Friday, 24 December 2010

Prison Christmas Pudding

Last Monday I decided to go in search of a special Christmas pudding.  No, it wasn't the much hyped Heston number with the secret orange from Waitrose (completely sold out and now selling for ridiculous sums on eBay).  This one is even more special, because it's made by prisoners.

So I made my way in the snow and caught the train to Sutton in Surrey from where I hopped on a bus directly to prison (didn't pass go and didn't collect £200).  I was quite surprised to find that on arrival at Belmont Prison HMP High Downs, that I was not alone when disembarking from the number 80 bus.  Hoardes of passengers were also getting off and by the look of them, I was quite sure they weren't on a pudding mission.  I followed everyone into the visitors centre, which was heaving with various friends and relatives of the prison inmates, all waiting patiently for their moment to catch up with their loved ones 'inside'. When asked who I was coming to see, I explained that I wasn't actually familiar with any criminals, and was in fact there to collect a Christmas pudding.  The bemused woman then pointed me in the direction of the main reception area.  This was even more intimidating and actually quite fascinating, watching all the prison staff returning from their lunch breaks.  You definitely have to be a certain type of person to work in a prison and they all looked friendly enough but you definitely wouldn't want to get on their wrong side.  I told the security officer about my pudding collection plan and he made the call to 'The Clink' restaurant.  A short while later, a dashing tall man called Kane Sterling (yes, I know, what a great name) soon arrived with a brown paper bag containing the pudding.  I paid him £14.95 and in no time, Pudding and I were heading back to the bus stop.  I was very tempted to take a few photos for the blog, but as prison isn't a tourist destination, I thought that would be in bad taste.  Let alone all the cameras and scary high wire fences, I was worried they might come and arrest me and I'd spend Christmas doing a stretch inside!

The good thing about this pudding is it's made by the prison inmates who are training towards their City & Guild catering qualification.  It's is now on its way to be consumed by the family over Christmas.  I'm wondering if we might find a few nail files, hair pins and 'help' notes inside...

The Clink also has a restaurant open to the public for lunch.  For more info, check the 'Did You Know' section of my website.

Merry Christmas to you all and here's to a cracking 2011!

Miss Immy x

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Friday Food Club

Having heard only good things about Lee & Fiona's Friday Food Club, I was particularly looking forward to checking it out for myself.  Plus the added bonus that they're situated in nearby Blackheath. After three days couped up inside due to the tricky Siberian elements, it was a relief to see the snow and ice finally start to melt as I embarked on my seven minute train journey to Blackheath with ease.

Lee & Fi have a gorgeous arty pad with high ceilings and giant windows in a lovely old arts centre, which lends itself perfectly as a cosy, atmospheric supper club venue. 
I joined a table with a sweet couple, Martin & Mo, and a cool hairdresser called Tom, who were all good value and very sociable dining companions. Our welcome glass of Cremant de Loire was a nice effervescent start to the evening, and went very well with the homemade pork scratchings du jour. Lee and Fi beavered away in their tiny kitchen - masters at work - hidden only by a discreet screen, which didn't prevent the tantalizing cooking aromas wafting in our direction.  

We started with the cauliflower veloute which was like a mini cauliflower cheese. Heaven in a cup.  Then came the most enormous, mouth-watering spiced Scotch eggs, served with chilled curry sauce and tomato chutney.  This dinner was proper hearty grub for a winter's evening and a pig-lover's delight, as out followed the glazed belly of Gloucestershire pork with Pomme Anna and fresh greens, which I have to say is one of the most delicious pork dishes I have ever eaten.  The meat was just so tender and succulent, and a lovely bottle of Chianti  (sans fava beans) was the ideal accompaniment .  We were all very happy campers. Happy as pigs in, er, gravy, in fact.

As if that wasn't enough, it wasn't long before Fi was clearing the plates and replacing them with an impressive regional cheese board and homemade individual apple Charlottes served with Creme Anglais.  Not being a mad fan of cooked fruit, I was slightly apprehensive about the Charlottes, but they were really good - especially the Creme Anglais.  Martin (a fellow diner) was celebrating his birthday, so Lee produced a candle-infested surprise for him which I thought was a lovely gesture. 

I looked at the clock and the hands had miraculously whizzed by at such a ridiculous speed, that it was suddenly time to bid my farewells and catch the last train.  Whilst retrieving my coat.... and scarf.... and gloves... and woolly hat, Fiona brought out a mountain of cellophane wrapped 'going home' muffins.  This went down very well with a cup of tea the following morning and was a pleasant reminder of the night before. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the Friday Food Club and am thrilled they are my local supper club as I'll certainly be going back regularly.  Looking forward to trying the salted caramel panacotta some day too (nudge wink).  And I can't wait for their Big Secret Supper event in January.  Lee and Fi were amazing and I think I've made some nice new friends and even a new hairdresser!  Happy days.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

The Fangorium

So, last Sunday I went about my day in the usual way - did the laundry, nipped to the supermarket and met a friend for lunch.  Oh, and then that evening, I took my brother to the depths of Essex for a spot of time travelling.  Yes, seriously, we went time travelling!  Let me explain...

Following our instructions, we made our way to somewhere near Romford and turned up at a nice, ordinary suburban house where we were greeted by a beautiful golden retriever. Called Toast. Wearing a waistcoat. Alongside Toast were the eccentrically-dressed twin brothers who had invited us to this very curious evening.  Two very clever and creative gents called Gavin and Jason.

On the surface, everything appeared quite normal.  We were two of several guests and received a very warm welcome from the twins' mother, who provided us all with endless refreshments, including a mean chilli con carne. After the various introductions, chit-chat, chilli and drinks, the real reason for our visit soon became clear. 

Gavin & Jason divided the guests into two groups, my brother and I being in the first group. Soon our time had come and we obediently followed our leaders outside, past a roaring fire and down the garden path, straight into what appeared to be a large shed.  We certainly weren't in Kansas anymore.  Or Romford for that matter.  Our hosts' eccentric attire became fitting of their true roles as 'Time Travelling Captains'.  Amidst the dry ice and dim lighting they chivvied the four of us directly into a surprisingly authentic-looking time machine.  The Fangorium.

Once inside, we were given a pre-flight safety talk and a brief tour of our surroundings and travel apparatus including flickering lights, safety guns, important pieces of rope, an impressive gizmo called a paradox lock, and the all important time circuit to let us know what year we were in.  Let the adventure begin...

Taking our seats, the door was locked and our crazy time-machine-inventing twin hosts left us to it.  The Fangorium started to shake, hiss and whir as we began our rapid descent back in time, grinding to an abrupt halt. Through the blast shield we could gauge signs of foliage, prehistoric birds and strange life forms, as it was announced we had reached the cretaceous period, which was confirmed by the disconcerting sound of heavy-footed dinosaurs circling the machine, roaring loudly.  Thankfully, it wasn't long until we were on our way again, ascending to 5010 where we were briefly submerged under the ocean but luckily not long enough to get wet as we whizzed all the way back to 1944.  The penetrating sound of gunfire and war sirens was an unmistakeable sign that we'd landed bang smack in the middle of WW2.  The machine door gently opened, to reveal a giant Swarstika flag and as we made our way gingerly towards the door, we were suddenly pushed back in by a scary gas mask-clad Nazi brandishing a machine gun, yelling at us in a rather suspicious German accent.

It wasn't long before we were on our way again.  This time to 1888 - Victorian London.  As the machine came to a standstill, the door opened out onto Whitechapel Road.  And we all know what that means. Jack!  Now terrified (yet brave) us four weary time-travellers exited the machine into the dark tunnelled-streets of East London.  From nowhere appeared a proper London Bobby (complete with a large helmut and truncheon no less!!) who ushered us to safety in a nearby store room at the Ten Bells pub.  In the dingy candlight, we saw the figure of Jack the Ripper appear at the window, scaring us half to death as he tried to break in and stab us with his pesky bloodied-blade. Fortunately our friendly copper appeared back on the scene just in the nick of time to guide us back to the Fangorium, tripping over the body of a decaying prostitute as we dashed along the street.  With The Ripper hot on our heels, we managed to make our way safely back inside the machine and close the door with just seconds to spare. Phew!

As the Fangorium cranked up for its final voyage back to 2010, we all heaved a united sigh of relief as our epic journey drew to an end and the door opened one last time to let us out back into our familiar world. We were soon back in the warmth and security of the house to enjoy a large glass of wine and bid the next team of guests farewell as they left to embark on their mission. Slightly envious that they still had it all to come.

Like something out of 'Alice in Wonderland' or 'Mr Benn', it was certainly an adventure to remember. A truly bizarre and surreal evening which is right up there on the quirkometer.  Thank you so much for inviting us Gavin & Jason.  It was a terrifying pleasure and privilege!  To see a film of the Fangorium mission, click here

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Nomad Chef

Being a Brit, celebrating Thanksgiving isn't very high on my agenda.  So it was with intrigue and curious intrepidation that I made my way to a lovely house in posh Holland Park to see what all the fuss was about. And it didn't disappoint. Nomad Chef is a well established supper club run by a lovely American lady who definitely knows how to 'do' Thanksgiving.  She and her cooking partners-in-crime, hosted dinner for a whopping 25 diners that night, turning their conservatory into a perfect restaurant. As well as Americans, there were guests from far and wide including a few children which gave it a lovely family atmosphere.  In fact, there were regular moments during the evening when I felt as if I was an extra in a Woody Allen film.  Not sure if I was Hannah or one of her sisters, but it was a happy place to be.

After some welcome Prosecco and spicy popcorn, whilst being serenaded by an excellent singing guitarist called Kate, we all made our way to the conservatory. The modest-sized kitchen added to the wonder of such a feast, especially the enormous roast turkey, which I can only imagine took up the entire  oven!

Apparently the turkey cost £130 (and probably weighed about the same), but then it did come from Lidgate's - without doubt the best butcher in London - so was worth every tasty morsel.

We all tucked into traditional homemade oyster pie, which as someone who despises oysters, I have to say was surprisingly delicious.  This was followed by a giant plate of turkey with so many trimmings, I can't remember what they all were, but the colourful combination of chestnut stuffing, mashed potatoes, mushrooms, mini souffle, cranberry, orange, French beans and gravy was an incredibly tasty assault on the tastebuds.  A moment of giving thanks ensued where we all shared our gratitude with one another, and this was swiftly followed by fab homemade pecan and pumpkin pies.

I was lucky enough to be seated with five brilliant and very funny females.  I definitely think we had the best table, as we all got on so well and almost laughed ourselves into a wine and turkey-fuelled coma.

It was a wonderful evening and I'm definitely putting Thanksgiving in my diary next year.  If you want to check out a supper club in West London, then Nomad Chef has got to be it.

White Room Supper Club

Christmas came early at the White Room supper club.  Our hostess, Claudia, put on a lovely festive feast at her chic, modern and very white apartment.  As it was a particularly cold night, the pomegranate- infused mulled wine, tasty 'Devils on Horseback' and mini duck confit croustades were the perfect welcome.

There were ten of us for dinner which made it quite an intimate evening as we all sat at one large table which was creatively decorated with Christmas fayre in dominant red,silver and white, complementing the large white tree illuminating the corner of the room.  There was a strong continental flair to the night as the majority of guests came from Germany, Greece and Romania, with only myself and one other guest as the UK contingents.

Claudia put on a large spread which she produced effortlessly, making everything from the cider and pumpkin soup, and gin & tonic granita (complete with edible silver stars) to the venison with chocolate and elderflower sauce (served with a lot of sprouts!) followed by homemade Christmas tree shaped biscuits to accompany the delicious cinnamon vanilla mousse.

Whilst she worked her magic in the kitchen, we all ate, drank and got very merry. Crackers, silly hats, humorous tales and positioning ceramic snowmen into lewd positions certainly added to the hilarity and frivolity of a really fun evening. 

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Good Stock Supper Club

There's a new supper club in town.  It's called Good Stock and it's run by a lovely team of sisters and cousins.  Anna, Marie, Sarah & Lucy and their team hosted their first dinner last night and it was a huge success.  The biggest coup being the fact they've managed to secure the best venue - a spacious riverside penthouse on the Thames!  So the wow factor was apparent from the moment you arrived and were handed a glass of pink Prosecco to enjoy whilst taking in the stunning view overlooking Tower Bridge.  

Professionalism is certainly the name of the game with Good Stock, and in some ways it felt more like a restaurant than a supper club in someone's home.  They run a very slick operation and being quite a perfectionist myself, I really appreciated their attention to detail, including simple ideas such as putting sprigs of fresh mint in the water bottles, and colour printed menus on each table.

The 24 diners comprised of groups of friends, regular supper club goers and friends of the hosts.  I sat at a table with a lovely bunch and we all got along like old friends, enjoying the food, wine and banter.  The atmosphere in general was happy and relaxed, and despite the kitchen being open plan and only feet from the diners, we were oblivious to any action frantically taking place as the hosts moved deftly between us serving the food.

A platter of delicious peat-smoked salmon parcels with beetroot and horseradish, and some cheesy rarebit puffs with pancetta crisp were handed out whilst we had our welcome drink.  They were a great combination of flavours and would have been perfect if offered as canapes.  But according to the menu, these were in fact the starter, which I found quite disappointing as there wasn't a substantial enough amount for all the guests (I only had one of each) to justify a starter.  The smoked mackerel and trout terrine with saffron potatoes was tasty and made up for it.  The main course was a Carbonnade of British beef with garlic and dijon croute which was effectively a beef stew served in individual pots with a slice of French bread on top and some green beans wrapped in courgette on the side.  The beef was tender and the sauce was excellent, really flavoursome and perfect for a hearty, cold November evening.  But being quite rich, it would have definitely benefitted from a good dollop of creamy mashed potato.  Surprisingly, no bread was offered on the table, but when we asked for some, the hosts instantly brought us a basketful. 

It was rose water-poached pears with homemade spiced vanilla ice cream for pudding.  Beautifully presented on a plate with a delicate mint leaf, at first you wondered if the ice cream was coming separately, until you discovered it gently seeping out of the pear's bottom!  The girls had painstakingly hollowed out each pear and inserted the ice cream.  The pear, spiced vanilla and mint were a lovely combination and the ice cream was especially creamy.  

A cheeseboard of brie drizzled with honey, figs and stilton rounded off the evening perfectly.  Compared to most supper clubs, Good Stock didn't offer the BYO wine option, instead offering a glass of carefully selected wines to accompany each course.  This was a nice touch but I'd like to have had the option to bring a bottle too.  They did offer additional wine for sale.

Towards the end of the evening, we were all given a little brown box, with 'Good Stock' neatly printed on the lid.  Inside was a duo of handmade salted caramel truffles.  As mentioned earlier, it's this  kind of thoughtful detail which makes Good Stock stand out from the crowd.  The chocolates were so delicious, with the perfect contrast of sweet and salt, I'm sure the best chocolatier in the world would have been impressed.  A great trademark. 

When they'd all finished sweating over the hot stove, the team emerged looking fresh and gorgeous to join us at the table for some cheese and chat.  It was a fun night and I met some interesting people and think Good Stock should be very proud of themselves for hosting such a great dinner.
Hopefully they will be putting on more dinners soon, so I suggest you book yourself a place and check out their website  Thanks for a lovely evening and well done!

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