There is a distinctly multicultural, global feel about the traditional UK market town of Devizes tonight. We are here for dinner with our good friends Gino & Cosmo and it is also the night of the Devizes Carnival Parade which has an Indian theme. We pass paper constructions of elephants and cows held high in the air plus dancers and musicians festooned in multi-coloured outfits, all parading the town streets on our way to Cantina Maya – a restaurant that specialises in authentic South American food.
The carnival spirit is contagious and once inside Cantina Maya we head straight for the cocktail menu. A Caipiranha for Gino, a Plantation Punch for Rock, a Mexican Mule for Cosmo and a Rhubarb Rhubarb for me. As you might expect, we all try a taste of each cocktail….the Plantation Punch and the Mexican Mule win round one.
Gino decides to have the Queso Fundido to start – a melting pot of cheese with sun-dried tomatoes and black olives served with corn chips. Rock & I share the Quesillados de Nopales – blue tortillas filled with griddled cactus, courgette, tomato, red onion, salsa verde, coriander and with mozzarella drizzled over the top. Cosmo has the Black Bean & Avocado Tostada. The vibrant food flavours just add to the carnival atmosphere. We need more cocktails – Gino moves onto the Plantation Punch while I have a Margarita.
Next I have the Lamb Tacos – tender, slow cooked lamb in a sweet Hibiscus sauce served with potatoes & watercress in soft tortillas. Gino has the Xinxim – a Brazilian stew of chicken and prawns cooked in a mild cashew sauce with lime and coconut. Cosmo has the Fish Con Coco – cod cooked in a lightly spiced coconut sauce. Rock has the Mayan Peanut Stew – chicken cooked in a lightly spiced peanut sauce. We enjoy sampling each other’s dishes in much the same way that we enjoyed sampling all our cocktails.
Fish Con Coco
Gino and I can still find room for dessert. He has the glorious Lime & Coconut Syllabub while I enjoy the rich Chocolate Fondant served with ice cream.
A beautiful evening with wonderful friends – fantastic food, great cocktails and fabulous service from Rebecca and her team. Sometimes life is just a carnival!
Today I’m meeting Cali, Xena & Antonio for lunch at the Fox & Hounds in Wroughton. This is an old haunt for all of us but there have been some changes here – the place was completely refurbished in 2015 and the menu has been refurbished too!
Antonio and I are first to arrive and we both have a pint of Wiltshire Gold. Xena soon joins us and, as we all anticipated, Cali arrives in her own time. At this point we are sitting in the garden and we can watch Cali – hoping that she does not re-enact the infamous car parking incident which is part of our collective history.
Xena enjoys the fresh smoked chicken Caesar salad which is full of quite strong flavours. Antonio has the interesting variation on paella made with chicken and Chorizo. I’ve been drawn to the marinated pork chop with garlic, fried noodles, pak choi and a soya dipping sauce. It is enjoyable though possibly a touch too sweet for me. Cali has the leek and feta cheese tart served with a tomato and bean salad. She likes the fact that the tarts have been freshly cooked but finds the leeks a little strange.
Conversation flows about the past, the present and the future and we are all really enjoying ourselves. From my perspective, this is a small but perfectly formed group of former workmates…and we really need to meet up more often. The refurbished Fox & Hounds is much improved and the food is better too!
We first visited The Bell in West Overton in 2016. We really enjoyed the food and so we are going back for a second time to meet Jem & Sassy for lunch. The Bell is run by Hannah & Andrew McNaughton. Hannah leads the front of house team while Andrew, who has cooked at Harvey Nichols Fifth Floor and at the Oxo Tower, leads the kitchen team.
I begin by revisiting the beer I had last time – Moles Best from the Moles Brewery in Melksham. It is a malty copper coloured bitter with a hint of floral hops. No one else at our table is drinking alcohol but, without the need for liquor, they are still all in good spirits.
Curried smoked haddock & prawn fishcakes served with lime pickle and coriander are brought to the table for Jem & Sassy. They have a crisp coating, are generously filled and taste fantastic. I have the duck liver parfait with onion confit and toast. Smooth, highly flavoured parfait. Rock has the warm potato pancake with hot smoked salmon, watercress and crème fraiche. Well balanced and delicious. All good choices – what a great start!
Curried smoked haddock & prawn fishcake
Duck liver parfait
Local rabbit ragu
Pan fried fillet of sea bream
Slow braised venison
Another beer but this time I’m going to try something new. Birdman is from the Flying Monk Brewery in Malmesbury. It is a refreshing full-bodied pale golden bitter – a nice contrast to the Moles Best. Jem & Sassy not only have the same starter but the same main course. It is some sort of gentle conspiracy to give me less to write about. Their pan fried fillet of sea bream comes with roasted cauliflower, chorizo, sautéed potatoes, almonds and tomato.
I have the slow braised venison with beetroot, mushrooms and sauté potato gnocchi. The venison arrives looking like a small haggis but it is absolutely superb its rich flavour is complemented by the beetroot and mushrooms. The light and delicate gnocchi is also very good. Rock enjoys a tasty local rabbit ragu with tagliatelle, peas and basil.
A good measure of how much we like the food at any place is whether we have dessert when we don’t really need to. Rock and I share the basil pannacotta with basil wine and fresh raspberries. An unusual and very nicely flavoured pannacotta that fully passed the ‘wobble’ test. Jem has the vanilla cheesecake with blueberry confit and Sassy the warm treacle tart with clotted cream. The desserts are every bit as good as the starters and the main courses.
The second visit to The Bell has been even better than the first – partly because we shared the experience with Jem & Sassy. A third visit is definitely on the cards for us and a second for Jem and Sassy!
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.
Goat’s cheese with fennel & radish salad
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.
seared fillet of sea bass
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.
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.
I’m with Gino and, unusually, we are not heading to a curry house. Gino has gone all mediterranean on me and so we are going to Los Gatos for tapas. I’ve been to Los Gatos many times before but not since they moved into larger premises. I used to like the tight, dark squeeze of their old restaurant but it was often difficult to get in and the menu was limited.
Even though it is busy in Old Town tonight – we manage to get a table and start by ordering two bottles of a local favourite, Ramsbury Gold. A light golden ale, ideal for washing down the piquant flavours of Spain.
The menu is far broader than it used to be and we order a more than modest range of dishes: a sharing platter of cecina beef, pata negra ham, tetilla cheese, mahón cheese and pickled peppers; milhojas – layers of puff pastry filled with blue cheese & wild mushrooms; pescado borracho – hake in beer batter with saffron mayo; gambas – prawns fried in olive oil with garlic & chilli; fried aubergine chips with sea salt & honey; and a spanish tortilla (eggs not wheat).
All the dishes are good but the milhojas and the hake are fantastic. We are well looked after by Luciana – who, despite the restaurant being packed and short staffed, manages to check regularly that everything is ok and that we are enjoying ourselves……we are!
I am back at Helen Browning’s Chop House and this time I have Rock with me. We are here for lunch and the idea of a seriously good pork chop is at the front of my mind.
As we sit down to study the menu I notice the specials board and, to my dismay, at the bottom of the board there is a note saying….no pork chops! Omg. There are alternatives and to help the decision process we order some drinks – I fancy a milk stout from the Bristol Beer Factory and Rock is having an always excellent Camden Hell’s Lager.
Back to the specials board and I see a seasonal special – the Christmas burger. A burger with bacon, brie and cranberry. Rock has a standard Chop House burger. Both burgers are good – easily better than you get from the fast food outlets. My Christmas burger has fabulous bacon and beautiful brie but, I’m not entirely convinced that the cranberry is something I would go for again.
I am convinced that the Bristol Beer Factory milk stout is something I would choose again and I order a second! It is full-bodied and full of flavour.
Lunch here was a pleasant experience….I just really wanted a pork chop!
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
Sea bass fillets with leeks, vegetables and sauce vierge
Confit duck leg with creamy mash, pickled red cabbage, greens & herb jus
Treacle tart, homemade buttermilk ice cream & lemon curd
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
Glazed omelette with smoked haddock & parmesan
Tenderloin of Wiltshire pork with pickled cabbage, a malted cheek beignet, garlic sausage and mustard mayonnaise
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 16Tuns review – Dec 16
Grilled courgette, pea & Isle of Wight Tomato salad with sourdough croutons & feta cheese
Fillet of bream with black bean, corn, roasted red pepper, salsa, guacamole & tortillas
Bavette steak with roasted bone marrow, hand cut chips & salad