Saturday, December 21, 2013

River Cottage Canteen, Axminster: Now This is What I'm Talking About!

River Cottage Canteen, Axminster River Cottage Canteen Menu Blackboard Chips at River Cottage Canteen Onion Bhaji River Cottage Canteen Pulled Lamb Sandwich River Cottage Canteen
I'll be the first one to admit it; I'm a food snob! I know I am. It sometimes causes issues between friends and family and can occasionally turn into lengthy arguments, or discussions as my wife likes to call them. So, when I visited both River Cottage HQ and the River Cottage Canteen recently I was shocked that, between the two restaurants, I preferred the Canteen.

As I get older and Michelin Stars matter less, only slightly less I'll admit, but less, and my realization that the price of a bottle of wine doesn't always equal quality, although most of the time it does, I find myself doing a bit of extra research into restaurants I choose to go to. Currently, we live in a world over-saturated with celebrity chefs, and I'm yearning for simple, delicious, reasonably priced food. It's abundant in France, one can dine on a 3 course set-menu with Foie Gras, Steak Frites and Cheeses for dessert (if you've ever read this blog you know I don't much care for sweet desserts) for less than the price of a main course in many of London's swanky Michelin restaurants.

Like everything else on the planet at the moment, the price is rising… fast! China and Russia are making billionaires like the BBC churns out period-dramas. With all this excess cash, those people are looking to spend it on western influences, especially Food and Wine. Burgundy prices are at an all-time record. Trucks carrying First Growth Bordeaux to be shipped need armed guards tailing them to stop any thieves, for the cost of some First Growth Bordeaux is souring! And, of course, celebrity chefs are being made at record pace and their restaurants are opening up in every city on Earth. I truly don't know when it will end, but I have to say, as exciting as it is, it is really boring me now. I long for the independent food truck, or the kid selling me deli sandwiches from a stall in a village market as much as I crave Michelin Starred Haute-Cuisine.

Ok, rant over. Back to River Cottage Canteen.

My wife and I dined at the Canteen for lunch before going to River Cottage HQ. I thought it would be a prelude of things to come that evening. However, having eaten in both of these restaurants I can tell you that I prefer the River Cottage Canteen. By quite a lot actually. The recipes seem to come straight out of Hugh's books (but modified slightly), which I use on a weekly basis. In fact, I am nearly through cooking every recipe from his Veg Everyday book and have cooked many meals from his Three Good Things. I find his recipes to be 80% brilliant and 20% filler. Which is incredible for a recipe book. There are 200 recipes in each book!

My Pulled Organic Lamb in a Focaccia Bun, served with Chips and thinly sliced Pickled Cucumber with a Salad was absolute heaven! It was one of the nicest things I have eaten in a long time. And so simple. The Lamb was as tender as it could be and as juicy as you'd want it to be. My wife's Onion Bhaji was pure brilliance. The best Onion Bhaji I have ever eaten! They were served with Yogurt and Tomato Chili Sauce. It was majestic. And of course, we washed it all down with a side of Chips, because one can never have too many Chips.

Comparing the River Cottage Canteen and River Cottage HQ is perhaps a little harsh. They aren't really comparable. If I was given another free meal at either of these I'd choose River Cottage HQ and I would go in the summer when it's warm and you can fully take in the farm atmosphere and truly see what Hugh is trying to achieve. If I had to pay I would choose the Canteen every single time. It follows the exact same ethos as River Cottage HQ but the difference is, it is incredibly reasonable. My Pulled Lamb sandwich was £12.50 and my wife's huge plate of Onion Bhaji was £6.50.

Getting out the door for less than £20.00 before drinks and tip while eating organic, farm raised food, in the canteen of one of the nation's best and brightest chefs… priceless.

If you don't fancy spending all your pocket change on River Cottage HQ but want to soak up some of the brilliance that is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, do yourself a favor and take a trip to Axminster and visit the River Cottage Canteen.

Please check out my professional food and restaurant photography: Taylor Young Photography

River Cottage Deli & Canteen on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

River Cottage HQ: Farmhouse Dining at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Place!

River Cottage Cookery School Brining the Pork for Bacon River Cottage Farmhouse Table River Cottage HQ Kitchen River Cottage Canapes River Cottage Terrine River Cottage Starter River Cottage Dinner River Cottage Soup River Cottage Beef River Cottage Dessert
I adore Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. I believe he's the best "celebrity chef" out there right now. He certainly doesn't cook like Heston or Tom Kerridge, but he's truly doing what no other celebrity chef is doing, including Jamie, he's changing the way we eat and think about food. And he's been doing it since the original River Cottage Cookbook. Remember Hugh's Chicken Run? What about Hugh's Fish Fight? What other chef of this caliber is risking his name and exposing the way in which our food is delivered to us? None.

And so, when I heard that I was a winner of the River Cottage online Mushroom Challenge I was very excited! Readers were tested by going out and identifying 7 different species of mushrooms and posting their findings on the River Cottage Online Forum. The prize? A meal for two at River Cottage HQ. I could choose any date I wanted and so, of course, I chose the Christmas Feast on December 14th 2013.

I'd been meaning to visit River Cottage HQ for years and this free dinner was just what I needed to actually make the booking and drive from West Sussex to the beautiful Devon/Dorset coast. It's not a cheap day out. There's the cost of getting there and back, a hotel for the night and anything ordered beyond the included bottle of wine. We took the opportunity to eat in the River Cottage Canteen in Axminster, which was brilliant. A post of that coming soon.

Our evening began at 6:30pm the time we were told to arrive at the River Cottage HQ parking lot. Our confirmation itinerary told us a converted, covered tractor trailer would be taking us from the car park to the farm house. Arriving early, as usual, we had a bit of a wait. Lumbering down the hill to the farm house on a tractor in the dark, with pouring, freezing rain, was actually pretty special. As we got closer the lights of the different properties on the farm got brighter. We were led into a yurt and given Kingston Black Apple Cider Brandy, which I thoroughly enjoyed. After being briefed on the way in which the evening would unfold we were told we could go into the dining room and either get a drink, or visit the kitchen. We were also able to visit the cookery school as there wasn't an event on. But perhaps most exciting for me, was being able to visit the farmhouse itself where Hugh films all of his River Cottage shows. After a few cheesy photos we were back in the dining room ready to be wowed!

Now, before I get into the food let me just say this, my taste, when I eat out is definitely more towards Michelin Stars than dining under the stars. I embrace organic and biodynamic, I eat very little meat, most of it from my local farm, I choose ethically sourced fish and generally adhere to Hugh's ethos. However, when I eat out, I completely understand that I may not be able to get food with that ethos in mind. This is the brilliant thing about River Cottage, but it is also, as I found, the one thing letting it down. For, food that fits into that ethos is not always the tastiest, or cheapest.

Sitting at a communal table with 31 other diners on each of the two tables, being forced to either speak to these other people, or risk seeming awkward all evening, was not horrible, but it wasn't really my ideal evening out. Ok, that's gripe number one and no big deal. Gripe number two, however, is a big deal. The food. Both my wife and I found the Pollock/Sole Soup to be incredibly salty. And we both love salt… a  lot. The fish was sourced from Lyme Regis, which is a few miles from River Cottage HQ. Perhaps, the freshest fish I've ever had, spoilt by excessive salt. Cauliflower was served, I believe, 3 times throughout the evening. And that's fine, I really like Cauliflower. I especially liked the Pureed Cauliflower that accompanied our Guinea Fowl, which had been cooking for 36 hours. But to have it in 3 different dishes seemed a little excessive.

At the beginning of dinner the chef, Gelf, told us that they recently sent a 3 year old cow to slaughter and we would be having that tonight. He mentioned that normally they get off-cuts that are tough, such as shin, but that we would be served prime cuts tonight and he seemed very happy about this, especially since they only slaughter about 1 cow a year from the farm. I have to say, although I liked the meat, I didn't find it amazing. It was tender and flavorful, but not cooked in a particularly special way. It tasted like nice Roast Beef that your Gran would make for Sunday Lunch. However, the Chips in Beef Dripping were not like Gran would make. They were gorgeous and the best part of my meal. Gelf told us they rendered down the fat from the cow and that's how they made the Beef Dripping. Truly using all of that animal.

Dessert was very interesting, a Brownie with Ginger and Chili Ice Cream served on top. I think Chili is the best thing since sliced bread, but my wife and a few other diners were having trouble getting it down. There was just too much of it.

Our wine, which was included in the price of the meal was an Organic Tempranillo and was definitely a decent wine to serve with this meal. However, once again, it wasn't brilliant and I felt a more full bodied wine would have been better for all of these rich flavors. You could upgrade your wine choice, but when you're spending, (well, not us, but most people) £90 per head, you don't want to have to "upgrade" your wine to get something nice. Let's face it, £90 per head, even for 4 courses, is a lot of money. No, it's not a lot of money at Heston's Dinner in London and you would only get 2-3 courses for the money, but those courses would be absolutely mind-blowing as they would at Tom Kerridge's Two Michelin starred pub.

But, and I completely understand this, Heston's Dinner is not, to my knowledge, organic, nor is it sustainable, nor were any of the ingredients grown 10 feet from the communal table. This is what you're paying for. You also pay to be dining at Hugh's farm, which is the main draw. You get to be part of his vision and to see his dream and experience his ethos firsthand. And for that, I agree, it is worth £90 just to say you've been there and seen it and show all your friends your cheesy photos next to his Aga. Then go home and plant some Black Kale in your back garden, it's delicious!

My advise, if you're thinking of going is this; go for lunch in the summer! I can see how walking around the farm on a beautiful summer's day, sipping Cider Brandy would be simply idyllic. Also, we didn't know this beforehand, but it is BYOB so feel free to bring whatever you want, no need to drink only what is on offer there.

Stay at The Yeoman's Acre Bed and Breakfast. It is one of the cleanest B&Bs I've ever been to and the couple who run it couldn't be friendlier.

To view my actual food photography visit: Taylor Young Photography

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Local Taco, Lexington, Kentucky: A Chain I Actually Like!

Local Taco, Lexington Kentucky Chips and Guacamole Various Tacos at Local Taco Basket of Tacos
Anyone who reads my blog knows that I despise chain restaurants. Which is weird actually because I admire people who make successes of themselves and if a restaurant is popular enough to warrant a chain more power to the owners. However, most chain restaurants tend to be formulaic, mediocre places with lots of generic graphics and plastic food. I have very rarely found any that I truly like. Until recently.

The Local Taco in Lexington can hardly be called a chain. With it's current army of only five restaurants, The Local Taco is still small enough to care about it's customers and products. Much like Thomasina Miers, of Wahaca, my favorite chain (a whopping 13 restaurants and growing), The Local Taco has kept it simple. They have a rather petite menu with only a small number of items on it and each one is done to perfection.

Take, for instance, my basket of tacos: four delicious flour tacos lovingly placed in a basket and served with slices of lime. The tacos at The Local Taco are not the normal run of the mill, meat in a tortilla, you get at most places. They are exotic and brilliantly thought out. My favorite of the day was the Korean BBQ, made with Korean-style Beef Tenders, Sesame Seared with Asian Slaw, Toasted Sesame Seeds, Green Onion and Coriander. It was simply beautiful!

As was my wife's Southern Fried Taco with Buttermilk Fried Chicken Breast Strips, Honey Lime Mayo, Lettuce and Tomatoes. At only $2.50 a taco, we were feeling rich and had a basket of four tacos each. Some of the others we had were: Tequila Lime Chicken, Steak, Local BBQ and Smoked Brisket.

With each taco I turned to my wife and said, "I am so happy they have not brought this to England yet. I would be here every single day!"

The Local Taco is one of those rare restaurants that comes along every so often and you can't help but take notice. Everything from the freshly made tortillas, made right in front of your eyes, to the beautiful locally sourced ingredients and the exotic flavors, it's all worthy of extreme praise and almost religious idolatry.

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

The Local Taco on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 21, 2013

Hadrian's Wall Walk: A Foodie's Take on this Epic Trek!

The title of this post may be a little confusing. This is, after all, a food blog. What does Hadrian's Wall have to do with anything? Well, recently my best friend and I decided we would walk this epic 84 mile National Trail that starts in Wallsend near Newcastle and finishes in Bowness-on-Solway in Cumbria (you can also start and finish the other way around, but we didn't). And, of course, my first question when researching was, what the hell can I eat along the way? Hadrian's Wall is almost an economy of it's own, with very few roads and almost no public means of support. The wall is the attraction. Through much reading, both online and off, I managed to have good to great food the entire 5 days we walked the wall. The below documents not only the places we ate, but some of the sites as well.

If you found this site but don't want to spend your time reading what I have to say in detail, do yourself a favor and buy this book and read it when you can. Then book your accommodations as soon as you can. This is the book I used to plan my every move. It is very thorough and provides excellent maps and advice on where to stay and eat. Don't even think about trying to do this walk without a guidebook.
Newcastle, 6 miles from the start of the walk in Wallsend.

Many people doing the Hadrian's Wall walk will be traveling to Newcastle. From there they will need to take a bus, or taxi to Wallsend. The official start (or end if going west to east) of the walk. To make it  really official pick up a passport for £2 that will enable you to: 1. get a nice certificate at the end and 2. give yourself mini targets to attain along the walk. There are 7 stamping stations along the Hadrian's Wall walk and when you get all 7 stamps in your passport book you're awarded with an A4 certificate. However, you do need to write your own name on it and there is a small cost. You can also ask for a badge, but when we finished in Bowness they were all out, so I can't comment on whether or not I advise spending the money on one.
My Trusty Backpack
My trusty backpack. Initially packed with about 40 pounds worth of gear, I had to dump some in the bin at Houseteads Roman Fort due to my knees wanting to shatter from the weight.

The first stage of the Hadrian's Wall walk is a little disappointing. Wallsend quickly turns into Newcastle and for the better part of 6 miles you walk through council estates, factories and parks. There is a lovely stretch along the quay though that takes you straight into the center of Newcastle. What waits for you there is far from Roman. Unless Starbucks was started by Hadrian, or Caesar you're probably going to be a little discouraged and wonder why you didn't just take the AD122 coach (if it's running, which is not likely if you're traveling outside the summer months) from Newcastle to Heddon-on-the-Wall or wherever your first night may be.

It is here that I must be totally honest and say that after a 4am start and a 6 hour train trip from West Sussex, we did indeed find a bus running from Newcastle to Heddon and decided that after 6 miles of seeing nothing but modern buildings and commercial eateries, we'd take a bus (the Arriva 685) to Heddon and get an early start the next morning after a nice (hopefully) meal and a warm bed... hopefully.

The Swan, Heddon-on-the-Wall
The Swan at Heddon. The best quality to price ratio meal we had on the trip!

After getting very lost around the lovely village of Heddon-on-the-Wall we finally made it to Houghton North Farm. A bed and breakfast located about a mile from where the bus lets off in Heddon. Checking in was a breeze and Paula, the owner made us feel right at home. The Swan was all the way back in town and after a quick shower, rubbing some baby powder on my aching and bloody feet (yes, after only 6 miles... thank you sharp toenails) we headed out again. The Swan is an idyllic country pub. It's just modern enough to make you feel like you're dining in a place with a clean kitchen, but old enough to not distract from that pub feel.

The best thing about The Swan is their carvery. For £5.95 you get to choose from 3 meats and all the veg you can eat. Topped off with Yorkshire Pudding and gravy, this was the perfect start to a long walk.

With bellies full of ale and roast dinner we set off in the dark towards Paula's. "Good thing I brought this flashlight", I said to Lou. "I know it adds weight to my backpack, but this would suck without it." To which, Lou responded by taking his iPhone out and using his flashlight app. This would be one of many items in my backpack that I wish I didn't bring. My mini-tripod being the biggest offender. Only using it once and nearly being killed by a cow while doing so (you think I'm joking, I'm not) and not being able to throw it away as it would be cost prohibitive, I was stuck with it.

My Walking Partner
Our first morning of proper walking. No wall yet, but lovely countryside.

In My Element
Bear Grylls aint got nothing on this!

Hardian Hotel, Wall, Northumberland
Our second night was spent in Wall at The Hadrian Hotel. Now, I wouldn't classify this as a "nice" hotel, but it did get the job done. Wall, despite it's name is not actually on the Wall. It is located about a mile south of the wall and it really should be named appropriately as this was not a welcome detour after a 14 mile walk from Heddon.

It did provide clean rooms and hot food. However, the beef mince served with chips (fries) and veg was delivered to us no more than 2 minutes after we ordered. A microwave would not be a far fetched idea if you thought that just now. But, after 15 miles of walking it didn't really matter. What mattered was getting something hot into our stomachs so we could fall asleep soundly and hopefully stay that way. The latter was not so. The Hadrian Hotel has a system of plumbing that uses an electronic flush. I'm assuming it's because they have poor water pressure and this electronic system forces all of the waste down the drain. To say that this was not a quiet system would be an understatement and I slept for about 2 hours the entire night. Our next door neighbors clearly had too much ale and were relieving themselves all night, which normally would have been fine except: 1. I heard them and 2. the flushing all night was startling and I woke up numerous times to the sound of flushing wee.

Lemon Drizzle Cake
The best lemon drizzle cake ever. At Vallum Farm Tea Room.

Nothing satisfies me, when it's cold and I've been moving my body, more than tea and cake. And there is no better place on the Hadrian's Wall walk to get this vital nutrition than the Vallum Farm Tea Room. After you get your stamp from The Robin Hood Inn, take a few hundred more steps and cross the street to this incredible sanctuary of a tea room. You won't regret it.

Gnarly Tree
A tree growing out of a wall. Not Hadrian's Wall though.

Twice Brewed Inn
On our 3rd and biggest day of the entire trip we were hurting. We had been ascending and descending 300 meter hills all day. It was only 12 miles, but with 40 pound backpacks my knees were starting to hurt like nothing I had felt before. Not being able to walk is a weird thing. It is such a natural movement and to have to adopt a style of walking that I can only imagine looks something like those penguins in that movie where they march around doing... whatever penguins do, is not something I would ever like to experience again.

After dumping a second pair of shoes, running shoes I was advised to bring to cover the Newcastle bits that are on pavement, and a backup pair of hiking trousers, my pain was alleviated slightly, but I could still go faster if I crawled into Once Brewed on my hands and knees.

We were greeted by a warm inn at the bottom of the hill, with nothing around it, except for the UK's oldest youth hostel, a couple of National Trust cottages and a long road. It was beautiful. We opted for their best room, not because we wanted to splash out on luxuries, but because it was the only room away from the road and I desperately needed sleep if my body was going to heal.

Locally Sourced Meat
Locally raised meat used in all of their dishes.

Our Meal at The Twice Brewed Inn
I truly enjoyed my meal at The Twice Brewed Inn. It was exactly what we needed. I had the steak and ale pie served with carrot and parsnip mash with chips and cabbage. Lou had bangers and mash and we washed it down with local ale. We were both still hungry and loved the chips, so at £2 a portion it was a no brainer, we had to order a couple more sides of them. Gotta have the carbs! That's what I told myself anyway.

Hadrian's Wall Path... Epic!
One of the most impressive views on the entire 84 mile walk... Steel Rigg.

This is what we had to battle for nearly 12 miles on day 3. It was the best day in terms of scenery, where everything reminded us of being in Lord of the Rings, but it was an absolutely brutal day! If you inserted razor blades into your knee caps and tried walking downhill, you'll understand what I mean.

My Favorite Part of Hadrian's Wall
Long and tiring ascents were rewarded with breathtaking views of the English countryside.

Beautiful Hadrian's Wall Walk
Seriously? This is almost too beautiful to comprehend. At times I had to look around, then look at Lou and there were simply no words...

Cows Blocking our Path
A few cows blocking our way over the wall and back onto the trail.

Follow the Acorn
Following the trail is very simple, just look out for the acorns and walk.

The push from Carlisle to Bowness is lackluster. We had 14 miles to walk on the last day and it felt like 14,000. Carlisle is not the nicest of cities and most of the walk is paved. The last signs of the wall are in Banks leading up to Walton before Carlisle. One walks with no wall from here on out. A total of about 26 miles are wall-less. However, not all is lost, there is an excellent pub near Carlisle in Crosby-on-Eden called The Stag Inn. Lou and I stopped in for a pint of real ale and sat with the owner and his business partner for the better part of an hour. It was a wonderful history lesson and well worth the stop. We learned about The Border Reivers, who were raiders along the Anglo-Scottish border from the late 13th century. This is where the name "bereaved" came from. When one of The Reivers would kill someone, their family were said to be "bereaved."

We learned where much of the stone used to build Hadrian's Wall went and that Mary Queen of Scots was brought to Carlisle Castle by Elizabeth I and kept there. We could have stayed there all day drinking Jenning's ale and learning about the wall, but we still had another few miles into Carlisle.

Once we arrived in Carlisle we were anxious to leave. The owner of the Brooklyn House Bed and Breakfast in Carlisle was not a friendly man and we were given a room with an en-suite bathroom but no working toilet. We had to use the bathroom in the hall, which is a shared bathroom and had a window that looked out onto the interior stairway. So... needless to say, if you wanted the window open and a guest was going up or down the stairs, there would be nothing stopping them from seeing you in your most vulnerable position.

The End, Bowness-on-Solway
The end! Bowness-on-Solway.

After walking the Solway Estuary for miles with nothing around but marsh and Scotland visible in the distance, this was mentally the hardest part of the journey. It was flat and seemed to go on and on. Being almost exclusively on tarmac made it very hard on the joints as well. When we finally did arrive in Bowness we looked haggard and walked with a distinct limp, which my lovely wife decided to film on her iPhone for later viewing.

The official end of the trail going east to west is the King's Head pub. I believe it was them that invented the passport scheme in the first place. The nice lad that handed me the certificate asked us to sign the logbook and wanted to know how many days it took us. I told him 5 1/2 and he said he once did it in 3, but by the end his feet were bloody with blisters. The record is held by a guy in Carlisle, who did it in 18 hours... or something silly like that. The story goes, he ate some crisps, had 4 pints of Guinness in the King's Head, shook this guy's hand and started running. 18 hours later he arrived in Wallsend. Forrest Gump springs to mind! I have to say I felt a little old and a little deflated when I heard that, but hey, we did it. Two guys that haven't had a backpack on their shoulders since they took a month off to walk around Europe in 2002 walked one of the most amazing pieces of Roman antiquity left in the world.

My wife arrived in Bowness at the exact same time as us and she was a very welcome sight! She drove us to The Drunken Duck in Ambleside (even though in my last review of it I said I wouldn't go back, but what the heck, this was a time for pushing oneself and changing one's mind) in the Lake District and we had an incredible victory meal.

Despite what you read online about this walk, it is not a walk for inexperienced trekkers. I should know, I am one. It is clear to me that the people writing the books on the Hadrian's Wall walk are seasoned walkers and hikers. Both Lou and I found the walk to be challenging and extremely so in parts. Doing it in just over 5 days, or a total of 40 hours with backpacks was one of the hardest things I've done. It's been over a week since I returned home and my left knee is still in pain. If you're going to do it, please don't be an idiot like me and get out there a bit and walk with something on your shoulders to acclimate your body to the additional weight.

Top places to eat:

1. The Salutation Inn near Newtown... sorry no photos, I couldn't be bothered to take my camera. Delicious food, including: black pudding, lambs liver, pasta, pork, etc. The potatoes are grown locally by the farmer who owns the B and B we stayed in that night: Newtown Farm Bed and Breakfast.
2. The Swan in Heddon-on-the-Wall. Amazing carvery. Don't "go big" for £1.50. It's huge already!
3. The Twice Brewed Inn in Once Brewed. Locally sourced meat, excellent local ales and a warm fire.

Top places to stay: 

1. Newtown Farm B and B. Extremely clean rooms and bathroom. Excellent cooked breakfast in the morning. Very reasonably priced and the owners are lovely people. We were driven to The Salutation for dinner and then picked up after we ate.
2. The Twice Brewed Inn in Once Brewed. Comfy rooms, amazing pub. Idyllic views. Hot shower!
3. Houghton North Farm B and B. Paula will take great care of you. Rooms are clean. However, the hot water was sketchy and went from scalding to freezing. It also didn't come on in the morning.

Top section of the walk:

Wall to Steel Rigg: Chesters Roman Fort, Housesteads Roman Fort and Vindolanda are all along this stretch of the walk. So is the northern most point of the wall and some of the most breathtaking views I've ever seen. It was also the most challenging, so pack light!

Worst sections of the walk:

1. Wallsend to Newcastle and Heddon-on-the-Wall. If you aren't doing the passport scheme you can skip this section and lose nothing. It is not very pleasant and you look like a fool carrying a backpack, walking stick and accompaniments in an industrial area.
2. Carlisle to Bowness-on-Solway. There is no escaping this section. However, it's not awful. It's just unrelenting until you get close to Bowness and can see the final stretch leading up to The King's Head. There is one section as soon as you leave Carlisle that makes you go all the way around a golf course and it was at that point that Lou and I wanted to say screw walking on the exact line where the wall used to go and walk across the greens, upsetting all the golfers, but we didn't. It kind of goes like this for the entire day. You wonder why you're walking a wall trail with no wall. The entire day you're praying for either: 1. a shortcut or 2. something interesting to look at.

Worst place stayed:

Brooklyn House in Carlisle. Stephen, the owner, greeted us with, "you're a little early huh?" Having never given them a time and the fact that it was 3pm, I didn't see a need for this. Having to go to the toilet in what is essentially a staircase, but paying for an en-suite didn't add to it's charm.

Best moments from the walk:

1. Walking up a 300+ meter hill through a forest of tall trees where the roots were exposed and worn down from the thousands of people who have walked on them since the trail began. It looked like polished steps leading up to the top. A cold wind blowing through my North Face jacket. A friend behind me making sure I kept going.
2. Walking down to The Twice Brewed Inn after 12 miles of painful walking. At one point I wanted to give up, but my knees warmed up and we kept pushing on.
3. Getting a ride from a West Yorkshireman who overheard we were in trouble, with no buses running west, only east and my knees were killing me. He gave us a much needed ride to the next section of the wall, which was almost totally flat and on grass.
4. Finishing this walk in Bowness with someone who has been there for me for 13 years. He took my backpack when I couldn't go on, he pushed me and he chatted with me the whole time. Lou, you're a brilliant friend. Can't wait to walk Cotswold Way and Pennine Way with you next!

When I'm not being an intrepid trekker I'm a food and wedding photographer in Sussex. To check out my work please visit my site.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Le Benaton, Beaune: Michelin Dining in Burgundy

Le Benaton Restaurant, Beaune Bread at Le Benaton Amuse Bouche, Le Benaton Foie Gras at Le Benaton Beautiful Foie Gras Pigeon with Girolles Glorious Fish at Le Benaton Assiette of Cheeses
If I was given a choice to spend a week in any region on Earth, it would be very hard to choose just one, but in the end, it would have to be Burgundy, the Cote d'Or and more specifically, Beaune.

Beaune is home to some of the most majestic wines I've ever tasted: Bouchard Pere et Fils and Joseph Drouhin to name but a couple. It is a complicated region and I am not the only one who is lost when it comes to Burgundy. With more than 3,000 wine producers, each having their own plots of land, tiny in comparison to Bordeaux or Rioja and each producer making perhaps numerous wines in a myriad of locations all around the region it isn't easy.

Then there are the different categories of wine, or the Appellation d'origine Controlee (AOC), which gives three distinct values to the wines of this region: Village, Premier Cru and the top, Grand Cru. These are not randomly assigned but given out by the state after a rigorous test of the soil and other factors. A plot of land in say, Chambolle-Musigny can have a Village wine, designated by just the name of the area on the label (Chambolle-Musigny) and then a few feet away can be a vineyard given Premier Cru status, which would then state the vineyard name, i.e. Chambolle-Musigny Les Charmes, with Premier Cru being displayed above that on the label. This type of labeling makes it easy to find the best wines when searching for Burgundy, but it can also be very confusing.

When in doubt, buy a Premier or Grand Cru Burgundy wine. You will almost always get a good bottle. Burgundy wine is made with really only two grapes: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. A few other grapes may be found but speak to any hardcore winemaker and they'll tell you that's just for the critics and American palette. Pinot and Chardonnay are the grapes used to make wine. I find it incredible that Pinot or Chardonnay grapes grown just feet away from each other can have such varying flavors. It's truly mind blowing and you start to understand why the French felt the need to create the word Terrior and why Paul Giamatti's character in the movie Sideways was so fascinated by Pinot. I'm sure I have made a mistake somewhere in my understanding of Burgundy and no doubt I will be corrected. But that is the burden one faces when they become obsessed with Burgundy wines.

Anyway, I'm getting lost in the vines and this is about Le Benaton restaurant in Beaune. One of only a handful of Michelin starred restaurants in the area, Le Benaton is a true gastronomic experience. Head chef and owner Bruno Monnoir creates visually stunning dishes using regional and seasonal ingredients. There is a harmony in his cooking that is very rare. Although this is a Michelin starred restaurant it also feels like Bruno's back garden. It's relaxed, but with an air of sophistication that is lacking in most of the Michelin starred restaurants I've been to. So often they are full of ego and people with more money than taste or class.

The Foie Gras starter encased in Cassis, served with a tower of Brioche was one of the nicest dishes this foodie has ever put in his mouth. The Foie Gras was pure and elegant. The Cassis added just the right amount of sweetness and the tower of Brioche was, well, just awe inspiring.

My Pigeon with Pea Puree, topped with Girolles was a classic dish. It was intense, while still being graceful. Same could be said for my wife's Fish, served with Razor Clams and baby veg. The food speaks for itself and my images above will do it more justice than my lingering prose ever could.

Le Benaton is one of those restaurants I want to take everyone to. It is reasonably priced, with an incredible wine list. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable. And of course, the food is simply to die for.

Thanks to the whole team for making our anniversary a memorable one and a special thanks goes to Scotty! You know why.

To view my professional photography website please click here.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Patty and Bun, London: Burger Nirvana

Patty and Bun, London Patty and Bun Menu Burger and Fries at Patty and Bun Lambshank Redemption Burger-Patty and Bun Ari Gold Burger-Patty and Bun Patty and Bun-Bite Me Smokey Robinson Sauce
Being that the last two of my reviews have been on London burgers joints you could be forgiven for thinking that I was a little obsessed with these meaty, juicy, intensely flavorful food items. And you would be right. I adore them and according to current research, well not research, just what I've observed, the rest of the UK is finally catching on to my love affair with the patties that reside between two buns. And, having said that, my most recent burger find is Patty and Bun just off Oxford Street.

I had heard rumors in dark, seedy corners about a burger joint so good that it brought some men to tears, Patty and Bun is that burger joint. It's not trendy like Meat Market, it's not commercial like Five Guys, it's just a down to Earth, simple burger eatery. It is In-n-Out-esque in its freshness and uniqueness.

On this occasion the ordering was simple; one: Ari Gold burger, their standard hamburger with ketchup, smokey P&B mayo, topped off with a brioche bun (as God intended burgers to have) and two: the Lambshank Redemption burger with buttermilk baby courgettes, pickled aubergines, cumin aioli, feta and again... topped with a brioche bun.

These burgers are so perfect, so deliciously, superbly constructed I can only think I've gone to burger Nirvana when I taste one. Quite simply, they are everything a great burger should be and nothing it shouldn't.

If you can't take a trip to the West Coast of the U.S. to visit the holy grail of burger joints; In-n-Out, visit Patty and Bun and see what a perfect burger should taste like.

To see my actual food photography click here.

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