Saturday, 31 March 2012

Obento - Bristol

Why is it so bloody hard to get good sushi in the UK? We're an island! We have some great fish so why doesn't some of it make it into Japanese restaurants and end up as great sushi? We have Scallops, Crab, Clams, Eel, Sea bass, Salmon, Haddock, Sole, Trout, Monkfish, Langoustines, Shrimps and Mackerel. If it wasn't 10.00pm at night and if I hadn't already had a rather strong cocktail (at The Rummer) and a rather large bourbon (Heaven Hill from Grape and Grind) I'm sure I could name more. Maybe. 1 or 2.

So I don't get it. I don't get why sushi restaurants don't get their hands on some great raw ingredients and use them to make some great, er, raw, stuff. Sushi, sashimi, you know.

Obento in Bristol has been around for ages and I assume that any restaurant that's survived the last few years must be doing something right. Maybe they are, but it's not making good sushi. Our temaki were far, far below average. Chewing on the nori wrapping was like trying to eat clingfilm. Not exactly pleasant. And really, Salmon, Avocado and mayonnaise do not sushi make.

It's so frustrating because it's not cheap either. Why a slither of fish on a thumb size bit of a rice costs a quid is beyond me. And iced green tea really should not be over 2 quid.

That's not to say that we didn't eat anything nice. The miso was tasty and the Eel was very nice. But still, for £40 I want it all to be nice.

To be honest, we've been eating out a lot recently and this meal may well be the last for a while. For £40 we can get some nice ingredients and cook ourselves a nice meal, and wash it down with a very good bottle of wine. I'm happy paying for stuff I can't do or think of (like at Souk Kitchen), and more than happy to take advantage of the deals on offer (like The Riverstation and Cowshed) but I'm not happy paying good money for average meals which seems to happen too often.

Maybe it's not such a bad thing - it'll mean I can write about some of my own cooking for a change.

The Riverstation - Bristol

I'm going to stick my neck out here and say that The Riverstation Cafe Menu is the best eating deal in Bristol. £9 gets you a really good meal and either a glass of wine or a beer. The idea is, obviously, that you try the deal and become impressed and go back and eat a la carte. The thing is, the cafe deal is so good it's hard to bring yourself to go back an pay more!

Me and the missus ate there a couple of weeks ago. The weather was nice and we fancied a nice meal in a nice place. The Riverstation ticks both boxes. The situation of it, right on the river, gives it a relaxed feel. On a evening with the right weather sitting out on either the upstairs or downstairs terraces is a treat, watching the swans roam around the boats as the sun goes down slowly over the boats and cranes of the docks.

The menu at the time offered Confit duck leg with Potatoes and Kale, which was a about as far as I got. The missus considered things a bit more and went for the Smoked haddock risotto with poached egg. It's fair to say that both were excellent. It would be easy to worry about the portion with duck leg, but of course this the restaurant's way of enticing you in, so they have to be generous. Thick, dark meat, fall-off-the-bone tender with crispy, juicy skin. Great stuff. And the duck remained the star off the dish, with the potatoes, kale and red wine jus all playing their supporting roles very well.

The Smoked haddock risotto was similarly satisfying. Rich, creamy and smoky with good chunks of fish and perfectly poached egg, the yolk yielding a delicious sauce, enriching the risotto further. I've seen some places serve a risotto that has been little more than a smear across the bottom of a bowl, but The Riverstation don't do that.

And they're clever. When the food is this good it is very hard to resist when they offer the dessert menu. But resist we did. As it was the meal provided a sharp contrast to our meal at The Pumphouse. For £18 we'd both eaten really well at The Riverstation. £18 at The Pumphouse paid for a pretty disappointing sea bass dish. You pays your money and you takes your choice - my choice would be The Riverstation.

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

Monday, 19 March 2012

The Pumphouse - Bristol

We ate at The Pumphouse on Saturday night. I like the place. It's in a great spot in Hotwells, right on the river which gives it a nice feel, and inside enough original features exist to remind you of how it got its name.

We had been really excited by the menu and thought we'd treat ourselves to the a la carte menu rather than going for the deal, 3 courses for £20. If it wasn't for my main of Mendip Fallow Deer that could almost be seen as a mistake.

Things did not get off to a good start. I ordered Mackerel with Rhubarb. I got mackerel and rhubarb. Very well presented, but a tiny, meagre, stingy portion. It seemed a confused little dish really. 2 slim pieces of cold sashimi style mackerel, which tasted like it had been soused, sat along-side a marginally bigger piece of  freshly cooked mackerel. If the menu had described it as that, I would never have ordered it. And, worse, it clashed with the generously portioned and very well cooked Wood Pigeon that my missus chose. I felt a bit cheated.

And so I didn't know whether to be excited about my main course or not. As it turned out I had no need to worry. I ordered the Rare Saddle of Mendip Fallow Deer which, according to the menu came with Venison sausage, spiced red cabbage and new season wild garlic. The menu didn't mention the gorgeous pieces of marrow, nor the ridiculously tasty Mirabelle Plum sauce and it didn't say that it would be a sauce of new season wild garlic. I like to know what I'm getting, especially when it's all of that!

Ok, so I had to remind the waiting staff about the red cabbage, but that was a small distraction. This was one of the best dishes I've ever eaten. The wild garlic sauce was insanely good. That sauce, and the Mirabelle Plum sauce created mouthful after mouthful of rewardingly complex tastes - sweet, rich, smoky, iron-rich and meaty. Superb. My disappointing starter soon became a distant memory.

To be honest it seemed like whoever was doing the fish courses was having an off night. My missus went for the Butter Roast Cornish Sea Bass which, although not as underwhelming as my starter, was not a patch on the pigeon she'd enjoyed beforehand. It lacked imagination, and, it has to be said, taste. For the most expensive dish on the menu it failed badly to live up to its status.

We were, however, both very happy with our choice of desserts. We both ordered a freshly cooked option. My missus went for the Bitter Chocolate Fondant and I chose the Apple Tart Tatin which came with some very moreish cinnamon ice cream (and sadly some forgettable, weakly-flavoured Calvados custard). The dish was a winner without the custard, especially with the nice touch of the waiter serving out of the hot pan for me. My partner's chocolate fondant was another treat and showed some real skill. The accompanying gingerbread mousse and burned butter ice cream worked nicely with the rich and bitter chocolate.

If I'd been disappointed at the start of the meal my partner was left offended at the end of it. I think it's a basic requirement for waiting staff to say thank you when the bill is paid. A pity then that our waiter couldn't bring himself to do so, instead waving my partners credit card rather dismissively in her direction after taking payment. Rude. And please, please don't add a tip to my bill before I've decided I want to pay one. Why do places assume you'll tip? It's infuriating.

Would I recommend The Pumphouse? There's a lot that's good about it. Some of the food is very, very good. But some of it isn't. Some of the staff are very nice, sadly some aren't. Some of the prices reflect very good value and others don't. So, would I recommend The Pumphouse? I don't know. Which isn't exactly a yes.

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

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Baked Vanilla Cheesecake with Stem Ginger and Fresh Passionfruit

Vanilla and stem ginger cheesecake with fresh passionfruit
I don't know why but I'd been hankering for a cheesecake. I wanted to make one to see how hard it was, and I wanted to eat one to enjoy that rich, sweet, satisfying taste that is baked cheesecake. It's a simple recipe. The quantities given make a cheesecake that will feed 8-10 people. Use a 24cm/9in cake tin. You could use 50g less biscuits for a thinner base if you want.

For the base
150g melted butter
250g (1 pack) of digestives, thoroughly crushed

Heat your oven to 180c/350f, grease the bottom and sides of a springform or loose bottom cake tin. Add the melted butter to the crushed biscuits and cook in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let it cool.

For the cheesecake
115g caster sugar
3 tablespoons cornflour (yes, tablespoons)
900g full-fat cream cheese at room temp
2 large eggs
115ml double cream
1 vanilla pod, scored lengthways and seeds removed (use a pod, I used essence and it just didn't have enough vanilla taste)
zest of 1 lemon and zest of 1 orange (I don't know if this is strictly necessary)

Heat your oven to 200c/400f. Then you basically mix everything together in a big bowl. Start with the sugar and cornflour, then add the cream cheese. You'll save yourself an aching arm if you do this with an electric whisk. When that's all mixed add the eggs and beat well. Gradually add the cream, and then add the vanilla, and zest if using. I also added a whole heap of chopped stem ginger and its syrup. Turn your oven up to 200c/400f. Pour the cheese mixture over the cooled biscuit base, smooth it a bit then stick it in the oven for 40-45 minutes.

When you take it out stand it somewhere cool for 2-3 hours to give it time to set. It gets firmer the colder it is so stick in the fridge for another hour after its cooled to room temperature if you want to.

I served my cheesecake with some fresh passionfruit. I thought ginger and passionfruit would work nicely together. Which they did, but the stem ginger had lost some flavour during the cooking. Next time I think I'll use ginger nuts for the base to get the ginger taste in there. Still, it was very, very nice.