and a half hours later, we were treated with informal efficiency. The sight of Fergus Henderson enjoying a light lunch just made the whole experience even more special.

We started with a pint of savoury Black Sheep ale whilst a colleague got sidetracked on the phone. This gave us time to delve deep into the bowels of the menu whilst tucking into perfectly baked bread. We had to be careful not to wolf it all down and spoil our appetites.

Langoustines were magnificent specimens that begged to be sketched by someone with more talent than me. They were sweet. Fishy. Juicy. A more classically inclined individual might describe them as the Platonic ideal of shellfish. The yellowy-green, mayonnaise they were served with made for perfect dunking as the slightly bitter taste helped to highlight the langoustine flavour. Whilst fiddling with the claws, in an ambitious attempt to get the last shard of flesh out, I remembered a story my father tells about how on a holiday to Brittany when I was still in a pram, I was parked opposite a lobster tank and fell under the mesmeric spell of the shellfish. The next time I was fed I rejected my pappy baby food and demanded langoustine which promptly made me very ill! This whole episode probably explains an awful lot!

Bone marrow with a parsley and caper salad is famous. And rightly so. I now know why dogs are obsessed with the things (minus the parsley). Is there anything in the world that visually promises so little but delivers so much? Spread on hot toast and sprinkled with salt and we were all in bliss.

Sprats with tartar sauce were tremendous. I’ve had them a few times recently and these were definitely the best. Crispy, juicy and well sauced.

A single native oyster from Mersea was the best I’ve ever had. It deserved to be put in one of those memory capsules that school children fill with things they want people in the future to discover. Crucially it tasted purely of itself.

It took us a while to decide what to have for our main courses. Guinea fowl with lentils turned out to be delicious as did a Flinstonian sized pork chop. But I was delighted to be ushered in the direction of chitterlings and chips rather than a safer option. Chitterlings are exactly the sort of thing you should eat in a restaurant like St. John. You can cook guinea fowl, pork chops and steak at home. But chitterlings require expert knowledge to ensure they are prepared properly. Failure to do this can result in illness owing to fact that they are only inches away from a pig’s anus.

The only previous time I’ve encountered chitterlings was at Chilli Cool, where they were prepared in a Sichuan style to great effect. But this time they were simply served having been poached and then grilled over charcoal. The meat was soft, juicy and salty. Not unlike eating roast ham in sausage format. I’ve been in raptures about them ever since. The chips and sauce they came with cannot be faulted either.

Ox heart with beetroot and horseradish was magnificent as well. The heart had been sliced into livery slithers and quickly grilled. It was soft and lean like Rowan Atkinson wrapped in an acre of velvet, but a lot more edible. I just wish they served ox heart in sandwich format on a regular basis.

Excellent Eccles cakes and blackberry ripple ice cream added a triumphant full stop to our meal. It’s rare when something you’ve hyped up to biblical levels lives up to your high hopes. St. John, didn’t live up to them. It rewrote my expectations and has inspired me to eat more boldly. Thank you for the best lunch I’ve ever had in London.

St John (Farringdon) on Urbanspoon

Thursday 18 February 2010

Crispy Mongolian Lamb Pancakes

With a feat of cosmic jiggery pokery the stars aligned themselves in such a way that there was no way I could have made anything but crispy Mongolian lamb pancakes. With Chinese New Year, Shrove Tuesday and my recent purchase of a breast of lamb all coinciding so aggressively that I am beginning to think I might be in the Truman Show.

I’ve been wanting to cook lamb breast for ages having read about it in HFW’s Meat book. Apparently it is great if you cover it in breadcrumbs and then grill it. It’s so riddled with fat that you struggle to find any meat which makes you wonder whether they might be more suitable for soap manufacturers or plastic surgeons. If you are a lover of lean, prime meat, lamb breast is not going to be your thing.

But, if like me, you think that devouring crispy, salty lamb fat is one of life’s purest pleasures, lamb breast is a dream. With a double cooking method of poaching and then grilling you can transform skanky carcase into culinary crack.

This recipe is inspired by Cooking the Books and is amazing. It served as a brilliant follow up to last year’s crispy aromatic pork belly recipe. And I am very proud to say that it won this year’s highly competitive pancake competition with a sensational green Thai pheasant curry filling from Nick and Harriet coming in second by half a vote.


100ml of dark soy sauce
200ml of Chinese wine
1 large chunk of ginger, peeled and cut into pieces
1 seeded red chilli
3 sticks of Chinese cinnamon
4 star anise
¼ jar of five spice
1kg of unrolled lamb breast
Enough water to cover
5 dried Chinese mushrooms
2 tablespoons of brown sugar


Stage 1. The day before you want to eat this, chuck everything into a large saucepan and then cover with enough water to ensure the lamb is just submerged. Simmer for 3 hours with the lid on. Your kitchen will smell amazing. The combination of ginger, cinnamon and five spice with a background note of lamb is sensational.

Remove the lamb and place it in a bowl. Cover in cling film and chill until needed. Strain the remaining, fatty liquid into a separate bowl, cover in cling film and chill.

Stage 2. Remove the bowls from the fridge. Lift the layer of solidified fat, which will look like a slab of white chocolate, off the sauce and discard. Pour the liquid into a sauté pan and reduce until it becomes syrupy.

Stage 3. Shred the lamb and shake some salt over it. Then place under the grill for around 5-8 minutes until it crisps up.

Mongolian Lamb

Spread some crispy lamb in a pancake and accompany it with some sliced spring onions and cucumber before anointing with the dark sticky sauce. The combination of crunchy, salty, heavenly lamb with the cooling greenery and sweet sauce is bliss.

Mongolian Lamb pancake

Further reading:

Spring breast of lamb with lemon and rosemary
Greek breast of lamb
Curried crusted lamb breast
Easter stuffed breast of lamb
Breast of lamb with tartare sauce
Lamb breast stuffed with bacon and apricots

If you've got any amazing lamb breast recipes please let me know.

Thursday 11 February 2010

Ox Cheek Open Ravioli

If I was to pick two things that get me excited in the kitchen at the moment it would be cheeks and Waitrose’s “Forgotten Cuts” range of slightly leftfield meat. My recent experiments with pigs cheeks as sausage rolls, piggy Wellingtons and covered in a bourbon and mustard glaze were a thrilling success. So I thought I’d graduate on to ox cheeks.

Ox cheeks are pretty hard to get hold of. Because of BSE they were banned along with other meat from around the head and cuts on the bone. And since then it has been consistently difficult to find them. After a quick trawl of eGullet the picture became clearer. Restaurants and butchers find it hard “to get head” because the head is not allowed to leave the abattoir owing to the rules that are designed to protect the public from being exposed to the brainy bits that are linked to BSE/CJD. And even if butchers do manage “to get head” they have to have a vet present whilst they do what they do.

Despite all this you can buy expensive ox cheeks from the likes of Donald Russell, but it’s much more convenient and cheaper to pick some up from Waitrose where two hefty cheeks will set you back a meagre 4 or 5 quid.

The beauty of ox cheeks doesn’t lie in the eye of the beholder. They are ugly brutes which have spent their working life grinding their way through grass. The meat is dense. To slice through a cheek makes even the sharpest knife feel a bit James Blunt. Through the centre of the cheek runs a seam of fat and connective tissue. Like the band of gold that sits below Johannesburg, this is the where the true joy of ox cheeks lies. When cooked slowly this seam, as if by alchemy, turns to a gelatinous, unctuous, savoury elixir that will turbo charge the dish you are cooking.

With my ox cheeks in the freezer I pondered what to cook. It seemed too obvious just to cook a daube or use them as the base to a pie. Ox cheek biltong almost made the cut. As did a Chinese hot pot strewn with chillies and spiked with garlic and soy. And then I remembered reading about cheeks and ribs in Bill Buford’s Heat and was inspired to cook ox cheek ravioli in the spirit of Mario Batali. I didn’t follow a recipe at the time but was quite chuffed when I found a version afterwards on the New York Times website that wasn’t a million miles away. The recipe below is my own.

Ingredients – to feed 4


2 large ox cheeks
Half a bottle of red wine
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 large onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 celery stalk
5 rashers of smoked bacon – or lardon
3 bay leaves
Loads of thyme
2 glasses of cognac
50 grams of plain flour
200ml of chicken stock
500 grams of chestnut mushrooms
400 grams of vine tomatoes


200 grams of tipo 00 flour
2 eggs
Splash of water


Start the braise the night before you want to eat. Cut your cheeks into quarters and coat in seasoned flour. Heat a large pan and brown the meat in oil in batches. When the outside of the meat has caramelised throw in some cognac and watch out for your eyebrows. Then place the cheeks in your slow cooker – or if you are unfortunate enough not to have one then just lob them in a large casserole. Then fry the bacon until the fat has rendered and then add a finely chopped onion. Turn down the heat and sweat. Then add your garlic. After a few minutes add this to the slow cooker. Chop your celery and add it to the pot. Then add 3 bay leaves and loads of thyme.

You then need to add the liquid elements which you want to only just cover the meat. The quantities above are a guide so feel free to adjust them to what you feel looks right. Grind some pepper, put the lid on, set your slow cooker to low and then go to sleep. If you are being sensible you’ll use a timer that will turn the cooker off after 5 hours. It’s a much better idea than setting your alarm for 4am!

Ox cheeks

Stiff stock

In the morning separate the meat from the liquid and store both in the fridge whilst you go to work. When you return from the office you need to start by taking a deep breath and get all your kit out in order to reduce the sauce, make the pasta fresca and finish the meat in the oven. This is where the fun starts.

Your first task is to strain the liquid. I was amazed when I removed the container from the fridge. The liquid had set so solidly that it was able to support the weight of a spoon! Heat it first to turn it into a liquid and then pass it through a colander to remove the bacon, celery and onions and then force it though a fine sieve. Then reduce this liquid whilst you make your pasta. It will turn into the most syrupy, glossy sauce you can possibly imagine.

Then, layer the bottom of a cast iron pan with the solids that you have removed from the liquid. Then refry your cheeks in oil and butter until they take on a deep brown colour. Then place them in the cast iron pan. Fry the mushrooms in the pan that has just been graced by the cheeks, add a touch more cognac and then add them on top of the cheeks. Cover in foil and place in the oven to heat through along with the tomatoes in a separate pan which have been coated in olive oil and salt.

Now it’s time to make your pasta. It’s quite simple. Sieve 200 grams of pasta flour and add two large eggs and a pinch of salt. Knead this until it forms a non sticky dough. This will take about 15 minutes of sweat and wrist pain.

Wrap in clingfilm and let it rest in the fridge for up to an hour. Then sprinkle a large, clean work area in flour and roll out your pasta into thin sheets. Normally I’d use my pasta maker but I didn’t have it to hand. Without the machine it was seriously hard work. Cowie and I took it in turns to pulverise the pasta into ravioli thickness. Once it becomes around 1mm thick (or more accurately thin) trim the edges and hang up to dry for 10 minutes. Then cut into neat squares.

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and then add the pasta. It will cook in around 2 minutes. So make sure you’ve got your sauce reduced, the meat resting and the roasted tomatoes to hand. Ensure your guests are seated with a large glass of Italian red wine.

Add a square of pasta to the bottom of the bowl. Then a layer of ox cheek and some sauce. Then another layer of pasta. Then a spoonful of glossy sauce. And then a few tomatoes on top. Then a liberal sprinkling of parmesan and a turn or two of black pepper. Then serve.

The pasta was perfect. But the star was undoubtedly the quiveringly tender cheeks which almost shouted with flavour and swooned under the glossy sheen of the deep, dark sauce. The tomatoes added a burst of sweetness and the three year old parmesan from La Fromagerie added a grainy, creamy salinity and umami punch. It’s always hard to comment on a dish you’ve invented and made yourself… but it was awesome.

Ox Cheek Ravioli

The open ravioli technique worked brilliantly, behaving a bit like lasagne, or a pasta sandwich! But next time I’d like to make tortelli or ravioli properly having been inspired by Gastro1. They just look a bit fiddly and have a tendency to leak water. But I will do my best to conquer them.

Louis from Spilt Wine suggests drinking 2007 Mus ‘T’ red from Domaine de la Graveirette with this dish.

Further reading:

Dos Hermanos has got a great recipe for Beef Rendang that would work brilliantly with ox cheeks
The British Larder has a great post about a dish from Sat Bains featuring ox cheeks and oysters
New York Times with Mario Batali on ox cheeks
Waitrose "Forgotten Cuts" forum
eGullet on ox cheeks

Wednesday 10 February 2010

Brixton Restaurant Crawl

I heart Brixton close

After two exemplary crawls around New Cross and Peckham I was somewhat nervous about hosting a guided tour of Brixton’s best places to eat. The main problem is that Brixton is blessed with profusion of cafes, bars, restaurants and markets that all need to be sampled. You’ve got the likes of Franco Manca, The Saltoun Supper Club, Salad Club, Upstairs, Fujiyama, Negril and Rosie’s Deli Cafe to choose from before you even start on all the jerk grills and cafes.

So I decided to focus on Franco Manca for an early lunch to avoid the queues and then to push on through the market for some jerk chicken, a spot of sushi and a few beers.

One of the things I like most about living in Brixton is that people are really proud of their community and wherever you glance there’s something interesting going on. Whether that’s a guy delivering drugs on roller skates or Space Makers working hand in hand with the council to fill vacant shop units with “creative, community-oriented and enterprising projects”. Or more dramatically the emergence of the Brixton Pound. As a currency it became legal tender in September 2009 and is designed to help money stay within the Brixton community. Its existence is a sign of Brixton’s semi autonomous nature and non-conformity. All of which adds up to a great adventure.

Brixton Pound

That’s enough from me. Over to Lizzie, Naomi, Chris and Helen…

Lizzie on Wild Caper and Hive Bar

Arriving at The Wild Caper at 11am, I was initially confused when I walked in. Was it a coffee shop? A deli? It seemed to be an amalgamation of the two. Smiley staff served up a rich and satisfying cappuccino.

As we headed off for Franco Manca, we realised we were a tad early as it didn't open until 12pm. What to do? We'd already done the coffee thing, so there was only one option. Beers.

It was a sunny day which is a rarity so we opted to sit outside The Hive, coats done up to the neck. Naughty breakfast Peronis were the beer of choice, and they slipped down a treat. A zimmer-framed passer-by who was obviously not quite there stopped by our table. "Who's the lucky man?" We looked at each other nervously. He repeated this phrase maybe 4 or 5 times, stunning us all into a wide-eyed silence before he staggered off, muttering to himself. A great introduction to our Brixton adventure.

Naomi on Franco Manca

Over eager for some pizza action we moseyed down to Franco Manca at noon having whiled away some time drinking beers and sipping coffees. By this time, completely ravenous we set to, debating which pizzas we should share. There were votes for anchovies and chorizo, but in the end (much to my delight) we settled on one margherita and one buffalo ricotta with wild mushrooms.


I think you can always tell a good pizza place by its margherita. If you can't get the basics right, there's not much hope. This one was served piping hot from the oven (necessary in my book, if not always a given) in under four minutes. The crisp base was good and it had a nice chewiness to it. The topping was a sweet and incredibly tasty tomato sauce with plenty of good quality mozzarella. If I was being incredibly finickity, my only complaint would be that there was perhaps a touch too much tomato sauce for the size of the base.

Wild mushroom and ricotta pizza

The buffalo ricotta and wild mushroom was 10 times better than I expected it to be. I tend to shy away from pizza bianca. For me a pizza always has a base, tomato and cheese. Tomato being the lacking component here. It worked, because there wasn't too much cheese - just enough for the flavour but not so much that it was cloying in the mouth. And for the first time ever, in my experience of 'wild mushroom pizzas', the wild mushrooms really were wild mushrooms and not just a handful of chestnut mushrooms from the local cash and carry!

As we left, with packed tables on both sides of the market passage, the queue ran down as far as the road. The pizza was good. Very very good. But would I queue for what must end up being an hour or more in the freezing cold for it? Probably not (I'd just make sure I pitch up at 11am again and try to bag myself a table for later...)!

Franco Manca on Urbanspoon

Helen on Jerk Chicken from The Bush Man and Curry Goat from Take Two

Brixton is a town of many smells. The best amongst them are the heady, intoxicating wafts of the Caribbean; thyme, scotch bonnet chilli and allspice. Invisible clouds of spicy scent fill the air, ready to make the unsuspecting tummy rumble.

Browners’ mission was to fit in as much jerk as possible. The first place, Take Two, was a rec from Rosie Lovell of Rosie’s Café Deli and it was also our favourite. The jerk had run out but we settled happily for a portion of curry goat with rice and peas. It was some of the best I’ve tasted. Not outright in your face spicy or dustily over so, but mellow, melty chunks of Billy, coated in a well rounded sauce that built steadily to an addictive tingle. Creamy, coconut perfumed rice and peas were the perfect foil. A garnish of white cabbage was unexpected but welcomed by all and is, apparently, traditional.

Our second stop, sadly, was less successful. The Bush Man’s Café had the banter, the smiles and an impressive array of hot sauces but sadly it was a case of style over substance. The chicken just tasted grilled and the ‘hottest’ hot sauce, despite looking the part as a bright yellow, red-flecked lava bomb, turned out to be barely discernible.

Chris on Fujiyama

Not too long ago I worked in a strange loft office above a furniture maker's in Brixton. I had previously worked in Epsom in Surrey, and lunchtimes consisted of a choice between those weird chemically tasting sandwiches from Subway and a greasy spoon that once managed to cock up a cheese and ham toastie. So you can imagine my excitement at the prospect of the myriad of restaurants and cafés of Coldharbour Lane and the indoor market. One of my favourite lunching spots back then was Fujiyama, a sushi joint at the end of Saltoun Road that used nice fresh ingredients and always managed to serve them smartly enough to allow me to get back to my desk within the hour. It was nice to get the opportunity to revisit and reminisce as part of the restaurant crawl.

Fujiyama sushi

We ordered a selection of 16 or so assorted nigiri, some scallop sashimi (a presentation I had yet to try) and the veggie amongst us ordered a small plate of "Yasai Katsu", deep fried slices of root vegetables in breadcrumbs. It was all pretty good. The scallop sashimi were sweet and attractively butterflied, the tuna and salmon on the nigiri was perfectly fresh, and service was generally attentive and friendly. If I was going to be hyper critical I suppose I could mention that the sushi rice was slightly on the dry side and we didn't think much of the vegetable katsu, but these were fairly minor points.

Napkin dispenser

In fact the only major issue I have with Fujiyama is this - why, in a sushi restaurant with bench seating where table space is at a bit of a premium, do they insist on having a massive spring-loaded napkin dispenser on every table? The things are huge and flat, the size and shape of a 1980s hard disk, and completely and utterly pointless. Sorry I know I shouldn't let it annoy me so much, but there it is.

Fujiyama on Urbanspoon

Me on The White Horse

White Horse

So after coffee, beers, pizza, jerk chicken, curried goat and sushi we felt pretty full and sloped off up Brixton Hill to my local, The White Horse for a couple of pints. It’s a pub that always feels as if something fun is about to happen. The enormous dog was sadly absent during our visit, but we enjoyed the chilled out vibe and creative daubings in support of Brixton.

As a group we had every intention of pushing on to Negril for a jerk chicken finale but time got the better of us. So Cowie and I took one for the team and gave Negril a whirl ourselves.

Me on Negril

We waddled up the hill, spurred on by the promise of the best jerk in town and weren't disappointed. My quarter of a chicken was well jerked and as soft as a slow cooked pigs cheek. On its own the spice wasn’t overpowering, but when introduced to the two pots of dangerous brown sauce the chicken almost breathed fire and caused me to hiccup for the next ten minutes! It was everything that the earlier jerk from the Bush Man was not. Juicy. Spicy. And full of scotch bonnet friskiness.

Negril jerk

Negril on Urbanspoon

Our Brixton restaurant crawl was a great success. I am sorry that we didn’t get a chance sample the Saltoun Supper Club, Salad Club, Rosie’s or Upstairs, but in balance I think we did Brixton justice. If we made any glaring mistakes please let us know so we can add them to our “to go to list” for the future.

Thank you guys for a great afternoon and for all your brilliant words and pictures. Here's a map plotting our 1.2 mile journey of gastronomic discovery which should help you picture the mission we went on.

View Brixton Restaurnt Crawl in a larger map

Further reading:

Urban 75
My Brixton
Walking Tours of Brixton
Brixton Pound
Spacemakers in Brixton
Helen's photos
Lizzie's photos

Tuesday 9 February 2010

At the Chapel, Bruton, Somerset

Like a rural St John but with less offal, At the Chapel is a blessing in uber-rural Somerset. The space, designed by architects MacKenzie Wheeler, must be considered one of the best gastronomic amphitheatres in the country. The room is naturally well lit by biblically large windows and the high double ceiling gives the whole restaurant a feeling of grace. The ice white walls and ceiling are punctuated by impressive artistic statements. The hanging bubbles of Babylon and plaster cast of what Cowie accidentally called “Ham Solo” allow other pieces such as mosaic shoes by Candace Bahouth to be switched in and out like an art gallery. They also have plans to open their balcony area and a wonderful south facing patio. Co-owners Catherine Butler (ex Café Med owner) and Ahmed Sidki have done a brilliant job and have great plans for making even more out the space they have.



At the Chapel is not just a restaurant. It’s also a bakery, wine merchant, café and top class pizzeria all powered by an open range and a proper wood fired oven. And joy of joys has wifi.

Like a good food blogger, I’ve been to At the Chapel a number of times now in order to sample the various strings to their bow. When we are staying with Cowie’s parents in the neighbouring village we often buy a sourdough loaf and croissants for breakfast which have always been spectacularly good. And if we are feeling peckish in the afternoon we’ve been known to devour their slightly nutty, very naughty chocolate brownies. But Cowie still claims hers are better and who am I to disagree.

Chapel brownies

I’ve also bought a couple of interesting bottles of wine from their range that shuns the stereotypical selection of middle England Claret and Chablis. An Italian red that's made from 5 grape varieties from Calabria was a brilliant foil for a fire seared steak.


And on another occasion when we asked them for advice about making pizzas in Cassius (our clay pizza oven) they were immensely helpful – supplying us with semolina to add texture to the dough but also a pot of their sourdough starter. Many bakeries would have shooed us away but they appreciated our enthusiasm and helped us out. The pizzas that emerged from Cassius were some of the best ever.

White bean and chorizo soup

I’ve dined alone here too at the coffee bar with a copy of the Observer spread before me like Wellington with a map of Belgium and marvelled at the texture, flavour and appearance of a bowl of exquisite white bean and chorizo soup.

Liver and mash

And did my best not to wolf down an immaculate serving of liver, bacon and mashed potato which was almost perfect but for their not being a second helping!
But I haven’t wanted to write a review until I had also tried their pizzas. At £10 a go they aren’t exactly giving them away. And why should they when they are this good. The use of semolina in the sourdough gives the base a crunchy textures and makes you want to demolish the crust after you’ve inhaled the middle.

Chorizo pizza

My chorizo and red pepper pizza was first class. The mozzarella spewed everywhere but wasn’t overloaded. And the chorizo itself added a richness that probably should come with a health warning or two.

Goats cheese


A goats cheese pizza and a top class margherita confirmed they know what they are doing in the pizzeria department.

The only thing that lets them down is the lack of warmth from the service. Hellos, welcomes and goodbyes are hard to come by. Smiles fleeting. And service slow and frustrating. On one visit I waited 30 minutes for my soup. Got moved table twice. And witnessed several calamities such as a lady being burned by a coffee that had just come out of the machine and a walk out because of the slow service. If this had been a one off I wouldn’t have mentioned it. But it has been a recurring theme that detracts from At the Chapel deserving the near perfect score that Matthew Norman gave them. Just because you are in a Congregational chapel doesn’t mean you can’t relax. You are a smile and a hello away from perfection.

At the Chapel, High Street, Bruton, Somerset, BA10 0AE

01749 814 070


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