Monday, August 17, 2009

Slow Ludlow


Ludlow Castle is famous for two things to my mind. Firstly, that Henry VIII's older brother Arthur and his bride, a certain Catherine of Aragon, spent their honeymoon there. Arthur would scurry along the icy battlements to her chambers for mead and tiddlywinks. Unfortunately, it seems the cold proved too much for Arthur and he caught the medieval version of swine flu and checked out. The second thing it is famous for, by rights, is the orange curd they sell in the tea shop there. It's the crack of curds. Unbelievable. Oh yeah, there's the small matter of the Ludlow Food and Drink Festival which is held in the grounds of the castle, you might have heard of that, but that wasn't on.

So given the chance to spend a few nights in the grounds of the castle itself, in what's called the Catherine of Aragon apartment no less (thought I don't think it had a DVD player when she was there) we jumped at the chance. That and the fact it was within striking distance of a few Michelin stars and some country walks added to the appeal.

Given Ludlow's status as England's only Citta Slow and it being something of a draw for food loving sorts, expectations were probably a bit high. Had its star waned, I thought, picking through the very ordinary local farmers market in the main square. This wasn't quite the fabled market town I'd imagined. Yes, there were a fair few butcher's shop, a pretty good deli and some very good pubs but it seems the recession had bitten hard and there was a slight air of melancholy. Still, a few rather good lamb kebabs, wrapped in greasy brown paper, bought from a stall holder were the centre piece of a picnic eaten in the earthwork fortifications of an Iron Age fort some hours later, so I shouldn't have been too harsh.

My faith was restored by two things. Firstly, the Ludlow Food Centre. It's a purpose build farm shop a little way out of town stocking as much local produce as they can, with the farm estate butchers at the heart of the operation. A bakery using locally sourced organic flours makes some cracking sourdough and the jams, oh man, the jams. Every cheese sandwich I make is haunted by the lack of the onion jam I bought from there.

The other was the Michelin starred Mr Underhills. In the cold light of day, it's not the sort of thing I'd normally wax lyrical about. From the outside the cooking looks a bit frilly, a bit chichi, there's a custard and a foam and even a veloute or two, but, you know what? You just have to relax. Don't get ansy about it. It's in a beautiful setting, the staff are attentive, relaxed and the food, well, the food is great. The fillet of venison from the Mortimer forest, where we'd been walking earlier in the day was a local treat and the pre dessert of iced rhubarb sponge stopped me in my tracks; delicate, explosive flavours with a sense of humour. Also, I've never seen that many petit fours on one table. I liked it. A lot.

Anyway, that orange curd. Magic. Pure sugary magic.

1 comment:

Boris said...

nice picture