I’m writing this from our room at the Balmoral in Edinburgh where we are having a swift – if brief family break. It’s a hotel I love – the restaurant is great and I eat here often but I just like the place as a whole, not least the idea that you step off the train at Waverley station and are then in the hotel – a bonus when you’re travelling with a baby for sure.
Naturally, food has featured heavily – Edinburgh is a place for great dining for all pockets. I am great fan of L’escargot Bleu and L’escargot Blanc – the latter was the first restaurant of my friend Fred Berkmiller and is on Queensferry Road in the city. I have to say the meal we had there was the best I have had in Edinburgh – ever.
It is simple food, not too fussy and ‘bitsy’ – refined and a really pleasant eating experience. I was stunned by a starter of the best black pudding I have ever eaten – and I have tasted a lot! This was home-made from duck’s blood and served with caramelised apple and wild garlic. It was in hefty chunks which meant that it was crispy on the outside then soft in the middle – unbelievable.
We then had artichoke risotto followed by Wagyu beef – a big chunk of sirloin which was served piled high with fabulous Scottish langoustines. It was all very uncomplicated with the meat juices served over the dish – the meat texture was great with just a little bit of fat adding to the flavour – and those langoustines are the best you can get. Simple food, not showing off – perfect. lescargotbleu.co.uk
Asparagus is my favourite ingredient of the moment. Our supplier is Spilman’s who farm in Helperby, York, using three acres for three different varieties of asparagus. Everything is done by hand: planting the crowns, harvesting the spears and then grading and packing them.
The freshness of flavour makes it a real taste of spring – in the restaurant we peel it for a refined look and blanch it slightly – I like to give it a grilled effect – and drizzle it with brown butter and rosemary salt. It’s really versatile – we even juice it down sometimes then serve it with langoustines.
Suckling pig is featuring heavily on our menu at The Raby Hunt at the moment – we use the whole pig and our animals come from Taste Tradition near Thirsk. tastetradition.co.uk
Mother and son Joyce and Charles Ashbridge founded the company in 2004. They really value animal welfare, traditional methods and high quality – which create beautifully tasting produce. Nestled at the top of Sutton Bank in the North York Moors National Park, the Ashbridge family has farmed at Cold Kirby for three generations.
The traditional methods of breeding, rearing and finishing livestock used in our grandfathers’ days are still evident. This combination of outdoor rearing and the breeds create an incredible taste. British rare breed piglets, such as Gloucester Old Spot, Oxford Sandy Black and Berkshire are used. We use all the animal for our ‘taste of suckling pig’.
Belly, loin for little chops – with the tasty fat left on, confit of shoulder then the bones for stock. It’s a whole tasting plate of pig, quite simple but really delicious. I serve it with a foraged salad – I have been out foraging for dandelion leaves – the bitter taste of the green leaves works well to cut through the intense flavour and fattiness of the pork. The salad also has forced yellow dandelion leaves and celeriac, almonds and girolles.
I’m heading off to Holland soon to spend a couple of days in the three-star kitchens at Delibjrie in Zwolle – the name translates as library and the building is a former monastery. It will be part of a – probably too ambitious – whistlestop trip around restaurants in Europe.
I’ll also be going to Le Grenouille in Paris and to Bruges to eat at a pop-up called Yellow run by a three-star Michelin chef – the restaurant is partnered with Veuve Clicquot – hence the name. All of the restaurants are in the ‘best 100’ restaurants list – the top 50 was released last week.
My thoughts are that it’s best to look at the 50-100 to find the up-and-coming places – they are a bit less predictable. Good to see some English restaurants in the top 100 –Hedone at 65 is a favourite of mine.
Shared a bottle of wine in to the early hours when Terry Laybourne and Nigel Haworth, pictured, came to eat at the Raby Hunt recently. They seemed to like what they saw – and ate – and it was a big compliment for me to have them eat here.
Over a bottle or two we talked food, kitchens, restaurants and I was happy to soak up some of their experience. Get away I am a fan of Belgium – especially Bruges. There are new flights from Newcastle so it is easy to reach – or by Eurostar. Good places to try: De Jonkman, Bruges Standout dish: brown shrimp and celeriac served up in half a wine bottle.
Chef is a campaigner for sustainable fish – he has a huge tank of shrimp in the restaurant and serves up tempura shrimp for this spectacular dish. Yellow, Bruges – as mentioned above. Chocolate Line, Bruges – Dominique Persoone, the man who runs The Chocolate Line, is a legend both at home and abroad.
The Chocolate Line is one of three chocolate shops that is mentioned in the Michelin guide. Chocolate lipstick is one of his inventions to liven up a dinner party! The best chefs in the world use his chocolate, including Heston. The Jane Antwerp is a beautiful restaurant housed in a stunning renovated church – a very hip place for dining and cocktails.
Bib Gourmand With Harriett Close
By the time you read this I will have celebrated my first birthday, with, I hope, a very gooey cake and a good party. I’ve been on a rather nice stay at The Balmoral with mummy and daddy – this is a fine place to be a baby – box of toys when you arrive and a new teddy all my own.
We had room service for teatime – not just a tray but a whole table – just for my mini haddock and chips! I am now eating very crunchy food because I have teeth and everything. That’s what happens when you get to the big girl age of one.