Pub in the Park, Warwick, July 2019

Let’s start with the name of the event first. It should be called “Good Food Pub in the Park”. If you are presenting your pub in a park, it should be all of the facets of the pub. Most importantly, it should showcase the great beer from your area that you serve in your pub.

What is a pub? A pub, or public house, is an establishment licensed to sell alcoholic drinks, which traditionally include beer and cider. It is a social drinking establishment, and a focal point of the community. In his 17th-century diary Samuel Pepys described the pub as “the heart of England”. As I’ve said before, it’s the original social network.

Here we are then, in the heart of England, celebrating the pub. Except we are only celebrating the more modern part of it, the food offering. We’ll come back to that later, as it was really rather good. I want to talk about beer for a moment, which will probably come as no surprise.

The event is sponsored by macro brewer Greene King. They have their fans. I am not one of them. They own a lot of names, and make a lot of dull brown beer. Hardys & Hansons, Morland, Taylor Walker, Belhaven, Ridley’s, Ruddles, Tolly Cobbold and Trader Joe’s are all Greene King under another name.

Given this event is supporting and promoting independent pub/restaurant/cafe people, it should be doing the same for breweries. There are plenty in the Warwickshire area, as well as more in neighbouring counties. So why do we have Greedy King instead? I can only assume it is all down to money. If you have £2,000,000,000 in revenue for the year 2018, operating over 3,000 pubs across at least 8 different chains, then you can probably chuck a few quid at events like this and keep the (better) competition away.

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So that’s the moaning bit over, let’s get on to all of the good bits. We were here with long time MOFAD companions Karon & John, to enjoy a relaxed day of food and drink so let’s talk about the pubs/restaurants/cafes.

The event is the brainchild of Tom Kerridge, so you’d expect Marlow’s The Hand & Flowers to be there, as of course they were. In fact it was the only “pub” to have a constantly large queue all day long. We tried all of their dishes, with Kerridge’s Fried Chicken (do you see what he did there?) being the favourite, but the smoked hog taco was a close second, followed by the minted lamb pie.

We didn’t have anything from The Cross at Kenilworth, but the beef pie looked nice. The same goes for The Hardwick, although I was a little tempted by the breaded corned beef hash. We also missed The Rose and Crown, with the sea bass looking very tempting.

Angela Hartnett’s Café Murano was represented, with the calzone being sampled by three of our number.

Again, three of us visited The Churchill Arms for Lobster Arancini, with shellfish mayonnaise, which was lovely.

My day had begun with a visit to Sindhu, where TV’s Atul Kochhar was cooking and chatting, and serving up chicken tikka pie, with onion and tomato mash and berry chutney (which did resemble the IKEA berry sauce).

I also visited The Half Moon and enjoyed the panko blade of beef and black stick blue cheese burger, although it was a bit too small for my liking. All of the dishes were “tapas size” but this one definitely felt too small.

In between visiting the pop up pubs/restaurants/cafes, we were also visiting the stalls of the various smaller producers that were there. These were at least 50% gin, or that’s what it felt like. From Kent’s Anno Distillers, to Yorkshire’s Haworth Gins, via the Jelley Distillery (set up next to Briscoe’s Artisan Jellies), Riverside Spirits, Warwickshire Gin, Ian Beale’s Neat Gin (ceated by actor Adam Woodyatt and his wife Beverley, and not called Ian Beale’s Neat Gin, just Neat Gin), and finally New Zealand’s Cardrona distillery.

A large number were sampled, and Cardrona’s “Source” gin was the clear winner with everyone who tasted it, whilst also being the most expensive. Of all the gins tasted, it was the most complex, with layers of botanicals revealing themselves. Their “Rose Rabbit” liqueurs (orange or elderflower) were also delicious, although they need a little revision on the definition of liqueur, since they are typically 15-30% ABV, and theirs were both pushing 50%, much closer to navy strength gin (a 1990s marketing invention) than a typical liqeueur.

Where were the beers from all those aforementioned local breweries? Muscled out by Greedy King I suspect, with just Dartmoor Brewery selling warm bottles of beer to take away (no drinking non-Greene King beer on site), and Black Storm Brewery (also appearing as Autumn Brewing Co) showing non-cold chain cans of beer. Whither local breweries like Church End, Church Farm, Fosse Way, North Cotswold, Tunnel or Warwickshire Brew Co?

Enough moaning about beer, back to more food things, with lots of nice cakes on display, tasty cheeses, posh chocolates, posh nut butters and ice creams. We sampled lots of these in between getting dishes from the pubs, and trying gins.

There were two stages, one for chef demos, the other for music. We heard but didn’t see Tom Kerridge’s demo (too many people, not enough seating) but didn’t catch the others due to eating crisps and sampling gin.

The music stage could be heard all across the site, so we listened to The Christians in the shade of the chef demo stage, enoying the music of one of the most under-rated bands of the late 1980s. Their brand of polished lyrical pop/soul kind of got lost amongst all of the dance music of the era. As you would expect, they played most of their big hits from the debut album like Forgotten Town and Ideal World, as well as their cover of the Isley Brothers’ “Harvest for the World”, and Bob Marley’s “Small Axe”.

A bit more shopping and trundling happened next, and we also listened to The Rifles under the shade of the demo stage, which was being dismantled behind us. A bit more food and drink and then we crossed the site to stake out a patch of grass for Will Young, who was headlining the music stage.

It’s fair to say that his brand of bland pop is not to my taste, but it was largely inoffensive, save for a cover of Light my Fire by The Doors. I’ve never been a huge Doors fan, but turning their iconic psychedelic rock sound into easy listening cheese would definitely have made something start spinning in the famous Paris cemetery Père Lachaise on this warm Sunday evening….

A very pleasant afternoon in the park. Nice to meet and chat to lots of small producers of food and drink, and to sample lots of it as well as some great pub food. A cross between the BBC Good Food Show and a small town festival. A shame about the beer, but I already knew that in advance and concentrated on enjoying everything else instead. The Christians were definitely the best band, but this was an event that was more about the food and drink. If you’re thinking of visiting another event for the music, the Sunday evening line up at Chiswick looks good…

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BBC Good Food Show Winter, The NEC, November 2018

So here we are again, the annual visit to the Good Food Show. A compressed trip this year, as we had a discounted ticket which meant you couldn’t get in before 11am, and Mrs MOFAD had an appointment with an aircraft this afternoon (off to Munich for work).

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Luckily, the show was smaller this year, so we managed to do everything in 4 hours. There seems to be a trend towards shrinking over the last few years, and there were so many producers missing. No Port of Lancaster smokehouse, no Dean’s Shortbread, no Geeta’s, no Debbie & Andrew’s. No White’s, no Wild, no Saucy Fish, no Yorkshire Provender.

The most startling thing was the lack of breweries. I think 2016 was probably the high point for this, whilst this year there were only 5 or 6. Barely any cider makers this year too. Still lots of gin dominating the drinks village. Good to see our friends at the Curry Sauce Co back again (and they are now available in Ocado too!)

I met some fellow ministers:-

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and as usual we sampled some good food and drink, the standard random selection of beer, cheese, apples, gin, chocolate, sausages, pears, biscuits, chutneys, sauces and chicken teryaki. Definitely a much smaller show this year, but we still returned with a decent haul (some items not pictured for reasons).

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The Swan Inn, Hanley Swan, Worcestershire, August 2018

A pub not far away from a camp site is something to always be explored. The Marton Arms in Thornton (Yorkshire) is probably our favourite “close to camp site” pub, given that it was just a few minutes walk away from the site.

The Swan Inn is about a mile away from where we were staying, but it had been recommended by regular MOFAD companions Karon & John, and looked really good on the web site. We had booked online, a quick and easy process, and they even e-mail you on the morning of your booking for you to confirm it. Very efficient and modern – I heartily approve!

We arrived a little early and ordered drinks from the bar. A very friendly barman handed us drinks and menus and we waited a few moments to be shown to our table. We had a nice little “mini booth” in the corner. We sipped our drinks and perused the menu, lots of nice things to choose from.

A waitress came over, looked at us drinking our drinks and reading menus, and asked us if we wanted to order drinks. Errrr, no. We’d like to order food. Oh, ok, I’ll get someone to take your order. She goes back to the bar, puts down her notepad, picks up a different notepad, and then comes back to take our order. Odd.

I continued to sip an excellent pint of HPA from Wye Valley Brewery. Really nice to see that a “foodie” pub is also capable of looking after their beer and presenting it in tip top condition.

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A little “amuse-bouche” arrived, a small basket of freshly cooked crisps and a little pot of salsa. This was a nice surprise, a freshly cooked crisp is a rare sight, and it was a pleasant little mouth pleaser. The salsa could do with a bit of a reduction though, rather watery tomato.

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On to the main courses, and most excellent they were. Mrs MOFAD opted for the asparagus risotto which was very flavoursome.

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After 10 miles of cycling and 5 of walking (both of which involved plenty of uphill), I needed some big tasty protein, in the form of a lovely bit of sirloin steak.

There was a time when I would almost always have steak when out and about. Now, it’s something that I only have only rarely (and always rare). Rareness (or lack of it) is one of the reasons why, it seems that it is a struggle to find places that cook steak to your liking (and it’s a personal preference which should be easy to honour).

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This one was cooked to perfection (for me) and was really tasty. Classic accompaniments of triple-cooked chips (we do love a bit of a triple cooking nowadays), a mushroom, roasted/grilled tomatoes and a few leaves on the side (with interesting parmesan shavings bringing another flavour into play). With the addition of some nicely warm English mustard, this was a perfect plate of steak and chips. More like this please!

After the exertions of the day, it’s fair to say that we had earned ourselves a pudding, and given there were plenty of lovely options on offer, we decided to indulge.

Mrs MOFAD had apple and cinnamon crumble with a scoop of ice cream. It was quite tart and might have benefitted from a spoonful of sugar. There was also a lot of cinnamon, which is exactly why I avoided it. Keep cinnamon out of my puddings 🙂

I had the roasted peach pavlova, which was a sweet delight. A very firm meringue, half a peach, nicely whipped cream and some cheffy squiggles along with some micro leaves, a couple of flowers and some fruity dots. It was lovely, although some more peach wouldn’t have gone amiss.

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A really nice dinner in a lovely pub. Whilst we waited for our plates to be cleared, I booked online for Monday night too. A fantastic village pub!

BBC Good Food Show Winter, The NEC, November 2017

The annual round up of the annual pilgrimage to the NEC to visit the BBC Good Food Show. And for the first time since the last century, we had a guest, with Mrs MOFAD’s sister (and regular MOFAD supplier) Jo joining us for the first half of the day. We rocked up at the NEC at just after 10am, after a quick detour to pick up our passenger. Note to future self – coming down the A446 from junction 9 is much better than going down to junction 6.

In to the show we go. More security this year, sniffer dogs trying hard not to be distracted by the smell of sausages cooking nearby. Guide dogs doing the same. As usual we set off for the drinks sections first, which were absolutely overwhelmed by gin producers. I thought that there were loads of them last year, but I’m sure there were even more this year. Fewer cider producers and way fewer breweries. No Renegade/West Berkshire (probably the highlight of the last 2 years). No BAD Co (another good one from last year). No Empress Ale. No Crafty Devil. Not even a bigger name like Wadworth.

There were a few familiar names as well as some new breweries (reports on them to come later I’m sure). Plenty of interesting food producers, but again some notable absentees. No Croome Cuisine and their lovely hop cheese. No Debbie & Andrew’s. We picked up the usual haul of Dean’s biscuits, always the most generous with their samples of whole biscuits (unlike some of the cheese producers who have samples the size of a mote of dust).

Santa tells me that there are more goodies to come in 25 days, so I’ll wait until then to do another round up 🙂

The Oyster Shed, Angel Lane, London, March 2017

After a lovely afternoon tea up the Shard, we had a wander around Borough market. We didn’t buy any food as we were full as an egg, but it was lovely to explore the market. We will definitely come back another day. After that we had a stroll along the south bank for a little bit.

We were meeting up with our good friend Gale, who happened to be working nearby today. We had arranged to meet in another pub, but that was closed for refurbishment, so we strolled east along the north bank for a short while to find ourselves in The Oyster Shed.

This is not one of your historical London taverns that has stood on this site for years, playing host to Samuel Pepys or the Krays. If you’re looking for an historical boozer, go elsewhere. It’s very new but doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb, blending nicely into its surroundings. Huge glass windows give good views over the river.

We met Gale here and stayed for a couple of drinks. Luckily (and slightly unexpectedly) there were a couple of decent ales on. This was a Naked Ladies by Twickenham Fine Ales. Those keywords ought to bring a few extra hits to this post. It was a hoppy and bitter golden ale.

Next up, a former craft beer. Camden Pale Ale is still a reliable beer, despite the fact that it is now owned by AB InBev. Camden Town Brewery grew very big very quickly, and around 70% of its beer is currently brewed elsewhere. By June this year, all brewing will be back in house at a new brewery site in Enfield, the investment coming as a result of the AB InBev takeover in December 2015. The initial backlash seems to have subsided, so Camden Town look to have ridden the storm.

The Oyster Shed claims not to be part of a chain, but Geronimo Inns are owned by Young’s, so they are. It’s not a bad thing in this case, as there are plenty of good pubs owned by Young’s.

If you find yourself around Cannon Street, Monument or London Bridge this is a cracking modern London pub to meet friends in for a drink. The food looked good too, plenty of pub classics on the menu, although we were too full to even consider anything, even a bowl of chips.

Recommended.

BBC Good Food Show Winter, The NEC, November 2016

We have been visiting the Good Food show since at least 1999. It is an annual pilgrimage. A great chance to pick up lots of interesting food and drink from smaller producers, some familiar, some new. There are big names there, such as the usual giant Lakeland shop:-

Most of the stalls are much smaller though, for small producers to sell direct to the public. Each year you try and work out who was there last year, who is new, and who is returning after a year off. One of my favourites from last year, Renegade Brewery from Berkshire were there again, with the same beers on show. L’Atypique craft cidre (nothing to do with that Stella nonsense) were also another returner.

On to some of the new. Absolutely loads of cider and gin producers this year, way more than breweries. I think that’s a first. In the Northern Ireland producers village there were lots of new stalls to look around, several breweries, cider producers and lots of interesting foods.

We also found out about the Appkettle – a nice looking piece of shiny designed and developed by some fellow Loughborough graduates. A kettle that is controlled by an app. You can change temperatures, monitor water levels, boil it remotely and keep it warm for 30 minutes. It is a kettle that costs £130.

Now that sounds a lot for a kettle, but when you consider that this one will set you back the same amount:-

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and it does nothing other than boil water, or that you could pay over 2 grand for this coffee machine:-

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then it doesn’t sound quite so crazy after all. But we didn’t buy one. We did have a nice chat with the team behind it though.

We carried on trundling around, picking up some of our favourites (Dean’s biscuits, Spice’n’Tice chutneys, cheeses) as well as some new things (lots of interesting new canned beers and some Irish cider).

You’ll also spot a selection of ales from elsewhere, my annual refresh of herbs and spices from Fox’s spices, lots of garlic things from the Isle of Wight garlic farm, some tasty fish from Port of Lancaster smokehouse and some other bits and pieces. There are also a few gifts (not pictured) 🙂

Another great day out at the Good Food show. Not even the weirdness of Christmas cake cheese (yes, really) could put a downer on it. Well worth it.

The Tea Merchant in Canary Wharf opens

This is another in that occasional series of previews of places that look nice but I’ve not been to yet.

The Tea Merchant in Canary Wharf has opened its doors following a big refurbishment.

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Formerly known as The Cat and Canary, The Tea Merchant claims to “bring sophisticated al fresco dining to Canary Wharf, from brunch through to evening.” Celebrating the area’s rich history, the Tea Merchant serves meals throughout the day and has a heated outside area with 80 seats overlooking the North Dock.  The private dining area is available for business meetings, private food events and drinks receptions.

A well-crafted menu offers high-quality dishes prepared using the best seasonal ingredients from hand-selected suppliers, serving breakfast, lunch, dinner and Sunday roasts. The open kitchen allows customers to watch the team showcase their culinary skills. Dishes on offer at the moment include rabbit loin, lemon sole, ox cheeks, sea trout, Dorset lamb and the classic cod and chips.

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The Tea Merchant’s new name is homage to the local area’s rich heritage. Canary Wharf was once one of the busiest docks in the world, bringing tea, sugar, grain, and produce to London from around the world. For a preview of the refurbishment, please visit the pub’s website and use the 360 tour: http://www.teamerchantcanarywharf.co.uk/360-tour

Kara Alderin, Fuller’s “Head of Premium Dining”, said: “The opening of The Tea Merchant has marked a new chapter in the site’s history. Together with a complete transformation and of course a new name, this business has an exciting new lease of life. It brings to the area the best in pub dining, with high quality wines, craft beers and some exceptional freshly prepared gin infusions to tempt even the hardiest tea drinker.”

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(All images copyright Fuller, Smith & Turner P.L.C.)