‘Bravest of the brave, most generous of generous, never had a country more faithful friends than you’ – Sir Ralph Turner MC, Adjutant of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Queen Alexandra’s Own Gurkha Rifles, 1931.
The reputation of the Gurkhas reverberates. 200 years ago the British declared war on Nepal , a spat concerning trading border disputes with the East India Company: the Anglo-Nepalese war of 1814-16 became known as the ‘Gurkha War’. The tone was set from the first battle at the Nalapani fort near Dehradun in India, a 600-strong Nepalese garrison led by Captain Balbhadra Kunwar holding out against 5,000 British troops for more than a month; two failed assaults led the British to resort to attrition tactics, cutting off the fort’s water supply. Unbowed after four days, and with severe loss of troops, Balbhadra eventually led his remaining 70 men through the besieging force, fighting his way out and escaping into the hills: an early example of ‘come and have a go if you think you’re ‘ard enough’. The British were simply, not quite hard enough: Balbhadra’s legacy was to become a Nepalese national hero.
Gurkhas were always ‘well ‘ard’ in my mind. I remember playing with my primary school mate Martin, jealous as he unveiled his new Airfix models: “Awww, you’ve got Gurkhas, they’re the best!”. He was told stories by his Great Uncle Arthur, who served in India with the Royal Fusiliers; famed for bravery under fire and their savagely curved Khukuri knives, they would prefer to dispatch their enemies in hand-to-hand combat, he was told; probably best to have them on your team, was the takeaway message.Read on...
Vosne-Romanée blew me away the very first time we met – Pinot Noir as I had never known it. "I just don't get red Burgundy, it's just all a bit thin, a bit weedy' was my line, having just arrived from Oddbins in 2004 to work for independent merchant The Winery, Little Venice. Owner David Motion's riposte: "Really? Ok, try this", plucking a bottle from the old apothecary shop's wooden shelf – Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru 'Les Beaux Monts' from Domaine Michel Noëllat. One sniff, without tasting, I put the glass down: "Ok. I get it."
The perfume of top draw Pinot Noir is the seducer, and the memory of that first time winged back as David popped a bottle of Vosne from Domaine Robert Sirugue during lunch at Brat restaurant (BYO bottle), a domaine he imports directly from the grower, as with all of the Burgundy he lists.
Owning 11 hectares of vines in the sleepy village of Vosne, the winery is run by 5th generation siblings Jean-Louis and Marie- France, Jean-Louis' son Arnaud now the winemaker. This village wine is made from twelve lieu dits (including Aux Reas, La Croix Blanche, Les Chalandins), and despite being young, its already oozing with red cherry scented grace and charm – silky stuff.
The Domaine appears to be flying quietly under the radar in the UK, while garnering a cult following in Japan after an appearance in Manga comic 'Kami no Shizuki' (The Drops of God) . Relatively excellent value for the finest spot on the planet for Pinot Noir, they own a plot of 1er Cru 'Les Petits Monts' which overlooks the hallowed Grand Crus of Richebourg and La Romanée – reader, I bought one.
Vosne, you're a babe....
Vosne-Romanée 2016, Domaine Robert Sirugue
62,000. That’s the capacity of the new stadium that Tottenham Hotspur will move in to later this year – built on the existing site of the former 36,000 White Hart Lane – and the attendant upsurge of activity in N17 that has been ticking along over the past year is no coincidence: no doubt about it, the new home for Spurs is the main thrust for everything happening in the area.
The first flickerings of a Tottenham uplift began a couple of years ago, and once it was confirmed that the club would indeed be staying in the area rather than gallivanting across to another postcode, it felt like someone, somewhere, pressed a button labelled GO for all things food and booze related.
Are you tipsy?
‘Je suis pompette, darling’ – tipsy, tiddly, squiffy, cockeyed, mellow, well-oiled. Oh, the white-heat given off by that second martini, the thwack of booze pulsing through a system that skipped lunch, a tingle in the fingertips, the anticipatory glee of the first chip scooping up a wobble of rouille – the joy, chips and rouille! – and a certainty that this, this my friends, is what makes eating out such a thrill-ride, such a mood lifter, the reason I’m feeling so damn cock-a-hoop about being here for dinner, experiencing the culinary equivalent of the horn.
The Folkestone Wine Company
The Fordwich Arms
Where The Light Gets In
The Mash Inn
Grand Trunk Road
The Laughing Heart
German Doner Kebab
Black Axe Mangal
House of Ho
Something is happening in Folkestone. As the next phase of development of the harbour, seafront, and former Folkestone Harbour railway station kicks into gear, the ripples of renewed vigour are reverberating across the town. There's a sense of energy, creativity and derring-do that is pulsing through everything going on, a palpable feeling that Folkestone is a few short moves away from being a Kent coast spot that is about to 'pop'.
A key marker for this nascent and quickening uptick is Custom Folkestone, operating out of a shipping container on the swiftly regenerating Harbour Arm, flung like a pioneer outpost up against the buffeting winds and sea spray of the English Channel, the vanguard of a clutch of operators flying the flag for the renaissance of this port town nestled against the edge of the Kent North Downs. The old Custom House on the harbour is itself in process of a makeover, built in 1859 yet remaining damaged since shellfire during World War II, and will now form a focal point for the refurbished station and Harbour Arm.
Founded by artist and chef Cherry Truluck, this community interest project has a wide-ranging manifesto combining food, food-focused artistic projects, an ingredient and labour exchange/bartering system with the local community where a call for ingredients is put out each week to small growers (this week it's Jerusalem artichokes and tarragon), a vision to be a genuine transformative force within the community while 'changing the world, one whelk at a time' – Folkestone whelks are often on, fresh off the steamer and on to the menu.
The menu cartwheels through myriad influences, whirligiging from skate with wild garlic miso and sweet pickles to Folkestone huss cured with Walmestone Grower's beetroot and Dockyard gin; from a pitch-perfect slab of Jansson's Temptation to borscht with homemade yoghurt and apple. Scallop wontons make an appearance in a sonorous chilli/ginger broth – chillies with plenty of kick, from their own plant – while 'Crabaroni' cheese featured this week, crabs freshly steamed from Folkestone Trawlers and combined with Ottinge Court Farm cheese, their version of the Swiss cheese Mutschli. While chatting about growers and producers I'm introduced to the brilliant L.E.A.F. Folkestone, a community online market allowing seamless ordering and pick-up of local produce at the Quarterhouse.
Drinks feature the excellent sparkling from Terlingham Vineyard, the vines just a few miles away on the Kent North Downs, bread is courtesy of Docker Bakehouse and Brewery (operating from the shipping container next door), with ingredients for the menu obsessively sourced from local growers and producers. Together with the innovative Dr Legumes housed in another container alongside, there's a sense that this little patch almost pitched right into the sea, is a signifier of things to come, the brave outliers.
Rocksalt was undoubtedly the first bold culinary sign for Folkestone, led by chef Mark Sargeant, perched on its impossibly perfect location on the harbour, a slice of 'Côte-de-Folke' life – its opening in 2011 was a very early signifier of what was to come, and with the regeneration led by the Folkestone Harbour & Seafront Development Company now flipping into overdrive, the Harbour Arm has been revamped dramatically, becoming an increasingly vibrant hub for food and drink – this summer will be a big step change, a marked momentum shift. Custom are looking to add another connected container alongside soon, doubling the space.
The original genesis of Folkestone's renaissance is due to the titanic efforts of Sir Roger de Haan, who mainlined the proceeds of the £1.4 billion sale of his Saga group into the set-up of a visionary arts charity, The Creative Foundation, whose sole existence is simple – the regeneration of Folkestone.
The waves of current momentum have been sweeping through the Old High Street and surrounds over the last 18 months or so, with the arrival of The Folkestone Wine Company which I wrote about here, the opening of the swank, very shiny Radnor Arms and the imminent opening of the new project from Ben and Lucy Cuthbert – the couple behind the excellent Pullman pub (2014), Lubens pizzeria (2016), and recently acquired and transformed Harbour Inn (2018) – set to become an all-day café/bistro with a wine shop, fresh produce, and plans to brew their own beer on site. The huge building had lain abandoned for four years, and its reopening will bring fresh energy to the Creative Quarter. Chuck in the fact that Folkestone has a thrumming Nepalese community – due to the Royal Gurkha Rifles base – churning out the finest Momo dumplings available to humanity, and you have a right old culinary smackdown happening.
The Folkestone chatter is about to start getting noisier: HS1 train 45 minutes from Stratford International, 53 minutes from King's Cross International, you say? House prices a good 50-60% cheaper than most of London, you say? Hmmm....
Ahead of the curve? Custom is part of the curve, and it's only going to get better.
"You should cut down on your Folke Life mate, get some exercise....or some more whelks..." – Anonymous, Folkestone, 2019
Leyton Pub Rising
"Are you looking at my bird, mate?" and "Will you sing your songs outside?" – The Coach and Horses felt like this kind of dive for years: scuzzy carpet, grimy lavs, faint aura of menace.
It's all change with this impressive revamp, the kitchen led by hip-hop loving local chef Steven Wilson, who has spent time in some top London kitchens. With Leyton Orient currently languishing in the Vanarama National League – within chanting distance of the pub – this is another welcome boost for Leyton which has started getting jiggy, most significantly on Francis Road with the additions of Yardarm, Kettle & Ryan, Marmelo Kitchen and friends.
Several visits and the 'perfect pub' classics are being ticked off:
* Sausage roll is a Platonic ideal (massive) and a very fair £4.50 for the size. 1-0.
* Scotch Egg: Cumberland mince with a smattering of Clonakilty black pudding. Top corner.
* Crisp potato cake with roasted garlic mayo. Cheffy layers of mandolined potatoes, a nod to the classic Pavés de pommes de terre.
Hat-trick (2', 57', 89').
Return trips are made to make sure this isn't a mirage, just to check that it's a bona fide pub with owners that give a massive toss about what's going on. The Sunday Roast is a beauty, probably the best that Leyton has seen for decades. Beef suet pudding with mash and liquor is the clincher – deeply satisfying on a drizzly day, a mound of suet giving way to reveal hunks of tender short rib, the whole lot collapsing into parsley flecked liquor (no eel juice here, no eels on the menu...yet), with a jug of extra liquor on the side. Woof.
The owners have form, led by Ronnie Finch who transformed The Duke in Wanstead a few years ago, as well as partnering with chef Chris Hruskova on Hackney bakery The Bread Station – next project is the reopening of The Leytonstone Tavern.
"Will you sing your songs outside?" – Yes mate, just let me finish this Scotch Egg...
391 High Road
Abstinence Makes the Drink Last Longer
It feels like I've achieved a feat of Herculean proportions: 122 days of a total self-imposed booze ban, nothing, nada, zilch, not a sip – even negotaited a couple of tastings with genuine, never-before-seen 100per cent spitting (even the good stuff, even the expensive kit), out it goes, sluicing into the spittoon. This was new territory, this was some serious strength of will, this was frightening.
"...They have a few drinks and probably the prawn sandwiches, and they don't realise what's going on out on the pitch." – Roy Keane
What happened to football? The first drink I had at a match as an eight-year-old in the 1980s was a scalding hot Bovril in a flimsy plastic cup, so hot to the hand it needed to be balanced on the seat in front of me: half-time, Dad nips off, comes back with beef stock. This was the routine.
Tottenham Hotspur. This is my club, my one and only club, to quote Bill Nicholson, the legendary former Spurs manager. So, what’s my club now saying on the drinks front?
“Can I offer you something while we talk? You wanna beer or something? Wine?”
We’re backstage at the 02 Centre in Greenwich, two hours before showtime: 17.30. Dave Mustaine walks back from the fridge with a Heineken – I asked for a beer.
Megadeth wasn’t a thing for me until recently, until last year, a bewildering and unexpected flashbang: I’ve become a fan, and dammit I’m going to trawl through all the albums over thirty-five years and get a real handle on the band, ranking the albums in order of favourites – a protean list that shifts with repeated listens. From the opening frantic jagged riffs of Holy Wars…The Punishment Due (Rust In Peace, 1990, fourth album), I was hooked. Urgent, visceral, crowd-moshing thrash metal: a new obsession, a compulsion.
— It started with venison medallions and a Barossa Valley Shiraz: the dish that sent me down the path of food and wine while living in Sydney. A career change from advertising began by joining Oddbins in 2003, then to independent merchant The Winery (specialising in German Riesling, Burgundy, Piemonte, California), moving to selling wine to London restaurants, and a stint as sommelier at Zucca in Bermondsey — the writing kicked in after all of this. I’ve written for various publications including The Evening Standard, The Guardian, Christie’s Magazine, The London Magazine, Noble Rot, Completely London, Caterer, and Ocado magazine. I consult on wine lists for restaurants, recent projects including Smoking Goat, Kiln, Coombeshead Farm, Bibo, Arabica Bar and Kitchen, Frontline Club, Cây Tre and Martello Hall.