Thursday, 22 March 2012



Hoards of bickering holidaymakers depart Padstow in their oversized family wagons, laden with carrier bags stuffed with soggy briny beach towels, sandy flip flops, fluorescent pink fishing nets and wet, salty-furred Labrador retrievers. 

Even more fluorescent are the children, burnt by the Cornish sun and well fattened on Walls Cream of Cornish and ersatz, franchise-quality factory-made pasties. Under seasoned, undercooked and over-onioned, they fill the air with a raw unpleasant wiff of sulphuric yuckiness. Cornish pasties with about as much Kernow DNA as a Chicken Tikka Masala Pizza has Italian.

I'd personally rather eat a pasty made by the hands of a Pennsylvanian housewife, or one of those made during the 
Kernewek Lowender festival in Moonta on the Copper Coast of Southern Australia, made as they are, with a liberal seasoning of historical pride and heritage - not as a means of making money from a captive audience of holiday-making Northerners who wouldn't know an authentic pasty from a Greggs one.

They drive up the hill out of Padstow, heading back to run-down Newquay holiday parks, budget hotels and seafront B&B's filled with drunken stags and hens. The children cry and whinge, the mums shout at the kids, and the dads keep banging on about the length of the queue and the price of the food at a certain Padstow Fish and Chip shop.      

A few minutes west of Padstow you'll find the village of Treator, and a very special little place where the headache inducing qualities of the aforementioned masses instantly wash away the moment you arrive.

Woodlands Country House is the sort of perfect-in-every-way place you long to find, and when you do find it, another box of life's perfections can be rightly ticked.

This week, Woodlands will be celebrating it's 10th birthday under the tender parentage of Hugo and Pippa Woolley. The running of a successful sausage company, a Sandwich shop in the City and keeping the Fleet Street boys well fed, was severley curtailed when Hugo's car was crashed into on his way to work. The injuries he suffered were devastating to say the least. After a lengthy period in hospital, Hugo and Pippa had to make changes, so they headed to Cornwall to recouperate and take stock. A few years later Woodlands was born.

Last year for my 36th birthday, I fancied a relaxed stay in Cornwall. Living in South Devon, Cornwall is so close that we often take days out there, but it's always much nicer to take things at a more sedate pace and stay a while.

In the past we've stayed at one of Mr Stein's places, 
but last year I fancied something a little different. Like a moth with the munchies drawn to a flavoursome flame, the promise of a soft, warm, comforting room and the even more alluring promise of padding down the stairs in the morning to one of Hugo's legendary breakfasts was too hard to resist.

A contented feeling washed over Julie and I as Pippa gave us a warm and relaxed welcome. A few minutes later, Hugo joined us in the conservatory and we had a lovely little yap (about food!), before Pippa showed us to our room. 

The Beach Room has a wonderful feel about it, definately more so than most B&B's. English country retreat meets London townhouse, with a smidgen of New England charm and Cornish beach hut cool. We've stayed in numerous high-end London hotels over the last 20 years, from the classic and traditional, to the more contemporary boutique hotels that have sprung up in recent years, many of which are nowhere near as tasteful and well appointed as Woodlands. 

After unpacking, and doing the habitual preliminary look around the room I'm sure we all do on arrival at a new place, we were actually giving serious consideration to the option of simply not bothering with the reservation we'd made for dinner at The Seafood Restaurant in Padstow that evening. 

It felt like you had arrived at a long lost friends house and didn't want to rush off. 

This was at the beginning of April, so there was still a nip in the air, and some rather ominous grey clouds were rolling in across Trevone bay. With our room warming up, the curtains slightly drawn, and a cup of Tregothnan Earl Grey on the bedside table, the thought of simply snuggling in for the rest of the day with a DVD or three was very tempting indeed!

I was tired after as busy week of drugs infusions at the hospital, so we partook in a wee afternoon snooze. I awoke half-heartedly once or twice, but the sound of rain on the windows, the creaking of the weathervane on the roof above our room and the wind coming in from the sea, only made us want to stay cocooned in our adorable room even more.

I'm sure that such an ambiance is a rare thing to find in many a hotel, let alone a B&B.
This is why Hugo and Pippa excell where so many others fail. A lot of Bed and Breakfasts and guest houses overlook the little touches that can turn a good stay into a truly fantastic one. Likewise, some of your big ticket hotels are just too busy and cavernous for their own good, with about as much atmosphere as one of those places Lenny Henry does the adverts for. You know the ones!

Everything about the room was a delight. 

Later, we headed into Padstow for a good meal of Steamed Turbot wrapped in Wild Garlic with Soy and Fresh Ginger. Scottish West Coast Langoustines with Mayonnaise, Singaporean stir-fried Crab, Battered Fish, Chips and Mushy Peas, and lashings of ice-cold Chalky's Bark. We've eaten there many times over the years, but that's another blog for another time. The Seafood Restaurant, what a joy. 

Arriving back at Woodlands with full bellies and tired heads, The Beach Room was even more wonderful and welcoming. Maybe that is what the three W's at the beginning of the Woodlands website stand for.

Wonderful Welcoming Woodlands!

The thought of a good nights sleep ahead of us was lovely. Even more exciting was the thought that in the morning we would be sitting down to one of the most wonderful breakfasts this side of the Firth of Forth, let alone the Tamar. This wasn't going to be just any breakfast though. 

This was one of Hugo's breakfasts.

Hugo is a man of taste, well-travelled, well-educated, and well known for being well-versed in the art of a well made breakfast. He has even passed on his knowledge and passion for all things breakfast related and written a wonderful book on the subject, filled with the sort of dishes that will have you cooing and salivating as you flick through the pages. You'll find classics such as Pippa's Kedgeree, Eggs Benedict or the Ulster Fry, an Irish take on the traditional Full English. There are also plenty of naughty but nice goodies such as his friend David's Bacon and Marmalade Sandwich, or The Graduate's Breakfast, a seriously decadent fried sandwich of banana and peanut butler.

I myself am now very partial to a bacon and marmalade sarnie, I'm a sucker when it comes to the pairing of sweet and salty. Bacon and Marmalade, I'm a believer.

The book also has a selection of dishes that are part of Hugo's life. Dishes with a soul and a warmth, such as Bacon Jolly Boy, a thrifty wartime recipe that Hugo's mother would make him and his brothers when they were boys. Another dish that brings a smile is Mumbles Eggs, which Hugo hated as a child but now can't get enough of. 

Any inclusion of Gentlemans Relish, be it scraped thinly onto soldiers for dipping, or simply added to a recipe for extra clout can only be a good thing.

It's these dishes that make the book such a joy to read and get inspiration from. It is so heartening to find a collection of recipes that do not pander to current food trends, or what we are told is good according to celebrity chefs and aspirational television cookery programmes. Hugo's book is jam packed with breakfast and brunch ideas of such timelessness, it's one of those volumes you'll be reaching for on a regular basis.

So, let's get down to business.

We woke early, freshened up and trotted down to the breakfast room. So keen to tuck into Hugo's breakfast, I must have resembled Gollum on the hunt for the one ring. 

During our all too brief stay at Woodlands, we had been the only guests booked in, so we had the run of the house so to speak. Julie and I felt almost guilty upon entering the breakfast room, the effort Hugo had put in just for the two of us was humbling. In a lesser place than Woodlands, you might imagine the hosts pairing things down a tad, not putting on a complete spread for lack of numbers. Hugo's breakfast offerings were faultless, and had us standing staring open-mouthed for a while.

As I mentioned earlier, Hugo's horrific car accident in October 1995 took it's toll, and these days Hugo would be the first to admit that he's not as steady on his pins as he once was. This only added to our sense of humbled appreciation at the effort he and Pippa still put into the breakfasts, even for a couple of young-ish whipper-snappers like us. Speechless we were.

The breakfast offerings laid before us featured many of the yummy things contained within the pages of Hugo's book. Lovely moist, thickly hewn slices of Hugo's Banana Bread. Toothsome chunks of sweet oaty Marmalade Bars. 
All home made, these sweet treats were just the perfect way to start our breakfast feast. Most of these goodies can be found in Hugo's book.

A Fruit Salad of Blueberries, Strawberries, Mango and juicy Watermelon. A properly made Compote of honeyed Apricots and Prunes, and a rustling bowl of home made Granola, packed with sweet crumbly nuggets of oats and nuts. Bloody good stuff.

There are plenty of freshly brewed Coffee options, including decaffeinated for those who prefer a slightly more mellow start to their day. A fine and varied selection of traditional Teas are also offered. Proper English Breakfast, Earl Grey & Lady Grey and delicate Darjeeling. 

You can even go for a good old cup of Builder's Tea if you like it pokey and strong, as well as a few lighter brews such as Camomile, Peppermint, or fruit Teas like Spiced Apple, Blackcurrant, and refreshing Lemon & Ginger Tea.

Fruit juices, Tomato juice, and Camel Valley Sparkling Wines are also available should the mood take you.

All the things that make a perfect breakfast are all present and correct.


Onto the main event. The choices available for the main breakfast plate are excellent and varied. Choosing what to have for the main part of our breakfast was taunting to say the least. With so many tempting classics, we wished we could've had a multi course breakfast tasting menu featuring each and every item on the menu, although I think if Hugo did get an order come through to the kitchen for such a mischievous and avaricious selection, he'd either A) deliver the most transcendental breakfast experience in history, or B) send us packing with a few choice words and a good poke of his favourite kitchen implement!

In the end though, good sense prevailed and both Julie and I decided to go for The Full Cornish. This is Hugo and Pippa's take on the classic and beloved Full English. Our hearty platters came laden with a selection of consummately cooked and perfectly prepared goodies. 

Hugo is an authority on the Great British sausage, and before his unfortunate car accident he ran a sausage making business. Having spent so long making his own range of high quality sausages, it comes as no surprise that those he serves at breakfast are no ordinary off-the-shelf bangers. The Woodlands Breakfast Sausage is a thing of beauty, juicy and well seasoned, with that lovely burst of flavour that you'd expect from a good old fashioned sausage made with natural casings. These adorable sausages are made to Hugo's own recipe and exacting standards by the chaps at Tywardreath Butchers using shoulder of Gloucester Old Spot Pork, from pigs reared in Cornwall.

A lovely rasher or two of Cornish Dry-cured Middle-Back Bacon and some excellent herby Cornish Hogs Pudden also from Tywardreath make for a truly savoury trio of piggy delights. 

Some wonderful fluffy Corn cakes, Grilled Tomato, Fried Mushrooms, Fried Bread and Eggs cooked to your liking round out the Full Cornish. You can have your eggs cooked to your liking, fried, poached or scrambled. I chose scrambled, Julie went for poached. Both eggy preparations were textbook in their execution. My scrambled eggs were creamy and delicate, Julies poached eggs were two wobbly orbs of perfection, with soft yolks ready to burst. No corners cut here, just pure unadulterated breakfast heaven.

As I mentioned earlier there are so many other things on the breakfast menu to get your day off to a tasty start. Should the mood take you you can indulge in a Cornish Oak Smoked Kipper with Lemon Butter, or Milk-Poached Cornish Smoked Haddock & Poached Egg. I'm a huge fan of such things, and starting the day with the coupling of smokey fish and wobbly eggs is right up my street.

Hugo's dedication and exacting standards bring a smile too. If you fancy some good old fashioned Boiled Eggs and Soldiers, you can choose to have them cooked for 4 minutes, or 6 minutes, or if you are very hardcore you can go for an 8 minute egg!

Continental Breakfasts are also offered if you aren't up to the hearty majesty of The Full Cornish. Home-baked Croissants, Danish Pastries and a selection of gorgeous home made Jams and Marmalades. If that wasn't enough, Hugo often adds a daily Special Breakfast, usually something glorious from his aforementioned Breakfast Book. It's all enough to make a serious gourmande weep with joy into their Rice Crispies.

By now we were comfortably sated by the glorious breakfast, but it would've been rude not to finish our morning feast with something sweet, so we made our way to the breads, jams and marmalades. Also offered, Marmite and some good Cornish Honey. When it comes to Marmite, I'm not convinced about the love/hate thing. I believe it's more a case of those of us that love it are people of taste and simply know how to appreciate the good things in life, and those that say they hate it are simply not in tune to the life affirming joys of yeast. A world without yeasty things is like a day without sunshine.

The jams by the way, were perfect.

Everything about Woodlands is a joy. From the moment we arrived, we knew we didn't really want to leave. From the moment Pippa welcomed us, we knew we were in safe hands. Of course there are a wealth of lovely places to stay in Cornwall, and it isn't difficult to hunt down a really good breakfast in many a B&B, cafe and restaurant from Lands End to John oGroats. 

Julie and I have spent the last 20 years on a journey of tasty discovery. We've eaten some of the best food, in some of the best restaurants in the world. When you've eaten in so many places, it's often the case that there are usually more unremarkable and even disappointing meals than there are good ones. But over time, you do start to amass a collection of places that you know you'll hopefully spend the rest of your life returning to. These places
have that magical quality that you can't bottle.

And it's because of Hugo and Pippa Woolley that Woodlands Country House is one of those places I will be returning to again and again.

Happy Birthday Woodlands, here's to the next 10 years!

Below, you'll find a couple of Hugo's recipes. The recipe for Eggs Arlington, Hugo has kindly sent me, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Woodlands. 

Thank you Hugo.



Smoked trout (or salmon) with a poached egg and a rich Hollandaise sauce, served on an English Muffin. This is a breakfast inspired by two very smart café-restaurants in London, famous for breakfast; The Wolsely in Piccadilly and the new Delaunay in The Aldwych.

These café-restaurants (as they call themselves) serve Eggs Arlington to the busy people of London, accompanied by silver pots of tea and coffee, surrounded in an atmosphere of busy opulence and luxury, wood panelling and leather chairs, served by long white aproned waiting staff that exude efficiency and style. I chose Eggs Arlington as the new Special Breakfast to celebrate our 10th anniversary at Woodlands Country House as it epitomises the luxury and style of these London restaurants, something Woodlands Country House aspires to emulate in a very small way. 

For 4 people

You will need an electric hand whisk or a sauce hand whisk (if you have strong arms).

For the Hollandaise Sauce.

125g butter (salted ordinary butter), leave to melt in a saucepan over a very low heat.
4 tablespoons white wine vinegar.
1 small shallot sliced roughly.
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns.
1 tablespoon lemon juice.
3 egg yolks.
Pinch sea salt and white pepper.

For the ‘dish’.

4 English muffins.
200g (8oz.) smoked trout thinly sliced (you can use smoked salmon but smoked trout is not as rich or oily and has a creamy texture).
4 fresh eggs for poaching.
Chives to decorate.

To make the sauce, whilst the butter is melting and clarifying; put the vinegar, the shallots and peppercorns into a small saucepan and boil to reduce by two-thirds. Strain into a glass bowl – big enough to sit over a saucepan of simmering water - and allow it to cool. 

Add the lemon juice. Skim off any scum off the surface of the clarified butter. Put in the egg yolks, place the glass bowl with the yolks and vinegar reduction over a pan of simmering water ensuring the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water. Whisk up the eggs and vinegar reduction until the mixture turns into a thick creamy sauce, like mayonnaise. This should take about two minutes of whisking. 

Still whisking, gradually pour in the melted butter, avoiding the separated milky stuff going in. Taste for seasoning and add salt and white pepper (black pepper will put little black specks in the sauce) and set aside on the bowl of hot water in a warm place.

Slice in half (or, as traditionally done, peel apart) and toast the English Muffins, poach the eggs – 3 to 4 minutes for soft, 5 to 6 minutes for hard. When the eggs are poached, take them out of the water with a slotted spoon or spatula and dab off all the excess water on a wad of kitchen paper. 

Put the smoked trout on a warm plate to take the chill off it. To serve; put the toasted muffin halves (one half or both halves – depending on appetite) in the centre of 4 hot plates,  place the smoked trout in attractive folds onto the muffin, place a well-drained poached egg on the slices of trout and then spoon on a tablespoon of Hollandaise Sauce over the poached egg. Snip some fresh chives over the top of the sauce and serve. 
This makes a very good supper dish as well. Spread a teaspoon cream of horseradish sauce onto the muffin before you put on the smoked trout or salmon and serve with wilted watercress or spinach for a wonderful supper.


During the war, or when times were hard for country folk in the 'old days', this was a dish for when eggs were scarce. My mother used to do this for our breakfast and always said, as she produced these pancakes/omelettes, for her four boys; "These are Jolly Boys for my Jolly Boys, we used to have the during the war to make us jolly!" They are very good but I have always failed to see why they make you jolly.


For 2 people (4 pancakes)

2 Tablespoons plain flour
1/2 Teaspoon baking powder
1 Large egg
150ml (1/4 pint) milk
Pinch of salt
4 Rashers of cooked streaky 
bacon, finely chopped
Vegetable oil to fry (my mother 
used lard, but it makes the 
pancakes a little heavy)


Whisk the batter ingredients (without the bacon) together to the consistency of thick cream. In a clean, thick-bottom, wide frying pan, pour in a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil and bring it up to quite a hot heat, but not smoking. Pour 50cl (about a quarter made) of the batter and tip the pan back and forth once so an oval, rather than a round shape is made in the pan. With a spatula, draw up two of the edges to form the oval shape. Leave to cook for a minute or until the underside is turning brown then sprinkle a quarter of the chopped bacon over the top. You don't toss this pancake, to cook the top you baste the oil over the top until just cooked and fluffed up. Slide onto a plate leaving as much oil as possible for the next 'jolly boy'.

'jolly boys' and baked beans was always a very evocative favourite of mine for breakfast or supper.

Woodlands Country House Hotel
PL28 8RU 

Telephone 01841 532426

Fax 01841 533353


Monday, 12 March 2012



Housed in the beautifully restored Brewhouse at Royal William Yard Plymouth, is the newest sibling of the River Cottage Canteen family. Hugh Whittingstall's new restaurant and delicatessen occupies part of the restored Georgian victualling buildings, a very fitting location. The restaurant space is impressive, with a wonderful buzzy atmosphere.

Many of the dishes on the menu will no doubt benefit from the mighty wood burning oven that sits just behind the pass. I took this photograph from across the counter, stood at least 10 feet away from the roaring oven, and I could feel my face heating up whilst I composed this hurried snap. It was so hot, I felt that either the lens on my trusty camera was about to melt, or I would soon be horrifying the other diners with an impromptu impression of Ronald Lacey at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark! 

Maybe the chefs at the Canteen harbour some sort of X-Men like resistance to heat, or more than likely they own a very long pizza paddle hot oven contraption. I can only imagine how delicious a thin, crusty-bottomed and charred-to-perfection Pizza might taste, were it cooked in this fantastic blistering behemoth of an oven.

Which leads me nicely to the food. With Hugh in charge, the menu is, unsurprisingly, a roll call of dishes comprised of wonderfully local and well chosen seasonal ingredients. Beetroots, Cornish Mussels, Buttervilla Farm Leaves from Torpoint, and a few River Cottage favourites like Trealy Farm cured meats served with Quickes Cheese.

To start, Julie, who is the worlds biggest fan of the humble Cauli, simply couldn't resist a bowl of Creamy Cauliflower Soup with Goats Cheese Beignet.

Creamy Cauliflower Soup, Goats Cheese Beignet.

The soup did what it said "on the menu", delivering a wonderfully earthy mouth feel. The unique, slightly bitter taste that is so familiar to lovers of the often overlooked cauliflower, was softened and sweetened with the addition of good local cream. A joyous bowl indeed.

As for the accompanying goats cheese beignet, addictive wouldn't be an understatement.

For my starter I chose the Cornish Mussels, cooked with Cider, Bacon and Cream. Fresh, plump, sweet mussels, sitting in a wonderfully creamy bacon broth, with a mollifying addition of good cider in place of the usual boring wine, I could've eaten these till the cows came home. 

Cornish Mussels, Cider, Bacon and Cream

The thing with mussels though, is all that shell (how dare those wretched molluscs have shells, how inconsiderate of them!). 

I sometimes wish chefs would throw a handful of de-shelled mussel meats into the pan before plating up, as inevitably, there are always a couple of empty shells clattering around the bowl.

And without fail, there is also ALWAYS, room for just that little bit more bread to mop up the lovely liquor. In fact, I often wonder if it's the mussels we crave, or the supping up of all that briny broth with the buttery bread!

On to our mains. It's always heartening to see Pollock on any menu. It seems to be slowly becoming more a more popular fish thanks to people like Hugh, and Hixy and a few other like-minded spokesmen championing it. Julie chose the pan roasted Pollock, which came served with what just might be her number one favourite vegetable on the planet, the parsnip. She was happy!

Pan Roasted Pollock Fillet, Parsnip Puree and Sprouting Broccoli

When it comes to fish, simple but delicious veggies always work wonderfully. The parsnip puree had that gorgeous sweetness so essential to its success, and went perfectly with the stiff fresh fillet of Pollock, as did the iron rich sprouting broccoli. A Lovely dish.

I'm afraid I'm a pathetically weak willed soul when it comes to food cooked in the primal presence of a roaring hot fire or chargrill. I couldn't resist, there was no point fighting it, I just had to order the wood roasted Megrim Sole.

Whole Wood-Roasted Megrim Sole, Thyme, Lemon and White Wine

This was a seriously good bit of fish. Cooked whole on the bone in that big old smoky beast of an oven, this Megrim was more than a match for it's more popular cousins, Lemon and Dover.

The wood oven did it's thing, and licked the fish with a delicately smoked note, crisping up the skin to a tee. Fantasticly fresh and sweet, with that on-the-bone juicyness that is often absent from filleted pieces of fish (not Julie's pollock though).

Julie and I are suckers for a rustling, salty bowl of chips, so ordering them is almost a reflex action when we eat out. I say almost, because I'm not a total Philistine. You wouldn't catch me asking the waiter at say, Asodor Etxebarri, for a bowl. 

Although, I'm positive that if Victor and Lennox did somehow manage to cook some chips on their famed hand-cranked wood fired grills, they would probably be talked about by every chef, journalist, food blogger and food trendinista from here to Cala Montjoi. Triple cooked, schmipple cooked. These were just good old fashioned crunchy chips, leaning toward a more French Fried size.

Canteen Chips with Cornish Sea Salt

Julie isn't as keen on the crunchy bits that break free from the smaller chips, but as I used to be one of those children that would constantly badger the local Fish and Chip shop for "free crispy bits", I was more than happy about the high proportion we ended up with in our side order.

Crushed White Beans and Wild Garlic

The crushed white beans with wild garlic were absolutely gorgeous. If I ever have to bathe in a bath of beans, remind me to give River Cottage Canteen a bell. I can still taste them a I type. Lush.

The gelatinous, bony remnants of a well feasted upon Megrim Sole!

Naturally, at this point in the proceedings we were quite stuffed, so we decided to share a dessert. I'm really into apricots at the moment, so apricots got my vote.

Vanilla Panacotta, Apricot Compote and Short Bread

Almost Christmassy in it's spicing, the apricot compote was a lovely end to a fine meal. The panacotta had that perfect wobble, and was lovely and chilled, which always makes a good dessert seem that little bit lighter than it really is.

Overall, a perfect meal, in a wonderful location. A pleasant walk around the Georgian grandeur of Royal William Yard after the meal also adding to that sense of contentedness. The views out across the Tamar estuary, Torpoint and St John's Lake are wonderful.

Just watch out for that threshold when you enter the restaurant!!!

River Cottage Canteen & Deli, Royal William Yard, Plymouth
01752 252702