Friday, 21 November 2014

Dark Rye Loaf / Doves Farm

I had a dream. It involved my own business. And food from a particular region of the world that I love. Since moving out of London and being a mum I'm feeling a bit lost to be honest, without a purpose I suppose. But my little dream got me excited and was (still is) something I feel very passionately about. I had been making in roads earlier in the year, potential premises, local suppliers, branding, a friend offered to give me advice on their similar business, blah blah....Then the rug got pulled from beneath us. A sudden death in the family, Wig's A+E visit, trying to keep my hand in with my freelance work, rearing a toddler and dealing with yet more costs on our moneypit/house sucked all my motivation away.

However, the dream is still there somewhere, inside my shattered shell, I just need to pick myself up again and plod on. 2015 is a clean slate, if I can just crawl my way to the New Year...In the meantime though, toddler permitting, I have been testing out recipes at home. Luckily a steady stream of visitors to our house is giving me plenty of victims to test them out on.

The first recipe is from Doves Farm. It's for a very easy Rye bread. I'd only ever made bread once before and found it frustrating as I'm a very impatient individual. All the 'proving' and 'knocking back' put me off. However, this loaf is fairly quick to make and has, so far, worked out every time. I have been making a loaf on a Friday night (Soho, Soho, where for art thou Soho? ...) and it has lasted us all week. I was probably buying about 3 loaves a week prior to discovering this recipe, but as it is such a dense loaf we aren't tending to eat so much. But it's great toasted for breakfast with a boiled egg. The black treacle in it gives it a slightly 'Malt Loaf' taste and you could always add seeds to the mix if you wanted to change the flavour.

Dark Rye Loaf

400g Doves Farm Wholemeal Rye Flour
200g Doves Farm Strong Plain Flour
1tsp Sugar
1tsp Doves Farm Yeast
1tsp Salt
30g Black Treacle
400ml Warm Water
2tbsp Oil

200 Fan / 220 Oven / Gas Mark 7

*Mix together the dry ingredients
* Dissolve the treacle into the water
* Add the treacle/water to the dry ingredients, as the dough comes together add the oil
*Form the dough into a ball, cover and leave in a warm place to rise
*Knock back the dough and vigorously knead for a few minutes
* Place dough in an oiled loaf tin (2lb size) and leave for a further 45 minutes
* Bake in a pre-heated oven for 40-45 minutes
* To make a crustier crust place a dish/tin of hot water in the bottom of your oven.

I tried to stick Pumpkin seeds on this one but they just fell off when it came out of the oven.
Apart from that, I was very happy with it.
Thank you Doves Farm!

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Hudson New York Bar + Grill, Head Street, Colchester, CO1 1NX

You only get one chance to make a first impression. Or in the case of Hudson New York Bar + Grill, I will give you as many as you like.

The newest kid on the block has finally opened, and I for one could not be happier. When I first heard that the Elysium Group were taking over a huge, unloved building just off Colchester's High Street to turn it into a restaurant, I was over the moon. I was so over the moon in fact that I emailed the MD of the Group last year when I first heard the news saying how excited I was. I also told him I thought the people of Colchester should be very grateful to him for giving the town a well needed kick up the arse and perhaps we could erect a statue of him somewhere in the locality. He was very gracious and sent a lovely reply, clearly overlooking that fact that I may be slightly peculiar. A couple of months later I sent him another email asking for a job. He didn't reply . . . Lucky for him I don't bear a grudge or this post wouldn't be so complimentary.


The reason for my joy and enthusiasm is that he owns several other venues in the area and seems to be on a one man crusade to turn shit holes to gold. The only place we were able to get a decent breakfast locally when we moved here in 2012 was one of his other venues, Mimosa. It is slightly out of town but was always well worth the 10 minute drive. Great food, really friendly staff, nice decor. What more do you want on a Sunday morning when a small child has kept you up all night and you are tired and fractious?

'Hudson' however, (not to be confused with 'Hudson + Hudson' from my previous post...) is another triumph in my eyes. I believe it was due to open earlier in the year so we have been watching their updates on Social Media with great interest, counting down the days until we could go in. I'm not surprised the opening was delayed due to the sheer scale of what they are trying to achieve. Not only do they have 'Hudson' on ground level but there is also a Steak Restaurant on the top floor ('Steak etc' I've yet to go up there) and a Members Club ('XV' unlikely I'll have the need to join), so it's been a huge undertaking. Particularly round here where nothing seems to happen that quickly naming no names Colchester Borough Council.

I simply can not bring myself to critisise the place since I am so happy the Elysium Group are investing so much into the Town. They can see potential here and it makes me feel better about our move from Hackney. As well as Hudson/Steak etc/XV they are also taking over the eyesore that is River Lodge on North Hill which will be a huge boost to the area. If the local rag is to be believed (not usually) they are spending £5million on it. This particular redevelopment will go a huge way towards making Colchester the great Town it once was and more importantly making it a destination as opposed to somewhere you might drive past. Imagine coming to Colchester and staying in a beautiful boutique hotel, a stones throw from all the new restaurants and bars open/opening up (Church Street Tavern, Three Wise Monkeys, East Coast Diner), or perhaps visiting the new Curzon, or seeing some Comedy at the Arts Centre or a Play at the Mercury Theatre or going shopping at Fenwicks etc etc etc. Well you don't need to imagine it people, its happening!! Right now!!

So, in the last 2 weeks I have been to 'Hudson' 4 times. As I've said, I find it impossible to complain about any of my experiences but in the spirit of honesty I feel compelled to tell you the truth and the whole truth.

Visit 1.
The first Sunday they were open. The website said they were open at 7:30am, the day before Facebook said they would open at 10am, then Facebook said they would actually open 11am. Not to appear too keen, we arrived at 11:08am... A side door was open so we lugged the buggy up the step (no ramp) and was told by a man on a mobile phone that they were not open and might open at midday. Had this been in London, where we would have had more choice, we probably would never had come back as the chap on the phone was pretty curt. However, I thought, 'Ok, he's obviously not having the best day, we'll come back another time'. Motherhood has clearly melted my icy, judgemental heart.

Visit 2.
The first Thursday they were open. I took my Aunt for a late lunch, about 2:30pm so wasn't surprised that it was quite empty. Second first impressions were that there was more staff than customers but no one to tell us what to do. Do we sit down or wait to be seated? After wrangling a waitress she told us to order at the bar and sit where we wanted. There were also a lot of workmen wandering around, so still not quite finished with the work but on the plus side they do have highchairs. It's the little things. In due course I ordered at the bar as required but was told I couldn't open a tab so if we wanted more drinks during our meal one of us would have to get up again and go back to the bar. A bit inconvenient but not the end of the world.

When the food arrived, it was great. Auntie M had Chilli Prawns and the Little Boss and I shared a Fish Finger Sarnie. The Caraway seed bread was DELICIOUS.

Hopefully Santa will bring me a new Camera. You will have to trust me when I say 
this was very nice.

Visit 3.
For my third first impression, the Wig and I went for lunch on their 2nd Friday since opening. Quite busy! - I was very pleased for them. It was also interesting to see a whole new bunch of people in town. Having plodded Colchester's mean streets ALOT in the last (almost) 2 years, you do get to see some of the same old boat races. But this lot were a whole bunch of new ones. I knew these guys were hiding round here somewhere! I knew there were people in Colchester that wanted to eat something other than a Panini or a Jacket Potato! And now they have somewhere to go. Hallelujah. Thank you Elysium.

Wig and I had burgers and dough balls and almost cried with joy at the tastiness of the food. I never thought I would ever like a dough ball more than the ones at Pizza Express but, "Hello Hudson Dough Balls!'. Awesome. Also, the creamed corn, which I had never eaten before was amazing. The only comment I would make on the food was the burger bun. It had pretty much disintegrated by the time I got to the end of the burger but maybe the buns are going to change in the future. The staff were still very nice despite me having to send an item of crockery back for being chipped (one of my bug bears).

Look like mini doughnuts, taste like magic.

Yummy-ius Maximus.

A couple of complaints I have read on Social Media about 'Hudson' is that the 'tables are wobbly' (we stuck a napkin under our table leg) and that the 'leather and steel chairs are uncomfortable' (also true) but you can't take away from the fact that the food is very good. If you want to sit on a comfy chair, go to DFS. There is still no disabled/buggy ramp which is a shame but apparently this is to be rectified soon.

Visit 4.
This morning, my fourth first impression. The one day of the week that my son goes to nursery and I clean the house. Or 'Wonderful Wednesday' as it is known. But not today, no siree. I was going to have a Hudson breakfast if it was the last thing I did. So, I popped in at about 9:30am, the website still says it's open at 7:30am but I believe it actually opens a 8am this week. I was the only person there apart from the staff, some workmen and, I think, the MD himself. I really would have liked to take some better pictures to post up but felt far too self conscious being the only customer. However, it was a very nice relaxing experience. I read the courtesy newspaper, had a delicious Eggs Benedict and a Mocha in a boiling hot glass that I couldn't pick up (they changed it to a mug though, no problem). Really great. I almost felt like I was on holiday until I remembered I felt guilty that I hadn't cleaned the toilets.

The March Hare does not condone vulgar language but in summary, Hudson New York Bar + Grill is a fucking breath of fresh air. A thousand thank you's Mr Ash Afzalnia, you are doing a wonderful job. All the little things that I have experienced in my 4 visits I put down to teething problems. Perhaps they shouldn't have opened until they were 100% finished or perhaps they could have opted for a 'Soft Launch' but they chose not to and at the end of the day the small issues that require attention shouldn't take away from all the positives:

* Incorrect opening times on the website can be updated.
* A ramp for disabled/buggy access can be easily put in place.
* The workmen hopefully wont be there forever.
* They may decide tabs can be opened in future.
* If the coffee glass is too hot, ask for a mug!
* Wobbly tables and chairs should not deter you from some great food.
* Burger buns, a minor tweak.
* I think they should say on the menu/website where they source their produce from particularly since we are surrounded by such great local ingredients here but this is just a personal thing. I'm interested where my food comes from and think it can be a selling point to your business.

The main thing is, its a great place to hang out, the food is great, the staff are very nice and its reasonably priced. You have to wish the Elysium Guys well with this. Even if its not somewhere you would usually go or you are really pedantic and don't want to sit on the leather chairs, you have to give credit where credit is due. This company clearly have a lot of faith in the area to be investing so much into it, which is great for everyone that lives and works here. What's the alternative? Empty, derelict ugly buildings? No thanks.

Bravo guys, good luck and thank you.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Homemade Halloween Pt 2

This is not the post I thought it was going to be. I was hoping to regale you with tales of small children screaming in horror at my terrifying Halloween party games. My particular favorite was "What's in the bowl?". You make up bowls of cold spaghetti ('worms'), peeled grapes ('eyeballs'), jelly ('guts') etc then cover them up with a piece of fabric. Cut hand sized slits into it and ask the kiddiwinkles to stick their hand through and guess what's in the bowl. Classic. We also had 'Pin the Warty Nose on the Witch', a really scary ghost we were going to hang on a tree in the garden, and rats and spiders hidden everywhere, but alas, the party did not happen. Due to unforeseen circumstances, more specifically, a horrifying dash to A+E followed by a 2 night stay in the local Hospital, we thought it wise to cancel. Boo. However, my small son is now of an age where things like a 'party' are a pretty big deal. We had been putting the decorations up for about 3 weeks making it rather tricky to pull plug completely. So instead of the party I had been planning for, his 2 little cousins popped over and stuffed themselves silly with way too much sugar. Oh well, there's always next year.

Enter . . .

Pumpkin, Sage and Swiss Cheese Muffins

Homemade Toffee apples which didn't get eaten so became reincarnated as a Toffee Apple Crumble.

Witches Fingers breadsticks

Bats Blood

Body parts jelly. My 6 year old niece found this particularly revolting looking. Perfect.

Ginger'dead' Biscuits...That was my idea...

(P)almond Biscuits...geddit...?

Spooky Skittles. I'd been saving those bog rolls for weeks.

Oh well, there's always next year.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Hall Farm, Stratford St Mary, Dedham, Colchester

We took the little boss for a breakfast at Hall Farm last week as a little treat for being such a wonderful boy. (Also, we were hungry). This Farm, Cafe and Shop is situated about 20 minutes drive from Colchester. It lies just outside the beautiful village of Stratford St Mary and is surrounded by stunning views across the Dedham Vale.  Stratford St Mary is so pretty that it looks like a film set. Constable apparently loved this place, and who can blame him. If I could paint, I'd paint a picture of it on the ceiling. However, I can barely paint my nails.

Hall Farm is great and ticks a little individual box for all our family members. It has animals and 'big diggers' for the little fella, lovely food for me and a great farm shop for the Wig. We came here last year and had an awesome Ploughman's, a proper traditional one, one of life's small pleasures I think. The last Ploughmans I mentioned on this blog was from This Bright Field in Hackney and was so deconstructed it wasn't actually a Ploughmans.  However, since our last visit to the farm it has got just that little bit better. The food is still great, and the farm shop is still well stocked however they now have a little farm trail which really makes the most of their location and adds a little something extra for the little people. This place is a great example of a business maximising its potential, bravo Hall Farm, we will be back soon!

Egg, fresh from the chickens rear


Big piggy

Dedham Vale

Small piggy

Thanks for the eggs little dudes



Little goats

Little Donkey


Ducks in slime

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Yates, Colchester, I am confused...

So Yates is/are having a makeover and Colchester was the first of their premises to get the new 'look'. I have never been into a Yates but must admit I was rather curious when I nosed through the window of the one in Colchester a couple of months ago. In fact I would go so far as to say I got a bit excited. And I tweeted them my excitement, then I 'Liked' them on Facebook. I was verging in stalking. I have an open mind about most things and any smartening up of the humble high street is a step in the right direction in my eyes regardless of whether it is aimed at me or not.

It was obvious that some very big changes were taking place, not just because it was closed, but when I looked through the gaps in the windows, there was colour. Yellow! Pink! Turquoise! Despite never setting foot in a Yates my impression of the chain was not somewhere that would have yellow, pink or turquoise in it under any circumstances. However, when they opened up I couldn't have been more astonished. It reminded me a little of Wahaca and some of the places we had stumbled across while staying in Brighton this summer. In short, it looked exciting! It has to be the boldest re brand I've ever seen. It looks like an entirely different chain. Bright, clean and contemporary. Hexagon tile flooring, colour co-ordinated furnishings and wallpaper, trusty filament bulbs, I thought maybe I might have slithered into their target customer group and was really excited to have this on the high street. Another place to go for breakfast maybe? . . .

So, in the spirit of supporting my local environment, I thought I would try out the new revamped Yates for breakfast this morning. No one is more surprised than me that I have just typed those words in a sentence, but when in Rome... First impressions were mixed, on the one hand the staff were very friendly, the place was clean (and they had made a good effort with the Halloween decorations), but on the other hand there were no other customers (you have to be a bit wary of being the only customers I think) and despite all the hard work they have clearly put into the decor, there were 3 fruit machines tucked in the corner, leftover from the old Yates no doubt. So as much as you wanted to feel that you weren't in an old pub, there was a garish reminder on the way to the toilets, staring you in the face, that you were in an old pub.

And when our food arrived, it was, unfortunately another reminder that this is still Yates and not quite Wahaca standard despite the fancy light fittings. We ordered their smaller cooked breakfast which cost about £4 each. On the upside, they used Heinz Baked Beans but unfortunately the positives stop there. The food arrived frighteningly fast. How did they cook it? Who knows. It was also on a huge plate which made it look a bit sad. If the plate was smaller the food wouldn't have looked so lonely. Juts a small point. Unfortunately we couldn't eat the sausage (no excuse for a poor quality banger in these parts) or the mushroom (completely dried out). And the tomato wasn't cooked. So overall, sadly disappointing. There was so much promise but unfortunately if the food isn't up to snuff, its all a bit style over substance. Boo...

Ultimately, I think it was a really brave move of the company to go for such a dramatic rebrand and I really wanted to have a good experience today but now its not clear who their customers are. It's left me a bit confused. It surely can't be their old customers as its such a totally different place but it also can't be an entirely new crowd as the food is not quite good enough. Maybe they need to establish who their target market is in order to move forwards. Personally,  I would be happy to pay a couple of quid more for a better sausage and mushroom, especially as we are in an area with such amazing produce, but maybe they want to keep the prices low so they don't lose their old customers. Who knows. I don't. Anyway, its a shame. They have made such a huge leap in one way but held back in other ways. Hopefully this may be early teething problems as there is so much potential, great staff, good decor that its a shame not to go for it 100% with the food too. Good Luck Yates, you can do it!