Yorkie puds and beans on toast – that’s what winter days are made of Sunday, Feb 2 2014 

Today, February 2nd, is British Yorkshire Pudding Day. YAY, I hear you say. Everybody loves a good Yorkie pud, don’t they? In days of yore they served not only as dinner but also as dessert (if you think about it, Yorkshire pudding batter is basically pancake batter – just add sugar, and you have dessert), and was the ultimate in portable food, rivalled perhaps only by the Cornish pasty.

So what are some of the best ways to eat it? Here are a few of my faves:

Sunday roast. A Sunday lunch is not complete, in my view, without a few of these babies. You can either leave them dry, and enjoy the fact that they are still crunchy as you dunk them in your (again, obligatory) river of gravy, or you can make little rockpools out of them, filling them up with gravy and loving their now satisfying, more yielding texture (handy if they are a bit burnt).

Toad in the hole. The origin of the name is unknown, but more important is its deliciousness and simplicity: just get some fat screaming hot in the oven, along with some sausages, and then pour in your Yorkshire pudding batter and sit in front of the oven watching it rise. Who needs TV? Mini versions (made with cocktail sausages) would also make an excellent canapé at a party. Have also heard of a version using lamb chops instead of sausages: just fry them off first before throwing them into the dish and finishing off with the batter.

Dessert. Add your favourite pancake topping to this for instant dessert. Yorkshire Suzette anyone? Using Yorkies as an alternative to bread to make a sort of bread-and-butter-pudding spinoff also sounds like a plan.

Yorkshire pudding toastie. Invented by my sister, who basically just shoved Sunday roast leftovers between two slices of bread before clamping it all into a toastie maker. Tastes good, apparently. Serve with liberal quantities of leftover gravy.

Yorkshire pudding as edible dinner plate. Fill up with any stew, chilli or casserole and enjoy.

But if you’re not into Yorkie puds, National Toast Day takes place on February 25th. Again, here are some ways to consume it if you’re lacking inspiration:

Welsh rarebit. Cheese on toast gets a revamp thanks to the recipe I use, which incorporates ruby ale and onion marmalade. Mmm fattening.

As a breakfast course. Choose your weapon: I love rhubarb and ginger jams, as well as Marmite (of course!), but everyone’s got their own poison. Try chocolate spread for an indulgent hit or peanut butter for slow-release energy. Add crunch to a bacon or sausage sandwich by toasting the bread lightly beforehand, too.

As a light lunch or accompaniment. Use roasted cherry tomatoes, rocket and goat’s cheese (or feta) to make a satisfying bruschetta. Garlic bread is another classic, of course.

The French way. Use toast, or stale bread, to make ‘pain perdu’: dunk it in an eggy mixture and then fry it before eating it with sugar or jam for your tea.

With beans. For an option that’s healthier than cheese on toast, but just as comforting, grab a half tin of baked beans and heat them up on the hob or in the microwave before serving them on toast. Many a student dinner was made this way!

What’s more, if you tweet on February 25th about how you take your toast (use @worldbreadaward @wykefarms with the hashtag #fiftytastesoftoast) you could win a range of prizes from top brands as diverse as Wyke Farms, Emma Bridgewater, Lakeland and Tiptree. So go on – get twatting and toasting 🙂

Restaurant Review: The Gilbert Scott, London Sunday, Apr 21 2013 

Being a practically lifelong Spice Girls fan (which I know does wonders for my credibility), I admit to being a tad excited about dining at the Gilbert Scott, which is housed inside the Renaissance St Pancras Hotel, where the famous girl group filmed their debut music video, Wannabe, in the mid-1990s. Here I am on the iconic steps, rocking some blurry girl power:

7 Spice Girls

Ahem.

Before this, we’d had a gut-busting lunch at the restaurant, which is run by Marcus Wareing and offers a £27 Weekend Roast option comprising 3 courses. We all caved in when faced with this option and all 3 starters made their way to our table of four: the roasted carrot soup, venison terrine (with Somerset cider chutney), and omelette Arnold Bennett. Presentation was flawless and flavours harmonious, with perhaps the highlight being the dinky frying pan in which the omelette was served.

When it came to the main we were more selective: of the four choices available only two were selected by our table: corn-fed chicken, and roast pork belly. Crackling did not disappoint and the chicken was moist and flavourful. Gravy was also available in abundance.

However, none of the dessert choices were neglected: banana bread and butter pudding (with chocolate jelly and divine rum ice cream), classic sticky toffee pudding and innovative vanilla panna cotta (with blood orange and passionfruit jelly) were all sampled. The latter made for a particularly refreshing finish, and the rum ice cream was the final flourish of an alcohol-fuelled lunch (which had already seen us drain a bottle of Minervois and a round of gin and tonics).

With all of the alcohol involved, this came to around £50 per person. In addition, we took coffee in the hotel’s plush lounge, which was all white upholstery and natural light. Coffee was of good quality, and service was attentive without being stifling, making for a wonderful birthday weekend lunch. Ultimately would visit again for the beautiful setting, high standard of food and excellent service, which combines to make very good value for money indeed. Plus, that 90s-themed photo opportunity is in itself priceless.

Chain Review: Langan’s Brasserie Saturday, Aug 18 2012 

Having experienced a shoddy breakfast during our early-morning get-up at the hotel we were staying at in northern France, by the time we’d driven to Calais and got on the ferry to set sail for England we were keen to refuel. We therefore decided on the Langan’s Brasserie option, which has since evolved to cover several branches on board P&O ferries as well as locations scattered throughout west London.

Even if our breakfast in France had been poor, I had ultimately already eaten (cereal and bread) so did not want much. I therefore ordered a rack of toast and enjoyed the complimentary orange juice that was served to every customer and turned out to be of very high quality. My husband plumped for the brasserie’s fuller breakfast option: this offered a starter, full cooked breakfast and additional drink for £13. He ordered a pot of tea as his drink, which I promptly stole. He then went on to feast on porridge and a full English, which consisted of egg, sausage, bacon, black pudding, tomato, mushrooms, and bubble and squeak. As if that wasn’t enough, for your £13 you also get a generous basket of mini bread rolls and pastries served with butter, honey and different types of jam. This was all filling, satisfying, and generally really hit the spot. The portions were large and you could easily do as we did – share one £13 breakfast menu and then order extras if needed. Service throughout this experience was discreet (sometimes too discreet as the staff were not always prompt), friendly, and overall added a touch of class to proceedings.

We were therefore keen to take refuge there again from the ferry’s hustle and bustle during our return crossing about 10 days later. On this occasion it was around tea-time, and unfortunately we had a very different experience. Staff were standoffish almost to the point of being rude when they discovered we weren’t going to be wanting a full meal (and who does want a full meal at 4pm – seriously?) – and in any case it’s not as if they had customers bashing down the door wanting full meals ahead of us, as we along with another party were the only customers in the restaurant (which was a large venue with plenty of covers).

When we did come to order, we had difficulty choosing, as we had hoped for something more along the lines of afternoon tea, which it appears that Langan’s does not offer. Trying to order something remotely appropriate to tea-time, I ended up ordering a cheese plate while my husband ordered a bowl of strawberries and cream (both of these dishes, by the way, turned out to be mediocre and not to the standard of the breakfast we’d enjoyed the previous week). We also then ordered tea, because the weather was miserable and we fancied it. This (I admit) somewhat unconventional order raised a few eyebrows with the staff, but I was not impressed by their reaction, having worked in the service industry previously and knowing that no matter what a customer does, says, or orders (unless you get into the territory of hitting and swearing etc) it is your job to comply and be as polite to them as to any other customer. This did not seem to be a priority at Langan’s on this particular day, where we also heard them make an uncalled-for comment relating to members of the other party’s clothes (I admit they were dressed ridiculously for the venue, but again, this is not staff’s business; they are paying customers like any other). As a result of these reactions, and the generally slow service that followed (despite, again, the fact that the restaurant was practically empty), we were keener to leave as soon as possible, rather than lingering and enjoying the food (as during the first visit).

It seems to me, as someone who used to visit Langan’s aboard P&O Ferries regularly as a child and remembers queues stretching out the door (you used to have to reserve a time for later in the sailing and come back if you weren’t quick enough to get a table at the start), that their reputation has gone downhill in the intervening years. Service and food are inconsistent, and can prove either very good or truly terrible. Langan’s projects a very good image through the presentation of its menus and restaurants, and indeed through its competitive pricing, but at time lets itself down through average food and lacklustre service. It’s possible that its London restaurants provide a sparklier experience, and that indeed the P&O branches vary according to who is running them (meaning perhaps that we got lucky on one day and not on another). However, as a result of the second experience we now feel that we cannot rely upon them adequately for the welcome and high quality promised by the brand. We are now convinced that P&O’s club lounge – which, at £12 per person, promises champagne, tea, coffee and soft drinks included in the price, along with luxurious facilities (which we have now seen, as we went to inquire about the service immediately upon leaving Langan’s), newspapers and snacks. We’ll know what to do next time – and I almost feel sorry for Langan’s that their service is now so inconsistent and has gone downhill in this way.

http://www.langansrestaurants.co.uk/brasserie.html

Langan’s London locations can be found here: http://www.langansrestaurants.co.uk/booking.html

for information about Langan’s Brasserie on the Dover-Calais route, follow this link:http://www.poferries.com/tourist/content/pages/template/onboard_dover_-_calais_langans_brasserie_onboard_-_the_brasserie_DOCA.htm

Chain Review: The West Cornwall Pasty Company Sunday, May 9 2010 

For those unfamiliar with the great creation that is the pasty, allow me to enlighten you. It really is touchingly simple: pastry, stuffed with good hearty English ingredients like swede, folded over, and baked until golden brown. The Italians (probably) nicked it from US. Take that, calzone.

Even though it in all likelihood originated as an easy meal or snack for the lower classes to take out and about with them during their day’s work, made cheaply and using ingredients straight from the earth of England’s green and pleasant land, it has evolved to become one of Britain’s best-loved, while still hanging on to its roots in England’s West Country (you can almost hear the Cornish accent whisper in your ear as you take a bite).

While the West Cornwall Pasty Company might not be the first pasty company, it is certainly now one of the biggest, if not THE biggest, now bringing the classic foodstuff to the nation. Reasonably priced, it also sells other things to go with your pasty, such as crisps, drinks, and other solid British snacks such as sausage rolls.

As a chain, you’d think that the quality of this food would be questionable, but it even passes the French test (a.k.a. my fiancé), getting the thumbs up from a nationality that is famously picky about the quality of its meat. However, what you get is a range of seriously delicious, satisfying and traditional foods that never fail to disappoint. I certainly had no beef with my traditional Cornish pasty (containing beef, swede, potato and onion, FYI), and neither did my fiancé, who also sent a sausage roll down after it.

You won’t get fine dining here; the outlets take the form of open shop fronts that offer little or no seating, meaning that you are expected to make like your Cornish forefathers and eat on the move. Still, there is nothing wrong with this. Warm Cornish pasties eaten on Windsor’s Long Walk in the sunshine on a temperate April day? Yes please.

Website: http://www.westcornwallpasty.co.uk

Locations: most high streets