Fitzbillies

Author/publisher of the marvelous food quarterly Fire & Knives and all round good guy Tim Hayward has fled the metropolis with his family for the calmer waters of Cambridge; only a matter of weeks ago he re-launched the swiftly renovated city icon (est. 1922) Fitzbillies café and cake shop, preserving the elegant Art Nouveau façade, much to the relief of one Stephen Fry, who’s been tweeting his concern over its continuance.

Tim’s wife (and keen amateur baker) Alison Wright says they’ve had quite a lot of correspondence, electronically and otherwise from the old guard voicing fears about the future of the Fitzbillies Chelsea Bun, fondant frogs and chocolate mice; she’s happy to report they remain on the shelves. In fact nothing’s been taken away but a lot’s been added. There’s a cool café at one end with oak floors and exposed brickwork (discovered, complete with original wooden lintels after an over-enthusiastic whack with a lump hammer) furnished with one long table, so if you’re not keen on sharing your space, get over yourself. When we called in the other day stylish students tapping on iPads sat hugger-mugger with yummy mummies and gnarly profs sipping espressos.

In an airy dining area behind the shop with the kitchen in view, seasoned chef Rosie Sykes, who’s worked with some of the best (Shaun Hill, Alastair Little) moves hither and thither in a completely unruffled fashion producing plate after plate of good looking food. The menu borrows lightly from Fergus Henderson’s St John – uncomplicated, pared down and honest. Welsh rarebit it just that – no leaves, no chutney, just the beauteous thing on a plate (to the bafflement of one meticulously coiffured customer clearly expecting garnish). Crab pate, pickled cucumber, toast is a lesson in less is more, the pate fresh as a daisy, deep in flavour and nicely seasoned. Nutty, chunky bread is lightly toasted; it’s a triumph. Sausage roll with fruit ketchup catches my eye (as does 1938 beef pattie) but the duck ham, apple & geranium jelly wins. The jelly is delicately perfumed and proves a perfect adjunct to the preserved duck. There’s nothing on the lunch menu over nine quid, most things are around a fiver – phenomenal value.

And the Chelsea buns? Huge, sticky, mega-sweet and completely addictive. Calm down Stephen. Twitter ye not. All’s well on Trumpington Street.

Fitzbillies, 51-52 Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 1RG T: 01223 352 500 www.fitzbillies.com

Botton Village

The Botton Village Shop

Botton Village in Danby Dale, nestling beneath the North York Moors, is a remarkable place: five farms, 280 people half of whom have learning disabilities or special needs all living together as a community in which those with special needs share their home and life with those who support and work with them.

It’s all part of the admirable Camphill Village Trust, a charity inspired by Rudolph Steiner whose philosophy was based on the principles of  mutual support and respect in which everyone works to help each other rather than for personal reward.  So spending a few bob in the food store gives you the double whammy of taste-good and feel-good.

The shop is packed with loads of good things; groceries and wholefood, their own herbal tea, jams and pressed apple juice, bread and cakes from their bakery and seasonal organic and biodynamic fruit and veg from the farms.  I came away with apples, beetroot, onions and three glowing orange pumpkins.

My greatest delight though was the creamery. Cheese is back in production after a number of barren years, now that Alastair, the new cheesemaker has joined the community and he’s doing a great job. In the cheese room on slatted wooden shelves are rows and rows of luscious raw milk cheeses that are turned, rind washed and gently nurtured every day.

Botton Gouda

They make three cheeses – a camembert style is still in the development phase. Botton Gouda is a sweet, mild Gouda-style cheese, with or without cumin, and a million miles from the rubbery supermarket stuff. There’s a strong, tangy rinded  Moorland Tomme, made in a block and aged for 18 months – it looks cracked and ancient like something the monks at nearby Whitby Abbey might have made centuries ago. And then there’s Dale End, a gorgeously nutty muslim wrapped cheddar-style cheese, wonderful with Botton grown apples or a slice of  fruit cake. All the cheeses are made with unpasteurised milk, giving them a deep, rounded richness. They’re modestly priced and absolutely terrific.

Botton Village, Danby, Nr Whitby, North Yorkshire YO21 2NJ Open Mon-Fri 9am-12 noon & 2pm-5pm Sat 9am-12 noon.

The Three Chimneys

The Three Chimneys, Isle of Skye

Mandy’s been on location this week, not behind the camera this time but in front. Yes, she’s going to be on the telly. She’ll be blogging about it when she gets back. Meantime I’ve been having a damp old time in the Scottish  Highlands.

The high roads and the low roads were awash.  Lashed by rain that went on for days. Streams turned into torrents and torrents into waterfalls. It was a week of darkening skies, rain, sunshine and rainbows – beautiful and gothic.

Serious walking was out so we ate like kings – what else was there do in that sort of weather? We tucked into herrings in oatmeal and just-caught langoustine at the Plockton Hotel. There was simple but superb grilled halibut and new potatoes at the one-room Loch Bay restaurant at Stein on the Isle of Skye, followed up by almond cake with citrus syrup. Just the job when the wind is ripping off the roof tiles.

But our meal of the week, possibly of the year was at the famous Three Chimneys a lovely whitewashed old croft at the very top end of Skye, all low key, laid back style with rough walls and seagrass floors, but with a sharp professional edge. It’s run by Eddie and Shirley Spear, an exiled Scot, who came here 25 years ago from Croydon and with no restaurant experience, just the ambition to offer exceptional Scottish hospitality which they have been doing ever since.

The food is sophisticated with Scottish sensibilities. You’ll find upmarket haggis and neeps (turnip or swede, they’re still arguing) and lots of lovely local meat and fish on the menu cooked by chef Michael Smith now that Shirley Spears has stepped back from the stove.

We ate splendidly off the £37 three course lunch menu. Dinner comes in at £60 and the Scottish showcase menu a whacking £85 but when you’ve travelled six hours from Glasgow, twelve hours from London, well, what the hell.

We had a ‘what the hell’ moment when it came to the £10 supplement for the seafood platter. It was, a stunning plate of Scottish seafood: oysters, langoustines, marinated mussels, scallops, potted crab and a little shot glass of Dunvegan winkles. We followed it with Skye lamb and miniature neeps, haggis, tattie (potato) scones and good gravy and to finish a comforting warm marmalade pudding with Drambuie custard.

Seafood Platter for one

Worth it? Of course it was. The food, the wine the service were spot on, the rain held off and even the sun came out. Through the  window we could watch the gannets wheeling and diving over a glistening loch and it was easy to  believe we were in the loveliest spot in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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