‘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.

Coffee again..

Coffee

Smooth and fruity…not your average coffee

Sadly, a previous recommendation of mine for a first class coffee on the South Coast closed some time back.  Despite that, in its place is a fabulous cheese and wine restaurant which I am sure will feature on this site in the near future.

But to ensure readers are not left without a recommendation for great coffee, my most recent visit to Bath allowed a replacement to be added to my best kept secrets archive.  Colonna and Smalls – serving weekly speciality coffees in a rustic setting. Something I did learn here is the seasonality of coffee much like other produce across the globe. Certain varieties hit the spot at different times of the year. So rather than picking up a bucket of Starbucks when you next visit Bath, try something a little different and far more exciting.

Colonna and Smalls

6 Chapel Row

Bath

www.colonnaandsmalls.co.uk

01202 767513

Staycation secrets…

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Thurlestone Beach in April 2017

Farm shops are often neglected by tourists – whether it is because you are staying in a B&B or hotel, or perhaps the nearest bright blue lights of Tesco have presented an easy choice for a quick dinner.  But I would encourage you to look for the nearest farm shop on your next trip away, there are some real hidden gems in the UK.  They all tend to source local where possible which is great for the local producers, economy and carbon footprint.

An Easter break took us to a small village near Torcross, Devon; where I was delighted to find a superb, well stocked farm shop at Stokeley Barton Farm.  Boasting a butchers, greengrocers, bakery, delicatessen, cafe and plenty of store cupboard items including local wines, beers and ciders, there was enough inspiration for some fantastic home cooked meals in our cosy cottage.  Perfect relaxation after long walks from the pictured Thurlestone to neighbouring Bigbury-on-sea and beyond.

Pan roasted pork chops with sage and rosemary from the herb garden, a white wine and bacon sauce, cheesy mash and some fresh purple sprouting broccoli.  If that isn’t enough to get you along to a farm shop, I’m not sure what will!

Stokeley Farm Shop

Stokeley Barton Farm

Kingsbridge

Devon TQ7 2SE

http://www.stokeleyfarmshop.co.uk/

Pan seared sea bass, lemongrass risotto

A classic risotto is a wonderful thing, but with a Thai twist, you can be far more creative and drop a lovely fresh piece of pan fried fish on top.  A can of coconut milk is the perfect substitute for stock, when serving 2 people.

Pan seared sea bass, lemongrass risotto

  • Servings: 2
  • Time: 45 mins
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print
Ingredients:

  • 2 sea bass fillets
  • 200g risotto rice
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 stick of celery, finely chopped
  • 2 lemongrass stalks, bashed and finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 green chilli, finely chopped
  • 1 small bunch of coriander, stalks and leaves finely chopped & separated
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 400ml tin of coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp thai fish sauce
  • 160g frozen petit pois/garden peas
  • Cornish sea salt
  • Pink peppercorns, crushed
  • Lemon wedges to serve

Method:

  1. Start your risotto in the normal way by choosing your best non-stick pan and gently sweat the onion and celery in the olive oil with a pinch of good quality sea salt for 2-3 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic, lemongrass, chilli and coriander stalks, continuing to fry gently for 2 more minutes until fragrant.
  3. Pour in your risotto rice, stirring continually to coat the rice until it becomes translucent.
  4. Zest the lemon into the pan and continue stirring as you add the coconut milk little by little as the rice absorbs all the liquid.  Juice the lemon and add alongside the fish sauce and some crushed pink peppercorns.
  5. When the rice is nearly cooked, stir in the peas for 2 minutes before folding in the chopped coriander leaves.
  6. Season to taste, take off the heat, cover.
  7. Take your sea bass fillets and score the skin as pictured with a sharp knife. This will prevent the skin curling up in the pan and increase your chances of a crispy skin and soft flesh.  Season the skin with sea salt, getting in between those grooves you have scored.
  8. Bring a non-stick frying pan up to a medium-high heat and add a splash of olive oil, placing the sea bass fillets skin side down.
  9. Cook skin side down for 2-3 minutes, be confident!  You need to do 85% of the cooking on this side.  You will start to see the flesh turning bright white.  Season the fish on the flesh side whilst cooking.  Flip and cook for 1 minute further.
  10. Dish up your risotto, serving the fish on top and adding some lemon wedges and coriander leaves to serve.

‘Refined authenticity’ – Bhoomi

Bhoomi

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.

Smoked Mackerel Tartare with Cucumber Ketchup

A stunning but simple starter to impress your dinner party guests.

I put this together for Christmas 2016, as a starter to blow away any prawn cocktail…but despite its wonderful colourful presentation – anyone can throw this together in a matter of minutes.  The smoky, rich tartare compliments the sweet beetroot and sharp but refreshing ketchup.

Smoked Mackerel Tartare with Cucumber ketchup

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 30 mins
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
Ingredients:

  • 4 peppered smoked mackerel fillets
  • 4 boiled eggs
  • 2 pickled gherkins
  • 4 tbsp homemade or good quality mayonnaise (I like rapeseed oil mayo)
  • chopped dill
  • juice of 1/2 – 1 lemon to your taste
  • 4 Sourdough crispbread
  • 50ml white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1/2 tsp of xanthan gum
  • 2-3 cooked beetroots in their own juice (not pickled)
  • radish slices
  • microherbs or salad cress for garnish
  • good quality salt flakes

Method:

  1. Make the cucumber ketchup ahead of time by roughly chopping the cucumber. Heat the vinegar and sugar together in a pan until the sugar dissolves.  When cooled, add alongside the cucumber to a blender and blitz until smooth, seasoning with salt.  Turn the blender back on and add the xanthan gum, mixing well.  The mixture will now be gelatinous and ready to put in a squeezy bottle for the final presentation.  Pop in the fridge until you are ready to assemble.
  2. Skin the mackerel fillets and roughly chop on a large board.
  3. Quarter your boiled eggs and add to the board.
  4. Slice the gherkins and add to the board.
  5. Chop the dill finely and sprinkle over the mixture on the board.
  6. Dollop over the mayonnaise and start bringing together the mixture with a spoon.
  7. Using a large kitchen knife, chop through the mixture continually for as long as it takes to bring together a fine mixture that resembles a sandwich filler consistency.
  8. Squeeze over the lemon juice and season with salt to taste.  Refrigerate in a container until you are ready to assemble.
  9. Cube the cooked beetroots.
  10. To assemble, stick each crispbread to a plate with a dollop of your favourite homemade fish pate – I have a very simple smoked mackerel recipe that works wonderfully with this dish.  Use a cooking/presentation ring to layer up the smoked mackerel tartare and then beetroot cubes.  Lift off the cooking rings before adding small blobs of your ketchup, radish slices and the garnish of your choice.
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