Who is…Dominique Crenn?

Growing up surrounded by influences in the kitchen, Dominique Crenn was introduced to the joys of fine dining from a young age. Having her first tasting menu at the age of eight or nine proved to be instrumental in her becoming a chef. She was adopted when she was 18 months by a couple from France. Her mother was a chef who took her to experience different cultures cuisines from a young age: Indian, Chinese and Japanese to name but a few. Her father’s friend was a famous French restaurant critic and would take her along when he dined with him. With this upbringing, it was a foregone conclusion that she would end up working with food.

Originally from Versailles, she graduated from the University of Paris with a degree in economics and international business. She began her formal training as a chef after she moved from France to San Francisco in 1988, wanting to follow her dream and learn from the best of the French kitchens. She trained under Jeremiah Tower and Mark Franz at the city’s Stars restaurant who she credits as making her the chef she is today.

After working in California, in 1997 Dominique moved to Indonesia where she was made the first female executive chef in the country, making history by taking the helm at the Intercontinental Hotel. This trip was cut short due to political difficulties, and she returned to San Francisco just a year later.

A freak accident in 2009 which changed her life would be the catalyst to the opening of the restaurant for which she is probably most well known. Atelier Crenn opened in 2011 which was a homage to her father, who passed away in 1999. Winning a coveted second Michelin star in 2013, made her the first female chef in America to achieve the distinction. Numerous other accolades would follow such as Iron Chef USA as well as Esquire and Eater’s Chef of the Year. In 2016, she was awarded World’s Best Female Chef at the Worlds 50 Best Restaurants Awards and was the subject of an episode on season 2 of the Netflix original series Chef’s Table.

Crenn describes her extremely original and ingenious cooking style at Atelier Crenn as ‘poetic culinaria’, taking her inspiration from her childhood and the natural world. What makes her restaurant stand out is that her tasting menu is presented as a poem, with each line of the poem representing a different dish on the menu. The tasting menu is also a showcase for her creativity, which takes her diners on an emotional journey encompassing flavours, textures and scents allowing all the senses to play a part. She claims that she imagines an experience, memory or emotion and tries to recreate that with her menu.

While running her flagship restaurant in San Francisco and maintaining its accolades, in 2015 Crenn also found time to open her second restaurant Petit Crenn, an upmarket French Bistro. In the same year she also wrote her debut cookbook, Atelier Crenn: Metamorphosis of Taste which traces her childhood love for food to her passion for cooking and her unprecedented success. Her food is centred around organic, sustainable ingredients focusing on unusual and inventive presentation. Her recipes reflect those used in Atelier Crenn, giving poetic names to her dishes such as ‘A Walk in the Forest’ and ‘The Sea’. With such creativity going on in her kitchens, Dominique Crenn continues to push not only the senses, but the emotions of her diners producing sustainable dishes that once she’s finished adding her own unique twist become nothing short of masterpieces.

Bleecker, London.

I love London, but spending four days in the capital on a course and on my own wasn’t exactly my idea of fun. There was however, quite a good upside in the form of a rather good burger. A visit to Bleecker was a suggestion from Birmingham based Simon Carlo, the author of the award winning MeatandOneVeg blog off the back of a tweet from yours truly. He did a good job, did Simon, so well in fact that I made a return visit before my short stay came to an end.


This venue in particular, a small black and white outlet, is situated next to Victoria station and opposite a UK branch of American chain ShakeShack. The Shack’s kiosk in Madison Park, New York, delivered Abigail the best burger she has ever eaten, but now comes second in my own personal burger rankings.

There’s nothing fancy about the burgers served here at Bleecker and that’s exactly what I love. Who needs over complicated and fussy burgers when you can come here and get the simplest of burgers cooked to perfection? For my first visit, I went for the staple bacon cheeseburger. Even now I’m not entirely sure what to make of the paper plates they’re served on, but what I am sure about was the bun holding it all together. I’m not a fan of seeded buns in general but there is always an exception to the rule. A lightly toasted top was met with the softest of bottoms in a wonderful contrast of textures. The patty itself was evenly pink throughout and all the things you could want from a perfectly cooked slab of meat, accompanied by the absolute fundamentals of a basic burger in the form of cheese, onion and bacon. This ladies and gents is a perfect example of what can happen when you master the basics and keep it simple.

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I wasn’t sold on the mixed fries I ordered alongside, the fried slices of sweet potato not doing a lot for me, with the regular fries proving to have been the better choice on my return visit.

The ‘Blue Burger’ would be the burger to seal the deal. The same perfectly cooked patty, transported in the same lightly toasted bun, only this time a smattering of blue cheese sauce bringing a hit of umami to the palate and the first smile to my face for over 48hours.


The guys and girls here know how to make a good burger, understanding that mastering the basics and keeping it simple can result in beautiful things. When it comes to burgers, you won’t find a better example, than right here at Bleecker.

9/10

Cocoa Cuisine at the Roast + Conch, Leeds.

There aren’t many people who don’t like chocolate in one way or another. As a hot drink in your local Starbucks as you bash away at the keyboard, as a traditional bar when you sit down to binge watch the latest series on Netflix or perhaps you like yours dark with a slightly higher cocoa percentage alongside your favourite single malt. Yes father, I’m looking at you.

Up until a few years ago cocoa and the cocoa bean (as opposed to chocolate) was rarely used in main meals. That was until luxury chocolate producer Hotel Chocolat opened their two UK restaurants: Rabot 1745 in London’s Borough Market and the Roast + Conch in Leeds.

Roughly marking the midway point of our journey home after a few days away and only being a minor detour made the Roast + Conch ideally suited for a break from driving and a bite to eat. Given it would be a Friday in a large city such as Leeds and planning on arriving just as the restaurant re-opened for dinner at 5pm I thought it would be sensible to book in advance. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have bothered.  Walking through the door a few minutes early we strolled through the bar area and upstairs to a completely empty restaurant except for the staff. It would remain this way for the duration of our meal – approximately 90 minutes.

Having placed our order, the waitress returned a few minutes later with some complimentary sourdough bread and a selection of spreads. The bread was a touch dry, crying out for some butter. This proved to be a hard task as the cocoa nib butter that came alongside was a solid block and barely spreadable. The intense flavour of the Cocoa Balsamic proved overpowering and it would take the subtler flavours of the cocoa-nib pesto to rescue the bread.

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For my other half/co-pilot the starter consisted of a light and airy Yorkshire pudding filled with slices of evenly rare spiced beef perched on a bed of silky smooth white chocolate mash. Not as sweet as you might perhaps think, the white chocolate adds just the right amount of sweetness, making the mash different to most others without taking anything away from the taste of the potatoes. For myself Crispy Pressed Lamb Bonbons. Apart from my partner, who knew something so small could have such a huge impact! The salty taste of the capers, acidity from the cornichons and the peppery notes of the radish all helped to bring balance to the moreish flavour of the lamb. For me personally only serving two of these little nuggets of joy just wasn’t enough!

A main of seared sea bass with a cocoa and sesame crust, a smoked aubergine puree, sweet potato, crushed lime and chilli was superb. Crisp skin, on top and perfectly cooked fish underneath was an absolute dream. The chilli added a manageable heat whilst lime added a refreshing zing after the slight sweetness of the crust and potato. My partner opted for the 9-hour cocoa beer braised lamb that fell apart as the knife glided through the meat. Sat on a rich and creamy celeriac puree and joined by an equally rich red wine jus, we ordered a side of seasonal greens and cocoa oil to help take the edge of.

A second side came in the form of some beautifully cooked chips and cocoa ketchup. Crisp outside and fluffy inside in the chip stakes, probably only second to those of The Hand and Flowers.

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Given Hotel Chocolat at its core is a luxury chocolate producer, you’d think that if there was one course they would absolutely nail, it would be dessert. Unfortunately, on this occasion, for me at least this wasn’t the case. It’s no secret I have a sweet tooth. As much as I’d love to be an adult and go for the cheeseboard in a swanky starred restaurant, or a fruit crumble in the local pub, if there’s a chocolate alternative there’s something inside me that will just not allow me to choose anything else. It goes without saying then that the Molten Chocolate ‘Lava’ Pudding was a dead cert from the word go. Upon ordering I was told there would be a short wait due to it being cooked from scratch. Not a problem at all. A chocolate pudding that had gooey chocolate inside accompanied by a cocoa nib ice cream? Take all the time you need.

About fifteen minutes had passed when desserts arrived and boy did they look the part. Unable to contain my excitement any more I dived in, cutting straight through the middle of the soufflé to reveal…nothing. No sign of the molten lava anywhere. After the two previous courses being so delightful it was disappointing to put it mildly. Possible a few minutes too long in the oven had led to the ‘lava’ inside being cooked and becoming part of the soufflé. A shame, especially after the extra wait and the lack of customers but having had this dessert on a previous occasion I know just how good this dessert can be when it’s done well.

I’ll hold my hands up, as I alluded to in the previous paragraph I have now been to both Hotel Chocolats’ restaurants. Would I go back to either again? Probably not. Not because the cooking in either is bad – because it’s not, but because after the first time the novelty has worn off. Would I however, recommend it to other people as an alternative dining experience to what they would probably be used to? Absolutely.

7/10

Restaurant Martin Wishart, Edinburgh.

I’m just going to come out and say it. Dinner at Restaurant Martin Wishart was the best meal both me and my partner have ever had.

The restaurant, named after its Chef Owner, is the flagship of Edinburgh born Martin Wishart and is located in the district of Leith, a few miles to the north of Edinburgh. Since opening in 1999 it’s built up a collection of accolades that include a Michelin Star awarded in 2001 and retained ever since, No.5 in The Sunday Times Best UK Restaurants list of 2015 and four AA Rosettes kept since first awarded in 2005 as well as a list of others as long as your arm.

Just in case the accolades don’t say it loud enough, from the second you step across the doorway it becomes instantly clear that quality is something that is really cared about. The dining room was a thing of beauty. Crisp white linen adorned immaculately dressed tables with quality glassware and cutlery. Every detail screamed quality at the top of its voice, giving the whole room an air of sophistication that perfectly matched the food that was to come.

The Amuse Bouche was a symphony of colours, textures and tastes. A Beetroot Macaroon with Horseradish cream attracted the attention of my partner due to its pink colour and mine because of its airy, crisp texture, with the Horseradish cream bringing the faintest touch of warmth. A Tomato gazpacho and Green Pepper Mousse was light and refreshing and brought even more colour to the party, with both Tomato and Pepper making their presence equally known. Canneloni with Aubergine, Couscous and tomato powder, a Squid Ink cracker with gravlax salmon and avocado mousse and finally Mackerel with white radish, ginger and a citrus broth made up the rest of the first course.

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The meal was kicked up a gear with the arrival of the Rose Veal Tartare. The Tartare accompanied by the buttery nature of the Foie Gras, wild mushrooms and sweetness coming from the Coteaux du Layon sauce made for a course of pure extravagance.

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Orkney Scallops with Vadouvan Spice was the second course of the six. The sweet and delicate flavour of two precisely cooked Scallops met with a subtle blend of aromats coming from the spices, while spears of white asparagus added their mild earthy note.

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Perhaps a further nod to Wisharts’ classic French training, the half way point was marked by the most French of ingredients: Snails. Encased within accurately cooked pasta, the snails were joined by its classic accompaniment in the form of a wonderfully subtle Garlic Veloute surrounding the entire dish, with baby leeks and mussels adding their own individual flavours. Possibly due to her new-found love of Escargot after a recent trip to Paris, on the journey home my partner declared that this was her favourite dish of the entire meal, despite her sweet tooth and enjoyment of the two desserts that would follow not long later.

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A roasted breast of Goosnargh Duck was the last of the savoury dishes. Certainly, the prettiest of the mains, especially so after the Burmese Pepper sauce was poured around the main components table side eventually forming a perfect circle. The slice of duck breast had a wonderful crisp skin, with the meat underneath being an even shade of pink throughout. With Spelt’s’ slightly nutty flavour, a spear of Asparagus adding it’s earthy undertone and Beets bringing sweetness, this was the course of the evening for me.

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The first of two desserts would be exactly what was needed after four previous courses of pure indulgence. Delicate cubes of Pineapple lightly sprinkled with Tajin were placed around a Hay Parfait and Lemon Grass Curd with Shortbread adding crunch. A light and refreshing first dessert before we moved onto the finale.

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A Valrhona Guanaja Chocolate Mousse with Coconut Sorbet and Passion Fruit was the final dish of the evening. Just as beautifully presented as the previous dishes, the slight bitterness of the dark chocolate mousse offset by the sorbet and the tartness of the Passion Fruit. The perfect way to end a superb meal.

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Over the two hours and six courses we were in the restaurant we experienced nothing but perfection. The total bill, coming in at £250 included two six-course meals, both pre-and post-meal drinks as well as a decent bottle of Wine, was, in my opinion worth every single penny. Masterful cooking that produced an absolutely faultless meal combined with a level of service that was both professional and approachable made for an experience that I’m unlikely to forget for many years to come.

10/10

ASK Italian via Deliveroo

Having spent the day helping the better half pack up her university life for the third and final time, day became night which meant it was time for dinner. As everything had been packed away cooking wasn’t a viable option and due to my somewhat idle character, nor was getting out of bed. As a result, I did what I often do in these situations, grabbed my phone and turned to Deliveroo for help. Unfortunately, for all its charm, Winchester isn’t exactly loaded with options when it comes to food delivery. Italian however is something that Winchester does do, so after a skim through the options we eventually decided on ASK Italian. As Italian chain restaurants go, ASK isn’t bad. That’s not to say it’s the pinnacle of Italian cooking but there are definitely worse options.

Before I go any further I’d like to say that what is to come is in no way a reflection on Deliveroo. I’ve had nothing but positive experiences with them every time I’ve been too lazy to get off my arse.

Last night’s dinner was the biggest waste of £35 I’ve experienced in a long time. Less than 40minutes from our order being accepted to it arriving at the door isn’t bad going at all. Unfortunately, that’s as good as it gets.

A Garlic Pizza bread was dry and cardboard like in both taste and feel with what I consider the key ingredient not making itself known.

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A second starter of chunky Potato Croquettes filled with Mozerella, Broad Beans and Peas was better. The crispy outer giving way to a freshness delivered by the beans and peas all brought together with the merest hints of spice, coming from the spicy Tomato salsa.

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Things weren’t really going well and then as I opened the boxes containing the Fettuccine Bolognese and Risotto Con Pollo E Funghi, my fears that had developed when I took delivery of dinner were realised.

 

I appreciate there are challenges involved when it comes to packaging food for delivery but this is not the answer. A plastic container like those you get from any Indian takeaway would have been a far better option than what we received. It just makes the food look unappealing and makes me question just how much thought has gone into the packaging.

A Bolognese that supposedly featured a ‘hearty Beef and Pork Ragu’ served with Fettuccine Pasta left me wondering if the Deliveroo rider had got peckish on the way over. What there was of the Ragu lacked any noticeable traits of any Bolognese I’ve ever had, even the pasta was overcooked and only a few seconds away from disaster.

The Risotto wasn’t much better. Rice that wasn’t quite as badly cooked as the Pasta in the previous dish completely lacked seasoning accompanied by overcooked chicken and an array of Mushrooms that actually allowed the Risotto to come out just on top of the Bolognese.

So, there we go. As meals go, it’s one I’d like to erase from memory. I’m not saying I won’t visit ASK ever again – I’ve had some okay-good meals there. In future though, I’ll just use this experience as motivation to haul myself from my pit, get dressed and spend a little more time in their restaurant waiting for my food with a glass of red, it’ll be worth it.

3/10

 

New York, New York.

It’s been a busy but very enjoyable few weeks. Trips to New York and Scotland one after the other before diving straight back into work haven’t allowed me much time to get words onto screen.

The fact that New York has 77 restaurants with at least a single Michelin Star should demonstrate just how well the city is doing when it comes to food.  Should you need any more convincing of just how well not just the city, but the entire country is doing, back in April one of their restaurants was named the best in the world at the Worlds 50 Best Restaurant Awards. The restaurant in question is Eleven Madison Park, a short walk from the hustle and bustle of Times Square. Before I’d even finished dotting the ‘I’s’ and crossing the ‘T’s’ in the Travel Agents I had decided I was going and not a single person or event was going to stop me. Except of course a closure for refurbishment. That would do the trick.

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Not to worry though, I wasn’t going to let this minor hiccup beat me. Que Twitter. There isn’t much you can’t do on Twitter. Stalk your favourite celebs? Easy. The very latest news? Twitter knows about it before it’s on lunch time TV. Ask for recommendations on places to eat whilst in The Big Apple? Best place to do it. Did I get a response? I did. Several in fact. The best bit being that I managed to get to all but two of the suggestions.

For our first real taste of the US of A, we headed down 5th Avenue to Eisenberg’s. One of very few proper old school sandwich shops left in the city, there was only ever going to be two sandwiches in the running. For me, it had to be a Hot Pastrami Sandwich. The pastrami was delightful and not in short supply. Succulent, juicy, tender pieces of meat with a strong smoky flavour were housed between two pieces of dry bread. I bit through the beautiful Pastrami straight onto bread that instantly robbed my mouth of any moisture. Up until this point, the sandwich was maybe a notch above good. In all the excitement, I dived straight in forgetting about the side of Gherkins that came with the sandwich. Mind you, so did the waiter, bringing them to the table along with an apology mid-way through. This made it a sandwich quite literally of two halves. The palate refreshing nature of the Gherkins was exactly what I was looking for and made all the difference to my mid-morning snack. My partner opted for what I consider to be the only other REAL option and an American staple. The Grilled Cheese. A Lime-Rickey was the drink of choice to wash all of this down. My initial thoughts were twofold: One, just how moreish it was and two, how it tasted like a bag of Haribo had been emptied into a blender, blitzed, added to some fizz and served, which by the way, is no bad thing.

The next suggestion would emerge as one of my personal food highlights of our week-long trip. Founded by New York restauranteur Danny Mayer, Shake Shack is a hamburger and milkshake chain that started life in 2004. Originally operating out of a Food Cart in Madison Square Park just yards from Mayer’s formerly owned Eleven Madison Park and with popularity on the rise a permanent kiosk was built, where it still stands today. They’ve since expanded to a total of 134 locations, including three in London. A Double SmokeShack was the order of the day, a burger made up of two freshly ground 4oz 100% angus beef patties, cheese, smoked Niman Ranch bacon, chopped cherry peppers and shack sauce. All of this sandwiched in what has to be the best burger bun I’ve ever eaten. Carrying a distinctive buttery note, the potato bun used was actually designed to prevent burger slippage. I loved it so much that I may or may not have returned to have another before our departure back to the U.K. Once again, going for two patties rather than one and slightly more traditional in its build, my partner opted for the name sake ‘Shackburger’. Still a cheeseburger at its core, only this time accompanied by lettuce, tomato and shack sauce. With both burgers, chips to share, a large handmade lemonade and a shake coming in at a few cents over $33 this is the very definition of value for money. Should you ever get to New York, take a detour to the guys at ShakeShack. You won’t regret it.

A second suggestion was to get Pizza in Little Italy. Something I’d admittedly not even considered. The place recommended to us was Lombardi’s, America’s very first Pizzeria. Our instructions were to get there before opening time. At first, I thought this was odd to say the least. I mean, who wants Pizza at 11:30am? Apparently, as I discovered, quite a lot of people. Heeding the advice given, we rocked up about 20minutes early, to find a que already formed. Doors swung open and within a few minutes the restaurant was full. Having eyes bigger than our stomachs we ordered a large pepperoni and not long later a 16” pizza arrived at our table. I’m used to ordering large pizza’s, back home it’s not a problem. Let me tell you right here and now ladies and gents, 2” makes all the difference. At least, that’s what I’m told. Evidence of the coal oven used to cook these New York style pizzas are ever present on your fingertips as you pick up each slice. The pizza is fantastic, like, as it would turn out, a lot of food I ate in New York. If I had to criticise, the paper plates we were presented with wasn’t in-keeping with the rest of the vintage décor and quite frankly, made me feel like a child.

Less than a 5minute walk from the craziness that is Times Square lies ‘Broadway Bites’. A seasonal street food market popping up during the Summer and Fall. Take a walk through the market to discover a diverse range of offerings from local chefs and producers. Over our time in New York, we managed to work our way around the majority of the stalls, here being some of our most memorable. Hank’s Juicy Beef was our first stop, ordering a junior version of the signature sandwich. Slow roasted Italian style beef accompanied by marinated peppers was spooned into a buttered French roll. Hank’s beef really is juicy. Packed full of flavour, this was a wonderful late evening snack.

Next up came a S’More Taco from Squish Marshmallows. A milk chocolate Taco houses your choice of 3 marshmallow flavours which you can mix and match as you please. My partner being the one with the sweet tooth ordered 2 Birthday party marshmallows and 1 S’Mores. For even the sweetest tooth this was a touch on the sweet side.

On our penultimate day we went back, this time heading for Don Don NY and a Chicken Katsu Curry. Sticky white rice formed the foundation of the dish with breaded chicken, shredded white cabbage and a curry sauce making up the remainder. Rather filling this would turn out to be our last meal in New York.

Thriving more than ever, I’m pleased to report that New York is no longer a city living off McDonald’s, Wendy’s and $1 a slice Pizza, (although you can still get all of the above if you wish). The food scene is just as diverse as the people who live there, making it probably one of the best weeks of food we’ve had.

 

Eisenberg’s: 7/10

Shake Shack: 10/10

Lombardi’s: 8/10

Who is…Tom Kerridge?

Born in 1973 in the West Country Tom Kerridge started out as a child actor with several small parts in a variety of different shows. He went on to attend a culinary school at the age of 18 before moving around Gloucestershire and a series of restaurants and country house hotels. During his early 20s he left Gloucestershire and moved to London to work for chefs including Gary Rhodes, Steven Bull and Phillip Britton. After a number of years he moved to Norwich to take up the position of head chef at Michelin starred Adlards.

Beth Kerridge is an English sculptor born in 1970. Six weeks after meeting Tom she proposed to him, a question that would have an answer before the end of the sentence. In 2005, she moved from Norfolk to Marlow to open The Hand & Flowers, something they were able to do using the money from a commission Beth had received.

The original plan was to create a space that reflected somewhere both Tom and Beth would like to go during their days off. Just a year after opening, the pub got its first Michelin Star. Six years later, it became the first pub to be awarded a prestigious second star. You can read about my visit to The Hand and Flowers by clicking on the following link:

https://thehampshirefoodie.com/2017/03/28/the-hand-and-flowers-marlow/

With The Hand and Flowers ever growing popularity and bookings being taken three months in advance, it was no longer easy for the locals to nip in for a quick pint. Cue the opening of The Coach. Situated at the other end of the street to The Hand and Flowers, The Coach has an informal, relaxed atmosphere and unlike its sister pub has a strict first come first served policy with no bookings being taken. In 2016 it was the Top 50 Gastropubs Awards highest new entry coming in at number four. The quality of the food rivals that of some of the best restaurants, this being backed up by a Bib Gormand being awarded in the 2017 Michelin Guide.

Over his career, Tom has made appearances on various programmes including Saturday Kitchen and The Great British Menu where, in 2010, his slow cooked Aylesbury duck with duck fat chips and gravy was one of the four winning finalists. He has also hosted his own cooking shows such as Spring Kitchen and Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food.

Just before Christmas 2016 Tom and Beth were overjoyed with the arrival of their first child Acey, a name that is Anglo Saxon for number one.

Over the past three years Tom has lost 11 stone through using a dopamine diet. He has since released a book that reveals his personal experiences and also his go-to recipes to aid his weight loss. As part of his diet Tom went teetotal to help him reach his ultimate goal.

I openly admit that I’m a huge fan of Tom Kerridge. The Hand and Flowers is exactly the kind of place I’d love to eat every single day and thankfully, despite his recent (and rather dramatic) lifestyle change, the food he serves up, remains just like the Tom of old – big, bold and in all honesty, bloody brilliant.