Lunch@ Enoteca Turi, Belgravia

Today we are in London visiting the William Blake exhibition at Tate Britain and to watch Rhys Ifans appear in the play ‘On Bear Ridge’ at the Royal Court Theatre.  However, between the exhibition and the play, we are heading to Enoteca Turi  for lunch. Enoteca Turi is an independent Italian restaurant that specialises in authentic regional cuisine using traditional seasonal ingredients.

On arrival we are greeted by restaurant manager Cesare and shown to our table.  I order a bottle of Moretti while we study the menu.  Freshly baked sourdough and focaccia bread, crispy breadsticks and a full flavoured olive oil are also delivered to our table.  Rock decides to have the lightly salted cod fishcakes with deep fried courgettes and a pepper preserve as her starter. The fishcakes are great – densely packed with cod and the courgettes are coated in a light, tempura like batter.

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Lightly salted cod fishcakes with deep fried courgettes and a pepper preserve

I have the pan-fried sardines filled with pecorino, garlic and parsley and served with cime di rapa, datterini tomato salsa and breadcrumbs.  The dish is everything I hoped it would be – perfectly cooked sardines with a fabulous salsa, fragrant winter greens and the crunch of fried breadcrumbs.  Another bottle of Moretti and I’m ready for the main course.

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Pan-fried sardines filled with pecorino, garlic and parsley and served with cime di rapa, datterini tomato salsa and breadcrumbs

Rock has decided to have the Candele di Gragnano ‘alla Genovese’ with an organic beef and onion ragu.  The candele is a large tube shaped pasta which Rock finds a little uninteresting and the slow-cooked ragu, with added parmesan, is good but not great.  I have the roast rack of lamb with Sicilian caponatina and homemade crisps (see featured image).  The lamb is beautifully cooked but could have been warmer, the crisps are outstanding but I’m not a particular fan of the caponatina.

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Candele di Gragnano ‘alla Genovese’ with an organic beef and onion ragu

We have excellent coffee served with fabulous amaretti to finish.

Likes: Fantastic service from Cesare and his team who aim and succeed in delivering a genuine slice of Italy in the centre of London.  Wonderful breads and incredible starters. Great amaretti biscuits.

Gripes: My lamb could have been hotter and Rock’s candele dish could have been a little more exciting.

Lunch@ The Classroom, Cardiff

One way to find good quality is to hunt out the places where they train people to deliver quality.  We have been aware of The Classroom in Cardiff for a while but we have not managed to find our way there until now.  Located on the top floor of the Cardiff & Vale College, The Classroom serves dishes created by students of their cookery school.

We arrive to find a professional looking restaurant with views looking out over Cardiff.  I’m looking forward to a Welsh beer and order a Sir Galahad.  It is a ruby red ale with good malt flavour and hints of grapefruit from the Tenby Harbour Brewery.  The menu here is short – three options for each course, so it does not take us long to work out what we would like to try.

Rock starts with the Crown Prince pumpkin soup with ras el hanout spiced oil and apple.  The Crown Prince is a silver-blue skinned pumpkin that many people describe as the best tasting winter squash.  Rock is certainly enjoying her soup – she loves the spicy oil and the texture brought by pieces of apple and pumpkin seeds.  I’m having the venison faggot with pea purée, crushed butternut squash, venison gravy and pea shoots.  The faggot has a great depth of flavour and works well with the butternut and pea.

I move on to try the Gower Gold from the Gower Brewery  a golden ale with good citrus notes. For her main course Rock has the spinach stuffed plaice en paupiette with a shellfish risotto, a mussel beignet and smoked paprika oil. The plaice is delicately cooked and wrapped around fresh spinach.  The beignets are spicy and the risotto is moreish.  A really creative and skillful dish.  I have the pan fried pork belly with lentils a ‘la francois, Chantenay carrots, roasted cauliflower and a calvados jus.  The pork belly is beautifully cooked and I love the roasted cauliflower but the rest of the dish is a little rustic.  More farmhouse than fine dining.

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Spinach stuffed plaice en paupiette with a shellfish risotto, a mussel beignet and smoked paprika oil
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Pan fried pork belly with lentils a ‘la francois, Chantenay carrots, roasted cauliflower and a calvados jus

For dessert we share the chocolate and lime cheesecake with lime posset and a bitter chocolate sorbet.  As ever in restaurants these days, it is a deconstructed cheesecake but it is, nevertheless, very good.  Good coffee to follow.  The whole experience has been very enjoyable and it is charming to see young people learning their craft.

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Chocolate and lime cheesecake with lime posset and a bitter chocolate sorbet

Likes: Smart restaurant serving some very good food that delivers fantastic value for money.  Two courses for £15 or 3 for £20 is a steal.  Great service from the students and tutors alike.

Gripes: None at this price.

Lunch@ The Woodspeen, Woodspeen 2019

Our search for quality is driving us back to some of our favourite places.  The Woodspeen near Newbury probably ranks as one of our top five UK establishments for consistently demonstrating culinary skill with high quality food.  We always love it here and they never fail to deliver…      let’s hope today is no different.

I begin by ordering a Roundhead bitter from the fabulous  Two Cocks Brewery based in Berkshire – a full bodied smooth ale with plenty of malty flavour.  Homemade sourdough bread is served with caramelised onion hummus.  Both the bread and the hummus are very good indeed.

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Cod pasta with parmesan and olive oil, pickled carrots and shallots

To start Rock has the cod pasta with parmesan and olive oil, pickled carrots and shallots.  The pasta is in tiny rings with small chunks of cod running through it.  Texture is created by crispy kale and shallots and thin strips of pickled carrot.  Cleverly put together and beautifully balanced.  I have the hand dived scallops with chicken presse, chorizo hollandaise and basil (see featured image).  The scallops are perfectly cooked, the chicken presse is full of flavour, there are shards of crispy chicken skin, tiny fiery peppers and the two sauces – a basil reduction and a chorizo flavoured hollandaise really bring the dish together.

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Roasted venison with an aromatic potato puree, pickled trompette, spinach and a fig compote

Next I’m onto the roasted venison with an aromatic potato puree, pickled trompette, spinach and a fig compote.  The venison could have been hotter, but the rich fig compote and the buttery mash are absolutely extraordinary.  Pickling vegetables is very fashionable these days and so many restaurants overdo either the number of pickled items or the strength of the pickling liquor.  Not here though.  The Woodspeen team always seem to get the balance right.   Rock has the garden beetroot quinoa with feta, turnip, cauliflower and black garlic.  The beetroot quinoa is formed into patties and there are two other forms of beetroot on the plate.  The star of the dish though is the black garlic puree which really helps to bring the dish to life.

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Garden beetroot quinoa with feta, turnip, cauliflower and black garlic

We share a dessert, or at least Rock has a mouthful of mine.  I have chosen the tropical fruit cheesecake with a passionfruit compote, oat crumble and a basil ice cream.  It is a deconstructed cheesecake and I don’t mind that, if the flavours are good.  Here, of course, they are fabulous.  We finish off with coffee and petit fours of raspberry jelly and a rather intense chocolate fudge.  Did they fail to deliver today?  No, as usual, they delivered in spades.

 

Likes: perfectly balanced dishes demonstrating culinary skill and ingredients of the highest quality.  Fantastic service from all the team and from Hannah in particular.

Gripes: being picky but my venison could have been hotter.

 

 

 

Another Lunch@ Tierra & Mar, Cirencester

We are adopting a new approach to our foodblogging.  Unless the food is exceptional or very unusual or particularly inventive – we are not going to blog about it.  This had led to a pause in our blog activity but now the wait is over…we are returning to Tierra & Mar anticipating greatness.

Louisa is front of house to greet us and she clearly remembers us from our previous visits.  The restaurant is moderately busy with several other tables in use.  I order an Er Boqueron – a beer made with sea water that I first tried a couple of years ago at Mannion & Co in Helmsley.  It is just as good as I remembered it being – a really distinctive and refreshing flavour.  Then Louisa brings us two different bread rolls, one brown, one rosemary and an amuse bouche of ham hock terrine with fresh apple and an apple jelly, plus crostini with a feta mousse with a red pepper purée.  Both are fabulous.

From the tapas menu we have selected a variety of fish dishes: yellowfin tuna tataki with hazelnuts, sesame, orange, baby gem lettuce and quail’s egg; a pan fried fillet of stone bass with baked beetroot, fregola and purple sprouting broccoli (see featured image); pan fried cod with Jerusalem artichoke purée, pak choi, fig, pickled radish, lemon, samphire and a red wine reduction.  I thought the tuna was very good but Rock prefers the way they used to do it with a greater emphasis on Asian flavours.  We both think the stone bass is sensational – working brilliantly with the beetroot.  The cod is perfectly cooked and the artichoke purée, fig and samphire give the dish plenty of life.

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Yellowfin tuna tataki with hazelnuts, sesame, orange, baby gem lettuce and quail’s egg
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Pan fried cod with Jerusalem artichoke purée, pak choi, fig, pickled radish, lemon, samphire and a red wine reduction

Next comes a complimentary dish from the kitchen – octopus a la plancha with heritage tomatoes, guacamole, Bloody Mary jelly, black garlic and horseradish.  We are not huge fans of octopus – in fact Rock has never tried it after hearing me say that it is often rubbery and unpleasant after being under or overcooked.  Here it is perfectly cooked and complimented fabulously well by the fiery guacamole and the roasted black garlic reduction.  We are both pleasantly surprised at just how good octopus can be.

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Octopus a la plancha with heritage tomatoes, guacamole, Bloody Mary jelly, black garlic and horseradish

And we are not finished yet.  Next we have the sous vide pork loin with parsnip and honey purée, pickled heritage Chantenay carrots, cavolo nero, parsnip crisps, spiced pork belly, puffed pork skin, sage crisps and pork sauce.  Plus, Spanish style dry rice with confit duck leg, pan fried duck breast, wild mushrooms, chickpeas, red peppers, sugarsnap peas and a saffron alioli.  The pork is stunning – cooked three ways with a range of textures and flavours.  The rice is good too only hampered by the fact that we are seriously running out of stomach space.

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Sous vide pork loin with parsnip and honey purée, pickled heritage chantennay carrots, cavolo nero, parsnip crisps, spiced pork belly, puffed pork skin, sage crisps and pork sauce

Finally, we have to accept that we have nowhere to put dessert, so we settle for coffee which is served with beautiful chocolate truffles and orange shortbread biscuit petit fours. This just gives us time to take a deep breath and say…wow!

Likes: great beer, sensational food and friendly and efficient service from Louisa.  A complimentary dish from a chef who understands how to cook octopus properly.  This is  also a kitchen which is able to put together a huge variety of ingredients to create dishes that are beautifully balanced.

Gripes: We had no room for dessert. 

Lunch@ Red Lion, East Chisenbury 2019

It’s my birthday and my turn to pick a favourite spot for lunch.  From half a dozen excellent possibilities… I choose The Red Lion in East Chisenbury.  This Wiltshire pub is run by husband and wife team Guy and Brittany Manning and it has held a well-deserved Michelin star for several years.  We haven’t been there since last November – so a visit is well and truly overdue.

They always have really good guest ales here and I’m starting my birthday celebration with a pint of  Jaw-Bit from the Ramsbury Brewery.  It is a golden ale with malt and quite a zingy burst of citrus. Not bad.  Excellent homemade raisin and walnut bread, olive oil bread and homemade butter soon arrive.

Now I like being spoilt and, even though he doesn’t know it’s my birthday, Guy manages to make us both feel spoilt by coming out of the kitchen to say hello and bringing us a complimentary dish.  He tells us that something has just been delivered to the kitchen and we both get a grilled super fresh sardine served on a sliver of crisp toast with a sauce Niçoise.  It is fantastic.

Next we are sharing the best chicken liver paté on the planet.  Served with a homemade melt-in-the mouth brioche, the highly flavoured paté is rich and indulgent.  Indeed, it is so rich that I feel a little heady – there is no way I could have eaten all of this dish without having some help from Rock.

It’s time to try another guest ale.  This time Heel Stone from Stonehenge Ales.  It is a medium bodied best bitter with good fruit and malt.  Very nice indeed. For her main course, Rock goes for the slow cooked brisket with root vegetables and salsa verde.  The salsa verde takes this dish from home comfort to fine dining.  I’m having the rump of Wiltshire lamb with grilled Provencal vegetables, chickpea purée and sauce Niçoise.  Both the brisket and the lamb are beautifully tender.

If Brittany, the queen of desserts is in and she is today, you cannot leave without trying at least one.  We decide to try one each.  Rock has the compressed pineapple with raspberries and candied almond.  I have the Chisenbury plum cake with amaretto ice cream.  Both are very good indeed but don’t quite hit the heights we’ve come to expect here.

Finally, celebrity spotting.  Last time we were here we saw the actors Nigel Havers and Denis Lawson having lunch.  This time Rupert Everett and his dog are here.

Likes: Love the exquisite food, the fabulous beer, the friendly service and the traditional pub atmosphere.  This is, beyond doubt, one of my favourite food destinations.

Gripes: Most of the dishes were perfect, some were just very good.   

Dinner@ Circa1924, Exeter

We are staying in Exeter for a few days and, as ever, trying to find an excellent food experience.  We are drawn to Circa1924 by their website which promises local & seasonal food from a community of independent suppliers with a focus on steak and seafood.

The restaurant is quiet this evening with only one other set of diners having dinner.  Still, this means we will get plenty of attention.  Kate, who is looking after the front of house operation, talks me through potential red wines and then brings me a glass of Hallmark grenache by Simon Hackett wines of South Australia.  It is rich, smooth and packed with dark fruit flavours.  It will be perfect for what I’m planning to eat.

We start by sharing the sourdough venison ’empenadas’ with a black garlic mayonnaise.  Fabulous little pockets of rolled sourdough have been filled with a beautiful confit of venison and served with an excellent mayonnaise.  Wow…what a great start.

Rock decides to have a second starter for her main course, Creedy Carver confit chicken wings with a salt-baked celeriac remoulade, a baked apple purée, crispy chicken skin and lemon thyme.  The dish is very rich and really needs a pickled vegetable or something else with a touch of acidity to cut through some of that richness.

I have a second glass of grenache and, if I’m in a place that knows how to cook steak properly – then I’m going to have a steak.  I have a ribeye, aged for 28 days and served with triple cooked chips and leaves (see featured image).  We also share a side of kale.  The steak is full of flavour and perfectly cooked medium rare.  The grenache has worked just as well as I hoped it would with both the venison and the steak.

Likes: Excellent empenadas, steak and grenache.  Attentive and helpful service from Kate.

Gripes: The playlist, selected personally by Kate, was very good and very interesting but almost wholly focused on songs from the 50s and 60s.  I think it would benefit with more equally well chosen tracks from the 90s and noughties.

Lunch@ The Severn & Wye Smokery, Chaxhill 2019

It is Rock’s 30th birthday (again) and so we are heading to one of her favourite places – the Severn & Wye Smokery.  We have been coming here, from time to time, for over three years as it’s a fabulous place for fresh fish.  Last year they had a major refurb – building a new restaurant, cafe and foodstore.  This year they have taken on a new chef, Mark Stinchcombe – winner of Masterchef, The Professionals in 2015.  It all bodes well…

The new restaurant is upstairs above the new foodstore and cafe.  It is much bigger and more stylish than the old restaurant – which was basically a few tables set out in the corner of the old foodstore.  There is an open kitchen so, as we study the menus, we can also watch Mark and the kitchen team putting together the dishes for today’s eager diners.

In order to enable Rock to enjoy her birthday lunch to the fullest….   I’m driving.  She takes the opportunity to have a decent sized glass of Picpoul de Pinet while I have a modest sized bottle of Priory Pale from the Gloucester Brewery.  It is a well balanced pale ale with some citrus notes and some zest from the hops.  Both the Picpoul and the pale ale will be perfect with fish.

To start Rock chooses the Severn & Wye taramasalata served with crispbread.  The taramasalata is silky smooth and has a sprinkling of pepper and chopped chives.  The crispbreads are wafer thin.  She loves it.  I’m having the moules mariniere with focaccia (see featured image).  For those who don’t know moules mariniere – it is basically mussels cooked with garlic, shallots and white wine with the liquor enriched by cream.  Done well, it is the food of the gods.  It is done very well here – the best mussels dish I’ve had for a very long time.

For our main course we decide to have the Cornish turbot roasted on the bone with spring onion, sweetcorn and a chicken butter sauce for two people.  It is extraordinary.  The very large piece of fresh turbot is perfectly cooked, the flesh just falling off the bone  and enhanced by the flavours of chicken and sweetcorn.  Side dishes of seasoned vegetables and hand cut chips help too.

After the considerable amount we have already eaten, we barely have room for dessert but, the food has been so good so far that we decide to share the white chocolate mousse with poached pears, peach sorbet and pistachio dacquoise (a sort of meringue based biscuit made from nuts).  The pears and the sorbet help to temper the sweetness of the white chocolate.  It is a beautifully balanced dessert  – a clever construction of flavours and textures.

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White chocolate mousse with poached pears, peach sorbet and pistachio dacquoise

Likes:  Mussels, turbot and dessert were all beautiful.  Nice atmosphere and excellent service.   The refurb and the addition of Mark to the kitchen team are both great strides in the right direction. 

Gripes: Struggling to think of anything apart from the signage as we approach the smokery.  Unless you know it is there, it would be very easy to drive straight past The Severn & Wye Smokery without ever realising that you are missing out!