Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year 2020.

I like to describe what I do as a 'restaurant photographer'. It's a little bit different from a studio based food photographer although a large part of what I do is photographing food and drink and the people who make it. As a restaurant photographer, every job and shoot location is different with its own particular challenges. Light is the main one, it's taken me years to hone a lighting technique that I'm happy with, to replace an ideal beautiful natural light set up, as good lighting in restaurants can be in short supply, especially in the dark Winter months. I'm often working quickly to strict time limitations and around customers and in tight spaces. You often have to think quickly and adapt to the working environment.
I love what I do and I miss the 'buzz' of it now I don't have it, living in lock-down. We don't know when restaurants will reopen properly but they'll most likely be the last industry to get back to 'normal' again.
I'm entirely self taught as a photographer, I started this blog several years ago, just for something to do and gradually found that I was enjoying taking food photos more than I was as a freelance illustrator which I was originally trained in and did for many years.
Photography technique I developed by trial and error but there are times when you wonder is this the right thing to do? Is this any good? Self doubt drives me forward but too much is unhelpful.
I look on old work that I loved at the time in self critical horror, every new job I work extremely hard to try to make incremental improvements, you see the progression as your work improves.
Who knows if all my regular clients will reopen once all this ends? One certainly hopes so. I'm generally an optimist but hope is in short supply at the moment in the restaurant business which I consider myself a part of.
Which brings me to the Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year 2020.
After coming second in 2019 in my bloggers category (see photo below) in all honesty I wasn't sure if I was going to enter again this year. Why not leave it on a high?

 My work is improving I think all the time but you need a striking and memorable image like this one I believe to get through the strict judging process that's needed when so many amazing talented photographers enter from all over the world. I feel that you really need a unique photo-shoot scenario, but a lot of what I do isn't really going to lend itself to this as the work and food looks really good but this isn't enough, it needs to be a little different to get though to make it memorable and stand out. You're competing with the best in the world!
Then I got one of their final promotional emails, and a successful competitor from last year said she wasn't going to enter but did and ended up winning. I thought, 'what have I got to lose?' So I entered a few of my favourites shot this year, thinking I may just get through to the exhibition if I'm lucky. The odds were really against it I thought after last year. There's a part of me that thinks I just got lucky last time.
I was extremely surprised to get an email that a few of my photos had got through to the final stage and that this photo below would be in the exhibition. 
This photo was shot yet again in the kitchen in The Boathouse in Lichfield, quickly shooting chefs as they worked. I liked the simple composition of this one. Simple and beautiful is how I like to create images and it tells the story of the chef going through all the processes, laboriously making pasta properly.
Again as last year, to get though to the exhibition is an amazing achievement, especially as a self taught relative newcomer to photography. To be chosen amongst the best in the world is a real honour and huge confidence booster. It's a flag that says you're a part of the industry and deserve to be there.
We loved our trip to London last year to the exhibition and result at having come second. Full of high spirits, we taxied to Barrafina on Dean Street to do what we do best, eating copious amounts of tapas , the food was so good, I recall big red Carabinero Prawns and drinking my favourite Spanish beer,  cold foamy Estrella Galicia. It was a special night that we'll never forget.
This year would be different of course because of the Coronavirus. But it really worked virtually online with pop star and cheese-maker Alex James presenting the awards again. 
I had seen the amazing images in my category and thought I have absolutely no chance. I couldn't believe it when my name was announced as coming second again in the bloggers category for the second year running! I was honestly astonished. This is the best food photography awards in the whole world and I'd won a prize yet again.
This really means an awful lot to me, especially in these strange times when I don't know when I'll be shooting professionally again. 
See the awards in full below.

I received an award in 2018 for this photo of Turbot on the grill at Elkano Spain. This was my first taste of success at the awards. Seeing the print on the walls of the exhibition at The Mall Galleries was wonderful.

Monday, 23 March 2020

Rothay Manor, Ambleside.

It seems pointless writing this review now, in the middle of the Corona Virus, where all restaurants here in the UK have closed but I have a lot of time on my hands now with my diary of all forthcoming photo-shoots inevitably and worryingly cleared but I know this is nothing in comparison to restaurateurs. In 48 hours alone, Rothay Manor owner Jamie Shail said the hotel had in the region of £30,000 worth of cancellations. Frightening and shocking times.
It seems a good time to recall happier days, first shooting for Rothay Manor (cards on the table, they're a client) then visiting as customers with our dogs in tow. Unique I think in Ambleside (which has no shortage of quality dining hotels) is that you can take your dogs into a separate elegant dining room.
Head chef Dan McGeorge is fairly new and makes a statement of intent along with a £1 million pound refurbishment. His food was awarded three AA Rosettes last year which is was well deserved. I'm sure the Michelin inspectors will be (back?) in when all this is over.
We sampled the 9 course longer Gourmet Taster menu (£90), the photos below are a mix of what we ate and what I photographed on two different occassions.
Hand Dived Orkney Scallop. Jerusalem Artichoke, Apple, Marigold.
Squab Pigeon. Faggot.  Turnip, Buckwheat, Green Strawberry.

Dover Sole with Salsify, Onionm Sea Beets and Lemon. (our replacement for the pigeon).

Turbot with clams, Alexander, Haricot Blanc and Elderflower.
Skrei Cod,  Cabbage, Kale Bacon.
Suckling Pig Loin Belly, Brawn, Onion, Chervil, Douglas Fir.
English Rose Sirloin of Veal with Walnut, Leek, Potato and Truffle.

The food is elegant and intricate and most importantly, the flavours are all there. We knew we were in for a good night when the first canapés were all excellent. (Cumbrian Venison Tartare pictured below).
I'd prefer a slightly faster pace on a long taster menu but I am fairly impatient.
The staff are delightful and especially kind to our two dogs, and we loved the stunning huge room we stayed in with its' own patio to the beautiful gardens.
When this is all over, hotels and restaurants are going to need our custom and I'm looking forward to the day that we embrace again the true joy of eating in restaurants like this one.

See the full shoot here.
To commission me for a photo shoot, email Bacononthebeech(at)

Monday, 11 November 2019

Erst, Manchester.

I had no real intention of visiting Erst. Not because I thought it wouldn't be good but really because I had kind of given up blogging and I'm also trying to economise. So we don't really get out much these days, which I'll also put down to pure laziness. There are fewer things I like doing more on these cold wintry nights than staying in by the fire, stuffing my face and watching Netflix. More often than not, pushing the boat out can lead to huge a disappointment and an empty wallet.
Besides, we've been to some top small plate restaurants in London of this ilk, and in the case of say St. Leonards, we were not blown away.
So as we were invited down to Erst, we thought we'd give it a go and we were pleasantly surprised. Surprised at how accomplished the food was. We actually preferred Erst to the much rated St Leonards and even enjoyed it more than their high end neighbour.
The small plates 'modern European' menu is well designed and refreshingly small. They've honed it down, kept it simple and everything we ate as far as we're concerned actually works well. The interior is clean and modern but like many places in Ancoats, a little chilly inside in these winter months. I'm sure it warms up later on in the service. We liked the first white wine we tried, (rare for us) a 2018 Eschenhof Holzer, Gruner Veltliner Wagram from Austria. It worked perfectly with the food.
We sampled:
Carlingford Oyster with Apple and ginger mignonette. I mentioned at the time I'd prefer my oysters naked as for me this accompaniment is overpowering but this is really down to personal preference. The produce, lovely plump oysters are excellent.
Pickles & Ferments.
Flatbread with Whipped Lardo. I bloody loved this. You can just inject this lardo into my veins and the flat bread was perfect as you might expect from Trove bakery.
Salt Cod, Tomato, Capers and Oregano. Beautifully fresh and clean dish. The tomatoes are reminiscent of the flavoursome fragrant ones you eat abroad. A favourite. Followed by Mussels dashi and pork fat oil. This has a wonderfully rich broth.
Pork Collar, plum and rosemary.
Partridge, ajo blanco & grapes.  As Mrs B said at the time, 'this is how we prefer our game, roasted and not raw'.
Finally dessert, a lovely rich Wintry Baked Apple, pecan and vanilla ice cream.
The moral of this story is never try and judge a restaurant you've not visited yourself yet. Erst is an absolute delight and good value. You could come here at least twice instead of higher end options. I'd prefer to visit here myself, the staff are lovely, it's unpretentious and everything actually works well. Highly recommended.

Monday, 21 October 2019

The Crown, Burchetts Green, Berkshire.

We were going to a family wedding down south so used that as an excuse to visit the much venerated The Crown, Burchetts Green. It seems impossible to write such a review without using the phrase 'a family affair', but chef Simon Bonwick is always in the kitchen, whilst apparently several of his children work here too. We met two of them and professional and friendly they were too, and even chef popped his head out to say hello.
It's not really a pub, although it looks like one from the outside. Nobody really comes here for a drink I'm told. It is worth the four hour journey from Manchester. We weren't messing around so just went for the taster menu as follows.
Canapés and bread.
 Crab signature.
Duck with a rather nice elderberry and rowan sauce.

Lemon Tartlet, bramble sorbet.
Prune with heather baba.
Everything was all rather nice, faultless really, I especially liked the duck. I would have preferred an extra fish course over a dessert (although the desserts were very good). All in all a very pleasant lunch, it left me wanting more and eager to return next time we're down in this neck of the woods. As Michelin say, well worth a detour.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

White Swan at Fence, Lancashire.

Whenever I see the word 'challenging' to describe a chef's food, alarm bells go off in my head. I think, that's fine but you can do it with somebody else's money. I don't want challenging, I really just want delicious. This is the reason why we've never been to Mugaritz in the Basque Country. We all know that Tripadvisor is generally awful and terrible for the industry but take a look at the reviews for that particular 'challenging' restaurant, it certainly makes for interesting reading. I'm not in the market for gambling €350 each for what at least half of the customers writing reviews on TA agree is challenging but also unsuccessful and unpalatable.
I am however very much in the market for two Michelin star courses for £27 or three for £35 in the Lancashire village of Fence.
I wouldn't describe chef Tom Parker's food as challenging. I would call it absolutely gorgeous and packed full of flavour like the wonderful style of his mentor Nigel Hawthorne of Michelin starred Northcote.
 I've been to the White Swan twice now, firstly on my own when I had a spare day off shooting food professionally. We then returned together for my recent birthday and we took our two dogs. Can you name anywhere else in Britain where you can eat Michelin star food and take your furry friends? * This is not a rhetorical question, I would like to know so I can visit.
On this second visit first, we ordered dishes to share so we could sample as much as possible. There is also a 6 course tasting menu for £60.
The excellent home made bread rolls to begin on both occasions are good and crusty, served with a richly flavoured foie gras liver paté and a lovely creamy whipped butter. 
Tomato Consommé. Hebden Bridge Goats Cheese Gnocchi, nocellara olives, basil and marjoram. Absolutely lovely, a warm taste of the Summer, the tomatoes explode with flavour on your tongue.
Warm Salmon Gravalax. English Wasabi buttermilk, apple and dill. I had something similar to this on my first visit and I loved both (with cucumber and radish on that occasion, picture below). Such a beautiful dish.
Suckling Pig. Garden Courgette, basil and crab apple. The crispy crunchy skin is just right, with the soft fleshy pork underneath, it's perfect. (*Note the plating was perfect before I accidentally stuck my finger in it).
Whitby Cod, Smoked Bacon, Scottish girolles and onion. I think this one was our favourites, we love the flavoursome liquid broth that accompanies the delicate fish.
Veal Sweetbreads, Artichoke Madeira and thyme (pictured below) was another richly flavoured beauty from my first visit in May.
Desserts were also strong on both visits. Tiramisu. Banana Ice Cream, Michel Cluizel Chocolate, coffee bean and caramel may well be my perfect dessert. Mrs B loved her Blueberry Crumble Soufflé. Beetroot Ice Cream and white chocolate custard. It's well worth the extra £5 surcharge.
Over two visits I'm yet to eat a dish that didn't work and wasn't beautiful and I love those odds. White Swan at Fence is in my favourite three places to eat in the UK overall, it's certainly my favourite pub. It's incredible value, the food is always superb and full of flavour, it's in an unpretentious setting, they serve Timothy Taylor Landlord and the staff are all absolutely lovely. Even the coffee is decent, not always the case in good restaurants.
My advice is this, avoid those places that may attempt to try and 'challenge' you, they're rarely as successful as you'd hoped, (with a few exceptions) and they're rarely as good as here. You can keep your cutting edge, I'm just sticking to safe bets like this where lovely people just simply serve you wonderful food.

10/10. Everything was perfect over two visits. We couldn't fault anything.
* Dog Friendly tables in the bar area only not on Friday/Saturday evenings. We specify this when booking.