English Food – part 1

Just as I was preparing to take a surreptitious picture if it, someone bought the Ostrich egg.

The egg was at Selfridges Food Hall: the lone giant in a pink box, next to its smaller Clarence Court fellows: quail, turkey, goose, and Legbar Cotswold chicken eggs. Clarence Court is unassociated with Clarence House and yet it seems part of a new British food royalty composed of ambitious chefs and ancient bloodlines. Jamie Oliver’s image even leers from the Clarence Court homepage to endorse the rarified breeds, like a revised, PR inflected brand of Royal Warrant. The eggs come imprinted with a tiny inked crown, which reassuringly washes off in the boiling.

As with the class system, so in England there are roughly 3 types of food, with attendant nuanced variances within each strata. * The types are English, English in emulation of another culture, and foreign. The last 2 are at least always passable and the first will probably kill you only slowly, rather than speedily (always look on the bright side). Some English food is actually pretty good.

At La Fromagerie they have a cheese jail. Someone guards the door and they slam it shut after you. The little cheeses sit in state like Kobe cattle waiting for the slaughter, and this is all I can tell you as I was far too intimidated and a little repulsed to enter the sanctum. I bought a French yogurt in a glass jar and fled. The items on offer are a mix of foreign, English in emulation, and (new) English. No mushy peas. In all fairness, the yogurt was excellent. I’ve never before been so aware that I was eating a particular type of fruit with my yogurt (blueberry, in this case), in a mixture that was neither too sweet nor too challenging. Ah les français. The yogurt is from La Ferme de Treillebois.

On the other end of the spectrum (actually I’m sure it is possible to go far further) is the cafeteria at Bletchley Park. Nice people but horrible food. Remember what they did to Alan Turing, however, and consider yourself lucky. The pan of vegetable lasagna appeared to date from his time and seemed similarly tortured, despite any hints of (culinary) genius. W. had the all-ochre sausage roll, chips, and root veg meal, and I had a rather stale cheese and tomato sandwich. Definitely English (and old style, not by some revisionist celebrity chef), but you don’t go to Bletchley for the food.

A nice combination of English and foreign is to be found at the Euston Tap. English people actually make very good beer, as do the non-English, so it’s a win, win situation as some speakers of the English language might say. W. had a glass of  Weihenstephan from the world’s oldest brewery, I drank a super rich and boozy imperial stout (Nøgne ø, 9%), and we then shared glasses of raspberry and cherry flavored beer (Kirkstall I believe, but I forgot to write it down). Awesome flavor and color. The Euston tap building is beautiful and a perfect use of urban space. They have about 25 beers on tap at once, with constant and heavy rotation. Super yummy and no attitude. With the beer we ate pork scratchings in a bag, which were actually quite good.

* Discounting evaluations like good, bad, deplorable, disaster of massive proportions etc.

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Beer

I got a beer-making kit this Christmas and have run out of excuses for not using it.

Making beer (and I’m assuming most alcohol) involves an ordered set of stages similar to those immediately preceding and following its consumption:

  • hard work and/or fear
  • a period of relative relaxation
  • euphoria/misery

The beer kit comes in a nice brown box that reveals none of its content (I understand printed pornography once arrived similarly concealed). This means that, prior to opening, the imagination may run rampant (again, see prior reference). To wit: inside is my magic beer kit. There’s a large container and some magic powder; you put the powder in the container with some water and then you have beer a bit later. Or, possibly: inside is my beer unicorn. I will keep it tethered in the back yard and milk it every night for pints and pints of delicious unicorn milk stout.

Predictably it is more the former than the latter and the first step is to sterilize everything (see “fear” from list above) and then do something several times with the rather large bag of grains as well as the chestnuts which you have remembered to purchase, roast, and peel in advance (see “hard work”) after which you may play with the alchemical pipes and rods and read up about “wort” for a week or 2 (see “relative relaxation”). Finally after another few weeks you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor (or shake your tiny fist if something has gone amiss: see “euphoria/misery”). The beer kit is from Brooklyn Brewshop. I will report back. If you want to snoop ahead you may read the instructions here.