So it’s been a while, again, since my last post and thus, once again, I’ve left myself with too many things to include in this post. I originally wanted to include a) a very brief review of The Culpeper in Shoreditch, which Dom very kindly treated me to in celebration of me graduating with a 2.1 in English and Drama, b) an overdue recipe for something I’ve been living off for the past week, and c) a (hopefully) quite entertaining account of the comedy of errors that was our holiday through France and into Spain for the past week, which explains my recent absence from all social media. But, in classic me fashion, I’ve gone and done a massive review of The Culpeper and now have no room for c). I’ll do a more detailed post on our French/Spanish venture, but for now all you need to know is that we have returned without our car, without the majority of our luggage, without my dad’s guitar, but with a large box of macarons and 3 tins of foie gras (mum also tried to get a whole confit duck back but it was confiscated at security). Details to follow in time.
But first to a), our trip to The Culpeper. We’d booked the upstairs restaurant hoping to sneak up onto their beautiful roof terrace for a drink (complete with kitchen garden, where they source the majority of their veg and herbs for the restaurant), but as our luck would have it, we chose the one day in June when it was pissing down with rain. Undeterred, we got drunk in the pub downstairs – an aesthetically pleasing industrial/exposed-brick-work-with-lots-of-succulents-and-dark-wood kind of space with a large central bar and lots of communal tables and probably lots of arty types and owners of pop-ups and people with kickstarter campaigns for their all-natural deodorant business. Basically it felt hip. After loitering around the heaving tables for a while, we managed to bag a couple of bar stools to enjoy a pint and a glass of their house white – strangely, a natural wine (I thought natural wines were meant to be overpriced and taste like dishwater? Mine was a fiver and tasted lovely, despite the residue at the bottom making me wonder whether I’d backwashed in it accidentally).
After a while we wandered upstairs to take our table in the restaurant section of the establishment (The Culpeper actually consists of the downstairs pub, second floor restaurant, third floor bedrooms and fourth floor rooftop bar), and were immediately served a plate of warm sourdough with tangy, soft anchovy butter – perfect for dipping in my starter of mussels in a gorgeously light, delicate tomato consommé (they call it a ‘tomato water’ though and to me that’s a bit too Great British Menu – didn’t they have a ‘tomato tea’ and ‘tomato tartar’ on the other week, i.e. soup and salad?). Dom went for a trout, beetroot and hazelnut dish with rooftop leaves and horseradish, which I think tasted good, but to be honest I was quite drunk by this stage and so I’ve had to look up the menu to remember what he even had.
I do, however, remember the disappointment we felt upon the arrival of the mains, as we realised that Dom’s ‘rooftop greens’, forgettable as they were, were the only evidence of the rooftop garden at all. Why would a restaurant profess to having a whole ‘small scale urban farm’ and then serve a single piece of garnish from it in an entire two course meal? I’d have forgiven them if the mains were robust enough to survive without the inclusion of veg – I don’t think we had a single green on our table at Temper, which I reviewed last week, but the huge lump of slow cooked goat, flanked by pots of cheesy potatoes and béchamel corn, meant that a side salad or bowl of flimsy spinach had little appeal. But at The Culpeper, I would have welcomed that bowl of flimsy spinach or side salad with gusto, because my monkfish just wasn’t filling. Admittedly I had ordered both a starter and main that included the words ‘water’ and ‘broth’ in the description, but I had been expecting a little more in the broth than 3 well-cooked but relatively flavourless hunks of monkfish, a few spears of samphire (green, yes, but a welcome addition to the dish? Not really) and a measly handful of rice. Thank god for the refills of bread to soak up the (actually very tasty) broth.
Dom’s rabbit leg with borlotti beans, ‘rooftop carrots’ and pickled girolles held more promise, but there wasn’t a carrot or girolle in sight. Where was the bounty from this mysterious rooftop kitchen? And we’re not the first to point this out – after ranting about the unsustainability of such small scale farming, Jay Rayner comments that ‘I suspect I’d be less annoying about it if, having made such a noise about their rooftop farm, they really did serve food from it, but at our meal all we got was a lettuce salad’. God if only we were granted the privilege of enjoying a rooftop lettuce salad. Are they sparing of their precious rooftop veg because of the price of growing it? Are they saving their inefficient and expensive veg for themselves? Are they just shit farmers? Either way, they needed to swallow their pride and run down to Sainsbury’s because I have no doubt that an addition of vitamins definitely would have lessened the blow of my hangover the next day.
Having said that, we didn’t have to order the house-made liqueurs for pudding instead of actual pudding. But we did, and they were the best bit of the meal. I, of course, tried to go for the pear liqueur, before we were told by the waiter that ‘the last time I tried that stuff on a tasting night I had to be carried home. It’s a bit lethal, so I’d advise against it’, so we settled for an elderflower and a plum, which were both delicious. We were also kindly given a taster of the pear, which tasted of pure ethanol. I’m glad I didn’t order the ethanol liqueur, because I was already swaying in my seat and had to get all the way back to Hertfordshire. Bill (with complimentary hot cookies, big thumbs up from drunk Pip), stumble to the tube, sleep on the tube, climb into bed.
My overall verdict? Go to the pub downstairs, get the strange backwash natural wine and a few of the snacks, and then go to St John’s just up the road. The Culpeper was, nevertheless, a really great night – not necessarily for the food (especially not for the promised veg), but for the drink and the company, and a bit more of the drink.
And now, I give a recipe that more than replenishes the need for veg. Adapted from Andi Oliver’s recipe in the Waitrose Magazine, this pea porridge (bear with me, savoury porridge is a thing now) comes together in less than half an hour (not Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals style 30 minute, actual 30 minutes) and gets 10/10 for looks. I have made this 4 times in a week, partly because it’s amazing, partly because it’s cheap, and partly because I am lazy.
Pea Porridge with Grilled Asparagus and a Fried Egg for 2
1 tbsp butter
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
About 75ml (a very large glug) of white wine
200g (2 or 3 large handfuls) of frozen peas
A handful of flat leaf parsley
A handful of basil
50g of porridge oats (I used jumbo for texture, you probably could use rolled but it won’t be as chunky
25g (or to taste, always add more if in doubt) of manchego
Asparagus (enough for 2)
- Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat and add the shallot and garlic. Fry until soft, about 5 minutes, before adding the wine and half of the peas. Braise this over a low heat, covered, for 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, defrost the remaining peas in a bit of warm water. Drain off the water and put the peas in a food processor along with the parsley and basil, adding a tbsp of water to loosen it. Alternatively, you could use a pestle and mortar or chop the herbs finely and mash into the peas with a fork. Season well and set aside.
- Add the oats to the braised peas along with 100ml more water. Stir continuously for about 10 minutes, until the mixture has come together and resembles a thick porridge. If you prefer it looser or think it’s gotten too thick, add a bit more water or wine and stir. Add the pea purée, stir and set on a very low heat.
- Heat some oil in a frying pan on high and add the asparagus. Fry until cooked through and blistered, before removing and adding in the eggs to fry.
- Once the eggs are done, serve the porridge, topped with the asparagus and egg. Season again, and add some toasted seeds for extra crunch. I also added some parmesan, because why wouldn’t you?