Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Jeremy Lee at Quo Vadis

Bloggaz just wanna have fun
Bloater paste
David/Critical Couple/Jeremy Lee and Wine_Chap/Hollow Legs
Le menu
Eel sandwich: house speciality
Sea kale

Fish n artichokes
Voldermort sat here
Professional host and fellow alumni of the 'Evening Standard's 1000 most influential people in London' year 2010/11, @winechapUK or, to give him his real name, Tom Harrow, set up a dinner for food bloggers at Quo Vadis restaurant. Originally opened in the 1920s, Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital here and Marco Pierre White ran it for a bit, the art deco styled Quo Vadis is a Soho institution.
I walked in, peering about without my glasses to try and find Wine Chap, and I saw Ralph Fiennes (pronounced Rafe, yes I know, there's even a Yahoo question about this). He was sitting right there looking friendly and... with a nose.
Back to me briefly...I wore my new bird fabric Get Cutie dress with a bird headress. I'd like to think I looked fabulous.
Back to Quo Vadis: Jeremy Lee, formerly of the Blue Print Café o'er the Thames, is back in Soho. Darlings, he's home! After all he started out at Alistair Little, plus he's easily the campest man in cookery, with his 50s quiff, sashaying gait and his Prime of Miss Jean Brodie enunciation...
Six of us bloggers were there plus Wine Chap. This included Eat Like A Girl, Hollow Legs, HRWright, Cheese and Biscuits, and a mystery bloke. "Who are you?" I asked.
He seemed reticent to answer. "David" he mumbled.
"Who ARE you?" I boomed insistently "Come on! Blog name please" I snapped my fingers at him imperiously.
He caved: "I'm Critical Couple"
"Ooh you are the one that everyone hates!" I blurted cheerfully.
Strictly speaking he's one half of the couple that everyone hates.
The Critical Couple had only been blogging a little while when they caused enough controversy to have a story about them in The Guardian. They've been profiled in ES magazine. Esteemed restaurant critique Marina O'Loughlin deplores their very existence. Everyone bitches about them. Douglas Blyde seems to be the only person that likes them.
What I've managed to glean so far is that they are a British American couple (he's British, she's American) who have alot of money and choose to spend it on restaurants and good wine. They've also been doing a sort of lazyarse rich banker bastard version of a supper club: they hire the very best chefs in town and pay them to create a fantastic meal around their house. They then invite a select few to enjoy the meal with them. Probably why Douglas Blyde likes them so much. (Only kidding!)
David seemed quite shy. Although he did gleefully mention that he'd recently unfollowed me on Twitter.
"Did you notice?" he asked.
"Yes" I replied.
"It's because I can't bear anarchists who have PRs." he announced.
"But I don't" I said, thinking that I'm not sure I'm an anarchist either but I didn't want to complicate matters further.
"I can't stand hypocrisy" David continued.
"But I haven't got a PR" I repeated.
"Oh" he said "I thought you did".
"Nope. All that publicity...it's just liddle ole me" I shrugged. "I have to admit that when my book came out, I was shameless. I worked every contact. But I figure, you gotta go for it with a book, you've got a couple of weeks max to make a mark"
He went quiet.
We sat down on the leather padded banquette seating. On the table opposite us, St John's Fergus Henderson was eating. Just then, Ralph Fiennes walked past . The whole table went quiet, we all elbowed each other. The whole table that is, apart from HR Wright (the self-proclaimed gayest man on Twitter) who shrieked "OH MY GOD IT'S VOLDERMORT!". Accompanied by a slim dark haired lady, later revealed on Google to be Amanda Harlech, Fiennes slid behind us into a private dining room, painted black with padded walls. As he disappeared, our table erupted with giggles and whispers (just like in that scene of 'Notting Hill' when Julia Roberts goes to dinner with Hugh Grant's friends). I guess you must always be accompanied by that when you are famous: a hesitant hush then an explosion of fame induced hysteria.
On the other hand, despite his fame, I don't really get the point of private dining rooms. Half the fun at restaurants is seeing and being seen.
Then the food started to arrive: potted ramekins of bloater paste (bit livery), mackerel pate (good), something meaty that looked exactly the same, a dish of anchovy aioli. We weren't served separate dishes: they understood their audience here of greedy "let's try that" bloggers. Small dishes just kept arriving. We had already had martinis and champagne and were onto some great white wine, it's fair to say we were getting louder and ever more excited.
Jeremy Lee would come out every so often and greet each table. Hugs for Fergus, flirting and coquettish eyelash batting for us and probably a bit of genuflecting toward Voldermort in the dark padded room.

Next the meat eaters got slices of flesh on a plate, some sort of game. I laughed out loud when I was handed what appeared to be a few sticks of steamed celery covered in a white sauce. Then I tasted it...it wasn't celery but sea kale and the sauce, a lemony buttery sauce buerre blanc. I handed it around and all the carnivores were envious.

A 12 year old waiter arrived with an entire baby goat on a roasting tray. I felt sad. My dish however made up for it: medallions of white fish  (I was too merry to find out which) I mean, turbot with roasted artichoke hearts.
Hollow Legs tasted it and shouted "HORN!" (This is apparently a young person's expression of enthusiasm.) It was indeed very good.

Ralph Fiennes wandered out of his padded cell with a 'where the hell is my waiter' look on his face. See! That's the problem with a private room, they just forget you. Out of sight out of mind. (I had the same when I gave birth to my daughter. The hospital put me in a room that used to be a broom cupboard. I wasn't seen by a nurse for days as they forgot about it. Eventually I managed to attract attention by dragging my pee bag and drip stand with me outside of the room and waving down a cleaner)

Dessert time..."What would you like?" asked the young waiter.
 "Cheese!" I demanded. We had such good wines, yes I know it's demodé to match cheese and wine but I really fancied a cheese board. I was given Stichelton, Montgomery and something else with a Gerwurtraminer.
Dozens of desserts were brought out. Some of them never made it up to me but highlights included the almond tart and something else. Oh god I can't remember. But I loved it.
I was taking a picture of our table and Mr Fiennes exits his private room. He smiles. He's always smiling. I'm not sure why he seems to be typecast as a baddie because he seems particularly amiable for a star. I said to him: "We're food bloggers". I felt he needed an explanation for the noise level and the frenetic dish passing, loud proclamations of food enjoyment, slurping, licking, sharing and merriment. He nodded, still smiling. His lady came out. "Great food isn't it?" she said.
"Fantastic. What did you have?" I asked
"I had the steak"
"Bit of a boring choice..." I suggested.
"It was really good" she said as they left, waving. What nice people.
Us bloggers climbed upstairs to the private club section. Cheese and Biscuits is a very talented man; not only can he write wittily (c'mon why won't a paper employ him as a restaurant correspondant? He's LOADS better at restaurant reviewing than say, Zoe Williams) but he also plays virtuoso bluesy piano.
Some sort of rock band with requisite shaggy hair dos, skinny jeans and eyeliner jammed with him on the piano. We all sang 'Hey Jude' noisily.
David of The Critical Couple edged over and said with a note of surprise:"I quite like you". A couple of days later I noticed they'd followed me again on Twitter.

Jeremy Lee at Quo Vadis

26 Dean Street  London W1D 3LL, United Kingdom
020 7437 9585
Cheese n Biscuits playing

Secret Garden Club: cooking with herbs

Hot gin with lavender honey toddy
Tamarind coconut and lemongrass soup
Lavash with herb salad
Blood orange salad with fennel pollen and pomegranate molasses
Sage and ricotta bakes
Bay leaf and nutmeg icecream

Read more about this menu here

Lavender gin toddy recipe:

Serves 8: 

100ml of honey
Lavender sprigs
250ml of gin
Juice of 4 lemons
250ml of hot water

Heat the honey and lavender together gently. Leave to infuse for a couple of hours. (You can keep this for months actually).
Then warm up the gin, lemons, hot water (add more if you want the cocktail to be weaker) and add the honey and lavender. If it isn't sweet enough feel free to add more honey.
You could also use lavender sugar which is sold in Waitrose or you could make it yourself simply by adding lavender flower sprigs to a bag of sugar, leaving it for a few weeks.

Ricotta Sage bakes

500g fresh ricotta
4 eggs
Handful of torn sage leaves
olive oil or butter
2 tablespoons of creme fraiche
Salt and pepper

Oil or butter your muffin mould.
Mix the ricotta, eggs, sage leaves, creme fraiche together. Season with salt and pepper. Scoop into a muffin mould. Decorate with a sage leaf. Bake on a medium oven for 15 to 20 minutes until risen and golden around the edges. Check they are cooked inside with a metal skewer, if it emerges without too much runny gunk on it, they are done.

For more information on growing herbs go here.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Herbs and medicinal plants

Sunday’s Secret Garden Club afternoon explored the world of herbs and medicinal plants. We looked at how herbs have been used both for culinary and remedial purposes, what herbs can be successfully grown, both indoors and outdoors, how to raise them, harvest them and store them. We also gave a brief historical overview of the use of herbs through the centuries and we were particularly lucky to have Natasha McEnroe, the director of the Florence Nightingale Museum, on hand to give a short talk on the contents of Miss Nightingale’s Medicine Chest, which contained the remedies, mainly herbal which she took to the Crimea with her and which now resides in the Florence Nightingale Museum itself.

The workshop was not intended to attempt any sort of diagnosis or prescription for herbal remedies – none of us are qualified to do this. It is always important to seek the advice of a trained professional before taking any kind of medicine and herbal remedies must be used in the correct way and the correct dose. An overdose (or ingestion where a remedy is meant to be used topically, for example) could be dangerous and/or toxic.

Herbs have been used both for culinary purposes and for the treatment of ailments for centuries. Writers describing the Hanging Gardens Of Babylon, which were supposed to have been constructed around 600BC, included thyme, coriander, saffron crocuses, anise, poppy, rosemary, and hemp among the plants they listed.

People have been reserving patches of ground to cultivate herbs for hundreds of years. In this country, the physic or infirmary garden was an important part of the grounds in a monastery. Monks not only cultivated fruit, vegetables and herbs for their own use, but often for the wider community as well. The monastery infirmary treated the sick from the villages nearby and remedies made from the physic garden were the main means of treatment.
Herbs grown for culinary and medicinal use in the mediaeval monasteries included cumin, fennel, comfrey, feverfew, yarrow, pimpernel, rosemary, sage, rue, lavender, rose, iris, mint, lovage and pennyroyal. You’d also find mint and wormwood in the kitchen garden
Recreations of monastic herb gardens can be found at

As long ago as 1652, Nicolas Culpeper, a herbalist who worked in London – and a radical who was way ahead of his time in many respects - wrote two books, The English Physician and The Complete Herbal, which documented the herbal medicine used at the time and was hugely influential.

Culpeper was a radical in many ways – he was accused of witchcraft during the English Civil War – one thing which shows the state of medicine at the time is that he was considered highly eccentric because he insisted on examining his patients instead of just examining their urine.

The herbs
I've documented the individual herbs in the Secret Garden in the Plant List page. At the moment, the garden contains:
  • Bay 
  • Dwarf comfrey 
  • Echinacea
  • Fennel  
  • French marjoram 
  • French tarragon
  • Golden thyme 
  • Japanese parsley 
  • Lavender
  • Lemon balm 
  • Mint
  • Moroccan mint 
  • Oregano, also Golden Oregano
  • Parsley, both flat-leaved and curly
  • Pineapple mint 
  • Rosemary, both Rosemary 'Gorzia' and 'Miss Jessopps Upright'

and also Aloe vera, which isn't, of course, a herb, but certainly counts as a medicinal plant.

Coriander, grown as microleaves
Coriander has a tendency to bolt, ie, set seed before it's produced much in the way of leaf. My solution to this problem was to grow it to harvest as microleaves.

You’ll have seen microleaves on your restaurant plate or in the supermarket.  Coriander is a good herb  to try this way, because you get all the flavour of the coriander even though you are harvesting it when the leaves are still very small.  Long before you get to the bolting stage, anyway.

The plants will be grown for just 4-6 weeks so you don’t want to waste a load of compost on a deep pot. I find using an ordinary seed tray works perfectly well. Make sure it has the drainage holes at the bottom.
Fill with compost, water it well and let it drain.

Firm it lightly, then sprinkle over your seeds. You can sow more thickly than you usually would, because you’re not trying to raise fully-grown plants. Cover the seeds lightly with soil. Then – if you're sowing early in the year - cover the seed tray with a plastic bag or its own lid (from April onwards, you won't need the protective covering). Put it on a sunny windowsill and wait for the seedlings to come up – from 3 days in spring and summertime to a week or 10 days if you sow earlier.

Once they’ve germinated remove the lid. The next day, check to see if they need any more water. If in doubt, don’t water – you are more likely to drown emerging seedlings than to starve them.

Start cutting when the leaves are substantial enough – when the plant is about an inch or two high. Don’t be tempted to let them grow on – the tray is too shallow to let the roots develop properly and you’ll get straggly plants which bolt.

I usually keep a couple of trays going at once to keep the supply going.

Growing basil
After a fair bit of experimentation, I’ve decided basil is best grown indoors in the UK. It’s not so much the climate as basil’s fatal attraction to aphids, or greenfly, when grown outdoors.

Basil is also one of those herbs where you want lovely big lush leaves – outdoors, basil always gets straggly very quickly.

So, it’s pots on the windowsill within arm’s length so that you can snip off leaves whenever you want. 

Basil likes lots of light. It’s very early to sow basil in January and it won’t really get going until the days get longer in March.  But you’ll still get a head start.

Fill your pot with  a good rich compost – multipurpose is fine – and firm it lightly. Water well and let it drain. Sprinkle the basil seeds over the compost, and just cover – very thinly – with soil. Put the pot on a sunny windowsill.

Seeds will germinate within a week – in about 3 days in high summer.

Let each plant grow until it has at least 4 leaves before cutting any and always leave each stalk with at least 2 true leaves to enable it to regrow after harvesting.

One of the questions I’m often asked is “Why not just grow basil from a pot bought at the supermarket?”
The answer is that supermarket pots of herbs are grown purely to produce a crop of leaves for a single occasion – the time that you buy it. The plant will have been raised under intense lights to grow as quickly as possible. It will not have been given time to put down a proper root system so the plants are essentially weak.

The soil it’s in is almost certainly sterilised: the last thing the supermarket wants is for you to find greenfly or other bugs in there. So there won’t be much in  the way of nutrients to sustain the plant after you get it home and starting cutting its leaves off – which will reduce the plant’s ability to photosynthesise.

The plant you raise from seed should keep going all summer. It will have good rich soil, it will have been properly watered, and a decent root system.

And finally, I’ve only ever found ordinary sweet basil in the shops, which is a shame, because there are wonderful varieties of basil which are really just as easy to grow.

Having said all that, I do find that Waitrose’s basil pots keep going longer than anyone else’s and I usually buy a Waitrose pot in February  and it should last until April when my own homegrown ones get going. Keep watering it well.

Vertical gardening
If you don’t have space to let your herbs spread out, why not let them grow upwards? I’m sure you’ve all seen amazing vertical gardens at Chelsea or Hampton Court Flower show – here’s a very small-scale domestic version, but it uses the same principle.

This is an effective way to grow microleaves or small plants – thyme, basil, parsley, coriander, chervil, for instance. Take an over-the-door storage hanger, for example, one with slanting pockets for documents, or shoes. Try to get a plasticised one – a plain cloth one will be too leaky and will look very unattractive.

The first thing to do is to make some drainage holes at the bottom of each pocket – this is very important because otherwise you will waterlog your plants. Next add a little soil into each – don’t overfill or you’ll spill. Then sow your seeds or insert your seedlings.

Finally, find a place to hang it. On an outside door might be the best to get the sun. Indoors, you’ll need somewhere facing a sunny window.
This isn’t a long-term herb garden, but it will provide you with fresh herbs of your choice for the best part of a season in a small space.

Harvesting - general guidelines
  • Harvest herbs by cutting little and often. Don’t cut the plant right back to a bare stem, or it won't recover.
  • Harvest before the herb flowers - the leaves will be less flavoursome after the plant has flowered.
  • Always cut the leaves rather than pulling at them – you may weaken the plant.
  • The best time of day to harvest herbs is the late morning – the dew will have dried off the leaves and the sun (hopefully there will be sun) will have warmed them enough to intensify the flavour of the volatile oils, but not enough to dry them out.
  • If your herbs do flower, let them go on to set seed, which you can then save for the next year. 

Saving seed
Having successfully raised your herb plants they will eventually set seed if you let them grow. Herbs like coriander, dill, fennel have seeds which are used in the kitchen as well as the leaf.

Even if you don’t eat them, you can save the seeds to grow next year. This is one way to ensure that over the generations you get seed which is perfectly adapted for your conditions.

Let the plant grow and flower, after which it will set seed. Cut the seedheads before they fall to the ground. You might want to put the whole seedhead in a paper bag and snip the stem to ensure no seed is wasted.

Next, remove the chaff – bits of stalk and seedcase. Put the seed in a jar and seal. Label it carefully.
Store seed somewhere cool, dark and dry.

There are excellent detailed instructions for saving seed from all sorts of plants, not just herbs at the Real Seed Company's site at http://www.realseeds.co.uk/seedsavinginfo.html.

Storing herbs 
When fresh herbs are unobtainable, or not at their best, it's good to have some preserved for use at any time. There are a number of ways you can do this.
Some herbs dry better than others: oregano, tarragon, bay leaves are all good. Basil is useless, and I can’t really get on with dried parsley. Thankfully parsley freezes well.

To dry herbs, pick a big bunch on long stalks. Remove any brown or damaged leaves and check over for insects and mites. Wash and dry if necessary. Tie the stems together and wrap loosely in muslin or put them in large paper bag. Close the bag around the bottom of the stems and punch some air holes at the top of the bag.

Find somewhere warm, and well-ventilated without being draughty, where you can hang your herbs up. If you can’t hang them up, then lay them out singly with space around each stem on a tray. Under the rafters in the loft, an airing cupboard, or a cupboard under the stairs are both good. I dry most things over the cooker hood.

Leave the herbs until completely dry, then transfer to a jar. Try not to break up the leaves – they will retain their flavour better if you crumble them just before you use them. Seal tightly and store in a cool, dark, cupboard. Remember to label them properly: dried herbs do not look the same as their fresh counterparts. Use within a year or they will lose flavour and start to taste of dust. Ideally, use them within three months.

Some herbs freeze very well: parsley for instance, and basil is OK as well. You can either freeze the herbs in a bag, or in ice cube trays.

When you freeze herbs in a bag, you can keep them dry. Choose the best leaves or sprigs and lay them out in a single layer, not touching, on a tray. Place in the freezer and leave until frozen. Transfer to a freezer bag and seal. (This 2-stage freezing keeps the leaves separate in storage: if you put the leaves in the freezer bag all at once they will freeze together in a clump.)

To freeze in an ice cube, chop the herb finely, then squish into ice cube trays. Carefully fill the tray until the herbs are just covered. Freeze, then remove from the freezer and top up each cube with water. (Again this is a 2-stage process: when you initially freeze the chopped herbs in water they will float to the top and be partially exposed to the air. Adding the extra water layer on top ensures the herbs are completely sealed in ice.) Push the cubes out of the trays, transfer to a bag and replace in the freezer. 

Frozen herbs should be used within 3 months.

Oils, vinegars and butters
You can also make herb vinegars, which are fantastic for salad dressings, herb oils, or herb butter.

Herb vinegar is very simple – tarragon, fennel or rosemary make gorgeous vinegars. Tarragon vinegar makes the best Bearnaise sauce.

Wash and dry the leaves, then bruise them slightly. Put them in a sterilised jar, cover with your base vinegar (could be wine, or cider vinegar) and leave somewhere warm for 2-3 weeks, giving it a good shake every now and then.

Strain the vinegar through a fine sieve or muslin into another sterilised bottle. Seal and use when required.

Herb oil is a little more complicated because there is a small but real risk of botulism. Anything with any moisture content can contain Clostridium botulinum, the bacterium that causes botulism. It develops in anaerobic conditions, ie, where air is excluded, so moist herbs covered in oil could well be a breeding ground for the bacteria.

To make herb oil safely: use fresh herbs, infuse in the oil, refrigerate and use within a week. Or, dry the herbs thoroughly first, then add to the oil. More generally you can also eliminate the risk by adding acid – you’ll find a lot of commercially available garlic-in-oil uses garlic which has been preserved in vinegar first. 

Herb butters are delicious and deceptively simple to prepare. You can use them straightaway, or freeze them for up to six months. First, get your butter out of the fridge to soften. Chop about a tablespoon of your chosen herbs - chives, parsley, dill and tarragon are particularly good – for every 125g of butter. Mix in well and add a little lemon juice – about a teaspoon.

Chill the butter until it’s hard enough to be shaped. Then roll it into a cylinder and wrap in clingfilm. Place in the freezer. You can then slice off a disc every time you want some herb butter to add to your meat, a tureen of vegetables or your corn on the cob.

The Herb menu

MsMarmite here: I woke with a streaming cold with the urge for an Asian style hot spicy soup. The herbs I used here, coriander and mint were part of the herb growing class that Zia Mays gave. Lemongrass on the other hand, is apparently easier to grow than one might think.
The meal was fusion in style, I was flying around my kitchen trying different things.
We started with a hot gin, lavender honey and lemon juice toddy, perfect for the frosty January weather. While the others went outside for their tutorial from Florence Nightingale museum's Natasha MacEnroe and Zia Mays, I rolled and baked the lavash, a typical Persian flat bread. In the Middle East they have an appreciation of herbs to the point that they just serve a plate of unadorned different herbs including coriander, dill, parsley and coriander which you simply wrap inside the bread. 
Another herb 'by product' is fennel pollen, a fashionable ingredient amongst chefs presently. Instead of the classic blood orange and fennel salad, this time I dosed the thinly sliced orange discs with pomegranate syrup and fennel pollen. Very effective.
I had half a kilo of fresh ricotta in the fridge and mixed this with eggs and a little cream with torn up sage leaves, spooned into a muffin mould and baked for 15 to 20 minutes. They didn't last long at the table.
We finished with bay leaf and nutmeg icecream in a cornet. 
Guests were lovely, the January light dimmed as we chatted over food and the fire was lit. 
I'll leave Zia to describe the gardening 'arm' of our operation in the next post.
Hot sour coconut soup
Blood orange, pomegranate syrup and fennel pollen salad
Lavash with herbs
Poppy seed lavash
Sage and ricotta bakes

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Thatcher Tea

 Each one of these took about an hour to make 'Thatcher pops'
 Union Jack biscuits...and for how much longer will there be a Union Jack flag?
 Treasury cake...loadsa money!
 Guests...navy and pearls...the guy on the far left works for Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith!
 Mrs Thatcher's own recipe 'orange and walnut' cake
 The uterine symbol of power...handbag biscuits and RR loves MT (Ronald Reagan loves Margaret)

 Maggie Maggie Maggie Out Out Out
 No war but class war!
 Mrs Thatcher invented Mr Whippy but this is my home made version
 Milk Snatcher cupcakes with milk bottles on top
 My signature sandwich

 Grantham Gingerbread from Mrs Thatcher's home town
Champagne socialism in action!

Friday, 27 January 2012

Tinker Tailor Blogger Spy: The Pig

Boar's head over the dining room
Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the gossipiest of them all?

Ah the life of a blogger...it's one long breeze. Bet ya jelus. Even I'm jealous of me sometimes.
Generally I can go on bloggers trips at the beginning of the week, after my supper club weekends. Mostly I don't go. But I'd heard good things about The Pig and frankly, not having had a holiday in two years made me desperate to get out of London, even if only for the day. The Pig is a hotel and restaurant in the New Forest, sort of near Southampton.
The train from Waterlo with fellow bloggers and journalists, was, dear readers, was one long bitch fest. I work alone a great deal and this is like therapy. Did I ever mention that I'm the world's worst gossip? Not because I'm being malicious (ok maybe sometimes) but because, firstly, often I forget that it's supposed to be a secret and secondly, I just love a good story. I can't help it. I love true-ish gossip. I believe it helps World Peace. It's spying without the overcoats. It's all about communication really. One study even says it's good for your health.
But I have now been supplanted on that train journey as chief gossip and whiner by a certain Alex Larman who started the Quintessially site. He knows about everyone; from Prince Harry (NOT Charles' son he authoritatively informed me) to how to get into Oxford (be one of the top 10% or one of the bottom 10%, the 80% of swots in the middle are fighting it out) to who is gay (he got that wrong sometimes, I informed him that toff blogger James Ramsden isn't actually gay) and who's screwing who (now that would be telling) and who's broken up with who (a certain New Year's tweet: "Douglas Blyde: 0/10").
Eventually fair satiated with rumour, we arrived at The Pig which is like the country house you've always wanted.
China and glass ware is discreetly unmatched. The styling of the hotel and dining room is detailed, careful, tasteful, quirky and characterful. Everywhere you smell burning wood. I love a man who smells of log fires. (I also like men who wear big jumpers, have thick necks, blue eyes and slightly hunched backs). It's comfortable and homely but with style and a staff.
At lunch I was sat next to the poshest man I've ever met, David Elton, who owns The Pig. A dyed-in-the-wool old style Tory, he had a twinkle in his eye and charm to spare. We couldn't have been more opposite.
I asked: "Was it a struggle to get your business going?"
"Oh yes" he replied.
"What did your wife think?"
"She thought it was awful that we had to get a mortgage."
"Next you'll be complaining you had to buy your own furniture" I teased.
He got the joke. "I once had to explain to an old aristocratic lady what a mortgage was.'It's when families don't have enough hices* to go round'."
Food was delicious. I wasn't sure at first why I was invited as it's a restaurant called The Pig. The menu boasts 'Piggy bits'. I don't eat meat. Foraging and local food, bang on trend, are utilised in the 25 mile menu. (It gets closer to home during the summer months; a ten mile menu, a five mile menu).
I started with home smoked salmon. I can't emphasise enough how different artisanally smoked salmon is from shop-bought.
Then, buttery clams in linguine. I mopped up every last smear of the sauce with the daily baked bread.
Pudding, a mint mousse, original and refreshing whilst faintly reminiscent of Wrigleys chewing gum, placed next to a earthy brown mound of chocolate ice cream.
A look around the bedrooms, the gardens (neat long barrows of wintering globe artichokes), the smokehouse, made my heart ache with envy.
"Do we have to go home?" I pleaded. But they made me.

Country Books in the bedrooms
 Fabulous gardens designed by David Elton.
 Chef in the garden
Buttery vongole
 Detail of the dining room
 Secret gardens...
Gold-flecked elderflower jelly
 Eggs from their chickens...
 Mint mousse...
 Room details such as vintage phones (my daughter once asked me "How do you dial? You can't press the buttons" I had to explain that you put your finger inside and moved it around)
 Boars and Sows toilets
 Pink umbrella in a Greenhouse
 Vintage terracotta flower pots
 Classic Roberts radios in every room
 In the smokehouse...
 Floor detail...

 Wellies lined up for guests to borrow...
 Love this idea...a herb garden in an old stone window
 Big jugs...
 Bottled vinegars