Colchester Soup

logo courtesy of Colchestersoup

logo courtesy of Colchestersoup

No, this is not a heritage heavy lecture to precede a geographically prejudiced recipe that dates back to Old King Cole (he was from Colchester you know). Nor a quirky, comical tale of how someone came up with a thin stew inspired by old school girl power advocate Boadicea, also a local lass. This is not a new Campbell’s flavour sponsored by Damon Albarn. Just for a second, let’s forget about the soup all together.

I’d like to tell you about a little community project I stumbled across last month and was subsequently fortunate enough to be involved with, though I may have been too quick to say forget about the soup. Whilst having a trawl through twitter some weeks past, I came across a post from Colchester Soup and assumed, as you may well have done some moments ago, that I would find something historical and food related. I was sort of half right.

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far far away known as ‘Detroit’, a bunch of folks got together to give local good causes and community projects a platform for a few minutes to pitch to their neighbours for a bit of support. The format was apparently simply but also mildly genius: People turn up and pay a nominal entrance fee. Hot and soft drinks are served and mingling ensues until it is time for the Pitchers to take to the floor and give a quick rundown of who they are, what they do, and why they need money. Punters listen then take some time to absorb this new information over dinner. More mingling goes on then a vote is cast for the most worthy cause of the evening. The ballot is counted, the winning Pitcher gets the door money and everyone goes home with new information about good causes on their doorstep. If you’re wondering where the Soup comes in, contemplate if you will the easiest meal to prepare in bulk and serve easily for not much money (because you aren’t making anything from running this event).

So that was Detroit Soup, still thriving today and inspiring projects all the way over here in Sunny Essex. Frankly, what a good idea. Apparently 99% of the money in the world is owned by one evil bond villain in the Caymans somewhere and we are all feeling the pinch so it’s no surprise that small, not for profit enterprises aren’t staggering under the weight of donations. Neither are they flush with funds for punchy marketing campaigns. So how do you get the word out? How do you make people come and actually listen to the pleas of these causes, rather than just press a thumbs up button on a social media page and never really pay it any mind again? How do you get past that daunting prospect of Going Out and Meeting People? It might be cold. Will there be parking? I already make charity donations. I’ve got my own problems and Eastenders is on tonight.

What’s that you say, there’s dinner? Well maybe I’ll check it out.

20150109_180932That is the stroke of simple genius here. Everyone wants dinner, more or less every day. Only very odd people don’t like soup or the chance to have a hot meal with zero washing up responsibility. I hold my hands up, it was the food aspect that caught my attention as I am shallow and greedy and in a roundabout way it was the food that got me to speak to strangers and end up volunteering for the Colchester launch event. Food is not charity- food is a base need, it’s something we do every day and something I believe we should do together. You might come from a long line of food obsessed relations, as I do. You might just appreciate a well assembled sandwich. You might be a vigilante vegan ready to rid the world of any animal produce whatsoever. I’ll bet good money that you have an opinion about food, and that 80% of the time you eat quietly with the same people and don’t really think about it.

It’s nice to eat with others, most of the time, but it can be awkward to eat with others for the first time. Don’t we all dread the first Sunday roast to meet the mother in law? Don’t only insane people choose a posh restaurant for a blind date? What will we order? What will we talk about???? The Colchester/Detroit Soup model takes all these questions away. You will eat one of two soups on offer and it’s more than likely you will talk about the pitches for cash you have just heard. And there it is. We’re talking. We’re thinking about issues and projects in our neighbourhood that may already affect out lives. We’re supporting the local bakery that supplied these nice fluffy rolls. By eating and talking together we are contributing to local culture. We might even go home and tell our mates about it and then they might think about it too and maybe just a £5 dinner donation at a time we will enrich our community or even encourage other communities on the other side of the planet to do the same.

What. A. Good. Idea.

Eventual winners GO4 make their pitch for funds to aid restoration of an old barge on the Hythe. A practical project for young people for eventual community use on completion.

Eventual winners GO4 make their pitch for funds to aid restoration of an old barge on the Hythe. A practical project for young people for eventual community use on completion.

So I’m in for Colchester Soup and you will find me at their upcoming events selling raffle tickets or pouring tea or wiping tables or doing whatever might help out because it’s a bloody good idea, and if you are a local reader I hope you will check out their website or many social media outlets and come down and do the same.

If community spirit isn’t incentive enough for you I can personally vouch for the quality of the dinner on offer. No, I didn’t cook it. Yes, it is safe for veggies, vegans and any kind of allergy sufferers or fusspots as your hosts will kindly provide a full ingredients and recipe print out for you to take home. I think you’ll have a nice time too.

Next event is March 13th, at Abbeygate Two in town centre, CO2 7DE for your sat navs and potential pitchers can apply for a slot at any of the below portals.

Website: www.colchestersoup.co.uk

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Colchestersoup

Twitter: @colchestersoup

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The Breakfast Club: Toby Carvery

toby

 

The Restaurant: Toby Carvery

Locations: Nationwide*

Specimen Venue: Colchester

Menu: Hot buffet*

Price: £3.99 all you can eat, bottomless coffee additional £1.99, other additional sundries at cost depending on location*

Highlight: Sausage and mushrooms*

Lowlight: not great for restrictive diets

General Score: 8/10 *

*fairly serious variations between restaurants on price, inclusions and quality

Although it wasn’t the first one we had out, our first visit to Toby for a breakfast was certainly the habit former which bought us to the point where I have enough experience to blog about restaurant breakfasting. I have to say I’m not a massive fan of the self proclaimed ‘Home of the Roast’- for those who are unfamiliar Toby are a chain of carvery style restaurants with wallet friendly prices and often unfortunately cooked vegetables. My opinion is slightly tainted by genetics (or being raised in a family with extreme roast potato prejudice), and I must admit that a Toby dinner will certainly do in a pinch. By ‘pinch’ I mean usually when we’re a day late with the big shop and don’t want to go to Sainsbury’s on an empty tummy but there is only old butter and half a lime in the fridge.

My standard plate at Toby. I'm drooling now.

My standard plate at Toby. I’m drooling now.

But enough on the roast, we’re talking about breakfast, and a Toby breakfast is a special thing indeed. In Colchester. My friends a Toby brekkie is highly location sensitive, as I shall explain shortly. But in my neck of the woods you pay on entry, pick up your mug on the way through (seriously who doesn’t have coffee?) and choose your own table in a large and generally warm and comfy dining area. Fill up your coffee, hit the buffet bar.
Toby get a point for having warmed plates that don’t burn your hands, and another one for being the only place I have ever been where the first item on the run is Yorkshire puddings and breakfast gravy. I have to say I have never indulged, but plenty do. On to your more expected bacon, sausage (bloody good sausage at that), fried egg, scrambled egg, hash browns, grilled and plum tomatoes, beans, mushrooms. An extra point for managing to turn out mass produced scrambled egg which isn’t like at home but doesn’t resemble a hot block of polystyrene either.The second Toby Exclusive once you’re over your breakfast yorkie is Toby Hash- a devilishly moreish pot of potatoes, bacon, cheese and onions. Dieters, go home! Sideline of bread and crumpets available with one of those horrid little mini grill contraptions and yes, you can go up as much as you want and take as much as you want, as many times as you want. A Toby breakfast day is a no-more-food-til-dinner day without fail.
On the whole, at our Colchester branch, it’s very good. The sausages are brilliant, the mushrooms pass my rigorous quality control and if it’s a good hash day, it’s amazing. The real top tip here is to go when it’s relatively busy as the pots are all topped up pretty quickly and you are less likely to end up with sad, rubberifying egg that’s been sat in its own oil for the last half hour. The best method I have found is to arrive about 0845 on a weekend to get your first sitting in before the masses descend- herein the added bonus of there being a really big queue by the time you have finished your first plate which helps discourage an unnecessary second trip to the sausage pot.

For the sake of balance- Toby isn’t for everyone. It’s not very veggie friendly though I believe you can get quorn items on request but as with all buffets the spoons are mixed about and the herbivores don’t like that. It’s not one for dieters either though Atkins types can fill their boots. Toby is also full of kids family friendly and incredibly informal- you’re not there for a refined or relaxing experience.

Done.

Actually I’m not done.

Flashback to some friends visiting from Cardiff some months ago and our breakfast date with them. Flashback to a throwaway comment of ‘Oh good, they do mushrooms here, you have to pay at home’. I wish that I had paid more attention to this comment, but I was hungry at the time.

Flash not quite so far back to a return visit to the above friends, where I purposely booked a low cost hotel chain that had a conveniently located Toby, next door, for breakfast. For the win, I oh so incorrectly assumed.
If Toby Whitchurch had been the first Toby of my life, it would have been the last, it may even have put me off breakfast forever. Awful. Same prices as home with a much more restrictive selection, by which I mean fried eggs, hard bacon, sausage, three grilled tomatoes for the entire place and a week old hash that was welded to the bottom of the pan. All severely over salted and not a single item topped up while we were there. Worsened by the fact that it was the first ever Toby visit for the Mothership and she really never will go back.
The death toll on on a Welsh Toby is that you have to order your mushrooms separately for a couple of quid surplus to your ‘all you can eat’ £3.99. Mushrooms are the corner stone of my treat breakfast, I love them and we don’t tend to have them at home as they boy doesn’t eat them. I want my mushrooms. Of course I’m going to pay extra for mushrooms. They came in a paltry amount,  in a sad little bowl swimming in oil and more salt. Not lovely and juicy and roasted like at home. And not included in the price. This was the ultimate betrayal and before you tell me not to judge the land by one site, this is apparently, just what it’s like in Wales as my Cardiff friends are also Toby aficionados and one is an ex Toby employee. I will not do Toby ever, ever again on the wrong other side of the Severn Bridge.

So in summary if you aren’t too posh, and you aren’t on a diet, and you’re not in Cardiff, go check out a Toby breakfast, you wont get a much better breakfast for two at less than twelve quid.

The Breakfast Club

breakfast

image procured from hedgy.com

Hello friends, and a happy new year to you and yours. I write these words on one of the rare occasions that I have snubbed a weekend treat out with Himself in favour of another half hour in bed but I am going to tell you about one of my favourite food related outings- and that is the breakfast out. Breakfast is after all the most important meal of the day and according to fitness guru and general legend Dolph Lundgren the one meal where you can afford to eat whatever the hell you want, be it oatmeal or icecream. Check out the shape he’s in, dude knows what he’s talking about.
I digress.
Yes, we go out for breakfast a lot and not just to avoid washing up or pretend we are in Sex in the City, there are multiple selling points. To begin with: the boy has a ferocious appetite and is ready to wolf down a metric ton of cereal within minutes of leaving bed whereas I tend to require a coffee and half an hour of grumbling and staring before I can start on the calorie intake for the day. A great compromise then if he can have his appetiser bowl of porridge at home then the time taken to get dressed and drive across town is the perfect interlude for me to wake up and him to settle his insatiable guts in time for Second Breakfast. Everyone is happy.

Essential breakfast fayre. The only thing better than coffee? Bottomless coffee.

Essential breakfast fayre. The only thing better than coffee? Bottomless coffee.

You can’t really argue value wise if you’re going to attend any one of most of the venues I will go on to chat about later in this section, there’s very low likelihood that you could replicate that pile of grub at home for less than a fiver a head (or less for younglings)- especially if you live with a breakfast behemoth as I do.
But the finest point, and if I’m honest the most genuine justification I have for travelling out for a massive fry up at least 3 times a month is that it’s nice, it’s a treat and we talk to eachother. Weekend mornings at home can be bizarrely unsociable in my experience. During the week we have our routines and brief interactions but we generally say a heartfelt good morning around the shower rush and me constantly bashing the ‘sleep’ button on the alarm clock. But come the weekend the early hours are so frequently lost to grumbles and grunts around social media and Saturday Kitchen. Plus, ever since his gluten revolution and my abhorrence of porridge that isn’t laden with jam we rarely want the same thing on our first plate of the day. So we go out, we can both have whatever we want and what with being at a table for two without a telly, we have a chat.
We catchup over the crumpets and debate the highs and lows of the week as we fill up on bottomless coffees and wonder if it’s ok to pocket a couple of the little individual marmite pots.*  We gossip and judge and giggle guiltily as we sneak back up for just one more tiny bit from the buffet bar. We  are disproportionately grateful at the insistence of the other to fill our coffee up. We plot our weekend or program the satnav and we enjoy our breakfast and our company. This might sound like nonsense or the need for a relationship counsellor but really it is no different from an evening date, which I’m sure most people wouldn’t question for a second. It’s also a damn sight cheaper than your average evening dinner date and leaves you with the whole day to work down from the eight mugs of coffee you have managed to squeeze in on top of all that fry up. And somewhat ironically, spending this time together is a glorious strike for independence. No sharing, no guilty need to give the big boy the odd sausage from the pack, no begrudging agreement to a bowl of gruel in order to cling to the social interaction of having a meal together. And then of course, after all this time shared, thoughts exchanges and drinks poured we can happily bugger off to spend the bulk of the day grumbling around social media, watching Saturday Kitchen on catch up and, equally importantly, sorting out dinner.

I’ll get into the reviewing later, from budget to luxury, from Cardiff to Colchester, Hilton to Harvester, you get the idea, but for now the boy has returned from his solo jaunt and it is high time I had something to eat and he made me a coffee.

Happy Weekend.

*this is never ok, but you will still do it.