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Wednesday, 28 June 2017

The Inaugeral Pudding Society of Bristol

Before I went to New York I had the great honour to be invited by my friend Charlie to sample her first stab at a pudding pop up. What stemmed from a Twitter conversation amongst Bristol pudding fans soon snowballs into an idea. It was revealed that there was a distinct lack of classic puddings available to us Bristolians. So Charlie, decided to start her own tribute to great puddings of old, resurrect some classics and introduce some soon to be favourites. What was quickly first established from a poll was that treacle tart was a much longed for and hard to acquire dish so this was one of the first pudding courses to be thrown in to the ring. 

Less than 20 tickets were offered up for the first pudding society, hosted at Bristol Spirit in Easton. Run by Espensen Spirit creator Sam, who creates the most wonderful concoctions of flavoured spirits all from fresh fruit, expect to find rhubarb and custard vodka and blueberry gin. Charlie and Sam worked to create a wonderful menu of puddings and matching cocktails. An exciting prospect to those who particularly look straight at the dessert offerings on a restaurant menu or to those who are merely disappointed with the often lack of thought that goes into pudding menus, 
pudding society menu

To cleanse our palate a home made slice of sourdough toast with beetroot ketchup, goat's cheese and rocket, salty and slightly sharp. What was the most amazing thing was how good the bread was. I've often been under the impression, in fact in a hugely humorous blog post by Charlie herself on failed starter doughs, that sourdough can be quite the beast to master. But master it she has and it was just the ticket to get the tastebuds flowing for the start of our journey into Sugarland.

A British favourite to begin, a constructed Eton mess. Crispy meringues topped with booze soaked fruit and whipped vanilla cream. Just the right amount of booze on the fruit and a fluffy innard to the meringue shell. I have to confess early on that this was probably my favourite pudding of the day. It is hard to get meringue just the right texture and they evoke a deep nostalgia in me. Meringue shells with fruit and cream was often a go to pudding when I was growing up, not that puddings were a very regular thing. Spoons were licked and there was barely a plate left unscraped, but I was in a room of pudding fanatics and they were in their element.

 We weren't waiting long when the much talked of treacle tart made an appearance. The staple of the lunch room's dessert arsenal at my school, along with jam roly poly and cornflake tart,  and in all honesty it had been about then when I last had it. But banish all visions of pink or mint green custard as the expected accompaniment this individual tart was crowned with a scoop of Brozen's brown bread ice cream. An ice cream flavour first popular in the Victorian era and then in the 90s, it could well be due a renaissance. The tart was sticky and sweet but the pastry was buttery and short enough but not that it was dry and crumbly. A good treacle tart is a wonderfully comforting thing, and this was just that. Which is what a good pud should be, happiness on a plate. We voted for a pause in proceedings whilst we digested the first three courses. As I don't have a big sweet tooth I was glad because I was struggling a touch.

On to the penultimate pud. Chocolate stout cake with salted caramel and whipped mascarpone. Charlie was the first to admit this course had not gone to plan but she improvised with plating differently to accommodate and we were greeted by old fashioned mini pint glasses filled with cake and rich promises. This was my least favourite I think because I found the cake a little too heavy and rich for my tastes but the mascarpone was light and sweet enough to be divine. I made a tactical decision to leave some of this dessert to make sure I had enough space for the finale.

To finish a light last course. A gin and Prosecco jelly with rhubarb curd and fruit compote with shortbread. If anything was fighting for first place with the meringues it was this. Slightly sharp and clean tasting, Charlie should bottle that rhubarb curd and sell it. I guarantee a chorus of: "shut up and take my money" if she did. A perfect end to a pretty successful afternoon of eating. 

I realise that as a friend it can be hard to remain impartial. I think what surprised me the most was just how accomplished and organised it was for a first pop up. I don't want people reading this to think I believe Charlie to be incompetent but she is pretty quiet about her skills but I never doubted her passion. And that is what is the best thing about Bristol, it has so many people who are passionate about food but have the goods to back it up, quietly building their rep up and gaining a following on their merits. Two more pudding societies have been and gone since I visited, each one sold out and each time a couple more tickets have been made available as word spreads. If you haven't had a chance to eat your body weight in puddings there are now tickets available for the September - December societies each with different menus so get buying.

Fish and Chips at Catch22

Fish and chips, the signature British takeaway. Synonymous with seaside trips and post pub munchies. The humble chippy has made an appearance in most of our lives at some point. Fish and chips, so British it puts an appearance on every pub menu and if you watch American sit-coms it’s what they think we eat every day. However unless you are by the seaside it can be difficult to find a chippy to sit down and enjoy the crunchy golden delights at your leisure. Catch 22 opened at the bottom of Park Street earlier this year in what used to be a recruitment agency. I was invited by them last month to test out their wares and so one Wednesday evening I took one of my closest friends, Steph for a fish supper.

After sinking a pint at the nearby Hatchett, a pub where we have spent many a weekend dancing away, we headed the short distance to Catch 22. As you enter the counter and frying station are the first things that greet you and it is just like stepping into your local chippy, but with a restaurant with seating out back. The back is actually more spacious than I imagined the walls are covered with 50s B-movie posters, which greatly appealed to me as I enjoy kitsch very much. So you can happily dine whilst being watched by the creature from the Black Lagoon.

There are a number of options on the menu, the standard fare but for those looking for a healthier option they will also pan fry you some fish with garlic and herb or chilli for a bit of pep. They also have a separate fryer for gluten free fish and chips which I know can be a hard thing to track down for the gluten intolerant. A friendly waitress buzzed amongst the tables and we ordered cod and chips, the classic, and steph went for scampi and chips with some battered mushrooms and curry sauce for dipping. We waited about 15 minutes whilst we chatted away about up coming plans, the smell coming from the fryers was intoxicating to rumbling bellies such as ours. The waitress arrived with two plates filled with golden treasures and with gleaming eyes we got stuck in.




The batter on my fish was as crisp as you always hope for it to come but often are disappointed because it has come into contact with steam or rogue water from peas and become a bit too soggy.  My cod had a good batter to fish ratio and the fillet was plump and very fresh. Chips were just as enjoyable, with enough chunky fluffy ones but also some good salty crisp ones to satisfy all fried potato enthusiasts. The portions for both the scampi and the cod were generous, you certainly won't go hungry.

The only real disappointment were the battered mushrooms, no real effort to flavour these with anything that might make them sing out and worth ordering as an extra with your fish supper.  Catch 22 is definitely worth a visit, you'll be warmed by a very enjoyable British classic, that's a cut above most offerings in the city. Plus afterwards you can pop up the road for a scoop of Swoon gelato, if you have enough room that is. Although this meal was complimentary it did not sway my opinion. To find out more about Catch 22 visit their website.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Friday Night Birthday Curry at The Mint Room

A couple of weeks ago Phil had booked us a table at the Mint Room for his birthday, with mixed results, Rich takes a look over our experience there.

I don’t usually like to split reviews into ‘sections’, but the service at The Mint Room was uniquely weird that it needs its own discussion. Lazily aggressive is the best way you can sum it up. Requests for water for the table and asking for someone to come and take our drinks order would be met with agreement sounds, before our waiter would disappear, and then not come back. Ten minutes later they or someone else would reappear and we’d have to ask again. And it happened a few times.

When taking food orders, bear in mind we were eight people on a long table in a busy restaurant on a Friday night, the waiter would stand one end and shout at us, and we’d have to shout back, rather than him just stand closer to us. This lead to lots of back and forth and having to repeat, and one person inevitably getting the wrong dish. Luckily being a vegetarian, it was still a paneer dish, but very much not the right one.

 The worst, and most cringe-inducing aspect however was a female friend attempting to order a hot dish with this waiter. Asking what the hottest thing on the menu was, it took a few attempts to get something that clearly wasn’t medium heat. And then when it was agreed that the jalfrezi was the hottest thing on the menu, he was insistent (quite condescendingly) that she should only have the milder version, not the hot one. It reminded me of a time a friend of mine tried to order a drink at a bar, but the barman refused saying “No, you don’t want that. You want something sexier…” – presumably as some flunked attempt at barman-customer seduction. It didn’t work – she got bored and had a drink elsewhere - whereas this waiter-customer interaction just came across patronizingly as “I don’t think you can eat hot food”. What proved it was when another one of our group (male this time) asked for the same thing, was met with a nod and “Sure thing”.
 
As for the Food, the Mint Room menu is a decent affair, with an interesting blend of some familiar dishes (with a twist) and some lesser seen things, so it was a good opportunity to choose something a little different. We were brought two dishes of poppadom fragments with some dips for us to share, although these were removed before they were finished once we had ordered our mains, which I thought was somewhat odd. As for my main I opted for the Marinated Lamb Rumps ‘Chettinad’ Style, whilst Abby decided to go for the Chicken Lababdar, and a peshwari naan. The menu description for mine was “6oz lamb rumps marinated in freshly pounded black pepper corns and hung yoghurt, then seared over hot plancha, served with saffron Basmati rice and seasonal vegetables”. The slices of lamb was hot, and very tasty, and the bed of spiced yoghurt had a distinct and tasty flavor that went well with everything on the plate. However my seasonal vegetables consisted of just one baby carrot and two tiny heads of broccoli, and the rice seemed to consist of a lot of the sticky ‘stuck to the sides’ rice you get when using a rice cooker and leaving the rice in a bit too long. It was shame as the main event itself was very good and, a little bit different, and eminently recommendable.
 

 
Abby’s chicken lababdar was a more ‘traditional’ style curry dish but with a whole chicken breast cooked in sauce with ginger, green chillies, coriander and cream, and some rice.. It had a bit of a kick to it and actually was delicious, but as with my main there just wasn't a lot of rice. But she remarked that the naan was excellent and was perfect for mopping up any curry sauce.

One big problem with the food was that it wasn’t particularly filling – a rarity with when going out to eat Indian food, and particularly for one of us who’s missing a substantial part of stomach these days. That said what we did eat was good and I can recommend it for the food. The price is at the higher end of what you’d be happy to pay for a curry (our dishes on their own were £16 each, a pint of beer was £4.50), but the overall experience because of the service and the price means we’d be unlikely to choose to go back – especially when there is such a good selection of Indian cuisine to eat out or order in from many other venues all over Bristol. Nutmeg in the village for example is tastier and less expensive, plus the service is much more what you'd expect. To find out more about The Mint Room visit their website.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Cheering gyoza at Eatchu

When Jess at work decided she was up for a trip to St Nicks for lunch it was just the thing I needed to pick myself up out of the doldrums I’d been feeling for most of last week. We had the idea of popping our heads into Eatchu and seeing what was available and then passing through the glass arcade to find something to munch on for lunch. Well we didn’t get any further than the little premises of Eatchu, it smelled so good we decide to grab some gyoza to take back to the office.

Bristol has a great turn around of street food businesses setting up with permanent premises in a fairly short time.  Eatchu is another one of those success stories. Specialising in Japanese gyoza, or jiaozi if you are in a Chinese restaurant. These little dumplings can be filled with whatever your imagination can think of however the most common filling is pork and chive. These can be steamed, fried or both.  Eatchu have upgraded these snacks to make them into more of a meal. They have a selection of 5 different fillings, three meat and two vegan.


Eatchu has occupied a little space down Exchange Avenue diagonally opposite Trailfinders. It’s a small space but there’s enough room for a handful of people to sit in and chomp their way through their dumplings of choice. Plus the walls are decorated with kitsch Kawaii pictures which just add to the welcoming atmosphere. Plagued by indecision I asked for a recommendation. Chicken and nori butter gyoza with a portion of rice was what was suggested and it sounded delicious so I went with that. You can have as many sauces or toppings as you like. You can choose from chilli sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, enoki mushrooms and spring onions, to name a few. I adore Japanese mayo so this and chilli oil were the choices for me and Jess and I waited patiently for our gyoza to be cooked, all the while being tortured by the wonderful smells wafting over from the pans. 



 
After short wait we were handed some boxes of food, with the idea of taking them back to the office. Jess and I were overwhelmed by hunger and desire to taste the aroma that had been swirling around us whilst we waited. So we sampled just one for the road. Wow. It melted in the mouth it was sublime. The butter made it extra rich and flavoursome, I was in love. Rushing back to the office so we could properly get stuck in I discovered my rice was topped with a hefty amount of pickled ginger, nigella seeds, mayo and chilli sauce. I can honestly say that this lunch had me bouncing round the office, my mood was officially lifted. Fluffy rice with superb gyoza and toppings made for a heart soaring experience. Eatchu is getting a lot of recognition at the moment and with good reason, they offer something a little different for lunch and people should grab it with both hands. 

Six gyoza will set you back about £5-6 with £1.50 extra for rice. I just wish I was able to get my hands on these at dinner time, it's the perfect post work snack with a drink or two. To find out more visit their website.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Celebratory lunch at Pasta Loco

Pasta Loco hasn’t been open a year yet and it has already become one of Bristol’s most talked about and lusted after restaurants. The carbonara alone has become the stuff of local legend. To fully extend my birthday celebrations I decided to take two days off after the day itself to indulge in eating and spending time with Rich, cats and friends. I had earmarked Tuesday for a lunch trip to Pasta Loco. For £10 you can have two courses, or for £13 you can go the whole hog and have all three. An exceptional deal such as this required company, so when I saw Charlie was looking to celebrate news of her own we joined forces and she kindly booked a table of four. 


 The restaurant is small, but charming, so booking is definitely advised for the evening. However if you find yourself passing by on a lunch time you will probably be lucky to pop in and find a free table. Lunchtimes offer a simple 3 choices per course on the menu which keeps indecision to a minimum. We were welcomed in very warmly from the rain and swiftly set about choosing our lunches, after ordering a round of drinks of course. Birthdays call for Prosecco so naturally I indulged. A selection of local beers are available such as Wiper & True and Lost and Grounded so you will be in good company when it comes to hops.

 

My choices from the menu were easy to make, starting with something fairly light I opted for the roasted beetroot with goats curd and rocket. I also ordered some of the focaccia which I was informed, was still warm from the oven. My main was the option that had me particularly excited. Fettuccine with tomato, mascarpone and n’duja. N’duja is a little bit of an obsession of Rich and mine. This smoky and spicy salami is often found in the form of a spreadable pasta often stored in oil, great on pizza or in pasta. However it’s not often on many menus so as soon as I find a dish that has it in, I am there.

 

 My starter was simple but tasty. The creamy curd worked wonderfully with the earthy beetroot. Having said that it only made me more hungry for my fettuccine that was on route. My will power was strong enough to leave some of that springy focaccia to mop up any leftover sauce.  Not too long after were were brought steaming bowls of pasta. All of us, bar Chris who went for the linguine with mussels, had ordered the fettuccine. A nice sizable heap of pasta sat in front of me with a healthy grating of Parmesan on the top. The smell was intoxicating, although that could have had something to do with the Prosecco. Pasta has long been a source of comfort for me, there is never a time when it won’t perk me up at least by 25-50%. 


 

 Fork in hand I stabbed a chunk of n’duja and started twirling the nearest orphaned strand of pasta. I don’t really have enough superlatives in which to describe how much I enjoyed this bowl of fettuccine. Creamy, tangy and spicy. It was perfection that’s all I can say really. I am still thinking about it now almost two weeks later, already thinking about when I can take a week day off just to get a fix of their pasta. I had some good news this week at work and I think this calls for booking up an evening here to celebrate. 

 

To find out more about Pasta Loco visit their website

Friday, 3 March 2017

Time for Pho

Pho is a dish that originated in Vietnam traditionally consisting of an aromatic beef or chicken broth with rice noodles, meat, beansprouts and fresh herbs. Usually you’ll find a selection of sauces to mix into your pho for extra flavour and spice. Pho is the healthier relative of ramen. It’s not something I’ve had regular contact with partly because of the expected presence of a great deal of coriander and also the availability of Vietnamese food in Bristol is quite small, but having walked passed Pho a number of times and heard mostly positive things I decided to take a punt.  Kym and I were well over due a catch up so we picked this spot for lunch. Pho is a chain of just over 20, mainly London based, restaurants providing an entirely gluten free menu or options to make gluten free. Most bowls are under £10 so it’s a good place to go on a budget of an evening. 

pho 
The tables are populated with lots of Pho paraphernalia, fish sauce, pickled chillis, sriracha hot sauce and chilli oil so you can season your Pho to however hot or not you wish.  Wanting to get started on the eating part we made up our minds fairly swiftly I opted for a  Phở tái chín; steak and brisket pho with a starter of crispy squid. Kym meanwhile went for the Phở đặc biệt; prawn, steak and tofu in garlic beef broth plus a starter of spring rolls, with your dip of choice, which in Kym’s case, was satay.
 
Our starters arrived fairly promptly, which was just as well because we were tipping over into hanger. I was advised to squeeze my lime wedge into a pot of flavoured salt and fresh chilli with a quick mix this was a delightfully fresh dip for the small bites of crispy tempura squid.  Spring rolls are often something that is denied to the gluten free but not at Pho. Crispy rice paper rolls stuffed full of pork and veggies, and a creamy nutty satay dip to compliment them, these were some of the best spring rolls I’ve had in a long time. The portion is generous and will satisfy any craving, gluten free or otherwise.
 

 

Our Pho arrived after a bit of a wait and two large steaming bowls were set in front of our widening eyes. The herbs, chilli and beansprouts are thoughtfully placed on a plate so you can add as much or as little to your pho as you wish.   As we both like fairly spicy food we added all the chilli and set about sampling most of the aforementioned pho accoutrements so each of our bowls had a delightful kick. I was particularly impressed with the brisket, it was tender and melted in the mouth. The steak wasn’t as full flavoured as the brisket but with the additions I had made to my bowl it didn’t matter too much. I was hugely impressed with the food at Pho. The service was a touch slow and inattentive at times but it wasn’t bad enough to stop me from returning, which I did the following week with Jane after work. 
 


Pho offers something a little different for lunch in the centre. I would hesitate to recommend going in a lunch hour if you have a deadline but if you have enough time to while a way a lazy lunch it’s an excellent option  and I am looking forward to slurping up my next bowl. To find out more about Pho visit their website.

Monday, 13 February 2017

New Menu from The Burger Joint

Last week Rich and I were invited to the launch of the new Burger Joint menu. The Burger Joint is a bit of a Bristol institution.  Born in 2009 on Cotham Hill in a tiny restaurant with about 20 covers, owner Dan Bekhradnia and his team serve up create your own burgers with a choice of about 30 toppings. This proved hugely popular and soon Dan was looking for a larger venue, so when Planet Pizza vacated their Whiteladies premises it proved to be kismet. Fast forward  to 2017 and you can find branches in Bedminster and Fishponds. 

To keep up with the increasing trend of people moving over to vegetarian and vegan diets and choices the Burger Joint has refreshed their menu with some new vegetarian and vegan picks. You can also find some new hardshakes, alcoholic milkshakes, I first came across these at The Diner in London several years ago. There are some suggested combinations, but Dan encourages people to make up their own from their selection of ice cream and spirits. I chose vanilla, salted caramel and dark rum and very tasty it was too, not too thick so it doesn’t fill you up too much before your burger.

As well as the pre-existing veggie joint and the, much celebrated, mushroom with garlic and herb burgers, veggies and vegans can now order the vegan joint or the gluten free beetroot and feta burger. There is also the addition of vegan cheese to top your burgers with as well as over 10 meat free toppings. We got to sample the new beetroot and feta burger patties and I have to say they were excellent. Full of flavour the chopped basil really added something special. I think it would surprise meat eaters everywhere. I think adding these as a falafel optional side dish would be a winner because having to choose between the patty options is just too difficult.
beetroot and feta burgers
Another key item added to the menu is the truffle and Parmesan fries. I had my eyes on these from the off and Dan brought out dishes of these to share between pairs. I am not normally much of a fry person, more a chunky chip girl. Fries can be limp and flavourless, this was not the case here. Crisp golden fries with a good grating of Parmesan and a dash of truffle flavour coming through. Rich and I were fans and these disappeared in the blink of an eye. 

Once sampling of some of the new items had finished we were encouraged to tick our orders on one of the Burger Joint tick box forms.  I tend to have a standard order which is the beef burger topped with brie, blue cheese and chilli con carne, it’s tried and tested and remains to be creamy, spicy and messy all in one bite. However I thought I should try some different toppings, so I went all veggie with my toppings but sticking with the beef. So guacamole, roasted peppers and the newly added smoked Applewood cheddar crowned my Ruby and White sourced patty.


I am never disappointed when I go to the Burger Joint and this night was no exception. Dan knows his burgers and you will always leave feeling full. Unlike many burger places one side is included in the price so you can choose between a saintly salad, fairly sensible sweet potato chips or go full out with onion rings, as well as the normal fries you’d expect from a burger place. Like Dan and his staff who have welcomed so many Bristolians already, the new menu makes room for veggies and vegans alike to feel more at home. So if you’ve not paid a visit to one of the Burger Joints in a while, go check it out, and take your veggie friends with you. To check out the new options head to their website.