Saturday, 29 May 2010
Aqua is a South West based chain with two branches in Bristol (Clifton and Welsh Back) and one in Bath. Their Welsh Back restaurant jostles for attention amongst the other popular river/harbour side venues. Parking was relatively easy to come by as the single yellow lined streets become a free for all after 6pm. We arrived in good time for our 8pm booking, just in time to see a hen party - complete with pornographic sailors outfits - dance their way through Aqua's door. My heart sank but I tried to remain positive - one hen party wouldn't spoil a lovely quiet meal with friends. Well, yes, maybe one wouldn't. As it happened, we were seated squarely between three separate gaggles of scantily clad hens. Fifty screaming girls on the lash combined with an already stuffed restaurant and topped off with loud music did not make for a relaxing and chilled out atmosphere; we could barely hear ourselves think, let alone get into the banter.
Our waitress seemed to be taking the whole thing in her pride; unpromptedly bringing me a jug of water for the bunch of flowers that I'd been given. Very thoughtful! We decided on sharing a Doppia Flatbread (£4.30) to start with a bowl of olives (£3-ish) to get us started. The glorified pizza was very hot and fine - pretty garlicky if nothing else - while the olives were a little soft and soggy with no real flavour. Not a good start.
For mains, we had a bit of a selection among the four of us. Tagliatele Gorgonzola (£9.75) which seemed to feature none of its namesake cheese. My Ravioli ai Crostacei (£12.25) had shell in which at least proves that it contained some lobster even if I did nearly break a tooth while The Boy's Grigliata di Pesce (£16.95) was a cacophony of overcooked, griddled-within-an-inch-of-its-life seafood. The only dish that didn't disappoint was the Rissotto all Zucca (£9.95).
Needless to say that we decided against pudding, partly because of the dismal standard of our mains and partly on principle on seeing Torta ingelese caramellata. Translated: sticky toffee pudding. Traditional Italiana, innit? As The Boy very rightly pointed out, we'd come out for Italian, not "ingelese"! We wandered instead to Graze, only a few minutes away on Queens Square. They didn't bat an eyelid at our late arrival and our demands for sweet things. They seated us sharpish and we swiftly chose Eton Mess pour moi and the Chocolate Plate for The Boy (he's always had impeccable taste...) while our friends went for a selection of sorbets and a banofee Cremé Brulee. Everything was very tasty and we shall definitely be returning. The less said about about Aqua, the better, but Graze is definitely somewhere we'll be returning to.
Puddings: around £5
Graze can be found 63 Queens Square, Bristol, BS1 4JZ.Tel: 0117 927 6706
Friday, 28 May 2010
The Lido seems to be the current culinary "place to be" in Bristol. Having read Jay Rayner's uncharacteristically glowing review in The Observer and an equally chirpy article in the Metro, The Boy very kindly booked a table for two.
Stepping across the threshold from the car-crammed residential street and into the Lido world was like finding a gate into a secret garden. Our waiter seems to melt a little as he describes it as an "oasis", recognising the awe-struck delight on our faces as we enter. The entire building seems to lean into the central space with its raised, infinity-edged pool lined with candy-striped be-curtained cubicles. The whole place reeks of contemporary, but not necessarily cliched "modern", style. Simply laid back, good quality design at its best. The restaurant itself, being on the first floor, has an amusing vista of the pool being on the first floor. You're able to eye-ball the swimmers as they go about their business; an interesting ice-breaker or, if you know each other through-and-through like The Boy and I, great for people spotting.
The service was very good; prompt but unhurried and so very friendly without being over the top. The high street seems to be infected with this insincere salesman-esque exaggeration of "friendly". A brittle veneer of "chatty"; a poor approximation of the real thing. It's all "How are you today!?" or "Have a nice day!!". Not here. The waiting staff were genuine and thoughtful without stifling us.
We consulted the menu. On first glance, our impression was positive. Simple, almost sparse, featuring only five mains and ringing with seasonal produce. The Boy went for a Scallop and Asparagus with Hollandaise starter while I chose the Squid with Harrisa. While we waited, a plate of fresh bread with good olive oil materialised. A nice touch though I found the bread (homemade, natch) a little heavy. Our starters arrived, nicely presented and undoubtedly fresh though we had a few niggles. Forgive me for a moment but The Boy's £9 starter featured only two scallops and four minuscule spears of the spring-time good stuff. Now, we were armed and ready for a luxurious celebratory meal with a price tag to match (easy for me to say considering that it was The Boy's treat!) but this, to me, seemed a little mean. A scallop starter usually consists of three scallops, no? My squid was just slightly overdone in places, rendering it chewy rather than melt in the mouth soft. This wasn't enough to prevent me from clearing my plate, I must admit. The harissa was zingy and delicious and despite my gripes on portion size, it was an appetiser, leaving us wanting more.
Our mains followed; oak-roasted poussin with a sumptuous broad bean salad for him and lamb rump with a bulgar wheat and cabbage pilaf for yours truly. Both meals were good; everything was perfectly cooked and seasoned but, for some reason, it seemed to miss the 'wow' factor. I wonder now if this was because of the amazing setting; a fantastic atmosphere that is a feast for the eyes but dwarfs the taste buds. Or, the cynical side of me chimes, they've become complacent, lazy even, following their recent golden press though I doubt this.
It almost seemed like the mains were lacking a certain something that would lift the dishes and bring them together. I wouldn't hurry back for a second helping tomorrow but I think I will return given time. I would love to wander by the pool and spend some time in the spa. I would also like to try the poolside café bar to see how this compares to the upstairs restaurant. I won't be highlighting The Lido as a culinary highlight of Bristol for food alone though it is well worth a visit for the atmosphere. You can tell that the place has history and I like that but there is definitely something undefinable that stops it being a perfect all-rounder
A few tips if you are curious and want to explore The Lido for yourself... Parking is hard to come by in Clifton and in Oakfield Place, you would be very lucky to find a space but there are plenty of opportunities in the surrounding residential streets. Set aside some time and be prepared for a hunt. Also, The Lido is pretty laid back so keep this in mind when choosing your dining attire. Jeans and a 'nice top' for the ladies will do you fine and men can get away with a casual shirt. This from the lady with the curves and the corset top who felt just a teensy bit out of place....
Starters: £7 - £9
The Lido can be found on Oakfield Place, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 2BJ.Tel: 0117 933 9533
Wednesday, 26 May 2010
Sweet, Hot & Sticky Sausages
You will need: (for 2 people or 6 sausages)
2 tsp finely chopped chilli
1 garlic clove, crushed and finely chopped
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tbsp honey & 2 tbsp tomato sauce or 2 tbsp honey and 1 tbsp tomato pureé
- Mix all the ingredients together in a mug or jar until combined
- Prick the sausages all over and lay in a bowl or, to keep things simple, pop into a zip-lock bag and pour over the marinade. Seal the bag or top the bowl with a plate or cling film and put in the fridge overnight to marinade or for as long as you can.
- Throw onto the barbecue or bake in a preheated 190C oven for 30 minutes. Be sure to make sure that they are sticky on the outside but perfectly cooked and piping hot all the way through.
- Serve with lots of fresh, zingy summer salads and/or chips!
Monday, 24 May 2010
First stop in fulfilling my herbaceous dreams was the fresh produce aisle of the supermarket. Away we scurried holding our first pot aloft. But alas, my revelry was short-lived because it promptly died despite following my Mum's advice to re-pot it immediately (because they are always sold in pots far too small for them). Deflated I did some research. It seems that supermarket herbs are doomed from the start; they're grown in hot houses to force lots of visible growth which means that while they're bushy above ground, their root-balls don't develop so they die very quickly. They're literally all fur coat and no knickers, which is fine if you're planning to use an entire plant in one go but not suitable for my windowsill garden. So, it seemed supermarket herbs weren't the way to go but garden centre plants don't seem to be much better in my experience - I bought a basil plant from my local a few years ago and it perished from aphid attack within days (despite being kept inside!).
One way that I found as a temporary work-around for the fresh-or-dried issue is to buy up discounted packet fresh herbs when they're about to go all wilty and freeze them in their original cellophane. It doesn't solve my basil cravings but is an easy way to add fresh taste to recipes - simply snip off whatever you need and then pop back in the freezer for next time.
I was in Wilkenson's one day and spotted basil seeds. Growing my own hadn't occurred to me before but getting the seeds, compost and pot for a mere 80p (on offer), I thought I'd give it a go. I wasn't sure if the whole thing would be a complete flop but actually, it's been remarkably easy.
So far, so good. All you need do is fill a pot with compost, make a little whole with a finger, pop in your seeds (for basil, put in about half a dozen), pat the soil flat and water. Then stretch some clingfilm over the top to create a microclimate that will encourage them to germinate or use a small germination tray. When they start to get a bit big, pot them up into bigger pots. Whatever whenever the soil gets dry but don't over water. The Boy will vouch for how attached I've grown to my little plants. I've read that I should start to pinch out the new growth but I can't bring myself to! Buoyed by the extent of my success, I've planted rocket seeds in the hope of tucking into my very own home-grown salad sometime soon but my mind is running wild with the possibilities - sage and strawberries grown in pots in the sitting room? Carrots in the carport? Blueberries in the bedroom?
Sunday, 23 May 2010
We modified the recipe a little and I thought we should put it up as the Beeb don't seem to have a recipe listing for Junior Masterchef. A disappointing lack of follow through, in my opinion.
Toad in the Hole with onion gravy
You will need: (to serve 6)
1 tsp flour1 bayleaf
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp cider vinegar
2 tbsp wholegrain mustard
a grating of nutmeg
for the batter
150g plain flour
- Preheat oven to 200c
- Place the sausages in a heavy bottomed pan and rub with a little oil then turn on the heat and brown the sausages all over.
- While you're doing that, mix together the flour and eggs then add the milk and water and whisk until smooth. Stir in the wholegrain mustard (you don't have to use the full 2 tbsp if you're not a huge mustard fan) and season with a little salt and pepper. - Lightly grease the ovendish with oil and pop in the oven for 10 minutes to heat up. By now, your sausages should be nicely browned all over so once your dish is warm, spread the sausages out in one layer and pour the batter over the top. Wiggle the dish from side-to-side to disperse the batter.
- Bake for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, slice the onions and soften in the butter with a drizzle of oil until soft "like worms" (bro quote) then sprinkle the sugar and stir until it dissolves completely. - Add the cider vinegar and stir until mostly evaporated. Add flour (optional if you want to thicken your gravy) and stir until the onions are completely coated. Add the bayleaf and nutmeg then add the stock and stir.
- Put the gravy on low heat and continue to stir occasionally until your toad in the hole is ready. It should be pleasantly crisp on top and soft and springy underneath with the sausages cooked all the way through. Serve with your choice of vegetables and gravy (minus the bayleaf). If you're a real mustard fan like I am, add a tbsp or so of mustard to the gravy too!
Tuesday, 18 May 2010
Yesterday evening, the Boy and I defied our usual domestic routine and went food shopping, an act that is often relegated to a Saturday morning when, as we all know, the supermarkets are generally absolutely rammed. Take it from me, if you get the chance, I'd recommend reserving a weekday evening for your trip to the supermarket as it's generally a much more enjoyable experience. I digress. Anyway, it was extremely quiet and, with us both in excitable moods and with time to spare, we dashed around the fruit and veg aisles revelling in British-ness. It seems that, since I heard tell that the Jersey Royal potatoes were coming into season, Britain has bloomed; we were staggered at just how many products on offer in our local Sainsbury's were grown in the UK. Smug, we crammed our trolley with two types of asparagus (hoping to compare their merits later in the week), tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, onions, radishes, beetroot and parsnips – each one baring the proud Union Jack symbol along with the name of their grower and a homely English county printed on the packet.
Don't get me wrong – this isn't about patriotism. I love most countries (apart from the ones that say or do mean things). This is about seasonality and food miles. I am a firm believer that food is better, in both quality and taste, when ingredients are as fresh as possible. As such, it stands to reason that good will be freshest if it is grown in season and close to where it is needed so that it doesn't need to travel far to be used. Limiting the time (and therefore the distance) from soil to plate is the key to delicious food. Arguably, it's also the key to healthy food too because ingredients that are naturally yummy require less salt and fat to make them taste good. Still, that's another article – and debate! – in itself. All of this is all set off by the fact that society is becoming much more environmentally aware and while we're being told en masse to take public transport and limit our use of cars, it makes sense that our food should be shipped as little as possible in order to help our ailing environment.
It was interesting, after our smug happiness of the previous eve, to read this thread. It never really occurred to me that it wasn't as simple as buying food that is grown or made locally. I'll be checking back with interest on Friday to see what the 'experts' think on the matter.
Monday, 17 May 2010
Friday, 14 May 2010
Monday, 10 May 2010
Here resides the last remaining mud-horse fisherman in Britain who works the mud flat on his wooden sled. Adrian Sellick comes from a long line of mud-horse fisherman and you will see him out all year round. There's something incredibly romantic about the thought of him casting himself out in all weathers and venturing out into the bay on his home-made drift-wood contraption. He tends to his nets, strung between posts driven into the mud, which trap fish as the tides turn. On the day that we went, the chiller in their tiny garage-cum-fishmonger was still packed with fish. Brendan, his Father and a former mud-horse fisherman, now runs the shop and shows me a handsome bass as long as my arm which could be mine for a mere £12. It could easily feed eight or ten people! We choose a lovely looking mullet instead which is a more reasonable size (though still a feast!) for two at a bargain £3. As he expertly guts, scales and washes the fish, Brendan tells us how the fish aren't even 24 hours out of the water - and you can tell how fresh they are, simply by looking at them.
I feel surprisingly proud that this tiny family business is still running, mainly I think down to the support of the local community. Though labour intensive, the practise is extremely environmentally friendly and much kinder to the seas that the common methods of fishing used today. We hurried home to make the most of our fresh fish and cook up a real treat.
Adrian and Brendan Sellick of the Stolford Mud-Horse Fisherman can be contacted on 01278 652297.
You will need:
1 mullet, gutted, scaled and washed
1 head of fennel
3 springs of rosemary
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 glass of white wine
- Preheat the oven at 190C
- Slice the fennel, lemon, chilli and garlic
- Unroll and cut enough baking foil and parchment to go around the fish (if you have a long fish, like we do here, roll out two lengths and fold to join together). Lay the baking parchment on a kitchen counter and then lay the foil on top.
- Lay slices of fennel in the middle of the foil in a mound and place the fish on top
- Stuff the cavity of the fish with the rosemary sprigs, lemon, chilli and garlic
- Bring the foil and paper up and around the fish to seal leaving a small gap at the top of the parcel (about the size of a small fist). Into this, pour the wine and seal firmly.
- Place on a baking tray and bake for 25 minutes. Resist the urge to open the foil and check how it is doing. The fish will cook in its own steam and juices so opening it won't help! Eat when the flesh is opaque and falling off the bone.
Thursday, 6 May 2010
We've been filling our freezer. Full of meat! The Boy and I have purchased half a pig (bred and butchered locally by the Boy's boss) which was then shared between my parent's, the "in-love's" (what my parents suggest I should call the Boy's parents seeings as we're not married, hence they are not "in-laws") and our freezers. We now have a rather stuffed ice box and lots of potential for meals for much of the season.
Wednesday, 5 May 2010
Some might say our future hangs in the balance but its good to know that, despite all the seriousness, the still room for foodie talk. Which leaves me wondering what's for dinner tomorrow night!
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