Sophia Stovall and Tom Wright are back again with a ‘May Bank Holiday Menu’, celebrating the best of seasonal produce from loved local businesses. Tom will take you through the dishes while Sophia walks through some perhaps more unusual pairings.

This May bank holiday is a special weekend as we commemorate the 75th anniversary of VE Day. As we face some of the most challenging times since the end of the Second World War, now, more than ever, it is important to unite in recognition of service to the nation, just as communities did 75 years ago. Quoting Bernard Donoghue, Director of ALVA , many art, culture and heritage organisations ‘are working hard to keep at the forefront of people’s minds through a variety of imaginative and creative digital experiences that commemorate VE Day and can be enjoyed from home during the Bank Holiday Weekend.’

In the spirit of commemoration, we will be putting bunting up in our garden and exploring the archives and interviews streaming across digital platforms over the weekend. 

We will also be raising a glass to spring as our menu and pairings really do celebrate the seasonality of the produce as well as some of our favourite people in the business of supplying fine food & drink. Cheers!


Starter: Gin Cured Mackerel with Celeriac Remoulade and Rye


4 mackerel fillets
100g salt
70g sugar
10g pink peppercorns
20g chopped dill
40g lemon juice
100g Durham Gin

½ large celeriac, peeled
1 egg yolk
100g vegetable oil
30g water, luke warm
½ tsp pink peppercorns (ground)
4g salt
1 tbsp chopped parsley


Mackerel is a deeply underrated fish. It’s cheap, sustainable and delicious, particularly when served raw or cured. Though supermarkets sometimes stock fresh mackerel, the award winning Hodgson’s are also delivering across the North East three days a week, and the quality of their produce is invariably excellent. We have just entered the mackerel season, so a great opportunity to try this recipe.

Before you come to cure your mackerel, you’ll need to remove the thin membrane that covers the skin. This can be a fiddly job, but it is worth the time as the skin will have an unpleasant chewy texture once cured otherwise. It is also well worth taking the time to pin bone your fillet. 

To make the cure, simply combine all of the ingredients in the recipe, then layer the mackerel in a snug container, making sure the salt and sugar mix is in contact with all parts of the skin and the flesh of the fish. It is also important that the liquid elements of the cure mixture submerge the fish. If you find your cure does not quite cover the fillets, then simply flip them at the half way point in curing.

The duration you cure your mackerel for is up to you. I prefer a short cure of around 2 hours, which allows the mackerel to take on the flavours of those lovely aromas without drying out too much. If you prefer a stronger cured flavour and a firmer, more ‘cooked’ texture, anything up to four hours should be fine. When your fish is cured, it can be stored out of the cure for a day or so, however if you plan to do this, I would recommend sitting the flesh side of the fillets in a small amount of vegetable oil, and dabbing it off with kitchen roll when you come to serve it – this will prevent the fish from drying out in the fridge.

Once your fish is curing, you’ll have time prepare your celeriac remoulade. Remoulade is essentially a mayonnaise base with shredded raw celeriac through it. I like my remoulade to be quite high in acidity – it keeps it fresh tasting, but also works nicely with the fish.

Start by making your mayonnaise base. In a bowl using a whisk or a stick blender, very gradually add the oil to your whisked egg yolk. If your mixture becomes thick and difficult to manage, carefully add a little of the warm water. Once you have added all of your oil, add your vinegar and water, mix thoroughly, and then season with salt, chopped parsley, and a little ground pink peppercorn. I’ve opted to cut my celeriac ‘chiffonade’ style by hand, as I like the texture of slightly thicker cut strips, but if this seems like it’s going to be too time consuming, simply use a mandolin with a chiffonade attachment, or even a coarse cheese grater. To serve, wash the cure off your mackerel and pat it dry, then slice across the fillet in 1cm strips. Plate up with a few thin slices of rye bread, a good tablespoon of remoulade, and enjoy!

Though I’ve opted for rye bread alongside my dish, good sour dough would work just as well, and although both of these styles are definitely achievable for the home cook, particularly in the current climate. 


Main: Venison Kushiyaki with Sloe Gin and Wilted Greens


1kg Venison haunch (serves 4)

Sloe Glaze
160ml Durham Sloe Gin
100ml dark soy
35ml rice wine vinegar
40g demerara sugar
2 cloves of garlic

Wilted Greens
Bok Choy
Wild garlic (optional)
Jack of the Hedge (optional)
½ red chilli, finely sliced
1 tsp sesame seeds, toasted


Kushiyaki is essentially the Japanese term for the technique of cooking meat over charcoal on skewers. Here I’ve used venison and a ‘tare’ sauce made from sloe gin. I’ve opted for haunch, as I personally feel that when cooked very rare, it performs just as well as loin, at around half the price. Should you prefer medium rare, I would opt for the more expensive loin, however it’s worth noting that most cuts of venison taken any further than this are likely to be very tough due to the natural leanness of the meat.

Begin by preparing your venison haunch, trimming off any silver skin, and cutting it into steaks around 2cm thick. Cut your steaks into 1 inch squares, season them well with salt, and arrange them onto your skewers ready to barbecue.

You can now prepare your sloe glaze. Combine the gin, soy, vinegar, sugar and garlic in a pan, bring to the boil whilst whisking, and then take off the heat. At this point, reserve around a third of the liquid for finishing your greens. Return the pan to the heat and very gradually reduce by about a half to two thirds, taking care not to burn the glaze. Once reduced, remove the garlic cloves from the pan, and allow to cool at room temperature.

Whilst your glaze is cooling, light your barbecue ahead of time. It’s important to do this as the skewers must be cooked over white hot coals – you are looking for a big sear on the outside of the skewers, whilst leaving the centre nice and rare. My venison took about five minutes to cook, taken to a core temperature of 38-40 degrees (although this seems very low, the meat will continue to rise in temperature during the resting process to around 52 degrees).

As your meat rests, heat a dry frying pan and add the chilli and greens. When your greens show the first sign of wilting, add your reserved sloe tare, and stir to coat them before adding your toasted sesame at the last moment.

To serve, brush the skewers with a good coating of reduced glaze using a pastry brush, and drizzle any left overs over the wilted greens.


Dessert: Cask Aged Gin and Tonic Grantia

160ml Durham Cask Aged Gin
100ml Water
150g sugar
400g tonic water
Juice of 2 lemons


Desert can often be a bit of a stumbling block for the home cook when entertaining. Without returning to delicious stalwarts of the repertoire such as the likes of apple crumble, it’s often difficult to create something delicate, light and delicious without expensive equipment and a lot of experience in the intricacies of pastry. Enter granita.

Granita is an Italian desert of flavoured, crushed ice, not dissimilar to a ‘grown up’ slush puppy. It is refreshing, light, and delicious, and this version incorporates the wonderful vanilla and toffee notes of Durham’s cask aged gin to create a simple little desert that is deceptively complex.

Combine your and water, bring to the boil whisking vigorously to dissolve the sugar. After this, simply add your other ingredients, stir, and freeze at least a day ahead. When the time comes to serve, simply break up the ice which will remain soft due to the sugar content, allow to warm slightly and enjoy. I’ve served in Martini glasses, though how you serve yours is up to you.


Durham Gin Pairing 

Starter: Durham Gin

This is a complex and unique gin – and a favourite of Sophia’s for some time – in both its flavour profile and distillation techniques. You will have come across slow-curing fish in recipes like that for gravadlax, where the process is drawn out over several days. However, a quick cure of salt and sugar enhances the already delicate flavour of a fish such as mackerel. The salt and sugar draw moisture from the flesh, firming the texture as well as seasoning it. The cure, in this case Durham Gin is also the perfect vehicle for lightly spicing the fish with the gin’s 10 botanicals. These include classic botanicals Angelica, Juniper, Orange and Coriander which give the true body to the gin while the more unique botanicals of Celery Seed and Pink Peppercorn add a more savoury but warm spicy note which make this gin stand out from the crowd and a fresh cure.

Main: Durham Sloe Gin

The tartness and juniper of sloe gin complement the rich, gamey flavour of game, especially venison.  It’s not a surprise that the pairing works and has long been associated with game, with earthy richness, and sloe gin is the traditional accompaniment to the hunt. On that note – Raby Castle, known for the Raby Hunt would normally be able to supply venison to butchers across the region and we thought it was a great way to celebrate something a dish so quintessentially Durham.

Dessert: Durham Cask Aged Gin

Durham Distillery use two complementary types of aged oak casks to produce this wonderfully mellow gin, American Bourbon and Spanish Oloroso Sherry. This combination reveals an elegant complexity which we really enjoyed and explored using in a few cocktails (more on those perhaps another time) as well as in the dessert. The American Bourbon cask offers a vanilla bean, caramel and oak finish, while the Spanish Oloroso offers spicy sweet fruit with honey and orange peel. The combination works beautifully and we have to agree with founder Jon Chadwick & Distiller Jess that it tastes very special indeed. We had not tasted a gin like it, and it is now on our ‘gin’ list.  


Cider Pairing

Starter: Old Man and the Bee, Little Pomona

The dish has already got a great balance of acid and richness, so what you want is something that supports that and shows it off without trying to compete. We then went with one of the best examples of West Country cider done with finesse – Old Man and the Bee from Little Pomona. It’s a still, wine-like cider, not too full bodied, some stone-fruit fruitiness but completely dry, and just a touch of fox whelp which gives a tiny bit of acidity and some herbal aromas. It’s the sort of cider that you taste differently every mouthful, at different temperatures, and with different food, but weighty enough to withstand the mackerel, tannic and acid to act as a palate cleanser, yet subtle enough to be a team player. 

Main: Scarlett Sharpe, Pilton 

Scarlett Sharpe from Pilton is a blend of blackcurrant wine, keeved cider, dry hopped with Mandarina Bavaria (mandarin/tangerine flavours) and Mosaic (tropical fruit, though others experience Mosaic as spice or citrus) and then aged in oak barrels used first for their whisky cask cider, Tamoshanter. Despite the name, it is not overly sharp, hop aromas up front. The blackcurrant flavour coming through really well in the mid palate, bounces nicely off the sloe gin. Classic West Country cider apple tannins coming through at the end, which is always a good thing with red meat as we know. If you wanted to go slightly more classic, go for the straight Pilton – the maker’s original keeved cider.

Dessert : Blakeney Red, Ross on Wye

In truth the Durham Cask Aged Gin Granita is perfect in isolation, but if you wanted to pair a cider alongside dessert you would be looking for something light, fresh, with some smooth oak flavours from the gin. 

Some explanatory notes from our go-to ‘cider critic’, Susie from Fram Ferment:

“Unlike most other alcoholic drinks, the body and mouthfeel of cider and Perry is much less effected by the ABV. Instead, the interplay of acidity, tannin, residual sugar, and the method of conditioning is far more of a concern when pairing. Hence, where you might traditionally expect to work upwards in ABV throughout the meal if you’re pairing wine or beer, it’s not always a universal rule with cider, despite still considering the weight and mouthfeel as well as the flavours. 

“It also means that price in the fine cider world is almost entirely unrelated to the ABV – in beer, higher ABVs usually mean, among other things, more ingredients. Not so in the world of fine, non-industrialised, un-messed-about-with cider, where if you’re making a full juice natural cider, fermented to completion, the ABV depends on the variety and the weather that year, and thus for the same amount of investment from the producer, a cider could theoretically vary wildly in ABV from year to year. Indeed, keeving which generally produces low/er ABVs is often more work.”


And finally…


Durham Distillery

The North East’s first small batch craft Gin distillery and the first legal Distillery in Durham since the reign of Henry VIII – the earliest license apparently belonging to Durham Cathedral before that. Their Distiller, Jess, makes everything by hand, with a 400L copper pot still.

Fram Ferment

The Station House was opened in December 2015 by Chris and Susannah ‘Susie’ Mansfield – who Sophia got to know from her time at Durham Cathedral where the couple are bell ringers-  with the aim of building the pub they wanted to drink in, in the hope that enough other people agreed, they did and so did we! In November 2019 they opened Fram Ferment, selling cask, keg, bottles and cans of craft beer with a particular emphasis on fine cider.

Hodgson Fish 

W Hodgson was established in 1916 as a family-business in the fishing port of Hartlepool in 1916, when it was mainly Whiting, Haddock, Cod and Plaice which dominated the slabs. Hodgson Fish is one of the best known fish merchants on the East Coast, supplying the freshest seafood – including superb oysters for Sophia’s wedding back in May 2017. 

Game suppliers

Though there are some excellent game suppliers in the North East, some are not operating at the moment. We would recommend asking your local farm shop or butcher, as many across the region stock Raby Estates and Lambton Estates venison.

Northern Rye

Northern Rye based in Byker are still producing a range of breads and pastries throughout the crisis, however it is worth taking into account that you will more than likely need to reserve your bread in advance to avoid disappointment.