Sunday 25 August 2013

Wallfish Bistro - Bristol

Legendary chef, TV personality, eccentric and consummate boozer, Keith Floyd’s first ever restaurant was in Clifton’s Princess Victoria Street. There’s a plaque on the wall outside to commemorate the fact. A friend of mine recounted to me his experiences of eating there regularly in the late 60’s, early 70’s. The food, as you’d expect from Floyd was phenomenal, but also somewhat unsurprisingly, from a chef rarely seen without a glass of claret in his hand, he had a habit of joining guests at the table whilst pouring himself glasses of their wine and even ordering himself bottles on their bill, unacceptable behaviour by anyone else but Floyd, his easy charm and larger than life character smoothing over any resentment.
Financial problems forced Floyd’s Bistro to close in 1972, leaving a vacuum, which has seemingly remained impossible to fill, because let’s face it, that’s some act to follow. 

But there’s another factor in play here. Clifton itself, despite being basically Bristol’s version of Chelsea and heavily populated by fantastically wealthy, red trousered property moguls called Hugo, doesn’t really have any good restaurants. It’s a bit of a head scratcher for sure. There’s a couple on the fringes, but in ‘the village’, the beating Barbour clad heart of the beast? Zilch.  

Until now.

Somewhere, somehow, something has shifted in the cosmos. God help us all Floyd’s former bistro site and therefore Clifton village finally has a superb restaurant. Can I get a ‘Hallelujah!’?

Of course, this success is less puzzling when you consider that the Head Chef, Seldon Curry has worked for Mark Hix and at Soho’s Ducksoup whilst his partner, Liberty Wenham formerly worked for Rowley Leigh at the rather superb Le Café Anglais.  

I ate at Wallfish on the opening night, a month or so back, but thought it a little unfair to write a review at the time, not that it wasn’t good (it was) but better to let things settle down first. So, the other night I was back for a solo dinner, treating myself to some grouse.

A couple of weeks ago, ‘The glorious twelfth’ passed. If you don’t know the significance of the 12th August, it basically signifies annual doom for red grouse. The game season officially starts and it’s celebrated by much shooting of shotguns followed by wacky races getting the rather delicious game birds on to restaurant menus as quickly as possible, often within hours of being shot. Although many of those in the know reckon it best to wait a while, leaving the game to hang for a few days, to develop its flavour. Also, as the season goes on (it lasts till early December) the price drops, eating it early carries a premium.

I knew of no Bristol restaurants serving grouse (in London, it’s widely available), so when I heard Wallfish had it on the menu, it was settled.
Slurping on a rather decent Aperol spritz and munching noisily on bread and olive tapenade whilst scanning down an intriguing menu featuring much of the prospective cast of the British version of Finding Nemo, I wanted to order the whole frigging lot. Sadly, as my dining out is yet to be subsidised with any form of lottery funding or EU grant, I instead went for pork crackling with gooseberry sauce and chicken liver spiedini.
Straight up, the pork crackling was the best I've eaten anywhere. The massively puffed up, incredibly neat strips of pig combined with the sharp gooseberry hit of the accompanying sauce were absolutely top drawer, and at £2.50, ridiculous value for money.
I had to ask what spiedini were (turns out it's Italian for cooked on skewers) which in this case were chicken livers, spiked through with sprigs of rosemary sitting on individual toasts. Again, bloody delicious and at £1.50 each, silly money. I ordered two; I wish I’d ordered four.
So, the main event, roast grouse with bread sauce, parsnip crisps and watercress (also served with fried breadcrumbs, extra gravy and redcurrant jelly) was absolutely banging. No doubt about it. I went at it hammer and tongs, tearing into the moist, rich meat like it was my last meal on earth. Done well, it’s a real treat and well worth the cost (a very reasonable £26.50 in this case). 
Definitely not something to order on a first date, I took advantage of the fact that A) I’m now single B) I was dining alone, and C) I really don’t give a shit, to pick the whole thing apart. 

At one point I practically had my face entombed in its ribcage. By the time I’d finished, there was a carcass so barren, so utterly devoid of flesh, it wouldn't have looked out of place in the parched expanse of the Arizona dessert with a bemused vulture staring at it.
Offer salted caramel to me in any form and I’ll have your frigging arm off. Dark chocolate mousse, salt caramel and crème fraiche entirely lived up to its promise. Delicious. In fact, and I don’t say this often, because I’m a greedy bastard, but it was almost too much, too rich. Don’t get me wrong though, I ate all of it and even scraped the glass clean, but I’d say order one of these to share and ask for little spoons, lingering over it. Don’t shovel it in your gob with a spade, like I did.

After taking some après meal ‘me time’ to lean back, sigh to myself contently, pat my bulging belly and emit the odd happy belch, I settled up. My bill, including a glass of Cotes de Gascogne and a coffee came to £46. Bargain.

So, I think Wallfish is rather bloody good. Solid cooking featuring lovely seasonal ingredients combined with incredibly reasonable prices, what’s not to like? I love that the menu features British seasonal classics like roast grouse and that it’s all done so well. I can’t really fault anything, so I won’t. I had a superbly enjoyable dinner and I’ll definitely be heading back, for more of the same. Clifton village finally has a cracking restaurant. Go!

Wallfish Bistro
112 Princess Victoria Street  

Telephone: 01179 735435

Friday 16 August 2013

A decent weekend breakfast

For quite some time, I've viewed a good breakfast as something of a treat. My normal workday morning bowl of Weetabix is nothing but fuel, economical in both time and cost, relatively healthy yet depressingly functional, drab and almost Stalin’esque. If I ever have the extremely unlikely misfortune to eat this in a Volvo estate, (grey), I’ll probably shoot myself soon after. 

However, as soon as I have a day off, wallowing in an extravagant and leisurely breakfast is one of the greatest pleasures I know. Unhealthy, rich, filling, fried and often meat heavy, English mustard (Colman’s, natch) smeared on the side. The weekend papers to pore over. Coffee to start, and then a pot of tea to take my time over. Heaven.

As I'm talking about breakfast, I have to mention The Gallimaufry, just down the road from me, on Bristol’s Gloucester Road. It’s a favourite breakfast haunt of mine, especially for flaked ham hock on toast with poached eggs and hollandaise, or even better devilled lamb kidneys on toast. I treat myself to breakfast there a hell of a lot, but I'm just as likely to throw something together at home. 

Here’s a breakfast I made recently and particularly enjoyed. I'm almost ashamed to say, given my carnivorous reputation, that is doesn't feature meat, but was happily delicious all the same.

Potato Farls, Fried Shitake Mushrooms, Roasted Tomatoes & Poached Burford Browns.

Potato Farls are a soft potato bread common to Northern Ireland. If you have a soft potato head, you can faff around making your own, but don’t forget this is part of a leisurely treat breakfast, as such forget all that and just buy them. Most supermarkets stock a brand adorned with the irritatingly self-satisfied face of chef, Paul Rankin. Don’t let this put you off. It’s a necessary embuggerance.

Eggs. Don’t buy cheap eggs, ever. They’re shit and also evil due to the horrors the chickens suffer, if you consume these, you’re probably evil too and are just a hairsbreadth away from strangling kittens for a pastime. Buy the best free range eggs you can afford from relatively cosseted, happy hens. I like Burford Browns from Clarence Court. Seriously, you can definitely taste the difference.  

Tomatoes – As with eggs, don’t buy cheap tomatoes. It’s probably not evil, like eating rubbish eggs, but they taste absolutely f*cking ming, in fact worse than ming, they taste of NOTHING. You’re just cheating yourself for a few pennies. Buy tomatoes that are ripe and deep red, that actually smell of tomato.  

Shitake mushrooms, nice, pretty expensive and slightly extravagant. Use these or something equally pretentious, if you can afford to (when I cooked this breakfast, they were in the reduced section, result!) So, if you’re not feeling flush, use chestnut mushrooms. 

So, for two people, you’ll need:-

A pack of potato farls (with Paul Rankin’s face scratched off).
4 quality eggs
A punnet of shitake or chestnut mushrooms
6 medium sized tomatoes, best you can get
Handful of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped.
Squeeze of lemon juice
Sea salt (Maldon – natch) 
Freshly ground black pepper
Butter for frying
Drizzle of olive oil
White wine vinegar for poaching

Whack the oven up to 200C, wash and dry the tomatoes and if they’re on the vine, you may as well leave that on. It looks and smells nice. 
Drizzle them with a bit of olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, grind of pepper and stick in the oven for 20 mins or so, until they’re starting to get a bit of colour and collapsing.

Trim and quarter/halve your mushrooms and melt a knob of butter in a frying pan, then sauté them over a fairly high heat until nicely browned. Season well and right at the end throw in the finely chopped parsley and a good squeeze of lemon juice. Remove from the heat and stick to one side.

Poach your eggs. The method I use is a good splash of white wine vinegar in a pan with water. Bring it to a simmer, crack your eggs into a cup and gently slide into the hot water. Cook for 3 minutes. If instead of pleasing spheroid shapes, your eggs ‘explode’ – that’s a general indication that the eggs aren't that fresh, the fresher the eggs, the better they poach, so buy fresh eggs next time! Drain on kitchen paper.

Quickly fry your farls, 1 each, until nicely browned on each side.

Assemble the whole thing to your taste. I’d say farl on the bottom then the tomatoes, a nice heap of mushrooms piled over, topped with a couple of poached eggs. More salt and pepper. Job, as they say, jobbed.

Eat, drink some coffee, read the papers, (not the Daily Mail, please, remember my comment re: strangling kittens, that applies to this too). Relax.