In the past month I have had the opportunity to walk down memory lane , laughing and reminiscing about an impromptu road trip that a bunch of us took around the UK ,many years ago.
There we were , a group of very different individuals from diverse backgrounds who just happened to share space together because of a common friend. The friend in question having lived and studied in the UK felt a great affinity towards the land and the people. At the end of that trip he insisted on taking us to the quaint city of Bath where he had spent time as a student.A favourite student hangout in the historic city of Bath was Sally Lunn’s . The restaurant was and is well known for buns.
The restaurant with it’s rough brick walls and large curved window was instantly welcoming.The dining area is sectioned into individual rooms that house tables for small and large groups of people , an infinitely cosy hangout for most age groups.The bun served here was like a cross between a brioche and what we know as a bun. On scanning the menu , apart from their famous bun there was one thing that I just had to try. That was the Welsh Rarebit.
My fascination for this dish began when I was a child and I would read it in my mother’s big bound cookbooks. Not until I was much older did I realize that this really wasn’t a rabbit recipe but something altogether different. I had envisioned big pots of game meat stewing over an open fire with generous helpings of carrots , potatoes and onions. So ,when it turned out to be this melting cheese and bread confection , I rather wondered what the big deal was !
At Sally Lunn’s I had the chance to decide for myself if it was as fabulous as the story books made it out to be ! And , they didn’t have just the Welsh Rarebit , they had the Rarebit meal and The Welsh Rarebit special ! Unsure of ordering anything too extravagant I ordered the Welsh rarebit on it’s own.
If I said that it ranked high as one of the best experiences of that trip , I would have my friends pouncing on me in an instant….there were many other memorable happenings in that trip which they would rate much higher 😉 no doubt ! But this lovely tea room at Bath did leave a lasting impression on me. In fact I recommended it very recently to someone who was visiting Bath and I was so happy that they loved it as much as I did back then ! So, this one is for those amazing individuals who just “happened to be at the right place ,at certainly the right time” !
Back to the delicious dish at hand….There are many famous chefs like Nigel Slater , Delia smith , Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson who add their own special touches to this salivatingly yummy dish. Ale , white wine , stout , port , cream and eggs are some of the ingredients added to make many mouthwatering versions of the Welsh rarebit .
How do I begin to describe the Welsh Rarebit ? It’s cheesy , toasty , creamy ,tangy and sweet all in one bite ! My favourite would be the simple eggless version. This apparently came about because a Welshman couldn’t afford to include meats in his daily diet . The cheddar cheese was a common larder ingredient in most Welsh homes and it is the hero of the dish. This dish is not about just grating some cheese on bread . The flavours go a whole lot deeper. English mustard adds the much needed sharpness along with some milk for creaminess and cider to give that overall balance. A good quality cheddar negates the need for salt in this dish. The deliciousness of making a Welsh rarebit lies in the manner that it is cooked.
The cheese when incorporated into a saucy mixture of flour , mustard, milk and cider turns into a fudgy mass that can be easily dolloped onto slightly warmed bread. It’s a good idea to lightly toast the bread before adding the cheese mixture because once the cheese is placed under the hot grill it turns molten very quickly. Whereas the bread will not firm up within that same time and might still be a bit doughy.
That’s just how I went about making it for breakfast one Saturday morning. My palate is always accustomed to pairing fresh produce with a heavy dish. The juicy home grown grilled tomatoes with some herbs and a dash of olive oil, drizzled with balsamic vinegar was just the best accompaniment to cut through the gooey richness of the Welsh Rarebit. Suffice to say I relived that trip with every bite !