GREAT BRITISH FOOD Special Occasions

No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

‘There’s No Such Thing As A Free Lunch’

Something we say to show that we understand nothing in life comes for free.  Even if someone appears to be giving you something for nothing, it’s highly likely that they will want something in return at a later date.  Often used in business circles.


Lunch. A lovely thing; especially if you have lots of time for it, and you’re not the one making it.

At this time of the year, a British lunch can be especially splendid, as there are so many marvellous ingredients lying about ready to be used. So I’ve put this lunch menu together to prove it. It looks like it was written backwards, but in fact is in step-by-step order, so make it even more of a doddle(1).

If you’re the one who has to cook, do remember to feign an injury (2)  once you have all sat down to eat,  which will at least mean someone else has to wash up.



to start

Asparagus and Bacon Soldiers with Duck Egg

main course

Roast Leg of Welsh Lamb with Samphire, Beans and Jersey Royals


Rhubarb and Rosewater Custard Cremes


A good selection of British cheeses

Suggested (British, obviously) wines

Sparkling: Chapel Down Vintage Reserve NV or Nyetimber Classic Cuvee

Rose: Chapel Down English Rose or Bolney Estate Foxhole Rose

Red: Bolney Estate Pinot Noir or Brightwell Vineyard Regatta

Chapel Down Rose


English rhubarb is pretty amazing stuff. The best is ‘forced’ rhubarb, where they grow it in the pitch black, which makes it much sweeter and more tender. The “very best” forced rhubarb allegedly comes from a 9 mile triangle between Wakefield, Morely and Rothwell in West Yorkshire. That all sounds very specific, but to be honest, the stuff I grow in the garden tastes pretty good to me.

cut rhubarb, ready to roast

“Rhubarb, rhubarb…”

“Rhubarb, rhubarb…” is something we say to suggest that we think someone else is talking in a boring way, about something unimportant. Something that we have heard before many times. It is a little bit like “bla bla bla” although “bla bla bla” also has a sense of etcetera, which “rhubarb, rhubarb…” doesn’t. It’s quite useful for politicians.

“What’s Teresa May saying now about Brexit?” “

“Oh you know, the same old thing, rhubarb rhubarb…”


British (and more particularly, Welsh) lamb is pretty good stuff. Best eaten from late spring onwards so the meat has had time to flavour, our native lamb is sweeter and more tender than its (equally delicious, but possibly more famous) cousin New Zealand lamb.

‘Poor lamb’

An expression we use to show sympathy with someone BUT be careful – we often use it sarcastically.  Someone told me the other day that her husband was “dreadfully upset” because he couldn’t buy his brand new sports car in exactly the colour he wanted. Dreadfully upset, he was.  Poor lamb.

British asparagus, however, has no equal, in my humble opinion (3). The season is very short. It starts on 23rd April (Shakespeare’s birthday, St George’s Day) and lasts until the beginning of June, after which time it gets woody and not very pleasant.

Asparagus also must be the world-record holder on speed. In season it can grow 25cm a day, and then mercifully you have to cut it and eat it.

Fresh British Asparagus

A Note: Why do we call them soldiers?

A traditional breakfast in the UK is a soft boiled egg and toast, buttered and then cut into strips, which can then be dipped into the egg. The toast is cut into straight lines, and it was the Victorians who first began to compare them to soldiers. If you offer anyone “soldiers” for breakfast, everyone here will know what you mean. It’s such a popular theme that you can buy all sorts of Egg and Soldiers breakfast sets.

The ones in this recipe are a little bit different, though. Asparagus and bacon are not traditional, nor is the duck egg to dip it in, necessarily, but now we have tried this version my children are not happy to go back.



For the Rhubarb and Rosewater Custard Creams

  • 750g rhubarb – young stems best, cut into 5cm batons
  • 150g caster sugar
  • ½ lemon, juice
  • ½ tsp rosewater
  • 500ml double cream
  • 1 vanilla pod, split lengthways, seeds scraped out
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1 egg white
  • 100g rose petals (wild, small ones if you can)
  • 140g caster sugar

For the Lamb

  • 2kg Welsh whole lamb leg
  • 1 large white onion
  • 300ml dry white wine
  • 250g frozen baby broad beans
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 180g samphire
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp capers, in brine, drained, rinsed and roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 750g Jersey Royal potatoes 

For the Asparagus Soldiers

  • 18 asparagus spears, woody ends snapped off
  • 9 slices fresh bread, preferably sourdough
  • 18 rashers of thinly sliced streaky bacon
  • 6 duck eggs, (or a free-range hen’s egg if you can’t find duck)

For the cheese board

People often say they don’t know where to start with a cheese board but since in the UK we have more native cheeses than they do in France (yah boo sucks (4), France) it’s easy. The best way to think about it is like this:

Farmers markets, cheese shops and specialist cheese counters are brilliant places to buy cheese. But if you can’t get to any of these little offshoots of heaven, you CAN survive in a supermarket, if that’s the only place you can find. EVEN if the supermarket doesn’t have a cheese counter. Just avoid anything wrapped in shiny plastic, and look for the words “mature” or, better, “extra mature”.

Choose 5 cheeses. 5. Don’t go mad. 5 is plenty.

Always ask to taste every cheese before you buy it. Always. You don’t need to; the cheese will be fine. And don’t restrict yourself to 5 when you’re tasting.  Go for as many as you can manage. Because…well…it’s free cheese, isn’t it?

Anyway, apart from this, there are no rules, so I would suggest the following for inspiration:

Type Suggestions
One hard Cheddar; Red Leicester; Caerphilly.
One goat’s Tunworth; Cerney Pyramid; White Nancy
One blue Colston Bassett Stilton; Shropshire Blue
One soft Somerset Brie; Cornish Yarg
One unusual Just check out the cheese counter.  Stinking Bishop? Lancaster Bomb? You can always find something a bit odd.


You will also need dried fruits, (figs, apricots etc) or possibly some fresh grapes, and proper cheese crackers.

‘The Big Cheese’

The Big Cheese is the boss. The number one boss. The person at the top.

In this house, the dog thinks he is the Big Cheese. He is not.




The Night Before – make the dessert

  1. Place the rhubarb, 50g of the sugar, lemon juice, rose water and 2 tbsp water in a pan.
  2. Slowly cook over a gentle heat for 10-15 mins until the rhubarb has broken up. Continue cooking, stirring gently, until you have a thick compote. Taste it, and add a little bit more sugar if you must, but make sure it is still “sharp”.
  3. Let the rhubarb cool, then divide this compote between 6 ramekins and stick them in the fridge.
  4. In a saucepan, heat the cream and vanilla pod and seeds. Remove from the heat just before boiling point, allow to infuse for 5 mins, then take the pod out.
  5. In a large bowl, beat the yolks with 110g sugar until pale and, while still whisking, pour over the hot cream, whisk well again, then strain through a sieve into a clean jug. Let the custard cool to room temperature.
  6. Heat oven to 140C/120C fan/gas 1.
  7. Take the ramekins out the fridge and pour the custard over the compote. Put ramekins in a large deep baking tray and pour in enough water to come halfway up. Put the tray in the middle of the oven and bake for 30 mins until you can see a slight wobble. Like a jelly, right? Remove ramekins from the tray and chill for at least 2 hrs or, better, overnight.
  8. For the rose petals, mix the egg white with 3 tbsp water. Using a fine paintbrush, carefully brush the petals with the egg white, then lightly dust with the sugar. Place on baking trays lined with baking parchment and sit somewhere warm, but out of the sun (or once you have finished cooking, place trays in the warm oven and keep the door slightly open). Leave the petals overnight or until they have completely dried out.

rhubarb rosewater cream custard

The Following Day

Take the lamb out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before you start to cook it. This allows the meat to come to room temperature, so the shock of hitting a hot oven doesn’t make the meat shrink and go tough.

  1. Preheat the oven to 220°C, gas mark 7.
  2. Slice the onion and throw it in a roasting tin. Pour the wine over it and add 150ml water.
  3. Sit the lamb on top of the onion and roast it for 45 minutes.
  4. Open the red wine and decant it, or at least allow it to breathe whilst you cook the lamb. While you’re there, take the cheeses out of the fridge, take any wrappers off and put it out on the board. Cover it with greaseproof paper sheet, or a clean tea towel, and leave it somewhere cool. Otherwise it will sweat, and nobody wants sweaty cheese.
  5. Reduce the oven temperature to 190°C, gas mark 5 and cook for a further hour for pink lamb (or you can leave it in a little longer if you prefer it well-done)
  6. Remove the lamb from the oven, wrap it in foil and allow it to rest for 20 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile, make the asparagus spears. Heat your grill to high.
  8. Cut the bread into 12 ‘soldiers’, a little shorter than the asparagus.
  9. Place a spear onto each soldier and wrap tightly with a rasher of bacon. Place on a baking tray, season and grill for 15 mins or until the bacon is crisp.
  10. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and simmer the duck eggs for about 7 mins, to get a runny yolk and a cooked white (or if you’re using hen’s eggs for just do it for 4 minutes). Serve the eggs immediately alongside the bacon-asparagus soldiers for dipping into the egg.

  1. Cook the potatoes in a pan of boiling salted water for around 7 minutes, or until they feel a bit softer under a knife.
  2. Then cook the broad beans in a pan of boiling water for 3 minutes until they’re tender, drain them and put them aside.
  3. Heat the oil in a frying pan and cook the shallot and garlic over a medium heat for 2 minutes, then add the samphire and cook for a further 3 minutes.
  4. Add the broad beans, lemon zest and juice and capers and cook for another 2 minutes until piping hot.
  5. Take it all off the heat and stir in the parsley.
  6. Crush the potatoes a bit (they will soak up all the juices better this way, trust me), carve the lamb and serve it with the vegetables.

After the main course, and while someone else clears the table and makes coffee, take the custard creams out of the fridge and sprinkle on the rose petals on top.

After dessert, serve the cheese board with crackers, figs, grapes or whatever you want.

Do nothing more. Make someone else clear up.


If English is not your first language, you may find these explanations useful

1 – a doddle – something that is very easy to do, to achieve. Informal

2 – to feign an injury – to pretend to be injured, to make it up. Like footballers diving in the penalty box. (Ooh, did we say that?)

3 – in my humble opinion – you would say this to express an opinion when you are actually certain you are right, but don’t want to actually say it outright. It’s very British and now often  (and irritatingly?) shortened to IMHO.

4 – ya boo sucks – a childish expression of scorn. Adults still use it (or we do at least). Similar to ‘So nerrr‘ (even more childish, but immensely satisfying)


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