The philosopher Julian Baggini, considering rules in the kitchen, proposes a category of dishes called SIVs (Simple but Infinitely Variable) for various cuisines. The English exemplar is the Roast Dinner. Meat joint, root veg, roasties, Yorkies, gravy, condiments. There are only so many ways you can assemble this Sunday centrepiece and yet… nothing beats everybody’s Mum’s. Or if you’re into culinary dereliction, the congealing hotplate offering in your pub carvery.
I’ve written recently about the Sunday roast route for restaurants and its perils as a paradigm of Englishness. Imagine my surprise then when out of leftfield came a decision by Canto in Ancoats decision to push, alongside its Mediterranean tapas menu, a classic Sabbath selection of half roast chicken, beef sirloin or pork belly.
You won’t find roasts at Simon Shaw’s sister restaurants, El Gato Negro (Spanish) and Habas (Middle Eastern), but then Canto has alway felt slight hybrid since the initial concept as a homage to Portuguese food was ditched. Shame on the Manchester public for not buying into this distinctive Iberian cuisine.
The coup for Canto was installing Carlos Gomes as head chef. Porto-born, as it happens, he’s a former head chef at the original Barrafina in Soho, which gained a Michelin star for its Spanish small plates. His Canto menu is basically that too, the only remaining nod to Portugal a few wines, an octopus dish and the irresistible pastel de nata custard tarts.
An image I was sent of the Sunday pork belly almost convinced me to drop my prejudice against trad roasts, but the rest of the gallery had me salivating towards the Carlos’s new autumn/winter menu, launched at the same time. I didn’t regret it. Sampled early evening as a deluge sent the Cutting Room Square crowd scuttling for cover, it was the best array of dishes we’ve eaten at Canto and a couple were a real knock-out. If comfort food can count as a knock-out?
In showbiz you save the star turn till last; so it was with the braised ox cheek, crispy pancetta, celeriac and horseradish puree with kale (£11), a slow-cooked master work to blow any simple roast out of the oven.
A similar intensity of flavour was present in one of the ‘warm-up’ acts. Jamon croquetas are my gooey crumbed balls of choice, but a swirl of black garlic mayo elevated a mushroom-filled version to umami heights (£6).
Not far behind were griddled cod with a black olive crust and confit potatoes (£9) and caramelised cauliflower in tomato and harissa spiced bean stew (£5.50), both soothing and seasonal in feel.
Octopus is a staple of North West Spain (pulpo) and Northern Portugal (polvo). Here for £10, a substantial tentacle was served Portuguese lagareiro style, baked with spuds. Not subtle but cephalopod dishes rarely are.
Canto is dog-friendly and trying tiny chunks of octopus was a first for our chihuahua, Captain Smidge. He loved it almost as much as the Italian meatballs in an almondy tomato sauce with parmesan shavings (£8) we ordered with him in mind, but he snubbed the roasted beetroot with ajo blanco sauce (£5.50). Watching his waistline, we were frugal with our contributions of carrot cake and pastel de nata.
We ordered my favourite red on the wine list, from Dao in Portugal (where else?). The Quinta do Correio Tinto 2018 offers a riot of dark berry fruit, herbs and a beguiling smokiness. It’s a bargain at £37 a bottle (also available by the glass). Come to think of it, it would be a perfect partner for a Sunday roast.
Canto, Cutting Room Square, Blossom Street, Manchester M4 5DH.
Now open Wednesday and Thursday 5pm-11pm, Friday and Saturday 12pm-12am and Sunday 12pm-11pm. The Sunday Roast menu offers two courses for £23 and three for £27, while on Saturdays ‘Tipsy Tapas’, provides great value, with three select dishes and unlimited Cava, Bellinis or house wine for 90 minutes at £35pp. It’s available from 12pm to 3pm until November 8, when the restaurant’s festive offer will officially launch. To make a reservation contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0161 870 5904.
https://i0.wp.com/www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Pig-cheeks-scaled.jpg?fit=2048%2C1366&ssl=113662048Neil Sowerbyhttps://www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/NS-typemark-v1c.pngNeil Sowerby2021-10-29 19:23:042021-10-29 20:01:59Ox cheeks and mushroom croquetas the pick of Canto’s seasonal menu
It’s nigh on 40 years since the BBC televised their adaptation of John Le Carré’s Smiley’s People, culmination of his trilogy about spymaster George Smiley, the squat, bespectacled antidote to the crass, cartoonish antics of James Bond. I’m all for compulsive slow burners, so I read the 1979 novel again recently before catching up with Alec Guinness as Smiley on Amazon Prime.
Le Carré, who died last December, had made Berlin his personal literary territory through 1963’sThe Spy Who Came In From The Cold, made into a movie with Richard Burton two years later. Somewhere in between the two books (and before a certain David Bowie) I lived in West Berlin and can never forget how I survived a sub-Arctic initiation, living in a Turkish quarter not far from the Wall, scene of both books’ denouements.…
It was a bitter January. I always call it my pea soup month. Each evening after work at the Bilka supermarket I stood shivering at the Imbiss at Zoo Station to eat my thick Erbsensuppe – mushy pea puree by any other name.
At weekends I treated myself to a sausage in it. I was the ultimate, penniless student in my puckering mock leather greatcoat and threadbare loon pants. The only thing I had in abundance was hair.
Finally, come February I got paid and was able to vary my diet to Currywurst with potato salad and even get to see some of the amazing city, an island of Capitalism stranded in the middle of Red East Germany – remaining so until the Wall came down in 1989 and Deutschland was reunified, the Brandenburg Gate serving as its symbolic centrepiece.
After only fleeting visits since and I’m back in the reunited capital a tourist not cultural squatter. Currywurst is now as much a Berlin icon as David Bowie, but pea soup has bitten the dust in favour of burgers and, of course, the doner kebab, created in the city by Turkish immigrant Kadir Nurman in the early Seventies (as with Bowie, we never met).
It’s a city utterly changed, obviously for the better, the axis for citizen and tourist alike shifting back to the original centre in East Berlin. There the Prussians built vast museums and monuments to their warrior culture, but I suspect the urban cool hang-outs in districts such as Prenzlauer Berg, Kreuzberg, Neukölln and even raw Friedrichshain are more the magnet for today’s weekenders.
Still there’s no escaping the huge burden of history borne by Berlin – the legacy of Nazism, Communism and the city’s perennial brand of Hedonism, all to come to terms with. It makes for a thought-provoking cocktail of impressions.
Where to start? For me it was on top of a car park in Neukölln. Klunkerkranich is a place to get your bearings, but first be prepared to negotiate five floors of shopping mall and a couple of concrete ramps. Your reward a ramshackle boho bar (no food), a sun trap with a wonderful view across the city (main image).
Two Weissbiers later and I felt like a native, though these were cloudy, refreshing Bavarian wheat beers; the real native Berliner Weisse is rather tart, neutral stuff perked up with a Schusse (shot) of raspberry or (shockingly green) woodruff syrup. Like Currywurst, really just a one-off must.
For old times’ sake, I drank one in the Prateron Kastanienallee, a true old-fashioned, tree-shaded beer garden, open seasonally, surviving up among the baristas and sushi meisters of hip Prenzlauerberg.
For the most spectacular view of the sprawling metroplis trek up to the top of a DDR relic – the Fernsehturm (telly tower). You can sip suitably retro cocktails in the panoramic bar 365 metres above the ground and imagine the Stasi are stalking you. In its shadow is another institution peddling a Teutonic image at odds with contemporary Berlin. The Alexanderplatz branch of Munich’s famous Hofbräuhauswill satisfy your craving forSchweinebraten, dumplings and the like.
You are now in Mitte, catch-all designation for the city’s core, which I kept gravitating back to (but not Alexanderplatz itself, concrete ‘dead’ centre). Much more human in scale and with better shopping, the Hackesche Höfe is a series of eight inter-connected Art Nouveau courtyards with elaborate ceramic facades off Rosenthalerstrasse, mixing shops, bars, theatre and creative studios. Neglected during the GDR era, it symbolises the rebirth of the whole Mitte, where thoroughfares such as Torstrasse, Linienstrasse, Tucholskystrasse and Auguststrasse are packed with interesting indie restaurants and bars.
On Torstrasse, I’d recommend tiny Noto, with its laid-back contemporary take on German food, but even better in the same vein on Linienstrasse, Das Lokal, where an old corner Kneipe (bar) has been transformed into one of the best affordable, casual dining spots in the city. They squeezed me in at the counter and I munched on a blanquette of rose veal and drank a limpid Rheinpfalz Pinot Noir. Then I went back another night for venison.
Even more casual was Berlin’s take on street food, at Birgit and Bier, a hippyish beer garden, just south of the River Spree, that makes Klunkerkranich look smooth. I like this Turkish cafe heavy corner of Kreuzberg, where the spirit of alternative Berlin lingers on. Promenade along the river westwards beyond Schlesisches Tor and you’ll find wonderful street markets.
Or step in off the wide, breezy space that is Warschauerstrasse and enjoy the achingly cool public space of the Michelberger Hotelin the company of one of Berlin’s new wave craft beers from Brewbaker. For those of you that have missed the city’s club scene, it’s only a 10 minute walk from Berghain, which finally reopened at the start of October, the former power station having been repurposed as an art space during the Pandemic.
By all means visit the big sights, the Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie, but weekends away should also be about this kind of aimless sauntering, keeping your eyes open. The Germans have a verb for it: to ‘Bummel’.
So, if you’re in the Tiergarten, Berlin’s equivalent of Central Park complete with an obligatory nude sunbathing patch, grab a beer and pizza and hire a boat at the lakeside Cafe am Neuen See.Finally, for the ultimate drift through this fascinating metropolis let the stern take the strain – go on a river cruise. Boarding near the medieval Marienkirche, famous for its ethereal ‘Dance of Death’ fresco, I took the basic 23 euros one hour tour from Stern & Kreis. We glided serenely past the bombastic hulk of the Cathedral, the monumental Museum Island and on to the modern riverside resurgence beyond the Reichstag. It would give a fascinating over-view for a first time visitor. Oh yes, and there is a Himmel; they serve beer on board.
Make this your Berlin Bucket List
There’s so much to see, don’t try to cram too much into your stay. I’m saving sunbathing out at the Wannsee lake and a visit to the Stasi (East German secret police) Museum until next time. Here, though, are a few musts…
The Holocaust Memorial
Between the Brandenburg Gate and Potsdamer Platz, its design is inspired by Prague’s amazing Jewish Graveyard with its dense, cluttered gravestones. Here in Berlin 2,700 square, dark grey pillars of varying heights are scattered across the site. In the middle of the engulfing maze I was overcome by an immense feeling of isolation and despair, which is the appropriate response to a space designed to commemorate the exterminated Jews of Europe.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary, this Daniel Libeskind building in Kreuzberg bears obvious architectural resemblances to his later project, the Imperial War Museum North at Salford Quays. Step back from its zinc facade and the great zigzag slashes rearrange themselves into a dislocated Star of David. Three long, intersecting corridors – ‘axes’ of exile, holocaust and continuity – showcase small artefacts, mementos, testimonies, but the centrepiece is the Holocaust Tower. This is a vertiginous, walled void, completely dark but for a small slit high up, allowing light and noises from outside. Small batches of visitors are filtered in at a time and the huge door swings behind you. Flesh-creeping.
On the central site of the Gestapo and SS HQs, this exhibition space offers a comprehensive account of the rise of Nazism. Outside, set against a remaining fragment of the Berlin Wall, is an essential open air presentation of life in Berlin from 1933-45.
Immediately upon reunification, the city bought a stretch of the Berlin Wall on Bernauerstrasse to keep as a memorial of the fortified dividing line that was suddenly imposed upon the city by the East German regime in 1961. The visitor centre charts how families were separated on that fateful day. Elsewhere across the city are preserved segments of the Wall. Within an easy canalside walk of my hotel near the Hauptbahnhof is the Invalidenhof, a 19th century graveyard poignantly preserved by being in the ‘death strip’. Here it was in 1962 that West German police shot dead an East German border guard to rescue a 15-year-old boy who was in the process of escaping.
Five great museums cluster on the site of the original Berlin river island settlement, now a Unesco World Heritage Site. You could spend an entire week exploring the collections. Pick one? Perhaps the Pergamon built over a century ago in the style of a Babylonian temple to house the treasures German archaeologists were plundering across the globe. Stand-outs are the ancient Pergamon altar itself unearthed in eastern Turkey and the reconstruction of Babylon’s Ishtar Gate with its eerily preserved deep blue bricks and and sculpted mythical beasts. If all this monumentalism leaves you cold slip into the nearby Alte Nationalgalerie, whose collection of predominantly 19th century art boasts some wonderful Romantic landscapes by Caspar David Friedrich.
Neil Sowerby stayed at Motel One Berlin Hauptbahnhof, Invalidenstrasse 54, 10557 Berlin, +49 30 36410050. It’s across from the transport hub of the central station.
For full tourism information go to the Visit Berlin site and to book a Berlin Welcome Card, official tourist ticket giving access to public transport and many attractions plus 200 discount offers go to this link.
https://i0.wp.com/www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/170719Klunkerkranich-scaled.jpg?fit=2048%2C1493&ssl=114932048Neil Sowerbyhttps://www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/NS-typemark-v1c.pngNeil Sowerby2021-10-28 18:01:002021-11-12 16:11:17Why I came in from the cold – revisiting my old haunt Berlin
Old chestnuts are less an ingredient more a verbal crutch but I can forgive Fergus Henderson for dredging up his riposte to the smugness of plant-based proselytisers: “How do you tell someone is a vegan? Answer: They tell you.”
Nigella Lawson shares the great man’s charm and forthrightness. She has just ruffled a few feathers – if feathers are allowed in the equation – by admitting to a newspaper she “doesn’t see the point” in being vegan after she essayed the lifestyle choice for two weeks.
While loving vegetables and respecting the views of those who eat a plant-based diet, she won’t be giving up meat again any time soon.
In her opinion humans should eat meat as the “have the teeth for meat”, while conceding we all should cut down excessive intake. It was the eggs she missed the most during her trial run. With me it would be the cheese. Have you ever sampled vegan cheese? As unpleasant as many of the meat and fish substitutes flooding the market.
The 61-year old telly icon, whose latest book Cook Eat Repeat is her best since her debut How To Eat, said she is unsure how such a diet can be better for you due to “intensive factory-making”, preferring to eat ‘proper food’.
Proper food? If I were to pay a belated individual visit to Escape to Freight Island, self-styled “axis of incredible food, drink, music and immersive entertainment, hidden in plain sight at Manchester’s Depot Mayfield” the dining option I’d arrow in on would be Baratxuri’s wood-fired oven for a Galician Xuleton steak, grilled by the maestro Joe Botham.
No one’s going to ask him to provide the scran to celebrate World Vegan Day at Freight Island on Tuesday, November 2. That honour goes to their Depot neighbours, Mi & Pho, who will be collaborating with Pomona Island, easily the best beer choice across the venue. This fully vegan food and beer pairing will take place at the Urban Market on Tuesday, November 2 (6.30pm-10pm) and feature six fresh and healthy Vietnamese dishes paired carefully with six beers.
Expect Spring Rolls, Hot & Sour Soup, Steam Bao Bun, Pad Thai Tofu, Vietnamese Curry Tofu, and a surprise dessert to be announced on the day. Drink pairings from Pomona Island include Factotum, a pale ale; Discotheque a Go-Go, a double dry-hopped pale ale with Zappa, Mosaic, Simcoe, Vic Secret; Pomona lager; Stacks of Green Paper, a strawberry and raspberry sour with grains of paradise; and Boogie Chillen’, a double dry-hopped IPA with Citra, Idaho 7, Sorachi Ace and Galaxy. Bookhere.
Forget Seitan, Quorn and industrial ready meals, this is the kind of food (and beer) that rocks my plant-based boat. Mi & Pho, both here and at their original South Manchester restaurant, offer fish and meat dishes but vegan is an essential component of Vietnamese cuisine… and across the rest of South East Asia.
It’s no surprise that the latest food and drink residency at the evolving residential ‘neighbourhood’ KAMPUS, just a 10 minute walk from Freight Island, has gone to Altrincham Market favourite, Bánh Vì. Until the end of November, Thursday to Sunday, co-founders Harry Yarwood and Jess King will be serving a vegan version of Vietnam’s benchmark sandwich, the bánh mì, along with other non-meat treats from that country.
Harry? Jess? Am I hearing cries of ‘cultural appropriation’? Rubbish. The baguette that’s the basis of a bánh mì springs from French colonial heritage – further proof that food is a cultural melting pot.
Remember recently when the hateful Mail and Express drummed up a storm in a rice bowl over Manchester-born Pippa Middlehurst, winner of Britain’s Best Home Cook’, daring to write about dumplings and noodles? More sneaky woke bashing on their part. Check out myappreciation of her essential new book.
Which brings us to arguably Britain’s most influential cookery book writer, Jackie Kearney, aka the Hungry Gecko (as Pippa is Pippy Eats). The Masterchef star’s seminal first book, Vegan Street Food (Ryland Peters, £16.99), is one of the most thumbed through on my shelves. Its recipes stem from culinary adventures with her young family across Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India. The initial plan wasn’t for a vegan-centric account. It just evolved that way thanks sheer weight of approachable meat/fish/dairy free recipes.
Only last weekend, buoyed by the presence of two South East Asian grocery stores in Hebden Bridge down the road, I recreated her Hungry Gecko Jackfruit Jungle Curry – a riot of lemongrass, galangal, turmeric root, tamarind, kaffir lime leaves and much more, served with a coconut milk-infused yellow rice. After a spring roll starter
A less complicated dish is Jackie’s Laos-style Roasted Pumpkin, Coconut and Chilli Soup, a picture of which she has just posted on Facebook. Once of Chorlton, she is now based in Liguria. I told you the world is a melting pot. If you are fancying a switch to a plant-based diet, or even becoming more flexitarian, start with this. Vegan doesn’t have to mean bland.
2tbsp vegetable oil; one small pumpkin nor squash, deseeded and cubed; 2-4 large red chillies, trimmed; 1 litre veg stock; 800ml coconut milk; 2tsp salt; 2-3 almond or any vegan cream.
Preheat the oven to 220C (Gas 7). Drizzle the oil onto a baking sheet. Put the pumpkin on the sheet and toss to coat in the oil. Roast for 20-30 minutes until it begins to brown and soften. Put the chillies on the baking sheet for the last 8-10 minutes and roast until they begin to blacken.
Put the stock in a large pan and add one litre of water and the roasted vegetables. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and add the coconut milk. Return to the boil, then simmer gently for 10 minutes. Using a food processor or stick blender, blend the soup until smooth and creamy. Season with salt to taste. Divide the soup into serving bowls and finish each with a swirl of almond cream.
https://i0.wp.com/www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Main-shot.jpg?fit=1170%2C720&ssl=17201170Neil Sowerbyhttps://www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/NS-typemark-v1c.pngNeil Sowerby2021-10-27 19:45:562021-10-27 20:04:19V for Vegan Victory with Vietnam (and the spice roads of S.E. Asia)
Wish me luck. I’m about to embark on recreating the Roasted Chicken Wing Garum that is a party piece at Noma in Copenhagen. I’m scaling down the portions required by the Fermentation Lab of the global game-changing three-star restaurant and adapting my own less hi-tech equipment for the experiment.
They’ve allowed me to share the recipe from their Noma Guide to Fermentation (Artisan, £30), seeing how keen I was to explore a culinary technique handed down since Roman times and given a new lease of life by Noma founder Rene Redzepi and David Zilber, his head of fermentation for five years.
Read my ‘Anchovy is of the Essence – Garum, Coltura d’Alici and Nam Pla’ for a primer in my nascent discipleship and desire to enhance the flavours of my cooking with the funkiest of fermented sauces but without the traditional fish. https://www.neilsowerby.co.uk/2021/07/02/anchovy-is-of-the-essence-garum-colatura-dalici-and-nam-pla/ Now comes the hard, stinky part. I’ve purchased my chicken bones and wings and have adapted a rice cooker to stand in for a fermentation chamber, modifying the amount of raw materials to fit.
I’ve cheated by buying in organic pearl barley koji (from Amazon UK); next time I’ll start from scratch, but first I’ll have to acquire a koji tray. Another boy’s gastro toy, my wife sighs.
For the uninitiated, Koji is cooked rice that has been inoculated with Aspergillus oryzae, a mold that’s widespread in Japan. The mold releases enzymes that ferment the rice by decomposing its carbohydrates and proteins. In this case the process is applied to barley (barley miso is made this way).
• Wish me luck over the coming weeks. I’ve followed the authors’ instructions to carefully peruse more detailed instructions in the ‘Beef Garum’ section but, with my success rate in creating basic kimchi not of the highest, I’m going to be on tenterhooks. All of a ferment, you might say.
Roasting brings a lot of rich, fully developed flavour to this garum, meaning it needs only about a month of fermentation to coax out more umami. If we were to ferment this chicken garum as long as we do beef or squid garum, it would lose its subtlety and complexity.
Place the bones in a large pot and fill with water just to cover—about three litres. Bring the water to a boil, skimming away any impurities that float to the surface as it comes to temperature. Once it reaches a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the stock for three hours.
In the meantime, heat the oven to 180°C/355°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the chicken wings on the lined sheet and roast them for 40 to 50 minutes, tossing several times while cooking to ensure that they get an even, dark browning. Remove the wings from the oven and let them cool down. Weigh out 2 kilograms of the roasted wings and use a cleaver to chop them into small pieces. Strain the chicken stock through a fine-mesh sieve and allow it to cool.
Pulse the koji in a food processor to break it up into small pieces. Put the chopped chicken wings, koji, salt, and 1.6 kilograms of the chicken stock in a 3-litre fermentation vessel of your choice and stir to combine thoroughly. Scrape down the inner sides of the container with gloved hands or a rubber spatula and lay a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the liquid. Cover the container with a lid; screw it on slightly less than completely tight if it’s a screw cap or leave it slightly ajar in one corner if it’s a snap lid. Ferment the garum in a fermentation chamber at 60°C/140°F or in an electric rice cooker on “keep warm” for four weeks.
Every day for the first week, use a clean spoon or ladle to skim off as much fat as you can, then stir the garum and cover again. After the first week, skim and stir once a week.
Pass the garum through a fine-mesh sieve, and then again through a sieve lined with cheesecloth. Allow the liquid to settle and skim off any fat that floats to the surface.
Pour the garum into bottles or another covered container. The garum is very stable and will keep well in the fridge for months. You can also freeze it for longer storage without any negative effects, but note that because of the high salt content, it probably won’t freeze completely solid.
When first tasting roasted chicken wing garum, almost every Noma chef mutters the same word: “Ramen.” It’s true, this garum possesses some of the same deep, meaty tones of a great bowl of ramen. A splash poured into a basic kombu and katsuobushi dashi makes for a convincing cheat. And if you’ve made a more proper ramen broth, a touch of garum will help kick the flavor up to eleven.
Coat cashews (or any nut of your choice) with melted butter and spread onto a baking sheet or oven- safe pan. Roast in a 160°C/320°F oven until they become golden brown and fragrant. Remove them from the oven and mix in a couple of tablespoons of chicken wing garum. Don’t add so much garum that the liquid pools on the pan. All the garum should be absorbed by the nuts and evaporated by the heat. You don’t want the cashews to become soggy. Once they cool, they should still be crunchy, with a savoury, salty crust.
Excerpted from Foundations of Flavor: The Noma Guide to Fermentation by Rene Redzepi and David Zilber (Artisan Books). Photographs by Evan Sung.
https://i0.wp.com/www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/chicken-wing-garum-copy.jpg?fit=1365%2C1048&ssl=110481365Neil Sowerbyhttps://www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/NS-typemark-v1c.pngNeil Sowerby2021-10-23 18:29:002021-11-22 09:32:55Roasted chicken wing garum – I put the Noma Book of Fermentation to the test
Jonathan Meades pontificating on Expressionist Architecture’s debt to the Gothic. Classic Meades. Against a backdrop exemplifying his polemic – Hamburg’s Chilehaus. Ten storey 1920s office block built on wealth from a South American saltpetre venture; ornate, curved showcase for 4.8 million dark bricks, UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As Meades proclaims to camera in his 2008 travelogue, Magnetic North: “Expressionism was a variety of Modernism, which didn’t prevail against the rectilinear idiom of the International Style. No, Expressionism didn’t try to break with the past, it embraced it, reworked the practice.”
The two part Magnetic North took the maverick architecture/food critic from the Flanders flatlands to the old weird Baltic states via the independent North German cities that made up the Hanseatic League, mercantile confederation at its peak from the 13th to the 15th centuries. Meades’ verdict: “God’s first attempt at the EU.”
That Hamburg, the Bundesrepublik’s second city and biggest port, is still in thrall to its Hansa past is symbolised by its car number plates – HH (Hansestadt Hamburg) – and by a mindset that finds more in common with Antwerp or Copenhagen than, say, Munich.
Hence the Meades telly odyssey (or is that too Greek a word?). Reacting against the cultural seduction of the Mediterranean South with its sun, wine and olives, he went in search of the North, land of greyness, grain-based drinks and herring, territory pervaded by a dark, scatological, Grimm-like imagination. I am still with the great man on that journey.
So does Hamburg live up to the Baltic billing? Definitely. We are in Deichstrasse after dark. Across the Zollkanal waterway the great brick cliff faces of the Speicherstadt warehouse district are lit up a treat. The spice and carpet trades no longer rule in one of Europe’s most spectacular townscapes, but it still radiates mercantile imperatives. Rather like uncompromising Hamburg itself. Which makes it so refreshing for a weekend break. Real. Out there in the current docks, the giant container ships and cruise liners slide in up the River Elbe.
Deichstrasse was here before all this. This modest little street dates back to the 14th century and some of its lopsided properties are restored 17th century. We are torn between two Hanseatic culinary options. The Kartoffekeller (Potato Cellar) is a restaurant devoted entirely to the spud. From soups and souffles to pancakes and a shot of digestif spirit, all offerings are based on that tuber. Even the staff are clad in potato sacks. Its rival across the road is the Alt Hamburger Aalspeicher (Old Hamburg Eel House), offering eel soup, eel in green sauce, smoked eel… you get the message. Or, if you can wriggle out of eel, it serves that other Baltic favourite, the herring. (Note the latter eating house is ‘temporarily closed, as I write).
We said Nein to both places and resumed our evening Bummel – a lovely German word for sauntering aimlessly. Nothing to do with what goes on down along the Reeperbahn. We’d encountered Hamburg’s red light district in passing mid-afternoon. Perhaps window-framed hookers were flaunting it in broad daylight along notorious Herbertstrasse, closed off by a wall to women and minors. In solidarity with them I chose not to slip in even for a gawp.
Instead, we went for Art, drawn by the great Romantic works of Caspar David Friedrich and Philipp Otto Runge at the Hamburger Kunsthalle but found the gallery glum and difficult to navigate. The main station, the Hauptbahnof, next door was more exciting. Cultural compensation came the same evening with a delightful production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the Hamburg Staatsoper – at affordable (subsidised) prices compared with at home.
Both institutions are in an upmarket quarter close to the two city centre lakes, the Binnenalster and the much larger Aussenalster. Here also is the Ratshaus (city hall), the Venetian-style Alster Arcades and the city’s luxury shopping district. It’s best to look beyond for a cutting edge place to dine. We fell for Vlet(above), with its Slow Food nod to North German culinary traditions and atmospheric warehouse location in Speicherstadt. Vlet is Old High German for “Fleet”, meaning a canal in a coastal city. Our two course set lunch featured dishes such as “beef brisket, oat sauce with a gratin of blue potatoes” or “lamb’s lettuce, marinated bread, liver of Heidschnucke (species of sheep), turnips”.
Still, no visit to Germany is complete without a huge plate of traditional Schweinebraten (roast pork) and cabbage. So when it featured on the menu as a lunchtime special at the Altes Madchen, there was only ever going to be one accompaniment to my pint of IPA. Even if it meant missing out on sandwiches, made with sourdough from this Braugasthaus’s in-house bakery.
For Braugasthaus, read brewery tap. Ratshernn, Hamburg’s own take on craft brewing, is based here and there’s a brilliant global beer boutique alongside the contemporary-styled beer hall, which is a far oompah from the old Hofbrauhaus variety (there is a dull offshoot of the Munich original on the Esplanade in Hamburg City centre).
It’s a trek by underground up to the Altes Madchen, but worth it. Nearby is Hamburg’s own “Northern Quarter”, the Sternschanze, full of interesting, offbeat shopping and bars. Continue south to St Pauli, Hamburg’s graffiti-daubed, libertarian heartland. From here cross the Reeperbahn and you are down on the river.
Early each Sunday morning the dockside Fischmarkt (Fish Market) hosts a huge party – really a continuation of all-night revels. We were there midweek, so missed the action. Still the walk along the riverfront, quite sober, is intoxicating enough, past the 10 floating pontoons of the Landungsbrucken (landing stages) to the three-masted sailing ship, the Rickmer Rickmers, now moored as a nautical museum.
From here across the river in Speicherstadt the futuristic prow of the Elbephilharmonie concert hall rears up, its crystalline carapace resting on top of an old brick warehouse. The building of this landmark project was fraught with problems. Way behind schedule, Elphi, as the locals call it, finally opened early in 2017.
Stray inland from the Landungsbrucken and you are in the Neustadt (New Town) which, like the Old Town, looks neither particularly new or old. Traditional street corner bar decked out almost like an old wooden ship, the Thamers Stube is the best haunt for a restorative tipple after all that Bummeling. Try a Jever, a raspingly dry local beer speciality.
St Michaelis, five minutes away, is Hamburg’s iconic church, its 433ft high tower dominating the city skyline. You can climb it, but I’d recommend the altogether cheaper ascent at St Petri, the oldest (11th century) and most characterful of the city’s parish churches. It’s on Kreuslerstrasse. The spire is actually the 3ft higher than St Michaelis and the views of the city are awe-inspiring. We puffed our way to the eyrie inside the tip of the spire, feeling pleased with our efforts, to find it occupied by a group of kindergarten toddlers enjoying their packed lunches and not out of breath, like us.
There’s no escaping the sea in this city. Another must-see that makes you reconsider your whole attitude to the humble brick is the city’s International Maritime Museum, the world’s largest seafaring homage with over 100,000 exhibits – hi-tech stuff as well as model ships – over 10 storeys.
We stayed at the 25 Hours Hafen City hotel, 200 metres away down the Osakaalle, on the edge of the giant building site transforming the “Harbour City” wasteland. Our lodging is part of an acclaimed German boutique chain. This one boasts a seafaring theme – held together with sailors’ yarns: 25 seafarers from around the world tell real-life stories of dangerous voyages, romantic encounters, violent storms and painful farewells. Anecdotal accessories and objects refer to these adventures, which are told in full in each cabin’s logbook.
One wall of the foyer is the side of a container, other nautical materials feature and the corridors are lined with images of unemployed fishermen (disconcertingly these were all English, we were told). It was cool to hang out in 25 Hours’ buzzing bar/kitchen, Heimat, but even cooler to batten down the hatches in our Captain’s Cabin suite.
Water is never far away. On our final morning, we trekked (this is a great walking city) to the larger of the city’s two artificial lakes, the Aussenalster, separated from the Binnenalster by road bridges. There is pedestrian access all round the 1.6 sq km lake, but the western side, mostly parkland paths, is the one to go for. In summer there are boat trips, too. Add the wealth of walking and river cruising along the Elbe and you have a city that breathes a sense of freedom. Perfect for a modern city break… with a large cargo of ‘Hansaland’ history in tow.
https://i0.wp.com/www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Min-chilehus.jpg?fit=1066%2C656&ssl=16561066Neil Sowerbyhttps://www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/NS-typemark-v1c.pngNeil Sowerby2021-10-20 11:38:562021-10-20 22:34:11Grüße aus Hansaland – how Hamburg expresses its Baltic Zeitgeist
One bane of a food writer’s life is reviewing a restaurant only to discover post haste that the menu’s about to change. Big time. Fortunately when I wrote up a September visit to Kala in Manchester my focus was on the glories of their featherblade steak, a signature dish across all the Elite Bistros group.
This perennial stalwart remains on the new Autumn Menu, along with the obligatory truffle and parmesan chips, but there’s a whole raft of new dishes. I was alerted to their arrival by a chance meeting at a wine tasting of an old sommelier friend, who works out of Hispi, Kala’s sister restaurant in Didsbury. He was raving about a dish just created by Elite exec chef Richard Sharples – a spiced field mushroom doughnut with sesame creamed spinach and caramelised celeriac gravy.
Solid reason to swiftly revisit Kala. It felt like fate when an invitation to sample the new menu suddenly dropped in my inbox. The doughnut turned out to be terrific, but the surprise package – and what a package – was the whole stuffed guinea fowl to share. OK, we were gannets to order both this and the surprisingly substantial doughnut as mains, ‘Mais nous ne regrettons rien’ as they say in Montparnasse or Montpellier.
Indeed there was something quintessential French bistro about this bird (let’s call it Le Pintade), while the fennel and apricot stuffing summoned up all our Christmases coming early. Better early than never with the current prophecies of festive dearth this year.
Our bird, encrusted with fennel and caraway seed, the moist stuffing lubricating the legs, came boned and ready to slice, a pool of pickled pear puree a neat enhancement for its succulent interior. I couldn’t resist ordering the chips, but the bowl of the most delicate sauerkraut would have sufficed as a side.
We’d preceded the guinea fowl with that doughnut, its stretchy carapace harbouring a teeming interior of braised fungi. Did it count as vegan? Jury’s out on the earthy creamed spinach, but the celeriac gravy was an inspired plant-based conceit.
Since the return to comparative dining room normality Elite Bistros boss Gary Usher has given his six venues leeway to branch out from the standard group menu, particularly with changing fish of the day picks. At Kala that Wednesday it was a choice of grilled whole plaice or pan-fried stone bass.
My starter came from the fish specials because I’m a sucker for octopus and I was curious about how Kala’s daring combo would work, pitting the flamed cephalod against equally charred smoked corn and pickled currants. Maybe a red currant hot sauce gilded the piquant lily too much, but it’s typical of a hugely to be trusted menu that is still not afraid to push bistro boundaries.
An unqualified success was my partner’s starter, even if her initial qualm was: doughnut and dumpling in the same lunch? Fear unfounded. The dumpling was a light, gnudi-like pillow of great delicacy, as beautiful to look at as it was to eat, topped with grated Killeen cheese, all nutty and floral, a cauliflower puree base dotted with blobs of lemon and chive oils plus pickled shallot.
We finished off with Chocolate ‘Oblivion’ and poached pear with Sauternes jelly, the former with mint choc chip ice cream, the latter with walnut praline ice. Comforting autumnal bistro staples both. Wines by the glass had been appropriate for each dish and special mention for the Delicioso ‘En Rama’ Manzanilla that got us off to the perfect start, partnering Gordal olives and Don Bocarte anchovies. Isn’t autumn really rather wonderful?
Kala, 55 King Street, Manchester, M2 4LQ. 0161 839 3030. Reservations 0800 160 1811. The three course menu costs £40 for three courses, £35 for two. There’s a £16 supplement for that guinea fowl. There’s a limited choice bistro set meal available lunch and early evening.
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Food heroes – there are many claimants. Few are a patch on a monocled Major credited with saving traditional British cheese. From the Fifties onwards war hero Patrick Lowry Cole Holwell Rance promoted the real thing through his polemical writing and regular stock of 150 cheeses at his village shop in Streatley, Berkshire.
Current champions of raw milk farmhouse cheeses the Courtyard Dairy near Settle are quick to acknowledge their debt to the great man, who died two decades ago.
Yet Rance’s partisan spirit was never insular. The majority of the unpasteurised wheels and rounds stacked to the rafters at Wells Stores were French and arguably his greatest contribution to cheese chronicling was The French Cheese Book (1989). I have this treasured 550 page magnum opus in front of me now as I seek out his thoughts on the adjacent Mont d’Or, one of the great French autumnal treats, much more readily available here than in his day.
Like the first cuckoo of spring, I await the first oozing Mont d’Or image of the autumn from out little town’sresident cheesemonger. Jay mailed me a selection this year as the cheeses, all the Brexit bureaucratic boxes ticked, trickled in from the Jura after the mid-September start of the six month season.
It’s early days yet and the billowing crust is yet to attain the peach-pink hue of perfection, but stick a spoon in and the interior ooze offers a buttery, almost clotted cream flavour, with a beguiling sappiness no other cheese quite matches.
This year’s first hand experience comes second best to that of September 2019 when we just happened to be in the Jura mountains – also home to Comté – when the first Mont d’Ors hit the restaurants in the shadow of the ‘Golden Mountain’ that gives its name to the cheese.
At an unpretentious village auberge, as tradition demands, a whole Mont d’Or was baked in its spruce bark ‘belt’ and served with potatoes, gherkins and a bottle of the tart local white, Savagnin. A posher establishment might have partnered the cheese with an aristocratic Vin de Jaune. Check out Fiona Beckett’s Matching Food and Wine blog last month for further tips.
Back to the bark wrapping. Major Rance’s take in his chapter on Franche-Comté is magisterially atmospheric: “In my mind I have often put myself in the place of a snowbound comtois farmer, collecting logs from the neat stack under the snow-heavy eaves. I have pictured his being suddenly struck by the warm beauty of the cut spruce and its resinous bark, which can glow like mahogany and smell like heaven.
“A cheese could look like this, he might well have felt. So, on a base cut above the log, with a ring of épicéa bark around it to contain its enthusiasm, a new soft cheese was born. Bathing in brine helps seal bark and cheese together, and the resinous flavour and aroma spread into the cheese as it ripens.”
Quite. That’s the full experience I’m getting now, not neglecting the sensory delights of gnawing the bark too. I scoop the unctuous cheese out onto a sourdough slice, the first of several. My preference, I’ve chosen not to bake this mini Mont d’Or.
Vacherin is its more familiar name. The nefarious Swiss across the border nabbed the legal right to use the Vacherin-Mont d’Or moniker for their inferior, semi-pasteurised version, leaving the French with ‘Mont d’Or’ or ‘Vacherin du Haut-Doubs’ (the local département).
It’s no truism when you say you can taste the mountains in the cheese: as autumn nears the cow herds come back to the stables after summering on the high sub-Alpine pastures. The key to its allure is the richness of the milk, exclusively from Montbéliarde cattle. It is made when the yield from the cows is less and more intense, so more suitable for production of soft cheese, rather than the harder Comté cheese. After 21 days’ ageing Mont d’Or is packed in spruce boxes ranging from 480g to 3.2kg.
Closer to home Montbéliardes are also the milk source for Baron Bigod, Suffolk’s feisty answer to Brie.
Our own encounter with these brown and white beasts came during that Jura foodie road trip. The evening of our fondue-style Mont d’Or meal we had arrived at our folksy gite, La Ferme de Fleurette, in the village of Les-Hopitaux-Vieux. After a long drive we were keen to freshen up, No chance. We were immediately off in the hire car to a milking parlour high up among the forests. Our farmer host Mickaël steered us through the mud to introduce his beloved herd, raw milk from which is used to make Comté.
Raw, yes. Pasteurisation would destroy much of the character. Rich from unsprayed grazing teeming with wild flowers and herbs, Mickaël’s milk will go to a ‘fruitier’ to be turned into traditional cheese. There are roughly 150 of these small village dairies, supplied by 2,700 farms across this beautiful, unspoilt region in the east of France. Below are the Fromagerie du Mont D’Orat Metabief and the Fruitiere des Lakes at at Labergement-Sainte-Marie in the Haut Jura.
Comté is built for ageing, for up to 24 months before it is released; Mont d’Or is for early consumption. Keep it wrapped in greaseproof paper inside a polythene bag, and store in the fridge – it should keep for around a week. Don’t wrap in clingfilm, as it will make it sweat.
It has never lasted that long at our house. The final word goes to Major Rance: “If you are not in stuffy company: lick the bark after each mouthful of cheese, and do not waste what is left; put it on the fire to die in a scent of glory…”
Calder Cheesehouse, 56 Patmos, Burnley Road, Todmorden OL14 5EY. For Mont d’Or and all your cheese and deli needs.
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Those Facebook memories to share that pop up are a relentless reminder of time passing. Was it really 11 years ago I laid out an unplucked pheasant alongside a seasonal red cabbage on our garden table to pictorially celebrate my personal ‘Game for a Laugh’? (that cultural reference dates me instantly) during Manchester Food and Drink Festival.
En route to co-host a ‘Wine Tour of Spain’ event at Manchester’s People’s History Museum with Jane Dowler of Evuna, I bumped into legendary chef Robert Owen Brown, with whom I later collaborated on the cookbook, Crispy Squirrel and Vimto Trifle (Manchester Books, £15.99).
He tempted me into Mulligans off Bridge Street for a couple of palate-refreshing stouts. Drink taken, Rob offered me the pick of a swag bag full of feathered game. I still have the Barbour jacket, twice re-waxed, I was wearing that day, but never since have I stuffed a brace of partridges into the big inside pockets.
Later at the PHM, as I introduced a dense, dark Monastrell from La Mancha as the perfect accompaniment to game, notably Spain’s native red-legged partridge, I drew out my feathered props gunslinger-like to the consternation and then amusement of the front row.
Our chihuahua, Captain Smidge, is partial to partridge. And since The Edinburgh Castlein Ancoats is dog-friendly he accompanied me to its monthly ‘Trust The Chef’ blind tastingdinner, the first since it was crowned Pub of the Year at the 2021 Manchester Food and Drink Awards. The theme was game, so there was every chance of the Smidge (and my) fave. As it turned out we enjoyed a trio of gamey treats – venison, woodcock and partridge (oops, I never asked what colour its legs had been).
‘Trust The Chef’ had already turned all autumnal for its September five-courser, taking advantage of head chef Iain Thomas’ personal veg harvest from his plot at The Hattersley Projects in Tameside.
Iain’s impressive track record includes stints at Establishment in Manchester (where Rosso now is), at Paul Kitching’s Michelin-starred 21212 in Edinburgh and alongside Davey Aspin, one of the iconic chef names in Scotland.
So a red deer starter from Pitscandly Farm outside Forfar promised to be an object lesson in sourcing and so it proved. Prepared as as a tartare, it was simply glorious with beetroot done three ways – roasted, puréed and in a sorbet. To follow, a rich game ‘tea’ hosted a mallard breast. The tea, product of some serious reduction, was a savoury treat to the last spoonful; the mallard had a fine gamey flavour but was sinewy, as wild duck can be, and Smidge had to help out. Alongside, a rillette of mallard joined duck liver pate in a smart take on a club sandwich. Dunked in the tea, the brioche butty disintegrated delightfully.
Our gourmet hound was decidedly keen on the partridge, highlight of the five courses. A touch tricksy with its bread sauce espuma and two red onion skin cradles for a borlotti bean leg meat ‘cassoulet’, but the star of the composition was tender
à point partridge breast. There were wine matches available for each course but we ordered (inevitably) a big Spanish red recommended by our server. The Ritme Priorat from Southern Catalonia, a well structured blend of Garnacha and Carignan, coped admirably with each game dish and the cheese course, moist and nutty Pitchfork Cheddar, accompanied by a chutney made with Iain’s own Hattersley tomatoes. Smidge confined himself to nibbling crumbs of oatcake, which summed up a copacetic, dog-friendly evening at The Castle.
The pudding course homage to Snickers, a 60 per cent chocolate parfait with candied peanuts, was deemed too rich for the little fellow. I suspect it features more regularly given chef Iain’s commitment to sustainable chocolate, supporting local bean providers in Colombia.
The regular menu gives a bid nod to Scottish produce. Good also to see a game terrine there, featuring venison, foie gras and, splendidly, grouse. The departure of my compadre Owen Brown seven years ago left a grouse-shaped hole in Manchester (the classic Rob picture below is by Joby Catto). The city scene moves on, but in Iain Thomas the Edinburgh Castle may have found its own talented ‘game changer’.
The Edinburgh Castle, 17-19 Blossom Street, Ancoats, Manchester. M4 5AW. The five course Trust the Chef menu costs £60pp for five courses. Wine flight extra. The next instalment is on Wednesday, November 3. To book in advance email email@example.com.
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Serendipity brings on a random snail trail. Flicking through the index of Brown and Mason’s magnum opus, The Taste of Britain, to clarify my thoughts on Kentish cobnuts– for the first of my ‘Autumn Is The Season’ vignettes – I encountered the Mendip Wallfish and was immediately intrigued.
Since when my mind has been roaming those Somerset hills from the days when the Romans mined for lead there and introduced edible snails to our land… to the 1960s, when a maverick rocket engineer put those Mendip molluscs on the menu of his pioneering microbrewery pub… to the current small scale renaissance in snail farming. Well, high in protein, low in fat, it is the ultimate Slow Food.
The picture above is of the last platter of snails I downed, in those peripatetic, pre-pandemic times. Escargots au beurre d’ail are a fixture on the menu of Le P’tit Castel in the hilltop Jura fastness of Chateau-Chalon, one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.
The escargots were beauts too, six chewy little buggers in garlic-flecked froth, equal to the ones I was served (with Pernod in the garlic butter naturellement) at Soho’s venerable L’Escargot, below, which also has a feuilleté of snails and morels on the menu. The Jura view was magnificent too. Burgundy, heartland of the dish, was a distant blue blur across Bresse’s vine-clad plain.
Location, location. I’m not sure The Miners Arms, Priddy, in the Sixties before they really became The Sixties, could offer the same je ne sais quoi at a crossroads in uplands scarred by past lead extraction. New owner Paul Leyton’s own homage to the miners was his variation on the Cornish pasty, the Priddy Oggie, containing pork, bacon and cheese. More challenging was his reintroduction of the mysterious Mendip Wallfish, a native snail dish that substituted cider and mixed herbs for garlic butter.
Why wallfish? It probably relates to snails’ ability to cling to walls, but the ‘fish’ part might be a way of transgressing the Catholic church’s prohibition of meat eating on Fridays.
That edict would definitely rule out dormice but the Romans’ relish for farmed, corn-fed rodents doesn’t appear to have transferred to Britain when they conquered it. Snails certainly did make the leap (sic) – notably the large Roman snail (helix pomatia), still popular in France and Italy. Below, is my colleague Joby Catto’s image of snails and citrus in Catania Market, Sicily. Giant African land snails are a whole different kettle of wallfish, of which more later.
C.Ann Wilson’s wonderfully scholarly Food and Drink in Britain (1973) charts Roman snail farming: “Snails had to be kept on land surrounded entirely by water, to prevent them wandering way and disappearing. They were fed on milk or wine-must and spelt, and were put into jars containing air holes for the final plumping up. When they were so much fattened that they could no longer get back into their shells, they were fried in oil and served with oenogarum (liquamen mixed with wine).
By medieval times snails had long been an essential foodstuff and remained so for the Somerset miners well into the 19th century. The resurgence of Mendip Wallfish 100 years on was all down to the restless mind of Leeds-born Leyton, who had forsaken an engineering career, as chief developer for Britain’s first rocket programme in the Fifties and then a director of Black and Decker. With no catering background, he took a major gamble with the Miners Arms. One that paid off, receiving acclaim from Egon Ronay and The Good Food Guide.
By 1973 when the pub had incorporated England’s smallest brewery, it was regularly attracting what we now call celebs. Did we then? The roll call included Delia Smith, Terry Wogan, Kate Adie, Malcolm MacDowell, Anthony Hopkins. How many ordered the wallfish, I wonder? Maybe Delia pronging into the shells with a cry of ‘let’s be havin’ you, molluscs’?
Leyton’s obituary in 2011 recounts that his “engineering background still shone through in the world of catering: first, with the design of an electric fence to keep up to 100,000 snails at a time in a disused swimming pool; and then, with the introduction of the freezing of prepared snails and other complete dishes. This led to considerable debate in gastronomic circles at a time when freezing was only considered suitable for basic ingredients.”
A tiny clip on British Movietone shows the ingenious Leyton stuffing snails with a device of his own invention. Plus there’s a period Pathe News report, with a wonderful Cholmondley-Warner style commentary, on his snail project, available via YouTube.
The Miner’s Arms is no more. After selling 4,000 snails a year at its apogee the restaurant closed down in 2006. This recipe for the common brown garden snail, from Bob Reynolds who cooked at the Miners Arms, contains the key caveat: ensure you purify them thoroughly before cooking. Buy them ready prepared if you are squeamish.
Snails Priddy style
Collect snails, put into a container in which they can be kept moist and can breathe. Feed them on bran or lettuce or cabbage leaves for seven to 10 days. This cleanses them. Put in a sieve and dunk them in boiling water for a few seconds to kill them. Take the snails from the shells with a small fork, wash them off and then cook. To cook about a 100 you need a pint of water, ¾ pint of cider, a large carrot and an onion cut into pieces. Make sure the snails are covered in liquid. Bring to the boil and simmer until tender for about an hour – it may take a little longer. Rinse in hot water to clean off the bits of vegetables.
Meanwhile put the empty shells in a saucepan with salt and water and bring to the boil. After a few minutes rinse in cold water. Repeat to make sure the shells are clean. Dry the shells in the oven.
After which you will need a pound of butter for 100 snails. Then grind together herbs, fresh or dry – ½tsp of each of chervil, dill, fennel seed, basil and sage; 1tsp chives, 3tsp parsley and a pinch of cayenne pepper – and mix well into the butter.
Take a snail shell, put a little bit of the herb butter into it, then a snail and seal off the shell with more herb butter. Then put the snails on a tray and put into a hot oven. When the butter bubbles they are ready to eat. Serve with cubes of bread to mop up the herb butter. Enjoy.
So where can you buy the best snails in the land?
An hour’s drive away from Priddy a serious renaissance in Somerset snail farming is under way at Somerset Escargot, founded in 2019. On a farm complete with electric fences, salt traps and herding pens Lyn ‘Queen of Snails’ Paxman and her partner specialise in petit gris, picked and prepare to order. The fresh escargot is then supplied cleansed and hibernated, which means they are the freshest possible when they are cooked. They cost £25 per 500g bag plus £4.90 delivery.
Other UK snail operators include Dorset Snails, who supply Gordon Ramsay restaurants and L’Escargots Anglais at Credenhill in Herefordsshire, whose Helix pomatia are the base for Heston Blumenthal’s modern classic, Snail Porridge (see below). H & RH Escargots of Canterbury have long been the UK’s premier supplier of live snails. Ready-to-cook, they are delivered to you in cardboard boxes, with a plastic mesh so they can’t eat their way out!
You’ve got your snails. What else can you do with them in the kitchen?
Marwood Yeatman is an eccentric national treasure. From his base in an old Hampshire pub in 2007 this private chef produced his magnum opus, The Last Food of England (Ebury Press), which is at its best when unashamedly nostalgic. He recounts how he was lent an old book of recipes by Roald Dahl’s wife Liccy that belonged to her mother’s family, the Throckmortons, Warwickshire confederates of Guy Fawkes. How to pot an otter and viper soup feature, but there’s also a recipe for Snail Broth, which sounds on the medicinal side.
Having slit and cleaned the slime off 50 or so… “Have ready a chicken cut in pieces with a little bugloss, agrimony and the leaves of endives, and so boil them in the broth. When the chicken is half boyld, put in the snails being clean wiped, so let them boil until all the strength is boiled out. When the broth is ready to take off put in either a little mace or rosemary, which her pleaseth the taste. Drink this a fortnight.”
If the above is too demanding of your foraging skills or spice cupboard, then you might fancy recreating this Heston Blumenthal special, which I’ve eaten a couple of times at The Fat Duck when I could (just about) afford it. The great man gives the recipe in an article he wrote for The Guardian nearly 20 year ago. The information on snail’s sex lives is eye-opening; so too is the amount of sweat and toil needed to prepare the dish, which is more like a vivid green oaten risotto. Good luck with it!
Dorset Snail with Bone Marrow and Toast
Dorset Snails continue a tradition of snail eggs or caviar that was on trend in the 1990s as gourmets sought an alternative to Beluga. They even featured in the title of a book, Snail Eggs & Samphire – by the best food journalist of the time, Derek Cooper. In it he recalls attending an outdoor ‘cargolade’ in Perpignan where 1,000 Helix pomatia (the wrinkled Roman Snail) are grilled in pork fat over intense heat. There’s a separate chapter on the lucrative rarity value of the eggs, described by Cooper as like “pinky-beige, opalescent pearls”. Blumenthal compares the look to tapioca. Neither are fans. I’m a fan, though of the bone marrow treatment for snails, in Dorset’s recipe section. I have a stash of bone marrow; now I just need the molluscs.
Paella a la Valenciana
If your idea of paella is the seafood-led dish found all around the Spanish Costas, think again. In the Valencia region, spiritual home of the saffron-infused rice dish, traditional ingredients, especially inland, include rabbit and snails, the whole dish best cooked outdoors in one of those vast, flat-bottomed specialist pans. Claudia Roden, in her magisterial over-view, The Food of Spain (Michael Joseph, £25), quotes a Spanish expert on how the snails bring a taste of the rosemary they feed on. Every recipe in the book is tempting, the research exemplary. The book is an essential Hispanophile purchase, even if you’re not pursuing edible snails.
Pomegranate glazed African land snails
The most exotic snail dish I’ve come across is on our doorstep; well, Brixton Village’s. The acclaimed blogger Miss South included it in her celebration of the global diversity of food and folk in this South London market hall. I’ve visited; it’s a vibrant place, inevitable gentrification slowly creating a different vibe. The various traders and cafe owners contribute their favourite specialities to Recipes from Brixton Village (Kitchen Press, £15.99) with appropriate stockists. In this case the recipe is inspired by Viva Afro-Caribbean Food Store on 3rd Avenue, who provide the land snails (especially revered in Nigeria), with the pomegranate molasses for the glaze coming from Nour Cash and Carry on neighbouring Market Row. The author notes the shell alone of this particular snail can grow up to 20cm long, so it can be a challenge to open them. Next you scrub them clean with alum provided by the store. Hardcore food prep even before you start cooking in chicken stock with various spices. Not for the sluggish.
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Denver, San Diego, Portland, Seattle, Boston, and in a few one horse towns in between, the magnet of new wave American brewhouses and tap rooms has proved irresistible. So much less concentration required compared with serious winery tastings. Not that I don’t take beer seriously – but more as serious refreshment. No swirling, sniffing and spitting involved.
Sonoma County in California, with its Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, is the laidback alternative to Napa. It’s the New World wine country of my dreams. If recent trips have involved dodging raging bush fires or coastal fog stifling the Pacific’s famous sunsets, well every paradise can slip into occasional purgatory.
But why would you name a signature beer after Sonoma, as Manchester brewers Track have? Could it be the presence in county seat Santa Rosa of Russian River Brewing Company, whose Pliny The Elder, technically a double IPA, is one of the most sought-after beers on the planet? For any geeks reading, it’s named after the Roman natural philosopher, one of the first to reference hops in his writings.
My own go-to West Coast IPA, on a less stratospheric level is Racer 5 from Bear Republic in downtown Healdsburg 15 miles north of Santa Rosa. Malty but hoppy, floral, resinous and bitter, it has always made me happy as did the original Bear Republic brewpub, now forced out of an upmarket tourist town because of running costs.
Clever Track Brewing Company in Manchester for opening their new tap room at Unit 18, Piccadilly Trading Estate, definitely not a tourist honeypot but, close to the equally revered Cloudwater at 7-8. I’ve loved their Unit 9 taproom as a cool space, but Track’s (see pictures below) has trumped it. It is quite beautiful. Seven years after launching in a Sheffield Street arch, and a succession of not quite appropriate bars, it has a home fit for its beers.
And at the recent launch Sonoma Pale Ale, as befits a beer synonymous with contemporary Manc beer culture, was available as both keg and cask.
I prefer it as cask. All my lockdown beer dreams were of hand-pulled real ale, hopefully through a tight sparkler. These came true when Iinterviewed Matthew Curtis about his Modern British Beer (CAMRA Books, £15.99). A superb range of Cloudwater beers were on the lines at Sadler’s Cat but I stuck to three pints of cask Sonoma, described by Matthew in his book as “A beer that revels in the softness of a smoother pour, while losing none of its strolling-in-a-citrus-grove character. Its gentle ABV of just 3.8% also makes it accessible.” No wonder it accounts for half of Track’s production.
Matthew was at the preview with us. Unlike Track founder Sam Dyson, who is laid up with a horrendous fracture sustained playing five-aside, and wife Mel, in the final throes of pregnancy. We toasted them royally in their absence across a beer range that is testimony to Sam’s love of hoppy American beers. And the Patel Pies residency provided the necessary ballast.
• If you love breweries with an on-site bar and great food check out another new arrival in Manchester, The Bundobust Brewery. And it does its own facsimile of Racer 5. Here’s mywelcome to it.
https://i0.wp.com/www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Pint-copy.jpg?fit=1200%2C839&ssl=18391200Neil Sowerbyhttps://www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/NS-typemark-v1c.pngNeil Sowerby2021-10-05 20:38:262021-10-06 16:51:20Sonoma dreaming as Track’s new taproom proves a destination of equal beauty