Wednesday 29 September 2010

The Victoria Park - Bristol

Bristol is a much big city than I first realised. I’ve been here a few months now and thought I was getting a real handle on the place, but every now and again I stumble into an entirely new area and am amazed that a whole swathe of the city could have eluded me for so long.
I found this just a couple of nights ago. I came across an entirely new vista of Bristol, visible in the approaching autumn dusk whilst climbing my way through the steeply hilled yet surprisingly serene and pleasant Victoria Park. I was with ‘E’ on our way to visit the park’s brand spanking new gastropub namesake.

The Victoria Park pub is situated slap bang in the middle of a row of Victorian terraced housing, harking back to the days when the local was seen as being an integral part of the community. It’s nice to see the ethos surviving here, (Although, I’m not sure I’d want to live next door to a pub, even one as upmarket as this).

The interior is decorated in the now fairly standard gastro-contemporary style, all muted colours, stripped floorboards and large battered old tables with a slick and well stocked bar down one wall. It’s pleasant enough, and it works but it’s interesting that what was once bleeding edge anti-styling in, say The Eagle, is now the standard format for all gastropubs. What will the avant garde bring us next I wonder?

On the Friday night ‘E’ and I visited, the pub was pretty busy and we struggled to find a seat, eventually cajoling and squeezing our way onto the end of an already inhabited large table. A quick glance at the chalkboard menu composed of a somewhat eclectic but interesting selection; my eye was immediately drawn to the Moroccan Chicken with cous cous, caramelised cinnamon onions and harissa roast garlic yoghurt, which was sold out (f*ck my luck, as always). Monmouthshire charcuterie with home pickled vegetables also intrigued, forcing me to adopt the highly intelligent, ‘is he thinking about astrophysics, chaos theory or just what to stuff his face with?’ pondering pose for which I am rightly well known.

Pondering complete, I went for a starter of chicken liver and wild mushroom parfait. Which, when it arrived was a pretty generous slab, beautifully made and creamy with some cracking toasted sourdough and a slick of what initially appeared to be ‘Daddy’s sauce’. “Hello”, thought I – chicken liver parfait and brown sauce, surely not? For this is a classy establishment, otherwise I wouldn’t be here…me being from Essex. My suspicions were proved correct when the waitress informed me it was a raisin and PX sherry reduction. “Indubitably” I replied knowingly.
At £4, it was ridiculously cheap and bloody superb, a great start.

‘E’ meanwhile was demolishing a plate of sautéed wild mushrooms, on sourdough, topped with a fried ducks egg. “Good” was her considered opinion, but not as good as the mushroom on toast dish at Graze near Bristol’s Harbourside, which currently holds the highly sought after accolade of ‘best pile of mushrooms on bread type thing Dan and ‘E’ have eaten to date’.

Onto the main course, and my plate of roast beetroot, thyme and parmesan risotto with candy beetroot crisps was the most amazingly lurid, scarlet hued plate of food I’ve seen in quite some time. The incredibly swirled candy beetroot crisps looked amazing. I loved it, and the photos don’t do it justice. “Does it taste as good as it looks though?” Was the question I asked myself, striking yet another ponder pose (to much admiration from surrounding diners I might add). Breaking the spell I’d cast over the pub to take a bite, all eyes were on me as I gave an achingly slow thumbs up, and the crowd erupted in back slaps and cheering, whilst the head chef collapsed on the floor in floods of relieved tears….
…. Which in an ideal world, is how it should be, but sadly no one gave much of a shit as I had a taste, decided it was pretty good and gave a solitary ‘yay’ to no one in particular, except ‘E’ who, in between forkfuls of her buffalo mozzarella, Italian tomato and bread ‘panzanella’ salad, glanced at me with a quizzical look and a raised eyebrow.

By the way, the ‘panzanella’ salad was bloody nice, beautifully put together and ‘E’ seemed more than happy with it.

A quick word about our side dish of tempura courgettes with tamarind sauce. The Victoria Park’s head chef hails from Bristol’s 2nd floor Harvey Nick’s restaurant, and here is where the influence shows. They serve the same side dish at the temple to all things fashion, which is equally delicious…but more expensive and not as generous. So get your tempura courgette fix at The Victoria Park, folks.

Desserts were particularly good, my ‘affogato’ honeycomb ice-cream, salted caramel sauce and an espresso shot to pour over it (from the excellent local coffee people at Extract, according to the branded cup) was everything you’d expect from a bowl of excellent coffee, melted ice-cream, salted caramel and honeycomb. That is to say, I was making contended mewling noises as I ate it.

‘E’s choice of pear Bakewell tart with star anise custard caused something of a rift between us. I loved it, after the initial surprise of the star anise flavour; I thought it worked really well with the stodgy, sugary pear tart.
‘E’ on the other hand wasn’t so keen, thinking that the star anise had no business being there, was too reminiscent of Chinese seasonings, and overpowered the delicate flavour of the tart. Pah! What does she know eh?

The Victoria Park is very good. It has a nice atmosphere, a nice selection of booze; it’s in a nice part of the city…. That all adds up to a heap load of nice. Add the food into the mix, which is ridiculously cheap and bloody excellent; and you’ll know where to find me when I’m next over that way. Liked it, liked it a lot.

The Victoria Park
66 Raymend Road
BS3 4QW.

Telephone: 0117 3306043

Sunday 26 September 2010

St Clements Posset (with quick candied peel)

If you’re short of cash, or time, one of the simplest yet fairly impressive desserts you can throw together with minimal ingredients is a posset, an ancient dessert of medieval origin. Although I warn you now, I suspect there may be a slight problem with this dessert akin to eating cheese before bedtime. Retiring to my luxurious pit after eating the aforementioned dessert (ably prepared by ‘E’), I had the most horrifying dream. I was pursued down alleyways, across rooftops and forced to take increasingly tortuous and laborious routes in a futile attempt to escape from my relentless pursuer…a guinea pig with unusually large and sharp teeth.

The horror.

We had a friend round for dinner, and being short of time, thought a posset would be the perfect choice. Deciding that we should ‘pimp’ it a bit for our guest, we thought that candied peel would be the way to go to elevate a rather plain posset to dinner party status.
Searching the internet for likely recipes we found that candied peel seems to involve a disproportionate amount of work…most recipes requiring about 5 days of drying time, draped over the thighs of virgins and only if the moon is waxing gibbous…. oh and you have to wear a badger pelt hat. Obviously.

‘E’ and I, melding our mungus foodie brains together, thus forming one utterly herculean, bulging mega gourmet brain, came up with an alternative quick method. Dismissing 47,700 results on Google with a nonchalant raised middle finger – we decided that we knew better.
Whilst we were ignoring conventional culinary wisdom, we also decided that a bog standard lemon posset was just too…errr…bog standard, and created an orange and lemon combo instead. Wild and crazy eh?

Here’s the recipe for the posset…. if you can deal with the Guinea pig terror…and the quick candied peel.

St Clements posset

Serves 4

Ingredients: -

450 ml double cream
110g caster sugar
1 Lemon
1 Orange

Plus, for the candied peel
1 cup sugar (plus a pinch of caster sugar for sprinkling)
½ cup water

For the candied peel: -

Remove half the skin of both the orange and the lemon in wide strips and carefully remove the pith.
Slice the peel strips lengthways into 2mm matchsticks.
In a small saucepan, heat the cup of sugar with the water to make stock syrup, simmering until clear.
To this, add the orange/lemon matchsticks and simmer gently for 5 mins.
Meanwhile, line a baking tray with greaseproof paper, and pre-heat the oven to 150C.
Remove the orange/lemon from the stock syrup and spread out on the baking tray. Put into the oven, and bake for roughly half an hour.
Remove the tray from the oven, and immediately scrape the peel from the greaseproof paper into a bowl (If it’s allowed to dry, it’ll stick fast – I speak from experience).
Sprinkle some caster sugar over the peel.

For the posset: -

Place the double cream and the sugar into a saucepan and stir to combine.
Heat gently at first, then raise the temperature and bring to the boil, stirring regularly.
Remove from the heat and add both the orange and the lemon juices.
Pour into heatproof glasses/espresso cups and leave to set in the fridge for at least 3 hours.
Decorate with a heap of the quick candied peel and serve with a shortbread biscuit on the side (Bought or baked yourself, your call).

Tuesday 21 September 2010

Two months in a Bristol kitchen (Or, why we are fat - Part 2)

As promised, here is part deux in the award winning and critically acclaimed serialisation of two months in my Bristol kitchen*.

‘E’ and I cook together pretty much every night, kind of like Fanny Cradock and Johnnie (Myself, of course being the imperious Fanny with ‘E’ playing the bumbling background role of ‘Johnnie’**). But the leading role can often be exhausting, and sometimes I like nothing better than to lay prostrate on a chaise longue, resting and re-focusing my mungus foodie brain in absolute silence whilst ‘E’ takes over solely in the kitchen and makes me dinner for a change. Tres romantique, oui?

This very scenario recently transpired when we decided to take turns cooking three courses for each other in a somewhat competitive display of affection. I volunteered to go first, my gourmet brain being at that time refreshed and ready for immediate use. But what to cook?

Feeling in my water that a kind of Middle Eastern/Moroccan vibe was the way to go, I decided wisely to forge ahead into new territory, reckoning that the best idea was to cook completely untried recipes. I leafed through my trusty copy of the Moro cookbook, picking out and discarding ideas until finally, I had three recipes. New to me and entirely untested. (I think we can all see where this is going).

My first and main dish would be vegetable paella with artichokes and piquillo peppers, complimented by a side dish of slow cooked fennel and dill and rounded off with a poached cherry and almond cream dessert.

Later that evening, and panning out exactly as expected, I gazed at the stump of my bloodied finger, watching my life blood dripping and mingling with the mangled remains of the globe artichokes that lay hacked, butchered and scattered across the kitchen worktop. F*cking globe artichokes. I’d never prepared them before, and probably never will again. I’d sweated and wrestled, cursing their very existence on this Earth, covered in the downy yet bizarrely sharp fluff of their choke, slipping and sliding against the almost leathery consistency of the leaves whilst all the time very conscious of the wickedly sharp kitchen knife in my hand, which ironically wasn’t the instrument of my misfortune. The culprit was the vegetable peeler, which sliced a chunk off the end of my finger… subsequently making my vegetarian paella anything but. (Don’t tell ‘E’).

My hand now swathed in bandages, I whistled a carefree ditty through gritted teeth as I grimly continued with the task in hand.

Strangely enough the paella came out really well, ok – it may have contained the end of my finger and a pint or so of blood, but it tasted superb. ‘E’ seemed impressed too.
The slow cooked fennel side dish scattered with dill from the garden although perhaps a bit crunchy in part due to my not cutting it thinly enough was also not too shabby. So far, so good.

Sadly probably the simplest dessert I’ve ever prepared failed completely. Poached cherries? Easy – sling them in a saucepan and simmer. Almond cream? Blitz some almonds, sugar and add water, also ridiculously easy. How could it go so terribly wrong?
I now realise I added too much water to the almond cream, I’m not sure how but it ended up being a grainy almond flavoured puddle with poached cherries swimming forlornly in the middle. Realising instantly that it looked utterly shit, I fiddled with the presentation trying in vain to polish the turd of a dessert I’d produced. Flailing around like a drowning man, as a last resort I threw in a heap of yoghurt to thicken it, which just seemed to increase the volume rather than firming it up. There was no hiding it. ‘E’ took one spoon full and burst out laughing at its utter hideousness, which was the final insult really.

So in conclusion a bit of a disastrous meal from me. Could ‘E’ do better on her turn the following night?

Of course she could.
I can only comment as a consumer of course, but from my vantage point on the chaise longue, peeking from beneath the cold compress I was using to cool my ill-used, feverish foodie brain, still recovering from the previous night. The kitchen appeared to be an oasis of calm. No shouting. No screams of “Oh God, oh God – I’ve cut it off”, No constant streams of cursing the like of which would make a tourettes sufferer blush. Just efficient, businesslike, cooking sounds and wonderful smells.

Taking my seat at the table, ‘E’ (somewhat smugly I thought), presented the first course. A starter of roasted scallops, a re-creation of the same dish we’d eaten at The Seahorse in Dartmouth earlier in the year. Beautifully done, they tasted almost exactly the same as the ones we’d eaten at the restaurant. Hats off to ‘E’.

The next course, emerged calmly from the kitchen ‘grilled turbot steak with tartare sauce, Anya potatoes and pea shoots’ (The Turbot was a gift to ‘E’ from a fishmonger friend – Thanks Mat!) and wow – what a present. This rather expensive piece of fish had been done justice, and was cooked just right. Combined with the homemade tartare sauce and the pan fried Anya potatoes. Superb.

Gnashing my teeth, but at the same time pleased to be eating so well I awaited my dessert with baited breath. Peach melba with a blueberry coulis. Although nothing like the pigs ear of a dessert I’d served up the previous night, I was somewhat relieved when it was just ‘OK’ rather than stunning like the two previous courses. A slight chink in ‘E’s armour there then. Muhahahaha *twirls moustache*
I think we can all see who the winner was here (Points at ‘E’ but silently mouths ‘Me’).

So, lessons learnt.

1) When cooking to impress, never try out new and untested recipes. You're just asking for disaster.

2) Globe artichokes although admittedly, tasting amazing, are evil. I call down a blight on all of them. Die you bulbous green devils gonads die.

3) The introduction of human ‘meat’ to vegetarian paella can only improve the texture and flavour. Just remember to remove the fingernail first.

4) Turbot is amazing, especially when its free turbot (Thanks again Mat!)

Stay tuned readers for the upcoming part three in this gripping series, ‘Two months in a Bristol Kitchen’, which I’ll be writing…as soon as my finger grows back.

* I lie. Often.
** Also quite possibly a lie.

Tuesday 14 September 2010

St Werburghs City Farm Café - Bristol

I think I’ve mentioned before that moving from Essex to Bristol has been something of a culture shock for me. Exacerbated, I’m sure by my decision to move to the Montpelier area of the city. The difference between the often brash, trendily coiffured, moneyed, tanned and tattooed citizens of Leigh-on-Sea, Essex and the mung bean munching, dreadlock sprouting, new age eco-warriors of Montpelier, Bristol…well, its a yawning chasm basically. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve struggled. But slowly, bit by bit I’ve started to feel more relaxed and at home.
Not so much that I’ve taken to wearing yoga pants and hemp jumpers, but enough so that a few weeks back, ‘E’ and I decided to visit the neighbouring district of St Werburghs city farm café for lunch.

You could describe St Werburghs as ‘crusty eco warrior central’. If you canvassed the residents of my old Essex hometown of Leigh-on-Sea for professions, you’d get an equal mix of hair stylists, estate agents and ‘something’s in the city’. In St Werburghs, I suspect you’d get ‘Hypnotherapists’, Yoga Instructors and Circus Acrobats…. lets put it this way, when a major festival is on somewhere in the country, the whole area becomes a ghost town.

Why are all the new age lentil eaters congregating here you may ask? Well, cutting through a whole swathe of this area of the city is a valley filled with a vast patchwork of allotments. A good few square miles of plots. It’s the dream of the good life that brings them.
Slap bang in the middle of this is St Werburghs city farm, which would be well worth a visit on its own, especially if you’re as unfamiliar and amused by the antics of farm animals as I am. But, they also have an excellent café, the produce for which is almost exclusively provided for by the farm and surrounding allotments. Yes, that’s right – the cute pig you were giggling at, could be in the cooking pot next week. Oink away Mr Pig, …soon you’ll be where you belong…. in my belly.
(Errrr…don’t think I should take any of my numerous nieces and nephews there lest I traumatise them).

The café itself is unusual, as in there is an almost organic, Daliesque feel to the interior with the strange wood carved supporting beams and curved bench seating, I found it quite charming, almost like sitting in a tree house.

Taking a seat and studying the chalked menu, my first thought was ‘wow it’s cheap’ my second thought was ‘Pork’ as I clocked the rillettes on rye toast.
In fact, the whole menu read well, with a list of dishes I could happily eat.
With that in mind, ‘E’ and I made an executive decision and decided to order a bit of a selection to share.

First up, the aforementioned pork rillettes, made from pork raised on the city farm and served with rye toast, gherkins and home made chutney.
‘E’ couldn’t share this, her pescetarian tendencies once again proving a roadblock to the good stuff. Which was a bit of a shame, as the portion was frigging huge; I could have done with the help. Apart from being a bit under seasoned perhaps, the rillettes was lovely tender and moist, the accompanying homemade chutney was delicious and at £4-50 the whole thing was a bit of a bargain. Especially considering the provenance of the meat and other ingredients.

Meanwhile, ‘E’ was tucking into the other two plates of food we’d ordered. A generously heaped plate containing a ‘Grilled halloumi and red quinoa salad with roasted peppers, sun dried tomatoes and toasted seeds’. It was delicious (I have a real soft spot for grilled halloumi) again, well priced at £5.95

I helped to demolish this, whilst diverting my attention to the other main we’d ordered (multi-tasking) which the menu described as ‘first of the season St Werburghs pumpkin and Welsh goats cheese risotto topped with toasted seeds and mixed leaves’.
Another bloody huge portion of food, ticking all the right risotto boxes – creamy and unctuous with a nice pumpkin and goats cheese flavouring. It was ok. Not stunning, but adequate and considering the size of the portion, priced at £6.50; good value once again.

All of this, our whole lunch experience up to this point, everything good, bad and indifferent faded away into insignificance when we took our first forkful of a shared dessert. All sins were forgiven; it was off the frigging chart amazing. All I can say is the chef knows how to bake. This manna from heaven, this nectar this slice of heaven on a plate was a rhubarb and ginger Bakewell so light, so moist, so perfectly poised between sweet and sour with the crispest most beautifully made pastry. It was so good. If a solitary tear of joy had rolled down my face at this point, I’d have worn it as a badge of honour.

I loved St Werburghs city farm café. Yes you’re surrounded by dolphin hugging tree humpers, but the bargain prices, the freshness and seasonality of the menu with produce reared and grown pretty much on the doorstep and the fact that it just has a really nice relaxed vibe about the place means that I’m really looking forward to going back and eating there again…. man.

St Werburghs City Farm Café

Watercress Rd,

Friday 3 September 2010

Two months in a Bristol kitchen (Or, why we are fat - Part 1)

I’ve lived with ‘E’ in Bristol for about two months now. We are both seriously into food, she owning a café and catering business and me writing this here food blog. As you’d expect the kitchen has seen a whirlwind of activity since we moved into our new home, which considering we are both from Essex has become a little part of the motherland in the South West.

So, what have we been cooking? – what happens when two food obsessed geeks co-habit?

Lets start the summer off with the premium Weber BBQ that I frigging won…yes WON! at the Grill Stock event held on Bristol’s harbourside in July. Tres impressive eh?
‘E’ and I wasted no time in firing it up. The first things we cooked on our new premium BBQ (Did I mention that I won it? As in – I WON IT?) were…Yoghurt marinated paneer flatbreads with charred shallots, rocket, piquillo peppers and a chilli and yoghurt sauce. Oh that's right, ‘E’ is a pescetarian so, sickeningly the first meal we cooked contained no meat. A crime against all that is holy in the BBQ world you might think, and you’d be right. Although it was bloody nice…but that’s beside the point.

BBQ event part deux was a much more elaborate affair involving a selection of side dishes, barbecued squid (which didn’t so much as BBQ with a satisfying chargrilled hiss as we expected, but whimpered and sweated a bit) the coals weren’t quite hot enough for our cephalopodic chum. Still it wasn’t bad when torn up and mixed with a lovely rocket and lemon salad.

Alongside the squid we served a chickpea, parsley and red onion salad and a baby gem, barbecued pepper and anchovy salad with a seriously garlicky dressing.

As if that wasn’t enough, we barbecued some corn on the cob (which took bloody ages by the way). In the spirit of frugality and thinking ourselves just a bit clever, we smothered it with a re-used herb and chilli infused butter lurking in the fridge (forgetting that it was also infused with anchovies). Bleurgh! Sweetcorn and anchovy – not a classic combination people, for good reason.

Sadly, just as we were getting into our BBQ stride, the British summer weather did what it does best, and started pissing it down for days on end. Obviously we like to cook seasonally, but it seems like we’ve had every season in one month. We went from summery salads to craving steaming hot stews and other wintery comfort food within the course of a week.

In times like this, there’s only one dish that satisfies these kinds of autumnal desires and it’s my old favourite Chickpea and Chorizo stew. But once again, hitting the buffers like a runaway meat train carrying an express delivery of 6 thousand tonnes of pork sausages – I slammed into ‘E’s pescatarian tendencies and derailed. But hey, lets not fight over spilt lentils man. I adapted my recipe and made a vegetarian version (sort of - ok, it has anchovies in it), which is cheaper, more healthy and tasted pretty much like the original. Win.

Adapted Chickpea and Chorizo Stew (With no Chorizo – but plus other stuff).

Serves 4-6

2 Handfuls mushrooms, thickly sliced
3 Salted anchovies - rinsed.
1 Medium Red Onion - chopped
1 Red Bell Pepper - deseeded and chopped
Olive Oil
2 Garlic Cloves - chopped
1 and a 1/2 Teaspoons dried Oregano
250g Passata
2x 400g Cans Chickpeas, drained with 75ml of the water reserved.
100ml Red Wine
500ml Vegetable Stock or water.
Hand Full of fresh flatleaf parsley chopped.
Black Pepper

Fry the anchovy, onion and bell pepper in a large saucepan over a fairly high heat until it begins to colour

Add the mushrooms and fry until brown, turn the heat down, and add the garlic and oregano and fry for a few more minutes. Add the passata, chickpeas. chickpea water, wine, stock and some pepper. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 Mins. Add the roughly chopped parsley to serve.

We chargrilled some bread to serve on the side, but it’s also good with a heap of rice in the bottom of the bowl to stretch it out. Oh, and personally I like a load of white pepper on it. But ‘E’ hates it, although she is partial to a pint of sherry on the side.

And then, there was Yoghurt….
As a food blogger I often get sent stuff to try, and perhaps mention on this very blog. And thus, this is how the good people at Total sent me enough Greek yoghurt to fill a swimming pool. Making room in the fridge for this yoghurt bonanza meant we had room for pretty much nothing else, so we frantically racked our mungus brains for recipes to use up this dairy based bounty.

The Moro cookbook proved to be a happy hunting ground for appropriate recipes and two in particular looked like they’d use up a good few gallons of the white stuff.

First of all we tried a dish that had been recommended to us both, featuring the frankly weird and rather icky marriage of poached egg and yoghurt. Taking our first tentative forkfuls of ‘poached eggs with yoghurt, sage and chilli flakes’ no one was more surprised than us when it turned out to be frigging awesome. Dare I say, the best yoghurt and egg-based dish I’ve ever eaten, no really – it was amazingly good.

We also made a ‘Leek and yoghurt soup with dried mint’ which personally I quite liked, but ‘E’ wasn’t so keen on it, although it did use up 350g of our Yoghurt mountain, which could be considered something of a result.

We needed a break from yoghurt. Inspired by an excellent and free fresh pasta cookery class (held in a marquee located in Cabot Circus) by the Bordeaux Quay cookery school, we returned and broke out the Italian recipe books. Deciding that fresh pizza dough was the way to go (neither of us having made pizzas at home before) we quickly assembled the necessary ingredients and in no time were throwing dough all over the place in a incompetent approximation of someone who actually knows what they’re doing. Naturally I excelled and my time spent at the La Cucina Caldesi cookery school in London wasn’t wasted (Ok – 1 hour at a Moretti beer sponsored event, but hey – I rock).

‘E’ went for the somewhat surprisingly traditional potato and rosemary topping. I went off piste with an elk salami (a present from Sweden), fennel seed, caper, basil and red onion combo.

The results were frankly impressive, even if I do say myself. Beautifully crisp bases, better than pretty much any I’ve eaten in anywhere but the best pizza restaurants (Pizza Hut – I’m NOT looking at you). In addition we had great fun making them, it was a superb way to spend an evening…oh and they’re cheap (if you’ve got some elk sausage knocking about like I have).

That’s it for part one, people. More thrills, spills (and no doubt yoghurt) coming up in part two.