Monday, 27 February 2012

Steak and Gidleigh

That's Gidleigh Park, of course, Michael Caines' restaurant in Devon -

Apparently Ruby and White - - supply the beef to Gidleigh Park. Which must mean that the diners there really enjoy their steaks because the ones we ate tonight were very, very good. As they should be, 2 8oz rib-eyes and a 6oz sirloin cost little shy of £20. This is not supermarket meat.

And that's a good thing. A very good thing.

It's been a long time since I've eaten steak as tasty. I'm not one for basting in half a pound of butter, which would do a lot to give even the most meagre steak a nice taste. I simply seasoned and griddled mine over a high heat and gave it a few minutes to rest afterwards. This made for a really tender steak with a surprisingly intense, robust meaty taste which was supremely satisfying.

When eating as simply as this - we had some potato wedges and mushrooms with our steaks - it seems to make so much more sense to spend this kind of money on good ingredients to cook at home rather than go and spend the same amount or more at a restaurant where you couldn't guarantee getting the same quality.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

The Thali Cafe - Easton

Well, the times they are a-changing. It used to be that a visit to a curry house involved flock wallpaper, luminous mango chutney and piped ravi shankar. But no longer, at least, not at the Thali Cafe in Easton. It definitely has more of the cafe about it in terms of appearance than it does an Indian restaurant. There are even sofas.

The menu, which makes me smile just by looking at it, doesn't go in for the standards. You won't find a tikka masala here. What you will find is an evening menu which offers a range of thalis which focus on regional Indian cooking and meat and vegetarian options.

The lunch menu offers a different range of curries, and luckily we went with a couple of friends so it meant we got to try quite a few of them!

Lamb Kofta
I chose the Lamb Kofta, which wasn't really a kofta because I didn't get meatballs, but it was all the better for that. What I did get was a very nice lamb curry which was a lot tastier than your average bhuna, with a thick, rich gravy spiced with cinnamon and clove. I would suggest though that in future they remove the big lumps of cinnamon before serving, bark isn't high on my list of eating pleasures. But I couldn't fault the taste.

The missus went for the Masala Fish Fry with some Bombay Potato Chips. As enticing as it sounds this was probably the weakest dish on the table. It just didn't live up to the promise. There wasn't enough spice in the batter and the chips were lukewarm. It seemed to lack a bit of effort.

But then things improved. One of our friends chose the Saag Paneer which was very tasty with a thick, luscious sauce and generous chunks of paneer. Apparently it's their favourite in the tiffin box that they regularly get from the Thali Cafe, and it's easy to see why.

Goan Fish Curry
The best dish of the day though was the Goan Fish Curry. It was easy to see the spicing that had been put into the curry, lots of mustard seeds and turmeric, which gave it real authentic flavour. If I hadn't had my lamb curry I might have been just a little bit jealous.

One notable thing about all the curries we had was that none were swimming in oil, which can often be the case.And the portions are generous. The menu might describe the curries as light lunches, but you won't leave wanting more. Which I mean in a good way! Everything costs less than a tenner as well, so you can have a really satisfying lunch and still have a couple of pints afterwards without breaking the bank. Which is what we did, and it capped off a very nice Saturday afternoon. Curry first and then the pints? The times really are a-changing.

Thinking of eating out in Bristol, read more reviews of Bristol Restaurants.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Souk Kitchen - delivers every time

Chef @soukkitchen
 I'll come clean now, the Souk Kitchen is my favourite restaurant in Bristol. I get excited at the thought of eating there. Even when I'm actually eating there I'm excited about visiting again.

Me and the missus ate there on Friday. We had booked early, 6.30pm, as we were going straight from work but we weren't the first there. That's a good sign. We'd booked in the expectation of ordering from the specials board, but then we got the menu and choices on there were just too tempting.

We started, as we do, with dips and flatbreads. We had these the last time we went and would have been happy having the same again. But clearly the kitchen like to make sure they keep offering something new. These little plates are so moreish. We had white bean and feta which was soothing and pleasingly salty, split pea and chermoula which tasted like a fine indian dhal and carrot and rosewater topped with pomegranate seeds - their sour sweetness accentuating the savoury carrot and balancing out the heady rosewater. To be honest, they're worth the trip themselves.

And so to mains. This is where I get greedy. There's too much on offer on the mezze menu for it to be possible for me to choose one main dish. I love being able to order 3 or 4 dishes which can offer a wide range of tastes and textures. And, in this instance, a very, very pleasant surprise.

Fried cauliflower with almonds
 First up, Fried cauliflower with almonds, sweet onions, sultanas and tahini. I would never, never normally order a dish of cauliflower. Ever. I'm so glad I did. It becomes a completely new experience here. The almonds, onions, sultana and tahini all seem to accentuate the nutty, sweet and slightly sour notes tastes of the cauliflower, elevating it to heights completely unexpected of a vegetable grown in the flatlands of Lincolnshire.

Lambs liver
 Next, Pan fried lambs liver with cumin salt and pomegranate onions. That instantly sounds appealing. I'm a fan of offal, but would never think to serve it like this. Which is obviously the reason I enjoy going to Souk Kitchen so much. Again it's easy to see the chef's working with sweet, sour and salty tastes to work with the main ingredient. Very tasty.

Pumpkin kibbeh with zhoug
 Now we start getting into unfamiliar and exciting territory. Pumpkin kibbeh with zhoug yoghurt. If you've ever watched Masterchef, and given that you'll only read this blog if you're into food so I'll take it that you have, then you'll have heard Gregg Wallace describe food as being 'like a cuddle'. That's the first thing that sprung to my mind when I tasted this. It was full of comforting, reassuring warmth. Like being tucked up on the settee under a duvet when you're 7 years old and have a cold. Like a father's arm around your shoulders. This dish just says "Everything's going to be alright". There's some food ponce creeping in here, isn't there?

Haloumi and quince
 The Char-grilled haloumi, roast quince and honey turned me into a complete food ponce. I might even have said to the missus that eating this made me feel humble. I'm not rolling in cash (certainly not now my offer on a flat has been accepted - woohoo!) but I've eaten occassionally in 'starred' places: Michael Caines' Priory in Bath; The Pony and Trap at Chew Magna. This haloumi dish would not be out of place in either, in my opinion.

This is what I love about eating out. Being able to sit down in a restaurant and confidently pick things that are unfamiliar safe in the knowledge that whatever you order is going to be good.

The missus did the complete opposite to me. She ordered a chicken tagine. To be precise it was Chicken, preserved lemon, chestnut and apricot tagine with rose couscous and onion confit. It was presented in a topped tagine which allowed a waft of wonderful aromas before being revealed by the waiter.

Chicken tagine
 A hearty, wholesome dish. Well spiced so that we could taste all the individual ingredients but which delivered a taste greater than the sum of its parts. Clever cooking. The rose couscous which came with it was some of the nicest couscous I've had.

When we evetually left and headed home I didn't mind that it would take us about an hour and half to get home. Or that some of the time was spent walking in the freezing cold. I'd make the same journey time and time again, and can only suggest that you make the effort to go there as well.

Thinking of eating out in Bristol, read more reviews of Bristol Restaurants.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Stuffed Squid Sicilian style with Couscous

Stuffed squid - Sicilian style - with couscous
  And so our Saturday of very satisfying eating continued.

A while back I wrote up a recipe for Mackerel with Minted Potato Salad. Cheap, quick and easy. Well, this recipe for Stuffed Squid Sicilian Style has just replaced it in the number 1 spot for easy fish dishes. Apart from the squid the ingredients are things that you're likely to have already, and what you don't have isn't expensive to buy.

The ingredients below are given for stuffing 4 squid, but I was only cooking for 2 so I put the rest of the stuffing through the couscous that I served with the squid.

100g breadcrumbs
1 heaped tbsp raisins (we used some sultanas we had, and soaked them beforehand)
1 heaped tbsp pine kernels (we used sunflower seeds)
1 tbsp grated Parmesan (we get ours from Aldi, very nice and half the price of anywhere else)
6 anchovy fillets
pinch of chilli flakes
Olive oil
splash of white wine (we used the Macon Village from Aldi, it went very, very nicely)
small handful chopped parsley
Salt and pepper

We started with 2 fresh squid from, cleaned an prepared by them. I chopped up the tentacles and fried them quickly in some olive oil and added them to a bowl contained the rest of the stuffing ingredients. Then you simply stuff the squid bodies. It can be messy, but it isn't difficult. Then seal up the ends with a cocktail stick.

Put the stuffed squid onto a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and a splash of white wine, then put them into a pre-heated oven (180c) for 10-12 minutes.

Whilst the squid is cooking prepared your couscous. I generally soak couscous in chicken stock (made from a cube) to give it extra flavour. When it has soaked up the water, drag a fork over it until it has separated into large grains. Dress with olive oil and lemon juice and season. I also added some of the stuffing I had left over.

When the squid is done, take it out the oven, place on top of the couscous, dress with a little more olive oil and a light dusting of paprika and serve.

Squid - stuffed
We were transported. It might have -4c and snowing outside, but round the dining table it was in the high 20s and we were overlooking a calm, blue sea with the smell of ozone in the air. It's a fantastic little dish this, and really, really worth a go. The reward and satisfaction you get is in stark contrast to the effort and the amount of cooking involved. It could be scaled up easily for a dinner party, and can just as easily serve 2 people in need of a bit of Mediterranean sunshine.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

The Reuben - the perfect sandwich

Messy but perfect
 Saturday. A very precious day when you work Monday to Friday. Me and the missus like to really indulge our food passions on a Saturday. Today that meant hunting down the ingredients for a Reuben.

First, bread. We often stop off in Shirehampton first. There's a great butchers in Shirehampton run by Tubbs and Paul. Their ham is tremendous, and the new cider ham is a knockout. We weren't heading into Shire for ham, but when we tasted it we had to get some.

What we were going to Shire for was some sourdough bread for our Reubens. The village bakery in Shire is supplied by the Redland Village Bakery and is always excellent. The sourdough we had today is some of the best bread I've tasted. Gorgeous!

Next, pastrami. Bristol isn't short on delis, but we favour the deli counter at Murray's butchers (T & P.A. Murray) on Gloucester Road. Or is it Cheltenham Road? I dunno, I don't know where one ends and the other begins. They stock the best salamis, chorizos, cheeses and pies in town. The pastrami we bought was great and very good value.

And so back home. The kitchen almost immediately looked like a bomb site as we undid packages for tasting and got cracking with the Reubens.

I sliced some sourdough, drizzled it with olive oil and put it in a hot griddle pan. I then busied myself doing very little whilst the missus made the all-important Russian dressing, using a recipe from Tom Oldroyd of Mishkins (winner of best menu item award - All pork Big Apple dog, dragged through the garden)!

Place an egg, juice of 1/2 a lemon, pinch of salt and one of pepper and 2 tsp of Dijon into a processor. Add 2 tsp of jarred horseradish, 3 tbsp ketchup, a few drops of Tabasco and a few of Worcestershire sauce and 1 tsp of paprika. Sounds like a lot I know, but it is all stuff that you'll probably have. Blitz. Then stir in a some chopped gherkin and a couple of chopped spring onions. Pow! A totally knockout dressing, and vital for the perfect Reuben.

With the bread toasting nicely in the pan I grated some cheddar. Ideally we'd have had some emmenthal or other Swiss cheese. Not to worry, it's hard to beat a good cheddar.

And so to the Reuben. A piece of toasted sourdough is given a generous spread of Russian dressing. Then follows a generous portion of pastrami, a small mountain of sauerkraut and a reasonably sized hill of cheddar. Top that with another slice of toasted sourdough which has been liberally covered with Russian dressing.

Sandwich perfection
And there you have it. The Reuben. The monumental mother of all sandwiches. And a very good way of spending a Saturday.