Breakfast@Wagamama

It’s the morning of our flight and our normal breakfast stop at Heathrow, Plane Food, is closed for refurbishment. So, we decide to try breakfast with a touch of Japanese influence at Wagamama.

The menu reads like a pleasing confusion of British, Japanese and other international influences and we are fascinated as we watch a variety of plates and bowls being served to other tables. It is also good to see an open kitchen with dishes being freshly cooked to order.

We ask Katarzyna, who is looking after us, a few questions about the menu and then start with juice but… its not going to be a simple OJ. Rock selects Fruit a mix of apple, orange and passionfruit juice. But, after last night’s curry I need a Super Green – a combination of apple, mint, celery and lime. I am quite excited – it is very different to anything I’ve had at breakfast before and it’s very good.

I fall back to tradition next and Wagamama’s version of the English Breakfast – back bacon, sausages, grilled tomato, wilted spinach, sautéed sweet potato, shiitake mushrooms and poached eggs. My sausages are not cooked enough for my taste but they whisk them back to the kitchen and then back to me without any fuss. The dish has many great notes of familiarity but also some magical notes of international flavour.

Meanwhile, Rock is being a little more adventurous and having the bacon roti wrap. A thai flatbread filled with spinach, bacon, a nori omelette and sriracha (hot chilli) ketchup. It is wildy different from a bacon roll and she loves it.

Overall, the service from Katarzyna and others has been excellent and so has the food. This won’t be the last time we land at Wagamama!

Dinner@Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen

Ahead of tomorrow’s flight to Romania, we are at Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen in the Heathrow Hilton. Cyrus Todiwala, the chef patron, is known for being one of ‘The Incredible Spice Men’ on TV and for his central London restaurant Cafe Spice Namaste. We need another taste of fine UK cuisine before we leave for eastern Europe.

We begin with beer. Both Rock and I have a bottle of Curious Brew IPA. A fine Indian Pale Ale brewed by Chapel Down in Tenterden. They use pale ale malt and a balanced blend of three different hops to produce a distinctively flavoured IPA. We both love it.

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We spend a long time looking at the menu – there are just too many fabulous sounding things to choose from. We are also mindful of the fact that we almost always over order and we hate food waste with a passion! However….I have a cunning plan.

We share the vegetarian thali and the tikka platter – in effect, a small amount of several different dishes. But before that arrives we receive an amuse-bouche of saambaar, a spiced vegetable & lentil soup. It is very spicy and awakens parts of my digestive tract that have been hibernating for some time.

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Just as I am about to order a big pot of calming yoghurt – the vegetarian thali and the tikka platter arrive. Each element of the dishes is carefully explained to us in detail and I quickly regret having no shorthand skills. So, this is what I think we had: the thali includes tadka dhal, baingan bharta (a smoked aubergine dish), cholay paneer ( paneer & chickpeas in a gravy with pomegranate seeds), bhindi aur mushroom ki jalfraezi (a spicy dish of okra, mushrooms & tomato), a raita, rice and a roti.

The tikka platter consists of Barbary duck, Denham Estates venison, Scotch beef, chicken, paneer and salmon all cooked, tikka fashion, in a clay oven. Wow! To calm myself I order another Curious Brew IPA.

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Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen is a calm and stylish place. The service is excellent, the quality of the ingredients and the cooking skill of the open kitchen is very high. Even the beer is first rate. It really feels like our holiday has already started and we haven’t even taken off yet!

Lunch@The Dundas Arms, Kintbury

Today I’m catching up with Gary at The Dundas Arms. The Dundas Arms is a picturesque 18th century riverside pub in Kintbury, Berkshire. In the past the food here has been very good but neither Gary or myself have been here for a while, so…it will be interesting to see if the food is as good as we remember.

Gary has the grilled Cornish sardines to start with herb buttered toast and tomato & bacon jam. I have the scotch egg with date & apricot chutney. Gary really enjoys the sardines, while my scotch egg is not as exciting as some I’ve had recently but I love the chutney.

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The breast of free range chicken has Gary’s name on it and he also gets Wye valley asparagus, lemon crushed potatoes and a salsa verdi. I decide to be adventurous and try the pork belly, spring onion & herb potato cake served with tenderstem broccoli and a red wine sauce. Interesting and enjoyable.

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I can rarely resist a crumble and I don’t even attempt to resist today. The apple and raisin crumble is served with vanilla ice cream – I should have resisted, it is good but I really don’t have room for it. Gary, though, polishes off the sticky toffee pudding with honeycomb ice cream….without any difficulty at all.

Great to spend time with Gary and great to find that the food at the Dundas Arms was worth the trip!

Lunch@The Forest Hotel, Dorridge

I haven’t been to The Forest Hotel in Dorridge since I was a teenager so I’m intrigued to see what it will be like today as we visit their restaurant for lunch with Douglas.

The menu is pleasingly divided into nibbles, small plates and large plates. This works well for people like us with appetites that range from that of a horse (me) to that of a mouse (Rock).

Rock starts with the beetroot falafel served with rosemary & lemon crème friâche. Douglas has the fabulous tuna carpaccio with pickles and crispy noodles. I have the twice baked red leicester soufflé which works very well with the red grapes and rather unusual smoked date puree.

I move on to the tandoori cod loin with lentil dhal, roasted cauliflower and a coconut curry sauce – it is well spiced and very tasty. Rock has the sea trout, yet again, but this time with roasted fennel, orange & parsley quinoa and a fennel salad. Douglas has the salmon & prawn cake with a perfectly poached egg and hollandaise.

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Sea trout, roasted fennel, orange & parsley quinoa & fennel salad

For dessert I have the lemon & green tea roulade with almonds, lemon curd and green tea ice cream – beautifully presented and it tastes as good as it looks. Douglas enjoys going a touch exotic with the coconut infused rice pudding with pineapple. Rock has no room for dessert.

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Lemon & green tea roulade, almonds, lemon curd & green tea ice cream

The Forest Hotel has certainly changed since I was a teenager – it is smarter, far more civilised and the food and drink are on another level. We have had a fabulous time with Douglas and I’m sure he, and we, will be back before too long.

Lunch@The Scallop Shell, Bath

The UK is blessed with a coastline of fish & chip shops, some ordinary, some extraordinary. But the Best Independent Fish & Chip Restaurant of the Year 2016 is not on the coast at all – it is The Scallop Shell in Bath and we are having lunch there today.

As you enter The Scallop Shell, you see a large cast-iron bath full of ice and a wide variety of the fresh fish which will presumably be on the menu. We are seated at one of about 15 tables on the ground floor. Drinks first and Rock orders a favourite – Fentiman’s Mandarin & Seville Orange Jigger. I try the Daggers Blonde from the Three Daggers Microbrewery – it is a refreshing pale ale, gently bitter and slightly floral. Both are perfect to go with fish & chips.

The food menu is packed with a variety of fish and shellfish. Rock is interested to see sand sole on the menu which is something she has never tried before. Tom, the sous chef, helpfully explains the difference between sand sole and other more familiar varieties and she is easily persuaded to give it a go. I pick one of my favourite fish – John Dory.

The sand sole is simply grilled with olive oil and the John Dory fillets are fried in batter. Both are served with chips and tartare sauce. We also share a lovely fennel, cucumber, red onion and fresh herb salad. My John Dory is beautifully fresh, perfectly cooked and the batter is light and crispy. Rock’s sand sole is also perfectly cooked. The chips are, as you might expect, crisp on the outside and fluffy within. All good.

It may be more expensive to sit down and eat here than it is at most fish & chip takeaways but it is absolutely worth every penny!

Lunch@Sam’s Kitchen, Frome

We are in Frome and we have just spent the morning wandering up and down the fabulous St Catherine’s Hill – very crafts orientated and full of independent and interesting shops & cafes. Now it’s time for lunch and I’m going to spin you a short yarn about our visit to Sam’s Kitchen.

We’ve been to Sam’s Kitchen in Bath but we’ve never been here before. The Frome deli is much bigger and grander that its Bath cousin. I’m delighted to see that craft ales are available and pick an Elemental IPA from the Electric Bear Brewing Company. On a warm day it is fresh, fruity and quite hoppy.

Rock selects the pea and mint arancini deftly decorated with rocket and sitting on pea puree. The arancini balls are both light and full of flavour – excellent. I have the gurnard served on a tapestry of new potatoes, olives and tomatoes. The gurnard is perfectly cooked and works fantastically well with the olives and tomatoes. We share a collage of carrot, cumin & quinoa as a side dish – this is a mistake, it isn’t very interesting and doesn’t really work with either of our dishes.

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For dessert we share a fabulous orange & blueberry bakewell topped with a layer of almonds and crème fraiche – we are surprised at how well orange and blueberry work together. The service we received was absolutely fine but it was disappointing to see so few staff darting between tables trying hard to serve more people than was possible and to hear other diners complain about a long wait for food or attention. Someone materially underestimated how busy they would be today!

Lunch@The Vine Tree, Norton

Today we are meeting Edda & Roots for lunch at The Vine Tree in Norton. The Vine Tree is a country pub situated close to the border between Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. We’ve been here many times before and the food is usually good. The early conversation centres around hi-fi as Roots & Edda are in the process of acquiring a decent source of music for their home. I think we can help – I have some stuff in our attic!

I have a pint of Rare Breed from the Butcombe Brewery and Roots has an Elmers from the Flying Monk Brewery. My Rare Breed is a refreshing golden ale while Roots’ Elmers is a very drinkable pale bitter. Edda amplifies her senses with a glass of viognier and Rock an elderflower pressé.

Roots has the crispy Port Isaac squid served on a wooden deck, Edda has a turntable of goat’s cheese with a fennel & radish salad and an orange & chervil dressing. I have the seasonal and digital (as in like fingers) tempura vegetables. All the starters go down well.

I move on to the seared fillet of sea bass with fennel, thyme new potatoes, roasted hazelnuts and a rhubarb sauce. My sea bass is cooked well and fine tuned with an interesting sour rhubarb sauce. Edda has the caramelised shallot & beetroot tart tatin with cauliflower purée, roasted sweet potato & butternut squash and tapes of balsamic syrup. Roots has the fish pie – today’s catch in a cream, onion, muscadet sauce, topped with sliced new potatoes and a savoury herb & cheddar crumb. He loves it.

Rock tries to avoid dishes with a high fat content and chooses the plaice goujons because they are described on the menu as lightly bread crumbed. But, when they arrive, it soon becomes clear that the plaice is in cartridges of thick batter and breadcrumbs and the goujons have been deep fried. Not good but we decide against using a loudspeaker to voice her concerns.

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Treacle & stem ginger tart

For dessert both couples share the treacle and stem ginger tart with vanilla ice cream before having coffee. The beer has been very good, the food has been pretty good except for the plaice goujons, and we have really enjoyed seeing Roots & Edda.

Now….I really must have a look in the attic!