The ugly Bengali fruit that tastes divine

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Lamb Shatkora at the PrithiRaj

NOW you wouldn’t want to eat it raw but when cooked it makes food taste like the stuff they must serve up in Heaven. Your starter for ten if you can guess what it is.

It’s an ugly, pointy-looking fruit which is green and nobbly and looks a little like an oversized lime but is called a wild orange. It’s as sour as a Seville but has a touch of the grapefruit about it. But the taste belies its looks. If you knew this is the shatkora you must be from Bangladesh because that is where it grows.

I’ve never seen on in the flesh, so to speak, but I have tasted it three times in curries at the PrithRaj on Ecclesall Road, Sheffield, and on each occasion my tastebuds have gasped with delight.

I reckon the shatkora is the Bengali answer to the truffle. Its flavour pervades and enhances a dish. In the curries at the PrithiRaj it has a polite sort of tang which sidles across your tastebuds, not harsh and rasping, with a touch of lemon or lime. And there’s an unexpected, momentary little burst of sweetness right at the end. Flavours are vivid. The sauces are rich and grainy and the meat tender, even when it’s lamb, because this is a curry which must be cooked for a long time to get the most out of the fruit.

Celebrity chef Rick Stein discovered it on his TV travels in India but when he got back to Cornwall to cook it had to make do with a grapefruit.BanglaLemon-5602[1]

Green and nobbly but don’t overlook the shatkora

I first came across it in 2012 when reviewing the newly opened restaurant, which had been revamped from the long-established Ayesha’s, for the Sheffield Star. I was bowled over. Dining there with friends earlier this year I ordered the lamb version again, wondering if it would be as good. It was. But because I was too busy talking I couldn’t give it my full attention. I resolved to come back again on a quieter evening.

This time I tried the chicken version with my companion, Colin Drury, who also reviewed restaurants on Saturdays during his time at The Star, for whom a curry isn’t a curry unless it’s a karai.

Now this isn’t the only place in Sheffield where you can get a shatkora – try other places run by Bengali rather than Kashmiri kitchens – but it is the only one cooked by head chef and joint owner Sobuj Miah. And, at £10.50, it is probably the most expensive. The menu at PrithiRaj (which means Beautiful Princess or whatever the waiter you ask decides) is as long as the River Ganges but you’ll find it on the specials.

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Chef Sobuj Miah

I’m told only the peel is used – the pulp is so bitter it usually get thrown away – but I understood Sobuj to say he used the whole fruit. Whatever, he only needs to use a little bit in each dish. It seems its popularity comes in fits and starts. “We’ve sold about 10 or 12 in recent weeks,” he told us.

Now PrithiRaj, which once had a waiter called Elvis, is an upmarket kind of place and the cooking is beautifully judged and easily on a par with any middle market Anglo venture. And like any chef, Sobuj likes to do the odd twiddle and twirl: As with the dainty spiced-up miniature samosa, whispy onion bhajis and little meat ‘lollipops’ we were treated to.

Look the ingredient up on the menu the next time you go out for an Indian ­– it’ll be on the specials and is not limited to meat, it also goes well with fish and other seafood – and you should find you’ll like it.

407 Ecclesall Road, Sheffield S11 8PG. Web: http://www.prithirajrestaurant.com

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Cross words at the Cross Scythes

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The Cross Scythes at Totley

FOR pub landlord Terry Groves it could all have gone terribly wrong. His local paper ran a story online listing the Cross Scythes at Totley as among 11 Sheffield eating places which got a big fat zero in the city council’s Scores on the Doors hygiene ratings.

Within hours it was on social media across the city. The Sheffield Forum website linked to it under the heading ‘Sheffield food places to avoid.’ There among a group of grubby looking takeaways was a pub with a gastro reputation in a posh suburb. So did trade slump? Quite the opposite. “A lot more people know about us now,” he told me.

The ratings run online all year but get an annual publicity boost in January. It’s part of a national scheme. Newspapers use it as a hook to run stories and while some of the places on the list might not raise eyebrows the inclusion of the Cross Scythes, which had a reputation as a gastropub under a previous head chef, Simon Ayres, certainly did.

In better times The Star would have told a reporter to ring up and find out what was going on. Instead it ran a series of 11 photographs, online only, with brief details, requiring users to click through to discover each one. As one disgruntled person commented on Sheffield Forum, this is ‘clickbait’ which would have exposed him to numerous adverts, according to his adblocker. It’s a deliberate way to earn the website money from more ‘clicks’ but lazy journalism..

So what was the story which The Star failed to find? Terry, aged 63, and his wife Glyn will be well known to local pubgoers. They ran a couple of Beefeaters, including the Mossbrook at Eckington, which they opened, as well as the Bradway Hotel and the Nelson on Furnival Gate, re-opening it as the revamped Grape Treaders and Hop Pickers.

They took a break from the trade to raise a family but were running the Shepherds Rest at Lower Bagthorpe in Nottinghamshire when they took over Enterprise Inns’ Cross Scythes last October. They now look after both.

“We knew about the zero rating. The previous tenant had said the chef had taken home the paperwork and forgotten it. Hmm. I suppose it was partly my fault I didn’t tell Environmental Health we had moved in but we were running two places and Christmas was coming up,” Terry said.

When the story went online (it hasn’t appeared in print) Terry went on Facebook to complain The Star was being unfair and to explain the situation. He’s asked, twice, for a new inspection but the council has a backlog. Terry is sanguine. The pub’s Facebook page has had plenty of hits and shares and comments have been “90 per cent positive. Until this happened I hadn’t realised the power of social media. A lot more people know about us. Some have given us five star reviews out of solidarity.”

Terry believes the rating was a paperwork problem: that gets an automatic zero. The kitchen was reasonably clean when he arrived but some equipment needed replacing. Staff training has been improved and he is happy for anyone to inspect the kitchen.

As he and Glyn moved in the previous chef walked out. Local boy Connor Lightfoot has moved up from sous to head chef. These days the Totley boozer isn’t going for gastropub status but is happy with pie, tapas and curry nights with a new specials and a la carte menu just being introduced.

Locals have rallied round on Facebook. “You’re my local. The food is always spot on,” says one. Terry reflects: “You know, there really is no such thing as bad publicity!”

Web: http://www.cross-scythes.com

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Tapas at the Cross Scythes

 

So fings ain’t wot they used t’be, Dave?

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The restaurant at Napoleons on Ecclesall Road

BIGGEST news this week was that Dave Allen was closing Napoleons casino and restaurant on Ecclesall Road this Sunday after 42 years. Since he already has another at Owlerton (plus a dog track and restaurant) and four other casinos in Yorkshire and London that might have been it: sad but a business decision.

But what set the greyhound among the pigeons was his parting shot: “Time moves on and Ecclesall Road is not what it used to be.” Coming from one of Yorkshire’s wealthiest men and certainly its wealthiest pigeon fancier (you can currently buy a DVD online for £9.99 entitled Dave Allen: The Living Legend filmed with a trip around his loft), it seemed a dismissal of one of Sheffield’s liveliest arteries.

He cited the imminent closure of Baldwin’s Omega, which would affect trade, as patrons would no longer be following on their entertainment at his tables. However, while the banqueting trade is certainly not what it used to be, the main reason David and Pauline Baldwin are selling is because of retirement and the chance of a nest egg.

It would have been handy to know what David Easton Dey Allen meant by that remark. But, typical Dave, he’d said his piece, in a statement released on his website, and was not taking calls from journalists.

The Star ran with the story on Wednesday and I bought the weekly Sheffield Telegraph the following day, which splashed it all over the front page. But I cannot have been the only one disappointed to find this was simply a repeat of the daily’s story with just two quotes, one from an existing trader and one yet to open. No background, no analysis: a chance missed.

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Dave Allen

I mention it on this blog for Dave, who heads A&S Leisure, is pretty good on the food front. I am not a gambling man but on the one occasion I have eaten at the Ecclesall Road casino I was impressed by the quality and value. The same goes for the Panorama restaurant at Owlerton although my review which included an obvious joke about eating expired dogs met with a furious response. It might have been a bad joke, it was also bad timing. Co-incidentally a leading Chinese restaurant had put out a Press statement dispelling a rumour it was serving up greyhound stir-fry.

Coupled with the news that Ecclesall Road was closing came details that a 500-seater banqueting suite was planned for Owlerton (presumably hoping to pick up the Baldwin’s business) and another casino, bar and restaurant opening in Manchester. With such big expenditure planned it made sound business sense to axe Eccy Road, a prime redevelopment site.

So why the swipe at Ecclesall Road in general?

It can hardly have escaped Dave’s notice that the road is considerably different than from when he opened in the Seventies. Then it was dubbed Sheffield’s Golden Mile and the ‘Bond Street of the North’ on account of the swanky, pricy boutiques: Alicia Kite, Paces, Posh, Elizabeth’s, Robert Brady and hairdressers such as Andrew Hook’s La Coupe. There were just three pubs and precious few restaurants beyond the Ashoka and Ron Barton’s Uncle Sam’s.

Since then the number of pubs, bars and restaurants has multiplied beyond measure. Ecclesall Road is busier, and  livelier and while trade might be difficult the ‘offer’ to consumers is wider and more comprehensive than it ever was.

In fact, to nick a phrase from Dave’s own casino business, Ecclesall Road is still a place “where a great night is always on the cards.”

How bread and butter pud went classy

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How it was. Wayne Bosworth (l) and Cary Brown: Puddings and pals

BREAD and butter pudding might just be a humble British dessert in many parts of the country but in Sheffield it takes on a bit of class. At one time you couldn’t go into any half-decent city restaurant and not find it on the menu.

It is still a firm favourite although perhaps not seen quite as much. Fashions change. But as far as this neck of the woods is concerned there’s a good story behind how a simple pudding was elevated into a fine dining dish.

This post has come together through a series of coincidences. Firstly, I reported late last year on the death of Chris King, founder of the former Charnwood Hotel, which was the high-end home of bread and butter pud. Around the same time chef Jamie Bosworth posted on social media that it was the 25th anniversary of the famous Bosworth Brothers baked apple bread and butter pudding recipe, originally created by his late brother Wayne.

Then I came across an old copy of Profile magazine, for which I used to write, from November, 1999. The main food feature was a bread and butter ‘cook-off’ between Cary Brown and Wayne, both in their time head chefs at the Charnwood. With two such highly talented chefs I knew better than to rate one dish above the other!

When Cary was head chef at the Charnwood in the late 1980s the menu was full of dishes with a French flavour but owner Chris wanted to offer guests something simple and comforting – and British – to end the meal. Cary came up with bread and butter pudding. Talking to him the other day, he recollects being influenced by his time at the Savoy Hotel and by Gary Rhodes in his Greenhouse days.

He turned in a super-eggy, creamy, luxurious dish which became quite a hit at the Charnwood. Cary moved on but when Wayne followed him into the hot seat a year or two later he was big enough and talented enough to dislike copying another chef’s recipe. So his was much that Cary’s was not.

“For a start I don’t like dried fruit like sultanas and raisins so they weren’t going in,” Wayne told me back then. “So I thought let’s use apricot jam and insert apple slices between the bread.” It turned out Cary didn’t like dried fruit either but used it because his customers wanted it.

The photoshoot was at Wayne’s then restaurant, Rafters, on Oakbrook Road, while Cary came up from Carriages (now Peppercorn) on Abbeydale Road South.

Both chefs, who had started out being slightly wary of each other, were by then great friends and were complimentary about each other’s version. “Cary’s is slightly sweeter and richer than mine,” said Wayne. His friend countered: “Wayne’ is more up to date. Mine is more classical.”

Both chefs took the recipe with them wherever they went and while Wayne dropped his for a time customer pressure got it back on the menu. Other restaurants copied one or the other or came up with their own versions. Cary’s dish is often served with a butterscotch sauce, the Bosworth version with sticky toffee sauce.

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Cary’s tray version for a Sunday lunch at Barlow Woodseats Hall

Since Wayne’s death it has been left to Jamie to carry the flame. And he’s updated it. “For about the last ten years I have been using brioche – it saves buttering bread – and is now richer from using a brulee-style egg yolk and cream using yolks instead of whole eggs,” he says.

And he adds Wayne nicked the idea of using jam and apples from his mother Gwen because the whole family disliked dried fruit. Judging from the then and now pictures he still garnishes it with three raspberries.

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Jamie Bosworth’s pudding today

He dates the Bosworth version from the time he and Wayne took over Rafters in 1992, although they had obviously been cooking it much earlier at the Charnwood and the Chantry hotel, Dronfield. Like Cary, he still gets asked for it when running pop-up restaurants and catering for private parties. “If it’s not on the menu nine times out of ten they’ll ask for it.”

For old times sake, here are the original recipes from 1999.

Cary’s version:

1 medium sliced loaf, crusts removed
6 eggs
1 pt double cream
6oz caster sugar
6oz butter
5oz mixed fruit
4oz brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence

Butter oven dish, butter bread, put one layer of bread on bottom and sprinkle with half the fruit and some of the sugar. Repeat. The top layer has no fruit or sugar. Cream eggs with remaining caster sugar and essence, pour over the bread and spinkle on brown sugar. Cover with tinfoil and bake in bain marie for 30 mins at 180C, removing the foil for a further 15 mins.

Wayne’s version

6 whole eggs
1 sliced loaf, crusts removed
3.5oz caster sugar
1 pt milk
½ pt double cream
1 vanilla pod, split
2 large Bramley apples, peeled and sliced
apricot jam
8oz butter

Spread slices with butter and jam and layer, jam side upwards, with bread, apple then bread. Repeat twice, ending with bread jam side down. Beat eggs, sugar and vanilla seeds together. Bring milk and cream to boil, pour over egg mix and whisk. Strain through a sieve over bread. Bake at 150C for 45-60 mins.

It’s a tempting recipe to play around with. I’ve used elements from both versions but prefer to make mine with leftover croissants or surplus panettone.


Still in the pudding club: Jamie (l) and Cary

My Sloe food project


SO you’ve strained all the gin off your sloe berries and those bottles look a beautiful colour. But what are you going to do with all those leftover berries? Get the worms drunk?

It’s notoriously difficult to squeeze the last vestiges of gin from hard blackthorn but the alcohol is still in there. And as the watchword of this blog is Waste Not, Want Not, they are crying out to be put to more good use. As it’s Christmas, why not sloe gin truffles?

There is a small problem of getting the pulp off the small hard stones but I used a Mouli and got satisfying amounts of berry pulp through. You only need 75g for this recipe so freeze the rest for when you have time to make a boozy jam, jelly or chutney in the new year.

This recipe makes around 15 good sized truffles.

You will need:

25g butter
75ml double (heavy) cream
200g good quality chocolate, broken
75g sloe berry pulp
2 tbsp sloe gin
cocoa powder

Slowly melt the butter and cream together in a pan, stirring slowly. Let it just come to the boil for a minute then remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate, bits at a time, and stir until melted in. You may need to return the pan to the heat from time to time, still stirring. When all the chocolate is melted, thoroughly stir in the pulp and a little bit of your sloe gin.

Pour onto a Swiss roll tin, let it set then put in the fridge to firm up for a couple of hours. Then sprinkle the cocoa onto a plate and on your hands and scrape up spoonfuls of chocolate mixture and roll into balls. Cover with cocoa powder and put into little paper cases. The truffles soften quite quickly so you may have to put the tray back in the fridge halfway through for the mix to firm up.

Keep them in the fridge. They should last for a week if you’re planning ahead. They taste very good with a glass of sloe gin but be warned, they are very rich. It goes without saying you can use any other fruit you have used to infuse your gin or vodka.

Make mine a Veeno

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Every bit as good as it looks

IN need of some refreshment I dropped into Veeno, the new Italian ‘wine bar café’ on Ecclesall Road Sheffield. Make a note of the address or you might find yourself at Veeno’s mini mart on London Road where an involtini may be hard to come by.

Veeno is near Berkeley Precinct (I refuse to call it the renamed Berkeley Centre) in what used to be Carluccio’s, a place some local people called pants although my main grouse was the giant pepper pot they wanted to grind on to your meal before you’d checked the seasoning or flag one down if it turned out you did need pepper. Just leave the condiments on the table!

Veeno is not pants. In fact, it is very good if a tad, no, a soupcon, expensive.

I was alerted to it by fellow blogger and Italophile Craig Harris and his wife Marie who had enjoyed a visit to the Nottingham branch of the 15-strong chain and got me a ticket to the opening night. Like me, the best thing about their Italian holidays is finding a cosy little enoteca (the Italian for wine bar) with good wines and boards of meat and cheese. I always remember one on Lake Como where I upset the owner by querying the bill until I told him I thought he’d made a mistake because it seemed too cheap.

Reader, you won’t be thinking it comes cheap at Veeno although it does food, drink and atmosphere pretty well. Fitted out with tables, sofas, alcoves, walls lined with wine racks, and a bar, plus a tasting room, it serves up some very decent wines with top quality meats and cheese, plus a smattering of bruschettas and spuntini, nibbles, the Italian equivalent of tapas or dim sum.

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Inside Veeno

That way you don’t need a chef, just someone adept at putting good quality ingredients together. It seems simple but then the best ideas are. The two young men who came up with translating the enoteca to Britain are Andrea Zecchino and Nino Caruso, whose family just happens to have a vineyard in Sicily.

We’d found a table and were sipping our complementary glasses of house wine when I flagged down a chap who looked like he was Andrea or Nino. He wasn’t. He was Mike from Hungary but he was the owner as he had the franchise, his second after York.

Magyar Mike must have been in an expansive mood because he generously told us to order some food on the house. Perhaps he thought we were influential: Style setters. We liked Mike. The evening’s photographer didn’t hold the same opinion because he never pointed his camera at us once.

Craig promptly ordered the most expensive board in the house, the Italia, at £24.50. And he did it with a straight face. It was lovely and included some Formaggella al Tartufo, a northern Italian cheese with truffles and some runaway gorgonzola with walnuts, speck, the best fennel salami I’ve had, breads, oil, honey with truffle and plenty more. The price could have been worse. In Bristol the same menu item is £26 while in Kingston upon Thames it is £26.50. Magyar Mike is obviously pitching his prices at what he thinks Sheffield will stand. I thought that top whack for the same thing on Lake Como would have been 15 euros but then you’ve got to factor in the air fare.

The house wine at £4 for 175ml was pretty decent, from the Caruso e Minini vineyard. The same glass is £4.20 in Bristol and another 20p more in Kingston. But as Craig had gone large on the free food he felt it only right to go large on the paid-for wine so he ordered us a bottle of Greco di Tufo at a stunning £28 (a quid less than in Bristol). It had lovely honeyed appley flavours.

So there you have it, a little pricy but a very well put together exercise, which is why the chain is doing well. I cavil a bit at the name, Veeno for Vino, and the clunking ‘wine bar café’ self-description instead of enoteca but that’s just me. It won’t stop me going, though!

Craig will doubtless be reporting at http://www.craigscrockpot.wordpress.com. You can check out the Veeno offering at http://www.theveenocompany.com

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Veeno from the outside

 

The heart-stopping rise of King Cone

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Lawrence Wosskow takes a lick

IT didn’t take more than a few minutes to like Lawrence Wosskow. That was par for the course. He got onwards and upwards by people liking him.

He was the chap who made a profit on some land in Central America and invested it in the then infant Café Rouge because he hit it off with the owner. He used the profits from that to buy an ice cream company in The Peak, whose owner took a shine to him, and struck up a friendship with Eddie Healey, the billionaire owner of Sheffield’s giant Meadowhall shopping complex, when he sold products there.

Money flowed in and he founded Out of Town Restaurants, the biggest UK restaurant chain then . . . but let’s go back to the beginning. If the former Silverdale pupil’s story is the ‘Local Boy Makes Good’ variety there is also a touch of Greek Tragedy.

I’d been a bit sceptical before meeting him at the old Hanrahan’s bar in 1992 as, glass of orange juice and straw in hand, he told me he’d bought Bradwell’s ice cream, a much loved but very local ice cream company.

Some months earlier I’d run a story saying Noel Bradwell, third generation owner of Bradwell’s Ice Cream, wanted to retire and needed a buyer. Lawrence, back in Sheffield from London because his wife Julie wanted their first child to be born here, and was looking to find a business.

He at first bid for the ski slope but missed out by a few thousand pounds. He must have been thanking his lucky stars in the years after that.

He told me his mother had shown him the cutting on Bradwell’s and suggested he buy it. Journalists like to feel they are involved and that much was true. But his mum also lived next door to Noel and he would have known anyway! What clinched a good story was he was going to use the popular Last of the Summer Wine TV character Norah Batty as his company logo.

Media-savvy Lawrence never intended that but he was good copy, as we say in the trade. I was to write about him and his ventures, on and off, over the next few decades.

Now he’s telling his own story in his self-published autobiography Little Chef, The Heart of the Deal. He was a young tearaway at school (a teacher wrote in his report that if he took as much interest in his lessons as with girls he would be a genius). He still finished up with 2 A-levels and 10 O-levels.

He was a genius at business. He became Marks & Spencer’s youngest-ever buyer at 24, took over or founded a series of successful companies and was, as he admits, “running at 100mph” when stress led to a near fatal heart attack after watching England crash out of the World Cup to Portugal in Germany in 2006.

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My Profile magazine interview in 1999

He was on the brink of reviving the ailing Little Chef, an out-of-date empire of roadside cafes. Told to take it easy and quit business for up to three years the big plans fizzled out. Little Chef collapsed. After his brush with the Grim Reaper Lawrence moved his family to the United States, leaving his businesses and power of attorney in the hands of a childhood friend, James Burdall, who fleeced him of several millions (figures vary) and caused the collapse of his business empire.

The first I heard was when, not long after I’d retired I got a telephone call from him while I was driving to a holiday in Suffolk. I contacted my old office to put them on the scent.

Most people who are very rich have not made their money nicely. Lawrence Wosskow doesn’t fit that mould. He says he is able to ‘mirror’ the people he is with. Perhaps that is what worked with me.

I kept on writing about him although some stories were left to The Star’s business desk. To jazz up my copy I had dubbed Lawrence King Cone until I got a phone call asking me to stop because schoolfriends were teasing his son Toby. Regretfully I agreed. His family is everything. He claims it cost him £25,000 to replace the branding which featured his daughter Hannah, then aged two, because by the time she got to six she, too, was being called names at school.

He has had time for retrospection. Lawrence suggests that he suffered from inherited anxiety which he suppressed with an adrenaline rush from his business interests. He didn’t leave things to others. Before buying Little Chef he personally visited 220 out of its 234 outlets in 60 days.

There are some good stories in the book. He paid £250,000 for the Loseley ice cream brand and stock then discovered the stock was worth £300,000 so he’d bought it for nothing. He turned around another failing ice cream company, in North Wales, which so infuriated the former owner (whom Lawrence still sportingly employed) that he sabotaged the refrigeration unit. With half a ton of melting ice cream it was a race against time to find alternative storage. The ex-boss spent time in the cooler.

Another who did, Burdall, the friend who shafted him, was sent to prison for four years in March 2014 for swindling him out of £1.2m (although in his book Lawrence reckons it was nearer £3m, with the collapse of his companies). Bradwell’s was only saved with an injection of his own cash. “What hurt most . . . was the fact that Burdall transferred £20,000 the day he took over the chequebook, the very day I left for the United States. What a complete an utter scumbag,” he writes.

Later parts of the book chronicle the partying and high-profile friends he has made since, from Sir Elton John to Sir Richard Branson. He has done a lot for charity. Despite the name dropping he comes across as a genuinely decent, perhaps a bit too trusting bloke. After several years he and Julie, his teenaged sweetheart since 17, left the USA for tax reasons and now live in the Bahamas.

These days Lawrence (who, unfortunately, has written the book in American English) is a property developer. Sadly Meadowhall, now in different hands, turfed out his businesses through non-payment of rent during the Burdall saga. There are still not too many nice guys in business.

Little Chef: The Heart of the Deal is available on Amazon. Profits from the book will go to the Elton John Aids Foundation and Dreamflight.

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