Who is…Gino D’Acampo?

Almost every household in Britain has heard the name of This Morning’s favourite Italian chef, Gino D’Acampo. With his cheeky smile and flirting with the camera, it’s clear that he is up for a laugh. But how did he get so famous?

From a young age, Gino knew that he wanted to be a chef. After walking into his grandfather’s restaurant for the first time at age 11, he was inspired to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps. A philosophy that always stuck with him came from his idol. “My grandfather said that a good recipe doesn’t need lots and lots of ingredients because if the ingredients are top quality and full of flavour, why would you want to cover up or change their taste?”

He initially trained at the Luigi de Medici Catering College but at 19, Gino came to London and worked at The Orchard Restaurant in Hampstead and then at the Cambio restaurant in Surrey. He often returns to Luigi de Medici Catering College to give talks to its current students and to do demonstrations for them.

At age 29, Gino owned an Italian food supply company called Bontà Italia Ltd where he helped Tesco to develop ready-made meals for their Finest range. Through his company, he also sold sauces and olive oils under his name. This experience led to his first spot as a guest on Great Food Live and UKTV Food which kickstarted his career in television.

Gino is also an expanding restauranteur. In 2013, he launched a chain of restaurants called My Pasta Bar for the fast-casual diner. They can be found at 3 locations in London while his My Restaurant chain showcases Italian food as it should be. His dishes reflect the soul and character of Italy’s many different regions and makes the best of well sourced, seasoned ingredients to ensure that every dish brings with it a true taste of Italy.

Aside from his triumphs in the kitchen, in 2009 he won the public’s hearts when he appeared in the ninth series of I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! and was crowned King of the Jungle. While in the jungle, Gino proved himself by doing his fair share of trials and challenges, maintaining his wit and sense of humour throughout. Helping him to settle into jungle life was the decision to become jungle chef for the duration of his stay using his already proven skill set to make life just that little bit better and tastier for him and his camp mates.

Gino jungle

As well as being a chef, he has also tried his hand at being an author. He has several best-selling books including Fantastico!, Gino’s Pasta, Italian Home Baking and Gino’s Italian Escape.

Gino has a regular spot on the ITV daytime show This Morning alongside Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby. He constantly leaves them in hysterics whilst cooking in the kitchen, a recent example being his trouble pronouncing the word ‘sheet’ in his thick Italian accent, leaving the This Morning duo doubled up with laughter.

With his Italian charm and infectious smile Gino remains one of the countries favourite celebrity chefs, continuing to cook up his robust Italian flavours and bring them to the nations tables.

 

Byron, Salisbury.

I hate January. It’s such a depressing month. It’s just full of everything I hate; work, people talking about how this year is going to be their year, work, having to go easy on how much I go out to eat because “you spent a lot of money eating out over November and December”, work and nothing I want being in the January sales. Only this year, there was. For the whole of the month, if you were a member of the Byron Club you could get 50% off any burger on the menu. Now THIS is my kind of January sale.

Not being one to pass up any kind of bargain I jumped in the car and made the short journey to Salisbury. I like Byron, it’s my favourite of the more restaurant style burger chains that include the likes of Handmade and GBK. It’s a solid no.3 on my best burgers list behind Bleecker on the top spot and ShakeShack in Madison Park, NYC.

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I ordered the Smoky. Its rich, mouth filling umami notes and a mild heat from its smoked chilli BBQ sauce is pure joy. Take a 6oz medium cooked patty, add crispy onions and iceberg lettuce for crunch, mature cheddar, streaky bacon, pickles to cut through it all and stick it all in the squishiest of buns and if you ask me, you’re onto a winner.

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My other half ordered a more traditional burger in the Byron. Another one of those well cooked patties was loaded up with more of the crisp iceberg lettuce, mature cheddar, slices of red onion and tomato all covered in the rich and every so slightly creamy Byron sauce. To be brutally honest I found the slice of pickle that accompanied each burger on the side of the plate a bit strange. If the burger requires some acidity then stick the pickles inside rather than just dumped on the side.

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No burger would be complete without fries and so fries we had. Lightly fried slices of potato were sprinkled with crispy bits of fried bacon giving a meaty crunch before a smothering of melted cheese to top it all off. Despite the burger itself for me personally not being as good as others, the fries were definitely as good if not better than those I’ve tasted in recent times.

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Even at full price you would get change from £30 for two including sides and drinks. As much as I hate using the phrase, 50% off any burger made it not only criminally good value for money but it also went some way to relieving my January blues.

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.

Pi, Winchester.

In a world dominated by Dominoes, Pizza Hut and Papa Johns, good quality pizza is hard to come by. Don’t get me wrong, get the lads over for a few beers on a Tuesday and there’s only ever going to be one thing on the menu. If however, you want pizza with a bit more style and dare I say sophistication, choices are few and far between. Thankfully though I have located one such place.

Pi, an artisan Pizzeria is located a few minutes walk away from the centre of our ex-capital city. It’s a cosy little place, the windows quickly condensated as we stepped in from the brisk outside with tables parked within arms reach of each other all adding to the cosy atmosphere. To order there are 3 decisions to be made: numero uno is whether to go for the 12.5” pizza for 1 or the 20” pizza for 2. The next question to be answered is how you would like your pizza to be divided; whole, halves or thirds. The reason for this question is simple; the toppings. As you may have worked out, it is possible to have up to 3 of the 10 different toppings available on the same pizza. Wanting to try as much as we could we naturally went for this option.

The first of the three toppings was the easiest decision I’ve made so far this year. Lebanese spiced ground lamb, Turkish yoghurt and fresh parsley. This third carried a pleasurable warmth coming from the lamb, with the yoghurt doing its bit to keep the spice level under control.

Our second choice, garlic, chilli, balsamic roasted aubergines and aged Parmesan would also prove to be a wise decision. The flavours pulled together to produce a mouth watering experience with large slices of aubergine on top. Personally, the chilli could have done with being a bit more pronounced, there being a noticeable lack of spice over the slices, a component which would have elevated them even further still.

The final choice wasn’t as good as we had hoped . With us both being lovers of cauliflower cheese, we thought this would be a great choice. The strong flavours of cheese just weren’t present and we were left a little disappointed.

Pizza is only as good as the base on which it sits though, and I have to say, they have it sorted here. Light, wafer thin and crisp, this is easily the best made and well cooked pizza base for some distance.

The discussion that followed started off pretty easily. We were unanimous in deciding that the cauliflower cheese topping was our least favourite of the three and that’s as far as we got before it broke down. My partner, with her recently acquired taste didn’t hesitate to tell me that the Lebanese spiced lamb was the second best of the evening, the aubergine, chilli and garlic toppings coming out on top.

This blog however is, for the most part my gig so let me tell you that the lamb, with its fiery notes was actually the deserved winner, the aubergine therefore being the runner up.

We were a little surprised when we were presented with the bill. A service charge of 10% was added which to us seemed a bit extreme, not matter how good the pizza may have been. The total, coming in at £36 including two soft drinks was perhaps a touch on the pricey side, but for those with the money to spend and a love for decent pizza, Pi is definitely worthy of a visit.

7/10

The Yew Tree, Highclere.

Our first restaurant meal of the new year didn’t go as we would have hoped. The destination, Marco Pierre Whites former country pub, The Yew Tree, is just a few minutes drive away from neighbouring Newbury. It’s idyllic setting, the menu and the cute 17th century building in which it was all wrapped just oozed charm.

Unfortunately after that things went south pretty quickly. Having arrived about 10minutes early for our 7pm reservation we were seated immediately and presented with the food menu. Roughly 15minutes went by before we were asked for our drink choices.

Whilst we’re on the subject of drinks, they have some pretty nice glassware. The sort of nice that would draw your attention whilst you were waiting for something to go in them. What wasn’t so nice, was the watermarks on both our glasses where someone had failed to do their job. Call me what you want, but smeary glasses at home I could let slip, but in a restaurant?! When not even what I consider the basics are done, I couldn’t help but wonder what else had been missed.

Drinks were sorted and within minutes our food order was taken. Bread was supposed to be the course to kick everything off, except it arrived over half way through the starters along with an apology from the waitress. We all make mistakes I thought as I grabbed a slice from the mixed bread basket. They shouldn’t have bothered or at least words to that effect came from my sweet as pie, butter wouldn’t melt looking girlfriend as she to dived in. It’s true, they really shouldn’t. A diagonally sliced piece of dry white and even drier brown bread wouldn’t be what I call a mixed basket.

Things did get better though, if only for a brief while. A starter of Pea and ham soup was both fresh in taste and appearance with a slice of ham hock submerged in the centre. For me having this as a starter was a no brainier, Ham and peas being one of my all time favourite combinations, this version up there with the best I’ve had. If I had one criticism, as a starter there was probably too much, something we soon realised would be a reoccurring theme throughout each of our courses.

My partners starter of Potted Hereford beef, Yorkshire pudding and jus was just as good. A well cooked light and crisp Yorkshire pudding sat on a board along with a jug of jus that carried a real richness and depth, perfectly matching the shredded beef.

We weren’t in any sort of rush but well over an hour into the evening our starters were only just being cleared away, perhaps due to the fact that attention had turned to the eye-watering smoke filling the room, later being informed that cause was damp wood on the open fireplace.

Lamb Cutlet, Artichoke Puree, Roast Garlic Mash, Sprouting and Jus was the main of choice for my other half. Smooth, creamy mash carried the expected, yet slightly overpowering notes of garlic, not allowing the rest of the dish to shine to its full potential.

I’m a sucker for a good bit of Pork Belly. I don’t care how cheap a cut it is, done well it can be something special. However, this wasn’t one such ocassion. A dish of Confit Pork Belly, Dauphinoise, Braised Red Cabbage, Black Pudding, Jus and Apple Puree added more disappointment to the evening. Crackling that couldn’t be further from crisp, was the start of a slab of belly that was for the most part overcooked, a feat that must have taken some doing considering its supposed low and slow cooking. The fact it was  3/4 of the way across the plate did little in making up for its cooking. Once again, the dish wasn’t all bad, the dauphinoise and braised red cabbage both doing their bit to rescue the car crash that was my main course.

Feeling like she’d had enough and me wanting to give the guys and girls at The Yew Tree a fighting chance, dessert was ordered for one. A Lemon Posset would indeed go some way to rescuing the evening. Bits of lemon coming through with every mouthful and two discs of buttery sweet shortbread was a delightfully refreshing note on which to end the meal.

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Even the size of the portions served here (an attempt I believe to cover up a bigger issue), cannot possibly justify the £75 bill for the evening, especially when taking into account the catalogue of mistakes made over the 2 hours we were there that ultimately made for a really disappointing start to 2018.

3/10

London Calling, Part I.

London. The countries capital and a mecca for any lover of great food. It has everything you could want from some of the most prestigious restaurants this little island has to offer all the way through to the most casual of places. With the most casual of which being its numerous food markets and cheap eat destinations, it wasn’t long before we headed for the city on a mission to seek out the best street food and cheap eats on offer.

The first stop of the day was an easy choice. Having been to the original site in New York back in the summer, for comparison purposes we decided we needed to make a trip to Covent Garden and one of Shake Shack’s London locations. The order, a singular single shack burger came to a very reasonable £5.50. Arriving just after opening and not exactly having a large order, the handset let us know our food was ready before we’d even managed to find a table. At its core, the ‘Shackburger’ is a classic cheeseburger with slices of tomato and fresh lettuce leaves with the addition of the house ‘shack sauce’ all encompassed in a soft potato bun. In comparison to the same burger we had in The Big Apple, this didn’t stack up. Not bad by any stretch of the imagination, it just didn’t carry the wow factor it had back in Madison Park, even more so after my experience at Bleecker Burgers back in November.

Situated off a side road on Oxford Street, The Melt Room is all about the grilled cheese sandwiches. With cheesy jokes in both senses plastered on the walls you can tell these guys don’t take themselves too seriously, this relaxed vibe being backed up by the use of some absolute bangers coming through the airwaves. Once again, arriving prior to lunchtime we would be the only customers for the duration of our stop. This would also be the only venue of the day where we would order two different items. For me, the ‘classic’ would be the only way to go, my partner ordering the slightly less classic ‘Mac n Cheese’. On arrival at the table the first thing to note was the size. Larger than the average slice of Hovis, coming in at £10 including a drink, even before diving in they became brilliant value for money. My partners ‘Mac n Cheese’ Melt was rammed full with macaroni oozing out the sides. Even with the three different cheeses being used to make up the ‘classic’, we were impressed with the balance of the cheese, not allowing the sandwich to be too cheesy and sickly. The bread that held these delicious fillings all in place was also something worth noting. Well toasted whilst not being burnt provided a great vehicle to transport the wonderful fillings inside.

The Potato project, which is next door to The Melt Room was also on our hit list but a note on the door informed us that due to unforeseen circumstances they were closed for the day. Not to worry, we’ll be back!

Thali from the Gujarti Rasoi stall in Borough Market is a dish I’ve had a few times now and it never disappoints. The just cooked cauliflower, soft curried potatoes, coriander and well cooked fluffy rice is perfect for lunch, a mid afternoon snack or if you just want some decent street food. This simple dish has the perfect amount of warmth both in spice and temperature. Being a lover of all things meaty, this is one vegetarian alternative that rivals some of the best meat based street food I’ve had and a dish I come back to every single time I visit this amazing city.

No trip to the capital city would be complete without the obligatory visit to one of London’s best known landmarks. No, not Buckingham Palace, I am of course talking about Harrods. The first of two sweet treats on our list for this trip was a slice of cheesecake from the food hall. This was a suggestion from a food loving colleague who’d recently been and sampled said cheesecake. This is the very same friend who amassed a whopping 1.6m views on a video of him pouring chocolate milkshake over himself whilst wearing a mankini. Yeah, I know, he’s not perfect but the suggestion has gone at least some way to making up for his shit jokes and those even shitter Snapchats under the Golden Arches of Looooovvveeee. I won’t deny it was one of the better cheesecakes I’ve eaten in recent times, but it wasn’t worth the £6 price tag per slice, especially considering the lack of cutlery.

Dominque Ansel Bakery would be the last stop of the day before heading home. For those of you who may not have heard of Dominique Ansel, he was named the World’s Best Pastry Chef at the 2017 World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards. His London Bakery which opened in 2016 is situated a few minutes from Victoria and is now one of 4 bakery’s owned by the award winning chef. Prior to our visit I’d already decided that the Eton Mess Lunchbox was how I was going to end the day. The £7.50 take-away cost (compared to £9 to eat inside) may at first seem a little steep. But once you’ve seen the neat little Eton Mess Box get boxed, then that box get boxed before finally being placed into the sort of bag that my sister likes to be seen carrying, it’s easy to see where your money is going. On the outside of the little plastic box read a sticker that said “Make a mess! Shake, stir and eat.” You don’t have to ask me twice so after a bit of vigorous wrist movement, the job was done. What came next was simply divine. Broken bits of light mini meringue, a strawberry mousse and jam shaped into strawberries with a black pepper and fromage blanc adding their own flavour notes. I have to say, this was one of the best dishes of the day.

With more places on our list than either of us had stomach for in a single day, we will be returning in the not too distant future to finish what we started…

ShakeShack 8/10

The Melt Room 9/10

Gujarati Rasoi 10/10

Harrods 8/10

Dominique Ansel Bakery 9/10

JSW, Petersfield.

Sharing my birthday with two others over the last 25 years has of course, caused issues. Back in November however, seeing as both my siblings had made plans with their friends and didn’t want to make any joint plans, for the first time in 24years I was free to do exactly what I wanted. And what I wanted was to eat some great food, drink just as great wine and not have to drive. I’m happy to report that I managed to accomplish all three of the above thanks in no small part to JSW. Despite the relatively short distance it was over an hours drive to Petersfield and the white walled exterior of the Michelin Starred establishment named after its Chef Owner Jake Saul Watkins. Situated on a main road, a trend I noticed with the upmarket restaurants I visited in 2017, it’s easy to miss on first approach. It won’t be however, be easy to forget.

Dinner took the form of an 8 course tasting menu with an accompanying wine flight. The menu had changed since the time of booking, but I’ve never been more happy to see a change than I was as I glanced over the menu sipping on a glass of complimentary Champagne. Right from the word go, things were looking more than just okay.

After the usual array of freshly baked bread and an Amuse Bouche we cracked on with the first course. A caramelised root vegetable soup was both light in colour and texture but carried a wonderful rich buttery flavour, perfectly matching the pale yellow colour and candied notes of the 2016 vintage of Viognier from one of many wineries owned by the infamous Rothschild’s family.

A dish I’ve been practicing at home and written about just over a year ago is Scallops, Smoked Bacon and Pea Purée. Let’s just say, it’s a work in progress. Soft and sweet Scallops, smoked ham and then the freshness of the green peas came together to make a dish that just made me smile. If I ever manage to produce something half as good as this I’ll be over the moon.

 

The third course was another absolute favourite of mine; Risotto. The Risotto, which was already pretty decent, was nudged up a notch with the earthy flavour of some artichoke crisps and a piece of expertly cooked Dover Sole which was gently placed on top.

For the penultimate savoury course, we were presented with Duck cooked two ways. The first were a few slices of evenly cooked breast meat, that wore a glorious shade of pink throughout, the fat rendered down leaving a layer of crisp skin around the edge of each slice. A light, golden brown bonbon of shredded duck leg brought contrast to the dish, whilst the additional notes of cherry coming from the accompanying Pinot Noir (once again courtesy of the Rothschild estate) made for one of the all time classic flavour combinations.

A dish of suckling pig would be the final savoury course of the evening. A crisp bonbon made a return to the table for its encore whilst slices of tender young pig would melt in the mouth and vanish in seconds.

A Blackberry, Apple and Cinnamon Yoghurt topped with a baton of shortbread would be a delightful introduction to the sweet courses. The spice of the cinnamon coming through the yogurt was beautifully subtle and wasn’t as overpowering as I had first feared, balancing with the sweetness of the blackberries and shortbread baton.

I’ll be honest, when I read the menu and saw the next course I was a little apprehensive. Not quite to the same extent as my nut intolerant girlfriend (who’s peanut parfait was swapped for a honeycomb equivalent) but I’m not a particularly big fan of nuts. Unless of course it comes in a jar with the word Nutella enscribed on the front. That shit is gooood! Similarly to the Cinnamon in the previous course, this too was perfectly balanced and easily beat my initial expectations. Alongside the parfait, came sharp raspberries helping immensely to cut through the richness of the accompanying Valrhona Genache and parfait.

The final official course of the evening was a Cheesecake with tropical fruits and spiced pineapple. Ever since I was in my mid-teens, whenever anyone says cheesecake to me, I immediately think back to a YouTube video including Greg Wallace and the words ‘buttery biscuit base’. This was a more adult version of my childhood recollections of a cheesecake. There were still murmurs of a wonderful buttery biscuit base and a soft and smooth cheese topping, only this time with the added sweetness of chunks of pineapple. Exotic fruit in the form of lychee and my favourite herb in the entire world coriander, was a good way to refresh the palette at the end of the meal.

I’m not normally one for coffee and petit fours especially after a lengthy meal, but seeing as it was my birthday we decided to throw all caution to the wind. Much to my delight, alongside an espresso came 8 Salted Caramel Truffles. This would be the cherry on top of the cake. I won’t lie, after the first two I was done. I couldn’t stop there though. The rich and indulgent truffles with caramel and a hint of salt were little balls of heaven. So much so, that I soldiered on leaving only two for my partner to enjoy.

Our evening at JSW and the subsequent overnight stay that included a superb continental breakfast delivered to the room the next morning came to £370. From the second we arrived to the moment we left, our every need was taken care of without hesitation. Over the course of the evening, JSW delivered dish after dish of sheer brilliance using some of my all time favourite ingredients to produce what would quickly become one of the stand out meals of 2017.

10/10