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fore rib of beef

Forearmed and fore-ribbed: Christmas beef

 

fore rib of beefAt the end of the festive season, on the twelth day of Christmas, it’s as good time as any to write up our Yuletide dinner… our first since starting the blog in early 2010.

With both of us back at the family home this year there’d been some debate about what the main dish should be. As a family we’re not traditionalists, and rather enjoy Christmas dinner being an excuse to indulge in a quality meal, regardless of convention. Last time it was a fantastic shoulder of lamb, and this we we plumped for forerib of beef, ordered a month in advance from McKee’s farm shop in the Craigantlet Hills above Belfast. This is beef from their own farm, and they’re proud of the provenence and hanging of their meat. Rightly so. Might you, we had a bit of concern that Northern Ireland’s coldest winter for decades could wreck havoc with the mission to pick up the joint, but it’ll take more than that to stop our family from a prime bit of beef. And this was one serious a cut of meat, clocking at a shade under 6kg. That’s a 50p piece next it in this photo.

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Outside the Duck Egg Café on Coldharbour Lane, Brixton

The Duck Egg, Brixton

Outside the Duck Egg Café on Coldharbour Lane, Brixton

Thanks to the lovely (and informative) iheartbrixton on Twitter, news reached me that the premises that used to be Honest Foods and latterly the Burning Bread Cafe on Coldharbour Lane has been reborn as The Duck Egg Cafe. So when hunger struck while the fridge was empty this Saturday morning it seemed like a good excuse to go and try it out…

The cafe is so newly opened that there’s no sign out front declaring it, but the whitewashed tables and chairs and light interior make it inviting enough that you’ll want to go in anyway. We went about 11.30 and had to queue for about 5 minutes for a table, but didn’t mind too much as it gave us time to peruse the menu.

There is a good choice between breakfast dishes (which I think are served all day) and an ‘everyday’ selection of dishes. I had my mind on breakfast though and now can’t remember what most of the other dishes actually were, but did note that they do a Sunday roast too which sounds promising.

The breakfast menus is extensive, but won’t be for you if you don’t eat eggs. Pretty much everyone comes with eggs, but the twist is that you can choose between hen’s eggs or duck eggs even with your fry up. I narrowed it down to a choice between eggs Florentine and eggs Forestier, having established I wasn’t in the mood for anything with scrambled egg or smoked salmon. A moment of rock, paper, scissors with myself meant I went for the eggs Forestier in the end. This is poached egg on English muffin and grilled Portobello mushroom with hollandaise sauce, grilled tomato and a hash brown on the side and sounded just the ticket for a Saturday morning treat, especially with a cup of tea on the side.

G went for a double Full English with extra hash brown and a cappuccino. The waitress was pleasant, but didn’t ask whether we wanted duck or hen’s egg. We forget to state that we wanted duck eggs and then had to go up to the counter to request them before she placed the order. Between all of us it seemed a bit disorganised. But our drinks arrived promptly. My tea was good and strong and G was very pleased with his cappuccino which was made with Illy coffee. We also rather liked the fact the cutlery came wrapped in duck egg blue napkins.

Although it was busy, we didn’t have to wait too long for our food, but we were disappointed to see that our eggs were hen’s eggs rathe then the larger duck eggs we had requested. The waitress was off serving someone else before we could complain and we decided to just go with it.

Both plates of food were attractively served, but I was a bit let down to see that my eggs had the shape of a poacher rather than being done ‘freehand’ in water. The yolks were also overcooked for my liking and the mushroom and muffin missed the extra lubrication a bit. Apart from this, it was a lovely plate of food. The big flat mushrooms were tasty and juicy, the hollandaise was appeared to be homemade and the grilled tomato was beautifully ripe and packed with flavour. If the yolks had been runnier, this would have been just a perfect breakfast.

G’s fry up looked great and the plate was groaning. The sausages looked to be good quality and he said they were very tasty, as was the bacon. His fried eggs were much runnier and more appealing than my poached numbers and he had lots of wholemeal toast on the side. The one disappointment of the fry up was the beans which looked rather watery and made the toast a bit soggy. He also thought the HP sauce wasn’t the real deal despite being in the square bottle and that the ketchup wasn’t Heinz (although it was a Heinz bottle). This wasn’t per se a criticism as he thought the ketchup was nicer than regular old Heinz and since G is the condiment king, I’m inclined to trust his word!

We both cleared our plates and enjoyed the food immensely, but we did remind our waitress as she cleared the plates that we hadn’t got the duck eggs to make sure we weren’t charged the extra for them. Each dish has a one pound surcharge for these larger eggs. She was pleasant and slightly embarrassed by the mistake, saying it had been a kitchen mix up.

When it came to paying the bill, we had been charged the slightly higher price and we decided to pay the £6.50 for mine and the £7.95 (plus £1 for the hash brown) for G’s double fry up, remind them we hadn’t had the duck egg and leave the £2 extra as a tip since they were pleasant about the mistake and we generally felt the food was good quality and the coffee was excellent (although note that only regular tea and coffee are included in the price of a breakfast). They apologised again and seemed pleased with the tip and lack of fuss about the small error. This was only the second weekend they’d been open so we felt kindly toward them finding their feet and since I enjoyed it so much I’ll be back fairly soon, I’ll be able to see how things progress.

If you’re in the mood for a breakfast that feels like a bit of a luxury of a morning then The Duck Egg is a great spot. It is more expensive than The Phoenix across the road, but the ingredients are better quality and the vibe is moe upmarket plus it offers fancier coffee and a range of fresh juices. I think the two will compliment each just fine, but I hope The Duck Egg doesn’t succumb to the bad luck that seems to afflict this particular spot as I think it’s a great addition to Brixton.

PS: I’ve been back several times since and had duck eggs every time. I love the poached eggs on toast as a simple breakfast, but can’t resist their homemade hash browns for a treat. I love The Duck Egg. It’s bedded in very well!

Frittata? That’d be lovely, ta…

Onion, potato and tomato frittata

“Frittata, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Free-ta-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Free. Ta. Ta.”*

A long time ago I was deeply influenced by the writing of Marcella Hazan. She was, and remains, one of my favourite food writers; not just for her playful tone and homely style, but also for her authoritative standing on all things Italian-American. Our family used to holiday regularly in Italy when we were growing up, so the palates of Miss South and myself were honed through years of exposure to appreciate in simple yet perfect Mediterranean staples and delicacies. A Marcella cookbook or two always stood, well thumbed, on the kitchen bookshelf, and I’ve upheld this tradition since living here in England. I was given “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” many moons ago, and almost immediately alighted on the chapter on frittate. I fell in love and I’ve not looked back since.

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