Reviews

‘Edinburgh’s prestige wines’ – Purslane

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Unique flavour combinations..

This week brings an exciting take on one of the most impressive dining experiences in recent memory.  The overall wine, food and service as a package was wonderful.  Inspired by a previous visit to ‘Purslane’ in Cheltenham, when sampling the Edinburgh dining scene, a visit to the completely unrelated namesake in the trendy Stockbridge area of Edinburgh seemed an obvious choice.

The opportunity to sample ‘premium wines’ was too good to turn down here.  It’s a fantastic way to get to grips with world class wines without paying the premium of an entire bottle.  Paired wonderfully with the 7 course tasting menu option, we were blown away by two wines and the port selection in particular and the entire evening guided by our wonderful server and sommelier extraordinaire, Alex.  Purslane is a small, intimate restaurant with approximately 20 covers, a relaxed atmosphere but fine dining quality food on offer.

Kicking off with celeriac veloute, paired with a crisp glass of Delamotte Brut Champagne, a swirl of rapeseed oil will have been a familiar site from last week’s kitchen hero entry.  Everything you want from an amuse bouche, this one.

The first starter of seared scallops with marmalade, pomegranate and carrot puree was very clever.  I have served scallops at home with chilli jam before but the bitter marmalade goes very nicely with sweet scallops and carrot.  The fresh pomegranate seeds cut right through the dish to finish cleanly.

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Pork, black pudding and apple..but not as you know it..

Our first main course, combining pork, black pudding, celariac and apple, each individual element combining for a cuddle on a plate.  Such hearty flavours but executed in a really refined way.  Small apple balls cut into the shape of a whole fruit, very clever.

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How crispy can you go?

Crispy skinned sea bream, mussels and a mussel and saffron veloute was brought to life by possibly our favourite wine of the evening.  A stunning Sauvignon Gris from Chile.  Our first experience of the less common and more mysterious relation of the widely available Sauvignon Blanc, this 2012 variety from Casa Marin was clean finishing but not before wonderful fresh and smoky oak flavours backed up by floral and spicy aromas.

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No yorkshire pud needed here..

Sunday afternoon roast rolled up into one next, with roast beef rump, fondant potatoes, tenderstem broccoli and a rich but tart oxtail and red wine jus.  A Spanish red with 100% tempranillo grapes swept you along beautifully with this one.

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Bakewell tart, Mr Kipling eat your heart out..

Cheese before pre-dessert, with our 1998 late bottled vintage port washing incredibly well with a smashing selection.  A recommendation for Epoisse if you can find it, a strong creamy cheese much like my favourite french cheese Reblochon.  Pre dessert and a twist on classic bakewell flavours with poached apricot was a unique addition to a tasting menu.

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Another fresh orange and chocolate combo..move aside terry..

Finishing with chocolate mousse, with orange, lemon balm and cardamon brulee, it was a truly incredible evening of food in a relaxed environment.  A huge thank you to Alex who went the extra mile for us with wine and food explanation in a relaxed way.  Casual fine dining may sound like an oxymoron, but for me it absolutely sums up this smashing little restaurant.  A must visit when in Edinburgh.

‘25 mile menu of magic’ – The Pig part three

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Quirky and indulgent..

Welcome to the final feature on The Pig, taking a look at the main event, an experience of the 25 mile menu evening service.

A dining experience at the Pig can only start with a trip to the bar or one of the comfortable lounges, to sample local ciders, a cocktail or perhaps a gin and tonic from the stunning selection of gins from far and wide.  Moving into the dining room, which is almost green house themed, plants growing naturally and mix and match furniture – our starter choices kicked off in style.  A smashing rich terrine with mustard pickle, and home smoked salmon served simply.  Really simple, fresh ingredients being used in absolutely the right way.

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Fresh, rich, rustic..

Main course took comfort food to the next level, pork escalope with crispy chorizo and greens, and a lovely piece of soft and sweet hake with crispy clams.  The staff guided us wonderfully through the menu and helped select a superb Italian white wine which was perfect with all our food selections for the evening.

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Comfort food on another level..

Custard donuts with a white chocolate dipping sauce is the featured picture on this week’s blog entry.  Need I really say more about that combination?  Wonderfully light donuts though and certainly not as heavy as it sounds.  And how about rhubarb cheesecake and sorbet, a rhubarb lover’s dream!

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Attention rhubarb lovers..

Finishing with an espresso martini each, a brilliant evening of food at the Pig certainly didn’t disappoint.  A wonderful stay with a proper garden to plate experience.  Highly recommended for an indulgent but relaxed, cosy and rustic break.

 

‘25 mile menu of magic’ – The Pig part two

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Foraging through the walled gardens..

Welcome back to my May feature on The Pig.  This week, we venture outside the hotel to take a look around at how garden arrives at plate with some foraging, before a sneak peak at some Piggy Nibbles.

The gardens at The Pig have an extensive selection of veg and herbs, driving the on site foragers to hop through ingredients as the seasons change and the menu organically evolves.  Some rainbow chard ready to pick, some starting to sprout, you get a real sense of menu planning taking place in and around what is available on site.  As you walk around you can picture dishes on the restaurant menu building bit by bit.  Spotting rhubarb and seeing it appear among the evening desserts is really quite something.

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Rainbow chard, elephant garlic, chives, the gardens continue to grow at the Pig!

Back into the kitchen for a feature of the 25 mile menu – piggy nibbles.  Homemade pork scratchings are often on offer, alongside these beauties below.  ‘Brock Eggs’, a stunning take on a scotch egg, runny yolk included of course.  Homemade sausage rolls are a rare treat in our house, so it was lovely to sample The Pig’s effort – comfort food is clearly taken to the next level.

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The Pig’s fabulous ‘piggy nibbles’

Next week’s final part three will jump back into the dining experience for a full take on the 25 mile menu.

‘25 mile menu of magic’ – The Pig part one

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Lean, clean but absolute indulgence..

A Birthday treat this month, meaning a treat for readers too, with a three part blog on my recent stay at the New Forest gem, ‘The Pig’.  The success of the original Pig in the forest has paved the way for an expanding brand across the South of England, with Southampton, Bath, Devon and Studland following.  The concept of a restaurant with rooms is fantastic, but all the more appropriate when The Pig has the luxury of bringing garden to plate from the superbly stocked walled gardens full of fresh produce, allowing the menu to write itself almost hourly.

The gateway to the New Forest, Brockenhurst railway station is less than a mile down the road, placing the Pig conveniently regardless of your transport.  There is plenty of parking on site among the stunning grounds.  More on the grounds later this month!  The 30 bedroom country house is warm, welcoming and served excellently by staff circulating regularly.  There is a shabby-chic feel to the lounges but it suits the place very well.  The restaurant itself feels like a step into the greenhouse which adds to the charm of a garden to plate experience.

It seems appropriate to start with breakfast for part one.  A cracking selection of a ‘full pig-out’.  Pork sausage packing that perfect meaty punch, crispy streaky bacon with a sweet and smoky edge, leaner than lean back bacon, two free range eggs with sunset yellow yolks, black and white pudding to die for, field mushroom and the sweetest slow roasted tomato you can imagine.

I cannot describe how lean and clean these fresh ingredients are despite their obvious indulgence.

The continental offerings for breakfast are more than generous, with various fruits, cereals, muesli, cured meats, local cheeses and freshly baked sourdough.  Washed down with your choice of fruit juices and your favourite cup of coffee or tea, there is no better way to start your day ready for exploring the New Forest.  And seeing as The Pig have a ready made 7 mile walking route waiting at reception for you, there is every reason to treat yourself to your choice from a stunning breakfast menu.

Next week’s part two takes us out into the gardens, with an additional focus on some ‘piggy nibbles.’  Not to be missed.

‘Refined authenticity’ – Bhoomi

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Bhoomi, boasting their boldly authentic South Indian, yet sophisticated flavours

Cheltenham has a wonderful restaurant scene and is going to feature prominently on this site in the coming months.  I first visited in 2013 and have been fortunate enough to return at regular intervals, most recently in February this year when I sampled the far from ordinary, yet extremely authentic South Indian restaurant ‘Bhoomi’  and their signature ‘Tour of Bhoomi’ 5 course tasting menu.  At £45 per person, the price point is in my view right where it should be, alongside a £35 per person wine flight, which is astonishingly well paired and introduced by the team at Bhoomi.  At £80 all in for 5 courses, extra kitchen surprises and 5 generous and expertly paired glasses of wine, the overall package is competitive and good value, particularly when a 3 course à la carte option at somewhere even slightly more modest is going to set you back £30-40 anyway.  Throw in a bottle of wine and the Tour of Bhoomi with wine tasting becomes all the more enticing.  If à la carte is your preference, Bhoomi has an excellent offering that combines the tasting menu refinement of dishes with a more classic British Indian style menu of starter + main + rice + sides.

You will find Bhoomi on Suffolk Road, in the middle of a short parade of bars, restaurants and other retail premises and a stones throw from the extremely trendy Montpellier district, starting to set the tone for the evening.  That leads me on nicely to the blessing the restaurant has, which is the premises itself.  Entering into the light, relaxed bar area, you can sit and enjoy a few cocktails, a beer or perhaps a gin and tonic (Opihr of course, with its wonderful Oriental notes setting you up for an evening of spices).  When your table is ready, you enter through the curtains as if the performance is soon to begin, presented by a wonderfully spacious but intimately dressed and lit dining room with contemporary decor and lots of nooks and crannies perfect for private dining.

After an amuse bouche that resembled a stunning twist on that old fashioned bombay mix you used to get from the snack aisle in the supermarket, the first course ‘Kala’ arrived, 24 hour marinated salmon traditionally roasted in a tandoor, spiked with chilli and mango.  The accompanying Riesling was the perfect refreshingly sweet wine needed to temper the spice and sharpness of the wonderfully soft salmon and mango, respectively.  ‘Alleppey Beef’ followed, a melt in the mouth fillet of beef, tumeric and chilli reduction with lightly spiced potatoes.  A smashing Malbec selection works wonderfully with this dish.  The first featured image above is ‘Butter Chicken and Vegetable Tikki’, packed with cardamom, chilli, tomato and cream, which alongside a delicate vegetable patty is set off perfectly by Bhoomi’s Chardonnay selection, refreshing the palate from the intense rich, creamy curry sauce.

The common theme of the evening was an exemplary service, symmetrical in the way plates arrived at the table, but relaxed, chatty and in no way overbearing.  This was a truly wonderfully relaxed yet sophisticated dining experience.

Rising to the top of my list of ‘wow’ dishes was the next course, ‘Kerala Lamb and Parotta’.  Mind blowing diced lamb leg, tender as you like cooked slowly with green chilli, bell peppers, soy and curry leaves.  Served with a new first for me, ‘Parotta’.  A traditional South Indian flatbread made with maida flour and egg.  The dish overall packed an intense heat, lip smacking umami notes from the soy and a smooth Italian Montepulciano to wash it all down.  I cannot speak highly enough of this dish, the most moreish Indian dish I can remember having.  Traditional but refined – a consistent theme of the evening.

Dessert course was a treat and great fun, the pictured ‘Chocolate Samosa’ finished with ice cream, fruits and coulis and balanced nicely with a light and fresh Muscat dessert wine.  It was an opportunity to play to the British palate but at the same time remain true to a traditional samosa recipe…only this time filled with an indulgent chocolate ganash.

Bhoomi impressed so much and overall presented such an enjoyable experience, that in returning to Cheltenham, it will now compete strongly for one of our evening bookings at every occasion.  How on earth will we get around the rest of the restaurant scene?!  So with a traditional South Indian menu, taken up several notches in refinement, Bhoomi truly is not your average curry house.  Highly recommended.

‘A chef’s playground’ – Restaurant Roots

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Restaurant Roots takes you on a tasting tour designed with discovery in mind

Welcome back everyone!  In re-launching the blog, I wanted to share a review of a recent visit to ‘Restaurant Roots’ in Southbourne, Bournemouth.  Looking ahead, I am pleased to announce that new posts will be published every Tuesday.  So join the mailing list or keep an eye on social media for your new weekly fix of wise words on food.

Restaurant Roots is a relatively new addition to the Bournemouth eating out scene.  It’s a husband and wife team who specialise in tasting menu experiences.  Although the concept of a tasting menu is not new in itself, Restaurant Roots’ evening service offers up a unique and exciting series of tasting menu options in the form of 5, 7 and ultimate ‘discovery’ course experiences.  Bank Holiday brunches, Sunday lunches and 2 and 3 course lunch menus complete the picture.  We enjoyed the discovery menu and wine pairings recently and were extremely impressed.  The restaurant also has a very generous vegetarian offering, including individually designed tasting menus.

Set in residential Southbourne, Restaurant Roots has an intimate but light dining room, with relaxed contemporary decor.  With stunning presentation of each course on their menu, you could argue that the solid wood tables do not do justice to the colours on display, where as a simple, crisp white tablecloth would.  I can see the appeal of a more rustic table setting for lunches, particularly on a Sunday.  Food for thought, perhaps?

The discovery menu comes in at £57.50 per head in addition to £19.50 for wine pairings.  Comparatively this is excellent value for what is in practice a generous 10 course tasting menu.  The wine pairings were expertly chosen by the very friendly and hard working chap who had the unenviable task of looking after the entire front of house by himself.

Kicking off the discovery menu is ‘Prosecco and Snacks.’  A cold, crisp glass of prosecco accompanied by a variety of canapés.  Among these canapés were vegetable crisps, dip and most impressively a boundary pushing take on a caesar salad inside a small glass bowl.  The flavours of bacon, anchovy, fresh salad and a creamy dressing all coming through with smooth, icy and crunchy textures.

My particular highlights from the remaining courses included a celeriac dish, with winter truffle, grape and hazelnut; a refreshing palate cleanser course of champagne sorbet with blackcurrant foam; and the pictured Seville orange with bitter chocolate sorbet.  As I dislike Terry’s chocolate orange with quite a passion, this particular dish must have been truly outstanding to capture my imagination.  The fresh, zesty sharpish of the orange in no way resembled that awful chemical orange flavour you get with ‘chocolate orange’ but instead matched to perfection the two very distinct and wonderful flavours of fresh, vibrant orange and bitter chocolate.  A success!

An optional cheese course is offered which gets a huge thumbs up from me, particularly with some local cheeses and also some more obscure.  It’s not every day you get to sample cheese made by Alex James, the bassist from Blur.  Finishing with coffee and petit fours, we had a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

As I now write, Restaurant Roots is booking up months in advance, with incredible seasonal produce, the perfect tools for a chef’s dream playground.  If you are planning a visit to the South Coast and want a fine dining experience, Restaurant Roots simply has to be on your list to visit; I struggle to name a better fine dining style restaurant on current form in Dorset, and by some considerable distance.

‘A little magic paired with confidence’ – The Jetty

The Jetty in Christchurch offers a tasting menu that will leave you wanting to sample more

The Jetty in Christchurch offers a classy tasting menu that will leave you wanting to sample more

Firstly, a welcome back to my readers. With a recent trip to Barcelona under my belt, there is plenty more in store for the coming weeks, but first…

In search of the freshest and very finest seafood in the South of England, my next stop earlier this month was Christchurch, Dorset. ‘The Jetty’ offers an impressive À la carte menu, but the ‘Jetty Tasting Menu’ was far too tempting to resist for a first visit. A collection of light dishes designed to tempt you to return, and overall, they did not disappoint given my high expectations.

The Jetty is set beautifully overlooking Mudeford Quay in Christchurch, Dorset. Within the grounds of Christchurch Harbour Hotel, the restaurant prides itself on sourcing local, fresh ingredients. Naturally, the stars of the menu are the locally caught seafood. The Jetty is very lucky to have a fantastic outdoor decking and one can only imagine the beauty of dining outside with a Summer sunset.

In addition to the £55 per head tasting menu, we opted for wine pairings for the evening. At an additional £35 per head, it is not to be taken lightly on the wallet. Despite that, the quality and selection of wines on offer throughout the evening most certainly impressed. With the set tasting menu, the restaurant offered an opportunity to swap any of the courses for a light version of a dish from the À la carte menu. We opted for a swap on the dessert, more on that later.

The evening of food kicked off with an extremely impressive amuse bouche of a mini crab tartlet, topped with a quail egg, boasting a delicious runny yolk. Dressed with asparagus, the plate was worthy of a course on the tasting menu in its own right. Incredible bursts of flavours and exceptionally beautiful on the plate. Left with some confusion at this stage as to whether we should expect a wine pairing for this ‘course’, a sparkling wine aperitif arrived with an explanation that they ‘didn’t normally do a wine pairing with the amuse bouche’. A fair comment, but perhaps it was not that we were expectant of a wine pairing at this stage, but more that once we had opted for the wine pairings, we were not presented with a further opportunity to order any drinks other than the water on the table. A common theme throughout the evening was a slightly disjointed approach to the serving of the paired wines as the food left the kitchen. The head waiter who dealt with the wine pairings did his very best to serve the wine shortly before the arrival of each dish, but this was not always achieved because he was simply occupied with other tables in the restaurant. A little refinement of this process is needed to avoid dishes sitting on the table waiting for their accompanying wine. A small tweak at most needed in this department. Communication is so important between the kitchen at the front of house.

Our first ‘proper’ dish arrived, a wonderfully rich pork belly and succulent prawn with lime and ginger flavours. Classic Oriental notes executed excellently for a beautiful start. To follow, perfectly seared scallop, squid and chorizo was accompanied by a warm salad of chick peas, spring vegetables and a punchy pesto, packed with powerful basil and garlic. A very pleasant combination of flavours, a touch more seasoning on the salad needed to capture the imagination.

The next dish left me frustrated, more because some elements were simply outstanding, whilst others went missing. Monkfish tail and oxtail. ‘Tails’. It certainly was two tales, with the monkfish perfectly soft yet meaty and full of richness, whilst the oxtail was a little chewy and under seasoned. A beautiful herb intensive vegetable broth finished the dish leaving it a notch down from brilliance. The oxtail really let an otherwise indulgent dish down. Moving on to quail three ways, this plate of food really was inventive and exciting, displaying the chef’s true culinary capabilities. Rich and soft poached breast meat, golden and crispy cromesquis leg, and soft quail egg ravioli with a strikingly delicious runny yolk centre. Finished with asparagus and a lip-smacking albafura style sauce, the trend, at this stage, was very much upwards.

Next, the simplicity of a palate cleansing ‘goats cheese waldorf salad’ was blown completely out of Mudeford Quay’s water with the most surprising, mourish and well balanced salad I had ever experienced. The sweet grapes and apple jelly cubes, smoky and soft goats cheese, crunchy toasted walnuts and delicate mixed leaves were breathtaking when finished with the superbly paired sweet pineau des charentes cognac wine.

The final course was dessert heaven, textbook execution of a chocolate fondant, accompanied by shards of a deconstructed black forest meringue. The sweet and sharp fresh fruit, coulis and crunchy meringue cut through the indulgent, rich chocolate superbly.

In summary, The Jetty’s tasting dishes do a superb job of enticing diners into returning to sample the À la carte menu. The very few shortcomings of the evening were certainly not deal breakers for the price bracket, however, a little refinement of the logistics of the wine pairing offer is needed. The pairings themselves, faultless. The Jetty wins an impressive 8 out of 10 for a really enjoyable dining experience. I will return for the À la carte menu later this year, confident that it may squeeze an even higher score.

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