Thursday, 22 September 2011

Bioghraphy of Mark

Mark was born in London in 1968.  Adoption took him to York and then Leeds and at age thirteen onto Norfolk.  His parents, Canon Roger George Robinson and Pauline, followed the path of dedicated Church of England Vicar and even more dedicated Vicar’s Wife which led them from one parish to another across our green and pleasant land.

Failing to gain any significantly good grades at comprehensive school other than in art,and nutrition and home management Mark’s initial goal of studying Veterinary Science for the next 10 years was stifled resulting in the careers officer sending him on his way into the simmering heights of catering can become a chef, fully qualified, in 3 years they say ?  
His first job was washing up in a pub and making 1980s carvery food, then, moving on, he gained good experience and a sound background in a Country House Hotel - Stower  Grange, Drayton, Norfolk, where the proprietors followed the literature and recipes of Robert Carrier very closely (he left as a sous chef).  During this time Mark also worked to broaden his knowledge by attending Norwich City Catering College once a week over 3 years gaining excelent grades in city and guilds qualifications.

In 1989 Mark moved to a Relais Chateaux Hotel – Hintlesham Hall, Suffolk, previously owned by Robert Carrier, then in the hands of Ruth & David Watson, here he spent a lot of time learning the pastry section  and gaining sound knowledge as a chef tournant.In 1991 he moved to a Relais Gourmand in south Australia -Delgany country house then  travelled the country before moving on to tour South East Asia and India eating every possible new food in his path.

Mark spent 2 weeks work experience with Franco Teruchio at the legendary Walnut Tree Inn in Wales before moving on to run an Italian Restaurant in Norwich Norfolk. In 1993 He moved  to London where he worked for Sir Terence Conran at his flagship restaurant – Le Pont De La Tour, for one year and then went on to Martin and Vanessa Lamb’s acclaimed Ransomes Dock Battersea for 16 months followed by The Blue Print Café, head chef  Jeremy Lee.  Mark then moved to the  Gastro Pub the Anglesea Arms.  Following this was a sudden change in which he moved into event  catering with the amazing Rhubarb Food Design,working with them for 2 years and leaving as head chef. Cooking for rock stars and royalty; here his restaurant food and experience was put to good use in large and small number catering at a high level, with venues from The Natural History Museum,the Victoria and Albert museum,corporate catering ,to a tent in a field.

In 1999 he joined the gastro pub, Havelock Tavern, a move in which he was able to enjoy good and simple seasonal cooking again, this was the beginning of an important relationship with his  partners, Peter Richnell, Jonny Haughton and Jonathan Cox. After 2 years at the Havelock, Mark took the helm at the Masons Arms gastro pub in Battersea and then on to The Pilot another newer gastro pub (run by the same group)in Chiswick where he gained runner up in the Evening Standard Pub of The Year Award.

In late 2002 mark teamed up as a chef director with the then owners of the havelock tavern,they took over a run down large edwardian boozer in south london and after several months renovation re opened the Earl Spencer in Southfields which in 2003 was runner up in the Time Out Gastro Pub of The Year competition and then winner of the Evening Standard Pub of the Year Award in 2004. During his six years at the helm the earl spencer found its place in all the major food and pub guides, gastro pub cookbooks and Alastair Sawday's special places of England and Wales

Mark then relocated to west sussex with his family,  working as a freelance chef and wild food forager, in 2009 the beginings of Sloe and Wild were started, private catering using local and wild food wherever possible and the ethos of the slow food movement.

At the beginning of February 20011 mark took on another head chef position with an old work colleague from the Havelock Tavern . The Horse Guards Inn , Tillington, West  Sussex is a beautiful pub set in the Sussex downs  adjacent to Petworth park. Whilst still continuing with a few private functions and foraging mainly for cooking within the pub , the wonderful  local artisan suppliers and game on the doorstep of this location is proving an ideal palate for the creative juices.
Since joining the team the Horseguards has gained a place in the Michelin pub guide, the good food guide, and a commendable write up from food critic Giles Coren of the Times.

Head chef



Since January 20011 i have been head chef at the Horse Guards Inn , Tillington, West Sussex.

Set in the heart of the south downs i have been busy cooking with lots of local game and foraged food, even some home grown produce . since taking on this new time consuming position we have gained a page in the michelin pub guide, the good food guide and an excellent write up from food critic Giles Coren who writes for the Times .

Friday, 7 January 2011

Acorn Liqueur

Back in october i made my own version of a spanish liqueur from roasted acorns,


300g white sugar
400ml mineral water
150 -200g roasted shelled and finely ground acorns (see october blog for detail)
1 x 70cl bottle vodka  ( or white rum for a more tia maria taste)
quarter of a vannila pod (optional)


bring water and sugar to the boil in a stainless steel saucepan with vannilla,
add the ground acorns and leave to infuse till cool.
Add the booze then leave out of sunlight in a sealed container at room temperature
 for around 2 months minimum.
when you can wait no longer strain through a coffee filter or fine muslin
and bottle.
I am sure it would get even better over a few more months but the raw vodka taste
 mellows massivly after just 2 .
you can easily play with this by boiling the sugar and water to a thick syrup then it
will be more like a Khalua .
Add more acorn to make more of a nutty drink, or use muscavado dark sugar.

The Liqer de Bellotta from spain actually takes on a slight ammeretti taste,
i didnt manage to get this but maybe adding whole acorns and leaving for longer
would produce this ?.

My version is a reasonable and interesting after dinner sipper, if you have never
tried the Liqer de Bellotta  then you wont be in anyway dissapointed in this recipe .

If anyone can find me the actual method for spanish acorn liqueur that would be great
as i cant find any imformation on the www.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Chinese Style Shore Crab and Sweetcorn Soup with Wood Sorrel

Ingredients: for stock
900g shore crabs
1 x medium onion
2 x stick celery
2 x carrots
3 x peppercorns
1 x head garlic
veg oil
1-2 inch piece of ginger
 1 x onion (finely diced)   
1 x tin creamed sweetcorn ( or pureed fresh )420 g
1x tin sweetcorn in water 340g (pureed)
1 x tablespoon light soy sauce.
spring onion & wood sorrel

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The squirels nuts

Baked custard that just manages to hold itself up on the plate, real custard comfort food!


2 desert spoons of roasted and ground acorns (see acorn coffee blog)
100g sugar
375 ml milk
250ml single cream
half a vanilla pod
2 Eggs (well beaten with a whisk)
3 Egg yolk
sugar to make dark caramel


You will need to think about this the day before by first infusing the acorns overnight in the milk and cream or just the milk if you like. Put the milk, cream, vanilla and roasted ground acorns in a heavy bottomed pan and bring to the boil, take off the heat immediately let it cool and put it in a container in the fridge overnight.

Next day make a dark caramel using about a cup of sugar, then carefully add a desert spoon of water (watch out for the bubbling and spitting) pour this into the bottom of the ramekin dishes in a thin layer. you will need to work quickly as it starts to set pretty fast. tip and roll each one to move the caramel across the bottom.
Pass the acorn milk you made the day before through a fine sieve. Put the milk, cream mixture in a heavy bottomed pan and bring back to the boil, stir in the 100g of sugar then briskly but briefly whisk in the egg and yolk.

This is your custard ready to pour into the moulds on top of the caramel. Fill them to the top then sit them in  deep tray containing hot water (not boiling) , the water needs to come nearly to the top of the moulds containing your custard.. temperature should be 70 to 80 degrees c, if you don't have a thermometer then you can hold your finger in the water for a second or two it should be about right.

Put them in the oven at 150 degrees c for 30 to 40 minutes being carefull not to let the water splash into the custards. (Putting the tray into the oven and then pouring the water into the tray can make things easier).
After 25 min you must watch them carefully and check "the wobble", use your finger to tap the top and if you get a kind of ripple as if there is liquid under the skin then they will need longer. you can also give the mould a slight tap to check this.

The perfectly baked custard can take some mastering and may take several attempts, so many factors come into its making like - accuracy of your oven (convection is better) , initial water temperature, how fresh your milk and cream is and the quality of your eggs. Once you get the hang of it you will learn that slower is better, i like to turn the oven down by 5 degrees half way through and cook for a little longer.
You may also decide they are not quite cooked but taking them out of the oven, or turning it off and leaving them in the water bath to cool down will just about finish off the cooking.

The custards are best left in the fridge for 24 hours, this gives the caramel on the bottom time to dissolve which will be your sauce when you turn it out. But also i find the flavour improves in this time.

Gently push your finger into the custard at the edge of the mould to tease it away from the edge, this makes it easier to turn out. You shouldn't need to run a knife around the edge.

Note:  Every oven is different, this is one of the reasons you must start looking closely at the custards before cooking time is supposed to finish.

Acorn coffee

What to do with that sweet-looking nut that comes with its own little pixie hat, and unfortunately, is so full of tannins only squirrels, wild boar, deer & weevils can eat them?

People - only desperate people, I might add - have for a long time roasted and ground acorns up to make a coffee substitute(i have seen an episode of the 1970s Colditz series where the prisoners made a huge pot of it...ra ra ra old bean).
Many countries leech the tannins out of the raw nut by pulverising it and rinsing it in water, and then use the flour in pastries, puddings and pastas.
I  tried the acorn coffee and it does work (albeit a labour of fondness).

After roasting the shelled acorns at 180°C until dark brown, taking care to watch them (I used a timer set to go off every 5 mins once they had started to colour). They do suddenly burn! Taking into account the amount of time it takes to pick and shell them, you may find yourself as wound up as you feel when trying to speak to someone at a bank or an electricity supplier on an automated telephone line. So don't let them turn to charcoal, the flavour is bitter enough!

The acorn trees at the front of our house are not English oaks but evergreens, which means that pigeons shit all year round all over the car in all sorts of wonderful colours. The next wild food meal may just have to be some Kentucky-fried squirrel and roast wood pigeon washed down with a tasty Licor de Bellota
When I was a Spanish food rep for a short time, I was introduced to an acorn liqueur which was surprisingly good and tasted like amaretto. This Licor de Bellota is made from Holm Oak acorns. Holm Oak is the same Mediterranean evergreen that grows outside our house, favours coastal regions and is often used as a wind break(my wife thinks thats handy considering my diet and the beer i consume). My last batch of acorns are definitely going to be turned into this warming tipple! 

I digress... Anyway, back to the acorn-no-caffeine-coffee. Once roasted, grind up the nuts which will now be rock hard and brittle. Grind them to a powder and stick them in a cafetiere. Process as you would for normal coffee and voilà! it looks like coffee, smells exactly like coffee, and tastes worse than crap, cheap percolated coffee you would find at a 'bring and buy' sale in the local church hall!.. Mmm, get out the nice biscuits and bourbons.

So I ask myself,  "What's the point?"...

I then think about the types of food I could get this flavour into. I've never been a great fan of coffee-flavoured anything. I can't abide coffee cake though can tolerate mocha.
It makes sense for the bitterness to be offset by sugar  in a desert, and my first attempt was definitely a surprising success.
Acorn crème caramel.
 And as it so happened. It tasted very much the same as a classic coffee crème caramel.
And that was exactly the point!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Hairy Bittercress.

This is a great little weed if you like hot and bitter like watercress, it tastes like american land cress only the plant is much smaller.Good with smoked fish or in any salad