Roast Pheasant

One of the few good things about the colder months in England is that it is game season. There are few things DonQui likes more to eat than game.

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A trip into Southwold to the excellent Mills Brothers’ (and sisters) butchery reveals that they have some rather lovely looking locally shot hen pheasants all trussed up and ready for the over. Pausing only to decry the ridiculous new business tax hikes that threaten high street shops within giving the likes of Amazon a discount, DonQui hands over his cash and takes a pheasant home with him.

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Previously DonQui has cooked his pheasants in a clay pot (Römertopf). This is because without any fat, pheasant can dry out and toughen up when roasted conventionally. Since this particular bird has been barded with bacon by the nice Mills boys, DonQui decides to try simply roasting it openly in the oven.

This is how he does it:

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Taking the pheasant out of the fridge an hour before to bring it up to room temperature, he browns it on all sides in a pan in which he has melted a little butter together with rapeseed oil.

Then he pops it in the oven which has been pre-heated to 180º C and lets it roast for 30 minutes, checking in at the half way point. Meanwhile he prepares the sauce which is a variation of his rich meat sauce with the addition of a few crushed juniper berries.

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Then he takes the cooked bird out of the oven and lets it rest for at least 10 minutes. Pouring off the excess oil from the roasting pan he deglazes it with red wine, scraping up the brown bits on top of the stove on a low heat and then adds this to the sauce pot.

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DonQui serves it with wild rice cooked in chicken stock along with green beens, peas and a little redcurrant jelly on the side. A French Burgundy or other pinot noir wine is the perfect accompaniment.

The Perfect Country Pub

DonQui has been rather quite of late and for this he apologises. With summer approaching and various other tedious distractions now behind him, he resolves to get back to the important  business of living life to the fullest. He has some travels coming up soon but on this English holiday weekend he decides to stay firmly on home ground.

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After all he does live in a corner of Suffolk favoured by tourists so why put up with crowded airports and traffic jams when he can simply trot out of his paddock to enjoy what others travel far to experience.

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Nearby Southwold will be overrun with tourists so instead of venturing into the coastal town he heads a bit inland to one of his favourite country pubs — The Star in Wenhaston.

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It just so happens that the Star has a beer festival running over the weekend. With live music, barbecue and a wide selection of beers and ciders on offer for £3 a pint it would be foolish to pass it up.

Now DonQui has previously expounded his philosophy of what makes a good pub. The Ship and Shovel in London is a perfect example of a really good urban pub. The Star at Wenheston is a truly great country pub.

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The sign on the wall says it all. The Star is a proper old fashioned pub of the kind which is becoming increasingly difficult to find as so many are taken over by chains, given a gastropub make-over or otherwise turned into identikit versions of each other.

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In autumn and winter there is a roaring fire in the bar which makes it a great place to escape the damp grey of the colder English seasons.

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One night a month the Star hosts “spin a disk” where you can bring samples of your vinyl collections to play on the record player (younger readers may need to look that up). One might hear anything from traditional jazz to cheesy pop, interspersed with a bit of Led Zeppelin, Bowie, or The Who. It all depends on what people decide to bring with them.

bric a brac.jpgRun by Carl and Virginia, The Star remains quirky and resolutely independent.

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The wonderful bric-a-brac decorating the walls are reflective of the fact that The Star has not been designed by marketing consultants and long may it remain thus.

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The Star is a free-house which is rare in the heart of Adnams country. Not that DonQui has anything against Adnams beers, which are brewed down the road in Southwold. It is just that every once in a while he enjoys trying something else and most pubs in the area are tied to the Adnams brewery.

beer bar.jpgFor some reason, DonQui does not enquire why, all the beers on offer at the beer festival are from Yorkshire rather than Suffolk. Taking a half pint glass he samples several of them and is pleased by the variety of tastes from citrusy pale ales to more malty darker ones. One of his favourites, from Kelham Island Brewery is ‘London Calling’ — an odd name perhaps for a Yorkshire beer, complete with a cameo of The Clash on the barrel. Dark, full of deep flavour and good hoppy bitterness DonQui thinks it makes a great beer to sip and savour. A close runner up is Atlantic Crossing which apparently was originally a joint venture between York’s Rudgate Brewery and the Hogshead Brewery of Colorado USA —hence the name.

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The sun is shining, the music is good (mostly) with a variety of performers playing an eclectic mix of folk, blues, jazz and rock.

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The barbecue provides a steady supply of burgers, sausages or steaks during the lunch and supper hours.

Goulash cooked in a large pot over an open fire provides sustenance in-between.

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Sampling yet another beer, DonQui decides that there are worse ways to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Fish and Chips

So what have immigrants ever done for us in the UK?

Apart from providing competent plumbers and increasing the number of working youngsters to pay for baby boomers’ pensions — they have hugely improved the quality and variety of the food we now regularly enjoy.

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We have Jewish refugees to thank for fish and chips while Britain’s other national dish — chicken tikka masala (photo above) — was invented by Bangladeshi immigrants.

Now DonQui has a rather problematic relationship with fish and chips. Every once in a while he gets a craving. Then he trots down to the chippy (fish & chip shop for non-Brits) with great expectations which invariably end in disappointment. Really good fish and chips need a light, crispy batter and the chips should be nicely browned on the outside while remaining soft in the middle. All too often the batter is thick and greasy while the chips are pale and limp.

Not good.

Living by a seaside resort town — Southwold in Suffolk — one would think that it would be fairly easy for DonQui to find decent fish and chips.

Not so

The fish is fresh, to be sure, and generally speaking the batter is fine. His main problem is with the flaccid, pale, sorry excuses for chips — caused by cooking at too low a temperature without double frying.

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The news that a new chippy is opening in Southwold fills DonQui with some hope. After months of renovations, and missing the high summer season, the Little Fish and Chip Shop has just opened. Selling fresh fish out front and frying around the back, it looks very promising.

fish and chips 1DonQui decides to give it a go, ordering haddock with a small portion of chips. Plaice is DonQui’s favourite fish but it is too thin and delicate for deep frying in batter. It really has to be either cod or haddock. While haddock tends to be preferred up north and cod down south, DonQui has to agree with his northern cousins on this point.

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Cooked to order, first appearances are encouraging. The chips actually have colour and the batter looks crisp and dry. The lemon wedge and parsley on top are a nice touch. Served in a box it makes it easy for DonQui to take home without wrapping. Wrapping, of course, will keep it warm longer but has the nasty side-effect of the trapped steam from the hot food turning everything soft and soggy. Therefore, as he does not have far to go, DonQui leaves the lid on the box ajar to let the steam escape, puts it in his wagon and canters off home.

Although he only ordered a small portion of chips, it seems that there is more than enough for two people, let alone one donkey. Usually when he orders fish and chips for two he asks for one portion of chips for two pieces of fish. But as Duchess is away he puts half of the portion on his plate and although he has a few more later on he cannot not finish them all.

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Sprinkling salt on the chips and dousing everything with malt vinegar, DonQui tucks in.

It is good, perhaps very good. Not the best fish and chips he has ever eaten but it definitely fulfils his main criteria. Not greasy at all, the chips are nice and crisp on the outside remaining lovely and soft in the middle. The fish is fresh, delicate and flaky while the batter is light enough for DonQui to happily eat it all rather than pulling it off and leaving it to one side as he often does with sub-standard fish and chips.

Done well, fish and chips, is a truly wonderful British food staple which people in other countries often do not understand. When he lived in Germany, DonQui’s German friends could not get their heads around the combination, thinking that fried fish needed to be served with boiled potatoes not chips. Yet they were perfectly content with chips as an accompaniment to fried, breaded schnitzel. As for putting vinegar on it… the very thought made them cringe in horror. But just as the acidity of lemon enhances a schnitzel, or indeed fish, so does the vinegar — cutting through and balancing the oil in which it has been fried. It has to be proper malt vinegar, mind you, nothing else works.

The sad thing is that it is not that easy to find really good fish and chips, even in Britain.

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!

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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.

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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!

Ale and Hops

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DonQui’s step quickened as he approached the shop in Tarragona. This is my sort of place, he thought.…an emporium dedicated to ale, hops and the joy of the fermented grain. Maybe it would be as good as the Adnams store in Southwold — one of his favourite shops anywhere.

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He couldn’t work out what the cow was doing in the entrance, nor why so many women seemed to be heading inside, leaving their men to wait impatiently on the street. In his experience men seemed to get much more excited about beer than women. Perhaps in Spain things were different.

Imagine DonQui’s huge disappointment when he went inside and there was not a single bottle of beer to be seen—just lots of girly Stuff and nothing of any use to DonQui at all.

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Duchess was happy though. She bought Stuff while DonQui sat on a step opposite feeling more than a little dejected and wondering when beer time would come around again.