Monday, 28 February 2011


"A loaf of bread," the Walrus said,
"Is what we chiefly need:

Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed--
Now if you're ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed."

The North Norfolk coast, aka Chelsea-on-Sea: Barbours and Boden, Hunter wellies - oh and Jack Wills now resides in Burnham Market where a delightful fish restaurant used to be.  Luckily there is still plenty of authentic charm and beauty here: the marshes - haunting on a misty early morning walk, the long stretches of sandy beaches (don't get caught in a rainstorm here - there's nowhere to shelter), the haunting cry of a curlew, redshanks delicately picking their way on the mudbanks ... oh and the Cley Smokehouse. 

We make our usual pilgrimage there and breathe in the tarry, woody smells while buying potted brown shrimps, kippers and smoked crevettes; we then drop into a wayside shed selling crabs and generally have a fishy time of it. We stop short of buying the freshly boiled lobsters in Gurneys in Burnham Market, and just gawp at the swanky comestibles in the deli next door - just the stuff to pull in the punters from Putney.

As evening falls we dine, like the Walrus and Carpenter, on oysters ... and potted shrimp and sea-bass teriyaki and mussels and smoked salmon ...

Sunday, 20 February 2011


Easy Like Sunday Morning ... coffee and croissants. 

According to Lionel Richie, this is how weekends should pan out, even if it's a rainy morning at home in Cambridge rather than a sun-dappled Californian cafe.

But the folds of dough  rising in the oven and releasing their rich, buttery, sugary aroma into the house do have their roots in the US, albeit NYC on another cold, rainy morning last winter...

Footsore from too much pavement pounding, we turn into the nearest welcoming doorway when the drizzle starts in earnest. This, serendipitously, turns out to be no ordinary cafe, but a tall converted industrial space run by The Housing Works in Soho, Manhattan, which supports the homeless and victims of AIDS. It does so much more than serve coffee.

It is busy: cool, urban style-meisters lounge over their espressos, dressed knife-sharp, tapping languidly at their Apple devices (no PCs here), and admire their reflections in the screens.  We gather our coffee and slink towards a corner table. 

This is not only wi-fi heaven: floor-to-ceiling shelves house an eclectic collection of second-hand books and it is here we find (and lug back to England) Daniel Leader's wonderful sourdough manual Local Breads.  Far from being local this is the story of his searches across Europe for real bread, loaves crafted by artisans, men with flour on their hands and sweat on their brows.  It transforms our sourdough culture -

       ... so for the last couple of days (following Daniel Leader's instructions) a bubbly, flexible, sweet-sour-smelling dough has been maturing.  This morning it has been rolled out, cut into triangles, spread with almond paste, folded, brushed with a sugar glaze and dotted with flaked almonds, and hustled into a hot oven. 

Now, although it's not Lionel Richie on the airwaves but The Archers' Omnibus, the coffee is dripping and the newspapers have arrived.

It's time to open the oven...


I'm on my way to a one day cooking class in North London. Normally, group activities are my idea of hell, especially if there is a competitive element involved.  Masterchef is great to watch, but to take part?  It's all sweaty brows, fumbling fingers and yards of sticky, blue elastoplast.  Then the ritual dissection and public humiliation.  And an early exit through the swinging doors before tearful pieces to camera.  
So what will a day's cooking at Food at 52 be like, I wonder? 
(see their website at:

Many thanks to Nicky Martin for the photo

Fortunately, John Benbow is no John Torode;  Michel Roux and Greg Wallace are nowhere to be seen. Just a dozen of us waiting anxiously to begin.  After cups of tea in the sunny, spacious kitchen, we do our introductions and get into pairs ready to start. Our first task, to de-seed 150 birdseye chillies, soon burns off any English reserve, but then we are not all English and we are cooking Thai food.  John proves to be an entertaining, attentive and inspiring teacher. We get busy with the creative stuff: slicing and dicing; peeling and chopping; stir-frying in coconut cream; simmering in the oven; mixing and stirring; and tasting, tasting, tasting with our individual, plastic spoons.  No worries about sourcing or collecting provisions: it's all done.  No worries about clearing away or washing up: it's all done.  All we do is cook, and chat, and compare our bubbling cauldrons.  The kitchen gets steamy; tantalising aromas drift out of the woks. And slowly  some great dishes emerge: Beef Panaeng (rich, creamy); Green Curry with Sea Bream and Peppercorns (fresh, delicate); mussels in Lime and Lychee (fragrant, spicy); and a crisp, tangy Green Mango, Green Papaya and Pomelo salad.
Another of Nicky's great images

Later, in another part of the house, we relax after our endeavours over a glass or two of white wine, admiring the Far Eastern furniture and the suit of armour in the corner. The kitchen is being cleared ready for our reward: you get to eat what you have cooked!  Masterchef? Everyone’s been a winner today.  We do get briefly competitive when it comes to thinking up names for the day, but quickly agree that “I think I’ve Thai’d and gone to Heaven” sums it up pretty well. 

See here for a review of the Southern Indian Cooking class.

Saturday, 19 February 2011


I'm quite shallow really, good looks do it for me every time. 

So when this little beauty popped out of the oven, my heart swelled:
love at first sight. 

Lots of my favourite things all rolled up into one sourdough loaf. 

It tasted pretty good too.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011


Moules frites and a glass of white wine in a candlelit corner. The Backstreet Bistro pays homage to the Parisian Left Bank,  fitting snugly in a corner of Cambridge's 'Red' Romsey Town  or 'Little Russia', as it was once known, it is a place where left wing intellectuals should and ought to go. It's a warm and cosy place, the food is comforting and the waitresses friendly and you half expect Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir to turn up. The couple next to us are discussing Marx's dialectic materialism - well, ok property prices... but you get the picture...