Dinner@Hanoi Bike Shop, Glasgow

The road trip has reached Glasgow and we are meeting our friends Ophelia, Janice, Marley & Alska for dinner at the Hanoi Bike Shop. The Hanoi Bike Shop is a Vietnamese restaurant with a great reputation that has attracted many celebrities including Beyoncé. If it’s good enough for her then it will almost certainly be good enough for Janice!

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Sitting outside on yet another hot day and all but Marley (too young) are keen to try some Vietnamese and Glaswegian beers.  A selection of Jaw Brew Drop IPA, Saigon Export lager and Jaw Brew Surf pale ale soon arrive. The Saigon lager is genuinely Vietnamese and brewed in Ho Chi Minh.  Golden, frothy, the notes of rice and lemon will clearly work well with Asian food. Jaw Brew is a Glaswegian brewery.  Drop is an IPA with notes of grapefruit that will cut through the spice and Surf is a pale ale with apple and pine that should work well with fried or barbecued dishes.  Of the three, Drop is probably our favourite. Hot day, cold beer, food to come – all is good.

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Bun Cha

Prawn crackers while we wait for the dishes – each dish will arrive as and when it has been freshly cooked.   The first dish to arrive is the chicken Bun Cha – marinated chicken, char-grilled and served on skewers with vermicelli noodles, a fresh herb salad and a hot & sour broth. Fabulous.  Next the Cha Ca Quy Nhon chosen by Ophelia – Vietnamese fish cakes served with gem lettuce, pickles, vermicelli noodles and nuoc cham ( lime, fish sauce, garlic, sugar & chilli).  Wow!

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Cha Ca Quy Nhon
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Ba Roi Ram Duong

More beer and now Ba Roi Ram Duong – caramelised pork belly and pan fried sea bream served with cucumber kimchi, watercress and chilli.  Extraordinary – I think I may have been transported temporarily to food heaven.  At the other extreme Janice, who is always up for trying something new, has ordered some Kimchi – a side dish made from fermented vegetables.  By itself it tastes pretty awful but I’m sure it will work as a flavour enhancer for other dishes.

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Banh Cu Cai Dau Nanh

Next to arrive is the Banh Cu Cai Dau Nanh – daikon & soya bean cakes served with crispy shallots, birds eye chilli and syboes (Scots word for spring onions).  Rock loves them. Then, for Alska and Marley, are the Cha Lua pork & lemongrass kebabs skewered on roast sugarcane which comes with fresh herbs and blistered chilli sauce. Another winner.

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Ca Mop Ot 

Rock has selected Ca Mop Ot – Hake flavoured with tamarind and fermented chilli and served with a beansprout salad and a mango sambal.  She has now joined me in food heaven.  Janice has made a much wiser choice than the kimchi with Vit Ma Ong (see featured image) – crispy salt & honey duck leg served with  pickled red cabbage and syboe oil.  More beer and then finally, for Alska & Marley, Bap Gnot Va Dua Banh Ran – huge sweetcorn & coconut fritters with gem lettuce, pickles and nuoc cham.

 

 

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Bap Gnot Va Dua Banh Ran

We ordered less than the recommended number of dishes and, even with Janice’s enormous appetite, we could not eat it all.  An extraordinary amount of food, a massive variety of flavour combinations, fabulous quality of cooking and a more than modest amount of beer.  We all loved it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Cartford Inn, Little Ecclestone

As we head further north on our road trip we have reached the point of our first overnight stay.  We are staying at The Cartford Inn in Little Ecclestone and this blog will cover both our dinner and our breakfast experiences.  The Cartford Inn, originally a 17th century coaching inn, is set in the heart of rural Lancashire.  The current owners, Patrick and Julie Beaumé, have extended and refurbished the place over the last 10 years to create a venue that has won several food, drink and pub awards.

Arriving on a bright sunny late afternoon we are immediately offered tea and cake and feel very welcomed.  After a walk on a still super hot day we soon need something to help cool us down.  Rock chooses a Sipsmith gin mixed with Fentiman’s rose lemonade – perfect. I have a Moorhouse’s Pride of Pendle, an amber ale  – which is very pleasant but not exciting.

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I am more than ready for food but the heat has had a real effect on Rock’s appetite.  For her dinner she chooses a starter! Her hand-rolled bread crackers look spectacular and come with a harissa hummus and a green lentil & onion paté.  That is all she needs and she is happy.  I have the Goosnargh duck breast with pickled green strawberries, elderflower, nut granola and chicory.  The duck is beautifully pink.  The pickled strawberries are slightly tart but work fantastically well with the duck and the slightly sweetened nut granola.

The playlist here tonight is a little uninspiring – basically hits of the 1980s.  Now I love music from all eras but there are very few occasions when I feel ‘Rio’ by Duran Duran is what I want to listen to while I’m eating dinner. I move on to a pint of Giddy Kipper brewed especially for the Cartford Inn.  This is more exciting – a hoppy pale ale with notes of grapefruit. Rock’s appetite may have waned but I still have room for dessert and I’ve chosen the apricot clafouti with honey ice cream.  I love a good clafouti! This one is very pleasant but the batter has the consistency of a thick custard ….it probably needed a few more minutes in the oven.

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Apricot clafouti with honey ice cream

After a decent night’s sleep we are ready for breakfast.  We have good Atkinson’s coffee and exceptional croissants. Rock has the vegetarian breakfast (see featured image) – fresh asparagus, poached egg, sautéed potatoes, cherry tomatoes & mushrooms.  I have the English breakfast – the asparagus and potatoes replaced by black pudding and Honeywell’s bacon & sausage.  The poached Ryan Bee’s free range eggs and the Honeywell’s sausage are both excellent.

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English breakfast

We had great service in the evening from James, Danny and Ellen and at breakfast from the very chatty Craig.  We also loved the fact that Patrick & Julie take a real interest in their guests.

Great place to stay, great place to drink and a pretty good place to eat too!

Lunch@Tierra & Mar, Cirencester

Tierra & Mar is a relatively new tapas restaurant in Cirencester.  It is owned by Brett and Silvia who met while working in a variety of Michelin starred restaurants across England, Australia and Spain.  They have brought their skills to the Cotswolds and today is our chance to see what they can do.

It all starts very well.  Rock has sparkling elderflower, while I try a Spanish beer.  Inet Damm is described as an award winning malt & wheat beer brewed with spice – it is extraordinary. Created by the El Bulli chef, Ferran Adria, and the Damm brewers – it manages to incorporate the flavours of coriander, liquorice and orange peel in a way that is completely harmonious.  More importantly, it seems to work with a very wide variety of food and thus perfect for tapas.

Excellent canapés of empanada with mediterranean vegetables and crackers topped with marinated sardine & yoghurt arrive next. These are followed by freshly baked bread rolls in two varieties, rosemary and brown, and served with extra virgin olive oil. This is so good and we haven’t even started our tapas yet!

The first dish is a smoked duck breast & confit duck leg terrine served with pistachio, poached plums and red onion marmalade. But it’s not that simple – there are also small cubes of jelly, dashes of cream and herb sprigs (see featured image).  The combination of flavours is just outstanding.

Next is monkfish wrapped in Serrano ham with pea and mint puree, chorizo jam, sauteed potatoes and an almond & garlic sauce.  The monkfish is soft and almost melts against the crispy ham wrapping, again the complexity of flavours and textures is amazing.

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Monkfish wrapped in Serrano ham with pea and mint puree, chorizo jam, sauteed potatoes and an almond & garlic sauce

 

The tuna tartare follows – raw marinated tuna served with avocado, grated horseradish, slivers of radish and tiny pieces of finely toasted bread.  It is very clever – the use of marination and the highly skilled balancing of quality ingredients creates a refreshing and vibrant dish.

 

 

 

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Tuna tartare

Then patatas bravas and marinated fried chicken wings with pickled carrot, carrot puree, parsnip, basil and a honey & orange chicken sauce.  The patatas bravas are simple but you need some simple to go with the complexity of the other dishes.  The chicken wings are part of another fabulous balance of flavour combinations.

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Patatas bravas
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Spiced chicken wings

You would think after canapes, bread, duck, monkfish, tuna, patatas bravas and chicken that those with modest appetites, like us, would not even contemplate dessert.  However, the food here has been so exceptional…we have to try one.  We go for the poached rhubarb with pistachio, ginger and cream cheese icing.  It is yet another beautifully presented dish – soft rhubarb, crunchy pistachio both enhanced by expertly flavoured jellies and creams. Sensational!

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Poached rhubarb with pistachio, ginger and cream cheese icing

We don’t have time to stop for coffee but Paco, who has looked after us fabulously throughout lunch, gives us some beautiful petit fours anyway.  There have been a few contenders this year….. but so far this has been our best meal of 2018!

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Petit fours

Brunch@cafezique, Glasgow

No Rock today but I’m joining my good friends Ilia, Muffin and my godson Zord for a late brunch at one of their favourite places – cafezique.  Tables are set out around a bar area that encircles the small open kitchen, plus there are more tables upstairs on a mezzanine level.

It’s buzzing here and, after a short wait, we get a corner table downstairs next to the window.  Zord needs distracting and a really generous bowl of beautiful black and green olives does the trick.  Ilia and I are similarly distracted by a fine bottle of Samuel Smith’s Organic Lager.

Properly cooked food takes a little longer but it is worth the wait.  Muffin has the cullen skink with bread.  For anyone who does not know what the traditional Scottish cullen skink is, I’ll do my best to give you an idea.  It is a thick soup made with smoked haddock, potatoes and onions and often flavoured with parsley or bay leaf.  The freshly baked bread is excellent here – the cafe owners, the Zique family, have a bakery too.

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Cullen skink

Ilia is having the big breakfast – fried eggs, shoulder bacon, black pudding, sausages, beans, tattie scone, mushroom, tomato and toast.  A plate of quality products – both the bacon and the sausages have great flavour.

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Big breakfast

I’m having eggs black – a version of eggs benedict – soft poached eggs on a muffin, with hollandaise and leaves plus Stornaway black pudding rather than the bacon you get in a benedict.  The eggs are beautifully poached, the hollandaise is top drawer and the black pudding is fabulous.

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Eggs black

Now, did I mention that the Zique family are bakers…time for cake.  Muffin has an excellent fruit scone with butter and jam.  But, I’m about to enjoy the highlight of this whole experience – a baked cheesecake.  No sauces, fruit or any other addition – it just does not need them.  It is the lightest baked cheesecake I think I’ve ever had – and I will remember it for a long time.

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Great food, friendly and helpful service mainly from Eva and Fiona, quality beer ….oh, and that cheesecake!

 

Dinner@Tierra Kitchen, Lyme Regis

Tierra Kitchen has a reputation for producing exciting vegetarian food, with influences of Mediterranean and French cuisine, using local, seasonal and organic produce from Dorset and Devon.  Some people still think vegetarian food cannot be exciting, but I’ve been to this place before, I know their food can be innovative and extraordinary.  Tonight, we are here for dinner with Neko and Ziggy.

We are served slices of pumpkin seed granary and white focaccia – both of which are superb.  I’m surprised but pleased to find Stroud Brewery’s Budding on the beer menu –  an organic pale ale with a floral aroma – it is a favourite of mine.

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Sauté sweet potato, cashew & quinoa cakes served with apple, celeriac and an orange dressing

Rock and I share the sauté sweet potato, cashew & quinoa cakes served with apple, celeriac and an orange dressing.  The savoury cakes are decorated with quinoa, fried until crisp, the apple and celeriac salad is dressed with balsamic alongside the piquant orange dressing. It is a riot of flavours.

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Pan fried filo parcel of smoked ricotta with a salad of rocket & marinated fennel and a lemon zest dressing

Ziggy has chosen the pan fried filo parcel of smoked ricotta served with a salad of rocket and marinated fennel and a lemon zest dressing. The sight of the smoked ricotta oozing from the filo parcel makes us all want to try some. Neko has the carpaccio of rainbow beetroot in raspberry vinegar, served with a fine new potato salad and horseradish cream – the finely sliced beetroot comes in shades of pink, purple and orange and Neko says it looks good and tastes great.

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 Carpaccio of rainbow beetroot in raspberry vinegar with a fine new potato salad and horseradish cream

Ziggy, Neko and Rock all choose the same main course – spring warm salad.  Crispy pink fir apple potatoes, asparagus, baby carrots and pak choi served with toasted cashews, plum anise dressing and the addition of pan-fried halloumi. Washing up must be very easy here – all the plates go back looking as though they are already clean!

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Spring warm salad

In the interests of the blog, I choose something different…goat’s cheese and pecan tortellini with asparagus, spring onion and red chilli.  The tortellini pasta is top notch and everything works beautifully together.  Yet another clean plate.

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Lemongrass crème brulee with passionfruit sorbet and shortbread

For dessert Rock and Ziggy share the lemongrass crème brulee with passionfruit sorbet and shortbread. While I’m having the Tierra Queen of Puddings – layered nut sponge, marsala poached rhubarb & plums, topped with a glazed Italian meringue.  Wow!

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Tierra Queen of Puddings

If this food isn’t exciting – I don’t know what is.  One of our best meals for 2018 so far.

Dinner@The Sheppey Inn, Lower Godney

The Sheppey is an extraordinary place.  Located in the wilds of the Somerset Levels, it looks, at least from the outside, like a run down traditional old country pub.  As we approach it, even though we have booked a table for dinner, we aren’t even sure it is  open.  However, once we pulled open the door – using the old bit of rope provided – it is buzzing inside.  James Brown funk is providing the musical backdrop and I can immediately spot an interesting range of beers on tap at the bar.

Rock has a Spun Gold, a smooth golden ale from the Twisted Oak Brewery based in North Somerset. I have a Fugglestone – a really good amber ale with notes of fruit and citrus from the Salisbury based Hop Back Brewery.  So far, so good…now to examine the menu.  We eat out a lot and its not often we find ingredients that are unfamiliar.  The Sheppey has all sorts…still, I can google salmarejo, aquafaba and the rest!

 

We decide to share The Sheppey fish stew – mussels, salmon, cod, smoked haddock, parmesan, rouille all in a stew and served with an olive bread.  The mussels are absolutely fantastic but there’s nothing extra special about the rest of the stew.

 

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Rock is having the wild mushroom croquettes with pickled wild mushroom, baba ganoush and candied seeds for her main.  The croquettes are beautiful but she is unsure that the soft baba ganoush works alongside a croquette with a very soft filling.  She doesn’t like the taste or texture of the pickled wild mushroom and asks me to try it – it looks a bit like a slug and, although I’ve never tasted a slug that has been pickled, it is exactly how I imagine one might taste.

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I’m having the sirloin steak with cherry vine tomatoes, pickled cucumber, watercress and chips.  The steak is tender and full of flavour, the chips are to die for but the tomatoes really need an extra five minutes in the oven or under the grill.  I’m not a fan of the pickled cucumber.

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For dessert we are intrigued enough to try the lemon cream, preserved lemon, lemon sorbet, shortbread crumb, lemongrass foam and lemon butterscotch.  It is a work of culinary genius.  Two large slices of what appear to be frozen lemon ice cream turn out to be glazed shells that contain the lemon cream – the sweetness of the shortbread and the butterscotch combine perfectly with the tang of the lemon to create a fab dessert!

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The Sheppey is very quirky – with shades of clubland, Somerset, hippy shack, trad pub and modern art.  The service, from people who clearly love what they are doing, was superb.  The food had some real highs but also some lows. But great music, excellent beer and inventive dishes make it a truly interesting  place for a food adventure.

Lunch@The Hardwick, Abergavenny

The Hardwick is either a pub with restaurant quality food or a restaurant with the feel,  atmosphere and furnishings of a pub.  Either way, it is the place to sample the food of  one of Wales’ leading chefs – Stephen Terry.  We are here for lunch and it shouldn’t come as any surprise  to learn that our expectations are very high.

We are welcomed at the bar in the first room of The Hardwick – a room with deep leather sofas and wood panelling on the walls.  Rock chooses an elderflower pressé from Belvoir while I decide to try the Sundown golden ale from the Untapped Brewing Company – a Welsh brewery based in Raglan.  The Sundown is a refreshing golden ale with hints of sweetness and spice – very good indeed!

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The sourdough bread here is made by award winning baker Alex Gooch and it is wonderfully light and has a fantastic flavour. I want to be adventurous and so I choose the panzanella (Italian style bread & tomato salad) & puntarelle (a variant of chicory) salad with grilled halloumi.  The dish is a blockbuster of strong flavours that work wonderfully together – by the time I finish it I doubt that my tastebuds will ever be the same again.

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Rock has the roast beetroot and heritage carrots with Neal’s Yard goat’s cheese, pine nuts, grilled castelfranco (aka edible rose) and tardivo ( a variety of radicchio).  It is a beautiful dish, with texture from the pine nuts and the rich creaminess of the goat’s cheese.  If anything, there is too much goat’s cheese and it slightly overpowers everything else.

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Rock moves on to a starter size of the braised rabbit with deep fried polenta, soffrito (a braising liquor of finely chopped vegetables and olive oil) & parmesan.  The rabbit is tender and the soffrito brings everything together.  I have the pan fried mackerel with deep fried crushed new potatoes, watercress & anchovy mayonnaise, purple sprouting, chard & a lentil salsa.  My tastebuds are brought back to life by the stunning mayonnaise and the salsa which both complement the perfectly cooked mackerel. Wow!

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We’ve been overwhelmed by a myriad of flavour combinations and interesting quality ingredients.  It looks like a pub, it feels like a pub ….but it tastes far better than most restaurants!