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Food glorious food by New Forest Mark and Hugh

Food glorious food!

New Forest Mark and Hugh anticipate eating out once more, surely we can dare to dream too of this!  

Mark and Hugh signoff 600x400Introductory note from Mark and Editor: This week we remember the sheer delight that is ‘eating out’. Hopefully this will serve as an appetiser for dining delights soon to come (the sooner the better). The staff of the Thatched Cottage Hotel*, The Turfcutters Arms, The Haven, Rivaaz, Balmer Lawn Hotel, The Bosun's Chair, The Gun Inn, La Perle, The Monkey House, Rhinefield House Hotel, and other New Forest destinations for delectable dining had better brace themselves, we’re like thirsty coiled springs and we all have a lot of catching up to do. Note to all landlords: Buy two-pint beer glasses.

*The Thatched Cottage Hotel mentioned in the story below is the same building as the current Thatched Cottage Hotel but in an earlier incarnation when they served dinners too - today's is a wonderful place to stay and breakfast, eat cream tea and taste lots of gins you'd never heard of - then you can dine out locally according to your choice of an array of walk-to pubs, restaurants and hotels in Brockenhurst! 

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Food glorious food

During this very trying time of being locked up or knocked down or banged up or however we are supposed to refer to this wretched period of self-imprisonment, I wonder if you might let your imagination wander back to the delight that is eating out? For me this was one of life’s luxuries and I really miss it.

Celebrity chefs exhort us to braise this or stew that, all the time jabbering away at the cameras as their knives chop and dice in a blur of speed. We try to emulate them only once and then, after a visit by a nice paramedic, take a little more care. We are told that we need a barrage of exotic ingredients that collectively cost more than the Haitian national debt. The television camera reveals an enormous kitchen that could house a zeppelin and treats us to close-ups of expensive pots and pans (with the makers name carefully in shot). These self-assured and self-absorbed individuals brandish knives of pure gold crafted by a tiny Japanese man who has a workshop on the side of Mount Fuji.

Is it me or are these chefs the most incredible bores?

To dine or to cook, that is the question

Imagine it is Friday mid-afternoon and the tummy is just beginning to rumble. For the supper this evening I shall give you two options:

Option 1.

Squinting through steamed up glasses you try to follow the ‘simple’ menu from the Christmas gift book. Glancing nervously at the clock you realise that the time given for preparation is woefully inadequate. Time for another glug of the good stuff (well, it worked for Keith Floyd). Using a brand new, razor-sharp zester you effortlessly peel rind from a lime, then the skin from your knuckles. You destroy your nails by scouring blackened pots in scalding hot water. Let’s not forget clearing up vegetable peelings, washing down work surfaces, putting away vast quantities of herbs and spices, loading the dishwasher and mopping the kitchen floor as you wipe the perspiration from your brow.

Option 2.

Paying others do all that.

Not what you would call a tough choice is it?

Killing the goose, part one

Choosing a restaurant is excellent fun. Friends once recommended a place which had become so popular that we had to park up a country lane half a mile away. The proprietors, seemingly determined to make as much money as possible from their fifteen minutes of fame, had shoehorned in many extra tables. I suppose they must have doubled the capacity, hence the parking troubles. Serving staff were visibly harassed and overworked as they squeezed between chairs whilst continuously apologising to diners. We were given a table next to the coffee machine where we jumped involuntarily at the regular thump thump thump as the grounds were knocked out into the plastic bin beside us. Service was glacial. By the time we left my neck muscles were knotted.

We didn’t return and we certainly didn’t recommend it.

Killing the goose, part two

Another place we tried had been roundly condemned by workmates as a very ordinary pub grub kind of affair. Never the less, we decided to try it. We ordered Thai green curry and Hunter’s Chicken. Oh, my word, it was sublime! The flavours were absolutely delicious. As we were eating at our garden table the chef appeared, clearly keen to know our thoughts. He was a bundle of energy and clearly an asset to the place. I was effusive in my praise and asked him what he had done to the rice. As if he were revealing a secret, he took a quick look around and told me that he used a squirt of lemon juice, ‘just gives it that lift’. It was his enthusiasm and trade craft that had turned what could easily have been a very ordinary pub meal into a delight. We returned a month later and the chef had clearly moved on; we were back to bland pub grub. I can well imagine that he had been asking for the owners to buy lemons or other odd items and been refused. Short sighted? You bet.

Killing the goose, part three

I was discussing food with a colleague who is of Indian parentage, raised in Scotland. He agreed with me when I said that a lot of Indian dishes had been anglicised to such an extent that they were no longer pukka. He said he had eaten certain dishes in restaurants which tasted nothing like the real thing. But then I suppose that having an Indian mother is bound to make you something of an expert. My wife and I used to use an Indian restaurant in Southampton called the Rani Ma. This place was amazing; all of the dishes had their own unique taste and consequently we went there almost every week. Suddenly, overnight, the taste was gone; the dishes had become standard take away slop. Saddened, we stopped going but later we discovered the truth. The chef had become disillusioned with the owners because they were unhappy with the cost of his ingredients. He moved and took his excellence with him to another restaurant half a mile down the road. The new place, the Mystery of Spice, did a roaring trade.

The food served to us is only ever going to be as good as the chef, and the ingredients.

From the ridiculous

I once stayed at a hotel in Brockenhurst (recommended by a work colleague) which I will not name. Treating a lady friend to a weekend away I had booked Friday and Saturday. The place was a dump and should have been renovated years ago. We didn’t dare book a table for dinner because if the kitchen was in the same state as the room, we would probably have suffered food poisoning. Breakfast was the final straw as the ‘Full English’ was an insult to the term. It arrived on tiny plates, presumably to make the meagre portions look bigger. There were about twenty tables and when I scanned the dining room for tomato sauce, I realised with a smile that there was just one bottle. For a moment I wondered if we had accidentally booked during some sort of slimming weekend. The mischievous side of me came out as I began to whistle the theme tune to Fawlty Towers. There was giggling at other tables but lots of ‘shushing’ from my friend. We checked out. After driving away, I asked her to keep an eye out for somewhere else as I was determined to rescue the weekend.

To the sublime

After no more than a few hundred yards we pulled onto the car park of The Thatched Cottage. I apologised for not booking and asked if we could stay the night. What happened then was that we were whisked away into a land of bliss and serenity. Our cases were taken from us and we were asked to stop a while on an enormous squashy sofa, the kind you could live in. Moments later a tray with tea and cakes arrived, tea and milk in separate pots, all immaculate. Nothing was too much trouble. The room was tiny but perfect in every detail and I remember that we slept soundly. I’d taken the trouble to look at the menu for dinner that evening and despite the considerable cost I booked a table for two. I don’t think I have ever eaten such well-prepared food or enjoyed such pleasant service. The place was a joy.

In one weekend we had travelled from Hell to Heaven. The friend that had recommended the Hell was apologetic but I told him not to fret because it was so bad, it was funny. Each establishment had been an object lesson in how to and how not to do it.

Memories

One of the things that keeps me going during this horrible time is the memory of a good night out. That anticipation as you approach the door. The perfectly laid table, the inviting menu, wine list, crisp linen, animated friends and the utter luxury of having empty plates whisked away and to be replaced with more delights. But here’s the thing, a recommendation is only as good as the tenure of the staff. Establishments can change overnight. Just for fun, choose somewhere different, when we are able to that is.

It can’t be much longer can it?

cartoon picnic among the ponies

 

More tales and cartoons for Lymington and the New Forest from Mark and Hugh

If you'd like to read previous articles on diverse subjects written by Mark and illustrated by Hugh's cartoons here they are, click the links embedded in the titles:

The power of good
Old school, new school, young school
Dreaming of holidays

Miracle or monster? Modern communications

RNLI and Lymington Lifeboat

Happy New Year Resolutions and Revolutions
Merry Christmas 2020
What our cars say about us
The litter pickers of the New Forest

A roof over your New Forest head

Richard St Barbe Baker

Our star, our sun, our salt!
To Lymington or Cuba
The Auld Mug

Seeds of success

Moonlit meeting with cetaceans 

Trees and what they tell us
Cartography and trig pillars

Pony drifts and pannage in the New Forest
A journey from the New Forest via Lymington
The brilliance - and persistence - of Marconi

Equality in the skies
Bees pollinators par excellence 
Cordless home entertainment

The joy of sheds

When the Isle of Wight was just Wight
Bucklers Hard

Salisbury Cathedral 
Pond Life in our Forests 
Bombs Away 
Baileys Hard 
Rufus Stone and Sir Walter Tyrrell
Graffiti through the ages
Freedom of the roads
Heath fires
Lymington Lido
Watch the birdie
Unstoppable momentum of nature
Socially distanced socialising
Calshot Spit, a curse for mariners...

 

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