I’m delighted to announce the results of the competition I’ve run with The Lyndhurst. As always, it was a writing competition rather than a prize draw, and I asked entrants to send me 250 words or less on their favourite food discovery of lockdown. Over the course of four months of lockdown I discovered a love of hash browns, black pudding, Cocio chocolate milk, Ascot Brewery’s magnificent imperial stout, Clay’s ambot tik, making my own coffee and countless other little gastronomic pleasures that have made virtual house arrest far more enjoyable. But what had your discoveries been?
I received a postbag full of interesting entries. From home-made flatbreads to cakes and mimosa for breakfast, from foraged wild garlic pesto to the joy of saying “fuck it” to home cooking and ordering fish and chips from Valpy Street, ER readers are an adventurous, imaginative and hungry bunch. I’m glad I didn’t have to judge this one, because that task fell to Glen Dinning of Blue Collar. Before I announce the results, I also asked Glen to tell me his food highlight of lockdown, so here it is:
When Blue Collar first started at the Madejski, one of my inspirations was The Ribman, a street food regular on Brick Lane who also pitches up outside West Ham’s London Stadium on match days. A flick through his Twitter feed shows the level of devotion he receives – he’s turned West Ham fans into street food obsessives, and made opposition fans wish their own clubs would be more imaginative.
As lockdown hit, he started offering vacuum-packed, chilled deliveries of his rib meat, along with bottles of his homemade ‘Holy Fuck’ sauce. I quickly discovered it became essential to repeatedly refresh his web page at 5pm on Saturdays in order to stand any chance when they became available.
When they arrived, it’s fair to say his instructions were to the point – eat with a soft white bap, no butter, no salad and buckets of sauce on top. A friend of mine gets as excited as I do about these sort of things and had followed the rest of the country in turning to baking, so chipped in with a couple of rolls in exchange for a few dollops of meat.
I’d vowed to ignore the hype but it was, of course, my lockdown food highlight. The meat is so tender, the sauce so beautifully spiced: the whole thing just melts in your mouth. At that moment you understand the devotion he receives, and why even the most clichéd football fan would realise how lucky they are to eat something this special.
Off the back of this glowing write-up from Glen I also ordered a kilo of ribmeat, hitting refresh again and again at 4.59pm on a Saturday afternoon. I can definitely recommend following his example, although I would also advise you that it’s far too much for two people and that you should definitely eke it out over a couple of meals rather than lapse into a meat coma with a frightening amount of it still in the saucepan.
Anyway, on to the results, only pausing for me to add a picture of some of my other favourite slow-cooked meat, the star ingredient in the Lyndhurst’s chilli nachos. I had some last weekend and – seemingly more chilli than nachos – they’re every bit as delicious as I remember.
WINNER: Poppy Rosenberg
In “normal” times I’d say that my day revolves around meals; but in lockdown I’d be forced to admit that this focus has become obsessive. During what’s been a tumultuous time (postponed wedding, job loss, career change) food has been a source of excitement and comfort. Thanks to our town, I’ve been able to indulge from my sofa in style. From the ever-incredible Kung Fu Kitchen, to reliable old Honest burger, to Soju, Thai Table and many great Indians, we are spoilt.
Surprisingly though, my food highlight of this lockdown was a meal my fiancé cooked. It was a re-make of the first dish he made for me and, sentimentality aside, it was delicious and gave us the impetus to put screens away, stop arguing about what film to watch and attempt a proper at-home “date”.
The dish was Jamie Oliver’s Duck Ceviche (I know, such culinary ambition!) – a fresh combination of citrus fruits, chilli, avocado and tender duck. Having something presented to me with such interesting flavours, cooked with quintessentially “special” ingredients was a treat. Eating it, I felt like the mouse from Ratatouille with flavours exploding in my mouth (rather than my usual state which is more akin to Pumba scoffing down vast quantities of something slimy yet satisfying.) It may not have been the best dish I’ve had in lockdown (sorry fiancé), but it was the one that felt refreshing, comforting and in a very lockdown way, reminded me how food forces people together.
Glen says: They were all brilliant entries but this one in particular was written with such warmth and emotion. Even though this was a meal cooked at home, it clearly made a big impact and I think it encapsulates how many of us relied on food so much during lockdown.
RUNNER-UP: Graham Walmsley
Whisk eggs and sugar, then gradually add heated milk. Add vanilla, then put on the heat, stirring slowly. Magically, it begins to thicken.
Custard has got me through lockdown. At the end of the day, when I feel myself start to worry, I make custard instead. It’s simple, but takes all my attention: you gaze into the yellow liquid, watching intently for the first signs of thickening.
When it does thicken, things get tense. Do I take it off the heat now, when it’s milky like an eggnog? Or do I push it further, trying for that perfect creamy consistency, watching intently for the first signs of graininess? Both are delicious, especially with tinned fruit: we have a shelf of that, from when we stocked up four months ago, and now we’re trying to eat it all.
I’ve produced more complex meals in lockdown. There were mussels: I cooked them with white wine and cream, then kept the shells and made a velouté the next night. There was a soufflé, which tasted luxurious, and a parsley sauce, which tasted of childhood. And the Bakewell tart was a revelation, with a soft frangipane better than anything Mr Kipling had provided me with.
But it’s the custard I keep coming back to. Eggs, sugar, milk. Sometimes vanilla, sometimes orange flower water, sometimes just those three ingredients. Stir it, stare into it, lose all sense of time, watch it thicken.
Glen says: This one really made me smile – a piece on custard was always likely to get my vote and using it as a way to get through lockdown seems a shrewd move. And the Bakewell tart sounds delicious.
Many congratulations to Poppy, who wins a meal for two at the Lyndhurst, and Graham who wins a curry night for two at the Lyndhurst. Thanks too to everybody who took part!