I have moved blog address!

22 Oct

I have now moved my blog to www.southwestfoodie.com. Hope you’ll join me there.

Best wishes,

Louise

Squires Fish and Chip Restaurant

18 Oct

Now, where to take the folks for a casual bite to eat on their first visit to Braunton?  Well, when at the seaside, it’s got to be fish and chips of course.

With a recent review in The Independent, Squires Fish and Chip Restaurant was the venue of choice. It certainly must be getting something right as the restaurant and takeaway have been going for more than 40 years. And this is still a real family-run affair. Upon our arrival I was reliably informed by the man that it was a very glam, Mrs Squire herself who seated us and took our order.

There’s a section of the menu entitled ‘Healthy Options’ which did amuse me somewhat as the accompaniment to the likes of poached salmon was always a portion of chips. I’m not sure what the Advertising Standards Authority would have to say about that.. And to be fair it’s a bit like going to McDonald’s and ordering a salad really isn’t it – you don’t go to a chippy to watch your waistline.

Anyway, moving on to the important bit, the food itself.  Mother and I opted for the fishcakes, with a side of mushy peas of course, and we were both pleased with our choice. Two plump, round fishcakes, packed full of flaky cod, nicely seasoned, and the all important chips were hot, fat and crisp – just the job. And very good value too, at under £6 per meal.

Pa ordered your classic combo and was greeted with a large portion of cod, which he said had a lovely light crisp batter. The man meanwhile had his sights set firmly on the homemade steak and ale pie. The filling had a decent amount of meat and a nice substantial gravy. The man’s only suggestion for improvement was a preference for a full-on shortcrust pastry fest rather than just the topping of puff pastry which adorned the top of the pie dish.

So, all in all the food gets the thumbs up. My only slight criticism of Squire’s in general would be that they’re currently not doing their bit for the world’s fish stocks. Have they not been watching Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall like the rest of us? Someone get down there and demand a mack bap this instant.

At a touch over £40 for 4 meals and a bottle of wine, when you’re after a simple, hearty and tasty meal, Squires should be pretty high on your list.

http://www.squiresfishrestaurant.co.uk/

Celebration of Food

6 Oct

Our Indian summer may have been fleeting but the rest of October’s looking bright thanks to the Celebration of Food festival taking place this month. With over 200 foodie events taking place across the South West during October, there’s pretty much something for everyone. I myself am liking the sound of a decadent Gourmet Champagne Dinner at Hotel Du Vin in Bristol whilst i’m sure the man wouldn’t mind attempting The Exmoor  Real Ale and Cider Trail.

I went along to the launch party at Byzantium last night where a whole host of local producers gathered to share their wares, and not to sound too patriotic but it did make me feel rather proud of our homegrown produce. There was organic award winnning wine from Avonleigh Organics, prize-winning sparkling Ashridge cider, coffee from Ethical Addictions, to name but a few. With a butchery demo from Molesworths in Henleaze and a cookery masterclass from The Devilled Egg Kitchen Academy, I think a good evening was had by all.

I of course couldn’t leave empty-handed and managed to walk away with the smelliest and loveliest of cheeses, Langres. Ok so this is a French cheese but it is stocked by Brits, Trethowan’s Dairy. And I must add that if you haven’t yet tried some of their cheeses then get yourself down to St. Nicholas Market in Bristol and have some of their Stichelton, a blue-veined beauty that once you’ve tried I guarantee you’ll be hooked.

For more info and listings of all the events taking place during the festival see www.celebrationoffood.co.uk

Noel Corston at Kittiwell House

8 Aug
A pop up restaurant, in North Devon, could it really be! Ok, so it was located in Croyde which to be fair is sometimes accused of being more London than North devon but I was still highly impressed . And a tasting menu of British cuisine to boot, not to mention a chef who comes highly regarded by some extremely foodie friends. I needed no more convincing.
Noel Corston is usually to be found as Head Chef at The Courtyard restaurant in Woolacombe and has opened a temporary restaurant at Kittiwell House, a B&B, for 4 weeks only, to showcase his culinary prowess. On our arrival it was that quiet in the dining room I thought for a moment that we might be at the wrong venue, but no, it was just the hushed tones commonly associated with fine dining. I’m sure our table soon put pay to that though!
The first half of the meal was dedicated to showcasing some very skilled cooking of fish. An appetiser of crab with avocado on crostini, got the tastebuds suitably tantalised. A first course of monkfish served with a peppery fennel and cucumber salad got us off to a good start. Then it was on to hake nestled on an intensely flavoured base of crab and tomatoes. Next up, a lovely piece of brill with minted peas and tartare sauce, the flavours so clean and defined. As the man commented, it was like a very posh version of fish and chips, minus the chips.
Then, on to the piece de resistance – a beautifully pink and wonderfully tender duck breast, surrounded by swirls of squash and apple purees and strewn with pieces of duck crackling. It was absolutely exquisite and by far and away the best duck dish I have eaten. My mouth is watering at the mere recollection of it even as I type this.
A dessert of iced nougat, crammed full of pistachios, with raspberries and lemon curd, a dish that could have masqueraded as a piece of art, made me remember why puddings can be so delicious when they are done well. And the finale of plum tart was very well matched with a strong lavender ice cream.
Seven courses later my beau left the restaurant rather lighter of pocket but he also left with one very happy girlfriend indeed. And at £55 a head for food this was bang on the money for cooking of this calibre. On the basis of that meal I’ll certainly be looking to take a trip to Woolacombe in the very near future…

Back to Braunton: The Corner Bistro

16 May

Chef Andy and wife Emma, who runs front of house, make a great team and their Friday night steak night is pretty well renowned in these parts, as are their darn good breakfasts.

For a mere 30 quid you can have two locally sourced Ruby Red beef rump steaks with a mound of fries which are spot on, even down to just the right amount of salt pre-sprinkled on them. You can pay a bit more to have more superior cuts of steak but the rump is beautifully tender and cooked exactly to your liking. I’ve been to steak night twice now and on both occasions the food and service have been fantastic. This time round the man and I also opted to share a side of glorious creamed spinach which I can thoroughly recommend.

Although we were both rather full I managed to convince the man to share a lemon tart to round off the meal. The filling was neither too sweet, nor too tart and the consistency was also just right, contrasting wonderfully with a hard sugar topping.

A little tip – if you’re  going there just with your beloved then ask for the window seat in the corner, it’s like having a restaurant all of your own and I for one think it’s pretty romantic.

And it’s not too hard on the old wallet too – two steak frites, one side, a bottle of wine, one dessert and two glasses of dessert wine came in under £50.

http://www.thecornerbistro.com/

Style but no substance – The Gastro Bar & Grill

12 May

Whilst back up north in Southport visiting the Dobson clan instead of returning to the old haunts we decided to try a new restaurant, The Gastro Bar & Grill that had just opened in Birkdale village. First impressions of the place itself seemed good, a welcoming front of house, a bar at the front and a modern and stylish restaurant. The menu is rather an odd mixture of cuisine from around the world but it’s certainly aiming to be fine dining.

I wasn’t blown away by my starter of prawns pil pil, it was okay but certainly nothing to write home about and at £7.95 I’d expected it to be spot on. Sis, however, raved about her starter, a soft shell crab salad with a wasabi dressing. The subtle balance of flavours was just right and the wasabi didn’t overpower the dish which it could so easily have done.

On to the mains… All I can really say of mine is that it was edible. A lamb shank which the meat should have just been dropping off the bone but clearly hadn’t been slow cooked for long enough, served up with chunks of feta and olives and a little ramekin filled with moussaka. Sadly it just didn’t work and the overall dish wasn’t more than the sum of its parts. Cous opted for chicken breast with a goats cheese sauce and asparagus, it looked rather insipid when it arrived and she was rather underwhelmed by its taste as well.

Would pud save the day? For me it was apple panacotta, Magners jelly, crumble, and toffee fudge ice cream. I envisaged a little taster of each element, perhaps served up in individual shot glasses, oh how wrong I was.. It was all layered in one dish and the portion size was enough to feed an entire family. That wouldn’t have been so bad if it had tasted half decent but after one mouthful I could stomach no more, there was a vast amount of the crumble topping and the taste and consistency of the other elements of the dish simply didn’t work together. I can honestly say that it was one of the worst desserts I have eaten in a long time. Sis and cous fared a little better with their choice of peanut butter and chocolate cheesecake but it was no gastronomic success. Too much peanut butter in the mix meant that after a few mouthfuls it became too sweet and cloying.

A final gripe is that as the evening progressed this certainly didn’t seem to be a restaurant with bar, more the other way round. After trying to shout across the table to my cousin whilst The Black-Eyed Peas were hollering “..tonight’s gonna be a good night” I decided enough was enough and asked a waiter if they could turn the music down. And to be fair they did, for all of five minutes before someone turned the volume back up.

Thankfully the restaurant didn’t manage to spoil a great evening with wonderful company, but the overall experience was certainly more ghastly than gastro. I’d strongly recommend that they throw in the towel on the restaurant front and turn the whole place into a bar – eat here at your peril.

http://www.thegastrobarandgrill.com/

Sunshine and seafood: The Riverside, Braunton

6 Apr

Yes, I know it’s been a little while since my last review but they do say all good things come to those who wait..

A change of scenery again this time, to North Devon, Braunton, to be precise. Home to the man, Braunton Burrows  and The Riverside restaurant.  Located in the centre of the village, The Riverside is an Italian restaurant and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The man and I pottered past whilst peckish on a Saturday afternoon and decided to make the most of the spring sunshine and sit outside to grab a bite to eat.

The lunch menu has something to cater for most tastes, there’s your standard luncheon fare including a selection of sandwiches, some more general brunchy items and a variety of pizza and pasta. However it was the antipasto selection that caught my attention, with a range of meats, cheeses,  italian breads, olives etc. to select from – my favourite kind of food.  The man was initially tempted by a good old bacon butty but was persuaded differently when he could see how my eyes lit up when the waitress came to take our order and suggested we share the chef’s special of the day, a seafood platter.

And when the sumptuous seafood smorgasbord arrived at our table I was truly in seventh heaven. I always think it’s the mark of a confident chef when they let top quality produce speak for itself. A selection of expertly cooked salmon, sea bass, mackerel and a whole john dory was accompanied by  some chargrilled lemon, a hunk of focaccia and a dollop of aioli on the side for good measure. And that was not all, served alongside was a bowl brimming with sweet clams, mussels and prawns in a garlic and white wine sauce, bellissimo!

Who needs to go all the way to the Med when you’ve got sunshine and seafood this good right on your doorstep?

The seafood platter for two costs £22 and was worth every penny.

http://www.theriversidebraunton.co.uk/

New Year, New Review: The Pumphouse, Bristol

11 Jan

Chef Toby Gritten, of gastropub The Pumphouse in Hotwells, likes to experiment with food combinations. Clearly inspired by the masterful, Mr Blumenthal and having already picked up Gold at the Taste of the West Awards 2009 his talents clearly haven’t gone unnoticed.

As we sat gazing at the menu, the man asked me the question i’d be longing to hear since we met… “Shall we try the tasting menu?”. This was the one occasion when my usually infuriatingly indecisive nature did not come into play. The eight course menu was made up of smaller versions of the dishes from the a la carte and we were informed that the chef would take account of any particular preferences or dislikes we had.

The menu is resoundingly British and uses the freshest, high quality produce. Our menu featured line caught sea bass that had been caught the very same morning in Cornwall and local Mendip lamb.

Course number one was a newcomer to the menu, using the surf and turf idea and was served up in a shot glass. A layer of pea puree, pigs cheek (or ‘Bath chap’ for those in the know), prawn cocktail and a finishing touch of crispy pigs ear was a bold start to the meal but the medley of flavours worked extremely well together. Other courses particularly worthy of note were a Japanese influenced salmon fillet containing stem ginger, wrapped in a thin, crisp layer of bread and served with pickled cucumber and a winter game terrine of pheasant, rabbit and hare. Both dishes were served with a smattering of oak-smoked sultanas which were truly delicious.

By the seventh course even the man was beginning to flag and boy was I glad that I hadn’t chosen a body-con dress to wear to dinner. But of course there’s always room for dessert.. Now I never thought i’d be singing the praises of a liquorice parfait with beetroot but it was just divine.

A dish of pork belly and pommes anna was a bit of a let down; the pork was also a little over-cooked and there was nothing new or exciting about the dish so it didn’t really fit with the rest of the menu. Although, as it was meat and potato I must add that the man did not share my dislike and happily polished off the remainder that was left on my plate. My only other criticism is of one of the desserts. On a plate of the most beautifully presented puds sat a piece of sticky toffee pudding which was burnt on the outside, an unwelcome addition to an otherwise excellent dessert platter.

I must make reference to our maitre d’ for the evening, Adam Rees, who was utterly charming and knew the menu inside and out, carefully explaining the intricacies of each dish and helping us make some interesting wine choices. First up was a Lebanese red (Massya Lebanon Bekaa Valley 2008) – I wasn’t even aware that the Lebanese made wine, let alone that it could be any good. The second was an English white (Limney Horsmoden Dry White 2009); both wines I can highly recommend.

Now not to sound like the start of an M&S ad, but this wasn’t just a meal, this was an event. Three and a half hours, eight courses, two Hendricks G&Ts, two bottles of wine and £169 lighter of pocket later we finally emerged from the restaurant. I know that it’s the start of the year and this is rather extravagant but if you want to try some modern, inventive cooking in Bristol then i’d say on balance it’s worth it. And if you’re not quite as greedy as me then the a la carte is a more reasonably priced option for a foray into some top nosh.

http://www.the-pumphouse.com/

Brunch in London town: Automat

27 Oct

Dare I confess that a weekday breakfast to me usually consists of some form of cereal bar, hurriedly consumed whilst sat at my desk. Although I must admit that this is due to my own sheer laziness to have that extra five minutes in bed of a morning. So, when the weekend arrives brunch seems so luxurious, the antithesis of my Monday to Friday fare. No need to race out of bed first thing and no need for any quick fix cereal solution, just pure indulgent, leisurely eating, my favourite kind.

Automat sells itself as the American diner experience, and was recently mentioned to me by a fellow foodie, so where better then to get my brunch fix when I was staying in central London for the weekend. It wasn’t quite as kitsch inside as i’d hoped but it did have the all important booth style seating which always gets me rather excited. It was certainly pretty popular and a great place for people-watching. Even the waiters themselves were rather interesting characters, the first looking like he’d had a bit too much of the old wacky baccy and the second having looked like he’d been let out for the day, harsh but true.

Although the menu was fairly lengthy, there wouldn’t normally be any contest for me in terms of what to order, the pancakes with berries and maple syrup would usually triumph every time. However, having woken up a little peckish and munched on an almond croissant, my sweet tooth had already been satisfied. Now this left me in somewhat of a quandary, to opt for more traditional brunch fare such as the classic eggs Benedict or to give something all American a whirl. As tasty as the thought of the mac ‘n’ cheese was I was sold on the idea of the soft shell crab ‘Po Boy’ sandwich with fries. Not something you’d find on your average brekkie menu. And when it arrived, two small whole crabs lightly battered, top marks to the man for having no shame in asking how we were meant to tackle eating said crustacean. And the answer was simple, the clue is in the name, the whole crab can be consumed. I was rather chuffed at this, no fiddling around trying to extract the crab meat and all the more food for greedy old me.

The man, meanwhile had his sights set firmly on the proper hearty breakfast option, the brunch burger, which consisted of, not merely a burger but also a sausage patty, bacon, fried egg, caramelized onions, cheese.. the list goes on. Oh, and not forgetting the healthy side of fried potatoes. This certainly isn’t an option for the faint-hearted or small of appetite, but it most definitely is a meal to set you up for the day. I think I can safely say that the man rather enjoyed it.

Overall, a fun brunch experience but I don’t think i’ll be in any rush to return as this is one pricey place, at over £50 for two meals, two coffees, two diet cokes and a bottle of water (inclusive of ‘discretionary’ 12.5% service charge).

http://www.automat-london.com/

Abergavenny: The Walnut Tree

29 Sep

Now I realise I’ve not exhausted all the dining options in Bristol yet, let alone England but the offer of a visit to The Walnut Tree was too good to pass up when I was in Abergavenny for the weekend at the food festival. Shaun Hill, formerly of the highly esteemed Merchant House in Ludlow has been at the helm of The Walnut Tree for the last few years and has recently been awarded a Michelin star for his efforts. A short drive outside the town, the place is very unassuming upon arrival. This certainly isn’t your stereotypical Michelin-starred restaurant, you won’t find any starched white table cloths, austere waiters and people talking in hushed tones here, and it’s all the better for it in my opinion. Oh yes, and lest I forget, you have to go outside to find the privy, I kid you not.

Moving swiftly on to the food..

If the appetisers were anything to go by then we were in for a treat. Bite-sized fish arancini, which evoked memories of last years hols in Sicily and stilton and sesame topped biscuits which had the most wonderful crumbly texture, were simply delightful.

And when it came to choosing the courses I was spoilt for choice, I don’t think there was anything on the menu that didn’t tickle my tastebuds. On my mission to try new foods and enrich my palate, I went for the veal sweetbreads to start. Until fairly recently, like a lot of people, I was under the misapprehension that they were a part of the animal I most certainly never wish to dine on. After much reassurance that they were definitely the thymus gland I still wasn’t sure what to expect but I was very pleasantly surprised. They just melted in the mouth and were served with an interesting accompaniment of saukerkraut. So far, so tasty..

For main it had to be the wild duck with parmentier potatoes, celeriac puree and a morel sauce. The meat was very succulent and had a really intense flavour. And they didn’t stint on the portion either, serving the breast and two confit legs. Even I struggled to finish which is saying something. It was lucky for me then that there was a twenty minute wait on the dessert of choice, chocolate pithivier. It was a chocoholics fantasy pud; an island of the flakiest pastry, containing a rich chocolate fondant and surrounded by a pool of lusciously smooth milk chocolate sauce. In this instance, a moment on the lips was so worth a lifetime on the hips.

Now i’m no wine connoisseur but I must take a moment to sing the praises of the wine. We plumped for a Pinot Noir from Australian producer, Innocent Bystander which I would heartily recommend. And then, for dessert we spotted a pink moscato by the same producer which was equally quaffable.

It’s the little touches that can make the distinction between a good dining experience and a great one and this was certainly the latter – things such as warm bread rolls, softened butter and efficient but not officious service. I’d say that Michelin star was well deserved Mr Hill, this place is a Welsh wonder.

http://www.thewalnuttreeinn.com/