My Blog

Daniel Watkins at The Anchor, Hullbridge

SO HOW DO YOU BECOME AN INSTAGRAM SENSATION?

DANIEL OUTSIDE THE ANCHOR

I arrived in the Essex village of Hullbridge on an overcast and wet Monday in March to eat at The Anchor Pub, where over the past 6 years, local Chef Daniel Watkins has made a name for himself, both in the guide books and on Social Media via his stunningly elegant plates of food. I was long overdue on a promise made in 2016 to drop him some of our photography styling boards to try out and I was also looking forward to finally trying out some of his food, that so far I had only seen on his Instagram feed (more on that shortly!)

Arriving earlier than planned after a long drive, I opted to take a quick run before lunch to stretch my legs along the Southbank of the river Crouch. The recumbent, muddy sandbanks of this tidal river are flanked by clutches of small holiday chalets and a couple of private boat clubs. If you know where to look, apparently there are the remains of evaporation pans where salt was made way back in the Bronze Age (Hullbridge is only a half hour from Maldon, of Sea Salt fame) Along the footpaths I saw hedge garlic shooting up everywhere, later in the year Daniel tells me marsh samphire, fat hen, sea purslane, sea rosemary and fennel are all abundant and collected regularly for the kitchen.

THE RIVER CROUCH (WHEN ITS NOT RAINING OR OVERCAST)

The Anchor sits on the south bank of the Crouch, its beer garden extending down almost to the river between the holiday lets and dry docked yachts. Large but unassuming, the exterior of this riverside pub really belies the smart restaurant set up inside. I was seated in the conservatory facing onto the river and had an awesome lunch (pictured below) prepared by Daniel before our brief interview after lunch service

SALT BEEF TACOS, OCTOPUS WITH ALL KINDS OF GARLIC, TEMPURA BREAM AND HONEY CHEESECAKE (ANOTHER STANDARD MONDAY LUNCH FOR ME)

So how many chefs are in your team?

 At the moment we have 11

And how many covers do you do here?

Yesterday was just shy of 400, The summer gets really busy here, we can have nights when we only have a handful of tables booked yet we end up cooking for 350 inside and another 400 outside from our BBQ so yeah, she’s a beast!

How did your Instagram page come about?

It all started as a hand over to my kitchen team just before my days off, so they could see the presentation of the dishes but also at the same time we use it as a tasting session for the front of house and chefs so they can understand and become familiar with new dishes. I used to photograph them in the kitchen but quickly realised the harsh lighting and stainless surfaces did the pictures no favours so I started taking them by the window at the back of the restaurant. The lighting first thing in the morning or in the afternoon works best. I wasn't an early adopter of Social Media or anything like that, I’ve only been on Facebook for a few years so wasn’t familiar with Instagram but it just seemed a useful place to share the images and its become quite a busy account now!

Err yes just a bit! (At the time of writing Daniel’s Instagram account has 261K followers) Do you remember when it all took off on your account?

Probably in the last year its really gathered momentum, I remember it reaching 10 (thousand) and thinking- ‘oh wow, cool’, you know we are just a pub in Essex, but then it hit 20K, then 50K and then it hit 100K, it just snowballed

Instagram seems to have become a great source for inspiration and sharing of ideas amongst chefs would you agree?

Yes, I think it’s made it much easier for everybody, I’m very easily inspired anyway, I follow some cool people but I don’t like to replicate anything, more just stay aware of what other people are doing- we create a lot of new dishes at the Anchor, I get inspiration from the guys I work with- that’s really important for me to work with them creatively because there’s no way this all comes from just me .

Have any unexpected opportunities arisen for you because of your Instagram fame?

It’s been great for the pub of course but I’ve also had the opportunity to do a few bits for Daniel Wellington and also Goodfellows in London who we get a lot of our dinnerware from.

Any hobbies in your spare time?

I’ve been practising Yoga regularly for 18 months, although recently I’ve been holding back as I’ve pulled my back going hard on the headstands, but it’s a great way to focus and relax away from the kitchen.

 

So down to business, we unwrapped the boards to see how they'd shoot (and also so I could get to see the Instagram professional in action)

 

DANIEL AT THE PASS

BOX OF COOL CHEF STUFF

NATURAL LIGHT IN THE AFTERNOON

NEW SPRING LAMB DISH

So how do you become an instagram sensation? Great plates, natural lighting, a consistent composition? I guess all of these help, but the sense I got from talking to Daniel was that whilst he modestly plays down his role -almost as if it was just a happy accident born out of a necessity to keep consistency in the kitchen in his absence- what really shines through on his feed is his natural and contemporary style which has become a source of inspiration for chefs. The presentation is understated but finessed and his cooking light and considered. It seems his instagram account is simply a great window for showcasing his talent as a chef. 

 SOME OF OUR BOARDS ON DANIEL'S FEED

Daniel Watkins is Head Chef at The Anchor in Hullbridge, you can follow him  @chefdanielwatkins (Like he needs any more followers) The food is as awesome as his feed and well worth the travel.

 

Aylesbury Duckling Recipe

'The white Aylesbury duck is, and deservedly, a universal favourite. Its snowy plumage and comfortable comportment make it a credit to the poultry-yard, while its broad and deep breast, and its ample back, convey the assurance that your satisfaction will not cease at its death. In parts of Buckinghamshire, this member of the duck family is bred on an extensive scale; not on plains and commons, however, as might be naturally imagined, but in the abodes of the cottagers. Round the walls of the living-rooms, and of the bedroom even, are fixed rows of wooden boxes, lined with hay; and it is the business of the wife and children to nurse and comfort the feathered lodgers, to feed the little ducklings, and to take the old ones out for an airing. Sometimes the "stock" ducks are the cottager's own property, but it more frequently happens that they are intrusted to his care by a wholesale breeder, who pays him so much per score for all ducklings properly raised. To be perfect, the Aylesbury duck should be plump, pure white, with yellow feet, and a flesh coloured beak'. — Isabella BeetonMrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1861

 

 

 

Perhaps the most famous Aylesbury duck was Beatrix Potter’s Jemima puddle duck, although her story was based in Cumbria rather than Buckinghamshire, the county famous as the centre of Aylesbury Duck production in the 19th and early 20th century.

The past 100 years saw the Pekin duck and various crosses become the preferred breeds for commercial production. 20th century farming production changed following the two world wars & the consequential austerity creating the need for efficient birds that matured faster & faster – a trait which the Pekin had the edge on over the Aylesbury. The traditional Aylesbury cottage industry model of individual households raising a breeders ducks fell into decline as intensive farming proliferated.   

As with many of our traditional breeds of farm animal, it’s been the mission of many small scale farmers to rediscover some of our forgotten foods, breeds that were historically popular for superiour eating quality that fell into decline because they took slightly longer to mature.

The initiative of farmers diversifying, the undeniable quality compared to intensively farmed meat and the cost efficiency of buying directly from the farm gate have all helped foster a growing trend towards a new model of extensive farming. Pubs & restaurants are increasingly choosing to source directly from farms, cutting out the middleman as customers, chefs & restauranteurs become more knowledgeable about our amazing heritage being re-discovered.

John & Jane Turner have been farming the 900 Acres around Bancroft Lodge near Oakham since the 1970’s. In 2015 they decided to diversify and started rearing free range pure bred Aylesbury ducks, one of only a handful of producers nationally.  

As well as supplying to the Bewicke Arms In Hallaton you can also buy this superb duckling direct from the farm gate.

Bancroft Lodge, Ayston Road, Ridlington, Oakham,Rutland LE15 9AH 01752 823 341

Roast Bancroft Farm Duckling glazed with Leicestershire Honey, Orange & Lavender

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Ingredients

1 5lb Aylesbury duckling

3 Oranges

4 tbsp. Leicestershire honey

50g Soft brown sugar

250ml Water

1 tsp Lavender flowers

 

Method

To make the glaze, peel the oranges & juice them.

In a small saucepan bring to a simmer the juice & peel with the honey, sugar, water & lavender, remove from the heat & leave to infuse for 10 minutes before straining. Put the strained glaze back into the saucepan and reduce to a syrupy consistency.

Use a sharp knife to score the skin of the duckling breasts several times taking care not to cut into the flesh. This will allow the fat to render & melt away resulting in a lovely crispy skin. Season & place in a roasting tin in a preheated oven at 150C

After 30 minutes flip the duckling over so it is breast side down in the roasting tin. After a further 30 minutes flip the duckling over again. Repeat this flipping a further 2 times, after a total of 2 hours in the oven remove the tray from the oven & turn up to 210C

Carefully pour any rendered duck fat from the tray into a heatproof container (you can save this for your Sunday roasties!). Liberally brush the glaze onto the duckling with a pastry brush. Return to the oven for a further 15-20 minutes basting with more of the glaze every 5 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 15-20 minutes before carving.        

A recipe from New York

A few years ago I was fortunate to spend some time in New York City on an extended working holiday, cooking and eating in some world class restaurants. One particular work placement or ‘stage’ in a very famous kitchen hadn’t entirely gone to plan. The Chef, (let’s just call him Wylie) seemed to take an instant dislike to me, perhaps I was asking too many questions and naively hoping to get involved in the main service kitchen rather than keeping my head down with the two slightly terrified Culinary Institute of America students who were also working for free in the dark, gloomy basement prep kitchen, but it was clear from the few brief exchanges I had with him that I was as welcome in the main service kitchen as Clostridium Difficile.

Back downstairs I resolved to knuckle down and get on with meat slicing blocks of frozen squid for hours on end or whatever other heinous task that Juan, the unnervingly troglodyte looking head prep chef gave me, I’d take my chances in the afternoon breaks to see what recipes & ideas I could pinch to make it worth my while.

On day three of my week long placement I was tasked with quickly turning some Wagu beef trim into burgers for the pre-service staff dinner. In my fatigued & by now slightly disillusioned state  I managed to mis-assemble the industrial meat grinder which when switched on instantly made a spine shivering,  metal on metal crunking sound followed by a deafening bang as the solid cast iron mincing attachment shattered onto the counter. I’m pretty sure the sound of this catastrophic mechanical failure was heard by anyone within 3 blocks of the restaurant.  Wylie however, as my misfortune would have it, was at that very moment standing at the door of the prep kitchen barely five feet away, we locked eyes for what seemed like an eternity in a moment forever scarred into my psyche. Wylie never uttered a word, his look said it all

  “I……I’ll get my coat”   

I had 5 days until my flight back to the UK, I’d already done plenty of sight-seeing  (I highly recommend Grandmaster Caz’s Old School Hip Hop tour of Harlem & the Bronx)  in between my other, significantly more successful, work placements so I felt the need to somehow make the most constructive use of the time I had left in the Big Apple

Spot the true Old School hip hop legend in this photo (clue, he's not the guy in the red beret)

I knew finding another restaurant to take me on at short notice was going to be a challenge, my other gigs had all been carefully arranged months in advance of my trip. After a fruitless morning trudging the streets of Manhattan between the restaurants I’d frantically googled the previous night  I had an idea- There was a restaurant near Washington Square Park called ‘Babbo’, an informal Michelin starred Italian place that every afternoon people queued around the block to get a table at- it was owned by one of Marco Pierre white's protégés Mario Batali, his head prep-chef was a woman called Elisa Sarno , I already  knew all of this as I’d been reading a book given to me by my brother the previous Christmas called Heat, the best selling detailed account of former 'New Yorker Magazine' editor Bill Buford’s experience quitting his day job to spend a year as an unpaid intern in the Babbo kitchen. With nothing to lose I arrived at the restaurant just after lunch- knocked on the door and blurted out my plight to a confused looking young chef who had answered the door, how I had traveled all the way from the UK and could I please, please come & work for a few days in the kitchen?  Another uncomfortable silence/stare-off ensued, but I detected a look of confusion rather than Wylie’s death stare from the previous evening.

‘Is Elisa in?’ I confidently asked

The young chef pointed to a barely discernible figure in the distance descending the steps into the 9th Street subway. I turned and immediately sprinted after her, finally catching up with her at the turnstiles.  Again, (but this time with more sweating & panting), I pleaded for the chance to spend a few days working in her kitchen. After a moment looking me up and down trying to figure out what this random Englishman was doing chasing her into a subway, she politely smiled     

 ‘I’m sorry, that’s not really something we can do’

But then, somehow my instant look of genuine dejection together with bent over exhaustion from my sudden uncharacteristic burst of athleticism must have combined to give a sufficiently pathetic site for her to take pity,  her composure momentarily softened,   

‘7am tomorrow, don’t be late’

I was in.

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My three days at Babbo could not have contrasted more with my previous gig. I was boning & stuffing breasts of veal, rolling fresh pasta, filleting fresh snapper & finishing sauces and surrounded the most amazing Italian & local market produce, ramps, garlic scapes, all kinds of charcuterie I’d never heard of.  

 The Larder Section at Babbo mid service

 The Larder Section at Babbo mid service

 The fact that I had travelled all the way from the UK just to work there carried well with the chefs, this was after all partially true, I’d travelled from the UK I just hadn’t had the idea to work at Babbo until I was already out there, a trivial detail I didn’t see the need to correct. After my final shift, the night before I travelled home I was given a seat at the bar whilst the head chef brought out course by course the entire 12 course tasting menu with additional courses he wanted me to try thrown in for good measure, breadcumbed tripe, osso bucco, herb roasted porcini.. it was a truly memorable few days for so many reasons and an experience I’ll never forget.

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The very first Job Elisa gave me was to trim & marinate a case of beef onglet, (Americans call it ‘Hangar Steak’), a really simple recipe that I brought back with me that always reminds me of my brief time at Babbo. It became a staple dish on my restaurant’s menu for many years after.

Onglet is technically offal, in that it is usually removed along with the heart, kidneys, oxtail & liver at the time of slaughter and not hung to age with the carcass. It is attached to the diaphragm and surrounded by kidney fat, bright red & full of iron, onglet is particularly suited to marinating and its thick muscle fibres mean it is best grilled quickly to a bloody rare to prevent it drying out making it perhaps a serious carnivores cut of beef,  its sometimes called the ‘butcher’s steak’ as there is only one per carcass the butcher would often take home the steak for himself.

This recipe pictured uses grass fed Dexter beef from my family’s farm in Yorkshire. Grass fed beef in good mixed pasture tend to forage naturally & mature slowly with incredible flavour. Wherever you source your beef may need to ask your butcher in advance for Onglet, (sometimes called Skirt in the UK) as it’s not the most common of cuts.

 

Herb marinated Dexter onglet with a red wine & smoked oyster sauce

Image Copyright Scott Choucino

Image Copyright Scott Choucino

 

Recipe (Serves 2)

1-2 Onglet ( depending on size, dexters are much smaller than most other cattle)

For the marinade

1 Bunch of thyme, picked

6 Sprigs of rosemary, picked

12 Peppercorns

4 Cloves of garlic, peeled & chopped

250ml Olive oil

 

For the sauce

200ml Good quality beef stock, fresh is best as it will contain natural gelatine to help thicken the sauce

1 Bottle of full bodied red wine

1  200g Tin of smoked oysters, roughly chopped

50g Unsalted butter

 

Method

With a sharp filleting knife, remove the thin strip of sinew that runs along the length of each onglet and trim off any excess fat- you can always ask your butcher to do this for you, this will turn each onglet into two separate steaks

Blend together the marinade ingredients to a pesto like consistency and pour over the steaks in a shallow container, turn the steaks over to make sure they are well coated

Marinate ideally for at least an hour or two in the fridge.

A large thick skillet or decent grill pan is ideal, as hot as you can get it. Add a little oil to the pan before colouring the steaks all over using cooking tongs for 3-5 minutes depending on size,  you’re aiming for a dark crispy exterior, season the steaks with a little salt & pepper and remove from the pan to rest.

To make the sauce, add the beef stock & a glass of red wine to the frying pan & reduce on a low simmer, scrape the pan whilst stirring to get all the roast flavours mixing in with the sauce. When the sauce is starting to thicken slightly whisk in the butter and finally add the chopped smoked oysters, add a little salt & pepper to your taste.

To serve, slice the onglet into strips and pour over a little of the sticky red wine & smoked oyster sauce,  perhaps serve with some chunky cut chips & fresh watercress, some fresh béarnaise and a glass or 2 of the left over red wine. Hope you enjoy!

Barbequed Southdown Lamb Chops, Wilted Lettuce & Garden Tomatoes

 

Barbequed Southdown Lamb Chops with a Warm Salad of Wilted Lettuce & Garden Tomatoes

Living above my last restaurant had its advantages, not least a pretty quick commute to work each day but I always missed having my own outside space. I finally moved home earlier this year and one of the first things I did was to plant every available space in my new garden with herbs, pea shoots, various root vegetables, salads, alliums & tomatoes, hoping that this ‘clusterbomb’ approach might offset my relative inexperience at home gardening. By some miracle of nature, everything has grown & started to come to fruition- I’m writing this recipe, the first I’ve written in a long while, sitting in my Garden in the July sunshine on a rare day off. The ingredients are essentially all either from my garden or various larder ingredients that I’ve had in my cupboard since Entropy closed its doors last summer, so kind of thrifty you might say… Also, the lamb chops are from our small flock of Southdown lambs on our family farm in Yorkshire. Southdowns are a native rare breed from which the more famous New Zealand ‘Canterbury’ lamb is descended. They are on the watch list of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust but they are becoming increasingly popular as a breed amongst small scale producers as they are relatively easy manage, taste amazing and they look kind of cute too J

So a simple, seasonal summer recipe to try at home, I hope you like it!

 

Serves 4

 Ingredients

8 Lamb loin chops

A dozen or so cherry tomatoes, halved

Small jar of marinated artichokes, drained

4 baby gem lettuce

 

For the Marinade

200ml olive oil

4 Cloves of garlic

1 Bunch thyme

4 sprigs rosemary

1 tbsp black peppercorns

 

Anchovy & Lentil dressing

1 small tin anchovy fillets

1 Tbsp capers

100g lentils, soaked & then cooked

1 tbsp chopped parsley

1 tsp chopped onion shoots (or chives)

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

1 red onion, finely chopped

175ml olive oil

75ml white wine vinegar

 

Method

First make the marinade by stripping the herbs from their stalks and then blending all the ingredients in a food processor until you get a smooth, verdant oil. Smother liberally over your lamb chops and leave refrigerated until you are ready to BBQ

To make the dressing whisk together the mustard and vinegar & slowly whisk in the oil to create an emulsified vinaigrette. Add all the remaining ingredients and stir well to get a fresh salsa like dressing.

Barbeque the lamb chops over hot coals- you could chuck on the rosemary stalks, or perhaps some applewood chips if you like. Cook to your liking and then season & ‘rest’ off the barbeque for 5 minutes before serving.

Use a smoking hot griddle pan to quickly char & blister the tomatoes & artichokes.

To preserve the colour, don’t wilt the gem lettuce until you are ready to serve. To do this, simply pick off the leaves into a large pan of simmering boiling water and cook for a minute or so until just softened. Drain & season.

To assemble, arrange the wilted lettuce, tomatoes & artichokes onto a serving board or dish, place the barbecued lamb on top & dress with loads of the briny tangy dressing.

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Crosscliff Dexters

Our family farm in Dalby forest is a fantastically remote corner of 'God's own County', As well as being an idyllic hang out for our children & close family, it also serves as home for a growing herd of Dexter cattle and a small flock of Southdown Lamb. 

 Our herd of Dexters used to exclusively supply my former restaurant 'Entropy' in Leicester. We are now looking to supply this superb beef direct to the consumer from the farm gate, but what is it that makes this beef so good?

The Dexter breed of cattle originated in the South Western region of Ireland. Like the Kerry, they are descended from the predominately black cattle of the early Celts. Dexters as a breed have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in the past decade thanks to the work of conservation groups such as the Rare Breed Survival Trust and the advocacy of chefs across the country who have recognised the breed's superb flavour.  

All meat producers know that in general the younger the animal when butchered, the less flavour there is in the meat.  Cattle which are housed and fed  concentrate to speed up the fattening process  produce an admittedly tender, but decidedly bland product. Animals fed on grass alone take a lot longer to produce the correct degree of marbling and 'finish' but the flavour imparted by the combination of grass and maturity is incomparable. 

Our small farm on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park is ideal for this sort of beef system. It is marginal land, with a mix of hardy native grasses and herbs  rather than the chemically 'improved' pastures  found on most lowland farms.  Our chosen breed of Dexter cattle originate from this sort of pasture in Ireland and are  known to seek out specific plants to meet particular dietary needs, our Crosscliff Dexters definitely develop a craving for nettles just before calving, which supposedly stimulates lactation

Most of our animals are finished at between 24 and 27 months old. They are slaughtered  at a small local slaughterhouse just down the road and are then hung for 21-28 days before being jointed & packaged as range of choice cuts, joints & steaks which are vacuum packed. Ready for cooking or the freezer.

The small scale of our farm & its secluded position help ensure an exceptional standard of welfare for the cows. Buying our Dexter beef directly from us means we can supply this wonderful product to you at a competitive price. See our price list for more information.