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!

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Dinner@Box E, Bristol

Creating a restaurant in a shipping container appears to be a fashionable trend.  We are joining the party by heading to Box E on Bristol harbourside to meet our good friend Thorkell for dinner.  Box -E has Elliott, a former head chef at the Michelin starred L’Ortolan, in the kitchen. I say kitchen, Elliott cooks in one corner of the box, only feet from the diners.  His partner, Tess, leads a small front of house team.  This tiny restaurant, with only 14 seats, has had some rave reviews recently.  It really is time to see if eating while encased in a metal box is a good idea.

All the beers here are local and Thorkell has a Hop Hand Fallacy – a citrusy farmhouse ale from the Bristol brewers Lost and Grounded. I have a PMA from the Moor Beer Company, also based in Bristol, which is one of the best pale ales I’ve tasted recently.

I start with the crisp hispi cabbage with crab and lemon butter. It is delicate and very enjoyable. Thorkell bravely tries  the salt baked & pickled turnip with truffle and powdered cep.  I say bravely, because I’m not a big fan of turnips or truffle, but he loves it.  Rock decides not to have a starter – after enjoying quite a lot of the home-made bread we were given once we had taken our seats!

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 Hake with curried lentils and cauliflower

Rock and I both have the hake with curried lentils and cauliflower.  The hake is perfectly cooked and surrounded by intense curry flavours that manage to enhance the hake without overpowering it.  Thorkell has the breast and confit leg of duck with spelt and rainbow chard.  The duck breast is suitably pink and it soon becomes clear that Thorkell is enjoying his food as much as we are.

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Breast and confit leg of duck with spelt and rainbow chard

 

Rock is more than ready for dessert and has the chocolate mousse with salt caramel and peanuts.  The mousse is rich and intense, sweetened by the caramel, and with crushed peanuts providing crunch. Thorkell has the vanilla pannacotta with caramelised figs.  Unlike truffle and turnip, these are two of my favourite things and Rock is amazed when I don’t choose this as my dessert.  Thorkell loves it as much as I would have if I did not have an unstoppable desire for cheese…

Sheep’s Tor and Cornish Gouda are served with a sweet and zingy quince jelly plus the most extraordinary celery salt crackers.  Both are semi-hard cheeses, contrasting in flavour but each one is very good.  The crackers were clearly home-made and the best biscuits for cheese I have ever tasted….and I’ve tasted a few.

Dinner in this shipping container was a great experience.  It has been fantastic to catch up with Thorkell. The dishes here are combinations of interesting ingredients and they are very well executed.  Every dish is cooked to order, the beer is very good and the service is excellent – it really is a box of delights!

Lunch@Carters, 2017

We are with our good friend Douglas and returning to another of our favourite places – Carters in Moseley.  This is a place where you are almost guaranteed to find eating experiences that you have never had before!

There is another new beer for me to try, the Heathen Pale Ale from the Northern Monk Brewery, it is a bold and fruity IPA with tropical notes that will probably work well with the wide variety of flavours that are about to hit my palate.  It is a set lunch menu here with alternatives only provided for those with particular dietary requirements.  We begin with a variety of snacks: chicken liver cereal; Porthilly oyster cooked in beef fat; house charcuterie; and a kohlrabi, pine and salad burnet.

The chicken liver cereal is fantastic – the light chicken liver paté works beautifully with a variety of toasted cereal.  The oyster is interesting.  There is far too much fat on the house charcuterie for any of us to really enjoy it.  And the kohlrabi peaks with salad burnet are an interesting palate cleanser.  Rock, who will not put an oyster in her mouth, is given an Evesham salad as an alternative and a pair of agricultural scissors to eat it with.  The salad appears to be a pot of cress.  She trims off a few stems, it is actually a pot of micro herbs… but it is a little bizarre!

The next course is pine mushroom porridge with Moliterno al Tartufo.  Moliterno is a hard Italian, truffle laden sheep’s cheese served with a small wooden spoon (which we all found to be distracting).  The dish is essentially a highly flavoured mushroom risotto.  It is very good.

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Pine mushroom porridge with Moliterno al Tartufo

The fish course is Cornish monkfish with artichoke, kale and smoked bacon fat.  My  monkfish is firm but Rock and Douglas both think their fish has been overcooked.  The artichoke puree is very smooth, the kale gives texture and the bacon fat gives flavour.

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Cornish monkfish with artichoke, kale and smoked bacon fat

Next we have highland grouse with beetroot and elderberries.  The dish is vibrant in colour and flavour.  The beetroot and elderberries make the soft breast purple and the breast is complemented by the crisp texture of the confit leg.

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Highland grouse with beetroot and elderberries

Dessert is a fig leaf ice cream (the second fig leaf ice cream we’ve had in two weeks – see The Woodspeen) with cobnuts from the Augernik Fruit Farm.  The sliced cobnuts sit on a crisp caramel that covers the ice cream.

Coffee is served with a strong, dark and delicious chocolate ganache, spiced salt and water mint.

Overall, we’ve enjoyed our third visit. The setting is serene and the service is excellent.  However, we much preferred Carters when the menu gave diners some element of choice – as on our first visit.  On our second visit, we enjoyed the food but found the coffee making process a little pretentious.  This time round, the food seems to be heading in the same direction as the coffee!

 

Lunch@The Woodspeen (take 5)

The Woodspeen is currently our favourite place to eat.  It is rare to find a place that is relaxed and informal yet consistently delivers food, drinks and service of the highest quality.  We are here for our fifth visit with great confidence that lunch will be outstanding.

Sitting in the bar, Rock orders a Raspberry Crush made by Luscombe, served with a cocktail stick of fresh berries.  I have a Cavalier Golden Ale from the Two Cocks Brewery. These are served with a bowl of home-made crisps.  The crush, the ale and the crisps are all top notch.

We move into the restaurant for our starter of quail breast and crispy leg with chicory & orange jam and a cauliflower puree. We are sharing the starter and, one of the things we love about The Woodspeen is that, when you share a dish, they don’t just give you one plate and two sets of cutlery.  They carefully divide the food onto two small plates and dress it – so you receive a proper but smaller version of the original dish.  The quail is superb.

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Quail breast and crispy leg with chicory & orange jam and a cauliflower puree

Next I have the roasted cod with pancetta, cavolo nero, girolles, onions and a cep puree.  The fish is perfectly cooked, the pancetta and cavolo nero bring texture and flavour and all the other elements of the dish work together – it tastes fantastic. Rock has the pan fried sea trout with baby gem, peas and horseradish potato. Another perfectly cooked piece of fish, another fabulous dish.

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Roasted cod with pancetta, cavolo nero, girolles, onions and a cep puree
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Pan fried sea trout with baby gem, peas and horseradish potato

Brown sugar custard with wholemeal crumble, blackberries and a berry sorbet is Rock’s choice for dessert.  I have the tarte of fig and hazelnut with fig leaf ice cream.  Both desserts are sublime.  This is followed by great coffee and petit fours.

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Brown sugar custard with wholemeal crumble, blackberries and a berry sorbet

The whole experience has been as outstanding as we had hoped.  The food has been extraordinary, the service from restaurant manager André and his team has been exceptional.  This consistency of quality is remarkable – every time we come here they manage to wow us!

 

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!

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?