Les Rosbifs

July 31, 2012

I spent an interesting hour last week talking with Sallie Hooper. She’s spent the last few years co-ordinating Leicestershire Foodlinks, the body that helps promote and develop local  food producers across the county. She’s now sort of gone over to the other side  and started her own business in the form of the restaurant Les Rosbifs. 

Sallie and George Hooper

The restaurant is located within Northfield Farm in Cold Overton, a few miles north of Oakham. It’s well-known for its fantastic rare breed beef and pork and high standards of animal welfare.  Owner Jan McCourt has developed a popular farmshop and tearoom and then restaurant.  For various reasons,  including his own health problems, he had to shut the restauarnt but Hooper has seized the opportunity and relaunched it as a family buisness with sons Duncan in the kitchen and Gorge and Ollie front of house. Duncan was previously cooking at the Queen’s Head, Nassington, a rather smart inn on the Nene near Peterborough.

The name is a nod of course to both the fine beef produced at Northfield and to the model of Ferme Auberge, the informal farm restaurants serving up quality home -produced food that Francophiles dream of finding as they drive through the Dordogne.  The style is rural – all check tableclothes and riding tack on the wall.

Les Rosbifs

I’ve not eaten there yet but all the signs are promising. Obviously Northfield Farm meats feature, but the deal is that the Hooper’s can source their produce from where they wish.  Given Sallie’s experience she’s got a very good handle on where to get the good stuff locally.  The food is pitched mainly at solid British classics with strong focus on seasonality – a blowout Sunday lunch might start with cauliflower and Colston Bassett Stilton soup with truffle oil and toasted almonds, followed by roasted Nothfield beef, yorkshire pud and  goose fat roasties and ending up up with sticky toffee puddding with salted caramel sauce.  Evening menu offers steaks and crowd-pleasers such as corn-fed chicken breast with spring onon and cheddar risotto or Belvoir-ale battered fish and chips. Bread is all baked on site and the whole place gives off a nice unpretentious food-focussed air. I look forward to going at some point – do give us your views here if you get there first.

The Lord Nelson

July 24, 2012

Lunch  - The Lord Nelson

I was working in Rutland this morning (of which more soon), which meant I had time to quickly checkout the Lord Nelson in Oakham.  It’s run by the people who opened the hugely successful Tobie Norris pub in Stamford, and is very much in the same mould – picturesque ancient building just off the main drag of a propserous market town, unpretentious but self-confident marketing, nice selection of real ales, simple but appealing food menu featuring the likes of stone-baked pizzas.  I settled for a big of cheese and pickle and the delightful Nottingham beer Harvest Pale.  The weather had finally decided to show us what we’ve been missing all this time, so sitting out in their sun-trap yard with this for lunch sent my welllbeingometer soaring. 

It’s in the building in the corner of the market place that used to house Nick’s restaurant, where Dameon Clarke among others used to ply his trade. Good to see the building put to good use and  definitely worth a visit if in Oakham.

I was at a party once in Berkshire. To be honest, I had gatecrashed it. The hostess, whom I knew to be French, eyed me suspicously and came over to investigate. “Where in France are you from?”, was my opening smalltalk gambit. “Dijon,” she replied rather curtly. “Ah,’ I counter. “Like the mustard.”  At that point her expression went from cold to glacial and I was asked to leave.

Maybe it’s that lingering memory of the doleful influence of cliche, but I try and avoid writing too much about pork pies. I love them and am proud of them, but y’know, who wants their culture to be defined by just one thing?

Me getting to grips with a pie

However I’ll break that rule today as I was lucky enough to spend the morning at Maiyango, eating and making wonderful pork pies with Walker’s master pie maker Ian Heircock.   It was a lovely ray of sunshine to lighten  the leaden grey skies and relentless rain of an English summer day.  Ian gave us his presentation, honed in visits to countless WI groups in the County,  which had plenty of appealing insight into the craft tradition of a 200 year old Leicester pie making business that now knocks out over a million pies a week.

Three things I learned today?  Melton Mowbray pork pies use uncured meat because the pie was developed for huntsmen and the slaughtering  of pigs took place at the same time as the hunt season, so they didn’t need to cure it but could use  fresh meat.    

The famous crisp brand was developed by Walkers  in 1945 as the business tried to diversify because pigs were in somewhat short supply. The brand was sold off to Pepsico in 1971 for £3million, and the rest, as they say, is Gary Lineker’s pension fund.

Before and after – showing the distinctive shape of a Melton Mowbray pie that must be cooked unsupported in the oven.

And finally, when pies were still hand raised every pie maker would have his own personal crimp styling,  giving ultimate traceablity back to the maker. I really hope that’s true  – I remember there was similar conceit used to try and legitimate a megabrand of polyfilla white bread in the 70s  – “Nice one, Cyril”.

Anyhow I also got a chance to work a billet around a dolly (two more terms I learned today) and raise and seal  my own pie. Sadly we didn’t get the chance to cook them but I did at least come away with a nicely enhanced view of our crowning glory and a pie to take home and enjoy with some Dijon – sorry, English mustard tonight. You should note that most of Walker’s pies are not officially Melton Mowbray pies (according to the PGI rules)  as they use hoops to support the pie in the oven, giving  them their distinctive fluted sides. 

* Oh and for those still on tenterhooks from last week – I’m pleased to say I was successful in Bistro Pierre’s Dish of the Month competition. Below  is a little reminder of what I shall now refer to as my award-winning effort.

toulouse sausage
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