Ready to travel

DonQui is on his way to Tanzania in a few days time.

So he is off to the Fleet Street clinic. This is where he goes whenever he need to be poked, prodded, jabbed, inoculated or otherwise medicated to prevent him from picking up any nasty tropical diseases.

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Friendly, knowledgeable and efficient they are better than your average Vet. They keep his inoculation records, remind him if he needs a booster and give good advice on what he should have and what he could do without.

He knows he must take his yellow international inoculation card with him and that the Tanzanian authorities will check to see if it is up to date for Yellow Fever. Fortunately DonQui does not need any nasty needles this time. All he requires is some Malarone to protect against Malaria. Malarone may be a wee bit expensive but it does not give him any side effects. Some people, not least the British Army, still use Lariam which is cheap and only requires one pill a week rather than one every day. However it does have some very nasty side effects and therefore DonQui stays well clear of it.

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The Fleet Street Clinic also shares premises with an optometrist and DonQui thinks that the antique chair on display looks rather scary. He is not sure he would want an eye test there.

Then DonQui stocks up on US dollars at the Post Office where they do not charge commission. He knows you can get a visa on arrival at the airport but it costs $50 — cash only and no change given. Taxis from the airport in Dar Es Salaam operate a flat rate also in US dollars only. There is no point in taking anything larger than a $20 bill but a few smaller denomination notes can come in handy. Tanzanian shillings cannot be obtained in advance but DonQui has found them easy to obtain from local bank machines — or ATMs.

The Sail Loft Southwold

Duchess has a surprise for DonQui. It involves food and drink as she knows what he likes. It also appears to be something new, something DonQui has not yet tried.

Now DonQui is firmly of the option that the food in Suffolk is amongst the best to be had in England. Fresh and locally sourced, it may not have the international variety one can find in London but the quality and value for money are simply outstanding.

Being the sort of animal who constantly seeks out all the best pastures, DonQui had assumed that he had sampled all there was to be had close to his home paddock. Imagine his surprise, therefore,when Duchess leads him to a new place just beyond the sand dunes of the Southwold beach.

Sail Loft Southwold

Sail Loft in Southwold opened a few months ago, after renovating an old Italian restaurant that had been closed for years. DonQui’s initial impression is very positive.

Yes it had an inevitable nautical look but it was done in a very tasteful way without any fishing nets, faux pirate junk, nor any other kind of tourist tat. Instead there was lots of distressed, reclaimed wood which gave a modern and comfortably casual up-market atmosphere.

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DonQui’s mane stood up in delight when he saw the rather good wines and the seasonal specials on offer.

Sail Loft menu

Despite the nautical name this was not the sort of place for sea-side holiday fish and chips!

crispy beef

A plate of crispy salt and pepper beef with carrot, radish and coriander serves as a shared starter. It is out of the ordinary and very tasty indeed. More than enough for two to share, it serves admirably to keep the wolf away while waiting for the main course and sipping on a most excellent Argentinian Malbec. The wine is a bit on the expensive side for Suffolk (although it would be a bargain in London) and DonQui appreciates the option of a glass, a carafe or a bottle.

partridge

The main courses are roast partridge with root vegetables and a blueberry sauce, for DonQui; slow cooked Blythburgh pork belly with red cabbage, roast potatoes and cider gravy for Duchess. Both are exquisite. Autumn is game season and DonQui can rarely resist a game option when it is on the menu. Some game birds can, however, be a bit on the tough side. This one however is succulent and perfectly cooked. The sweetness of the blueberries in the sauce is a perfect counter-point to the full flavour of the game bird.

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Blythburgh pork, from just across the river from Southwold is becoming increasingly sought after and DonQui has seen it on menus in several London restaurants. How much better to have it close to home just a few miles from where the pigs are reared? It is ’melt in the mouth’ tender and full of delicious taste. The red cabbage, cooked with apple, is a perfect compliment. DonQui’s only criticism is that by serving the pork belly on top of the red cabbage the lovely cider gravy became lost in the cabbage. The latter does not need it, while the pork is a little on the dry side without. This is fixed when the chef provides a jug of extra gravy on request.

Desert is a shared ‘autumn fruit mess’ — a seasonal variant on Eton Mess (non Brits may have to look this up). Figs, apples and blackberries are the fruit and they worked brilliantly together with the cream and broken up meringue. DonQui tucks into it with such delight that he completely forgot about taking photos!

DonQui will most definitely be going back!

A Corner of Italy in London

By now readers will be well aware of the large role breakfast plays in DonQui’s life. When he is in London, his breakfast of choice is often a croissant with fresh pressed orange juice and a large milky coffee at Il Molino on Battersea Park Rd.

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With the world being colonised by identikit coffee shops DonQui is very happy whenever he finds a good independent. The furnishings are a delightful mishmash of distressed wood tables (none of them matching) with a bar under the window covered with newspapers and a few seats outside. Various Italian food stuffs are stacked on shelves around the walls both for decoration and purchase.
The staff are young, friendly, and mostly Italian. They approach their work and customer service with that typical southern European insouciance which DonQui rather likes. There is none of this ghastly American: ‘how may I help you’ or ‘have a nice day’ — or worst of all when the servers tell DonQui their name in hope of getting a better tip. Not likely – it only makes him more curmudgeonly!

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Il Molino, therefore, is not a place to come if you are in a rush — there are plenty other places for those who prefer cold efficiency or saccharine over-exaggerated friendliness. Il Molino is a place to come and have something to eat and drink, read the paper, watch the world go by or maybe get the laptop or pad out to do a little work. Just like in France or Italy, for the price of a single coffee you can stay all day.
The coffee is excellent as are the various pastries. They also have a deli counter with items more suitable for a light lunch. These look good but as DonQui has not yet sampled any, he cannot vouch for them. There is music in the background but not too loud. With the likes of the Who, Pink Floyd, and Rolling Stones on the play list last time he was there, it is the kind of music DonQui approves of.
Although it has a youngish, slightly trendy vibe the customer base is as eclectic as the furniture. They may be an old man sitting in the corner with a paper, a couple of yummy mummies with tots in tow, an urban professional playing with his iphone, and workers dropping in from a nearby building site. No bearded hipsters, however — after all, this is Battersea not Shoreditch.

The Most Beautiful Bridge in London

In DonQui’s opinion it is not Tower Bridge – although it is pretty impressive.

It is certainly not London Bridge, which is in Arizona.

Waterloo Bridge

Neither is it Waterloo Bridge, despite the Kinks’ eulogy and the rather magnificent views.

Albert Bridge

In DonQui’s view it is Albert Bridge which has to take top spot

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He always feels inspired whenever he sees it or crosses between Battersea and Chelsea

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And if he is trotting along with others he is always careful to break step – after all he would not want to cause it to fall down.

A Roast Chicken Dinner

DonQui has guests coming over. Immediately his thoughts turn to supper.
Should he cook something?
Yes, please.
Chicken?
That would be great
Roast Chicken?
Yum!
So while Duchess goes to Southwold to select a bird from his friends at Mills and Sons Butchers,  DonQui goes up to the allotment to pick some curly kale, pull up some carrots and go to the farm shop for some potatoes (as he did not grow any this year).

allotment

Now DonQui believes that the trick to a good roast dinner is getting everything ready well in advance. Potatoes and vegetables parboiled, gravy base prepared and then everything can be finished off at the end with no stress.
When it comes to gravy he is a bit of a stickler. He likes to make it all from scratch without any packaged stuff — most of which tends to be salt and various additives.

So with the guests arriving in a couple of hours, DonQui gets to work.

His basic plan goes something like this:

1. Parboil the potatoes and set aside.
2. Prepare the gravy base.
3. Put the chicken in the oven to roast
4. Prepare and parboil the carrots and kale
5. Put the potatoes in the oven to roast when there are 45 minutes remaining for the chicken
6. Take the chicken out and set aside to rest
7. Finish off the gravy and vegetables

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And here are his recipes:

For the Roast Chicken
1 good quality chicken (approx 1.5 kg)
1 onion
2 carrots
2 sticks celery
1 lemon
olive oil
salt
freshly ground black pepper
a mix of fresh herbs such as thyme, rosemary, oregano, sage.

Method
Take the chicken out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before cooking so it comes up to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 240°C.
Roughly chop carrots and celery, quarter the onion, then place vegetables onto a roasting tray and drizzle with olive oil.

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Place chicken in the middle of the roasting tray on top of the vegetables. Drizzle with olive oil and rub salt and pepper all over it.
Cut the lemon in half and put in the cavity along with the herbs.
Put the chicken into the preheated oven and turn down to 180°C.
Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Baste the chicken halfway through cooking and if the veg look dry, add a splash of water to stop them burning.

chicken resting

Take the chicken out of the oven and put it on a carving board to rest for 15-20 minutes. Some people like to cover it with tin foil while resting but DonQui does not like doing that as it makes the nice crispy skin go soft.

While the chicken is resting finish off the gravy and vegetables.

Ingredients for the Chicken Gravy
2 table spoons butter
2 table spoons flour
500 ml chicken stock (preferably unsalted)
salt and pepper to taste
a bunch of frush herbs (such as thyme, rosemary oregano, sage).
a chopped mushroom (optional)
a couple of chopped tomatoes (optional)
vegetables from the roast chicken
a good splash of white wine

Method
Make a roux by combining the flour and butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan.

chick2Cook over a low heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon until the roux begins to darken slightly.

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Remove from the heat and let cool for about a minute then whisk in the stock. Add vegetables, herbs, salt and pepper. Be careful with the salt. Some chicken stock is often already heavily salted so it is better to taste it and gradually add the salt. It is easy to add more, impossible to take any out.

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Cook on a very low heat for 20-30 minutes then strain.
Put the strained gravy base back into the pot and wait until the chicken is cooked.
Once the chicken is resting, place the roasting pan with the vegetables on the stove top on low-medium heat.

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Deglaze the pan with the white wine making sure to scrape up and disolve all the brown bits.
Strain into the pot, pressing any residual juices from vegetables through the sieve. Whisk together with the rest of the gravy base and then simmer very gently until everything else is ready.

Roast potatoes
Wash and quarter a couple of medium potatoes per person. You can peel them if you like but DonQui often likes to leave the skins on as he does on this occasion.
Parboil in salted water for 10 minutes, drain and set aside until you are ready to begin roasting. All of this can be done well in advance.
Place the potatoes on a roasting pan, drizzle with a goodly amount of oil — DonQui likes using a mix of oils, and goose or duck fat if he has some. Put them in the oven with the chicken when there is about 45 minutes of cooking time left for the chicken. The potatoes should take about an hour to get nice and crispy brown. Turn every 15-20 minutes and sprinkle with salt in the just before serving.

Curly Kale

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Wash the kale, strip the leaves from the stalks and roughly break apart into small pieces.
Bring a small amount of water to the boil in a pot, add the kale, put on a lid and simmer for 5 minutes.

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Don’t worry if it seems like a lot of kale at first. It will reduce down.
Drain and set aside until the chicken is out of the oven and resting

Carrots
Wash and scrape the carrots. Cut into relatively even pieces. DonQui prefers carrots cut lenghwise rather than across but it is a matter of personal taste. Boil the carrots in salted water for 7 minutes. DonQui also likes to add a bit of sugar to the carrot water.
Drain and set aside until the chicken is out of the oven and resting.

The Finishing Touches.
With the chicken resting, the potatoes done and the gravy simmering it is time to finish off the kale and carrots. In both cases the method is the same.

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Simply melt a bit of butter in a pan, add the partially cooked vegetables and stir around in the butter until heated through. This will take around 3-5 minutes.

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DonQui thought is all went rather well and his guests seemed to quite enjoy the meal…

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…which was rather nicely washed down with a fine bottle of Côtes du Ventoux which DonQui had picked up in the South of France a few months ago.

And to finish off…

strawberries and cream

…strawberries from DonQui’s autumn crop along with a few grapes from the garden and clotted cream.

Trout with Sea Vegetables

On his way back home from London to the Shires, DonQui decides to pick up something simple but tasty for supper.

As it so happens he has to pass by the nice Mr Waitrose’s shop on the way, so he drops in to see what is on offer. As is always the case when he stops off at Waitrose, DonQui ends up buying far more than he had intended. His shopping basket is filled with buttermilk (for pancakes) and Canadian maple syrup (amber mind you not just the ordinary medium) to go with it. Some coconut cream for stir fries; liquid unsalted stock for sauces; and thin streaky bacon (difficult to find in the UK) for breakfast. As it happens there is also a Rioja, a Chablis and a Calvados on offer at reduced prices and so these too manage to find their way into DonQui’s shopping basket.

At the fish counter there is one remaining large trout filet. This will do for supper, DonQui thinks, adding a medley of ‘sea vegetables’ (samphire, sea aster and okahijiki – or Japanese land seaweed) to his purchase.

trout

DonQui cooks the trout ‘en papillote’ baked in the oven for 15 minutes with herb butter, lemon and parsley. Waitrose seals the fish in a parchment parcel for him in store. Previously DonQui has cooked fish like this by simply placing it in an ovenproof dish and covering with tin foil. He serves the trout filet with boiled charlotte potatoes tossed in parsley and butter alongside the sea vegetables. The latter are incredibly easy to prepare as all they need is a 2-3 minute stir in butter.

A Stroll Through Soho

Avid readers of his blog will not be surprised to find DonQui in Soho. After all he made a promise to himself yesterday while wandering around Piccadilly.

DonQui likes Soho. Full of eating, drinking and entertainment establishments there are plenty of possibilities for a decent lunch or a good night on the town. There are still even a few naughty places left over from its 1950s-70s heyday as London’s capital of sleaze, not that DonQui knows anything about such matters. Although rather gentrified now, there is just enough grit left for DonQui to feel that that the area has not become too sanitised.

Bypassing the tourist hell of Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, DonQui heads straight for the back streets to the north of Shaftesbury Avenue.

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A stroll up Berwick Street reveals plenty of options for good  food. From the fruit and vegetable sellers…

Soho2 to pseudo street-food stalls offering everything from burritos…

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to salads…

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and even fish and chips; there is plenty on offer if you don’t have the time for a sit-down lunch.

Before too long, DonQui finds himself on Dean Street. This is where he usually finds himself when he is in Soho as it houses some of his favourite stopping off places.

Prix Fixe

Prix Fixe is an excellent lunch or dinner spot in the manner of a French brasserie. They have a set menu offering incredibly good value in a relaxed atmosphere. Inevitably DonQui ends up having a steak-frites as his main course. The frites are proper thin french style — crispy on the outside and soft in the middle.

French House

The French House, a bit further down Dean St, is one of DonQui’s favourite watering holes. During the second world war it was the unofficial headquarters of de Gaulle’s Free French and this is the root of the name. The French House still retains its character and is a perfect place to meet for a drink before going to dinner or for turning a lunch into an all afternoon affair. French and Belgian beers are on tap, served in half pint glasses only, and they also have some excellent Breton cider.

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Favoured by actors, writers, bohemians and all sorts or reprobates it is about as far as one can get from a blonde wood and chrome chain pub. There is no music, no slot machines, no sports on television and woe betide anyone who uses a mobile phone.

Just the sort of place DonQui likes.

Coach and Horses

The Coach and Horses around the corner on Greek Street used to be another haunt. It was a ‘proper boozer’ and one of the few remaining Soho stalwarts. Sadly, since the departure of Norman in 2006, it has begun to tidy itself up. Norman, who ran the pub for 62 years was the self-proclaimed ‘rudest pub landlord in Britain’ and would not tolerate boring people nor anything that might get in the way of lively conversation or proper drinking.

DonQui drops in for a quick pint and is horrified to learn that it has now become a vegetarian pub. He shakes his head in disbelief and thinks that Peter O’Toole and Francis Bacon (who were once regulars) must be turning in their graves.

DonQui also Recommends
Andrew Edmunds 46 Lexington St for a cosy, intimate atmosphere, high quality food and a great wine list — a good place to take a date.
Ronnie Scott’s 47 Frith St, for a night of top end jazz with big names often playing there. A Soho institution since 1959
Bar Italia 22 Frith Street for a proper Italian espresso in a proper Italian atmosphere. Across the street from Ronnie Scott’s it has been running since 1949
Pizza Express 10 Dean Street for both good pizza and good jazz. Although DonQui generally avoids chains he makes an exception for this one. There is nothing chain-like about the Jazz Club downstairs.
La Boheme 13 Old Compton St for a lively atmosphere from breakfast through to dinner and then late drinks. The public face of the original Soho House (once a fine members club and now an industry) it is a good place to go for the buzz rather than an expectation of exceptional or good value food.
Ain’t Nothing But the Blues Bar, 20 Kingly St for a lively buzzing atmosphere and great live blues until the wee hours of the morning.