Category Archives: Restaurants

Purnell’s Bistro and Ginger’s Bar

Any discerning food lover will have heard of Glynn Purnell, Birmingham’s celebrated food hero and chef owner of Michelin starred and multi-award winning restaurant Purnell’s. I’ve always wanted to dine there, but haven’t yet had the chance, so I was delighted that the first BBC Good Food Show bloggers lunch was to be held at Purnell’s little sister restaurant Purnell’s Bistro which is also the home of Ginger’s Bar.

We were treated to a cocktail masterclass with the undivided attention of a rather charming bar man. He led us through 6 different cocktails, giving us tips, techniques, unique flavour ideas and some flashy flairing too!

This one was rather intriguing – the Lamb Provencal… made with lamb fat infused rum, cranberry and rosemary – almost like fruity, cold gravy but much nicer than it sounds!

The bar tender had lots of special ingredients tucked away behind the bar, from herb infused spirits and fruity mixes to this sticky almond syrup.

We took our cocktails with us to our table where three courses of specially selected dishes were served.

I love butter, so was delighted to see they had their own delicious ‘home-whipped’ butter to be served with home-baked bread.

I started with the butternut squash veloute and ravioli which was packed with flavour, rich and creamy.

Our lovely bar man then supplied us with another refreshing cocktail to cleanse our palettes before the next course.

I couldn’t resist the slow braised beef with shallots and creamed spinach, it was as tasty and flavourful as it looks here.

Desserts included a seasonal crumble with ice cream or chocolate torte with red currant sorbet and caramelised hazelnuts.

We were very well looked after and it is clear that customer service is very important. Prices are great value and although advertised as a ‘bistro’ it certainly felt special and would be perfect for a celebration or special occasion. The bistro gives Glynn fans a taste of his expert cooking, while offering honest (read hefty) portions, a more relaxed dining experience and prices that wont break the bank.

I loved it, but do still want to visit Purnell’s… I’ll start saving now! Have you been to either restaurant? If so, what did you think?

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The Gunton Arms

The Gunton Arms is a relatively new addition to the North Norfolk pub scene, having opened in late 2011. I remember when the previously named Elderton Lodge was closed down for refurbishment and the rumours that flew around about what would replace it (a Londoner, an art dealer, someone to do with Mark Hix – I was excited!). I visited last Christmas and had an amazing meal with lots of wine so we booked early for a lunch with friends the weekend after Christmas. I hadn’t realised, but the pub actually won the Michelin guide’s pub of the year for 2012 – excellent news for them, not so great for us having to plan ahead to book a table!

The owner is an art dealer, and this is certainly reflected in the interior decorations. I’ve heard that there has been some local controversy over some of the art but I think it adds to the character of the pub, and the experience too. A trip to the ladies toilets will either leave you in the privacy of hyacinths or horses and a bare-chested, and rather overweight lady – choose your cubicle wisely! If you are an art lover, you will find a vast range of original pieces including work from Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst.

Starters were difficult to choose from, with a great selection. My sister went for their Loch Duart home smoked salmon, which was presented beautifully. It had a perfect texture – soft in the mouth, but still firm and dry. The smoke was strong and unique but didn’t overpower the flavour of the salmon.

I went for the duck egg with lobster and seashore vegetables, which I loved. When I visited before I had a similar dish but with brown shrimp rather than the lobster, either way, the duck egg yolk acts like a rich, creamy sauce to lubricate the dish and for me was the ultimate seasonal starter.

Smoked Gressingham duck with walnut and blackcurrant looked great and was very much enjoyed.

Ham hock terrine was served in a generous portion with home-made piccalilli.

The roast beef was by far the best roast dinner I’d eaten in 2012 – made even better by the intensely rich roast garlic bread sauce (Delia’s bread sauce will never be the same again) which accompanied the chicken but was happily served with the beef too. My boyfriend made the mistake of being lured in by the crispy belly pork with chorizo and chickpea stew on the specials board, and spent the entire meal voicing his dismay at his poor menu choice and accompanying food envy. The beef was cooked just as I wanted, tender and full of flavour, the yorkshire was crispy while retaining a bit of stodge at the bottom, roast potatoes just right, parsnips caramelised to perfection and vegetables lightly buttered and supplied in abundance. Oh and a jug of excellent extra gravy too!

We couldn’t resist dessert. The sticky toffee pudding looked like a work of art and delivered everything you want from this classic dessert, along with a light, milky ice cream to contrast against the sticky, treacley richness.

My choice, the Amedei chocolate mousse, was HUGE but great – it was rich while not too bitter, creamy yet still fresh and was the perfect way of showcasing the quality of Tuscan Amedei chocolate.

 

My sister went for the buttermilk pudding with Somerset cherries in eau de vie. The cherries on their own blow your socks off (there were a couple of cherry casualties), but when eaten with the milky pudding they worked in perfect harmony with each other to make a fruity, boozy and creamy pudding.

The interior of The Gunton Arms is welcoming, like a home away from home (perhaps without some of the more outrageous art and stuffed animals) and luxuriously furnished with an eclectic mix of solid wood, leather, animal heads and the aforementioned art. We ate in the ‘grill room’ where a huge fire-place is used to not only warm the room, but also to cook some of the meat based dishes on the menu.

The view from the lodge is incredibly beautiful, with deer scattered across the surrounding fields. The perfect place to take a long walk in wellies, followed by a well deserved indulgent meal. They have 8 bedrooms, which I’m sure are beautifully decorated, so would be a great place to stay too.

The meal wasn’t cheap, at around £40 per head for a 3 course lunch with a couple of drinks each and tip, but with the quality of food and drink, the luxurious and beautiful surroundings and superb service, we were left feeling full, happy and looking forward to returning.  They also have a well priced bar menu, with enticing items like red deer dogs and venison sausage rolls – so will definitely be back when next in Norfolk to try some of the bar snacks too!

Have you been to The Gunton Arms? If so what did you think? If not, does this post make you want to visit?

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Food Find of the Week – Fortnum and Mason’s Knickerbocker Glory

A visit to Fortnum and Mason is an essential pre-Christmas activity for me. I love the gorgeous Christmas windows, the impressively ornate architecture, the luxury and the unrivalled quality of products and service. I met up with my best friend on Tuesday to do a spot of shopping and to treat ourselves to a special dinner before we went our separate ways for Christmas.

Before I tell you more about my food find of the week, their fabulous Knickerbocker Glory, let me show you some of the Christmassy displays in the shop – I forgot to take pictures of the windows!

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Exclusive Emma Bridgewater Designs

 

I booked a table in the Fountain restaurant, which is on the ground floor of the store. It is beautifully decorated and the service makes you feel very special!

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I really like the ‘Savouries’ section of the menu, which is basically a brunch menu with things like smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, omelette Arnold Bennett and even lobster Benedict, which you can have at any time of day. Isn’t it the height of luxury when you can have brunch for dinner?!

I went for the pan-fried halibut, with tempura cod cheek served with caponata and a creamy sauce. It was delicious, and was even better with their ‘like chip shop chips but more posh’ chips and bread basket.

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And so to the Knickerbocker Glory, which apparently they have been serving since 1955! I’m not surprised it’s still on the menu – it was impressive and soooooo good. With fresh strawberries in sauce at the bottom, layered with the best strawberry ice-cream I’ve ever tasted, fresh vanilla flavoured whipped cream, more strawberry sauce and finally topped with Italian meringue which has been gently toasted on top.

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It wasn’t cheap at £12 but it’s definitely a sharing sized portion! I know it’s not particularly Christmassy but it is the perfect refresher to a posh shopping trip round Fortnum and Mason! Let me know if you have tried before, or if I’ve inspire you to give it a go!

 

 

 

 

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Savouring Santorini

I hadn’t always wanted to go to Santorini, but after stumbling across it on a last minute holiday search, seeing the pictures and reading all about it, my heart was set. Even though it meant lowering our standards in terms of the accommodation (bad reviews and no air conditioning) in order to be able to afford to go, I just had to go and my poor boyfriend didn’t get much of a say in the matter!

He soon got over it, and we had an AMAZING time – it  truly must be one of the most beautiful places in the world (I haven’t been that many places to compare though)… we fell in love with the scenery, people and the food! Yammas to Santorini!

Oia… where the streets are paved with gold (well marble, but doesn’t it look like gold on this picture?!)… It’s definitely the most beautiful man made part of the island. People in the know where white, the buildings are white and built into the cliffs… a truly stunning and magical place. It’s also an expensive place, so before we went we decided not to eat there, just watch the sunset and go back to good value Perissa where we were staying. Its a popular place, and lots (and lots) of people want to watch the ‘magical’ sunset… we didn’t like being squished up against everyone else so as soon as we saw the perfect seat looking out onto the sunset we decided that we could afford to have a meal. 125 Euros later (compare to 30/40 euros for same in Perissa) we had watched an amazing sunset and had an average meal. Great experience though, and I would recommend anyone to visit.

We took our sunset seats while the sun was still high…

The highlight of the meal was the mixed mezze starter with halloumi, sausage, pastries, meatballs, prawns, pitta, hoummous, taramasalata, stuffed vine leaves and salad.

A glass of Vinsanto (Santorini’s sweet dessert wine) finished off our meal as we watch the beautiful Oia sunset.

 We took a trip to the Santo Wines Winery, which is a cooperative for local wine growers. We were too hot to stay long but had a look at the vines, the view and had a good look around the air conditioned shop. Grapes grown in Santorini are grown on special vines that shelter from the island’s strong winds by growing close to the ground. ‘Village wine’ can be bought very cheaply by the litre in supermarkets and by the carafe in restaurants. It is quite acidic but lovely in moderation!

Ancient Akrotiri is over 3,500 years old, a city evacuated before Santorini suffered the most spectacular of volcanic eruptions, with ash from the explosion found so far away as California and those in the UK able to hear its blast. Lava flowed through the streets of the impressively advanced metropolis, preserving its streets, houses, even it’s drainage systems. Taking a tour of the climate controlled archeological site is awe inspiring, and apparently they have only uncovered a very small part of the buried city.

After our tour of ancient Akrotiri, we walked down to the seafront, where we found a lovely row of fish tavernas – perfect timing as we were hungry for lunch. We picked the one furthest along the coastline, where the seating area jutted out into the sea and octopus legs were strung up to dry in the sun.

We couldn’t work out if the octopus was on the menu so went for a few safer different dishes to share. We started with calamari which was so fresh, crispy and tender.

Tomato balls, or fritters, are a santorini speciality. You may have heard of Santorini cherry tomatoes which are awaiting PDO status… I’ve had ‘Santini’ tomatoes from M&S which I think have been grown to mimic the sweet, full flavoured Santorini cherry tomatoes. We tried a few different versions of these delicious tomato balls, and armed with a few tips from our hotel owner Sandy, I’m going to have a go at making my own. Watch out for a future post when I have time!

The old lady serving us brought us out this little aubergine based dish, as a free little extra. We made lots of effort to speak greek so I think we was thanking us with food – we were happy to accept, it was delicious!

We had quite a few greek salads over the week, this one particularly generous with feta. We also had a few Santorini salads which use the native cherry tomatoes, their special sweet cucumbers and caper leaves, another local speciality.

While on the subject of local specialities, we also tried Santorini’s fava beans, which do have official PDO status. They are served like hummus, but have the texture of dahl – we tried two versions which were both delicious.

The food in Santorini was delicious, great value and inspiring… but the scenery, buildings and views were incredible. Here are a few of my favourite pictures, if you want to see more take a look at my flikr page.

Have you been to Santorini? If not, does this post make you want to go?

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Cattlegrid – New Kingston Restaurant

Kingston is the nearest ‘big town’ to me in Hampton Court. I don’t know it very well, and usually struggle to find a nice place to eat… other than low standard, high priced chain restaurants. I was really excited last year when Byron burger opened down by the river, and I must say their burgers are bang on for what I want from a burger with their charred buns and juicy beef patties… anyway, back to this post! Cattlegrid recently opened in the ‘Rotunda’, opposite the station and near the cinema – a sensible place for a new restaurant!

I visited on their very first night, and despite a slight grill problem after two professional rugby teams came in ordering full racks of ribs for starters followed by huge steaks and more ribs… a proper baptism of fire, the food was delicious, service top notch and atmosphere buzzing.

I started with chicken wings, which are made in the proper American style buffalo wing way; hot, sour and buttery chilli sauce coated over big crispy wings. Definitely the best I’ve had in the UK!

I had the ribs for main course which fell off the bone and were smothered in a sticky, spicy, sweet BBQ sauce – really, really good and served with rather tasty skin on chips too.

We didn’t stay for dessert, but I will definitely be back again to try more from the menu. Welcome to Kingston Cattlegrid, I will certainly be seeing you soon!

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Aalto Restaurant, inspired by Marcus Wareing @ Hotel La Tour, Birmingham

With Birmingham being crowned as the Food Capital of Britain by Olive Magazine, I was embarrassed to realise that the range of food I had experienced in Birmingham spread little further than the NEC outlets and buffet at the on site hotel! I was invited up to visit a brand new independent city centre hotel, whose restaurant had been inspired by the brilliant Marcus Wareing, so I happily accepted and had a lovely lunch at Aalto restaurant at Hotel La Tour.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, so arrived early. There were many local businesses, and members of the local press, that had been invited and the bar area was full of people who seemed to know each other. I distracted myself from my awkwardness with a refreshing lemony cocktail and kept the canapé waiters talking for as long as reasonably possible.

Finally it was time to take to our seats, leading me to wonder/ worry about who I might be seated with… to my delight I was seated up at the chefs table along with some local journalists and the lovely Managing Director Jane. It meant I had a view right into the kitchen and an army of friendly staff to talk me through the dishes and keep my wine glasses filled (I was glad I took the train!!).

The menu gave us a taster of what the restaurant has to offer – head chef Alex Penhaligon and his team have worked closely with Marcus Wareing and local producers to deliver a great value, top quality seasonal menu.

We started with leek soup with a Jersey royal foam – served in a shot glass I found it hard to resist swooping my finger round the glass for last of the delicious soup clinging to the glass (I did resist by the way).

We were then given a little cocktail as a palette cleanser between courses. It was strong with a gingery citrus hit.

Next came salty bacon olives balanced with fresh peas and broad beans – I’m pretty sure the ‘olives’ were from Trealy Farm, a brilliant local charcuterie producer.

For the main course came tweed kettle salmon with a fennel on the side and a herb and nutmeg crust. Not only was it beautiful on the plate but delicious too.

The highlight of the meal was the dessert, a Jaffa cake pudding, which was served with the chocolate sauce separately. Marcus Wareing a two Michelin starred chef came and poured the sauce over my pudding himself! I blushed, but thanked him very much. I think chocolate and orange are perfect together so loved the pudding.

After the lovely dinner, we had a chance to talk to Marcus, and Alex the head chef. I was impressed by Alex’s passion and enthusiasm and had a great chat about local producers, I’m going to keep in touch and recommend some of my favourites. Marcus was charming and told me how his relationship with the hotel works – Alex and his team trained and experimented  in Marcus’ own kitchens and are welcome their any time. He works closely with them on their menus, to help inspire and develop ideas. This way of working helps to deliver Michelin starred quality but with affordable prices – something we are all looking for these days.

I’m so glad I got to experience a bit of the Birmingham food scene, but it has made me hungry to try more of it. Whats your favourite Birmingham eaterie? I’d love to know so I can start planning my next trip!

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Dingley Dell Flying Visit at The Victoria

Down on the Dingley Dell farm live some of the luckiest pigs around… they are destined to fly into the hands of some of the most magical chefs in the land! On Wednesday night I had one of the best food experiences of my life – the Dingley Dell Flying Visit at The Victoria.

Dingley Dell supply some of the best chefs, and restaurants, in the country with amazing pork from Suffolk. Mark Hayward’s exciting concept of Flying Feasts brings some of these award-winning, pioneering chefs together, to cook up the most delicious piggy based feasts and to celebrate the glory of the Dingley Dell pig. Not only do you get a wonderful tasting menu, but a complete food experience taking the pig from farm to your fork. I watched a butchery demonstration, video footage of the happy pigs on the farm,  a live video stream directly into the kitchen to watch my food being prepared and then a talk on the dishes from the chefs themselves!

And now for the amazing menu…

Paul Foster – Tuddenham Mill, Suffolk

Pigs trotter carpaccio, charred broccoli, smoked garlic, peanut and burnt onion

Mark Poynton – Alimentum, Cambridge

Pork rillette, braised jowl, acorn praline, pineapple and chickweed

Madeline Bonvini-Hamel and Ross Pike – The British Larder, Suffolk

Crispy pig’s head, ham hock scotch egg, salsify & cauliflower & shallot piccalilli, nasturtium leaves

One more, so you can see how good the scotch egg looks!!

Paul Merrett - The Victoria, London

Asian Dingley Dell Pork: 12 hour belly vindaloo with coconut sambal, jungle style cheeks with soured mango noodles, dim sum with blood orange and fennel

William Curley – Patissier Chocolatier, Richmond

Amedei dark chocolate entremet centred with a smoked bacon caramel served with apricot compote & lemon thyme ice-cream

The tasting menu was absolutely delicious. Highlights for me were the jungle cheeks with mango noodles, crispy pigs head and the salty bacon with the dessert. I loved meeting Mark Hayward, the proud farmer of Dingley Dell pork and all the amazing chefs listed above. Mark and I are putting our heads together to see if we can bring the Flying Feasts to one of the BBC Good Food Shows which would be incredible! Stay tuned!

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