Back in the U.K. for Summer…Sort of.

Last Hoorah in Hondarribia…

We said adiós with heavy hearts to our home of 2 years Hondarribia…and of course all our great mates. We had a week or so of farewell get togethers that ranged from an evening pintxo stroll down Calle San Pedro to a menú del día with our sweetheart Itziar to a grand lunch @ with Gloria & Bernard @ Andoni’s (and Carmen) Txoko (cooking society). Hondarribia & Spain will be an experience that will be very hard to beat…

Back in the U.K. – Effing Cold!

We boarded the Bilbao-to-Portsmouth ferry on time post a nerve-wracking traffic jam that Hound #2 skilfully avoided by using  her Google map skills to route us through a wee fishing village – phew! Onto England…and as we disembarked in the Land Rover, England greeted us with its typical weather – pissing rain, windy as and effing cold…more like winter than effing August!

Frome’a A Pop’n! New Places Round Every Corner! – Sam’s Kitchen & the Rye Bakery Where Billie Found A Bean Bag…Loves Bean Bags!

We spent our first 4 nights camping in our old village of Frome, Somerset as Hound #1 Billie had an important vet appointment (1 of 4) to gear up for his return to New Zealand. We greatly enjoyed our return to Frome despite the wintry weather conditions as it has truly begun to blossom with new establishments popping up around just about every corner. One of our favourite morning coffee spots was the Rye Bakery which inhabits, quite stylishly, the vast insides of an old church. An amazing space that has seen some serious investment….

We also checked out Sam’s Kitchen Deli which has a truly stunning fit out & space…but we were not so impressed with the coffee in terms of quality and price, but could easily see enjoying a glass of wine or two in the 2nd floor bar & just walking the world go by, up St. Catherine’s Hill.

Fox & Badger @ Wellow – Awesome Lunch! Top Left: Bacon & Pea Risotto with Seared Duck Breast; The bar; Grilled Fresh Mackerel with Potatoes & Horseradish Cream Atop Chard

As we wrapped up our brief stay in Frome & prepared to head for Totnes for a month in an AirBnB cottage, we decided to indulge ourselves for having camped in wintry, wet conditions with a lunch @ our fave pub – the Fox & Badger in Wellow. We have never been disappointed in a meal here and this time was no exception. Exceptional quality at a more than fair price! If you’ve never been, GO!

Home Sweet Home for a Month – Totnes, Devon

We settled into our sweet AirBnB cottage late in the arvo with a cracking evening forecast ahead weather-wise. If you ever need a perfect place to stay in Totnes that is centrally located & comfortable as then check out this place. We ended up in good-vibe Totnes because my old Land Rover needed some TLC by my Devon mechanic Kevin prior to shipping to New Zealand. And Devon in August is or can be a serious challenge accomodation & price wise. But this ticked all the boxes!

Top Left: Best BLT & Avocado Sammie @ Rousdon Bakery; Venison Burger @ The Green Dragon Pub; Landcombe Cove – Stunning!

We have had sporadic stretches of an English summer & when we do, we leverage our time & our Secret Beaches book to the max. This is an excellent informational source for secluded, unpopulated beaches – a necessary bundle of information when you live in jammed to the gills England.

Top Left: Pigs Nose Pub – A Real English Pub; Macely Beach/Cove; Coastal Fields on Walk to Macely Beach

We got lucky with another forecasted, semi-summer’s day so made a plan to walk the track along the River Dart (below) to the village of Ashprington. An excellent walk was had by all and is a favourite activity of Hound #1, Billie. Hard to beat the Devon (or Dorset) countryside with rolling hills, mucho greenery & woods and a sweet river…and the pubs! Ashprington is home to the Dunstan Arms and we had a stunner of a lunch (and a pint or two).

Top: Dart River; Billie Waits for the Pizza; Lunch @ Durant Arms in Ashprington…Rabbit Rillettes & Toast Points & Cornichons.

Top: Billie Plays Hard With Toy Gift from Mate Gorka in Hondarribia; English Summer – Needs a Fire!; Another Gift from Gorka – Txakoli Vino!

We felt that after a few weeks in the village of Totnes that a day out in the Big Smoke of Exeter was in the cards. We had a few shopping missions to accomplish that could not be satisfied in Totnes, so on the train we hopped, Exeter bound.

A Day Out in Exeter…

We were able to tick a quite a few boxes in Exeter – I succeeded in replacing my about-to-disintegrate Levi jeans & Hound #2 raided all the Op Shops (Charity Shops for non-UK folks) nabbing some books & DVDs. We also managed a quick squizzy of Magdalen Road, foodie central for Exeter.

Thurleston Beach, Devon…

We were gifted with another stunner of a summer’s day…only problem it was a Bank Holiday Monday. Hound #2’s whole family has a genetic aversion to doing anything on a Bank Holiday, especially going to the beach. But we sort of devised plan which was to leave super early, get a swim & beach time in and do a coastal walk to the village of Bantham to the Sloop Inn pub for at least a pint & maybe lunch…crowds dependent.

The beach was awesome…until the hordes horded in. General theory is that any beach you can drive to & has a cafe or beach bar will have a tsunami of folks by lunchtime. And it always strikes us as funny or strange that if you are only willing to walk 10-15 minutes farther along you will almost always find a near empty, secluded beach.

The Sloop Inn was also awesome – we knew nothing about this pub but we dodged another Bank Holiday bullet by arriving a bit early when no one was there (yet) & placed our food & drink orders & grabbed a table in the empty garden courtyard.

The meals were stupendous and exceptionally well priced…wish it was our local!

The Sloop Inn, Bantham, Devon: Smoked Mackerel Salad & Local Mussels in Cream/Butter Sauce – Superb All!

Well, as we count down the days to our New Zealand return, frantically ticking off dozens of boxes of things to do with Billie the Jack Russell, my 1975 Series III Land Rover (Gertie – going to New Zealand!) & us and all our stuff, we have this (below) to return to…a massive slip – the backyard is now ever so much closer to the back door. Happy, happy, joy, joy in our wee casa in Lyttelton :-(.

Welcome Home…

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Bristol — Big Night Out & A Saturday’s Lunch…

We decided that before our eminent departure from the UK for Spain, that we had not really tasted the culinary or cultural highlights of the Big Smoke Bristol…so we booked ourselves into the wonderful Rodney Hotel in the super-cool area of Clifton & they treated us (and Billie) quite well…

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After an exploratory walk around our new hood (Billie’s idea), we got scrubbed up & took a leisurely stroll to our Friday night culinary event – Birch restaurant. This was a place after my own heart & many echoes of my New Zealand establishment London Street came loudly ringing through. Birch has a simple menu following the mantra of they’d rather do a few things exceptionally well than many things mediocre.

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After a quick perusal of the menu, we’d both made our choices and quickly got on to the important agenda items – beverages. Again, the wine list was small but well chosen and a decent majority of it fell in the ‘most affordable’ range. They offer some seriously good tastings by the glass at an amazingly low price – worth a try. We opted for a fat & fruity Cote du Rhone that went down with the greatest of ease.

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With the UK asparagus season just coming into full swing, a sharing plate of asparagus & fresh crab salad was brought to the table…and rapidly consumed.

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And for mains we got boring and could not resist ordering the same bloody thing…the Middlewhite Pork Belly with the potato cake & greens…but 2 very happy customers.

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So if you are near or headed to Bristol for whatever reason and you think you deserve a treat – by all means make it a meal & drink @ Birch!

And the dawn of Saturday thankfully brought yet more unusual British summer weather as we had booked ourselves in for a departing (we needed to get back to Frome to finish our packing) lunch @ Bell’s Diner & Bar Room. We had read about Bell’s in a plethora of publications and it was all 100% awesome….

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And they were spot on – a super day that allowed us to take the 1 outside table so Billie could be part of the experience – yay!

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This place is way cool and would love it to be my local – but maybe a wee bit dangerous. We started with a most unusual dish that made a pass at our new destination (Spain) – Jamón Butter with Bell’s Bread. A different take on bread & butter to be sure…

BFWBellsEntreeNext in the tapas style dining excursion was the double hit of Smoked Trout & Cider Pickled Cucumber & Dill Creme Fraiche and my dish of Cornish Clams, Saffron Potatoes cooked Broth with Parsley & Garlic…finished my clams before I remembered to take a photo!

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And I closed with the Chicken Oyster Pintxo to get me in practice for my new home -Hondarribia! Estupendo!

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So if you live nearby or a few counties away, get yourselves to Bell’s for a serious amount of pleasure.

The Food Assembly Launches in Frome!

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Yippee! The Food Assembly has made it to Frome! And many thanks to Pia McGee for taking on such a daunting task to hook us local Fromians up with our local suppliers to provide us with a regular plethora of superb produce & products. Begun in France almost 3 years ago, it has now grown over 600 assemblies across France & Belgium and now the UK.

In Pia’s own words…“Supermarket shopping isolates people buying food from those producing it. It’s time to ‘shake the hand that feeds you’, as Michael Pollan says. We love our farmers’ market, but if shopping local is to be part of our regular shop, we need ever more opportunities to do so, every week, and out-of-hours.”

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Frome Food Assembly Opening Night

The Frome Food Assembly is a weekly event – orders must be placed no later than late Monday evening prior to the weekly pickup (Wednesday from 5:30PM to 7:30PM but see holiday schedule below) at the Cheese & Grain where all the producers are on hand to deliver the goods or answer any questions or just to chat.The Frome Times did a sweet profile here….

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The Olde Bakehouse, The Wiltshire Smokehouse & Faye’s Farm Goods

Some of the local folks you will find @ the Food Assembly include:

* The Wiltshire Smokehouse…sampled their smoked salmon pate my first order & will re-order.

* Ivy House Farm…delicious dairy good for milk, butter, etc…

* Faye’s Farm…snapped up some beautiful bacon and broths.

* Baltonborough Farmshop…picked up some beef mince that made a stunning bolognese sauce.

* Vallis Veg…right on our doorstep.

So come on folks – get with the trend of doing it local….

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Anyone for a Sausage Roll?

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Ivy House Farm – Awesome Dairy…

Frome Food Assembly Holiday Schedule

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Best Pizza in Frome…Castello Cucina Italiana

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If you are on a search for the best pizza in Frome, look no further than Castello Cucina – they know what they are doing in spades. They have a weekday (Monday to Friday) lunch offer of any pizza or pasta dish for just £5.95 – a deal to make you squeal! We had tried to take advantage of this offer one wet Friday afternoon, but at that time they were running the special from Monday to Thursday…damn.

So we vowed to come back, and we are very glad we did. Castello Cucina has now become one of our regular Frome haunts and we’ve not tasted any better pizzas. Out of town, At the Chapel in Bruton does several mean versions as they also employ a wood burning oven.

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Round & Round the Dough Goes, Up in the Air…Nobody Knows.

On our last visit, we decided we needed to get out of our rut of a Margherita (for Hound #2) and the Parma (for Hound #3) & took the ‘Y’ in the road with the Diavola (devilish hints of heat & spice) and the Contadina (subtle goat cheese & rocket & onions).

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Diavola (top) and the Contadina (bottom) Pizzas….

And to top off the excellent food, the service at Castello Cusina is top notch – friendly, courteous and attentive. So make an extra effort to sample Castello’s fine food & be very happy a place like this calls Frome home.

 

Cornwall Fly Fishing Adventure – and Food Too!

We took a chance and booked a wee cottage (Pixie Cottage) in Crossgate (just outside of Launceston) for a week at the end of September for (a) me to finish out the fly fishing season on the River Tamar; (b) for Hound #2 to hopefully snag some boogie board beach time on the Cornish Coast and (c) Hound #1 (Billie) to have another Billie Holiday.

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By lucky coincidence (ahem!), one of our favourite local independent wine merchants, the Yapp Brothers in Mere, were having their annual Autumn tastings and it was only a modest detour on our way to Pixie Cottage. It has been a while since we have attended a decent vino sampling & this ticked more than the most boxes. The Yapp Brother’s wines on offer were predominately French (their speciality since 1969) and all excellent, with our 2 faves being the Domaine Py AOC Corbières: 3ème Cuvèe Blanc 2012 (white) and the St. Chinian Magali 2010 (red).

Rant break: These small, independent wine stores are such fantastic repositories of wine knowledge and offer up a far more interesting selection of winemakers than the Big Boy Supermarkets, but even as I write this, they are under threat which is very sad news for anyone who gives a hoot about wine. It seems that in a very short time & not too distant future the English retail wine world could very much be like Henry Ford’s Model T – you can have any colour (wine) as long as it’s black (it’s on our supermarket industrial wine stock list). They are Starbuck-ing our wine options. And it’s not like the Big Boy Supermarkets don’t already scarf up a decent chunk of your vinous dollars as they reportedly account for more than 70% of all wine retail spending. Support your local wine shop – fast. Ranting all done…

In addition to the wines on offer, the Yapp Brothers enlisted the help of some of their foodie friends, Godminster Organic Cheddar and Chesil Smokery in Dorset. And if a caffeine hit was required before the drive home, Claude the Butler was on duty. So since we were now all stocked up wine-wise for our week at Pixie Cottage, we needed some lunch…

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On our ‘to do’ board at home we’d pinned an article from one of the weekend rag’s magazines on what to do if you found yourself in the Somerset Levels. Well we were, so we made a zig-zag-backcountry-lane detour to the glowingly written about White Hart Inn in Somerton. Somerton is a sweet village and this pub (and inn) is a perfect match. The White Hart prides itself on being a pub (there is a restaurant too) in all the best senses of that word – welcoming everyone, including dogs, warm atmosphere & affordable food & drink. It takes seriously the mantra of supporting local producers whether you are talking food or drink. After a good scan of the menu (provenance of suppliers are included FYI) we opted for light bites – Hound #2 gravitated to the ham sandwich with chutney (£4.75 – when’s the last time you saw a pub sammie for less than a fiver?) and Hound #3 felt the wood fired pizza would hit the spot (£10.95). Correcto on both accounts…

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Wood fired Pizza

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House Cooked Ham & Chutney Sandwich

Our hunger pangs satiated, we got back on the road to make a pit stop @ the Lifton Farm Shop for some provisions (the sweet corn was the best we have had this summer) before our scheduled arrival time @ Pixie Cottage.

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Crossgate and Netherbridge Pools on the River Tamar & Pixie Cottage

Pixie Cottage was everything we expected and it suited the 3 Hounds to a ‘T’ – Billie absolutely loved the massive lawn to bounce around in and Hound #3 could not believe the River Tamar ran right past the property – score –  with 5 different fly fishing beats on the River Tamar within walking distance of Pixie Cottage and Hound #2 was a hop, skip & a jump to the Cornish Coast! So with the weather more than co-operating, fly rod & boogie board in hands, a bit of river thrashing & wave whacking was in order.

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The Harris Arms has kept coming up in our epicurean readings for not only a great reputation for its food, it is also quite renowned for its wine list – in fact, named the Best Wine Pub in Britain for 2013 we will have you know. We had a fun, down-memory-lane chat with Rowena (owner with partner Andy) who had spent time in our home space of New Zealand learning how to make wine in Gisborne. And more vinous fun was had perusing the multitude of empty, excellent bottles decorating the various nooks & crannies – someone’s had loads of fun.

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Classy Beverages

Hound #2 made an early decision to go a wee bit lighter on her main to leave enough space for something sweet (Baked White Chocolate Cheesecake – £6.95) & picked the Tomato & Basil Soup  (£4.95).

Alex had Soup du Jour - tomato & basil....she was saving room for dessert.

Tomato & Basil Soup

Hound #3 had no such plans for a sweet finish and hesitated not a nano-second for one of his perennial, palate pleasers – Duck Confit (£12.95). The Duck was served with a flavour bursting, awesomely Autumnal accoutrement of Chorizo & Bean Ragout with a side scoop of Mash to soak up the au jus. This was SO GOOD I had to get the recipe…find it below.

So as the UK starts to feel truly autumnal (rain, wind & cold), anymore Cornwall adventures will be put on hold till the weather comes right again….

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Duck Confit with Chorizo & Bean Ragout on Mash

Chorizo & Bean Ragout 

Soak dried Haricot Beans in water (keep in fridge) overnight.

Cook the beans in fresh un-salted water (not the water you’ve soaked them in) until they start to split.  Strain them, refresh in cold water to stop them cooking and then strain them until they are pretty dry – if you have a vac pack machine you can vac pack them, then refrigerate and they’ll keep for a week or so.  If not, keep them in the fridge, in a closed plastic container, for a few days (they will go off quite quickly) but you can cook them the day before you want to make the sauce. 

Dice chorizo (mild or hot to your taste).

Make red wine sauce as follows (this is the simple way to do it without making your own beef stock).

I suggest that you get hold of the stock ingredients from Essential Cuisine they make really great stuff.

1 litre of beef and chicken stock mixed together 50/50 (1/2 tablespoon each of stock powder).

1/2 bottle for strong red wine (Argentinian Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon).

2 x banana shallots skinned, halved and sliced.

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Crushed clove of garlic (skin on).

Put the stock and all the other items into a large pan and reduce by about a third.

Add some Essential Cuisine Concentrated Veal Jus – 1 tablespoon – you will have to stir really well into the simmering liquid as it takes a long time to dissolve.

Reduce by a further 20% approx.

If you make a mix of 1oz butter and 1oz flour in advance (soften the butter so you can mix the flour and then harden in the fridge) you can then dice about half of this and add to your sauce whisking vigorously until it’s dissolved.

Cook the sauce at a simmer for about 10 minutes to cook off the flour – this will, with luck, thickens the sauce.

Taste and season to your taste.

You should then strain through a fine strainer into a plastic storage tub.

To make the Ragout, just bring the sauce up to a gentle boil & add the bean and the chorizo and hey presto you have the red wine sauce with chorizo and haricot bean ragout.

Same, Same But Different – Bath

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I’d hate to say we ever fall into too many ruts, and I am not sure I’d call this a rut, but whenever we venture into the Big Smoke of Bath from our humble abode in Frome, we always end up at Same, Same But Different. It just does what it does so exceptionally well – the food is honest, the wine list short but each is a gem (Red & White Wine Merchants of Devon get the nod), the prices are fair and the staff mod def define the word ‘hospitality’.

SSBDInside

On our most recent visit we only had one disappointment – the Sticky Pork Ribs had sold out…so forced to make alternative choices, Hound #2 went veggie with the Haloumi & Mushroom Burger (£9.50 – I’d had it the week before) and was dutifully most satisfied. The Triple Cooked Chips are the way all chips should be done, a rarity to be savoured if you find them.

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Haloumi & Mushroom Burger with Triple Fried Chops

Hound #3 opted for one of the several sandwiches on offer and the most appealing on the day was the Slow Braised Beef Brisket (£6.95) on bread from the locally worshipped Bertinet Bakery (we had to stop by post lunch & snag a loaf). The beef was meltingly tender and perfectly cooked and a splurge was decided and the triple cooked taters (£1.30) were included in the order. All washed down with a pint of draught Estrella (£3.60) …that’s a lunch.

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Slow cooked Beef Brisket Sammie

So if you find yourself in Bath or headed to Bath, put Same, Same But Different on your food SATNAV and enjoy….

Square Edge Cafe, Wells…A Hop’n Place

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Wednesday is market day in the sweet village of Wells and as we had an eBay purchase pick up errand to run, decided to park up & have a good squizzy. And find some decent coffee…Just by sheer chance, we’d read about the Square Edge Cafe in the recent edition of the local Mendip Times a few days before, so we made a bee line for that.

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Indoor & Outdoor Spaces & Tempting Treats

To say it was hopping would be an understatement as seats anywhere in the establishment were at a premium. But we did manage, post a short wait, to grab an outdoor table from exiting patrons & put our orders in.

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Even being jammed, the service was quick & efficient and soon enough we were sipping velvety cappuccinos and splitting a very delicious coffee cake. The decor was quintessential shabby chic and we always love a dog friendly space & Square Edge most definitely is a canine welcoming place.

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Supa Dog (and Girlfriend) Friendly

On our next visit to the Wells market we will include a deeper dive into the menu’s lunch offerings…we will report back.