Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Travels in Dorrrset, my loverrr


The customers


Down to Dorset to work at Camp Bestival with Petra Chocstar in her chocolate icecream van. I'd learn to scoop properly she said. The finest technique is to do a long snail-like curl which makes the icecream look bigger than a firmly packed scoop. This is harder than it looks to achieve. Other rules: don't miss out the edges of the tub when scooping because you'll end up with a sticky fist by the time you get to the bottom.
We were an all girl outfit. Next door at the Thali tent, they'd decided we were feminist separatists.
It helps to be small to work in the van. Your view of the outside world, and their view of you, is restricted to a tiny hatch. There is a little step upon which kids haul themselves up. One kid tried to grab the money under the counter. All of the parents are under the impression that their kids are cute. They give the kids the money and let them take the icecream. The child then climbs down from the step, holding the icecream in their wobbly pudgy mit. The icecream drops off the cone. The parent returns complaining defensively that the
"icecream wasn't put on properly".
You replace it.
In general kids want cones (shove the icecream down firmly for little kids due to aforesaid problem) and adults have cups. We started to run out of cones.
"Do you mind a cup?" I asked an adult.
"Yes, I mind. I want a cone"
whimpered this fully grown adult reverting to five years old. Ice cream vans bring out the kid in everyone.
Petra is no idiot: she does hot chocolates as well, for this, after all, is England, where you have all four seasons in one day.
I ended up flirting for Britain through that little hatch; wearing brightly coloured clothes, calling out "cute dad alert" and enticing the mummies to order themselves Chocolate Martini shots. By day three I was having to ask each customer to repeat their order at least four times.
"It's a bloody festival" I'd explain wearily "What do you expect? Efficiency?"
I started calling cones 'scones' and confusing mint choc chip with caramel and chocolate. The strawberry being 'natural' was confusingly not pink but beige. Bring on the colourings and e numbers I say! Some of these parents however were buying icecreams for their kids at 9am. Then they'd wonder why the little bastards were so hyper.
Camp Bestival is fairly middle class. Somebody complained that security forced them to decant their balsamic vinegar into a plastic bottle. Half the festival was under the age of five. You saw all these toddlers rocking out to dubstep.
PJHarvey played. She's a local Dorset girl. No photographer were allowed in the pit to photograph her. Her people insisted that all the other music around be turned down. PJHarvey is very skinny with a large turned up nose. She looks like the childcatcher in Chittychittybangbang.

I did a naughty thing while at camp bestival. Something I've never done before...I slept with a married man. He was a photographer there and I met him in the photographers pit (I was doubling up career wise and combining icecream girl with my other profession of rock photographer). I didn't even fancy him. He never told me he was married although I did wonder. At the end of the first evening, he invited me back to his pop up tent for warm cans of gin and tonic. I refused.
The second night, bored by the surfeit of toddlers and having no one to hang out with...I relented to have a 'massage'. This massage seem to spread to my nether regions and one thing led to another.
Now people, the moral of the tale is NEVER EVER sleep with a married man. It's wrong, not just ethically but also because once they've done their bit, the act is over, the man who formerly pursued you starts crying about how they were 'unfaithful to their kids' and how they 'feel really bad' and how 'they really only wanted to give you a massage'. Like it's your fault.
The next day, in the photographers pit, he acted oddly. Calling me over to one side, he said 'can you do me a favour? Let's draw a line under this'. 'Do you think I'm going to tell your wife?' I asked, shocked. 'Er yeah'. I walked off angrily. I didn't even have his phone number.
On Monday I found his card, something I had forgotten he had given me, in my bag. I'm going to have fun with this I thought. I texted him asking 'Do you have a bunny rabbit?'. He called back. Amazingly he did have a sense of humour about it. But then he started crying 'I'm wellin' oop' (he was from Birmingham) 'I don't want to lose me kids'. For fuck's sake. I ended up being his counsellor, ordering him not to tell the wife to assuage his own guilt. Hanging up eventually, I realised, once more, ha! when will I learn? that I cannot have casual sex. I always develop feelings for the guy. I realised, once more, with a deadening thud of the heart, that I'm alone. He will go back to wifey and pretend to be a good guy and I will...carry on being single.




I was all prepared to LOVE this place; friendly staff and huge Disney-like plates of food. My favourite part was that they didn't have a door. You had to find your way through the plastic that surrounded the shack. I managed to slither through a gap. Their minted mushy peas were fantastic, I've never liked them before and now I am a convert. However my 'tempura' fried cod was not fresh, a little dry in fact and the chips were of the oven variety. Goddammit.
The salad was varied on a leaf level but the dressing consisted of vinegar only. @greendrawers liked her crab but @eatdorset found his squid a little underdone. The setting is so wonderful...pleeease tweak the food...
@eatdorset is author and chef Michael Feasey who used to run a famous restaurant called The Nosh Brothers. He's written a fantastic book called 'Eat Dorset'. Dorset is a foodies heaven...in the book is a picture of Darren Brown of Shellseekers who hand dives scallops and oysters, selling them at his stall in Borough Market and to restaurants. I actually met him last week at the TioPepe sherry tasting at Camino, a Spanish restaurant in Kings Cross. Passionately against dredging, Darren gave a master class in how to shuck an oyster and fillet a fish. He used to go to school with Mark Hix, who has a restaurant in Lyme Regis. Darren is in his 40s. He's a commercial drysuit diver, going down on his own in rough seas on a nitrogen mix.
"How long can you keep that up?" I asked him.
"Probably another five years" he said "I'm quite old for a commercial diver".
The next day, after about two hours sleep...it's amazing when you meet fellow tweeters, you carry on chatting away just like you did on twitter...I was led through the Telly Tubby green hills of Dorset to Beaminster where @greendrawers has her eco shop. She sells a mixture of goods, second hand furniture, clothes and people can refill their Ecover products there. Strangely, for an area which has mostly elderly people, baby clothes sell well.
"Grannies isn't it?" explained @greendrawers "where else locally can they buy organic cotton baby clothes to send as presents, knowing they aren't going to get a sniffy reaction from the parents?"
Remembering the nylon vomit pink and urine yellow cardies, so synthetic they'd give you electric shocks, that my nan knitted for babies, I nodded vigorously in agreement.



Goats cheese salad

Close up of the goats cheese salad with wild strawberries

The lemon sole

A present of allotment fennel brought in...

Wine berries, samphire and beet leaves brought in by a local

Spider crab


The gorgeous tables

The toilets, a subject of conversation when Mat blogged his opening on Guardian Word of Mouth blog

The cardomom flavoured chocolate brownie

Lavender icecream topped with Borage flower

Berry Mess

Mat chats to the customers

Mat smokes food, smoked mash is a signature dish
Beaminster is also where this year's Masterchef winner Mat Follas has opened his restaurant 'The Wild Garlic'.
Mat talked about winning Masterchef: they had to stay up in London for several weeks in a horrible building with bars on the windows.
"To stop us escaping I guess" joked Mat.
"Is it a fix?" I asked "Do you think they have chosen who will win from the beginning?"
"Not at all" replied Mat "Some times I was up against really 'televisual' competitors...one gorgeous woman who did Gluten-free food, another babe in a mini skirt, but I got through. I asked John and Gregg the presenters why and they simply said 'Your food tastes better'. It was quite brave of them to put four guys through to the final."
"I never imagined I would get through. The first round I was surrounded by people bandying around French cooking terms. I can't speak French, I'm an amateur from New Zealand. One guy was actually French but the food he produced went horribly wrong"
Mat is brave opening a restaurant, his competitors are doing 'stages' (work experience)around the top kitchens. But if you have a family, responsibilities, you can't do that, you just have to go for it and learn on the job.
Tim Maddams of The River Cottage joked "from what I've heard, Mat can actually cook, which is more than you can say about most head chefs..."
I started with the goats cheese salad with a little chilli and tomato bread and butter pudding.
The goats cheese was delicately caramelised and the salad was amazing; little purple heads of viola, marigold petals, interesting herbs, poking through the variety of lettuce leaves, one of which tasted of caraway seeds.
The savoury bread & butter pudding was creamy and soft, full of flavour. Perhaps I would add a little parmesan crust to it...
For main course I was served an entire lemon sole, slashed either side, with capers. This fish was incredibly fresh, served on a bed of local samphire, the sea water just seeping through with each al dente bite. I also had crushed New Potatoes, simple but perfectly seasoned.
Puddings, reader, I had three;
1)The chocolate brownie, not too cake-like as many of them are, very light and flavoured with cardomom, served with red currants and crusted clotted cream
2) Lavender icecream, a creamy subtle vanilla with little sugared pods of lavender.
3) A berry mess of blueberries, red currants, meringue and cream
The prices are extremely reasonable, about a fiver for a starter, 12 quid for a main, and four quid for pudding. If you are driving to Dorset, do book a table, I recommend it.
The decor of the full dining room was simple, rustic but modern with pale sorrel green Farrow & Ball paint and fabulous thick oak tables with foodie quotes carved in the edges.
Mat went around the tables talking to people. He understands that a successful restaurant, especially if the owner has won a popular TV competition, depends on the personal touch to distinguish it.
As I sat there, watching people come in to make bookings, they would often bring a present from their garden or allotment. Locals popped in all the time, to bring crabs or local ingredients. It's Mat's restaurant, but I got the feeling that Dorset felt like they were, that horrible New Labour phrase, stake-holders in the project, wanting to add their knowledge.




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My last stop was at Heston Blumenthal's Little Chef in Popham, at the junction where the A303 meets the M3. I've been wanting to visit, since watching the TV documentary where Heston attempts to transform the management's attitude to food.
I was too tired and full to eat, just ordering a pot of tea, some tomatoes and mushrooms. The tomatoes did taste a little of 'thyme' as the menu vaunted but the mushrooms were ordinary. Butter? Can't Little Chef afford butter?
The staff were lovely and the decor witty; a noughties take on the 1950s American diner.

18 comments:

  1. another day, another adventure. lovely, again, mml.

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  2. Glad you enjoyed your time in Dorset and in particular Beaminster and all it has to offer from Greendrawers to The Wild Garlic. It's a very picturesque part of the world and has its own special unique magic, don't attempt the sea however at The Hive Beach when the tide is on the turn !!

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  3. was great to meet you !
    I think I will put some parmesan (old winchester actually) on the bread pudding when I make it next
    See you on 10th in London x

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  4. @rebeccajago29 July 2009 21:57

    Hi. Loved your Dorset tales. I'm going to go and stay with my brother in Dorset in the autumn and get over to The Wild Garlic for sure. I went to the Little Chef Popham last February to try out the Heston menu. We were five typical London ladies on a lunch trip. we had a fab time, though, although the food was hit and miss (and we were charged £1 for ONE MUSHROOM poached in olive oil; that's a bit crazy isn't it?). But the staff were just wonderful, although the manager who featured in the tv series had already left: we had a great guy from Bristol who made the whole experience for us.
    Really enjoy your twitter posts, and looking forward to trying out one of your UR evenings.

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  5. Really enjoyed reading about your adventures, particularly visiting Mat at The Wild Garlic - can't wait for my visit, in mid August!

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  6. I went to the Popham Little Chef on the way back from Camp Bestival too! Did you actually get mushrooms plural? Because they only gave me one tiny "slow roasted field mushroom" for £1.

    The parents of hyperactive kids pissed me off too. I was spinning outside the tent one day and this little girl touched the spinning wheel as it was going round. Her parents were right there so I figured they'd stop her. Then she put her foot between the spokes. Then touched the wheel again. I had to tell her it would eat her fingers if she kept doing that.

    Parents wanted to use us as a babysitting service while they went to watch music. I don't care how "family friendly" it is, I would not leave my 8 year-old alone at a festival.

    The River Cottage canteen was rubbish. My write up of the fest including River Cottage and Popham Little Chef is here: http://fingersandtoes.wordpress.com/2009/07/29/camp-bestival/

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  7. As you can see I got two not very big mushrooms for my quid. Trouble was they were tasteless.
    Thanks everybody for your comments...Dorset really is food heaven.
    The River Cottage stall at Camp Bestival was, by all reports, disappointing. I've heard the canteen in Axminster is fantastic.But how can a meat eater provide good vegetarian food anyway? They just don't get it mostly.
    Festival food does need to improve and I'm planning to open up my own operation next year. All I need is a backer....
    I cooked at festivals all last summer and loved it. People would come to the cafe I worked for just to get decent vegetarian food.

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  8. Wow! Too much stuff in one entry - too much to comment on! Where do I start...okay Camp Bestival - ice-cream...very amusing. Last year I hijacked an ice-cream stall for a couple of hours at Bestival on the Isle of Wight (it was necessary as it was really pissing it down - we knew the seller anyway). It is funny that despite the rain and cold people still crave ice-cream! Lots of good tips here though if anyone ever fancies going into business...it is also quite interesting seeing the festival from this angle!

    As for the silent disco -OMIGOD! This is something I have always feared. It is a cool idea -don't get me wrong - but this to my mind is the complete break down of community and unity...well not completely I guess in this case as everyone was listening to the same tune but what if everyone was listening to something different?! It will happen one day...we'll all become unreachable islands...

    ach I'm being too dramatic and not very coherent but there is a thinking here that requires exploration....it is that whole idea that community is breaking down and the rise of the individual and virtual worlds and blah blah blah - I rant!

    As for food - wow - what a lot of interesting experiences! Lucky you - River Cottage, fish, Little Chef - you've been on a food oddssey from the looks of it! Most envious.... xxx

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  9. You do get around my dear!
    Loved reading this, we're definitely going to head to The Wild Garlic if we manage to get that way in September.

    Keep 'em coming...see you Tuesday.
    xx


    www.theshedlikesfood.blogspot.com

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  10. PS Matt's restaurant sounds amazing - well done to him! I'd certainly eat there!

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  11. PPS On festival food - I think it has definitely got a lot better from the times when I was 16 going to Reading Fest, there you just got horribly congealed chinese food and burgers - not a vegy option in sight except for jacket potato that looked awful...Bestival had some good curries and fish dishes last year - but yeah always room for improvement!

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  12. Ms ML - long time no catch up; thanks for re-enthusing me about all that is good and fun in the world with this wonderful post.

    Fancy a mini-break in Bath next time around? I think you'd particularly enjoy the Farmers' Market, and we could compare and contrast the delights (or otherwise) of Jamie's Italian and our own River Cottage Canteen. Heck, you could even accompany me to a restaurant review if we get the schedule right!

    Anyway, be in touch soon - for now, keep on keeping on; you're doing great things.

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  13. That is the most apt description of Polly Harvey that I have ever read. And well done on triple pudding consumption.

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  14. The Wild Garlic sounds great. We're definitely going there next time we are in Somerset/Dorset.

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  15. Aha - you got to try the savoury bread pudding! I must make my way down to mat's place sometime soon...I love our little exchanges on veggie-fare.

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  16. Great post!

    I was once queuing for the portaloos at a festival (aimed at adults, mind) and a man dumped his 6 year old daughter on me while he went to the bar as she needed the toilet. I was a.) not in a correct condition to look after children and b.) she gave me headlice. Parents, eh?

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  17. Curious cat: yes the silent disco was very 21st century
    MsDisco: I would love to visit you,accompany you on a review. When is good for you?
    Lizzie hollowlegs:Kids =lice and worms. You get used to them eventually.

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