Monday, April 7, 2014

The Hand and Flowers, Marlow: How All Food Should Taste!

The Hand and Flowers, Marlow Menu at The Hand and Flowers White Bait and Bread White Bait and Bread Asparagus Starter Truffle Foie Gras Lamb with Sweetbread Lamb with Salsa Verde Triple Cooked Chips Filet Steak and Chips Souffle
The Hand and Flowers pub in Marlow is one of those restaurants that is defying what the current definition of Michelin Starred means. For a very long time there has been a trend in the restaurant market to make everything, for lack of a better word, fancy-pants. These restaurants more often than not have tiny portions and are striving for sensory-overload and molecular gastronomy.

However, Tom Kerridge, a big, exuberant man that I'm hoping one day to meet, is changing all of that. He runs the world's only 2 Michelin Star pub. The only other restaurant I know of with as many stars that isn't stuck-up is Heston's Dinner. Both The Hand and Flowers and Dinner provide excellent, no exceptional, everyday food, done in a way that no weekend home chef could ever possibly do. They incorporate the greatest cooking techniques with the simplest of ingredients.

Take for instance, my starter: Soft and Raw White Asparagus with Roasted Cep and Hazelnuts, topped with Parmesan and Lardo. At first glance I didn't want to get this dish. I figured it would be too light and well, I was in a 2 Michelin Star pub, why the heck would I want light? However, it was heavenly. One of the nicest starters I have ever had. It was woody and earthy. The Ceps and Parmesan worked beautifully together. The Asparagus was incredibly flavorful.

The same can be said for, as you might imagine, my wife's Demi "En Croute" of Whole Baby Truffle with Foie Gras and Port. I think it's clear from the photo above that this is the greatest dish that has ever been constructed by human hands. A Baby Truffle in a sphere of Foie Gras. Unreal, really. This is the stuff of legend.

The mains were also ludicrous in their flavor and presentation. Both were big, round, beautiful dishes with immense flavor. The cooking skill required to prepare the mains is something I can only dream of. My Essex Lamb "Bun" with Sweetbreads and Salsa Verde was nothing short of perfection on a plate. A simpler dish, but not lacking in gastronomic excellence was my wife's Fillet of Lancashire Beef with Hand and Flowers Chips (chips made using an apple corer, then triple cooked), with Bearnaise Sauce.

The Hand and Flowers in Marlow is a restaurant that no matter how many photos I take or how many words I use to describe it, I simply can't convey how special it is. To have such a restaurant less than an hour and a half from my front door is as dangerous as it is fortunate. Luckily for my wallet and waistline, as I write this, tables are booked up until October 2014. That's for a weekday lunch seating. Want a table for a Saturday dinner? You'll have to wait until February 2015!

To view my professional food photography please visit my website Taylor Young Photography.

Hand & Flowers on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Oli's Thai in Oxford: A Labor of Love!

Outside Oli's Thai Oxford Menu at Oli's Thai Oxford Inside Oli's Thai Oxford School Chairs Oli's Thai Wine at Oli's Thai Oxford Chickpea Salad at Oli's Thai Pork Belly Thai Style Pad Thai at Oli's Confit Duck Panang at Oli's Aubergine Curry
I truly admire people who do things they love in life. There is a clear difference between those people and the people who do something in order to make money or to prove something to someone else. Oli's Thai in Oxford is such a love. Run by husband and wife team Ru (Rufus) and Ladd (Laddawan) Thurston, Oli being their son, Oli's Thai is nothing short of brilliant. Not far from Oxford town center, Oli's Thai is a "neighborhood Thai restaurant" as Ru explained to me. He and his wife had been looking for the perfect premises for more than three years. They wanted it to be off the beaten path and located in a residential area, outside the center. They had a vision of creating a Thai cafe where the neighborhood locals could come and hang out and eat great Thai food. They have done just that!

It took me several weeks to finally get a table at Oli's Thai. Not because they were booked up weeks in advance, but because I kept going at the wrong times. Oli's is not open on Monday and they open at 5pm for dinner. It is a "hole in the wall" joint, for lack of a better phrase. Some could even call it cramped. But that is exactly what the owners wanted. I really appreciate chefs that keep it small. Heston had that same vision when he created The Fat Duck. He only wanted to serve a certain amount of covers a night and doing so meant he could keep the quality high. Oli's Thai is the same.

The menu is very small (as are the seats, which Ru restored from discarded school chairs). There are only 11 items on the whole menu, not including drinks. When you see the kitchen you understand why. Ladd pretty much singlehandedly runs it. Whizzing around the, barely larger than a prison cell, kitchen, with expert dexterity and grace. She manages to put food on a plate, or in a bowl, that is more complex, more interesting and more flavorful than any other Thai restaurant I've ever been to.

Take for instance: my Confit Duck Panang Curry. The Duck simply fell off my fork and the Panang Curry sauce was concentrated, deep and delicious. As were all the dishes. The Aubergine Curry, the Slow Cooked Belly of Pork with Oli's Sauce, an awe inspiring mix of galangal, garlic, soy sauce, ginger, lemongrass and lemon juice (perhaps more) were all heart-stopping dishes. In a good way!

The prices are what you'd expect in a neighborhood college town, very reasonable. In fact, I defy anyone to create better dishes at home for less money.

At one point during the meal I mentioned to Ru how amazing I thought their food was. I said, "A real labor of love huh?" And he said, "Thank you. Yes it is." Then he told me about their ethos and the long process it had been to get to this point.

If I had to sum up Oli's Thai in one sentence I would say; their passion and love comes out in every dish they make. Please don't ever stop doing what you're doing.

My absolute highest marks for flavor and price. A tremendous find!

To view my professional food photography please visit my website Taylor Young Photography.

 Oli's Thai on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 24, 2014

Jamie and Jimmy's Friday Night Feast: Our 15 Seconds of Fame!

Shaan and I Sitting Front Row Jimmy Doherty Serving Us Chris Moyles and Jimmy
Last month something amazing happened. Season 2 episode 5 of Jamie Oliver's show, Jamie and Jimmy's Friday Night Feast aired on Channel 4. What's so amazing about that? You may be asking yourself. Well, to you, dear reader, probably nothing, except it was a great episode. But to my wife and I, it marked our 15 seconds of fame in the world of food television.

You see, last year, Shaan and I were asked to go up to Southend Pier to appear as cafe guests on, what we thought was, Jamie and Jimmy's Food Fight. We spent the whole day with Jamie Oliver, Jimmy Doherty and Chris Moyles. It was a brilliant experience. One that I won't soon forget. It turned out that the show would be renamed to Jamie and Jimmy's Friday Night Feast, but the format would be little changed. Jamie and Jimmy still had their famous friends on the show and they still made exquisite food.

We had a blast hanging out with everyone and we were served course after course of very tasty food. The highlight for me was when Jamie Oliver pointed to me and said to Chris Moyles, "This is going to be the judge of your pizza man. Seriously." To which Chris said, "Really? I'm making New York style pizza and you put a guy from New York right there!" That made my day. No, it made my year!

It was such a privilege to be served food by all three of these guys. Especially Jamie Oliver, who served us quite a few times. Imagine, lamb and pizza that Jamie Oliver made with his own hands and then serving you that same food. What a special moment.

Thanks to everyone at Channel 4 for inviting us. It's a memory that will make me smile every time I think about it!

To view my professional food photography please visit my website.