Lunch at the Rex Whistler Restaurant

There were raised eye brows earlier this year regarding the consumption of rare meats. Not so much those served at our dinner table but those being fed to animals, or more specifically, the inmates of Copenhagen zoo. The directors of the Danish zoo invited international condemnation from animal lovers and campaigners around the world when it was revealed they had first killed Marius the giraffe and fed him to the lions then a month later euthanised four healthy male lions.

So am I about to launch into a tale (sorry couldn’t resist) of eating endangered species for my dinner? No. It just struct me as an ironic coincidence that this controversy began to unfold around the same time as I had lunch with some friends at the Tate Britain’s Rex Whistler Restaurant with it’s mural the Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats.

Rex Whistler The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats 1926–7 at the Rex Whistler Restaurant, Tate Britain

Rex Whistler The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats 1926–7 at the Rex Whistler Restaurant, Tate Britain

You can read more about the splendid mural here but in a nutshell it depicts an expedition to the fictitious Duchy of Epicurania in search of exotic meats. The travellers encounter fantastic creatures such as truffle dogs and unicorns and are able to transform the diet of dry biscuits the people in their homeland are accustomed to with their delicious discoveries. Despite the somewhat trippy meaning behind the mural it’s soft green and blue tones actually make it rather soothing and transform what could otherwise be a stuffy, formal restaurant into something rather pleasant.


Situated in Pimlico the restaurant has always been a popular haunt for MP’s and underwent a major refurbishment towards the end of last year. In many circumstances the revamp of a restaurant usually requires that the menu receive similar treatment. Having never eaten at the Rex Whistler restaurant before I can’t say whether the menu has changed radically or not. What I do know is that head chef Nathan Brewster has taken his inspiration from typically British dishes which have been around since 1927 (when Whistler painted the mural). Think classic combos like calf’s liver and bacon with rumbledethumps or marmalade pudding and custard. And that rather appealed to me.


Puddings themselves are dishes that can be liberally laced with nostalgia. One mouthful can evoke memories of the people who cooked them or places visited. I have a particular fondness for treacle tart. I can’t pinpoint the precise memory which would explain why it is so endearing but it’s one of those desserts I associate with childhood (along with jam tarts and arctic roll). Perhaps it’s because it was a sweet reward for having forced down a revolting school dinner? Whatever it is, treacle tart is something I love and the dessert in question at the Rex Whistler restaurant didn’t disappoint. Here they serve not one, but two slices, of tart. The first is dark with a deep liquorice intensity (a true treacle tart). The other a golden caramel (made with the less intense golden syrup). Both were encased in light buttery pastry and were tooth achingly sweet but oh-so moreish I just couldn’t resist finishing the plate.


You could perhaps accuse the Rex Whistler menu of reading like that of any old gastro pub come 70’s bistro. It’s true that you will find pub favourites like smoked mackerel pate present but like so many of these typical dishes done well they can be a joy to eat. The mackerel pate here was rich and smooth with a perceptible wisp of smoke rather than the overpowering acrid charred scent you get with some smoked foods. Dill flavoured cornichons provided a complimentary tang to the oily fish. My only complaint would be that it was only served with a couple of thin slices of toasted rye bread which were soon gone before even half the pate had been devoured.


I’d plumped for another bistro classic for the main with a skate wing served with brown shrimp and caper butter. My husband’s mother used to say that eating skate made her chin itch. I can’t say that I’ve ever had this problem myself when I’ve eaten skate. This particular specimen was meltingly soft and accompanied by salty shrimps and piquant capers. Some just wilted spinach on the side provided an interesting hint of iron. My friend J also commented that her lemon sole fillets stuffed with anise herbs and served with a mussel sauce were delicious and G said her cauliflower cheese bread pudding and salsify was surprisingly light. So all in all we were very happy customers and thoroughly itch free.


There’s nothing rare or extraordinary about the Rex Whistler Restaurant (in a good way). The menu may be old school but it delivers modern British cooking to a very high standard with playful nods to the past. The surroundings are beautiful and the service is friendly and attentive without being overbearing. The restaurant also has an outstanding wine list which sadly I couldn’t investigate further on this visit due to being on medication following a choking incident elsewhere in London. So if you fancy pursuing rare meats, like the intrepid travellers in Whistler’s mural, you’d be better off having a chat with the keepers at Copenhagen Zoo.

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Life in Miniature

As much as I like making desserts I rarely have room for one when I eat out. This doesn’t mean that I don’t hanker for a sweet little something after my meal. This is why my eyes light up at the appearance of a plate of petit fours. I can always find a small crevice in my oh-so-full tummy for a bite sized treat.

Treat Petite Cover

Part of the joy of eating petit fours in a restaurant is the knowledge that I haven’t personally had to fiddle with them to make them look pretty. Whilst I love baking I have never had much patience for the sugar craft side of things. I simply like to have my cake and eat it (unless of course someone else has kindly added the embellishments for me). Then earlier this year a copy of Treat Petite by Fiona Pearce arrived in the post. My first thought was that I would never have the time or the inclination to make these miniature treats. But as I flicked through the book I was gradually seduced by the recipes and images of Early Grey Madeleines with Honey-orange Glaze, Micro Meringue Kisses and Chai-spiced Palmiers. As Fiona says in the introduction to her book:

There’s an Alice in Wonderland charm about teeny chocolate éclairs, delectable miniature Victoria sponge cakes, button-like macarons…any little treats you can just pop in your mouth and finish in a bite.

I think it would be fair to say that some of the recipes are more fiddly than others and some do require specialist equipment (like the mini Madeleines). However, I tried two recipes which tickled my fancy (Cinnamon Meringue Mushrooms and Coffee Bean Biscuits, an adapted version of which you will find below) and found the recipes easy to follow plus I was pleased with the end result. OK, so my versions aren’t quite as pretty as Fiona’s but this is a lady who posts tutorials on how to make baking and craft projects on her blog Some of the recipes seem to make staggering quantities but you just have to remind yourself that, at the end of the day, they are only small mouthfuls.

Cinnamon Meringue Mushrooms

Cinnamon Meringue Mushrooms

If you’re inclined to make edible gifts for Christmas presents or as end of term presents for teachers, then you’ll definitely love this book for inspiration. And if canapés are your thing too, then you’ll love the last chapter on miniature savouries. Profiteroles with Blue Cheese Mousse anyone?

Mocha Bean Biscuits

Mocha Bean Biscuits

Mocha Bean Biscuits

Adapted from Treat Petite by Fiona Pearce

There is absolutely nothing wrong with Fiona’s original recipe for Coffee Bean Biscuits. I just love the combination of coffee and chocolate (plus I have no problem in fiddling with recipes). I also halved Fiona’s quantities as the thought of making 200 biscuits, however small, was quite alarming. That said these biscuits are surprisingly quick and easy to make and so moreish that it wouldn’t take long for 200 to disappear.


  • 90g unsalted butter, softened
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp espresso powder or instant coffee granules
  • 1 tbsp boiling water
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract
  • 170g plain flour
  • 30g cocoa powder


  1. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until light and creamy. Gradually, beat in the egg until well combined. Mix the espresso powder or coffee granules with the boiling water to form a syrup. Add the coffee syrup and vanilla extract to the butter and sugar mixture and beat until smooth.
  2. Sift in the flour and cocoa, then mix gently with a spoon until well combined. Form the dough into a flattened disc, wrap it in cling film and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour until firm.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180℃. Line a baking sheet with baking paper (I used a silicone liner). Allow the dough to soften slightly at room temperature. I cut the dough into 10 evenly sized pieces then rolled each piece into a long sausage shape. I cut each dough ‘sausage’ into 10 segments each roughly 1cm long then rolled these into small ovals before placing them on the lined baking sheet. Press a cocktail stick horizontally along each biscuit to imprint a line down the centre to form the coffee bean shape. Bake the biscuits in the preheated oven for 3-5 minutes until just firm to the touch. Allow them to cool completely on a wire rack.
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Mutton, Pumpkin & Spinach Curry

Crown Prince Pumpkin at Townings

Pumpkins at Townings Farm

This is a great one pot dish for those chilly Autumnal nights (which I’m sure are on their way) that needs little more than a portion of rice or perhaps some naan bread to go with it. Mutton is an underrated meat in my opinion. It has a stronger flavour than lamb and responds well to slow cooking. It can be difficult to source so your best bet is to head to a good farm shop. I got the mutton for this recipe from Townings Farm in Chailey who will be having a pumpkin festival later this month.

Don’t be put off by the number of ingredients. This is actually a very quick and easy dish to prepare then let the oven do the rest!

Mutton Curry

Serves 4 – 6


  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 3 – 4 large cloves garlic, (about 1 dsp when peeled and crushed)
  • 2.5 cm piece fresh ginger, (about 1 dsp when peeled and grated)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground tumeric
  • ½ – 2 tsp cayenne pepper (according to taste)
  • 400ml coconut milk and 400ml water
  • 100g red lentils
  • 750g mutton or lamb diced, e.g. shoulder
  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 5 cm piece of cinnamon stick
  • 6 cloves
  • 1 star anise
  • 200g fresh spinach leaves, roughly shredded if large


  1. Preheat the oven to 140℃.
  2. Heat the oil in a flame proof, lidded casserole over a medium heat. Add the onion and fry until golden then add the garlic, ginger and ground spices. Continue to cook for a minute or two until aromatic.
  3. Pour in the coconut milk and water followed by the lentils, mutton and whole spices. Stir well then bring to the boil. Cover then transfer to the oven and cook for 90 minutes.
  4. Remove from the oven then stir in the spinach leaves. Return to the oven for a further 30 minutes before serving with boiled rice or naan.
The pumpkin patch at Townings Farm

The pumpkin patch at Townings Farm

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In Season: Beetroot


We Brits love pickled beetroot but more recently our eyes have been opened to it’s versatility. Beetroot can be roasted, juiced, made into soups and gratins and even incorporated into delicious cakes. It’s natural sweetness means it is a foil for a myriad of flavours. It makes an excellent partner to rich meats like duck or oily fish such as salmon.

Rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals this root lays claim to many health benefits ranging from the ability to reduce cholesterol to increasing stamina when exercising. The Romans even used it as an aphrodisiac.

If there is one criticism that can be levied at beetroot it is that it can be rather messy and time consuming to prepare. It ‘bleeds’ readily leaving your hands stained magenta and can take an age before it becomes tender. Fortunately, you can buy ready cooked beetroot in most supermarkets which saves considerable time and hassle.

If you love this root then try some of these recipes from this blog:

Check out the recipe for Xanthe Clay’s Beetroot Cured Salmon in the September issue of Sussex Style Magazine.

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A few weeks ago I posted a few recipes taken from the Bloomsbury Cookbook. I thought I would share my thoughts on a wine that we drank with the Beouf en Daube which I was sent courtesy of Roberson Wines.

Despite its tender years this blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre graphs from the Côtes de Rhone was very smooth. Rich with black fruits it married well with the bold flavours of the casserole. It is a potentially dangerous wine – incredibly easy to drink with or without food – which means you could easily be tempted to open another bottle once one had been finished (sadly we only had the one).

For over 100 years the Duvernay family, who are based at Châteauneuf-du-Pape, have been supplying some of the finest producers in the Côtes de Rhone with base wine. However, a few years ago Romain Duvernay decided to produce wine under his own label. This means his name is not as well known as other wine producers in the UK and this keeps the price down. At under £10 a bottle it is excellent value for the quality.

Côtes de Rhone 2012 Romain Duvernay, £9.95 from Roberson Wines

Boeuf en Daube Low Res B

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A Bloomsbury Inspired Dinner

Food brings people together. This sentiment is admirably demonstrated in The Bloomsbury Cookbook by Jans Ondaatje Rolls a collection of recipes and culinary memories inspired by the literature, art, correspondence and notebooks of this famous set of early 20th century intellectuals.

Bloomsbury Cookbook jkt

You can read a more in-depth review of this book on Historical Honey. As a recipe book it can be quite frustrating to cook from although not impossible as I will demonstrate in this post. The recipes are reproduced as they were originally written. This means imperial measurements (although there is a conversion chart at the back of the book) and incredibly brief instructions which is fine if you are a confident cook. Some are original recipes from members of the group themselves (like Frances Partridge) or their servants (such as Grace Higgins, the housekeeper at Charleston). Others are from popular contemporary food writers like Florence White or Ruth Lowinsky. Jans even includes a few interpretations of her own, one of which you will find below.

Whether you are a fan of the Bloomsbury Group and their work or not this is a great book to dip in and out of. Not only is it a cookbook but it also contains culinary memories taken from their diaries, correspondence and scrap books; details of their scandalous relationships and some beautiful pictures by the likes of Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell. Most of the recipes are in the traditional British vein with a bit of continental inspiration added for good measure. With a little deciphering you will find plenty of inspiration in this book for a Bloomsbury themed dinner.

All of the recipes below have been adapted from those I have found in the book with a few embellishments of my own which I have marked with an *. All of these can be prepared ahead.

Cucumber Vichyssoise (adapted from a recipe by Henrietta & David ‘Bunny’ Garnett)

Serves 3 – 4

Cucumber vichysoisse Low Res B

A lot of people are put off by the idea of eating cold soup but this one is really refreshing on a warm summers day.


  • 2 trimmed leeks, finely sliced
  • ½ medium onion, finely sliced
  • 2 medium baking potatoes, peeled and chopped into 2cm chunks
  • 500ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • ½ cucumber, roughly chopped
  • 150ml creme fraiche (or milk if you prefer a lighter soup)
  • Juice half a lemon*
  • 1-2 tbsp pernod or gin (optional)*
  • Salt & white pepper to season
  • Smoked salmon trimmings to garnish*


  1. Put the leeks, onion, potato and stock into a saucepan. Bring to the boil then simmer until the potato is soft (about 15 – 20 minutes).
  2. Allow to cool a bit before blending the soup with the cucumber and creme fraiche or milk until smooth and flecked with green. Season with the lemon juice and some salt and white pepper. Stir in the pernod or gin (if using). Refrigerate until required.
  3. To serve pour the cold soup into bowls or cups. Sprinkle some pieces of smoked salmon and perhaps some fennel fronds or chopped chives.

Cucumber is in season at the moment so you may also like this recipe that I found for a pickle to with Char Sui Pork in a classic Bahn Mi sandwich.

Mildred’s Masterpiece – Boeuf en Daube (adapted from Jans Ondaatje Rolls recipe inspired by To The Lighthouse)

Serves 4

Boeuf en Daube Low Res B

Jans’ original recipe calls for 3kg of beef to serve six to eight people! This seems rather a lot in my book so I have reduced the meat to 800g for four people and halved the remaining ingredients. 

I think the addition of olives to this stew make it seem quite summery particularly if you serve it with a green salad and a few buttered new potatoes. You need to start this recipe a good three days before you plan to eat it.

Ingredients (for the marinade)

  • 1 fresh bouquet including 2 parsley sprigs, 1 thyme sprig and 1 bay leaf
  • 1 celery stick, sliced
  • 1 large strip of orange peel without the pith
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 crushed clove
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • About 1 dsp each of chopped fresh parsley and thyme
  • A good grating of fresh nutmeg
  • 40ml olive oil
  • 250ml full bodied red wine
  • 1½ tbsp brandy or cognac

Ingredients (for the stew)

  • 800g stewing beef, cut into 3cm cubes
  • 30g unsmoked back bacon (a decent sized rasher)
  • 1½ tbsp plain flour mixed with ½ tsp fine sea salt and ⅛ tsp ground black pepper
  • 75g salt cured ‘dry’ black olives, stones removed
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 250ml good quality beef stock
  • ½ tbsp tomato paste
  • ½ onion stuck with 1 clove
  • 2 small to medium tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 herb bouquet as above


  1. Mix all of the ingredients for the marinade in a non metallic bowl. Add the beef and leave to marinate in the fridge for 24 hours (I actually left mine for 48 hours).
  2. The following day, remove the meat from the marinade and pat dry with some kitchen towel. Roll the meat in the seasoned flour. Heat the olive oil in a deep frying pan or casserole then brown the meat in batches. Remove the browned meat from the pan then cook the bacon. Add the tomato puree then the stock to deglaze the pan.
  3. Remove the peel and original herb bouquet from the marinade then add this wine and vegetable mixture to the pan along with the onion, fresh tomatoes, olives and a new herb bouquet. Gently bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes before adding the browned meat.
  4. At this point Jans cooks her casserole in an oven (preheated to 140℃) for 1½ hours. I transferred mine to the slow cooker for six hours on a low setting.
  5. Remove from the oven (or slow cooker) and cool. Take out the bouquet garni and the clover studded onion then refrigerate for a day or two.
  6. When ready to serve, skim any residual fat off the top then gently reheat (I placed the casserole in a low oven – around 140℃ – for about an hour. Alternatively you could reheat it on the stove top or in a microwave).

Syllabub Pudding (from Mrs Beeton’s Everyday Cookery published in 1936)

Serves 4

Syllabub Low Res B


  • 20 ratafia biscuits * (the original recipe calls for 5 macaroons but small ratafia biscuits work just as well)
  • 50g caster sugar
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • Finely grated zest of ¼ lemon
  • 2 tbsp madeira or sherry
  • Pinch of ground cinnamon
  • A drop or two of almond essence
  • 300ml whipping or double cream

Wine or cocktail glasses to serve.


  1. Place five roughly crushed ratafia biscuits in each glass or small bowl.
  2. Mix the sugar, lemon juice and zest, madeira or sherry, cinnamon and almond essence in a bowl and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the cream then beat with an electric whisk until floppy. Spoon over the ratafia biscuits and refrigerate for several hours (or ideally overnight) before serving. This is excellent when garnished with seasonal fresh berries.
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Brazil Nut Tart with Avocado and Lime Sorbet

So England are out of the World Cup. Despite our home team being rapidly ousted from the tournament my boys remain glued to the TV. Not sharing their passion for football I have retreated to the kitchen. I’ve taken inspiration from the host nation Brazil for this recipe. Apparently they are very fond of sweet things like dulce de leche (or caramel by any other name). They even eat avocados as a dessert (which isn’t as weird as it sounds as avocados are a fruit after all) and I’ve found they make a lovely sorbet.

Brazil Nut Tart Low Res

Ingredients (for the tart) – Make 1 x 23cm tart or 4 individual tarts

  • 300g brazil nuts
  • 150g plain flour
  • 100g cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 340g tin Carnation caramel or dulce de leche
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract


  1. Place 100g of the brazil nuts in a food processor. Blitz until finely ground then add the flour, butter and eggs. Process until combined then add half an egg (which will be around 25 – 27g in weight if you want to be precise about it). Process again until a soft ball of dough is formed. Refrigerate for at least one hour before using.
  2. Preheat the oven to 200℃.
  3. Roll out the pastry and use it to line a 23 cm loose bottomed, deep flan tin or four individual loose bottomed flan tins (measuring about 12 cm in diameter). The nuts make this a very rich pastry which falls apart easily. If this happens just press it into the tin or repair any tears with the off cuts. Line the pastry case with baking paper and fill with ceramic or dried beans. Bake blind – five minutes for the individual tart cases or 10 minutes for the larger tart case. Remove the beans and paper and reduce the oven temperature to 180℃.
  4. To make the filling roughly chop 200g of the brazil nuts. Lightly beat 1½ eggs and mix with the caramel, vanilla extract and the chopped nuts. Pour into the part baked pastry case and bake for a further 20 minutes (individual tarts) or 25 – 30 minutes for the larger tarts. Allow to cool to room temperature before eating.

Ingredients (for the sorbet) Makes about 500-600ml

  • Zest and juice from 3 limes
  • 250ml coconut milk
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 2 very ripe avocados


  1. Put the coconut milk, sugar and lime zest into a small saucepan. Gently bring to the boil ensuring the sugar has dissolved then leave to infuse until completely cool. You could do this the night before and refrigerate it until required.
  2. Put the avocados in a food processor or blender with the lime juice. Strain the infused coconut milk into the processor or blender. Blitz until completely smooth.
  3. Freeze in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturers instructions. It should take around 15 – 20 minutes. Transfer to a tub and freeze until required. If not using immediately you may want to remove it from the freezer a good 20 minutes or so before serving.
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FareShare Feast

Each time I read an article about how much food is wasted in this country my stomach churns. It’s sickening particularly as I know that as much as I try not to waste food, at times I am as guilty of this sin as the next person.

©Julia Claxton/BHFDF

©Julia Claxton/BHFDF

It’s particularly refreshing to hear that there are some people out there striving to make a difference. Last week I was invited to attend the FareShare Feast a collaboration between the Brighton & Hove Food & Drink Festival, City College Brighton and FareShare Brighton & Hove. If ever you needed proof that you can make something from virtually nothing then this event was it. Chefs from some of the city’s finest restaurants were taken to the FareShare warehouse a short time before the event to select their ingredients. What they produced from what otherwise would be considered ‘redundant’ food was nothing short of amazing. Sixty percent of the food on our plates that evening had been sourced from that warehouse – all of which could have wound up in landfill sites without FareShare’s intervention.

FareShare Brighton & Hove began in 2002 to support the services in the city that were feeding the homeless. Ian Chisholm from FareShare explained that supermarkets used to bleach out of date produce to make it inedible (presumably because of some messed up Health & Safety regulation). Although supermarkets are frequently criticised for their food wastage even they realised this destruction of perfectly edible food was nonsensical then and equally so now when so many people are living in food poverty. In 2013 FareShare Brighton & Hove distributed 455 tonnes of food to charitable organisations across the city. This equates to £1.65m per year but this is still a minute proportion of the £1billion worth food destroyed in the UK every year.

©Julia Claxton/BHFDF

©Julia Claxton/BHFDF

I’ve long been a fan of Terre a Terre and their chef Matty Bowling didn’t disappoint with his egg noodle laksa with a smoked slow cooked egg served with oolong pickled lotus root (OK this particular item wasn’t found in the FareShare warehouse), buckwheat crumb, fresh coconut and coriander. As with all of their dishes the execution was highly accomplished and spicing spot on with the smokiness of the egg still discernible through the punchy laksa sauce.

©Julia Claxton/BHFDF

©Julia Claxton/BHFDF

The asian theme continued through to the main produced by Michael Bremner of 64 degrees. This time we were treated to a moist fillet of pork with rogan josh carrot, roast tomato and coconut. The simplicity of the description belied the complexity of the sweet (from the roasted tomatoes) and savoury flavours on the palate.

©Julia Claxton/BHFDF

©Julia Claxton/BHFDF

In between each course a palate cleansing sorbet were served produced by Seb Cole of Boho Gelato. Seb had just returned from the Nivarata Festival of granita in Sicily as part of the Brighton & Hove Food Festival’s International Chef Exchange. His mojito sorbet served between the starter and the main was amazing – forget the traditional cocktail I’d be all for eating this on a hot summer’s night. I can’t say as was as fond of the tea granita between the main and dessert but then I’m not really a tea fan so there’s no surprise there.

©Julia Claxton/BHFDF

©Julia Claxton/BHFDF

For texture and presentation David Edward of Seattle’s coffee mousse with a chocolate base (crushed up Kit Kats – brilliant!) and jasmine sorbet gets full marks. The generous portion of mousse was ridiculously light but there was something about the flavour (perhaps it was the mention of Coffee Mate) that didn’t quite do it for me. I should add, in David’s defence, that dessert is generally my least favourite course and that it was still an amazing accomplishment considering the limited repertoire of ingredients he had available.

It costs something like £150,000 per year to run the FareShare project in Brighton & Hove. Frankly, that is money well spent if it prevents people from starving. So if like me you know that perhaps you do (however inadvertently) contribute to food waste you could do worse than support this charity. Enough said.

Many thanks to the wonderful Julia Claxton for the use of her superior photography for this post!

©Julia Claxton/BHFDF

©Julia Claxton/BHFDF

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Serves  4 – 6

Broad beans are also known as fava beans and can easily be turned into delicious dips. I’ve adapted my favourite guacamole recipe from Lourdes Nichols The Complete Mexican Cookbook for this great seasonal alternative. As well as tasting great it’s a much better behaved dip than guacamole as it won’t discolour!



  • 300g broad beans (the frozen variety is fine here)
  • 2 ripe tomatoes
  • 3 sprigs fresh coriander, finely chopped
  • 2 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 1 green chilli, finely chopped
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • ¼ – ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • 1 – 2 tbsp creme fraiche


  1. Boil the broad beans in lightly salted water for five minutes. Drain and refresh with cold water. Allow to cool then pop the bright green beans from their jackets.
  2. Mean while mix all the other ingredients together except the creme fraiche and leave for between 30 minutes to two hours to allow the flavours to meld together.
  3. Place the cooked beans into a food processor with the creme fraiche. Blitz until you have a smoothish purée. Stir the bean purée into the tomato mix. Serve with tortilla chips or crudités.
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Taking things for granted

You could say I’ve had a bit of week. It began quite well with a bank holiday but ended shrouded in gloom. Two particular incidents have scarred the past seven days. The first was being on a train that hit some unfortunate soul who decided to jump or was pushed (depending on which social media platform you were looking at) onto the line at Horley. The second was our cat, Dino, dying suddenly. Yes, I know he was only a cat but it caused a fair amount of distress in the Bilton household. It’s the first time (although definitely not the last) my children have had to confront the finality of death. There were many tears and my eldest son was inconsolable for much of Friday.


It got me thinking about how much we take for granted. The electricity that powers our homes. Wifi. Supermarkets. The water we drink and the food we eat. The people (and animals) in our lives. Do we ever really stop to think about how these things come to be at the tips of our fingers?

It also reminded me of two books I was prompted to read recently after hearing the authors speak at the Book Lover’s Supper ClubThe Secret Intensity of Everyday Life by William Nicholson and Millions Like Us by Virginia Nicholson. The former explores the everyday ‘dramas’ of several protagonists – like a woman’s search for the perfect dress for Glyndebourne or a teenagers turmoil over a prank that goes wrong. It struck me that we are all so cocooned in the web of our own lives – our work, home life, keeping fit and so forth – that we loose sight of the really important things (support of our nearest and dearest, memories of our departed loved ones). It’s only when a catastrophic event occurs like a World War that perhaps we gain a bit of perspective. This is glaringly obvious when you read Virginia’s non fiction book on the experiences of the millions of women left behind to physically and emotionally support the war effort in the 1940s. Many of these ladies had a certain joie de vivre for life despite the atrocious consequences of war. They took nothing for granted.

One thing which I do believe we take for granted is our culinary heritage. A lot of people, myself included, bang on about how we no longer know how to cook. But there are still many people who throw dinner together without the aid of a cookery book or microwaved ready meal. These ‘recipes’ may be ones they have devised themselves although quite often they are things they have picked up from their parents or grandparents. They don’t have to be complicated (they usually aren’t) but they are part of our culinary heritage and will be lost if we don’t pass them on.

I rejoice when I do see evidence of this knowledge being put to good use as I did at the Book Lover’s Supper Club in March. The book element is organised by Melanie Whitehouse. The club, a group of people who share a love of literature and food, meets every six to eight weeks in Ditchling with different authors reading from their works. Supper  is provided by Oz of Sultan’s Delights. Think Middle Eastern meze with goats cheese and butternut squash tarts, pomegranate studded couscous, minty stuffed vine leaves and the impossibly moreish roasted almond tarator sauce. It was the latter that really grabbed my attention partly because it tasted so good (rich, nutty with a pleasant garlicky punch) but also the story of it’s origin, in Oz’s life at least, which illustrates the point I am making here. She told me that it was just something her grandmother would whip up for her husband as part of a meze to eat while he played cards and drank raki.

“Since my dad and my grandad loved raki so much, my earliest cooking memories all about meze making,” explains Oz. “We used to sit on a big table and share all these tasty dishes with a lot of laughter.”

It is the essence of her childhood and a delicious one at that. These are the recipes and memories we should treasure and share with those we love. Fortunately, Oz has generously allowed me to share her family recipe for tarator with you. You’ll never crave shop bought hummus again after eating this.

If you enjoy a good read and fancy a chin wag with other bibliophiles over a great plate of food and a glass of wine then you’ll love The Book Lover’s Supper Club. Melanie always finds fascinating authors to speak at the evenings. The next event is on 18 June with Crime Novelist of the Year 2013 Sophie Hannah and Sarah Hilary discussing their books. Tickets are £20 and can be purchased from the Brighton Dome ticket office. Don’t forget to like the Book Lover’s Supper Club Facebook page for the latest updates.

If you can’t make The Book Lover’s Supper Club but love the sound of Oz’s food you can find her at Street Diner on Wednesdays at Hove Town Hall and Friday in the Brighthelm Centre Gardens a stones throw from Brighton Station.

Roasted Almond Tarator Sauce

Adapted from a recipe by Oz from Sultan’s Delights

Serves around 6 people



  • 100g walnuts or blanched almonds
  • 2-3 slice of white stale bread crust removed (I used Pain de Campagne)
  • 1- 2 cloves of garlic or more if you like a stronger flavour
  • 150ml-ish olive oil
  • juice of half to a whole lemon according to taste
  • ½ tsp salt
  • White pepper and cayenne to season



  1. Preheat the oven to 200℃. Place the almonds or walnuts onto a baking tray with the garlic and roast for 5 – 10 minutes until the garlic is soft and the nuts golden brown.
  2. Meanwhile soak the bread in water then squeeze out most of the moisture.
  3. Squeeze the garlic into a food processor. Blitz with the roasted nuts then add the remaining ingredients and process again until well combined. Season with white pepper and cayenne to taste adding more garlic and lemon juice if you like. If it’s too thick add more olive oil to loosen up. (Oz’s Mum used to add some water instead when she was watching her waist line!). This sauce should keep for at least a week in the fridge in a sealed container – if it lasts that long! Afiyet Olsun / Enjoy!



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