One of our highlights of the year is a visit to the Chelsea Flower Show, so last week included a train trip to Paddington, several hours rubbing shoulders with the glitterati at the show, followed by a light supper at Five Fields Restaurant, just off the Kings Road.
Being dedicated, not to say totally mad gardeners (most Saturdays and Sundays we are digging, weeding and planting for 8 straight hours), we found ourselves at odds with the show judges and the public this year. Their choices of Gold medal gardens did not inspire us and nor did Matthew Wilson’s “God’s Own County”.
What did blow our gardening boots off was the Husqvarna Garden, designed by Australian, Charlie Albone, which was cool, serene and structured and importantly, a garden that everyone could create in their own space. Why Charlie was awarded a Silver-gilt medal only the judges know.
South Korean, Hay Joung Hwang designed the LG Smart Garden as a stunning outdoor living space with plantings of elegant herbaceous blues, whites and occasional pinks. The whole effect was practical, restful and charming and called for Gold but again Silver-gilt was awarded.
A very different garden was The Royal Bank of Canada Garden, designed by local boy, Exeter based, Hugo Bugg. His design was inspired by the landscape, flora and fauna of Jordan – a very contemporary garden that was awarded – yes you guessed it!
Within a few days of our trip to Chelsea I was called to visit one of the suppliers of plants to the show gardens. Their’s is a particularly difficult task; to produce vast amounts of plants that have to be delivered to the show, planted and then come into their own and be perfect for the duration of the week.
Many of the flowers would naturally be past their best in late May, while others have to be encouraged to bloom when their flowering time is June, July or August.
Knowing my horticultural background and Armada’s extensive experience and flexibility, we were asked to finance a complete bio-mass heating system for the nursery, restaurant and shop. In addition, a beautiful stone barn is being converted to house major refrigeration in order to keep the blooms in perfect condition.
Funding the heating and refrigeration is blooming easy for us, so next year’s Chelsea will have an added interest for me. Hopefully our client’s will award us a gold medal for service and attitude!!
On a glorious April day in Devon, I awoke in anticipation of spending it with the girls and ticking something else off the bucket list as we had spontaneously planned to visit Sharpham Vineyard. We arrived via the steep winding lanes of the South Hams to be greeted by stunning views over the River Dart. We kicked things off with a glass of award-winning fizz and could have easily sat drinking in the views of this magical place all day from the rustic hilltop café, but the tour of the vineyard awaited and was not to be missed.
Climbing uphill to start, (rather slowly, due to feeling a little light-headedness) we were soon among the vines, an impressive sight lining the side of the valley as far as the eye could see and down to the water’s edge. Next came the riverside section of the walk which was beautiful and ended too soon.
If you visit one day, cormorants and kingfishers may join you but unfortunately our laughter and chat meant they heard us before we saw them. Be sure to stop and take in the peace and tranquillity that spills across this idyllic location and if it’s not yet wine o’clock, extend your walk to explore the romantic 14th century Sharpham House.
For us it was time for the main event, the wine and cheese tasting. The selection on offer was impressive. There was a choice of a dozen or more wines to taste, we recommend the Sharpham Sparkling Reserve and Bacchus. It was the right decision to leave the car keys at home! The cheeses complimented the wines perfectly, they are produced at the vineyard using the milk from the beautiful doe-eyed Jersey cattle.
The shop was our last stop where, ever so slightly inebriated, we were keen to purchase our vineyard favourites to take home to enjoy with our loved ones, whilst regaling them with our story of a perfect day in the glorious Devon countryside.
I can’t remember what we were celebrating last weekend but I do remember the big family lunch party on Sunday.
The wine bottles were opened, the beer cans popped and the apple juice was topped up. Everyone was crammed around the table, waiting for ‘mother’ to tickle the taste buds. (I’m not silly, I married a brilliant chef. Imagine Tom Kerridge in drag! Yes, really, that good.
Ok, back to the table. Great bowls of new potatoes arrived, mixed salads, dishes of asparagus and fresh beans and then the main event, a platter of locally caught sea bream and a carving dish of spring lamb cutlets, portions of duck and Toulouse sausages.
I sat back and watched as the family devoured all before them. I felt like the cappo of a gathering in Provence or Tuscany. Lots of chatter, lots of gurgling wine and smiles all round.
The food had mostly been purchased from our friends at Darts Farm but the star of the show, by universal acclaim, were the sausages from Westaway at Newton Abbot. Hours later we were still singing the praises of Charlie Baughan and his perfect sausages.
After the main event was completed we were forced to tuck into large helpings of warmed Cartmel sticky toffee pudding, enriched with Devon clotted cream (also from Darts Farm).
A very contented paternal smile stretched across my face when my last thought before the eyelids fell was to be grateful for all the brilliant South West farmers and food manufacturers.
Family, friends and good food – perfick!
What better way is there to spend an extended lunch hour or long evening, kicking back with friends or a loved one, over a glass or three of Chilean chardonnay or a merlot?
Thanks to modern technology, wine bars are making a serious comeback. After their heydays in the 80s when city traders were splashing the cash, wine bars were partially eclipsed by a series of national cuisines coming into vogue. First we had the Mexican restaurants, followed by Italian pizza and pasta joints and then the Thai trend.
With foreign holidays and cheap flights, the public have become more adventurous with their palates and constantly looking to try new flavours.
With the introduction of new wine dispensers, such as the Enomatic, patrons can now be offered unlimited wine varieties by the glass, all kept in perfect condition for several weeks.
If your preference is for a glass of vino rather than a pint, you can see why folk are again looking to inhabit a wine bar rather than the ‘local’.
Daly’s, opposite the Royal Courts of Justice in London, has withstood the test of time, as have many of London’s wine bars. Their menu is fairly straightforward but has ample choice to complement their wines. With a selection of 20 wines by the glass you can either create your own tasting experience or find one that appeals and order a second glass or ask for a bottle to be uncorked.
Most importantly, a good wine bar needs a relaxed atmosphere but at the same time the staff must be efficient and knowledgeable. Today’s busy wine bars are staffed by smart good looking waiters to appeal to the fairer imbibers while a chap will always be pleased to have his moules- frites delivered by a stunning Australian surfie.
Not all wine bars need to be dark interiors with wood and cracked leather. The 1855 Oxford Wine Bar is a modern example of a bright and airy venue, frequented by a clientele of all ages, trying out a new wine or an old favourite and nibbling on an olive or an Escalivada.
Today’s British restaurant has taken all the stuffiness out of dining out, while the wine bar has taken relaxation and companionship to a new level. Roll on long summer evenings – there are so many new and great wines to share!
Having spent a lifetime financing UK restaurants and twelve years as a successful restaurateur I feel that I can share a little secret with you; only do keep it to yourself and your daughter.
Tomorrow’s new trend in wedding catering is Japanese sushi.
Already established as a ‘must have’ in California and London, sushi for the bride and her guests will be commonplace in years to come.
In our cosmopolitan cities you will often find several sushi restaurants vying for trade and all the top-end supermarkets and delis offer varieties of pre-packed rice and fish dishes.
If your daughter is hoping her big day will outshine her girlfriends, here’s her chance.
Hiring a sushi chef to demonstrate his knife skills and presentation will enthral all your guests. Healthy, fresh food being prepared in front of you. WOW!
No more tired canapés, soggy pastry and cold food that should be hot. No more trying to balance your glass while trying to be elegant with knife and fork.
How Mrs Middleton will you look with a glass of Krug in one hand, a vibrant piece of sashimi in the other and still able to cock your pinkie.
Mark my words, you will be the talk and envy of the WI and your daughter will have all the admiration of her friends and the groom – he wasn’t good enough for her in any case.
Don’t forget to email me and tell me how you got on. By the end of the evening you will be talking about your Fugu to everyone. Happy nuptials!