Monday, 21 April 2014

Roast coconut and ginger parsnips

Moving several steps upward from the dubious delights of an après booze kebab, I recently ended up drunkenly dining in the second floor restaurant at Harvey Nichols, after something of a sprawling evening guzzling muchos alcohol.

The meal was fine, what I can remember of it, but one dish in particular caught my constantly shifting, blurred focus. From the sides section of the menu, roasted coconut and ginger parsnips. Now, normally I’d say don’t f*ck with my parsnips, but my guard was down, I was drunk and I ordered them. Surprisingly (for me) the coconut, ginger and lime worked really well with the sweetness of the parsnips, they were absolutely frigging delicious.

Happily, my pal, Jemma, had enough wits about her to ask for the recipe and received a scribbled note from the kitchen giving just enough instruction that, when combined with a quick internet search for similar recipes allowed me to reproduce more or less the same dish in my own kitchen. Oh yeah.

You need the creamed coconut that comes in a block for this, not a tin of coconut milk, which you will be unable to grate *slaps forehead*

Roast coconut and ginger parsnips

You’ll need:-
5 parsnips, peeled
40g creamed coconut
5cm piece fresh ginger, finely chopped
2 green chillies, finely chopped
Grated zest ½ lime
Vegetable oil for roasting

Heat the oven to 190C

Quarter or half the parsnips (depending on size) and cook in boiling, salted water for 5 minutes, then drain.

Grate the creamed coconut into a bowl, add the ginger, chillies and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Add 2-3 tablespoons of hot water and stir together until you have a paste.
It’ll probably be a bit clumpy so blitz it in a blender if you think it needs it. Finally stir in the lime zest.

Heat the vegetable oil in a roasting tray for 5 mins or so.

Toss the parsnips in the coconut paste, and then transfer to the smoking hot roasting tray.

Roast the parsnips for 30-40 mins until they’re browned and crisped up. 

If after 30 mins or so, they’re looking a bit anaemic still, flash them under the grill to brown them off. 

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Sauce Verte

Before I get started celebrating the virtues of my new favourite sauce, I feel that some small measure of profuse apology is in order. Regular readers may have noticed a recent lack of updates to the blog of late.

Although no doubt, general cause for celebration amongst the masses, I also believe that there are a handful of misguided individuals out there that have felt genuine loss at my lack of output. To these unhappy few, I’m sorry for leaving a gaping ‘Essex Eating’ shaped void in your lives and promise never to leave you devoid of my dubious pleasures again.

Basically, I’ve been notably less than prolific for a number of reasons. There was the upheaval of moving home, then the seemingly interminable ballache of getting broadband installed (this still hasn’t happened, I’m writing this in a local café) Oh and finally a hefty dose of good old writers block. I’ve still been eating out in restaurants, cooking and drinking enough for a whole crowd of gluttons, but just couldn’t find that spark within me to write about it. I’ve no idea why, I probably caught it off a toilet seat, honest.

Anyway, that was then, this is now. I’m back in the saddle. Leaner, fitter, hungrier and mungously brainier. So, turn those frowns upside down, organise a parade, drink a pint of gin or two in celebration (Plymouth obviously) and let the good times roll, you lucky bastardos.

So, Sauce Verte. The French green sauce. I’ve recently discovered this via the venerable Simon Hopkinson, basically aioli pimped with seemingly every herb in existence. The combination of garlic, lemon and fresh herbs is superb. It goes particularly well with fish, but is also pretty damn nice with boiled potatoes and chargrilled vegetables, such as asparagus.

First, make your aioli base.

You’ll need:-

2 egg yolks
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
Salt & Pepper
300-450ml Olive Oil
Although I find just using just olive oil too rasping and peppery, as well as frigging expensive, so cut it with vegetable oil in whatever proportions your budget and taste deems appropriate.  
Juice of 1 Lemon

You can make it with a whisk, but despite my obviously muscular physique, I’m a notoriously lazy bastard so use a hand blender, in a tall beaker that just fits over the tip of your err…blending rod, or whatever its called.

First make sure all the ingredients are at room temperature.

Beat the egg yolks with the garlic and a little salt, until thick.

Add the oil, but just a trickle at a time. Too much and it’ll split.

Add a little lemon juice, and then some more oil, alternating a little at a time, incorporating it before adding more, patience is key. Carry on till both are all used up.

At some point, if the mayonnaise gods are smiling on you, it will have come together and you’ll have a pot of luscious, thick gunk. If they’re not, as is nearly always the case with me, you’ll have thin split mess. If this is the case, don’t panic.

Get another pot, with a couple of egg yolks. Start again, this time carefully trickling your split mess into the egg yolks as you thrash away with the blender or whisk. It should come right this time. If it doesn’t, sorry but you are truly f*cked. Curse the gods of mayo. Tip it into the bin and accept it isn’t your day and go buy a jar of Hellmans.

But of course, everything has gone right and you’re marvelling at a quivering pot of homemade, garlic tinged mayonnaise.

Now to turn it into Sauce Verte. For this, you might consider wearing a beret, but this step is entirely optional.

You’ll need:-

A bunch of flat leaf parsley, leaves only
A bunch of watercress, leaves only
4 tarragon sprigs, leaves only
4 mint sprigs, leaves only
10 basil leaves
2 anchovy fillets

Bring a large pot of water to the boil, throw in the parsley and watercress leaves, stir and drain. Rinse them with cold water and squeeze dry in a tea towel. Chop them until extremely fine.

Then, in a frenzy of extremely fine chopping, get to work on everything else and stir the lot into your mayonnaise base. Season carefully and stir in a little extra lemon juice if you think it needs it.

Sauce Verte. Done.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

A guide to breakfast in Bristol - Updated 7th April 2014

A leisurely breakfast, with good coffee and the papers has to be one of my favourite meals of the day, a real treat. Every time I get a day off, its what I crave. Quite often I’ll cook something for myself at home, but nothing really beats sitting in a busy, steamy café and letting someone else do all the work for a change.

Back when I was young and far less choosy, I’d hit the nearest greasy spoon, surrounded by high-vis attired customers, avidly flicking through the trashy tabloids and stuffing myself with gargantuan breakfasts where the only common theme linking all of the items on the plate would be cheapness. Piled high but ultimately tasting of sod all.

Nowadays, I'm a much more sophisticated chap. I wouldn't touch The Sun with yours, preferring instead the broadsheets. As for my breakfast, the choice hasn't changed that much, a full English remains a lifelong favourite. What has changed though is that I'm prepared to pay a hell of a lot more for quality. No more garishly pink, cardboard tasting sausages packed full of eyelids, lips and arseholes for me, No. If my breakfast banger hasn't been lovingly hand reared on a Wiltshire farm and actually suckled at the teat of a farmer called Alan who’s own diet consists solely of locally sourced spring water and grass, then frankly, I'm not sticking it in my gob.

Well. Not quiet, but I am incredibly picky.

But where to find a good breakfast in Bristol? I hear your anguished cry. Hold tight, bacon lovers, I’ve taken the required hefty cholesterol whack for the team and have compiled a list of my favourites. I’ll update this list from time to time, should my heart hold out. But right now, you should be eating breakfast in these places…. 

I love the Moroccan style breakfast at Poco in Stokes Croft. Merguez sausage, harissa, creamy scrambled eggs on toasted sourdough. Hell yes. The restaurant is also perfectly sited to watch the infinitely varied comings and goings of The Croft as you munch away. Believe me, people watching doesn't get any better than this.

45 Jamaica Street, Stokes Croft, BS2 8JP
Telephone: 0117 923 2233

They serve breakfast/brunch on Sunday from 10am-3pm and it's absolutely belting. Go here, have the full English, drink coffee, read the papers and give me a wave whilst I do the same. It’s my favourite breakfast haunt right now.

112 Princess Victoria Street, Clifton. BS8 4DB
Telephone: 01179 735435

Workhouse Café
Just down the road from the BRI, on the corner of St Michaels Hill, this steamy windowed café serves breakfast Mon-Fri 8-11 and all day on Saturday. Its fast becoming my favourite midweek go to. Laura Hart’s sourdough toast, cracking coffee and a belting full English for £6.50 (I'm a particular fan of the sausages, almost certainly hand suckled by farmer Alan), they also serve porridge, if you’re feeling virtuous.

Perry Rd, Bristol, Avon BS1 5BG
Telephone: 0117 329 0889

This Gloucester Road café does a lovely full English. If the sun is out, sit on one of the pavement tables outside and breakfast in a classy fashion, totes al fresco. Open Monday – Saturday from 8:30am and from 10am on Sunday. 

16 The Promenade, Gloucester Rd
Bishopston. BS7 8AE

Absolutely cracking modern Middle Eastern restaurant, just South of the river in Bedminster. On the weekend, their brunch menu (served 10am-3pm) includes shaksohuka, a middle eastern breakfast of poached eggs, tomatoes, peppers, onions and spices. Throw in some merguez sausage for an extra £1.50 and you’re laughing.

277 North Street, Bedminster, BS3 1JP
Telephone 0117 966 6880

Harts Bakery
An excellent artisan bakery, located at Temple Meads in an archway underneath the station approach (very Hackney’esque), it’s a must visit for breakfast if you're travelling anywhere by train (or even if you're not) Ignore the abysmal chain offerings on the platforms and head here for Laura Hart's excellent coffee, superb cakes, pastries and bread (I'm a huge fan of the fennel and raisin variety).  Open 7am-3pm, Tuesday to Saturday.

Arch 35 Lower Approach Road, Temple Meads. BS1 6QS

Pear Café
Seeing as this tiny Stokes Croft café is owned by my ex partner, I may be accused of favouritism by adding it to this list, but I’ve eaten far too many sausage sandwiches there, of my own volition to happily refute any such claims. Takeaway only, really (there is a small table inside for two) and open from 8am, serving toast, coffee, tea, sausage sandwiches and absolutely superb flapjacks (beautiful buttery, syrupy, filth).

Unit 1, The Coach House, 2 Upper York Street. BS2 8QN
Telephone: 0117 942 8392

If a slap up, full on breakfast is a bit much for you and you’re more in the mood for excellent coffee and maybe a cheeky pastry, then head to these places…

Full Court Press
59 Broad Street, Bristol, BS1 2EJ

Small Street Espresso
Small Street, BS1 1DW 

Didn't You Do Well
20 Park Row, BS1 5LJ

So, there you have my favourite Bristol breakfast joints. I don’t consider myself infallible (OK, maybe just a bit) but if you know somewhere I’ve missed or I just don’t know about, then let me know in the comments.

Friday, 31 January 2014

5 years of Essex Eating!

Five years! Can you frigging believe it? Five whole years. Yes, people. This blog has officially made it out of nappies and grown up. Thanks for sticking with it, muchos beloved readers, as Essex Eating found it’s voice and tentatively took it’s first steps, albeit staggeringly erratic ones and occasionally, crapped itself extravagantly with unashamedly wild abandon. Nevertheless it’s still here, an unvarnished electronic testament to my monumental stupidity and unabashed gluttony. 

As is now traditional on this, the birth date of Essex Eating, I like to look back over the previous year. Picking out the gastronomic triumphs and the unmitigated f*cking disasters that I’ve experienced both while dining out and embarrassingly closer to home. 2013 was a pretty vintage year in every respect. Enjoy. 

Best meal I ate in 2013
I ate in some pretty amazing restaurants last year; in fact I probably ate out more often in 2013  than at any other time in my life. I have to say, the absolute best meal I ate was at Le Champignon Sauvage, David Everitt-Matthias’ s two Michelin starred restaurant in Cheltenham. The food was so beautifully cooked, so inventive and such a ridiculous bargain it’s almost hard to believe. 
Closer to home, Bells Diner & Bar Rooms newly re-opened in May with talented Chef, Sam Sohn-Rethel running the kitchen. Providing me with something of a regular haunt, I ate there a hell of a lot in 2013, at one memorable point, almost twice a week. The food is superb. It’s now firmly entrenched as my favourite restaurant in Bristol.
Despite almost burning myself out with a week long 40th birthday fine dining binge, an evening at The Clove Club in Shoreditch was so good, it pretty much restored my faith in eating out. A beautiful and atmospheric room, inventive, fun and interesting food, easily one of the best meals I ate last year.
The Castle Terrace in Edinburgh comes in just a whisker behind Le Champignon Sauvage as my most impressive meal of 2013. I had an absolute belting lunch there. By far the best I ate in Edinburgh in fact, it’s probably one of the best lunches I’ve eaten anywhere.  Chef Dominic Jack’s food is almost impossibly elegant and beautiful. I was absolutely blown away. The set lunch menu is a total bargain.
In July I ate lunch at The Walnut Tree in Abergavenny, which is something of a legendary restaurant, with Sean Hill, who could be described as an equally legendary Chef, doing the cooking.  Yep, it was pretty expensive but bloody hell it was good. Beautiful food. Jabron potatoes, get in my belly!
Back in January I was left completely and utterly enamoured with the Green Man & French Horn, the latest Gallic outpost from the owners of Terroir. I found the food honest, simple and beautifully cooked. I still think about the poached pear and salted butter caramel dish.

Finally, I have to mention my  weekend breakfasts at Wallfish in Bristol. I'm there every Sunday and yeah, the full English is pretty damn phenomenal.

Best Dish I cooked at home 2013

Without a doubt, the best thing I cooked at home last year was fennel & raisin custard doughnuts, after a little expert advice from my mate, Sam, an ex St John pastry chef. Inspired by the flavours of Laura Harts excellent fennel and raisin bread. I churned out a batch of doughnuts so impossibly perfect that I found it hard to believe that I’d produced them with my own hands. Lovely. I was, and still am ridiculously proud. 
Another dish I was pretty pleased with was a bastardised version of Elizabeth David’s classic, Lamb Ste Menehould. I was introduced to this deep fried lamb breast dish at Bell’s Diner and mixed the original recipe with the restaurant method for preparing it. The result was superb. Loved it.
I have to also mention Sussex Pond Pudding. An absolute English classic. Suet pudding encasing a whole lemon, perhaps seems at first glance a bit strange. I first ate this at Hix in Browns Hotel and to say I was impressed was an understatement. I had to try it at home and I pretty much ate the whole f*cking lot solo. I just couldn’t leave it alone. If you’ve never tried it, make it immediately.

Worst Dish I cooked at home 2013

Strangely enough the worst dish I cooked was also doughnuts. The supreme fennel & raisin variety were my second attempt, after I’d initially made a batch of bacon and bourbon custard the week before, which were also admittedly delicious but this was before I’d been furnished with the indispensable help and tips from my pastry chef friend. I found making them a complete and utter ballache. Despite tasting delicious, they were frigging ugly, deflated and squashed, which strangely enough, exactly matched my mood as I surveyed the results.

I also cooked some lamb’s liver, which was the strongest most livery tasting piece of errr liver that I’ve ever had the misfortune to put in my mouth. I almost gagged on it and I’m normally a fan. Straight in the bin. 

I no doubt made some pretty mundane, rubbish food but I’ve somehow expunged the memories from my noggin. Nothing else really springs to mind.

Best Booze I drank in 2013

I did a fair old bit of boozing last year, a couple of things in particular caught my eye. Chateau Musar a biodynamic Red from Lebanon (available from Waitrose) was bloody lovely and Kernel Table Beer, which has a lovely flavour but is light enough to drink all evening without falling on your ass. Much.

Worst Dish I ate out 2013

Ok, couple of contenders. I’m kind of cheating here, as I didn’t order either of these dishes, the exact same friend I was eating with did on both occasions (Jemma, you have rubbish taste!). I haven’t eaten anything myself that was even close to being as appalling as these. 

Poco, I love you guys but I didn’t love your mushroom and vanilla soup. In fact, I hated it. Thick and muddy looking with a disgusting sweet note from the vanilla, definitely not complimenting the earthy taste of the mushrooms. It was pretty wrong. Sorry.

Roast Cauliflower as a vegetarian option, yeah, broken down into florets with those crispy burnt edges, lovely. Number 1 Harbourside presented my friend with basically a whole cauliflower, in one piece, on a plate. Which is strange enough, but that it wasn’t cooked at all and was raw. No idea how that left the kitchen really. I was so disgusted, I complained on my sheepish looking friends behalf.  

Best Dish I ate out in 2013

So many contenders here. Amalfi lemonade & black pepper ice cream at The Clove Club was bloody incredible as was the signature dish of  buttermilk fried chicken & pine salt, scoffed at the aforementioned restaurant and again at it’s sister restaurant, Upstairs at The Ten Bells. 
Hard to believe I’d include squid as one of the best dishes I ate last year, but cannelloni of North Sea squid with garlic and parsley at The Castle Terrace in Edinburgh blew me away. So delicate, intricate and beautifully cooked. 
A dessert of locally foraged sea buckthorn, crowdie (a type of Scottish cream cheese) carrot and biscuit at Edinburgh’s Timberyard really impressed me. It was on the set lunch menu at £5 and I just couldn’t believe the amount of work that had obviously gone into this dessert, at such a ridiculously low price. Consisting of a sea buckthorn granita and a jelly, whipped crowdie an unusual carrot sorbet (which was absolutely delicious) a frozen vanilla parfait and sheets of meringue. I know all the work is in the preparation, and assembly would take no time at all, but still, f*ck, a fiver! It was phenomenal.
I’ve obviously got something of a sweet tooth because another winning dish from last year was a warm treacle tart at Arbutus in London. It  was by far the best I’ve ever eaten, anywhere. Warm, just set, softly oozing sweetness on a beautifully crisp pastry base. As that first spoonful entered my willing gob and spread itself luxuriously across my tongue I was pinned to the seat, transfixed, radiating love for this dessert. It’s something of an understatement to say I thought it was pretty f*cking good. 
At Le Champignon Sauvage, Lamb fillet with poached apricot, aubergine, garlic yoghurt and Moroccan spiced sauce, impressed me no end.  I just can’t believe this dish is on the set lunch menu, it was phenomenal. Seriously one of the best plates of food I’ve eaten anywhere. I don’t even know where to begin; the lamb was so tender and there was so much of it! The sweet dots of poached apricot and the subtly spiced sauce, just amazing. 
Obviously, the previously mentioned Lamb Ste Menehould at Bell’s Diner and Bar Rooms. Inspirational and bloody lovely. 
Finally (that sweet tooth again) a poached pear with salted butter caramel and filled with crème anglaise at The Green Man and French Horn? F*ck yes.

Weirdest Google searches that have led to my Blog 2013

Roast Skunk
At it essek porno (?)
Arnold Schwarzenegger like pizza
alcohol+abuse+in+essex+useful+links (probably appropriate)
Add ma im hot (OK)
diahorreah it can make a grown man weep (Indeed)
butters whore-browns restaurant in London
blown veal (eh?)
birthday restaurant cack
gribiche sauce say it (No)
grans looking for love in essex
frothing milk iceberg
fernet branca makes you sober (Not in my experience)
essex posh salt (Maldon – tres posh)
essex love sausages (they do)
essex fight, cheek bitten off
eating red onions and drinking red wine
eat my ass Bristol
eat as much meat London
do they make lamb in a can for sandwiches
do people eat pig cheeks
lyme regis what to do when its pissing down with rain
living room bristol twat
interseting fact about pork cheeks
I am ready with mint sauce
how to cook pork shoulder Essex way (there’s an Essex way?)
how the fuck do you make pease pudding
how do you get mr. bacon stop oinking?
how cooking sausages in coffee shop
hot mustard make my brain hurt
porno pollen
squid eating seahorse
why do people in essex like to eat pudding with gravy
why do my new potatoes fall apart when i cook them
why are scotch eggs horrible
who eats the most puddings in essex?
whisk in arse
vintage eel fucking before cooking

Best Recipe book 2013

Loved One Good Dish by David Tanis. Stripped back, simple cooking. Almost like the American version of Nigel Slater. I found this really inspirational.

Have to include Simon Hopkinson Cooks. I bloody love Simon Hopkinson, his style of cooking, his recipes and his writing are top class.

Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food was probably my favourite cookbook of 2013. Managing to be both accessible and at the same time, slightly ‘cheffy’. I think it’s cracking. 

Strangest thing I ate in 2013

Has to be slices of tuna heart in a Fisherman’s working mans club in Spain. It tasted surprisingly subtle, almost like thinly sliced pieces of roast beef. 

Best Ingredients and Produce I ate in 2013

I bloody loved the fennel & raisin loaf at Harts Bakery, in fact I loved it so much it inspired me to use the flavour combination as a filling for doughnuts.

Right now I’m a bit addicted to Marks Bread Baguettes. They’re bloody crusty and delicious. They make awesome toast when they get a bit older. 

Hands down the best doughnuts in Bristol, comparable even to St John’s famous doughnuts in London (unsurprising as the pastry chef who makes them is ex St John) Pippin Doughnuts I love you, tres much, especially the custard variety.

Must visit restaurants 2014

As is now traditional – here’s last years wish list. I actually managed to knock a few off this time. Having had amazing lunches at Le Champignon Sauvage, Arbutus and The Kitchin in Edinburgh.  

The Kitchin – Edinburgh 
Brawn – London
The British Larder – Suffolk
Le Champignon Sauvage – Cheltenham
Restaurant Sat Bains – Nottingham
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal – London
Zucca – London
Bocca Di Lupo - London
L’enclume – Cumbria
Balthazar – London
Honey & Co – London
Hand & Flowers – Marlow
Galvin at Windows (or La Chapelle) – London
Wild Honey or Arbutus (or both!) - London

So much for looking back, lets swivel our view forward to the future. Here’s this years wish list. As always, it’ll be interesting to see how many I actually managed to eat at by January 2015.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal – London
Hand & Flowers – Marlow
L’Enclume – Cumbria
Wild Honey – London
Brawn – London
The Dairy – London
Sweetings – London
Bocca Di Lupo – London
8 Hoxton Square - London
Chez Bruce - London
Social Eating House – London
Rules – London
Berners Tavern - London
Restaurant Sat Bains – Nottingham
The French at The Midland Hotel - Manchester

So that’s that. Five years of Essex Eating. I can hardly believe it myself. It’s been a strange year; despite eating and drinking a hell of a lot I managed to achieve some balance in my dining habits and lost two and a half stone! Basically, just by educating myself a bit as to how many calories I was actually stuffing in my gob and reining the excess in slightly, oh and doing a bit of running.

So that’s me, svelte, fit and ready for another year of (moderate) gluttony, drinking muchos (sort of), cooking and trying to write about it all. Stay tuned for more of the same, my gorgeous readers.

Mwah Mwah

Monday, 30 December 2013

The Clove Club - London

You may have noticed I recently spent some time in Edinburgh, basically eating every bloody thing I could lay my hands on. This unrepentant, gluttonous bout of restaurant debauchery, all in the dubious honour of my 40th birthday, almost broke me. Honestly, I didn’t think it was possible for me to experience, but this ridiculously indulgent, self-inflicted, surfeit of fine food and wine left me dazed, bloated, craving any form of salad and with the nagging feeling that if I even glimpsed another tasting menu I’d throw myself to the floor and start having a tantrum.

At this, my lowest point, I flew back to London where a now, distinctly unwanted, dinner reservation at The Clove Club awaited. Seriously, I’d just had enough; I didn’t fancy it at all, despite wanting to eat there for some time. At the appointed hour of doom I dutifully dragged my sorry ass over to Shoreditch, and all credit to the restaurant, I’m happy to say this jaded, overindulged, miserable old f*cker had a really cracking meal.

The restaurant itself is located in the old Shoreditch town hall, which makes for a rather grand entrance. I headed straight into the packed, dimly lit bar and immediately felt better. These things are hard to define sometimes, but for me the room had a good vibe. Led to my table in the dining room, out back, and I perked up even more. There’s something of a St John’ish feel to the rather austere looking room, with an open kitchen at one end, bare wooden tables, battered white walls and moody lighting. I loved it. Seriously, if I had my own restaurant I’d like to imagine it would look just like this. It was packed out, and as with the bar next door there was a nice buzz about it, which was a welcome antidote to some of the hushed fine dining I’d just recently experienced in Edinburgh.

There is only one choice in the restaurant, a set menu at £47. Fair enough.
I’d eaten the buttermilk fried chicken & pine salt before at their sister restaurant, Upstairs at The Ten Bells, so knew what to expect and also knew not to tuck into the bed of pine branches (so tempting). What to say, it’s absolutely delicious and easy to see why it’s become such a signature dish. 
Radishes, black sesame and gochuchang, a fermented Korean condiment made from red chilli, glutinous rice and soybeans, followed. An interesting take on the classic radishes with salt and butter, the fiery, buttery texture of the gochuchang and the nuttiness of the sesame seeds worked really well. 
Wood pigeon sausage & greengage ketchup was bloody stunning. My only complaint would be the microscopic dimensions of the measly frigging little taster piece I was presented with. I’m looking at the menu right now and it definitely says ‘sausages’ not ‘sawn off sausage nub’. Oh well, still, it was very nice and definitely left me wanting more…bastards.
Spartanly presented, Scottish blood pudding, celeriac and red william pear was probably my least favourite of the dishes I ate. The flavour combination of the black pudding, pear and celeriac was lovely but I think I’ve been a little spoilt by Trealy Farm’s rather excellent boudin noir. Every other black pudding I’ve tried just doesn’t come close in flavour or texture, including this.
The next dish arrived, BBQ squid, tarragon and the intriguingly named, green meat radishes (I asked and disappointingly it’s just that the flesh is green…oh).  The squid was perfectly cooked, a feat which seems to elude a fair few restaurants. The unusual tarragon and radish combination worked well. Nothing to blow my socks off, just a good solid plate of food.
Aged featherblade of beef, Jerusalem artichoke and horseradish, however was absolutely bloody awesome. The meat was so ridiculously sticky, tender and rich. This is my idea of a perfect plate of wintery grub, I sat there transfixed, a big grin on my face as I shovelled forkful after forkful it into my mouth, enjoying every last bit and feeling genuinely disappointed when there was nothing left but a plate scraped bare.
Luckily for me the next course was also something of a standout. A bowl of Amalfi lemonade & black pepper ice cream was just incredible. Ridiculously soft, warm and mousse like on top with a contrasting cooler temperature deeper down and an almost effervescent, sherbet tingle on the tongue. Unbelievable. I bloody loved this. 
Warm quince, vanilla cream and gingerbread was nice enough. Really, what’s not to like about that combination of flavours? Although I found the gingerbread to be a little tough perhaps; I couldn’t cut through it with my spoon without sending it skidding across the plate. So rather than end up with it in my lap and utilising the years I spent in that posh finishing school, I picked it up and got stuck in.
Coffee came with an addition. A bar of The Clove Club’s own chocolate flavoured with almond. I thought this was a really nice and unusal touch.

But not quite as good as the final flourish. A lurid green pill, sitting atop a note collectively praising Fernet Branca (the Italian medicinal tasting, herbal drink), Fergus Henderson and his St John restaurant. There followed a recipe for a Dr Henderson cocktail, (Named after Fergus’s Father, a combination of crème de menthe and Fernet, it’s something of an acquired taste). 

Popping the pill into my mouth, it broke and I could taste the unmistakable flavour of the aforementioned cocktail flooding across my tongue, lovely.
That I enjoyed my meal at The Clove Club so much, despite arriving with an unusually negative mindset of not really wanting to eat at another restaurant, just goes to show how good it actually is.

The restaurant itself is lovely both in atmosphere and design. The service was spot on and the food itself was incredibly inventive, fun and interesting as well as beautifully cooked. Yeah, a couple of the dishes were a bit more workmanlike than jaw droppingly impressive but the aged featherblade of beef and the Amalfi lemondade and black pepper ice cream were so astoundingly impressive, they’re kind of a hard act to follow.

The Clove Club, yeah, loved it.

The Clove Club
Shoreditch Town Hall
380 Old Street

Monday, 16 December 2013

Castle Terrace - Edinburgh

If right now you could gaze upon my complexion, you’d probably note how untroubled by the ravages of time it is, how peach like and bursting full of moisture I obviously am and just how damn youthful I look. If I then told you that I turn 40 at the end of this week, and I recently spent three days in Edinburgh, celebrating my fourth decade on the planet by eating pretty much everywhere, your jaw would no doubt hit the floor. You’d definitely have had me pegged at 18.Yeah. But no, people, seriously I’m at least halfway dead. Party!

But that’s enough about me, lets talk about you. What do you think about me? (leave comments). No seriously, moving on. By far the best meal I ate during my stay in Edinburgh was also the most reasonably priced. This aspect impressed me no end. The restaurant was The Castle Terrace and I am declaring myself completely smitten.

Located, strangely enough, on the end of a Terrace in the shadow of Edinburgh castle, the Michelin starred restaurant is part of Tom Kitchin’s Scottish empire, with Dominic Jack, the head chef.

I’d booked for lunch, before flying back to London later that afternoon and only really had my eye on the set lunch menu, the a la carte being a bit more robustly priced.

The dining room itself had a nice feel to it with a warm, relaxed vibe.
A selection of rather interesting looking canapés came first. Salt cod barbajuan (let me just say now, I had no frigging idea what a barbajuan was, it turns out it’s Monaco’s national dish and is a deep fried savoury pastry) this example was matt black and spiky, almost fetishist in appearance and incredible to look at. It was also absolutely delicious. Next a perfectly miniature burger flavoured with caper and cumin which was also delicious. Finally a ‘Caesar Salad’ in the form of a spherical green jelly, which I had been advised to eat in one bite. It impressed me no end that the flavour that flooded my mouth as I bit into it was indeed the Parmesan, crouton, lettuce, anchovy and creamy dressing taste of the classic salad. I’ve got to say, these were bloody awesome canapés, some of the best and most inventive I’ve eaten anywhere. I was really sitting up and taking notice now.
Chewing on some excellent bread and butter, brought to the table in a tartan bag arrangement, designed to keep it warm (it did) I couldn’t wait to see what was coming next.
An appetiser billed as ‘baked potato with cheese’ came next. Consisting of a potato veloute with a dusting of savoury spices on the top. I dipped in with my spoon and broke into a deep fried molten ball of cheese hidden at the bottom. Lovely.

I rarely ever order squid in a restaurant. I find it’s often pretty bland and ridiculously easy to cook badly, but I went for it thinking this would be a real test of how good the cooking was. 

Look at the photo, how beautiful is that for a plate of food? What I initially thought was a risotto underneath the candy-striped cylinder of squid stuffed with a fish mousse was in fact tiny pieces of squid. The whole dish was so elegant and so incredibly impressive in its construction I just found myself staring at it. The spell broken with my fork plunging into the cannelloni and dipping it into the accompanying garlic and parley sauces, I’ve got to say not only was it a looker, but it tasted amazing. Yep and as you’d expect the squid was perfectly cooked too. 
A pithivier of ox tongue with autumnal vegetables followed. As with the previous dish, I spent a bit of quality ‘me’ time just admiring the incredible precision of the pastry work and the dish in general. It was so perfect it almost felt a shame to eat the bloody thing. Suppressing any feelings of guilt, I waded in, carefully constructing a forkful consisting of a bit of everything, as is my way. Yeah, it was amazing. The deeply savoury ox tongue filling, combined with the mash and the vegetables was basically perfect autumn comfort food tarted up and refined beyond belief. I loved it.
Locally foraged sea buckthorn featured on a cheesecake served with chocolate sorbet. As with everything else, the presentation was incredible but this was probably the least impressive course I ate. I wasn’t entirely convinced by the combination of chocolate and sea buckthorn, I thought the sharpness of the berries was slightly overwhelmed by the richness of the chocolate flavours. That’s me being finicky. I don’t mind saying it was still good and I ate the lot.
With coffee accompanying petits fours and a tip, my bill came to £39, which for that standard of cooking felt almost ridiculous. I’d had a bit of an excess of booze the night before, so this didn’t include any alcohol, I stuck with water.

I bloody loved The Castle Terrace. As I said previously I thought it was by far the best meal I ate in Edinburgh. The service was pitch perfect, not too friendly, not too stuffy and formal (Restaurant Martin Wishart take note) the food was undoubtedly amazing. So elegant and beautifully cooked but with really inventive and interesting touches. I honestly couldn’t have been more impressed. It’s easily one of the best lunches I’ve eaten this year; in fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s up there as one of the best lunches I’ve eaten full stop. That the set lunch menu is such an incredible bargain just makes it that much more impressive.

If you’re in Edinburgh, you must eat here. No question. 

The Castle Terrace
33/35 Castle Terrace

Telephone: 0131 229 1222

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Restaurant Martin Wishart - Edinburgh

Remember in my last post when I said that I carefully researched which restaurants I ate at and therefore rarely eat a crap meal? Well, I'm disheartened to report that Restaurant Martin Wishart in Edinburgh recently tested the limits of this somewhat. To be fair, it was about as far from crap as it’s possible to get, but I didn’t enjoy it nearly half as much as I thought I would, especially when choking on the eye watering bill at the end of the meal. 

Here’s how it went down….

The restaurant is located on the harbourside in Leith, Edinburgh’s old port area, with the entrance itself picked out by hot pink glowing lights. I initially thought it might be a brothel. Carefully concealing my extreme disappointment when I realised it was in fact the restaurant I’d booked a table at, I stepped through the front door to be greeted by the French maitre d’.

Now, as you can well imagine, being from the Essex hinterland, I’m a frigging classy dude and I’ve eaten in any number of ‘posh restaurants’ and invariably felt entirely at home. To the manor born (OK, ‘manor’ in the Arthur Daley sense, but still). Martin Wishart was different. I didn’t feel comfortable here. Glancing around the softly lit dining room, I noticed all the other diners, without fail, were extremely dressed up. Evening dresses, suits and ties. Uncomfortably aware of my own, less salubrious attire (tracksuit bottoms tucked into sport socks, deep V t-shirt and novelty tartan cap with attached ginger wig), I couldn’t help but feel underdressed. I may have been slightly more tastefully attired, but you get the point.

This was a temple to fine dining populated by an obviously wealthy clientele and for probably the first time ever eating in a restaurant, I felt slightly on edge.
Maybe things would improve when I got stuck into the food, which in this case was to be the tasting menu at £75
An amuse of beetroot macarons, one with horseradish, and another with carrot and cornichon were an interesting idea, but perhaps a little too subtly flavoured for me.
Another amuse followed, to be eaten, I was informed in an almost impenetrable French accent, in a specific order left to right; courgette, basil, curry oil and espelette pepper which was very nice. Pomme dauphine, crème fraiche and smoked salmon, which was curiously presented sitting on a piece of scrunched up tin foil, still, lovely. Finally a warm chicken parfait, Parmesan veloute and port reduction, also cracking.
Partridge ravioli, cabbage with sage, truffle sauce followed and was absolutely banging. A rich meaty ravioli filling in a creamy and beautifully flavoured truffle sauce. Seriously, what’s not to like?
Next, a glass containing a ceviche of Gigha halibut with mango & passion fruit was obviously much subtler. Again, it was bloody delicious, seriously good. Fresh tasting and light, I could have finished off a pint of this rather than the demure martini glassful I’d had to make do with.
Loch Fyne crab ‘Marie Rose’ consisting of a tartare of rose veal, tomato and crab mayonnaise arrived at the table beautifully presented in an attractive glassware dish with pebbles and shells suspended in a bowl underneath.  As with the previous dishes, the food itself was beautifully flavoured. The rose veal tartare, subtle and cool against the silky richness of the crab mayonnaise.
Roasted veal sweetbreads were served sitting on a chestnut puree, surrounded by a moat of  potato veloute. A bit beige perhaps, but it had knock out flavours. I have a bit of a thing for both sweetbreads and potatoes, in any form, so it was hard to fault really.
The following dish was the main event, roast loin of Ayrshire hare, pastille of braised leg, red cabbage, port wine, braised turnips and dauphine potato. Technically it was an impressive dish. The tiny pastille of braised leg were elegantly cylindrical, crisp and stuffed full of rich meat. The potato dauphine, deep fried potato mixed with choux pastry were perfectly cooked as was the loin of hare, which was delicious.

As I ate, I ear wigged on my next-door neighbours’ conversation. A pair of solicitors discussing cases of wine they had in their respective cellars and how one of them had once spanked over a grand on lunch, which probably goes some way in exemplifying the majority of my fellow diners. I was tempted to join in with an excessive anecdote of my own concerning the consumption of multiple doner kebabs during a drunken night out in Essex.
Dessert was phenomenal. I’m struggling to describe what exactly it was, the menu description is just ‘salted caramel’ but it was somewhere between a cheesecake and a thick toffee like caramel mousse, partnered with poached Guyot pear, peanuts and a pear sorbet, it really was something special.

Coffee and rather lovely petits fours, consisting of whisky truffles, a majari chocolate macaron, spiced orange and mandarin, coffee ganache and salted caramel, rounded things off.
That, with two glasses of wine and service came to £109. One of the most expensive meals I’ve ever had (no thousand pound lunches here, sadly) and as I said at the beginning of the post, I didn’t enjoy it half as much as I thought I would. The food was superb and hard to fault really. Expensive ingredients, beautifully cooked and prepared, lovely. 

The problem I had with Restaurant Martin Wishart was the incredibly stuffy, fine dining vibe, the entire French front of house team, albeit consummately pleasant and professional, were always slightly stand offish and gave out a slightly aloof air. It’s hard to put my finger on what was up, but I’ve eaten in enough ‘posh’ restaurants to know that here, I just didn’t feel comfortable and therefore didn’t really enjoy the experience. For examples of restaurants that get it right, both The Ledbury and The Square manage to strike the perfect balance between a fine dining experience and warm, professional front of house. 

This was the most expensive meal I ate on my stay in Edinburgh and I’m sad to say, the one I probably enjoyed the least, despite the food being excellent.

Restaurant Martin Wishart

54 Shore,

Telephone: 0131 553 3557