Monthly Archives: March 2013

Crab & Lobster … and a lot more

It is perfectly possible that all there is to be said about the Crab & Lobster at Sidlesham, West Sussex has already been said – if so I’ll make my apology at the start. However for those unfamiliar with the unspoiled Pagham Harbour location of this 350 year old converted pub/restaurant with rooms and its exquisite seafood, you are in for a treat.

Not all reviewers have been uncritical as a cursory glance at Trip Adviser will confirm, but here at Cloud Howe Media we speak as we find and what we found was outstanding – it’s the whole experience that counts and that includes of course the accommodation, the food, the wine,  the service, the atmospherics and the location.

Our recent stay during that wet, windy and bitterly cold spell towards the end of March was not a first for Mrs Burns and me – we stayed at the Crab & Lobster two years previously and we have lunched there (without staying) a couple of times too. That may not make us habitués but it does give us a sense of perspective and, I hope, some balance – we have not been let down so far.

The Crab & Lobster, Slidlesham

The Crab & Lobster, Slidlesham

I should tell you that there were two things that made our most recent visit especially enjoyable. First we had been given a Crab & Lobster voucher as a Xmas present by my sister June; second we managed to get booked-in just before their generous Spring offer came to an end!

This certainly took the sting out of paying the bill – the Crab & Lobster is not cheap, but then when ever did you find top quality service and food in a superb location that was?

A deluxe room at the Crab & Lobster

A deluxe room at the Crab & Lobster

The tiny hamlet of Sidlesham lies directly south of Chichester off the B 2145 and a well signed turn-off takes you right to the edge of Pagham Harbour, a designated Nature Reserve and Sight of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

By the way, don’t expect bobbing boats and yachty-types – you’ll want Itchenor and Bosham for that – but what you do get are unspoiled mudflats, salt-marshes and sea forming a natural harbour that is an acknowledged haven for wading birds, including some over-wintering rarities. The Crab & Lobster is literally perched on the banks of the harbour.

We checked-in late-afternoon and after dumping our bags made straight for the bar and the welcoming open-fire – just what was needed to take the chill off that biting wind. We were helped to the wine menu by the attentive lunch-time waitress who thoughtfully pointed us to the 37cl carafe options.

It did not take long to spot the Camillo de Lellis Biferno Reserva – this wine had recently been the subject of a blog from yours truly under the title ‘A Warming Bargain from Italy’ and it would, as they say, have been churlish not to order some. It was one of those available in a 37cl carafe, which was perfect and exactly the kind of hearty red that the occasion called for.

We passed a very pleasant hour chatting to our young waitress, flicking through the wide range of up-to-date magazines and travel books whilst sipping our wine.

Outside, the howling wind was swinging the traditional pub-sign with the creak of old ships’ timbers, which certainly added to the atmosphere – we almost expected Long John Silver to come lurching through the door!

As Mrs Burns prefers not to eat too late we booked our table in the restaurant for 19.30 and we arrived more or less on time; the fact that we did not sit down to order until almost 20.45 was not entirely our fault. The truth is we were befriended by a loquacious couple already seated at the bar when we presented ourselves for pre-prandials – I put it down to Mrs B’s youthful good-looks and charm. It rarely if ever happens when I’m on my own!

Our new friends – Edwin and Dawn – were not eating, at least not at the C&L and unsurprisingly were in no hurry to get to their table – but they were good company and generous too, which meant we had a couple of drinks before dinner rather than ‘just the one’.

A corner of the dinning room

A corner of the dinning room

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking he must have been half-cut by the time he ate his dinner, no wonder he enjoyed it so much – and I did. But that would not be fair and I’m not denying that the happy state ‘twixt sobriety and inebriation makes for a warm sense of contentment and well-being. But having enjoyed a long and successful career at the bar I can, as they say, hold my own. And so it proved.

We had made a careful study of the ‘specials’ earlier in the day, so it did not take long for us to make up our minds. Mrs Burns opted for the potted shrimps and whole plaice stuffed with crayfish; I also went for the potted shrimps followed by poached bream on a bed of wild mushroom risotto with accompanying green salad.

It has been unkindly suggested in the past that I choose the wine on the basis of price, i.e. the most expensive. That is simply not true and to prove it, to accompany our fish-supper I ordered  a young, light white wine from northern Spain, the Vall Major, Granaxta Blanc, which happened to be the house white and the least expensive on the menu.

It was exactly what was required; should there be any surprise at that – none whatever! House wine is often mistakenly underrated, but you have to ask, why would a specialist restaurant with a reputation to maintain serve its customers with cheap and nasty house wine? Clearly it doesn’t make sense and consequently there are some real bargains to be had amongst house wines – give it a go, you can spend what you save on a nice desert or digestive!

So what of the food? Well, we are talking about a very good standard of cooking using fresh, local ingredients in an imaginative and ambitious way that demonstrates high technical skill together with balanced flavours. In my experience you have to go a long way to achieve that combination.

A salmon parcel from the Crab & Lobster kitchen

A salmon parcel from the Crab & Lobster kitchen

Personally I think the ‘3’ awarded by the Good Food Guide is on the mean side and fails to do justice to Malcolm Goble and his team in the kitchen nor does it give adequate recognition to the always helpful, friendly and unfussy service in the restaurant led by Sophie.

All of which meant we had a lovely meal served by unhurried but always professional staff in a warm and smart dining room where we were made to feel just that little bit special.

And it did not stop there; we rolled down at a leisurely hour for breakfast the next morning; as you would expect freshly squeezed orange juice, toast, croissant, jams, yoghurt and cereals were all waiting for us to make our choice. Tea and coffee arrived promptly and we both ordered the smoked haddock and poached eggs for the cooked breakfast.

We both love smoked haddock – the proper un-dyed kind of course – but what clinched it was the poached eggs. I mean, when was the last time you made a poached egg at home, more to the point, when was the last time you made an edible one – round in shape, cooked on the outside with a hot runny yolk on the inside? In my case the answer is never! (I don’t count those done in the silly little ‘frying-pans’ with the lid that steams the eggs, that’s cheating!)

After our wholesome breakfast we were ready to brave the Siberian wind and venture out along the footpath that borders the west side of Pagham Harbour. This was not a first; we’ve trodden this easy but often very muddy route more than once so we knew what we were looking for – essentially, wading birds. But they were in short supply; sensibly the birds were keeping out of the cold.

It was not until we got to the RSPB hide at Ferry Pool that we got to enjoy the rich wildlife that defines this landscape and natural bird reserve – and boy, were we rewarded. First of all we were lucky enough to be joined in the hide by Peter and Barbara who were on holiday from Derby. They were serious bird watchers – you can tell straight-away when they come armed with one of those tripod telescopes wrapped in camouflage padding!

Not only did they have impressive kit, but they knew a thing or two about the wading birds of Pagham Harbour, Derby or no Derby. It wasn’t long before Peter was pointing out Pintails, Avocets, Shovelers (pictured above), Tufted Ducks plus Lapwings and Wigeons and we were oohing and ahhing.

Despite the biting cold we lingered much longer than anticipated but like all good things it had to come to an end …. as does this blog, so if you have been, thanks for staying with it this far.

Pintails in flight

Pintails in flightAvocetAvocetThe aptly named Shoveler: its wide flat beak is used for 'shoveling' up food.The aptly named Shoveler: its wide flat beak is used for ‘shoveling’ up food.

McBlue

28th March 2013

Great start for Cuckfield Emporium

The new Cuckfield Vintage Emporium (CVE) was launched last week on 8th March. Sometimes a long anticipated event – one that has been subject to weeks of preparation and careful planning, can be a disappointing anti-climax. Fortunately for Darcy Shepherd – the driving force behind the Cuckfield based regular monthly vintage and country-style fairs – this was not the case.

In fact it was quite the opposite. Despite the weather doing its worst to throw a damper on things with a relentless downpour from dawn ’til dusk, all expectations were exceeded. Throughout the day there was a steady flow of visitors keen to be part of the unique shopping experience that only a well organised vintage fair with a good range of choice artefacts, clothes and object d’art can offer.

Twenty-five enthusiastic stallholders transformed The Queen’s Hall in to a glittering Aladdin’s cave brimming with decorative homeware, beautiful painted furniture, lovely linens and other fabrics plus an array of vintage and ‘pre-loved’ fashions.

“We love coming to Darcy’s events” said one exhibitor, “you can always rely on the organisation being right and there are always lots of vintage shoppers looking for lovely gifts and pieces to add that finishing touch to their homes or wardrobes.”

Whether it was the shocking weather, or more likely, the culinary delights on offer, one of the highlights of the event judging by the constant throng was ‘Tory’s Tearooms’ which kept everyone refreshed and replenished throughout the day with wonderful cakes and savouries – Tory’s jumbo sausage-rolls deserve a special mention in their own right, they are not only scrumptious but they’re fast assuming cult-status!

Just for fun a free prize-draw was organised which meant every visitor through the door who gave an email address got their name entered in the raffle for a delicious bottle of English sparkling wine from the internationally acclaimed Bluebell Vineyard Estates of Furners Green, East Sussex. The lucky winner was Jenny Williams who lives in Haywards Heath. The wine was Bluebell’s Hindleap Brut Rose, a Silver medal winner in the 2012 International Wine Challenge – you can find out more at http://www.bbvy.co.uk.

One of Darcy’s objectives for CVE is to support and sponsor CHICKS, a charity that organises week-long respite adventure holidays for Britain’s disadvantaged children. The idea is to encourage CVE visitors to donate to the charity and then at least match those donations with a contribution from CVE. The idea is just taking off and there are plans to raise the profile of this venture and Darcy is sure that as her visitors become familiar with the aims it will win strong support.

Speaking to several vintage shoppers on the day, the most frequently heard comment was ‘how friendly, informative and helpful’ the stallholders were. And the feedback from stallholders was equally complimentary with most commenting on the fact that so many visitors were clearly there to have fun and to buy something special.

We spoke to Jean Askew of Chelwood Gate and her daughter Katherine, who had travelled from Hampton near Richmond, as they were leaving with arms full of bargains. “I am especially thrilled with my beautiful vintage mirror” said Jean, “I know exactly where it is going to go – in the alcove above our antique wine rack – it will look perfect.”

Katherine, who was struggling with a just-purchased full-sized handmade quilt, as well as a 3-month old baby, said, “I’m really delighted with this and I know my husband is going to love it too – I can’t wait to get it home.”

That was the reaction of couple of pretty satisfied customers who, it is probably fair to say, summed up the experience of the whole event. The next CVE is again at The Queen’s Hall, Cuckfield on 12th April – hope to see you then.

McBlue

11th March 2013.

Calm before the storm

Calm before the storm

CVE QH 23 2013-03-08 10.56.39

Ready to go!

Ready to go!

Cake anyone?

Cake anyone?

A warming bargain from Italy

What is it about simple suppers around a blazing log fire that evoke such heightened appreciation of wine?

We had a pretty busy day on Saturday; without burdening you with the minutiae I’ll simply say that we ended up getting back from Maidstone about seven on another bitterly cold evening to find that our troublesome boiler had let us down – again. So I set about trying to coax it back in to action whilst Mrs Burns got the fire going and headed for the kitchen.

Half-an-hour later with the first signs that the radiators were warming up and the fire crackling away the supper appeared on a tray in the lounge – sliced, succulent, cold chicken breast and homemade chips – an all too infrequent speciality from Mrs Burns’ range of gastronomic delicacies –  how mouth-watering is that? On the side was a plate of Stilton and Gruyère cheeses.

Unusually, and without prior consultation, Mrs Burns had selected the wine – a 2007 Camillo de Lellis Biferno Reserva from the Wine Society – a rather aristocratic sounding red wine for such a modest meal, I thought – but not for the first time I was wide of the mark!

None the less, as soon as it was in the glass those brick-red and garnet tones caught the eye and already I was intrigued -18 months in oak barrels and then tank-aging had certainly worked their magic.

We are talking here about a ‘rustic’ wine (winespeak for traditional and a bit old fashioned), hailing from Molise, an obscure winegrowing region in Italy’s deep-south on the Adriatic coast. It is made from 70% Montepulciano and 15% each of Aglianico and Trebbiano Toscano grapes. Now, it has to be said that these are not grapes, neither individually nor collectively, to stir the heart of your average wine buff – and the Trebbiano, being a white grape, is especially frowned upon.

But for me there was something about the velvety texture on the palate and the warming elderberry and blackberry flavours that marked it out as a winner – thank goodness there was plenty left over for the cheese. And so our makeshift supper was transformed into a lovely treat.

It was not until the next morning that I thought I go to my Wine Society list to check on what we had been drinking and how I had acquired such a gem – and here perhaps is the best bit – we had been drinking and thoroughly enjoying a £6.95 bottle of wine! Please, don’t let it ever be said that the Wine Society does not cater for every taste and every budget.

I had felt sure Mrs Burns had allowed her hand to drift over to the right-hand side of our modest ‘cellar’ where I keep ‘the good stuff’, but no, this was clearly from the everyday-drinking side!

I guess I must have ordered it in early January when, by custom and after the indulgences of Xmas I stock-up with, shall we say, the more modest offerings of the wine trade. But what a bonus to find in these straightened-times that there are bargains out there that can bring real pleasure and surprise.

If you are not a member of the Wine Society, you can by the wine from Great Western Wine based in Bath or through their web site. Apparently the estimable Butler’s Wine Cellar of Brighton did stock it at one time, but it appears, no longer.

PS:

After writing this blog I checked on the internet to see what others may have written about the wine; here’s what the saintly Jancis Robinson had to say about Camillo de Lellis – very scholarly, as you would expect. If you manage to get hold of a bottle or two, I hope it lives up to Jancis’ recommendation – I’m sure it will.

McBlue.

4th March 2013.

Biferno Rosso Reserva 2007

Belly-dancers at Turners Hill – really!

Belly-dancers in Turners Hill – really!

Wednesday evenings at the Tarana Indian Restaurant in Turners Hill are fast assuming cult status in our little corner of mid-Sussex. There are a number of reasons for this, the great award-winning food has got to be one, the brilliant atmosphere and service is also up there – but I’m going to take a wild guess and suggest that the beautiful belly-dancers could be the main attraction!

Wow! What a great night out we (three couples) had this week. We arrived by taxi at 19.15, which is just as well because the car park was already packed, which was no more than a portent of what was to greet us inside the fabulously re-furbished restaurant. There must have been getting on for 200 people there.

Normally this would be immediate cause for concern, but not on this occasion as we were efficiently and courteously escorted to our table with the minimum of fuss. Drinks orders were taken and we were soon into studying the menu and quizzing each other about ‘what do you fancy’ and ‘Oh! That sounds nice, I might try that myself’.

Fortunately the process was made somewhat easier by the fact that there was a semi-set menu at £18.95 available which left us just with the choice of ‘mains’ and a side dish. Did I say that made things easier? That might be an exaggeration as we struggled to come to terms with the extensive menu.

In time, having gone around the houses more than once, we were ready to order. Here I have to advise you that there is nothing behind the times about the Tarana – for example, every waiter is armed with a mini iPad to take your order. One can only imagine that as your carefully considered choices are being tapped on to the screen, they are being WiFied straight in to the kitchen for the action to start – impressive I thought.

But then, though he keeps it very quiet, the charming maître d’, front-man and impeccable host, Jaham, who runs the Tarana, has hidden depths when it comes to the use and application of high-end technology – and it shows in all aspects of the restaurants profile.

But I digress – back to the Tarana experience. Well, I suppose it has to be noted that there was some delay between the ordering and the serving of our food, but with 200 hungry mouths to feed I’m guessing that was inevitable and, in the event, barely noticeable as we enjoyed our wine and anticipated the start of the show.

In fact both the food and the show arrived at the same time – there was tonnes of it, food that is; have a look at the pictures, which hardly do our banquet  justice. I’ll simply say it was delicious, expertly prepared and beautifully presented.

Suddenly we were being entertained by a Bollywood sound-track with the rhythmic beat and enchanting eastern melodies you would expect – and then before you knew it two absolutely delightful young women appeared in full belly-dancing costume. We were stunned – I’ve seen belly-dancing before, in London, it was good, but not as good or as alluring as this. And the audience of enthusiastic diners showed their appreciation – no silly wolf-whistles or cheering – just heartfelt applause. Why – well, because the dancing was exquisite and yes, exciting and exotic too. (Hopefully the pictures will provide some idea of the show’s appeal.)

Each performance by the dancers lasted 10-15 minutes and there were three performances throughout the evening, finishing around 22.00. Each dance presentation involved a change of costumes – all of which were sexy, but in no way gaudy or vulgar, quite the opposite in fact.

It was great entertainment for all ages, mixed groups (like ours) and families – and this I think is the genius behind the success of the Tarana, and why they can pack their Turners Hill restaurant to capacity on cold and raw Wednesday evenings.

I was lucky enough to get to talk briefly to Jaham and the dancers – Emiliah and Schyraz – at the end of the evening.

Now, of course, it is showbusiness, so I really should not have been surprised to find that ‘the girls’ were not actually from India or the Middle-East – though both had, as part of their extensive training spent time in Egypt and India learning the belly-dancing technique.

It’s tempting to fall in to the trap of believing that earning a living as a belly-dancer is for the dodgy and disreputable, but you’d be wrong. Both Emiliah and Schyraz (their stage names) have been training in dance schools around the world from the tender age of 12 acquiring classical, ballroom, contemporary and modern jazz-dance skills – and picking up dozens of awards on their long and arduous path to recognition and success as professional entertainers.

They have worked and trained in three continents but that is as nothing to the pitiless schedule they now maintain with regular appearances in London and the Home Counties – the demand for exotic dancers has never been greater.

Whilst dancing is their main focus right now Emiliah and Schyraz both (almost literally) have other strings to their bows – Schyraz for example is a photographer and a violinist, and is striving to get that longed for break into musical theatre that her training has prepared her for. Emiliah is an accomplished  singer-songwriter, and has by no means given up on her desire to launch a recording career; both girls meanwhile are qualified dance teachers and run their own classes.

The old adage, ‘never judge a book by its cover’, might have been coined specifically for these two young women; beautiful, exotic and alluring they most certainly are – but also talented,   hardworking, determined and tireless to in pursuit of their dreams, and also completely beguiling!

So, take my advice, the next time you feel like cheering yourself up and pushing the boat out a bit, get along to the Tarana Indian Restaurant in Turners Hill on a Wednesday evening, you won’t regret it – Jaham and his team will make sure of that.

McBlue

28th Feb ‘13

Here comes the grub! Tarana's 2013-02-27 21.16.07Irene dishing up at Tarana's 2013-02-27 21.19.26schyraz-dances-at-our-table2-2013-02-27-21-35-05emiliah-takes-the-floor-at-taranas2-2013-02-27-20-51-57Schyraz & Emiliah in action at the Taran Resturant 2013-02-27 21.08.08

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