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Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Christmas at the SS Great Britain

Other than the suspension bridge, Bristol's other most recognisable landmark is the SS Great Britain, and both by Brunel, well if you're going to showboat using an actual boat (ship to all the salty sea dogs reading this) is a good way to go.  Our Christmas lunch this year was on board the first class dining saloon and the chance to roam about the ship after eating all we could.  The dining saloon was decorated with lots of ivy garlands and looked lovely alongside the gilded edges of the room.  This event was advertised as a Dickensian Christmas onboard the Victorian ship so some of the diners, not part of our party, dressed in Victorian fashions to enjoy their lunch, which gave a lovely feel to the meal.
SS Great Britain
SS Great Britain

We were greeted by a glass of mulled wine to cheer and warm us out of the damp and very grey outside, my first mulled anything of the season and it was pretty nice if a touch too sweet. The three course menu was mainly traditional Christmas fare, the starter, a white onion and cider soup with crispy sage and garlic croutons served with a warm roll and butter.  For me this was the weakest course of the three the croutons were plain and nothing more than toast in soup, but the soup itself was actually rather nice.
onion and cider soup
turkey dinner

The turkey was really nice and juicy helped by a flavoursome gravy although the standout was the sausage stuffing on the side, it was delicious. Even my team mate Becky who is not a big fan of roasts praised it highly. It was a shame there were no roast potatoes but actually the potato and parsnip mash was creamy and smooth and a much lighter option, which considering we still had pudding to go was a blessing.  Pudding was listed as a mandarin creme brulee with Christmas spiced biscuits.  It was a great creme brulee and although I was concerned about the mandarin flavour being too strong it was really subtle and gave it a lift. Most of us dipped the spiced biscuits in the creamy brulee when cinnamon filled biscuits met orange spiced cream it was heaven.
mandarin creme brulee
a feast of stollen and mince pies
After dessert we were all stuffed but that didn't stop me from having a little bite of stollen when the coffee was brought round. After lunch we decided to stretch our legs and Sharon and I had one goal and that was to find the dressing up box, the staff on the ship were very friendly and we located it with a minimal amount of fuss.
SS Great Britain
Brunel's handiwork
Dreams of Brunel
SS Great Britain
Should last til Christmas
SS Great Britain

So a rather nice day immersed in all things SS Great Britain and it did have a nice Christmassy feel I would recommend this event to those looking for a new direction to take the office Christmas lunch in. Hopefully the team on the famous ship will give it another go next year.  If you want any more details or anything else about the SS Great Britain visit their website.  I think this might be my last post of the year, unless I end up anywhere else before Christmas so Merry Christmas all and thanks for supporting the blog it is greatly appreciated. Now go stuff yourself with all the turkey and booze you can muster.

Monday, 9 December 2013

A Visit to Wok Cafe

Wednesday last week Jamie and I met up for a well overdue catch up dinner at Wok Cafe, which used to be Shanghai Nights. This building has been split up in to a variety of mini businesses including, a shop, karaoke, bubble tea as well as a little cafe. The cafe is a lot smaller than the old Shanghai Nights and a bit less fancy but the menu is pretty big so there is a lot to choose from.  What is rather good is that you can get a main and rice from £6 none of the dishes are over £10 so it is all in all a good budget option if you are not feeling like cooking but also not feeling like spending. 

Jamie and I ordered a pot of jasmine tea and I left the rest of the ordering up to Jamie, there were a lot of dishes I was familiar with on the menu and some that were new to me but as Jamie had been here before and she was the expert I let her guide the way. We decided to share the mixed meat crispy noodles, hotpot with Chinese sausage and preserved meat with rice, yam croquettes and some siu mai.

Wok Cafe Bristol
mixed meat with crispy noodles
Wok Cafe Bristol
siu mai
Wok Cafe Bristol
Yam croquettes
Wok Cafe Bristol
The short of it, the food impressed me. The cafe only seats about 30 people but the food you get is really rather good, hot, fresh and tasty.  I particularly liked the crispy noodles as they are not something I have very often and the varying textures in the dish are enjoyable and a little different. Yam croquettes I also love but I know they won't be to everyone's taste as the texture is quite odd but the reward of roast pork inside with a tangy sauce is a delight. 

The whole meal cost us about £13 each which for all those dishes and including drinks is an absolute bargain. I am looking forward to exploring more of the menu and trying some new dishes, there are a lot of dishes that you will be familiar with and plenty that will be new to you, so be adventurous and give some of them a try.  To have a sneaky peek at the menu check out their website.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

A Saturday Night Catch Up at Al Bacio

Last weekend our good friends Kathryn and Gavin came down to visit from London and a big catch up and as I had been dying to try Al Bacio after hearing from friends that it was rather good, I booked us in for Saturday evening.  Located in the space formerly occupied for years by Sands and after that Sahara, Al Bacio is a fairly small restaurant but the night we were there it was very busy. Rather glad to be out of the cold we were directed to our table and coats were taken. They seem to have a lot of waiting staff at Al Bacio, but for good reason because their service operation was pretty slick, friendly unobtrusive Italian waiters who seem passionate about the food they are serving and offering up the odd joke.

Having already looked over the menu several times online before our visit I had mostly decided what to order. I was impressed by how many fish dishes they offered up and not just the usual couple so definitely check out the specials menu if you are a fish fanatic. I decided to pick the calamari for starters and classic Italian dish osso buco, as I have been wanting to try it for an age. Rich went for the mixed arancini and a steak whilst all four of us shared some garlic bread pizza.
Al Bacio Bristol
garlic bread pizza
Al Bacio Bristol
Trio Fantasia (arancini)
Al Bacio Bristol
Al Bacio Bristol
Caprese Al Bacio
As you can see from the photos of the starters they like to be a little different in their presentation it is nice to see dishes in an Italian restaurant presented with a little more flair. What you will also notice is how huge the portions are, these were starters and whereas most portions of calamari are around six rings at the most there must have been nearly twenty on my plate. When my calamari arrived I did think they looked a little anemic however they were cooked perfectly, no chewiness, although I would have liked a touch more salt on the batter but I was impressed on the whole.

Rich's arancini, the trio fantasia, were so tasty I almost wish I had ordered them, in fact next time that might be on my list. Kathryn ordered the Caprese Al Bacio, like a Caprese salad but wrapped in filo, she really enjoyed it. So far so good, Al Bacio had impressed with their starters, not to mention the lovely bottle of Italian red which was warmed just to the right temperature and was a smooth accompaniment to dinner.  On to the mains...

Al Bacio Bristol
risotto Al Bacio
Al Bacio Bristol
osso buco alla Milanese
Al Bacio Bristol
steak in garlic butter sauce
Al Bacio Bristol

The veal in my osso buco was very tender it just fell apart and was full of flavour I enjoyed it, I felt the risotto alla Milanese could have done with a tad more seasoning but I would definitely order this dish again when I see it on a menu. Rich's steak was cooked exactly to order with enough garlic to keep the vampires away. Once again the portions were generous and so by the end of two courses we were stuffed although we did almost crumble in front of the profiteroles but our stomachs begged us not to.

I was impressed with Al Bacio, they offer tasty Italian food, including dishes that aren't on your typical Italian in England restaurant menus, which means you get to explore some new dishes or stick to more familiar ones if you have your favourites. The prices are also really reasonable for what you get nearly all the pasta, pizza and risotto dishes are under £10 and even the meat dishes hover around the £15 or so mark. I am looking forward to trying out their pizza next time I visit as the dough on the garlic bread was superb.  Also if you are gluten free you can be rest assured that they offer up gluten free pasta which opens up more choices to the gluten intolerant for whom usually Italian restaurants are a bit of a no go area.  A great new restaurant edition to Bristol, I urge you to check it out although booking is advisable, news has spread fast about this place. To find out more about Al Bacio visit their website.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Leftover Chicken and Chorizo Winter Pie

Hello all, it's been a while, I have no real reason other than I haven't really been anywhere new lately and have been mostly hibernating in a pile of blankets and cups of tea.  However on Sunday I made this quick pie for Monday's dinner and decided it was so good I had to share it with you. The great thing about this pie is it is pretty versatile and economical you can use up any leftovers from your roast chicken.

chicken and chorizo pie
golden delicious
You will need:
A couple of large handfuls of left over roast chicken- I would guess I had about 300-400g
1 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp plain flour
400ml chicken stock
200ml white wine
250-300mls crème fraîche
1 pack of pre-rolled shortcrust pastry (or make it yourself if you have time)
3-4 inches of a chorizo ring chopped into small pieces
1 egg for egg wash
1 tsp paprika

Optional items
leftover roast potatoes and/or carrots

I used chorizo as the other ingredient in my chicken pie to give it a bit of a boost but you can use these optional items instead if you prefer, or have them. Rich and I ate all the roast potatoes so we didn't have any of those left so the only other item in my fridge that would have worked was chorizo. So I fried up the chopped chorizo in a saucepan with the olive oil for a few minutes then I added the flour and stirred it all in with the oil. 

Next I added the stock gradually, like when you make a roux, stirring constantly then finally I added the wine and some salt, pepper and paprika. I let this bubble away until it was thick and reduced down then I took it off the heat to cool. 

Then I unrolled my pastry and halved it to cover the bottom of the pie dish. Once the sauce was cool I added the crème fraîche and chicken and mixed it all up before pouring it into the dish, I then covered it with the pastry top, whilst making sure to make a steam hole and brushing it with egg.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden on top then  serve with whatever you fancy, we just had some cabbage with ours. This is a lovely rich and comforting pie that is really easy to put together but tastes like more effort has been made, so give it a go and let me know how you get on.

chicken and chorizo pie recipe
chicken and chorizo pie

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

A Trip to Cyprus with Cyprus Kebab House

The other week Rich and I discovered a secret little gem of a restaurant and in some ways I am loathed to tell you anything about it because I want it to remain a secret to those in the know. However because I am not an unkind being I have selfishly decided to share my findings with you.  So Rich has been going through a bit of a Greek food phase and after a little searching we tracked down the Cyprus Kebab House at the bottom of St Michael's Hill.  A kebab house? I hear you cry, yes that's right, a kebab house, well kind of. As you walk through the door you are greeted by the standard kebab house set up, however at the end of the counter there are a set of velvet curtains and if you walk through those you find yourselves in a little cosy restaurant. 

It is pretty dark inside with lots of candles dotted about and a love letter to Cyprus in the paintings on the wall. It may look a little rough round the edges in terms of decor but I felt that it only added to the restaurant's allure and we both started to feel as if we were miles away from Bristol having a meal out whilst on holiday. 
Cyprus Kebab House Bristol
Greek wine
We decided to share two small starters of halloumi and hummus to begin with whilst opting for the classic kleftiko and the mixed kebab for our mains.  A lovely older couple run the restaurant and the service was friendly yet quiet, all in all really rather charmingly old school I liked it.  The starters didn't take too long to make an appearance and in tandem with a rather large basket of warm pitta breads. A tasty hummus and some perfectly grilled halloumi, not massive portions but enough to wet our appetite for the main courses.
Cyprus Kebab House Bristol
Cyprus Kebab House Bristol
Cyprus Kebab House Bristol
mixed kebab
Cyprus Kebab House Bristol
salad to share
As you can see from the photos the mains were gigantic. If you do not have a big appetite then there isn't much point in coming here my kleftiko was a whole juicy lamb shank which fell off the bone beautifully and was very well seasoned.  I gave it my best shot but even I had a potato and a bit of lamb left over by the end it was a monster of a main. Rich's mixed kebab was also glorious the home made spicy sausage and minced pork kebabs being the highlights but again he was beaten by his main.  All mains are around the £10 mark which I think is astounding value for money. Stupidly we decided to go for a pudding as well,  despite being stuffed we picked the baklava and a rum cake. The desserts were alright but nothing astounding so if you feel tempted but are too full you're not missing the best dessert on the planet.

The Cyprus Kebab House was a genuine delight it was such surprisingly good food that we can't wait to return, although it did take us two days to recover from all that food. There was only one other occupied table when we went on a Thursday evening but I have heard that the weekends get pretty busy. So now that I have shared that secret check it out, but try not to tell everyone all at once! 

Friday, 25 October 2013

Weekend Curry at Jubo Raj

Guest blog post from curry fanatic Phil where he gives you the low down on our most recent curry evening.

Lovers of curry are spoiled for choice in the vicinity of Cotham Hill, Jubo Raj, Garam Massala and Indian Ocean are all vying for your custom. After some deliberation we opted for Jubo Raj, which on a Saturday evening was busy enough to suggest it was worth trying but not so busy as to have to wait for a table.

Jubo Raj is at the more traditional end of the curry house market. The interior is pleasant enough, although the light is rather blue, and you will find all of your usual favourites on the menu. We opted to start with poppadoms and dips. They arrived warm and fresh and dips were fairly standard, although the raita was somewhat lacking in mint. Onto the main courses, Nehari Lamb was the standout dish, a lightly spiced masalla curry laced with slithers of fresh ginger. The ginger made for an interesting alternative to chili in providing the heat for the dish,  it was a cooked to perfection whilst maintaining a warming kick but without overpowering the rest of the dish.
Jubo Raj Bristol

Elsewhere the Deshi Lamb was less of a hit, advertised as a medium curry "slow cooked in lentils, green chillies, fresh herbs, spices and topped with egg and tomato" it certainly sounded the part, but ultimately it was a little bland for this curry lover. The mixed grill was described as "meaty" by the recipient, the lack of said meat left on the plate at the end of the meal suggests that it hit the mark. 
Jubo Raj Bristol
nehari lamb
Jubo Raj Bristol
deshi lamb
Lastly we enjoyed some complimentary treats with the bill, a delightful chocolate orange affair which scored very highly on my post meal chocometer. Whilst Jubo Raj may not be the best Indian restaurant on Cotham Hill, it's certainly in the top three. 

Next blog will be focusing on our visit to the Cyprus Kebab House, prepare to be amazed.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Saturday Afternoon Tea at Cox & Baloney

Afternoon tea in Bristol has been steadily making a bit of a comeback, it has definitely gained in popularity with more venues offering the service. About two Saturdays ago it was gloriously sunny and actually pretty hot, I had a date with Jamie and Jane and we were off to try Cox & Baloney on Cheltenham road.  We arrived around 2.30 and it was really busy, we had stupidly not booked a table but luckily fate was smiling down on us that day and a table was just exiting.  First off the bat Cox & Baloney is right up my street decor wise full of kitsch nicknacks and a shop next door with vintage clothing and petticoats galore. 
Cox and Baloney
wonderful record player sideboard providing the music
We sat down at a little table with mismatched chairs and a lovely chintzy tablecloth and enjoyed our surroundings. The first thing I will say is that the theme running through our visit there was the service. Everything took for ever to happen, our order was placed, then checked, then rechecked and then it arrived slightly wrong, the staff were really sweet but it all seemed a bit disordered. As I said it was really busy so it could have been an off day, however I have heard reports after  mentioning this to friends that they have had similar experiences.
Cox and Baloney menu

The menu was full of tempting delights and I kicked myself for having scoffed a bucket load of macaron's earlier in the day, for wedding food testing purposes of course, so I really didn't fancy a cream tea. Luckily Cox & Baloney have a good dose of non cakey things to please those of a more savoury tooth. Jane and Jamie both picked Ethel's cream tea tower for two and I settled on one of Thelma's toasties the mature cheddar, slow roasted ham and local chutney plus a pot of Daisy's homebrew tea, a mix of Earl grey and English breakfast.

Cox and Baloney

Cox and Baloney
Cox and Baloney
Cox and Baloney

As you can see the presentation for the cream tea was beautiful and according to the girls tasted amazing. It did make me rather jealous that I had not ordered one but there was no way my low level of sugar tolerance could take any more sugar that day. However my toastie was rather delicious, the cheddar was nice and strong, the ham thick but the pièce de résistance was that local chutney, it was sublime, forget your Branston pickle this was the real deal. It was tangy, sweet and yet very moreish, yes I realise this is just a chutney but oh what a chutney! I would love to know where this came from so if anyone has any tip offs let me know. 

Cox and Baloney
So the verdict? Cox & Baloney is a paradise for kitsch lovers like me, their food certainly cuts the mustard they just need to work on the service. However if you have no time limits do spend a leisurely afternoon in their comfy armchairs it is a wonderful way to while away the upcoming Autumnal days with a hot cup of tea in a proper teacup and saucer. I am looking forward to returning to sample the full afternoon tea experience, I shall clear a whole afternoon to devote to it's greatness. To check out what Cox & Baloney have to offer visit their website.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Marrow Pickle From Vale House Kitchen

It's cold it's getting darker of an evening, basically we're all considering hibernating about now.  The upsides are eating lots of comfort food.  One of my favourite things to do of a dark evening is open a bottle of red and consume multiple cheeses. My cheese nights are some what legendary to those of whom have sampled them, the last I think consisted of 10 different cheeses to sample from and all the nibbles that go with such a board of delights. Anyway one of the recipes I learned on my course at Vale House Kitchen was marrow pickle, now marrow is not really one of those vegetables that people get all excited about, or even seem to think about in passing, however this little recipe might change all that.

You will need (makes 1 jar - easily multiplied for stockpiling or presents)
1 inch round chunk of marrow
1 small chilli
1 tsp pickling spice
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup caster sugar

De-seed and cut of some of the tough marrow skin but leaving about a third then slice into 1 centimetre chunks, then salt the marrow and leave in a bowl for 10 minutes. Afterwards squeeze the marrow slightly to get rid of any excess water and leave it on a clean tea towel. Slice the chilli in to small rounds.  Meanwhile heat up a pan and pop in the sugar and cider vinegar, let that dissolve and then pop in all the spices and chilli, simmer until the liquid has reduced by a third.
Marrow Pickle recipe
pickling marrows
Continue to cook the marrow until tender but still crunchy, we popped a lid on top of the frying pan to help and once the liquid has thickened spoon into a sterilized jar, this should keep unopened for about 3 months. I ate most of mine the following evening with a mature cheddar cheese, it was so much better than I could have even dreamed, crunchy and with a little kick.
Marrow Pickle recipe
almost ready to be sealed
Marrow Pickle recipe
inside the pickle jar
So I urge you all to give marrow a chance, this recipe will change your mind and will really help with saving the pennies in the run up to December. Let me know how you get on with Tim's recipe and what you pair it with. I am going to give it another go in a week or so and try and convert more people to marrow. Next blog posts will be on afternoon tea at Cox and Baloney and a curry at the Jubo Raj.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Seasonal Cooking at Vale House Kitchen

Last month Sarah, from Wuthering Bites, and I were invited by Vale House Kitchen to try out a cookery course at the newly opened cookery school. We chose the one day seasonal cooking course and waited somewhat impatiently for the day to arrive. Vale House Kitchen, a country skills style cookery school is situated in a beautiful country house in Timsbury a picturesque village just 8 miles outside of Bath, and for non drivers they offer a shuttle service from Villa Magdala in Bath, which is a nice touch. To find out more about their story there is a great video here on their site that tells you their whole story of doing up the house and what they hope people will come to the school for. Before I start telling you more about my day on the course here is a photo of me and one of the Vale House Kitchen residents.

We were a class of 4, the maximum for each course is around 8-10 so you don't feel like you are being left behind at any stage and can easily ask for help before anything burns. Our course leader for the day was Tim Maddams, who after working for the likes of Mark Hix and Marco Pierre White, settled down in Devon working at River Cottage as head chef of the Axminster canteen and regularly featuring in the River Cottage TV series. Tim also runs his own creative food company called Green Sauce which you can find more about on their website. Tim is a wonderful teacher, really relaxed and so the mood of the day was fun, chatty but we also made a lot of food. I already find cooking relaxing and therapeutic, inherited from my mum she is wonderfully calm and serene in the kitchen, so I knew I was going to enjoy the day. 
Vale House Kitchen
our kitchen for the day
Vale House Kitchen

We headed upstairs to the beautifully light kitchen, the kitchen of my dreams essentially. We were greeted with mugs of tea by owner Bod Griffiths and his wife Annie, lovely friendly people, and Tim had made some gluten free drop scones to go with jam left over from one of their jam making courses. The raspberry and vanilla jam was heaven I could have eaten the whole plate, but manners restrained me from scoffing the lot.
Vale House Kitchen
Our first order of the day was bread. Now I don't know about you but I rarely even muster the energy to think about making bread. Bristol has some wonderful bakeries and it does seem like a lot of hard work, rather embarrassingly after starting I realised it wasn't at all. Tim had decided our loaf would be a white one with some rye thrown in for good measure, rustic and country style, perfect with lots of butter. Sarah meanwhile had some of the Doves farm gluten free flour and Tim was giving his best advice for a gluten free loaf, as they can be rather tricky to master.

Vale House Kitchen
after a few hours proving ready to be baked
I was rather pleased when Tim revealed that we would be making the dessert and it would be creme Catalan, something I am rather fond of but have never made. We whisked up the egg yolk (thank you hens), Yeo Valley cream and sugar and as a bonus we lined our earthenware dish with some foraged boysenberries and prepped the pud for the oven.
Vale House Kitchen
Tim advising us on creme Catalan
Whilst waiting for our dough to rise our next order of the day was a slow cooked courgette sauce to go with some fresh pasta. We watched as Tim showed us how to make a basic pasta dough, and as it's difficult  to make in small quantities for one we took some of his dough to roll out and make into shapes. I definitely got mine thin enough but when it comes to folding anything, paper or pasta I am useless, I managed to make some shapes but certainly not as neatly as everyone else.
Vale House Kitchen
To go with our home made pasta we made a slow cooked courgette dish which was a complete revelation, I have already added this to my regular mid week rotation. Courgettes are disliked by a lot of people I know, unfairly I feel, but this actually will change people's minds about them. We cooked them slow for quite a while in plenty of olive oil with lots of garlic plus rosemary until they were almost completely broken down, the flavour coming up from the pan was heavenly to a hungry me so it was food torture waiting to put the dish together. Luckily after a grating of parmesan we were ready to eat our lunch, which was just as well as my stomach was making loud lamentations.
Vale House Kitchen
How it was supposed to turn out
Vale House Kitchen
my version, not too shabby really
This was so delicious the flavour was so perfect, I made it again the other night with some added bacon and Rich, who is normally a bit unsure of courgettes, went back for seconds. A simple dinner idea that doesn't cost the earth this was possibly my favourite dish on the course, although the creme Catalan gave it some stiff competition. Immediately after lunch we started on our spiced marrow pickle, something I'd never made before and was surprised how simple it was I will go over this in more detail in the next blog post, where I will share Tim's pickle recipe for you to try at home, perfect with mature cheddar.

Our final dishes were all centred around partridge cooked two ways. We removed the legs and with tomatoes, herbs and garlic cooked them slowly for about an hour. Whilst this was cooking we popped in our loaves after their final prove. For the second way of cooking partridge we removed the breasts and seasoned and pan fried them about 1-2 minutes each side. After all that cooking we were rewarded by being allowed to eat our efforts, Bod had been busy in the kitchen downstairs making roasted rosemary new potatoes and squash to go with our partridge.
Vale House Kitchen
Tim's partridge 
Vale House Kitchen
my offering
creme Catalan with berries
blow torched by my own fair hands
Vale House Kitchen
just desserts
The meal was excellent, if I do say so myself, yes my presentation is certainly a bit more rough and ready compared to Tim's but he is a professional.  Having never been on a cookery course before I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it, it only gave me the bug to want to do some more. Vale House Kitchen offers a relaxed approach which for me really puts you at ease and it does feel like a nice family affair plus you know exactly where your food has come from, we tested Bod and he knows it all, quite the expert you see.  Also you will see below that my bread turned out rather well.
Vale House Kitchen
hearty country loaf
So if you fancy treating your food mad loved one to a course, or just feel like honing your skills, Vale House Kitchen has a great number of courses to sample all you have to do is decide which one you want. Courses start at £135 but you make a lot in your day, I was told on the jam making course they went home with a stock cupboard full of jam. Definitely somewhere I am considering sending my mum as I think it's really her thing and she'd really enjoy making some things she wouldn't normally cook. If you want to find out more about Vale House Kitchen visit their website. Stay tuned, the next blog will share the marrow pickle recipe that would be perfect for late December (I am refusing to say the word til next month) gifts. To see what Sarah made of the course read her blog post on Wuthering Bites.