Sunday, 24 July 2011

The Gurnard's Head, nr Zennor, Cornwall

A five day tour round Cornwall taking in various sights and smells. Nathan Outlaw's grill where we paid £25 for a very nice, but small portion of sea-bass (that's two stars for you), the shits after some bad mussels (stand up, Sam's, in Fowey and take a bow), but two meals really grabbed me.

Stayed one night in the Gurnard's Head - an old pub/inn that was rough around the edges but served up as near as dammit the best meal I've had all year. Staff were friendly, atmosphere was welcoming, beds were comfortable - food was bloody brilliant. Why can't more stays away from home be like this?

Started wih a sea-bass ceviche - sweet with tomatoes and mangoes which initially I thought might end up a bit odd but was a hands-down success. Friend had a crab cannelloni starter that was packed with gusty brown meat in an equally gutsy crabby sauce. The main course thought was the killer - spring lamb done two ways with braised gem lettuce, broad beans and roasted "cocotte" potatoes (new one on me). Christ, I almost made a decent photo of it:

Lamb done two ways - Gurnard's Head, Zennor, Cornwall

Very clever little cake of braised shoulder meat - dense, well-seasoned, to go alongside the lamb cutlet. I'll flag it up as my favourite meal of the year so far. You can bollock on about simple produce well cooked but this was the case. I wish I could remember what my dining companions had. I can't.

Dessert was a solid (not literally) apricot and almond tart. Dinner, bed and breakfast was about £120 per room. The breakfast was smashing, too - some of the best smoked bacon I've had and proper chunks of portabello mushroom that hadn't had the moisture whacked out of them from overcooking.

Oh for more places like this around the country. 8. Or even a 9.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The Fisherman's Arms, Plymouth

"It's where the locals eat" said the bloke who ran the Plymouth guesthouse we stayed in ahead of a wedding down in Newquay. Plymouth, in places, is simply Bracknell-on-Sea. A 1950s/1960s urban apocalypse thanks to the friendly Mr Hitler.

We traipsed through the town and were happy to find some nicer scenery down by the sea, and then wandered back with foreboding to a shit housing estate that housed the Fisherman's Arms. Thankfully the inside was wonderfully modern but inviting and where I discovered St Austell's Trelawney bitter that accompanied me at many of the pubs throughout the trip.

Friendly barmaid gave us our menus and we had a charcuterie board to share - slathered with chorizo, bread, olives and what appeared to be a rose veal carpaccio. Mains were nothing short of enormous and impeccably cooked. The portion of mussels (cooked in cider and cream) was gargantuan. Really. Another platter of mixed fish on olive oil mash in a creamy sauce was wonderfully presented - and stupidly generous.

I went boring and had fish and chips. Yeah, shoot me down. But it was good: very, very good. Seriously thin, crispy batter, obviously fresh fish and some chunky, obviously multiply-cooked chips. The waitress asked me if I was vegetarian as the mushy peas came with bacon. Inspired. Smoky, mushy peas to go against the cod. Inspired. Did I say that already? Crap picture alert, I'll probably change it in due course to the prettier main courses the other folks had:

Cod and chips. Yes, just cod and chips but with bacony mushy peas! Fisherman's Arms, Plymouth

We almost went somewhere better-looking on the outside: apples and skins and all that. Great fishy start to the holiday. 8.

Monday, 18 July 2011

A big two-fingers to the "summer" weather

Today I denied it was pissing down outside when it should be sunny and 25c and flick the bird at the weather by having a tomato and mozzarella salad. That is all.

Good old mozzarella and tomato salad

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Telly Chef Recipe 1: Ramsay's White Onion Soup

Being a stupid cookbook whore, I tend to perve at a lot of recipes in cookbooks and end up actually doing very few. I've taken it upon myself to actually try and few recipes that the TV Chefs do.

Going completely against the grain of my plan however, the first one I did I think is in a Gordon Ramsay book somewhere that I don't have, but I stumbled upon it here on the interweb:

Pretty easy to make - just the usual arseache of chopping the onions - really must get myself a mandolin one day. Substituted Noilly Prat for Dry Martini as I didn't want Noilly Prat in my cupboard for the next 5 years.

Whizzed up and left in the fridge, I re-heated, seasoned and added cream the next day and the flavour was a gentler cousin of the wham-bam of a dark, beefy French Onion soup. It's not really worth a photo as the slowly-cooked onions and chicken stock (from the excellent but expensive Hampstead Butcher and Providore) turned it a 70s beige. 7.

3 months of eating North London: Pt 4: La du du, West Hampstead

Pissing rain in summer is an excuse for a soup. Is it? I don't know. Anyhow I'd got wind (and rain) of a new Vietnamese place so went there following my jaunt to Maltby Street market. Bright and modern and woody, the staff are very friendly here. The place was full as I nibbled away in the corner - lots of families present. Kids growing up these days will be so well educated in food compared even to my generation.

I'm guessing that a judge of a good restaurant is a staple so I headed for the Pho. Order a home-made limeade to keep me going - this lacked sugar and wasn't strong on the lime. The Pho duly arrived:

Pho, Ladudu, West Hampstead

For me a good pho has that aniseed punch initially and then a lingering savouriness. This had the aniseed part but just lacked the savoury hit - everyone seems to use "umami" for this nowadays. By no means a disaster - the noodles were lovely, they can tend to mush sometimes and the beef was generous.

I'm no Pho expert, but this was a bit short of the ones I've had at City Caphe and Thanh Binh in Camden, although I'll come back for a second try if time permits in my stay in Hampstead. 6.

Friday, 15 July 2011

The Grazing Goat, Marylebone

Every two months I talk bollocks with the same 4 friends. Mainly sport, a lot of banter and ribbing. It usually revolves around steak (regular patronage of Le Relais de Venice) but this time we went leftfield and tried a pub - namely the Grazing Goat - one of the more upmarket pub/dining venues from the Cubitt House group (Pantechnicon, Thomas Cubitt...)

All in all - pretty average. Two of us had starters - scallops, bacon, pea puree and potato wafers were all strong flavours (see below), but with 3 scallops and probably 6 mouthfuls in all, I thought £11 quid for this dish was pretty damn steep.

Scallops, pea purée, bacon at the Grazing Goat

Main courses varied from my roast chicken (small, neat portion but - as with plenty of chicken dishes bar the one I had at Blueprint Cafe late last year - dry!), to a gutsily-sized veal t-bone steak, fillet steak (sent back as was more medium-to-medium rare than the request rare) and lamb and rosemary pie. Nothing there to blow us away, but the staff were very efficient and accepting of the undercooked steak.

The white chocolate tart with raspberries and honeycomb ice-cream that two of us had was excellent, all bar the soggy base. Another friend's apple pie was meagre and unremarkable. We were all pretty honest with our server who returned to offer us a free round of coffees for our thoughts.

At about £45 a head (and we only had a pint or two of beer with this) represents quite an outlay for posh pub food. A meal at Anchor and Hope a couple of weeks ago for the same price reminds you of how well "gastropub" food can be done. 5 - although full marks to the service (although as ever I only really care about marking the food!)

Monday, 11 July 2011

Sausages, smoke, sozzled.

The best boozy moments are those unplanned. Agreed to meet a friend on the South Bank who knows his way around what's happening with London food more than most. And so at this seemingly covert "Tweat_Up" that I was suggested to follow on twitter I had a sticker slapped on my coat which entitled me to very cheap pints of cocktails - the proceeds apparently going towards getting a new smoker for the stellar BBQ at Pitt Cue Co.

"I'll just stay for the one". 20p can of red stripe led to 4 pints of Mojito at £2 a pop:

Yes, a pint of mojito at the Tweat_Up on the South Bank

Luckily for the many merry-makers, Pitt Cue Co were there and I dug into one of the magnificent pork creations (with a smoky kick this time) from Abiye and his Big Apple Hot Dogs. 50 bourbon-soaked brownies were there - somewhere - but we managed to miss out.

Sunday drinking suddenly is fun again at the age of 36.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

3 months of eating North London: Pt 3: Atari-Ya, South Hampstead

I'd caught wind of good sushi near the roaring Finchley Road. Popped in there on a Tuesday evening after work. A speculative turn-up found us seated at the bar as the rest of the place was already booked. Good sign already.

We were seated at the end of the bar, able to watch the chefs mesmerically do their business. We also had a few cooked tuna pieces as an appetiser - nice touch.

Some menu staples (salmon, tuna, miso soup) were pretty much as you'd hope but specific things on the menu had caught my eye. Iberico pork tonkatsu was pretty much as it sounded - a luxurious take on another staple. Crisp on the outside, probably 70/30 pork and fat on the inside. A cardiologist's dream. And probably mine too. Mowed that up with the spicy HP-esque (call me a heathen, then) tonkatsu sauce. Really great. Note the chopsticks-in-one hand, camera-in-other hand photo ability. Who says men can't multitask?

Iberico pork tonkatsu, Atari-Ya

I also took the advice of various reports on the web to give the fatty tuna sashimi a crack. About £10 for a relatively small portion of tuna, but glorious nonetheless:

Fatty "fattest" tuna at Atari-Ya

Not being a regular sushi eater, this was new territory. The whole idea of fish being "fatty" seemed odd, but the texture was fantastic and I felt you didn't really want to spoil it with the various accoutrements that usually come with sashimi.

Worked out about £30 a head with a beer each - and we left full. Will return! 7 or 8. One of the two.

The Anchor & Hope is still my favourite restaurant

It never fails - it just never fails. If Mr Michelin dished out stars simply for food - let's ignore the knockabout chairs and tables and occasionally sharing a table with someone you don't know - then I would have thought that the A&H would be deserving of a star. Wouldn't it? You tell me - maybe I'm blinkered with a bias of loving food there for many a year.

Five of us decided to go large on the mains and share pnly a couple of starters. The omnipresent crab on toast - a barrage of flavour as ever and also sand eels with aioli were a great start. The sand eels offered up a similar crunch to a whitebait, but without the usual over-crumbing that your standing whitebait starter can suffer from.

Mains were an enormous tranche of Beef Wellington - resplendent with mushroom pate and foie grass (at a decidedly steep £26 - well for the A&H anyway). Another great stable - the rib of beef with chips was spot on: the charred, salty outside of the ribs is magnificent here. The chips have been hit and miss before here but not today - crunch and softness inside. Slow-cooked pork belly was immaculate - crunch and softness again here with seemingly most of the fat rendered out and through the strands of meat. The winner though was marrow stuffed with a wonderful gutsy veal ragu. £19 for this (supposedly serving two).

Beef Wellington - Anchor and Hope

In a miracle of belt-loosening there were desserts. Pistachio cake knocked the other desserts (including the ever-excellent subtly burnt-tasting praline ice-cream) into a sizeable cocked hat, retaining plenty of moisture.

Staff bantered away with us - although one bloke seems a bit - well - strange with a rictus grin that would put Gordon Brown to shame. But have we been going there for the staff? Doubt it. So pleasing that after so many years it hasn't lost its inventive touch for turning out hearty food. 8.