The Bath Priory

The Bath Priory.

The surroundings for this Michelin awarded restaurant is bold. I mean a retirement home come antiques hoard is an acquired taste. But at least they have stuffy service to match.

It’s not that their target market is retired is really the issue. Why would I care? The age of the diners has no impact on me really, but it does filter through to our experience in a few ways. And it’s less a bad thing, and more of a warning of what to expect.

We had a glass of English sparking wine on the patio over looking the gardens, and this was without a doubt the best part of the experience. It was serene, and the warm summer air, muddled with cool fizz and the faint waft of flowers is enough to make any Brit go weak at the knees. We do love it when our summer comes up trumps. And over looking the croquet lawn, I thought we might have stumbled onto Downton. The house itself is gorgeous, and with a perfectly manicured exterior and gardens, it’s a shame the interior is how it is. The main lounge/study area is nice, and while the artwork is dry and uninteresting, the feel is in keeping with the house’s history. I’m down with that, and it adds to the experience. But the bar area had a catastrophic collection of art, and the restaurant itself, in all its peachy glory, is dull, dated (despite a recent refurb), and doesn’t make the most of the picturesque surroundings.

After some distinctly average amuse bouches ‘on the lawn’, which consisted of cacky hummus, tasty salmon and un-delicious cucumber/apple concoction, we were ushered into the dining room. It was quiet in this plush carpeted room. There was a quiet murmur from neighboring tables, but it seemed exceptionally devoid of any atmosphere. Maybe that’s what they’re paying for. Silence. This stiff ambience is added to and accentuated by the staff. After such a warm welcome and friendly disposition from The Ledbury last month, we were hoping for much the shame. Sadly, despite asking for recommendations on wines and attempting to spark a rapport with the waiters, we were met with flummoxed faces and short answers. It’s a shame, I’m sure they’re lovely people in real life, but it seems working in somewhere with such a strict adherence to some outdated standards means their staff are out of touch and cold.

We had matched wine, and whilst they were tasty, especially the dessert wine that was paired with the vanilla mascarpone parfait, none of them matched the eye-watering price attributed to them. Eating out as we do, and seeing the same wines for three times the price here as say Flinty Red or Bells Diner really reinforces the underlying ethos of The Priory: A lot of money for something you can get elsewhere, for half the price. You’re paying to be ‘there’, and unfortunately ‘there’ isn’t somewhere I’d want to be.

So, other than the expense and the staff, we should spend some time on the food. We had a good tomato soup as an appetizer, which was, yeh, good, fine. And the starters also were good. Actually, the raw mackerel was delicious. A simple dish with caviar, cucumber, radish and horseradish, it was fresh, clean and well balanced. Simple, yes. But pulled off. The Innes goats curd mousse with pinto peppers, dressed with thin croutons and fresh basil was again simple, but again, worked. Nothing wow, but good, and I’d eat this again.

For mains we had saffron linguine, soft poached egg and hake. This was bizaree, and the presentation hindered the dish from gelling. Whilst everything was cooked to perfection (other than a slightly heavily salted bit of fish), it was good. It was just confused, and small. The lamb galette, sweetbread, asparagus, pearl barley and carrot purée was much the same. Disappointment I think is the word.

Pudding was exponentially improved by the banging dessert wine. But as it was, was rather underwhelming. The parfait was good, but the slightly burnt honeycomb hindered the dish, and it was just a bit of a non-event. The soufflé was tasty, but again, just fine. Even the petit fours had their highs and lows. With highs from the chocolate praline truffle and tuilles, and lows from the cheesecake shot glass itself. We’re still undecided about the Turkish delight. The jury is out.

So how would I summaries the experience? The service and interior had no personality, whilst the food was OK. Some courses were great, others off the mark, but nothing stuck out as remarkable, in a good or a bad way. It’s a bloody quick way to blow the best part of £200 though. (Unless you can eat the £27.50 set-lunch, and not have wine or coffees – if you can, you’re a better person than me). For me, it’s all a lot of pomp and circumstance, with no delicious food to fall back on. (Go and have a glass of something sparkling and wander round the lawn though.)

— I decided to include the photos as some of the dishes were pretty, but apologies for the dim lighting and bad quality of the images!!!!! —-

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English Fizz.

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Amuse bouche

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Soup

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Innes goats curd starter

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Mackerel starter

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Lamb main

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Hake main

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Vanilla mascapone parfait pudding

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Passion fruit souffle with coconut sorbet pudding

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Petit fours

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Bruton (& At The Chapel)

BRUTON

The Bruton train station immediately plunges you into deepest darkest Somerset. With naïve and simply un-googled views of Bruton being ‘just past Bath’ on the train from Bristol Temple Meads, the hour and a half travel time was quite the shock – but at least we had the Sunday papers to keep us occupied. Although, with a table booked for 4:00, and breakfast fast becoming a distant memory, the abundance of food images in said papers was abhorrent. Hunger fully developed, we set off from the tranquil station into the ‘high street’, past the impressive church with it’s forever chiming bells through the Midsummer town. A town I highly suspect was entirely curated by the National Trust or English Heritage.

My first impression of Bruton was its quaintness and charm. With character rich stone houses, dating from way back when, it really is beautiful to look at. And as if to rub its perfection in our faces, it even has a babbling brook trickling through (River Brue). With gorgeous banks on either side, dotted with wild flowers and looming trees. It reminded me of similar dated towns such as Lewes in terms of the architecture, and eclectic mix of old dilapidated building next to tasteful (and expensive looking) conversions and restorations.

Bruton appears to have heaps of character, in the winding alleys snaking off from the main artery, reminiscent of old villages and towns such at Port Issac yet with the grandeur of Bath. However the second big impression was the vacancy of the place, almost death life silence smothers it save those infernal church bells. Walking along the main streets of one of the the smallest towns in England it is clear it is no ghost town, the odd range rover rolls on through. But many shops are closed, other than the obligatory pub, convenience store and the main restaurant. Walking through the back streets and across the river, we never passed a soul. So if you want to really see Bruton, I’d recommend going for one night. You can spend Saturday relishing in the craft shops and cheese peddlers, and getting a better taste for the retail, food and life it offers, while Sunday you can appreciate the serenity that comes with the holiest day of the week.

And oh! What a food haven it seems to be! Given it WAS a Sunday, many of what I can only hasten to assume are the local delicacies were shut. Matt’s Kitchen, a restaurant right in Matt’s home has a daily changing menu that reads fantastically. Truffles Brasserie looked equally if not more appealing, promising a refined and delicious dinner, while Bruton Wholefoods stores looked like the most authentic and interesting organic store come café that I’ve seen in a while. All of these places within basically 100 metres of each other really reinforced a lasting memory of Bruton as being not ‘foodie’ but tasteful. See ya later chains, there no room for you in this little Somerset idyll.

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I took no other photos other than the roast. Apologies!

AT THE CHAPEL

So as unfortunate as it was that we couldn’t spend more time in Bruton and explore these promising eateries, our table was booked ‘At The Chapel’, and it did not disappoint. As you walk up to the restaurant desk, you are immediately taken aback by the size of the place. Not in square meters, but the height of the ceilings leaves a beautiful and open building. The décor itself is refined and tasteful. It boasts a minimalist tone, with streaks of wilderness and modernism helped along by the gallons of natural light filling the room. It’s mainly white with accents of natural tones, exposed wood and glass leaving an impressive finish. And despite much of the modern art on the walls being rather ‘unimpressive’, the splashes of vibrant colour they give the room are welcome.

The meal itself was delicious. Really super delicious. The English Laverstoke Park Farm buffalo mozzarella was a highlight for me, mainly as a novelty more than anything else. In texture, it was unusual, and unlike it’s Italian counter-part. It was soft, but not gooey, yet still melts in the mouth. Not as good as Italian? Maybe not. But delicious in its own right. Hell yeah.

I’d have to say the best dish was probably the asparagus and poached egg though. In the main part because of the ingenious brassica pesto that accompanied it which lifted the simple asparagus dish to another level, complimenting all the flavors and giving you a different taste to your more run of the mill asparagus expectations. Executed beautifully, it is the best asparagus dish I’ve had in a while.

The roast was also a hit, and one of the best we’ve had in a restaurant for years. With perfectly cooked beef, buttery squash mash, cauliflower cheese, well-cooked and seasoned veg, there wasn’t really anywhere to go wrong. The Westcombe ricotta gnudi was also brilliant, perfect in texture and taste, highlighted by the sage, wild garlic and pea shoots, which adorned it.We drank Picpoul, which worked well with the intense flavours of basil & tomato starter and garlic splattered gnudi, but would have been too sweet with the fish. The house red worked well with the beef.

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We were too full for pudding, but did indulge in some take away treats from the in-house bakery. Their brownies were not as good as mine (ahem), but the lemon drizzle was pretty tasty.  At The Chapel has an in-house bakery and wine shop, which is immediately a win for any self-respecting hotel.

Any qualms? Potentially the unfinished nature of the dishes, in that I was recommended sides with everything that wasn’t the roast. Also the puddings didn’t SOUND delicious enough to order despite already being uncomfortably full, which is saying something. The service was temperamental, which tainted it slightly. And the biggest regret was not trying the pizzas. But i’m just picking holes.

In the immortal words of Arnie, we will be back.

Eating food in France.

So last week I went to France. And after a week back at work i’m feeling rather morose. So I decided to write about it.

Our trip began in Toulouse. It struck me as a grand city, which takes its vibrant food culture seriously. They care and celebrate the amazing produce they use, and really it’s an attitude we in the UK could take some inspiration from. The markets sprawl through main roads, sheltered market halls and ‘très European’ squares. The produce itself ranges from local cheese and wine, charcuterie and meat vendors (lots of fois gras), fruit and veg and endless amounts of fish. In fact, plenty of ‘firsts’ were tried here, from mountain cheese, honey straight from the honeycomb and snails.

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You could spend days here planning out endless meals, nosing through stalls and people watching. The vibrancy and eccentricity is infectious. But there is a moral to the story. Not having our own kitchen here was frustrating. OK, I suppose moral is too grandiose. But it certainly is advise. And this frustration is exaggerated if you have any dietary requirements. The menus are meat orientated in the small bistros (often revolving around foie gras), and often selective. This is usually something I rate, and I do, but it’s no meat//fish//veg options. It’s a duck//foie gras//lamb type arrangement. So you might be just doing a bit more leg work. That’s all.

But onwards to Montpelier we went. Here the food tourism shifted from trawling through markets to inspecting the pocket-sized bars, tapas-eries (yeh that’s a word) and bistros that trickle through the vein-like back streets in the centre.The achingly cool places pepper each corner of the maze streets, which made making a decision that little bit harder. And the diet visibly changed to a more even balance between meat, fish and vegetarian. These were complimented by the large, clean, pedestrianised areas right in the centre.

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We settled with Comptoir Saint Paul for our first meal, situated in the old town, behind St Roche church. The simple and seasonal 3/3/3 menu was initially a good sign. (That, and the beautiful rustic courtyard setting and quiet panic preparation for the busy service ahead.) Busy is good. Not only was each course here pretty tasty, but it was also very… unique. The tuna tartar was one of the nicest things I ate the whole holiday, it really was amazing, well balanced and tuna that just melted in your mouth. The presentation is where the confusion lay. I wouldn’t even know where to start to find a square clear soup bowl with equally dated plates, but it was the balsamic glaze – underneath– the bowl of asparagus soup that really made it. And the idea of just using the same giant purees for each main, and excessive garnish was almost homely. All very charming and forgivable. The wine was also local and delicious. Montpelier is definitely one to visit, and if you’re in the area, try out this place.

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– The view from our table –

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So finally Sète. We loved having a kitchen in here, but given the array of restaurants selling fish along the harbourside combined with the temperamental nature of the markets, it wouldn’t matter either way. But try to stay somewhere with a view. The sea is gorgeous and clear, and waking up to this oh-so-dreamy view really made the stay. That and the patisserie…


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THE harbourside. Right next to our amazing apartment.

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Dodgy photo, but great place. Air b n b at it’s best.

So how did we make the most of the local/seasonal food?

  • Bread from next door, poached eggs and asparagus.
  • Whole boiled globe artichoke, vinaigrette
  • Tuna steak, roast potatoes & tomato salad
  • Loup de mer stuffed with lemon & spring vegetables in white wine/butter sauce.
  • Spaghetti vongole
  • Lots of cheese wine and bread
  • (+ one dinner out at the coolest little fish monger come restaurant, Chez Francois – complete with oyster shucker stall operating all evening) (Side note, cool little place, but the food was actually pretty average… #sorrynotsorry)

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Tuna buying

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Loup de mer

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Oyster shucking stand.

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So cheers to me having a great holiday with a glass of Louis Roederer I guess.

Katie and Kim’s

Here’s a quick one about a new found love this February…

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Katie and Kim’s, (as much as it might not want to be,) is an advertisement for why you’d probably rather live in Montpelier. The laid back and communal feel to the space (instilled by the large, bare wooden table, which dominates the room and invites you to touch elbows with strangers (future friends…?), is what you really want from your brunch. There’s a limit to how often you can eat Eggs Benedict with over priced pressed apple juice on a small trestle table in Clifton Village and enjoy it. Especially in February. The stripped back feel of the place denies any space for pretentious-ness, and the eclectic teapots, cutlery and crockery you’ll be given adds a warmth to the whole experience. What truly makes it though, is the ladies behind this little café, Katie and Kim themselves. Open, chatty, helpful and super duper nicer, these are tops babes you’ll wanna be mates with. But failing that, you can just hang out in their kitchen. Katie and Kim have an informal setting, complete with informal paraphernalia, swing doors to next doors farm shop, and absolutely delicious food. It’s the real deal and I think I’d quite like to move in.

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To start we had cheese and rosemary scones, butter. Served on a wooden plate. It may look unassuming, and slightly burnt. It was in fact, scone perfection. And everyone should try one. There’s the option of adding poached eggs or bacon, but I’d highly recommend au-naturel.

We had hoped for some of their famous custard tarts, but in the agonising queue to order, I saw the last three cruelly snatched before my eyes. So next time, I’m turning up early. Someone play their tiny violin.

We then had cauliflower and keens cheddar tart, with greens and some sweet mustard wizardry. It was delicious, and hearty. We had 2 for £6. As was the growing theme of Katie and Kim’s, it looked very much home-made, but the flavours were bang on, despite the comfort food style.

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Finally, and despite already being full, we shared poached eggs, greens, smoked salmon and aioli on sour-dough. Also good. Also worth a try.eggs kakims

Katie and Kim’s

Here’s a quick one about a new found love this February…

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Katie and Kim’s, (as much as it might not want to be,) is an advertisement for why you’d probably rather live in Montpelier. The laid back and communal feel to the space (instilled by the large, bare wooden table, which dominates the room and invites you to touch elbows with strangers (future friends…?), is what you really want from your brunch. There’s a limit to how often you can eat Eggs Benedict with over priced pressed apple juice on a small trestle table in Clifton Village and enjoy it. Especially in February. The stripped back feel of the place denies any space for pretentious-ness, and the eclectic teapots, cutlery and crockery you’ll be given adds a warmth to the whole experience. What truly makes it though, is the ladies behind this little café, Katie and Kim themselves. Open, chatty, helpful and super duper nicer, these are tops babes you’ll wanna be mates with. But failing that, you can just hang out in their kitchen. Katie and Kim have an informal setting, complete with informal paraphernalia, swing doors to next doors farm shop, and absolutely delicious food. It’s the real deal and I think I’d quite like to move in.

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To start we had cheese and rosemary scones, butter. Served on a wooden plate. It may look unassuming, and slightly burnt. It was in fact, scone perfection. And everyone should try one. There’s the option of adding poached eggs or bacon, but I’d highly recommend au-naturel.

We had hoped for some of their famous custard tarts, but in the agonising queue to order, I saw the last three cruelly snatched before my eyes. So next time, I’m turning up early. Someone play their tiny violin.

We then had cauliflower and keens cheddar tart, with greens and some sweet mustard wizardry. It was delicious, and hearty. We had 2 for £6. As was the growing theme of Katie and Kim’s, it looked very much home-made, but the flavours were bang on, despite the comfort food style.

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Finally, and despite already being full, we shared poached eggs, greens, smoked salmon and aioli on sour-dough. Also good. Also worth a try.

eggs kakims

Best of Bristol

This is a round-up of my personal favourite hangouts in Bristol. It is not a comprehensive list in the sense that I have eaten in all places in Bristol, and these are the finalists. But it is in the sense that they are tried and tested delicious. It might be my opinion, but my opinion is usually right, so do what you will with that information. Longer reviews of the more exceptional places are sure to pop up soon. (As well as new recipes I have been trying out).

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—————

Best Breakfast: Bakers and Co. They win this title after a fair amount of deliberation. Rosemarino do the best eggs, but for variety, changing menus, and good coffees, they don’t match up. Baker’s is King (or Queen). An old Instagram video from my personal account highlights this, so I don’t have to. Click here. From sticky buns, to avocado on toast, to monster sandwiches, you’re likely to walk away happy.

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 ^ I mean, their Huevous Rancheros are practically famous… ^

Best Lunch: The Glass Boat wins this for value and location. £10 for 2 or £12 for 3 courses (even on a Saturday), you can’t really go wrong. It has gorgeous views and the internal decor has a touch of dated glamour – in a good way. The service is always friendly and efficient. Best place in Bristol for a lazy lunch.

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^ This is a stock image from their website, but highlights the Bistro style food on offer ^

Best Tapas: Bravas. One of the originals, authentic (it’s recently been closed for the whole staff to go for ‘research’ trip to Spain – i’m in the wrong restaurant), and cheaper than rivals. It’s unpretentious and has crafted a relaxed atmosphere, where you can try every dish on offer or just sit with a glass of wine, picking at one. This is what tapas is meant to be.

Best On-The-GoSt Nicks Market. My favourite is the middle-eastern at the end of the Glass Arcade, Matina. The wraps (homemade kurdish naan breads) there are delicious, everything tastes authentic (i think, i’ve never been to the middle east…). Usually busy at lunch times, but worth the wait.

Best Pub Food. The Bird in Hand. This place is gorgeous English food and all you’d want your local to be. It boasts a refined menu, that’s strictly seasonal and often local. Set in a small pub in the heart of Long Ashton, you can eat exceptional (and beautiful) food, in a informal environment. With a separate bar area, it’s a destination pub and restaurant that’s popular with locals and food lovers alike. And the head chefs a bit of a cutie. (Why not amble through Ashton Court and walk there? Great excuse to indulge in three courses).

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^ Both dishes were from early summer, hence the seasonal accompaniments ^

Best Sunday Lunch. The Lion – hearty comfort food at it’s best. Tucked away in residential Cliftonwood, this one’s a bit of a hidden treasure. It has everything you could want from a Sunday Roast. Good quality ingredients, cooked with love – especially that banging potato dauphinoise. And the vegetarian options (a selection of chef Fiona’s homemade pies) are just a good as the meat options. (And great puddings if you have room).

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One of Fiona’s popular vegetarian roasts, complete with homemade pie. Here we were also making the most of the sun-trap garden. Perfect.

Best Foodie: Wallfish Bistro. It occupies the former Keith Floyd plot on Princess Victoria St in Clifton, where many delicious eateries have been. Consisting of two rooms, one above, one below ground, but opening only the former on quiet nights, it’s a snug little place. The food is french, and often rich, but with corkers like Lobster and Rabbit pie never far from the menu, it’s a bit of a foodie’s favourite. As much as the word ‘foodie’ makes me vomit a little in my mouth.  (The name ‘Wallfish’ derives from the french slang for snails, apparently. A staple of their menu.)

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^ More summer shots of food – apologies. Making the most of the heat on the tables available on the quiet street. ^

Best to impress a visiting friend: The Lido. It’s upstairs restaurant is well reviewed and rated, but quite expensive, unless you get the set lunch or early bird dinner options. It’s also not totally vegetarian/pescetarian friendly up there. However, sit down by the pool and it’s a different story. The tapas is delicious, so go to the cafe, try the scallops and anchovy toast, and you will thank me. Rustic food in an elegant setting.

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^ Not sure who the goof is in the photo *ahem*, but highlights the ‘scene’. I think. I hope. ^

Impress a more-than-friend: Flinty Red. My chosen ‘date’ place. The food here is simple and has a real no-fuss approach to presentation. It’s all delicious, and often dishes, such as the agnolotti featured below, that I had never tried before. On an awkward date, order lots of little dishes, it might help strike up a conversation as things intermittently appear… or maybe it’s just not meant to be. If you are out to impress though, read up a little on what’s on offer, so you can sound like a right know-it-all when you order.


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Dinner with friends: This category is basically somewhere that everyone will enjoy, is fairly priced, and has a friendly and open atmosphere. My choices then are The Souk Kitchen (serving Arabic food) and the Thali Cafe (Indian), for exactly both those reasons. And that they both produce exceptional food.

The: I-can’t-wait-to-try: The Steam Crane. It boasts exceptional craft beers, and aims to be the best Bristol restaurant South of the river; it is certainly one I can’t wait to try. It’s been open since early 2014, so I’m not quite sure why I haven’t been yet. But after a flow of glowing reviews, it’s certainly next on my list. Check out their menu here.

Below is a list of other good places not to be ignored. Because it’s important to support independent local (and often new) restaurants, rather than the big chains.

Pizza: Bosco, Flour & Ash.

Pubs: The Kenny, The Grain Barge, The Portcullis – or any Dawkins Pub, The Pump House (if anything, for the gin), The Rummer (for beers, the giant fire and one particular Indian red wine – not the food…), The Beer Emporium.

Sushi: Bento Boss or Noa.

Ramen: Sticks & Broth.

Best Milkshake: Rocotillos.

Firm faves: The Olive Shed, Birch.

Cafes: Papadeli, Primrose Cafe, Boston Tea Party.

Best for carnivores: Forget Grill Stock, be  better than the Cow Shed. Go to the Ox.

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 ^ Pieminister at St. Nicks. ^

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  ^’The Bosco – at Bosco’ ^

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^ The interior at Sticks & Broth ^
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^ Gelato @ Bosco ^

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^ Three courses @ Birch back on their opening weekend ^

(Small apology about the random photos, I have recently lost my phone, (and so all my recent photos,) so I only have what I took in the summer!!)