Thursday, 16 September 2021

Old-school frugality hasn't had its chips just yet!

Old-school frugality hasn't had its chips just yet!

A BELATED Happy New Year, folks. I’m still in the healthy “spend less” groove after an indulgent Christmas.

December’s excesses frankly got boring and I’m loving all the healthy kick-starts to 2018.

There’s Veganuary, Yoganuary (yoga not yoghurt!), and Dry January — which has my restaurant tills sulking.

I’m frankly exhausted with all that waste, lavishness, overspending and gluttony.

I say bring on a bit of belt-tightening, control and good housekeeping. Let frugality be the new rock and roll.

Frugal is fashionable. I enjoyed a delicious £1.90 lunch in Henley last week... read on, it is possible!

Throughout February the Crooked Billet offers a frugal two-course £14 luncheon Monday to Friday.

It was my Nana who taught me the principles of thrifty home economics while sitting at her kitchen table stirring jam into rice pudding.

It was Nana Clerehugh who inspired me to cook and she had scrimped and rationed through the war and nothing was wasted. Unbelievably, 30 per cent of our supermarket shop goes in the bin these days.

Nana had a sharp eye for the dented tin of York ham or a squashed Battenberg at our local Spar.

She even took a punt on the tin with no label at the church bring-and-buy.

With a vice-like grip on her purse and a handbag full of vouchers cut from magazines, Nana delighted in saving a penny or two on food. She had a proper shopping bag — they didn’t have plastic supermarket bags in 1970.

In her day olive oil came from the chemist and was kept in the bathroom cabinet to be used for cleaning little boys’ bunged-up ears.

She cooked with dripping. There was always a cup of dripping in the fridge — in the teacup with the broken handle. Dripping is food of the gods — the gorgeous meat juices that drip from a roasting joint of beef.

To get your own, pour the juices from the roasting tin into a bowl. They chill and separate into a top layer of fat with an under layer of Marmite-coloured jelly — spread thick on hot toast is sublime, like a Seventies bruschetta.

Butter wrappers were saved rolled up in the fridge to grease baking tins, tinfoil was reused, crinkling more each time.

So Nana would wholeheartedly approve of making this frugal February! And there are some cracking lunch offers to enjoy.

Luscombes at the Golden Ball’s two-course £15.95 lunch, Wednesday to Saturday, or Loch Fyne’s two courses at £10.95.

Telly chef Ryan Simpson at Orwells has two courses for £25, Wednesday to Saturday lunchtime. Or have some old school posh nosh at the French Horn in Sonning for £25, Monday to Saturday.

For a light lunch I really enjoyed Antony Worrall Thompson’s cauliflower cheese soup with its feta cheese bonbon crostini accompaniment — £6!

Antony and beautiful Jay Worrall Thompson also offer a £15.95 set lunch menu at the Greyhound in Peppard.

Or get a chip butty for £3.25 at the Hare and Hounds, Sonning Common.

The Three Horseshoes in Reading Road, Henley, have a brilliant proper pub lunch menu with the likes of filled jacket potatoes at £7.45 and chilli con carne at £8.95.

I’ve four daughters and have been stung a few times at the branded coffee shops. I paid less for a third-hand Renault 5 than five hot chocolates and five cakes.

Spoon, the newish café on Duke Street, offers some tasty well-priced fare — fried egg on sourdough toast for £4.95 or soup for £4.50.

Grab a warm sausage roll from Patisserie Franco-Belge at £1.50. Falaise Square butchers Gabriel Machin’s sausage rolls are also £1.50 and their individual pork pies are £1.40 if you’re feeling porky.

I often lunch in the car driving between my restaurants. Testimony to my healthy frugal commitment, I bagged an apple, banana and carrot for 80p at Falaise Square’s Thursday market.

You probably get penalty points for eating a carrot while driving, though. Wonder if they’d let you off if it was organic?

The winner, though — the most scrumptious frugal finger-licking perfection — is a £1.90 bag of chips, salt and vinegar from Smarts in Reading Road, which I bought with all the coppers, 5ps and loose change I’d collected in the car. JK’s Fish and Chips on King’s Road are also £1.90.

Meanwhile, as I said, we’re offering a fabulous frugal £14 two-course luncheon at the Crooked Billet throughout February using interesting and delicious local ingredients to create gorgeous wholesome dishes.

Think herring roes pan-fried with parsley, lemon and capers. Or Catalan chorizo and rabbit stew. Try plaice, kale and Morecambe Bay shrimps followed by a glorious Yorkshire curd tart or apple pie and custard. They have all been hits at the Billet (although, try getting Henley mums to eat gluten).

This menu proves popular, so it’s a good idea to book on (01491) 681048. And if you follow my Nana-inspired penny-wise tips you can treat yourself more than once!

• Paul Clerehugh is chef patron of the Crooked Billet, Stoke Row, and the London Street Brasserie, Reading. With its recipes, light-hearted kitchen chat and coverage of foodie affairs, his weekly radio show Food on Friday can be heard from 2pm to 3pm on BBC Radio Berkshire.

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