Staffordshires Food and Drink Scene.

Chris Cohen: A man on a mission

Feast with Friends is the Stoke-on-Trent based chef teaching young and old to pay attention to eating well. Cooking has always been a passion of Chris Cohen, the chef behind…

Feast with Friends is the Stoke-on-Trent based chef teaching young and old to pay attention to eating well.

Cooking has always been a passion of Chris Cohen, the chef behind Feast with Friends. Now in his 40s, Chris worked weekends in his mum’s catering business as a teen and wanted to pursue a career in the kitchen on leaving school.

“Funnily enough, my mum put me off that,” he tells Sauce. “She wanted me to be creative in more obvious ways. I guess what she didn’t know then was that food would become such a creative discipline as it is now, and so visual.”

His own experience in the education system has influenced the path of Chris’ development as a chef and as an educator – with a degree in architectural design.

“I really struggled at school and I love the fact that I educate now,” he says. “I treasure that beyond anything. Sharing what you know is important. I worked across Staffordshire and down in London running kitchens. Then I realised I wanted more from my education. I got my degree and did a teaching qualification, taught in schools and colleges and really enjoyed it.”

Chris Cohen, Feast with Friends

Photo © Stephanie Murton Photography

Over the last year Chris has found a way to unite his love of cooking with a desire to teach, under the Feast with Friends banner. He works both as a private chef, creating dining experiences for people in their own homes, as well as teaching classes and workshops for people of all ages in schools, colleges and workplaces across the county.

In the future, Chris has a longstanding ambition to set up a means of educating and training aspiring young chefs in the Stoke-on-Trent area. He sees this as creating a pipeline for the expansion of the independent dining sector in the city, as well as providing opportunities for its young people.

“I’ve worked with and played a part in the training of a few people who have gone on to do amazing things. You see what they’ve done and how they’ve travelled. It would be great if people travelled then came back to Stoke to set up their own restaurants. What can we do to move that forward? That’s something I’m passionate about.”

In the meantime, much of Chris’ day to day work centres around the Well Fed Initiative. Aimed at educating people of all ages about nutrition and eating well, the initiative provides tailored courses for everyone from small children to university students, with the option of curriculum-focused content.

“I’ve done a lot of work in primary schools, which is immensely challenging purely because most primary schools don’t have a space dedicated to cooking,” Chris relates. “It is a case of doing things in different ways to get kids cooking and thinking about healthy eating differently. Not making them feel like they’re being talked down to is part of that.”

Chris developed the principles of his specialised food workshops based on health service guidelines, to the extent that he has permission to use the NHS logo on the Well Fed Initiative.

“I’ve taken some of the guidance – which is something I did in my teaching anyway – and used it to come up with my own ways to get people eating more healthily,” he explains. “I work on a five F system, which talks about factors like feast and find, based on food psychology and exploring food.”

Part of the joy of food is the idea that it is an exploration of different tastes, textures and aromas – an idea that Chris believes should not be reserved for fine dining restaurants. Indeed, he’s trying to instil this way of thinking into even the youngest children through his classes, seminars and parties.

“What’s obvious with a lot of children is that, even by quite a young age, their relationship with food is already difficult,” Chris notes. “It’s very natural for children not to want to eat very green vegetables, for example, because of the strong chlorophyll flavour, but by cooking them in different ways and getting them to eat them in different ways you can overcome that.”

Doing things differently in this context will often include trying out mindfulness, which Chris introduces using the ‘raisin test’.

“We take any ingredient, usually fruit or veg, and they put it in their hand and look at it,” Chris explains. “It’s getting to know it, looking at the way the light shines on it, giving it a sniff, pulling it apart so you can really smell it, and putting it on your tongue but not eating it straight away. Then we’ll talk about how that’s where digestion starts.

“What amazed me the first time I did it was how it intensifies the flavour of what you’re eating. It’s so powerful. And alongside that, if you try it with food that’s heavily processed in a negative way, the flavour of that food is always absolutely dreadful because you’ve explored it properly. If you slow down the way you’re eating, you get to enjoy your food – and learn which food you enjoy.”

It’s all too easy to be distracted by screens these days, or just the rush of work and family life, but actively paying attention – not only to what we put into our body but how our body reacts to it – can help in more ways than one. Chris is fascinated by ongoing research into the gut microbiome and digestive health, and particularly its influence on good mental and overall health.

“I think personalised health is about listening to your body,” he says. “Sometimes we wait for something to be wrong, whether it’s a skin condition or IBS or a heart problem. It’s about getting people to think, ‘If I get my digestive health right, the rest can follow’.”

You can find Chris’ recipe for cured mackerel with carrot purée, pickled carrots and wasabi avocado in Sauce Spring 2019.

Feast with Friends

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March beers with Otter’s Tears

Otter’s Tears is an independent beacon calling out to beer lovers on Burslem’s high street. The bottle shop is owned and run by Phil Hardy, who opened it in 2015…

Otter’s Tears is an independent beacon calling out to beer lovers on Burslem’s high street.

The bottle shop is owned and run by Phil Hardy, who opened it in 2015 with the goal of supplying customers with great quality, interesting beers from across the UK and the Continent. You can read the full story of Phil’s love affair with craft beer in the Spring 2019 edition of Sauce, out next week.

Beer connoisseur Phil kindly put together these tasting notes on his top picks for what you should be drinking this March. Find these beers at Otter’s Tears while stocks last, and look out for more recommendations from some of Phil’s favourite breweries in April and May.

Elusive Brewing x Weird Beard
Lord Nelson 2019, 6.8%

I met Andy Parker, owner and head brewer at Elusive, around 2010. He was in IT back then, a beer blogger and keen home-brewer. Knowing my love of saison style beer, he sent me a bottle of this to try long before he ever brewed it commercially at Weird Beard and now at his own brewery in Finchampstead. It blew me away then and still does today. Lord Nelson is a single-hopped saison designed to showcase the wonderfully aromatic Nelson Sauvin hop from New Zealand. Expect a pale and hazy beer with aromas and flavours of Sauvignon Blanc grapes and gooseberries from the hop, with bubblegum notes brought into the mix by the saison yeast.

Siren Craft Brew x Track Brewing
Strawberry Praline, 7.4%

Literally over the road from Elusive you can find Siren, joined for this brew by Manchester’s Track Brewing. The first thing that hits you as you take a sip is a tang of sharp strawberry purée, quickly enveloped by dark chocolate and roasted hazelnuts. This is a robust but smooth and creamy stout, subtly sweet with a hint of strawberry syrup. It slips down like a chocolate and strawberry milkshake topped with toasted nuts. A full-flavoured treat!

Burnt Mill x Cloudwater
Lying Low IPA, 7.4%

Cloudwater, established in 2014, took the world beer scene by storm. With a definite slant towards hazy hop-forward styles they quickly reached number two on the world brewing stage according to Ratebeer. Burnt Mill are only a couple of years old, but are clearly going in the same direction – a definite one to watch. This collaborative India Pale Ale brewed at Burnt Mill’s Suffolk brewhouse is a proper juice-bomb. Soft sweetness gives way to pithy bitterness in perfect balance. Heavily hopped with a blend of Citra, Mosaic, Enigma and Idaho-7 for aromas of ripe peach and passionfruit. With tropical fruit flavours and aromas to match, this definitely deserves a space in your beer fridge.

Otter’s Tears
24 Queen Street, Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, ST6 3EG

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Milford’s hidden gem

With fantastic views over Milford Common and Cannock Chase, just a few hundred yards from the River Sow and the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, The Viceroy is something of a…

With fantastic views over Milford Common and Cannock Chase, just a few hundred yards from the River Sow and the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, The Viceroy is something of a hidden gem.

It’s in this village just outside Stafford that chef-director Ain Ullah and his brother Rushan, who heads up front of house operations, are advocating a fresh approach to Indian gastronomy. Their aim is to deliver culinary experiences of the highest quality to truly reflect the region’s rich natural larder, challenging perceptions around Indian and Bangladeshi cuisine in the heart of Staffordshire.

“Since I was a child I’ve wanted to be a chef,” says Ain. “I worked my way up. I started washing the pots and pans in the kitchen, working with my uncle who actually taught me a lot. In the early 2000s I had a breakthrough and started cooking for a restaurant in Derby.”

After this, Ain moved down to London and started cooking with celebrity chef Atul Kochhar at Benares in Mayfair. With this experience under his belt, he went on to establish his own restaurant in Derby, where he found the freedom to start experimenting with different flavours and making his own spice blends. The Viceroy was added to his portfolio back in 2014.

“Most Bangladeshi and Indian curry houses have a big pot of gravy and when you order a dish they’ll use that same gravy in every dish, adding just a few different spices,” Ain states. “So every dish has a similar taste. We grind our own spices here in the kitchen. You can taste all my curries and every one will be different, which is very important to us. Each starter is complemented by a different sauce, rather than just giving one sauce for all starters as most Indian curry houses do. That’s why our menu is quite limited; the way we want to cook it is the way we think is the best way to do it.”

It’s for this reason that you won’t catch Ain adding spinach to your korma, for example, or serving up bright red tikka masala. Educating customers about traditional and contemporary Indian cuisine and how it differs from typical curry house dishes here in the UK is part of the mission.

“I think Indian restaurants provide more Anglo-Indian dishes because of where we are,” Ain conjectures. “Indian food can have really strong flavours and spices, and I think a lot of chefs tone it down for the European palate. What we’re doing now with our menu, the ingredients we’re using are English-French given a twist with Indian spices. So it goes together.”

There’s a real focus at The Viceroy on using local suppliers to source local produce wherever possible. And rather than keeping stock in the freezer, the restaurant gets daily deliveries of fresh ingredients. Another key element in The Viceroy’s unique offering is the attention to detail when it comes to customer service.

“We’ve trained our waiters to be able to advise customers based on their likes and dislikes,” says Rushan. “Some people have a very strong idea of what they want and what tastes they like. Although our dishes are different to others’ we have flavours that will appeal to every different customer.

“Whether they like mild or spicy or medium hot we have dishes that will suit, but they are flavoured a different way to the norm. For example, we don’t have chicken korma on the menu, but we do have a dish called White Chicken Curry which is a traditional Indian dish.”

The drinks menu has not been neglected either. While gin – paired with complementary mixers – and beer are on offer, wine is the drink of choice to go alongside your meal. Although you may not find familiar names from the retail racks in their cellar, the knowledgeable front of house team can always make a recommendation from the extensive list.

“When customers order wine before their food the staff ask what dishes they will be eating – whether it’s seafood, lamb or chicken – because we have different wines to complement them,” Rushan tells us. “My staff, once we have the menu from the chef, go through tasting sessions so we can pair the dishes with the wine. Some of our lamb dishes, for example, go really well with a full-bodied red.”

If you’re visiting Shugborough or the Chase this autumn and winter, you could do much worse than stop by The Viceroy to sample their delicious fusion of English ingredients and Indian spices. The brothers are not short on recommendations from the menu.

“I was really excited when the chef was drafting the menu about the kekda avocado starter,” confesses Rushan. “It’s soft shell crab with avocado panna cotta. They go together so well, with just a drizzle of passionfruit chutney. In years I wouldn’t have thought of having that in an Indian restaurant. I’m not a very big fan of seafood, but again when the chef was thinking of putting halibut on the menu with a coriander and mint chutney I tried it and really enjoyed it.”

The addition of saffron to the rice, which is not common practice due to the expense, produces a special flavour to complement the various dishes, but often the rice will be tailored to complement a specific main. For example, the halibut is best accompanied by a lemon chilli rice, because lemon goes so well with fish.

“At the moment my favourite dish is our Goan lobster, with fresh coconut, red chilli, coriander and black peppercorns,” Ain reveals. “We’re running out of it because it’s selling so well. And I love cooking the Kali Mirch, a chicken dish in a spicy sauce with dried chilli. It’s one of my favourites to eat because it’s on the spicier side and it’s contemporary.”

Plans for the immediate future include an extension with 16 VIP seats, along the lines of a chef’s table experience. There will be an exclusive tasting menu and a butler service available in this private dining space. Customer satisfaction is always the number one priority, and the long term goal is to be the best Indian restaurant in Staffordshire.

“We’re hoping to win some awards along the way, but our main goal is to satisfy all of our regular and new customers by  making sure our staff are happy and our food is the best.”

If you would like to sample Ain’s dishes for yourself, Viceroy is open 5:30pm until 11:00pm, seven days a week.

Viceroy Indian Restaurant
8 Brocton Road, Milford, ST17 0UH

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The Boat Inn puts Staffordshire on the Top 50 Gastropubs map

The Boat Inn at Lichfield fought off tough competition to put Staffordshire on the map at Estrella Damm’s Top 50 Gastropubs awards ceremony earlier this week. The judges praised chef-patron Liam…

The Boat Inn at Lichfield fought off tough competition to put Staffordshire on the map at Estrella Damm’s Top 50 Gastropubs awards ceremony earlier this week.

The judges praised chef-patron Liam Dillon for transforming The Boat into a ‘very special venue’ and a worthy winner of the Newcomer of the Year title for 2019.

“Liam’s menus boast maturity, uniqueness and, above all, skill and great balance of flavour,” according to the panel of industry experts – including The Good Food Guide editor Elizabeth Carter and Managing Director of Inn Places, David Hancock – who awarded the Best Newcomer prize. “He has created a gastropub that delivers on all fronts, from excellent service the moment you walk through the door, to outstanding dishes.”

The award was presented in a ceremony at Lillibrooke Manor in Maidenhead on Monday.

“It was a great day and a fantastic achievement,” Liam told Sauce. “The team are over the moon with the award and we have all been working very hard to put The Boat Inn where it deserves to be. We are all honoured to be in the same bracket as the amazing establishments in the Top 50 list.”

Liam worked for Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley in London after graduating with a degree in the culinary arts from Birmingham College of Food in 2006. Thus began a decade of striving to work in the best kitchens in the world, starting off in Sydney at Quay before taking in Eleven Madison Park and Noma in Copenhagen, among others. Since opening The Boat, he’s gone on to win Best Chef at the Midlands Food, Drink & Hospitality Awards last year and the venue picked up Best Independent Restaurant at the Taste of Staffordshire Awards 2018. 

Look out for our interview with Liam in the Spring edition of Sauce, out in March.

The Boat Inn
Walsall Road, Lichfield, WS14 0BU

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Wins for Hoar Cross Hall chefs at Salon Culinaire

Staffordshire hotel and spa Hoar Cross Hall has achieved major success at Salon Culinaire, the UK’s most prestigious chef competition, which was held last week at the Birmingham NEC. Situated…

Staffordshire hotel and spa Hoar Cross Hall has achieved major success at Salon Culinaire, the UK’s most prestigious chef competition, which was held last week at the Birmingham NEC.

Situated in beautiful Staffordshire countryside near the sleepy village of Hoar Cross, just 9 miles from Burton-upon-Trent, Hoar Cross Hall is well-known for its luxury spa facilities. But it has also developed somewhat of a reputation for afternoon teas, with themes to reflect key calendar dates and the county’s wonderful seasonal produce.

Hoar Cross Hall’s executive head chef Tom Biddle and pastry chef Charlotte Wakelyn both came out on top in their categories after showcasing their skills, creativity and knowledge of provenance to panels of judges from across Europe.

Executive chef Tom won best in class in his two categories, beating stiff competition from peers in the UK and Malta. Meanwhile, Charlotte scooped bronze and silver awards for her afternoon tea pastries and miniatures, establishing herself as one of the UK’s foremost pastry chefs.

“It’s a pinnacle for any chef to get through to competing at Salon Culinaire, but to come back to the hotel with medals is quite literally the icing on the cake!” said Charlotte. “Chef is incredibly supportive of my work which means that we can forge forward and build a reputation for having one of the best afternoon teas in the UK in what are arguably the most stunning surroundings.”

The menu she presented for inspection included a passionfruit and lemon meringue eclair, a caramel and sea salt dark chocolate opera slice, and individual baked and decorated Battenberg cakes.

“I’m ecstatic for Tom and his brigade as they are continuing to elevate presence of The Hall as a foodie destination for The Midlands,” added Adrian Pickard, managing director at Hoar Cross Hall. “We want our afternoon teas to be known for their sense of experience for families and friends and Charlotte has just added a huge stamp of approval from the culinary world.”

Hoar Cross Hall Spa Hotel
Maker Lane, Hoar Cross, Burton-upon-Trent, DE13 8QS

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Quintessentially British

How better to brighten up your afternoon than with tea and cake? Tea rooms are a staple of Staffordshire life and everyone has their preferred spot to indulge, whether it…

How better to brighten up your afternoon than with tea and cake? Tea rooms are a staple of Staffordshire life and everyone has their preferred spot to indulge, whether it be a traditional setting with fine china and finger sandwiches or a cosy café with a more modern take on the afternoon tea. We’ve picked out some favourites from across the county.

Hetty’s Tea Shop

Named for café owner Emma Atkinson’s grandmother, Hetty’s can be found in a converted Grade II listed building at Froghall Wharf, alongside a quiet arm of the Caldon Canal and historic lime kilns. The peaceful location is the perfect base for a countryside walk, where you can return to the warm atmosphere and local specials like Homity Pie. Hetty’s serves breakfast, brunch and salads, alongside teas, Italian coffee and hot chocolates. And if the weather is particularly frightful, it is also a licensed venue.

Froghall Wharf, Foxt Road, Froghall, ST10 2HL

Lazy Days Tea Room

This quaint tea room is situated at the heart of the picturesque South Staffordshire village of Brewood. A perennial favourite of cyclists, not least because of its proximity to the Shropshire Union Canal, Lazy Days offers breakfast, lunchtime meals, teas, coffees and homemade cake along with a friendly welcome and relaxed atmosphere.

25 Stafford St, Brewood, Stafford, ST19 9DX

The Vintage Tea Emporium

Old-fashioned service and dainty presentation are on the menu at Uttoxeter’s Vintage Tea Emporium. There are almost 30 loose leaf teas to choose from, served up alongside delicious homemade cakes and scones which are all baked daily on-site. You can also enjoy a light breakfast or lunch in a charming vintage setting overlooking the market place.

38 Market Pl, Uttoxeter, ST14 8HP

Whitmore Tea Rooms

If you were asked to imagine a quintessential English tea room, it would probably look like this. In a restored 18th Century cottage in the shadow of Whitmore’s pretty parish church, this venue is stunning year-round. The breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea menus are available daily, with an ever-changing array of homemade cakes filling the countertop. If you’re really pushing the boat out, go for the Royal Afternoon Tea which includes a glass of sherry and a glass of Champagne.

Three Mile Lane, Whitmore, Newcastle-under-Lyme, ST5 5HR

Langan’s Tea Rooms

Set in the elegant Burton House in the centre of Burton-upon-Trent, Langan’s Tea Rooms serve freshly prepared breakfasts and lunches as well as traditional afternoon teas. You can indulge with a sense of purpose, too, as Langan’s is a social enterprise. All profits go towards education, training and employment for people who have been rehabilitated at Staffordshire’s BAC O’Connor centres.

Burton House, George St, Burton-upon-Trent, DE14 1DP

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Pascal at the Old Vicarage

Just south of Burton-upon-Trent, sandwiched between the canal, the railway, the A38 and the River Trent, sits Branston. The village, with its origins in medieval times, is home to Pascal…

Just south of Burton-upon-Trent, sandwiched between the canal, the railway, the A38 and the River Trent, sits Branston. The village, with its origins in medieval times, is home to Pascal at the Old Vicarage.

The Old Vicarage has been on the Staffordshire dining scene since Karen and Pascal Arnoux took ownership in 1999, so we thought it only fitting that we pay a visit. Over the last two decades the restaurant has established a reputation for excellent food and built up a loyal following, so it’s definitely advisable to book your table. To illustrate this point, we decided to pay a visit on a Sunday and the only time available was 3pm.

As we walked into the entrance we were greeted by Pascal himself. He is no stranger to the international restaurant trade, having trained in Dijon and worked both in Paris and Amsterdam. He welcomed us and showed us through to a comfortable seating area, where we could enjoy a drink while perusing the menu.

Having looked through the drinks menu, which has a wide selection including Champagne cocktails and impressive Old and New World wine lists, Karen proceeded to take our refreshment order. The room was full of guests waiting to go through to the dining room or enjoying coffee and petits fours. Our drinks arrived quickly and were accompanied by salmon, dill and mayonnaise canapés and chilli flavoured olives; if these were anything to go by then we thought we must be in for a treat.

Pascal himself attended to us and explained the specials on offer. À la carte is available, but we plumped for the table d’hôte menu which comprises a three course meal for £25.95 per person. On the day we were there the menu choices were excellent, with six starters and seven mains to agonise over. The table d’hôte menu is revised on a monthly basis to keep the food seasonal and interesting for both customers and staff.

Having made our selections, we finished the canapés and Pascal saw us through to our table, which offered lovely views of the beautifully tended garden. Leigh the restaurant manager introduced himself with the wine list and presented us with a good selection of fresh breads.

We didn’t have long to wait for the starters to arrive. I had chosen the confit of duck terrine which came on a bed of oriental vegetables including pak choi and daikon radish with a hoisin and plum dressing. I was intrigued by this dish and it didn’t disappoint; it proved a very grown-up version of duck pancakes. The generous portion of flavourful duck terrine paired beautifully with the vegetables, particularly the daikon radish, which provided a mild, sweet taste. Meanwhile the hoisin held all of these wonderful tastes and textures together.

Our plates were removed by the attentive but unobtrusive staff, a credit to Leigh who, as the Old Vicarage’s website mentions, prides himself on his levels of customer service.

For the main, although the roast sirloin of English beef looked beautiful (the table next to us had all ordered it), I opted for the roast rump of lamb, served pink, with gratin dauphinois and a red wine reduction. The dish was plated beautifully with great attention to detail from Pascal’s chef Colin Ansell. This is a man who clearly takes great pride in his work. Leigh offered us a choice of condiments, including mint sauce which complemented the perfectly cooked lamb.

The dauphinoise potato stack had a good balance of flavours, with the milk and garlic carefully calculated so as not to overpower the delicate lamb. The lamb itself was a beautiful cut with no fat on it at all. Pascal and the team at the Old Vicarage work closely with local producers and you can taste that this is clearly paying off.

At this point my appetite had been sated, but I vowed to battle on to the end of the three course menu. Leigh delivered the dessert menu to the table and again we found a wide selection of seven different dishes, ranging from bread and butter pudding (far too heavy for me at this point) to apple and blackberry crumble to locally made Needwood Ice Cream. Looking for something that was light on the palate I opted for the iced lemon parfait with meringue, raspberries and biscuit crumb. Yet again this was a beautifully presented dish set off to perfection by the use of a black plate.

I was glad that I had convinced myself to have a dessert as this was a lovely way to finish the meal. From the fresh local raspberries to the meringue presented two ways and, of course, the refreshing iced lemon parfait, this was a charming dessert – and this coming from someone who would never describe themselves as a sweet person!

Overall, what Pascal at the Old Vicarage offers is fine dining in a relaxed atmosphere with friendly service. Great care is taken to present immaculately plated, carefully constructed dishes and the pride that the whole team – from Pascal and Karen to Colin and Leigh – so obviously take in their work translates into a wonderful dining experience. They will undoubtedly be seeing more of us.

Pascal at the Old Vicarage
2 Main Street, Branston, Burton-upon-Trent, DE14 3EX
Tel. 01283 533222

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Red Brick Café

Red Brick Café is just the sort of place where you could picture yourself holed up on a blustery afternoon when the leaves are flying around outside, with a cup…

Red Brick Café is just the sort of place where you could picture yourself holed up on a blustery afternoon when the leaves are flying around outside, with a cup of coffee and a beautiful piece of home-baked cake.

The end terrace that houses the café is on a small private road in the centre of Blythe Bridge, and indeed it feels like you might have strayed into someone’s dining room when you settle in. Joe and Anna and their friendly team make you feel right at home, with the kind of atmosphere that makes you feel you could easily strike up a conversation with the next table but also where you’ll be left to your Full English and your own devices if that’s what you want. With around 20 covers, you won’t feel crowded even if the room is full.

Flooded by light from the large front window, the café certainly lives up to its name with a glorious wall of red brick, and artwork celebrating the local area. At least one of the bricks in the café – proudly on display – came from the Five Oaks works, which is recorded as operating in this area as far back as the 1870s. The eponymous red brick is complemented by forest green walls and blackboards spelling out enticing daily specials and offers. Breakfast is served until midday, but at lunchtime a special of chicken and halloumi skewers with couscous and herb salad is tempting, especially at a very reasonable £8.

Red Brick Cafe cakes

However, you can’t go far wrong with a generous and warming bowl of freshly made soup. Pea, mint and watercress was delicious in the summer, but the menu moves with the seasons. It’s accompanied by a doorstop of seeded granary bread from local bakery Bengry’s or a sandwich for an extra £3.

The toasties are an ever popular option; proper ham and Staffordshire Cheese cheddar with caramelised onion chutney goes down a treat and is accompanied by crunchy house coleslaw and salad with a basil oil dressing.

Pride in the area’s heritage and support for other local businesses is not only limited to the food offering. Expect your coffee in a Steelite cup and your meal on blue and white Spode. It’s great to see independent businesses in Staffordshire proving that the traditional and the contemporary can work so well together, feeling clean and modern but rooted in the past of the place.

The cake looked too good to pass up, so we didn’t and were very glad! The dark chocolate Guinness cake is as rich, dense and velvety as you would imagine, with a cream cheese icing to provide the perfect contrast. We also tried a slice of the gluten free vanilla and ginger cake, beautifully decorated with edible flowers, which was excellent as long as you like ginger. Crystallised ginger in syrup sits in the base and the moist cake is complemented by a light, creamy layer of frosting on top.

Takeaway service is also available – cheaper than sitting in – but I certainly don’t think you will regret taking a pew. Red Brick Café is clearly deserving of all the love it gets on TripAdvisor, Facebook and Google Reviews as well as from those lucky locals who are in the know.

Red Brick Café
1 Wesley St, Blythe Bridge, Stoke-on-Trent, ST11 9QB

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Full of Christmas spirit

Bottle dispensary Doctor’s Orders only opened its doors in February 2018, but the passion and expertise of owner Ben (and a dash of adorable in the form of shop spaniel…

Bottle dispensary Doctor’s Orders only opened its doors in February 2018, but the passion and expertise of owner Ben (and a dash of adorable in the form of shop spaniel Billy) have seen it go from strength to strength since. Sauce caught up with Ben for our Autumn/Winter edition to gain some insight into trends in the spirit industry and glean some stellar ‘gift’ recommendations, from rum to whisky and gin.

Revel in rum

As the seasons change, so too does your palate. The colder months call to mind brown spirits, but rum has a foot in both camps. It’s at home in tropical summer cocktails, but works equally well as winter comes around as a sipper over ice.

Traditionally kept in the Caribbean or with specialist providers, rum is now more accessible to a public who are waking up to its great value proposition: You can get a 10 or 12 year old rum for the price of an 8 year old whisky. Spiced rum can be turned around in months rather than years and has a wide appeal; there are some on the sweeter side, some very complex examples, and none are taking themselves too seriously.

The wide range of island styles, distillation styles, ageing profiles, and interesting cask agents mean rum is no longer viewed as a dark, medicinal liquid that has to be mixed with coke. Foursquare are setting the standard, having won three gold medals and two trophies at this year’s International Spirit Challenge awards, including Supreme Champion for their 2005 release.

The wonder of whisky

Appreciation is growing for the very experimental whiskeys coming out of Ireland at the moment. Distillers are using a variety of different casks for ageing to enhance their flavour profiles and some of the emerging local porter cask ageings are fabulous. Whereas Scottish whisky has tended to be seen as a ‘male’ drink, especially the heavier peated examples, the new Irish whiskeys seem to appeal to both sexes. Experimentation and variety appear to be opening peoples’ minds and palates.

Meanwhile, Japanese whisky has been winning plenty of awards. Unconstrained by the same straitjacket of legislation and tradition as Scottish whiskies, we are seeing a level of innovation from Japanese distillers. They have unique flavour profiles, but we inevitably end up paying a premium for them here in the UK.

The ever popular gin

Pink and flavoured gins have been the drinks of the summer, easily overtaking the London Drys, but whether that popularity carries on into the colder months only time will tell. People have a sweet tooth, but a gin has to have prominent juniper flavours to be gin.

People are more interested now in pushing their palate and understanding why something is different. This means they are more open to experimenting and trying spirits neat, but the rebirth of gin and proliferation of tasting parties has also had an impact on manufacturers of mixers, with more premium brands coming through.

What was once seen as a throwaway is now an integral part of the drink and is carefully chosen based on whether you want it to complement or contrast with the spirit. Brands like Double Dutch are moving to develop more mixers for brown spirits.

Ben recommends…

£30-£40 price range

Garden Tiger (47% ABV): An interesting and complex gin, perfect for those who enjoy the London Dry style.

Teeling’s Small Batch (46% ABV): A fabulous everyday sipper made with a blend of malted and unmalted barley, aged in rum casks.

Doorly’s XO (40% ABV): A great example of a good, honest, unadulterated rum with none of the added sugar or flavourings you get in some other styles.

£40-£60 price range

Trevethan Chauffeur’s Reserve (57% ABV): An excellent example of a navy strength gin, perfect in a spirit-forward cocktail like a negroni or dry martini.

Redbreast Lustau Edition (46% ABV): A super Irish whiskey matured in oak before finishing in Oloroso Sherry casks from Bodegas Lustau for a year.

Foursquare 2005 (59% ABV): Simply aged in bourbon barrels in Barbados and bottled at cask strength, this is a stunning rum with plenty of flavour and nuance. One to warm the cockles.

Doctor’s Orders Bottle Dispensary
Unit 4a, Heart Of The Country Shopping Village, Lichfield, WS14 9QR 

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Larder: Fine dining in our cathedral city

Chef Ryan Shilton is raising the bar for fine dining in the heart of Lichfield with the opening of his new restaurant, Larder, this week. Sauce were invited along to…

Chef Ryan Shilton is raising the bar for fine dining in the heart of Lichfield with the opening of his new restaurant, Larder, this week.

Sauce were invited along to a preview evening at the freshly renovated premises, which sits next door to Bore Street Bakery. On the ground floor there’s a bar exclusively for restaurant guests where we’re served a biscuity Hattingley Valley sparkling wine from Hampshire alongside two snacks – a goat’s cheese and basil tartlet and venison tartare with pear – which set the tone for the evening’s rich gastronomic offering.

There’s an extensive list of Old and New World wines to choose from, as well as a good selection of beers (including locally brewed Freedom lager), spirits and liqueurs. We order before being shown upstairs, where the intimate dining room takes up the first floor.

With comfortable chairs upholstered in teal and grey, dark wood, plush carpet and gold accented accessories, it feels suitably sumptuous without being over the top. Which is a description you could equally apply to the food – like the bite of pork belly with apple and ginger purée that appears promptly on our table, skewered on chef’s plating tweezers.

We are treated first to monkfish, lettuce and tartare sauce, followed by barbecued wagyu brisket with a smoky black garlic purée and enoki mushrooms. Next up is celeriac three ways – baked, pickled and raw – with oregano and a delicious Lincolnshire Poacher sauce. Everything is served on bespoke handmade ceramics from a potter friend of Ryan’s, and it’s obvious that care and attention has gone into every detail, such as the unusual Portuguese cutlery.

The menu’s crescendo is perfectly pink Creedy Carver duck with onion, peppercorn sauce and a silky mousse that Ryan explains is made from roast potatoes and duck fat. The palate cleansing pre-dessert is probably the most tastebud-challenging – lime curd with the texture of avocado served with bitter curried caramel, meringue and a very hoppy IPA jelly. Dessert would satisfy any sweet tooth, however, consisting of chocolate ganache, hazelnut ice cream and a maple vinegar jam.

Afterwards we head upstairs for a peek at the very calm and collected second floor, where guests will soon be able to enjoy a chef’s table experience sitting in the kitchen itself. The apparently unflappable Ryan recently left his position at the three-rosette Four Seasons at Swinfen Hall Hotel to open Larder, where he has freedom to showcase the best seasonal British produce on his own terms. When it opens later this week, the restaurant will offer lunch Thursday to Saturday, with five and seven course tasting menus on offer during evening service, and a three course Sunday lunch. Choice and vegetarian menus will also be available.

With exceptional food, a relaxed atmosphere and attentive but unobtrusive service, Larder is sure to become a popular fine dining destination for lucky Lichfield locals and no doubt will attract attention from further afield.

17 Bore Street, Lichfield, Staffordshire, WS13 6LZ 

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