Heroes On The Half Shell
After a strange career "wobble" last night - Monday's are never a good day to dwell on old stuff - today was a timely reminder that, when it comes to "work", I'm a very, VERY lucky bastard. That was certainly the expression that sprang to mind this lunch time when sitting in the "Wipers", as the charming Ypres Castle Inn is known to Rye locals. A pint of Harvey's shandy in hand (spot the driver), the always entertaing Simon Majumdar for company and, in front of us, 13 - yes, count 'em, 13 - freshly caught scallops, all with roe intact: three in parma ham, three in lime and chilli, three in tarragon and butter, and four sitting juicily atop densely meaty discs of black pudding. As Simon divvied them up with the precision of a surgeon (see forthcoming entertaining tome Eat My Globe for details), and the wafts of wood smoke reached us from the fire, and the sun tried to break through the clouds above the Romney Marshes, and the (admittedly diluted) Harvey's worked its magic, it was definitely one of those "life is good" moments. The taste of the scallops - particularly those in the ham and those riding the black pudding - took it up a notch too.
We were in Rye for the seventh annual Rye Bay Scallop Festival, a celebration of this charming Sussex town's fishing business, its admirable (and plentiful) local fish stores and, particularly, the accidental discovery some 30+ years ago of well-stocked scallop beds. Now, while some 90% of the catch sadly goes to the other side of the Channel - because they haven't got all squeamish and pathetically removed from things in shells that still pulsate as you cut them free - the Rye locals that choose to partake are spoiled for choice.
With festival organiser Lorna Hall to guide us, Simon and I received a quick lesson in opening scallops from Market Fisheries' main man Russell Drew and a history lesson - and some stunningly good hot-smoked salmon - from Rye Bay Fisheries' Tony Isted. Then, after a walk around this pretty Cinque Ports town and after popping into the excellent-looking Webbe's Fish Cafe to watch their constantly over-subscribed fish cooking class, it was time for lunch and a surprisingly easy drive back into London.
The Festival finishes this weekend so if you can spare a few hours - it's an easy two hours from London - I'd heartily recommend a visit.