Saturday, 15 December 2012

(Just Like) Starting Over - Bread diary 15/12/12

Last weekend I was at a sourdough course at The One Mile Bakery. Sourdough is a mystifying process with as many theories, processes and recipes as there are bakers. My own view, as with most things, is to find what works for you and don't worry about it. I've been working with sourdough a little over the last couple of months with varying results and found the contradictory information on the internet and in my books baffling so my aim was to learn one technique that I could repeat and master, then vary as I want.

I've also been having problems in the last month or so with my loaves splitting around the side and it turns out that my shaping was at fault. This is something to work on and this first attempt is better.

I've already covered a baking course at OMB fairly comprehensively but suffice to say that it was a fun day and I feel much better equipped to make bread just like the ancient Egyptians and Californian cowboys used to!

Here is my first post course loaf, a 50/50 white and wholemeal loaf using Shipton Mill organic flour and a starter that I bought from Hobbs House bakery. His name is Gruff.



And just in case learning sourdough wasn't challenge enough, I'm also experimenting with this:


This is a baking dome that I bought from Bakery Bits last month. My oven at home is a very small fan oven and struggles with producing a good crust. The idea behind this is to use the stoneware cloche to create an oven inside an oven, creating an even the temperature and retaining moisture to produce a cracking crust and oven spring. So far my results have been mixed while trying to find the right temperature and bake time but it does always produce a marvellous crust and as you can see a high spring.


I'm starting to ponder festive bread too and I'm working on a recipe for an enriched, sweetened dough that we can eat on Christmas morning.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Spanish Eyes - La Cuina tapas review

A couple of weeks ago I took a good friend out for dinner for his birthday. His choice. He chose La Cuina, the new Catalan deli and tapas restaurant in Canton which is where Patagonia used to be. As it was a celebration I wasn't actually planning to blog it but I can't help myself, although the details (and the photos) might be a little sketchy.
La Cuina dining room
La Cuina dining room

 I follow La Cuina on Twitter and the week before they had tweeted that Wednesday is paella night, we booked in for the following Wednesday and I was a tiny bit disappointed to find out that Wednesday night is NOT in fact paella night and the owners were absent, but no matter, tapas is no second best as far as I'm concerned.
Jamon, goats cheese, salad - La Cuina
Serrano ham, goats cheese, salad - La Cuina

We ordered 2 rounds of tapas, a mix of cold tapas (cheeses, ham, olives, tortilla, breads) and hot tapas (croquettas, fried potatoes, chorizo) and a very decent bottle of cava for £17. Apart from the fact that the olives were pitted (why?!?), overall I was impressed with the quality. The fried potatoes with chorizo in particular stood out.

Fried potatoes, croquettas - La Cuina
Fried potatoes, croquettas - La Cuina


Olives - La Cuina
Olives - La Cuina



La Cuina dining room
La Cuina dining room
I liked the dining room, decked out in reclaimed church and school furniture, tastefully understated Farrow and Ball colours and a simple colour scheme in keeping with the simple but tasty food.

La Cuina - deli
La Cuina - deli
For the tapas (7/8 plates), a bottle of cava, a creme catalana and 2 pretty decent sized armagnac the bill came to £57 which I was happy to fork over. Service was attentive and friendly. This is no fine dining but is lovely simple food made with great produce.

There will definitely be a repeat visit soon but next time I'll be calling ahead to book paella!


La Cuina, 11 Kings Road, Canton, Cardiff

029 2019 0265

http://www.lacuina.co.uk/


La Cuina on Urbanspoon

Friday, 23 November 2012

Peek a boo - Hide N Sea by Celtic Manor, Cardiff Restaurant Review

2011 seemed to be the year when things popped up everywhere. Restaurants, bars, galleries, and shops all popped up and popped back down again. This is a trend that is all about being in the know and quick off the mark.

Pop ups have been praised for making use of empty shops and units and for giving less established chefs the means to make a name for themselves. South Wales has embraced the supper club trend with several examples now established, but pop up restaurants haven't seriously caught on here but that may be about to change.

Now The Celtic Manor is getting in on the act, taking over, for 4 nights only, the unit on King's Road that Mimosa occupied for approximately 30 seconds this year. Pop ups are often themed and by their nature require limited menus and Hide N Sea is more or less a direct copy of the very successful Burger and Lobster, the London mini-chain with a haiku length menu of 3 items.

We booked in for opening night, trekked through some pretty torrential rain and wind, and arrived soggy and slightly grumpy for 7.30, surprised to find ourselves at the tail end of a launch 'party' that did nothing to improve my mood. Around 30 people, dressed up to the nines, were jostling around the cramped dining area and we had to push through to get to our table. The offer to hang our wet coats up was gratefully accepted and promptly forgotten which irritated further. Subsequently placed under some pressure to order food, we continued to be jostled and were unable to hold a conversation over the din. A quick complaint to the front of house team and... the problem was swiftly and professionally resolved. The party guests who were eating were encouraged to their tables, orders taken and good humour was restored.
The Bowery cocktail
The Bowery cocktail
I ordered a drink from the cocktail menu, The Bowery (Champagne, Dubonnet, Hendricks, Angostura Bitters) £6.95, expertly made and prettily presented. The drinks here are clearly as important as the food.

To eat I ordered a Lobster Roll at £20, (Fresh lobster meat smothered in spicy Marie Rose sauce in a sweetened brioche bun, served with smoked sea salt seasoned fries and dressed side salad), which actually arrived with a gravy boat of Bearnaise sauce. Plenty of lobster, lightly sauced, a good quality roll and the fries were good. If the salt was smoked, I couldn't taste it but I didn't care. By the time I finished I was stuffed.
Lobster Roll
Lobster Roll

He ordered the 8oz Welsh Beef Burger £15 (A succulent homemade prime Welsh beef burger on a sweetened brioche bun, topped with mature Welsh Cheddar, crispy bacon, tomato, lettuce and sliced gherkin, served with smoked sea salt seasoned fries and dressed side salad) which I was informed was cooked well and very tasty.
8oz Welsh Burger
8oz Welsh Burger

The other options are basically lobsters at 1lb for £20 or 2lb for £30 with the fries, sauce and salad and this is what most people ordered.

The atmosphere inside was jovial, and adjoining tables chatted away, making for a thoroughly fun dinner experience. I have to praise the front of house staff too, organised, efficient and keen to ensure that everyone had a good time. As an advert for The Celtic Manor they did well.

If you haven't booked in, you might be lucky to get a table before Hide 'N' Sea closes, if their aim was to create some buzz I'd say they've done a pretty good job. I have no idea what the overheads are, but assuming the venture turns a profit, I'd be very surprised if they didn't pop back up somewhere else at some point soon...

Hide N Sea by Celic Manor
22nd to 25th November 2012
Formerly Mimosa Lounge, 175 Kings Road, Pontcanna, Cardiff, CF11 9DF

http://www.celtic-manor.com/Hide-N-Sea.aspx

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Heart Full of Wine - Ancre Hill Estate Welsh wine

Wales may get the occasional scorcher of a summer, but lets face it, while the rain may mean a beautiful lush green landscape, we're not exactly blessed with an overabundance of sunshine. In fact we have a 'maritime' climate, mild and damp with 1360 hours of sunshine every year against England's 1436 and at least 2000 hours in Central France. Given this, you may be surprised as I was, to learn that Yell.com lists a grand total of 13 vineyards in Wales!

Why am I looking up these riveting facts? Recently I was offered the opportunity to try some Welsh wines by Fine Wines Direct, a Cardiff based wine retailer who carry the Ancre Hill Estate. For those of you not in the know (like me), Ancre Hill is a vineyard in Monmouthshire, growing Chardonnay, Albario and Pinot Noir and the estate is biodynamically farmed.

Ancre Hill Estate Sparkling Wine
 Ancre Hill Estate Sparkling Wine
The first bottle I tried was Ancre Hill Estate Sparkling Wine £21.99 and I have to say this was genuinely a pleasant surprise. Very pale in the glass and with a pleasant citrus note, more of grapefruit lemon, this would make a lovely refereshing Christmas morning lunchtime aperitif, although at this price point, not one to slosh around in some bucks fizz! This bottle comes with a couple of awards (Silver from Decanter and Bronze from International Wine and Spirits), and I could see why.

The second bottle was the Ancre Hill Estate Pinot Noir 2010 £18.99. I wanted to love this wine after the first great bottle, but I'm afraid I couldn't. Pinot Noir is a lighter wine that is less expressive than a bolshy Shiraz, but even so I found the mouthfeel a little thin for my tastes. This wine definitely benefits from decanting to bring out some of the complexity but at the price, this one wasn't for me.

It is encouraging to see Welsh wines moving outside the 'novelty factor' bracket that they occupied a few years ago, and I'd be more than happy to serve the sparkling to guests! The rose has garnered some very positive write-ups so I'll be trying that one next. These were both still pretty young wines so it will be interesting to taste their later bottlings, particularly from the 2009 Pinot which also tasted well.

The wines were provided by Fine Wines Direct and were complimentary.

Fine Wines Direct
242 Penarth Road, Cardiff, CF11 8TU
029 2078 7500
http://finewinesdirectuk.com/




Saturday, 10 November 2012

Sherry baby - Bar 44 restaurant review

I have a confession to make. I love sherry. And no, I'm not currently sporting a blue rinse or sipping Bristol Cream from a schooner. I'm talking proper sherry. Bone dry, super cold fino or manzanilla, nutty, complex amontillado or palo cortado, or my all time favourite dessert wine, pedro ximinez, perfect with a chocolate brownie.

Despite having converted a handful of friends to the cause, most people still think I'm bonkers when I confess my love for Dot Cotton's favourite tipple, but I have found kindred spirits at Bar 44 in  Cowbridge as our Twitter conversations will attest.  I've been threatening to visit for some time, but when I learned that they were hosting a gourmet 'tapas y copas' evening with paired sherries and other Spanish wines from González Byass (£48.50) I booked in.

The evening kicked off with Rebujito’s (a fino cocktail) or Vilarnau Brut Cava NV, olives, almonds and pan catalan before we were seated communally around tables stuffed with cutlery and glasses. I was thrilled to find myself on the same table as Allison and Lucie  from González Byass, although considering the grilling about sherry and wine they received, they may have been less pleased than I was.


Smoked Anchovy, Chicory, La Peral Mousse - Bar 44
Smoked Anchovy, Chicory, La Peral Mousse

The first course of Nardín Beech Smoked Anchovy, Chicory, La Peral Mousse and crushed Hazelnuts is what the phrase 'so wrong it's right' was made for. Certainly on paper, blue cheese with oily smoked fish would just be plain wrong. However the reality was that the intense flavour of the cheese, mollified in a feather light mousse, complemented the lightly smoked fish well. This was perfectly paired with the big-hitter of the González Byass, crisp, and super dry Tio Pepe fino.


The second course of Gower Crab and Prawn Croqueta, Saffron Alioli, Tomato dressing was the course I was most anticipating and I wasn't disappointed. Beautifully crisp breadcrumbs gave way to sweet, meaty, salty prawns and crab. Utterly delicious and I could have eaten a bucketful. This was paired with Viñas del Vero Chardonnay Macabeo. Chardonnay wouldn't normally be my first choice but this wine I learned, had been spared heavy oak aging which made for easier drinking.

Gower Crab and Prawn Croqueta - Bar 44
Gower Crab and Prawn Croqueta
The third course was Calasparra Rice braised in Shellfish stock and Squid Ink, seared Hake, Green alioli and everyone agreed that this was the surprise plate of the night. The seasoning here was all with the delicious rice, the naturally mild flavoured hake treated simply and all the better for it. The course was paired with La Miranda de Secastilla Garnacha Blanca, probably my favourite and the most complex of the whites that we tried.
Calasparra Rice, Squid Ink, Seared Hake, Green alioli
Calasparra Rice, Squid Ink, Seared Hake, Green alioli
The fourth course of Baked Torta de Barros, Black Pig Sobrasada on Toast, Caramelised Shallot and Quince Relish was probably the least successful course for me, the Sobrasada toast being a touch too oily once paired with the also oily cheese. The sweet/sharp relish however was fantastic and would make a great addition to a cheeseboard. By now we had progressed to the reds and tried a Viñas del Vero Cabernet/ Merlot, quite a soft, easy wine.


Torta de Barros, Black Pig Sobrasada, Shallot and Quince Relish
Torta de Barros, Black Pig Sobrasada, Shallot and Quince Relish
The fifth course we were confidently back on form with Castilla braised Shin of Local Beef, Piquillo Pepper, Pea Purée, Pancetta, Pea shoots. Pea puree can easily be bland but this was anything but. An intense hit of sweet pea, cranked up to 11 by pea shoots was a good counterbalance to intensely savoury beef and wafer thin, crisp pancetta. This was paired with my favourite red of the night, Beronia Rioja Barrel Fermented Tempranillo. I was warned by Allison and Lucie from González Byass that this would be a special Rioja and they were right. This wine is no shrinking violet and needed to be paired with robust food that can stand up to it.

Castilla braised Shin of Beeft, Piquillo Pepper, Pea Puree
Castilla braised Shin of Beeft, Piquillo Pepper, Pea Puree
The sixth (and final) savoury course of Iberico Pork, Grilled Presa, Braised Cheek in Oloroso, Chorizo and Kale, ‘Ibérico Chips’was meal sized and I was disappointed not to be able to finish it. Special mention here has to go to the braised cheek, which was meltingly tender enough to be eaten with a spoon. I had to ask Tom what 'Presa' was, and apparently it is a specific cut from the shoulder which is suitable to light cooking and was served pink here. The course was paired with Finca Constancia Parcela 23, another soft, easy drinking red.
Iberico Pork, Chorizo and Kale, Iberico Chips
Iberico Pork, Chorizo and Kale, Iberico Chips
The dessert course read like a who's who of Spanish sweetness, Flourless Catalan Almond, Lemon and Orange Cake, Raspberry Crema Catalana, Sangria Sorbet, Turrón Ice cream, Pedro Ximenez and Raisin Ice Cream, Sweet Olive Oil and Carraway Biscuit matched with González Byass Nectar Pedro Ximinez (what else!). By this point I was insanely full and only managed a spoonful of each component. The flourless cake was my favourite, closely followed by a smooth, rich Crema Catalana, livened by sharp raspberries. For me, PX really needs chocolate to bring it alive and the syrupy consistency didn't really work with the sorbet.

This was my first visit to Bar 44 and there was some very impressive and consistent cooking on display supported by an efficient and friendly front of house team. I left feeling not only full, but satisfied, the way I do after a dinner that challenges with clever flavour and texture combinations. The imminent opening of a new bar in Penarth is an exciting development for the team, like many others, I will be watching with interest!

Bar 44, 44 High Street  Cowbridge, Vale of Glamorgan CF71 7AG
01446 776488

Monday, 29 October 2012

Smooth criminal - The Clink Cardiff review


Law and order, and specifically the role of prisons has hit the headlines recently. The UK has one of the highest prison populations in Western Europe and re-offending rates are high with half of all prisoners released re-offending within 12 months.

The Clink is a restaurant and charity whose aim is to reduce this figure by offering rehabilitation through apprenticeships in a working restaurant. Early indications from the first restaurant at HMP High Down have been encouraging with 25 prisoners graduating into full time employment and only 2 of those re-offending. So we have restaurant number 2 and it's come to HMP Cardiff. With some big names in support (Antonio Carluccio, Giorgio Locatelli and our very own Stephen Terry), and an ambitious menu , I was curious to see how well the concept worked as a real restaurant.

The Clink logo


I was unsure what to expect on arrival, and received a funny look from a chap in the street who asked where I was looking for and I replied "the prison". Walking into HMP Cardiff for the first time might not necessarily stimulate the appetite, but the new venue in Cardiff has one significant advantage over the original for customers, and that is the security level. With High Down there is an 'approval' process for booking followed by a lengthy list of do's and don'ts and security to negotiate. The Cardiff restaurant however, is open to the public.

Stepping in is a slightly surreal experience, and once inside there are a few subtle reminders that this isn't your average eaterie. The 'no photography' rule, envelopes on the table for donations in place of tips, and the sheer volume of staff to name a few. However, the dining room décor is bright, modern and feels 'high end', and the front of house team are very welcoming and I was encouraged.

The Clink Cardiff dining room
The Clink Cardiff dining room - photo supplied by The Clink
We both ordered the same 2 courses from the menu and started with Spinach and ricotta ravioli with a sage and butter sauce (£5.50). This was very good, pasta cooked well, not overdone in the slightest, with a well balanced filling and plenty of herby butter. The pasta could have been a little thinner but with pasta that good, I'm not complaining.

For the main we had the Breaded chicken balotine with confit leg, tomato croquette potato and braised lettuce served with a chive sauce (£11.25). There were components of this plate that were excellent, particularly the confit leg, deliciously savoury with sage, and perfectly seasoned. Also worthy of special praise was the chive sauce which provided a light contrast to the meat. The balotine, while well cooked and crisp was absolutely enormous and we both agreed that half the portion would have been plenty.

Lobster and crab quenelles
Lobster and crab quenelles - photo supplied by The Clink
Trio of English Apples
Trio of English Apples - photo supplied by The Clink
The service was attentive and efficient and an area that no doubt will improve quickly with practice now that the doors are open.  Where the front of house team did struggle was with the layout of the tables. In some areas these are packed in so tightly that there was a gap of less that a foot available. At one point during the meal, another diner squeezed through only to end up with their bottom planted on the table and on my cutlery! I suspect that squeezing between tables doesn’t do much for the nerves of the people learning their trade in front of the general public either.

It is clearly early days for The Clink but this is a hugely promising start with great cooking and real ambition, both for the project and for the apprentices. If The Clink can deliver on its social impact aims and offer its customers an enjoyable dining experience then we're onto a winner. I imagine that this would make a great venue for business lunches given it's proximity to the town. I'll be revisiting in January when they start a dinner service and am intrigued to see how the team will have developed their enterprise.

The Clink Restaurant, HMP Cardiff, Knox Road, Cardiff, CF24
http://www.theclinkcharity.com/cardiff/





Saturday, 27 October 2012

Ghost Town - Red Hot World Buffet Spooktacular!

This morning I went along to Red Hot World Buffet in St Davids 2 to learn about treats and fun for children's Halloween parties.

Here are their top tips for making sure that your party goes with a scary swing!

Pizza bases can be cut into shapes and decorated for a scary treat, get the kids to fill up on these before letting them loose on their trick or treat spoils!

Have a cupcake decorating competition. Prepare bowls of fresh fruit (bright red raspberries and strawberries work well), chocolate chips and jelly worms, laces and spiders for toppings. Have plenty of messy icing and cream in piping bags, use ghoulish greens, awful orange, bloodshot red and eyeball blue. Hand out some aprons and let the creativity run riot!

I am reliably informed that children love creepy cocktails, here are a couple of recipes.

Decorate the glasses with raspberry laces, skeleton straws and eyeballs made out of lychees and glace cherries.

Witches brew mocktail recipe


10ml part Melon syrup
10ml Coconut syrup
Squeeze of lime juice
Top up with apple juice


Banana blood mocktail recipe

2 scoops vanilla icecream
15 ml banana syrup
Top up with milk
Rim a glass with raspberry syrup so that it drips down the inside, then pour the mocktail into the glass.


Vampires eyeball mocktail recipe


10ml raspberry syrup
10ml mango syrup
Top up with lemonade or soda
Drizzle some chocolate syrup into a glass in patterns
Pour in the cocktail and decorate with the eyeballs









If you want to learn how to make these, then go along to the Spooktacular event on Tuesday October the 30th between 10am and 12pm.

Thanks to the team at Red Hot World Buffet for a frighteningly festive time!




Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Pull up to the Bumper - pulled lamb recipe


Was that it? Is summer over already? The weather certainly thinks so, and I am already digging out comforting recipes for autumn which is my absolute favourite time of year. 

Summer produce benefits from getting the ingredients from field to plate as quickly as possible  and from as little interference as possible . Autumn is a time for simmering, for blending more robust flavours together. If summer is basil and parsley, autumn is bay and rosemary. If summer is crunch, autumn is slurp. The recipes I want for autumn are ones that refuse to be rushed, that don’t need absolute precision weighing or cooking and that can happily blip away on or in the stove until I am ready for it.

With that in mind, there aren't many meals that make me happier than a super slow roast joint of autumn Welsh lamb which has a more intense flavour than spring lamb and revels in heavy spicing and gentle cooking.  A large pile of onions braised in the juices underneath serves instead of gravy, making this a versatile recipe for an alternative Sunday roast. Please feel free to go out for a long walk once it is safely in the oven .

What I serve this with depends on who I am feeding and what the weather is doing outside.  Sometimes I might make some flatbreads, houmous and a couscous salad spiced with harissa. For a casual lunch I often simply serve soft bread rolls and coleslaw. If it is serving as Sunday lunch on a cold, wet day then creamy root vegetable mash or crispy roasted potatoes and veg might be what is needed.

Pulled lamb (serves 6 -8)
  • Lamb shoulder - about 1.3kg
  • Onions - 4 medium
  • Cumin seeds -2 tablesepoons
  • Coriander seeds -1 tablespoon
  • Chilli flakes - 1 tablespoon (more or less, to taste)
  • Olive oil - 2 tablespoons
  • Sea salt - level teaspoon
  • Rosemary - chopped - tablespoon
  • Garlic - 3 fat cloves
  • Tomato puree - tablespoon
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 120°C
  2. Slice the onions and pile into a heavy casserole dish
  3. Pound the garlic with the sea salt, add the spices and rosemary and olive oil and combine
  4. Lamb with the spice rub
    Lamb with the spice rub
     Pat the lamb dry with kitchen roll, sit on top of the sliced onions then cover in the spice rub, massaging the meat well
  5. Pour in the wine and some water (there should be a good inch of liquid under the onions)
  6. Cover the casserole with a layer of foil, then the casserole lid (or 2 layers of foil)
  7. Place the dish into the oven and leave for at least 4 hours
  8. Remove from the oven and give a little bit of the lamb a pinch - the meat should be very, very tender and almost disintegrate underneath your fingers.
  9. Return to the oven, uncovered for half an hour to colour the lamb
  10. Remove the lamb to rest underneath some foil, covered with a tea towel
  11. The oniony, spicy mix in the bottom of the pan can be reduced on the hob to taste
  12. To 'carve', take 2 forks and shred the meat by inserting them into the joint an pulling them apart.
  13. Serve on a platter with a bowl of the onions on the side


    Pulled lamb with soft bread rolls

Monday, 3 September 2012

Deer Prudence - The Stagg Inn review

As is now traditional for my birthday, my boyfriend went in search of a convenient Michelin starred venue within reasonable distance for a slap up meal. This year he turned up The Stagg Inn, a Michelin Starred pub in Titley, Herefordshire, a mere 2 hour jaunt away (!). We booked in for dinner and to stay overnight in one of the rooms above the pub. All the Michelin starred places I had eaten at before this meal had been fairly formal 'fine dining' affairs, and given that I would rather eat my own arm than get dressed up, this sounded like my kind of place.
The Stagg Inn
The Stagg Inn

Once sat at the table we were brought some homemade salted crisps and a super sharp balsamic foam which was a fun start and certainly jolted my palette into life! A quick look at the menu and we had chosen.

To start, he had the soup, a delicately spiced curried lentil with onion bhaji. The soup was fine but the bhaji was crisp and light and I would have been very happy with a plate of those and some mango chutney.

I had the Cornish crab cake, tapenade, tomato (£8.50) which was very good. The crab cake was crispy without a hint of grease with the very strong crab nicely balanced by the tapenade and sweet tomato.


Cornish crab cake
Cornish crab cake
For main, I couldn't resist the classic Fillet of Herefordshire beef , bearnaise, watercress, mustard dressing, chips (£22.90). I ordered the fillet medium and it was a touch overdone for me, however the Bearnaise and chips were absolutely wonderful! Light, crisp and fluffy chips, the sauce rich and buttery it was hard not to lick the bowl clean.

Fillet of Herefordshire Beef
Fillet of Herefordshire Beef
Yummy chips!
Yummy chips!
He ordered the Sea bass fillet,braised fennel, coriander, dauphinoise potato (£16.90) which came with perfectly crisp skin, creamy potato and a subtle braised fennel that cut through the fish well.

Sea bass fillet with braised fennel
Sea bass fillet with braised fennel
 To finish he went for the Cinnamon doughnuts with apple puree and milkshake (all desserts at £6.50). The shake was probably the most successful component, the doughnuts were a little heavy although they did have a heady hit of cinnamon.
Cinnamon doughnuts
Cinnamon doughnuts
 I opted for the Strawberries, Black Pepper Meringue and Cream which was a sort of deconstructed Eton Mess. The meringues were melt-in-the-mouth sugariness but the black pepper was a little lost on me.
Strawberries and black pepper meringue
Strawberries and black pepper meringue

We enjoyed our visit to The Stagg Inn very much, the menu isn't particularly challenging, being full of classics as opposed to experimental gastronomy but this ties in well with the lack of pretension in the service. They seem to be very well rooted in the local community listing their suppliers on a board in the 'bar' and with a small handful of locals enjoying a pint of real ale. If I had one tiny gripe it is that I was hoping for a bit more 'pub'. In the bar area there was only one table that wasn't laid out for food and I was hoping for somewhere that we could sit and have a beer before (and after!) dinner. As it was, once we had finished eating, we shuffled off back to our room and had a whisky there instead. Such a minor point certainly didn't spoil our evening and if I was in the area again I would be very tempted to call in for a bar meal.

The Stagg Inn Titley, Kington, Herefordshire 01544 230221
http://www.thestagg.co.uk

 


Stagg Inn on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

'Flip Your Wig' - La Crêperie de Sophie review

La Crêperie de Sophie and its proprietor Loic Moinon will already be very familiar to regular Riverside Market visitors where they whip up deliciously fresh crêpes and and galettes. There is something very satisfying about a humble batter, cooked on a simple hotplate 'en plen air' and transformed into a steaming envelope of cheese and ham loveliness of a Sunday morning!

One month ago Loic opened the latest arm to his venture; a charming cafe in the High Street Arcade and since I'm already a fan of their work, I was tempted to go along and try out the broader range of toppings on offer.

La Crêperie de Sophie, Cardiff High Street Arcade
La Crêperie de Sophie, Cardiff High Street Arcade

For the uninitiated, crêpes originated in Britanny but are a hugely popular street-food across France. The crêpe is made with a batter similar to our once-a-year Shrove Tuesday pancakes which are most suitable for sweet fillings, or there is the Breton Galette mix, which is better suited for the savoury fillings.

My own preference is for the savoury galette and the menu has a good selection of fillings from the classic ham and cheese (£2.95 to takeaway) to gourmet fillings like 'L'Italiene' of parma ham, mozzarella, olives and pesto (£5.45). On asking which was their most popular I was pointed towards the 'Cocorico' - chicken, brie, cranberry, and the 'Sweet Billy' - goats cheese, walnuts, onion chutney, leaves, balsamic, both at £4.45. I'm a sucker for goats cheese, and I'm trying to eat less meat so I went for the Sweet Billy.

Un galette s'il vous plait!
Une artisan au travail
Crêpe! That looks good...
Crêpe! That looks good...

The crêpes are all freshly made to order and generously filled with quality ingredients, The Sweet Billy was well balanced, the creamy cheese cut through nicely by the balsamic and the onions adding a sweet stickiness. The simple galette was the ideal foil, allowing the filling to shine through. Apparently the Welsh tend to favour the crêpe mix but I personally think that batter would have made the overall flavour too sweet.

Crêpes - The ultimate French street food
The ultimate French street food
The galette was very filling (probably too much for me of a standard weekday if I'm honest) which does help to justify the £4.45 price tag. To be fair the quality of the product is high with as much attention paid to the pancake as to the filling. It is also possible to get a ham & egg or sugar & lemon for under £3.00, competitive pricing for an everyday lunch against an M&S sandwich. If you prefer you can also get any of the options as a salad but let's be honest, why on earth would you?!.

The sweet crêpes looked absolutely amazing, coming in tempting combinations of of fruits, creams, caramels and chocolates. The added bonus of being able to sit 'outside' in the arcade whatever the weather is a draw considering our inclement summer and I'm looking forward to returning soon and working my way through some more of the menu!

I was invited along to try out the new menu and as such the lunch was complimentary. Thanks to Loic and the team at La Crêperie de Sophie.

La Crêperie de Sophie, High Street Arcade, Cardiff,
http://www.lacreperiedesophie.com/


Tuesday, 17 July 2012

'Get fresh!' - ffresh restaurant review, Cardiff

Another weekend, another pre-theatre dinner (it's a old tough life!) but this time the destination was ffresh, the in house restaurant underneath the rather wonderful Wales Millennium Centre. ffresh has been building a good reputation in Cardiff over the last couple of years and, in keeping with the rest of the venue, is pursuing as strategy designed to encourage punters outside the pre-theatre slot with 'guest chef' and themed nights. We have been before as à la carte customers so we were looking forward to a good dinner.

When we arrived the Centre was buzzing and the bars were all full so we headed straight in to be seated. We were offered our choice of table and provided with the set menus at £18.50 for 2 courses or £22.50 for 3.

To start I ordered the Perl Las soufflé, port and fig jam and rocket salad. The twice baked soufflé was pretty good, but then I am a sucker for a soufflé. The texture was light and fluffy but the flavour was a little muted and I would have liked a stronger hit of blue cheese. I question the presentation of the brown smear of jam and the rocket salad was very tired and limp and a bit brown round the edges.


Per las souffle at ffresh
Perl las souffle at ffresh
My boyfriend ordered the 'Carmarthen ham and melon salad'. Again this was fine if pretty uninspiring. The ratio of melon to ham was probably a little off but you know what you are getting with ham and melon and this was it.
Carmarthen ham and melon salad at ffresh
Carmarthen ham and melon salad at ffresh
 For the main I had the 'Sirloin of Welsh beef, cottage pie, green beans and turnips'. The sirloin, like the salad, was a bit listless and dry, as if it had been sitting around under a heat lamp for just that bit too long. The cottage pie was decent enough, but nothing special and was frustratingly difficult to eat it out of a deep narrow ramekin dish!

Sirloin of Welsh Beef and cottage pie at ffresh
Sirloin of Welsh Beef and cottage pie at ffresh
He ordered the 'Rump of Welsh lamb with rosti dauphinoise, broad beans and peas', sweet lamb with a good gravy was pretty decent but again nothing to shout about.
Rump of Welsh Lamb at ffresh
Rump of Welsh Lamb at ffresh
As it was a set menu we decided to go for a dessert but I just didn't fancy any of the 3 options, none of them were screaming decadent to me so I went for the 'Selection of True Taste cheeses'. This was placed in front of me without ceremony and I had to call the waiter back to talk me through what was on it! The plate was made up of Perl Las, Perl Wen, Caerphilly and Y Fenni, some crumbly oat biscuits and a blob of chutney with grapes. All good quality cheese, the Caerphilly in particular was a winner, so no complaints from me.

He ordered the 'Summer pudding with Ty Tanglwyst Chantilly cream', a good example of a summer pudding, sharp berries and sweet soft cream (I think he would have preferred custard though!).

Overall we were happy with our meal but we have definitely had much better from Ffresh when we have gone as à la carte customers and on a night when there wasn't a show on. My tiny gripe is that none of what we had was cooked 'Ffresh' to order and as a result there were elements that felt a bit 'canteen-y' and this is a crying shame because this restaurant knows what it is doing. I know that for this type of menu there is a trade-off to meet the quick turnaround and the volume of covers but I would have liked to have seen a little more flair and just a bit of actual cooking instead of just plating up.

ffresh restaurant, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff,
http://www.wmc.org.uk/eatanddrink/ffresh/45151/

Ffresh Bar on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 12 July 2012

'All rise' for Introduction to Baking Bread

Once upon a time, I made a curry upon which I had lavished love and attention. I ground my own spices, marinated chicken thighs, fried and simmered and then resisted the temptation to dive straight in and allowed it to stand and 'mature' overnight.

On my way home I thought about accompaniments. Pilau rice, quality chutneys and bread. Suddenly the thought of my lovely curry being insulted by a long life, mealy, brittle naan was more than I could bear and before I knew what was happening I was Googling recipes for Indian breads and shopping for ingredients.

The result was nothing less than a revelation. Having previously dismissed bread making as 'too technical' for a mere novice like me, I was amazed both by how straightforward, and how much better this bread was in comparison to almost any shop bought bread I'd had in recent memory (The recipe I used is here in case you're interested.)

I then set about trying to make a loaf at home, with, it's fair to say, varying degrees of success. The information I found was contradictory (add oil, add sugar, knead gently, slap the dough about etc.) and a lot the recipes were far too advanced. My main problems seemed to be getting good flavour into the dough and getting the loaf to hold it's shape. Early efforts looked more like very deep pan pizzas than loaves. I was frustrated, disheartened, dejected.

Then, as if by magic, a fairy-godbaker appeared and invited me, along with Nicky from Cardiff Bites, Mark from Corpulent Capers and Nikki from Your Last Mouthful along to be the guinea pigs in a trial run of The One Mile Bakery, Introduction to Baking Bread course.

If you have read this blog before you may have seen my previous series of posts about The One Mile Bakery, a micro business which recently opened, delivering bread, soup and jams in the Canton, Pontcanna and Llandaff areas by journalist Elisabeth Mahoney. It's fair to say that I am a fan of the produce that I've tasted so far so I was curious to see whether I would be able to make bread as successfully myself.

The course promises to teach 'the basic ingredients and techniques involved in making real bread. You will make a range of breads and be given advice on key stages: kneading, proving, shaping and baking.'

Raw bread dough
'This will be delicious... honest'
As we arrived the Welsh weather was making itself felt and it was pouring down; absolutely perfect for baking. We were greeted with coffee and tea and Elisabeth grilled us about our experience of baking and any issues we wanted to solve.

 After a discussion about the realities of mass produced bread and the differences between that and homemade bread , it's impact on health and digestion, and the sheer pleasure of the alchemy of baking, our interest was piqued and it was time to get 'hands on'.

The course is structured so that you make at least 4 loaves (which you also get to take home with you!). Starting with a simple loaf (you choose your own flours) and working through a flavoured rye bread, towards Elisabeth's favourite, a tasty pain de campagne that incorporates a pre-dough left to rise overnight, the slow ferment giving the loaf bags of flavour.

The day demystified the process of baking bread for me completely, reminding me that it should all start with 4 simple ingredients:
  1. Flour
  2. Water
  3. Yeast
  4. Salt
Dough ready to bake
The simple loaf before
Freshly baked loaves
 And after
These are some of the key points that I got out of the day:
  1. Pay attention to your raw ingredients. Stoneground flours, if you can afford them, produce the best bread, retaining more nutrients and flavour and are still very cost effective.
  2. Homemade bread stays fresh for ages and even when stale it can still be toasted or frozen as breadcrumbs for cooking - you don't need the preservatives found in supermarket bread.
  3. Don't bother with so-called easy-rise yeast (this is partly where I was going wrong) Dried yeast is really no more work and produces a far superior loaf.
  4. Having weighed your ingredients carefully don't use flour to knead, it just messes up your recipe, get yourself a scraper to help handle a sticky dough.
  5. The basic processes are dead easy, and once learned, the principles can be applied in lots of ways.
  6. Play with ingredients and flavours, adding spices, dried fruits or herbs can turn one recipe into a multitude of variations.
  7. Learn to shape properly, it takes practice but creating surface tension does produce a more even shape and crumb and encourages the bread to rise rather than spread (which is what used to happen to me!)
Shaping the dough
Nikki gets to grips with a slippery rye!

Pain de campagne
Pièce de résistance - pain de campagne
The course delivered exactly what was promised and since completing it I have been able to successfully make my own loaves at home and I am very proud to say that I haven't bought a loaf from a shop since!

If you want to know any more then you'll have to go on the course yourself which I highly recommend you do! For the princely sum of £70 you will learn loads and come away with a skill for life as well as having a really fantastic and fun day. I fully intend going back later this year to complete an Introduction to Sourdough. Or maybe the Italian Breads. Or maybe both!

End of the baking class at The One Mile Bakery
Four happy, floury blogging bakers!
We were invited by Elisabeth to try out and feedback on the new course and as such the day was complimentary.
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