Friday, 28 September 2012

Food on Film: El Bulli

The Documentary El Bulli: Cooking in Progress (2010) came out on DVD in the UK this week. It was on the top of my DVD rental list and I have just devoured it.

Director Gereon Wetzel filmed for a year (2008/09), following dishes from initial conception through to completion. El Bulli, which was located in the small seaside town of Roses in Catalonia, closed for good in 2011, so this is a valuable document of the restaurant at its peak.

The film starts in October, when El Bulli closes for six months. Ferran Adrià and his core team of head chefs (Oriol Castrol, Eduard Xatruch and Mateu Casañas) move to a laboratory in Barcelona where they experiment. By the time the restaurant opens in June, they have created a whole new menu of astonishing and innovative dishes.
The documentary is refreshingly free of voice-over. We are mostly watching chefs working, punctuated by Ferran Adrià addressing his core team and staff at various stages. The documentary gives a great insight into how Adrià directs operations from start to finish. In one sequence, filmed in July, he eats his way through the tasting menu, making copious notes – always striving for perfection.
A percussive score by Stephan Diethelm, which probably had its origin in kitchen utensils being hit, threatens at times to become irritating, but ultimately delivers on an emotional level, especially during the climax of the film. Here, we are shown a montage of stunningly photographed dishes from the 2008/09 menu. Earlier in the film, some of these dishes were just ideas being batted around by the chefs. A concept lies behind each dish. Water is jokingly noted as an underlying theme for that year’s menu ("What did they serve you at El Bulli? Water"). This really is serious fun.
Each dish has to pass Adrià’s “magical test”. These are some that did: Tea shrimp with caviar anemones, needle tree, blossom with its own nectar, coconut sponge, pumpkin meringue sandwich with almonds and summer truffle, oilwater osmanthus, rabbit brain in its own ragout, rabbit rib in its essence, vanishing ravioli, sweet potato gnocchi, minted ice lake, minted apple phylo, frozen rose, chocolates.
I highly recommend this DVD to anyone interested in both modern food and modern art.


Selected ‘ Food on Film’ posts:
Ratatoille (Ferran Adrià involvement)

I am Love
See also:
Narbeth, Sospan bach, Ultracomida and El Bulli Beer


Sunday, 23 September 2012

The Barley Mow, Graig Penllyn

The Vale of Glamorgan pub tour continues with The Barley Mow in Graig Penylln. We visited on a dismally wet September evening, though The Barley Mow soon cheered us up.

My whitebait starter was about perfect; lightly-breaded, with good-sized fish so you got both the fish and the crunch - not just the crunch of some pub whitebait. It was served with a ramekin of home-made tartar sauce, a beetroot-leaf salad drizzled with balsamic vinegar, and a piece of fresh lemon to squeeze.
Brie in Light Batter Parcels was my partner’s choice. Three deep-fried brie parcels were served with a ramekin of cranberry preserve.
I had the Rump of Black Welsh Beef, cooked medium-rare, served with a couple of sautéed mushrooms, and some salad leaves.
Our other main was Lamb Steak, served with a rich jus and roasted vegetables. There was also plenty of meat on this plate.

With the mains, I went for new potatoes and my partner the chips. I usually prefer the new potato option, but the chips at The Barley Mow are very crisp and very good – I recommend you opt for them!
There is a sizeable wine list, although we opted for beer and cider. I had Bishop’s Fingers (Doom Bar and an IPA were also on draught).

Local sourcing has a high priority. The potatoes used to make the chips, for instance, come from nearby Windmill Farm. Beyond that, there’s also a Scottish feel to the menu (I’m guessing the owners may be from Scotland), with smoked salmon, black pudding and other quality Scottish ingredients.
We made use of a Groupon voucher on this occasion: one of our more successful Groupon experiences. This characterful village pub is definitely one of the “hidden gem” contenders on this Vale of Glamorgan tour.

By car, leave the A48 just to the west of Cowbridge at the Penllyn turn (in Penllyn you’ll see The Red Fox). Carry on northwards through Penyllyn until you reach Graig Penllyn.

The Barley Mow
Graig Penllyn, Cowbridge, Vale of Glamorgan CF71 7RT

Tel: 01446 772558

The Vale of Glamorgan pub tour:
The Merrie Harrier, Llandough

The Pelican in her Piety, Ogmore
The Farmers Arms, St Brides Major

The Bush Inn, St Hilary

Lamb and Flag, Wick

Blue Anchor, East Aberthaw

Six Bells, Penmark

Blacksmith’s Arms, Llanmaes

Plough and Harrow, Monknash



Sunday, 16 September 2012

The Huntsman Restaurant, Dinas Powys

The Huntsman Restaurant can be found in the centre of Dinas Powys, to the rear of The Star. The pub is owned by Brains, while the Huntsman is an independent restaurant that has been owned and run by Hilary and Peter Rice since 1993.

Peter always offers a very friendly front-of-house welcome, while Hilary is Head Chef. The food is traditional, with classic dishes having a definite local Welsh “country farmhouse” flavour and the occasional modern twist.
We opted for the same dishes on our last visit: starters of Welsh Rarebit with Crisp Salad and Rhubarb Chutney, and mains of Roast Pork Tenderloin with Apples, Cider and Honey. We drank a house white (a French wine called La Cabane).
The rhubarb chutney was a good complement to the rarebit; it added up to a substantial and well-balanced starter.
The pork, which was everything we hoped for when ordering, came with four different vegetables between us: potatoes roasted in goose fat, sliced potatoes baked in cream and garlic, braised red cabbage, and mange-tout and carrot. We put these on our plates from serving dishes as required – so the plating in the photos is not necessarily the restaurants!
Portions are large, so The Huntsman is not a restaurant you are likely to leave still hungry.
There is a pleasant ambience in the 23-cover dining room, in a homely barn conversion. It’s a quiet and relaxed place to dine.
The seasonal menu changes every three months. Starters (in the July-Sept 2012 menu) range in price from £4.95 to £7.25, while mains are priced between £12.50 (Mushroom and Pinenut Stir Fry) and £23.95 (Welsh Fillet Steak with choice of sauces). Other options currently available include Salmon and Prawn Bake, Rack of Welsh Lamb with Plum and Port Sauce, and Roast Breast of Duck with Cumberland sauce. Puddings are generally £5.50.
Most of the cost of our meal was covered by a voucher won at a Dinas Powys Voluntary Concern (DPVC) fund-raising Jazz Night earlier this year. I always go for the restaurant vouchers as prizes at raffles!
The Huntsman contributes recipes to Depend, a newsletter published by DPVC that is delivered for free to every house in Dinas Powys. Contributions to recent issues have included Wild and Tame Mushroom and Stilton Tart (see link below to online version), Rich Chocolate Brandy Cake, and Smoked Salmon and Dill Mousse.
We are putting the finishing touches to the Autumn 2012 Depend (I have contributed pieces on the resources available at Dinas Powys Library, the Llandough Hospital extension, and the new Vale Foodbank in Dinas Powys). You’ll have to wait and find out what The Huntsman’s contribution is going to be this time!
A team of volunteers will be putting Depend through every letterbox in Dinas Powys in October, while everyone else can read it via the DPVC website (link below).

The Huntsman Restaurant
Station Road, Dinas Powys, Vale of Glamorgan CF64 4DE
029 2051 4900

Depend (Summer 2012):



Thursday, 13 September 2012

Wales on the Menu

Recently, I interviewed Simon Wright for a profile that was published in the Buzz Food & Drink Guide 2012 (link below).

In a wide-ranging career, Simon has been a food critic, author, restaurateur, consultant and broadcaster.  In May this year, Simon opened Wright’s Independent Food Emporium, with his wife Maryann. This shop in Nantgaredig sells a range of Welsh products, including meat, cheeses, and fresh fruit and vegetables, and has a café at the heart of the operation. Last year, Simon was involved in the planning stages of Sospan, a new restaurant in Llanelli.

Simon is currently presenting the fourth series of Wales on the Menu, which started on BBC Radio Wales last Saturday lunchtime (1pm). In the programme, he challenges home cooks to put their speciality dish on the menu of a top restaurant.

In the first show, amateur chef and food blogger Bill King tried to get his salmon quiche up to standard for the menu of Y Polyn, a restaurant near Carmarthen that the Wrights at one time co-owned. Among the judges was food blogger Ed Gilbert (a.k.a. Gourmet Gorro). The quiche sounded good, but was judged not quite good enough to meet Y Polyn’s high standards.

The Wales on the Menu team are looking for keen cooks from across Wales who would like to participate in future challenges. If you are interested you can email them on

There is also a Wales on the Menu Facebook page, where you can find recipes, behind the scenes photographs, and further details of how to apply to take part in the series either as a novice cook or a judge:

If you miss the programmes themselves, you can find them on the BBC iplayer.

Buzz Food & Drink Guide 2012. The Wright Taste (pp. 28-29):

Y Polyn:

Fellow Bloggers on Twitter:
Bill King @billking
Ed Gilbert @gourmetgorro

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Vale Foodbank in Dinas Powys

One of the big under-reported stories of the summer has been the impact of government austerity measures on individuals, families and communities. The recent figures have been shocking. For instance, 13 million people live below the poverty line in the UK; while here in Wales over one in ten people of working age are now out of work, a level of unemployment not seen for almost twenty years.

Communities can act to combat local poverty and hidden hunger by supporting schemes such as foodbanks. The Trussell Trust acts as an umbrella organization for foodbanks across the UK. The Vale Foodbank was established under this umbrella in October 2011. It is based at Coastlands Family Church in Barry, and aims to open food distribution centres around the Vale of Glamorgan to help people who are struggling to make ends meet.

A Vale Foodbank distribution centre opened today in Dinas Powys, in the Bethesda Chapel. It will open for an hour every Wednesday. Free emergency food supplies will be exchanged for vouchers given to people particularly identified as being in need by social workers, doctors, police and other community groups (in total 40 partners across the Vale). One voucher can be exchanged for enough food for three days.

Mike Grove from Bethesda Chapel welcomed people to the official opening this afternoon. Susan Lloyd-Selby, the Vale Foodbank co-ordinator, then talked about the success of their first year, in which they have managed to feed everyone who has been referred to them. When they started they expected to feed 800, but in fact have fed 1,643 people since October 2011.

Of those referred, 30% have been plunged into crisis due to delays in benefit payments. Others are referred due to low income, while there has been a dramatic rise in the number in debt. 68% of the food distributed has gone to feed children under the age of 16.

Sue related some stories of the real people behind the statistics: a man who hadn't eaten for two days, a woman homeless after leaving home due to domestic violence, a couple suddenly plunged into debt after an accident. She stressed that it was not just about giving food, but providing wider support and advice through contact with the regular volunteers. Sue thanked these “lifechangers” (with reference to Olympic “gamesmakers”), and also thanked all the people who donated over 115 kg of food during the past year. Future Vale Foodbank plans include free money management courses.

Photo: Councillor Val Hartrey (Chair of Dinas Powys Community Council), Jane Hutt AM, Mike Grove and Susan Lloyd-Selby (the cakes spell "Vale Food Bank").
Jane Hutt AM opened the Dinas Powys distribution centre today, just as she opened the first Vale Foodbank in Barry last year. An active supporter, she noted that action needs to be taken to stop so many people falling into poverty, especially through reasons such as delays in benefit payments and loss of tax credits. Jane also stressed that Foodbanks provide a framework for offering wider help and support, to give people back some dignity and restore hope.

The food given out at the Vale Foodbank is donated by businesses and individuals. You can donate to the Bethesda Chapel during Foodbank opening hours. Individuals are asked to give dried and tinned foods (see contact details below).

In addition to making donations of tins and packaged food, Jan and Tony Mapstone of Valley View Fruit Stores in Dinas Powys also donate fresh fruit and vegetables (they wear dark blue in the photo below).

To those who have questioned why a relatively prosperous community in the Vale of Glamorgan needs a foodbank: wake up, this is the reality of life today.

The Vale Foodbank
Coastlands Family Church, Tennyson Road, Colcot, Barry, Vale of Glamorgan CF62 9TN

The Trussell Trust:

Reference for Welsh Unemployment:

We noted the Olympics earlier. Therefore, just room to note that ATOS, partners for the London 2012 Paralympic Games, are the firm charged with assessing disability benefit payments in a government money-saving operation. Removal of benefits is fuelling the need for foodbanks. Currently, at least one new foodback opens every week in the UK.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

An Olympic Diet: Final Part

One of the ironies evident on visiting the Olympic Park during the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games was that sponsorship restrictions helped create an environment largely devoid of branding. It was very refreshing to see such a brandless environment at a major sporting event, both inside the venues and around the food areas (e.g., World Square, Britannia Row, Orbit Circus).

The Locog catering operation, headed by Jan Matthews, was said to have been the largest attempted in the UK during peacetime. They succeeded in offering a dizzying range of dishes to competitors and visitors.
Outside the obvious sponsor outlets, all the food stores were labelled generically (and usually offered three simple menu choices). This “calling-a-spade-a-spade” catering had a certain charm.

Among the outlets were: Fish and Chips, Pies, Pasties, Cornish Pasties, Deli, Traditional Roast, British Bakery, Gourmet Sausage, Hog Roast, Jacket Potatoes, Fresh Salad Bar, Speciality Coffee, Bar, Ice Cream, and the Champagne and Seafood Pavilion.

World cuisine was represented, for example, by Asian, a French-style Brasserie, Indian, Italian, Mexican and much more besides.

The three Asian options, for example, were Thai curries, Singapore noodles and Vegetarian stir fry. Our Thai Curry was pretty good. Other things we sampled (e.g., bacon roll) were basic. Most of the food we ate was from the Deli outlets, where reasonably-priced sandwiches could be obtained with minimal queuing.

Some feared that it would be branded burgers and fizzy drinks, and little else, for sale on site. In reality, there was plenty of no-nonsense food and drink choices; even some healthy salads if you sought them out!

Finally, what a great atmosphere there was on the Olympic Park and I am sure everyone who visited will remember the experience for a long time to come.

See also:
An Olympic Diet: Part Two

An Olympic Diet: Part One



Thursday, 6 September 2012

Tesco Express Dinas Powys: Day 266

The impact of a Tesco Express opening in Dinas Powys is being monitored on this blog. It’s Day 266 (6 Sept 2012) and the first shop has closed as a direct result of competition with Tesco.

The Spar convenience store on the opposite end of The Parade shops in Castle Drive closed for the final time last night. It has been trading from this site for around 40 years. The Spar was locally owned and run. Less of Tesco’s profits will remain in the village.

Tesco created between 20 and 25 jobs when they opened. With the closure of Spar, 14 jobs have been lost. Job creation claims by large supermarket operators should be viewed in the light of possible job losses elsewhere in a community.

266 days may sound like a long time, but it’s not really because closures often coincide with lease renewals. Ultimately, the Spar could not compete with a modern Tesco Express. The Spar looked dated in comparison to Tesco, for instance, and did not have an effective enough strategy to compete.

The closure of Spar is not overly surprising, but the shuttered empty unit is a very sad sight.

There are many independent local businesses in Dinas Powys: butcher, greengrocer, pharmacy, florist and others. Use them or lose them folks.

See also:

Farewell to The Castle Oak:

Tesco Express Dinas Powys: Day 1

Tesco Express Dinas Powys: Day 25

Tesco Express Dinas Powys: Day 100