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!

2016 Food Awards – Part 2

WadeandRockandFood Awards 2016

The WadeandRockandFood Awards 2016 follow another year of dining out in hundreds of restaurants, pubs and cafes. The awards aim to celebrate the very best eating experiences we have had over the last 12 months. Awards 2016 part 1 focused on restaurants, part 2 focuses on pubs and part 3 will focus on small independent food providers.

In 2015 we found several sensational pubs. In 2016 we have not been quite so fortunate – with many places falling short on imagination and quality. However, our top 3 pubs are all worthy of their place.

Devonshire Arms, Long Sutton

A former hunting lodge set in a pretty Somerset village. Has the feel of a traditional village pub but the food is of a far higher standard than you find in most village pubs. Devon review

Hand & Flowers, Marlow

You may have to wait months to get a table at the only UK pub with 2 Michelin stars…but it is worth it. A clever combination of exceptional service and high end pub food. Hand review

Three Tuns, Great Bedwyn

A free house that always has a good range of beers. The Three Tuns is a lively village pub that creates some beautiful plates of food and it is simply a great place to dine with friends. Tuns review – Apr 16 Tuns review – Dec 16

Part 3 will follow in the next few days.

Lunch@The Porter, Bath (take 2)

The political balance of the world has recently been destabilised by unexpected results on both sides of the Atlantic. Concerned, we are aiming to bring a greater degree of sanity to our lives by having lunch with our good friends Ralph and Chedzgal. We are back at The Porter in Bath, for the second time this year, to meet them. For an hour or so, by proxy, we will be in an alternative reality! 

The Porter is civilised without being too stuffy. Chedzgal and I both launch our campaign with a carafe of Lacrimus Rioja, a bright young tempranillo with some primary notes of aged oak. In a concerted effort to create some sort of culinary coalition of eating experiences – we all vote for different candidates from both the starter and the main course menus.

Rock elects to have the pheasant and smoked bacon terrine with rosemary focaccia and a deposit of fig purée. Ralph has the braised pedigree pork rillette with pickled apple, Bramley apple purée and toasted sourdough. Chedzgal lobbies for the Little Haven crab with Bath Harvest lemon infused rapeseed oil, pickled carrot and a party of lavosh biscuits. I have the beautiful Pembrokeshire crab with squid ink spaghetti. We all make noises of approval, except Ralph, who ignores the majority…. he is not enjoying the rillette.

Ralph is happy to move on to the grilled plaice with a convention of hand-cut chips, leeks, spinach and a fish velouté. Chedzgal selects the slow roasted shoulder of lamb on a platform of smashed swede & potato and served with a port wine sauce. I have the honey roasted duck breast with dauphinoise potatoes, roasted carrots, cassis sauce and a marginal amount of celeriac purée. Rock’s choice is the corn fed chicken breast with a landslide of savoy cabbage & chorizo, sauteed potatoes and a Madeira sauce. All these dishes are very good indeed… even Ralph joins the delegation in having a good time!

Rock and I swing toward sharing the vanilla pannacotta with warm apple & blackberry compote and oat crumble. Ralph has the clementine crème brulee in congress with blood orange sorbet and candied almonds. Chedzgal opts for the salted caramel chocolate mousse with peanut butter ice cream. We all embark on a policy of bringing the proceedings to an end with a mint tea.

It is difficult to trump the experience of fine food and wine enjoyed with fabulous company….it may not put the world to rights but we feel better for it!

Lunch@Sam’s Kitchen, Bath

Sam’s Kitchen serves small plates and tapas using produce from the UK, Spain and Italy. It is the sort of food we love and so we are here for lunch as part of our day trip in Bath.

Rock orders a drink from the short juice menu. It is described as pineapple, coconut and orange and it is possibly one of the nicest juice drinks either of us has tasted for some time! Unusually less adventurous than Rock – I have a perfectly agreeable fresh mint tea.

I have the crispy lamb breast with peas, sundried tomato, rocket & pesto. When it arrives I discover that, although not mentioned on the board menu, the dish also includes feta and olives. Now, I love feta and olives, so I’m initially pleased. But, as I work my way through a cacophony of flavours, I realise that the kitchen has just been too generous with the feta and I have to move some to the side to prevent the dish from being too salty. The lamb is beautiful and, with some feta removed, the dish works really well.

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Rock is having the mixed salad of bulgur wheat, tabbouleh, lightly curried cauliflower, cranberry, pumpkin seed, butter bean, sundried tomato, courgette and seed pesto. It is a fabulous mix of textures and flavours and she is loving it.

This is a very relaxed, informal place that is a great place to go for coffee or lunch while in Bath. I’m sure it won’t be the last time we stop by.