February 2017 marks the sixth anniversary of my eating adventures and, as ever, I'm excited about what the coming months will bring for us foodies! In case this is your first visit (if not, welcome back), I'm a 30-something female with a very healthy appetite!...I promise to share with you my experience of each restaurant, café or bar in which I set foot...so, let's go out!

Saturday, 28 April 2012

The Thali Café, Clifton – India by Day

In an attempt to eradicate the notion that Indian cuisine is merely a dinner-time indulgence, the brains behind The Thali Café's four-part franchise have designed an 'Express Menu' which, offering an alternate interlude to one's day, aims to provide an authentic, yet light and timely dining experience - suitable for a lunch-time affair. Consequently, and prior to trialling these particular dishes with its Clifton-based clientèle, a selection of Bristol's finest foodies (even if I do say so myself) were invited to address whether they could be deemed fit for purpose; an offer keenly accepted on my part in light of my self-confessed weakness for this gastronomical go-to. Furthermore, given that my lunch break (when I remember to take one), typically consists of what can only be described (at most) as a snack, it would well and truly put the concept of 'light' to the test!

Date and Time: Monday 23rd April 2012, 12:30
Name of Establishment: The Thali Café
Location: 1 Regents Street, Clifton
Reason for Visit: An unmissable opportunity to sample The Thali Café’s brand-new lunchtime menu 'on the house' - though you should know that this has not, in any way, affected the review that follows...

A lot of thought has clearly gone into The Thali Café brand; its décor proving both quirky and inviting whereby the pleasing pinks of its interior are offset with the leafy green of the abundant foliage and accentuated with surfaces of mirror-ball style mosaics. Even its website channels this vibrancy; the unearthed portraits of Indian citizens (of both famous and lesser-known calibre) featuring amidst The Thali's online-presence as well upon the walls of its cafés and as part of the really rather animated menu. The friendly nature of the staff support the relaxed ambiance overall, their can-do attitude and attention to detail predominant factors in terms of the cafés' fantastic reputation; something which became increasingly evident; initially given the envious effects of informing others of my whereabouts and later, upon discovering that this an award-winning business; having been bestowed with the likes of; The Observer Food Monthly Award (2010) and the BBC Radio 4 Best UK Takeaway Award (2009) - for its re-usable (and quite frankly ingenious) take-out Tiffin design.

Back to the afternoon at hand and a table of 'welcome drinks' which featured the café’s Nimbu-Pani (a home-made sweet lime soda), home-made Indian Ginger Beer and the Thali's speciality Lassi (an Indian-style mango smoothie). After choosing the ginger beer, with its delicate fizz and palate-warming appeal, I followed the rest of the group to the tables cosily tucked beneath the staircase (which ascends to the restaurant's upper levels) upon which crispy poppadoms had been stacked alongside an assortment of condiments; the latter subtly twisting the classics with the likes of coriander and coconut pickle and, my particular favourite; a sticky mango and chilli chutney – yum!

When it came to lunch itself, we were encouraged to ‘try as much as we wanted’ and so, deviating from the concept of a lighter lunch after all, our table embarked upon what I will unashamedly refer to as a feast; starting with a couple of salads (from the chalk-board on the wall) and a portion of the ‘Chowpatti Beach Snacks’ (£5.95) to share between us. Here, handmade pakoras, samosas and bondas demonstrated the authenticity of the fare in terms of their perfectly executed disposition and the salads comprised a colourful arrangement of leaves, vegetables, pulses and seeds with a flavoursome contrast of texture and taste. We were also treated to tasters of the Masala Fish Fry (£7.95) which consisted of flaked fillets of white fish within a light masala batter (which, for the record is what I would order in the event of a return visit) and also the Muttar Paneer (£6.95) which featured a golden-fried Indian cheese – just delicious! The main event for me consisted of the Chicken Mogul Curry (£8.25) whereby rich tomato and the sweet, earthiness of ground coconut had been intricately layered, expertly spiced and punctuated with slow-cooked, free-range chicken. I also have to mention the Masala Dosa (£6.95); a crispy rolled pancake which, of comparable length to an adult male's forearm, ultimately proved the dish with the wow-factor - tentatively suspended over one of the Thali's signature stainless steel platters and served with coconut chutney and sambar. Yes, although arguably quite a feat for lunch-time dining, this was unanimously well-received nevertheless! To wash-down all this fantastic nosh, a commendable range of tipples including organic wines (my choice constituting the Pinot Grigio Veneto at £4.50 for 175ml), two Bristol Beer Factory brews, classic Indian 'Kingfisher' and Wyld Wood Cider – an ample selection as I’m sure you'll agree...
Sharer Salads
Chicken Mogul Curry

To finish, bite-sized tasters of Choc-Praline Cluster Kulfi (£3.50), an experience that I almost missed out upon given the capacity-based complaints from my stomach. Thank goodness I powered through however as this was, without doubt, no ordinary ice cream - it's rich, velvety texture warranting Great Taste Gold in 2011 in fact! The Masala Coffee (£2.50) was another winning entity to the afternoon's proceedings which, although I'm sure would prove too sweet for some, is beautifully aromatic; its burnt-sugar noted appeal developing into an almost smoky after-taste which, in my view, lends to the concoction a uniquely satisfying edge that steers it away from being sickly altogether.

In conclusion, The Thali Café have certainly succeeded in carrying their exceptional cuisine through to a varied and thoughtfully arranged lunch-time menu and yet, for me, the portions were still a little too sizeable for a time-frame typically constituting momentary respite from one's workplace whereby a hefty lunch equals an uncomfortable degree of afternoon fatigue! Yes, we did relish most of the menu and yet, even one of the dishes, especially those served with Keralan salad and seasoned rice, would have been a struggle to finish – for me at least. Furthermore, with the view that Indian fare so often factors as an end-of the-week treat (in light of its tendency to be rather calorifically decadent), it may be an idea to highlight the menu's healthier options so that those who usually save their 'blow-outs' for dinner time wont be put off. Lastly, and rather incidentally, it would be preferable to receive a mint or two with one's bill – let's face it, no one wants to sit with a colleague who has had curry for lunch, (come one, we all know that a little spicy output is inevitable!) That said, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend The Thali Café as a daytime destination or otherwise having been so impressed with the fresh, unmistakably top-end ingredients utilised as well as the rapid turnover of the dishes ordered and their value for money. It lends new meaning to 'making a meal of it' as these guys (led by Jim Pizer – one of the Thali's founders) have certainly done their research; aiming to crack the concept of lighter Indian edibles with the influences that they have taken from their travels, (from the likes of simplistic street-food to week-long wedding celebrations). And, comfortably completing a spin class just hours after my visit, (which to be fair could have ended very badly indeed), is surely testament to their triumph...
1 Regents Street, BS8 4HW
t: 0117 974 3793
Open 7 days. 12:00 noon till close
64-66 St. Marks Road, BS5 6JH
t: 0117 951 4979

Open 7 days. 10:00am till close
12 York Road. BS6 5QE
t: 0117 942 6687

Open 7 days.
Weekends: 10:00am till close
Week-days: 6:00pm till close
1 William Street. BS8 4HW
0117 933 2955
Open 7 days. 6:00pm till close

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The Shakespeare Tavern, Prince Street - Bristol

As the longest serving ale house in Bristol and with food served daily, until ten o'clock, The Shakespeare Tavern, (which derives its name from the Theatre Royal in nearby King Street) is seemingly an ideal spot to satisfy a sporadic need for some good, old fashioned pub-grub. And, feeling a little fragile after the alcohol-fuelled antics of the 'night before', the Best Foodie Friend (BFF) and I agreed to rendezvous at this very establishment with the intention of finding uncomplicated comfort-food that would hit the hangover without breaking the bank...

Date and Time: Sunday 22nd April 2012, 16:30
Name of Establishment: The Shakespeare Tavern*
Location: 68 Prince Street, Bristol
Reason for Visit: To counteract the dreaded après-drinking afternoon slump!

A 'Greene King' pub of traditional calibre; this former Georgian mansion (dating back to 1725) boasts a cosy interior which can veer towards a warm, welcoming retreat in the colder Months (complete with log fire) and a light, airy kick-back (with the facility for a little alfresco action), when the weather picks up. Original features add a rather charming quality to the décor with smart oak panelling throughout, striking bay windows and a rounded mahogany staircase which ascends to the kitchen above. Yet despite its historical appeal and, in fact, a rather thorough menu of hearty-sounding culinary classics, a catalogue of errors balances its more positive attributes. Yes, despite the reassuringly long wait before our mains materialised, (which for me – perhaps a little naively so - always indicates freshly-cooked fare as opposed to the use of a microwave) as well as their ample presentation and the smiley service that ensued, both dishes - a fish finger sandwich made with multi-grain bread for me (£3.45) and the sausage 'n mash for the BFF (£5.45) - were a little lack lustre to say the least.

I’ll begin with a strength and the fish finger content itself which, I'm pleased to report, was well-proportioned and tasty; constituting generous chunks of white flaked fish within a light batter which was melt-in-the-mouth in terms of its disposition. However, with soggy supermarket-style sliced bread which, to my taste, had been over-buttered as well as a limp salad and a side-order of skin-on fries (£1.95) which seemed to take the concept of crispy to a new level (which bordered on incineration), it was all a little disappointing. The BFF was also suitably unimpressed commenting that the Gloucestershire Old Spot sausages which had been doused with a redcurrant and Rioja jus, were decidedly average in terms of their quality and the mash a little bland. She mentioned that the deep-fried onion rings were crunchy and flavoursome but not outstandingly so. Thus, although neither dish contained anything inedible enough to warrant sending it back, neither proved particularly enjoyable - an outcome which reminded me of something a colleague once said whereby, ‘if you’re going to die a calorific death, you’d want to at least go out with a bang…!’

When it comes to drinks to accompany one’s meal, The Shakespeare offers five cask ales, three draught ciders, four draught lagers and over fifteen different types of wine – phew! Yet despite this abundant array of tempting tipples which incidentally, appear reasonably-priced and appropriately maintained, the BFF and I confined ourselves to the lighter line-up; sipping at sodas given the primary motive for our visit!

Consequently, you know when you're feeling rather worse for wear and really craving the satisfaction of well-portioned, home cooked and wholesome cuisine – a hunger left hanging with the mediocre meal that is put before you? Well, that was well and truly the case on this occasion – the dishes we has opted for, although passable in terms of their execution, not quite not hitting the spot; appearing rather more substantial than they were upon consumption. As a country-wide chain with a website claiming to facilitate the location of your local 'Proper Pub', I would question whether The Shakespeare Tavern (and maybe even its counterparts) needs to up its game somewhat to bring it in line with the establishments arguably more deserving of the ‘Proper Pub’ badge – yes, it’s friendly, offers value-for-money and inhabits a number of deals intended to save its clientèle a bob or two, (it is also perfectly placed to serve Bristol’s drinking culture) but when it comes to the food itself, it just isn’t up to par – sort it out guys because Shakespeare may have once written, ‘drink down all unkindness' – as scrolled above the bar - but he also stated that ‘When workmen strive to do better than well, they do confound their skill in covetousness'....enough said!

And now for the second opinion...
The BFF gave The Shakespeare Tavern a rating of 5/10 and in three words, described the dish she had chosen as 'mediocre and stodgy'.


Saturday, 21 April 2012

Bristol Foodie presents: Pudding Club (#PudClub) at The Colour Inn

Back in December 2011, the Bristol Foodie females devised an evening of epic proportions; satisfying a selection of sweet-toothed ticket holders with an aptly-named Pudding Club. An evening which, showcasing the indubitable talent from within the realms of Bristol's culinary presence, invited five independent businesses to create a pudding to be expertly matched with a cocktail concocted by the masters of mixology at The Colour Inn. Unsurprisingly met with an overwhelmingly positive response, round two of this gastronomical genius sold out in less than twenty-four hours, a time-frame which luckily, I managed to adhere to; bagging myself a space at the sweetest soiree of the year thus far!

Date and Time: Tuesday 17th April 2012, 19:00
Name of Event/Establishment: Bristol Foodie presents: Pudding Club (#PudClub) at The Colour Inn
Location: Clifton Down, Whiteladies Road - Bristol
Reason for Visit: Plainly said, a combination of my two great loves made this an unmissable occasion

Pudding #1: Pomegranate Trio: Lavender Meringue Nest with Crème Patisserie, Pomegranate and Almond Tartlet (complete with edible sparkle) and Pomegranate and White Chocolate Blondies
Courtesy of: Devilled Egg Kitchen Academy - http://www.thedevilledegg.com/
Cocktail #1: Rose and Lychee Vesper, (served in a frozen shot glass)
Verdict: A fantastic start with commendable presentation and an exquisite arrangement of flavours; most notably, from the aromatic lavender of the meringue which, punctuated with the tangy crunch of fresh pomegranate seeds, simply danced upon the palate – in my view, instantly coining the calibre for the courses to come. Meanwhile, the crisp potency created with the combination of gin, vodka and lychee liquor effectively cut through the buttery disposition of the blondies and appropriately offset the burnt-sugar tasting tartlets with decidedly delicious results! 

Pudding #2: Strawberry Bakewell Tart with Gooseberry Cream
Courtesy of: The Townhouse Bar and Restaurant (previously The Picture House East) – http://www.thetownhousebristol.co.uk/
Cocktail #2: Apple Sourz (a twist on the well-known assemblage of citrus, sugar and egg white, this cocktail was served short, over ice)
Verdict: Round two channelled the essence of an English country garden with a bitter-sweet medley of ripe British fruits; sweet Cheddar strawberries and freshly-picked gooseberries (from the Head Chef's very own garden). Here, The Colour Inn 'sweetened the sour' by muddling a little Elderflower into the cocktail’s green apple zing along with a dash of almond syrup to compliment the ensemble with its rich, earthy appeal. The shortcrust of the bite-sized tarts also ate very well; its crumbly moreish-ness the final factor in making this specific sweet a strong contender for the coveted spot of my overall 'pick of the puddings'!
Pudding #3: White Chocolate Pannacotta with balsamic and black pepper strawberries and a peppermint coulis
Courtesy of: Brace and Browns Bar and Kitchen – http://www.braceandbrowns.co.uk
Cocktail #3: Dirty Lipstick, (served in a coupette, this concoction consisted of strawberry-infused rum which had been shaken with balsamic, fresh lime and a touch of grenadine)
Verdict: This course brought about an intriguing fusion of flavours with a distinctive bite…one might say, cream versus kick!? I wasn't sure that I could detect the peppermint to the extent that it was perhaps intended but it was nevertheless a well-executed pud; both in terms of its complex composition, (the pannacotta itself proving beautifully textured with a well-measured white chocolate content), as well as the thoughtful presentation whereby the familiar Brace and Browns branded tapas-bowls had been effectively utilised – a nice touch. Furthermore, with a cocktail that rather accurately reflected the elements of the fare, this could have almost been an extension of the pudding itself rather than a separate entity – consequently, the wow-factor and then some!

Pudding #4: Rhubarb, ginger wine and cardamom trifle – finished with beetroot sugar and nut brittle
Courtesy of: Dinewithi Pop-up Restaurant - http://dinewithi.com/
Cocktail #4: Ginger and Cardamom El Diablo (which, muddling El Jimador Tequila with fresh lime and a little Crème de Cassis, was served 'long' over ice)
Verdict: Round three constituted an inspired contrast of taste and texture whereby thick and viscous met light and sharp – for me, this pudding altered my former preconceptions of the age-old tradition of trifle, bringing to it, an innovative take on its rather more conventional (and in my view, almost haphazardly arranged) attributes. Here, an intricate balance of flavours had been achieved; the warmth of the saffron-threaded custard and marsala soaked crumble giving way to the distinctive smokiness of the cardamom whilst the crème de cassis of the accompanying cocktail teased the sweetness from the overall dish, contrasting the tart of the rhubarb to perfection.
Pudding #5: Dark Chocolate Pecan Pie
Courtesy of: Bellevue Bakery - http://www.bellevuebakery.co.uk/
Cocktail #5: Smoked Rob Roy, (which combined a heavily peated Scotch with Sweet Vermouth and Angousta Bitters in a frosted shot glass)
Verdict: After the initial shock-factor of what is positively, an acquired taste, the rich-roasted notes of what I'd heard described as a punchy digestif began to develop on the palate; encompassing an almost coffee-like quality given its deep, smoky hues. Not particularly enjoying this experience (if I'm completely honest...and I usually am), I promptly followed the somewhat tentative sipping that ensued with confident mouthfuls of pie, which I’m pleased to report turned this course around with the full-bodied indulgence of its choco-nut content! I was impressed that Laura had only trialled this pudding just days prior to the evening in question as, for me, it established the height of faultlessness; subsequently proving my pick of the puddings – sorry guys but once a chocoholic, always a chocoholic!
In conclusion, an entirely decadent evening which, without doubt, raised the bar in terms of what I can now refer to as pudding porn! On a serious note however, this was an event which demonstrated the high standard of culinary craftsmanship within our city, the imagination and skill behind the puddings provided (and, of course the acquisition and understanding behind the cocktails that accompanied them), really putting Bristol on the map in regards to its position within the fine-dining arena. My thanks go to Becci and Gemma of Bristol Foodie who were fabulous hosts, the evening itself proving professionally managed and the venue thoughtfully arranged with admirable attention to detail. They assure me that this is not the final foray of their popular Pudding Club – news which, for me at least, will keep my sweet tooth tingling for a rapid reprise!

NB. For MUCH better (and less tipsily-taken) images of the evening's fare, join the Bristol Foodie's Facebook page - http://www.facebook.com/BristolFoodie

Monday, 16 April 2012

Le Parisian Chic and a Macaron max-out...!

An account of Canapés, Cupcakes and Cocktails' time in Paris...

Depending on the extent to which you've delved into the content of this blog, you may well already be familiar with my unfaltering admiration of the French culture; a love initiated with a six-week stint in Toulouse as a teenager and confirmed with each and every visit to the country's vibrant capital city thereafter. Thus, it's fair to say that the four-night Parisian break scheduled with the Best Foodie Friend (BFF) had been rather hotly anticipated whereby the outfit selection process had been ruthlessly orchestrated and our essential edibles meticulously mapped! Yes, there were sights to be seen, Chardonnays to sip and macarons to munch - now excitedly airborne, the BFF and I were just several thousand feet above the city globally recognised as both gastronomically gifted and shamelessly chic...!

Date: Sunday 8th April – Thursday 12th April 2012
Name of Establishment: Miscellaneous, read on!
Location: Paris, Central
Reason for Visit: Where better for a mini-break with the BFF than the metropolis famous for its top-notch nosh!?

I grappled with how best to document what would ultimately constitute a whistle-stop tour of this culinary capital given that the BFF and I had just four days in which to make the most of all that it had to offer. Therefore, I thought it best to stick to the areas in which we spent the majority of our time; attempting to encompass the overall flavour of each, (bear with me though, I am in no way intending to peruse a career in travel writing!) That said, I'll start with the area including the Rue de la Convention, our base for the trip whereby residential bustle meets old-school France and incidentally, where we spent our first evening given that, after negotiating the madness of the Metropolitan (on route from the airport), dinner-time factored rather late in the day! Here, Café Convention provided the edibles with Croque Monsieurs all-round! Yes, the décor seemed somewhat stuck within decades past (with MTV suspended above the bar and an elaborate light fitting spanning the close-knit tables beneath it) but at our (rather late) hour of need, it delivered, burnt toast and all; the crêpé-based dessert menu and potently-blended cocktails amply preluding our intended flirtation with French fare. When it came to inexpensive tipples however, the BFF and I discovered La Source, a friendly pavement-café offering an extensive range of classic concoctions at only seven-Euro each; a bargain, especially in light of the freehanded nature of European measures, (and, the complimentary bowl of peanut-flavoured puffs to accompany one's beverage – yum!)
Café Convention
Croque Monsieur avec Charcoal!

Naturally, the BFF and I touched upon the city's main tourist attractions and whilst being herded around museums and monuments amidst a sea of wide-eyed, back-pack clad travellers doesn't particularly appeal, elbowing our way through the crowd at Ladurée* for a dainty box of macarons was certainly worth the ordeal. Despite the fact that the café is currently closed for refurbishment, the flagship outlet of this famous Maison Fondée marks an institution dating back to 1862 and, with the pop-up store located amongst the designer clothes shops, car showrooms and luxury brands of the Champs Elysées – commanded by the presence of the Arc de Triomphe and apparently one of the most expensive strips of real estate in the world – it is both well-attended and beautifully arranged. With cut-crystal chandeliers suspended over rows and rows of exquisite-looking confectioneries, it comprised a welcome alternative to the numerous fast-food franchises that exist within its proximity – yes, even the golden arches have a home here, though why anyone would yearn for chicken nuggets in light of over a mile's worth of alternative edibles, is quite simply beyond me! And from one pillar of French pâtisserie past to another, (and a long walk towards La Musée du Louvre and beyond), Angelina*, situated on Rue Rivoli, is an absolute must-see. Founded in 1903 by Austrian confectioner Antoine Rumpelmeyer and, with an interior designed by Belle Epoque architect, Edouard-Jean Niermans, this establishment is the epitome of elegance. Here, the BFF and I agreed that the Chocolat Chaud was undoubtedly the finest we had ever tasted – its rich, velvety viscosity decanted from a jug into bone china tea-cups alongside dainty florets of Chantilly cream that could be swirled through the mixture, as desired. Signature Mont-Blanc pastries also left an impression of gastronomical genius; their chestnut cream filling and light textured finish the perfect accompaniment to the molten chocolate that had stunned us to silence!

Angelina's Confections
The home of the Macaron!

Discovering that Parisians are rather dedicated to the concept of 'ladies that lunch', it would have been rude of the BFF and I not to partake. Our pick of the bunch consisted of a cosy bistro which we stumbled upon after exploring the boutiques that border Le Jardin du Palais Royale, (Marc Jacobs anyone?!) Reflects de Scene* (22 Rue de Beaujolais), like a lot of eateries in and around the city, offers a set lunch menu featuring a small number of modern and seasonally inspired dishes; a menu, owner Thomas refers to as tailored from the 'quality of his know-how'. The salmon fillet was both well-cooked and beautifully presented alongside a well-portioned ratatouille – the seasoned 'white' sauce drizzled over the fish contrasting the tang of the oily vegetables to perfection. The BFF's steak was also well received, though it was the crunchy topping of her crème brûlée which gave way to the cool, creamy indulgence beneath which she chose to label as the wow-factor! From luncheon to dinner and just a stones-throw away from the most prominent Parisian landmark of them all, amidst the café-come-brasserie style establishments in viewing distance of the Eiffel Tower, was Café du Trocadero; a dwelling of decidedly restaurant calibre offering a selective menu of French specialities from which the BFF and I chose le Confit de Canard; which although ate very well given its amply-executed disposition had been disappointingly accompanied with a generous heap of lattice fries and the option of that well known dressing; Heinz tomato ketchup! Thus, not quite the fine dining we had hoped for but a meal that picked up with an impressive pudding of chocolate mousse cake which had been layered onto a base of chocolate crumb and boozily soaked Morello cherries – just delicious!

...and their devilish dessert!
Café du Trocadero...

Although many frequent the numerous road-side cafés for espresso and cigarettes, Parisians don't tend to share a bottle of vino between them outside of a meal-time rendezvous and yet, we found that asking for this (in our sketchy Bristol-based French) led to complimentary olives and crackers – win! Café St. Regis* on the picturesque Ile St. Louis (near to the Notre Dame) was a perfectly placed competitor for an afternoon tipple and yet, one of the highlights of the trip overall was our return visit to Café du Trocadero for an evening spent sipping at a crisp Riesling whilst the after-dark lights of the Eiffel Tower intermittently illuminated the sky - marking each hour that passed with a five-minute display of brilliantly blue sparkle. All this before retreating to our hotel armed with cheese and charcuterie - a perfect ensemble even if I say so myself!
And from the hyped-up hot-spots of the central area to the 18th arrondissement offering a refreshingly quirky vibe; upon the curious cobbles of Montmartre and a road or two away from the seedy bars and clubs of Pigalle, visitors are treated to a decidedly rural feel that comes alive at night with a young, funky after-hours scene. For the BFF and I however, this area was all about the vintage clothing and of course, sampling the local fare; from a colourful crêperie which delivered galettes of an ample standard despite the presence of a single member of staff to Coquelicot* (Rue de Abbesses); a boulangerie and café in which I relived the practice of drinking tea from a soup bowl;something which baffled me upon that aforementioned trip to Toulouse and seems a somewhat rustic affair whereby dunking a hobnob into a cuppa is taken to a new level in light of the pastries that are soaked with one's beverage here!
Quirky Coquelicot
Spot the BFF...!

In conclusion, Paris is a glorified carb-fest; from the daily breakfast basket of fresh bread and croissant to the macaron-a-minute diet that the BFF and I entertained for the duration of our stay. This, in addition to the 'chain' boulangeries that cash in on the stereotypical attributes of what us tourists consider French fare; with Brioche Durée and Paul seemingly the equivalent of Britain's beloved Greggs and its 'authentic Cornish pasty'! Yes, this is most certainly not the place for an Atkins enthusiast but, to be fair, there is so much more to this city than the sucrées at every turn, (yes really!) I love that gathering ingredients from the local tradesmen; the butchers, the bakers and the fishmongers for instance, remains commonplace and the buzz of the road-side food market (which, upon the Rue de la Convention, took place every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday) encourages a culmination of fresh, local produce. For this is a city very proud of its culture; whereby their culinary expertise holds a great deal of significance – this may well explain why passion for the art of cookery seems to exceed the notion of convenience and why those aforementioned chains, on the large part, seem to take a back-seat. There is an element of snobbery however and, I couldn't write a balanced account without mentioning that, at times, the service was, for want of a better word...pretty blimmin' dire actually (something which prompted a couple of walk-outs on our part in fact). That said, it kept the BFF and I on our toes in terms of attempting to soak up all that this food-focussed city had to offer – quite literally too given the need to walk off all the calorific treats that we allowed ourselves each day! Finally, despite the fact that it rained profusely, there is a lot to be said for Paris in the Springtime...and, in my view, any time at all for that matter!

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

A Taste of Dinewithi – Tim's Sunday Roast

The first day of the fourth month may well be associated with 'April Fools' but I'm sure you'll agree that when it comes to good food, it's no laughing matter! With this is mind, The Best Foodie Friend (BFF) and I were keen to accept an invitation to sample the culinary expertise of one half of the Dinewithi venture; a supper club and pop-up restaurant fronted by local chef, Tim Owen and marketer, Carlton Jefferis that has been tantalising the taste buds of Bristol's enthusiastic 'foodie' community; predominantly from gastronomical go-to, 40 Alfred Place...

Date and Time: Sunday 1st April 2012, 17:30
Name of Establishment: Dinewithi*
Location: Tim's Totterdown-based residence
Reason for Visit: A taster of the Dinewithi experience

With its name stemming from the notion of how a Bristolian might colloquially refer to the Channel 4 hit series; 'Come Dine with Me', Dinewithi aims to provide beautifully cooked and locally sourced fare which is both unfussy and flavoursome. Thus, an ambitious ethos to adhere to but, upon entering Tim's humble abode whereby the initial blast of fantastic food smells emanated from the kitchen, it become at once believable. Furthermore, sitting around a tastefully dressed table within an aesthetically pleasing and atmospherically lit dining room, we were invited towards an 'amuse bouche' of avocado hummous which, accented with sharp citrus notes and a touch of chilli, had been generously applied to crisp, oil-infused crostinis; a combination which amply refreshed the palate for the courses to come. Next up, a halved and unmistakably home-made scotch egg; rustically composed and altogether satisfying given its abundantly meaty filling whereby good-quality pork had been coupled with well-seasoned salami; yum! What's more, served alongside a dollop of wild garlic mayonnaise as well as a small mound of sweet and smoky caramelised onions, it's fair to say that the medley of contrasting tastes and textures here really packed a punch!
The main event constituted Confit of Duck which was beautifully executed; the meat all but falling off the bone. Accompanied with fluffy-middled duck-fat roasties and the bitter-sweet appeal of braised red cabbage, as well as a communal vessel of vichy carrots, (served al dente and therefore, just how I like them) and a dash of parsnip and parmesan purée, there was certainly a lot going on. That said, the elements had been thoughtfully arranged so to compliment each other within each mouthful. An apple and pear sauce, seasoned with fresh juniper completed the ensemble, along with a dousing of rather intense gravy – hence, this was perhaps not as 'unfussy' as initially proposed but in fact, certainly not to its detriment given that this really was a truly outstanding plate of food.
Before I move onto dessert, I feel that I must talk to you about the man behind what was currently shaping up to be an incredible dinner...Tim himself is quite a character, lending to the occasion his vibrant personality which is reflected somewhat in the no-nonsense approach to his cuisine. And, as the evening progressed and the wine (fuelled by a B.Y.O policy) continued to flow, we were treated to a repertoire of musical snippets which were strummed out upon Tim's acoustic guitar; an occurrence (ironically a little like the after-dinner entertainment commonplace within an episode of the aforementioned namesake) which even led to a little sporadic sing-song, (when we knew the words that is!) Thus, as a chef, we're definitely talking the sweary charm of Gordon Ramsay rather the doe-eyed innocence of Jamie Oliver but, nevertheless, this made for a fun, laid-back evening whereby Tim and his wife Theresa were both hospitable and fully integrated with the evening's proceedings.

And now, onto the eagerly anticipated dessert course which, at least on my part, would function as soothing relief for my chocoholic self! In Tim's words, we were to tell him if we ever found, “a better fucking chocolate cake anywhere else” - indeed, a rather assuming statement and yet, I have to say that the Piedmonte Chocolate Orange Moussecake that had been set before me, with its crown of Grand Marnier cream and the drizzled tang of an orange reduction, really was up there with the best I have ever tasted, (not that I would dare to inform Tim had this not been the case!) Yes, with its rich, gooey, truffle-like disposition; which had been offset against its coarsely-textured ground chestnut content, this was pudding-porn and then some...!
Overall, this was not an experience for the faint-hearted – it was raucous, boozy and, in my view, a lot of fun but, solely based upon the evening’s etiquette, (albeit lacking on this occasion), wouldn't necessarily be to everyone's taste...That said, a formal 'restaurant' setting would no doubt alter the ambience somewhat and there is no denying the quality of the cuisine which is quite simply fantastic; proving well-presented, appropriately portioned and above all, utterly delicious. Given that the next pop-up appearance of Dinewithi (scheduled for the 25th April 2012 at 40 Alfred Place and at only £25 a head) is set to be well-attended, you better get a move on if you want to bag a ticket – otherwise, you may find yourself in a similar predicament to Tim and Theresa's little cat who, for the duration of our meal watched us dine from beyond the reinforced glass of the patio doors...and no one wants that....!


Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Renato's – King Street, Bristol

Friday night....the end of a busy working-week and the cause of a celebratory tipple or two with like-minded chums. Yet, on this occasion, after our chosen happy hour had all but dried up, the girls and I found ourselves within the realms of that commonplace conundrum; feeling tipsy, desperately hungry and with little money left in our pockets whereby one usually questions whether to continue the carnage or simply call it a night. However, with Renato's situated upon the charismatic cobbles of King Street - just a stones-throw away from where we sat - it was an easy decision to follow-up the festivities thus far with a couple of pizzas from their affordable range...

Date and Time: Friday 23rd March 2012, 21:00
Name of Establishment: Renato's
Location: 19 King Street, Bristol*
Reason for Visit: Three famished females embarking upon 'après-drinking dinner-time'!

Steeped in history and given its proximity to Bristol Old Vic theatre, Renato's is a treasure trove of theatrical memorabilia with stage-show related posters that capitalise the wall-space and a hall of fame which sports the autographed head-shots of its rather more famous clientèle, (including the likes of Barbara Windsor, Alan Rickman and Sir Ian McKellen). Furthermore, the combination of a friendly, family-oriented ambiance and the nooks and crannies of a wonderfully old-school watering hole makes for a notably atmospheric spot - its enigmatic quirkiness further enhanced by rich-coloured décor as well as mahogany table-tops, sporadic candle-light and a little chintz here and there! Lastly, due to the venue's indubitable popularity, seat-less souls comfortably perch amongst larger parties; an occurrence which is surely testament to the relaxed disposition of the space overall...

Onto main event whereby pizzas are ordered at the bar, created from scratch, and collected from the counter within the right-hand pocket of the establishment. The problem here is the excruciating nature of the waiting game whereby, after honouring the initially allocated time-frame (of no less than twenty-five minutes on the evening of our visit), one finds themselves sent back to their seat, ticket in hand, for another stint of torturous tummy-rumbling. Although this is unsurprisingly frustrating, it does seem to evidence the use of an authentic pizza oven and the obvious care taken in regards to the preparation of each and every dish – not to mention constituting a considerable degree of freshly-baked appeal! We could have of course, ventured towards the rather more formal restaurant area (or, the 'Taverna dell' Artista' to be precise) which may have proven a little less sluggish given the presence of table service and yet, I had become somewhat accustomed to the notion of tucking ourselves into a cosy corner amidst the excitable buzz of the Friday-night crowd...The girls and I opted for two pizzas between us, (from the sixteen available), plus a portion of garlic bread (£2.50) which fared very well given its light, doughy consistency and appropriately balanced pungency. Of the pizzas, the Inferno (£7.95) was a winner for me with its combination of rich tomato sauce and melting mozzarella which had been liberally spread onto a crisp (and really rather sizeable) base. To finish, thinly sliced and subtly seasoned salami and a touch of palate-warming chilli which, unfortunately (for me), did not quite have the kick that warranted the connotations of the fiery rubric upon the menu. Our other selection was the Artistica (£8.25) which basically comprised the classic ham and pineapple pairing – and this, a well-executed version that had been generously topped with good quality ingredients; thereby facilitating the notion that good things really do come to those who wait!

Dessert presented the option of a scoop or two of ‘Gelati' which the girls and I chose not to indulge in given that we had enough vino within our possession to drown a hippopotamus! Yes, although this is not an establishment sporting a fancy wine list, a line-up of familiar favourites seems to reflect its unpretentious edge; plus at just over three-pounds for a decidedly drinkable Chardonnay, I certainly wasn’t complaining!

In short, it may well be difficult to bag oneself a seat and it's true that waiting for your pizza to be ready for collection can be compared to waiting for rainfall in a desert, (incidentally, the 'ladies' also leave little to be desired given their unthinkably poky handling which, as a result, manufactures a cross-legged queuing system up to four people deep) but, the cheerful charm of Renato's is simply undeniable and despite these pitfalls, the quality of the fare, enormous portion sizes and value for money overrules anything that may be considered a negative. Lastly, given its 'late-license' which stretches to the opening hours of the kitchen, Renato's is an attractive alternative to the kebab van on the centre and, to be fair, if it's good enough for the multitude of celebrities that have frequented this venue over the years, then it's most certainly good enough for me!

And now for the second opinion…
The Best Foodie Friend (BFF) gave Renato’s a rating of 8/10 and in three words, described this venue as a 'cosy pizza cave'!

*Renato's can be found on 19 King Street, Bristol BS1 4EF - Telephone: 0117 929 8291