Supper club: it's a wrap
23 February 2016
"If you don't know what to serve with your food, your local independent wine merchant will love giving you advice. Make sure there’s plenty of water on hand too, so that nobody drinks wine like it's water; it'll only end in disaster. Or nudity..."
You might not recognise Andy Clarke, but we’ll bet his name has cropped up on your TV screen a fair few times. You see, his line of work usually keeps him well hidden behind the scenes. Not tonight, though. Not tonight...
Photos by PAOLO FERLA Words by JESSICA CARTER
We first met Andy on a rainy November night at a party in a Bristol bar. He vanished late into the evening after we’d all shared a bottle (or two) of red, only to reappear after 20 minutes lugging a carrier bag containing several tins of mustard powder.
“I’ve got some piccalilli on the go at home; had to pick this up before the last shop closed,” he explained nonchalantly, before resuming his spot at the bar and taking up his wine glass.
He had us at piccalilli.
After working on BBC’s Saturday Kitchen for the best part of a decade (seven of which were as producer), and having produced shows such as Richard and Judy and Blue Peter before that, this Thornbury-born-and-bred foodie returned to the South West from the Big Smoke a year ago.
“I made the move to be near family,” he explains, “and because I was more excited by the food scene and the TV industry here. Since coming back I’ve produced James Martin’s Home Comforts, which is actually made at BBC Bristol.”
Now freelance, he’s also heavily involved in Michel Roux Jr.’s Cactus Kitchens Cookery School, has a regular foodie slot on Laura Rawlings’ drive-time show on BBC Radio Bristol, and also does TV training for chefs.
“That’s something I love doing,” he says, “and it’s increasingly popular for publishing companies working with chefs who are new to cooking on telly. I do sessions where we chop and chat, and get camera-ready. Having 10 years experience really helps me to put people at ease ahead of their big moment.”
With all that going on, as well as other exciting projects in the pipeline, let’s hope he didn’t move back to Bristol for a quiet life...
Andy now lives in a gorgeous 1930s building in Almondsbury with husband Alan. The sleek, modern kitchen is softened by plenty of rustic touches; think a cream AGA, big bay windows, a large ceramic sink and a vintage-looking wooden prep table. It shares the open- plan room with a generous dining area, from which glass doors open onto an outdoor terrace (admittedly no use to us on this windy, drizzly January evening).
A tall, triple-fronted charcoal-coloured cabinet stands opposite; one third houses a fridge-freezer, while the remaining double doors open to reveal a fully-stocked dry store. Next to this, an Art Deco-style print of Clifton’s Lido hangs on the wall (“We love the Lido; Freddy, the head chef, is fantastic”) over a full-to-bursting wine rack.
“Do you know, I had a red out especially to go with the lamb,” Andy says, crounching down and scrutinising the bottles. “But I was trying to clear up, and put it in the rack without thinking; now I don’t have the faintest idea which one it was.”
No matter; the Pol Aimé Champagne we’re sipping from retro coupe glasses is a more than adequate distraction from the temporary setback...
Croquettes of salt cod, chorizo and goat’s cheese are to come first, as a pre-starter nibble, with mustard dip. Andy shapes the mixture into balls before coating in flower, egg and breadcrumbs, while a pan of oil heats on the AGA.
“It’s taken me a while to work this out; I hadn’t used an AGA before I moved here,” he tells us, walking over to the oven and sliding the pan off the hotplate slightly to cool it down.
He shallow-fries the fritters as the remaining guests arrive – Alex and Helen, more Thornbury originals who now live in Bishopston after returning from London a few years ago now – and we eat them in the garden room with crudités and hummus, chatting about the house.
“It was these guys who talked us into this place,” Alan tells us. “It was on the market, and we were umming and ahhing because we hadn’t planned to live so far out of town. But then Hels said, ‘How would you feel if it sold?’ And we knew we’d be gutted if it did. So we had to go for it.”
We’re called to take our seats as Andy dishes up his starter of lobster- bisque seafood risotto. The table is laid with colourful placemats designed by Emmeline Simpson, decorated with iconic scenes from around Bristol.
Dispersed throughout the plump grains of rice are juicy prawns, scallops and peas, and the dish is crowned with a scrunched slice of Parma ham, baked until crisp. To wash it all down?
That would be a cold glass of some rather nice Mas La Chevalière Vignoble Peyroli Chardonnay.
Next come Andy’s five-hour lamb shanks, which have been cooking slowly in the cooler compartment of the AGA all afternoon. The tender lamb – which falls readily from the bone, collapsing onto the plate in meaty flakes – has been cooked with anchovies, garlic and rosemary, and is served with fluffy beef-dripping roasties and tenderstem broccoli, steamed until just al dente. (You’llbepleasedtohearthatthatelusive bottle of red had been tracked down in time for the main. Phew.)
To finish was lemon cheesecake, a family recipe that Alan procured from Andy’s mum. “I’m not into cheesecake at all,” he says, “but I love this one, and had to have the recipe. I think it’s the sharpness of the citrus that I like; it cuts through the creaminess. I added the smashed lemon sherbet sweets to the top for texture myself, though.”
Andy’s ears prick up.
“Um, that was my idea actually,” he interjects. “Remember?”
We’re keeping out of this one. Luckily, we have plenty of dessert to get through, and it just won’t do to talk with our mouthsfull...