Chick Lit in the Mail on Sunday

A little group round-up of books with a chicken and egg theme. It’s Easter you see.

“FIVE FAT HENS: The Chicken and Egg Cookbook by Tim Halket (Grub Street, £12.99)

“We love our eggs, not least because their essential nutrients keep our feather fluffed up, but we also love their producers, ie chickens. This month-by-month selection of classic and comfort food from a home cook and hen-keeper, satisfies both tastes. In a word:eggscellent.

“Recipe at Baked eggs with tarragon.”


Shopping for fish at Gurneys


Twitter reminded me about Gurneys. More specifically that it had been voted a very good fish shop. One of the best. It was listed, in a piece in one of those Sunday Supplement magazines. Raffi’s in our nearby hometown of Sudbury won a mention as the best place to go to for Indian spices in all of East Anglia (and is where I go). Gurneys got the gong for best fish shop in the whole rump of England.

When we’re up in Norfolk, we get some fish in either from Gurneys, or a little garage/shed on the coast road – mainly we go there for mussels and crabs, Gurneys for everything else. Years ago, Annie and I first lost our bowls of Moules Mariniere to the inquisitive children in one of the sheds on Mersea Island (we had to eat their children’s portions of Fish and Chips). Ever since then, mussels have been one of their favourite seaside dinners.

Another thing Gurneys do very well are the bits and pieces that come in pots. Things like potted shrimp, mackerel pate, crab pate, and dressed crabs, plain crab-meat, English fish cakes, and Thai fish cakes. And an invention – I think – of theirs; cray’n’aise. I think you can figure that one out. (I must say though, that the crayfish in the last one I bought were so overcooked everyone refused to eat them. Previously, it has been spot on.)

They have one counter for all those things, and another for wet fish. The wet fish is spanking fresh, and the shop certainly has the turnover to keep it that way.

There’s the full spectrum of smoked fish too. Inevitably, you can get all the extra bits and pieces for your fish frenzy: lemons, garlic, onions, homemade mayonnaise, pink sauce, tartar sauce, various exotica in jars and vast bunches of flat leaf parsley.

Gurneys Fish Shop, Market Place, Burnham Market, PE31 8HF, 01328 738967

Breakfast at the Deepdale Cafe


It’s the curse of the internet. Now that everywhere has wifi you can take your laptop with you on holiday and do some work if you need to. You never get to switch it off and switch-off properly.

With Annie having to do something for a client that hadn’t been done by the time we packed the car up, I took the three children to the Deepdale Café for breakfast on Monday morning. We’ve been many times before. It is a real holiday luxury having someone else cook breakfast, especially a big proper cooked breakfast, before we head off to the beach for the day, or a long walk out to the coast, or something else that’s unfamiliar and wholesomely outdoorsy.

The place quickly filled up with people on holiday: a couple in their thirties without children or conversation, a grandfather and grandson – the older of them with a half-term excuse for a vast cooked breakfast (the full English, with extras), and a couple of other families on half term breaks.

Two of the children had hot-chocolates, the Starbucks variety; spray cream, sprinkles and marshmallows. One had a cup of tea, I had a limp cappuccino. To eat, two of them ordered stacks of pancakes with maple syrup (hold the cream, please), one had an egg and bacon sandwich. I didn’t have the appetite for a fried meat feast, so had two poached eggs on wilted spinach on granary toast with hollandaise sauce. If the hollandaise sauce had been a little better made, mine would have been perfect. As it was all the plates were cleaned. It’s friendly waiter service but you pay at the till on the way out.

The Deepdale Café serves breakfast between 9 and 12, then lunches and teas. It opens earlier at 7.30 on “high days and holidays” – on such days you may want to book a table, which seems odd for breakfast. Nobody told them we were on half-term, we had to wait for the doors to open at 9.

For breakfast for four we got a little change from £25.

The Deepdale Café, Main Road, Burnham Deepdale, Norfolk, PE31 8DD, 01485211055

Afternoon tea at the Hoste Arms


I’m familiar with the Hoste – the Gastro Boutique Restaurant and Hotel in Burnham Market, Norfolk. I’ve been here many times before, first when it was still just a pub, some twenty years ago, and more recently for a night away when Annie and I somehow managed to arrange three concurrent sleepovers for the children.

On one of these nights out, I ordered the most bizarre starter; pigeon on toast with fruit jus and black pepper icecream – it was at least two courses on the same plate at once. I was expecting some genius revelation combo of previously unthought-of and unmarriable ingredients – but, it was even more awkward than pigeon and icecream sounds. You hope for more than the sum of the parts, what I got was an essay in subtraction. I spoke to a chef friend, and asked him why something so ill-conceived hadn’t been pulled straight off the menu? “Oh, no. Disasters like that can stick around for ages. Everyone assumes it must be brilliant so they’ll order it – once. Emperor’s new clothes.”

On this occasion though it was October, a damp late Sunday afternoon. I was with our six year old daughter. “I’m hungry, Daddy.” I’d thought to get her a fizzy orange and a packet of crisps in the bar, but it was packed and very loud, and it stank – I mean really ponged – of wet spaniels. We went through the back to the bizarrely African themed conservatory.

Kitty is very fond of ordering tea. I think it’s anAlicein Wonderland thing. She’s Alice, of course – I guess I’m everyone else. I ordered her the Jubilee Afternoon Tea, ‘a selection of sandwiches, a homemade scone with jam and clotted cream, a selection of cakes, and a pot of tea.’ It arrived, as you would expect on one of those triple-stacked tiered-plate arrangements. Square plates on this occasion.

The egg mayo sandwich was good enough that I didn’t get a look in, the same with the ham sandwich. The smoked salmon and cucumber sandwich failed. It is normally two distinctly separate sandwiches, it was not a happy combo. Kitty further turned her nose up at the idea of a scone with jam and clotted cream, so I ate it. The scone was hot from the oven, and had sultanas in it – always a mistake in a scone served with cream. Nice to have some proper clotted cream though.

The cakes where good, although the miniature meringue on top of the bite-sized lemon tart turned a decent lemon tart into a silly lemon meringue pie. A good eclair, a nice macroon, and a shortbread biscuit all devoured by a hungry six year old.

As I was paying the bill I asked the waitress why it was called a Jubilee Tea? “Why – it’s the Jubilee year! And it’s been very popular – so we’ve just kept it on the menu.”

Afternoon tea for one person £15, a small bottle of fizzy water £1.60

The Hoste Arms, Burnham Market,Norfolk,PE31 8HD,01328738777

Fish ‘n’ Chips at Well-next-the-Sea


You’d be a priggish snob not to enjoy the honest pleasures of Wells-next-the-Sea. It’s deep water estuary and closeness to the beach caused a Victorian boom in tourism. Historically the proximity to the beach, and the branch line (1850s-Beeching), were the reason the tourists came here and avoided the rest of this stretch of coast.

Up on this part of the coast a “beach house” frequently means closest to the sea. It’s often a half hour walk – no vehicles allowed – before the tidal mud gives way to the vast sandy beaches. If the tide is out it might be another ten minutes stroll over wet sand that’s been runnelled by the fast receding tide; like corduroy. With a little knowledge you can soon spot the tell-tale blow holes of the Razor Clams that have dug their way down into the sand. Bring table salt and a thick gardening glove – the salt makes them appear, then it’s a tug-of-war. The stakes are much higher for the clams.

At Wells, you can drive almost to the beach, or take the miniature steam train from the town-proper to the beach. Either way is it a short walk over a dune, that’s there permanently now it’s been colonised by grasses and pine trees; then through the line of famous beach huts on stilts onto miles and miles of clean whitish sand. Until quite recently the Burnhams and Brancasters were the playground of the obsessed dingy sailor and Black Labrador walker. Now all those charming unspoilt cottages have been thoroughly Farrow and Balled, or done-over in top-to-toe Cath Kidston.

Up here, if you want to sit in a fish and chip shop, and smell the fat and the vinegar and see the sea, then you need to go to Wells. There are two chippies on the front, both as good as each other. Walk out their front doors, cross the road, sidestep the parked cars and you’ll bump into the small children and competitive parents leaning over the harbour wall catching crabs. Buckets and buckets of crabs.

My children would consider it unthinkable to be in Wells at lunch time and not have fish and chips inside, recovering from the wind and rain. Chips eaten with fingers can only help speed up the cold finger’s recovery. The frying all takes place towards the back of the shop, at the front it’s Formica tables and plastic chairs, If you want a drink, grab cans and bottles from the glass fronted fridge. It is nothing like a restaurant. It has the used, utilitarian chic of a good caff. The fish was perfect with a light thin batter and no sign of grease, the chips a little underdone for my taste – I like mine brown. There are those classic wooden chip forks if want some. Gherkins and onions in lieu of a salad.

We had two fish and chips and one sausage and chips. It was sufficient for three hungry children and two peckish adults (we were both still full from the hearty breakfast). We asked for ketchup, “25p a sachet, £1 for a bottle.” I asked how big the bottle was, it was a small but not miniature one. “Think we’d best start with one bottle – thanks. See how we get on.”

My only two niggles are the polystyrene containers they use – wouldn’t we all prefer it wrapped in paper. And the ketchup was Daddies – my family all like Heinz. Small grumbles really.

Two fish and chips and one sausage and chips, £14.20 (ex. Ketchup)

French’s Fish and Chips, 14 The Quay,Wells-next-the-Sea,NR23 1AH