I sat down to watch Calf’s Head and coffee (9pm, BBC4, 19 November) expecting to be spitting feathers within minutes because it was presented by Stefan Gates (who I’ve never liked). But to my surprise, no feathers were spat.
It helped that the nerdy know-it-all who was so full of himself on Full on Food has ditched the specs and metamorphosed into a laid-back, vaguely cool bloke (he was wearing Converse).
The main appeal, though, was the fascinating subject. Gates explored the culinary roots of the current renaissance in English cuisine and argued compellingly that they lay in the “Golden Age” between 1650 and 1750, when the socio-political landscape underwent dramatic change and with it the culinary landscape.
Thought coffee shops were a recent phenomenon? Not so. The first one opened in London in 1652. Within a decade there were more than 500 in the capital. This was also when the empire building began and a national cuisine started to emerge: one that was surprisingly inventive, playful and modern - like the Calf’s Head Surprise, which Gates recreated as an example of nose-to-tail cooking, popular then as now.
There was the odd moment when Gates over-reached, as when he blathered: “Food and drink can change the world… brewing political change in a cup”. But overall, Calf’s Head and Coffee hit the spot - a tad too literally for historian Ivan, who claimed food history was: “the new sex basically. There are food historians popping out of every orifice.” Yikes.