Cumbrian values at the George and Dragon

This article was also published in the Financial Times. Shortly after I married my Cumbrian wife 30 years ago, I learnt of two particular challenges that continue to face chefs in this particularly verdant county that stretches from the southern Lake District to the Scottish border. The first is that size matters. Cumbrians, I learnt, do not like to see the plate underneath whatever dish they have ordered: the food has to be substantial. And however well they have eaten, there is invariably a hefty appetite for dessert, the part…






Nick is back – via north Kent

This article was also published in the Financial Times. I have, perhaps not surprisingly for someone who has been at home recovering from surgery, been dreaming about restaurants a great deal over the past three months. Not specific restaurants, and not restaurants in the Platonic sense – great food and wine but no bill even if they are the stuff of dreams – but rather the bustling, sociable and human side of restaurants. And while in the past I have occasionally gone to sleep thinking about my last restaurant meal,…






The splendours of Seasalter

This article was also published in the Financial Times. After we had all devoured four very different appetisers – a plate of authentic pork scratchings; cubes of herring on soda bread wedged together by an apple jelly; and two local oysters dishes, one based on wild oysters – our heavily pregnant waitress approached our table with a smile and two more small dishes. ‘Steve says you’re having lamb later and he doesn’t like to waste anything,’ she explained, as she lay down the dishes that contained small cubes of devilled…






Fat Duck – a journey not a meal

I left my third meal at The Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire, somewhat the poorer financially but with such strong memories of what proved to be not only the best meal I have ever enjoyed there but probably the most exciting meal I have ever eaten. And I can still enjoy four tangible memories of the four hours we spent at the table. The first is the bag of sweets that you choose from an intricate sweet trolley that is wheeled to your table at the end of the meal…






Great Country Pubs in South-West England – 2004

Great Country Pubs in South-West England – 2004 A brief version of Cobbett’s Rural Rides across south west England and the Cotswolds recently left me with the impression that the gastro-pub is flourishing in the country as much as in town. Not only are many in highly capable hands hands but there is now a two way traffic between the ambitious kitchens of town and country. The lure of rural life with its closer proximity to suppliers is inducing many chefs to leave ‘the smoke’ thereby raising standards in many…






The Old Spot, Somerset

The Old Spot, Somerset – 2007 The Old Spot in Wells, Somerset, boasts Ian Bates’s excellent cooking and possibly the most spectacular view of any restaurant anywhere. The restaurant industry equivalent of which comes first, the chicken or the egg, also involves two ingredients which are often just as difficult as the original to entangle. Which is more important to a really memorable restaurant, a good chef or a wonderful location? There are numerous examples of exceptional restaurants where it is impossible to disentangle this association. Would Jeremy Lee’s cooking…






The Vineyard at Stockross

The Vineyard at Stockross – 2005 Sir Peter Michael was one of the first to challenge one of the few maxims common to both the wine and restaurant worlds, that to make a small fortune in either it was necessary to start with a large one, on both sides of the Atlantic. Initially successful in IT and then commercial radio, Sir Peter established a hugely successful eponymous winery on the border of Sonoma and the Napa Valley and in the UK has invested heavily in The Vineyard at Stockcross in…






The West House at Biddenden

The West House at Biddenden – 2005 As we set off on the nine mile journey from Ashford International train station to The West House in Biddenden, Kent, the scene which unfolded before us was fairly typical, according to my friend who has lived around here for the past 25 years. It was raining. The scenery, once we deserted the main roads, was stunning, still deserving in many instances of the county’s epithet as ‘the garden of England’. Biddenden is no more than three miles from the splendours of the…






Wilting in Wiltshire

Wilting in Wiltshire – 2001 I am not an aggressive man but I had made one point very clear to the rest of my family. If they did not treat me with due respect I would take them away for a weekend in the British countryside. Over the past few months of course nothing has seemed less exciting. The combination of flooding, foot and mouth and unseasonably cold weather has been enough to put off all but the most intrepid. Yet even for a family of townies there does come…






The Helyar Arms and other country pubs with good food

The Helyar Arms and other country pubs with good food – 2003 The car park of the The Helyar Arms in East Coker, three miles from Yeovil Junction, Somerset, separates two quintessentially English buildings. On the right, what was originally built about 400 years ago as an apple store today houses an authentic wooden skittle alley to which successive teams of men repair to compete with their pint glasses. On the left, dating back to 1456, is the pub with five far more modern bedrooms. Its interior is so idyllic…