I fumbled about in the darkness for my glasses, dressed, sat at the computer and Googled "ox cheek". I learned that ox cheek was popular many years ago, particularly amongst English writers and diarists.
At nine o'clock on Saturday 28 February 1662, Samuel Pepys "had a good supper of an ox's cheek."
On 17 November 1798, Jane Austin wrote: "I am very fond of experimental housekeeping, such as having an ox cheek now and then, I shall have one next week, and I mean to have some little dumplings to put into it..".
Unable to find anything more current I turned, as I so often do, to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Meat Book. He writes: "Ox cheek has been completely unavailable [in the UK] for several years now. Since BSE related legislation took force, the tongue is the only part of the cow's head that is allowed outside the abattoir. It's a pity as the cheek is a very versatile meat which, after long slow cooking, has a delicious melting texture somewhere between the tongue and the oxtail....If it ever comes back on the market, expect to see me furiously trying to publish recipes for it in the hope of stimulating a revival."
The good news for Hugh and his publishing fury is that ox cheek, like the Spice Girls, Take That and Led Zeppelin, has returned to the UK market (or at least to the Anchor & Hope (A&H) - and if the mad-cow legislation has not in fact changed, I do apologise for any trouble that may befall the A&H as a result of this).
Over my last five or so years in London, the Anchor & Hope is the place I've eaten at most often. This is slightly odd for two reasons. The first is that English food still has an international reputation problem yet the A&H's food is probably the most traditionally English food in London (along with St John). The second is that you can't book a table and it's very difficult to ever get hold of one. The place is packed, knotted and wild - a sort of culinary snake circus on crowded bus travelling along Oxford Street.
For years I raved to the hungry about the A&H's duck in a pot. As of last night I have a new champion, a new favourite A&H dish - ox cheek and dumplings. Last night it was a serving for two and cost 26 quid.
It arrives in a large Le Creuset dish. A large mound of brick-red ox cheek floats in the centre of a rich stock from the long slow cooking process. Around the ox cheek floats five or six dumplings. The ox cheek is just at Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall describes it - delicious melting texture - with a stunning depth of flavour. The stock is rich and warming and the slippery dumplings providing a great textural contrast (I was not sure what was was in the dumplings, but they were great). This is exactly what I want to eat on a cold night shortly before Christmas. What a dish. Nothing I've eaten in London in the last five years comes close to this. Pepys and Austin would be most pleased.