Monthly Archives: October 2012

Having a Blas(t) on a Friday night….. (sorry!)

Tucked away up a cobbled side street a few minutes walk away from the main harbour, Blas is too easy to miss for those not in the know. And even for those who stumble upon it, it might not have the immediate appeal of some of the “smarter” restaurants in St Ives.  No bookings, no toilets, communal tables, kids’ pictures on the wall and a menu consisting mostly of burgers might sound like the worst kind of fast food outlet but it doesn’t take long to realise that Blas is a million miles away from this.

The small, single room with four slightly rickety shared tables and chairs made from reclaimed materials can’t help but encourage a informal approach to dining and with staff who really seem to enjoy being run off their feet by hungry locals and holidaymakers, the atmosphere is busy but relaxed.
The food (and drink) is almost entirely locally sourced from small producers, which is a key element of the Blas philosophy of being local, sustainable and ethical and the menu includes a wide enough variety of beef, chicken and vegetable burgers to keep the fussiest of eaters happy. We opted for the Bacon Cheeseburger, Chilli burger and Halloumi stack each served with a mugful of deliciously crisp skinny fries and our unanimous choice of the Cornish Orchards Black and Gold cider. For the first time since we arrived, the conversation slowed as we began to work our way through our imposingly sized choices but, once plates were emptied, we were in agreement that these burgers are pretty exceptional.

In all honesty, writing about something so seemingly simple as a burger seems almost self-indulgent but there’s definitely something to be said for that rare combination of good quality, well-seasoned beef, served pink with an interesting mix of leaves and relish and (yes!) a decentroll. Simple maybe, but it’s amazing how few places actually get all the elements right.

Full, but too tempted by the brownies with clotted cream to say no, we finally stagger back out into the dark reflecting on how well the Blas formula works and how there should be one in every town in the country. But maybe that’s forgetting that it’s Blas’s uniqueness that makes it what it is? So yes, scrap that idea and lets leave it perfectly tucked away on a back street of St Ives- it’s where it’s meant to be and who wants a second rate copy of something this good anyway?


Friday in St Ives and where to start. Moomaid of Zennor? Oh go on…..

An October weekend in St Ives….sounds perfect yes? Well call me ungrateful, but 2 days just isn’t long enough to do justice to all the places on my to eat list unless I adopt a 7 meals a day approach to my weekend. My shortlist, compiled from some old favourites combined with a few “hmmm looks interesting” options includes, Blas Burgerworks, Porthminster Beach Café, St Andrews St Bistro, Moomaid of Zennor and, of course, as many local cider makers as I can find!
Car parked, bags checked and time to explore. And what better way to explore than with ice cream in hand? Directly on the busy harbour and up a short flight of steps, the Moomaid of Zennor ice cream parlour is the public face of family run Tremedda Farm, a 250 acre dairy farm just 5 miles up the road in the tiny hamlet of Zennor. With the milk and cream for the business coming straight from Tremedda’s own Friesian herd which is then turned into over 30 flavours ice cream right on the farm, this ice cream is about as local and unadulterated as it’s possible to get.
Moomaid supplies its own parlours in St Ives and in Porthtowan as well as just about every restaurant in the area worth its salt. But I know this already, I’m a fan, a serial customer and my only issue is which flavour to start with. Disappointingly but not entirely surprisingly, the Sea Salt Caramel has already sold out but I’m still spoilt for choice with a mix of traditional (Vanilla, Mint Choc Chip, Belgian Chocolate) and more innovative (Almond and Amarena Cherry, Fig and Mascarpone or Turkish Delight) flavours to choose from. Turkish Delight would be a first for me so it’s a good place to start and it doesn’t disappoint- it’s that pink dusty stuff you brought back for your mum from your holiday in Maramaris but metamorphosed into a traditional Cornish ice cream and served in a sugar cone. Certainly unusual at first taste but in a good way and I’m left wondering why everyone doesn’t make this flavour!

Later in the day I’m back for more, this time it’s the Almond and Cherry whilst Mrs Food Geek goes for the Moomaid Mess, a variation on Eton Mess but made with ice cream and clotted cream added to the usual strawberries and meringue. Yes, they’re as good as they sound and that’s the thing about Moomaid, it really is as good as it sounds! Great ice cream, locally made, locally sold and always looking for new ideas and twists on original flavours.
The Moomaid website tells the story how a young man was lured into the sea by the Mermaid of Zennor but nowadays it’s more likely he’d have stayed put and put in an order for another scoop!

Hampshire Farmers’ Market, Celebrity Chefs and some interesting sounding sausages…..

The twice-monthly Hampshire Farmers Market in Winchester was one of the first I remember visiting after I moved to the area back in 2003. Since then, it’s grown in size, frequency and success and with good reason. This popular market brings together some of the best food producers in Hampshire (and occasionally just over the border) to a receptive audience of regular shoppers.

Having cleared the first frost of the Autumn off the windscreen before heading into Winchester, a late (and admittedly second!) breakfast of Broughton Water Buffalo burger topped with chilli jam was a great way to get warmed up and focus my attention on the task in hand. I often spot the Broughton buffalo herd providing an incongruously African twist on the local chalk downland near Manor Farm if I’m heading to Stockbridge and the end product  certainly fills a gap on a crisp October morning. With a range stretching from buffalo burgers and mince through to buffalo fillet, all organically raised and grass fed,  it’s good to see a smaller provider keeping Farmer Scheckter over at the much better known Laverstoke Park Farm up the road in Overton, on his toes- try for further info.

Mid-burger, I spot Michelin starred chef and Great British Menu finalist Alan Murchison making a flying visit and, knowing that his passion for food is only exceeded by his passion for running stop him for a quick catch up on his performance at yesterday’s Hampshire Cross-country League performance at nearby Farley Mount. Predictably, he was close to the front of a high-class field but still convinced he could have done better showing the same “second isn’t good enough” attitude to his running as he does to his food. Having trailed in some way behind the speedy chef on far too many occasions I know just how hard he pushes himself when he’s “relaxing” away from the kitchen!

Burger finished and ready to push on, I’m clearly in a carnivorous mood as despite the impressive displays of fruit and veg I’m drawn to the Devese Farm stall selling goat burgers and sausages, something that I have to admit has passed me by so far. Their impressively literal web address and a quick taster of both the burgers and sausages along with a unusual, goat-based (I don’t think I’ve ever used “goat-based” as an adjective before?) take on the traditional Maltese timpana impresses me enough to pocket a business card for future reference but as part of today’s mission is (literally) to  take home the bacon, it’s on to Greenfield Pork for a few slices of their excellent back bacon and, after some serious thought, I settle on the Pear & Ginger pork sausages which will be the second first of the day if that’s possible?

Buffalo sated, pork laden and almost ready to head home and make the most of a rare blue sky day (and maybe even knock out a few miles in an attempt to close the gap on Chef Murchison?) I can’t bypass an old favourite Long Crichel Bakery where I manage to restrict myself to one of their fantastic Pain d’Auvergne sourdough loaves and a sharply delicious frangipane lemon tart. This Cranborne Chase bakery really is the real deal making some excellent sourdough and rye loaves along with an tempting range of pastries, cakes and tarts. I’m a huge fan and it’s only the fact that I know I’ll be able to restock from their stall on Salisbury Farmer’s Market that keeps my purchasing at a reasonable level.

The Hampshire Farmers’ Market at Winchester really is worth a visit or if you prefer a different venue, check for details of their markets throughout the county and the full range of excellent local suppliers involved.

New Forest Cider

Burley based New Forest Cider have been around for some 25 years supplying not only the local stores of Hampshire (including my own local stockist, the highly recommended Woodgreen Community Shop) but right into the foodie heart of London via their Borough Market outlet.

However, this weekend provided the opportunity to get close up to the source of this popular cider at the their annual Open Weekend featuring a variety of original cider presses, steam vehicles, traditional crafts and, of course, the opportunity to try the goods before deciding what to take home!

I have to confess, Burley isn’t my favourite place in the world. Despite being in the midst of some stunning countryside, it seems to have struggled to lift itself above standard day-tripper attractions of tacky souvenir shops and tired tea rooms and I’ve long since learned to keep well away from April to September when the tourist hordes descend. So yes, I need a GOOD reason to make the journey and this seems as good a reason as any.

Skipping over the Open Day attractions (we’re here for the cider after all!), it was great to see some of the heritage behind the product, traditional vintage steam and screw presses using straw as a filter and almighty heap of this years harvest ready to go to press….

The shop has an excellent range of draught and bottle ciders including New Forest sweet medium and dry along with their single variety Kingston Black cider all available straight from the cask. My choice for the day was the Kingston Black, at 8.4% the strongest of the bunch and displaying the distinctive sharpness of this particular apple but very drinkable whilst sitting outside in the Autumn sunshine enjoying the aroma of the hog roast.

Also available was a good selection of the Burrow Hill range (see previous article for Burrow Hill visit) including their unique Somerset Cider Brandy, Somerset Pomona and “Methode Traditional” Bottle Fermented Sparkling Cider which only made the decision about what to take home a little tougher. 

In the end, with my birthday only a few days away, it seemed a good idea to take away a 750ml bottle of the sparkling Normandy style Cidre Bouche along with an interesting pair of Burrow Hill sparklers made from (more) Kingston Black and Stoke Red, all looking just the part for a celebration fizz with a difference

Back in the car and leaving the Burley crowds behind, I’m now ticking off the days until the birthday celebrations start and I can crack open the first of these bottles. The only decision left  is where to start……..

Cider Bus Blues and Re-fuelling for the Winter

Like a lot of folk, my first encounter with the Burrow Hill people was via the world-famous Cider Bus which forms a central part of the food and drink landscape at both the Glastonbury and End of the Road Festivals. Bright blue, standing two decks high and with bar staff who seem to stay cheerful no matter what the weather brings, the bus is clearly the place to be for anyone with a love of fermented apples!

Inevitably, as day turns to night and the temperature starts to drop, sales of the Hot Spiced Cider pick up and with a shot of Somerset Cider Brandy thrown in for good measure, anyone with cause for complaint deserves to be extradited to the land of Kopparberg with no right of appeal.
So yes, I’m a fan. In fact, I spend most of the year wondering why the Cider Bus can’t take to the road like a big, blue, alcoholic ice-cream fan, blasting out its festival playlist to let punters know it’s coming and then pulling over to dispense steaming pints of the Hot and Spicy stuff. Sadly, the chances of this happening are pretty slim so, to keep me going through the long and lonely, festival-free winter months, the only thing to do was to pay them a visit.
Burrow Hill is certainly hidden away but by following a short detour from the A303 towards Martock, Passvale Farm, home of the Burrow Hill orchards soon appears. Refreshingly, it’s NOT been gentrified, made over, tarted up or branded to within an inch of its life- it’s clearly a working farm complete with mud, dust, peeling paint and rusting farm vehicles. Anything else would’ve been a disappointment!
The “farm shop” doesn’t disappoint either; if you’re looking for the full-blown deli experience, look elsewhere. This is a barn. A dusty, dark barn with eight huge oak barrels loaded with draught cider ready for drinking and a couple of tables displaying the goods. Perfect as far as I’m concerned and evidence that the focus at Burrow Hill is on the product, rather than creating a tourist attraction. For those unsure about what to take away, samples of just about everything are available (and encouraged!) so the wise sampler will stagger back to the car having already arranged for his/her other half to drive the homeward leg of the journey.
The trip can’t be completed without a walk through some of the 150 acres of cider orchards where sheep graze amongst the trees and, if you’re lucky, you might encounter one of the friendliest yet ugliest pigs in Somerset before loading up with supplies and heading home loaded down with what’s got to be some of the best cider out there.

Whether your preference is for “real” farmhouse cider, straight from the cask, bone dry and fizz-free or something bottled, ready to chill and tasting a little more commercial but still amongst the best of its type, Burrow Hill is clearly the place to go to stock up the shelves until the Cider Bus is back on the road for the festival season.

Ready, set go…..

I guess there’s a limit to how long it’s possible to sit around thinking about how to take an “idea” forward to become an interesting and informative blog but if I sat around much longer this might just never happen! So (without further ado), let’s get stuck in…..

There’s nothing I enjoy more than eating really tasty food. But by that, I don’t mean that I eat at Le Gavroche or the Fat Duck every week. Sure, they have their place but for most of us, finding great food at a local pub, village store or high street is far more satisfying and affordable and it’s such a good feeling to stumble across somewhere that you’d be happy to recommend to others.

And that’s where I’m coming from. I’m on the look out for exactly those places- local independent food suppliers across Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset and throughout the West Country. I’ll be recommending some of my current favourites, reporting on new finds and hoping to get some recommendations along the way.

My twitter feed is about to go live on @localfoodgeek so lets see where this takes us…..
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