G20 antics

Police and protesters; they’re ranged up against each other outside the Bank of England spoiling for a fight about something, anything, important or otherwise.

Meanwhile over at ‘Word of Mouth’ (The Guardian’s food blog) the real action is already underway with journalists praising Jamie O’s menu for tonight’s exclusive dinner at No.10 and the posting populace getting very het-up about seasonality, authenticity, diversity and why oh why its Saint Jamie in the limelight again. 

So lets just try to take a balanced look at things (because I’m sure Gordon and Barack will be aiming for balance today and tomorrow, if not dietary then economically at least).  

The brief: 

Mr Oliver has apparently been given a brief to create a menu that showcases the best of seasonal British food and cooking including finding things to represent each of the parts of the United Kingdom. Now some of you may think that ‘best’ ‘British’ and ‘food/cooking’ in the same sentence is something of an oxymoron and that St Jamie is a fool to have accepted the gig. But as we know from past form there is nothing like a challenge to get Jamie’s enthusiasm racing away with him and him saying ‘YES’ before anyone has any chance of stopping him. Even the imminent arrival of his third child is not enough to stop Jamie pouncing on this chance.

Remember it’s a BIG BIG GIG. 

So as we proceed through this analysis of the menu lets remember the brief is ‘BEST SEASONAL BRITISH’ cooked for people from 20 different nations with all the restrictions that entails. Because if you were on The Apprentice doing this and you junked the brief straight off Mr Sugar would be firing you right back to where you came from in no time.

The menu:

You’ve probably seen it already but lets see if and how it sticks to the brief:


Baked Scottish Salmon with Seashore Vegetables, Broad Beans, Herb Garden Salad, Mayonnaise and Wild Garlic-scented Irish Soda bread
Vegetarian option is Childwickbury Goat’s Cheese with Roast Shallots, Seashore Vegetables, Herb Green Salad and Wild Garlic-scented Irish Soda Bread (no mayo)


Slow-Roasted Shoulder of Welsh Lamb, very first of the season Jersey Royals, first of the season Asparagus and Wild St George Mushrooms. Mint Sauce and Gravy
Vegetarian option is Lovage & Potato Dumplings with first of the season Asparagus and Wild St George Mushrooms


Hot Bakewell Tart with Home-made Custard

A quick look in any seasonal cooking book or any of the various online seasonality resources will show you that Jamie is potentially quite restricted in some areas e.g. fruit = pretty much nothing, meat = wild pigeon!. And once he has to factor in a whole range of dietary requirements the options get cut further. So lets just be clear here: the guy has to create something uniquely (and identifiably) British and WOW that fits with a plethora of dietary restrictions and a rather thin set of seasonal choices.

So his only option is to get top notch ingredients and try to make them sing.


Salmon: in season, very recognisably British, represents Scotland (still part of the UK last time I looked despite the best efforts of may a Scotsman and woman). Obvious choice but shellfish is probably a no no and many might squeal at eel.

Seashore Veg: identified on most sites as sea kale and samphire. Well he’s on the mark with sea kale but I’m a bit doubtful about the possibility of samphire – it’s a shade early for that really but he can hardly have had it grown in a poly tunnel so he must know a secret source. I have seen it growing on the mud flats of Maldon fairly early in previous years so its not impossible. And its very British.

Broad beans: pretty British, very early so these have got to come from under glass, possibly from somewhere like the Isle of Wight or Channel Islands. And before we all go off on one about producing things early under glass lets just remember that they’ve been doing it since way back in the 1500’s – what do you think they used Chelsea for before they built posh houses and football clubs on it!

Herb garden salad: definitely seasonal, not especially British but that will depend on the actual herbs selected and what’s available. Hopefully he’ll have some sorrel or watercress or early spinach in there.

Mayonnaise: not reknowned for being particularly British but it is tasty and we could make a slightly weak argument about it allegedly being brought back from Mahon in Minorca after Richelieu defeated the British there in 1756 (bit tenuous though). I think he should have plumped for a dressing made with rapeseed oil and a herb or fruit vinegar.

Wild garlic soda bread: wild garlic is definitely in season and grows across much of the UK; and soda bread is found both North and South of the border in Ireland so it fits (regardless of your politics on the UK/Irish matter).

Vegetarians: sadly its goats cheese again for them it seems (a stock answer to ‘oh dear how do I cope with the veggie people’) but since good goats cheese is so lovely and a staple of the British food scene these days I’d be happy to opt for this and they get to have the same supporting vegetables.

Main: This is a tough one to call. The options are limited and some of the things on the menu are VERY early in the season. I imagine there’s been a lots of frantic sourcing going on to get some of this stuff but the choices are all well known British options and show the range of possibilities from across the UK

Lamb: of course it is now April! Its a bit early in the season but not impossible to get lamb that’s mature enough – I suspect since its being slow roasted it’ll be close to 1 year old rather than new season. Pretty tough call to find another option when pork and beef are probably both of the menu due to dietary restrictions and everyone would simply roll their eyes if its was chicken being served up.

Jersey Royals: if they are ready I say bring them on, fantastic.

Asparagus: after the cool winter I’m doubtful this is really in season yet but he must have managed to get its somewhere – I love asparagus so I’m quite jealous.

Vegetarians: good to see that the supporting notes are the same as for the meat option, veggies are so often just palmed off with a totally different mushed up irrelevant dish whereas this references back and adds lovage which will be in season.

Dessert: oh dear this is where the controversy really warms up. For a start most people say the real thing is Bakewell Pudding and it’s pretty easy to search out bucket loads of supporting evidence for that assertion. But many of the same sources also suggestion that Bakewell Tart is not such the chav newcomer most of us would have and recipes can be traced back at least to the mid 1800s for dishes that are more tart like less pudding and indeed tarts akin to Bakewell have a heritage going back further across most of the UK. So, as long as St J isn’t just opening a pack of Mr Kipling’s then I’m sure things will be okay. Pudding, dessert, whatever you want to call it there must have been lots of options to consider. I think he’s slightly lost the seasonal plot though here as he could have done something interesting with new seasons rhubarb (like the a wonderful dish I tasted at Northcote Manor in Lancashire earlier this year of Rhubarb Carpaccio, Custard Crumble Parfait, Rhubarb Granita which was real wow), even a simple fruit fool would have done the trick I think (and stopped the arguing about tarts and puddings).

So overall has he met the brief?

Well I’d say he’s well over 90% of the way there with this menu, plus its relatively simple and accessible and crucially for him straightforward to prepare. It’s a meant to be a working dinner not an off the scale gastronomic experience. I can quite imagine that St Jamie will pull it off again and by tomorrow when those who tasted comment we’ll be hearing about how great it was. And if not, well then I’ll eat my words or at the very least some seasonal British food.

Think you can do better? Look out for tomorrow’s post to join in the debate and have the chance to create your own G20 menu moment and also find out some useful resources on British food.


Lovely lavender biscuits

Reading several other blogs recently (particularly ‘Domestic Goddess in Training’ talking about Bara Brith) made me think it was about time I did a little bit of baking. And visitors scheduled for later this week clinched the deal. What better to offer with tea or coffee than homemade biscuits or perhaps a fruitcake?

First up the biscuits – I fancied cooking something that would have a hint of summer to come and so I hit on one of my favourite tried and tested recipes (and, I know, well liked by these particular guests). The recipe is from Sybil Kapoor’s Simply British – a lovely book of unusual recipes using classic British ingredients.

You will need:

4oz/115g softened butter (I prefer to use unsalted though it doesn’t specify that in the recipe)
2oz/55g caster sugar
zest 1 unwaxed lemon
3 teaspoons of lavender flowers stripped off the stem (hopefully ones from your own lavender bushes that you have dried and saved or I’ve found them online at Phytobotanica)

6oz/170g plain flour
caster sugar for dusting 

Heat the oven to Gas 2/150C/300F and have 2 greased baking sheets ready – you’ll get about 16 biscuits.

Cream the butter, sugar and lemon zest until it’s pale and light in texture. Then mix in the lavender flowers followed by the flour – use your hands as this will keep the butter warm and help incorporate the flour. You are aiming for a stiff but not too crumbly ball of dough – it will take a while to get to this stage (5 minutes or more). 

Then roll out the dough between two sheets of baking paper until it’s only a few millimetres thick. Cut out the biscuits in whatever shape pleases you (yesterday I had to use an unturned wine glass because I couldn’t find the cookie cutters – it still worked). Place the biscuits on the trays using a palette knife – they are quite fragile so take care. Obviously use up all the scraps of dough, which will mean a few odd shapes for the cook to try later. Bake in the centre of the oven for 25-30 minutes until lightly brown – I usually start checking after 20 minutes to see how things are going. Transfer to a cooling rack immediately and dust with caster sugar. 

They are wonderfully crumbly, melting in the mouth, the lavender flavour is quite rich and the lemon zest helps balance this nicely. Eat with abandon – though I defy you to manage more than 3 in a sitting.

Now lets just hope I haven’t eaten them all before my guests arrive……..

A good bacon butty

For those of you unfamiliar with the term ‘butty’ the OED defines it as follows:

butty (also buttie) noun (pl. butties) informal, chiefly N. English a filled or open sandwich: a bacon butty. – ORIGIN mid 19th cent.: from BUTTER+-Y.

Or perhaps think about Ken Dodd for a moment and the jam butty mines – or maybe don’t. Also, of course, there are chip butties and cheese butties. In essence any kind of sandwich can be called a butty although I’m not sure you’d apply the term to something filled with chicken and avocado or crayfish and rocket or cucumber…..now there’s a thought a cucumber butty – a new slant on afternoon tea.

Anyway back on the bacon butty trail – this morning I had a great example rustled up for breakfast from some beer cured back bacon, some sautéed portobello mushrooms, a good dollop of ketchup (my favourite Stokes Real Ketchup – yum) and 2 slices of properly chewy wholemeal

It was great.


But then I’m probably biased as I made it.

Suffolk seaside treats

Up on the Suffolk coast for brisk walks and tasty food this weekend. Love it up here and there is plenty to keep a food addict happy – from great farm shops to favourite restaurants, good beer and excellent fish and chips. Too much to fit into one weekend so we are pretty regular visitors.

This weekend we have picked up a lot of goodies at the Friday Street Farm Shop – some to eat now, some to take back home.

We always get something by Purely Pesto (who don’t just make pesto) – this time it was some soups for lunches – beetroot and also curried parsnip. They taste great  – freshly made, no additives, smooth and creamy but not overbearingly so – plus the beetroot is just a beautiful colour! The portions are a little small for 2 for lunch, more a starter size portion  – but still recommended.

We also picked up organic eggs from Maple Farm which are currently priced at £1.50 per half dozen – great value and makes you wince at supermarket prices….as well as some shin of beef from Cratfield. We have had various of their cuts before and its always very tender and well flavoured, really demonstrates the difference you get from well reared and properly hung meat. That’s just a few of the highlights from this weekends haul.

After a bracing walk along the seafront to Thorpeness and back to the Martello Tower we decided to brave the cold again and have a couple of Adnams beers (and a quick blast of 12 bar blues from the Smokin‘ Hogs) at The White Hart before going to eat at Regatta – one our ‘regular’ choices when we visit Aldeburgh. They seem to have the ability to fit you in for dinner no matter how busy they are – you might have to be prepared to eat quite late (9pm) but they will almost certainly find you a slot. The place is always lively, the service very friendly and the food consistently good. There is always a strong specials board which, as you might expect on the coast, has a particular focus on local fish and seafood.

I went for the French style country pate with prune and onion chutney followed by the quartet of smoked and cured seafood – both from the regular menu. Both portions were generous and with bread, salad and new potatoes alongside I failed at the final hurdle on the fishy platter and had to leave a few smoked prawns  – perhaps next time I’ll opt for the smaller portion size. The pate had just the right coarse chunky texture you want from a country type pate with the prune and onion chutney complementing it well, rich yet tangy and good enough to make we want to look out a recipe for something similar.

I should confess here that oniony chutneys and marmalades are a particular weakness of mine and I regularly spend days bubbling up batches of onion delights with which to win friends and influence people :) so it was pretty inevitable that I was going to like this dish.

The smokey and cured platter consisted of gravadlax, smoked salmon, brandon rost (hot smoked salmon) and smoked prawns – each with their own appropriate garnish/sauce. All were of a very high standard and all are cured or smoked at the restaurant – you will also find you can source similar local delights at various farm shops and delis in this part of Suffolk (the village of Orford being particularly well known for smoked products). Last night the gravadlax was on especially top form, nice thick slices, lightly cured but with a refreshing amount of dill and a spot on mustard sauce to accompany it (sharp but not overpowering). I was rather sad not to be able to finish the prawns as their rich smokiness was going very well with the Californian red wine we were trying for the first time (J Lohr Wildflower Valdiguie 2007) – a pairing to remember for another visit.

My other half had the gravadlax to start (and was similarly impressed) with braised lamb shank on a bed of swede puree to follow (from the specials board). Again portions were generous and although a man of few words when eating he was suitably impressed leaving not a scrap on his plate. Overall another very enjoyable meal at Regatta.

Right time to go and search for onion and prune chutney recipes.