Sunday Lunch@Roth Bar & Grill, Bruton

We stopped here for lunch last summer and really enjoyed the mix of good food, good beer and modern art.  Today, looking for a non-traditional Sunday lunch stop on our route south, Roth Bar & Grill appears to be the best option.  They do a traditional Sunday roast but they also have a whole lot more on their menu.

It is beer o’clock and, as I’m driving, I’m pleased to see they stock a low alcohol option.  Little Big Beer brewed by God Beer in Lower Godney, Somerset is a vegan friendly, low alcohol craft ale.  It has far more flavour than most non-alcoholic beers but lacks the robustness of a real ale.  Rochelle has the opportunity to enjoy something stronger and chooses an organic Helles lager from the Freedom Brewery. It is a lager we’ve had many times before and it is full of delicate notes.

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Rock chooses a dish from the daily changing brunch menu – home-made sausages with fried eggs and seeded toast – you cannot get much further from a traditional Sunday roast. The sausages are the stand out item – good quality pork sausagemeat with plenty of well balanced flavours.

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I have the crispy pheasant with wet polenta and cavolo nero.  The pheasant has been coated in breadcrumbs with herbs & spices and it can best be described as a slightly sophisticated version of KFC.  The star of my dish is the wet polenta.  I’m really not a fan of polenta – but this smooth version is like a really smart and silky mashed potato.

No dessert.  But, here you can enjoy coffee with fabulous chocolate salami.  Unlike some other places that serve chocolate salami, here the chocolate is soft and luxurious.  The coffee is good too.

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Overall, the Roth Bar delivered a good alternative to a traditional Sunday roast and, those around us who did want a roast, appeared to be really enjoying it.  We also had great, friendly service from Georgia.  If you are heading to the south west and you need to find a food stop somewhere between Yeovil and Bath – this place should be on your map!

 

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Dinner@Box E, Bristol

Creating a restaurant in a shipping container appears to be a fashionable trend.  We are joining the party by heading to Box E on Bristol harbourside to meet our good friend Thorkell for dinner.  Box -E has Elliott, a former head chef at the Michelin starred L’Ortolan, in the kitchen. I say kitchen, Elliott cooks in one corner of the box, only feet from the diners.  His partner, Tess, leads a small front of house team.  This tiny restaurant, with only 14 seats, has had some rave reviews recently.  It really is time to see if eating while encased in a metal box is a good idea.

All the beers here are local and Thorkell has a Hop Hand Fallacy – a citrusy farmhouse ale from the Bristol brewers Lost and Grounded. I have a PMA from the Moor Beer Company, also based in Bristol, which is one of the best pale ales I’ve tasted recently.

I start with the crisp hispi cabbage with crab and lemon butter. It is delicate and very enjoyable. Thorkell bravely tries  the salt baked & pickled turnip with truffle and powdered cep.  I say bravely, because I’m not a big fan of turnips or truffle, but he loves it.  Rock decides not to have a starter – after enjoying quite a lot of the home-made bread we were given once we had taken our seats!

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 Hake with curried lentils and cauliflower

Rock and I both have the hake with curried lentils and cauliflower.  The hake is perfectly cooked and surrounded by intense curry flavours that manage to enhance the hake without overpowering it.  Thorkell has the breast and confit leg of duck with spelt and rainbow chard.  The duck breast is suitably pink and it soon becomes clear that Thorkell is enjoying his food as much as we are.

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Breast and confit leg of duck with spelt and rainbow chard

 

Rock is more than ready for dessert and has the chocolate mousse with salt caramel and peanuts.  The mousse is rich and intense, sweetened by the caramel, and with crushed peanuts providing crunch. Thorkell has the vanilla pannacotta with caramelised figs.  Unlike truffle and turnip, these are two of my favourite things and Rock is amazed when I don’t choose this as my dessert.  Thorkell loves it as much as I would have if I did not have an unstoppable desire for cheese…

Sheep’s Tor and Cornish Gouda are served with a sweet and zingy quince jelly plus the most extraordinary celery salt crackers.  Both are semi-hard cheeses, contrasting in flavour but each one is very good.  The crackers were clearly home-made and the best biscuits for cheese I have ever tasted….and I’ve tasted a few.

Dinner in this shipping container was a great experience.  It has been fantastic to catch up with Thorkell. The dishes here are combinations of interesting ingredients and they are very well executed.  Every dish is cooked to order, the beer is very good and the service is excellent – it really is a box of delights!

Lunch@King William, Bath

Our search for high quality pub food is taking us to King William in Bath.  In the latest Good Food Guide, King William is described as a local gem that serves seasonal, robust modern British cooking – let’s see how bright this gem can shine!

The beers on tap look suitably interesting.  Rock tries the Funky Monkey – a fruity English pale ale with hints of citrus from the Milk St Brewery of Frome.  I’m in the mood for something dark and the Plotline dry stout fits the bill perfectly.  Brewed by Kettlesmith in Bradford-on-Avon it successfully manages to combine chocolate and fruit flavours but it is not as full-bodied as I normally like in a stout.

Knowing that she has the appetite of a small child, Rock asks for two dishes from the children’s menu.  The first is a version of the King William tasting board.  Chicken popcorn, croquette of Bath chaps, spiced beef brisket, juniper cured salmon, basil pesto and Bertinet bread.

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King William tasting board

I have the spiced beef brisket with red cabbage jam and shallot.  The beef is beautiful and the rich red cabbage jam brings the whole dish alive.  Time for another beer and I move on to pub’s own King William ale – not sure who brews this for them but it is a good malty bitter.

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Spiced beef brisket, red cabbage jam and shallot

Rock’s next dish is battered fish with crushed peas and chips.  It is a suitably modest portion but the best things often come in small packages.  The fish is fresh, perfectly cooked and wrapped in a crisp batter.  The crushed peas and the chips are of the highest quality! Although a staple dish on many pub menus, most pubs deliver a very average fish and chips – but here it is fantastic. I have the pan roasted hake with crushed turnips and Bromham carrots.  Another perfectly cooked fish with firm flaky white flesh and crispy skin.

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Battered fish, crushed peas and chips
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Pan roasted hake

Finally, we  share a cinnamon and pumpkin creme diplomat with golden syrup ice cream and candied pecan nuts.  The diplomat is very creamy, the ice cream is not too sweet and the whole dessert is enhanced by the textures of the biscuit and the pecans.  Excellent.

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Cinnamon and pumpkin creme diplomat with golden syrup ice cream and candied pecan nuts

We’ve had fabulous food and great, friendly and helpful service.  The pub has not been too busy, which is a shame because this really is a local gem… some of the people of Bath and some of the visitors to Bath are clearly missing out!

Lunch @Bulrush, Bristol

If there is ever a good time to get out to a decent restaurant for lunch it is in the week of a General Election and the fallout from an unexpected result. We are seeking refuge from the continuous media commentary by meeting Ralph & Chedzgal at Bulrush in Bristol. Bulrush is a coalition of George Livesey’s culinary skill in the kitchen and Katherine Craughwell’s passion for wine and seasonal cocktails.

We all take our seats and, on Katherine’s recommendation, Ralph & Chedzgal both elect to have a glass of Terres Falmet Carignan, an aromatic fruity red from the Languedoc region. Rock has a glass of Loureiro, a refreshing and well-balanced white from the Vinho Verde region of Portugal. I’m choosing a past favourite, Nor’hop, a floral pale ale from the Bristol based Moor Brewery. We are already starting to relax.

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We are presented with an amuse-bouche. It is a broccoli mousse with port & cider vinegar and served with an alliance of Guinness crackers, crème fraiche and oats. It looks and tastes fabulous.

Rock starts her campaign with the barbecued asparagus with elderflower hollandaise and Roscoff onion. It arrives looking like an elegant haystack of asparagus and onion sitting on bright yellow hollandaise. She loves it. Chedzgal bravely votes for braised pig trotter with smoked eel and an apple dashi. To me it looks as unelectable as it sounds – but Chedz is clearly enjoying herself. Ralph and I both swing toward the blowtorched sole with gazpacho, almond & pickled grape. Another dish that is beautiful to look at and beautiful to eat.

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Barbecued asparagus, elderflower hollandaise & Roscoff onion

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Blowtorched sole, gazpacho, almond & pickled grape

I labour under the impression that great starters do not always mean great main courses but remain hopeful. Skate with crab, pickled peach & radish liberally decorated with flower petals and circled by a bisque arrive for Ralph & Chedzgal. Wow! I’m taking the conservative option of Hereford beef with seaweed and baby turnips. It is sensational. Rock is having the plaice with peas, broad beans & salted strawberries. I’ve run out of superlatives….

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Skate, crab, pickled peach & radish
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Hereford beef, seaweed, baby turnips
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Plaice, peas, broad beans, salted strawberries

 

The decision as to whether we have dessert is something of a landslide! We’ve lost any ability we may have had to be strong and stable. Chedzgal has the pine mousse with lemon sorbet, toasted almonds and frangipane. Rock & I share the BBQ apricot, apricot stone ice cream & rosemary meringue. Ralph has the Cheddar Valley strawberry, strawberry sorbet, chamomile & wheatgrass parfait. Another wow from everybody in our constituency.

And yet, one of the best moments of the meal is still to come! If you order coffee here, you also receive a party of petit fours. Bulrush petit fours are unlike anything I’ve had before. They look and taste like turkish delight, liquorice allsorts and toffee fudge but they are much better than that. A brilliant trick of design and taste.

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Throughout this meal George, and his colleagues in the kitchen, have shown great skill in their use of unusual ingredients and a fantastic touch when balancing unconventional flavour combinations. No room for debate  – this is quite simply one of the best meals we have had in the UK.

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@No Man’s Grace, Bristol

Today we are meeting Ralph & Chedzgal at No Man’s Grace in Bristol. No Man’s Grace is a small restaurant in the Cotham district of Bristol that was named as the Best Newcomer 2015 in the Bristol Good Food Awards and by The Times as one of the Top 25 coolest restaurants in the UK.

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I am immediately excited to find that on draught they have Bibble, an ale from the Wild Beer Company of Somerset, which has both malty flavours and citrus notes. I have a pint and Chedzgal a half. Ralph has a glass of Mas Delmera, Monastrelle – a rich, full-bodied and fruity red. The designated driver has an elderflower crush. 

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Salt baked beetroot with ewe’s curd & candied walnuts

Our starters are preceded by an extra dish – small, delicate airbags of cheese choux pastry. The starters themselves split our group by 3 to 1. Rock, Ralph & Chedzgal all steer toward the salt baked beetroot with ewe’s curd & a clutch of candied walnuts. The beetroot is tender and full of flavour and all the items on the plate work really well together. But I’m manoeuvring toward the hand dived scallop with fennel & blood orange. The scallop is perfectly cooked and the dish beautifully presented. 

The lunchtime conversation seems to have a driving theme…we talk about the length of time it takes to drive from our respective homes to the restaurant, the nature of Bristol’s parking regulations, the prospect of a world where some or all vehicles are driverless and even the potential route of our next UK roadtrip. After really enjoying my Bibble, I decide to change gear with a glass of Yealands pinot noir – a lovely, soft pinot with notes of plum and spice.

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Potato gnocchi with braised leek, kale florets, chanterelle & field mushrooms

Main courses also split the group 3 to 1. Rock sticks to the inside lane with potato gnocchi, braised leek, kale florets, chanterelle & field mushrooms. Ralph, Chedzgal & I have accelerated into the outside lane with brill, violet artichoke, samphire, gnocchi and a crab bisque. It is one of the best brill dishes I have ever tasted – firm, fresh flesh driven to new heights by the bisque.

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Brill with artichoke, samphire, gnocchi & crab bisque

We are all still along for the ride when it comes to dessert. Ralph & Chedzgal both choose the high octane chocolate cremeux with malted milk sorbet. I taste Ralph’s – it is intense and fabulous. Rock & I indicate a desire for the forced rhubarb with vanilla yoghurt and pistachio. Another beautifully presented dish that manages to be both comforting and refreshing.

We have had a fantastic time here. Really great company, high quality food & drink and attentive, knowledgeable service from Julu. I’m very confident that No Man’s Grace will be a driving destination for us in the future!