Lunch@The Red Lion, East Chisenbury 2017

Last time we were at the Red Lion, earlier this year, Rock had a migraine and we had to leave before we had even started our lunch…just one of those things.  The time before that we left disappointed because, after having so many fabulous meals here, we had a lunch that fell short of our very high expectations.  Now we are back wanting to have our faith in this great place fully restored!

I get into the mood for lunch with a seasonal beer.  That Old Chestnut is a dark brown smooth bitter both malty and hoppy from the Ramsbury Brewery.  Perfect for the winter.   Rock has an organic apple juice from Luscombe with soda. Now we are ready for another Red Lion food adventure!

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My adventure starts with the scallop & black pudding tortellono with swede purée, pickled pears and chicken jus.  The tortellono is made with wafer thin fresh pasta and deeply filled with a mixture of scallop and black pudding.  The swede purée is silky smooth, slices of piquant pear, herbs, baby onions, chicken jus plus additional cubes of black pudding and balls of pear all combine to make this heaven on a plate.  Wow!

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Scallop & black pudding tortellono with swede purée, pickled pears and chicken jus

No starter for Rock – she is saving plenty of space for dessert.  Her main course is pan-fried halibut with celeriac purée, poached Cox’s apples, Burbage shiitakes and a Noilly Prat beurre blanc.  The halibut is perfectly cooked, the purée and the beurre blanc bring a riot of flavours that beautifully complement the fish and the apple brings a tart, refreshing zing to the dish.  The combination of celeriac, celery, celery leaves, poached and fresh apple work incredibly well with the halibut.  She is loving it.

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Pan-fried halibut with celeriac purée, poached Cox’s apples, Burbage shiitakes and a Noilly Prat beurre blanc

I have the roast partridge with cromesqui (a small savoury croquette), potato millefeuille, parsnips, prunes, quince and sauce poivrade ( a lightly peppered game sauce).  The partridge is succulent, the potato millefeuille is one of the best potato things I have ever tasted, parsnip purée and shavings of parsnip add different textures, the prunes add sweetness and the quince its own delicate flavour.  Plus the rich depth of savoury cromesqui is a delight. If we were not in a public place we would pick up our plates and lick them clean! Omg.

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Roast partridge with cromesqui, potato millefeuille, parsnips, prunes, quince and sauce poivrade

The Red Lion has held a Michelin star since 2013 and this is due to the skill of Guy and Brittany Manning.  Guy runs the kitchen and Brittany moves effortlessly between front of house and dessert creation.  We have loved Guy’s starter and main courses, we have talked to Brittany as she dashes between tables, now we will find out if the Brittany inspired desserts live up to the exceptional standard that Guy’s dishes have set.

We decide to share the Red Lion Café Gourmand – a modest portion of five different desserts.  Served on a large piece of slate we have: a chocolate creméux; a citrus Genoese sponge with apple & créme fraîche; home-made granola with a rum punch sorbet; poached pear with a hazelnut praline ice cream; and a chocolate bark with salt, chilli, pumpkin & sunflower seeds. Rich, indulgent chocolate, incredible sorbet and flavours that are both surprising and wonderful.  Have I said wow enough times already….I don’t care.  Wow!

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Chocolate bark, poached pear with a hazelnut praline ice cream, home-made granola with a rum punch sorbet, chocolate creméux and a citrus Genoese sponge with apple & créme fraîche

As ever, the service here has been wonderful.  We were mostly looked after by Ruth who was efficient, friendly and helpful.  On our way out we stopped at the entrance to the kitchen to thank Guy & Brittany for lunch and they happily took time to chat to us about some of our recent food adventures.

To summarise our experiences of the food at The Red lion….occasionally good, regularly great, often extraordinary.  This time round…absolutely extraordinary!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lunch@Greys Brasserie, Easton Grey

We are celebrating an anniversary today – so we want to go somewhere special.  Grey’s Brasserie at Whatley Manor has a great write up in the Good Food Guide and the kitchen is staffed by the same people who produce the dishes for the Michelin starred Dining Room at Whatley Manor.  This should be a safe bet!

The place is almost deserted when we arrive and the hard floor of the restaurant gives it an almost clinical feel.  Rock enjoys a glass of the Côtes du Rhônes Visan, a rich and fruity red. I have pint of Easton Ale from Arkells Brewery – unfortunately, I find it rather flat and uninteresting.  Thankfully, other diners have started to arrive and they create some atmosphere.

I have the baked crayfish and macaroni thermidor to start.  The dish has plenty of seafood, the macaroni is soft and the sauce is packed with flavour.  A decent start though maybe lacking in the sort of culinary subtlety that I was hoping for.  Rock has the whiting goujons with tartare sauce which are crisp and tasty.

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Next Rock has the crispy duck leg with roasted pumpkin, date puree and charred onion ….except the duck leg is not crispy and the dish seems to be totally uninspiring.  I have the glazed ox cheek with spiced red cabbage, parsnip and kale.  The red cabbage and the crispy kale are really good.  However, the ox cheek is the most tasteless piece of cooked meat that I have put in my mouth for a very long time and the parsnips taste as though they were cooked several days ago and then reheated for today’s lunch.  Both main courses are taken off the bill by Marco the restaurant manager.

For dessert I take one last gamble on the brioche bread and butter pudding with plum ice cream.  It is pretty good though the plum ice cream is a slightly bizarre flavour to use with bread and butter pudding and doesn’t really work.

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This is really nothing like the experience we were hoping for…..all bets are off!

Dinner@Cantina Maya, Devizes

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.

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.

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Chocolate Fondant

A beautiful evening with wonderful friends – fantastic food, great cocktails and fabulous service from Rebecca and her team. Sometimes life is just a carnival!

Lunch@The Fox & Hounds, Wroughton

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.

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Chicken & Chorizo paella
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Marinated pork chop with fried noodles & pak choi
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Leek & feta cheese tarts

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!

Lunch@The Bell, West Overton (2)

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!

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!

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@Los Gatos, Old Town

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!