A Little Plug- Hughes’ Fish Co.

The glory of a green lipped mussel, fresh from the fishmongers.

The glory of a green lipped mussel, fresh from the fishmongers.

 Original post from June 2013- we are sad to add that Hughes have now closed.

Are we bored of me banging on about local businesses and independent suppliers and the general evil of mass supermarket chains yet? No? Good.

In that case I shall instead cut back to a point in history some ten years ago when I was in need of some fish for dinner and took a quick duck down to that fishmongers in town. You know, the one down Eld Lane, the one that’s been there forever, the one that had apparently shut down while I wasn’t looking. Hmm.

That was a sad day, and not just for my observational skills. Not a fishmonger left in town centre nor, to my knowledge, anywhere within an easy commute.  Oh yes there’s Sainsbury’s and Tesco and the frozen stuff in Gunton’s but that, reader, is not the same as a fishmonger. That is not the piles of ice and the and the beaded door curtain and the white coats that denote these professors of all things pescetarian! Ah, fishmongers. Ever notice that grim stink of rotting saltwater when you wander past the fish counter in your mass supermarket chain of choice? I do, and I remember as a child rushing past making lots of comedy ‘peeeww’ noises. Bleurch. Maybe standards have increased since the mid eighties but that particular childhood trauma has stayed with me for a long time and frankly, you can keep your so called fish counter.  A proper fishmongers doesn’t smell like that (and if it does for the love of Cod don’t shop there).

I am straying from my point, and my point today is that the fresh fish drought in town is well and truly over and I don’t have to suffer the horrors of supermarket fresh fish any longer, though it was a rough few years with a meat heavy menu for special suppers let me tell you. Hughes Fish Co have been in place for some years now, but I’ve not really had the occasion to bore an audience about it previously. So here I go: Conveniently located at the end of Head Street, you can’t really miss them and yes, yes they do look like a proper fishmongers with a chalk board advertising their briney treats and a big stack of ice and the chain strip door curtain and everything. Hurray!

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As you might expect, you can buy fresh fish here, oh yes you can. All the usual suspects plus some less common finds, Christmas specials, BBQ packs, samphire and sauces and frankly the best smoked mackerel I have ever had the pleasure of. Many a time have I considered their special offers, as chalked up on the A-board outside, but the over riding temptation has always been for their seafood platter for two- available on home delivery or store collection at just £18-50. That sounds like my kind of treat, and when I was paid a visit by the mothership earlier this month I decided it was as good a reason as any to succumb.

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The bounty of the sea for two, courtesy of Hughes Fish Co. Lemon wedges are model’s own.

It’s not as good as it looks. It’s a fair bit better. Your twenty quid plus one fifty change will get you shell on and off prawns, smoked salmon, cockles, mussels, the ever trendy crayfish tails, two perfect fillets of that glorious smoked mackerel and my personal favourite- dressed crab. There might have been a fight over the larger share of that crab between two less skilled negotiators than mother and myself, but the green lipped mussels made for friendly bartering indeed. All of it is ready to eat and all of it of it was fantastic- the mackerel and crab nothing short of exceptional and as a Saturday night treat dinner this couldn’t be easier. Some fresh bread, an equally fresh lemon and some tartare sauce, whip the cling wrap off of your platter et voila! Dinner is served. It is a big old tray of seafood indeed, which we foolishly suspected we might not make it through but there was nary a curled prawn left on that platter by the time we were finished, it was too good for leftovers. Fabulous eating, well worth the money and yes, here we go, well worth supporting a local business in my your very own home town. The staff are friendly, the produce is reasonable, you wont be disappointed.

You can find Hughes on Head Street in Colchester town centre, close to the corner with Crouch St by Just A Thought card shop and Vinnys’ cafe, or whatever Vinny’s is called at the moment. There’s two other great local businesses you could bless with your patronage while you are there. They don’t have a website I could find but please drop by their facebook page for a nosey.

Hughes Fish Co. Marvellous. That’s all for now.

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Mersea Food Festival

The Mersea Vineyard and Brewery, picturesque home to the Mersea Food, Drink & Leisure Festival

The Mersea Vineyard and Brewery, picturesque home to the Mersea Food, Drink & Leisure Festival

It’s easy to get cynical about foodie events these days, particularly if one is restricted to public transport. In these parts, this pretty much leaves you to a few affairs in Castle Park and the Christmas market. I recently found out that most of the events around Colchester are organised by the same soulless money grabbing organisation which is why to be honest once you have seen the offerings once, you don’t necessarily need to return.

And yet hope springs eternal that one might enjoy a wander and find something new and not grossly overpriced among the little stands and cook outs, especially if it’s a nice day. So on 25th May, when invited by some friends who were making the journey across the strood to Mersea Island to try out a food festival at the Vineyards, I covered up all my cynicism, got some cash out and went along for the ride.

In all honesty, this rotary club run festival is something of a revelation in how events like this should be. For a start, there is no entry fee, however one is invited to support the Rotary Club in their organisational duties by purchasing some raffle tickets (it is also sponsored by the East Of England Co-operative Soc). One also has to give massive points for the lovely location at the island vineyards- yes an actual vineyard, in Essex!- although this effect might be lost if the gods of fruit and grain don’t bless you with a gloriously sunny day, as they did this year.
The 2013 festival hosted the expected foodie traders’ area with may unexpected traders therein. Unexpected as in new, as in not the usual mass produced, roll out the foodie types I’m used to seeing at this kind of event. In fact the only people I recognised were the lovely folk from Tess’s Cakes– a fantastic local outfit who can actually make nicely decorated cakes that don’t taste like glittery cardboard. So, there was cake, check that off the list, then while you’re there you can also mark the areas of chocolate, fudge, ice cream, wine and wonky label sauces as complete too.

Sausages from Wigborough Meats. They didn't make it to midnight.

Sausages from Wigborough Meats. They didn’t make it to midnight.

I have to take a moment to plug Wigborough Traditional Meats and their marvellous, succulent sausages. Well flavoured in lots of varieties not limited to pork and apricot, Toulouse, Old English, pork and leek, you get the idea. If you like some real bang in your banger try their spicy chorizo sausage- bloody fantastic.
I shall also make reference to Chocolate Planet, who I sadly can’t find a website for, but offer a great range of beautifully finished handmade chocolatey treats. Look out for them if you are local, the ladies on the stall were really friendly too. If there is one theme to this festival it might actually be that- it’s friendly. All the exhibitors were upbeat, chatty and keen to engage even if you weren’t standing around with your wallet hanging open. This is a atmosphere missing from Colchester Food & Drink Festival other food festivals I have been to. The craft area had a similar vibe, jovial without being pushy, it felt comfortable to browse things I had no intention of buying, which lead to more impulse buying that I would have intended up on arrival!

*insert appropriate meat joke here*

*insert appropriate meat joke here*

Past the traders then and on to lunch! A great array of hot, fresh food stands. As you would expect from Mersea there was plenty of fresh seafood and Mersea oysters available, plus curries, thai, a Man vs Food style hotwing challenge and just set a little way back the inevitable Bar Tent, selling Mersea brewed beers and wine from grapes grown on the very grounds you are about to drink it from. Now that is what local events should be about. It you’re not up for the busy, noisy or chairless dining experience then there is also a little indoor cafe just behind all the action, serving coffee, cakes and simple lunches with a nice comfy chair. You can also buy the Mersea wines and beers from here to take home.

Live demos in the co-op tent.

Live demos in the co-op tent.

There is provided a mixed soundtrack of the day from a great, rustic-effect lorry cab serving as the main stage. Rock n roll, local choirs doing ABBA covers, girls with guitars, your Dad singing wedding band favourites, you get the idea. Great fun. There was also some story telling going on for the small people and some belly dancing for the Dads and a cookery demo tent for those wishing to learn a thing or get a free taster.
If I have any complaints, they are minor, such as the total lack of accessibility by public transport to this event, though drivers are blessed with masses of on site parking. I might also urge the Co-op to rethink their MC in the cookery display tent. Dude was irritating, and pretty much out of keeping with the feel of the day by saying helpful things over the poor lad trying to demonstrate deep fried oysters such as ‘I wont have one, more a meat and two veg man I am’. Really?

 

The summary point for the day should be positive however, and to stress that there really was something for everyone here. Posh cakes, traditional stodgy kitchen favourites cakes, sweets, sausages, wine, cheese, posh fudge, traditional fudge, seafood, pad thai, burgers and hot wings and beer, oh my. Entertainment, inflatable area and story telling for the kids, really nice portaloos, cheap coffee and dogs welcome. If you’re local, or don’t mind a drive, you should check it out next year, info on their website www.mersea-fdl-festival.com and you can visit the vineyard for a coffee or some B&B or even to get married! It’s a lovely venue, click here to read all about it.

Well done Mersea, very well done indeed.

Super Simple Coleslaw- Part II

Yeah, so, June, BBQ time, a great date to push forward another simple summer salad that you can bang out ten minutes before the guests arrive and you all sit out in the garden sipping Pimms and bathing in the wafts of meaty aroma while Dad burns off his eyebrows giving the coals a little ‘kick start’ with some kind of accelerant he found in the shed. Nice idea in theory, but my pasty white skin is wrapped in plenty of layers today and the heating has come on a couple of times this afternoon already so any themes of summery abandon are out the window and into the rainy gale that’s blowing outside.

Good job that this little slaw mix goes as well with a big fat steak and some potatoes as well as it does with cremated BBQ burgers and the salmonella-russian-roulette-chicken drumstick.

I wont go on, it’s terribly easy and really tasty. Sweet earthiness of beetroot balanced with the kick of horseradish, bulked out with some carrot and cooled by creme fraiche- and easy to alter those taste levels to your own personal perference. Fab, and ready in minutes, great use for those big fat end of season fresh beetroot we’re seeing at the moment. And don’t forget to rustle up something interesting with those greens.

Horseradish and Beetroot Coleslaw

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Equal weights of fresh beetroot (peeled weight) and carrots
Creme fraiche
Horseradish sauce
Salt & pepper

This one really is easy- grate your beetroot into a bowl that wont stain, then wash your hands before they do!!!! Grate in the carrot then use creme fraiche and horseradish to combine them into a coleslaw. I like to be about half and half, but I like my horseradish so more timid tastebuds might want to go heavier on the creme fraiche. Season to taste and wallop, you’re done.

Serve with steaks, BBQ meats or very strong cheese, or other salads, or anything you like really.

variations- for the love of god don’t do this one with mayo, it kills the beetroot flavour! Sour cream would work if you don’t have/want cremefraiche. You could also add onion or shredded cabbage but you will play away from the beetroot flavour, which really is the star in this.