Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The Bure River Cottage
















It’s been a somewhat lengthy break over the summer in which time I’ve been to Spain, Sweden a trip on the Norfolk Broads and finally spent three months on the Greek island of Corfu, working (not very hard), sunning myself and enjoying some fantastic food. Whilst I might have neglected the blog, I have experienced some great new foodie joys, restaurants and even picked my own olives and lemons – and all the while I’ve been keeping a mental diary of all the delicious treats ready to re-visit the blog. In the last three weeks, I have upped sticks and moved from glorious Essex to the South West city of Bristol, where I have already been trying and testing lots of new spots, and am looking forward to even more. I have a few backlogged posts to upload from the summer, so do excuse the strange cross-seasonal blogging.

Horning – The Bure River Cottage


Before jetting off to Greece for the final part of the summer, I joined my parents and younger brother Daniel on a boating holiday on the Norfolk Broads. Not being a particularly outdoorsy, fisherwoman type, I was slightly dubious as to how much I could enjoy this type of trip, and had envisaged awful camping style food would be all that was on offer. Quite the contrary, we sailed to a range of different villages, each with their own delicatessen style shops selling locally produced cheeses, honey, organic butchers, homemade pies, and pastries and all sorts of other goodies.
On our second day we moored up at the renowned ‘New World Inn’ at the charming village of Horning, hoping to grab a hearty pub dinner (all that sitting around catching rays on the roof while my Dad drove the boat works up an appetite). Sadly you need to book well ahead, and being the rookies that we clearly were, we wasn’t aware of this. So we wandered around in search of somewhere to eat and stumbled upon an absolute gem – the Bure River Cottage, a seafood restaurant, right up our street.

The menu wasn’t extensive with only about 6 items on each section, and it existed only on a large blackboard which the waitress brought over to our table for us to decide, we enjoyed this as it gave us ample opportunity to quiz her on recommendations. She wouldn’t be pressed into giving us a particular favourite and assured us that everything on the menu was fantastic – and happily she didn’t disappoint.

Always keen on locally sourced, we opted for a couple of Cromer Crabs to start with alongside a Scallop starter with a salsa Verdi dressing. The crab starter was just sublime, fresh Cromer Crab meat with a cream element, breadcrumbs, garlic and parsley with just a hint of parmesan, served with white bread a little fries. These went down very well. The scallop starter was fine, nothing wrong with them, but nothing mind blowing going on here either.

For mains we all opted for a different fish. I had Dover Sole in a lemon and parsley butter and it was cooked to complete perfection, melt in the mouth, softly flavoured, and very easy to remove the bones.

My brother had Sea Bream with rosemary and sea salt and once again the fish was moist and cooked well – and the only bugbear was the amount of bones that needed removing, which meant this dish took longer to eat than the rest of ours.

My mum went for a wing of Skate with black butter and capers, and we’d been warned that these were particularly big, which is why she opted out of a starter. However we weren’t at all prepared for the immense sized sea-creature which was so large it actually hung off the side of the plate! Having a small appetite, my mum found this slightly overwhelming, and the outside looked quite brown so we were worried the fish was going to be overdone. Quite the opposite, the fish was, once more spot on, cooked beautifully, moist and flaky, with the crispy outside adding a sweet, caramelised intensity to the already sweet tasting fish. The capers offered the salty contrast needed to balance the dish, and the black butter gave further moisture and flavour.

Finally my dad had Turbot with a garlic butter and again there were no complaints here whatsoever. Our accompaniments were some deliciously minted new potatoes and some seasonal vegetables which, unfortunately had long since waved goodbye to al dente, they were overcooked to say the least – but this one hiccup couldn’t deter from the overall meal.

Despite large portions, we all managed a dessert, which is a rarity, as it’s almost always only me (have previously explained my greed/sweet tooth) and my dad that make it to afters. My brother had baked cheesecake with strawberries, my dad homemade strawberry ice cream to cool him down (it was July and there was no air conditioning), my mum a vanilla crème brulee with strawberries, and I had a chocolate pot. For me this was the perfect finish to a lovely meal, strong and bitter dark chocolate, really boozy, creamy and with a little sweet fruit – scrumptious!

The Cheung’s verdict was five big thumbs up. We had a great evening, all enjoyed our meals and found the atmosphere and service to be excellent. The restaurant was busy early on, although we were the last to leave, and had to end our evening with a quick nightcap in the New World Inn. The Bure River Cottage was for us a great find in a very quaint and sleepy village.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Meson Los Barriles - A Taste of Spain?


For the past 6 years, every summer I have spent one or two glorious weeks on the infamous Spanish party island of Ibiza.

Naturally the bars, clubs and generally hedonistic party lifestyle has been the main reason for returning year after year. However in recent summers, as I moved further and further away from my student days, I began to really appreciate the food.

Ibiza may not be known for it’s culinary greatness, but I think there are some true gems to be found across the island. From the many harbour-front restaurants in Ibiza Town serving traditional dishes such as fresh seafood stews or lobster paellas to some of the simple residential bars dotted in every area of the island where slices of divine cured jamon straight from a big hunk of meat, are served with bowls of plump, juicy Spanish olives, all washed down with rich, fruity sangria.

I love food from the Mediterranean and can honestly say some of my favourite memories of Ibiza come from eating a good meal, with lots of wine and indulging in that age-old sport of people watching - and nowhere else have I ever seen such an eclectic mix of young and old. Some truly happy, relaxed memories.

In a sad nod to my growing years, this year the fantastic White Isle does not look likely to be graced with my presence. Instead I have a few other little trips lined up, beginning on the mainland of Spain - and there will be more on that and my other trips very shortly.

As the summer months have crept up and holidays and weekends away have started getting booked up, the sad truth had to present itself. Although I have some fantastic holidays to look forward to, I’m not heading to Ibiza any time soon. So in a quest to relive Ibizan sunset meals, my White Isle party friend Jenni and I took a few steps East to check out Spanish restaurant Meson Los Barriles in Lamb Street, in Spitalfields Market.

We’d booked ahead and on arrival were greeted like old friends, in a typically Spanish display of hospitality. Our waiter was a very jovial Senor who was happy to make some menu recommendations and was very efficient with bringing us our Rioja, bread and olives. So far, so good. The décor immediately put us in mind of Spain, it was all dark wood, with jamon and red wines on display and even the odd barrel. Once we started on the olives our hopes were getting incredibly high.

Jenni is a vegetarian and as we were having tapas, or finger foods, we opted for a range of veggie dishes.

Firstly we got some Manchego Cheese which came with a quince jelly. I was surprised to find that I really liked the taste of the cheese - I was under the impression that it would be a rubbery, flavourless cheese. I was gad to have this myth shattered. What I found instead was a delicate, creamy yet mild taste which was actually very pleasant. I wasn’t keen on the quince, it was very sweet, and I think it would have better complemented a stronger taste.

We also had an aubergine gratin, which had a cheesy, breadcrumb and herb mix on top. This was a very rich dish, which I enjoyed immensely, the sauce was thick and creamy and had a garlicy flavour running through - it appealed to my greedy nature and I thought it would be a great comfort food. Jen didn’t agree with me though, she found it much too rich, and said she’d have preferred it with about half of the sauce that was used.

Jen has only recently started incorporating fish into diet and after first trying them in Ibiza town a few years ago, now adores prawns (although she does make me peel them for her if they arrive with their shell on). So she’d ordered the Garlic Prawns, which smelt sensational when they reached the table. Jen liked them, but I have to say I found that they were seriously overcooked with the result being garlic-tasting rounds of prawny rubber - I wasn’t impressed and I’d be reluctant to order this dish again.

Finally I couldn’t resist ordering something meaty, so I opted for a classic dish of allubias. This is a white bean stew, cooked very slowly with your choice of meat - I went for the staple Chorizo. The beans had been stewed with garlic and saffron, so they had turned a gorgeous yellow colour, and the whole dish was packed with rich, Spanish flavours. The spicy Chorizo added a depth to the dish and overall this was my favourite dish by far - it was simply mouth-watering. So much so that when the beans and spicy sausage were gone, I mopped up the remaining sauce with some bread. Amazing.

We paid around £45 for our meal including wine and a service charge and the portion size was so good that we both left feeling full, warm and content. Aside from the rubbery prawns which I obviously wouldn’t recommend, the meal was very pleasant. We ended the evening with yet more wine….until next time!

To book a table at Meson Los Barriles, 8 Lamb Street, Spitalfields Market, E1 6AA call 020 7375 3136.

I’m still on a search to find places that bring me a small plate of Spanish sunshine and would appreciate any London or Essex based gems that you may know of.

As to Ibiza - the summer is still young, so I may get there yet!

Meson Los Barrilles on Urbanspoon

Monday, 29 March 2010

A small taste of Essex





Living so close to and working in central London, there’s always a new restaurant opening, not to mention the hundreds of already established eateries around the capital - which leaves diners literally spoilt for choice on any given evening. With such an array to choose from, I find that I tend to neglect the local cuisine on offer here in Essex.

So my friend and I decided to book a table on a Saturday evening in March at The Manor, Rainham. The Manor is a hotel and restaurant located on the Berwick Pond site that reopened a few years ago after a complete refurbishment. It’s interior is very simple, yet elegant with classic neutral colours throughout which immediately impressed Jenni and I - the local competition is made up of 3 or four pubs, that have seen far better days!

Not wanting to fully sacrifice a night on the tiles, we requested an early 7 o’clock table, and so were surprised to find the place busy on arrival - and simply buzzing by the time we left. We found the staff incredibly attentive and professional - again a far cry from other local establishments.

The menu is not what you could describe as vast, by any means, however I found myself drawn to at least 3 or 4 dishes on both the starter and main course menu, as it all sounded sensational. After careful consideration I opted for a Chicken, Bacon and Potato Terrine with homemade chutney. I have to admit that a contributing factor of this decision was pure curiosity - I’ve wanted to try a terrine for a while. When it arrived, it was presented beautifully and I was not disappointed. The flavour and texture were like nothing else I’ve ever tasted - the salty bacon surrounded a mixture of herby chicken with thin layers of potato. The chutney, was more like diced beetroot, and the only minor complaint was that this could have done with a little more moisture, but that is if I’m being very picky.

Jen’s starter filled me with food envy immediately, I’d liked the sound of it on the menu, and after pinching the obligatory spoonful, I found myself fighting back an urge to cry out ‘I want that one’ in the restaurant - luckily a great deal of self-restraint prevented me. She had an Almond and Butternut Squash Risotto and it was cooked to absolute perfection. With just a smattering of parmesan, the almond flavour mixed with the squash made it perfect for someone with a sweet tooth, like myself.

For a main I chose Sea Bass with Vanilla Mash, Pancetta, Peas and Clams - one word - divine! Again with my sweet tooth, the vanilla mash was delicious, the fish was cooked beautifully to the point where it just melted in the mouth, and the salty pancetta and clams provided the perfect contrast to the sweet mashed potato. I thoroughly enjoyed this dish.

My friend also went for a fish dish; Cod with Butterbeans and a Pesto Ragout. This again, was scrumptious, cooked well and ticking all of the right boxes. A selection of vine, roasted tomatoes finished this dish off and helped make the presentation.

Being a greedy sort, I’m never one to turn down a dessert and despite being fairly full, I have to say in this instance - thank goodness! Jen and I finished our meal off with fresh fruity sorbets, Jen went for a mango number and found it full of flavour. I opted for a lime concoction and it was truly amazing. Sharp citrus shot through my mouth, instantly cleansing and refreshing my palette. The sorbet really packed a punch and the chunks of lime zest helped to make an interesting texture too. As sorbets are often sen as a healthy option, I’m so pleased to mention these were served with a still-warm brandy snap biscuit, which was buttery, crunchy and helped to up the calorific intake superbly.

Jen and I completely enjoyed our meal. We paid around £80 for both of us, including a couple of alcoholic drinks and enjoyed the lively atmosphere of the place and the friendly, efficient service. I love London and enjoy trying out all it has to offer, but after a fabulous evening at The Manor, it has persuaded me to try out a few more places closer to home in the future - so watch this space……..

To book a table or room at The Manor call 01708 55 55 86 or visit http://www.themanoressex.co.uk/index.html

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

An homage to National Pie Week - Pie, Mash & Liquor


For those of you who are unaware, we are currently slap, bang in the middle of National Pie Week. A week that aims to celebrate and unveil the best pies in all of the land.


The finalists for the coveted foodie award included Smoked Fish & Cider Pie, Venison & Stilton Pie, Fudgey Apple Pie and Blue Cow Pie (basically steak with Stilton), but the winner was a Wye Valley Pie which included chicken, asparagus, leeks, potatoes and Tintern Abbey cheese - all locally produced in its ingredients.


None of these creative and luxurious contenders, though they sound scrumptious in their own way, could in my opinion, ever compete with the humble pie found in the traditional Pie, Mash & Liquor Houses scattered around various parts of London.


Hailing from Victorian London, these old-fashioned food outlets have long been popular amongst the working class. With their plain tiled walls, bench-like seating and often non-matching crockery, Pie & Mash Shops are easily comparable to the style of a greasy spoon cafe.


The pies are filled with a minced beef in a rich gravy-like saucel some places do now offer variations on this, but being I traditionalist I would never deviate from the original. The iquor for those of you who have never had the pleasure, is a white-green parsley based sauce, normally made from the stock of the stewed eels, that are also a speciality in these shops. Liquor may vary from shop to shop in thickness and hue - I have experiened liquor in some very vivid green shades before!


Mostly prevalent in East, South and some parts of North London, and spilling out into areas of Essex, Pie & Mash Shops are still seeing a massive trade, not just with the older generations but with youngsters too. Shops such as Maureen's Pie Shop in Poplar, now offer frozen pies to their customers as well as catering functions such as weddings, and even funerals.


Growing up in Essex, in a family full of former and current East Enders, Pie & Mash was always a regular and welcome treat for me, synonymous with days out, visiting favourite aunties, grandparents and cousins.


To this day, walking into a Pie & Mash Shop makes me feel as though I am being wrapped in a very warm and comforting blanket - I suspect this stems so many happy childhood memories, of fun days spent with the family and being generally spoilt by a host of older relatives.


Aside from all the nostalgia, I happen to find the meal of Pie & Mash a very filling and delicious one. It isn't something I have on a regular basis, but I find that every couple of months I find myself craving what I think of as a plate of the East End's Finest.


As a little girl I proclaimed that when I grew up I wanted to be a 'Pie,Mash lady', a career ambition that although has passed me by, I now recognise this was my childish way of thinking that I could have an endless supply of my favourite food.


Although to those for whom Pie & Mash is alien, the dish may sound dull and boring, I predict that any person who enjoys food, especially food with a story to tell, will enjoy this simple, historical and hearty dish.


Bistro_Becs Top four tips for eating Pie & Mash


1. Always eat with a spoon and fork - never a knife

2. Always apply liberal amounts of vinegar - preferably chilli vinegar to compliment

3. As above but with black pepper

4. Always eat in the shop rather than taking away - it is always SO much better


Bistro_Becs Top four Pie & Mash Shops


1. The Eel & Pie Shop, High Road, Leytonstone

2. Maureens Pie Shop, Chrisp St Market, Poplar

3. M Manze's, Tower Bridge Road, Bermondsey

4. G. Kelly's Pie Shop, Roman Road, Bow


Links:












M Manze on Urbanspoon

Monday, 1 March 2010

The Tinto Lounge - Gloucester Road, Bristol



























Weekends spent out of London for me generally entail the following three factors as a matter of course; great restaurants, copious amounts of alcohol and exploring and shopping on a hangover of varying degrees of severity.
Spending the weekend in Bristol with my younger brother Daniel (a student) and our friend Stephanie (another student) proved to be no exception.
Fully armed with the knowledge that funds were at an all-time low for the other two, my culinary expectations for the weekend were not high.
On Friday night we enjoyed some drunken singing and dancing at Java, a Park Street nightclub and then spent Saturday afternoon in the city of Bath, taking in the Pump Rooms, some fabulous prints at The Victoria Art Gallery and of course, Bath Abbey. We then headed back to Bristol and took in a few late afternoon drinks in The White Lion Pub, overlooking the stunning views over Clifton Suspension Bridge.
On Daniel's suggestion we headed in the early evening to the Tinto Lounge - a fairly casual Spanish themed cafe bar on the busy Gloucester Road, for a hearty, yet very reasonably priced meal. The place was absolutely buzzing with atmosphere and the mixture of people included families, couples and groups of friends.
There are no menus, just two big boards on either sides of the restaurant, which offers the perfect opportunity to people watch occupiers of the other tables under the guise of perusing the menu.
A selection of three tapas dishes cost £7.50, including bread and oil, which I thought was incredibly good value as they were generous portions, enough to fill one student tummy adequately.
However we each went for a main meal, following some ciabatta bread with oils. I opted for pork chop on crushed potatoes in a chestnut mushroom sauce with seasonal green vegetables. The pork and the creamy sauce were fantastically cooked and very tasty. The potatoes were quite bland, lacking in any seasoning at all, which was a shame, but as I'd been unable to resist some potatas bravas to share, and in light of the fact the dish cost less than £10 I feel it would be in very poor taste to grumble.
Daniel and Stephanie both went for the same dish - apparently a favourite, and I soon tasted why. A chorizo, crayfish and chicken jambalaya which was simply bursting with flavour. A spicy heat enveloped the rice and fragrant flavours made the tongue tingle, whilst the chorizo element kept the Spanish theme running throughout.
There are jugs of water dotted about the intimate restaurant where you are able to fill up throughout your meal and diners are invited to order and pay for their meal at the bar prior to eating it, which although slightly alien in restaurants, means that once you have finished, there is no waiting around for the waiting staff. It is almost an upmarket fast food outlet.
Our meal for three cost under £40 including wine and we all left full and satisfied. This really is a great place to enjoy a meal with friends or family, especially if you are on a budget.
Some say you get what you pay for, but here the price was low, but the standard was higher in some respects that in much pricier restaurants. The presentation may not have been Michelin-starred, but what was lacking was more than made up for in its warm, friendly charm.
The place was running alive with people, laughter and the sound of glasses clinking, and as we vacated our table there was an eager gaggle of girls waiting to occupy it, so it is clearly a winning formula and a place I would fully recommend trying out for yourselves.
To find out more about the Tinto Lounge please call 0117 942 0526 or visit www.thelounges.co.uk

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Kenza - Moroccan and Lebanese Restaurant Review











Located in the heart of the financial quarter of the City, in Devonshire Square, Kenza, was both a surprise and a joy to discover. Having previously worked in this area, I used to walk past this hidden gem on a daily basis, completely unaware of its very existence.

Generally preferring the hustle and bustle of the West End, my prejudice has been shaken to realise that good food can be served with something other than the stiff upper lip - a traditional accompaniment to dining in the city in my experience!

Kenza is a Moroccan and Lebanese restaurant with a conventionally Middle-Eastern theme running throughout, which included the décor, flavour and the belly dancers that performed in the bar and even shimmied and belly-shook between tables while people tucked into their hommos et al. Incense filled the dining and bar area with a delicate aroma and rose petals were gracefully positioned on the place settings. All in all a very warm welcome into this underground haven.


After a hectic day at work I couldn’t wait to get tucked into some tasty morsels so we ordered a few mezza dishes to begin our meal, which all came with some absolutely delicious pitta style flat breads. We stuck with the norm and ordered some hommos, which was fantastically sharp and sided this with ‘Sambousek D’jej’ and ‘Kredis Mekli’. The first was a pastry roll, almost like fillo but slightly more flaky, which was filled with shredded roast chicken, caramelised onions and walnuts, all blended with the most divine mix of spices. The chicken, although roasted, was moist and juicy and this made for a perfect starter for me. The ‘Kredis Mekli’ was a small casserole of tiger prawns and aubergine in a coconut and chilli sauce, the sweet and savoury tones complimented each other beautifully and with the bread and hommos, I began to feel rather full up! So far, so good.

After no time at all, the main course arrived. Mine was ‘Samke Harra’, a glorious fillet of sea bass, with a beautiful tomato and coriander side dish and a lemon infused rice. All the flavours were delicate and fragrant and made the equivalent of classical music in my mouth.

We finished the meal in the standard Arabian way with mint tea, baklava, fresh fruit and my absolute favourite Turkish delight – bliss! A lot of wine was taken throughout the meal and with 3 mezza dishes, a couple of main courses and dessert, plus alcohol, this meal came in at just under £100 for two people- not bad going!

Kenza means treasure in Arabic and after a truly fantastic meal I can confirm that this is one.

Kenza is situated on Devonshire Square. To book a table please call 020 7929 5533. Visit www.kenza-restaurant.com for more information.


Kenza on Urbanspoon