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Walking with sheep

A 180 km trek is nothing to the sheep of the Lot Valley during their annual Transhumance. Nick Harman pulls on his boots and falls in behind

‘They aren’t moutons, they are brebis,’ explains shepherd Frédéric Lestang in the heavily accented, semi-patois French of the Lot valley. As we talk his dogs fall back through our legs and chase along any straggler ‘ewes’ from the 700 strong flock we’re driving down a narrow stone-walled path. The ewes pack together tightly as the walls funnel them in but they maintain their pace, clearly happy to be on the move.

Which is just as well as they’ve just begun a journey of fifteen days, one which will see them leave behind their winter pastures in the Lot valley and ascend 180 kilometres to the dormant volcanic slopes of the Cantal. Here fresh grass and wild flowers watered by the melted snow will feed them summer long while their pasture back in the Lot burns away in the heat. Frederic himself will live in a ski lodge alongside his flock until late August before they all descend in time for the ewes to give birth to their lambs, the ‘product’ that makes the money.

Behind us is a motley crew of walkers of all ages, skipping as they try to avoid the natural waste products dropped by the flock ahead of them. This is the Transhumance 2013, a sustainable and ancient practice newly restored to life that anyone can join in with for a morning, a day or even the whole fifteen day journey.

We’d left our initial starting place, the little village of Espedaillac, to the sound of accordions and long speeches and fuelled by wine, beer and chunks of barbecued lamb. The brebis had surged out of their pen like a woolly tsunami, all baa’ing loudly and clanking the bells they wear. Brilliant late afternoon sunlight soon replaced the earlier clouds and we began to regret wearing so many clothes as the walking became more demanding.

Each stage of the transhumance is calculated to be about right for an averagely healthy person as well as for the brebis and each ends with a welcome party in the village stop. After eating and drinking a coach is provided to take the walkers back to their cars. All walkers can book a stage ahead of time and be helped with a selection of B&B, hotels and gites.

The Transhumance project has only been running a few years but already it’s a great success, an example of how different government, tourist and agricultural groups can work together to create an event that is good for everyone and is great fun too. I spoke with village mayors along the route, as a well as with shepherds and fellow walkers, and the mood was consistently upbeat; one couple had even come all the way from Colorado, USA to take part.

Walkers can take time out from the stages whenever they want to visit the remarkable medieval towns and villages dotted all over the Lot. Places such as St Cirque La Popie, a town perched as if contemplating suicide over a steep drop into the Lot valley below, its streets and small shops populated by self-professed artists. Andre Breton had a house here and the views he had down into the valley are giddying, as no doubt were the surrealist friends who came to visit him.

Also nearby is Figeac, another of the transhumance stops, with more lanes snaking past houses built back in the distant past. But if all this antiquity gets a bit much though there is the Champollion museum, a modern masterpiece created from the shell of the house where the man who cracked the code of the Rosetta Stone was born.

Everywhere in the region you can eat well; this is the land of duck, saffron, cheese and in season, gorgeous truffles and ceps. I started my mornings with the local Rocamadour goats cheese drizzled with honey, a treat only to be enjoyed in the region as it’s best eaten at just six days old and doesn’t travel.

But I certainly travelled and after a few pleasant hours of walking on that first evening, taking in lungful’s of clear air filled with the aroma of emerging leafy growth, wild garlic and herbs, we crested a rise and suddenly we were on the edge of a drop with a view that had me stepping back involuntarily. Far down below us we could see the monastery of a village, shrunk to train set size by the distance.

‘That’s where we spend the night,’ said Frederic as the flock began the almost vertical descent down string-thin paths used for centuries by pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela. The path was soon churned up by the sheep ahead and we found ourselves careering downhill  slightly out of control, boots sliding on boulders as round as marbles, frantically waving our arms and grabbing onto trees, as well as each other, to remain upright.

After fifteen minutes we landed, marching proudly behind what I was now beginning to consider ‘our flock’ and delivering hearty ‘bonsoirs’ to French villagers as they emerged from their houses in the gathering twilight to see us pass by. The younger ones gawked in amazement and the old ‘mamies’ and ‘papies’ smiled broadly, no doubt remembering seeing the transhumance back in their youth.

In the monastery grounds a traditional band had struck up old songs, the barbecue was grilling lamb and chicken and stalls were serving  the local delicacy ‘pastis’, a  saffron pastry not the drink, which was being quickly sold to hungry walkers. I sat myself down gratefully on a bench by a trestle table and greedily filled my plate with lamb chops, their fat crispy and rich and the meat beautifully pink and moist.

A large plastic cup of red wine from Cahors to the south made it a meal that was the equal of anything I’ve eaten anywhere. Sometimes the meal that you’ve earned with your muscles tastes better than anything else in the world.

I rested my weary legs, felt healthier than I had in an age and began looking forward to getting back to my hotel, and then next morning after a good breakfast with that goats cheese figuring strongly, getting back on the trail and walking behind the brilliant brebis once more.

The Transhumance will take place again next year  www.transhumance.info/participez/

Thanks to www.tourisme-lot.com and  www.valleedulot.com for their invaluable help

 This piece appears on Foodepedia

A bite on the ocean wave

Cruise ships can have a bit of a dodgy rep when it comes to food, but P&O’s Azura has plenty to make even fastidious foodies fall in love. Nick Harman waddles up the gangplank

It’s not the first time I’ve eaten Indian food with the sensation that the room’s moving up and down, but it’s the first time that it really is. I’m in Sindhu,  Michelin-starred Atul Kochhar’s restaurant at sea, a fine dining palace on top of Azura, one of the world’s largest cruise ships.

The mysterious Isle of Wight

Azura had sailed earlier from Southampton and, even before the sun had set over the Isle of Wight, I was nosing about Sindhu to see how it was possible to create true Michelin star Indian dining on the ocean wave.

The decor certainly looks the part; dark woods, sumptuous booths and the aromas from the kitchen, or as we salty sea dogs say, the galley redolent of fine dining. With grills going and even a tandoori oven, the kitchen looks like any other professional Indian kitchen, except for the extra lips and edges needed to stop pans sliding around in any rough seas.

Guess who?

Normally Atul leaves Sindhu in the very capable hands of its head chef, but he’d left his Mayfair restaurant Benares and Saturday Kitchen and all the other commitments of a Michelin starred chef, to personally come aboard as part of P&O’s food and wine themed cruise from Southampton to the Mediterranean and back. When he flew home in four days’ time, having conducted a master class, a visit to a Spanish fish market and a Q&A session with passengers televised for the whole ship, Eric Lanlard of Channel 4 Baking Mad fame would come on board to demonstrate fine patisserie and after him wine expert and bow tie aficionado Olly Smith.

Full steam astern

Food features heavily on cruise ships of course; in fact one old cruising hand told me that the smarter ladies bring along extra dress sizes to allow for the inevitable expansion as they sail along. Few cruise companies take it quite as seriously as P&O though. On Azura, along with Sindhu, there are two more fine dining restaurants as well as the more standard buffets, grills and pizza places. Everyday good food is included in the cost of the ticket, but if you want to dine in places like Sindhu a small extra charge is made on each visit. For Sindhu it’s £15 and gets you appetiser, pre pudding and petits fours into the undoubted bargain.

The first night we left our cabin with, amazingly, an actual balcony, to try out The Glass House. Here Olly Smith selected wines are by the bottle or by the glass, courtesy of the clever Inotec inert gas system that keeps the wine fresh. The decor was modern and stylish and the ship stabilised so well that the only clue we were off the coast of France was the almost imperceptible movement under our feet. The ship sails slowly, not to save fuel but to keep things smooth, and Azura moves through the sea like a block of flats on castors. Bad sailors have no worries here and we tucked into a cool Modern European menu with gusto before wobbling off to sample the wide choice of entertainment on offer shipwide.

Chef in action

Next day was a cooking Masterclass with Atul himself. Softly spoken, self-deprecating and witty, Atul enthralled his audience as, with us looking on closely, he cooked some signature dishes, answered questions about himself and his career and gave lots of cooking tips before serving a memorable lunch of spider crab, tandoori chicken and sea bass that was as good as anything I’ve ever eaten in his main restaurant in Berkeley Square.

It wasn’t the last we’d see of Atul though, a day later docked in the Galician port of La Coruna, a group of us joined him on a visit to a Spanish fish and vegetable market, followed by a delicious lunch in a stylish restaurant overlooking the harbour, a meal so good we only just made it back to the ship before it sailed, earning us all a good natured rebuke from the captain over the ship’s tannoy.

Seventeen is another of Azura’s special restaurants, one where old style fine dining rules. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen someone do crepes suzette at table and the leaping flames made me fear for my black tie outfit – Azura likes to have the occasional formal evening and dressing up like Bond is all part of the fun. Seventeen’s menu and style is knowingly old-school but none the worse for that.

Days in harbours are followed by days at sea and as we crept closer to the Mediterranean, the skies lightened and before long the swimming pools were filling up and the suntan lotion was being sloshed about. There’s plenty to do on board, but a highlight each afternoon is the inclusive afternoon tea as good as any London hotel’s and served in high formal style in the main restaurant.

Bird watching

The good natured staff, mostly from the Far East, probably wondered what it was all about but served us dainty sandwiches and guilty pleasure cakes, with the genuine friendliness and good nature that characterised all the staff on board. After tea there’s only one clever thing to do and that’s either slump out around the adults’ only pool at the stern or doze in front of the giant Seascreen cinema that dominates the larger family deck area.

We were getting pretty used to the sea going lifestyle by now, one that requires you to do nothing more strenuous than walk the long corridors to your cabin, or if you’re feeling guilty about all that eating, to take the stairs – Azura’s lifts serve a mind-boggling 16 decks in all.

We tried the inclusive buffet one lunchtime, fearing the worst, but it was really rather good offering something for all tastes and plenty of it, and as soon as one section threatened to get low, more freshly prepared food was on its way.  Breakfasts too were epic, you could eat a dainty breakfast of fruit juice, croissants and compote, or you could load your plate with a Full English that was dangerously good with proper bacon and sausages, and not those strange frankfurtery things that foreigners seem feel are what Brits want to eat.

Market day

We could only spare three days of this 15 day voyage and so debarked at Gibraltar for a flight home. The plane takes off from a runway that crosses a main road and so the traffic has to stop, and as we recovered from the surreal sight of accelerating past waiting cars, the plane banked over and we could see the Azura, finally docked next to something even larger; the Rock of Gibraltar.

We envied the passengers going the whole way to Monaco, Italy and around the Med; with Eric Lanlard next and then Olly Smith, because the sun was only going to get hotter and the food was only going to get even more deliciously and waistline threateningly tempting.

See Eric Lanlard’s video

P& Cruises will be running a 28 day food and wine themed cruise in November 2013 on the Azura’s sister ship Adonia. Chefs on board will include Eric Lanlard with more to be announced. Prices start from £2,399 per person from Southampton. To find out more visit www.pocruises.com

P&O ship Ventura sails on August 18th for the Meditteranean. The price of £999 per person includes inside cabin, meals and entertainment. To find out more visit www.pocruises.com

Trying the tapa de ancho at Gaucho

Raw and ready

Before the Hawksmoors, the Goodmans and all the rest there was Gaucho, actually first appearing in the Netherlands in 1976 in Amsterdam. A cut above a steakhouse, aimed at people who felt a little declasse in Harvester, this Argentinian temple of meat is rather different.  Animal hides make up much of the upholstery and the meat in all its various cuts, is paraded around the room raw so you can see what you’re getting. So it isn’t’ the kind of place to take Morrissey for a snack.

Always nicely dark inside, you fall over the furniture a lot until your eyes adjust, it also benefits from an excellent Argentinian wine list. At a time when one rather suspected South America was dumping their inferior wines on the UK, the wine list at Gaucho was and remains a taste of what’s really available if you know where to look.

Of course the snobbier foodies never ‘got’ Gaucho, they dismissed it as too downmarket, it wasn’t properly connected to the right people in the right places, and it it was suspected that it might even harbour right wing tendencies, what with it being Argentinean and all. But Gaucho has got on with the task, serving up steaks to the masses and doing a good job of it, Gauchos now litter the pampas of London and remain popular with ordinary everyday folk looking for a reliably decent bit of steak any day of the week. Hearing of a new menu, we herded ourselves into the Swallow Street branch for a look see. Read more…

Trying the tapa de ancho at Gaucho

Raw and ready

Before the Hawksmoors, the Goodmans and all the rest there was Gaucho, actually first appearing in the Netherlands in 1976 in Amsterdam. A cut above a steakhouse, aimed at people who felt a little declasse in Harvester, this Argentinian temple of meat is rather different.  Animal hides make up much of the upholstery and the meat in all its various cuts, is paraded around the room raw so you can see what you’re getting. So it isn’t’ the kind of place to take Morrissey for a snack. Read more…

Blessed are the cheese makers

Happy in his work

‘I don’t like getting up too early, so I don’t,’ says Philip Wilton  of Wildes Cheese leading me into his dairy. Outside far from being a vista of green fields and rolling hills, the view is of grey skies glowering over the streets of North London, as well as the bulk of Spurs’ football stadium just down the road.

‘You should have seen this place when I took it on,’ adds Philip as we wet our shoe soles in antiseptic and put on white coats, ‘it was a right mess.’ Actually he uses a stronger description; his cheerful conversation is peppered with expletives. He has created a proper dairy, three fully fitted out rooms, in a tiny unit on an anonymous industrial estate, a dairy so small you couldn’t swing a kitten in it, much less a cat. Read more…

Argentine action. Cooking the ‘Tapa de Ancho’ at Gaucho

The Amalfi Coast. Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi

Go buy the book

It’s 3pm in Cafe Caldesi Marylebone and most of the lunchers have gone, replete with pasta and, hopefully, a Grappa, to sustain them through the rest of the working day. The staff have put the music up loud enough to power them through their afternoon tasks and at the back of the room, staring sepulchrally into his coffee, is owner Giancarlo Caldesi. His mobile is buzzing like a Vespa going up a steep hill but he ignores it.

Catching sight of me he jumps up and gives me his usual bear hug of welcome and animates as if a switch has been thrown. He now answers the phone, yells out ‘turn the music down!’ in Italian to the staff, and passes me a copy of his and wife Katie’s new book ‘The Amalfi Coast’. Read more…

Carrara at St James

March 18, 2013 1 comment

Bling-tastic

Dinner, a show and the last train home. It’s the perfect evening for many people but one all too often spoilt by panicky clock watching. Theatres don’t hold curtain up just because your dessert’s been delayed or because the waiter, all over you like a cheap suit when you arrived, is now MIA just as you need the bill – and pronto.

Covent Garden and Shaftesbury Avenue around 7pm are packed with pre-theatre diners wandering about in increasing desperation trying to decide where to eat. Many, if not most, are concerned about delays and will opt for a chain serving steaks or burgers. The food may be boring but it’s worth it for the reassurance of speed.

St James, the first purpose-built theatre complex to open in London for 30 years, has a solution; a brasserie downstairs, a restaurant upstairs and shows for all sorts in the theatre space, or the less formal studio, which was where we were headed for some comedy stylings. But first, let’s look at the food.

The restaurant Carrara at St. James is reached by a marble staircase that’s straight out of a rapper or Russian Mafioso’s wet dreams. It’s marble and it is rather magnificent and opens out into a restaurant that’s bright and modern. Open all day it has proper tables with linen napkins and other fancy things that drive young people mad, but that oldies like me rather appreciate. The menu is ‘Modern European’ which is a catch-all and rather meaningless term; what would Old-Fashioned European be? Spit roasted wild boar?

The point is that like a hotel restaurant, Carrara is obliged to offer something for everyone because their customers could be from anywhere. There’s a Pre and Post Theatre Menu – 2 courses for £15.50, 3 courses for £19.50 – which reads pretty, and a full menu with stalwarts such as steak, pasta, spatchcock poussin, calves liver and fish and chips, as well as slightly more exciting stuff like confit duck leg. Well exciting for many out of town arts lovers anyway.

Of the starters we liked the rabbit terrine, a good and chunky slice that went well with the pickled blackberries, a foraged kind of food and something the rabbit himself may well have eaten ( do rabbits eat fruit? Is it part of their 5 a day?). Also noteworthy was the grilled squid which would have been a bit better with clearer seasoning, salt in particular, but the seared scallop with black pudding is a no fail concept and it didn’t here.

For mains P wimped out on by having a steak, the choice of timid diners everywhere, but it was a good steak cooked properly medium rare as asked for and with chips which weren’t ‘triple cooked’ just properly cooked and served in a cutesy mini frying basket. A bit pricey at £22.50 but worth it.

For me there was a confit duck with cannellini bean cassoulet and an orange reduction. The duck had been decently finished so that the skin was crispy and the meat soft. The beans seemed to be dried ones, soaked and cooked, with a good firmness to the bite that you just don’t get with tinned ones – time saving shortcut though they may be.

Rather too many beans on the plate, but you aren’t obliged to eat them all and too much is better than too little I suppose. The orange reduction worked, a duck a l’orange for the modern world. Nothing noteworthy, nothing to get foodies in a froth, but two dishes professionally done and decent value for money. Desserts maintained the middle of the culinary road; a much better than average sticky toffee pudding managed to deliver the expected sugar rush, but didn’t settle on the stomach a like sack of treacle, and the lemon panna cotta was sharp and cleansing.

The ‘studio space’

And so to the show. I know it’s not my remit to be a comedy critic but I liked the studio space and the stage’s intimacy with the audience.  The compere Carl Hutchinson was truly excellent; the stand up, Tommy Rowson  had good material which he tended to fluff by mistiming.  Main act, Jigsaw, was made up of three people flinging out Radio4/Footlights -ish sketches at high speed, some of which worked and many didn’t, but the two men and one woman didn’t seem to care either way. Ned Sherrin would have lapped it up, but I suspect one of the trio will find himself ejected from the act when the other two get down to some pillow talk.

A short walk from Victoria station, well-priced and well-done food pitched at the right level, plus an eclectic range of shows in an ‘off-Broadway’ style, St James should get audiences in abundance.

My name’s Nick Harman, goodnight.

See more of St James upcoming shows

12 Palace Street, London SW1E 5JA www.stjamestheatre.co.uk

The Shed, Notting Hill

Traction

If you only read restaurant reviews on blogs you might think restaurants (good ones that is) didn’t exist west of Regent Street. The blog world has ignored the Pet Shop Boys’ advice and determinedly gone east, although if all the people that claim to live in Hoxton actually did live in Hoxton, the place would have to be the size of Moscow.

The Shed in Notting Hill might not appeal to your average Nouveau East Ender – many of the men eating here are wearing sunglasses on top of their heads, while the girls have the Tiggerish happiness of people not worried about paying the rent on their local flat  – mainly because Daddy does that for them.

There’s a sense too that, when not on the ski slopes, weekends in the country figure strongly on the clientele’s agenda, not least because the decor of the Shed has a rustic vibe delivered in tractor loads, and in fact there’s a tractor bonnet hanging over the bar.

This is quite understandable as the brothers behind the Shed, Richard, Oliver and Gregory Gladwin, grew up at Nutbourne Vineyards near Pulborough in West Sussex and have mud flowing through their veins. It’s a design look that could infuriate some people I suppose but which I find rather soothing. The Shed also lives up to its name by giving the vague impression that it might fall down any second, a state of affairs all good sheds tend to have in common.

With spring light warmly treacling in at the windows the Shed has flung open its end doors to a small terrace, so allowing us smokers to stay in touch with tables made from reclaimed wood and, frankly my dear, old scrap. The waitresses are sunny, the menu is a list of what I like to eat and lunch looks a good bet.

It’s like being at Petersham Nurseries in the good old Skye Gyngell days when, looking like a disconsolate horse, she could often be seen peering out of the kitchen hatch. It’s ‘small plates’ here, but before you throw up your hands at this fashion faux pas remember how much you like tapas and the pleasure of not being stuck with three courses. Brother Oliver is the chef here and his CV shows Oxo Tower and Launceston Place, as well as at River Cottage HQ where Hugh F-W, the West Country version of Jamie, reigns supreme. So that’s okay, then.

The plates average around £8 each, and two per person are recommended but we hummed and hahed because I wanted to try them all. First out of the kitchen came Beef and Red Wine sausage with Shed mustard, a simple dish that relied solely on the quality of the sausage and the mustard to make it work, which it did. The sausage was juicy and with a crisp, snappy skin, while the mustard was a sweet grain type and much better than the Moutarde De Meaux it was based on.

Shed life

A hake, chorizo white beans and wild garlic dish, was straight outta Spain. The grizzled, piquant and slightly chewy chorizo was a perfect foil to the firm hake, while creamy white beans, teetering on the edge of falling apart were laced with lovely spiky shreds of fresh chilli. It was a plate of pure honest gustatory pleasure and I wished I’d ordered two as I fought my wingman’s fork off. This sharing plate idea is okay as long as one of you is less keen on a dish than the other, if not things can get ugly.

We didn’t fight over confit chicken, lemon, soy onions and cauliflower couscous because neither of us liked it all that much. It was fine as far as it went and the balances were well judged, but chicken just doesn’t confit as well as duck, the meat is too tender to begin with and it emerges out the far side with less character than a Liberal MP.

Ah but sweetbreads make me smile, I never remember which part of the lamb they’re cut from, all I know is that I love them. Here they came with a pan-induced golden tan, a luxurious silky texture and with the offaly good flavour that’s reminiscent of bacon. Also reminiscent of bacon was the bacon that came with them, proper bacon that the Shed sources itself from the home farm. Sweetbreads soak up surrounding influences like first year students, so on  a bed of luminous, bitter, kale, the British answer to cavolo nero, and some Jerusalem artichoke it was a real pleasure to eat these. The casual, relaxed presentation belying the lively talent of its creation.

A Magnum Vienneta Parfait for dessert was a rather rich slice of pudding perfection; not too heavy but a belt loosener without the guilt trip.

With cooking that has the flavours, charm and simplicity of a Brawn or a Terroir, and a style that makes you smile despite yourself, The Shed has plenty to recommend it to locals. Even scenesters should find it’s well worth pedaling the single geared bike over to Notting Hill for.

122 Palace Gardens Terrace  Notting Hill, London W8 4RT theshed-restaurant.com

A bit of fizz at lunchtime -tasting Nino Franco Proseccos at Hawksmoor Air

February 26, 2013 Leave a comment

His name is on the bottle- class

The thing that makes Prosecco such a strong contender for lunchtime drinking is, oxymoronically, its lack of strength. At an average ABV of 10% it’s perfectly possible to drink the stuff for hours on end and still not need helping out of the restaurant afterwards. This is a rather good thing as the stairs at Hawksmoor Air are the sort ready to trip up anyone whose vision and depth perception have become impaired,  I actually fell up them when arriving..

Not being a fan of steak or burgers, they’re okay but monoglottal (© AA Gill) I had actually come to meet Primo Franco, patriarch of Nino Franco Spumanti, a Prosecco producer founded in 1919 in Valdobbiadene at the foot of the Prealps in the Venetian region, by his ancestor Antonio.

There was also the big lure of seafood on a menu created by Mitch Tonks, who is to the Guardian and Observer what Mark Hix is to the Independent. The fact is that seafood and Prosecco is a cosy symbiotic relationship, and as Primo had brought with him examples of his product, the best thing to do was tuck in while he talked

First out of the trap was his Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut, served up with Queenie scallops  fried in a light batter and with lashings of tartar sauce, plus scallops on the shell roasted with white port and garlic. The queenies were a trifle over shadowed by the batter, but the scallops on the shell were magnificent. The coral had crisped slightly, which was good, and the main meat was butter soft and drenched in the pungent garlic sauce.

Turning Japanese

Here the Prosecco’s creaminess echoed that of the scallop and notes of apple added a slight astringency to offset the richness.  Primo explained between mouthfuls that since he took over in 1982, he had invested heavily in more modern production techniques and set his sights on a more premium product than the simple country wine it had been. Far greater care was now taken over every aspect of production: from grapes to fermentation and all the way to marketing.

Lobster bites were next and better than I expected, not usually finding lobster all that exciting myself -the shellfish equivalent of fillet steak i.e. pricier than its flavour justifies. A jug of melted butter to pour over was ridiculously luxurious though and it was a very good lobster, even better though was the Brixham crab on toast supported by great gobbets of thick mayonnaise. The only downer here being the occasional tooth-threatening shell fragment that had slipped through the net.The Prosecco up at the oke this time was Vigneto Della Riva di San Floriano 2010 a fruit packed heavy hitter that had the structure and long finish to help the crab scuttle down a treat. The fizz, which lasted a long time in the glass, cleansing the palate like a benign pressure washer.

I’d heard a bit about Hawksmoor’s Turbot, cut into thick strips and grilled over charcoal, and what I’d heard was right. This was an excellent bit of fish, ‘bloody’ excellent as female bloggers like to say. The firm meat of turbot can happily take the intense heat of a grill more usually employed in searing steaks, and the resulting smoke really punched in flavour. Served like this turbot takes on the grandness of monkfish, but for a lot less. Janssons Temptation served alongside didn’t do it for me – it had anchovies instead of pickled sprats – and was more a buzz kill than a temptation.

Dead soldiers

The Triple Cooked chips were overcooked; this mania for triple cooking chips has to stop – it’s no substitute for Properly Cooked. The buttered greens though were just as I like them, barely cooked at all. For this last main Primo brought out his big guns; Grave di Stecca Brut and Primo Franco 2013. I loved the former’s steely dryness that soon mellowed to a smooth aftertaste with peachy overtones while the Primo Franco from the high hillside Glera grapes was a tad too sweet for my taste, a result perhaps of 30 grams per litre residual sugar compared to 10g in the Rustico.

Finally, and with a plum and Bramley apple pie of heart-warming simplicity, came Superiore di Cartizze 2012 a wine with pronounced minerality, in fact Primo pulled some sample stones he’d picked up from the steeply sloped, high altitude vineyard  from his pocket and explained that this hard, slatey material makes up large parts of his terroir.

Prosecco really is much more than Poor Man’s Champagne, not least because of the varieties available. Nino Franco may not be widely available here yet, but as I floated back down the staircase I could only think that when it is, it’s going to be a winner.

Links to importers here do not guarantee that the particular vintage mentioned is available. Hawksmoor Air serves Nino Franco Proseccos.