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Archive for January, 2011

Harvey Nichols’ Bristol restaurant is set on the 2nd floor of the boutique department store in the Quaker’s Friars area of the modern Cabot Circus development. 

We were booked in last night on the two for one set menu dinner offer, a fantastic sounding three courses each for just £19.50. Who wouldn’t pass up on an offer like that in order to try what has been hailed as an ultra-chic, exclusive and fine-dining restaurant with all the prestige of the Harvey Nichols brand to boot? 

We didn’t get off to the best of starts, when offered water I requested a jug of tap water and was met with the response, ‘would you like a bottle of still or sparkling water?’ but it’s surely where they make up some money from guests taking advantage of the great offer.  

The description of the head chef’s menu states that dishes are ‘based on classic techniques and indulgent world ingredients, as well as the finest produce from the South West.’ This certainly came across when reading the menu, which included south coast fish, Cornish sea salt and, what I’d hope were, local fruit and vegetables. There was also a trip to Morocco among the starters, the orient in the mains and Italy in the desserts. 

The menu suggested we started with a glass of Harvey Nichols house Prosecco. A sound idea, why not? And so we did! It was a great accompaniment to our amuse-bouche of smoked salmon and cream cheese crostini. The flavour was lovely and there was an interesting addition of candied lemon zest which was simply beautiful. It’s just a shame that the crostini was not as crisp and crunchy as I’d have hoped.  

To start, I chose the lamb kidneys with mushrooms, wholegrain mustard and tarragon sauce on toasted homemade bread. The kidneys were served just pink and tender though hard to find within the mushrooms! The sauce was very tasty but the flavour of the kidneys and mushrooms were unfortunately lost as it was so robust.

The Moroccan spiced lentil soup was fragrantly spiced with cumin, but a little overpowered by the very strong garlic in both the soup and the accompanying garlic yoghurt.  

With the confit guinea fowl I’d had my eye on from the website menu missing and having already had kidney to start, I wasn’t tempted by the lamb’s liver main. The orange butter sauce with the roast fillet of gurnard put me off. I’ve had similar before and not been keen. I was unsure of the combination of the final choice but as I’d discounted the other two, it’s what we both eventually decided on. 

The spiced honey roast belly pork, butter glazed butterbeans and crisp crackling was, I felt, confused. The delightfully sticky and succulent pork had quite an oriental slant, slow cooked with star anise, fennel, cumin and coriander seeds which didn’t marry with the butterbeans.  

We chose two side dishes to go with our main course. With a side each, the portions of the main course were perfect.  The Roseval potatoes with butter and Cornish sea salt and the cavalo nero with pancetta and shallot cream were undoubtedly the best dishes of the evening though they didn’t complement the pork dish. Admittedly we chose what we fancied rather than what would go with the dishes but perhaps the waiter taking our order could have questioned our decision?

The waiting staff had, until now, been quite attentive but the arrival of a large group resulted in a slight delay before we could order dessert. Jed’s honey and cinnamon parfait with poached plums and sablé biscuit was light, creamy and smooth but I would have expected the honey and cinnamon to be more striking and was surprised to see plum on a dish in late January. 

My polenta cake was very zesty and refreshing but I was disappointed to find that the orange curd served alongside had split. I explained to the waiter that I thought the curd had split and it was good to hear that my feedback was relayed to the kitchen. We received petits fours on the house by way of an apology. I prefer mine at room temperature but am thankful that the staff at least did what they could to rectify the situation with my dessert.

For the bargain price we paid I feel guilty for complaining but, for a restaurant of this caliber, I would have thought that  the offers are there to entice people back into the restaurant when they would pay full price. Had I eaten from the à la carte menu I would have been disappointed. Perhaps another great deal will bring me back through the door to be convinced that it’s well worth going back when I want to push the boat out on a special occasion.

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The Moro Cookbook is the first of three cookery books by the chef-owners of the well-known and award-winning Moro restaurant in London, Samantha and Samuel Clark. 

The book focuses on the husband and wife team’s passion for Spanish, North African and Eastern Mediterranean food. Simple dishes with robust flavours and a Spanish influence are combined with those which are more exotic, fragrant, delicately spiced and Arabic in nature.

The combination of Spanish and North African cuisine is not a surprising one given Spain’s history. The invasion of Spain by the Moors influenced much of the Iberian Peninsula – the religion, architecture and undoubtedly the food. 

That the recipes extend from such a wide-reaching geography makes for an exciting collection to match many a mood, budget and appetite; classic tapas and mezze dishes, hearty, peasant-style meals, rich meat and offal platters, delicate fish suppers and indulgent puddings. 

Of course, there are recipes for favourites such as tortilla, chorizo al jerez (chorizo with sherry), baba ghanoush, tabbouleh and pollo al ajillo (chicken cooked with bay, garlic and white wine) but there are also some more surprising and interesting recipes like quail baked in flatbread with pistachio sauce, cod baked with tahini or bitter chocolate, coffee and cardamom truffle cake. 

Some of the ingredients are mystifying and, for anyone outside of London, could be difficult to source. The lack of photographs amongst the recipes and almost 70’s look to those which are there mean that it’s quite difficult to imagine how some of the more unusual or unfamiliar dishes should look. Don’t be put off, once past these first hurdles, the recipes are quite simple to follow and the food, for want of a better word, delicious.  

There’s a theme to many of the recipes; stages of long, slow cooking which are well worth pursuing as the result is an intensely flavoured and satisfying meal, even from the simplest of ingredients. The patatas a lo pobre (poor man’s potatoes) is just one such example, sweet, soft and extremely tasty and yet made from just a few ingredients – onions, garlic, bay, green pepper, potatoes, olive oil and seasoning. 

One of the more surprising dishes is the sopa de setas (mushroom and almond soup with fino sherry). What started out as, albeit tasty, mushroom flavoured water was brought alive and thickened by the addition of crushed almonds. 

The Moro Cookbook helps us reach a true understanding of Moorish food, an often over-looked and under-appreciated cuisine.

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Beautiful, dreamy, elegant, exquisite, summery – altogether aesthetically pleasing. Fitting descriptions of Skye Gyngell’s latest book, How I Cook.

Where her previous two books have focussed on the food from her kitchen at Petersham Nurseries Cafe in Richmond, this book, as the title suggests, is all about the food she wants to cook and eat at home; on her own, with her family or with friends. In tune with this are the ingredients for the recipes, which many home cooks will already have in the cupboard or could easily get hold of. She doesn’t stray, however, from the stress she has always placed on eating with the seasons.

Simplicity is the key to the recipes in How I Cook. Skye wants us to be able to enjoy stress-free cooking without comprising on the food, which should both look and taste stunning; whether feeding the troops in the evening, having a relaxed family meal at the weekend or entertaining.

The book has quite a unique structure. It is broken down into sections such as breakfast, Sunday lunch, midweek dinners, late-night suppers and celebration food and within each section there are several themed menu suggestions – Mediterranean flavours, retro dinner, prepare ahead, elegant and easy, midweek special or birthday celebration. The menu suggestions are just that – suggestions. Skye is clear to state that there are no hard and fast rules – the menus are dishes which she feels complement each other and will no doubt help a less confident cook understand how to pull together a balanced meal (in terms of flavours, accompaniments and courses).

Throughout the book there are helpful cookery tips, tricks, skills and advice. The introductions to the recipes provide an interesting backdrop to the menus; Skye shares a childhood memory, a family story or some food history which are all great insights into her life, work and food philosophies.

The book has an awful lot going for it and is quite simply a joy to read. I like a book that gets me drooling, that sends my brain into overdrive conjuring up my next week of meals, or simply expands my culinary horizons. It doesn’t do these things for me, but it is most definitely heart-warming.

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As we prepare to head off to stay with my parents and meet a new generation of the Lisle family, I can’t help but ponder over the food which shaped me and my life as I was growing up. My food habits have changed substantially over the years; my knowledge and tastes  have expanded (who could imagine a time when I’d turn my nose up at garlic?!), the number of ingredients available have increased and the sources of inspiration have unfolded, but there are times when I still look back to my ‘food heritage’ and hanker after the simple food from my childhood.

The trip home is at short notice and, unusually, I haven’t put in any special requests for mum’s this or mum’s that, so I sit now and wonder about what she will have prepared for when we arrive late this evening.

My bets are on chilli con carne with jacket potatoes! Mum’s chilli was a regular when we were growing up and is one of the first things I learned to cook. When we were old enough to be alone in the kitchen, my brother and I cooked alternate Saturdays – Jeremy took on the Bolognese and I took on the chilli.

Both are, as they are in many British households, still staple meals for us. Whilst my recipes have been tweaked, honed and influenced by many a chef’s cook book over the year’s and now bear little resemblance to mum’s, on occasion there’s just no beating the originals for the memories they conjure.

Another meal I can almost guarantee to be served is a roast dinner. Mum’s sure to do some pork for me, with crackling of course, and for my brother there’ll be Yorkshire puddings and/or an apple pie (I know it’ll be pie not crumble because we had crumble at Christmas!). Sunday dinner was religiously served by two o’clock and the leftover cold meat with chips followed for Monday night’s tea.

My brother and I still fight over the crinkle cut chips mum fries in the chip pan which must be older than me. I’d attempt to eat as fast I could to get in for seconds before my brother could dive in to take, what I believed to be, the lion’s share but rarely made it. There’s something about those golden fries which brings out the worst in us!

I pray that, in whatever food is lovingly provided, there’s no celery soup – I can see the frightful soup in re-used Stork pots sitting in the chest freezer even now. And thank goodness we’re far short of February half term, when after playing in the garden in the snow or on our bikes in the street, we’d come in for Heinz oxtail or cream of tomato soup for lunch. The thought of tinned oxtail soup turns my stomach now but I’d happily tuck into some Ottolenghi oxtail stew instead!

I hope that my new nephew, Archie, will receive platefuls of love and that between us we can give him as rich a culinary heritage as my brother and I received as we were growing up. Welcome to an amazing world of food, Archie!

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When I entered the Cinnamon Club competition to win two tickets to their New Year’s Eve celebration I didn’t for one minute think I’d win. I came up with my Cinnamon Club poem on the spur of the moment, in a random flash of creativity. I was truly shocked to receive an email on 29 December congratulating me on my win!

It was very unfortunate that I wasn’t able to take advantage of the prize myself. I arranged instead for my soon to be parents-in-law to go on my behalf with strict instructions to have fun and report back! They certainly enjoyed their evening and reported back in abundance. I received a blow-by-blow account, have a copy of the menu, photographs and the complimentary truffles!

Entertainment was laid on in the form of a live jazz band and an illusionist. I have to admit to being sceptical when I heard that there was an illusionist but am still in awe of the story of the rabbit trick – just how does a rabbit in a clenched fist turn into 10 bunnies when the hand is opened again?!

Food highlights of the evening were the canapes (chargrilled monkfish with chilli and lemongrass, chilli chicken sausage with masala mash, chickpea and yoghurt gnocchi with coriander chutney), the Kerala style lobster soup, the side dish of black lentils and the pistachio and cardamon kulfi.

The food was good, beautiful and well presented, delicately and expertly spiced but not sublime.  The wine list could break the bank and there is quite a high service charge to pay. Even still, I look forward to a time when I can experience the grandeur of the Cinnamon Club myself.

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