Friday, 18 May 2012

A Little River Cottage Canteen Appetiser...

As some of you will know I was off for a few days down to East Devon in England for a short break last week. The main purpose of which was to attend The Vegetable Cookery Course at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’ River Cottage Farm HQ. I’ll write more about the actual course in my next post but just as appetiser I thought I would tell you a little about my visit to his restaurant/deli, The River Cottage Canteen in Axminster...

Axminster  is a typical old Devon market town in east Devon situated rather  serendipitously on the river Axe.

Once famous for making Axminster carpets, it seems most enquiries by tourists nowadays are about where to park in order to visit the River Cottage Canteen and what are the chances of actually seeing the great man himself!!

A quick mention about the lovely B & B that I stayed at-Water Mill House Axminster.

I would certainly highly recommend it as I had a very comfortable nights sleep and the owners Ruth and Tim were very welcoming. The room was immaculate and little touches like having your own pint of fresh milk in a little fridge on the landing meant you could help yourself to tea and coffee at anytime and there was even my favourite Earl Grey!

And now on to the River Cottage Canteen...

Of course it has its own website

Having read on the website that it was advisable to book for Sunday lunch I duly did so. As it happens, I had a speedy journey down to Axminster and arrived much earlier than I anticipated. I drove through the town centre and completely missed the restaurant which is right in the centre of the town. The town though is not terribly large and as I realised I was in fact by then on the way out I immediately pulled into a large car park which thankfully, being a Sunday, was free. Even better was to discover that The Canteen was less than 5 minutes walk away...

And so I had finally arrived! Albeit over an hour early than I had booked for...

 I saw the blackboard outside saying they were fully booked and rather than kill time I thought I would take a chance and ask if I could have an earlier table. 

As soon as you entered, the staff were very welcoming and upon explaining I was far too early for my booked table they assured me that was not a problem and showed me to my table at the front of the restaurant. The restaurant interior is what perhaps some might call ‘rustic’ with plain tables but with shelves clearly promoting the River Cottage brand and books from a certain author.

I did note, rather  cynically I have to say, the casually placed sacks of Shipton Mill Flour ‘left’ on the counter which were never removed whilst I was there...

The menu was as follows,

I had been warned by friends that it was a bit on the pricy side but was very pleasantly surprised. My waitress, or am I supposed to call her my server nowadays, was clearly very enthusiast about the food. She recommended the Speltotto which was a risotto cooked with Spelt which she enthused as being ultra healthy . However as I had cooked a risotto only a few day previously and I already know and cook with Spelt so don’t need to be introduced to this I declined and went for the Grilled Wye Valley Asparagus on toast with goat’s curd and Wild Garlic Gremolata. As she said it came with a salad I declined any sides. And for a starter it had to be The Trio of Hummus with flat bread and Dukka. I remembered this from the television programme and despite not liking beetroot wanted to try it!

Whilst I was waiting for my meal, I took a couple of photos of the wonderful cheese deli counter which was just in front of my table. 

Now before you all jump up and down that I took undue advantage with taking a photo of an employee caught reading a book might I just say she was reading it throughout my visit in-between serving customers and I had specifically asked if I could take a photo and she quite knowingly took up her book as I took the fact she said after, they are quite used to visitors taking photos of everything there...

And then on to my first course...

I have to say this was absolutely wonderful!!

There was an ordinary hummus, a mushroom hummus and a beetroot hummus. The amounts of each to be honest, were a little on the skimpy side and served with little pieces of flat bread. The Dukka added a lively note to the beetroot and the crispy onion was delicious on the mushroom hummus. All three were delicious though I have to admit the beetroot one was a very definite and unexpected hit. Truly delicious though I would have preferred more-much more!

And then on to the main course...

I had ordered the asparagus and it duly arrived. Now I have to admit straight away I did not take a photo of the said dish. The reason being I was waiting for the rest of it to arrive as it came without the promised toast and wild garlic gremolata. I waited...and waited...I tried to catch the eye of my server and then any server but without any success. As the menu had been removed I could only rely on my memory that these were supposed to be with it so in the end I simply ate it as it was. The grilled asparagus was delicious and the soft fresh goats cheese rather nice. The promised salad was a few salad leaves. Whilst I have to say the grilled asparagus was good this by no means felt like a main dish. The 6 or so asparagus spears eaten with a little of the fresh cheese and a leaf or two of little lettuce leaves was gone in a trice.

 Of course, once I had finished my server then reappeared and enquired how much I liked it! Feeling like an absolute heel in all this River Garden Cottage bonhomie I sheepishly admitted that it had not been what I had expected and bravely stated that I thought as a main course it had been rather insubstantial. My server let the shock show on her face and said that of course they could not bear a customer to be disappointed and would I like another course instead. She brought back the menu and as I didn’t want to go through the whole rigmarole of having a mains again she suggested a cheese board to make up the disappointment which I happily agreed to. With the menu in front of me again I could see that I had not received the promised toast and gremolata with my main course. She rushed back to confer with her colleagues and on returning said it was the kitchen’s fault as they had not informed the front of house staff that there was a change. Unfortunately her manner then clearly implied that they were then exonerated.  She directed me to the deli counter to choose my cheese. Unfortunately once there the girl behind the counter was confused why I had been asked to choose a cheese board and not the one sole cheese for desert. However she did direct me to two rather nice cheeses-Haytor and Sheepstor and I had a generous wedge of each. 

On my way back carrying myself it to the table my server did offer me a glass of wine which I thought was a generous gesture given the circumstances and duly accepted.

Unfortunately I then had to wait a while before the wine and then the promised chutney arrived.

Again a long wait until I could ask for the bill. Once it did arrive my server announced she had not charged for the cheese however on looking at the bill they had charged for the main course and the glass of wine which I had thought was complimentary!! Despite trying to catch the eye of any server and waiting a long, long time in the end I was so cross I simply left the money on the table and walked out...

I had been so looking forward to my meal at the River Cottage Canteen and it had started off so well...however it is probably my own fault for expecting it to be more than it was...however in my own defence I was not expecting fine dining but just good plates of food and to have an enjoyable Sunday lunch. The bonus was to be the ‘celebrity’ link to the place I was eating at.

In the event I fear, my temerity in voicing a criticism, however justified resulted in final feelings of disappointment and hunger...

Still, I had the River Cottage Cookery course to look forward to the next day...

Friday, 11 May 2012

A Very, Very Lazy Smoked Haddock Supper...

Apologies to one and all but it suddenly occurred to me that it was Friday and I should be thinking about a post...

I had bought during the day, a very nice, naturally smoked and un-dyed Haddock fillet. I hadn’t quite decided what to do with it and toyed between a creamy risotto and a curry infused kedgeree. 

In the end I went for both options-combined! 

Well I did say this was a very lazy supper...

The sun was setting but given thankfully that it hadn’t rained today and we did for once have a modicum of sun, I shot outside to snap a few photos before the sun set...

Spring seems at last to be here with ferns unfurling, Aliums ready to burst into flower and Primulas displaying their vibrant colours. 

And now on to supper...
A Lazy Smoked Haddock Risotto/Kedgeree

Will satisfy four hungry tummies...

1 Large undyed smoked haddock Fillet
2 eggs
1 and a half cups of rice-I used a combination of Basmati and Wild rice
1 glass of Vermouth
1 and a half cups of frozen peas
3 large shallots
2 tbsp of curry powder-I used Caribbee Curry Powder which I purchased from their store on the island of Tortola in the Caribbean Virgin Islands but also available online
100ml of Greek Yogurt
1 pint approx of boiling water plus extra for boiling the eggs
A little British Extra Virgin rapeseed oil


Chop the shallots and fry in the rapeseed oil until just golden.
Add the rice and gently toast for a couple of minutes. Add the Vermouth and cook for a couple of minutes to burn off the alcohol.
Add the curry powder.
Gradually add the boiling water a little at a time and stir the rice mixture occasionally.
After about 15 minutes add the smoked Haddock which should be chopped in chunks.
Meanwhile boil the eggs for 8 minutes then remove from the water and then peel.
Just before serving add the frozen peas as they will only need a couple of minute to cook.
Aim to have the rice/fish mixture almost dry, turn off the heat and then add the Greek yogurt and stir in to make it unctuous and sublimely creamy. Slice the hard boiled eggs and arrange on the top.
Serve in warm bowls.

Apologies as this post was literally done on the hoof! 

Next week it will focus on my trip to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage, lunch at The Canteen and my time on his Veg At The River Cottage Cookery Course...

Have a good evening everybody!

Saturday, 5 May 2012

From Russia To The Ukraine....

Whilst I have focused previously on Russia, I would like today to shine a spotlight on the marvellous country of The Ukraine. 

We took the night train from Moscow to Kiev and thus saw little of the countryside but in our ‘first class’ train carriage had wonderful service from our conductor who gave us regular cups of tea from his steaming samovar.  

Not so good was the awaking in the early hours of the morning on the train, from the Ukrainian border police who woke us up in order to stare at our faces and then declared at 3am we did not look like our passport photos...after several rather anxious minutes they finally agreed they were happy...

Note to self...must make sure I go to bed with full makeup when crossing a border...

And on to Kiev!

What a wonderful place to visit!

This bustling city at the heart of the country of The Ukraine made a marvellous stopover after visiting Russia.

Like Moscow, it was really easy to travel around the city using the metro-you just had to remember the long names of the places written in the Cyrillic alphabet of the stations to make sure you didn’t get lost...

I do remember my father telling me that when he visited  Moscow in the 1970s that he had carefully written down the name of the metro station he had just exited only to find later after many futile attempts to find his way back to his hotel that he had copied down the Russian for ‘Exit’...

Kiev is a city like so many others we saw in Russia and the Ukraine, one of contrasts...

Outside would be your typical large rather unattractive urban sprawl but within the city were little this statue of a man proposing which is touched for good luck by many a couple!

In Kiev there are some fabulous museums and whilst there are two prices, one for locals and a higher one for foreigners, they are still very cheap to visit.  I love exploring art museums and the quality of the art was spectacular. There were also different styles and scenes of Ukrainian life which I had never experienced before. 

Kiev itself, is great to explore on foot and in the old part of the city, lots of places are situated close to each other. Many of the younger people of Kiev speak excellent English and were keen to help if you appeared lost!

On a more sombre note we also visited Babyn Yar, away from the main part of the city and scene of one of the most horrific episodes of history, where 34,000 people from the local Jewish community were rounded up in 48 hours, massacred and then buried in this ravine...the day we visited it was so very, very quiet...

The Ukraine was a wonderful place to visit, full of contrasts with glittering gold churches in the cities and beautiful countryside with equally stunning wooden churches. 

The people we met were all very proud of their history and heritage and I so much enjoyed learning more about this particular part of the world.

 To get more of a taste of these proud people please have a look at this little clip...

And now on to food! The rye bread we had was wonderful as were the various goulashes with fiery paprika and soups with delicious dumplings. But today I present...

Khachapuri -Georgian Cheese Pie

This is a tasty cheese pie that is very popular in Russia and the adjoining countries...

Although a traditional dish from Georgia, its fame has travelled across Russia and the former Soviet countries and has become a very popular ‘fast food’. I discovered it on the little stalls outside of the metro stations- either sold as slices from a large pie or as folded pastry in a small individual pie.

Tucking into the warm pastry and the oozing melting cheese was an absolute delight...

Each recipe is slightly different. The cheese mixture depends on the region but generally has a combination of salty and melting cheese i.e. feta and mozzarella or their equivalents.

I have added a taste of my own with a handful of finely chopped sage and chives.

Traditionally the pastry is made with yogurt however I have cheated and used ready made puff pastry.


1 roll of ready made puff pastry-320g
200 g feta
250 mozzarella
 1 whole egg and 1 egg yolk
1 handful of freshly chopped chives
1 handful of freshly chopped sage
A generous sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C
Roll out the sheet of puff pastry until it is twice as big again and nice and thin. Cut the pastry into two equal halves. Place one half on a large baking sheet lined with baking parchment.
In a large bowl combine the mozzarella torn in to chunks with the feta in chunks and mix together with a beaten whole egg. Add a generous grinding of pepper, chopped sage and chives.
Place the mixture on one of the halves of pastry but keep the outer 1cm edge clear. Cover the mixture with the other half of the pastry and crimp the edge to seal in the mixture. Brush the top with the beaten yolk of the second egg.
Place the pie in to the hot oven and bake for 25/30 minute until the top is golden brown.
Serve warm from the oven.

And finally, one last look at Kiev from across the river Dnipro, with the golden turrets of the Caves Monastery together with the enormous 200 foot metal statue known as ‘Mother Russia’ or ‘She Who Must Be Obeyed’ and... rather irreverently by locals... as ‘Tin Tits’

Have a good evening everybody!