Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Morston Hall, Norfolk - Cookery demonstration and lunch

Morston Hall is situated 2 miles from Blakeney on the picturesque north Norfolk coast. It's the creation of the extremely talented Galton Blackiston and his wife Tracey. I had ridiculously high expectations as we pulled up the drive on a sunny morning to attend one of Galton's cookery demonstrations and dine there that evening. My girlfriend had attended one of his residential cookery courses last year and couldn't speak highly enough of the amazing time she had. It lived up to expectations and surpassed them! I'm going to do this blog in two parts, the first on lunch and the second on dinner.

We attended the May cookery demo which was a 'morning of fish and summer cooking'. The day started around 10am with coffees and some delicious macaroons. We then all assembled in the Morston kitchen to watch Galton at work. It's a brilliant way to spend a morning. Galton guided us through the dishes in a relaxed and informal way with plenty of opportunity to ask questions along the way. It's great watching him and the other kitchen staff at work as they effortlessly make lunch for 25 people right before your eyes. It was also great as a coeliac to see the precautions they take in the kitchen to avoid any cross contamination. Where my dishes required any modifications these were kept and cooked separate. Morston is by far the best place I've been in terms of their ability to modify dishes for those on a gluten free diet. You also come away with recipe sheets for each of the dishes to create at home.

Each dish was absolutely exquisite, the highlights for me were a poached fillet of turbot with tarragon butter sauce and tomato fondue. It was beautifully balanced with the tomato cutting through the buttery sauce and fish cooked to perfection. The fish curry was also great, made with apple, banana and pineapple the subtle fruity flavours really lifted the curry and with chunks of monkfish, salmon, scallops and prawns it was a fantastic dish. Gooseberry and mackerel is not something I'd have ever put together but this worked really well. The gooseberry jelly was beautifully smooth and really lifted the mackerel to new heights.

I'd definitely recommend one of the cookery demonstrations. They also had the best gluten free bread rolls I've ever tasted! Take a look at the pictures of all the dishes:
Delicious gluten free bread rolls
Fish curry with sautéed spinach
Crab cakes with avocado cubes
Poached fillet of turbot with tarragon butter sauce and tomato fondue
Fillets of mackerel with gooseberry jelly and horseradish mayonnaise and
pan fried fillet of sea trout with champagne sauce
Morston's own honey ice cream 
You can find our more about the Morston Hall cookery demonstrations here and there's more to follow soon on dinner at Morston Hall!

Saturday, 2 June 2012

The Hand and Flowers, Marlow

For a number of reasons, expectations were extremely high when we went to the Hand and Flowers. First, was the fact that it had been awarded 2 Michelin stars in the latest Michelin guide. An extremely high accolade and the first awarded to a 'pub'. Second, Tom Kerridge's appearances and masterful dishes on Great British Menu had certainly wet the appetite. Finally, I think our recent trip to Texture, had set the bar high with impeccable service and food to match. The dishes we had at the Hand and Flowers were outstanding but with some little touches missing, I think it fell slightly short of the mark.

It's in a beautiful setting in the picturesque town of Marlow. The pub itself has a warm, cosy atmosphere with low ceilings and rustic tables. The service was friendly but not as attentive as I expected. Rightly or wrongly from a 2 Michelin star, I expect them to be on the ball at catering for allergies. Although our waitress, frequently checked with the kitchen on what was and wasn't gluten free, their inability to modify dishes was a little disappointing. A pre-starter of white bait arrived which I wasn't able to eat and no gluten free bread was offered. They also provided some pickled vegetables but these weren't anything special. At no point were we offered water and dishes weren't explained when they were delivered to the table.

My choices for starter, main and dessert were also somewhat restricted by which were gluten free. Contrast this with our recent experience at Texture where they immediately offered to attempt to modify anything, this can make a big difference. I had the scallops with kohlrabi and beef boullion for starter. It was suppose to come with some breaded bone marrow and again as this was prepared in advance they couldn't modify this, in the end I suggested to the waitress to just see what the chef could do and they did me a non-breaded version. It was a beautiful starter, the scallops impeccably cooked and the beef boullion served as a jelly. At £14.50 though it was certainly on the steep side for a starter. My girlfriend opted for the crispy pigs head. Served in a block, deep fried and breaded this did look fantastic and received excellent reviews. The meat inside tender and pulled away easily with a fork, a really good dish.
Crispy Pigs Head with artichokes and pancetta
Hand dived scallops with kohlrabi and beef bouillon
For the main course, my girlfriend chose the Great British Menu winning dish of slow cooked duck breast with duck fat chips. Duck cooked to absolute perfection was simply superb. The chips were thankfully gluten free, so I pinched a couple and these had such a fantastic flavour from the duck fat and a proper chip cirspness to them. I had the tenderloin of pork with the malt glazed cheek, which once again was a display of how to cook meat to absolute perfection. Probably the most tender pork I have had.
Slow cooked duck breast with peas, duck fat chips and gravy
Tenderloin of Wiltshire pork with pickled mustard leaf, malt glazed cheek and frakfurter and potato dauphine
The dessert was also stunning, a combination of eye catching presentation and beautifully married flavours. A tonka bean panna cotta with poached strawberries, liquorice meringue and strawberry ice cream all worked perfectly. The texture of both the panna cotta and ice cream were silky smooth and the whole dish exhibited a real lightness of touch.
Tonka bean panna cotta with poached strawberries, liquorice meringue and strawberry ice cream
Expectations were extremely high and there was some truly outstanding cooking at the Hand and Flowers. The 2 Michelin star expectation though I think may be difficult to live up to. With mains at around the £25 mark, it was certainly priced in the Michelin bracket. I definitely think they could do more to cater for those who are gluten free and sometimes it's just the small touches which can detract from the overall experience. For those who can choose from the entire menu, it is a cracking menu, really celebrating the best of british. If you're expectation is an excellent plate of food, you certainly won't be disappointed.