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We’ve had a busy few foodie months and, after missing out on several occasions because of date clashes, finally managed to get a place at the Bishopston Supper Club on Friday evening. This being only our second foray into the world of the secret supper club (we dined at the Montpelier Basement in November) we were excited to see how our evening with the Resting Chef would pan out.

Danielle, blogging under the alias the Resting Chef, has worked as a chef in several Bristol restaurants, including Hotel du Vin and H Bar, but now offers cookery lessons and runs the Bishopston Supper Club from her home.

Her ethos is to use locally sourced and seasonal produce to create homely and classic dishes of restaurant quality and with her own creative twist. To help achieve this aim, Danielle has a list of trusted local suppliers including Castellano’s Deli, the Fish Shop and Trethowan’s Dairy but is also often seen tweeting about her foraging efforts in Bristol’s hedgerows and undergrowth in preparation for her supper clubs and to stock up her storecupboard with preserves. No surprise then that the menu was to feature nettles, picked around St Werburghs City Farm earlier in the week.

The local connections don’t stop at sourcing the food. The Resting Chef has teamed up with newly opened Grape and Grind to provide guests with wine recommendations for each course, making it easy to stop in on the way to pick up a couple of bottles knowing that they’ll be a perfect match for the food.

There was a relaxed atmosphere in the dining room and the kitchen when we arrived. A few guests were already there and we had met another as we walked up the pathway to the house. Danielle and her sous-chef and washer-upper for the evening, Georgia, were very calm. There was plenty of time for mingling with guests whilst bringing out an aperitif of Somerset cider brandy with apple juice and our appetisers; crisp ewe’s curd and spinach filo parcels. More traditionally found filled with feta or ricotta, the ewe’s curd was a great local alternative with just the right tang needed to contrast with the irony spinach.

Once everyone had arrived and drinks were in hand we took our seats at the large communal table. It was pleasant to see couples opting to sit apart so that they could talk to more people around the table. One of the beauties of supper clubs is that opportunity to meet new people in a friendly environment and there would certainly be no uncomfortable feeling if you were to turn up on your own, as a couple of the diners did.

Our starter was a Provencal style fish soup with croutons and rouille. I thought that the fish soup would be a challenge for me as I don’t have fond memories of fish soup from childhood trips to France but I was unduly concerned. The flavour was stunning. It was rich, deep and yet still light enough to serve as a starter. Served with fillets of fish and plenty of shellfish it would have made an amazing main course. Wine recommendation: a Provence Rose.

Next up; nettles. The nettles had been blanched then sweated off to form the base of a risotto which was earthy and perfectly al dente. A few toasted pine nuts, shavings of parmesan, a drizzle of olive oil and a home-made stock which had been tended to for hours took the dish from homely weeknight supper to fine-dining. Wine recommendation: Sauvignon blanc.

I was really looking forward to the main course and the accompanying wine. It was right up my street. Braised mutton with white bean puree and greens. Danielle had chosen to cook the mutton in a good red wine with a bouquet garni and the usual stock vegetables.  Mutton has a richer, gamier flavour than lamb and when cooked long and slow, as this was, is so tender it almost melts in the mouth. The cannelini beans on which the mutton sat had been pureed with garlic, thyme and rosemary. A delicious alternative to mash potato. I’m not ashamed to say I wiped my plate clean with the freshly baked focaccia still left on the table from the start of meal. Wine recommendation: Chianti or Barbera.

There was just enough room left for a light dessert! Rhubarb and Moscat jelly with poached rhubarb, bay ice cream and shortbread. The jelly was not over-sweet and had the perfect wibble, the poached rhubarb was so intensely rhubarb flavoured and a vibrant pink and they were both complimented by the fragrant, slightly savoury bay ice cream. My first taste of bay ice cream and one I’ll be looking for again. Wine recommendation: a late harvest Riesling or Tokaji.

Danielle and Georgia, having finished in the kitchen, joined us at the table where more wine, cider brandy, tea and coffee freely flowed with the conversation into the small hours.

Bishopston Supper Club felt more like a dinner party than a restaurant-style experience and yet the calibre of the chef showed in the attention to detail, presentation, depth of flavour and quality of the cooking in every course. The best of both worlds. A fabulous evening. Compliments to the chef!

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Last night we were on the guest list for dinner at the third Montpelier Basement Supper Club where we joined 13 other Bristol foodies who’d all caught wind of this new phenomenon to hit Bristol via Twitter.

Our hosts Dan and Elly are keen cooks who have bravely decided to open their dining room to food lovers looking for a new kind of dining experience which offers restaurant quality food at a very reasonable price (a suggested donation is requested) in intimate surroundings with the ability to meet and talk to like-minded people.

The wood stove was roaring and jazz music set the tone for a relaxed evening. We were welcomed with an arrival aperitif of La Gitana Manzanilla sherry and an appetiser of sage and pumpkin gougere. A gougere is simply a savoury cheese choux pastry. These were as soft as a pillow and so very morish!

Bertinet sourdough and spelt loaf were served ahead of the starter; a parsnip, apple and chestnut soup with bitter croutons and parsnip crisp. A surprising combination of savoury and sweet with a crunch and a crisp to offset the thick velvety soup.

Our fish course was Cornish haddock with a pumpkin crust, leeks and a white wine sauce. The pumpkin was an unusual seasonal twist to this quite classic dish, the sweetness really complimenting the firm fish, leeks and rich sauce. Elly gave away her secret for the crunch atop the pumpkin crust after many of the guests had left – I’ll be making use of it myself! Thanks Elly!

Try as I might, and I have tried plenty recently, I don’t get on with steak. The texture and flavour just don’t do it for me. So I was a little hesitant about the main course but there was no way I was passing up the accompanying triple cooked chips and béarnaise sauce! The bavette, which comes from the skirt or flank is a rare cut of meat in this country but popular in France, was served rare with a good seared outer crust. I have to share with you my utter pride in having polished the lot off! Dan, that’s the first whole serving of steak I’ve eaten, well done!

Dessert was an unusual masala chai chocolate tart with medjool date and PX ice cream and a syrup of reduced PX. The tart was not to my taste but the ice cream was sublime. Given that Dan had been up most of the night before churning it by hand after the ice cream machine had given up the ghost, the result was impressive.

This was an incredible effort to simultaneously serve 15 people such high quality food from a small domestic kitchen whilst creating a lovely atmosphere and environment where online contacts but otherwise complete strangers could meet, chat and spend a most enjoyable evening. We look forward to dining with you all again.

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Like a child at Christmas I was up with the larks this morning ready to make my way across town to Whiteladies Road. Destination: RockFish Grill & Seafood Market. Reason for visit: smoked salmon tasting.

I was honoured to have been invited to RockFish to take part in a smoked salmon tasting session with a number of other Bristol foodies and bloggers. The aim of the session was to help RockFish decide on which smoked salmon to offer customers this Christmas.

Our session started with a straw poll of how many of us has ever tasted several smoked salmon in one sitting. Answer: no one. It’s not surprising, how many of us actually taste several varieties of anything at the same time, let alone a luxury ingredient such as smoked salmon? We were in for a treat.

Mitch Tonks went on to explain how best to serve smoked salmon – with a tartare of creme fraiche, dill, chopped egg and capers and not, as many of us probably regularly do, with lemon and a slice of brown bread. Something with a little sourness really compliments the fish. We were to have ours plain today since we really needed to taste the fish and mark it on its merits.

Mitch also described the curing and smoking process and told us that his own entry into our blind tasting today had been left out due to a disaster in his attempt to smoke the fish whilst frozen, a method which is apparently well used. We’ll have to look forward to Mitch’s own entry sometime soon.

We had five different smoked salmon to taste, each quite unique in its texture, colour, flavour and smell. The variety was astonishing and the vast differences between them unexpected. Once we had tasted and commented on each, Mitch and the fishmonger, Neil, told us the origin of the fish, its price per kilo, as well as how it had been cured, smoked and sliced.

After working our way through all five, cleansing out palettes with water, bread and a glass of crisp Macon-Vinzelles as we went, we were asked to rank the fish in order of preference. Here’s how I ranked them:

  1. Bloydits. This smoked salmon is from the Shetlands and priced at £31/kilo. It has a lovely, subtle cure, good texture, isn’t too oily and has a sweet smokiness to it. What stood out for me was that the taste of the smoke and the salmon melded together. With so many you often get the flavour of the fish followed by the smoke or vice versa whereas Bloydits salmon has a rounded smoke and fish flavour. Following our session, RockFish announced that this salmon will be available to its customers for Christmas. Save your pennies and treat yourself!
  2. Frank Hederman. Frank Hederman’s smoked salmon from the Clare Isle was the only Irish contender.  The smokiness of this salmon was quite sweet, almost fruity, it had a dense texture and was bright in colour owing to the fish being farmed in the wild. It was difficult to choose between this and Bloydits salmon. This was the overall favourite of the taste testers but what clinched it for me was the value for money that Bloydits offered over Frank Hederman’s. At £49/kilo, you would really need to splash out for this one.
  3. Brown and Forest. Served at the Ivy Caprice and coming in at £35/kilo, this salmon is very strongly but unevenly smoked. The smoke really penetrates the outer edges of the slices of salmon but this flavour is not carried right through the fish. A lovely texture and a strong contender nonetheless.
  4. The Valley Smokehouse. A local smokehouse supplied this very pale and lightly smoked sample. This was smoked salmon as many of us know it. It was the cheapest of the fish at £21/kilo and certainly good value for money if you are looking for decent salmon without pushing the boat out too far.
  5. Tim Croft. Tim Croft is a friend of Mitch’s and an experimenter. Tim used an unusual cure for his salmon which incorporated lemon, dill, garlic salt, onion salt and rum. This wasn’t for me, I’m afraid! The fish was very smokey and had an overpowering flavour from the cure which lingered in the mouth. It’s always good to experiment but I’m not convinced this one was successful.

Our final treat of the morning was a fish masterclass with Neil. He first showed off the array of fresh fish, much of which had been brought in from Brixham and  explained what to look for when picking fresh fish. He went on to deftly demonstrate how to dress a crab after which we tasted the sweet fruits of his labour.

Neil holds 20 minute fishmonger masterclasses every Wednesday morning and it is well worth popping along.

This was the first time RockFish have held such an event, a great opportunity for local food fanatics to get involved in the restaurant community and for restaurants to get good, honest feedback as well as test new ideas and products before they reach paying customers. I’m hoping that RockFish hold more of these sessions and that other local restaurants follow suit.

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