Wednesday 13 November 2013

The Night Riviera to Cornwall

Sleeper to Cornwall-4

As the Night Riviera pulled out of Paddington our weekend began with a hiss of kissing steel and a clunk of clacking couplings. Our berths were like Japanese boutique hotel rooms – except on a train. They would have been futuristic once – but there’s something even more charming about the way they hark back to another era of long distance train travel. To a life more civilised. 

Our suite had two bunks, a sink, a dinky ladder, air conditioning and wonderfully static sheets that flickered and glowed when you shuffled around in the dark like the Northern Lights. After some free tea and shortbread in the dining cart we turned in for the night and awoke to a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea at Truro at 6.45am.

We had left the gloom and bustle of London behind us and alighted at piratey Penzance, squinting, as we were stunned by the azure brilliance of the iridescent Atlantic. Our 4 mile cycle to Mousehole, through the fishing port of Newlyn followed the coast and filled our lungs with sushi fresh air and our ears with the rhythmic cacophony of seagulls and trawlers. We felt a million miles from Paddington and felt like bottling the air and sounds in one of his marmalade jars.

Sleeper to Cornwall-15

By 8.15 we had been welcomed into the Old Coastguard as if they had just realised we were The Ancient Mariner and ushered our alarmingly Lycra clad bodies into the breakfast room where we feasted on locally smoked kippers, home made yoghurt and Cornish tea. I am sure being able to see the sea makes a kipper taste even better.

Sleeper to Cornwall-10

Sleeper to Cornwall-18

Sleeper to Cornwall-7

With the sun beaming down we set out on a 60 mile cycling loop that tracked west through Lamorna to Lands End before heading onto St. Just and then through the majestic moorlands either side of Zennor. It was like cycling through a Rapha photoshoot – except with more sweat and a much less successful posing. We watched as seagulls remorselessly followed a tractor as it ploughed a field that dropped off into the Atlantic. We waited as a cocky cockerel stopped the traffic as he ambled across the “main” road. We nodded at fellow cyclist. And they nodded back.

We paused at the Gurnard’s Head for a gawp at their lunch menu – and I am still torn between the roast turbot with truffles and the blade of beef with wild mushrooms. But it would have been a bit indulgent considering I’d just had a big breakfast, and that it was only 11am!

At St. Ives we stopped for a pasty and a cup of tea before escaping the tourists and heading through the delightful backroads around St. Erth where we climbed over the central hills where we were confronted by St. Michael’s Mount erupting out of the shimmering bay.  We continued along the coast and back to Mousehole and felt any sense of stress from London flutter away. It’s a spectacular coastline and a privilege to be able to cycling along it.

Sleeper to Cornwall-16

Dinner at the Old Coastguard was just as good as we’d hoped. Given that it is the latest addition to the East Sleep Drink family whose siblings are the Gurnard’s Head and Felin Fach Griffin – we had high hopes. You won’t find many better views than here to accompany a pre-dinner drink and a game of Scrabble. I’m gushing – but it really was magical.

Cowie’s pork belly starter was sticky, soft and unctuously coated with an oriental marinade. And my crab rarebit was gutsy and craby without being prissy. These weren’t mind-blowingly-original dishes, but they were refreshingly un-twee and intelligently crafted. And given how far we were from London they felt spot on.

For fear of food envy we, unusually, both chose their fish stew. It came laced with (possibly Cornish) saffron and a tangy aioli and swimming with ling, cod, squid and mussels – all bound together in a richly seasoned tomato bisque and spiked with fennel. We sent our bowls back so clean that they could probably have been able to bypass the washing up machine.

Cowie’s cheesecake was good without being thrilling – with the indecently juicy figs stealing the show. But my pistachio and yoghurt cake wouldn’t have been out of place at Moro. It’s the kind of pudding that makes you wish you had hollow legs.

We eventually carried our weary limbs to bed for a sleep that seemed to last forever – before returning for a repeat of the previous day’s breakfast – but with less Lyrca! My full Cornish was wonderfully well judged with the star being a nugget of Hog’s Pudding that left you in no doubt that the pig had enjoyed a good life.

We took the cycling a bit easier on the second day with a 40 mile loop – and instead took in the delights of the Logan’s Rock Inn which is famous for its crab sandwiches and also marveled at the waves crashing against Cape Cornwall. If the sun had been out we’d have visited the Menack Theatre, Porthcorno and Senna Cove – but unfortunately we were battling against near gale force winds. Even in these conditions the cycle was spectacular.

We retuned to The Old Coastguard for Cornish scones and lashings of tea as we slumbered on the world’s most comfortable sofa. Eventually it was time to go and we reluctantly bade farewell and paid our very modest bill. They’d looked after us superbly and I can’t recommend The Old Coastguard highly enough. My only suggestion for improvement would be to have a cycle rack. In fact, it could easily become a base for people cycling around Cornwall. All they’d need to do would be to provide some waterproof maps, some suggested routes (with stop offs at the Gurnard’s Head) and maybe team up with a local bike mechanic to offer some basic tools and services.

We meandered back to Penzance to board our sleeper with some provisions from Co-op – to help make the first part of the journey pass by quicker. After a ½ bottle of train wine we were feeling suitably snoozy to sleep through anything that the train tracks could throw at us. We turned into our bunks and awoke in Paddington station at 6.15am with a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea and were allowed to doze on the train until 7am. Given that the train arrived at 5am there’s something quite surreal about being asleep on a stationary train in a major station.

It is without question my favourite weekend break that we’ve been on. The fact that you get three nights away and two full days in Cornwall makes it fell like a holiday rather than just a weekend. And the experience of the sleeper service is so civilised you’ll feel like you were in a Bond film. Add the relaxed and civilised delights of The Old Coastguard into the mix and some epic weather and it gets even better. We’re now sleeper train nerds and are looking forward to an adventure to the Lakes or maybe even all the way up to the nether regions of Scotland.

Monday 17 June 2013

Truffled tuscan sausages with polenta, braised fennel and gremolata

Truffle Tuscan Sausages

Walking into the Italian deli near my office in King’s Cross is to be transported to the scene in Goodfellas where they are cooking in prison. The store is run by an Italian version of the most charming version of Arkwright from Open All Hours, who has never failed to be a gracious an inspiring host. He will make you enormous sandwiches cut from whole loaves of ciabatta laced with freshly sliced cured meats and cheeses, moistened with a healthy slick of olive oil; or more conventionally he’ll send you packing with genuinely Italian ingredients and delicacies that will stink your office out for the afternoon, before transporting your family to an Italian holiday when you get home from work.

Inspired by a colleague who had come back with a truffled pecorino, I popped in for some KC Continental magia. My head was almost blown off by the smell of truffle as I walked in. But alas the cheese had sold out. But true to form Arkwrightioni sent me packing with some amazing truffled sausages from Tuscany. These puppies positively wreaked of truffle and almost had all the dogs in our office howling like deranged wolves. There’s something deeply primeval about truffles and I couldn’t wait to cook them.

I thought about making an Italian version of toad in the hole with loads of rosemary and a healthy dose of mushrooms, but decided that would be more suitable in autumn. I also dismissed a truffle sausage and bean stew for similar reasons. And sausage and lentil casserole suffered a similar fate. Instead, I opted to combine my amazing truffled sausages with a slick of polenta, a smear of gremolata and some braised fennel.


6 truffled Tuscan sausages from KC Continental Stores
3 bulbs of fennel
2 large onions
300g of frozen peas
2 glasses of white wine
400ml of chicken stock
200g polenta
50g grated parmesan
3 garlic cloves
100g butter
1 pack of parsley
4 sprig of thyme


Make the gremolata by very finely chopping the parsley. Then douse in olive oil and squeeze in a lemon’s juice and add some of it’s finely grated zest. Season aggressively.

Brown the sausages in a casserole dish and set aside.

Then brown the onions and fennel until golden. Then add the garlic. Then add the wine and let the alcohol bubble off.

Then add the sausages and 100ml of chicken stock. Add the thyme. Allow to simmer until the sausages are cooked through.

Meanwhile make the polenta according the packet instrucions. I used chicken stock rather than water which worked well. And then beat in lots of parmesan and butter.

Add the peas to the casserole. Let them cook through. Season everything.

Truffle Tuscan Sausages 2

Then serve with a good dollop of mushroom. And a glass of very cold white wine. We probably should have had a Tuscan white… but instead we had a dry German Riesling which worked very well indeed.

Sunday 24 February 2013

Venison Rydberg

Venison Ryberg-6

Biff Rydberg caught my attention as I was thumbing my way through a Swedish butchery book. Even though there was no photo and all the text was in Swedish there was something interesting about it. From my basic grasp of Swedish I understood it to be a more grown up version of Pytt i Panna – which is minced beef mixed with cubes of sautéed potatoes that is to Sweden what chilli con carne is to Texans.

Intrigued, I dipped into Marcus Samuelson’s Aquavit book and discovered that Biff Rydberg is indeed a Swedish classic. Apparently it was invented in a hotel in Stockholm – much like the Wallenberger. It’s a very simple dish of flash fried cubes of beef fillet accompanied by squares of fried potatoes, onions and an egg yolk. Super straightforward. High quality food, simply cooked. It could barely be more Scandinavian. Check out Nordic Nibbler's stunning blog post about this wonderful Scandi dish.

My first attempt at Biff Rydberg actually featured elk, rather than beef, supplied by a fabulous Swedish intern whose brother was a keen huntsman. I cubed the lean elk and served it with diced sautéed potatoes and an egg yolk. It was a big success but I forgot to photograph it and felt as though the meal had slipped away. At the time I remember thinking that it would have been even better with some more interesting root vegetables and some tarragon to make the egg yolk form a sort of bernaisey sauce as it mixes with the warm meat and hot potatoes.

When I moved back to London I planted a few Jerusalem artichokes in the spring along with some golden and pink stripy beetroot. All summer I wished them along and marveled as the artichokes grew up into the stratosphere. And cursed as the beetroot seemed to laugh at me as they tip-toed their way towards adulthood. They were destined for my alternative take on Biff Rydberg – along with some wild mushrooms, the tops from my beetroot and crucially, some venison.

The venison was wild and I didn’t know what cut it came from. So rather than flash frying it – it seemed more sensible to sear it and then let it braise gently with some rehydrated wild mushrooms, juniper and red wine.

And rather than using boring old potatoes, I gave the starches an upgrade with c combination of cubed celeriac, beetroot and artichokes which balanced the metallic savouriness of the game with some earthy sweetness.

It’s a lot of effort. But as the egg yolk mingles with the gamey meat and sweet, earthy vegetables you’ll hopefully agree it’s worth it. It was so satisfying to put my artichokes and beetroot to good use.


For the braised venison

500g of cubed wild venison
300ml of red wine
Handful of juniper berries
Handful of dried mushrooms – rehydrated in 500ml of hot water
3 sliced onions
1 minced clove of garlic
Dried tarragon
Dusting of plain flour
Salt and pepper


4 beetroot
½ celeriac
4 Jerusalem artichokes
Beetroot tops


Fresh tarragon
2 egg yolks
1 lemon


This isn’t a hard dish to cook. The only thing that is tricky is juggling lots of different aspects so that they are all ready at the same time. You need to do the 3 different tasks at the same time.

Dust the venison in flour and season with salt and pepper. Brown the meat in a pan. Remove from the pan. Then sauté the onions. Then deglaze the pan with red win and add the venison and juniper berries having given then a gentle bruising first. Chuck in some dried tarragon and the rehydrated wild mushrooms along with enough liquor to cover the meat. Cook in a low oven until the venison is soft. Set aside and get cracking with the other parts.

Venison Ryberg-1

Venison Ryberg-3

Venison Ryberg-4

Bake the beetroot whole. When they are cooked peel off the skin and then slice into cubes and keep warm. Mine were so small there was no need to cut them.

Cut the celeriac into 2 cm and the Jerusalem arichokes into 4 cm chunks and then parboil in salted water until they are almost tender. Then drain, dry, season and roast in a hot oven for 20 minutes or so until golden.

Steam the beetroot tops (or spinach if using) just before serving.

Separate the venison, mushrooms and onions from the liquor and reduce this to a sticky, syrupy sauce.

Arrange the venison in the centre of the plate with an egg yolk nestling inside its shell. Then add the cubed root vegetables so that they fan out across the plate.  And fit the beetroot tops in where you find space. Adorn then meat with the mushroomy mixture and the now reduced sauce. Then scatter the fresh tarragon over the whole plate along with as much seasoning as you think is required. And finish with a little spritz of lemon juice to help the egg yolk and tarragon to meld.

Venison Ryberg-7

Enjoy with a nice glass of red wine.

Saturday 26 January 2013


I waited until the final day of our Austrian skiing holiday last February to ask Cowie’s dad if he had any objections to me marrying his younger daughter! It was minus twenty three degrees centigrade and we were sharing a rickety old chair lift somewhere about St. Anton. As the lift reached the top of the mountain I plucked up courage and fortunately David said yes – followed by a comment that will stay with me forever: “As Prince Philip once said – you’ve been practicing long enough”.

Having agreed to keep it a secret until I asked Sarah the following week – we shot off down the mountain in search of our final lunch of the holiday. Feeling giddy and a bit extravagant we finished our meal of spaetzles and schnitzels with an enormous serving of Kaiserschmarrn. It’s a classic Austrian pudding made of fluffy chopped pancakes studded with raisins that is often served with a plum compote. Apparently it was invented for Emperor Franz Joseph and his very hard to please wife who wanted a nice light dessert. It translates as Emperor’s Nonsense which all seems quite appropriate.

With Pancake Day almost upon us and almost a year gone by from when I proposed to Sarah, I thought sharing this Kaiserschmarrn recipe would be rather appropriate. If you felt like taking the nonsense to a new level you could use blackberry or quince jam instead and maybe even add some different nuts. 

Adapted from a BBC recipe


50g butter, softened to butter the pans
175g caster sugar, plus 40g for dusting the pans
4 free-range egg yolks
300g crème fraîche
75ml dark rum
75g plain flour
60g raisins, soaked in rum
8 free-range eggs, whites only
½ tsp cream of tartar
60g icing sugar, for dusting


Butter two ovenproof dishes and then dust with sugar. Cream the egg yolks and 25g sugar with a whisk until smooth. Then beat in the crème fraîche and rum, followed by the flour. Add the rum soaked raisins.

Whisk the egg whites along with the cream of tartare and remaining sugar until you’ve got stiff peaks. 

Then fold the egg whites into the batter and pour into the two pans. Bake for 20 minutes – or until lightly browned and set. Remove from the oven and chop.


Then dust with icing sugar and serve with plum compote and whipped cream.



If you've got any suggestions for recipes for pancake day please let me know. We're more determined than ever to win our annual competition this time round.


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