Friday, 12 May 2017

Markham Farm British Asparagus at The Lucky Onion

As the weather starts to warm up and the evenings begin to get lighter, we mark the sign of an exciting new season. Gone are those hearty winter stews with comforting carbs aplenty, now's the time to put a spring in your step and embrace all things green and fresh. And other than the sight of little lambs leaping around the nearby fields, I can't think of anything more synonymous with this change than the first bite of British asparagus.

It can be such a struggle to eat the seasons when supermarkets are saturated with fruit and veg from across the globe, but seeing the healthy glow of the fat British spears in comparison to the limp or woody kinds you get throughout the rest of the year, it's pretty obvious why we should.

And so we come to The Lucky Onion, who are no strangers in promoting seasonality to their Cotswold customers. Last summer we were treated to an offer for lobster, chips and fizz, in autumn there was partridge and port, at the start of 2017 saw six Wright Bros oysters and a glass of Nyetimber, and now we have a celebration of all things asparagus.

Director of food Ronnie Bonnetti, ex River CafĂ© and Soho House, has created a selection of dishes with locally grown Markham Farm asparagus as the focus. Until July you can go to any of The Lucky Onion establishments and pick one, alongside a glass of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, for just £15 (though The Tavern's not included). Perfect lunch material.

Just before the offer launched in April, a whole bunch of fellow food lovers were invited to No. 38 The Park to test out the menu, and with the Cloudy Bay wine supplier on hand, we were definitely well watered too. Sauvignon Blanc is a classic pairing with asparagus - they often share similar grassy flavours - and New Zealand's Marlborough region is probably the most popular choice. We're all familiar with it, right? 

Grapes packed with punchy, crisp acidity can be an assault on the senses after a while, so I was so chuffed to find that we were being treated to other Cloudy Bay vinos too. Never-ending coupes of Pelorus non-vintage fizz were served before supper; 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, it had a quenching citrusy spritz more akin to an English Sparkling Wine over a toasty Champagne or sweet Prosecco. One I'll keep an eye out for. There was also a lovely Pinot later on in the evening; vibrant, youthful and perfect for drinking in the sunshine.

But back to the food... The first to come out was asparagus with Cacklebean poached egg and hollandaise. Those eggs (along with the chickens) are like local celebrities round here, and the rich orange glow from the runny yolk in contrast to the pastel coloured hollandaise is a thing of beauty. It tastes pretty beautiful too, just make sure you save some bread to mop every last morsel up off the plate; it's messy business.

Next was asparagus with brown shrimp butter. Pretty self explanatory. For something so small, brown shrimp sure make themselves known, and whilst I loved the flavour, there was something that didn't sit quite right with me. A few spears of asparagus don't get the chance to stay hot for too long, meaning the butter never really has the opportunity to melt. Don't get me wrong, I'm usually the first to be having bread with my butter, but I couldn't help but think a more liquidy shrimp butter would be better.

Saving the best until last, out came the asparagus with air dried beef, pea shoots and parmesan. The bresaola, from London charcutiers Cannon & Cannon, is nothing like the stiff cardboard kind you get pre-packed in the supermarket. It has such a clean flavour that it almost tastes sweet against the salty tang of the parmesan, and together with the greens it sings of spring. A total delight.

Now whilst you could just choose one dish to have with your glass of wine, it can be very tricky to make such a decision, so let me pose this idea to you... Chances are that you won't be dining alone, but if you were thinking of it be sure to grab a friend. Order all three dishes and get the three measures of Sauvignon Blanc put into a carafe, get a side of fries and have an asparagus sharesies feast fit for a king (or queen). It's a good idea, trust me. 

So be sure to visit No.131, The Chequers, The Wheatsheaf Inn and The Wild Duck soon to take advantage of The Lucky Onion's Markham Farm offer, but in the meantime here are some pointless asparagus facts...

  • Asparagus can help cure hangovers and protect the liver against toxins… Though I can confirm that it did not prevent an almighty hangover the day after ALL THE CLOUDY BAY WINE. Ouch.
  • Dubbed the Usain Bolt of the veg world, British asparagus can grow up to 10cm in one day!
  • And apparently it can improve your libido. Let's just end it there.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Weekend Brunch at The Bottle of Sauce

Now that Cheltenham Festival is over for another year, we can finally talk more sensibly about brunch. The past month has all been about promoting those gut busting, overloaded 'Race Week Breakfasts', no matter where you looked. I'm betting that the majority were easily more than the recommended daily calorie intake, and that's before you've hit up the Guinness for a full day, celebrated a win with some fizz and scoffed a large portion of chips on the way home. Can normal service resume now? I think so…

Last month, everyone's new fave hangout The Bottle of Sauce invited a group of us local bloggers for a special 'Bloggers Brunch'. You might remember their previous burger heavy event that I featured at the start of the year, though if not you can familiarize yourself with it *here*. Armed with appetites, cameras and phones - standard - we congregated in the private dining area (which seats up to 12) and perused the menu.

Despite not needing a 'hair of the dog', I'm not one to turn down some early morning drinking, so went straight in with a Bloody Mary. It's £6.50 for one, but if you're feeling particularly sorry for yourself then you can get Bottomless Marys for a tenner. The Dodo Pub Co have their own secret spice mix, of which they'll ask you your heat preference, and alongside vodka they use a splash of Tio Pepe Fino Sherry. Swoon.

The Bottle of Sauce's brunch menu generally has something for everyone; go traditional, sweet, healthy, or something a little different. As you might've guessed, we basically ordered the whole shebang. Surprisingly, the one dish we missed off was the Eggs Benny (£8.50), and also the side of Cheesy Chipotle Beans (£4), but I'll save those for next time.

The Chap wasn't with me for this one, so I had my gorgeous friend K there instead; someone who's much more willing to share. Bingo. Whilst everyone else was going in on the Boss Man fry ups (£10), between us we had the Chilli Avo' Smash (£7) - what's brunch without avocado on toast (?!) - The Big Squeak breakfast burger type thing (£6.50) and Buttermilk Pancakes for 'dessert' (£7). There were also a few plates of Breakfast Fries (£4.50) lurking on the table; salty fries topped with two fried eggs, runny yolks n'all. Probably more appropriate if having brunch after midday. Probably.

The Avo' Smash comes on a decent doorstop wedge of sourdough, and topped with two perfectly poached - and very Instagram-able - eggs. A good execution, but we both felt the chilli, lime and coriander were a bit tame. A wedge of lime on the side and some hot sauce on the table wouldn't go a miss, but that's coming from a citrus and spice fiend.

The Big Squeak is a bubble and squeak patty topped with american cheese, a juicy portobello mushroom and a fried egg, all in one of The Bottle of Sauce's signature glossy sesame buns. It's veggie, but you certainly don't miss the meat. The Morning Glory (£7.50) has a sausage patty and bacon if you really are a devout carnivore though. There's ketchup on all the tables, which I slathered on, but again I think a hot sauce would make it a knockout option. I'm sure if I'd have asked, the staff would have been more than happy to get some from the kitchen, but being in a big group with orders coming at various times, it wasn't very practical… Chilli sauce for the tables, yeah?

There are two options for the buttermilk pancakes, either Kelmscott dry cured bacon and maple syrup - classic - or what we went for, rum roasted pineapple and whipped coconut cream. It was news to me that you could whip coconut cream in the same way as regular cream; the consistency was pretty much identical. Mental note taken.

Three fat fluffy pancakes piled on top of each other seemed a decent portion for the price, and the chunks of sweet and sticky rum roasted pineapple were eye-rollingly good. We just needed more of it! It's like going out for a roast; there's never enough gravy. More pineapple and another dollop of that coconut cream would've sealed the deal. As it was, leisurely chomping our way through them and catching up over a latte was just fine (the coffee is crackin' here too).

So if you've only ever ventured into The Bottle of Sauce for a booze fueled feed of burgers, pizzas and wings, you should definitely try them in the cold light of day for their brunch menu. Don't go with too much planned after though, those Bottomless Bloody Marys might catch you out…