Mushroom foraging in Sussex

Photographer Carl Pendle dropped me a line about his beautifully shot video on Sussex mushroom foraging which I liked so much that I thought I would share it with you. The video features Nik Westacott who runs mushroom hunts and cookery courses in the area. And even if you have no interest in mushrooms or foraging, the video is worth a watch for the shot of Nik's rather magnificent moustache anyway! Good stuff.

The Great Vegan Maki Competition, Moshi Moshi Brighton

Moshi Moshi's vegetarian competition last year, which saw some of Brighton's best loved restaurants compete to make the best veggie maki, was a fantastic, memorable evening. But this year was bigger and even better and saw the likes of Hotel Du Vin, The Chilli Pickle and Aloka go head to head, one step further, in a vegan maki comp. One one hand it's interesting to see restaurants from different cuisines putting their own twist on a single theme but really what this exercise is about is Moshi's ongoing, and genuine, campaign for sustainability and fish stock reserve issues translating not only onto options on their menu, but art exhibitions (with Rankin no less), events and campaigns as part of their long term plan. Something that all restaurants, not just sushi/Japanese restaurants should be taking on board for sure.

Anyway, the entries this year were beautiful, intriguing and surprising. You will also see a lot of references to "duck" which may seem odd for a vegan event, but Moshi are also looking at alternatives for their meat as well as their fish ingredients. Hence the duck and cheese used for the evening was from The Redwood Company who specialise in "plant-based vegan alternatives". Some may find that hard to swallow but the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating.

My favourite (no surprise) was the Chilli Pickle's innovative "Duck" Chettinad Maki with Mango and Coriander sauce and hot, hot, hot chilli chutney. They really made this their own and everyone guessed straight away it was theirs. Is Indian Maki a step too far in fusion? Nah, not when it tastes that good!

Hotel Du Vin really surprised me with their Crispy "Duck" in Spicy Broth and Fried Glass Noodles. Texturally the most interesting and I would have happily swallowed a bucket of the dense, umami rich broth. (Hang on, this wasn't maki, a little cheeky, but anything that delicious will get away with a little boundary breaking.) The "duck" seemed the most duck-like in this if that makes any sense at all.

Aloka put forward the most beautiful example (top image) and surprisingly (as they are by nature a raw/vegan restaurant) by far the one that experimented the most in creating a really "meaty" dish. Again, as is their style, there were may components and a few contentious textures. The ball of minced "duck" was quite convincing if a little over salted, but I think the raw product is quite salty to start with. The dehydrated lotus root was intensely, well, Bisto-ey. I couldn't quite make out the rest of the components, the fruity, possibly grapefruit or goosebery jelly was too unusual for most palettes but the squash wrap with (I think) dehydrated parsnips on top was an interesting textural contrast to the minced duck. Sparking the most debate, I think this was the most boundary breaking which I respected.

Everyone loves Gyoza, and these, from Cashew (a vegan, raw and vegetarian catering) was a really nice example, filled with "duck", mushroom and vegan cheese. The squash and miso sauce complemented the dumpling and as much as foams irritate me, the wasabi foam actually suited the dish here. There was also a sweet chilli jelly. The only component I didn't really like was the "chicken" goujon which was a little dry but a small point for a small component.

Most worthy of a good place (for sticking to the brief!) was Moshi's own "Duck" Maki. The avocado top gave the maki a fresh touch, the micro herbs were delicious and the strawberry puree, although unusual, worked really well. As a mouthful, one of the most successful.

After once ordering a "Thai Surprise" and getting the most foul green jelly once, I've always been wary of green wobbly desserts from Asian cuisines, yet the VBites vegan cheese cake was rather pleasant. The Green Tea and Almond cake base was a touch dry but the Jasmine and Green Tea mousse was light and happily, not too sweet. If you like matcha based desserts, then this would be one for you.

Was I convinced on the vegan meat alternative products? Well I think in maki, they are a small component by nature, so not chomping on hunks of the stuff, I think they are surprisingly convincing and I'd be impressed in a blind test anyone noticing who was unaware of a swap. Even the vegan cheese in the gyoza and sauces was good although the slab of the Redwood Company's "mozzarella" used by one entry was texturally and taste-wise not liked at all on our table. Incredibly salty and quite synthetic. Shame as the rest of the dish was great! However, having the choice of these products in a restaurant based on your beliefs and opinions on meat sustainability is fantastic, especially for Brighton's captive audience.

So after the score cards were handed in, what were the results? Third place went to Moshi for their Duck and Avocado Maki, second to Hotel Du Vin for the Crispy Vegan Duck Soup and first place to the wonderful Chilli Pickle for their unmistakable stamp on their Duck Chettinad Maki.

Fantastic evening and if they go ahead again next year, do try and make this event or try one of their other events and tastings that run throughout the year. Thanks to Moshi Moshi for yet another eye opening evening.

For more details on Moshi Moshis Fish Love campaign or future events visit:

REVIEW: The Regency Restaurant, Brighton

Despite the sheer number of restaurants in Brighton, we lack those celebrating fish. Remarkable really for a town by the sea (and I'm not counting the numerous tourist-fodder fish and chip shops on the seafront). If you know where to look, you could get a fish fix from Riddle and Finns (review up soon), Due South or even Fishy Fishy but decent fish restaurants continue to remain a bit of a minority.

However there's always been The Regency Restaurant. A bit of a Brighton institution, certainly where fish is concerned. I've been a few times now as, funnily enough, when people have visited they've taken ME there.

The Regency is really traditional. Hardly anything on the menu looks like it's changed in all the years its been there since 1965. Either this is its advantage or downfall and I haven't quite figured it out which yet.

The variety of fish and shell fish is impressive on the menu and starters around our table, like a very generous serving of Moules Marinier, Mackerel Pate, Deep-fried Whitebait and Baked Oysters with Parmesan were all given the thumbs up.

My diddy little prawns in my retro Prawn Cocktail (served in a ceramic shell - hello!) were really sweet and tender. Prices are really good too with starters ranging from £3-7.

I really enjoyed my main of Grilled Skate with Capers. I am a big skate fan though, such a gorgeous meaty fish and the sharp butter and caper sauce really cut through the sweetness of the flesh. It was crisp on the outside yest still beautifully soft in the middle. The skate in question must have been a beast as the portion was huge and again, a snip at £10.50.

There's plenty more on the menu, battered, fried or grilled options and mixed platters if you can't make up your mind. Lobster, scallops, oysters and crab are also available as well as a specials board.

I did have a proper sulk on for dessert as The Regency is seemingly the only place in the world to still have orange or lemon sorbets served back IN the oranges and lemons. Yeah, I love that and I'm not ashamed to admit it! My lip quivered when the waitress placed a plain ol' glass dish of sorbet in front of me. Apparently they don't do it like that anymore and this fact is nothing short of a crying shame! (Above shot from a former visit.)

Other than the death of retro sorbets, the main problem with The Regency is that despite the fish being fresh, well prepared and cooked, the standard accompaniments are always disappointing. Meals are served with chips or potatoes and an undressed salad (well salad garnish really). Unless I'm having battered fish, I always prefer potatoes and I have a sneaky suspicion that these are either tinned or grossly overcooked. Worse still they are served with budget hotel wrapped butter portions. Sides are available to order separately and may be better but I personally would like to see the fish dishes considered as a whole more. Would they be able to serve the vast amounts of tables so efficiently then? Would there be as much variety on the menu or the prices be as good? My guess is no, and the people who dine here probably would like to keep it just the way it is too.

If you want a considered, adventurous and memorable fish meal, then go for Riddle and Finns. But if you want a casual, simple and budget friendly fish meal right on the seafront without resorting to the chippies then The Regency 'aint a half bad choice. Just don't go with the boiled potato option.

The Regency Restaurant
131 King's Road
Brighton BN1 2HH
01273 325 014

An education in Welsh food at Cardiff Castle

Welsh Food. I'll be honest, if I were a contestant on Family Fortunes and had to name another famous Welsh dish that wasn't the fancy cheese on toast thing, I'd be stumped and no doubt hearing the honk of the buzzer followed by the big red cross. Perfect then to be educated at a Welsh banquet, celebrating the national dishes in no other that Cardiff Castle, with the cooking executed by top chefs from the Welsh Food Association. Doesn't get Welsher than that.

But it's not just my ignorance to answer for my lack of Welsh food knowledge. The lovely ladies at Howell Food Consultancy, and ambassadors for Welsh food, with whom I was sat with at the dinner, explained that food has not historically been protected or even celebrated in the country, plus the Welsh aren't typically people who like to show off. There apparently isn't even such thing as an exclusively Welsh restaurant*, apart from maybe one in Cardiff but the name escapes me and Google fails me. Bonkers as they have the perfect climate for rearing animals and growing food as well as that coastline, so the produce is fantastic but what about dishes?

Anyway, back to the banquet food.

The starter was a celebration of that aforementioned shoreline; Anglesea Shellfish and Crab Jelly, Caerphilly Smoked Salmon and Spiced Penclacwydd Cockle Cake. It was delicious, in particular the smoked salmon, but I would have probably chosen something a little less contentious than jellied fish and cockles to win over the majority.

However, an all out real crowd-pleaser was the lamb from Irfon Valley. Lamb is the obvious choice on a Welsh menu and utterly enjoyable to boot, meltingly tender and stuffed with leeks, garlic and laverbread. My ignorance reared its ugly head again as I though lavarbread was some sort of er, bread. But it is infact seaweed (laver) that has been boiled and pureed (making it laverbread). It didn't really have much of a distinctive taste which I was expecting, but apparently is used as an excellent binding agent and eaten for breakfast with oats.

Worth mentioning was the Welsh wine too. Sadly I didn't catch the name (or even a glass) of the Welsh sparkling wine to start as I was to busy gawping at the castle interior, but really enjoyed the nicely balanced, light and refreshing white served with the fish starter which was the Cariad label from Llanerch Vineyard. The red, Glyndwr Red 2009, served with the main didn't quite hit the mark for me, it was fruity yet quite acidic and little fizzy actually!

Dessert was a Hazelnut and Chocolate tart with raspberry and orange compote. The Welsh element being the Merlyn cream liquer added to the chocolate. Very much like Baileys (but God forbid don't compare it to Baileys in Welsh company!), its alcohol comes from a different part of the whiskey distillery process than the big brand.

Next up were the cheeses; Celtic Promise, Hafod and Perl Las. All quite different and all worth a try if you come across it. The chutney accompaniment was, as one diner commented "like a slap from a Welshman that loves you really." I couldn't describe it any better.

Really, most of the food was showcasing fantastic Welsh produce rather than national dishes but we did end with one - Welsh Cakes! Served beautifully warm, I snarfed four of these little lovelies with my coffee.

The banquet, whilst to celebrate Welsh Food, was also to mark the finale of the latest Visit Wales campaign where they take Londoner Piers Bramhall on a "Proper Holiday" around Wales. If you haven't caught any of it on the telly, have a look here, it's a really great campaign:

*Feel free to prove me wrong, I'm all ears and stomach.

BOOK REVIEW: On a Stick! by Matt Armendariz

I love food on sticks. Give me a line of arrosticini, barbecuing on their own special holders and I'm a happy girl. Heck, I'll admit to getting a tad excited over a cheese and pineapple party hedgehog. Yes really.

So imaging a whole book on the subject from Corn Dogs to Bo La Lot (ground meat in betel leaves). Even sweet treats like Margarita Jelly Shots and Homemade Marshmallows are in here.

There are some very sophisticated canape options for your cocktails like Coconut Shrimp and Deep Fried Pickles as well as some really kooky options. Not sure how I feel about Spaghetti and Meatballs on a stick but I could really get down with a stick or two of fried Mac and Cheese!

Kookiest of them all, however, would have to be the bacon and peanut covered bananas. Yup. Ladies and gents, I give you the Frozen Elvis. The "Elvis" is a er, classic, sandwich named after its biggest fan with lashings of peanut butter, banana and bacon. The Frozen Elvis is an iced treat version of this sanie and if you like salted caramel then you'll love this, the recipe is at the end of this post. Go on you know you want to.

From the same publishers as the Encyclopedia of Sandwiches, it is another slightly quirky food book but in a market saturated with the same old, same old, these books offer something different. Irritatingly, like
Encyclopedia of Sandwiches, all measurements are US. Which if like me you can't get your head around cups of things can be a bit of a hindrance but the recipes are interesting none the less. I think these books could really warrant with a UK measurement print run.

Anyway, this would be a great book for entertaining if you wanted "finger food" (that term always creeps me out) that was slightly more interesting than your standard sausage on a stick. Even for kids parties, I could see the quite a lot of the recipes going down really well.

So plenty of inspiration to help you think beyond the stick.

Frozen Elvis Recipe (which I've "translated" for the UK)

I used 2 bananas and cut them in half, which, for me, makes them easier to manage and eat but below is the full size version. If you choose to do the same just adjust the other ingredients. Also I found that dipping the bananas in chocolate didn't work as they would freeze again instantly so the peanut and bacon wouldn't stick so I applied the chocolate with the back of a spoon and coated and dipped the bananas quickly in small sections.

Serves 4

4 Lolly sticks
4 Medium bananas, peeled
4 Rashers of chopped cooked bacon (cook until really crisp)
Large handful Dry roasted peanuts, chopped
150-200g dark chocolate chips

  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Insert a lolly stick in bottom of each banana and put on prepared baking sheet. Freeze at least 1 hour.
  • Mix bacon and peanuts in shallow dish and set aside. Melt chocolate chips in a bowl sat on a pan of boiling water. Stir occasionally. Dip each frozen banana in melted chocolate and allow excess to drip off.
  • Roll in bacon/peanut mixture and then return to parchment lined baking sheet. Refreeze at least 1 hour. Keep frozen until ready to serve.

On a Stick! by Matt Armendariz is published by Quirk Books and costs £11.99.

Many thanks to The Publishers Group for this copy to review.