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A weekend in Ripon

A Christmas present from the mother in law found us in Ripon for the weekend. Often overshadowed by the beauty of the Yorkshire Dales and the better appointed cities of Harrogate and York, Ripon is not always viewed as a premier Yorkshire destination (well not by me anyway). However, as I was soon to discover, it has lots to offer. Based around a traditional Yorkshire market square, Ripon has a very compact city centre with an imposing but grand cathedral, antique and charity shops and a good number of cosy pubs. It felt a bit of a ghost town when we were there and we heard mention from locals about their fears of the failing high street. This is a real shame as Ripon is less than hour’s drive from Leeds and has all the countryside of the dales on its doorstep, so it really is worth the (short) trip out.

Where we stayed

The aforementioned Christmas present that brought us to Ripon in the first place was a voucher to stay in the impressive Old Deanery. Directly opposite the cathedral this is an ancient building dating back to the 1700s and built on the site of a former monastery. The place is full of character and charm, with wonky floors and ornate staircases. It was restored in the noughties and is now run by a group of very friendly and convivial owners. It has ten bedrooms. We opted to go in the attic as I love being in the eaves. This did not disappoint – lots of beams and good views of the cathedral. The room was lovely and big with a huge bathroom to match. A roof terrace was available just outside our bathroom window, but we didn’t use it as it wasn’t the nicest of days! Breakfast the next day was very impressive. My traditional Yorkshire breakfast was full of good quality bacon, sausages and black pudding, and I loved the granola, yoghurt and berries that preceded it.

The Old Deanery, Ripon

The Old Deanery, Ripon

Where we ate

Marco

The Old Deanery had a decent sounding menu, but we wanted to explore slightly further afield. Having researched on tripadvisor I had stumbled across Samphire Bistro – an independently run restaurant that’s been open about 18 months and serves local British grub. There was a fantastic atmosphere as soon as we arrived, we were made to feel very welcome and looked after by the friendly front of house. The restaurant was small but decorated with cosy lights and pictures of favourite chefs, like Marco Pierre White and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall – perhaps showcasing the foodie passion. The menu declared that ‘everything is sourced within a 25 mile radius’ but with Scottish venison on offer and a ton of fish I think this might be a teeny tiny fib!

Crispy Mussels

Crispy Mussels

I started with crispy mussels as I was intrigued by how on earth they would be crispy. What this in fact meant was mussels breaded and deep fried and then served back in the shell. For me this slightly took away some of the flavour of the mussel, however it was a fun and more substantial way of eating them. They came with a crispy salad complete with the samphire namesake, which was a nice touch. My main was the venison steak. This was served simply – medium rare, onion rings, chips, mushroom, tomato. I was a bit worried about the lack of sauce but I needn’t have. The meat is the best I have eaten in a long time. Perfectly seasoned, rich with iron and meltingly juicy. For drinks I had a Yorkshire Blackout – a porter full of vanilla and chocolate notes. This was strangely refreshing and comforting at the same time. We didn’t have room for desserts, although they looked good, the signature dish appeared to be a berry brulee with chocolate shards. Once we’d finished eating we were told to sit back and relax and enjoy our table for the rest of the night.

Venison

What we did

Our first day in Ripon was very stormy so we had a quick mooch around the shops followed by reading the papers in the pubs. Shops of note include Drinks Well, a specialist booze shop with an excellent range of Yorkshire ales and spirits. I picked up a little bottle of the Mason’s Yorkshire gin. Made with Harrogate spa water, I found it very aromatic.

Gin

Pubwise, the newly renovated Royal Oak is a very decent pub with a good few ales on and a strong bar menu. I had a pulled pork sandwich with homemade vegetable and barley soup which was just what I needed on a stormy day. I’d also recommend the Water Rat, which is down by the river and canal basin. This pub was quite hard to find at first (don’t confuse it with the less quaint ‘Navigation’ as we did!). It’s full of quirky charm, has a riverside view and lots of nooks and crannies to hide yourself in whilst nursing a pint of the many ales on offer.

Next morning, to walk off all that beer and food, we went on a bracing walk. Starting at the cathedral we went through the graveyard, up the river and over fields to Studley Royal and Fountains Abbey before heading back to Ripon again. It was about six miles, not too hilly, not too muddy (given the wet weather we’ve been having) and gave us fabulous views of the cathedral.

So, I hope this has given you a taste of what a little place like Ripon has on offer. Sometimes it’s good to take a further look at the underdog!

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Scran and Scallie

I have a bit of an obsession with Edinburgh. It’s my top city break destination in the UK, above even London. The mixt of elegant and majestic architecture paired with breath taking natural scenery, chilled out scots and a vibrant food and drink scene make it my undoubted second home. I like to pop up on the East Coast mainline a few times a year. Since the discovery of Gardeners Cottage last year I’ve been looking for a new venue to take the mantle of best new eatery in the Burgh. This comes in the shape of the Scran and Scallie, a pub with restaurant, which is the newest addition to the Stockbridge foodie scene.

Table setting

Table setting

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King of the Castle

We ended our foodie expedition of Scotland with a splurge meal at Edinburgh’s Castle Terrace, a modern British restaurant influenced by classic French techniques and driven by a passion for seasonal Scottish ingredients. I’d previously had a fantastic meal at Leith’s The Kitchin, which is the sister restaurant of Castle Terrace, plus I had heard good things from fellow food blogger My Monkfish. Chef patron Dominic Jack is a close friend of Tom Kitchin’s having met him whilst cheffing in Edinburgh when they were both teenagers. Kichin’s influence throughout the restaurant is obvious from the dark and luxurious decor, professional and attentive staff to the ethos of ‘nature to plate’ food.

My Monkfish had put in a good word for us ahead of our visit and so on arrival we were mysteriously ushered down to the kitchen to meet chef Dominic. Set up in a corner of the warm but quiet kitchen was a ‘chef’s table’ where we were seated and given complimentary champagne, canapes and menus to peruse, whilst watching the chefs go about their business. It was fascinating to see the inner workings of such a prestigious restaurant. It was controlled, thoughtful and precise. Everybody was working studiously and effectively under the watchful eye of Dominic. The atmosphere was so peaceful and serene that you could have heard a pin drop. It was almost a bit embarrassing being sat there as we felt like complete intruders! We joked with the waiting staff about how it wouldn’t normally be so ordered, but I genuinely was impressed by how unchaotic and tranquil it all was.

Canapes at the Chef’s table!

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Gardeners Delight!

To round off my gastro-tour of Scotland I had an obligatory trip to Edinburgh, which readers of the blog will know is one of my favourite cities to visit. Having made friends with fellow food blogger My Monkfish at last year’s My Home Supperclub I was keen for her to recommend to me some eateries for us to check out when we hit the Burgh.

Her first tip off was the brand spanking new Gardeners Cottage, which opened earlier this summer. Housed in (you guessed it) an ex-gardeners cottage within the Royal Terrace gardens on London road, it was a hop skip and a jump from where we staying in the Georgian New Town. Plus it had had a fairly decent review from the Guardian’s Jay Rayner the week before so we were happy to pop down for a feed. It’s run by Scottish chef friends Edward and Dale who have chefed in a number of famous Edinburgh eateries that include the Atrium, the Kitchin; as well working for Mark Hix in London.

The Gardener’s Cottage

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L’Enclume!

Rather ignorantly I had never heard of L’Enclume when a friend requested we go there for her 40th birthday celebrations. However, once she had sent me over the link I then saw the place everywhere, from Masterchef to the Great British Menu, where chef Simon Rogan won the dessert course and had all of his other courses in the top three. Fellow supperclubbers had also been and reported back positive experiences so I was quite excited about my trip there.

L’Enclume in the Cumbrian village of Cartmel

L’Enclume is situated in the beautifully quaint Cumbrian village of Cartmel (made famous by its sticky toffee pudding!) and is home to many of Rogan’s other hospitality ventures – he’s the Rick Stein of the Lakes! We, a group of 10 excited foodies, arrived with much childlike delight and energy. L’Enclume does not advertise a menu so we had absolutely no idea what to expect other than innovative dishes made with locally foraged and unusual ingredients. We made a classy and modest entrance when the person at the front of our group fell dramatically off her heels and on to the polished concrete floor of the restaurant lobby. She was rather embarrassed!

We started with fun oyster pebbles!

I’ve heard complaints in the past that the restaurant can feel cold and clinical. This is certainly not how we felt when we were there. It’s housed in some very old cottages that have been sympathetically modernised from within. We were sat in an old part so our surroundings were light and airy, but still with evidence of their past – such as lovely old exposed wooden beams, juxtaposed with modern sculptures that mirror the natural world Rogan is so passionate about.

More appetisers of cream cheese wafers

Our waiting staff explained that the chef had chosen the menu for us as well as some wine pairings for the evening so we had little more to do than sit back, relax and enjoy! We later learned that the menu was brand new for that night and Simon Rogan himself was cooking it for us! We had opted for the 12 course menu, but this was started off with some appetisers that were added extras. The first of these was an edible pebble flavoured with oyster and apple. Visually, this was exciting but the fishy sweetness was not my favourite thing to eat and was a bit of a shock to the system to start with! However, this was more than made up for by a croquette of smoked eel and cheese, which tasted like something you’d find at a chic seventies cocktail party – it was warming and comforting.

Asparagus bay shrimp in ceramic bags

The thought and attention that is put into all of the courses is astounding, from the way that they are presented, to the unique delicate flavours that are used, to the one off crockery that they are served in – which apparently are made for the restaurant by the University of Lancaster. It’s also apparent that the waiting staff get great pleasure from serving such unusual food and seeing the looks of amazement and excitement on guests’ faces.

Cod ‘yolk’, sage cream, salt and vinegar

It would probably be an extremely boring (and even longer) blog if I go into too much detail about all of the courses we ate – it took about 4 hours just to eat them and then a whole weekend of dissecting them with everyone else! I’ll let Richard’s photos do the talking and pick out some of our favourite and least favourite ones to discuss.

Kohlrabi dumplings in Westcombe, hyssop and purple sprouting

A favourite for the table was the ceramic bags of asparagus with a mousse and crispy bay shrimp at the bottom. This was full of delectable different textures and one diner described the shrimp as tasting like the best Chinese she’d ever had. The ceramic bags made it a fun, interactive way of eating and they came propped up in some fun volcanic style stone ridges.

Valley venison, charcoal oil, mustard and fennel

I think everyone’s favourite (apart from our vegetarian diner!) was the valley venison with charcoal oil and fennel. The venison came as tartare and was so soft it melted in the mouth. The bizarre charcoal oil made it taste like it had been barbecued. It was such a good experience we are all now obsessed with creating our own charcoal oil! The fennel came as little caramelised spheres. I burst mine all over the venison and it added to the illusion that the meat was cooked. This was the course we were still talking about by Monday!

Sea scallop with spiced strawberry, grilled cauliflower and coastal leaves

Our least favourite was the frozen lobster, which came as a granita. It wasn’t obvious that the flavour was lobster and for me it was a little gritty. It came with lots of different types of cucumber, which I tried despite my cumber aversion. An element we did approve of was the rat tails, which are edible pod radishes. They were extremely refreshing with a subtle spiciness. Overall the dish was a bit wet and bizarre for us – however we could still see it as innovative and it got us talking. Not everyone is going to be pleased with every course when there is more than 12 of them on offer! At least I can now say that I’ve tried lobster granita.

Cucumbers, pineapple weed, frozen lobster and rat tails

Reg’s guinea hen and offal, turnip and elderflower

For dessert we had not one, not two but three treats on offer. The palate cleanser was an exciting chamomile sorbet with celery. It was light and cooling after so many strong flavours. Next up was cherries with meadowsweet and a fennel and apple granita. This worked well as it was a well-balanced concotion of sweet, sour, crumbly, soft and some iciness. The meadowsweet came mixed with yoghurt and had marshmallow qualities – it was yummy! Our final dessert offering was small pieces of spicy gingerbread with iced watermint. Again, an unusual combination but one which worked very well. It came in little pots that had wobbly bottoms! I could have easily eaten 10, had I not just eaten 12 other courses!

Iced chamomile, spruce, celery and black pepper

Cherries with meadowsweet, hazlenut and apple

Gingerbread and iced watermint

Thinking back on the meal it is amazing that each course came out with such huge attention to detail and with its own identity. As a diner it is easy to take all the food for granted, especially when so many courses are coming out. The menu is extremely good value for money as the obvious skill and passion that goes into the food is priceless. It is also very well pitched in terms of different flavours and ingredients. Plus I didn’t leave having stuffed myself too far, nor did I feel hungry. Perhaps this is the future of dining – being able to appreciate individual flavours and ingredients in small but many portions?

The menu

If I had one criticism it was for our wine. We had pre-arranged a wine package to match our food. This was about 5 or 6 different wines served over the course of the evening. Our sommelier was obviously very busy and barely had time to pour our wine let alone explain what it was or why it had been selected. That aside, the wine was plentiful and all very enjoyable so it’s just a small gripe. Another small issue was that we, as naive townies, had not ordered a taxi back to our holiday home early enough and so were faced with a 2 hour wait in Cartmel (til 1am!) before being driven back the 5 miles. I don’t think there is even anything to do in Cartmel til 1am! Luckily a local friend came and got us and diverted the crisis. If you’re planning a trip to L’Enclume then do book your taxi asap or stay in one of their on site bedrooms.

So is it all worth the hype? In a word, yes! I’m already planning my next trip back, or even a trip to Rogans where you can sample the full Great British Menu meal! L’Enclume is truly exciting, innovative, British and great value for money, hooray!

Veg heaven at Riverford Homefarm Restaurant

During my recent weekend in Devon, when I wasn’t butchering various animals as part of my game cookery course (which you can read about here) I also went to stuff my face at the fantastic Riverford Homefarm Restaurant near Taunton. Riverford are the Devon based organic veg box people, who over the years have grown into a massive network of regional farmers and growers that get good quality organic produce all over the UK. I had no idea that they had any restaurants, until I’d started to hear good things filtering through from various foodie friends. Continue reading

Game on – day two

Missed part one? Well read it here then!

So after a whole day of stuffing rich food into ourselves and a night of jolly drinking we awoke early on the Sunday, bleary-eyed, to prepare ourselves for yet more butchery! Luckily I’d seen sense to stick to local yummy ciders the night before, but my gaming partner had been at the red wine and agreed she was not 100%. A crisp walk up to the cookery school soon sorted us both out.

Our Sunday session seemed far more calm and collected, maybe we had just settled in with the resonance of the kitchen, I don’t know? We started doing our mise-en-place (prep) for our dinner later in the day, so it was quite similar to a supperclub day in fact. This included heating up cream, laced with lavender, ready for a wobbly pannacotta and chopping up tiny bits of veg for our anticipated consomme.

The rabbits we prepared the day before were handed back out again. They had been marinating overnight in a concoction of five spice, garlic and thyme. They smelled amazing and their fate was a giant pan full of melted duck fat. These were to be cooked, confit style, in a low oven for 5 hours and would be turned into rillets for us to take home. Continue reading