Saturday, 30 October 2010

The Sunday Times Food List Top 10 and Jinkichi

Pork and shiso rolls at Jinkichi

Jinkichi is another of those Japanese restaurants for which I have a massive soft spot and like to visit as often as possible.

Their speciality is yakitori, and they offer slightly esoteric items such as tori-kawa (chicken skin), suna-gimo (chicken gizzards), gyu-tan (ox tongue), and occasionally, if you're very lucky, nankotsu (chicken cartilage - crunchy heaven).

They also have zosui rice soup, as well as tuna natto, salmon jaws, and my beloved Calpico. So not just sanitised sushi and tempura, and more like downtown Tokyo.

Ox tongue at Jinkichi

The food is smashing, but despite being in Hampstead, Jinkichi is far from fancy - you wouldn't expect to see it get into the Michelin Guide any time soon.

It has, however, made the Food List. For, tomorrow, the first ever The Food List: Britain’s Top 200 Restaurants will be launched by the Sunday Times, and Jinkichi has made number 71.

And the reason Jinkichi is there (above many other more chichi joints) is because this list concentrates purely on the food.

Maguro natto at Jinkichi

The Sunday Times Food List, compiled in association with Harden’s, identifies the top 200 restaurants across the whole of the UK, as voted for by 8000 customers, based on food alone - not ambience, or service - just the food.

Michael Caines' Gidleigh Park in Devon comes top of the league table with Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck coming a close second. Surprisingly, Gordon Ramsay has no restaurants at all in the top half of The Food List - his Hospital Road restaurant was placed 52nd, and Petrus was rated 77th.

Duck at Jinkichi

On the other hand, former Petrus chef and Ramsay's rival, Marcus Wareing won the number three spot with his restaurant in The Berkeley Hotel (previously managed by Ramsay).

The Ledbury is at fourth place and, at number five is Michel Roux's The Waterside Inn in Bray.

Hiyayakko tofu at Jinkichi

The Food List, a 32-page special supplement of the best 100 restaurants, with profiles of the top 25, will come with every paper copy of The Sunday Times tomorrow (similar to existing supplements such as the Sunday Times Rich List).

The complete list of 200 restaurants will be available exclusively at www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/foodlist, accessible to subscribers all year round.


Miso cod at Jinkichi

I'm all in favour of the new Food List, as although I appreciate the theatre of dining out, the most important thing to me is that the food is good.

I don't really drink wine; I don't mind if the cutlery is stainless steel or silver; I don't care if the waiter comes and combs the crumbs away. Most of the time, I just want to know that I will eat something that makes me happy.

I also like that the list is based on the opinion of members of the public like me rather than Michael Winner's whims - nearly 100,000 user-generated reviews in total.

What this means is that enough people recommended the food at Jinkichi for it to go straight onto the Food List (beating Petrus).

I can't wait to see what else is on there.

THE SUNDAY TIMES FOOD LIST TOP 10

  1. Gidleigh Park
  2. The Fat Duck
  3. Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley
  4. The Ledbury
  5. The Waterside Inn
  6. Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons
  7. Le Gavroche
  8. L’Enclume
  9. One-O-One
  10. The Kitchin


Yakitori grill at Jinkichi
Jinkichi
73 Heath Street
London NW3 6UG
020 7794 6158

Jin Kichi on Urbanspoon

The Food List: Britain’s Top 200 Restaurants is compiled in association with Harden’s, publisher of The UK Restaurant Guide, and a paper version of the Top 100 is out tomorrow with the Sunday Times.

The full list of 200 Restaurants will be published online on Sunday October 31st on thesundaytimes.co.uk/foodlist.

sunday times logo

I was invited to Jinkichi last Thursday by the Sunday Times to discuss the list and the restaurant industry. The discussions were filmed, so it's possible I might be gurning on the website.

PUMPKIN Does Not Get TOUGHER Than This

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Dear Waitrose,

Here is my entry for your Pumpkin Carving Competition.

Hope you like it!

Lots of love,

meemalee xxx

ps follow the further adventures of Pumpkin Gregg here.



Friday, 29 October 2010

Pumpkin Fun at Halloween

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I adore Halloween - parties, sweets, dressing up, movies, hiding from local chavs as they bang on your door asking for money, and no obligation to buy anyone a present - best festival ever.

It bugs me a little when people complain that it's a purely American tradition and shouldn't be celebrated in Britain, as Halloween is actually descended from the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, although these days jack o'lanterns are carved out of pumpkins rather than turnips.

Pumpkins are probably my favourite part of Halloween. I've been carving the blighters since my first year at uni - because when you're a student, you embrace every festival going, be it Diwali or Hanukkah - so that's more than 10 years of pumpkin joy.

My friends and I would try our best to out-do each other with ever more elaborate designs, and then line the lit-up pumpkins up in a ghoulish parade, turn out the lights and watch horror films all night (last year, we made our own movie).


DSC08435DSC08444

Possibly even more fun than the competitive carving was the aftermath, when we'd ritually extinguish all the pumpkins and then drop-kick them into the communal garden.

The splat-squelch was the most satisfying thing ever, as they exploded one by one, peppering the grass with mulch and orange shrapnel. I was a horrible youth.

Anyway, this year, Waitrose invited me to take part in a pumpkin carving contest, and sent me their Pumpkin Carving Kit.

I have to admit, I haven't actually carved it yet and will be doing it this weekend - the picture right at the top (and at the end) is last year's effort, so I've probably disqualified myself. The rest of the photos are of ones carved by friends and family.


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But the Waitrose kit is pretty damn cool, and a massive upgrade from my student days, when I'd hack away with a kitchen knife - although the risk of stabbing myself added to the thrill of Halloween in some ways.

It comes with a pumpkin (natch), a booklet of extremely funky templates which you can attach to the pumpkin to trace the pattern, and a set of nifty little tools, including drills and mini-saws, and even a wide scoop to get rid of the pumpkinny brains.

I am going to enjoy getting down and dirty with my pumpkin tomorrow. I'm considering carving the face of my least favourite chef ... the drop-kick finale will be even more fun than usual ...


The Waitrose Pumpkin Carving Kit is £6.99, though currently on special offer in-store and on Waitrose Deliver.


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Thursday, 28 October 2010

Bray's Cottage Pork Pies - Perfect in Every Way

Bray's Cottage Small Pork Pie

I went to Chocolate Unwrapped last week. Still debating whether or not to write about it. You see, although most of the wares were a delight, a few of the vendors were less so.

This isn't just the case with chocolatiers - there seems to be a strange type of snobbery (or maybe complacency) prevalent in certain producers and restaurants where they think customer service is irrelevant if their goods are renowned for being the best (regardless of whether they actually are or not).

This attitude is unwarranted and also rather short-sighted. I couldn't care less if they're selling me rainbows - if people are dismissive, or they act like I should be lucky to taste their food, they can take a running jump - they won't be getting repeat custom from me.

And then, there are those who make up for everyone else. Bray's Cottage of North Norfolk is one of them.

Bray's Cottage Logo


Now, Bray's Cottage are known in food circles as being one of the best pork pie purveyors in Britain.

Their pies have scored Gold Stars at the Great Taste Awards, and have been ranked first in Pork Pie Taste Tests by Market Kitchen, Olive Magazine, and Food and Travel magazine. They've also been featured in both the Times (at least twice) and the Telegraph.

Other notable fans include Giles Coren who was particularly taken by the pies ("quite the most extraordinary pie I had ever known ... the perfect pork pie") and ... David Tennant *swoon*.

So yes, Bray's Cottage have an amazing reputation for their pork pies, but despite countless accolades, they do not rest on their laurels and, instead, they've built an equally stellar reputation as being one of the friendliest producers around.

The lady behind Bray's Cottage is Sarah Pettegree - every morning, she makes the pies herself with an assistant or two, and she goes out in a tiny van dubbed the Pie-aggio to supply pies to stockists and to sell them herself at various farmers' markets, events and fairs in Norfolk (she's at Real Halloween run by the Fairyland Trust* at Holt Hall this weekend), as well as further afield (she's at the BBC Good Food Show in Birmingham next month).

But Sarah also takes the time to interact with people both online and offline - as I said at the start, she's well-known as one of the nicest folk around, answering queries and giving advice to customers, as well as providing support to others in the food community, be they fellow producers, chefs or simply food lovers.

This is the point of my mini-rant at the beginning - "nice" is sorely underrated. Rather than relying on the strength of her wares as many others do, Sarah gets out there and gives back.

I mean, she's made me want to visit Norfolk, see her in action, and even become one of her pop-up pie assistants (PUPS), and I'm (a) incredibly lazy, (b) still not entirely convinced that Norfolk exists.

Bray's Cottage Pork Pies - Wedges

You want to hear about the pies though, don't you?

The pies - oh the pies.

The first thing you need to know about Bray's Cottage Pork Pies is that just a visual representation is enough to send grown men into raptures.

(See further Will Carling and Chris Evans).

Will Carling loves Bray's Cottage

Chris Evans loves Bray's Cottage

The second thing you need to know is that these pork pies more than live up to their movie-star looks.

When you bite into the gorgeous, biscuity, perfectly short pastry, it gives way to luscious, juicy, meaty pork, with just the right amount of delicate spice, and a golden vein of irresistible, caramelly onion marmalade.

I'm drooling as I write this with only an inadequate packet of cheese and onion crisps to keep me company.

Bray's Cottage Wedding Pork Pie


The third thing you need to know about Bray's Cottage Pork Pies is that they make wedding pies. WEDDING PIES. It's the first time I've ever considered renewing my vows.

So there you have it - Bray's Cottage.

Lovely lady,
Lovely pies.

Bray's Cottage Pork Pies
North Norfolk
http://www.perfectpie.co.uk/

(online orders available)


http://brayscottage.wordpress.com/
http://twitter.com/brays_cottage


*The Fairyland Trust aims to engage children, families and others in conservation, by appreciating the magic of nature. It uses myths, legends, folklore and magical traditions to introduce ecology and natural history. It's also responsible for the rocking "I'm Cooking for Trolls" apron I'm wearing here.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Brock Hall Farm Or: How I Learned to Like Goats' Cheese

Brock Hall Farm Dairy - Soft Fresh Goats Cheese


Though an ardent food-lover, there are a few food-stuffs which I'm really not particularly keen on:
  • Aubergines, for their creepy texture and nothing flavour, though people have tried to cure me, and one place almost succeeded.
  • Cucumbers, for their ability to make me start belching like a small toad if I even get a sniff of them.
  • Cardamom, but only when used in sweet food - love it in, say, a chicken biryani.
  • And goats' cheese, because it's claggy, and whiffs and tastes like a sweaty, goaty jockstrap.
But - I am always happy to be proved wrong.

And so it was the case that the first time I tried Soft Fresh, a goats' cheese from Brock Hall Farm (about which I'd heard good things), I had a cheesy epiphany.

It came in the shape of an onion tart.

My husband's choice of starter for lunch at The Wild Garlic in Dorset.

I poo-poo'd his folly, as I merrily ordered a pot of stickily delicious moules marinieres.

    Beetroot Soup Amuse-Bouches with Brock Hall Farm Goats Cheese Swirl


    But then his onion tart arrived, and it smelt so wonderful and looked so appealing, that I found my fork moving inexorably towards his plate to spear a piece.

    And by gum, it was good.

    Not a hint of goaty horror - just creamy lusciousness melting mildly into softly caramelised onions and crisp pastry.

    I returned to my mussels and ate them distractedly, slightly suspicious and confused as to what had just happened.


    Onion Tart with Brock Hall Farm Goats Cheese


    And then, and then, whatever had just happened, happened again.

    Out came two small cups of beetroot soup, each topped with a swirl of the same Soft Fresh goats' cheese.

    The gentle creaminess of the cheese was a perfect foil to the sweet-sharpness of the beetroot.

    I liked this goats' cheese.

    I would have eaten my hat, but I'd rather have eaten the cheese, and so I did.

    To be fair, I still don't love your average goats' cheese, but I'll make an exception for Brock Hall Farm's Soft Fresh, and I would very much like to try the rest of the range.


    Brock Hall Farm Dairy
    Artisan Goats' Cheese from Shropshire
    www.brockhallfarm.com
    sarah@brockhallfarm.com


    Stockists can be found here.


    Brock Hall Farm goats' cheese is served at The Wild Garlic and also legendary Blackheath Supperclub the Friday Food Club.

    Monday, 25 October 2010

    The Pickle Poll [CLOSED]


    Mat tries Barry Norman's Pickled Onions - the finest known to man -
    and fails to appreciate them in any way.


    Mat Follas does not like pickles.

    I do not like liquorice.

    I think I'm in the majority; he thinks that he is.

    Vote now - the poll will close midnight on Friday.

    The loser has to treat the winner to a free dinner. I don't want to lose.


    The question is - Which do you HATE?

    20.11.2010: THIS POLL IS NOW CLOSED - And I won :)

    Thanks for voting!

    pickle poll


    Thursday, 21 October 2010

    Meemalee's Kitchen at The Wild Garlic

    DSC01404

    I'm staring at the biggest box of onions I have ever seen in my life. And all I can think is, "Oh boy".

    About six months ago, I was chatting on Twitter, when someone asked me for a Burmese restaurant recommendation. I mentioned Mandalay as being the only place I knew of, and then someone else jumped in and asked if I'd do a Burmese night and cook for people.

    The next thing I knew, Mat Follas, the chef and owner of The Wild Garlic and winner of MasterChef 2009, tweeted to me, "Why don't you come and cook Burmese food at my place?"

    I am not a chef. I had never been in a professional kitchen. So I did what any normal person would have done in the circumstances, and I rang up my friend Kavey and screamed at her in excitement,

    "Oh My God - is he joking? I'd love to do it. Do you think I can do it? What the hell should I say?"

    Kavey is infinitely more sensible than me, and she said to me, "Play it cool and say yes".

    So I said yes. Fast forward to October, and I'm on a train to Dorset with my husband and a suitcase full of century eggs and a rucksack full of fish balls.

    This little video will tell you how it went:



    It was and is the biggest thing I've ever done, and probably the coolest.

    At one stage, I was hefting great stockpots of curry down the windiest, creakiest, most precarious stairs from the upstairs prep kitchen to the restaurant kitchen, and my only thought was how much fun I was having.

    Christophene FrittersMatpe Bean FrittersCharred Tomato Salsa

    Although initially panicked by having to work out quantities and timings, and the number of dishes on my menu, I'd done all the prep, and I knew that I had a full team behind me, supporting me all the way.

    Then the diners started arriving and it was show-time. Service itself was frantic, but wonderful, and passed in a mad, lovely blur.
    Wood-Ear Mushroom and Bean-thread Vermicelli Soup

    My right-hand man was the lovely Terry Ireland (a semi-finalist in this year's MasterChef), but everyone, both front of house and in the kitchen, was absolutely fantastic.

    Salads plated up

    As the night went on, seeing empty plate after empty plate come back was an amazing thrill.

    At one point, Mat came into the kitchen and said, "There's a dairy farmer out there who says he will give up beef for your Cinnamon Chicken".

    I thought I'd burst with delight and excitement.

    Tomato and Coriander PrawnsMogok Pork CurryStraw Mushroom and Spinach Stirfry

    And then at the end, when I was knackered and flustered, Mat dragged me out to the diners and the whole restaurant applauded.

    Tired though I was, suddenly I felt my heart singing with happiness.

    Coconut Sorbet, Iced Tapioca Milk, Brioche

    I thought to myself, "God, this must be what it's like being on MasterChef", and I finally understood why people become chefs for a living. I was almost tempted myself.

    The icing on the cake was when Mat gave me a proper Furi chef's knife when I left to say thank you.

    A present from Mat

    Anyway, Burmese Night at the Wild Garlic was an absolute blast, and I think I will definitely do it again if there's interest - and this time a bit closer to home.

    And all the recipes, including the one for Cinnamon Chicken, will be in the Burmese cookbook which I'm currently writing - although I haven't got a deal yet - hint hint to any publishers that come across this ...

    Talking of thank yous, it wouldn't have been possible without the following people, so thank you so much to Mat Follas, Amanda Follas, Gill Anstey, Terry Ireland, Charlie, Sophie, Katy, Shannon, Tash, Zoe, Jen, Georgie, Steph, Emma, and Annie at The Wild Garlic.

    Me and Terry

    Thanks also to Will and Tom at delicious. Magazine for helping with prep.

    Lastly thank you to Nick Tett Family Butchers, Fruit 'N' Two Veg, and Davey's Locker.

    BURMESE NIGHT REVIEWS:

    Certain photos copyright Kavey Eats, Lost in the Larder, The London Foodie - click the photos to see the photographer (thanks guys)

    Film by Simon Stirrup. Music by Tom Phillips and Simon Stirrup.

    Tuesday, 19 October 2010

    The Wild Garlic, Beaminster, Dorset

    The Wild Garlic

    Yes, I know I've just come back from cooking Burmese food at The Wild Garlic and you may want to know a little more about that.

    However, I thought I'd take a step back and throw you a curve ball by writing about what Mat Follas and his fine brigade normally dish up.

    Last February, my husband, his brother, his brother's girlfriend and I had resolved that as soon as the gladiator that had slain his opponents in culinary warfare had established a going concern, we would venture west and pay a pilgrimage to this champion.

    The Wild Garlic - Sign


    Well, life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans, so it's not till more than a year later that we four are embarking on an adventure to the distant land of Dorset to make good this resolution.

    None of us want to drive, so we get a train to the nearest station, and thus find ourselves in the village of Crewkerne wondering what the hell to do. There's some kind of funfair being set up, and the temptation to go on the Mega-Dance and 'llow Beaminster altogether is strong, but eventually we find a cab who takes us the rest of the way.

    Crewkerne

    The Wild Garlic's address is 4, the Square. Beaminster appears to comprise just this Square, so it's easy enough to find.

    As we stand at the door, suddenly I feel a bit weird - I'm conscious of the fact that less than a month from now, Mat is allowing me to take over his restaurant, and seeing it in real life has made it become very real.

    DSC00850

    Any weirdness is immediately replaced by awe - being pedestrians, we've lazily booked the apartment directly above the restaurant, and Katy, one of Mat's brigade, leads us up to a retro vision of wood, pale greens and lilacs (a theme carried over from the restaurant).

    The flat is bigger than we expected, comprising a combined bedroom and lounge area, a fully equipped kitchen diner (plus bread, butter, wine and cereals) and an ensuite bathroom.

    Moreover, I'm a sucker for a well-designed piece of furniture, and this flat is a showcase for some of the best including G-Plan and Ercol - a beautiful set of table and three-legged chairs which sleekly slot together to leave a clean silhouette, some Mad Men-style purple recliners, a starburst wall clock, and a glam mirrored pendant lamp.

    I make the other three strike a pose for posterity. It has to be done.

    Like some kind of album cover

    There's time to kill before dinner, so we loaf around the stylish apartment for a while, and then decide that we really ought to get some fresh sea air. Sadly, there is only one bus from Beaminster to West Bay (the nearest beach) and we miss it - the brother-in-law and his other half make it to the sea on foot, but my husband and I do not, as Mat has asked Terry Ireland (his sous chef and a semi-finalist in this year's MasterChef) to let me have a go at prep before service that evening.

    It's my first time in a professional kitchen and I mainly get in the way, so we're all relieved when it gets to 7, and I can cross to the other side of the swing door for our reservation.

    Bread, nuts and oil

    The four of us sit down at a gorgeous wooden table which looks like a large piece of driftwood, but in fact used to be a French carpenter's table.

    It's strikingly different from the other tables, which are
    by Marnie Moyle and just as beautiful, but engraved at the edges with the names of birds, plants, and randomly, types of potato.

    Marnie Moyle table

    A jug of iced water arrives immediately from a smiling Steph. Jen and Emma are also front of house tonight - Jen takes drinks orders - some wine for the others and Mat's Fizz for me. We're also given good bread, oil and balsamic to dip in, and some spiced, caramelised nuts to nibble.

    Because I'm with family and I'm a control freak, I make all the food choices - we absolutely have to cover as much of the menu as possible.

    Starters are Dorset Crab Thermidor; Smoked Scallops, Smoked Meats Carpaccio; Sweet Chilli Squid; and Confit Duck Leg, Orange Sauce.

    Dorset Crab ThermidorConfit Duck Leg

    Often Thermidor is so smothered in cheese that the seafood is suffocated, but here the creamy sauce simply serves to enhance the sweetness of the delicate crab, as it rightly should.

    Continuing this theme of allowing the main ingredient to shine, the Wild Garlic squid comes free of the usual batter shackles and, astonishingly, the texture is perfect - tender, delicious, with no sign of rubber at all.

    Sweet Chilli Squid

    And the chilli jam that comes with it is fresh and uncloying (in fact, not half an hour beforehand, Terry was trying to teach me how to make both this and the thermidor sauce, to which my reaction was, "You're not really expecting me to remember all this, are you?").

    The duck leg is a little too salty for my liking, but the skin is fabulously crispy, and the portion so generous that we dive in without guilt when my brother-in-law offers a tasting.

    The smoked meats are textbook, but as for the scallops - oh, the scallops. Mr Follas has been known to dive for his own anyway, which already makes them that little bit more special ("hand-dived by the chef" and all that).

    Smoked Scallops

    But these scallops have been smoked until they turn into nuggets of yum. Yes, that's possibly the worst phrase that I have ever written in my life (although give me time), but seriously, people - nuggets of yum.

    My husband has never, ever seen the point of scallops, but these ones, which have been smoked briefly over woodshavings in a little camp-style smoking pan, actually make him change his mind.

    A storming start, so we're really looking forward to the next round. We, by which I mean I, have chosen Local Pork Chop, Hogweed, Purple Sweet Potato, Crayfish; Slow-Cooked Skirt, Truffle Cream; Whole Gurnard, Tomato and Tamarind; and Fillet of Beef, Smoked Mash and Bearnaise Sauce.

    Frips

    As we wait for our mains, two platters are brought with five beautiful types of leaf on each for us to try as amuse-bouches. Sadly I can't remember them all, but there's ice leaf, oyster leaf and Tiny Totoro Umbrella (aka nasturtium). All mad, all exciting, the peppery nasturtium's my favourite and not just because of the Ghibli/Animal Crossing connotations.

    When my dish arrives, I want to sing "Under the Sea", so lively does my wee crayfish appear (and it tastes just as perky). The pork chop is a little tough, but the fat is nicely crisped, and the ground hogweed ramps up the savouriness. The purple sweet potato is soothing and moreish, with warm hints of miso.

    Pork Chop, Hogweed, Crayfish, Purple Sweet Potato

    The hubby's beef and smoked mash is gorgeously autumnal, the mash a sexier version of the one I'd tasted in Birmingham.

    Brother-in-law's beef is an even better chunk of cow than the husband's, with its frothy topping of truffley cream. And like the miso in my purple mash, there's another Japanese touch in the little tamagoyaki roll which comes with his dish - but it goes surprisingly well.


    And his girlfriend's gurnard is the biggest beast we've ever seen - she immediately names the fish Bernard, and then apologises to it repeatedly as she eats its delicious body covered in tangy sauce.

    At this point though, we're close to admitting defeat. The portions are huge.

    Possibly too huge. But despite the size, the presentation is somehow dainty - they're the prettiest plates I've seen in a while.

    Bernard the Gurnard

    But I'll be damned if I don't get to try dessert, so we plough on and order Mixed Berry Eton Mess; Local Damson and Apple Crumble; and Trio of Chocolate Desserts (Chocolate Cardamom Brownie, Dark Chocolate and Rosemary Mousse, Chocolate and Orange Sorbet).

    We also order some of Mat's home-made sloe gin - might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb, and it turns out to be delightful.

    The Eton Mess is heavenly. There is no other word one could use. The damson and apple mix is too sharp; however, the granola in the oaty crumble works brilliantly.

    Eton Mess

    The trio of desserts is also a success - my favourite being the citrussy sorbet, though the mousse is a close second.

    And to be fair, the only reason I'm not so keen on the brownie is that I'm not fond of cardamom used in sweet stuff.

    Trio of Chocolate Desserts

    By now, we're weakly scraping at the plates with our spoons, lapsing into a food coma, when Mat appears to say hello and gives us all a shot of Somerset Pomona on the house.

    This act of kindness combined with the wonderful food we've indulged in means the rest of the night disappears into a bit of a haze ...

    It's a bloody good thing we booked the flat upstairs.

    Nightcap

    The Wild Garlic
    4 The Square
    Beaminster
    Dorset DT8 3AS
    01308 861 446
    www.thewildgarlic.co.uk

    The Lewin Apartment can be booked directly through the Wild Garlic website and costs £120-£150 a night