It has been a busy few months and there has been no time to update my blog since last September.
To start with the most recent news first: In November we decided to put Truffles on the market to look for a buyer to take over the restaurant as a going concern. The agent, Sidney Phillips, has had over one hundred requests for details and we received a cash offer in January. This was about 80% of our asking price and we turned it down primarily because we were not convinced that the buyers intended to keep a restaurant operational but might switch to another business use or residential.
If there are any aspiring and talented chefs out there, with a few spare bob, this is the ideal platform for them to get a slice of the action in one of the most sought after small towns in Britain. Potential buyers can access the sale details at www.sidneyphillips.co.uk/fulldetails.php?prn=41282
In the meantime it is business as usual. I have taken over as chef in the kitchen and moved our menu back towards the true bistro classic dishes which we always envisaged as our core purpose. In the past some chefs have failed to understand this concept and have sought to impose a stylised gastropub menu or, worse, interpreted dishes such as Coq au vin as a chicken breast with a spot of wine sauce! We are also resisting the temptation to change the menu every 5 minutes so as to build up a loyal following for those dishes we know work well.
Here is a sample of what can be found on the menu:
For those who have never visited us Truffles is a small establishment of 30 covers in our two restaurant levels (ground floor and first floor) which is a quiet escape from the more popular and trendy eating establishments where many gravitate with a herd-like instinct to see and be seen. The ideal customer at Truffles is a mature individual who values good food at reasonable prices in a relaxed atmosphere. If it’s quiet the cook may also serve your food to the table and make up the bill. On busy periods we call on additional chefs and waiting staff to ensure a smooth dining experience.
With the weather improving why not look in for a cup of our excellent Italian espresso coffee. As a fresh innovation you can now get large slices of cake for only £2.50 and if this catches on we plan to add some new patisserie lines. Watch this space!
For those who follow my other work as a marine geophysicist I have to report that recent jobs have all been to the North Sea or Humber estuary on small boats in the cold winter. The sea state has always been calm for the last 4 jobs but the boats have not always been brilliant. It has been a chance to revisit Hull, Norwich, Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft and maybe I need to write another blog on Hull as my previous shallow appraisal needs rewriting following discovery of a restaurant which still thinks it is the 1950’s and a non pretentious pub which served fantastic flat iron steaks.
March 21, 2017
Portland –September 2016
In late August to September I was away for an interesting project in the North Sea onboard the new fibre cable repair vessel Pierre de Fermat. This boat is owned by Orange Marine in France and was built in 2014 in Brattvaag shipyard in Norway to a very high specification. The Southern North Sea platforms are connected via a series of fibre optic communication cables to their onshore offices. The network was first installed in 1998/1999. Although most of the cables are securely buried beneath the seabed some are exposed and these are vulnerable to damage from fishing trawlers. Whenever a cable fault or break occurs dedicated cable repair vessels are always standing by ready to respond. Pierre de Fermat was moored up at Brest when she received instructions to proceed to Portland to collect spare FOC cables and then transit to the North Sea for vital repairs. I received 2 hours notice to meet up with the vessel in Portland and ordered a taxi from my regular driver at Premier taxis who got me to Portland just in time to board the vessel which departed almost immediately.
The cable repair operations are complex. Firstly the damaged cable is located by a ROV (Remote Operated vehicle) and then grappled to lift the damaged cable and retrieve the damaged sections of the cable back to the boat. A fresh cable section is spliced onboard and then the repaired cable returned to the seabed where the ROV uses powerful water jets to bury the cable beneath the sand. The whole process takes a few days to achieve with a team of up to 80 persons working round the clock.
Being a French vessel the Pierre de Fermat has very high standards for the food served onboard with a choice of menus daily served by waiting staff in a large galley. Excellent steaks and fish were standard as well as very good starters and plenty of cheeses from Brittany and Normandy. Lunches and dinners were leisurely affairs with wine served to those who wanted it. A very enjoyable job. Most of the marine crew and surveyors spoke good English and were tolerant of my French. Within two weeks all work was completed on three repair operations and the vessel returned to drop me off at Portland before continuing to Brest to wait for the next call out. I worked alongside Norwegian colleagues, one of whom I knew from a previous repair job 12 years ago.
Egypt -June 2016
Apologies for submitting my June blog 3 months late but there never seems enough time in the day to do anything. Followers of these occasional blogs will know that I am the often absent owner of Truffles restaurant in Bruton as I have another life as a marine geologist which means I tend to work abroad on short term assignments. Life at Truffles goes on in the capable hands of the staff that always seem keen to see the back of me and dread my return when I tend to come up with lots of ideas for improvements!
In June I was sent off on an interesting project on behalf of BP in Egypt. The job was very last minute and someone else was going to go, then couldn’t and then I was asked and said yes and they said yes great, and then they said wait maybe no because if they delayed the project the person they really wanted would be available but could I just standby whilst they made up their mind? I said no, either confirm you want me or not, because I am happy to go and do the gardening. The lawn needed cutting for a start.
So I found myself headed for Cairo and booked into a 1920’s Villa Belle Epoque which was refurbished in 2009 to a boutique hotel. They have successfully preserved a period colonial feel and you can just imagine well heeled tourists arriving alongside Hercule Poirot to have a leisurely meal before planning a visit to the nearby pyramids and a boat trip up the Nile.
However, this was shortly after the Egyptair 804 crash in May, which, travelling from Paris to Cairo, mysteriously crashed into the Mediterranean killing all 66 onboard. At the time terrorism was suspected so tourist travellers to the Villa Belle Epoque were zero. The hotel was delighted to see us as the three in our party appeared to be the only guests.
The room was heavily furnished in rich tapestries and period furniture (take a look at www.villabelleepoque.com/villa-belle-epoque-gallery/main-lounge.html) with a sitting room with deep armchairs in which to collapse and read the selection of topical books provided. Anything newer than 1920, like the coffee machine, didn’t work and the tiled bathroom of the same period was, no doubt, magnificent 90 years ago but could have done with a little improvement to the plumbing and green carbolic soap could perhaps be changed?
After arriving too late for dinner we enjoyed a leisurely buffet breakfast in a French Continental style plus some Egyptian fava beans with tahini and then our driver arrived to take us to BP’s Cairo office for a job briefing. The office, in the Mahdi embassy district, was in its final few weeks of operation before all the staff would be relocated to a new out of town office. The current low oil price is forcing many of the oil companies to relocate from prestigious and expensive offices to something more humble.
Then it was back to the Villa for a chance to catch up on emails and time for a swim before dinner. In temperatures above 90F there is no point hurrying. As the overhead fan slowly stirred the hot and humid air I struggled to get the internet to work and desired a cool beer. Unfortunately being Ramadan a cool beer is as rare as an American tourist so it is soft drinks for dinner which was tricky as nearly everything we ordered was off. The waiters also seemed to be off and hard to locate. Many hours later and the dinner ordeal is done.
Early start tomorrow at 6am. My two colleagues keep volunteering me to sit in the front passenger seat with the driver. The HSE rep (Health, Safety and Environment) always opts for the back seat as he maintains, in the event of an attack, they will always shoot out the driver and front passenger first. This is a typical reaction of these people fixated about safety who think everywhere abroad is hostile and dangerous. I point out that Middlesborough is probably far higher risk than Cairo.
A long drive across the desert heading for Alexandria passing the pyramids which seem to be surrounded by ugly high rise developments. The air is so thick you could cut it with a knife and it is hot but the most annoying thing is the constant loud Egyptian music the driver seems to need to keep awake. Passing by the battlefields of El Alamein we discuss the film ‘Ice Cold in Alex’ , the famous war film with Jon Mills and Anthony Quayle in which they dodge Rommel’s Afrika Korps and eventually reach a bar in Alexandria to have an ice cold beer. We wonder if we can find somewhere in Alex that will serve us a beer in Ramadan but I doubt it.
Tonight we are staying in the Helnan Palestine hotel in Montaza Park, Alexandria. Our rooms are not ready so I take a stroll in the beautiful gardens next to Montaza Palace. This was built in 1892 as a hunting lodge for the Muhammad Ali Dynasty and, in recent times, was the Summer residence of President Anwar El-Sadat and the former president Hosni Mubarak. The grounds have many wild cats and also some unusual birds such as the hoopoe. Back at the hotel our rooms are ready at last. There are several restaurants but they are all dead except one serving food for the break of Ramadan is very busy. They are not keen for us to eat there although I was happy to give it a try. Our HSE rep is looking for more pub-like food so we opt for the Steak house and have a very good steak but, alas no wine or beer is permitted!
The following day we join our survey vessel, Fugro Navigator, at Abu Qir. I have been on this boat before and know that it is very small and has poor internet so we have to buckle down to a harsh regime and monitor the performance of the site survey. This must be completed quickly as the drilling vessel, Fugro Scout, will be joining us to start work based on our findings.
The weather is good and the project is completed quickly followed by a return trip to the Helnan Hotel. Arriving late they have lost our bookings and the hotel is full up. After making a bit of a fuss and threatening to go to another hotel they give each of us opulent suites at no extra cost. Magnificent rooms so I think they deserve those 5 stars after all. Also we find there is a hidden bar where expatriates drown their sorrows in beer and so we just have beer and peanuts and forget about dinner. The next day we have the cross desert drive back to Cairo for debriefing at BP’s office. We arrive on the day they are moving office so end up in a meeting room with a hurried de-brief before staying overnight at the Meridian Hotel where we manage to order some very good Egyptian wine with our dinner. So in summary quite a good project and an enjoyable visit to Egypt. The next day we arrived back to find the UK in turmoil. We had been too late to vote in the referendum. All of us are shocked and amazed that the country has opted to leave the EU. One of our party says he will emigrate to Canada. I sent him an email last week and got no reply so maybe he has left already.
I have just completed a 7 week trip offshore Roatan. This is my 5th visit to this beautiful island in the Caribbean in the last two years. It was a former British colony and a haven for pirates and traders. Nowadays the pristine waters attract recreational divers to the coral reefs and cruise boats stop over for tourists to spend a few hours ashore looking for bargains or drinking a cold beer at West End watching the sunset.
However, I had little time for leisure and had to put up with a small boat with an enthusiastic but noisy marine crew from Trinidad who tormented me with carnival music. I had left the UK in March with a bad cough and sore throat which got so bad that I could hardly talk. My doctor in Wincanton (in fact a nurse as my case wasn’t deemed bad enough to summon a doctor) told me I had a virus which would clear up in a few weeks and might get worse and she refused to prescribe any anti-biotics. She also told me I wasn’t fit to fly. Stubbornly I took the optimistic view that she was deluded and flew to Houston. At the airport Marriot hotel I met up with two colleagues and tried in vain to talk above the babble in the downstairs bar. Once underway the onboard medic prescribed me anti-biotics and gradually after two courses of different medicines the chest infection improved although it took a good 5 weeks to return to normal.
On completion of the work in late April I stayed for a few days with my brother Peter in Houston. Houston had just got pummelled with 17 inches of rain in one day. That’s more rain than Salt Lake City gets in a year. I arrived in Houston on a delayed flight and tried to book an overnight hotel before travelling to see my brother, Peter, who lives about an hour north in Spring, Texas. However there were no hotel rooms so the choice was sleep on an airport bench or hire a car and drive to Spring. I hired a car which was much more expensive than usual and then got very lost trying to get to Spring avoiding closed and flooded roads and even some open but flooded roads. After I managed to get to the Spring area it took another hour or so to locate my brother’s house which is hidden away in the trees and is the mirror image of many other similar housing developments. I phoned Peter for help when I was close enough for him to come and rescue me. Even he admitted to getting lost in this labyrinth-like area and, in fact, we did manage to lose each other through his misunderstanding of my location and the empty Wells Fargo bank he waited outside at 3am in the morning was close but not quite right.
Peter is an expert ornithologist and he took me on some of the local trails in search of rare birds such as the Black-Tailed Godwit. However the floods had led to the 118 species of Texan snakes and possibly a few alligators to seek high ground and shelter in residential areas so I suggested a better idea was a trip to downtown Houston.
The Menil collection houses over 17,000 pictures including works by René Magritte, Max Ernst, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, amongst others. I was pointing out the imperfect technique of an Andy Warhol when an over zealous guard got over excited and ordered me to back off suspecting me of being a deranged saboteur. In 2012 an art student spray painted Picasso’s ‘Woman in a Red Armchair’ at the Menil so you can see why they are a bit sensitive. Another exhibition at the Menil was by the Surrealist William Copley. Children were advised not to look at the art which was deemed ‘adult’ in nature. Because of this warning it was full of children looking bemused at the collection of nudes, cars, bicycles and nationalist symbols such as flags. His version of the union jack is very good. There was also an excellent exhibition of photos of Henri Cartier-Bresson with many well known photos so if you are ever in Houston I recommend a visit to the Menil collection. And it’s free.
15th March 2016
This is the first update of 2016. I last wrote back in early December from Roatan island when I was about to start what proved a long survey project offshore Honduras. I missed a very
successful December at Truffles where our new chef had many Christmas parties to cater for and, as usual, a full house for both Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. In January we closed down for 3 weeks
so staff could take their holidays and then reopened, reinvigorated. At the end of January, Simon, our Manager since our start up in 2012 and his girl friend, Demelza, moved on to new challenges in
New Zealand. Simon has been integral to our business success and has helped double trading revenue and oversee numerous improvements so he will be sorely missed. Our eldest daughter, Natasha, took
over the helm in January with many energetic ideas and has helped reduce overheads with careful planning of staff rotas.
One such improvement has been the introduction of more comfortable seating area in the downstairs restaurant with two sofas and a small table to encourage customers to relax over a coffee, a pastry or light snack.
Long term plans include removal of the upstairs carpeting and replacement with wood flooring and new tables. The upper restaurant with traditional settings of linen tablecloths will change to a
more austere but contemporary look. Linen will still be available for certain group bookings and events.
Our present practice is to produce changes of lunch and dinner menus monthly so as to best benefit from use of local seasonal produce and this is likely to continue. Our popular café menu will be modified to remove slow selling items and to introduce a new range of authentic crêpes such as you would expect to eat in Brittany or Normandy.
Many customers have yet to adjust to the loss of our Simple Supper for £10 for 2 courses which we used to run on Tuesday nights. This still exists but has shifted to Thursday nights instead. Somehow that message has not filtered through. The change came about so as to offer Sunday roasts so we are currently open Sundays from 11am onwards for morning coffees and then lunch from 12 noon through to 3pm (last orders). This has generally proved very popular but we need consistent support from our customers to keep this going. Our other long running promotion is the Wednesday Steak Night. This offers a Main course Ribeye steak, frites and salad leaves paired with a soup starter or an ice cream dessert for £12.50. The idea of the Steak Night and Simple Supper is to attract customers through the door for a taste of what we can do at a reasonable price. However we feel that our regular lunch menu and dinner menus also represent great value for money and offer the unique chance to sample menus which are crafted and presented to give customers high standards of presentation of innovative dishes at affordable prices.
In February we were pleased to provide dinner to members of the Conduit Dining Club. A party of 28 enjoyed a great dining experience and wrote up a nice review which can be seen in the March issue of Conduit Magazine. See this link: http://www.theconduitmagazine.co.uk/index.php/food-drink/restaurant-reviews/229-restaurant-review-truffles-brasserie
I am away again for a weeks offshore Honduras but will hope to see many of our customers on my return in late April.
December 2015 Roatan Island, off Honduaras
I am away for a long stint offshore Honduras on a lively little boat called the Delta Skipper. This is my 4th trip to the survey area off the Mosquito Coast and it covers a huge area and the operator BG Intl will hope to discover significant oil and gas reserves and go ahead to drill on some of the prospects in the future.
However that future is very uncertain. The current oil price is now so cheap that a gallon of distilled water costs more than a gallon of oil. Although good news for the public when they top up at the pumps with ever cheaper petrol it has been an awful year in the oil and gas industry with the amount of work down by 25% and many people laid off or obliged to work at very low rates.
Fortunately business at Truffles is improving ever since our new head chef, Carney Robinson, joined us at the end of September. I am confidant that the quality of our food and its affordability is now the best in Bruton. Indeed there is a new bounce and verve about Truffles as regular customers discover we are Bruton’s hidden gem. Under-appreciated and consistently ignored by the media and food critics who gravitate towards the showy and ostentatious rather than the humble and honest we continue to do what we do best which is to offer good, locally sourced food in an innovative way with unobtrusive service. This December our party bookings are double what they were last year. Christmas Day lunch is fully booked and New Year’s Eve is nearly so. We will be shutting down for two weeks from January 1st for annual staff leave and reopening on 15th January. January is historically a slow month but we would ask our customers to remember us in January and book for one of our memorable Prix Fixe lunches or a dinner. A special thanks to all those customers who have taken time to write of their meal experience at Truffles and recommend us on TripAdvisor , Facebook and Twitter. Word of mouth is the best advertisement and seeing our customers return again and again is the ultimate accolade.
Joyeux Noel et Bonne Année
Richard and Barbara Sorapure
30 August 2015
I spent a useful recent trip touring France to research the standards and prices in French brasseries and bistros across Picardy, Normandy, Brittany the Loire Valley and as far south as the Dordogne. In addition Yapp Bros had given me contacts for visiting some of the wine producers in the Loire region and I enjoyed sampling wines in Vouvray and Chinon. The rate of exchange of the pound to the euro is better than it has been for a long time so eating out in France is once again good value. In general I found standards and the value for money is still high and there are many establishments providing good local produce, cooked simply and with generous portions often from a husband and wife team catering alone for 30 or more lunches every day. However, many restaurants have moved further towards the American model with burgers, pizzerias and fast food outlets flourishing and the traditional brasserie and bistro are having to fight hard for survival. The slow creep towards fast food values is most pronounced in the cities but it is still possible to find traditional French food in smaller towns and villages and especially in rural locations.
France has an enormous advantage in a ready supply of cheap but good vins ordinaries which we cannot compete with because of our heavy tax regime! I have picked up many ideas which we will gradually introduce to Truffles and the first lesson is for our lunch sessions to return to the prix fixe menu du jour model which offers great value to the customer but to less choice.
There has been no newsletter this August because we are in a state of transition. Simon Barrington Jones, our chef for the last three years, is stepping down at the end of September and we will replace him with an excellent young chef, Carney Robinson, currently working at the Mill-on-the Brue, Bruton. Simon has helped us achieve a 70% growth in customer numbers since he joined us in November 2012 and has helped us to win three consecutive silver awards from Taste of the West and made us the No. 1 licensed restaurant in Bruton on TripAdvisor so he will be a hard act to follow.
17 June Richard’s blog from Delhi and Chennai
I have just returned from a 3 week project in India working on a seismic survey in the Bay of Bengal. Before joining our vessel, MV Cassandra I spent 2 days visiting the Client’s office in Delhi for an initial briefing. I stayed at the Taj Vivanta hotel in Gurgaon which is a very good standard with cool marble floors and a large opulent bathroom. The oil company said I would need to have a heart stress test the next day as all their employees had to, presumably because working for them was so stressful it was best to discover at the start if you were likely to survive. I had been warned about this and had asked if the test could be done in Wincanton before flying to India but no-one in at the Medical Centre in Wincanton had ever heard of this. Is it like an ‘ECG’ they asked me? As if I should know. In fact it is in a way. You take ECG readings whilst lying down peacefully and they then ask you to walk on a treadmill with a 10° inline and increase the speed progressively to raise your heart rate to 150 beats per minute. After that they retake the ECG readings to look for any abnormalities which are more likely to show up when your heart is ‘stressed’. When I actually did the test in Delhi they kept me waiting for 2 hours so I would feel at home as that is what you would expect with our wonderful NHS. Once everyone in the clinic had been seen except for me and I was getting quite stressed (as I had a planned meeting with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and an evening flight to catch to Chennai (formerly Madras) to look forward to, it came to my turn. Clad in some sort of toga the test was an opportunity to lie down and catch up on some well earned rest although the strangled, gurgling sounds of my heart sounded alarming to me. I love walking so the stress test was useful to get some exercise. My heart rate was slow to respond to the faster rate of the treadmill and after 10 minutes when the rate had reached 146 beats per second they finally gave up and told me I had passed.
Next on the agenda was a trip to the Ministry to get my work visa. By mistake I joined at the top of a long queue but the Minister was very helpful and persuaded the four scribes to fast track my application and I was all legal within an hour. I then had to fill in a survey form for customer feedback in which it seemed best to say everything was brilliant and they were so fast. And they were.
The oil company had booked me an economy flight from Delhi to Chennai on Jet Airways, the low cost Indian carrier. Jet’s air fleet is very new and my only complaint was to end up in the middle seat of an aisle (my mistake I should have opted for window or aisle). The man on my left and the lady on my right were strangers but they soon fell into animated conversation which continued unabated for the next 2 hours. As this romance blossomed I got squashed and squeezed so much that I tried to join in with the odd witty remark. This didn’t go down to well so I continued to remain invisible.
On arrival in Chennai I stayed a night at another Taj Vivanta hotel and this was an old Victorian edifice with grand rooms and hints of a distinguished past. Not unlike Raffles hotel in Singapore before they messed it up by modernising it. I would have been quite happy to stay much longer but the following day a driver appeared in the morning and we were soon driving through the bustle of Chennai on a 3 hour hike up the coast to find our boat. But we discovered the vessel was delayed outside the coal port of Krishnapatnam and so I was checked into the Minerva Grand hotel which looked a bit dubious. It wasn’t so much the security guard lounging half asleep in the reception area cradling a bren gun or the hot sun of 104F outside in the dust filled streets as much as the difficulty in finding rooms for 4 people (3 Indian, 1 foreigner (me)) all from different companies and including one from the Indian MOD. With the habitual slowness, which is the normal pace of life out here, everyone except me was given a room. Mine was about to be vacated. An hour later when I was shown into the worst hotel room in 40 years of travel my thoughts were that this was an excellent room for anyone with suicidal tendencies. The shower shared the same area as the toilet, both small and compressed, so you could visit the loo and shower at the same time. The bed was minimalistic, being wide but not long, with a very thin mattress and a single sheet which might have once been white but was now more stained yellow with age. The promised WiFi system didn’t work and nor did the electric supply. In despair I rang up my office to ask them to do a search for the best hotels in Nellor. They had never heard of Nellor but they found alternative hotels at the equivalent of £6 a night and they said I was probably already in the best hotel. Finally the hotel produced a luxury suite for me in which the WiFi worked. It was a large room of a good standard. Later I had a very tasty dinner with a delicious chicken curry washed down with an ice cold Kingfisher beer so it made all the suffering of a long day worthwhile.
The following day the temperature was up to 111F so I went for a walk to see what all the fuss was about. See my attached photos of street life in Nellor. After 30 mins I needed another curry and cold beer and was really beginning to settle in as the food was so good and cheap. The total bill for my stay for one night, dinner and breakfast and lunch the following day was £35. All good things must come to an end so later that afternoon we drove to Krishnapatnam and after a frustrating delay waiting for a Customs and Immigration officer to return to his office from some pressing errand we joined the vessel MV Cassandra 9, registered in Kuching, Malaysia. In fact a new boat with an Indian crew and a Malaysian survey team. We had a target of just 2 weeks to complete a work programme which had already been running since early April. Most of those onboard had already had enough and wanted to leave so my first job was to quell thoughts of mutiny and get them all working again. The North West Monsoon was expected to blow up at any moment plus there was talk of 200 fishing trawlers waiting to move in on our working patch. To telescope events forward we got the work programme completed on time and then started a memorable return journey from Chennai back to London which I am still recovering from and may be the subject of a future blog when I feel strong enough to write about it!
7 MAY 2015 Richard’s Blog from the Irish Sea
Truffles owner has been busy with his other life This has involved surveying the seabed across the Irish Sea from Scotland to Northern Ireland to find a suitable route to install an electricity cable from Currarie Bay in Scotland to Portmuck in Northern Ireland. The Stenna and PO ferries rush past us everyday at 30 knots, hardly enough time to down a Guinness before you arrive at the ferry port of Strathmore.
So far we have discovered many items of UXO (Unexploded Ordinance). Our ex military man is very non-commital but we can hazard a guess that cylindrical objects about 1.0m long and 0.3m diameter are likely to be WWII 250kg (50 lbs) unexploded aerial bombs. And there is other stuff which I am not at liberty to divulge. In fact I have probably said too much already. The proposed route lies north of a deep hole in the seabed called Beaufort’s dyke and after WWII lots of surplus armaments were dumped here. However some of the contractors seem to have dropped off their deadly cargoes a bit earlier than intended so as to return home for another batch to dump and as a result mustard bombs and the like appeared on Scottish coastlines for little boys to play with. Of course this was many years ago and things are safer now, aren’t they?
That aside the weather has been marvellous and anyone who follows my twitter account may have seen some posts of the enigmatic craggy island of Ailsa Craig and other pictures of the Scottish and Irish landfalls and birdlife.
At the end of April our boat stopped off in Belfast to release some of the crew who had gone mad after many months incarceration away from friends and family and to pick up fresh supplies of food as we were nearly reduced to tinned rations and cheese biscuits. Out of our crew of 32 at least half made a rapid exit to fly back to freedom. I took the chance to walk into Belfast city centre to buy essential supplies such as chocolate biscuits and toothpaste but got distracted by ‘The Morning Star’ a lovely Irish pub serving velvetty Guinness and full of local characters chattering away in the local brogue. The TV was switched to the horse racing from Sedgefield. I picked up a copy of the Irish Times to merge with the locals and think this worked.
Another week or so and I hope to be back to Bruton for a couple of weeks before I have to be off again on another project this time to India where there is a rush to get some survey completed in the Krishna Godavari basin before the South West monsoon arrives in June.
In my absence I am pleased to see the initiatives from the Bruton Chamber of Commerce producing a new tourist brochure for our town seems to have led to an increase in trade. I should add that the BCC is manned entirely by volunteers who selflessly give their time freely to help promote the town and to help all our businesses grow and prosper. It is also great that the new art gallery at Hauser and Wirth is drawing in so many new visitors to their iconic and stunning art displays and that there have been so many enthusiastic reviews in the London media singing the praises of Bruton and her people.
The fact that so many celebrities are thronging to Bruton is also cause for celebration but we need to avoid a ‘them and us’ attitude and cease staring and adulatory behaviour like country bumpkins gazing on superior beings!
Finally I should mention that Truffles has a New Summer Café menu which has many gluten free and vegetarian salad options for a light and healthy alternative. But don’t worry you will still be able to order out French classics such as Moules Marinières , Boeuf Bouguignon and real baguettes with Beurre d’Isigny butter. Why not look in if you have never tried us. Or sit outside on our pavement seating area watching the celebrities drive by!
March 2015 - Rainy Days in Greenock and Largs
30 March 2015 Richard’s Blog from a rainy Greenock in Scotland
Writing this from the Holiday Inn Express, Greenock described by a recent TripAdvisor reviewer as ‘cheap and cheerful’. It’s my first visit to Greenock and I am only here to join up with my survey boat which is delayed off Arran on a previous job. I don’t think anyone comes to Greenock unless they have to. Arrived yesterday evening after a sodden drive across from Edinburgh, the nearest point my Easyjet flight could find to get here. Hertz hired me an amazing car- the Nissan Qashqai. The salesman told me the Nissan Crashcar was very comfortable. His mispronunciation had me worried. But the seats were softly cushioning and after only 3 hours sleep I was lulled into a very sleepy state driving along the dual carriageway snaking towards Glasgow. Fortunately for me the car was fitted with anti collision features so that an alarm sounded whenever I straddled across lanes and, best of all, any hostile SNP supporters sneaking up on my blind side set off a flashing light on the inside of the door frame.
Parking at the hotel was a piece of cake – the front and back had sensor cameras to give a visual view of any approaching bandits or lampposts plus more alarms that sounded the closer you approached a hazard. O yes the other revolutionary feature about this car is that it has no keys to lose. Just a fob to lock and unlock the door. At the airport I was forced to seek assistance on how to start the car. I had spent some time stubbornly trying to fathom it out. In fact there is a little button that says start. And if you want to stop the engine you press start again. In Japan two starts must mean stop.
As the boat is still waiting somewhere for the weather to improve (constant, rain, snow and a nasty cold wind that sort of strips the flesh from your face) I decided to visit the West coast of Scotland’s premier seaside resort of Largs.
No seaside resort looks too good in Winter. (Although most of the country is experiencing Spring that is not so up here). I include a few photos so you can judge for yourself. However, I was massively impressed by Nardini’s Italian world famous Ice Cream Parlour. It’s a fabulous old art décor building, originally opened in 1935. My fish and chip lunch cost £7.50 including traditional bread and butter and a cup of tea. Service and food all excellent so don’t believe the poor reviews on TripAdvisor. These are written by deluded people who can’t recognise true quality and are busy getting upset about the drafts or having to wait a few minutes for the waitress to see them.
Tomorrow I hope to join an 85m long survey boat. We shall be surveying a new cable route between Scotland and Northern Ireland to find a route clear of old WWII bombs and ordnance and other hazards. The weather in the Irish Sea can be grim so I think I will be away for at least 2 weeks. Meanwhile Truffles restaurant is going from strength to strength and we will be launching several new lighter menu options for Spring and Summer in early April. Also the majority of our items on the menu are now gluten free. Even our onion soup (commonly made with beef stock) is vegetarian and gluten free. As I said to the chef- What if you prefer gluten products? Surely this group of people will soon feel second rate and neglected? He was not amused by this and maintains the gluten free products taste equal or better than their wheat based equivalents. So come along and try for yourselves!
RICHARD'S BLOG - JANUARY 15 2015
Looking back December was our best trading month since we opened back in August 2012. This was helped by a full house on Christmas Day. This year about half our customers arrived early and the other half later so it went very smoothly with the kitchen and front of house managing to cope without any panics! For New Year’s Eve our thanks to all our customers (and some of the staff) who made an effort and dressed up as French theme characters!
Looking ahead our next big event will be Valentine’s Day on Saturday 14 February. Bookings are already coming in so book early as this is always fully booked. The menu is another good one from Chef, Simon Barrington Jones. There are lots of innovations planned for the coming months so keep an eye on our monthly newsletters, twitter and facebook.
RICHARD'S BLOG - DECEMBER 2014
I have just returned from another trip to Houston and Roatan in Honduras. I anticipated being away till after Christmas but the offshore survey had to be cancelled due to further serious problems with the survey boat caused by a leaking fuel tank. It’s a sign of the times that there are a lot of old boats out on the seas which have not been looked after properly so that costly breakdowns are more likely to happen. In this case the survey contractor lost out on completing a £2 million pound contract because someone wanted to save a few hundred dollars and not replace old rusty tanks.
I am currently putting a project together on behalf of an oil company for some work offshore Oman . It is clear that the low oil price has depressed the survey market so we have plenty of companies willing to bid for this work even though it is close to the piracy infested waters of Yemen and Somalia.
I was in Houston during Thanksgiving staying with my brother who lives in Spring, north of Houston. It’s easier and cheaper to hire a car rather than use expensive taxis so I hired a Chevrolet something or other from the airport. This car wasn’t as good as the Sonata I hired back in September. As all cars are automatic it took the car some time to catch up with what I wanted it to do and this model seemed a bit underpowered. Worse the GPS system had no idea of Houston’s one way systems and consistently sent me to the right place but facing the wrong direction or sometimes the wrong place but facing the right direction. After many frustrating circuits of 45 North I turned the thing off and resorted to the ancient skill of map reading.
Leaving Houston for Roatan in mid November I stayed overnight at the expensive Marriott hotel at the airport. This is not one of the better Marriots and has an idiosyncratic lift system whereby you wait ages at 4 lifts but only one is ever working. One old lady had been waiting so long she was beginning to drift off to sleep in the corridor!
I was only in Roatan a short time and the weather was awful. Wet and quite cool as the rainy season scattered the few tourists away from the beaches to the bars to watch endless games of the NFL league. The roof top bar at the Pineapple Villas where I was staying boasted 30 TV screens surrounding the ceiling and offering diverse sporting activities. Of the 30 TVS at least 25 played American football and there was a UK football game featuring the little known Gosport Borough losing 3-6 to Colchester.
Back in Houston whilst waiting for my flight back to UK we visited the impressive Houston of Fine Arts which had an excellent photography exhibition , an exhibition by Monet and contemporary art. Then a visit to the downtown theatre area and a good selection of well presented food and drinks at Sambucas jazz café. As it was Happy Hour the bill was reasonable! At this time of year the temperatures in Houston are a very pleasant 70-75F.
Back to reality in Bruton! November has been an awful month for us. Customers are holding back for Christmas jollities and have no time to support their poor suffering local businesses! Why are people so predicable that they appear to only go out on Fridays and Saturdays? After Hauser &Wirth opened their new gallery we were promised an influx of 50,000 extra visitors, cheque books in hand to buy the expansive works of art and maybe a few spare coppers for the local shops in town, if they managed to find it. That’s 961.5 extra visitors a week. Well no sign of even the 61.5 let alone the missing 900 these last few weeks. Hauser & Wirth have hung up a cloths line fluttering with white pants. I have heard of taking the shirt off your back but this is a new slant! Into December and things are beginning to wake from slumber. We have had our first Christmas Parties and Christmas Day lunch is fully booked. The new innovation of staying open all day and serving afternoon teas is gaining enthusiastic support so soon we will be turning coaches away. Now would anyone like to exhibit some art on our walls?
RICHARD’S BLOG - August & September 2014
I have had a busy two months abroad and have visited South Africa, Namibia, Honduras (Roatan Island) and the U.S.A. My July blog discussed my trip to South Africa and Namibia in August where I was plunged back into Winter leaving a warm and pleasant UK for a wet and cold South Africa. I spent only a day in Cape Town in transit and was impressed, passing through the airport, by a real life sized mock up of the prison cell that Mandela spent so many years in on Robbin Island. His bed was simply a rolled up blanket on the concrete floor!
In fact the job, which was supposed to be in Angola, took so long to mobilise that I left it whilst the various delays were sorted out. I have previously mentioned the excellent Lyons des Sable, voted Namibia's best restaurant, where I sampled zebra steaks and onyx in a French restaurant washed down with South African Pinotage. Standards were very high and the goat cheese starter was presented in a very innovative fashion with great contrasts of flavours. This restaurant is Michelin standard but without the price tag from my perception but probably expensive for the locals. Walvis Bay is completely different from how I imagined it and has well laid out streets, attractive houses and a harmoniously integrated population of 85,000. It was first occupied by Great Britain and was a commercially important port for the whaling industry . During the first World War Germany overun and occupied it until it was passed over to South Africa who held it until the newly formed of country of Namibia (former South West Africa) emerged in 1990.
After a brief return to the UK I left for Roatan island off Honduras for an interesting survey project of 10,000 sq metres of deep seas off the Mosquito coast. As this job was already underway it was simply a case of a day or two in port and then off to sea to finish the work. En route I had a stopover at the Marriott hotel at Houston International airport. This was a welcome stop to recuperate from the long flight from London on United Airlines. My brother lives north of Houston and we met up for a meal at the Marriott to catch up on events as it was at least 14 years since we had been in touch. The rooftop restaurant at the Marriott overlooks the airport and my brother, who used to hold a pilot's licence, took a keen interest as flights took off and landed through dark looming storm clouds, advising me that certain flights should not be following the heading they were on as conditions were too turbulent and risky!
The next day I had a short flight to the beautiful island of Roatan. Once again the boat wasn't quite ready for me so I was booked into a nice, but seen better days type of beach hotel on Fantasy Island. At check in I was fitted with a bracelet on my wrist and told sternly not to remove it. This seemed a bit sinister. Is there rampant crime on Roatan and would this help identify my corpse when I was discovered in the mangrove?
The bedroom took my breath away. Nearly every surface- bed, sink, tables etc was scattered with pretty orange petals. Had they put me in the bridal suite by mistake? As I seemed to be the only guest in the whole hotel this was puzzling. No bath but an inviting shower beckoned and it was a hot day. The water was brown, salty and cold. Afterwards I discovered I had not been singled out for special treatment as all rooms had the same water source which may have been from the nearest storm drain for all I know.
Coloured orange and no doubt tasting salty I headed for the bar for a cold draught of the local beer. This was okay and, better still, free. It seemed the bracelet on my wrist was the passport to free drinks and food! On Roatan it is the rainy season and I suppose you need to try everything to keep the few guests you can get.
I need to gloss over the next three weeks a bit but let's just say the vessel, which was another Mississipi type swamp barge, must have seen better days and it would have helped if the aircon system had not broken down twice and the boat hadn't started listing to one side in drunken fashion. Despite these setbacks some work was done and the crew were a dedicated bunch from several different nationalities. I helped the Spanish speakers learn English and by the end they were proficient in the phrase 'It's raining cats and dogs'. With all the interruptions to work the boat returned to port in Roatan on two occasions and I had a chance to look round the island. Roatan is a cruise ship destination and in high season must be awash with tourists. Being the rainy season it was quiet apart from a few dedicated timeshare visitors and the swimming pools of the resorts were largely empty and unloved. Roatan has diverse and unique species of flora and fauna incluing the rare spiny iguana, agouti, hawksbill turtle and more. It also a favoured dive site location and draws visitors mainly from USA and Canada.
On the way back to UK I took a few days off in Houston to visit my brother at his large mansion in Spring, Texas. This made me thoroughly jealous of his ordered and tidy existence. Although some years older than me he still runs around the tennis court, despite two artificial hips.
I also hired a car (so cheap in the USA) and drove over to Austin in search of the Pre-Cambrian hill country. However I should have done my research better as I got completely lost in the wrong area. Driving in the USA can be confusing as you are allowed to turn right against red lights (sometimes) but must always stop at Stop Signs even if you are in the middle of nowhere with only a watching armadillo. Texas Rangers prowl around looking for people like myself who have a common sense attitude to driving, unfettered by petty rules. Whereas I was very careful to stop at all traffic lights some Texans like to run them on red. If you are stopping in front of them when they attempt this it can be dramatic. Temperatures in Texas were a scorching 93-97°F so it is nice to be back in the UK again where the September temperatures are hot (for UK) 73°F.
A quick word about Truffles Brasserie. Today September 17 we have, at last, had the outside awning installed. Our first customers were 4 young bikers from France, amazed to find a French restaurant in deepest Somerset. I took their drinks order in my primitive French (not difficult: Bonjour! Voudriez-vous une bière? Nous avons Stella Artois (bière belgique) ou Kronenbour ou Pelforth?? Bon, quatre Stella! Certainement!) and they asked me to take a photo of them which you can see on our Twitter page.
RICHARD’S BLOG -25 July 2014
At present I am in Walvis Bay, Namibia onboard an American survey vessel Rylan T. She is Louisiana built offshore survey vessel 12 years old but seems much older and overcrowded with surplus equipment and chaotic electrical wiring. Accommodation is tight so the 20 man survey team are sleeping in 20 foot containers with four persons to each container and built in showers and toilets. It is basic and utilitarian but bearable for the 30-40 day duration of this job.
I have already been out here for 10 days. Leaving London on 16 July I flew to Cape Town and spent overnight in the Hotel Verde at the airport before catching an early morning flight from Cape Town to Walvis Bay. Weather in Cape Town was cold and wet and we all got caught in a downpour whilst walking to the plane. Everyone took this well joking it was their second shower of the day but it took 2 hours to dry off during the flight. The flight took one hour longer than normal due to strong headwinds but eventually we flew into Walvis Bay airport, a tiny facility at the edge of the rolling Namib Desert.
I was put into the Atlantic Hotel overnight as there seemed uncertainty on where our boat was, if it had arrived yet or if so, where was it. Normally I would have been happy for another hotel stop but the Atlantic was rather grim. They informed me that if I wanted an evening meal I should let them know in advance, presumably so they could persuade the cook to come in. In fact the hotel was full so this seemed an odd request and flagged up the warning that there were probably better places to eat than the Atlantic.
The next day we discovered the vessel was tied up alongside a dry dock where they were sand blasting some huge boats. As a result it was noisy and dirty and I was told to stay put onshore until they were ready. I transferred to another hotel, part of the Protea Group, and this was much better. Like many hotels they favoured the buffet system so every meal was a boring choice of one beef dish (mainly bones with a scraping of beef), a fish dish and or, a chicken dish. Breakfast was a bit better as there was a ‘cook’ available to make egg dishes to order – although I only never saw her make anything different than fried eggs.
On my final night of freedom I was invited to the ‘Lyons de sable’ – a French restaurant in Pelican Bay where an interesting and diverse menu included zebra sirloin steaks and onyx. I had an imaginative well presented starter of goat’s cheese stuffed pimento peppers followed by the zebra steak which was very tender with an unusual flavour. Others said the onyx was very good. Prices were reasonable and the restaurant was full. For wine we had a South African pinotage which was also good.
The days are beginning to merge now but I have finally embarked onto the vessel Rylan T. We are due to leave for Angola for a survey using an AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle). I won’t bore you with the details but this is a bit of kit which looks like a torpedo and is programmed to gather survey data at deepwater depths of up to 3000m including side scan images of the seabed and geological data down to about 50m below seabed. There is still a lot of wiring up and testing to do and all the survey team’s visas are about to run out which means some of them will need to fly back to Houston and re-enter at Luanda to rejoin our vessel. It will take 6 days for us to sail to Luanda and clearance into port could take the same time again so there is a lot of hanging around on this job.
Truffles restaurant has had a quiet June but is waking up again in July. We had a hugely successful Bastille Day event on 14 July when Daygan Robinson played live Breton mandolin music to a full house on a Monday night. That is quite an achievement. Following this success we will try and get Daygan to come back for another event soon but I can give you an early alert to keep Wednesday 12 November free as we have invited Jac and Co to come and play French café music for us that evening. This is a husband and wife team. He plays accordion whilst his wife sings Edith Piaf classics, Yves Montand etc. They are on a UK tour in November so we have been lucky to get them for Truffles Bruton. We plan to run a French gourmet dinner for that night at about £30/head and bookings are limited to the first 25.
For those of you following our saga with SSDC re permission to continue trading outside Truffles on the pavement area this has now been resolved amicably and we have been permitted continued usage but will need to apply for a licence.
On August 13 try and attend the council meeting at Wincanton and offer your support for our application to permit an awning outside. Councillor Anna Groskop has kindly agreed to present our case and we hope to get this approved.
Bastille Day 14 July
This year Bastille Day falls on a Monday, a day that Truffles is usually closed. However as this was a success last year we will be open for both lunch and dinner on Bastille Day. In the evening we will be putting on a buffet spread of French dishes and there will be live music available from Daygan Robinson. Daygan is a skilled mandolin player and his repertoire includes Breton music. Daygan started Dragonsfly with Maya in 1998 and he is based in Glastonbury but tours regularly. As an example of his music go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=
Our evening buffet starts at 7pm and is priced at £15.95 per head. Regretably it is fully booked and we have a waiting list for any cancellations. There is still space left for lunch on Bastille Day and we will be running our popular prix fixe lunch at £11.95 for 2 courses or £13.95 for 3 courses. As always it is best to give us a ring on 01749 812180 to book. If no one answers it's because we are busy or closed so do leave a message and don't forget to tell us your contact number.
Follow us on Twitter and Facebook to get daily updates on menu changes, special offers or just our witty comments! Last week we had our 1000th follower on Twitter who was
Charlotte Bone of Bruton. We have awarded Charlotte £20 off any meal at Truffles. You can find links to our facebook and twitter pages on our website at www.trufflesbrasserie.com
Our new French beer -Pelforth Blonde is proving very popular. Simon has been experimenting behind the bar with making a range of delicious iced coffees. These are not on the menu yet but he would be happy to make you one if you ask nicely!
Sipmith's range of Gin and Fever Tree Mediterranean tonic water is selling very well as is their Summer Cup. This is just the right weather for G&T and Pimms and Simon's Pimms are a work of art! Why not sit outside and savour a relaxing drink before your meal?
Following recent press coverage people are discovering wines from the Loire region and one of the best is our red Chinon from the historic town of Chinon which was the favourite residence of Henry II . It is made from a Cabernet Franc grape and has a distinctive, almost peppery taste which is an ideal partner of meat and chicken dishes.
Prix Fixe Lunch
A two course lunch for £11.95, or a three course for £13.95, is available all week. The choices do change daily but to give you an idea what you get this was the menu for Thursday 10 July:
French Onion soup with gruyere crouton or Smoked Halibut Salad or Pork and Duck Rillettes
Pork Loin Steak, honey mustard sauce or Vegetable Tagine with Couscous or Roast Confit Duck Leg, morello cherry sauce
Ice cream or Sorbet
And don't forget there is the all day brasserie menu to choose from and daily specials. Plus there is a dedicated children's menu and the mouth watering Truffles Burger!
Truffles is now accepting American Express cards. We are also now registered for VAT so you may request a VAT receipt for business purposes. Also note that we offer free WIFI. Just ask the staff for the wireless key so that you can retrieve your emails over a morning coffee. Do you have a group or event that you want to host? If so you could hire our upstairs or downstairs restaurant free of charge.
Our application for an awning is likely to be discussed at Council meeting in Wincanton 13 August. There is still an objection from Highways despite modifications to our plans so we will hope for a positive decision to enable our awning to be be installed before the Summer ends.
As some of you may have noticed there has been some local press coverage following our receipt of a letter from Somerset Highways demanding we remove all items from outside Truffles by end of
Hauser and Wirth
The eagerly awaited opening of the Hauser and Wirth gallery in Bruton will be on 15 July. We hope that some of the extra arrivals will also discover what the town of Bruton has to offer and as a reminder of our business hours Truffles is open daily from 9am for breakfast, then lunch from 12 midday to 2pm and dinner from 7pm to 9pm. (These are times for opening and last orders although we do have some flexibility and can open earlier (sometimes favoured by families with young children) or shut later if you request it in good time.
We hope you have found this newsletter relevant. However, if you would rather not receive future emails from us, please email us on firstname.lastname@example.org
16 June 2014
Today I received a letter from the Assistant Highway Service Manager of Somerset Highways stating that it "has been brought to our attention that you have placed items relating to your business on the highway and reduced the available footway width. Please note that no licence permitting these obstructions can be located and without this licence all items must be removed from the highway, no later than 30 June 2014".
We would like to point out to SSDC that Truffles has been a commercial restaurant since 1986 and ourselves and the previous two owners have all placed planters with flowers and herbs outside on the footpath so as to enhance the setting. We have been placing small table and chairs outside for customers since 2012 without any complaints and there has been no obstruction caused as the width of the pavement area is sufficiently wide outside Truffles to permit this. Whether we require a licence suddenly after nearly 30 years is a legal point as a clear precedent of usage has been established so we will contest the validity and legality of this letter from Somerset Highways. As things stand the Highways have made it clear that all items will have to be removed and as that includes our waste bin storage area we cannot quite understand how it will be possible to continue to run a commercial business. To the left and right of Truffles, by neighbouring properties, the pavement narrows to about 1metre width so the logic of removing all our seating and flowers to give passing pedestrians and babies in prams abundant space will be short-lived as they reach these pinchpoints!
Please make your view known directly John Nicholson at email email@example.com
Richard Sorapure, Owner
22 April 2014
During March and April Truffles has made impressive progress with our new Brasserie menu being well received. The message that you can just pop in and have a coffee, a bowl of soup or a light snack or vegetarian meal is slowly filtering through to the public many of whom still perceive us as a special occasion restaurant with starched linen table cloths and high prices! Nothing could be further from the truth! With over 60 TripAdvisor reviews not a single one has condemned us for high pricing, indeed many customers are staggered about how reasonable our prices are for the quality and experience.
As I write this I am onboard the survey vessel Kommandor Calum sitting in the harbour at Sousse, Tunisia. My cabin is of a good standard but we have been held up for 4 days waiting for the Tunisian Ministry of Defense to give us the necessary permit to start work for an offshore site survey. This is a first step before a drilling rig can start an exploration well next month.
To wind back the clock a few days: I landed in Tunis on 14 April following a direct flight with Tunisair from London Heathrow. For the first two days I was office based in Tunis. Since the revolution of 2010 the main impact for a thirsty Western visitor is that large areas of the city are now dry. At my hotel the sight of wine glasses on the table encouraged me to ask for a glass of some of the Tunisian Magon Rouge but, alas, that was banned and I had to settle for coke. The restaurant had 60 seats and I was the only dinner. For the main course I opted for duck breast. What vegetable does it come with I asked? Quelle legumes? The waiter told me it came with banana. And it did. Quite nice too.
Fast food is all the rage at lunchtime. I tried a huge chicken Shawarma oozing grease with work colleagues. It is described as a little piece of Heaven but if Heaven is like that then I’ll give it a miss.
It’s a 2 hour drive to Sousse and the cheerful Tunisian drilling engineer, doubling up as chauffeur for the day, drives me from Tunis south to Sousse. En route he wants to stop for food but, still recovering from the previous day’s Shawarma, I opt for an espresso coffee which is excellent and dirt cheap. The sun is very hot and I had been drifting off to sleep until I had that coffee. Now wide awake I am suddenly aware of what a dangerous driver he is, stopping without warning to consult his SatNav or to play another channel of Arabic music very loudly.
Finally booked into the Movenpick, one of the premier hotels in Sousse. It has a suitably large and impressive Atrium, a bit like a Greek temple opening out on several swimming pools of various shapes, dotted with palm trees and beyond, the sea looking rough and hostile. The place is teaming with tourists. My room is predictably perfect with a small balcony and seaview. The aircon doesn’t seem to work.
The good news is that I can buy a beer. The Tunisian Celtia is brewed by the Société Frigorifique et Brasserie de Tunis. Reading reviews online one of the best ones says that it is ‘not that bad really’.
However the restaurant meals at Movenpick are very disappointing. The ubiquitous buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner formats favoured by large corporate hotels are purely for their convenience but if you want over-priced food that has been hanging around, or if you are happy to run around numerous counters to get your food then this is for you. The small elements of service such as asking if you would like a drink or maybe a knive or spoon are completely lacking despite numerous staff hanging around talking to each other or gazing into the middle distance. There is a Tapas restaurant and I asked for a Rioja to go with a couple of dishes but no luck with that so finally get to try Magon Rouge 2011. Considering Tunisia has been producing wines since the Phoenicians 2,000 years ago this was like an authentic taste from the past rendolent of sand dunes and palm trees lapped by the Mediterranean Sea.
Standards in some of the less pretentious small restaurants are much better and I visited the impressive looking Restaurant l’Escargot ranked no. 5 of 55 restaurants in Sousse on TripAdvisor. I went for the Boeuf Stroganoff, anxious to compare it with our own version at Truffles and I am afraid to say it was a tough bit of beef with no flavour of cognac; in fact very poor. My colleague was happy with his meal and my French onion soup starter was very good. We tried a Tunisian Terrale from the Grombalia region which is reviewed on Tunisiaalive as having ‘a quality not unlike nail varnish remover.’ I felt this was over-harsh but not a wine I would order for Truffles.
Yesterday I tried out the Restaurant Lido at Sousse Port. The waiter spent some time leaning over my table playing with the TV remote, oblivious that there was a customer one foot from the remote trying to give his order. Reverting to a firm French patois I managed to get his attention and had a good lunch of red mullets, salad and chips plus a decent half bottle of Ugni blanc for just £10.
It’s back to the waiting game now. I have checked out of the opulent hotel and boarded the survey vessel and just have to wait for the men at the Ministry to give the go ahead. It’s costing about £25,000 a day standing by doing nothing much so I hope we will be on our way soon or else I may have to explore some more of the Tunisian wines!
3rd March 2014
I have had an unusually long break from my usual employment as a marine geologist/geophysicist since my last job offshore Nigeria. I took December and January off by choice so as to help out at Truffles over the busy Christmas period. This year we were better prepared and attracted about twice as many Christmas Party bookings as last year. Our chef Simon proposed two Christmas party menus: one a bit more expensive than the other and I naturally assumed the cheaper version would be popular for lunch and the more expensive option would suit people better for dinner. However this proved not to be the case! The lower priced version proved popular with some groups in the evening and these parties tended to spend more on wine and drinks than the fuller, dearer option. As is our usual practice we added no service charge and most groups were very generous in tipping the staff well. Another feature, which we welcomed, was that all the party groups took their time and really seemed to enjoy themselves. Meals lasted a marathon 3 hours on average!
For Christmas Day we had a full house and an excellent traditional menu with many choices available to suit all tastes. The oldest guest was a sprightly 100 year old who finished all his food with gusto! For the first time we added a discretionary service charge and this resulted in the staff on duty sharing over £200 between them. Six out of seven members of our family were on duty, which is a first, and everyone did brilliantly marshalled to various tasks with effortless efficiency by our son Simon.
In January I expected a bit of a downturn in trade but takings for the month were nearly double the previous year despite a low key New Year’s Eve and February figures were buoyed up by good takings over the three day Valentine’s Day dinners.
In late February Truffles underwent a deserved face-lift with replacement of old and unreliable kitchen ovens and re-equipping with £5,000 of new kitchen equipment. In addition the worn carpets we inherited from the previous owners have been replaced and all surfaces repainted. Additional costs still in progress will see a transformation to the frontage with new signage and an awning to cover the outside seating area so customers can sit outside rain or shine.
Finally there is a planned name change from ‘Truffles Bistro Restaurant’ to ‘Truffles Brasserie’. Typical French brasserie dining offers an all day menu with many choices of starters, appetisers, mains and desserts and we will adopt this format with an emphasis shift towards grilled steaks using our dry aged Dexter Beef sourced from a farmer in Redlynch. To become more family friendly there will be a children’s menu and we will aim to fill the perceived gap in the market in that there is no decent burger available in the Bruton area at the present time.
For those customers who have got to love our style of food we can reassure them that our traditional bistro style dishes and fresh fish and seafood will still be available on the brasserie menu and there will still be a daily specials board.
Finally I should mention we are changing suppliers for our coffee (to Bean Shot Coffee in Bruton) and teas and infusions (to Kandula Tea Company). We will also be stocking additional red and white wines and spirits.
I expect us to substantially increase numbers as a result of these changes so as to make our business more viable and competitive and we can only achieve this by maintaining our standards of affordable excellence and innovation. Where Truffles leads others follow!
Truffles had a very busy January with bookings running at twice the level of last January. Probably you are all fed up with the weather and needed a lift but as February is continuing just as gloomy and wet then we recommend a visit soon.
The Sunday Buffet is still only £12.95 per person (children £6.95) and more and more of you are discovering that this is the place to be on Sunday morning! If you want to be sure of a place please book in advance (Tel: 01749 812180) as it helps the Chef plan how much food to prepare and stop wastage. For our last Sunday buffet we catered successfully to vegetarians, a Vegan and a coeliac so if you have particular needs please let us know in advance so we can make sure there is something suitable for you.
At a yet to be confirmed date in March Truffles will relaunching with a slight name change to TRUFFLES BRASSERIE
Following refurbishment of our kitchen we are equipping it with a chargrill, amongst other new equipment, to enable us to provide a wider range of grills including sirloin steaks, fillet steaks and chateaubriand. There will be an all day brasserie menu which will include family orientated favourites whilst our daily specials board will continue to showcase the best of local fresh fish, seafood, game and other dishes
There will also be both internal and external redecorations and our restaurant will be closed for these changes to take effect from Tuesday 25 February to 27 February.
Exciting times and we hope to see you soon,
14th November 2013
After 9 days delay our survey vessel finally slipped berth on 2nd November and we eased out of port into the narrow river channel of the Calabar. At 06:30am the river surface was smooth as glass and the early sun, with no great heat, illuminated the mangrove draped river banks.
The only activity, the occasional fishing canoe, knifing through the waters, hugging close to the sides of the river bank and overhead, sea eagles and kites flying past in great sweeps seeking their prey.
We expected a sailing time of about 8 hours to reach our survey area offshore Nigeria and we had a safe escort with a Nigerian security vessel assigned to our protection and equipped with enough fire power to encourage potential pirates or militant groups to leave us well alone. In addition our boat was completely enclosed in coils of barbed wire to prevent attempts at boarding.
The river passage went smoothly with us leading and the security vessel staying in our wake. Onboard a Pilot had been assigned to help our Captain negotiate the river which shallowed to less than 5m. In places the mangrove had been cleared and we passed fishing villages and towns and many wrecks of former boats and ferries left rotting , some abandoned, still at sea their owners possibly bankrupt or dead. Who knows? In time nature would claim the wrecks back and they would sink to the bottom of the river, forgotten for ever.
As the channel widened we entered busy shipping channels with constants streams of light traders, supply boats and tankers. A small launch mounted with machine guns proved to be a police patrol boat and a warning that we already in a higher risk area where piracy attacks were an accepted fact of life.
Close to 4pm we arrived in our area, many kilometres offshore, and the work would begin.
Richard Sorapure, owner of Truffles, is a marine geologist and geophysicist who represents many major oil and gas Clients in supervision of their oil and gas related projects. This is his second blog from Nigeria.
26th October 2013
On Friday 25th October I flew with Air France to Douala in Cameroon. I was amazed that Air France is offering Chablis Domaine Sainte Claire 2011 by Jean-Marc Brocard in Business Class. Amazed at theis coincidence because Truffles has been stocking this very same Chablis since the Summer. The Air France description of this wine translated into English is:
In Burgundy, yet on the outskirts of the region, the vineyards of Chablis cultivate their distinctive limestone and Jurassic Kimmeridgian marl soil (150 million years old!) to impart inimitable purity to the Chardonnay grape. This variety was introduced to Burgundy early in the 20th century and it shaped the Chablis of today. Crystalline and sharply defined, with light iodine, this Brocard wine, aged in stainless steel vats, is impeccably refreshing.
However with my Canette aux Châtaigne et groseille ( Duckling with chestnut and red currant) I chose a Médoc Chateau Rollan de By 2008 – a Jean Guyon Cru Bourgeois. This wine is produced from a gravelly soil at Bégadan, a small commune in northern Medoc and the taste and complexity is stunning! I will try and source this wine for Truffles even if we have to drive over and get it ourselves! The meal was pretty good considering the limitations of catering in flight and is a recipe by Thibaut Ruggeri, the winner of the Bocuse d’Or 2013.
Leaving wine aside this is my first official blog on the new Truffles website. Our family acquired Truffles last year and, as many of you will be aware, we have already established Truffles as the premier restaurant in Bruton for quality of food, friendly service and excellent value for money. These are our core values.
As a marine geologist and geophysicist I am often away travelling overseas on oil and gas related projects. The business is now well able to operate without my intrusive presence as we have an excellent team in our Chef Simon Barrington Jones, our apprentice chef Leah Pitt , front of house manager Simon ably assisted by Jasmine, my daughter Nicola , my wife Barbara and others.
I have just joined the geophysical survey vessel in Douala and tomorrow we will head off for a 3 week campaign offshore Nigeria. We are not working in a high risk area but just to be on the safe side the vessel has been draped in razor wire to prevent pirates boarding us. We will also meet up with a support vessel containing 10 armed Nigerian marines to provide protection. Before we can start work we will head into Calabar to process all the clearance formalities so I doubt if we will start the survey work before Tuesday. I include a few photos to show how things are in Doula and will send you all regular updates.
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