Tuesday, 21 December 2010



Dego’ is a brand new degustation restaurant at Oxford Circus, the brainchild of a talented Italian sommelier, Massimo Mioli, with one of the best Italian wine lists in London. Together with the executive chef, Dario Schiavo, who has worked with Michelin star chefs Gualtiero Marchesi and Alain Ducasse, Massimo imports 80% of the wines on the list directly from Italy and is passionate about great and unusual food and wine combinations. Many high quality wines are also served by the glass. Dego’ is going places, so we are fortunate to experience this new restaurant whilst it’s still new. Beautifully styled with a modern urban design with black lacquer, deep reds and leather mosaics for the wall coverings, the interior is chic and welcoming.
For this first event at Dego’, we are showcasing the wines of Franciacorta, and although I don’t yet have confirmation, I am also hoping to bring you a guest speaker from the winery. Franciacorta is both a splendid region of Lombardy and the name of the wines made here. Famous throughout the world, the wines bear the highest DOCG classification, obtained in 1965 when Franciacorta was the first Italian wine produced exclusively by bottle refermentation. Only 10 designations in the whole of Europe enjoy this privilege, and of those 10, only three are obtained by refermentation in bottle: Cava, Champagne and Franciacorta. Tonight you will learn the difference between Prosecco and Franciacorta, and enjoy a Prosecco di Conegliano Extra Dry with the canapés, followed by a Prosecco Brut DOCG Borgo Antico, Franciacorta Brut DOCG Cuvette, and Demisec DOCG Rose’. The wines are accompanied by a three course dinner, including an ancient and traditional Vicenza dish.

The all-inclusive price for the event is £40 for current members, four wines, canapés and three courses, service and VAT. Please book soon in order to secure your space at this very special event . If you know someone who wants to attend and is not on email, please ask them to get in touch with me and I will do the rest

Thursday, 9 December 2010


If you enjoy the tradition of Christmas, it’s time to indulge in the party spirit of the festive season and lift the mood with the delicious menus on offer at The Saracen’s Head, High Street, Great Dunmow, available from 1 to 23 December.

This charming coaching inn has been impressing the locals for sometime with its high standards of locally sourced food, and Christmas will be no exception, with turkeys and sausages coming from prized local village butcher Sweetlands. Bring yourself or all your friends, come with a colleague or with the whole office, have a relaxed meal or book a party, The Saracen’s Head has something for everyone.

What’s more, if you book a pre-Christmas party before 8 November, your name will go into a draw to win a meal for two during the month of January.

With three richly adorned Christmas trees, for the bar, the restaurant, and for the Flitch private dining room which can accommodate parties of up to 25, the atmosphere is just magic. And beware of the mistletoe, unless a Christmas kiss from the innkeeper is what you are after……

A scrumptious pre-Christmas, three course meal is just £15 per person at lunch, or £20 at dinner, with children under 12 years of age paying £5 less. Fresh, locally sourced ingredients are turned into tasty dishes of Royal game pie of pheasant and venison in a rich red wine sauce, a lighter Oven baked salmon with a prawn sauce, not forgetting the Traditional roast turkey with all the trimmings. Leave some room for the Old English treacle tart with Chantilly cream, or the White chocolate crème brulee.

The popular bar offers a fine selection of wines, real ales and spirits, and the charming beamed restaurant is the ideal choice for Christmas Day lunch. Here, the talented kitchen team will be serving up a menu at choice to include Seared scallop on pork belly with a pea puree, Fillet of beef Wellington, Traditional roast turkey, or Baked sea bass fillets with fish bisque for fish lovers, as well as vegetarian choices. From a tempting dessert selection, indulge in White chocolate and Baileys cheese cake, or try the English cheeses from the board. Pull a Christmas cracker too! All this for £55 per person, with children under 12 paying £25.

This Grade II-listed coaching inn, which his believed to date back to 1560, is opposite the old Market Place in the heart of the market town that was once a Roman settlement. It has an impressive 18th century façade along with a mix of Georgian and Tudor-style architecture and its warm, welcoming interior is ideal to enjoy time together over a meal. Located close to the M11 and Stansted Airport, The Saracen’s Head is at High Street, Great Dunmow, Essex CM6 Tel 01371 873 901. Open every day. Info@thesaracens-head.com www.bespokehotels.com


Sourcing food locally is chicken feed for this award-winning Wiltshire inn. They do it in the back garden!

Cutting down on ‘food miles’ and sourcing food locally is what most responsible bars and restaurants do today. But at The Horse & Groom in Charlton, nr Malmesbury, Wiltshire, using local produce takes on a whole new meaning.

Here guests are invited to the back garden to search for their own freshly laid eggs at breakfast, as this popular inn has added a dozen chickens to their team! The staff are on hand to fetch the free-range eggs, but nevertheless some guests have embraced the idea with gusto. Every day, the chickens lay enough eggs to cater for breakfast, with eggs left over used in the preparation of other dishes.

Probably the freshest food offer in Wiltshire, raising chickens is the brainchild of resident manager Emma Dall, a lady of action when it comes to serving good, fresh, local food. Cosy in their chicken house at night, the chickens are free to roam during the day, and are kept in a happy and natural environment. ‘These are super healthy chickens’ she says, because we feed them our own fresh vegetable leftovers from the kitchen, and we also waste less by recycling some of our food waste organically’
Now Emma wants her chickens named, and is inviting the locals to suggest 12 names, offering a meal for two with champagne as a reward for the best suggestions. Look out for the ‘Name the Chickens’ suggestion box at the bar.

Emma has just introduced a great two-course menu for £10, available Monday to Saturday at lunch and featuring pub classics such as Home cooked ham with free range eggs and hand cut chips, Traditional beer battered cod and Butternut squash and rocket risotto. No prizes for guessing where the eggs come from! Fired up by the success of her fresh eggs, Emma has already planned a herb garden, which will be fully ready by next Spring, so that fresh herbs grown on site will be used in the cooking of the many dishes The Horse & Groom is rightly famous for. A vegetable patch is also planned.

Winner of the Wiltshire Life Pub/Restaurant award in 2009, the Horse & Groom continues to impress with its standard of food and service, and for its many initiatives. The Horse & Groom Inn is at The Street, Charlton, Nr Malmesbury, Wiltshire SN16 9DL, Tel: 01666 823904, just a few miles from both junctions 16 and 17 on the M4. Open every day. www.bespokehotels.com


Make this year’s Christmas party something totally different at The Carnarvon Arms in Burghclere, nr Highclere Castle. Particularly popular with the smaller groups wanting the big party atmosphere, The Carnarvon Arms’ Shared Christmas Parties offer everything you are looking for: good food, great atmosphere, Christmas novelties, dancing – and a keen price.

Held from Thursday to Saturday until 23 December, these shared parties for a minimum of 10 people are ideal for the smaller company, individual offices and groups of friends. Keenly priced at £35 per head in the evening, inclusive of a three course meal, coffee and home-made mince pies, DJ music, dancing and Christmas novelties, there is no organisation to look after, just book your table and share in the fun – you may even end up making new friends across the room. Or stay the night, and the whole package will cost you just £60 per person inclusive of breakfast.

Lunchtime parties without music are also available at £25 per head and of course there is a choice of individual packages for larger bookings.

Christmas Day lunch is a delectable choice of traditional and modern dishes in true Carnarvon Arms style, famed for its excellent cuisine based on locally sourced produce. There is Roast Partridge, Crab and Avocado Tian, Confit Duck Rillettes, Traditional roast turkey, Roast belly of pork and much more to choose from, plus dessert or a selection of local cheeses. Priced at £69.95 per person with children up to 16 years paying just £30, the menu also includes a glass of champagne on arrival, and offers two lunchtime sittings.

If you have spent Christmas Day at home, you will be ready to enjoy an outing. Save the leftovers for sandwiches on another day and head for The Carnarvon Arms for a freshly cooked Boxing Day lunch at £35 per person. Too good to miss.

See the New Year in and celebrate in total style with a champagne reception, a five course feast, dancing to the resident band and then staying the night, with a champagne brunch on New Year’s Day. All this for just £120 per person in a twin or double room.

The preferred location for the crew and cast of the successful period series Downton Abbey filmed at nearby Highclere Castle, The Carnarvon Arms pays homage to its illustrious neighbour in style and décor, which is inspired by the castle’s Egyptian collection brought back by the 5th Earl of Carnarvon. With an ornate fireplace, the overall effect is warm, welcoming and traditional. The Carnarvon Arms, Winchester Road, Whitway, Burghclere, Nr Newbury RG20 9LE Tel: 01635 27822. Also check www.bespokehotels.com


Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat but don’t get stressed if you have been charged with planning the office ‘do’ or a bash with family and friends. Whether you are looking for a small and intimate celebration or a large fun-filled gathering, The Black Boy Inn in Milton, Banbury, offers just what you are looking for.

Whilst head chef Kevin Hodgkiss gets ready to wrap 3,000 Roast turkey parcels in pancetta – one of the best sellers, and stuff over 5,000 Field mushrooms with ricotta, spinach and sun blushed tomatoes – a deliciously popular starter, you can just relax, put in your booking and turn up on the day to enjoy.

And if the tantalising menus weren’t enough, those who book and confirm a Christmas party night for a minimum of four people before the end of November, will automatically be entered into a draw to win a coveted Wii video game console, worth over £150.

The winner will be announced on New Year’s Day, when the Black Boy Inn will be open as usual to welcome his guests, and wish one customer in particular an extra special Happy New Year. Whether you win the game for yourself, or chose to give it to a family member or a friend, someone is going to be extra happy on the first day of 2011. Even if you are not a winner, you can still celebrate New Year’s Day at The Black Boy with a special lunch at just 25 per head.

The Christmas Party Menus at The Black Boy Inn are an inviting £19.95 at lunch and £24.95 at dinner, for three courses, with coffee and home made mince pies. Ring the changes from the traditional fare with Smoked trout and beetroot salsa, or Pan-seared fillets of plaice and crayfish sauce, and leave room for dessert. Try the award-winning Christmas pudding, or the Mulled wine poached per with vanilla ice cream or the Warm apple turnover with cinnamon and honeycomb ice cream.

And don’t forget Christmas Day lunch at £59.95 per person, a four-course meal with coffee and mince pies, served around the woodstove in the idyllic surroundings of this 16th century inn, full of character and tradition. The Black Boy Inn is in Milton, on the Milton Road, Banbury, Oxon OX15 4HH Tel: 01295, 722111. Open every day. Also check www.bespokehotels.com


It's that time of the year again and I remember some of the Christmases spent with my relatives. If we went to a restaurant it would be somewhere in the mountains, restuarants with big windows from which you could see stags leap around whilst you were having your meal. Magic. But also magic was getting together at home around the table (one of the relatives in Ivrea, where I used to love to go, had La Cantinetta - a cellar which had been turned into a basement dining room, fully equipped and with a vey very long table. Here we would have La Tavolata, there would be about 20-25 people all sitting around, and the food would just come out, be put on the table, and everyone helped themselves. And the food kept coming and coming. Also magic.

I have found that same thing here in London, at Spaghetti House of all places, where they have this lovely Tavolata with around 8 courses, all put on the table, and half a litre of wine per person for around £20 - crazy. To be snapped up immediately. And the food is not just pasta - there are a lot of dishes that come out from the kitchen, including a lovely dessert. Give it a go. just google Spaghetti House to find them.


New discoveries of the Sicilian wine kind were on offer at Dego' new degustation restaurant at Oxford Circus last night. Three autoctonos (indigenous) white varieties, and three red. The whites included Inzolia, Grecanico and Grillo. All very high quality, the first two from Caruso & Minini from the 2009 vintage. But the Grillo was probably my favourite. This was a 2007 Sicilia Bianco Grillo IGT from Fazio. Their vineyards cover an area of about 100 hectars planeted on hills at an ideal altitute between 250 and 500 metres. The microclimate is excellent (northernly winds and sea breezes) and the soil is poor, causing the roots to go deep down thus increasing the quality of the wine. Grillo is quite a serious wine with peach and pear on the nose, some pineapple, and an almondy finish. In another life, I would compare it to the 'style' of a good Mersault, luscious, deep gold yet dry and layered. Lovely.
Of the reds the tipical Nero D'Avola could not be missed, followed by Frappato and Nerello. The 2009 Sicilia Rosso Frappato IGT from COS impressed me no end. Byodinamically produced, no alterations are made in the wine, not even in bad vintages, as the aim is to let the wine speak for itself and tell its own story. This company even ages teh wine in ceramic amphoras, in an effort to preserve the purity of this traditional grape. It was quite light in colour, with notes of almond and straw, with a brisk and decisive palate and a concentration of fruit. A cool red wine. Read more tomorrow.