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Archive for February, 2011

Goldbrick House hosted their inaugural Fabulous Food Night on Thursday. The theme, pig: nose to tail. There are a further five events planned, to be held once a month, covering a variety of produce such as lamb, game, seafood and steak.

They’ve been designed by head chef, Matthew Peryer, for those who love food, want to learn more and share his passion. The idea is to eat lots, and I mean lots, whilst Matthew talks about the food, how its sourced as well as the cooking methods and techniques used, some of which are traditional but oft forgotten.

The setting for the evening was the Loft Restaurant, a private dining area, where we were greeted by the chef and our waitress. Matthew briefly explained how the evening would progress, with a selection of dishes served across three ‘courses’. We would be served an ‘appetiser’ from the first two courses and were then to help ourselves from sharing platters. If we found ourselves wanting more, there was plenty more in the kitchen. 

A quick glance at the menu showed that we were in for a meaty treat and a rollercoaster ride through the animal. They weren’t kidding about it being nose to tail, the menu pretty much covered everything but the squeak. Some of it made me nervous and other dishes were firm favourites I couldn’t wait to dig into!

Our pig

Our pig was a Gloucester Old Spot which had been reared in the Cotswolds. It was actually half a pig which had been purchased by the restaurant. With only 14 of us dining, a half pig was more than enough! The Old Spot is a British pedigree breed and one of the best pigs for eating mainly due to the good layer of back fat and marbling which keeps the meat succulent and flavoursome. Pork is one of the most versatile of meats, lending itself to rapid cooking, slow braising and curing, as would be demonstrated in the menu.

Just for starters

We went straight in at the deep end with our appetiser of sauteed brains and truffled egg. This was a crostini topped with soft scrambled egg, the finely chopped brains running through it, drizzled with truffle oil and finished with delicate pea shoots. Brains have a similar consistency to egg yolk so this was the perfect way to serve them for the uninitiated! The hardest part over and it wasn’t all that bad!

To complete the course, we had a classic liver parfait, a selection of cold cuts and pork tonnato. The liver parfait was rich, buttery and incredibly smooth. A much stronger flavour than chicken liver and perhaps an acquired taste but one I’d definitely try again. 

The cold cuts consisted of prosciutto, fennel and peppercorn salami, chorizo and honey roast ham. The honey roast ham was prepared at the restaurant but the prosciutto was from Italy whilst the salami and chorizo were actually locally produced. They do make their own cured meats in the restaurant but owing to the process taking months, there was none of the home-cured produce available that night.

The head

The pork tonnato was a beautifully tender pork fillet, coated in spices including crushed peppercorns and fennel seeds, seared and served very slightly pink. Outstanding. Does it spoil it to say now that it was my favourite part of the whole meal?!

Our appetiser for the second course was crispy ear. The ear had been braised for three hours, then coated in Panko breadcrumbs and deep-fried. Crispy on the outside, almost sweet and rubbery on the inside. I’d liken it to over-cooked squid! Nothing to write home about but another one to tick off the list of strange things eaten.

This course was all about the head. We had rolled and braised head stuffed with hazelnuts, orange and rosemary, slow roasted pig head and braised cheek stew with apples and sage.

Part of the head had been boned, removed from the skin, stuffed, rolled and braised in pork stock for around five hours before being sliced and pan-fried. The head is quite gelatinous and fatty and benefits from very long, slow cooking. The pan-frying at the end helps to render and crisp up any remaining fat.

The slow roasted pig head was the remainder of the head, snout and eyeball included. The meat was tasty and tender but hard to find. The eyeball, we were told, was ‘ok’!

Braised cheeks are extremely tender and full of flavour. I’d consider them to be one of the best parts of the animal, yet extremely difficult to get hold of. One of the things which struck me most about the evening was that we take just a few prime cuts for granted and yet so much of the animal can be eaten. It’s incredible to think that not so many years ago we would have been eating the whole animal but now most of it is going to waste because so few people are prepared to put the time into the cooking.

The body

By now, we’d already consumed an astonishing amount of protein, with a little greenery and carbs on the side, but there was more. Our final course came from the body. Paprikash of hearts, liver and tongue, seared loin ballotine with black pudding, sage and spinach and slow roast belly with crackling.

I wasn’t too taken by the paprikash which had the kidney and some braised leg meat thrown in for good measure! The Hungarian style sauce was lovely but by this point, despite my best efforts, I was beaten by the offal.

The loin is the succulent eye of the pork chop. It had been butterflied and stuffed with the black pudding, sage and spinach before being poached then seared. It was definitely a dish I’d recommend with some creamy mash, gravy and apple sauce.

The belly pork had been roasting in a low oven for 24 hours. Juicy meat and satisfyingly crunchy crackling. What more is there to say?!

The tail-end?

Thankfully there was no sign of a pork-based dessert, I was stuffed, but sticking with the pig theme there was a refreshing cider sorbet to cleanse the palate.

An incredible and thoroughly enjoyable evening. Informative and plenty of food for thought. I’m looking forward to trying another fabulous feast with Goldbrick House. The question is, which one?!

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Mark Hix, British Seasonal Food. I couldn’t have received this book at a better time. Just as I was really starting to think that winter was never going to end and February’s lull of fresh and exciting home-grown vegetables would zap me of all remaining inspiration, I could at last look ahead to March with a gentle reminder of the joys to come with the start of spring. 

I felt the excitement bubbling inside of me knowing that soon purple sprouting broccoli would give rise to spring lamb, which would lead on to asparagus, broad beans, peas and then a plentiful bounty of summer produce, before we could harvest soft fruits and tuck into autumn colours and flavours. I almost felt ready to be able to look forward to next winter too, only this year armed with a month by month handbook to keep me sane. 

Hix shows us that with a dose of creativity, a bit of forethought, not too much planning, a hunt around the hedgerows or seashores and a good source of meat, fish, fruit and vegetables you can really make the most of the great British seasons. Some may see it as a romantic ideal but why not look on it as a challenge? If we open our minds, there’s no reason why we can’t achieve at least some of the food lifestyle changes he suggests. 

British Seasonal Food is about going back to our roots. It holds an abundance of useful information about ingredients, tips on working and shopping with the seasons, not to mention heaps of encouragement. Hix’s passion for British produce is addictive and really shines through in the recipes. Classics, such as faggots, are brought up-to-date, quick and simple meals like cabbage and bacon soup, are combined with the more elaborate, there are inventive demonstrations of under-used cuts of meat and fish (fish collar curry or cod’s tongues perhaps?) and every dish shows off produce at its best. All this will ensure I pull his book off the shelf at least once a month ahead of any other!

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I’m still buzzing from last night’s Mi Casa dinner. I was very excited to be heading there for the second event after the roaring success of the first, though I have to admit to feeling slightly nervous that it wasn’t going to live up to the experience we’d had on the first occasion. I needn’t have been.

I’m in awe of Kristjan, Alexis and the team behind Mi Casa. The dedication, hard work and passion they put into running the restaurant for the evening is incredible and they make it look so easy and effortless. A completely calm exterior may have been hiding a lot but it led to everyone feeling at ease, welcomed, and ultimately what I’m sure they wanted to achieve, at home.

Last night’s food followed a Moorish theme – Spanish with a North African twist – not dissimilar to one of my favourite London restaurants, Moro. It was exquisite. I’m going to simply let the photos do the talking.   

   

                         

                             

Is it out of the realm of possibility that pop up restaurants could be awarded Michelin stars? In what could be the new ‘pop up restaurant’ category, if they haven’t been met already, Mi Casa is definitely not far off meeting the five criteria considered in awarding stars: quality of ingredients, skill in preparing them and combining flavours, level of creativity, consistency of culinary standards and value for money.

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Last night was the first match in this year’s Six Nations Championship. We’d arranged to watch the match with friends at the Oxford Inn, Totterdown. Handy for us as it’s just up the road and meant a short stroll home afterwards.

Needing sustenance before the match started and the beers flowed all too well, we planned to have a quick dinner at the Banco Lounge, you can never go wrong with a burger there, but half of Totterdown had the same idea! There was no way we’d get a table let alone finish dinner in time for kick off. We needed a plan B.

We’d been told of a great kebab shop just a little further up Wells Road but in the six years we’ve lived in the area had never gone. Kebabs shops are so often given bad press and are especially unappealing from the outside. I usually steer clear. I can count on one hand the number of kebab shops at which I’ve eaten and can honestly say I’ve never touched a doner, so high praise was something I needed to tempt me in.

With few other options available I decided to bite the bullet and embrace the Friday night kebab (even if it was before beer and not afterwards!). I was not disappointed. The staff at Alwaha were friendly, welcoming and proud of their food, cooked fresh to order and served with home-made sauces. The chicken tikka was generously stuffed into warm pitta, squirted with lemon juice then topped with my choice of chilli sauce, garlic mayo, mixed salad and pickled chillies.

It was messy. It was amazingly tasty. It was just what a kebab should be. I will be going back for more. Alwaha are my local kebab heroes!

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