karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
On Wednesday I took a train to London and then a tube to Highgate to take part in Porklife, a celebration of the pig by last year's Masterchef winner Tim Anderson and co-finalist Tom Whitaker.
The two nights only event was held at The Bull, a lovely brewpub in Highgate. I arrived well on time so could pick the table with the best light. People arrived very slowly so we didn't get started until after eight but I had my kindle so waiting wasn't so bad.

Tom and Tim

Tim and Tom appeared briefly to introduce themselves and then headed to the kitchen again.

Starter selection

The first course was the "little board" with deep-fried crumbed brawn and a spicy Korean mayo, a blood pudding roll (genius idea), a shotglass of "pea soup" and "hoggis". The first two were my favourites, the brawn soft with a crunchy coating and the roll with a well flavoured, crumbly black pudding. The hoggis (pork haggis) came with pickled neeps and whisky tatties, sitting on a biscuit. This was a nice idea but could possibly have had a bit more flavour. The pea soup contained bone marrow and pulled smoked hock. Very tasty indeed but probably not that healthy. ;o)

"Sandwich and Soup"

The "Soup and Sandwich intercourse" consisted of a nicely flavoured broth with pulled pork, savoy cabbage and butter beans served in a glass tumbler and rillettes of smoked hock, slithers of homemade guanciale wedged between thin toasted slices of bread. Especially the guanciale was superb but I enjoyed every element.

Then, the main event. First, there was a complimentary pint of Old Major, a "Bock Ale" created by Tim and the Bull's brewers specifically for the event. It wasn't as strong as a German Bock but had the typical sweet notes and a nice hint of smoke. I liked this a lot, if they sold this in bottles, I'd buy it regularly.

Mains selection

The main board had a portion of smoked, slow cooked belly which apart from the smokiness was rather similar to what you would get in Germany. Then there was slow cooked jowl with excellent meat wrapped in a rather tough skin. The spicy andouillette sausage would have been very nice if it hadn't been for a rather sharp sourness which put me off a little. The fact that it's offal stuffed into the large intestine didn't bother me at all.
Then there was a salad with crispy bits of ear and trotter, peanut, chilli and a fish sauce dressing. This was mainly a texture thing and pleasant enough. Other accompaniments were a fennel cream, barbecue sauce, apple mash, cornichons and a sort of coleslaw (called parsnip and celeriac remoulade) I really liked as well as a handmade caraway pretzel that tasted very similar to the ones from our baker in my German hometown.
There were some timing issues serving the mains, various items arrived a bit late but I was lucky that my food was still warm, I think a table or two were less lucky. Granted, there were a lot of items, though and I really enjoyed most of them.

By that time I was thoroughly stuffed but the desserts were still to come and of those I got a double helping for some reason.

Desserts

The cinnamon sponge wasn't stodgy and a little bit sticky, just enough for me and the boozy cherries were a nice contrast. The rhubarb jelly could have been a bit tarter for my taste (I don't have a sweet tooth) but the vanilla and fennel ice cream was lovely with just enough aniseedy flavour to make it interesting. The bits in the ice cream was "crackling praline with walnuts" which, strangely enough, actually worked.

I briefly considered trying a shot of Chauvinist Pig, Tim's bacon infused bourbon but I had to walk back to the tube and then my train and wasn't sure what it would do to me. ;)

I also had a brief chat with Tim and Tom afterwards. They are both really nice blokes who clearly love what they're doing and were happy to chat about the food and beer and things.
While there a few hiccups along the way and not all dishes worked brilliantly, it was a great celebration of the allegedly so humble pig. Pork doesn't have to be just loin, chops and big roasts but you can use every part of the animal to make something tasty, you just need to spend some more time on the more unusual cuts.

A few more photos on flickr

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karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
Mat Follas, head chef at The Wild Garlic in Dorset (and Masterchef 2009 champion) held a one-off "pop-up" restaurant at Ben's Canteen in London (part of the Canteen's guest chef nights).
As The Wild Garlic is a bit out of the way for me currently (there are no trains to Beaminster), this was the perfect opportunity to taste Mat's cooking so when I read about it, I signed up immediately.
I got there early to chat to Dave Ahern, head chef at Ben's Canteen and try one of his famous Breakfast Scotch Eggs (and it really is stunning, you can taste all the elements). Mat joined us and asked me if I would take some photos in the kitchen as well and of course I jumped at the opportunity. However, let's first look at the menu:

It started with a bowl of "Pesto Popcorn", which was nice and one of the few times I enjoyed a savoury popcorn:

Pesto Popcorn


The starter was Smoked Queenie Scallops, served in their shell. These were only morsels but the taste was superb, the smoky flavour enhancing the sweetness of the scallops. I could easily have had a dozen of those.

Starter: Smoked Queenie Scallops


Now the first meat course: Confit Duck Leg with orange and tarragon. The meat was perfectly cooked and so soft it fell apart. You could pull out the bones cleanly. Surprisingly, the orange sauce worked well for me and really loved the dish.

Confit Duck Leg


Another small course was next but by no means small in terms of flavour. A delightfully and strongly flavoured mushroom velouté that tasted like a pound of good mushrooms compressed into an espresso paper cup. Wow. When I was in the kitchen, I'd smelled this soup as it came out of the Thermomix and that already blew me away.

Mushroom Veloute


Then the main: 12 hour triple cooked pork belly, served in slices off the rolled piece with sweet potato and miso puree and pickled vegetables. Another slow cooked dish that let the simple but very flavoursome meat shine. The puree was an excellent substitute for gravy.

Main: Triple Cooked Pork Belly


The next course was a palate cleanser in the shape of a ball of beetroot (yes, you read that right) sorbet, served on a little china spoon. It sounds bizarre but it worked really well. This was hard to photograph on the table so here's a shot from the kitchen:

Palte cleanser: Beetroot Sorbet


Then, there was only dessert to go but what a stunner that was: Lavender panna cotta with berry compote, salt and pepper ice cream and crumbles of honeycomb. Each part was lovely on its own but a bit of everything on the spoon made my tastebuds dance, a perfect balance of flavours.

Dessert: Lavender Panacotta


This was a fantastic meal. Simple, rustic dishes which high quality ingredients were the stars of the meal. If this is the food Mat Follas and his team are cooking every day at The Wild Garlic, its customers are in for a treat and from what I hear that is indeed the case. Go there now! :)
More photos after the cut.

A few more on flickr.
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
In a sleepy little village called Little Wilbraham, just outside Cambridge off the road towards Newmarket is the Hole in the Wall, the restaurant run by last year's Masterchef runner-up Alex Rushmer.
I've been wanting to go since it opened in July but not having access to a car at the moment prevented me from doing so this far. Wednesday evening I finally had the opportunity as I wanted to treat a good friend to a hearty meal as a leaving present and he agreed to drive.

The Hole in the Wall has been an alehouse/pub for a long time and has been tastefully redecorated and converted into a restaurant (it's still a Free House, too). It's quite a rambling building with low ceilings and exposed beams everywhere creating a rather comfortable and homely atmosphere. The scrubbed wooden tables and chairs seem to have been sourced from all over the place as none are alike which only adds to the character.

As we were hungry, we declined having a drink first and were shown to our table, the waiter brought a pitcher of water and the menus. We were also offered a selection of breads of which I had the sourdough which was nice. The menu offered and interesting selection but my mind was made up very quickly for the starter when I saw wood pigeon. For main I wavered between the duck and the veal shin but decided on the latter as it's still quite rare to get veal.

Wood Pigeon, Barley, Beetroot
Wood pigeon, beetroot barley risotto

The pigeon was seared, nice and soft and the beetroot barley risotto was perfectly cooked with an excellent bite. A few slices and puree of differently coloured beetroot rounded off the dish, an excellent starter

Slow Cooked Pork Shoulder, apple
Slow cooked pork shoulder

My companion's starter which he was very happy with. You can just see the chopped seasoned apple behind the meat.

The main event, we both had one:
Braised Veal Shin, Saffron Risotto, Romanesco
Braised shin of rose veal, saffron risotto, romanesco

This was absolutely stunning. The rich meat fell apart, there was crunchy marrow inside the bone and a lovely sauce. A minor weak point, the risotto was tasty but a touch overcooked for my liking, more like a rice pudding than a risotto with hardly any distinct grains. However, this did little to distract from the greatness of the meat. True food porn. It was a huge hunk of meat, though, almost a bit too big as part of a three course meal. I struggled towards the end but made it. Still, there are always people who complain about portion sizes so those will love the substance.

After that hunk of meat we were rather full but didn't want to leave without dessert so let the food settle for a while, helped along in my case by a dram of Highland Park. Then we eventually chose desserts:

Chocolate Pot
Chocolate Pot

My companion's dessert. The pot contained a dense mousse (almost a bit like Nutella) with a layer of salted caramel, and there was more caramel in the little truffle. He said the brownie and vanilla ice cream were excellent, too.

Duchess of Cambridge Tart
Duchess of Cambridge Tart

This is the HITW's signature dessert, with a buttery biscuitcrispy, crumbly pastry base, a creme brulee filling and a lovely Cointreau and raisin ice cream on top. Reasonably light so a perfect end to this meal.

Service was friendly, efficient and unobtrusive, perfectly adequate for the setting but they possibly could be a bit more prepared to talk about the food, both when serving it and after. They almost seemed a bit shy.

All in all, an excellent meal, and good value for the quality of food, too. 75 pounds for two, three courses each, a large glass of red, a shot of Belvedere, a dram of Highland Park and a glass of orange juice. Highly recommended if you're in the area and have a car (or don't mind the taxi fare).

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