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Cooked tongue and cheek pudding

Tongue ‘n’ cheek: a hot, steamy, sticky pudding

Tongue and cheek steamed pudding

Regular readers have no doubt picked up on our growing love affair with offal. Over the last three years we’ve embraced cooking and eating the more esoteric, wobbly and less-eaten parts of various animals… mostly successfully. In part this has been driven by our curiosity; in part interest in rediscovering traditional dishes (thanks to championing chefs like Fergus Henderson and Robert Owen Brown), and in part because it’s a cheap and healthy foodstuff. Oh, and we’ve laid a few demons to rest in the process too…

When we were young, our mum used to serve us tongue sandwiches, and I loved them. Despite being a reasonably smart kid, I never made the connection between the name ‘tongue’ and the actual muscle inside an animal’s head; I just assumed it was another odd quirk of the English language. My illusions were shattered when I walked into the kitchen one day to find mum making pressed tongue: setting a boiled ox tongue in jelly, then pressing a plate down with an old-fashioned iron. Suddenly I put two and two together and realised why the slices were round, and curled. Although I was fascinated by the size, texture and feel of the ox tongue, I was also pretty creeped out. Both familiar and alien, one glimpse of the tongue was enough to change my attitude to it as a foodstuff. No longer was it a welcome morsel to find in my packed lunch, now it was a giant freaky cow tongue. I didn’t eat tongue again for over twenty years.

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Cannon & Cannon, Market Row Brixton

As you might have guessed, I love Brixton. I rarely venture outside the area these days as it seems to have everything I need. But the one thing I wanted that it didn’t fulfil was a place to buy decent cheese. It seemed like Brixton would be perfect when I heard that Cannon & Cannon were extending their cheesemongering into Market Row. But imagine my unbridled glee when I realised that along with their cheese loving downstairs deli, they were opening upstairs so that you could sit in and eat charcuterie and cheese over a glass of something. It was like wishing for a pony and actually getting one.

Cannon & Cannon are the work of brothers Joe and Sean who hail from Norfolk and have a deep and abiding love of British cheeses and charcuterie and want to introduce everyone else to these undersung food heroes. They’ve been selling at Borough Market for quite a while and offering Londoners to a smorgasbord of meat and cheese treats from the British Isles, but they haven’t been able to keep up with demand and interest so have branched out and opened their own place in Market Row to give people more of a chance to sample their wares.

Just opposite Wild Caper and Rosie’s Deli, it’s Tardis like in size. Downstairs is a nice sized deli draped in beautiful salamis and crammed with mouthwatering British cheeses where you can pop in and pick up a little snippet of something to start a meal with or to make up for the fact the weather has really been too rainy to picnic properly so far. There’s something for everyone including some amazing spicy vegan tofu jerky in the chiller cabinet, but without being such a big selection you feel overwhelmed.

But if you can’t wait to get things home, you can go upstairs and take a seat and sample a selection of dishes and platters of cured meats and cheese over a drink or two. The menu looks deceptively short, but you can construct your own platters with a combination of two cheeses, two meats and two side dressings from a good selection on the blackboard while there are also bar snacks and small plates and a cheeseboard to choose from.

I decided to be sensible and start at the start with some nuts and olives while I tried to decide on my ideal meat cheese selection. Bar snacks can be a simple thing and they can also be overlooked compared to the main events, but not here. The selection of nuts are hand skinned and then roasted by chef Nick Balfe in a sweet chilli and rosemary coating that is addictively flavoursome. The olives are plump juicy green goddesses from Borough Market and you can see why Sean and Joe are perfectly happy for you to pop in for ‘just’ wine and bar snacks when there’s this much thought put into them.

But I defy you not to want to try something else. I couldn’t resist the hot smoked pig’s cheek from Dorset with caperberries for £7 and after much pondering I finally decided on the cheeses and meats I just had to try on the platter for £7.50, picking the Binham Blue and Gorwydd Caerphilly cheese and the cold smoked mutton and the air dried ham from Trealy Farm over the choice of venison salami and wild boar. I managed to miss the list of sherries on the drinks menu first time round so went for a glass of the house white instead.

The smoked pig’s cheek arrived first and I was slightly taken aback by the size of the portion, fearing that I may have ordered too much to do it all justice. But then I sampled the meat and forgot myself in a plate of silky melting pork fat and deep smoky flavours. It was like eating the smoothest slivers of the best bacon around. I heaped it onto the stunning seeded sourdough from Brick House bakery and topped it with plump salty caperberries that brightened the mouth and allowed me to eat more meat and more butter in quiet bliss. The white wine was excellent (especially for £3 a glass) with the smoky fatty meat.

I was even more amazed by the meat and cheese platter which was abundant of both and came with a beautiful fresh green salad on the side instead of bread. Full of curiousity, I started with the mutton and was blown away. Sean had explained to me that the best difference between British and European charcuterie is that the British version has a stronger animal taste and that was immediately clear. The mutton was abundantly sheepy in a rich, slightly sweet way rather than a strong farmyard flavour. It was superb. The quality, care and higher welfare standard shone through and I think it’s the best cured meat I’ve ever eaten. The air dried ham couldn’t quite match those heights, but was still good, as were the cornichons and the date and apricot chutney.

The cheese held its own perfectly. The Caerphilly was a million miles from that supermarket stuff that manages to be chalk and cheese simultaneously while sucking the moisture out of your mouth. This was smooth and creamy but with just enough powderiness to remind you were eating it rather than letting it melt. The Binham Blue was firm and creamy and tangy but not overpowering. It’s a joy to eat good quality cheese that tastes of something but doesn’t frighten you with its intensity. Cheese should be enjoyment not competition as to how strong you like it and Cannon & Cannon have got a good balance. The organic French house red (also £3) was perfect with both cheeses.

Feeling very replete and happy and enjoying trying all these new things, it didn’t take a lot of twist my arm to try the Stichelton and pickled pear plate with a glass of Muscat to round things off for £8.50. I’m actually not a huge fan of Stilton, finding it a bit gaudy in its strong flavour so expected the Stichelton to smack me round the face, albeit in a delicious way. I was overjoyed to discover that it was strong and subtle from the unpasteurised milk, and creamy with all kinds of flavours and enjoyment. The pears were firm and spiked with ginger and vinegar and were fantastic on their own and with the wine. I like my drinks very dry so have shied away from dessert wine for fear of it being sickly, but this was beautifully balanced between sweetness and sharpness and I loved it so much I forgot to photograph it.

I had to go home shortly after and lie down after my feast, but I wish I could have stayed and tackled that sherry list. Even before I’d left, I was plotting what I’d be back to try next. The place was busy with a welcoming and relaxed attitude and I was very happy to sit by myself and eat cheese, listening to the big table next to me try the other cheeses and enthuse about them and spot who had called in for a pre-Ritzy platter. Sean explained that they don’t take bookings per se, but could reserve the biggest table for a party if you ask nicely and that building on the good relationships they have with other market traders, they have outside tables at the Express Cafe on their late night opening, so you can wait or sit outside and sip sherry and eat to your heart’s content.

I really liked Cannon & Cannon. It’s small, but been thought out carefully and with real love. Everything has great detail but doesn’t feel forced. The passion is equal for the meats and cheeses and vegetarians would find plenty to enjoy. Sean used to be a wine buyer and that interest shows in the drinks. There’s everything from bottles of English red to ales from The Kernel Brewery and Ossie’s Fresh Ginger drinks from Brixton along with great fresh ground coffee. And you can drink as much as you fancy as they also have their own toilet…

They’ve carefully brought the best produce in South London together and created a lovely spot in the market where you can really relax. I thought I knew my cured meats pretty well but I found it a treat to discover different things and try new favourites. I urge you to go and suggest you do it soon as I strongly suspect that it’ll be impossible to get a table on Friday nights very soon. See you in the queue!

Cannon & Cannon, Market Row: Mon-Sat, late night Thurs, Fri, Sat

*I was a guest of Cannon & Cannon. Many thanks to them.

 

Inside the Diablo SupperClub

The devil’s in the detail… Diablo SupperClub

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Wednesday night saw us turn up to Chorlton’s inimitable North Star Deli, on Wilbraham Road, to enjoy a taste of the Diablo SupperClub. Not, as you might think at first, a meeting of gastro-occultists, but instead a chance to learn something about Casillero del Diablo wine while enjoying fabulous food.

Yes, those cunning vintners at Concha Y Toro have hit on the ideal way of giving people greater confidence pairing food with wine: bring a liquid roadshow direct to a selection of the country’s finest supper clubs. This was their first venture north of Brighton or London, so of course Mr North was more than happy to help raise a glass in support. My other half is half-Chilean, and we’re partial to a drop of South American reds at the best of times, so this was an invite I didn’t think twice about accepting. After all, what could be more fun than being educated in the dark arts of the grape, while enjoying top-notch food? They’ve got a great blog online, (incidentally this month’s guest blogger is our favourites, Niamh from Eat Like a Girl, who even mentions our take on her exceptional Spiced Beef recipe) and a bunch of user-submitted recipes, which should be good to provoke some fresh ideas in the kitchen.

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It’s incredible to think it’s been almost a year since we attended the first pop-up restaurant at North Star Deli, one of my favourite independent eateries in Manchester. Where did the last 12 months go? In the last year their Join Us 4 Supper nights have become a regular occurrence on the Manchester food scene, showcasing the best of local, seasonal food. Chef Deanna Thomas continues to set the menu and head up the kitchen for each event, whilst the deli has recently expanded to a second location, this time in the city centre. A great tip for a really good breakfast, lunch or fabulous coffee if you’re in the Piccadilly area!

January has a habit of being the grimmest, greyest month (personally I think that’s February… when you want winter to be drawing to a close and it’s tenaciously determined to stay put) and this was the first temptation to eat out since the New Year. Hospitality from the staff at North Star was as warm and welcoming as ever, and as good guests we allowed ourselves to be graciously plied with canapés and bubbly… the perfect start to any evening. First up, an intriguing savoury macaroon, which paired smoked salmon and a citrus-cream cheese inside light macaroons, dusted with poppy seeds. They looked delightful, and were soon followed by rabbit empanadas (following the South Amercian theme), which disappeared faster than a fluffy tail down a rabbit hole. Just right with a delicious dry, crisp glass of Brut Reserva Chardonnay.

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Our resident wine expert for the night, the spendidly-named Hans Joachin Wadsack (or Joe, as he answers to) won over the assorted dinner guests in no time with his extensive knowledge and enthusiasm. This laconic raconteur raptly held our attention with some background on the vineyards, terroir, and production methods of each of the wines we were due to sample that night. That, plus the wonderful smells wafting gently from the open kitchen, cranked the anticipation up to tangible levels in the room.

First course was a trio of plump, tender and perfectly seared King scallops. They sat daintily on a bed Puy lentils cooked in a creamy Chardonnay sauce, finished with tiny roasted tomatoes and (I think) a dash of basil oil. It takes a certain kind of determination to try and snare every last lentil on a plate (preferably doused in that wonderful buttery sauce) but I managed it, and looked up to find everyone else’s plates were empty too: a room full of happy diners.

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We each had a glass of Chardonnay, and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc to accompany the dish: for me the Chardonnay was more harmonious, complementing the subtle ocean flavour of the scallops and butteriness of the sauce alike. A good example of how cooking and drinking the same wine in a dish can really pay dividends. Sure, it felt slightly decadent to sit with two glasses of wine at each serving, but I kept telling myself it was purely for educational purposes!

The aroma of the main had been wafting out of the kitchen for as long as we’d been sat down: I ‘d (wrongly) guessed at beef, but was pleasantly surprised to find out that wonderfully meaty, heady aroma was venison. Mmm, venison. Proper winter fare… and it had been a couple of weeks since our venerable venison pie, so were suffering withdrawal symptoms. Joe introduced the reds which were to accompany the main –  a Shiraz, and a Carmenère – both paired to compliment the food. My predisposition was towards the Carmenère – I love its soft, spiced notes and it’s a bottle I already regularly buy – but the Shiraz was also balanced, fruity, and worked well with the dish.

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Deanna introduced this particular venison as being sourced from red deer – good to know as there’s no legal requirement to disclose what kind of deer your venison is from – and this haunch had been marinading comfortably in a delicious bath of Cabernet Sauvignon for the previous day, ready for cooking. And cooked it was, to perfection: pink flesh gave just enough under a richly caramelised dark exterior. Venison can be a bugger to cook, but this was spot-on: rested and rich without being overwhelming. Add that to an oh-so-rich red wine sauce, some savoy cabbage, and a wintery Hunter’s pie (think Shepherd’s Pie, but with an earthy celeriac mash topping and venison filling) and you have a stellar seasonal selection on a plate.

Finally, we got introduced to the dessert wine – the Casillero del Diablo Late Harvest – which is a newly introduced line in the UK (so new I couldn’t even link to it on their website). I don’t really do dessert wines, but every time I get persuaded to try a dessert wine with an appropriate sweet, I remind myself I appreciate the combination more than I think I do. This was no exception: the dessert was an Blood Orange tart, which quivered and shivered coyly on the plate. The mix of sweet and bitter riffed brilliantly with the concentrated, rich flavour of the wine, and added a welcome burst of late summer sunshine to the dark environs of south Manchester.

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Thanks to Briony and Joe from Casillero del Diablo for the wine and wisdom; Deanna, and Ben in the kitchen for the fantastic food; and smiling service from Adam, Jenny and the rest of the staff. A really great night, with plenty of sparkle, humour and gastronomic pleasures!

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I should also mention that Ben, the chef at North Star Deli, is one third of Team ‘Northern Stars’ on BBC2’s food quiz ‘A Question of Taste‘, alongside myself and SJ from Porcus.  We got on so well together that North Star Deli and North/South Food will be teaming up for next month’s ‘JoinUs4Supper’ on February 23rd. We’re hugely excited about this, and will be announcing more details very soon!

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Vive la fromage!

A few weeks ago we got an invite to attend a wine and cheese tasting in Manchester, as part of an education campaign for Vive le Cheese, which aims to get us Brits enjoying the pleasures of French fromage. Needless to say it didn’t take much arm-twisting to get me to sample cheeses (and quaff wine too) so I made a beeline for the Soup Kitchen in Manchester’s Northern Quarter to check out the ‘chewtorial’ last Tuesday (or should that be Chewsday?)


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Buckfast sorbet…

Alcohol, sugar, caffeine, ice… it’s Buckfast sorbet!

Buckfast may be made in the bucolic countryside of Devon, but its spiritual home is Scotland and Northern Ireland. A bottle or two of ‘Buckie‘ on a night out is a rite of passage for under-age drinkers when growing up either side of the Irish Sea. So it made perfect sense that since Mister North and Miss South are half Scottish, but raised in Belfast they would rise to the challenge of using up the leftover tonic wine from Burns’ NightRead more