Posts Tagged ‘O’Connor’s Secret Garden Bistro’

O’Connor’s Secret Garden

September 8, 2012
O’Connor’s Secret Garden steak

O’Connor’s Secret Garden steak

There are two excellent places to eat in Alton, the little Italian coffee shop in the town and O’Connor’s Secret Garden.

Last I was in Alton, said hello to Peter O’Connor, but was tired and did not stay to eat.

Afterwards, I thought, it would have made sense to eat as I had not eaten all day.

Today, I had a what was little more than a mediocre prawn sandwich at the Italian coffee, followed by a not very good cake and a pot of tea. The chefs had gone home. I was disappointed as that was my reason for a visit to Alton.

I was sat in the garden where I met a group of people who had been to a wedding.

As they were leaving, I offered as I was walking through Alton, then through the water meadows, I would be quite happy to show them the water meadows.

We came back via St Lawrence church, then as we passed by O’Connor’s Secret Garden, me on the way to the station, they to their hotel, I suggested we popped in for a drink as I was thirsty and I thought they would like the place.

We went through and sat in the garden. I do not know who suggested it, maybe it was the smell of the food, but by mutual consent we agreed we were hungry and it would be a good idea to stay and eat.

Peter came out and said there would be a wait as we were not booked and he had a party of ten booked.

No problem, we were happy to wait, but would relocate inside as starting to get cold.

I ordered a beer and a rib-eye steak with all the trimmings. One had haddock. I cannot recall what everyone else had, except one dish was served on a long narrow plate, with steam rising, to represent the steam trains which run from Alton, which I thought was a neat touch. Everything was served with watercress.

Watercress is grown locally. The water meadows we had walked through earlier, the source of the River Wey, were originally watercress beds, now lying derelict.

My beer was excellent, as was my steak.

The beer from Triple fff Brewery, a small local brewery, had an interesting red colour and was excellent tasting. I think it was called Wallop Wood, but cannot be sure.

Note: The beer, if it was wallops Wood is from Bowman Ales not Triple fff Brewery.

The steak, medium rare, was one of the best I have had. The only time close was at Jamie’s Italian in Guildford. I would usually have with chips, but I let the girl serving decide and it came with colcannon potatoes (an Irish dish and a speciality of O’Connor’s Secret Garden). Plus half a tomato, mushrooms and watercress. The mushrooms were delicious, cooked to perfection.

The food freshly prepared from fresh ingredients, not white chiller van hotted up.

Everyone enjoyed their meal. Apart from one dissenting voice, a chef, who quibbled the way her fish was cooked. I did suggest she went and talk to Peter, as if something was wrong, he would wish to know, but she declined.

A very charming, and stunningly attractive, girl with lovely personalty served us. An asset to O’Connor’s Secret Garden and complimented the food. She was also knowledgeable about the food.

O’Connor’s Secret Garden is the oldest residential building in Alton.

On entering O’Connor’s Secret Garden you pass through a passageway. Either side little parlours which can be used for private dining or overflow. The passageway enters the main restaurant. Through the restaurant into a lovely little garden out the back. The garden used to have tomatoes, runner beans and herbs growing, but I saw none on this visit.

We sat in the garden for a little while, then came inside as it was turning cool.

The garden is No Smoking. Too many pubs are ruined, you think sit outside in the fresh air, only to have smoke being blown in your face.

My only gripe was the music. Not the music per se, but it would have been far better no music, especially out in the garden. Late afternoon, in the little Italian coffee shop, there was no music, and that was far better.

Two very nasty reviews on TripAdvisor and one not very pleasant, either trolls or rivals dishing, that bear no resemblance to O’Connor’s Secret Garden. TripAdvisor is rapidly losing all credibility when it fails to deal with fake reviews. It also becomes a laughing stock when Alton Kebab shop (empty when we left O’Connor’s Secret Garden) is ranked No 1 on TripAdvisor. The glowing reviews for the Alton Kebab shop all saying the same thing, all singing from the same song sheet.

TripAdvisor claim to have algorithms that detect fake reviews. Must be their idea of a joke. They fail to even root out fake reviews when drawn to their attention.

Alton Food Festival 2010

July 12, 2010
Alton Food Festival

Alton Food Festival

Alton is a relatively unspoilt small market town in rural Hampshire. Relatively unspoilt as Clone Town is already starting to make inroads.

Alton Food Festival is an annual event held each summer to celebrate local food and produce. The first was held four years ago in the middle of the World Cup on the day England were kicked out. Four years on, another World Cup, England again kicked out. Some things never change.

Two weekends ago I was at the Farnham Carnival at nearby Farnham on a very hot day. Even hotter at Celebrating Surrey Festival the following day. For the Alton Food Festival it was another sunny and very hot weekend.

The train journey from Farnham on towards Alton is through pleasant rolling countryside. At Bentley a footpath leads off through the fields to Alice Holt Forest.

The line, or at least the train, only goes as far as far as Alton. It used to run to Winchester, but sadly no more. Volunteers have restored what is known as the Watercress Line as far as Alresford, with steam trains running along the route.

Greening Alton (transition town in all but name) had a spin off stall, Alton Local Food Initiative, with the aims of highlighting food miles, encouraging the use and production of local food and encouraging local people to grow their own. One of their initiatives has been to exploit unused land. On my way home I saw a little garden they had developed at Alton Station. They also have flower beds in the town in which herbs are grown, and yes, you can pick them. On their stall they had some excellent tortilla made with produce from their gardens.

On my way down I had an idea which they and others may wish to take up. Some people have no garden or a garden which is too small for their growing needs, others a garden which is underused. Bring the two together and share the produce.

I have mixed feelings about transition towns. A force for good or a distraction to make the middle classes feel good? Far too prescriptive. An implicit assumption, naive in the extreme, that local councils are a force for good when in reality they are likely to be in the pocket of developers and big business. Aldershot and Farnborough have been trashed by the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor at the behest of big business and developers, but then it could be argued nether towns are transition towns.

A great idea was local chefs giving cooking demonstrations. You see how it is done, see how they perform, and get to taste what they produce.

Apart from the cooking demonstrations and a few craft stalls, I could not see how the festival differed from a farmers market.

Highlight of the day was a cooking demonstration by Peter O’Connor of O’Connor’s Secret Garden Bistro. An enthusiast in his work and he made it all look so easy. And it tasted good too. Bantry Bay Beef to be served with colcannon potatoes, followed by Dingle Bay Bananas for desert. Ice cream from Farmer Gosden’s Dairy was used to accompany the banana desert. Lovely creamy ice cream from a local herd of Jersey Cows. Earlier in the day Peter demonstrated Limerick Pork Medallions and Bantry Bay Mussels.

I had chat with Peter O’Connor afterwards. He said he walked through the market earlier and that decided what he would cook, using local produce from the stalls. I asked if I could have the recipes for what he had cooked, he said yes, come along to the Secret Garden, which I said I would do later.

Talking to Farmer Gosden’s Dairy (whose excellent ice cream Peter O’Connor used to accompany his banana desert) I learnt that Loseley ice cream comes from Wales, not, as most people including myself are led to believe, from Loseley Park. This would explain why having visited Loseley Park two weeks ago for the Celebrating Surrey Festival I had no recollection of either cows or dairy!

It was a very hot day, so I had a wander to the water meadows. Then along to the Secret Garden. My timing could not have been better. I arrived just as Peter and his staff arrived. I had often walked past the Secret Garden, so it was a pleasure to be invited in, and what a pleasure it was.

A lovely restaurant, lovely atmosphere, lovely staff. Peter then showed me his garden out the back, all laid out with table and chairs. I only wished I could have stayed as it was a lovely balmy night, could not have been better for sitting out. But I was very tired and would have ended up under the table had I stayed.

I suggested for his garden he grew plants and varieties that were endangered and suggested Real Seeds as a source of seeds. Or go down to Seedy Sunday Brighton in the spring for their annual seed swap.

As luck would have it, I arrived at the station, just as a steam train was pulling out.

There was a free concert in the town’s gardens that evening, but I did not stay. I could though hear their rehearsals whilst I was in the water meadows.

Alton Food Festival is an annual event held in July, part of the Hampshire Food Festival, a month long county-wide event held each summer to celebrate Hampshire Fare.

Also see

Alton Food Festival 2009

Celebrating Surrey Festival 2010

Farnham Carnival

Ice cream: dairy farmers scoop a profit

Dingle Bay Bananas

July 12, 2010
Dingle Bay Bananas

Dingle Bay Bananas

ingredients

– bananas
– brown sugar
– liquor (Malibu or Cointreau)
– butter
– cream or ice cream
– fresh strawberries or raspberries

preparation

Slice bananas and cook in a hot pan in butter. Use under-ripe bananas as ripe bananas will turn to mush. Sprinkle on a little brown sugar to caramelize.

Flame with liquor to seal in flavour.

Serve with cream or ice cream. Add a few fresh strawberries or raspberries if in season.

Thanks to Peter O’Connor of O’Connor’s Secret Garden Bistro for the dish which he demonstrated at Alton Food Festival.

Colcannon potatoes

July 12, 2010
Colcannon potatoes

Colcannon potatoes

ingredients

– part boiled potatoes
– fresh spring greens
– scallion (large spring onion)
– butter

preparation

Sliced boiled potatoes (these are more than par boiled but not fully cooked that they are soft), sliced fresh spring greens (must be green not white), sliced scallion, are added to a hot pan and cooked in butter.

Serve as the vegetable dish. Ideal to go with Bantry Bay Beef.

Thanks to Peter O’Connor of O’Connor’s Secret Garden Bistro for the dish which he demonstrated at the Alton Food Festival.

Bantry Bay Beef

July 12, 2010
Bantry Bay Beef

Bantry Bay Beef

ingredients

– 8oz steak
– couple of mushrooms
– sprinkling of rock salt and black pepper
– shot of whiskey or brandy
– medium onion
– sprig of parsley or watercress
– tomatoes
– cream
– wine

preparation

Slice the steak and mushrooms and add to a hot pan to which you have added a drop of olive oil. Sprinkle on rock salt and black pepper for seasoning.

Cook until steak is medium rare or to taste.

Flame with a shot of whiskey or brandy. This helps to seal in the flavour.

Mix wine and about a quarter of a small pot of double cream. Add to the hot pan.

Cook until cream has started to thicken.

Serve with a sprig of parsley or watercress, tomatoes and colcannon potatoes.

Many thanks to Peter O’Connor of O’Connor’s Secret Garden Bistro for this dish which he demonstrated at the Alton Food Festival.