Thursday, 3 December 2009

Airline food & down under bread

The HFF blogger in chief is off to Australia next week for three weeks of camping in the wilderness and avoiding Christmas. Which isn't to say I don't like Christmas food its just that it all leads to a remarkably stretched stomach that never quite seems to recover in the New Year. Mince pies, Christmas pudding, my mum's chocolate log and a moist free range Copas turkey are all fantastic, but I think I can only cope with them all once every 3 years.

Escaping from the UK made me start to think about airline food and whether it is actually as bad as it is made out to be. In my opinion it has, in general, actually improved over the last 10 years. I wonder though if our expectations haven't also risen. We now seem to expect restaurant quality, gourmet meals, having paid a pittance to sit in a cramped flying bus. The recent trend for BA to follow the example of Easy Jet et al and only serve sandwiches on short haul, isn't actually a bad thing. In reality how often would you eat a three course meal on a bus at an unlikely time of day. Never is the answer, so why do it on a 3 hour flight to Geneva?

Long haul is a different matter. When stuck on an aeroplane for 24 hours (in my case), you need sustenance, even if just to relieve the boredom of the flight. Having been lucky enough to fly Virgin Upper Class recently I can now point out the differences between us and them. Us, the cattle class general public on the glorified flying bus, use plastic cutlery and plastic glasses. We eat plastic cheese and grey food served from a plastic tray. Them, the business class and well to do, they use glass and designer cutlery with bone china plates, one dish of fine food served at a time with a choice of fine wine and a cheese plate with port to finish.

Two questions arise, why can't Gate Gourmet produce something similar for us poor folk in row 72? And why can they use real crockery, cutlery and glassware and we get plastic? It seems that the airlines don't expect anyone paying that amount to be a terrorist while we are all suspects not to be trusted with a small fork in case we hold the whole plane to ransom.

I know airlines are going through a considerable period of cost saving so maybe the food experience is marginal for them, in which case I would prefer a well made sandwich and a glass of water, especially as I am destined to spend the rest of my life lying in row 72.

I'd be interested to hear others experiences good and bad of airline food.

While in Australia I will be camping in various National Park's so am looking forward to my Aussie friends showing me how to make a traditional damper, a traditional bread cooked on an open fire. Hot from the coals it is fantastic. There is a recipe on the rather wonderful Aussie Slang website, the website that helps you communicate with Australian's! Browsing the slang dictionary never fails to make me laugh.

Finally I ate at the Thai Orchid with friends in Henley last night. Firstly the elephant seems to have gone missing much to all our consternation. secondly am I right in thinking that the food isn't as good as it once was? Or is it just another case of expectations having risen?

I hope to update while in Oz, but Happy Christmas and looking forward to a food filled New Year. And last of all good luck to Gino d'Acampo in the jungle. One of our demonstartion chef's this year, we hope to have him back in 2010.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Sniff, Sip, Slurp and Spit

Was lucky enough to meet up with Quintin and Lynn from Hatch Mansfield who ran the tutored wine tasting's at the 2009 Henley Food Festival,while enjoying the a few of the hundred's of wines on show at the Decanter Fine Wine Encounter over the weekend.

Hatch are the UK distributors for Villa Maria from New Zealand and the wonderful Burgundy's from Louis Jadot, (amongst many others, more of which later), both of which they were showing. Villa Maria I am very familiar with, they are multiple award winning wines with the whites being especially good. My favourites are the reislings, but it was the Single Vineyard Omahu Gravels Viognier 2007 that really blew me away. A rich mouthful with a long finish and a great example of a much under rated grape.

I find a lot of Burgundy over rated but at the very top end it can be fantastic. On the other hand it is ludicrously expensive at the top end and not very often, in my opinion, good vale for money. Which is why a tasting opportunity for the Clos Vouget Grand Crus 2002 at £50 a bottle should not be sniffed at. A rich complex wine that really does put New World Pinot Noir in the shade. But is it worth £50, probably not. I'd rather spend £11 on a Wither Hills!

Of course my palette may not be that refined, and my pockets not that deep. I may not have helped the palette by having a veggy breakfast at Eat & 2 Veg a great diner in Marylebone High St. prior to the wine tasting. Great that is apart from the veggy sausage that just doesnt work. No veggy sausage really works! Otherwise friendly and efficient service, a nice room with lovely over sized red banquettes, well designed tables and a real buzz, even on a very wet Sunday morning.

I didn't let the sausage ruin my day however and was lucky enough to sample some other wonderful wines. The top ones of which are:
  • Vergelegen Flagship Red 2004, South Africa: a classic blend of Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc that gives a rich dark red, spicy mouthful with berry and cassis flavours.
  • Peter Lehman Mentor 2004, Australia: a proper old fashioned Shiraz, peppery and full bodied with a long finish.
  • Jacobs Creek Johann 2001, Australia: maybe a suprise to find Jacobs Creek in here but they have some wonderful high end limited release wines. This is one, a lovely Cabernet/Shiraz.
  • Bodega Catena Zapata Alta Malbec 2006, Argentina. One of the best Argentinian producers with a lovely elegant Malbec, dark red, rich fruit, notes of black cherry and plum.
  • Glen Carlou Quartz Stone Chardonay 2008, South Africa: lightly oaked subtle green apples, apricots and peach flavours. Would be great with roast chicken.
  • Taittinger Les Folies de la Marquetterie NV : a Decanter Gold medal winner, one of the other Hatch Mansfield wines on show in the medal winners room. A subtle single vineyard champagne with intense bubbles. A lovely fruity celebration mouthful.
  • Cattin Gewurtztraminer Grand Cru Hatschbourg 2007: a brilliant example of an Alsace classic from the highly aromatic gewurtztramminer grape, subtle, fruity, rich.
  • Siefried Estate Winemakers Collection, Sweet Agnes Riesling Ice Wine 2008, New Zealand. Ice wine in my view is a gift from the gods and this is one of the very best. The essence of great sweet wine, rich and bold conjuring sweet apriocots and honey.

There were hundreds of wines that I didn't manage to taste, many of which would have been superb, many of which would have been very average. In fact my overall impression was that this was not an outstanding year. However at the top end the best is still fantastic and if I was to be stuck on a desert island with just one bottle it would be the Siefried Ice Wine.

We are hoping that Hatch Mansfield will be at Henley Food Festival again in 2010, hopefully with more space for tasting some of their superb collection of wines. Look out for an announcement in the New Year.


Friday, 20 November 2009

Welcome to the HFF Blog

Welcome to the Henley Food Festival Blog, we'll be updating on a fairly regular basis, especially once we start getting really active in the New Year.

There are lots of things bubbling under at the moment that the whole team is very excited about, but until that pen signs the proverbial dotted line we can't tell you more. So watch this space!

Having said that we are really pleased that Phyllis Court Club will be letting us use their Paddock again and provided we can iron out some access problems, we should be able to improve the whole site for 2010. Thanks must also go to Signals, the best web and design company in town, for all their brilliant work on our website.

We have just been able to put up some fantastic film footage of the 2009 Henley Food Festival on YouTube courtesy of RT Films and CoolcucumberTV, with the RT Films footage also embedded at the foot of the HFF home page; dont worry it's not all in Italian!

This blog also gives us the opportunity to talk about food in and around Henley more generally and to find out from our visitors what they would like to see at the Festival and how they would like to see the Henely food scene improve.

For example I am always disappointed by the large number of chain restaurants there are in the town itself, and especially by the mediocre quality of the food served. Today's lunch in Brasserie Gerard is a case in point; great service, nice setting but completely flavourless French onion soup, goujons and escalope. Cheap but actually I can do much better at home.

It made me think that what the town could do with is a good independent brasserie. We have Italian's but no French. In a town this size and this affluent that's quite a suprise. Neither do we have modern British/European. While around Henley, in many of the villages, former pubs are serving great food, yet there is nothing in the town that comes close.

What does anyone else think, leave a comment and maybe we can get a campaign going. In the meantime we'd be interested to hear who your favourite local restaurant and food supplier or producer is.

The blog is live

20 November and the work begins