Tag Archives: reviews

‘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.

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‘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

Roots

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.

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

Changing of the seasons

Firstly, a big thank you to my first group of blog readers and followers! It’s been an interesting first few weeks exploring what I want to achieve from this adventure, and I am really pleased that plenty of readers are already signed up to hear what I have to say on all things food!

The first BBQ of the Summer called for some tasty venison burgers

The first BBQ of the Summer called for some tasty venison burgers

Easter Monday yielded the very first BBQ of the year! We thoroughly enjoyed tucking into some lovely venison burgers and enjoying the great weather on the South Coast.

So a bit of a teaser on what’s coming up on Wise words on food as we drift through Spring and (hopefully) into Summer…

I’ll shortly be sharing a handful of cracking recipes with everyone, including my highly recommended ‘Thai Fish and Chips’ and ‘Stilton, Mango and Honey Ciabatta’. We’ll be looking at a couple of recent visits to local restaurants, with ‘The Jetty’ in Christchurch firmly on my radar for early May. Not forgetting my popular ‘best kept secrets’ archive, which is almost certain to soon feature where you can find the best cappuccino on the South Coast of England, and a humble high street haven for sourcing oriental ingredients on a budget.

A final encouragement to comment and get involved with everything I post, I’m always interested to hear your views and help shape what you want to hear about.

Speak soon,

Matt

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