In what seems like a past life, I once laboured under the title of restaurateur.

With my business partner Richard, a former TV producer, we drifted into ownership of a pub-come-restaurant in East Anglia. On the day we purchased the building, the irksome truth was that neither of us possessed anything like the skills needed to enter the catering industry. Nevertheless, we bought the pub (with the reluctant support of a bank manager) and we created the restaurant (with the quizzical support of some shareholders).

On the day of completion, a bunch of tarnished keys was tossed onto the bar, the owner made a conveniently prompt exit, and Richard and I stared blankly at each other having previously committed to refurbish and re-open the buildings in six weeks flat. History records that we met that commitment, but I have no memory of how.

The neglected pub, originally a domestic Victorian smallholding on Lord Walpole’s Estate, was hemmed in by glorious North Norfolk countryside. The restaurant on the other hand was fashioned from an adjacent barn, surrounded by abandoned farm bric-a-brac, and originally provided gainful service as a chicken shed. An ironic repurposing if you’ve ever watched a flock of chickens run to foraging when suppertime approaches.

What Richard and I had in common was the desire to create a style of pub and restaurant that we would naturally wish to frequent ourselves. We weren’t interested in the lowest possible culinary denominator, industry portion control, or for that matter, lottery winning profits. Naïveté suggested that good food and a welcoming ambience were always going to trump mere shareholder dividend (although we carefully omitted to inform the shareholders of this outlook).

However, thankfully, and more by good fortune than purposeful planning, we managed to achieve all three!

The key to our favourable progress was achieved by the recruitment of an exciting local chef, discovered when working well below his pay grade in a scuzzy pub in Norwich.

Andy had previously worked in London, at Alistair Little’s benchmark restaurant in Soho and Conran’s Le Pont de la Tour near Tower Bridge. Now although Norfolk was his home once again, the pub in question was far from the climax of his career. He was keen to join two wide-eyed country pub owners and, thanks predominately to his menu, we were awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand in the very first year of trading.

What followed from such an award was a packed restaurant every day, and a lengthy waiting list at the weekends.

One aspect of this early success was that our curmudgeonly pub locals did what curmudgeonly pub locals always do, and complained bitterly when anything got changed. In their eyes, any change was fundamentally a very bad thing and not to be left with mere owners. Bless them.

However, Andy, with a stroke of genius and a pathological link to the common man, re-instated something of a lost pub tradition for our Sunday lunchtime locals – free bar snacks. Not the rancid salted peanuts and surplus crisps whose sell-by dates were clearly a distant memory, but canapés of purpose and quality.

It was a triumph of artful psychology. Unremitting locals now regarded him as the second coming and not a word was ever heard again on the subject of our supposed gentrification of their pub, and they continued to loyally clog up the bar on a daily basis. Ironically, the most requested tables for our increasingly bourgeois diners, were those within  earshot of the regular’s salt-laced Norfolk language, always freely provided by frolicsome builders, exuberant blacksmiths and assorted farm employees. As the strap line in The News of the World once proclaimed “all human life is here”.

But apart from showing our respect for (and dependence upon) all our pub customers, those canapés soon became myth and legend among the locals, and this one above all became a frequent provision at my own kitchen table, popular then with children, and later with grandchildren.

On the basis that fruitful events can occasionally coincide, Andy, a fervent Norwich City football supporter, displayed an oft unfashionable respect for another local and principal Norwich City shareholder, our sainted Lady of the Ladle – Delia Smith. Whilst I in turn, had a small chicken run at the end of my garden overgrown with an almost impenetrable plantation of horseradish, which seemingly emulated the eight-thousand-year-old Southeast Asian habitat that originally begat all chickens.

Short of an appearance at the Jewish Passover ‘seder’ (the exodus from slavery in Egypt), or the second mortgage now required for roast fore-rib of beef at Sunday lunches, horseradish gets very little press these days.

Raw horseradish roots feature rarely at your local greengrocers (along with greengrocers featuring rarely on your high street) and is a vicious plant to tame. All in all, I can understand its topple from grace. But for the following recipe it is utterly essential and, although a ferocious and volatile condiment, it is well worth all the pain, tears and possible PPE required to grate the damned stuff. Shop bought jars simply fail to provide the same kick.

Although seemingly initiated by Delia, and by her own admission a pleasure when served cold it must be said that Andy’s canopés were elevated to warm when they appeared on the bar of our pub, and later returned to hot Toad-in-the-Hole when they reappeared in my own kitchen. I give you Delia’s original, Charles Campion’s perfect horseradish sauce from Fifty Recipes To Stake Your Life On (2004) and my own modification –

Delia’s How to Cook. Book Three (2001) Mini Yorkshire Puddings with Rare Beef and Horseradish

You will need a 12 hole muffin tin and a baking tray

Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 7/425°F/220°C

700 g piece trimmed fillet of British beef

175 g plain flour

2 large eggs

175 ml milk mixed with 120 ml water 

2 tablespoons beef dripping, melted

Salt and freshly milled black pepper

You need to start this by making the batter, so sift the flour into a bowl, make a well in the centre, break the eggs into it and add salt and pepper.

Begin to whisk the eggs with an electric hand whisk and as you beat them, the flour around the edges will slowly be incorporated. When the mixture becomes stiff, simply add the milk-and-water mixture gradually, keeping the whisk going. Stop and scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula so that any lumps can be pushed down into the batter, then whisk again until all is smooth.

Now the batter is ready to use.

Next, place the muffin tin on the baking tray and brush the cups generously with most of the dripping. Now pop the tin on the tray into the oven to pre-heat for 10 minutes.

After that, use a thick oven glove and remove them from the oven, placing the baking tray over direct heat, and quickly spoon 1 tablespoon batter into each cup. Immediately return them to the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, until well risen and very crispy. Then remove the Yorkshires to a wire rack to cool.

Now repeat the whole process with the remaining batter.

For the beef, turn the oven up to gas mark 8, 450°F (230°C). In the meantime, pre-heat the frying pan on the hob, brush it with a little dripping and, when that’s hot, seal the beef on all sides, but don’t move it around until each side has sealed properly.

Remove the meat to a roasting tin, season with freshly milled black pepper and roast in the oven for 18 minutes for rare beef, or up to 25 minutes if you like it less rare. After that allow it to cool, then cover and chill thoroughly in the fridge to make it easier to slice.

When you are ready to serve the Yorkshire puddings, thinly slice the beef into 24 slices and arrange a fold of beef in each one.

Mix together all the sauce ingredients, then add a teaspoon of the sauce to each Yorkshire.

Horseradish Sauce courtesy Charles Campion

40 g finely grated fresh horseradish root

1 tbsp made-up English mustard – (Colmans of course)

1 tbsp white sugar

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 tsp salt

284 ml carton of double cream

Start by putting the horseradish, mustard, sugar and vinegar into a bowl and mixing together thoroughly.

Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes

Stir in the double cream and it will quickly thicken up

Check seasoning and adjust

My own modification

Once the dripping-brushed muffin trays are warmed, after say 5 minutes, I add half a chipolata to each and cook for a further 5 minutes. This replaces the beef. Then continue by spooning in the batter. Once cooked and removed, simply add the sauce on top.

What you will then have are two dozen scale models of Toad-in-the-Hole with a sauce that any sausage worthy of its name would benefit from…be it large or small. Serve whilst hot.