Not much of an interlude as I have managed to eat more or less local as well as locally. A friend from Edinburgh came up to London for the weekend and we began with Waitrose cod (finally got the cod!), beans from Hampshire and ‘tender broccoli stems’ from Worcestershire. Beginning of course with the last of the soft Stilton-ish blue and the odd Stornoway crackers. She likes them so will be taking them home with her. Happily, as I am loathe to throw them out.
We had planned to go to the Richmond branch of Cote Brasserie, but I have caught a cold. No, that’s silly, I did not catch it. Why would I? I someone threw it to me I would purposely and purposefully drop it. So, shall I say that someone forced it upon me? That sounds more like the truth. In any case, I did not feel like going out, so we wandered up to Waitrose again, picked up some free-range chicken tenderloins and made a curry with spinach (grown by someone called Emmett from Lincolnshire) and naan bread. The curry was lively, but the naan was a little like eating someone’s shoe. And rice, of course, so the local was not met in that regard. The remainder of the naan will be donated to the birds on our walk along the river this morning to Kew.
Yesterday, we set out to go to Ham House, a grand 17th century house, the most intact example of Stuart architecture in the world. Built in 1610 by Sir Thomas Vavasour and became the residence for Henry, Prince of Wales and son of James I. Through a variety of leasings and passings-on that managed to skirt around the thorny issue of Civil War, the house eventually ended up in the possession of one of its daughters, Elizabeth Tollemache. She and her second husband, John Maitland the first Duke of Lauderdale, who enlarged, furnished and decorated it and it remains much the same as they made it. Most of the furnishings, paintings, statuary and textiles are those that Elizabeth, primarily, put into the house 400 years ago. The gardens are formal, symmetrical, spare, but beautifully peaceful and more to be gazed upon rather than wandered through. The old Orangery is the café and we stopped there for a coffee. We ordered scones, Lesley cheese and me fruit, which were served to us by Kitty and, she said proudly, made by her as well. She had every reason to be proud as they were delicious. Scones are tricky little numbers, they require just the right amount of butter and the lightest touch. A whisker less of one and more of the other results in a gray lump. Not so Kitty’s scones. The coffee left something to be desired, but I find coffee in England to always be so. The point of a flat white is that is needs to be flat and strong, so fluffy with too much milk weakens the effect. Of course, since it’s coffee, I shouldn’t be drinking it at all, but this was an interlude.
We had booked into the Cote on our way to Ham House, bookings being necessary we thought because there was a rugby game on that day. Then we wandered down what turned out to be the wrong side of the river, but it was a quiet, peaceful and tree-lined path with few people around. Eventually we came to a ferryman who regularly takes people across the river to the other side and charges the princely sum of £1 for his effort. We had fantasies of somehow displeasing Henry VIII and being ferried down the river to the Tower and a certain fate. But no, just to the other side and a short walk to Ham House. We walked back on the right side and eventually ended up at the brasserie. It didn’t look right. The décor, the menu, the choices; something was wrong. Then is became clear. We were in Strada; Cote was next door. So we said, sorry, made a mistake and took ourselves off next door.
Seated once again in the right place, I ordered sea bass, something I have never had and a a reassuringly English fish. It was cooked beautifully, sweet and soft and with a buttery sauce that enhanced, rather than overwhelmed it. By the time we had finished, I was feeling considerably sorry for myself, so we made our way back to the flat in Mortlake and I promptly went to bed, emerging some twelve hours later and feeling very much better and ready for the expedition to Key Gardens. I have spent many hours in the Archives, yet have never taken the time to go to the gardens, so I shall address that omission today.