|The Naked Grocer, Walton-on-Thames|
The 'squeezed middle' have got food wrong in my opinion. Some of the more socially or ethnically diverse areas ('vibrant' in estate-agent-speak) have fantastic food markets, great street food and really cost-effective cafes and restaurants. I'm thinking of places like Tooting or Camberwell or Peckham (or even Brixton 'village')
Conversely there are the affluent areas with artisan bakeries or the delis where "Mummy goes to get the good chorizo". Here is where you'll find a market for tapas bars, sushi bars or food marketed to local-vores where your steak comes with a grid reference and a family tree.
Your average, middling town has a Sainsbury's and a Greggs.
Walton-on-Thames finds itself just on the right side of average-to-affluent in my opinion - which means that although we have to suffer through Giraffe and Carluccio's there are some real diamonds in the rough like The Naked Grocer. Opened 2 years ago and hidden away in Bridge Street (a hop, skip and a jump from The Thames) I had seen it many times but never actually gone in. It's second birthday and special events tempted me to make the trip in to see what the fuss was about.
'Officially' the best green grocer in the country according to the RE:FRESH awards I could tell immediately that if this was within walking distance of my house I'd be here at least once a week.
Decent piles of local (or least British) and seasonal produce abound in suitably rustic surrounds. I was reassured at the somewhat rugged appearance of the fruit and veg which shows that it has thankfully bypassed the supermarket procurement teams and their search for the visually inoffensive. This is food that you would describe as having a 'good personality' - beautiful on the inside.
Their suppliers were out in force for the birthday celebrations and I sampled some of the Cottage Delight preserves and bought some of their Chilli-lilli. That this is a familiar brand if you shop around some of the less obvious places should not distract from the quality of the product. I also was offered a sample and subsequently bought a slice of Surrey's only remaining locally-produced cheese - Norbury Blue. This is a mild, creamy-tasting blue cheese that is currently stinking my fridge out (but in a good way)
The find of the day though had to be the Isle of Wight Tomatoes. I came away with a big bag of heirloom (or heritage?) tomatoes of all shapes, sizes and colours. This was in addition to the new love of my life: Oak-smoked Tomatoes. Imagine crossing sun-dried tomatoes with smoky bacon and you're almost there.
Well what were we to do with all this lovely produce? We were tasked with producing a starter for a dinner party and I knew these tomatoes would have to form the centrepiece so with the contents of my fridge in hand an assembly job of a modified Caprese Salad was in order
ISLE OF WIGHT CAPRESE SALAD
- A big bag of heirloom tomatoes - as many different sizes and colours as you can get.
- A couple of avocados.
- A couple of Buffalo Mozzarella Balls.
- A handful of Basil.
- A few spoonfuls of Oak-Smoked Tomatoes
- A dressing of 50% Extra-virgin Olive Oil and decent Balsamic Vinegar
- A handful of pine-nuts browned in a dry frying-pan.
I'm sure you can work it out! Its all about the presentation!
|Isle of Wight Caprese Salad|