Tag Archives: critique

Catch of the day…

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The ultimate seafood platter..

A new addition to the best kept secrets archive this week, with a recommendation for a fresh seafood selection to die for.  The Seafood Platter, Beer is a quaint pub with access to the finest, freshly caught seafood.  A really relaxed ‘pub grub’ atmosphere is blown totally out of the water by the special sea food menu.

Beer is a superb little seaside fishing village, well worth visiting for the wonderful coastal walks and beautiful cove.

The pictured ultimate platter needs to be ordered when booking a table to ensure you do not miss out all of the elements, including tiger prawns, crab, mussels, scallops, oysters and cockles.  Stunning and served simply with lemon, bread, butter and aioli.

Sometimes you have to look into the unexpected to find incredible food.

The Seafood Platter

Fore Street

Beer

Devon

Casual, confident, convenient…

The Laughing Gravy delivers a trendy, relaxed and impressive dining experience.

The Laughing Gravy delivers a trendy, relaxed and impressive dining experience.

Firstly, a welcome back to all my readers and fellow foodies! It’s been an extremely busy Summer after coming very close to appearing on the BBC’s ‘Masterchef’, to numerous trips packed with some fantastic dining experiences. I’ll certainly be looking to apply for Masterchef again having reached the final stage prior to the televised heats, and there will be lots of exciting news to share on here in the coming weeks.

Straight back into the action, I’ve got a cracking bar and restaurant to add to the ‘best kept secrets’ archive.

Southwark, a stones throw from my regular London destination, Waterloo, is home of ‘The Laughing Gravy’. The name is taken from the 1931 Laurel and Hardy film about a scruffy pooch and Stan and Ollie’s landlord’s ‘no pets’ policy. The chilled atmosphere lends to a few casual drinks at the bar, or a trendy but relaxed dining experience that rivals far more upmarket eateries in the capital.

My highlights from the menu include a delicious Confit belly of pork with apple puree, Hog’s black pudding and pork sausage roll starter, although the Honey-cured smoked Loch Duart salmon fillet, salmon scratchings, broccoli and watercress bavarois is equally as impressive. To follow, I would opt for the cider-marinated lamb rump with parsnip and thyme dumplings, broad bean piccalilli and crushed truffle minted pea and broad beans. Simply stunning in flavour and presentation, the dish comes with all the elegance you would expect with such fine ingredients, but delivers the type of hearty punch you’d expect from a cosy Sunday lunch in the countryside.

Dessert can be the deal breaker for some of my readers, and ‘The Laughing Gravy’ delivers a drum roll worthy Salted caramel fudge and shortbread filled chocolate cylinder with a cashew nut cluster and peanut emulsion. A mouthful in every sense. Rich, indulgent and simply wonderful!

Ideally situated a few minutes walk from Southwark tube station, if it’s a flying visit or a relaxed evening of food, ‘The Laughing Gravy’ delivers with aplomb.

The Laughing Gravy
154 Blackfriars Road
Southwark
London

http://www.thelaughinggravy.co.uk/

‘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.

An exceptional cup of coffee can cut through the most miserable of weather

A home from home on a wet Saturday afternoon, Cusina serves up Barista perfection, alongside an array of light breakfasts, mouth watering homemade sandwiches, lunches and cakes

A home from home on a wet Saturday afternoon, Cusina serves up Barista perfection, alongside an array of light breakfasts, mouth watering homemade sandwiches, lunches and cakes

When I recall family holidays in Italy, many culinary delights spring to mind. Hand stretched pizzas, beautiful pasta dishes, vibrant and fresh salads and mouth watering desserts. But one lasting memory was the regular visit to the local coffee shop, as my palate developed from craving bittersweet hot chocolate to the famous cappuccino.

A true Italian cappuccino, with perfectly formed frothy milk, the aroma strong and heady, executed to perfection. That is what I have been searching for on the South Coast of England. The smell of fresh coffee in the mornings, it can wipe away the best efforts of British wet weather. There is nothing quite like it.

To date, Cusina, a small café and kitchen in Westbourne, Bournemouth, has delivered the very best cappuccino around. Truly deserving of a spot in my ‘best kept secrets’ archive.

The perfect array of homemade cakes, sandwiches and light lunches accompany a simply stunning level of ability for coffee making. So whether it will be a meaty, tangy salt beef sandwich, or an indulgent slice of caramel cake, you can rest assured that your exceptional hot drink has a perfect partner, morning or afternoon.

This is one I can assure you’ll return to.

Cusina
48 Poole Road
Westbourne
Bournemouth

01202 767513

The warmest welcomes can be the hardest to find…

Comfortable setting, friendly welcome and exceptional seasonal ingredients at Charlotte's Place

Comfortable setting, friendly welcome and exceptional seasonal ingredients at Charlotte’s Place

Firstly, a very Happy Easter to all my readers and fellow foodies. I hope the break has allowed you to sample something new and exciting or a well established favourite. Either way, a good slab of quality chocolate is a must!

I’m a seasoned professional at heading East on the London Underground from central London. It’s rare that you’ll find me West of Victoria, but today’s entry into ‘best kept secrets’ is hidden in a West London neighbourhood.

Ealing, famous for first bringing together the Rolling Stones, boasts a truly exceptional local neighbourhood restaurant in ‘Charlotte’s Place.’

On arrival, you are invited to ring the door bell, which is answered by a friendly member of staff. It’s very much got a feeling of being invited over to a friend’s house for dinner; but this friend sources the finest seasonal ingredients money can buy!

Our highlights included a beautifully flavoured chicken liver mousse starter which was served with a homemade piccalilli. Piccalilli always reminds me of Christmas time, a family favourite for the Boxing Day spread. But this tangy mustard pickle was the perfect foil for the meaty, garlic flavours in the mousse. Another starter on our table was a beetroot cured salmon, which inspires an upcoming recipe for this blog. The scarlet colour penetration on the delicately thin slices of salmon an attractive base for any plate of food.

A final recommendation of the dark chocolate and hazelnut brownie, served with salted caramel ice cream. Dessert heaven for those with a sweet tooth, need I say anymore?

The atmosphere relaxed and service attentive throughout, it was a true pleasure to experience Charlotte’s Place. Hidden away in Ealing, the restaurant is well and truly deserving of a place in my ‘best kept secrets’ archive.

An ever-changing, seasonal, fresh menu. So you better move quick if you want to get your hands on that brownie!

Charlotte’s Place
16 St Matthew’s Road
Ealing
London

http://charlottes.co.uk/place/

‘Nervously, noisily, nearly exquisite’ – The Crab at Bournemouth

The Crab at Bournemouth delivers classic seafood with imagination and panache

The Crab at Bournemouth serves up a classic seafood fayre with imagination and panache

Often, I find that a dining experience can be tainted by pretentious service – something ‘The Crab at Bournemouth’ has been accused of in the past. When we leave our homes in search of a fine dining experience, often spending significant amounts of money, restaurants should be privileged to serve us. We should never be made to feel like we are lucky to part with our hard-earned cash. Despite this, there is a polar opposite to pretentious service. Overbearing, unnecessary visits to your table can interrupt your conversation, or similarly spoil an otherwise lovely lunch or dinner. It’s a very fine balance for restaurants, and one that should not be underestimated.

The Crab holds an impressive position, not far from the sea front. In fact you can see the sea from most of the tables, allowing you to play a game of spotting diners craning their necks to admire the view throughout your stay! Whilst the building itself is fairly discreet, the dining room boasts floor to ceiling windows which creates a fantastic reflective atmosphere at dusk, particularly in a buzzing and busy restaurant.

We were greeted with a warm welcome on a very busy Saturday evening. Casual diners were being turned away from a fully booked restaurant which is always a positive; particularly in preparing an accurate critique for a dinner serving that would be stretched to the maximum number of covers. The bar is nicely located as you enter the restaurant and your attention is also immediately drawn to a grand piano towards the centre of the room…more on that later.

Once seated, our drinks were ordered and arrived promptly, alongside a vibrant selection of fresh breads. An equally impressive accompanying selection of garlic mayonnaise, salted butter and hummus was a nice touch over and above a single lump of butter. At £25 a bottle of very decent Belstar Prosecco (Italy), the light, refreshing citrus notes were a perfect and affordable accompaniment to an evening of sea food.

Having ordered our starters and main courses, we were treated to a complimentary amuse-bouche of smoked salmon mousse, delicately presented on a tasting spoon. Topped off with a thinly crisp crouton and a cress garnish, the spoon was very nicely balanced and packed a beautifully smokey punch. The mousse was perfectly seasoned and coarse enough to hold its own with the crunch of the crouton, the cress garnish adding an important fresh twist to the spoon. In its own right, the mousse was fit for a larger portion as a starter, very impressive.

A pause in service and the pianist made himself comfortable, ready to play. It was pleasant at first, but not all the diners had arrived yet, so the background noise wasn’t at its loudest. He was hitting the keys pretty hard too, a plea of ‘listen to me, I’m good at piano.’ He was good, very good. I didn’t need the extra force to tell me that though.

My starter of ‘Salcombe Crab and Poached Lobster’ arrived in good time and hit me with the ‘wow’ factor I refer to in my ‘best kept secrets’ blogs. The lobster soft, sweet and succulent, paired with textbook dressed crab meat, dotted around a jet black slate was a sight to behold. Amidst the stars of the dish were garden peas and perfectly piped pea puree, poking fun at the senses as I mistook one for the other. Further cubes of celery roots and salad leaves were scattered to great effect, whilst a final swipe of a light marie-rose style sauce cut through all the elements of the dish for an outstanding combination. This, undoubtably, was the best starter dish I had the pleasure of eating for a long time.

Throughout the evening, the serving staff were very attentive to topping up our glasses, but a little tentative to ask if we wished to order any more drinks, or engage in the briefest of conversations, almost a nervousness amongst some that they would be overbearing. This was certainly not the case.

Suitably impressed thus far, I had opted for ‘Spiced Monkfish and Scallops’ for my main course. Served with a sweet potato curry and lime and coriander rice, the scallops were seared to perfection and combined excellently with the fresh, tangy notes of lime and coriander, and the thick, hearty sweet and spicy notes of the curry. The monkfish needed ever so slightly less cooking time, however the seasoning and flavour combinations within the dish more than saved it. A notch down from perfection, no doubt. Shortly after tucking into our main course, the servers delivered a small dish of grated cheese, croutons and what I could only describe as a cold gravy dip. There was no explanation to the purpose of these extras or what they consisted of. A little baffling in my eyes.

Throughout our main course, our favourite pianist was back but now melting nicely into the background noise. My assessment? A perfect touch for later in the evening, but out of place at 7pm in a half empty restaurant.

I’m a sucker for a good cheese board, so two thirds of the way through a very decent dining experience, it was too tempting to resist The Crab’s ‘Selection of Cheeses.’ The most pleasing thing for me was that the selection lived up to its title. Too often I have sampled 4 minor variations of Cheddar, all huge and overbearing. The Crab had selected a Cheddar, a Smoked Applewood, a Brie, a Goat’s Cheese and a Stilton, all very different in texture, flavour and finish. The modest chunk of each variety was enough to polish off with little trouble and the oat and rye biscuits, spicy chutney, celery sticks and grapes added a classic balance. Perhaps a further opportunity to impress would have been an explanation of the selection, having had to guess that the smoked cheese was an applewood.

Overall, I have to commend the Crab for an extremely impressive and accomplished meal, an excellent 8 out of 10. The waiting staff need an arm around their shoulders in my view, encouragement to help tell the story behind some of the dishes and complete the picture. That disconnection between kitchen and dining room is holding the Crab back. Despite that, I wouldn’t have missed that food for the world.

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