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Tossers Everywhere

Jay Rayner always seems good value for money to me. Not that I’ve ever parted with cash to see him or listen to him. Doing either or both of those is still a perfect possibility as I am often tempted by his tours of the ‘Ten (food) Commandments’, 'Dining Hell' and his concerts with the Jay Rayner Quartet.

Lots of other opportunities to enjoy his critiques and food journalism, of course, with radio, TV and newspapers providing regular relatively free access.

I never tire of his flagrant self-promotion on Twitter but I do rather prefer his occasional barbed posts revealing a grumble and a gripe which usually merits a follow-up. Here is the latest Rayner Rant to catch my eye.

Not too much response came on that one. A nipple-twister was mentioned and, naturally, someone wanted them to be outed. No-one gainsaid the Burton-Race condemnation. I decided to delve a little. Some would find strong elements of ‘tosser’ in a chap who has given up on two marriages and goodness knows how many children. But I’m sure Jay Rayner bases his censure on more than criticism of an individual’s private life and opinions.* “There but for the grace of any god who doesn’t exist...” as Mr Rayner and I would say. And since we agree on that one, I obviously had to discover a different angle.
* Well, maybe not

A visit to the Burton-Race restaurant website disappointingly gave me immediate results.

This is a restaurant where you can enjoy Michelin-starred cuisine at the highest standard while feeling completely at ease.

Now I am as guilty of exaggeration as the next sixty-six year-old adonis who hasn’t yet traded in his stud card for a free travel pass. But the choice of words which greeted the casual enquirer after Torquay tucker didn’t so much stretch a point as lay out a lie and say, “Go on, challenge that if you dare.”

I dared to challenge…. and found so little resistance that all was resolved and returned to a semblance of honesty within twenty-four hours.

A shot across the bow

A shot across the bow

The dull thud of clarification

The dull thud of clarification

Before and After

Before and After

In those twenty-four hours the restaurant gave up at least one Michelin star which it had never been awarded. Misrepresentation could have come from an over-zealous employee but I know that a talented chef wouldn’t dream of being so out of control of his business. Therefore, I conclude that John Burton-Race merits the tosser tag. He shall retain it until such reasonable time has elapsed in which he shows signs of continuing to do much better.

Since my intervention the website has had a bit of further review and the content is, apart from a few grammatical errors, in much better shape. No suggestion that Chef Burton-Race is necessarily cooking for you – but I’m sure he has had input which will add interest to your dining… tinged as it will be by elements of tosser.

‘Tossers Everywhere’ demands more than one tosser. I’ll do my best to reveal some others. This will continue to focus on restaurants and chefs. So I feel compelled to add at this point that I spend a huge amount of time verbally defending the wonderful, harsh, often dangerously teetering hospitality industry and I continue to willingly pay out around 20% in gratuities to the vast majority of establishments who prove so often to be utterly magnificent.

The tossers I identify next are intimately connected to that magnificent world. Like me, they visit it as paying customers. Specifically, in my region, they pay to eat at ‘Winteringham Fields’. And a lot of those are honorary tossers since they insist on believing that they are dining at a Michelin-starred restaurant. I must point out that the restaurant does nothing to overtly encourage them in that respect. The area has no Michelin stars. Even a Bib Gourmand escapes ‘The Fields’. Colin McGurran’s team certainly get their knife and fork icons highlighted in red. This means that they are good enough to be under consideration for an upgrade. Which is why I am disappointed by the regular reports from so many whose understanding is that they have paid for and enjoyed Michelin-starred cuisine at the Winteringham venue. Two Michelin stars disappeared along with Swiss chef, Germain Schwab, fifteen years ago. Ignorance is bliss, I guess. And since I’ve never personally corrected anyone I am guilty of helping to perpetuate that ignorance... maybe with misplaced kindness. I know that staff there at present have the capacity for stuffiness which extends to rude disdain for diners. The restaurant featured on a Gordon Ramsay TV venture some years ago and he was quick to identify the fact that customers were oppressed by over-zealous and fawning servers. Subsequent snippets of Chef McGurran on GBM only suggest that he leads by example. I’m not encouraged to conduct a costly test of my strong suspicion that tossers abound in the kitchen and around the tables in the Scunthorpe countryside.

Having mentioned the Ramsay name I might as well confirm that he hovers over all in my pantheon of culinary tossers. His “Idiot Sandwich” may be a spoof video made in support of charity but it reflects far too closely the way in which he chooses to present himself. It is such a vile image that I allow it to take precedence over any of his stunning accomplishments in cooking. I made a pineapple dessert from his sumptuous ‘*** CHEF’ volume ten years ago. I’ve never felt seriously inclined to reference the book since.

Allow me to introduce the tosser who came to my mind as soon as Mr Rayner got this whole party started. All the way back to late 2013. Lurpak UK’s Facebook page had attracted my attention and I was getting notifications of new posts. I don’t remember exactly what prompted me to try out the ‘Search Google for Image’ facility but it opened up a can of worms… a can of tossers, I suppose. After emailing about thirty mainly North American food bloggers I received confirmation from just about all of them that their photographic work had been appropriated and used without permission by the Lurpak page. It was pretty much open season as far as they were concerned. Even Jamie Oliver’s food stylist and photographer was not spared.

Emails from Lurpak explaining their behaviour as an “oversight” were pretty much laughable. Is it an oversight to deliberately crop out the watermark of someone’s work? Amber Parkin assured me that “… we will endeavour to be more discerning in our image choices and review our sign off process.”

I found out that this cavalier (that’s another word for acting like a tosser) behaviour was overseen by ‘Outside Line’, a digital agency which had already been acquired by Saatchi and Saatchi but was still run by co-founder Ant Cauchi. Incidentally, I was pretty disgusted to discover that they also handled Andy Murray’s digital marketing at the time.

Eventually I was contacted from the very top of the tosser totem pole… by Mr Ant Cauchi himself. His offer of a face to face meeting at which he wanted to explain “… how we work with partners and media owners.” was dripping with enough slime for me to discard it immediately. A simple admission that he promoted an environment where people are encouraged to steal intellectual property was obviously beyond him.

By early 2014 the Lurpak site was unrecognisable. A wholesale review of practice had transformed their Facebook posts. The page was awash with credited photos and recipes with links to many of those aforementioned food blog sites.

By the middle of that year it appeared that the positive changes might be sustained when Holler won the digital business account. “The incumbent was the Saatchi & Saatchi agency Outside Line, which did not repitch.”

I am happy to think that I might have prodded a company into moral and ethical behaviour which had been seriously lacking under Mr Cauchi’s watch.

Let’s lighten up and move from total tosser to transient tosspot, shall we.

A couple of weeks ago self-confessed pastry deviant, Calum Franklin, was alerted to the very strange apparition of his work on Jason Atherton’s Twitter and Instagram feeds. An odd orangey filter was no barrier to many recognising the achingly careful skills on display in a Holborn Dining Room product. The hashtag #analpastry, although off-putting, does seem appropriate.

Someone always seems to record things for posterity. The offending twit (tweet) captured.

Someone always seems to record things for posterity. The offending twit (tweet) captured.

The Twitter alarm bells were heard at The Social Company and all was soon smoothed over. 

Jason Atherton. Embarrassed, contrite, apologetic... hopefully not too apopleptic.

Jason Atherton. Embarrassed, contrite, apologetic... hopefully not too apopleptic.

I don't think anyone lost their job over this one but I don't think it's likely to happen again soon.

Right, I'll be busy for the next couple of days. I need to trawl through the posts I've published here over the last three and a half years to check for squeaky-clean attributions, provenances and permissions given... tossers everywhere, you know.

 

MR P'S CURIOUS TAVERN

 

Mrs. Cheoff and I dropped in here on February 16th 2017 for lunch on our way home from a Wearside (literally) Valentine's Day stay. The lingering (ever-present) romance meant that we agreed to share the 'Taste by Surprise' menu without too much argument. 

Charcuterie Plate: Hazelnut and Apple Salami, Chorizo, Lomo,
Bread, Oil and Balsamic

All on this platter was quite delicately cured and flavoured. Very thin slices - but about right considering what was to follow. We dipped our bread into an oil which was unremarkable and a vinegar which was certainly much sharper and less sweet than expected or wanted.

Calamari with Marie Rose Aïoli

The disaster. I foolishly assured Mrs Cheoff that this would convince her to include properly cooked squid in her menu options in future. What arrived was a bowl of those elasticated bobbles which are ideal for tidying up long hair but get sent back to a professional kitchen. The 'bobbles' were coated in a poorly seasoned, slightly damp ‘batter’. I still haven’t worked out how the squid could be so over-cooked inside while the outside coating was so limp. The sauce at least had a fruity, acidic hit of tomato.
Chef agreed to send an alternative.

 ‘Seaside’ Pickled Cockles, Mussels and Oak Roast Salmon
Marsh Samphire, Sour Cream and Poor Man’s Caviar

A clever, very pleasing mix here. Great coastal flavours dragged from the promenade stall and given a few richer touches with a smoked element and a suggestion of caviar which wouldn’t normally appear in your polystyrene cup… this was nicely presented in a ‘Kilner’ jar. Back on track.

Potted Clatter Dove ‘Royale’, Smoked Bacon Butter, Raisins, Black Truffle Brioche

My favourite. Let's forget that silly old ‘caviar’ business - this was truly more indulgent. Smoked butter was far thicker than expected... and all the better for that. Hidden chunks of bacon were awfully welcome. Wood pigeon was delicately rich and balanced out by sharp raisins. Is the fecund aroma of truffle on sweet brioche a step too far? Absolutely not… why stop short of complete and utter seduction?

Two Chefs’ Braised Pig Cheek Cottage Pie, Smoked Mashed Potato, Marmite Glazed Carrots

Almost a roaring success. This reads as a crowd-pleaser but, apart from the smashing carrots*, the other elements' flavour and seasoning were disappointingly weak and underplayed. So nearly there.
* I take little heed of you Marmite haters.

Tandoori Pheasant, Spiced Squash, Mango Purée, Fennel, Peanuts and Raisins

Again we had all the ingredients and recipe ideas for a treat. Again the flavours which should have come from spices were almost absent. The meat was dry and it didn't help that any suggestion of hot, smoky tandoor cooking was also missing. Our taste buds were not jaded... we were perfectly ready for further challenge.

Crumbed Black Pudding and Mustard Mayonnaise

This was our replacement for the calamari catastrophe. No real frills here but the earthiness of the pudding was given a wake-up call with just the right attack from mustard. The crumb joined in and formed a trio of well-judged textures. Simple, generous and tasty.

Admiral Collingwood Cheese, Landlord’s Pickle

Most cheeses hit the spot in some way. This was no exception. We’d enjoyed the pickle over at Harome on our last visit. It was lovely to make friends again.

Yorkshire Rhubarb ‘n’ Ginger Upside Down Cheesecake

Not the strongest of finishes. Our main concern was the titchy amount of rhubarb. I couldn't identify much ginger. There was a 'cakey' crumb on top but the 'cheesy' section was replaced with a melted custard ice cream. All a tad confused. And the cold numbed any little flavour which might have been there.

Trebbiano di Romagna, Le Coste Poderi, 2014

Wines are usually reliable from 'Pernshire' and our white didn't disappoint. Driving duty restraints limited our exploration here but the rest of the list looks as sound as expected. There is also a generous ginfest for those so inclined.

All in all a bit of a bumpy ride. We have only enjoyed sheer delight at the flagship (mothership?) Star Inn but I recognise that Mr. P's is a different beast. I would certainly return here but probably not risk the 'surprises' which were sprung upon us. Most of the items were available to choose from the  main menu. I'm sure you could find enough to enjoy on a more personally controlled basis. And, as was made clear, the responsive, professional kitchen is perfectly willing and able to compensate for any occasional weakness. 

I'm not here to put you off. Walk around the quirky interior (between courses or on your way to the loo) but be prepared to focus on the food. York has so much to offer and, when all is said and done, Mr. P's holds out the prospect of city centre eating well above average.

Many thanks to our server, Perrie, who provided confident and reassuring advice and acted as a very diplomatic go-between with the kitchen when things weren't quite right.

Many design considerations went into Mr. P's... look for the influential graphics on this bottle from an interesting South African wine producer when you visit. 

Many design considerations went into Mr. P's... look for the influential graphics on this bottle from an interesting South African wine producer when you visit. 

Gravetye Manor Hotel and Restaurant

Lunch for three on 2 March 2017

I have already paid tribute to my Mum on these pages. Here is an update on the little girl in the picture used for that post. This is Mum on her 89th birthday, ready to lunch at Gravetye Manor Restaurant.  

A treat for a special, deeply loved person. And a poignant odd number at our table for this meal. Just a month before this her husband, my step-father, had passed away. 


Here are the words which will greet you as you consider the menu.

The success of that mission statement was abundantly obvious throughout our entire meal. We suppressed our appreciation to below Meg Ryan’s levels at Katz's Delicatessen. None of the other diners would have paid us much heed anyway... every one of them was already enjoying what we were having.

My previously expressed fear that Gravetye might suffer by comparison with a favourite Cheltenham restaurant evaporated and disappeared with the arrival of so many ingredients given masterly treatment, releasing flavours which still linger in the memory.

That's a wrap for all you faint-hearted readers. This restaurant is special. All you must do now is to reserve a table to enjoy the glorious quality of eating which Gravetye offers. 

For the rest of you (my faithful masochists!) here is my expanded, more detailed version of events.

Sparkling Wine - Bloomsbury, Ridgeview Estate, Sussex, England 2014  

A birthday demands a little fizz and we were very close to one of the English vineyards which confounds devotees of champagne by being every bit as good as the French product. We really didn't need Downing Street's backing to tell us we'd made the right choice. This was celebration in a glass. Assorted nuts had been given lovely roasting and seasoning by the kitchen. Olives, too often a casual, almost ignored, extra were so fruity and mellow that they managed to distract me from my menu choices for a while.

Amuse-bouche

A carrot velouté was delicate, refined and rich all at the same time. It was sent from the kitchen to cleverly prepare us for much further delight.

To Start

Gravetye Garden Salad - confit hen’s yolk, young vegetables, crisp brassicas and spring flowers

Here was one decision which I had made before coming. After our meal we saw head gardener Tom Coward walk through the lounge as we drank coffee. I really should have leapt up and given thanks to him and his team for producing so many of the elements of our meal. This salad can be seen in preparation here. It exudes the loving care which has been given to each part from plant seed to plate, by gardener and chef. Dressing was restrained but the confit yolk was firmer than I had expected. This turned out to be perfect. A rich emulsion was preferable to a wetter liquid coating. A tiny orange flower (I'm guessing Marigold) joined with the fresh, crisp greenery and said, "I am Spring... eat me!" Much to my delight, Mrs Cheoff chose and enjoyed the same.

Seared Orkney Scallops - miso glaze, baby radish, sesame and seaweed cracker

The birthday girl's starter choice was expected. Mum likes her scallops. She liked these better than any scallops she has ever had.

To Follow

Roasted Breast and Confit Thigh of Guinea Fowl - variations of leek, pak choi, potato pressing and mead sauce

Mum described her guinea fowl as the best she has ever been served. The gentle attack from allium and lightly treated greens was perfectly balanced by the soft sweetness of meat and mead.

Saddle and Shoulder of Southdown Hogget - potato wrapped haggis, purple sprouting broccoli, mint jellies and lamb sauce

To no-one’s surprise, Mrs. Cheoff chose the lamb. One sticking point... “I can always leave the haggis,” she said. After a lifetime’s avoidance of the noble Burn’s Night staple, my wife’s conversion to and delectation of that element was quite a coup for the kitchen. I was lucky to be offered a tiny taste of it. I politely trusted Mrs C’s dreamy statement that hogget had been made a star turn without asking for a sneaky sample of that as well.

Newhaven Landed Turbot - chicken wings, Jerusalem artichoke, braised lettuce and lovage

My turbot was finished so perfectly but it still struggled for top billing. Crunchy, smoky artichoke skins and softer vibrant greens, including lovage with its celery hints, were great. The 'gravy' was an insistent, rich concentration of all the goodness that is found on the base of roasting dishes. But on either side of the fish were two nuggets (discard any thought whatsoever of meals which can be 'super-sized' elsewhere) of wing meat. Bearing the stigmata of recently removed skewers, they just about stole the show. It was like eating the tastiest Sunday roast dinner in the knowledge that a work-free Bank Holiday would follow. The flavours hit and matched the length of finish found in the finest wines.

Wine - Ventoux, Domaine de Fondrèche 2014  

I had already made a good choice with the 'fizz'. We have been lucky enough to enjoy the Domaine de Fondreche rouge where it is produced, in the shadow of Mont Ventoux. Seeing their white on the lists at Gravetye was an interesting proposition. Head Sommelier, Alexis Jamin, simply confirmed my choice. He thought it would complement the hogget particularly well.  Alexis proved to be the perfect advisor. At half my age and already possessing more knowledge than I will ever have, he managed to massage my ego and cleverly made me feel as if I knew what I was talking about. After more or less insisting that Mum should try the Banyuls with her chocolate, I was all tuckered out on the vine suggestions. Alexis, of course, stepped in to save my fluster with two more lovely dessert wines.

To Finish

Caramelised White Chocolate Mousse - variations of apple, cinnamon and treacle gel

with Sauternes, Château Villefranche, France 2013 

Guanaja Bitter Sweet Chocolate Bar - marmalade on toast ice cream and cocoa nibs

with Banyuls ‘Cirera, Domaine Madeloc, Côte Du Roussillon, France 2010  

Mum and Mrs Cheoff’s desserts belied the restaurant's assertion that presentation is unimportant. They were beautifully prepared but still heavily underlined that dominant focus on flavour. Gels, sorbets and tuiles all added lovely flavour, temperature and texture notes.

How great that hopes for Mum's birthday meal had been met and totally exceeded... she deserves nothing less.

Roasted Acorn Crème Brûlée - thyme, hazelnut and parsnip cake

with Coteaux du Layon ‘Passerillé’, Philippe Delesveaux France 2014

My dessert should have been a revelation. But, hey, I have roasted acorns for panna cotta and used parsnips in pre-desserts. The crème brûlée was lightly nutty and might have been given the appellation ‘Burnt English Cream’. That would have fitted better with its thin crust of Bonfire Toffee. Once again, perfectly judged bitterness to undercut sweetness from other elements. The cake can be described when I’ve come up with an alternative for ‘perfect’ in my thesaurus. Light and airy and refined as the dining space surrounding us. Dabs of sweetness from purées and parsnip tuiles completed the plate and made it crystal clear that vegetables, used sympathetically, deserve a place right at the end of a triumphant meal. OK, let's rewrite that opening sentence for this paragraph…
My dessert was a revelation.

Chef Blogg was visible too. I smiled but did not interrupt as I passed him in conversation at the stair well. Leading his team into such elevated territory after less than three years is a wonderful achievement. I submitted a short tweet after we returned home referring to 'indelible memories' of such a fine lunch. There was a polite response from their social media arm, showing how much of the traditional and formal surface appearance at Gravetye is already updating and developing itself.  

But in all the joy of such a successful visit there was one more 'wonderful achievement' which puts all into perspective. Three days after the meal our chef made this announcement on Twitter. Let's face it, the importance of his few words are worth a thousand of mine for this review. I still repeat my congratulations to all at Gravetye for a wonderful meal but I'll finish by congratulating George on what could be his greatest creation outside the kitchen.

@Twitter, March 7 2017

 

 

All images and content are the property of Geoff Griffiths. Copyright Geoff Griffiths 2014 ©