The joy of a proper pudding - with custard
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David Clayton is tempted by the sound of a desserts-only restaurant. But please let it be proper puddings...
I hear Norwich might be getting a restaurant devoted to desserts. Well it has my vote and I'll be in 'early doors' to see what's on offer. However, I'm just slightly nervous of what 'desserts' really means or more to the point, what it doesn't mean. I'd be happier to see the word 'puddings' somewhere in the offer. I have long subscribed to the theory that anything sweet at the end of a meal attains proper pudding status with lashings of custard.
I'm one of the few people who scans the dessert section of menus first because I think the enjoyment of a pudding rounds off a meal properly. I quite understand that a huge amount of creativity and effort goes into the signature main courses and quite often the starters can be works of art, but I sense the kitchen is often eager to wind down as the last main course leaves the pass.
Two things depress me when I dine out with a group of people. As the waiter approaches to take the dessert orders I dread the massed chorus of 'Oh, just coffee for me, thanks.' The other thing (and thank goodness it's almost died out) is, 'Would Sir like to see the sweet trolley?' The likelihood of there being a proper hot pudding lovingly prepared by the Chef sitting beside the fruit salad, rum babas and de-frosted gateaux, is virtually nil. I'm sorry, but a twee pouring of cream is no substitute for hot custard.
I remember staying in a Lake District hotel a good few years ago and a sweet trolley was wheeled up to my table with a flourish but, inevitably, nothing took my fancy. As you do, I was in the hotel's sauna the next day when in walked a couple of women. In such a confined, not to mention hot place, conversation is necessary to break the ice (so to speak). They asked how I was enjoying my stay. I was and said so, but in an effort to inject a little whimsy into the chat I feigned huge disappointment at the lack of custard in the restaurant.
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The next evening, at dinner, the head waiter whispered conspiratorially, 'Would Sir like chocolate roulade and creme Anglaise?' 'Pardon?' I replied. 'Chocolate roll and custard,' he clarified, with a chuckle. Too right I would and out it came on a silver platter. The adjacent tables looked on in envy.
It turned out I'd been sweating it out in the sauna with two of the hotel's waitresses and they'd reported back on the pudding shortcomings. The chefs, I later discovered, had enjoyed creating a proper dessert for a change. Had I been anything to do with allocating Michelin Stars I'd have hurled one straight into the kitchen there and then!
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I used to live next door to a restaurant and we'd book in for Sunday lunch every now and again. As I was usually on the radio Sunday mornings, we had to eat later than most diners. We knew the owners so once when I booked, I recall asking what was for dessert, more in hope than expectation. 'Well what do you fancy?' came the reply. 'Syrup sponge and custard?' I replied, without a moment's hesitation. 'We'll make one and put it on the menu just for you!' they said triumphantly. By the time I got there for my late lunch they'd barely been able to hold on to a portion for me, so popular had it been. I'm not alone, then!
If you're ever in the Cotswolds, never mind the quintessential English scenery, visit the official Pudding Club. They hold regular meetings at a hotel in Mickleton. A modest main course is followed by a parade of seven puddings. If you empty your dish you can go up for more. They even have a Syrup Sponge-themed bedroom for overnight stays. It's on my bucket list!