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A Taste of Hampshire

A Taste of Hampshire

by Great British Chefs Wednesday, June 10, 2015

We know food and travel go hand in hand, a country's cuisine or a city's restaurants often play a huge part in determining a holiday destination, but are we guilty as a nation of ignoring things closer to home? We visit A Taste Of Hampshire to taste some regional delights.

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The brains behind Visit Hampshire have decided to try and tackle this oversight by appointing Chef James Durrant (of The Plough in Longparish) as the first Food Tourism Ambassador for the county. In fact, he's the first official food ambassador for any county in Britain.

The aim is simple, to champion the food culture of Hampshire and thus promote the county as a worthy tourist destination, both for native and overseas guests. There are some obvious starting points, as Hampshire has a burgeoning foodie scene with the city of Winchester as a prime example - a Michelin star restaurant with Chef Ollie Moore's Black Rat, an influx of celebrity chefs (Rick Stein and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall) setting up outposts, and one of the largest farmers markets in the UK. But Visit Hampshire and Durrant's task goes deeper, it's to showcase local produce and producers, lesser known chefs and restaurants, and the hidden gems in the county's culinary crown.

So to kick things off, they hosted a Taste of Hampshire lunch at Angela Hartnett's Merchants Tavern restaurant in Old Street, London. With the help of a few fellow chefs, Davies Tanner PR and Hampshire Fare, the event acted as an enticement into what Hampshire has to offer.

The event was introduced with a glass of sparkling wine from Hampshire vineyard Danebury. Although the knowledge and reputation of English wine is on the up, the vineyards (yes, there are several!) of Hampshire are still relatively unknown. The chalk soil of the county is incredibly similar to that of the Champagne region in France, with the average temperature only 1°C cooler, making it perfect for sparkling wines. This was crisp and refreshing with a slight acidity, and proved an excellent introduction to Hampshire winemaking, which Danebury are taking on alongside fellow vineyards, Hattingley, Hambledon, Jenkyn Place, and Exton Park (to name but a few).

Trout starter
Romsey chalk stream trout by Andres Alemany
Sea bass course
Milford sea bass by David Wykes

Cooking the first course was Andres Alemany of The Purefoy Arms (Preston Candover) and Pulpo Negro (Alresford), who brought a Spanish twist to core Hampshire produce, Romsey chalk stream trout. This was beautifully poached so that it was melt-in-the-mouth and served with roasted peach, pata negra ham, almonds, with an Amontillado sherry to drink. Trout and sherry? Not a common pairing, but the trout had a surprisingly delicate flavour that was well complemented by the tart fruit, salty pork and the sweet, nutty notes of the sherry. A beautiful dish that highlighted the possibility for culinary and cultural fusion in the most unlikely of places.

 
 
The chef's instruction was to eat with our hands, scooping up the delicate home-smoked bass and creamy dressing from the ice-cold rock

For the fish course, the very humble David Wykes of the tiny Verveine restaurant in Milford-on-Sea introduced a food story on a plate, or rock, which had the whole table rapt. Not only had he sourced the seabass from fishermen off Milford beach (the restaurant itself has a fishmongers attached), and the seaweed and sea herbs from Milford beach, but also the frozen rock it was served on and the sea water poured over shells with liquid nitrogen to release a salty mist while we ate. A forest-inspired martini, infused with burnt wild sage syrup and Douglas fir vodka, served with Pernod-soaked grapes, was an unexpected, but perfect accompaniment, as was a salty rye cracker on the side. The chef's instruction was to eat with our hands, scooping up the delicate home-smoked bass and creamy dressing from the ice cold rock (Wykes had carted them up from the beach and kept them in the freezer for this very purpose). With drama and theatre, this was a stand-out dish, made all the more memorable by Wykes' clear passion for his ingredients, with equal thought put into every element of the experience.

For the main event, Durrant presented a BBQ pork belly with burnt apple puree, crushed turnips and hispi cabbage. Pork belly has the potential to be rich and overwhelming, but the dish was excellently balanced with earthy notes from the turnips and a slight spice from the puree. A glass of dry, cloudy Hampshire Heritage cider acted almost as a palate cleanser, cutting through the fattiness of the pork and rich cream sauce, whilst supporting the apple component of the dish. As winner of the main dish element in 2014's Great British Menu, Durrant is no stranger to getting across his passion for local produce on a plate, with this pork dish harking back to the heritage of the Hampshire hog.

 

Luke Holder introduced the dessert with the message that he and co-patron of Hartnett Holder & Co (at the Limewood Hotel, New Forest), Angela Hartnett, have decided to have some fun with their food. Thus we were presented with a very nostalgic bowl of strawberry jelly and blancmange, which Holder pointed out, looked suspiciously like a whipped up Angel Delight. Luckily, the taste and texture could in no way be compared to a packet mix, managing to be indulgently creamy yet wonderfully light at the same time - a pudding that definitely left you considering seconds. The star of course, was the strawberries, sourced from the Beaulieu estate near the New Forest, and just coming into season - Holder detailed the crucial turning point at the start of June that marks the change from flavourless, watery fruit, to the sweet and fragrant berries that we know and love. To drink, Entice dessert wine from Hattingley Valley, the first of its kind in the UK, beautifully sweet yet crisp and with a slight tang, making it much more refreshing than some of the syrupy, honey-like versions available.

 
 
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BBQ pork belly by James Durrant
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Strawberry jelly and blancmange by Luke Holder

Seeing four such impressive chefs come together with such passion and vitality for their food, for their local area, and for each other as comrades, was the making of the meal, and sharing that passion will ultimately be what drives the campaign for the county forward. We still barely touched on the breadth and scope of produce in the county, and left with a heaving bag of goodies supplied by Hampshire Fare who represent many of the local producers; from tomatoes to garlic, watercress to water buffalo, and rapeseed oil to ale. The aim of this lunch was to launch Durrant in his role as Food Tourism Ambassador for Hampshire, and get us excited about the food scene there. Are we excited? Let's just say we're booking tickets on the next train out of London to sample some more...

 
 
 

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