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 Ibex Inn, Chaddleworth

Today I’m meeting Antonio at The Ibex Inn, Chaddleworth. The Ibex Inn is a country pub in a small, picturesque Berkshire village. I’ve read positive reports about their food and their chef, Kai Taylor, seems to have some interesting ideas. Antonio loves his food almost as much as I do – so this should be a great place to meet.

Antonio gets there before me and, as he is by himself, he orders a pint of Billy No Mates.  It is a very decent pale ale from Chaddleworth’s Indigenous microbrewery. When I arrive the sun is shining and so I order another beer from the Indigenous range – the Summer Solstice, even paler and refreshing on a summer’s day.

The menu consists of British pub classics with a modern twist and all the produce is sourced from within a 40 mile radius apart from the fish – which is delivered daily from Brixham. Antonio decides to try the Ibex steak burger with bacon, cheddar & fries. It is a very high quality burger, well presented with fabulous fries. He loves it.

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I want to be slightly more adventurous and ask for the curried crispy Brixham cod loin with fries and a Bombay mayonnaise. When it arrives the cod is covered in a beautiful crisp batter, with great fries and the Bombay mayo carries just the right amount of curry spices. Fantastic. Kai comes out of the kitchen to check we, and other diners, are enjoying the food. He talks to us about his approach and shows a real desire to please his customers.

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We have enjoyed our food so much that we are now tempted to try the desserts. I pick Kai’s bounty bar torte with textures of pineapple. It is artistically presented, the chocolate torte is rich, I’m pleased that the coconut element is not too pronounced and the mix of fresh pineapple, pineapple pearls and coulis are refreshing. But, overall, I don’t enjoy it quite as much as I enjoyed my main course. Antonio likes the sound of the caramel pudding & brownie sundae. When it arrives, he really likes the taste of it too.

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The Ibex Inn is a really good find. Friendly and excellent service and a clear desire to produce pub food that is better than most. We will definitely be back.

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 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!

Dinner@Rogan&Co, Cartmel

We have been looking forward to trying another Simon Rogan place ever since we had such a fantastic lunch at Roganic, his pop-up restaurant in London. Now the road trip has brought us to Cartmel, the home of two of his restaurants, L’Enclume and Rogan & Co. We are visiting Rogan & Co in Cartmel for dinner. Our expectations are high.

It is a smart place but quite relaxed and the menu looks interesting. I have a pint of the very local Crusader Gold from the Unsworth’s Yard Brewery in Cartmel. It is a very pleasant, crisp golden ale with a refreshing citrus finish.

I start with the ocean trout served with radish, pumpkin seed, buttermilk and parsley. Loads of interesting complex flavours and the trout is cooked to perfection. Rock has the butternut squash with black garlic & pork crackling. It sounds like a great combination but she finds it bland, almost tasteless.

I’m now really hoping that Rock likes her main course – gurnard with cauliflower, leek and preserved lemon. It is certainly more interesting than her starter but she finds the gurnard to be more meaty than she had hoped. We share a side of creamed potatoes which work well with my barrel rump steak, kohlrabi, mustard leaf and walnut.

Rock may not be that happy but I’m having a great time. I’m also having a glass of rioja – it is excellent and the combination of golden ale and rioja may help to explain why I’m enjoying the food more than Rock.

We decide to share the blue cheese, rhubarb and white chocolate dessert. It is the dish of the day – a fabulous combination of flavours, beautifully presented and hits the same culinary heights that we recall from Roganic.

Overall, Rogan & Co is a very pleasant place to be, relaxed atmosphere, attentive service but the food did not always meet our high expectations.