Monday, 11 September 2017

12. Ludlow Food Festival 2017 - Part 2.



  Friday at the Ludlow Food Festival was pretty quiet and I wondered if the festival was falling out of favour with the food lovers of Britain. However, the following day, Saturday, saw huge crowds of people in the castle grounds and tramping around the town on the Sausage and Ale Trails. Plenty of dogs, with a strong emphasis on labradors, and country types whose costume appears to have remained unchanged for the past few years - body warmers, weillington boots and flat caps with a new emphasis, among the younger men at least, of nattily trimmed facial hair. There was a grand mixture of English and Welsh accents - smart, well-heeled upper middle class location non-specific, Shropshire and Herefordshire rural, true Brummie, identifiable Black Country and those originating more distantly.
  Throughout the festival, there were some excellent and highly enjoyable talks - cooking demonstrations - to sit in on. My favourites were given by Birmingham's very own Brad Carter of Carter's Of Moseley and the immortal Shaun Hill, once the chef patron of Ludlow's original first Michelin star winning The Merchant House.
  Brad Carter's talk centred on some of the Japanese-style dishes he is currently featuring in Moseley and he came over as a modest and very likeable chef despite his rather terrifying beard, who has achieved so much with great distinction though the award of the Michelin star came as a great surprise to him. 
  Current menus were offered to the audience and certainly made me feel that I wanted to set off for Moseley in this coming week to give his Foraged mushroom dashi and sea spaghetti dish which he featured in his demonstration a try. It certainly looks and sounds marvellous.




  But the highlight had to be Shaun Hill's talk which incidentally featured a cooking demonstration but was made up of anecdotes which covered his work over the decades and his encounters with food fashion that cometh and goeth like the wind. The subject of his earliest job at The Gay Hussar was dealt with by reminiscences of how the restaurant was visited by Harold Wilson and other members of his government though conversely the kitchens were staffed by as right wing a crew of workers as could be imagined. He talked about his career which took him through the eras of Nouvelle cuisine and Molecular gastronomy and other fads and how now we had arrived in the era of Forraged food which no doubt will have its day like a poor player strutting and fretting its hour upon the stage and then being lost forever.
  What an enjoyable speaker he is to listen to. Prior to his talk a figure went up to the stage and shook his hand and exchanged words with him and then sat just in front of me. Was that Claude Bosi who opened Hibiscus in Ludlow in 2000, won 2 Michelin stars for it and played a part in training Glynn Purnell before moving to London in 2006? (see Blog 7).



  I was pleased to buy a signed copy of Shaun Hill's new book "Salt Is Essential" and I am finding it to be very difficult to put down. The book is strongly recommended as a good read.
  After Shaun Hill's talk Lucy and I headed off back to Fishmore Hall Hotel so that I could have an excellent Sunday lunch in Forelles restaurant prepared by chef Andrew Birch. Andrew was serving an excellent starter of a generously proportioned scallop with little bonbons of ham and apple sticks and other tasty little elements. I had roast pork main course the cooking of which was absolutely spot on served with just the right amount of sauce, interestingly and deliciously flavoured broccoli and a side dish of exquisite Savoy cabbage with bacon. A little more apple sauce would have been nice but it was a thoroughly enjoyable dish. Finally there was a delicious dessert of cherry sorbet with crunchy chocolate on a perfect pannacota. This had been an excellent weekend and, as Lucy and I departed from the hotel to return home to Birmingham, I reserved us our room at Fishmore Hall for our visit to the 2018 Ludlow Food Festival.






Sunday, 10 September 2017

11. Ludlow Food Festival 2017 - Part 1.



  Lucy The Labrador and I have spent a delightful weekend at this year's Ludlow Food Festival - this is our third consecutive year and we remain as devoted to coming to this enjoyable event as the first year we turned up to this premier Food Festival. The festival was founded in 1995 being first held in the town square and then moving the next year into the grounds of the castle itself.


  The "Sausage Trail" is Lucy's favourite activity of the year. It was begun in 2000 and involves a walk around town stopping off at various sites to sample and give a judgement on the wares of a particular butcher or the other. This year there were five butchers presenting their excellent products- 4 from Ludlow itself and one from Ditton Priors. Lucy's a fairly generous marker when it comes to judging various types of food but she did indeed show a general enthusiasm for all the sausages that she got to eat. Myself, I like a peppery sausage and opted to give top marks to Reg May's butchers shop in Ditton Priors. The queue of sausage enthusiasts waiting to sample the wares of one of the Ludlow butchers was far too long so we missed me out on that particular sausage and try as I might I couldn't find the location of one of the other shrines of sausage consumption so that too did not get sampled this year. The map of sausage sampling sites included with the £4.50 ticket was poor and sign-posting was inadequate and close to non-existent. The organisers will need step up their game I think given the huge numbers of people in town bent on tracking down their dream sausages.
  The distance to be covered to visit each site has been increased this year and involves walking up and down two steep hills and while I'm sure this is a positive move from the health point of view (particularly as the participants are clearly consuming excessive calories in the form of all those delightful sausages) and it does give an added opportunity to visit more of this beautiful town during the course of the trail, I personally would have liked not to have had to exert myself quite so much and Lucy tended to agree with me.


  The trail's first port of call took participants down the hill to Dinham Mill where the Bib Gourmand-winning Green Cafe is situated. It's a beautiful site, Lucy had a swim in the shallow part of the river and there were plenty of other dogs out too with their owners all looking anticipatory of the pleasures to come. By the top we climbed up the hill to the castle again and made our way to St. Laurence's church where the second stage was sited the promised rain showers had begun but the huge crowds were not daunted by the intermittently poor weather.



  Then it was off again, down the hill to Ludlow Brewing Co. where the participants in the coincidental Ale Trail were sampling the wares provided at that site before tucking into the sausages available outside. The sun had come out again and there was general air of busy contentment all around. This site was the home of the sausage for us. Peppery and mildly spicy it was quite memorable and I confess I helped myself to a little piece of Lucy's sausage as well as consuming my own.
  We headed back up Corve Street to find an enormous queue in Tower Street waiting at the Sausage Trail station located there to obtain their sample of this particular little pleasure but by then Lucy and I were a little too tired to wait for what looked as though it was going to be twenty minutes or so to get our sausages. So, unable to locate the final station, we headed back to Ludlow Castle itself where the main events were taking place.


  Searching around the various street food stalls for what was to be lunch I decided it really was time for me to try one of The Beefy Boys much praised burgers. I'd looked at them in the past but never quite got round to sampling their products. How foolish I had been. I am not a great burger enthusiast - there are too many frankly vile such dishes around to make me willingly fork out a lot of money for the things. But "The Beefy Boys" burger, I found, is as magnificent a dish as can be found in this kingdom and probably even beyond its boundaries.
  The Beefy Boys Co. produced a burger from 100% 21 Day aged Herefordshire beef and in 2014 came first with the product in The United Kingdom and second overall in the World Food Championships. The burger I ate in Ludlow this weekend certainly justified The Beefy Boys Co. awards received by it. It was magnificent - a delicious flavour and wonderfully succulent. Definitely prize-winning. It came with various accompaniments but to be honest I barely noticed the bacon, cheese and jalapeño mayonnaise - it was all about the burger itself and the wonderful and perfectly cooked meat inside it. A memorable item of food indeed.



  I attended a number of the talks and cooking demonstrations taking place at the Festival and I will describe those in the next Blog.


Friday, 18 August 2017

8. More Strawberries Than Are Dreamt Of In Our Philosophy.


  For many years I enjoyed BBC's The Great British Menu. Glynn Purnell's appearances on it prompted me to drop in on his wondrous restaurant, for the first time in 2009. After that food became less peripheral to my existence.
  Sadly, GBM has lost its glint for me and I missed countless episodes just because it seemed so, er, .... boring. This year particularly so. I hate the 4 nights when celebrity, sorry, distinguished chefs pontificate on their colleagues' productions. Why can't they cut to the chase?
  I'm not happy that Prue sold her soul to the increasingly awful Channel 4 to participate in the Great British Bake Off, the popularity of which I have never understood despite friends' attempts to convince me that there is something interesting in amateurs producing dubious cakes and even more dubious pastries all sneered over by the unloveable Paul Hollywood. Prue, Matthew and Oliver were such a perfect trio of judges that anyone trying to break into the circle was doomed to failure. Please Prue, come home. Make an old bloke happy.
  Two and a half hours per week of GBM is just too much. It's not hard to tell which of the unfortunate contestants will be axed by the Guest Chef Judge from the first evening or so and seeing grown men and women, enveloped in fear, with shaking hands is not dignified.
  At least the show has dropped the bit where all the participating chefs get to vote on each other's dishes though it was interesting in the way that the chefs voted rarely for the same dishes as the lay judges did. It certainly begged the question as to whether professional chefs really know at all what their customers want and if they do whether or not they really care.
  Another relief is that we no longer have to put up with sequences where the chefs visit somewhere or the other to speak to someone who has "inspired" them. It really is very dull. All I want to do is see what the chefs are cooking, get a glimpse of how they do it, perhaps have a quick peep at the place where they work and then see how it all turns out. Oh, and to hear what Oliver, Prue and Matthew have to say about it all, witness a little squabble between Matthew and Oliver and hear Prue change her mind about a dish in a matter of seconds once the others get to work on her. I just want simplicity rather like a lot of us would like in our food a little more often.

  And so to the 2017 "Wimbledon" and "Summer Dishes" themed GBM. I was annoyed from the very start that the chefs who represented the Central area (The Midlands and East Anglia) generally did not have very much to do with dining in the central region - thus Ryan Simpson works at Orwells in Oxfordshire (actually in the south-east region), Nick Deverell-Smith who works at The Churchill Arms in Gloucestershire (arguably in the south-west region) though he had done a lot of his training in various places around the Midlands and Pip Lacey who works at Angela Hartnett's restaurant in London, Murano, and doesn't seemed to have done any cooking in the Midlands at all. The chefs may have had connections with The Midlands but it would have been preferable if chefs actually working in the area had actually represented the region. This is just another example of bias towards London and the South-east at the cost of the rest of the country.
  As the series drew to a close I tried to knuckle down to watching some episodes. Most of the chefs produced dishes based on strawberries - well you would wouldn't you given that the theme of the show was the Wimbledon Tennis Championships? By the end of it all we had had a surfeit of strawberries. Anything that could be done to a strawberry had been done. The winning fish course was even served with strawberries and pronounced by all the judges to be magnificent. I'm still trying to imagine what it must have tasted like - and failing miserably.
  I've seen so many strawberries this year that I have hardly been able to bring myself to eat one. That's just how bad things have been.
  So that's GBM for another year. I hope they cut it back a bit next year and drop the guest chef and guest lay judges and just have our trio of old campaigners discussing and squabbling and looking fittingly self-satisfied. Oh, and could we please have our region represented by chefs who actually work here please?

Thursday, 17 August 2017

10. Birmingham Food Geniuses. The Wilderness Is Regenerating.

The Wilderness ... Not Dying But, Like Dr. Who, Regenerating.

  I've just had a very happy couple of weeks - firstly going to lunch with a very good friend at Alex Claridge's "The Wilderness" and then, the very next day, to lunch at Purnell's, the day before the restaurant closed for a few days for a well deserved summer break. Lunching at the establishments of two geniuses on 2 consecutive days is a true gift from Heaven.
  And indeed Claridge and Purnell truly are geniuses though one of them has had only a short time to prove his brilliance while the other has had long enough to prove that genius doesn't fade.
  The Wilderness - the location is convenient - a minute's walk from New Street Station but Dudley Street is rather insalubrious and uninviting. Still once you've located exactly where the restaurant is and you've entered it then its quirky moss-covered walls make you forget that you're you're located near an adult shop and under a grim concrete bridge.
  The menu is presented as a story though I was not entirely sure what the story was though my own interpretation was that the story was about fabulous, inventive, delicious, brilliantly original edible works of genius. The menu, the story, is depicted below. I won't describe each course because I shall find it hard to not overuse words such as delicious, brilliant, wonderful and so on. But particularly memorable - I shall never forget this dear little bird whose fate it was to give the utmost pleasure to an old bloke - was the quail dish with its little thigh so beautifully tasty that I still say that this was the most enjoyable little bit of bird that has ever delighted my taste buds.
  I must not fail to mention the perfectly cooked Iberico pork dish with its remarkable pickles and the splendid rhubarb-based dessert.
  Claridge is a great cook but also a clever and inventive artist. Birmingham has a number of great chefs but Claridge has added brilliance which makes me use the word "genius".




  Don't forget Claridge's spooky petit fours, where else can you get to eat chocolate human skulls? And he has carried this spooky quirkiness over into a trailer video titled "The Wilderness Is Dying" to draw attention to his news that he is to move the restaurant and open it up along with a bar to the building which is next door to Adam's pop-up restaurant when it was situated in Bennett's Hill off New Street. The old, moss-infested Wilderness will close on 23 December and reopen in February 2018 in this much more appealing location. Personally, I can't wait to see what it's like though being rather staid and old I should like the decor to be that little more conventional but then again who knows what Alex Claridge will come up with? Something pretty unique I expect. More chances to show us his genius are coming along. And Birmingham food lovers can only be delighted at the prospect of what 2018 will bring us. The Wilderness is not dying but, like Dr. Who, regenerating into a new body.


  And so to another genius whose history I covered in Blog 9. I've developed my own personal tradition of lunching at Purnell's on the day before (always a Friday so far) the restaurant is closed for the staff's summer holiday. It gives a chance to make sure I taste Glynn's summer menu and also just a chance to experience a great pleasure which is to be denied for the next couple of weeks or so.
  And of course, as mentioned in Blog 9, "Purnell's" has now been open for 10 years. And I'm sure he's just getting better and better. I had the 5 course lunch which is immaculately good value at £45, the illustration below details what was served.
  Pork's obviously the meat of the moment - it was served both in The Wilderness and Purnell's - but how lovely to have fillet rather than tiresome belly which we diners have had to put up with from various establishments all over the country for many years. You might guess that Purnell's Wiltshire pork dish was cooked perfectly and the accompanying tamarind blatjang and the splendid little turnips made this a dish to remember.
  But before that had been a truly fabulous dish of pan-cooked plaice (hopefully sous vide cooked fish is an entity never to have to be endured again) with remarkable Rose pickled onions and summery broad beans. The fish was so perfect and tasty that it is wrestling with Claridge's little quail thigh I mentioned above for my award of favourite dish of the summer.
  These dishes do, though, have strong competition in the form of Purnell's ingenious and delectable "Chocolate and cherry" - the ultimate word in deconstructed Black Forest gateau - with its eminently delicious sorbet and quite magnificent frozen cherry "cloud" which is another one of those gastronomic experiences in life which one should not miss. The dish was let down a little by some rather flavourless fresh cherries but such was the brilliance of the rest of the dish that one could forgive Chef for the vagaries of English fresh fruit.
  There are also some new petit fours served with the coffee and delicious they are too but I am pleased that the fabulous blackcurrent and anise jellies are with us still. I always save these little flavour bombs so that they are the very last element I consume of my Purnell's meal. I can live happily on a diet composed entirely of these products of Purnell's brilliance but then again I'd never have got to taste Purnell's Brixham plaice dish or Claridge's wonderful little quail thigh and how much emptier my life would have been!
  Birmingham is Food City with its great chefs and Culinary Geniuses be they long established or newer to the scene. We are lucky, aren't we?





  And on the subject of new young culinary geniuses, we await news of Ben Tesh's new restaurant and of where it will be and when it will open. Even more to make us happy and full of expectation.


  Finally, the Digbeth Dining Club pleasingly had an away day in Longbridge. Here on the edge of the city in south-west Birmingham it can feel a little remote from the activity and excitement of the city centre so full marks to DDC for coming here and treating we yokels to the pleasures of a street food selection of some variety. The locals - what no doubt Giles Coren would call "One eyes" (see Blog 6) - turned out in their numbers to make the most of the opportunity- there were families in notable evidence and a number of accompanying dogs - my Labrador would have been mortified to miss the event, she just loved sniffing out any food that had been dropped.
  Hmmm...it hasn't been a bad summer at all really.






Sunday, 30 July 2017

9. Purnell's At Ten ... Plus Pigeon.


  On Friday 7 July 2017 a highly important anniversary for food lovers in Birmingham was celebrated. On that very day, 10 years before, Glynn Purnell had opened the doors of his ground-breaking new restaurant to the public and dining out in Birmingham and the West Midlands would never be the same again.
  In his book, "Cracking Yolks and Pig Tales" Glynn recalled how his first experience of cooking was preparing food for his younger siblings when his mother and father were out working and his earliest signature dish being baked beans on toast with some onion and a teaspoon of curry powder added to the beans. The dish would be finished with a covering of cheese. Glynn recalls that he thought he was a genius as did his brother and sister who were the beneficiaries of Glynn's early culinary inventiveness. Those of us who love to dine at his restaurant now know that these early presentiments of genius were completely correct.
  Glynn describes how at the age of 14 he began washing up and preparing salads for a hotel lounge and when he left school he began to work in the hotel kitchen under Peter Wintle and Roger Kendrick. He moved on to work in the hotel restaurant, The Terrace under the Head Chef, Tony Morris, and with Mark Hill, the sous-chef. 
  The next step in his career was to work at Simpson's when it was in Kenilworth and he worked under the chef-patron and father of modern West Midlands cuisine, Andreas Antona. There he worked under Luke Tipping and Andy Walters.
  He worked for a period under Claude Bosi at Hibiscus in Ludlow (see Blog 7). During his time at Hibiscus the restaurant increased its single Michelin star to two.
  Leaving Hibiscus he became Head Chef at Keith and Diane Stevenson's newly opened Jessica's in Edgbaston. A Michelin star and the AA Restaurant of the Year title followed soon after.
  After four years at Jessica's Glynn decided that he wished to open his own restaurant and found an old Victorian warehouse in Cornwall Street and, on a very tight budget, opened Purnell's with his wife, Kerry, on 7/7/07 at 7PM. Jessica's closed to business. Purnell's was awarded a Michelin star in 2009 and continues to hold this distinction. The restaurant's first manager was Jean Benoit Burloux and he was succeeded by Sonal Clare in 2014.
  To celebrate the restaurant's tenth anniversary he held a free lottery so that 15 winners and their guests could pass the 10th anniversary evening being indulged with a champagne reception and a 10 course meal. Sadly my entry, one of over a thousand, was not drawn from the hat but you can't always have what you want in life. I have just received a leaflet (illustrated above and below) which is a rather nice souvenir in itself with the rather witty photograph of Chef outside his restaurant and a nonchalant pigeon wandering by oblivious to the presence of one of Birmingham's great celebrities. If it knew what Glynn can do to pigeons it probably wouldn't have got so close.
  Here's to Purnell's' next 10 years and its second Michelin star!



  The leaflet that announced the Grand celebration dinner for the lucky winners:-


  Cracking Yolks & Pig Tales, Glynn Purnell's first book, published 2014 by Kyle Books:-


  Rib Ticklers & Choux-ins, Glynn Purnell's second book, published 2016 by Kyle Books:-


  Both signed copies, of course:-


Happy Diners saying "Here's to another 10 years, Glynn"

Friday, 16 June 2017

7. Dining In The Capital Of The Marches.


  Birmingham is the unofficial capital of the West Midlands so it's worth thinking about the notable dining establishments in the other counties that make up the area - Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire - some may say the latter is in the West Country but I think that is only true in the far south of the county around Bristol.
  Birmingham today of course is in the artificial county of West Midlands, invented as recently as the 1970's, but those of us with enough wrinkles on our foreheads will always think of ourselves as Warwickshire lads and that's the end of the matter. There's also the county of Borsetshire, beloved of fans of The Archers, and some of us can name dining establishments in that county but, alas, they are only fictional!
  I love to visit other towns of the West Midlands and am usually accompanied by my dog which means I become particularly familiar with dog-friendly hotels and the restaurants housed in them but my visits also give me chance to learn more about the culinary history of the places and to test out what they have on offer.
  The importance of the town of Ludlow, medieval capital of the distant Welsh Marches, its castle looking out over Shropshire and itself in the shadow of Clee Hill, in the modern gastronomic history of Mercia can not be overstated. It was here in 1994 that Shaun Hill opened The Merchant House in a private house which he transformed into one of Britain's most respected restaurants.
  He worked as the only chef in the kitchen, having begun his career working for Robert Carrier in Islington, and the kitchen at The Merchant House was so small that he could only work with 3 
saucepans at a time. Nevertheless Shaun Hill was awarded 1 Michelin star in 1996 and the 24 seater restaurant retained it until Shaun Hill closed The Merchant House to move on to other objectives.
  Although being advertised internationally no-one could be found to take on the business and no other restaurant was subsequently opened at the site but for food lovers who want to visit this shrine of Midlands gastronomy the private house there towards the lower end of Corve Street continues to have the restaurant sign hanging outside as shown in the photograph at the head of this piece.


Shaun Hill

 In 2000 Claude Bosi opened Hibiscus in the building which had housed Ken Adams' Bib Gourmand-winning "The Oaks", not far from The Merchant House in Corve Street and was awarded a Michelin star the following year. A second Michelin star was awarded to the restaurant in 2004 but in July 2006 Bosi announced that he was selling the restaurant and moving to London. It looked as though Ludlow's position as a somewhat unlikely gastronomic Mecca was coming to an end. It is interesting to note that Glynn Purnell worked for a few months with Bosi at Hibiscus.
  However the property was sold to Alan Murchison and reopened under the name La Becasse (the Woodcock) in 2007 with Will Holland as the Head chef. It was awarded a Michelin star in 2009 just 18 months after being opened despite being described as "a bit Froggified" by Shaun Hill to Jasper Gerard in The Telegraph in 2009 or maybe because of that description.  Holland left La Becasse in 2013 to become the Head chef of Coast in Pembrokeshire and Alan Murchison sold the restaurant with the new owners employing Chris O'Halloran as Head chef. The restaurant won the award "Best European Restaurant in England and Wales" at the Creative Oceanic Awards ceremony held in Manchester in 2014 beating, among others, Simon Rogan's "The French" in Manchester.
  However the restaurant group which owned La Becasse ran into financial difficulties and was closed in January 2015.

Claude Bosi

La Becasse

  The restaurant was reopened, with support from the Bosi brothers, as Mortimer's" in October 2015 by the new Head chef, Wayne Smith, and his business partner Andrew Brooks who manages the restaurant; Brooks had worked at the Charlton Arms which was owned by Claude Bosi's brother, Cedric, and Wayne Smith had worked with Claude Bosi at Overton Grange Hotel. The cuisine served at Mortimer's is described as "Modern British/French".
  I have not yet had chance to dine at Mortimer's but intend to do so before the year is out.


  Ludlow had a third star in the firmament in the form of Mr. Underhill's. The restaurant, owned by chef Chris Bradley and his wife Judy, began its life located in Suffolk in 1981 and was named after the couple's cat, Mr. Underhill, whose name originated in the pages of Tolkein's The Hobbit. The Bradley's moved the restaurant with rooms to Ludlow in 1997 and was awarded 1 Michelin star in 2000 which the restaurant retained until it closed on 20 December 2015.
  I once tried to make a reservation at the restaurant for dinner but although a promise was made to phone me back about it nearer the date no such call was ever made and frankly, I couldn't be bothered to try again. The problem was that tables were mainly saved, quite reasonably, for those people staying in the guest accommodation and I realised that a dog would not be allowed to accompany me if I stayed there (well it was named after a cat!)


  Presently no restaurant in Ludlow possesses a Michelin star but the charming Green Cafe opened at Dinham Mill on the site of a former swimming pool in 2009 was awarded a Bib Gourmand in September 2015.
  I have visited the cafe several times in recent years and have found my visits to always be very pleasurable - sometimes just for an excellent coffee perhaps consumed alongside the cafe's sourdough toast (today plastered with fabulous homemade lemon curd) (possibly the best lemon curd in the world) and sometimes for an always delicious lunch, sitting outside with Lucy The Labrador, enjoying the sun and the beautiful view - ducklings swimming along behind their mothers, countless labradors plunging into the river Teme, the overpouring of the weir and all overlooked by Ludlow's mighty medieval castle. No-one could deny this lovely little place, with its always friendly and charming waiting staff, its Bib.
  The Chef-patron is Clive Davis.


  The Charlton Arms on Ludford Bridge was opened by Cedric Bosi in 2013 and is a pub with rooms. Pleasingly it is also dog friendly. Pubs really do look good with a black labrador sprawled on the floor looking dozy but alert to the presence and potential availability of food. Doubtless some other breeds, equally aware of the presence of food, look good in traditional pubs. Having said that, I still haven't made it to the Charlton Arms but it's on my list of things to do.


  Lucy and I stay at the beautiful Fishmore Hall Hotel which is located in a rural setting on the edge of Ludlow and which, obviously, is dog friendly and has its own fine dining restaurant, Forelles. The hotel itself was opened by Laura Penman in 2007, the Georgian building having been restored from its former derelict state. I love to lounge in the delightful sitting room with the dog lying comfortably by me - I feel like a character out of an Angela Thirkell novel.
  The hotel has an area which is called the Brasserie though its role is rather flexible and a bar with a number of rather good gins on offer. Forelles itself is situated in the extension to the side of the hotel and it gives a feeling of lightness as well as a wonderful view of Clee Hill. The staff are very friendly and delightful and keen to help the diner.
  The wines on offer are excellent and the three course meal, with its added sourdough bread (crispy and tasty), amuse bouche and pre-dessert, offers a good choice of food prepared by the Head chef, Andrew Birch, who took over the kitchen at Fishmore in 2015. There is also a 6 course taster menu but in my dotage as I am that is just too much of a good thing for my poor shrinking stomach to deal with.
  Fishmore Hall's first Head Chef was Marc Hardiman and he was succeeded in 2009, having earned the hotel a fine reputation for its restaurant, by David Jaram who had worked with Hardiman since the opening of Forelles. Andrew Birch came to Fishmore Hall having won the awards of Young Chief Apprentice of Britain and Young Chef Apprentice of Europe 2005 as well as being a finalist in the Roux Regional Scholarship 2006. He had been the Senior sous chef at the Montagu Arms in Hampshire. Andrew Birch was one of the contestant chefs in BBC's Great British Menu series 11 in 2016.
  I have dined at Forelles a number of times and it is hard to fault the quality of the cooking which is usually perfectly timed and perfectly seasoned. Chef Birch has a great ability to hit the diner with unexpected flavours which sometimes are highly successful and other times less so. He is currently serving an excellent halibut dish but with an extremely sweet sweet potato purée which to me at least does not work with all the other ingredients on the dish. I have also recently had perfectly cooked lamb served with a viciously powerful garlic pesto which, in truth, seemed far to overwhelming. Forelles is currently something of an adventure but very enjoyable.
  Memorable recent dishes are the scallops with smoked chicken and a white chocolate cheesecake with elderberry sorbet which is clearly a dish sent to Andrew Birch directly from Heaven above. The quality of the cooking is highly consistent and I love the way Andrew Birch uses very unusual ingredients. The above mentioned halibut dish, for instance, was accompanied by lovely wild asparagus. I like his pragmatic approach to ingredients - he serves locally sourced food but is quite prepared to use ingredients from further afield if the end result is the optimal outcome. Sometimes localism of ingredients can get a little silly - I think back to last year when a friend with whom I was dining at Birmingham's The Wilderness was told in reply to his request for a slice of lemon with his drinking water that the restaurant did not use lemons because they were not local produce but if he wished, a citrus-tasting wood ant could be provided to achieve the desired lemon flavour in his drink! One imagines that there is none of that sort of nonsense taking place at Forelles!



  And so, to the Ludlow Food Festival, held the second weekend of September every year in the grounds of Ludlow Castle. From the dog's point of view the highlight of the event is the "Sausage trail" in which crowds of visitors wander around the town stopping at various stations where different butchers are waiting to serve their prized sausages on sticks to the assembled consumers who then judge their favourite. There were six different sausages on offer last year which was a great pleasure to Lucy The Labrador who had her own ticket and was therefore able to not just sample one of each sausage herself but was offered extra pieces by some of the vendors and was also not averse to mopping up any bits of sausage dropped in the streets. Those who fear for her health need be reassured by the fact that she did not participate in the "Bread trail" or the "Ale trail".
  The Festival itself remains very well attended but is, for the present at least, past its golden age. Many of the stands are devoted to the sale of trendy gins and unending varieties of chutneys and relishes. But it's still fun and Lucy does not mind a half hour in the dog crèche while I wander around the main marquee.
  Ludlow remains a place for the food lover to visit and I suspect that all it will take to get things really moving again is the falling to earth of a (Michelin) star somewhere in the town. We'll see. There are people working hard in the town who make make that possibility a reality. In the meantime there's plenty of excellent food to be tracked down and the town is so attractive that the hardened food lover can not help but like the place for one of those reasons or the other.

A group at the Ludlow Food Festival Sampling A Local Dessert