Duo manage food for fraught

Historical Cookery Christmas Special

Lichfield Garrick


SIMON Smith, who runs Thrales restaurant in Lichfield, and Prof Roland Rotherham, are becoming a festive tradition with their seasonal culinary double act.

The duo are Garrick regulars with their historical recipes and demonstrations but their Christmas show is becoming the culinary equivalent of panto.

I do wonder though how many people are put off by the titles of the pair's shows under the impression these are dusty lectures for food anoraks.

Far from being talks on cooking dragon chops on your shield, with a helmet of hedgerow nuts and berries on the side as you wend your way to the Crusades though, you get the feeling that Tommy Cooper would hardly look out of place in the mayhem that ensues. It might start off as a cookery demonstration but any academic stuffiness has gone before the first pan is heated. This is entertainment, pure and simple, slapstick with cream and brandy.

Rotherham, the historian, ex-cavalry officer and former member of staff of Queen Elizabeth II's Royal Household, and world authority on King Arthur and the Holy Grail, finds the recipes in various dusty tomes and Smith, a chef of international renown, cooks them. At least that's the theory.


If only life were that simple. In practice Rotherham wanders off into  fascinating historical facts and anecdotes while Smith, engulfed in smoke as a pan complains about being unwatched, explains that chef's never burn – merely caramelise but amid the  jokes, quips and laughter they do manage to cook some tasty Christmas recipes with some going back 800 years or more.

Smith also imparts, among the jokes, some of the tricks of the trade from his lifetime in cooking which has taken him to British embassies in Paris and Vienna, as well as working in New York and five star hotels. He has the culinary ability to bring a mediaeval recipe down to ingredients you can find at your local supermarket and which can be cooked in a modern kitchen without losing the essence and flavours of the original.

He is also the master of substitution, for example one recipe, Somerset Partridges, calls for cider brandy. If you don't have any then Smith's advice – mix cider and brandy and it works just as well.

This year's recipes included Mrs Beeton's dried fruit compote,  bananas in rum, a favourite of Prince Albert, a Queen Elizabeth I pheasant dish and an 18th century tavern dish of partridge as well as pan fried onions and apples from the 14th century and a favourite of Henry V, courgettes with almonds.

There was also real mincemeat pies – with real meat – and, once more, a recipe for a brilliant Christmas pudding. A pudding I have made and can say is probably the best I have tasted.

The pair this week have also launched a book in conjunction with the Garrick, Simmering Through the Ages, and several of the recipes appear regularly on the menu at Thrales. There will be a review of the book shortly; meanwhile all the Christmas recipes from the show are available by clicking here. RECIPES

Roger Clarke 

Top News Home   

Paul Potts

Symphony Hall


I HAVE a suspicion that the majority of winners of the endless procession of reality talent shows on television will end up as little more than questions in pub quizzes in a few year's time but the Paul Potts phenomenon seems to have sturdier legs.

I saw the former phone salesman at Symphony Hall some 18 months ago and on his return just about everything seems that bit bigger: the orchestra, and, dare I say it, Mr Potts himself, and certainly the voice.

Since he won Britain's Got Talent Potts has had two-and-a-half years for voice training, practice and performance and it shows. His voice has more range and power and he sings with more confidence with top notes delivered with assurance rather than merely reached. 

Some things don't change of course. He still takes some flak for somehow not being a proper opera singer and for being an opera/pop crossover performer but Potts has never claimed to be the new Pavarotti, indeed at his very first audition he just said he was a bloke who sang opera and little seems to have changed.


He still comes over as an ordinary bloke who just loves to sing opera and tells the audience again and again how grateful he is to be given the chance to do just that - which is part of his charm and his appeal.

There are faults, as with most performers, but Potts would never claim to be the best or even one of the best tenors in the world. The simple fact is though that he sings arias a lot better than most of us and while people continue to want to see him perform good luck to him. 

You never know he might even just encourage a few people to take an interest in proper opera. His first CD, One Chance, has sold more than 4 million copies and a second CD, Passsione, appeared earlier this year.

He struggled with patter on his first visit and still seems much happier singing than talking -  even telling people “It is not any slicker than a year ago, I still make it up as I go along.”

He opened with Granada and then moved on to Memory from Cats which he sang in Italian, something he does a lot, seeming to prefer Italian versions of songs rather than their English originals which we saw again with Ewan MacCall's The First Time Ever I saw Your Face and the  haunting love theme from Zeffirelli's 1968 film Romeo and Juliet both in Italian.


One exception to the comfort zone of Italian was I'm Yours, in English, which he dedicated to his wife.

Support came from young New Zealand soprano Elizabeth Marvelly who gave us a mix which included Over the Rainbow, The Prayer as a duet with Potts, her own song Home and one from fellow Kiwi's Crowded House as well as one of the highlights of the show, the Maori song Tarakihi made famous by Kiri Te Kanawa.

The 13 piece orchestra under conductor Bob Willis also deserve a mention as does pianist and musical director Chris Taylor.

Although Potts has improved as a singer at times you felt that some of the passion he showed as a novice had lost out a little to superior technique, improved skills over raw emotion. The passion is still there, I have no doubt, but at times it seems more muted as if he his thinking more about his singing and technique then just feeling the music.

Pott's ended with Con te Partiro (Time To Say Goodbye), made famous by another tenor who takes a bit of flak for not being Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli.

His encore was Nessun Dorma from Puccini's Turandot. This was the aria he performed at his first audition wearing an ill fitting suit and sporting less than perfect teeth. It was the aria and performance which was to change his life forever.

The suits are now bespoke and the teeth even and gleaming but he still lives that song with a passion anyone can feel and it earned a deserved standing ovation.

Roger Clarke

Top Home 

An Evening with Pam Ayres

Symphony Hall


IT is hard to decide whether Pam Ayres is a poet or a comedienne. She is certainly very funny with her tales of everyday life and her delivery of an old Robin Hood joke made it seem fresh and funny.

But it is her poems which first brought her fame and although purists might look down their noses at what might be dismissed as comic verse, there is a skill and rhythm to her work which is the mark of an accomplished poet.

Her poems also contain wit and clever construction which make them flow. It all sounds and looks easy -  much like the lady herself.

The real charm of Pam Ayres is that she has no airs and graces. She is the lady next door who comes on stage as if she is about to announce the village jumble sale or ask for donations for the tombola at next month's church fete.

She talks of everyday life and events that people can relate to and with little asides turns the ordinary into the hilarious such as the tale of the flatulent German dog or her Uncle Sam who worked on the railway and made a bird table out of old sleepers. Apparently, we are told, “It was sturdy”.

Her poems follow the same path. A sideways look at the everyday whether it be pensions, children, know-it-all husbands or a mattress that won't go up the stairs.

Her poems are brought alive by her animated performance but her skill as a poet is best seen in her sad and more serious thoughts on losing a pet dog which saw a few tears being wiped away among the capacity audience who enjoyed every minute. 11-10-09

Roger Clarke

Top Home

The Best of the West End

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Birmingham Symphony Hall


THE latest of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra's hugely popular Friday Night Classics got off to an unsteady start, mainly due to a large number of people arriving late through traffic congestion.

Some were tip-toeing to their seats 25 minutes into the concert, which must have been distracting to the musicians and singers, but when the show got up to speed it proved an absolute stunner.

Conductor Martin Yates brought out the best in the orchestra, and the four vocalists - Rohan Tickell, Jacqui Scott, Tim Rogers and Rachel Barrell - were excellent in an impressive programme which featured mainly American musical hits in the first half, and songs from West End hits after the interval.

The concert opened with the overture from Gypsy followed by numbers made famous in such spectacularly successful shows as Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, South Pacific, Guys & Dolls and La Cage Aux Folles.

The second half saw the soloists come into their own, big time. Tickell (Why God, Why? from Miss Saigon), Scott (As Long as He Needs Me, from Oliver), Rogers (The Music of the Night, from Phantom) and Barrell (Wishing You were Somehow Here Again, from Phantom) were simply superb.

As a finale the fab four sang One More Day, from Les Miserables, much appreciated by a packed audience including Edith Rigby, celebrating her 93rd birthday, and a couple who had been married only hours earlier. 9-10-09

Paul Marston

Top Home