Upton Smokery

A few weeks ago we noticed one of the many ‘farmy-shop’ signs you pass along the A-Roads of Great Britain, this time on the A40. Usually I exclaim some sort of ‘ooh’ and then pull a muscle in my neck trying to crane a look, as the husband pretends not to hear me and puts his foot down. Anyway, on this occasion he slammed into a handbrake-style turn and skidded off onto a little country lane, taking us to the ‘Upton Smokery’.
I think my obsession with smoked food is a remnant of my cigarette loving past. It’s the nearest thing to a Marlboro Light I can indulge in nowadays…that’s how rock and roll I am.
Anyway the Upton Smokery is a brilliant, money-sapping speciality deli kind of place where they smoke anything smokable on site. All the meats, all the fish, all the cheese, all the…garlic…you get the picture. They also stock really well selected wines, oils, vinegars (and so on) that you’d never usually buy but do because you get carried away with the poshness of it all.
But THE most exciting thing for me about the ‘Upton Smokery’ is that they also sell signal crayfish.

These are the aggressive little buggers, native to North America, that were imported from Sweden in the 1970’s to supply the Scandinavian food market. They then went on to disease-up our native crayfish, wreak havoc on riverbanks and stuff their faces with our fish and their eggs. They are seriously bad news and the best way forward is to catch, boil and eat as many of them as possible (with mayonnaise).
Upton Smokery do the catching and boiling bit and then sell them for £10 a kilo, which is the amount shown in the picture. They are delicious and ethically awesome.

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Smoked haddock and artichoke bake

I don’t know about you but I’m a bit obsessed with recipe books. I particularly enjoy looking at them when I’m ravenous and I’m then bitterly disappointed not to have any of the necessary ingredients to hand and tend to comfort-stuff-my-face with some sort of pasta to compensate. Anyway, I decided to organise myself and choose and buy ingredients for a recipe each week. My book of choice was Ottolenghi’s (I love the man) ‘Plenty’ and I cooked loads of his dishes and they were all amazing, so if I were to recommend one cook book to anyone it would be this.
Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi
Anyhow I ramble… the point of this post is that cooking Ottolenghi’s recipes kind of inspired me to stop being so boring and try out a few recipes of my own. Yotam (erm, may I call you by your first name?) is a lover of globe artichokes and uses ‘frozen ones from his local Lebanese mini-supermarket’, but I live in Cheltenham, which doesn’t indulge such whimsies and preparing them from fresh is the sort if thing you only ever do when you’re bored on a Mediterranean holiday…so I don’t often use them. Well imagine my delight when the Asian supermarket down the lower end starting stocking them! So I created this recipe and it was delish!

smoked haddock and artichoke bake

A piece of smoked haddock
A handful of prepared globe artichoke hearts
2 potatoes
Some strong cheese (I used a couple of slices of Pont L’Eveque
500ml home made white sauce with tspn mustard
Salt & pepper
Bread crumbs

(Oven on 200 degrees)
Slice and parcook the potatoes then place in an ovenproof dish with slosh of olive oil
Cook for 10 mins to brown a bit
Place sliced artichoke hearts on top of the potatoes
The smoked haddock goes on top of this
Then pour a mustardy white sauce over the top with the slices of cheese
Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and grated parmasan
Bake til brown

I served it with a rocket and tomato dressed salad

Sorry I’m not a fancy-pants food photographer

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The great Norwood st Delicatessen, Cheltenham


I’d kind of decided that my blogging days (short lived as they were) were over; a combination of lack of time and a low frustration threshold had doomed my blogging destiny…but I’ve recently been a bit inspired by an awesome food blog ‘reciperifle.blogspot.com’. The author is a damn funny woman called Esther Walker, who blogs about food in a very frivolous manner while sharing a bit of ‘women’s angst’, she’s brilliant, check her out.

Anyhow I’m not going to try to copy her but it did get me thinking about getting back to ‘it’ and a trip to a local deli spurred me on today. There are a number of ‘rather pricey’ little deli’s in Cheltenham, that are probably still mourning the arrival of ‘Wholefoods’ to the Cheltenham fold. But a new arrival in The Suffolks is definately worth a detour away from the lure of Kingsditch (who ever thought said ditch would have a lure!).

‘The Great Norwood Delicatessen’, is small but perfectly formed and is as lovely inside as it appears from it’s doors. My particular excitement today was the discovery that it sells small trays of Canolli, a Sicilian fried pastry dough with a sugary ricotta filling…hell they’re gorgeous. Perfect with a coffee and you can get a whole one in your mouth at once.


And if that doesn’t interest you, the new arrival of Alex James’ cheese surely will. enjoy!


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The Suffolk Kitchen, Cheltenham

Can you judge an eaterie on its fishfinger sandwich?

This was what I wondered to myself after a fantastic one at The Suffolk Kitchen. Well I think you can, when it’s constructed from thick doorstop wedges of homemade white bread, housing hot crunchy fillets of flaky white fish, oozing with creamy homemade tartare, yes you can. Oh, and not forgetting the triple cooked chips.

Good enough to eat?

And by my reckoning, if you can’t, this fish finger sandwich certainly paves the way to the possibility that, The Suffolk Kitchen really is quite likely to be, very good indeed! The homemade burger that ‘The Man’ ravaged was apparently delicious and the excellent children’s menu that ‘The Boy’ chose from was equally well received.

The place certainly looks the part with a modern, bright interior, Welsh tapestry upholstered banquette seating and cool art.

light & brightAnd in addition to all this, is the simple but perfectly formed wine list, offering a range of wines from £2.50 a glass. Now, I’m no wine buff but I’m no fool either and I’ve had many a meal in Cheltenham where plonk is poured at horribly over-inflated prices. We all know the approximate price of a familiar bottle of wine and it does gall to pay over the odds for the privilege of drinking it in a restaurant. So well done to The Suffolk Kitchen for playing fair!

I’m definitely going to, ‘watch this space’ and would love to hear other reviews of Cheltenham’s promising new addition.

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Green Spring Risotto

I love this risotto and usually get the urge for it when I’ve had a weekend-of-shame and know I have eaten too much rubbish. It’s very much a Spring dish and it fills the culinary gap between winter bakes and Summer salads. It’s also great for a fridge raid, so I always just throw in whatever I’ve got that’s green in the veg box.


Making risotto requires little more than a bit of attention,so here goes:

Finely chop garlic and an onion and soften slowly in a frying pan.

Add a cup of risotto rice (there are various options but I used arborio) and stir in gently with the softened onions for a few minutes. Then add a good slug of dry white wine if you like.

You’ll need about 600ml of good quality vegetable or chicken stock and this is added to the rice approx. 100ml at a time and stirred until absorbed. I’m fairly attentive with my risotto and give it a good stir every couple of minutes. This process will take around 15/20 mins.

While the rice still has a bit of bite, add the vegetables that require some cooking such as green beans and asparagus. If you’ve used all the stock, keep it moist (a bit like porridge) with a bit of boiling water.

When the bite of the rice is barely there, add the last vegetables (maybe peas, spinach, rocket) and a handful of toasted pine kernels and a tbsp of fresh pesto.


At this point I turn off the heat and pop the lid onto the pan and leave the risotto to sit for a final few minutes before adding a handful of parmesan. I’m a sucker for a drizzle of truffle oil just before serving, to add an extra earthy flavour to the delicious fresh green taste of the finished risotto.


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The Olde Bell Inn, Hurley

If we could have chosen any weekend to spend at The Olde Bell Inn at Hurley, this one, the warmest March on record since 1968, would surely have been it!

After the resounding success of ‘The Stagg Inn’ Christmas gift, all future significant events are now in-the-bag; never again will I have to stalk the High Street in a state of bewildered befuddlement or peruse the internet wondering whether:

a)It’s real  b)It’ll fit  c)It’ll ever arrive  d)How much it’ll cost me to return.

The Olde Bell Inn at Hurley has confirmed what I already knew and this is that very few ‘things’ can bring as much pleasure as eating, drinking and sumptuous sleeping, all in one place with your Chosen One. The Olde Bell Inn provides all three with understated panache and a refreshing emphasis on the things that count (in my world anyway).

Originally a 12th Century coaching Inn, The Olde Bell Inn has been gently and sympathetically guided into the modern world with an almost miraculous respect for its provenance. The bar is a traditional, unpretentious affair with beams, rickety bar-stools and spindly round, dark wood tables. The dining room is in keeping but with the additional touches of rug-backed benches, quirky wall-mounted plates and candles in bell-jars. The effect is warm and inviting, yet elegant and distinctive.

The Inn prides itself on this atmosphere, emphasising that, ‘the common spaces are the heartbeat of the place’.

And the bedroom too reflected this, being simple in design but luxurious in the quality of the bedding, toiletries, teas and room service.


Of course I’ve kept the best-till-last because, as always, my attention is only truly held by the delectables on offer. And I was a bit nervous about the absence of entry in The Good Food Guide (that I would expect from a 5 Star Inn). But there was no need to be uneasy as the food reiterated every wonderful aspect of the place. The same attention to quality, above overt luxury, permeated the menu, which was varied, interesting and adventurous.We thoroughly enjoyed a snail ravioli with wild garlic and a soy and sesame quail to start.

These were followed by cuttlefish and fennel stew with parsley gnocchi and a slow cooked pork belly main course. The shared desert of  fudgy pecan pie and a British Cheese plate concluded the evening nicely.

And if The Olde Bell Inn itself were not enough, an early morning walk along the banks of The Thames confirmed Hurley as one of the most picturesque villages I’ve ever visited…eye-wateringly gorgeous…with a little help from the warmest March day since 1968.

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The Purefoy Arms, Preston Candover, Hampshire

The early months of spring can be a dark and dreary time. It lacks the spontaneity of summer and requires some dedicated planning to ensure the first months of a new year include some action.
So I’ve had some action (I’m exhausted) and during one flurry of activity, on a particularly rainy Saturday afternoon, we chanced upon an unexpectedly exciting Hampshire pub.
The Purefoy is a perfectly formed village pub with the essential log fire, chunky-wood furniture, cosy nooks and crannies and a fat springer spaniel desperate (but denied) to beg at your table.
But as pleasant as all this is, what is really outstanding about The Purefoy is the skill and originality that the Spanish Chef, Andres Alemany has brought to the table. A fantastic array of authentic tapas nibbles precedes the European menu, where locally sourced produce and seasonality leads the way.

Naturally, we felt it our culinary duty to sample most of the tapas: Pata Negra, chorizo, Catalan tomato bread, pork crackling with apple sauce, which we then followed with a combination of starters, main courses and deserts, all richly flavoured and prepared with a precision and care that isn’t often seen.

A delicious red onion and goats cheese tartin

Grilled razor clam with sherry and onions

I regularly lament the rush that is evident in restaurant food…they know (and so do we) what we want it to be but time ran out. The overriding feeling that The Purefoy evokes, is that fantastic food deserves time, both from the chef and from the diner and that this process, from the moment of preparing the raw ingredient to the savouring of the dish, should never be rushed or half-hearted.

Our experience at The Purefoy was so wholehearted and satisfying that we managed two lingering lunches in 24 hours and thoroughly enjoyed both. The only improvement I could hope for at The Purefoy would be the addition of guest rooms and then the effort of having to drag myself out and reactivate could be gratefully avoided! Perfection!

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The Stagg Inn @ Titley, Herefordshire

English: The Stagg Inn, Titley

The weeks preceding Christmas were a very frustrating time for myself last year, as Mike refused to offer any present suggestions…the truth being I suppose, that he didn’t really need anything! (This never seems to happen to me.) Anyhow I decided to buy him what I know he’ll always love: the gift of Food and Drink.

So I began the gratifying search (I love a good search) for a gastro-pub-with-rooms, within easy reach and a modest(ish) budget. It was surprisingly difficult. My top choice was The Hand and Flowers in Marlow, which has hit the foodie big time being the first pub to receive two Michelin stars in the 2012 Guide.  But alas, Fridays and Saturdays booked until May 2012 (probably later now). My next choice was The Swan at Swinbrook, a lunchtime favourite, which also has rooms but disappointingly these can only be booked for a minimum of 2 nights, so the search continued. 

A brisk look through,  ‘The Good Pub Guide’ narrowed down my options and The Stagg Inn at Titley seemed to be an exciting possibility. The first pub to be awarded a Michelin Star in 2001, it has continued to be placed in the Top-Ten National Gastro-Pubs and  has been awarded 2012 National Dining Pub of the Year by ‘The Good Pub Guide’. So I booked it.

And on a cold mid-January afternoon, kiddies packed off to the grandparents, we drove into the  crisp Herefordshire countryside to enjoy the gift that kept on giving!

Frosty January afternoon in Herefordshire

The journey alone was a treat and the weekend that followed equalled it. The Stagg Inn was a gem of a pub! An unpretentious local village Inn, it describes itself as part medieval, part Victorian with a bit of 70’s in the mix (but don’t let that put you off).  The front bar is a casual fire-lit arrangement, with comfortable dining rooms to the rear.

The sleeping arrangements are a little more unusual, with three bedrooms above the pub and three more in The Vicarage, five minutes walk down the road. We stayed at the latter, in The Greenly bedroom, complete with period features, en-suite bathroom (with slipper bath), church views and a torch swinging on the back of the door to light your way along the unlit road, to and from the pub.

Charming bedrooms at The Stagg Inn

The pub was heaving by 7.30 and we squeezed ourself against the bar to enjoy a pre-dinner pint of real ale and a paper bag of whitebait served with the most delicious spiced mayonnaise I’ve ever savoured.

Hot, crisp whitebait with spiced mayo

For dinner, I enjoyed a goats cheese and beetroot salad, followed by  pan-fried gnocchi served with chicory, jerusalem artichokes and a watercress sauce. Both dishes were from the vegetarian menu and were extremely delicious. Mike was overjoyed to see home-made black pudding on the menu and even more so to discover it was accompanied by belly pork,  which was a great success as was the fillet of Herefordshire beef served with a horseradish cream. For dessert we shared a deliciously vibrant lemon tart…probably the best I’ve ever eaten.

And finally we had the walk home to entertain us. It was a pitch black, star filled night with nothing but the wind-up torch to guide us home. Unfortunately, by that time, we lacked the vigour necessary to wind the torch into producing anything that resembled light but quite frankly we were beyond caring where (or what) we were walking or falling into, other than the king-size bed that awaited us back at the vicarage…heavenly!

The Vicarage accommodation at The Stagg Inn

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Soushi, Cirencester

I’ve always thought of Cirencester as being rather like Cheltenham’s little sister, hidden behind the somewhat overbearing  shadow that the larger town casts. Cheltenham is generally considered the hub of the Cotswolds, with the racing, clubs, bars and restaurants and has always been rather showy-offy about it. But over the past 5 years or so, Cirencester has quietly stepped out and is confidently pushing forward to become the more appealing and enticing of the two Cotswolds destinations. Although the smaller of the towns, it seems that exciting businesses are willing to take a punt on Cirencester, which now hosts a growing selection of boutique clothes and interior shops (Parkinsons being the fore-runner covering both) and an impressive array of artisan food stops.

Its latest aquisition, ‘Soushi’ seems to be succeeding, where Cheltenham has yet to, with this fantastic Japanese eatery.

‘Soushi’ is a cafe-styled Japanese restaurant, with a  light and characteristically minimalist interior. Striking oriental details combine with rustic chunky-wood tables and framed paper-cuts depicting exotic destinations, hang on the walls. Its tables sit mainly at large glass conservatory windows with the child-friendly addition of banquette booths. And ‘Soushi’ really is both a ‘couples’ and ‘family’ destination. We visited with three young children and whilst welcomed by staff were happily inconspicuous in our booth.

The menu offers an excellent selection of Sushi, Sashimi, Tempura, Bento boxes and Udon soups and we sampled from most of these. After tasty vegetable Gyozas and chilli edamame beans, we shared a Vegetable Tempura with Udon Noodle Soup and a Spider Roll Sushi Platter (Soft Shell Crab and Masago) which was an absolutely delicious combination of soft salty crab with it’s crunchy coating and the slightly sweet, nori wrapped sushi rice!

fresh and crunchy veg tempura in a light udon broth

The only disappointing part of the lunch was the inevitable fact that we were going to have to leave and head back to Cheltenham, but not before I had attempted to talk the owner into relocating 30 miles up the road…in fact, I seem to remember offering to help find premises, I’m that desperate. Much as I love ‘Showy-Offy-Cheltenham’, I’ll not be happy until ‘Soushi’ is firmly established on my home turf!

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Matusel Ristorante: when restaurants test relationships

My other half and I have a double act we like to perform when visiting new and unfamiliar places. This usually involves a moonless night, unlit back streets in the wrong end of town, google maps and intermittent/no phone reception. What ensues is a lively duologue, wild gesticulation and a wary but amused audience of passers-by. This was the prologue to our evening at Ristorante Matusel so it was with some relief that we eventually found the narrow, unmarked doorway to a restaurant we had chosen, somewhat ironically, because it was fairly close to our apartment.

Irritated but still together, we entered the restaurant for the second stage of the relationship tester…the empty restaurant. Forgetting that no self-respecting Italian would enter a food establishment before 9pm, the staff met our sudden appearance with gasps and shocked faces. We were led to the table of our choice, (so many to choose from…all of them in fact) and our bottoms hovered over the seats: to stay or not to stay, that is the question. ‘Let’s just have a drink,’ and, ‘I bet it’ll be full by 9:30’, broke the silence and the decision was final, we were staying.

The next hurdle was the expansive menu written on a chalkboard, not only in Italian but with the addition of flamboyant handwriting. It does add a further barrier and all we recognised were the words ‘Carne’ and ‘Pesce’. Thankfully the waiter was very helpful and translated the entire menu word-for-word, very quickly. Inevitably it was still culinary lottery as there are only so many times you can say, ‘umm what did you say that one was again…the ttttonno..con…ummm…razzo…ummm, how do you say….?’ His patience had its limits so we ordered blindly and these were the results!

 Our starters arrived and were delicious. I had a velvety, fresh carpaccio of tuna, swordfish and fresh anchovy, sat atop a radiccio salad with a balsamic dressing and my other half had a clam and mussel saute, more of a soup really but full of fresh and perky mediterranean flavours and heavy on rich and fruity olive oil.

But the main course was a revelation! The most buttery, winey, richly flavoured lobster Pepponi pasta topped by the pieces of a whole lobster was our shared ‘secondi’. Thank goodness we both wanted the same dish (served only for two or more) as I would happily pull a stranger from the streets to share this with me.

Lobster Pennoni

We left Matusel and stumbled happily back towards the apartment, uncaring as to whether we’d ever find our way back. We could always go back and sleep in the restaurant doorway and wait for it to reopen for lunch tomorrow!

(And by the way, I was right, there was not an empty seat in the house by 9:15!)

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