Sunday, 29 April 2012

The Rummer Hotel - Bristol

As I get older (and this weekend I got whole year older in just 1 day!) I find that my taste in drinks and places to drink is changing. I find myself less and less inclined to drink pint after pint in some crowded pub and favour something a bit more...cultured.

Cocktails. When it comes to a spot of cultured drinking there really isn't anything quite like cocktails. I guess their cost puts younger drinkers off, and you need a good few years drinking under your belt to really appreciate a vodka martini or a proper (raw egg whites included) whisky sour.

The Rummer Hotel in Bristol was the perfect place for me to start celebrating my birthday with a few cocktails. If you don't know it is an unassuming little place on the edge of St. Nicholas' Market. And if you know the market you know it's not the first place you'd expect to find a smart, slate-floored, laid-back cocktail bar which also offers great food, courtesy of chef Greg McHugh.

We started with the current house special, a Japanese inspired mix that I can't actually remember the name of! What I do remember is the drink which was perfumed, slightly sweet with a fruity, lingering dry finish. Excellent on its own it would have enhanced some good sushi.

To follow we chose from the food menu. Not necessarily the first place you'd look for a cocktail, but The Rummer have done a very cool drink matching menu where every dish of every course has a suggested drink match.

I had been wanting to try the intriguing starter of Cornish Scallops & Braised Pig Cheek with Passionfruit, with the suggested Pink Spritzer cocktail. Meat and seafood isn't an unusual pairing, but the passionfruit had piqued my interest and I was keen to see how good the match was.

Individually, everything on the plate was great. The pig cheek had been braised and pulled apart then formed into a sort of terrine with some fresh tarragon. The deep, meaty taste of the cheek set off nicely against the aromatic herb. The scallops were as sweet a taste of the sea as you'll get and cooked with care and consideration. However, eaten with the pork the meat dominated and the scallop got a bit lost. And unfortunately the Passionfruit proved to be too difficult a trick to pull off. Passionfruit has a heady, powerful taste and to compensate the chef has put very little on the dish, to the point where it was barely worth having on there.

The drink match was not a success. The Passionfruit was completely out of focus in the background somewhere so all I got was a rose wine spritzer. Nice enough, but never a drink that was going to complement a braised pig cheek. As unexciting as it sounds, some sherry would have worked well here. The salty, sweet and dry flavours of a good fino would have been ideal.

The missus chose the Twice Baked Butternut Squash Souffle with Black Pepper & Hazelnut Tuile, Red Peppers, served with its suggested drink match - a cocktail of Tezon Reposado (Tequila), Crème de Noisette and Prosecco. It was a similar story to my starter. The souffle was excellent. The peppers were okay. The tuile was not - almost saccharine in sweetness it did the dish no favours at all. The sweet souffle and sweet peppers really needed a counterpoint, something savoury to round things out. The drink match was not a success either.

Which really is a bit of a shame because I really like The Rummer.

After our starters we left and headed down to The Glassboat which was a real disappointment. It was the idea of smoked eel which had tempted us to go, but the eel was a let down, the Primitivo I had was tasteless and the staff were politely indifferent. We didn't linger and instead headed back to The Rummer for another great cocktail.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Kedgeree and Riesling

It just sounds like something you want to eat doesn't it, Kedgeree? If I didn't know what it was I'd want to find out.

We'd had the house to ourselves for the weekend and the opportunity to cook a curry really could not be missed. We decided on fish curry but couldn't decide on exactly what kind of fish curry. But then we remembered that we'd bought some smoked haddock for a risotto in the week and decided to use a bit in this Kedgeree, which if you don't know, is a dry curry, like a biryani or a pilaf.

It's a dish that came back to England with the colonialists and historically used to be a breakfast or brunch dish. And it does make a good breakfast/brunch, particularly if you like curry, and even more so if you've just been for a swim at Portishead Lido.

It is simple to make, it could be a one pot dish if you didn't have the boiled eggs. But you should have the boiled eggs, cos the boiled eggs are good. Here's what you'll need for a dish that will feed two handsomely, with leftovers:

2 fillets of smoked haddock
2 boiled eggs, quartered (or more if you like)
A finely chopped onion
A finely chopped chilli (or more depending on your appetite for heat)
A thumb sized piece of ginger, grated or finely chopped
A generous teaspoon of black mustard seeds
Garam masala (you know, curry powder, heat to your liking)
2 bay leaves
Some chopped, fresh coriander
A good squeeze of lemon or lime juice
15 fl oz of basmati rice

There's a couple of stages to the cooking, but a sensible place to start is boiling your eggs. For good boiled eggs, put them into a pan of cold water. Bring the water to a boil and then boil the eggs for 6 minutes. Once done, stick them into some iced water and set aside.

Next, cook the haddock. Simply add the whole fillets to a large, high-sided frying pan and cover with about 650ml of boiling water. Throw in the bay leaves, cover, and simmer for 10-15 mins.

When the haddock is cooked, remove it from the water, wrap in foil and put in a low oven to keep warm. Don't pour away the water! You need it for the rice.

Rinse and dry the frying pan then get it back on a medium heat. Add a good knob of butter and then and your curry powder and black mustard seeds. Allow them a couple of minutes, stirring all the time, then add the  chopped onion, chilli and ginger. Let them soften for a while.

After a few minutes add the rice and give that a stir to coat it in the spice/onion mix. After a minute or so add the water that the haddock was cooked in. Stir again, get it back up to a boil and let it boil for a minute. Then turn the heat down as low as possible, cover and leave to simmer 15 minutes. Do not remove the lid. After 15 minutes take off the lid, take the pan from the heat and cover with a damp tea towel. Leave for 5 minutes. After that time flake the rice with a fork for perfect, fluffy grains that don't stick.

Before the rice is done, shell your boiled eggs and either halve or quarter them. Also, remove the fish from the oven.

When the rice is cooked, flake in the haddock, stir through the chopped coriander, squeeze over a bit of lemon or lime juice and add the eggs.

We served ours with a bit of mango chutney as it's is virtually impossible for us to have a curry without mango chutney. Our wine choice was a very nice Riesling, recommended to us by Corks of Cotham. It was a superb match. The wine heightened the spice and seemed to take the taste all around my mouth. The aftertaste left an almost sherbertty tingle right in the middle of my tongue along with a satisfying bite of chilli heat.

As I wrote at the top, the quantities given are enough for two with leftovers. Which polished off for brunch today after another swim at the Lido. Any weekend with two curries in it is a good weekend.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Friska - how restaurants should deal with feedback

Friska, for those of you who don't know it, is a popular cafe in Bristol. In fact, there's two of them. One on Victoria Street and one in Emerson's Green.

They're a great example of how cafes and restaurants should deal with customer feedback.

I'd been looking at their menu online (a real menu, not a pointless sample menu) and noticed that they do a Malaysian Fish Laksa on a Thursday. I really like Malaysian food, having spent a couple of months there on and off whilst travelling. Malaysian Laksa is powerfully flavoured soup, made with stock, anchovies and/or fish sauce, chillies and fresh herbs.

So, seeing it on Friska's menu I got all excited and went along last Thursday to have some.

It wasn't what I was expecting. All the strong flavours and lively spicing had been toned down and what I got was a bowl of sweetish, reasonably tasty soup. It had obviously been made with care and the veg was fresh, but in my mind it just wasn't Laksa.

And that's just what I told them. They have a feedback form on their website which makes the whole process easy and avoids any of the embarrassment. As it happens, I also told them via Twitter. They responded, quickly and helpfully, by email and Twitter.

They explained that they'd tried selling a more authentic Laksa, but it just didn't work. The vast majority of people just didn't like the strong flavours. Which, I guess, is fair enough. There's not a lot of point making something that no-one is going to buy. They also sent me a voucher for free lunch. Simple and straightforward.

It's dealing with feedback like that that leaves customers like me with a really positive impression of a place. I appreciate that all the food might not be to my taste, but the majority of it is. And I'll always go back to places where the food and service are good.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Mussels with Chorizo

Mussels must be one of the cheapest, easiest and most satisfying ways of eating fish. I love them. They're so versatile you can put almost anything with them, and for a fiver you can usually buy at least a kilo and half that makes a good portion for 1 person.

This dish of Mussels with Chorizo is a simple variation on the classic Moules Marinieres. I served this as a starter for 4 but it would make a fine main course for 2. You'll need:

A kilo of mussels - cleaned
2 good chorizos - I use chorizo rosario from T & P.A. Murrays on Gloucester Road in Bristol. They're the best I've been able to find in Bristol. If you know any better, please tell me.
1 shallot - finely chopped
1/2 a carrot - finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic - finely chopped
1 glass of white wine at room temperature - given the slightly Spanish nature of this dish I'm sure you could use a fino or light sherry
Splash of olive oil
1 handful of chopped parsley

This is easy, so you're going to have it ready in minutes. Perfect for after work cooking.

Heat a high-sided saucepan over a medium heat and add a splash of olive oil. When that's hot add chopped chorizo and give it a 4-5 minutes so that it releases some of it's oil. The add the shallot, carrot and garlic. The carrot isn't strictly necessary so don't worry if you don't have one. Let the chopped vegetables soften for a few minutes.

Put the lid on the pan for about a minute or so to allow some steam to build up. Throw in your white wine or sherry and the mussels, give everything a good stir then put the lid back on. The mussels will take about 5 minutes to cook. Give everything another stir after a couple of minutes to make sure everything gets coated in the cooking liquor.

When the mussels are open, you're done. Stir in the chopped parsley and then serve the mussels in bowls along with the cooking liquor. Some bread for soaking up juices, a glass of cold white wine and you've got a very satisfying tea.