Monday, September 1, 2008

Organic delights at Acorn House

Acorn House Restaurant
69 Swinton street
London WC1X 9NT 
t: 0207 812 1842
I booked Acorn House for a special anniversary meal for the Veggie and I. I had been aware of the restaurant for a while especially when working in the area and knew it had garnered much praise since its opening. I also wanted somewhere that was imaginative when it came to Vegetarian food.

We arrived on time for our booking and were shown to a table along the far wall. I am not a fan of restaurants where one diner sits on a chair whilst the other has the more comfortable sofa style seating, but the atmosphere was good. One thing that was apparent was that it really isn't a very large restaurant at all, as it started to fill up it did become rather crowded and the close proximity of fellow diners is slightly off-putting (after all one wants to be close enough to over-hear tempting titbits of conversation but not so close as to feel one must always look ahead to avoid appearing to stare).  I must also admit that I was slightly disappointed with the menu. It should be noted that Acorn House operates a seasonal policy when it comes to dishes so next month's menu will be quite different. In fact the July menu looked fab, it was just that I did not find the August one very inspiring. 

We ordered a bottle of champagne as we were celebrating and the organic bread and butter (at 2.00 not covered by the service charge) to nibble on. We were both very hungry and keen to order. It was therefore with some disappointment that I was told that the White peach and Mozzerella starter that I was planning to order was subject to an alteration: the mozzerella was off to be replaced by prosuitto. Now, this would alter the dish quite considerably, but I chose to go ahead (only slightly mourning the creamy cheese I was expecting) because it's accompanyments of purple basil, honey and balsamic sounded so enticing. For my main course I selected the sea trout, pan-fried with courgettes, tomatos and basil oil. 

The Veggie opted for the French Onion Soup with St Montgomery cheddar croutons, as it is one of her favourites. She surprised me by ordering the Gnocchi for her main, as she had previously disliked it when we had it at home. 

Service was pleasant and attentive and it was nice to be able to see the kitchen in full operation without having to be seated at that most annoying of current fashions, the 'Chef's table', why one would want to be in the midst of all the controlled chaos of the kitchen, surrounded by sweaty and sweary staff I will never know...  

The Acorn House cookbook was rather too heavily advertised on the menu and around the dining area. One imagines that Arthur Potts Dawson, the executive head chef, is only a hairs breadth away from his own channel 4 show. This slightly smug rake judged my previous workplace's away day tasks and came across as taking himself and the event rather too seriously. But then where would the 'celeb' chef be without the overarching ego and supportive quote from Jamie Oliver?

Back to the food and it has to be said that my starter worked very well, albeit with a rather different overall flavour than that which would have been produced by the mild cheese being present. The white peach was beautifully ripe, fragrant and shiny with its own juices; a wonderful ingredient. The italian ham was pleasantly salty and the dressing as described earlier was a thing of perfection. This was definitely the sort of culinary magic that I had come to Acorn House for and this dish delivered it in spades. 
I sampled some of the Veggie's silky, thick onion soup, it was delicious. The only negative comment received was that it was rather too large a portion. However it was judged a classic that was confidently carried off with what was obviously the finest ingredients at their peak. A big thumbs up from the Soup connoisseur.
My main course of sea trout was again perfectly cooked; the skin crisp and the flesh melting in the mouth. The accompanying courgette was succulent and the juices combined with the fish and the tomatoes and basil formed a delicately and tasty jus. The only thing that sullied the dish for me, and was purely due to how I was feeling, was that I simply hadn't really wanted to eat fish that evening. However I didn't really find the rest of the main course attractive either. As I said, a purely contrary viewpoint!
The Veggie was well and truly converted to Gnocchi by her main. The medium sized pillows of dough were lightly browned and fluffy, containing their own mixture of cheeses. She wasn't able to finish the dish due to how filling her starter had been but she certainly enjoyed this version of the dish and I'm sure would eat it again.

Neither of us were able to tackle dessert which was disappointing as the various options were tempting.

The meal would have been perfectly reasonable and worth while if it wasn't for our luxurious bottle of bubbly. As it was it came in at just over 110 pounds including 10% service. The neat touch of a packet of seeds rather than a packet of matches coming with the bill brought a smile to our face. I would return to the restaurant and recommend it but I would advise checking the seasonal menu first.

Scores on the doors: 7 out of 10

The big catch-up: Camping in New Romney, near Rye.

The Woolpack Inn
Romney Marsh
TN29 9TJ
Telephone: 01797-344321

Well, sorry it's taken me so long to update this. I have two weekends of fun to catch you up on. Firstly, camping in New Romney over the Bank Holiday weekend. 

We travelled down on the Friday morning, meeting one half of Harlow couple along the way. 
It didn't take us long to find the campsite, and put up our tents.

Then we headed back to a pub we had passed on the way called The Woolpack Inn. This delightful olde worlde pub with its cottage atmosphere, low ceilings and quaint English beer garden was a welcome treat. We chose to sit outside and ordered from a simple yet comprehensive menu.

After mulling over the spag bol, I decided to go for the pork chops. The Veggie went for the Broccoli and Stilton quiche and Country girl (she does love her chickens and ducks!) had a jacket potato with cheese.  We waited a reassuringly length of time (too soon and one imagines hearing the 'ping' of a microwave), sipping on much needed cokes. My pork chops arrived on large plate, full of salad, chips and onion rings. It was a mouthwatering sight. The pork was cooked to perfection, as were the chips. I tucked in, even enjoying the onion rings which I normally find too greasy. 

The Veggie throughly enjoyed her quiche, it looked and tasted homemade and came with a generous salad. Country girl's jacket was huge and was blanketed with freshly grated cheddar and salad. All well presented and tasty, as well as being reasonably priced. It definitely seemed popular with locals and tourists alike. I would certainly recommend it and it is well signed posted on the surrounding roads so you can't miss it.

Later that day when most of the other campers had arrived I served my Veggie chili with quorn mince to a very appreciative audience. We ate it with boil in the bag rice, grated cheese, and sour cream. It had a really nice chili kick to it and most people had seconds. I was really pleased that my hard work testing recipes had paid off. It was just what our chilly and weary band of travelers needed, along with a few beers of course!

The next day we had a breakfast at camp of bacon or egg rolls and tea. There is nothing quite like a sunny breezy day at camp permeated with the aroma of bacon frying in the pan and mugs of hot strong tea to warm our cockles. We made the most of the sun spending the day flying kites, reading and lazing on the beach at Camber Sands. Hot, salty chips, burgers and coke made up our beach lunch.

Some of us stopped off at the local Budgens on the way back to camp to pick up food for a BBQ. We decided on meaty looking ribs, good quality burgers and some speciality sausages. For starters we would have mozzerella and parma ham, golden fried halumi cheese and cheesed stuffed mushrooms. We washed this down with Coronas, cider and later on whiskey nightcaps. A tempting selection of Gu cakebites completed our meal. 

The next morning and some of us would be heading home early, suffering nasty summer colds. We opted for brekkie at the campsite cafe, which turned out to be a good choice. A cosy little place providing cooked breakfasts all day we sat down to bacon baguettes, egg on toast, the full 'Marshman' (a huge breakfast of double everything) chips, and hot tea and coffees. 

Then we headed into Rye to look around the shops. Some of us paid a visit to an old-fashioned sweet shop that was filled with jar after jar of brightly coloured confectionary. There were rubarb and custard boiled sweets, toffees, chocolate covered nuts, snowies (white chocolate buttons covered with hundreds and thousands), sour peaches, lots of different mints, laces, jelly babies, white mice... all the sweets you might remember from your childhood no matter how old or young you might be. It was a real treat and a lovely trip down memory lane. 

After a longish walk around we had a drink at the famous Mermaid Inn,which has played host to tons of celebs such as Johnny Depp and is one of the oldest pubs in the area. Afterwhich we said goodbye to two more campers and set off to find a nice place for lunch. We were going to head to the Woolpack once more but ended up at another pub as the it was packed. I can't recall the name of the place but I did have a very memorable meal there. I decided on one of my fave dishes of spare ribs. My gosh it was a huge slab of meat. There was a full rack of pleasingly tender and meaty ribs, coated in a tasty BBQ sauce, with a large pile of chips underneath, coleslaw and salad. I managed all the meat but left most of the rest of the meal!

Afterwards we picked up deli food for a dinner round the campsite and then headed back to play boules and frisby and fly our kites. The weather was still quite good and we worked up an appetite for our supper of brie, stilton, italian meats, crusty fresh bread, olive oil, nuts and olives - lovely!

We lit the other bag of coal in the greek style BBQ to provide some warmth and heat, and listened to music, chatted and drank late into the evening. 

Bank Holiday Monday came around too soon and we attempted to see Camber Castle before we said goodbye to our other camping friends. Unfortunately it was closed. We just had time to have lunch with our Lewisham friends, a nice home-cooked meal at the Ship Inn of Chicken curry, rice and popadum, Broccoli and cheese bake, Cod and Chips and Scampi and chips. All perfectly nice and reasonably priced. We finished off with traditional desserts of spotted dick x 2 (a suet and fruit pudding), sticky toffee pudding and black forest gateux for me. Very nice indeed!

Then it was only us. We spent a relaxing rest of the day shopping and browsing in Rye. Eating a deli supper once more and relaxing in our tent with a couple of good books purchased from the local bookshop.

Check out my recipe book picks...