Tag Archives: 2014

Chez Millard, New Years Eve 2014, Ascot


New Years Eve is a very special day. It’s marks the end of one year and beginning the next one. I apologise in advance for the obviousness of this statement.  Metaphorically, it’s the day that allows the chucking out of all the baggage from the last twelve months with the hope that it wasn’t labelled ‘return to sender’, and the opening of the first page of a new novel which isn’t yet written.

With resolutions in hand, the 1st of January demands a new focus on abstinence, especially after the excesses of the previous week, and a steady hand on the tiller of expectation setting for the year to come… Now, the author of this blog knows quite clearly that abstinence is something which has to be avoided given it’s premise: If it’s on the menu…etc. Fortunately, my New Years Eve party chums were a good mixture of ages and so the resolutions came in many flavours; improve my handwriting, spend more time keeping up with old friends, ride my bike for 120 miles in a day, study hard for important exams, amongst others. I love this kind of optimism. To lean into the idealistic just briefly, it’s these kind of wishes that give hope to the idea that anything can be achieved if a little effort and focus is applied… And your author hopes that you also found the 5 minutes on New Years Eve to consider your own resolutions for 2015. Feel free to tweet them to @trinitycream so we can fuse custard-based dessert blogging and New Year resolutions in one Twitter feed!


I have some wonderful friends, and tonights affair was hand-crafted by the lovely Vikki in honour of the endeavours of this blog. Based on a James Martin recipe, the crème was prepared through the careful fusing of eggs, caster sugar, cream, milk and vanilla pod, to be then caramelised by our own fair hands hands. The whole process led to much discussion about what new ideas should come to Trinity Cream in the coming months. More on that soon…

To the caramelisation – we decided two approaches were needed – a plumbers blow torch and a grill – to see how the results differed.  We captured the blow torch attempt in this somewhat chaotic video…

You will have noticed that the plumbers blow torch was way too fierce hence scorched the demerara sugar. Whilst the end result was not unpleasant, it did produce a rather thick and treacly topping which took some spoon bashing to break through. We suspected a less powerful chefs blow torch may have been a better choice. The grill produced a markedly different result…


Clearly, Vikki is a culinary genius.  The custard was very smooth and delightfully flecked with vanilla pod, leaving a very subtle hue upon on the tongue. It was neither too sweet nor too heavy, and being of the softer side of set, slipped down very easily. Much debate was had about the sugar. Is demerara the best choice? Or should one choose muscovado, caster, icing or straightforward refined white sugar for the topping? I sense a taste test coming in a future post… We accompanied dessert with a superb Beerenauslese, an Austrian Burgenland dessert wine as supplied by my official (ahem) Austrian wine supplier Rene, which offered the usual amazing velvet smoothness with gentle plumy notes.


And so to the score… Being truly objective, it was as good as the Brittany Ferries post, but in a different way. By not being produced by a hardened professional chef,  it gained from the attention to detail, self-help preparation and the fact that it was made purely to feed the myopic needs of the author of this blog! Hence a sure-footed, plumbers blow torch fueled, genuinely excellent 9 / 10 is awarded.  Nice one Viks. 🙂

Footnote:  One of our junior dinner guests enjoyed her first ever brûlée this evening…  and an empty bowl is a good enough recommendation for me. Perhaps a new convert to the cause?! All three other children refused to participate after an initial dip of the spoon. It seems more work is required by the author of this blog to encourage the junior readers to take up the challenge themselves!

Happy 2015!

Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club, Durham

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Finding ways to enjoy oneself on a weekend when away from the family in a foreign country can sometimes be a challenge. You are missing them, but you don’t want to wallow in your own self inflicted pity, so what should you do. Simple. Call any available workmates, hope for decent weather and go and do something you’ve not done before. Today’s escapade involved a well known but less often played sport (at least in Europe) called American Football. Or as my American brethren confusingly refer to it, football.  Surely that’s football, where 22 players chase a round ball around a field for ninety minutes trying their best not to bite each other.  Seemingly not. That’s soccer. Perhaps we could solve this continental divide once and for all and agree on the name Association football. Not sure the marketing guys can do much with that…

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The location for this foray into USA-style football was the impressive Duke University, home of the ‘Blue Devils‘.  Their opposition were the equally superbly named ‘Virginia Tech Hokies‘. My only previous experience of the game was during my teenage years when annual school ski trips would coincide with the Super Bowl, the grand finale of the American Football season, and we would watch this helmeted showdown on a fuzzily tuned 14″ TV on the coach on the way to the airport.  Suffice as to say, none of the rules stayed with me, so you can imagine how many times we had to ask the locals for an explanation. The most confusing was seeing one of the eight or nine referees on the field throw his underwear on the field, only to have the stadium commentator refer to it as a ‘flag’…

It’s also no surprise that American Football is one of the most lucrative sporting series in the USA. And you can see why.  One hour of clock time covers the entire played game, yet the entire event lasts close to four hours! Imagine the volume of burgers, beers, bagels, doughnuts, TV rights and advertising that can be sold to fill all the spare space…  I rest my case. Perhaps comparing NFL team revenue to various small country GDP’s is a more eye opening stat…


Post game sustenance was sought at the Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club, a beautiful country club surrounded by manicured gardens and a championship golf course. Thoroughly outstanding crab cakes were followed by a Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée  with Citrus Sugar Cookie.

Presentation was quietly decadent with simple fresh fruit flourish and the Citrus Sugar cookie. The ramekin was French-style shallow with a thick layer of darkly caramelised sugar.  It took two stabs of the spoon to breakthrough to a room temperature and very light, smooth and gently citrus-toned custard. Despite the title, I couldn’t spot the vanilla pods flecks, but that may have been to due to the exceptionally subdued lighting on the Bull Durham bar’s terrace. In particular, the very smooth and delicately citrus custard afford this evenings subject a worthy 8/10. Right up there with the best. 🙂

Footnote: It was freezing sat on the terrace, as evidenced the need for full outdoor gear, but why we resorted to wearing napkins on our heads whilst practising our pirate scowls is still a mystery.

Napkin Pirates?
Napkin Pirates?

Midi Station, Brussels

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Business Meetings.  I’ve been to a few.  Sometimes meetings can be fun.  You like the people you are meeting.  They say things that you agree with.  You say things that they agree with.  Everything is going just fine.  You go home knowing a win-win was achieved and the world has moved forward a step or two.  These kind of meetings normally take place in an office or a meeting room somewhere where the chairs are suitably comfortable and the refreshments are pleasantly average. Then you have a meeting somewhere else, perhaps a railway station concourse, or an airport lounge where the culinary options are slightly more, well, varied.

In my view, the best business meeting location is the one held in a restaurant. You and your co-meeters have something to distract you from the meeting subject matter.  The menu.  Perhaps the wine list, if the sun has passed over the yardarm (somewhere in the world).  The only challenge to this whether to have two courses or three and whether your business acumen will stand up to the test of postprandial somnolence.

Thankfully, the meeting that catalysed this post was the second of the day, held in a restaurant, the first meeting being of the pleasantly average type. Midi Station is a large ballroom style eatery just outside Brussels Central Station which at the time we were there, was empty. Our hosts were of the hospitable type, and promptly requested the menu on our arrival, where I found exactly the kind of mid-afternoon snack I was looking for…

And as you can see, this one was a lot of fun.  Two small dishes sat side-by-side in a jaunty 45 degree offset.  Those Belgians!  Alongside the excellent presentation (loving the sliced strawberry) was a cool and smooth custard, sat underneath an slightly over done caramelisation.  Just at the edges of the dish, the sugar was scorched and had a blackened treacly flavour.  Whilst this in itself was not terrible, it meant an otherwise excellent sugar top left a toasted treacle tinge on the tongue…  This should have scored more based on simple and classic presentation, but those toasted undertones mean only a 4/10 score.  Better luck next time Midi Station.

Comocomo, Brussels

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Travel has it’s up’s and downs. For work, it usually involves rushing from airport, to hotel, to meetings, to dinner, to after drinks, then back to the hotel for half a nights sleep. Repeat until you go home.  The trick is leaving just enough time to actually see something of the place you’re visiting so you go home with some sense of the place, people and their culture.

Whilst this post is Brussels-based, a recent trip to Athens afforded a couple of hours to visit the Acropolis first thing on a Friday morning. We arrived just on opening time, so were through the gate an hour before the mass of tourists had finished their buffet breakfasts and had boarded their coaches… Following a brisk walk through the lower level ruins of amphitheatres, discarded marble work and bath houses, we arrived to a largely deserted high point. Whilst I could post the textbook image of the Parthenon, the more magical moment was watching the Greek Army cadets raising their national flag silhouetted against the early morning Athens skyline. A moment without conversation was enjoyed whilst they silently went about their daily ceremony.  Magical.

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So, back in Brussels, on the ‘to dinner’ segment, Comocomo was recommended by our hosts as the best Pintxos in Brussels. Comocomo is a fusion restaurant in the sense that it combines Japanese sushi bar conveyor belts and colour-coded plates with Basque Country Pintxos. Eating with fingers is the accepted way to eat as that’s how it’s done in the Basque.  I was sure I noticed a small flicker of contempt from our waiter when asked for a fork… The Pintxos were excellent, as evidenced by the plate stack. I think I may have overdone it…

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Relations with cutlery were thankfully resolved with the dessert course. This petite brûlée arrived via conveyor and was simply done. No fuss.  No pretence. A 2mph delivery. Custard and sugar in a (fortunately) small earthenware dish. Like the restaurant, this was a casual and unfussy final course.  Sugaring was light and nicely crackable with a simple spoon tap. The custard was cool, not cold, light and deliciously smooth.  It was decidedly on the right side of sweet and big enough to be shared with my dining fellows. Which is exactly what we did, and worthy of a neither outstanding nor terrible 6/10.

Brasa Steak House, Raleigh, North Carolina

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Readers of this blog will know that I travel to the USA a few times a year, primarily to Raleigh in North Carolina.  It is a lovely place.  For a Brit, the weather is great pretty much all the time.   April and October are the best months with good temperatures and lighter humidity.  Since I first came here in 2005, a lot has changed.  Many blue chip organisations have large locations here, and as a result, a lot of local people have moved here for work = lots of traffic.

More importantly, the number of restaurants have grown exponentially and  there is a veritable plethora of choice.  My first real love was Second Empire, located in downtown Raleigh.  It’s an old Victorian era building with an exquisite menu introduced to me by my mentor and career educator Barrie Parker with a hugely varied menu.   My second love, was my first introduction to sushi and sashimi at the lovely, and somewhat low rent Waraji.  It’s nothing fussy or pretentious, just simple Japanese fayre simply presented with cold Asahi beer.

However, tonights quirky and somewhat left field brûlée was at another culinary first for me, at Brasa the Brazilian Steak House.  For those of you who have not had the pleasure of a Brazilian steak night, the concept is simple.  You control a Green or Red beer mat traffic light system.  Green = bring me meat, lots of of it, don’t stop.  Red = seriously, stop.  Do I look like I need more protein?!  (Cut to shot of Monty Python’s Mr. Creosote).

Once the meat is done, the desert offerings come to the fore.  And a Chocolate Brûlée was the choice in hand.  Lets just say it was ‘interesting’.  Spoons for the table were ordered, just in case.  In fact, it was interesting.  Overtly rich and dark.  Caramelisation under done but somewhat lost in the black depths of the chocolate.  In truth, it wasn’t really a crème brûlée in the traditions of Trinity Cream, but it did explore culinary boundaries that this kind of pudding should.  Take something and change it.  See what happens.  For me, it was just a tad too dark and heavy, and lacked the sweetness I hoped the chocolate would impart.  Perhaps they used dark rather than milk chocolate.  A good interpretation but only worthy of 5/10.

Château des Vigiers, Monestier

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Château des Vigiers is the product of some forward-thinking Swedish (and possibly Danish) wealthy-folk who decided to rescue a decaying château surrounded by enough vineyard and fruit groves to plough a championship standard 27 hole golf course through it without spoiling the view.  They also turned the old piles of stones (ahem, château) into a spectacular hotel and spa.  I’m lucky that my dad likes to play golf, this is one of the best courses around this area of South West France and he is a member here.  The three loops of nine holes provide a rigorous test of anyone’s golfing abilities, whilst offering the tourist a quintessential French golfing experience.  They also run a great brasserie, managed by the enigmatic and charming Nils.

Brasserie Le Chai

Tonight’s steak was excellent, as was Vigiers own rosé which complimented the balmy summer evening and three times cooked chips perfectly.  And naturellement, the dessert menu provided the opportunity to continue the quest…  Again, as seems to be the way when in France, presenting brûlées in a wide but shallow ramekin appears to the de facto method.  This delight offered a lemon infused custard which was refreshing light and smooth which reminded me of those classic homemade lemonades.  The sugaring was light but not completely caramelised as evidenced by the lightness of the finish, but had it been more heavy burned it probably would have overtaken the subtly of the lemon custard. A good effort in a lovely location deserving a respectable 6/10.

Les Jardins d’Eole, Fougueyrolles

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The 8th of August is a day of the year I like.  Per the Blood Orange Brûlée post, birthdays are days to be celebrated be that with family, friends, pets, your duvet or a bottle of gin.  This particular birthday day has always been an easy one for me to remember because two people share it – my dad and an old girlfriend, Karen.  Bizarrely, I’ve not seen Karen in person since some point in the mid-90’s after we finished university, but we have exchanged birthday cards every year since then.  We’re not even friends on Facebook…  What’s really lovely about these cards is that they allow us to share a little bit about our lives once a year and keeps the contact alive via old school snail mail.  Quite lovely.  If it ever stops, I can only assume one of us has died… 🙂

Now, given my dad lives in France, and today was his birthday, we went out for lunch to a restaurant situated on a small grass strip airfield.  This picture shows you were the place is located in relation to the runway; what it doesn’t show is that it has the word RESTAURANT written in huge white letter across it’s roof.  I guess this is handy if you are passing pilot looking for somewhere to land for lunch…

Les Jardins d'Eole - Fougueyrolles

When he suggested we try this place, I was somewhat surprised, thinking that if it’s anything like British airfield cafés, the best we could hope for was something fried in a bread roll.  Oh, how wrong I was…!  Head Chef Noël Raffin is clearly an artist.  And a good one at that.  Just look at the presentation of the dessert sharing plate – simply beautiful and certainly one to slow down the passage of spoon to plate whilst you admire the artistry before tucking in.  This particular dessert plate included a apricot panna cotta, chocolate mousse, coffee ice-cream and, of course, a petite raspberry crème brûlée.

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The photograph is a little deceptive in that this ramekin was around 7cm in diameter, however the warm raspberry pink custard was peculiarly pleasant reminding me of the fun to be had picking and eating in-season raspberries straight off the bush.  The caramelisation was relatively thick but easily breakable, and no sugar grains were visible on the surface demonstrating that Noël had been paying attention with his blow torch!  Overall, in amongst all the other flavours and textures on this plate, this was a good effort, especially considering the interesting raspberry influence.  We also learned that Noël also prepared his brûlées with liquorice, coffee and pistachio custards… Amazing!!  Sadly, none of these were on offer otherwise this lunch might have taken somewhat longer…!  8/10.

Restaurant le Bournat, Le Bugue

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So, once on holiday, you have to engage in a spot of doing stuff.  Our family rules involve engaging in water sports, exploring some kind of building or historical site, visiting beaches with waves or doing something that has something for the kids and the grown ups.

This particular post involves the latter – stuff for kids and grown ups. Le Bournat is a historic tourism attraction which mixes 19th century fairground rides with ancient faming machinery and artisan crafts people.  The artisans demonstrate a variety of skills including milling, glass blowing, bread making, jam making and basket weaving amongst other things.  Handily, the kids only had to endure the historic stuff for 5 minutes before being able to get stuck into the 19th century fairground rides which included horse racing, swinging chairs, carousels and the like.  They even had a boating lake which demanded the wearing of life jackets!  All very un-French…

However, knowing that lunch is very much a part of French everyday life meant the village Restaurant filled up very quickly.  What we were not expecting was the surreal experience of  two actors playing the part of maître d’ and his drunk waiter throughout an hours lunch…  My French is passable, but I could not follow a single word the waiter spoke.  With a half smoked cigarette hanging out of his mouth, surfer-tousled hair and a penchant for throwing bread rolls around, they provided much entertainment which the locals clearly enjoyed proving that not all humour translates between languages…

Following the rule of this blog to the letter, brûlée was on the menu, so it had to be ordered.  It was another simply presented marvel in a similar sized ramekin to the Brittany Bretagne post. Again, the lightly sugared caramelisation was easy to break through with a spoon to a cool, but not cold, and ever so slightly sweet custard.  Whilst nothing exceptional it was very tasty and proved that on a count of two brûlées out of two, most French kitchens appear to be able to deliver their national dessert well.  That said, this was a fine but everyday high volume production in a busy tourist restaurant, valiantly supported by the ‘entertainment’ throughout.  7/10.

Brittany Ferries Bretagne, English Channel

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Holidays.  I love them.  There’s nothing better that knowing work is over for a couple of weeks and you are going somewhere new to explore either with family or friends.  You could even be going somewhere you’ve been a few times before safe in the knowledge that everything you want is there and you know where it is so you can put your brain away and give it a rest.

I’m lucky in that part of my family lives in France so I get to spend some time relaxing in the sunshine with them knowing that the flow of wine and sunshine is unlikely to stop.  I can visit familiar places and create those lasting memories with my kids that I hope they will look back on fondly when they are older.  South West France truly is beautiful, so if you find yourself thinking where to explore or your next holiday, then I can heartily recommend the Dordogne area as a place to spending some time holidaying…

To get to France from the UK, you either have to fly, use the tunnel or take a ferry.  Taking the ferry offers the ability to bring the ‘odd’ bottle of wine back, hence I take the car.  Brittany Ferries run various services from Portsmouth, including the overnight run to Saint Malo.  This works just fine with a young family AND it has a great selection of restaurants to choose from… And so to the brûlée.

At risk of rushing ahead, tonights offering was simply superb.  I had my doubts that a passenger ferry could serve up something worth writing about, but how wrong I was.  Perhaps it’s because it was run by the French, therefore the lack of ‘focus’ that one might expect from a mass production environment was overcome by a piece of French culture that should never be ignored.  They love to eat.

The brûlée was delivered in a standard sized ramekin at room temperature, with the custard lightly flecked with vanilla pod.  The sugaring was light but firm, giving only after a second tap with the spoon.  The custard was very light and smooth with no curdling in sight hence was very pleasurable indeed!  The secret was in it’s simplicity and I found it odd that this ‘close to perfect’ brûlée was discovered in a cross channel ferry self service restaurant some where in the middle of the English Channel on a Monday evening.   I’m hoping it wasn’t a dream…  An outstanding effort worthy of a solid 9/10.

The Horse & Groom, Guildford

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Birthdays should always be celebrated, even if you do it some time after the actual event.  It’s the one day of the year which really is just for you.  In particular, Thursday nights are always a good night for a celebratory pint or two because if you over do it, you only have to drag yourself through one more day of work before the weekend starts…  Tonight’s celebration was for ‘Gordon of the Blood Orange‘ post who’s birthday passed a couple of weeks ago.  More importantly, we were not only celebrating the passing of another year but also his success following an unplanned request to deliver an important presentation to a large group of work colleagues with only two days to prepare.  Anyone who has been asked to do this will remember the moment in only one of two ways; cheery ‘here-we-go-again’ abandon or ‘unmitigated dread’…

Thankfully, Gordon is a hardy Scottish chap and was not to be fazed by this request even when the prepared presentation arrived without a single written word on it.  Clearly his skills as an accomplished public speaker were to be tested to the full…!  Six rehearsals later and the promise of sharing the stage with a certain Sir Clive Woodward resulted in plaudits from many angles and a day to remember.  Nice one Gordo…

Now to the custardly comments.  Tonight’s dessert menu served up another opportunity to see what the chef was made of and he made a reasonable attempt.  Presentation is always important as first impressions last, so imagine my surprise when it arrived in a coffee cup.  You could argue that by providing a handle to hold, the likelihood of burning a finger on a recently grilled piece of chinaware would be diminished.  Possibly a good thing, and one way to keep the ‘no win, no fee’ claimants where they belong.  However, I see the presentation of a brûlée in part an art form and therefore the selection of a random piece of coffee cup crockery probably the product of a chef under time pressure or perhaps a full dishwasher…

Firstly, it came with one of the home-baked butter biscuits dusted with icing sugar upside down on the plate.  Secondly, the sugar topping was under caramelised with some of the grains undissolved. The custard was however light and a little on the sweet side but it was certainly not heavy or curdled.   My final comment concerns the basic temperature of the custard before the caramelisation occurs.  In my view, it should be room temperature although I’m sure there will be some food health guidance which would recommend against this… This one was fridge cold.  6/10.