Archive for the ‘Autumn/Fall’ Category

our room with a view

our view from the room the morning after the storm

As part of my position I am required to attend top-secret conferences scattered around the countryside: this one in Lancaster, which is about as far as you can go without running into the Lake District.  The journey should have taken five hours but it took nine, of which four were spent in such mind-numbingly boring stop-start M6 motorway traffic that we only have the knowledge of time having passed: either that or we were abducted by aliens, but I don’t recall any little green men probing my anus.  We finally reached the Sun hotel in the heart of downtown old town Lancaster at 9 pm, its integral bar abuzz with Friday night revellers: once T had macheted his way through the crowd to the reception area at the back we were led up several carpeted flights of stairs to Executive Room 32.  After the long drive flat screen satellite TV, wine glasses and corkscrew were almost all we needed and after a quick trip down to the bar to pick up a bottle of Rioja we settled happily into our comfortable, cosy eyrie under the eaves.

one well-stocked bar

Terrific idea for breakfasts: five items from a selection of eight included with room price, or choose from the individual breakfast menu: Eggs Benedict, Kippers, etc.  You could stay a week and have something different every day, enjoying the morning tranquility of the bar with self-serve juice, cereal (if you must) and coffee laid out opposite an array of newspapers, a basket of toast and preserves plus the full Monty brought to your table by friendly-enough but blissfully not too-so staff.  Very very pleasant: even Katie Melua on the tannoy couldn’t upset me.  I just wish we hadn’t had to be anywhere afterwards.

smoked bacon, herb sausages, white pudding, poached egg, grilled tomatoes

smoked bacon, herb sausages, white pudding, poached egg, grilled tomatoes

Sorely tempted by the Eggs Benedict I found myself seduced twice over by the 5/8 selection: gosh do I love a bit of white pudding.

smoked bacon, fried duck egg, pork sausages, grilled mushrooms & flageolet beans in tomato sauce
bacon, fried duck egg, sausages, mushrooms & flageolet beans in tomato sauce

After a leisurely breakfast like that there’s no need for lunch and barely room for dinner even, so the £70 a night room price looked increasingly bargainly.  What with the weather – remember the recent hullabaloo over 10 million fell runners swamped by storms?  same area, same weekend – exploring Lancaster was pretty much off the menu, so after the conference we snuggled in once more.  Champagne by the glass at £6 (£6.50 for rosé) set the mood for a laid-back evening, although I could have done without the strawberry floater: it was decent champagne, so why make me stick my fingers in it?  T’s stomach empties faster than mine so he ordered a Lancashire hotpot from the bar menu (they stop serving at 7 pm – not entirely convenient for folk with continental habits) which I gather was well tasty, although not good-looking enough to snap.

We loved staying at this hotel – beer aficionados would love it even more – and recommend it heartily.  Visit their website to get a feel for the place; it more than lives up to its own marketing.
virtual tour

the Sun Hotel & Bar, Lancaster

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Sunday afternoon in Tunbridge Wells – where to go for a lunchtime drink that’s both within walking distance of the town centre, yet comfortably removed from its urban hum and traffic drum?  Btw, that’s a stroll in nice shoes, not a heavy-booted hike up hill and down dale.

Dim memories of a bar set into a cave on the Common, somewhere over there… off we plodded, Dorothy and her cowardly lion.  Amid the winding paths, rolling lawns and bracken forests we were relieved to find the Mount Edgcumbe Hotel snuggled at the end of a short gravel drive.  Although it must have changed hands a-plenty over the years and the complimentary bar snacks of yore seem to have vanished, to my delight its gingerbread granny’s house-in-the-forest enchantment lives on.

Popular rather than heaving is just my kind of place, and an outdoor table in the sunshine the Maraschino in my Manhattan: not that I ordered one mind – it’s not that kind of a place.  No; my tipple was a glass of Chenin Blanc, a varietal I order with a ripple of anticipation but tend to drink with a shudder of disappointment.  I don’t want to give up on CB by the glass – Lord knows it’s more interesting than PG – but this South African’s spiteful skinniness reminded me of an encounter in M&S last Thursday (this is not just a checkout girl, this is a nasty bitch looking for a scrap):  more for masochists than oenophiles.  Ok, I exaggerate; the wine wasn’t that bad, even if the checkout girl was.  By contrast T lucked out by puckering up to a pleasingly passion-fruity Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.  I can’t be too judmental of the Mount Edgcumbe’s wine list anyway because here beer is the star – Harvey’s Best Sussex Bitter AND Peroni on tap, no less – but beer just ain’t my thing.

Ah well, although I wasn’t quite enjoying my wine the bowl of bar menu Nachos (homemade salsa with a nose-wrinkling drop-kick of cumin – isn’t salsa supposed to be refreshing?) helped wash it down and I passed the beautiful autumn afternoon enjoying my view of both the Common’s sandstone outcroppings and at closer range, the undulating human landscape …


Mount Edgcumbe Hotel

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Somerset House photo credit: Jan van der Crabben

A couple of weeks ago we dashed up to the Big Smoke on a sunny Saturday to catch the last weekend of the Courtauld Institute’s Cezanne exhibition – which was stunning, btw.  And what a stunning day all round: Somerset House itself; at the far eastern end of The Strand, children frolicking under its courtyard fountains in the autumn sunshine and the chiaroscuro effect of the afternoon light on the Neo-classical quadrangle’s façades filled me with a sense of satisfaction and contentment normally only induced by a lazy luncheon with a glass of wine. Or two.

My delight had much to do with having sourced our train ride snack from the countertop cornucopia of Carluccio’s caffè.  A can of San Pellegrino Limonata for me: sharp, tart and truly lemony; very grown up and tasting nothing like pop, and a tinny of Peroni birra for he. Mine came with a foil cover to keep the sipping hole clean, which doubled up nicely as a micro-plate for our delectable little savoury biscuits: one each of parmesan/herb and walnut/rosemary flavours. Mmm – crisp and crumbly with the quality of their ingredients resonating on the palate: not much more than a morsel per piece yet intensely satisfying.

I do hope the delightful Antonio is feeling better after his recent knife mishap.  His erudite books and television works are informative and entertaining, and although he is no longer involved with the caffè chain which bears his name, it’s still a civilized pleasure to stop by and shop.  Best wishes for your recovery, Mr Carluccio!

We visited another bastion of civilization that day – the ever-urbane Fortnum and Mason on Piccadilly.  A lunch date elsewhere meant foregoing the joys of the 1707 cellar wine bar, but who wants to be underground on a beautiful day anyway?  I did discover, however, what the deli counter does with the leftover fat from their Pata Negra Gran Reserva ham – they send it to the kitchen, clever devils.  I was hoping to acquire it cheaply for my own devices but at F&M they’re not fools.  Instead I came home with a goodly package of saffron  – saffron indeed – salami, and a very goodly thing it turned out to be: resembling more a lomo than a salami – no casing, the meat wasn’t chopped and fat evident only in the marbling – but all the more enjoyable for it, especially at just £3 for 100g.

 The saffron-gilded edge was beautiful to behold and its flavour subtly enhanced the top notch pork flesh.  I wish I could say more about this product but there was no information on the label and my server, although charmingly helpful, knew as much as I of its provenance.  The mystery remains…anyone out there know?


Courtauld Gallery

Somerset House map

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duck fat galoreFollowing the laziest roast crispy duck in history my duck fat jar runneth over … almost.  So it should see us through the coming winter unless we take it into our heads to make confit and, considering the mess involved, I rather hope we don’t.

Duck fat is by far the best medium for roasting potatoes or greasing Yorkshire pudding tins and it’s ever my fat of choice for browning winter casseroles or starting off any dishes from the Basque or Languedoc regions.   Now I know goose fat is supposed to be even better, but given the price of a goose you might as well resign yourself to buying a tin of it and forego the satisfaction of making your own.  But duck fat is different: easier to come by and a most inconvenient waste product to dispose of if you can’t be bothered to save it.  If prepared with a modicum of care and kept in a reasonably cool and dark place it will survive for yonks outside the fridge: I keep mine on a shelf in the garage.

Just pour off the rendered fat during and after roasting a duck plain and slow (eg 6 to 7 hours at 140C) and leave it to cool overnight in the fridge.  Lift the fat away from any stray juices lurking underneath then reheat it to liquify.  Any moisture will bubble away, so when its puttering stops strain the liquid fat through a sieve lined with a couple of layers of muslin or even kitchen roll into a sterilised preserving jar and seal.  Discard the brown bits!  Enjoy its golden glow fading to white as it cools then hoard and scoop out as needed with a clean, dry spoon.

Depending on size one easily-available Gressingham duck should render at least 250ml fat. If you do nothing else with it, use a couple of tablespoons for roasting potatoes and greasing your Yorkshire pudding tin: you’ll be glad you did.

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