My fantasy restaurant is called …

… Lardo

Having listened to the wise words of BBC Two’s Restaurant Man, Russell Norman, at this year’s Port Eliot Festival, I harbour no illusions as to opening my own establishment (particularly after The Lobster Massacre incident).

That hasn’t stopped me fantasising about what my ideal restaurant would be like when I did finally get round to opening it (watch this space). None of this American fast food sold at eye-watering prices; none of this ‘local and seasonal’ draped over menus like cheap bunting and none of this trad-Brit-fusion faff. My menu would be lard. All the way. Straight up, in every single dish.

With recent research finally blowing the cover of evil industrially-produced spreads as being exactly that: nasty chemicals in a box that says low-fat (yuk), I am going old-school big-time. Fat is back.

Say goodbye to crow’s feet, hello to nutritious, energy-dense foods that will leave you so satisfied there will be no need to reach out for snacks and who needs lipstick when you can have a smear of piggy lard on your pouting lips instead? (A recent conversation with my butcher about where his off-cuts and bones go revealed that the majority go to the beauty industry to make lipstick).

Here is my fantasy restaurant, an unctuous greasy concept called Lardo:

Décor: cream walls, industrial silver lighting and piping. Simple wooden tables and chairs with plump cream cushions and some accent colours. Reclaimed wooden floorboards. Starters: Dripping on sourdough toast with seasalt and black pepper. Slices of gossamer thin lardo with gherkins and capers on the side and fresh bread. Homemade pork scratchings Mains: Rabbit confit Steak and kidney pudding in a suet crust. Pork belly with crackling Dessert: Marmalade suet pudding Sussex pond pudding Lardy cake Homemade custard, clotted cream or double cream available with all of the above. Coffee: bullet-proof coffee (black coffee blended with butter and coconut oil).

Vegetarian: most of the above can be adapted and made with butter or vegetarian suet but please be aware that if you eat dairy products, male calves are slaughtered so that you can.


Why I’m not a coffee geek

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I was recently immersed in the art of making coffee at home by the excellent Cornish coffee company: Origin (who brew and source their own beans). The course was called Home Brewing and I naively thought that this would sort out my home coffee making which ranges from dark and undrinkable, to weak and undrinkable.

Instead I was taught to make coffee in three different ways, using three different types of coffee maker that I had never heard of before: the syphon (a bunsen burner with extras) an aeropress (a massive syringe that creates a vacuum) and the V60 (a cup and saucer-shaped apparatus with a hole in it) for decanting or ‘dripping’ coffee.

All three make delicious coffee – from strong espresso to a light, almost tea-like, fruity version. The knowledge and skills imparted were consummate. My only complaint? It is massively unlikely that I will ever have the time or the will to make such a coffee at home.

Why? Firstly, I’m not a man and I don’t have a beard; 2) because it’s complicated, really complicated; 3) because Cornish cafés are making some bleddy excellent coffees these days on machines that are the price of a small car. And it would be foolish to try and compete.

So what on earth happened in the space between those carefree Nescafé days and the angst-ridden, pseudo-science of today’s coffee drinking? How did we move so quickly from doily-clad tables, plastic flowers and one type of filter coffee strong enough to blow your eyebrows off to hand-chalked menus and more artisanal coffees than France or Italy have ever needed? And yes, you will be shot if you ask for a decaf tea.

Now it’s all flat white or, for the super cool and beardy, a filtered coffee that is closer to a tea and DEFINITELY not drunk with milk. Terroir is all – where the bean comes from – and to complicate a menu that is already challenging to older members of the public (my dad now begs for ‘just a coffee’ when I take him to such places), there is often a hand-chalked list of countries from where the beans have been sourced.

I enjoy a good cup of coffee but my fantasy coffee? A shot of espresso in a large cup of hot milk into which I can happily dunk a croissant and after that, many other croissants. Because of the large quantity of milk, the quality of the actual coffee is negligible – it doesn’t matter to me that it has a good crema (the golden thin layer of foam on top of a good espresso) whether it’s from Robusta or Arabica beans or even if it has been pooped out of a monkey’s bottom.

I am in awe of a good barista because I have tried it and it is very very difficult to get right. But (shh) I don’t even like coffee that much! And what about tea? When are we about to get all geeky and scientific over a cuppa? I am still waiting for the tea revolution… .

 

 


How to hold a Lobster Massacre dinner party in 10 easy steps.

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I write about food but as I get more and more jaded with food trends (local and seasonal, eat the whole pig, oh you’re making gourmet burgers, how unusual, everyone but probably not their dog are making them, and you say that you make your own bread, well that is wholesome yes yes yes, stab me now), I am becoming increasingly aware that I am not necessarily a great cook. Or host come to think of it.

Every weekend I trawl through the Sunday supplements and feed on bird’s eye views of impossible salads (impossible because I can’t be bothered to make them), I leer at close ups of the insides of pies marvelling at the architecture and crave the lightness of cakes, wafted with icing sugar that haven’t felt the back of my wooden spoon.

Yet looking at food, talking about and even reviewing it, does not a good cook make. I have roasted pheasants dry for New Year, melted cheese on a radiator when a fondue heater failed and made chocolate mousses that had all the lightness of a truffle thrown hard at the pavement. My Victoria sandwiches are so shy they barely peak over the side of the tin and I recently made 2 kilograms of liquid marmalade which had been on the boil for about 2 hours.

It is with such honesty and boredom for the perfect photo of the perfect dish, and a sneaky stifled yawn at British food trends (yawn), that I wish to share with you the story of The Great Lobster Massacre.

  1. Invite some friends round. Lovely ones from up the road, who you have only just recently met. Make sure one of them is a vegetarian.
  2. Order some lobsters from another friend, pick them up on the way back from work and put them, still in their polystyrene box, in the freezer. Fail to even think about inviting friend to partake of lobsters he has just provided.
  3. Ignore the stacks of cookbooks from ‘experts’ that line your study wall, in particular, the new Nathan Outlaw in blue entitled British Seafood, foreword by Rick Stein. What do they know?
  4. Text a friend who once cooked you some nice lobster. Receive reply: hot until done = red = yum.
  5. Explain to very patient husband and polite dinner guest that lobsters are best cut in half (alive but quietened by the freezer) and put straight in the oven, temperature and time, um, negligible.
  6. Realise too late that the polystyrene box containing the lobsters has actually insulated them against the cold in the freezer. Tails are flapping and claws still moving.
  7. Give big sharp knife to husband while guest insists on watching and look away into the oven door (nothing in there) while jumpy lobsters are ‘dispatched’.
  8. Overcook aforementioned lobsters so that tails are slightly chewy. Provide no sauces, no garlic butter, no oils, no lubrication to the already dried flesh.
  9. Drop large (ugly) baking tray of once delicious chips, made from local potatoes in front of lobster-massacre-spectating guest. Ensure that chips have been cooked about an hour before guests are due to arrive so that once re-heated they are chewy and soft and a little cold and very un-chip-like.
  10. And finally: make sure it’s a Friday so you are too tired to give CPR to the lobsters, consult an actual cookbook, consider the timing of your vegetables or even maximising the pleasure of your guests.





My doctor told me I had to stop throwing intimate dinner parties for four unless there are three other people – Orson Welles.

Orson Welles