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
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