Wednesday 11 November 2015

Bellita - Bristol

So, my favourite Bristol restaurant, Bell’s Diner has spawned an offshoot (A boisterous little sister, in their own words) Bellita. Located on the site of the highly regarded Flinty Red; which recently ascended to restaurant Valhalla. It’s always sad when a respected restaurant closes its doors, but these things happen and change is apparently good. So that’s enough mourning. Onwards and upwards. The King is dead, long live the Queen! And all that.

I’m extremely pleased to report that after three visits (just to be sure) it appears that Bellita has hit the ground running and is living up to the ‘enfant terrible’ of Bell’s tag; seemingly rather effortlessly. A fact that leaves me with the total non-dilemma of living smack-bang equidistant between my favourite restaurant (Bell’s) and its sibling, Bellita; Yes, I am the proverbial dog with two dicks.

The food at Bell’s Diner has always been superb and it’s their sous chef; Joe Harvey under Head Chef Sam Sohn-Rethel who has made the leap and is running the kitchen at Bellita; bringing a few favourites off their menu along, as well as a whole load of new dishes encompassing the same Spanish, North African, Mediterranean vibe that has made Bell’s Diner so consistently interesting.

As at Bell’s, Kate Hawking’s has pulled together a cracking, tight little wine list backed up by an interesting selection of shims (aperitifs) shrubs (fruit cordials made with fruit, sugar and vinegar) and shandies (ginger or raspberry) along with classic Negroni’s and Campari/Aperol Spritz.

I should mention the restaurant interior, because despite the food at Flinty Red being superb, I was never really taken with the actual room. It had something of a 1980’s wine bar feel about it and just seemed a bit Spartan and characterless. The new owners have addressed this somewhat, the colour scheme being subtly warmer. The large, ugly ceiling air-con panels have gone. There’s also some high tables and stools to perch on, with seating running down one side of the room. It’s definitely an improvement.

As I mentioned before, I’ve been a few times now and the potato and parmesan fritters are f*cking immense. Yeah, I do have a thing for potatoes…and cheese (which right minded person doesn’t?) but bloody hell, tres oui to the upmost. I’ll just say three words; hot, crisp, oozing. My work here is done.

The Jamon Iberico croqueta are similarly immense, but my ingrained; greedy bastardo, economy head reckons three spud and cheese fritters for £3, trumps Jamon Iberico croqueta at £2 each EVERY TIME! But then saying that, it’s all so reasonable; live a little and get some of those too.
The gem salad with Caesar dressing is definitely worth ordering, to balance out all the frigging potatoes that you’re gonna have to eat. Because It’s a pomme de terre  bonanza at Bellita and I couldn’t be more happy. Did I mention how much I frigging love potatoes?
Fried potatoes with aioli and mojo verde (I had to ask what mojo verde was, turns out it’s a mint-chilli version of salsa verde) How good does that sound. The spuds are so crispy and bloody delicious. So yeah!
But then there’s fried potatoes with chicken stock and parsley and these are even better. The same crisp, fluffy potatoes as before but paddling around in a pool of intense chicken stock, it’s like some kind of messed up potato package holiday in that bowl, until you ruin the potato party, playing the part of a ravenous spud eating Godzilla type monster, reaching in and plucking one before devouring it an orgy or violence.

Errrr….is it just me who thinks like this?

Moving swiftly on….
Burnt aubergine. Pepper and onion salad with pomegranates and chilli. Very Ottolenghi’ish and a cracking little side order.
Rice, Feta and Saffron Filo parcel with pumpkin borani and pistachios. This was a stunning plate of food. I ate these with my mate Elly, and she was absolutely ecstatic; making all sorts of alarming growling noises from across the other side of the table. It’s such a nicely balanced dish, sweet pumpkin, sour yoghurt, salty feta, crisp filo and creamy borani. These are a definite must order. In fact, maybe order two rounds of these.
Sam from Bell’s Diner has had a similar dish to this on the menu from way back when he was working at Manna; slow cooked trout, tzatziki and pickled cucumber. Beautiful, soft and translucent fish, slightly sweet, when eaten with the creamy yoghurt and sharpness of the cucumber it’s a superb plate of food.
I wasn’t such a fan of the Cornish clams cooked in garlic butter with leeks and Pernod. It looked cracking and I loved the bowl it was served in, but I thought the alcohol whack from the Pernod was a bit on the aggressive side and slightly overpowering.
Chorizo, morcilla and butifarra with white beans, cooked with smoked ham hock and aioli is a banging plate of food, a small bowl of everything meaty and there’s sod all wrong with that. Definitely one for eating alongside the fried potatoes and mopping up with some bread.
After this lot, I was stuffed silly, but still managed to pitch in and help demolish a rather superb chocolate torte with salted caramel sauce and mascarpone.  

It’s obvious that the team at Bell’s Diner have got another huge success on their hands. The food is happily, very similar in terms of quality and style to what you’d find on the menu at Bellita’s older, more established sibling but there’s a slightly different vibe. It’s more informal and more about sticking your head in and propping up the bar with a few small plates rather than booking and sitting down to full on meals. Although you can definitely do that as well, I’m looking forward to ordering the Charcoal-grilled 8 year old Galician beef sirloin with chicken stock potatoes, for two; at some point. 

So, in conclusion I’ve got a cracking little offshoot of my favourite Bristol restaurant just a 5 minute walk from my flat and Bristol has another superb restaurant to add to the existing handful of true belters. Winner-winner chicken stock fried potato dinner. 

34 Cotham Hill

Telephone – 0117 923 8755

Monday 9 March 2015

Recipe - Spiced root veg with kale and yoghurt

Almost every single day of my life is spent surrounded by meat. My day job is managing a BBQ 'Shack' for Grillstock, which if you don't know, is a veritable charnel house of dead farm animals that are hickory smoked at low temperatures every single night until, come sunrise, the meat is so tender, you can just pull the bones straight out of the cooked meat with no effort at all. Yeah, it is as frigging good as it sounds.

As you can imagine, in the two years or so I've managed the place, I've eaten a hell of a lot of meat, perhaps too much (Although I remain an unrepentant beef brisket fiend) So its perhaps unsurprising that when I'm cooking at home, I often eat vegetarian.

Yes. What the actual f*ck. I really did just say that.

This Nigel Slater recipe was published in The Observer Magazine. A few weeks ago and I loved its simplicity, cheapness and the fact it was so open to individual interpretation. 

Swede, turnip, potatoes, parsnips or a combination all work. Don't have spinach, use kale or chard instead. Its also pretty damn healthy I imagine. Most importantly its absolutely bloody delicious. 
Winner, winner, chicken dinner! ...or...errr...not, in this instance.

Anyway..., here's the recipe...

Spiced root veg with kale and yoghurt

Serves 2

You'll need:-

1 kg Swede, Turnips, Potatoes, Parsnips (or a combination of any of them, I made it with just swede and it was banging.) Peeled and cut into large pieces

1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
knob of butter
Splash of oil
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp cumin seeds
200g of spinach, kale or chard washed
Maldon salt
Greek yoghurt
Fresh coriander

Cook your chosen root vegetables in salted boiling water, you're looking at around 15 mins for large chunks, stick a knife in to see if its cooked. Drain and put to one side.

In a shallow pan, fry the onion in a little butter and oil until soft, then add the turmeric, garam masala and cumin seeds. Stir and cook off on a moderate heat for a couple of minutes.

Put a large saucepan on the heat, and add the wet spinach, kale or chard and a pinch of Maldon salt. Let it steam until wilted for around 3 mins for spinach, a few minutes longer for kale or chard. Drain and press the water from it.

Add your root veg to the frying onions and continue cooking until they are lightly golden and are coated in some of the spices. Season and fold in the spinach, kale or chard. 

Tip the lot it into bowls. Artfully blob with Greek yoghurt and a few coriander leaves. Season again if it needs it. Job-Jobbed.

Monday 16 February 2015

Recipe - Thyme Roasted Onions, Kale, Mozzarella, Chilli & Lemon

Hello lovely readers.

First a bombshell fact that potentially might blow your mungus minds, so brace yourselves.
Would you believe I’ve been writing this blog for six years, on and off?
Six whole f*cking years! Hahahaha that’s longer than most of my relationships. 

Yeah, OK, I know. Before you start jeering and pointing accusing hands, angrily remonstrating that 2014 could barely be considered a vintage year with regards to this blog and ‘how very dare I talk about six whole years of writing’. (Damn, you people are so passionate). I’ll hold my hands up in a non-confrontational manner (Because we really don’t want to fight about this). And grudgingly admit it was an absolute shitter with regards to actually producing posts, but to be fair that’s because my whole year was literally an absolute shitter in a personal sense. But, hey the less said about that, the better. 

Anyway that was then, this is now. What can I say, except here I am back, still the same beautiful, intelligent, gifted individual I always was. Modest, caring and now….frigging sharing via the medium of this very blog!
Look, let’s just hug, make up and perhaps learn to love me once again.

Ok so now all that unpleasantness is out of the way, let’s talk onions, people.

I got the idea for this from Anthony Demetre, Head Chef of Arbutus. In his excellent book ‘Today’s Special’ (Buy it if you don’t have it, it’s superb) He extolls the virtues of simply roasted onions. So I pinched that bit, slung some other stuff into the mix and came up with this dinner. It’s bloody lovely and pretty damn cheap.    

Thyme Roasted Onions, Kale, Mozzarella, Chilli & Lemon

Serves 4

You’ll need – 

For the onions-
Knob of butter
Splash of olive oil
12 Onions, skins on
Some thyme sprigs
Maldon Salt and Pepper

You’ll also Need-

Bread, blitzed into rough crumbs
Splash of olive oil
A bag of Kale
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped.
Knob of butter
A ball of mozzarella, torn into rough pieces
Zest of 1 lemon, finely chopped.
1 Red Chilli, finely chopped.
Maldon Salt & Pepper

Preheat the oven to 150C

Cut the onions in half, through the root, leaving the skin on.
Heat the butter with the olive oil in a roasting tin or saute pan on the hob, and colour the onions in it, skin side up. 
Season with salt and pepper, scatter with the thyme and bake in the oven until soft. 30-40 mins.

Meanwhile, heat a small frying pan with a splash of olive oil and fry off your breadcrumbs until golden and crisp. Season and put to one side.

When the onions are just about done, wash your kale and leave to drain in a colander.
Heat the knob of butter in a large frying pan or wok, and throw in the kale, finely chopped garlic, salt and pepper.
Toss over a high heat for a few minutes until it starts to wilt. Take it off the heat.

Take the skin off your onions (it should just pull off easily) drizzle with a little olive oil and season.

Arrange your roasted onions in the centre of the plate, surrounded by the sautéed kale. Drape your artfully ripped mozzarella over the kale, sprinkled with chilli and lemon zest. Finally dust the whole thing with fried breadcrumbs for a bit of texture, and that’s that. Jobs a good ‘un.

If you don’t fancy mozzarella, I reckon this would be nice with feta or ewes curd instead.