Imagine the best fish and chips you’ve ever had. If it wasn’t from Mary Janes in Cromer, you’re wrong.
I believe that there is an ancient gnostic scripture held in the cathedral in St Davids that says eating fish and chips from Mary Janes in Cromer is akin to 400 pilgrimages to Rome. I was here in on this day in 2017. By all reckoning I’ve made something like 2000 trips to Rome now.
On this day in 2016, Mrs Gnomepants V2.0 and I went for a succulent Chinese meal at the Dynasty in Long Buckby, Northamptonshire. At the end of the meal, they bring your bill with some fortune cookies. Which is nice. However, as Mrs Gnomepants v2.0 is allergic to dairy and fortune cookies contain milk I ended up with two.
When we were allowed outside, at this time of the year county shows and festivals would be popping up all over the UK ,indeed, some of these fairs have been going for many years others, like Hollowell, relatively less. Prior to my visit the the Honley show in 2007 I had only really been to the St Helens Show, the Liverpool Show and the Woolton Show all of which kind of died out in the eighties and nineties having become more trade and commercially orientated than their beginnings.
Back then, being a social media content maker and wandering round filming with your phone out wasn’t as common place as it is now and, of course, back then there were fewer platforms to publish your output. Mine was (and to some extent still is) Livejournal. However, these limitations didnt stop me and so, I walked around the show taking all manner of pictures including this one, which became the main header image for a project I worked on at University some time later.
I also noted how few of the stall owners seemed to have websites to promote their wares. Being a big local food enthusiast I was keen to try and help promote the businesses through my Muckybadger website and dreamed about publishing my own local food enthusiast magazine, tv and radio show and website. Then life and mortgages got in the way and other people got there before me…..
Thirteen years later, many of the businesses I saw at the Honely Show have gone, though some, including Crusy Pies are still going (indeed I saw them at Hollowell last year!). It also brings home how many small businesses rely on shows and festivals for their income and I am concerned about how many will survive this years’ blanket show ban. However, it is refreshing to see that, virus quarantine aside, county and country shows are still popular and hopefully, when we are allowed outside once more, many of the annual shows will return.
As some long term readers will remember, in the early noughties, I was living in Liverpool while working at the Liverpool University in their Computer Department. Happy times.
Back then I was spending roughly about £5 a day in lunches then moan about not having any money at the end of the month, despite the fact that I was earning a lot more then comparitively than I have over the past fifteen years. Go figure.
Anyway, if the Student Union shop, the Spar or the nearby Tesco had run out of sandwiches and it was too late to go to the nearby pub or to Kimos, or you were unable to scavenge some disgarded crumbs or crusts from your work colleagues lunch, or perhaps the grey mould sandwich which had remained unclaimed in the staff room fridge for two weeks had finally been claimed, you would probably reluctantly play a kind of salmonella sandwich Russian roulette with the Oven Door Bakery.
Therein, extras from TVs Prisoner: Cell Block H and Mutant Wars would spend the day crafting rudementary breakfast, brunch and lunch feasts which they would sell for the bargain price of £1.50. Treats included cheap sausage (the type that is 99% fat and gristle) and bacon rolls, mystery meat mush in mayo subs and oh-my-god-whats-that-smell between bread like substance with suspicious sweetcorn.
Rumour has it that John Lennon, of Beatles fame, used to eat there regularly while he was working as a delivery driver and that the song I am the Walrus was actually an account of a time when he delivered eggs there. trufax.
One of my many obsessions is with seafood dishes, especially Seafood Mornay.
The best seafood mornay I’ve ever had was Roger’s Seafood Mornay from the former Pen Bryn Bach restaurant near Aberdaron in North Wales. The second best seafood mornay was also Roger’s Seafood Mornay. In third place was the seafood mornay I made for a dinner party back in 2003. All others are just pretenders to the throne.
Sadly when I visited the Lobster Pot near Cemaes Bay in Anglesey in 2011, I found that they didnt do a Seafood Mornay. What they did though was a delicious surf and turf with half a lobster skillfully balanced ontop of grass fed beef steak (How they get the steak to eat grass is beyond me, surely it would be better to get the cow to eat the grass?) and doused in enough garlic butter to both thin and clog the arteries at the same time.
Today’s picture depicts the delicious dish itself.
At the weekend the wife, an out-of-town friend and I nipped out to the lovely town of Royal Leamington Spa for a mooch around the Peace Festival.
The Leamington Spa Peace Festival, for those who don’t know, is an annual rain causing event held in the Pump Room Gardens and features all manner of new age nonsense such as yogurt weaving, kaftan liberation, tofu swallowing and vagina floating.
The food sold there is mostly vegetarian to vegan on the omnivore spectrum. Free range falafel chocolate bars, organic gravel soaps, crunchy compost on a stick and fair trade mong bean ice creams abound. That kind of thing.
As well as hearing local folk bands and pan pipes, it’s also a good opportunity to see the latest trends of the anathematic capitalist hippies are pushing onto today’s youth. For example, stove pipe hats seem to be entering a renaissance, gong showering is breaking into the wavy world of healing and knotted dyed rags are this year’s rad hair fashion (again).
With hipsters now denying their own existence in a Schrodingeresque fashion (you’re either a cool cat in a box or not, depending on who is observing you), goths morphing into the less threatening emo collective and neo-nerd-geeks becoming vogue thanks to Big Bang Theory the time is right for a new collective. One that is so trendy and beyond cool that it is off the spectrum entirely, but one whose emergence will be unobserved until it has spread to a point where it becomes commonplace.
Of course it’s not just teenagers and infantilised twenteenies trying to be trendy. While beards may no longer be the fashion and half-mast trousers and arse showing waistlines have gone the back into the wardrobe for several years, the smart Sunday shirt wearing, middle class middle age organic free range grass eating daddies of the world appear to be taking their midlife crisis to the high street. Quitting their well-paid, high stress jobs and opening cafés using the stylistic ideals of designer hipsters to influence their décor.
At least, that’s how it appears from my visit to the overly trendy café, Bread and Butter on Regent Street in Leamington Spa. In what appears to be a former butcher’s shop a couple of doors down from the fishmongers, Bread and Butter just oozes huge blobs of “I’ve been to that London and seen how the well to do spend their leisure time”. I was reluctant to go in but guests take precedence and so began an experience I am about to recount.
Stepping through the door, it is difficult to see what’s going on due to the low level lighting. Windows provide free light and white tiled walls help reflect it around the important areas mostly to the till area which is sat on a thick wooden counter.
Garden furniture, the crap type that rotund people will find difficult to sit on comfortably or safely, are the choice of the day, enhanced only by artistically and purposefully strewn autumnal leaves on the floor. These, it has been debated, appear to be swept up of an evening, sieved to remove dust and detritus before being replaced after the floor has been mopped, cleaned and dried. Wankery.
Menus come in the form of a sheet of A4, minimalistic in choice, as per instructions from Blumenthal and Ramsay, but in a way that is limiting to the consumer. Old favourites ruined by the addition of wankery. A bacon club sandwich with wanky bread and avocado. Wanky salad, served with wank. Poncey toasties with cheese and a selection of teas that would ordinarily cost you about 30p to make yourself in a mug sold at the exorbitant price of £2 for a mingy scale model cup.
I had the “slow roasted” pork bap which came garnished with stale musty tasting crackling. This was obviously a new definition of “slow roasted” as to me, slow roasting means that the meat is succulent and melt in the mouth. I’ve chewed shoes less tough. Supposedly reasonably priced at £6.70.
During my years of eating out and writing about my experiences in the food world I’ve always said that you can’t make a restaurant or café trendy and popular by charging a lot of money for a small portion of food. Sure, you’ll get some tossers who think “Hey! This is so trendy and cool I’m going to come here every day because £6 for a stale pork butty is the lifestyle I want to lead”. But these people, like the hipsters they gave birth to, are dying out.
Although a greasy spoon café has its place, I’m not calling for that, I’m calling for some balance. Wankery has had its day back in the noughties when we found it ironic and amusing. Wankery today is just a road to disaster and mockery. Just as sticking the words “Organic” and “Free range” before every item on your menu is passé so is bringing the outside in, tiny portions and over pricing. The people you think you’re appealing to have grown out of this kind of approach and, much in the same way as faux-Victoriana and retro tea rooms have faded from popularity, so will wankery in décor. If it isn’t naturally worthy of brown leaves being tastefully placed on the floor, then don’t do it.
As we left and made our way back to the car, I observed corduroy trouser, gingham shirt wearing, late thirty something middle class graphic designer dad with his stay at home on an allowance yummy mummy what lunches and writes crap fiction wife pushing their child-with-a-neo-trad-name-like-Edna in its free range organically padded for their own safety comfort five wheeler monster stroller making their way into the café. Exactly the kind of clientele the café is trying to attract.
The following post appeared hidden on LJ in 2009 as it was part of my journalism degree portfolio.
This weekend I undertook my second visit to Belper’s farmers market. It has been nearly a year since my last visit and it was good to see some familiar faces. Surprisingly the market has grown a little bit since my last visit with the inclusion of three new stalls. Furthermore, it seems that the popularity has grown lately rather than reduced as would have been expected in the current economic climate.
Indeed, Belper’s other local food gem, the award winning Fresh Basil delicatessen was just as busy as I remembered. A sign that all things are still ticking over nicely while other consumer areas are having to tighten their belts.
It would seem that though rising grain and feed prices are forcing independent producers to raise their food prices to record levels and the supermarkets with their “Pile it high sell it cheap” are distracting consumers with their consistently low prices the popularity of local food retailers is still burgeoning.
But what concerns me is the insistence of some purveyors of local food to stock items that are clearly not locally produced. I’m talking about the Tyrell’s and the Bay Tree Preserves of the world here. To me it seems that some of these local food retailers are stocking brands that are becoming the behemoths of the independent retail world. During my on going tour of farm shops nationally I’ve noticed the same four or five brands recurring. Surely if I travel to the delightful farmer run Tebay services on the M6 I’d expect to see the delights of Cumbrian fare. Jams, chutneys and sauces produced by Cumbrian food producers. Indeed I would, but there, on the shelves are these “foodie” brands.
Perhaps it is instilled in our culture to stay loyal to particular brands. Perhaps these are farm shop brands we should now become familiar with much in the same way we do of Heinz or Pedigree Chum. Or perhaps it’s because we’re too corrupted by supermarket doctrine to shy away from familiar brands. I couldn’t say.
However this fascination with brands concerns me. Where do newcomers get a look in? It may be that finding a distributor is tricky for smaller scale producers. Moreover, it may be that the smaller scale producers find it difficult to produce their wares in the quantities that retailers demand. But isn’t that the ethos behind local food? Food produced locally by small scale independent food smiths. While I’m not expecting the local WI to be producing jams on a Hartley’s scale, I do expect to be able to sample artisan jams depending on the area I am in.
This phenomenon is not only restricted to the produce. Take farmers markets for example. This month I’ve been to five farmers markets in the region. One artisan meat producer had a stall at all five of these markets, at one market it was at least 90 miles from it’s home base.
Now I’m not saying that this is a bad thing. What I am saying is I am concerned. I worry that if this trend continues unabated we will be in a similar situation as we are with independent beers. The smaller breweries being bought by the brewing giants only to be closed in an apparent effort to reduce the competition. Ask any passing Tom, Dick or Harry to give a real ale name and they’ll probably tell you something by Shepherds Neame or Adnams. Where once these were struggling breweries, now they produce ales on such a vast scale that differences in quality and flavour are apparent. Are we in the same situation with real food? Is real food in danger of being clouded by the success of the few at the detriment to the many? Only time will tell.
Recently I’ve been very tired. Tiredness is never a good sign for me. I’ve been sleeping very well. Like a log for example. Even down to the beetles crawling over me and the fungus growing in my crevices.
This weekend I had a jolly good time visiting zoefruitcake where we watched DVD’s (including Wickerman, Wild Things, Legend of Fong Sai Yuck, the squeem enducing Audition and the epic Exterminator) and ate yumtastic chinese food. We even had a visit to a local farm shop, Hill Top Farm, which, I am sorry to say, didn’t meet my expectations.
It seems there are two camps of farm shoppery. Those that truely believe in the “Local is good and should be affordable” and those that follow the “Our average customer is a trendy Guardian reader so we can hike our prices to ridiculous heights thus fleecing the customer and doing the Local is good thing more damage than a whole parade of supermarkets”. Sadly the latter is becoming more and more prevalent. The former, hard to find.
You can tell a trendy farmshop by the feel inside. If you feel like you’re in a trendy deli, then it’s likely you’re in a rip-off shop. Though I am open to persuasion that this is not the case. Its sad that there are some farm shops that see the need to hike their prices through the roof because of their clientele. Like wise it is sad to see farmshops just selling the same expensive independently produced posh shite that you can get up and down the country in any farm shop. To me, a successful farmshop should be no nonsense with a butchers, maybe selling some local jams and honeys, possibly some bread and some fruit and veg at low prices. Not artificially inflated “Oooh we can make loads selling chicken like this cos they’ll pay it unquestionably”. So yes, Hill Top Farm will have a muckybadger review in the near future. I will make sure I highlight the £6.50 for two non-free range chicken breasts in a suspicious sauce sold in vaccuum sealed packets as I will no doubt point out the crappy sausages (75% meat?! I expect at least 80%) and the E numbers in the ingredients.
So yeah, I’m tired. It doesn’t help that I’m in work until 8pm tonight. Nor does it help that I have an early start in the morning. Bed early for me I thinkz.
You know when you’re baking a cake (yes, baking. That’s what people did BT (Before Tescos)) and it fills your kitchen with the lovely aroma of cakey goodness but you can’t take it out of the oven yet because it’s not ready and otherwise it will be ruined?
Well that’s what my 4 minute film is like. Its cooking really nicely (in a metaphorical sense) and it looks first class. However there is still one piece of film to add before the final edition. I’m really really pleased with it. Moreover I’m in a quandary. Next year I have to choose, film & radio or writing & radio. There is no option for writing and film. I really want to do writing and film.
Radio is arse. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the radio module, but in the UK unless you’ve got experience in a live radio situation you’ve got as much chance of getting a job in radio as Rabbi Moses Goldsburgstien has of becoming Pope. In effect it is of no consequence. But I’m going to bring it up at my next personal tutorial.
Also today, I started my magazine cover. The assignment brief asks for us to design a full page cover of a magazine catering for young people (16-25…ageist bastards) and so I’m going to do Young Foodie which will cover Local food issues for young people….or something like that.
Last night the wife and I dined on finest Broad Close Farm Shop Pork and Apple Sausages. They were accompanied by mashed potato (made by the wife) and cabbage with an onion and mushroom jus (gravy). If I say so myself they were bloody good sausages! The gravy was also spot on. However the bacon we bought from Hazelhead Hall seems to be off. So I doubt we’ll be going there again.
So, I don’t know, you’re pootling up the M1/A1 from the south heading towards Leeds; Maybe you’re just wandering like Kane; Perhaps you are skydiving over the South Yorkshire Countryside; You could be like Hiro from Heroes and teleported; Or maybe you just wake up naked, cold, lonely and confused after a large drinking session with your best friend Induviae Equus; either way, you find yourself in Darfield, South Yorkshire, hungry and feeling like a good curry. I know. It happens to me all the time.
Like the other day, there I was minding my own, tootling along the A635 into Barnsley while trying to avoid road works and there it was. Set back from the road was a white building with a bold black and red logo announcing itself as THAAL. Darfield is hardly a place where you’d expect to see a fine restaurant so it kind of threw me. So, as it was the wedding anniversary today, I thought I’d treat Mrs Gnomepants to a slap up nosh in Thaal.
And a bloody good choice it was as well…Service – bloody excellent; Food – Out of this world; even the decor and the price were damn bloody good. Between us, 4 diet cokes, 4 popadums and a pickle tray, a garlic naan, a peshwari naan, thaal special rice, a murgh makhoni (chicken with fruit and nuts in a mild sauce) [for me] and a murgi tarkari (for Mrs G) came to about £35. The meal was splendid, the sauces perfect, the meat cut and cooked to perfection. Just the right amount of creaminess, just the right amount of spices. Flavours of garlic and fenugreek not too harsh and delightful melt in the mouth naans. A truly splendid repast.
So there you are, some how stuck in or passing through or near to Darfield without a clue what to do….get yourself to the Thaal restaurant (don’t use the number on the website though cos that’s for one in Brovvaton or Brotherton as anyone normal would call it) and dine in the finest Indian this side of the M1/A1/M18 triangle. You too can be a fat bastard like me.