Monday, August 31, 2009

This Other Eden. This Sceptred Isle. This England!

Dukes Head TavernBread, milk and butter are of venerable antiquity. They taste of the morning of the world.” - Leigh Hunt, The Seer

On Friday, J-Mac took a day off from being a Master of the Universe (I think he called in well). He had planned an itinerary visiting the English countryside in Oxfordshire, where he wanted to introduce me to an associate of his, and there was some vague talk of a pub meal of some sort. I hear pub, and I think ale, so whatever we ate was gonna be fine by me. Provisions would be needed for the drive and a care package delivered to his friend. That meant a trip to Borough Market.
Non-foodies and people who read this blog merely as a courtesy to me can easily skip this post, because you're just not gonna get it. I suppose you think that if you've seen one farmers market, you've seen them all. Well, I've got another think for you. Borough Market is not just some local farmers market. It is an orgy of organic produce, baked goods, meats, artisan cheeses, flowers, food stalls, wines, beers-of-many-nations, sweets, hawkers, chefs, wives, and sightseers. It is a Macy's Day Parade of food crammed into a beautifully arched space under a railway viaduct on the south side of London Bridge. A market has stood on that side of the bridge since Roman times.
Proper English muffinsMulti-grain loaf
Purple, orange and white carrotsHeirloom tomatoes
Nameko and Brown Beech mushroomsRoast pork
This was a market that registers on the Richter scale. It was sensory overload. I was a kid amped up on sugary cereal running around a toy store. The yeasty smell of fresh bread. The riot of colors in the produce stalls. The perfume of flowers. The buzz of merchants and shoppers. I was intoxicated. If my hyperbole smacks of excess, I hope you'll indulge me. Food excites me. The prospect of what one could do with all that bounty turned me giddy. Some folks follow NASCAR. I want to feed people.
After a solid hour longing to buy lots of everything, we settled on fruit, cheese, some good bread and rice paper-thin slices of prosciutto as an offering for our Oxford host. J-Mac had arranged for a rental car close to his flat. Just up the street from the pick up point was a very respectable tavern, the Dukes Head. (Looking at food tends to make one hungry.) It had a pretty little terrace, which was packed on this fine day, overlooking the Thames. We took a table inside with a great view of the river. I was ready for a pint and was surprised by the menu while waiting for the ale to arrive. I was expecting fish & chips and kidney pie, but should have known J-Mac wouldn't stand for such banality. Here was another establishment dusting off its carte du jour.
Chicken club sandwish - The Dukes HeadConfit of aubergine - The Dukes Head
There was a brie and asparagus salad with pea shoots and toasted almonds, steak with wild mushroom and spinach fricassee. Was this still the UK? I suspect Pete's toxic cocktails from the previous night were not sitting well with J-Mac, as he ordered a chicken club sandwich. I wasn't in top shape either, so stuck with vegetables - a confit of aubergine with spiced chickpeas, tomato and fennel. Surprisingly good. I was slowly learning that all preconceived notions about Britain's food trough could go out the window.
Bellies full, car packed, GPS programmed, we set off northward. It was a two-hour drive to Oxfordshire. The rental car came with an mp3 connection. I played DJ with my iPod the entire way. I think J-Mac envisioned another career for me in nightclubs and lounges should things go south at home. I do what I can to entertain.
Borough Hall confection
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

No comments: