Monday 15 November 2010

In which I eat too much at River Cottage

When in doubt, eat. It’s an adage that I always fall back on when times are tough. My NaNoWriMo effort is crumbling to dust (my muse has obviously taken a gap year) and I’ve been feeling more than a little fed up.

‘Hmm, wanna come to River Cottage?’ said Adrian.

‘What, Hugh do-dah wotsit’s place?’

‘That’s the badger,’ said Adrian. This is a phrase James picked up from someone at school, signifying ‘that’s the one’. It’s now common usage in the Bonkers House and, in this particular case, was more than apposite as it transpired that we’d been invited to River Cottage by Badger Ales.

I was puzzled (I don’t usually get invited on Adrian’s beery shindigs) but hey, I wasn't going to argue. A couple of days away from the Bonkers House?  Bring it on.  The Great Damp Proofing Scheme has patently not worked; my desk is fast becoming an instrument of torture and, above all, my book is acting like a toddler with attitude.

Inevitably the SP was the main attraction. As we signed in at The Alexandra in Lyme Regis, the girl on the front desk looked alarmed. ‘Where’s the puppy?’ she said, peering anxiously behind us. We reassured her that we wouldn't dare just bring our own boring selves and fetched him in from the car.  Universal adoration followed as we went through to the bar and I could have sat quite happily drinking G&Ts and nibbling olives all night.  But River Cottage awaited.

Dinner was a table-groaning feast. Trust me, there’s not a whiff of nouvelle cuisine here – it’s belt-straining trencherman stuff (but cooked with a light hand). The idea was that we’d be matching beer with the food. Now I don’t mind the odd glass of beer/ale/whatever but I’ve never gone an entire meal eschewing wine. I have to confess I was a little sceptical.

We started with River Cottage Stinger (a nettle beer produced in partnership with River Cottage), sipping it alongside the canapés. Hellfire, they were a meal in themselves (hot smoked goose breast; ham rarebit; sea bass with chilli and garlic; carrot hummus on homemade pitta bread). I liked the beer (enough that I had two glasses) and, having it in a nice glass made a lot of difference (okay, I know that is a seriously girly thing to say but it’s true – a pint can be a bit offputting).

Next up, smoked Pollack from Lyme Bay on a bed of potato cake with sorrel topped with a poached egg and parsley sauce. Accompanied by Golden Champion (a light refreshing ale with fruity/floral notes). It was perfect: hmm, I was starting to see how this could work.

My belt was straining but next up was venison (fallow) two ways (the shoulder slow-cooked in red wine overnight; the saddle with a bacon, onion, garlic and parsley stuffing, wrapped in caul fat). It was served with sliced of roasted pumpkin and briefly blanched cabbage and topped with a bordelaise sauce (with a tablespoon of Pickled Partridge). I found the venison saddle just a smidge tough but the shoulder was melting.

We tried two beers with this – Pickled Partridge and Poacher’s Choice. Which did I like best, asked head brewer Toby, sitting to my right. He was talking about liquorice and damson notes; I think I caught the phrase ‘chutney in a bottle’ but, to be honest, I’d gone past the picky stage; I liked both of them (and had empty glasses to prove it).

‘That’s it, I’m done. I couldn’t possibly eat another bite,’ I said firmly. Then the Sticky Toffee Pudding arrived. Ah heck. It would have been rude not to, wouldn’t it? Particularly as Toby was pouring a glass of Blandford Fly. ‘Ginger beer for grown-ups,’ he said firmly, reassuring me that the ginger would cut through the sweetness of the pudding. It did – it really did – so much that somehow, against all known laws of physics I managed to eat a couple of cider brandy truffles.

So, food and beer? Much as I loathe to admit it (Adrian has been banging on about this for years) I have to say it really worked. Not just worked but, to my tastebuds, worked even better than wine.

Do you still get a hangover? Um, yes. But actually, not quite the stonker you acquire mixing champagne, white wine, red wine, port.

Did I go for the full English breakfast? No.

Did the SP get a long walk along the beach at Lyme? Oh, don’t be silly. I had to be wheeled out.

PS - will report on the cooking day when I've recovered...
PPS - above, the view from our hotel window.... *sigh*
PPPS - the diet?  Just don't, okay?
PPPPS - have I got a clue what I'm talking about with beer?  Nope.  If you want proper commentary, try Adrian's blog -  


Milla said...

oi, fatty puff, sounds delish, but what would Pete say?! I call to you, smugly, from the other side of a bowl of cottage cheese and a glass of water. Yum or what? I can picture your face, steeped in envy.
To be honest, you sort of lost me at caul fat but I'm a picky beast.
And what sort of time away is it where you have to take the wretched dog??

Frances said...

Gosh Jane ... that was some menu. I think that I would have to have gone into training to manage it. Please tell me that the foods were served in sampling portions?

All the various beers do sound interesting, though.

I am sure that your muse will return! xo

Exmoorjane said...

Milla: actually I AM steeped in envy...I am so stuffed I fear I will never eat again and yes, Pete will be shaking his head (and I've put on positively POUNDS)....

Frances: oh I wish, I wish. No - all full-sized portions, I fear... :)

Maggie Christie said...

It was your duty to eat with gusto in such circumstances and not feel at all guilty afterwards. When in Rome etc. It all sounds divine and I'm highly jealous. As for beer with food, hell yes. What would a curry be without a pint of lager (I'm not a girl put off by pints), or pollack and chips at West Bay without a pint for that matter? Now I'm drooling...

Northern Snippet said...

sounds wonderful.Totally agree with you,I like beer but the taste improves so much when served in a lovely glass.
It's like the tea in a china cup thing.
Sometimes it's good to eat too much,we had some time off last week and spent most of the time eating.
mind you Christmas looms ever closer on the horizon.*sucks in stomach and promises to be good ...*

Exmoorjane said...

Mags: now then, which lager? See, I suffer in this house with excess of beer information.

Snippet: totally agree. Adrian serves beer in all kinds of arcane glasses - and even in wine glasses sometimes. Let's not even THINK about Christmas eh??!

Ladybird World Mother said...

!! Nothing like some belt straining nosh, washed down with a little vat of something nice.

Fran Hill said...

Wow. If I hadn't just eaten dinner. I'd have been in the fridge, looking for ideas ...

Unknown said...

What fun! Don't give up on the NaNoWriMo, unless you want to wit till next year when I'll definitely be doing it (Oh? You don't believe me because I've said that 5 years in a row...)

Great blog, it's my first time here and I will be back.

Helena xx

Unknown said...

Obviously meant wait...xx

Sally Townsend said...

Oh the entire experience sounds heavenly from my fave spot. Envy Envy. Pah, why wasn't I in Dorset ?

Wally B said...

There are a lot of great micro breweries here in the Seattle area, and many restaurants pairing with their products. You'll both have to come over and do some sampling. Christmas IS coming, but so is Thanksgiving. God, I can feel my stomach complaining already.

Rob-bear said...

Not sure; should I say congratulations or condolences?

Exmoorjane said...

Ladybird: it was heaven!

Fran: just don't look in our fridge - it is a total disgrace (no wonder I end up eating cake all the time).

Helena: Hey, big welcome - thanks for dropping by. I had a hugely bad NaNo day yesterday but feeling a little more revived today and may well get back in my stride.

Sally: I thought of you...would hve been a hoot if you'd been there.

Legend: Adrian is absolutely DESPERATE to get to Seattle...I know its reputation in the beer world is stupendous. Actually, it MAY happen. I think if he went to Seattle solo, it would be divorce!

Rob: I'm not sure either! :)

Quilting Cat said...

Have wined and dined at the Alex but never stayed, hope it was good, the staff are always excellent. RC portions are usually generous - not sure about the H & W beers, Piddle or Ringwood are usually better but so glad you enjoyed your stay in Dorset, best place ever.