We still seem to be in the grip of an unseasonal monsoon. It’s May for heaven’s sake…where are the girls in their frilly dresses?
If you get the tube to Bond St you can get close enough to Selfridge’s to miss most of the puddles and not get stuck in the eye with an umbrella. The vast cathedral-like space is floored and pillared in marble, sensuous with the scent of cosmetics and perfumes, and jam-packed with gorgeous youth dressed in black and crowding around the Chanel counter. I avoid being squirted with something fabulously expensive and sprint for the Food Hall.
This just gets better and better; it used to be a place for good smoked salmon and kosher canapés, but over the years it has become the place for food. (Harrods is pretty good, but I don’t go to that part of town much these days.) The cheese counter has a close relationship with Neal’s Yard Dairy – probably the best cheesemongers in the country – and it is lovely just to ask the question “What’s really good at the moment?” and get a considered reply.
I had a beautiful walnut loaf in my basket (and how I came by it is another story, perhaps for tomorrow) and I asked for cheese to eat with it. I was offered a taste of two; both were terrific and I bought them. The first was Wigmore - a soft sheep’s milk cheese made with unpasteurised sheeps milk and vegetable rennet by Anne and Andy Wigmore at Village Maid Cheese, The Cottage, Riseley, Berks. It’s a sweet, soft cheese and I can’t show it to you because I ate the whole lot for my supper. Cool and fresh and completely delicious.
The second cheese I tasted was Berkswell, a hard sheeps milk cheese made with unpasteurised sheeps milk and vegetable rennet from Ram Hall in the West Midlands.
It is developed from a traditional Caerphilly recipe but has been adapted and matured for four to eight months to give it a unique texture and flavour. To me it tastes a lot like Manchego, nutty and sweet, but not quite so hard textured. Ram Hall exports to lots of places, including the USA.
Both of these cheeses are absolutely wonderful – do seek them out - or order them online from Neal's Yard.
I bought some good Spanish paella rice for when the sun eventually comes out, and was impressed by Daylesford Organic, who come from Gloucestershire and have a new venture at Selfridge’s. They are not too far away from me in Somerset so I think a visit is in the offing.
I was hungry. It was still raining. I needed my spirits lifting, and Antonio Carluccio was just the man to do it. (When I first moved to the countryside I found mushrooms in abundance. Carluccio is THE man on mushrooms and I telephoned him to ask if I could preserve them in olive oil.
“You’ll get botulism.”
So I didn’t. I dried them in the airing cupboard instead.)
Just round the corner from Selfridge’s Carluccio has a café; tables outside for when it isn’t raining, and inside a riot of colour and a big communal table to sit at. Rain brings out the Dunkirk spirit. At least three people asked me if it had stopped and made sympathetic groaning noises.
I ordered a glass of Prosecco and my spirits lifted. I ordered a plate of antipasti and they soared. Another glass of Prosecco... A coffee...
Aaaaaaah. All is well with the world.