Dinner@Akentannos, Sheffield

We always prepared to try something different so, when we received a local recommendation in Sheffield’s foodie Sharrow Vale Road to try a Sardinian restaurant we thought, why not? Akentannos claims to be the first and only restaurant in Sheffield to specialise in Sardinian cuisine.

In the space of twenty minutes the restaurant goes from almost empty to almost completely full. Everyone has arrived for dinner at the same time and it soon becomes clear that the kitchen is struggling to cope. A glass of house red and a glass of prosecco take our minds off potential problems ahead.

The bruschetta with Sardinian smoked Ricotta, pine nuts and honey arrives for Rock but she finds the smokiness of the dish overpowering. She cannot eat it and profuse apologies follow plus the dish is taken off the bill. I have the baked goat’s cheese with grilled asparagus, aubergines, potatoes, courgettes and spring onions. It is really good except the whole dish has been smothered in a balsamic reduction….is a key member of the kitchen team having the night off?

We have a long wait for our next course. I have another large glass of the house red and look on as a table of impatient and hungry diners chooses to walk out. Until now very little food has been delivered to diners, but then there is a sudden change in the state of affairs.  We guess  that a senior member of the front of house team has moved into the kitchen…. and soon dishes are quickly arriving on tables.

My pappardelle with wild mushrooms, sea bass, salmon, prawns, spring onion, garlic, bottarga (cured fish roe), thyme and pecorino cheese is packed full of flavour. The pasta is well-made and there is a generous amount of quality seafood and mushrooms. Rock has the Malloreddus – Sardinian shell-shaped pasta with a sauce made from fillet of lamb, tomatoes, chilli and fennel seeds and topped with shavings of pecorino cheese. It is very tasty – both the chilli and fennel are subtle and the pecorino is mild.

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At last…we have stepped onto the island of Sardinia.

After a stormy start to our voyage, Akentannos has regained control of the tiller and delivered us to the shore!

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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@Marcus, Belgravia

Today we are having a special lunch, with close friends and family, at a very special place. Marcus is a two Michelin star restaurant in Belgravia and the flagship of the Marcus Wareing group. The kitchen is led either by Marcus himself or by joint chef patrons Mark and Shauna Froydenlund.

After a glass or two of prosecco, we are presented with an amuse-bouche of rabbit in a sort of Japanese style steamed bun. This really helps to put us in the mood for more food of the same great quality. For the first two courses, I’m sitting near Lani, Muffin and Ilia. Rock is at the other end of the table next to Gino and Sid. Rock, Muffin and I have the salmon, calamansi (a small citrus fruit), cucumber, shallot & buttermilk. Highest quality salmon in a beautifully balanced dish. Lani and Sid have the burrata (a soft Italian cheese) with pea, hazelnut and truffle cream.

For the starter and the intermediate courses we are drinking Miss Terre, Domaine de la Senechaliere – a well-structured and flavoursome white from the Loire Valley. Edda, who is the only vegetarian on the table, loves her vibrantly coloured starter of heritage beetroot, cheese mousse, pine and girolles.

For the intermediate course Ilia and I are both having the scallop, curry & apple with a roast beef dressing. It is a dish of surprisingly delicate flavours – the curry and roast beef could easily overpower the scallop but this is a skilful kitchen. Edda has the asparagus, smoked egg yolk & pickled turnip. Lani and Sid have the amazing Gigha halibut with spring beans, shrimp & dill. It is the favourite savoury dish of the day for many. 

Now it’s time to change places. Rock moves to sit between Neko and Rufus, while I move to enjoy the company of Cali & Edda. With the main course we are mostly drinking another Loire Valley wine, a gamay from Domaine Levin. This is a berry flavoured ruby red with some subtle notes of spice. Cali & Edda both have the agnolotti with almonds, Cuore del Vesuvio ( an Italian grape tomato) and rocket. Rock has the mushroom, fregola (a Sardinian soup pasta) and cauliflower served with cleverly engineered wafer thin discs (yes, discs) of consomme.

Meanwhile, the carnivores can choose between lamb and duck. Neko and I both have the Herdwick lamb with pea and mint. Apart from beautiful pieces of tender lamb there is a crispy piece of lamb breast and a roundel of confit lamb. It is superb. Rufus has the Goosnargh duck with cauliflower, mushroom & cumin…he must be enjoying it because his plate is soon clean.

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Herdwick lamb, crispy breast, pea, mint
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Goosnargh duck, cauliflower, mushroom, cumin

After several bottles of prosecco, white and red wine, an amuse bouche, starters, fish or veggie courses, and main courses…do we have room for dessert? Omg, yes. But, not before we move again. This time Rock sits between Van and Ilia while I find myself between Wanda & Ziggy.

Most people fall into the trap of choosing the warm chocolate, cacao and salted caramel ice cream – it just sounds so comforting. A breast-shaped cone filled with warm chocolate is placed in front of me and I think I’m in heaven. At least that is until I try the dessert chosen by Wanda and Geno – bergamot, meringue and iced tea. It is full of sensational flavours – it is to die for!

Finally, as if any of us want this dining experience to end, we are presented with petit-fours – a lemon parmentier and a bitter orange macaron plus packages of hand-made chocolates filled with salted caramel to take home. Wow!

The whole experience has been fantastic. Great food and exceptional service, especially from Nicole – who was looking after our table. All enjoyed with the very best of friends and family. Same time next week?

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 Artist, Bucharest

We are in Bucharest and we are looking for an unforgettable food experience. After a little research, we have settled on lunch at The Artist . Dutch chef, Paul Oppenkamp uses the kitchen at The Artist to create ‘delicious sculptures through the magic of texture, flavour and colour’. We are excited at the prospect.

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The restaurant is quiet when we arrive but it soon starts to fill up. I order a bottle of Ursus, a popular local Romanian lager. It is significantly better than other local beers I have tasted but that is not saying much – Romanian beer has not yet reached the heights of some of its European neighbours. Rock has The Artist Cocktail – a combination of lemongrass and elderflower, topped up with prosecco.  She is already enjoying herself.

The menu here is full of interesting dishes and they offer the option of spoon tasting! If you want to try all the starters, for example, they will give you a spoonful of each as your starter. Even the bread here is an event – small fresh, delicate rolls are served with olive oil foam and a special salt. Beautiful.

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Parmesan roll with olive oil foam

Then we have a dramatic amuse-bouche. Whipped brie, granola and an intense orange gel served on a bowl of dry ice and accompanied by sunflower seed crackers. Wow – great food with built in entertainment!

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Whipped brie, granola and orange gel

Unusually, Rock and I choose the same starter, hot smoked grilled trout with polenta, black garlic, onions, and whipped white cheese wrapped in a tomato gel. The trout is presented in a glass dome filled with smoke and the accompaniments are set out in a curve around the edge of the plate. Beautiful to look at and beautiful to eat.

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Hot smoked grilled trout, polenta, black garlic, whipped cheese & tomoto gel

No spoon tasting yet but it’s coming soon. Rock decides to have the white cod for her main – served with zucchini, cauliflower, eggplant and a gentle curry. It is sensational. But I’m going for spoons – I have a spoon of every main course – white cod, chicken, jumbo prawn, veal fillet, sea bass and lamb fillet. The portions give you enough to understand and appreciate the flavours of each dish but not so much as to make you feel like a glutton.

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White cod, zucchini, cauliflower, eggplant and curry.
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Spoons of lamb fillet, jumbo prawn, chicken, sea bass & veal fillet.  Bowl of white cod.

We don’t want this experience to end so, without really needing more food, we decide to share the dessert spoons. Another bit of theatre now follows. Paul comes out of the kitchen with a pestle and mortar. He places the mortar, which contains orange zest, mint and basil leaves in front of Rock. He pours dry ice over the leaves to freeze them and asks Rock to crush the leaves with the pestle. This releases the fabulous smell of mint, basil & orange and, into the crushed leaves, he drops a ball of cucumber sorbet – this is both a palate cleanser and a stunning first dessert.

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Cucumber sorbet with mint, basil & orange zest

The sorbet is followed by spoons of strawberry & white chocolate, a chocolate cigar with salted caramel and coconut and a raspberry cone with berries. Extraordinary. We draw out the experience further with great coffee and an exquisitely intense chocolate truffle.

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Spoons of salted caramel, chocolate & coconut, raspberry cone & berries, strawberry & white chocolate

The Artist is a very civilised, quiet and unassuming restaurant. The people here are polite, very helpful and very keen that their diners enjoy themselves. The food is presented in extraordinary ways and the flavours match the aesthetics. This has been one of the best eating experiences we have had anywhere in the world. It has been truly unforgettable.

Lunch@Rick Stein’s, Marlborough

The Rick Stein food empire has finally spread to Wiltshire and we are meeting our friends, Sassy & Jem, for lunch at his new restaurant in Marlborough. The Restaurant is in an 18th century listed building called Lloran House and it opened just a few weeks ago. Between us, we have experienced many of Rick Stein’s other eating establishments with some mixed results, from fabulous to poor. Here’s hoping today will be at the fabulous end of the spectrum!

Rock and Jem both have mackerel to start but prepared in different ways. Jem has the grilled mackerel fillets served with pickled autumn vegetables, chervil and chilli oil. Rock has the mackerel escabeche, fried and then marinated in olive oil, white wine vinegar and herbs. Sassy has the gigantes (giant butter beans) with tomatoes and greens. I have the crab linguine with tomato, garlic, chilli and spring onion. So far, so good.

Jem and I decide to sample the wine list. I have a glass of the Le Tuffeau, a zingy French sauvignon blanc and Jem has a glass of Rick’s own Spanish white made from viura and verdejo grapes. Both wines are very good.

Unlike everyone else at our table, I am not having fish for my main course. I have been tempted by the prospect of the pithivier filled with duck, porcini, red wine and Armagnac. The pithivier is enormous, big enough for at least two people, and served with new potatoes and cavolo nero. It is rich in flavour and tastes beautiful but, if I eat the whole pithivier, I may have to be carried out.

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Rock and Sassy both have the pan fried fillet of hake served with champ mash potato and wild mushrooms. The hake is perfectly cooked and the champ is beautifully smooth, though they would both have preferred less champ and more vegetables. Meanwhile, I am still working my way through the pithivier.

Jem is having the John Dory a la Carlina, pan fried John Dory fillets with a rich sauce of tomatoes and capers. The conversation moves from travel to books to TV and then onto live music. I’m too busy to talk though – I still have a quarter of the pithivier to deal with!

On a trip to the loo for a lie down… I discover that the restaurant is much larger than it looks from the outside. It has two floors and there are at least two dining rooms on each floor. I resist the temptation to run up and down the stairs a few times to aid the digestive process and hope that, over time, I will find a tiny space for dessert.

We continue talking and, when the time comes to order dessert, I know I should follow Rock’s lead and simply order coffee. But, I don’t. In a moment of abject greed, I order the marmalade cheesecake served with a blood orange granita. Sassy has the Riz Au Lait, a warm rice pudding with spiced pineapple – which she says is her favourite dish of the day and Jem has the crèma catalana – a catalan crème brulee.

Even though I have clearly eaten far too much today and may spend the night dreaming about a giant pie, with the wings of a duck, flying towards me…..the overall experience has been towards the fabulous end of the scale!

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!