Jun
23

Review: Purnell’s Bistro, Birmingham

Purnell's Bistro

Purnell’s Bistro

I’ve already reviewed Purnell’s and it definitely still stands up in my top ten fine dining experiences in the UK for inventiveness and deliciousness. So it seemed worth a punt at his lower-end Purnell’s Bistro just around the corner when we were needing a pre-show bite to eat one evening.

The place is stylish, long bar area mixed up with a large dining area, very quiet early on a weekday evening and yet even with no-one there the service managed to be patchy and inattentive. Wasn’t a great start. Still, I don’t want to overdo this – it wasn’t too bad, certainly not enough to annoy us.

Bon bons? Really?

Bon bons? Really?

My starter was pear and blue cheese bon-bons, which sounded rather sticky and nifty. It wasn’t really, as the bon bons were just tiny round cheese croquettes and the cheese inside lacked any punch. So then it’s just some pieces of pear with a bit of generic salad garnish and scattered walnuts. Maureen’s mackerel fillet with beetroot on a galette was better.

Better still was her splendidly sticky slow-cooked piece of beef cheek, bourguignon-style with tiny onions and a very clear jus. Yeah, this is a perfectly good opportunity to use the word “unctuous” and really mean it. Mmm. For my part, I went strangely veggie and chose the aubergine rotolo, which turned out to be a sort of roulade of aubergine and pasta baked with a mildly cheesy bechamel sauce, then served on an amiable tomato passata. Eating it was a very soothing experience. It was gentle, nice, innocuous, mild, and to my great surprise I really quite liked it.

Prices were not bad, about £24 for these two courses without drinks. I can’t say we were blown away by the food; it was one of those meals where we talked about other things instead of talking much about what we were eating. And I wouldn’t go expecting any of Glynn Purnell’s culinary pizazz on show at his main restaurant – the inventiveness is more in the naming of the dishes than their actual execution. But, s’no bad either.

Rotolo

Rotolo

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Jun
23

Review: Wild Garlic, Nailsworth

The Sunday lunch you're looking for

The Sunday lunch you’re looking for

Ah, the unplanned Sunday lunch! An opportunity to spend the morning phoning all the best local pubs and restaurants to the resounding reply of “sorry, we’re fully booked!” Or perhaps to live even more dangerously and drive out into the countryside? Stopping at all the good looking country pubs to be told “sorry, we’ve got no tables left.” The thrill of finally finding somewhere at around 2pm, only to walk in and discover that in fact all of their tables are empty. Oh dear lord what is the beef going to be like? Exciting times.

So I was a bit worried when the Wild Garlic in Nailsworth admitted to being able to seat four at 12:30. Perhaps even more worried to walk in and find only a couple of other tables occupied. And now, with lunch on the inside, I’m frankly baffled; because if any restaurant deserves to be full to bursting on a Sunday lunchtime it’s this one.

Mackerel with style

Mackerel with style

The dining room at Wild Garlic is a bit of a surprise. From the outside you’re expecting either rustic Cotswold dining-pub or chic modern bistro, but they’ve wobbled a bit in between and, if I’m honest, ended up with a look that I might call “1990s small town bistro”. Luckily I’m here to tell you that the service will be friendly and helpful and the food will be awesome, so don’t worry about the look.

We started with a mackerel tartare, beautiful slivers of pinkish fish served with a sharply citric “jam”, capers, samphire, a dribbling of coal oil and some pretty well pickled shallot. The shallot was a tad over-the-top but the nice use of coal oil and the tangy jam worked a treat with the fish. Homemade hake bacalao croquettes with a startling orange aioli were very good too.

The roast beef was the dreamiest piece I’ve had melt in my mouth in a long time, beautifully full-flavoured too. Yorkshire pud was smack on, roast veg were excellent and the potatoes were spectacularly crunchy. So a brilliant roast. Just to be different, I actually had the veggie main course myself: salt-baked jersey royals, wild garlic marinated goat cheese, rainbow chard and a smoked aubergine puree. This was fundamentally and in all ways exactly my kind of thing and totally scrumptious. When potatoes are packed with this much flavour, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them being the star of the dish, and a well-tended goat cheese is absolute magic with a funky wild garlic flavour.

Potatoes for main

Potatoes for main

For pud I stuck with the smoky theme and had a pistachio mousse with spiced chocolate and smoked potato doughnuts. Magic little sugary/smoky doughnuts! Lovely spicy chocolate soup too. I guess the pistachio mousse was a little drowned out, but I’m not minding. There was also a great big baked apple with a rosemary custard and hazelnut crumble, as delicious as it sounds, and a similarly good meringue and ice cream concoction that came with a little jug of the most wicked minted cream sauce. I could have just drunk it from the jug. Admittedly, eventually I did just that.

Saturday had been a boozy evening, so we had a bit of a tee-total Sunday lunch and luckily the Wild Garlic takes the trouble to put some decent soft drinks on the menu. If you dine out, three courses comes in around £35 and for the quality of the cooking that is absolutely top-notch value. I’m really pleased to have such a top restaurant only a few miles down the road, for food it beats the socks off of a lot of much prettier country gastropubs.

Smoked potato donuts

Smoked potato donuts

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Mar
27

Review: Kyoto Kitchen, Winchester

Kyoto Kitchen

Kyoto Kitchen

I’ve used the Hardens Guide as a bit of a bible for years now. It’s very handy when you’re heading somewhere unfamiliar and wouldn’t mind finding something half-decent to eat. In theory it’s a clever half-way house; they are crowd-sourcing reviews which means they can have much better coverage than a purely professional guide like Michelin, but it’s curated crowd-sourcing which gives it a lot more meaning and value than bleedin’ TripAdvisor. Of course it’s not infallible, but the fallibility is usually one of degrees – I’ve never had a bad meal following a Harden’s recommendation, but I have had a couple of disappointments.

Have I set the scene? : )

Kyoto Kitchen is tucked away down a Winchester side street and has a distinctly non-descript feel; a generic dining room with generic furniture and some Japanese decor to show what ethnicity of restaurant you have wandered into. And indeed, they have two sister restaurants in Winchester: an Indian and a Thai. Hm.

Tuna and poppy seed

Tuna and poppy seed

The food is generally good. You know, competent, with a couple of mis-steps and a couple of nice bits. The mackerel sashimi is a mis-step: so very pickled that it has the texture of cooked fish and tastes like they’re experimenting with Scandinavian-Japanese fusion. There’s an original house-special roll; rice around smoked trout wrapped in wasabi leaf and served with fresh wasabi that you grate yourself (they’re lucky enough to have one of the UK’s only wasabi growers nearby). Fresh wasabi is a revelation, not as fierce as the green paste but amazingly bright, fresh and fiery. The roll is a jolly good eat. Mind you, that’s a sliver of fish for a £20 roll.

There’s a nice dish of wafer-thin tuna sashimi dusted with poppy seed and a mustard sauce. The miso soup is good, lovely deep flavour. Likewise the dashi that comes with our yasai tempura. It’s not bad, the tempura, though a little oily. Vegetable gyoza are pretty good, almost as nice as the ones at Zheng. Almost. We order a simple tuna sashimi too, just to check the basics. Four pieces of dense ruby-red fish, but sadly too cold from the fridge.

So, y’know, if this was my local Japanese restaurant I might be fairly content. Though at £80 for two people without drinks (and we certainly weren’t full afterwards), I might wince if this was my only local Japanese. Which apparently, if you live in Winchester, it is. This might help explain why it scores so well in Hardens? And the mighty high score in Hardens might explain why I have reviewed it so hard. Was disappointed.

Fresh wasabi, very lovely

Fresh wasabi, very lovely

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Mar
26

Review: Woodfire, Stockbridge

Quickie this, and no photos, totally forgot. Well, all we were looking for was a bite of lunch on our way down to Winchester. Stockbridge is a postcard-perfect little town in the Test Valley in deepest Hampshire. For me, the Test Valley is perhaps the most beautiful bit of rural countryside in the whole south of England. It is magical and the villages are all a delight – they accomplish with old red bricks, thatch and flint what the Cotswold villages manage more effortlessly with their golden limestone.

Anyway, Woodfire is billed as pizza & mezze, and has a great little riverside location right in the middle of the high street. They’ve got a bright front room, another back room, and a few tables on the terrace for those sunny days. You will fight for those with hikers and cyclists, though. Did I mention the Test Valley was quite picture-skew?

Pizzas are the order of the day, and we split a daily special – nduja, mozzarella and turnip leaves. They’ve sourced some great mozzarella, always a good start. The pizza base was thin, with a glossy and crisp-edged crust. The spicy nuggets of nduja explode with the cheese and bread so much more than a slice of pepperoni or chorizo, and the wilted and slightly salty turnip leaves, with their lovely turnip-y taste that make you start thinking about kimchi, were a smart companion. Great pizza.

We ordered a couple of mezzes to go with. Baba ganoush was lovely, managing to be both fresh with the juicy aubergines but also carrying that lovely burnt smoky taste without which lesser specimens are just meh. The scattering of pomegranate on top was an absolutely spot-on addition. The other dish was a smooth and creamy (and garlicky!) hummus with a pile of slow-cooked shredded lamb on top. This was very lovely too, though a bit of a big bowl of hummus to attack without any bread.

Pizzas are around £11-ish depending which you order, big enough for one for dinner. Oh, and they make a dang good cup of coffee to boot! So rare. So especially rare in small country towns where you’re much more likely to find earnest salts-of-the-earth serving up delicious local produce and scorched crap in a cup with it. Woodfire’s coffee is excellent. Woodfire is excellent. Lucky Stockbridge!

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Mar
26

Review: The Dogs, Edinburgh

The Dogs, indeed!

The Dogs, indeed!

The Dogs is one of those great little finds, someone cooking good food without pretension in a kinda ramshackle and unexpected corner of a city. I’m reminded of Strathvagin in Glasgow. Dogs are a very literal theme, from the front door all the way up the old staircase, and into the bar and dining room overlooking Edinburgh New Town, there’s a truly eclectic mixture of canines in 2D or 3D form. The dining room still gives the strong impression of someone’s old front room, converted into an eating space for thirty or so punters tucked in fair cosily (though not so cosy as to be uncomfortable).

My starter was a wonderful little dish of devilled ox kidneys. Ox kidneys aren’t quite as nice as lamb’s kidneys, and I couldn’t give a stuff because the devilled sauce was absolutely magical; hot, spicy, creamy, boozy, sexy goodness. Maureen had a little salad of pulled lamb; shreds of meat with a powerfully sheepish flavour and cleverly scattered with pomegranate.

Lamb n stuff

Lamb n stuff

Mains were truly heart-warming. I ordered roast lamb but was served the mutton stew. It smelled so good that I was half-way through before remembering that it wasn’t what I’d ordered. Lovely mutton, good dish for a blustery winter’s evening, it’s hard to find words to wax lyrical about a nice stew so I’ll fall back on: mmmmmmm. Maureen’s spelt risotto with beetroot and crowdie cheese was delicious, although to be honest it was such a single-minded dish that it might’ve been better as a starter or – as we enjoyed it – split pretty much 50/50 with another main (my stew). Nice combination of the nutty grain, grainy cheese and earthy beetroot flavours.

Pudding was the only disappointment; an orange posset that was too stiff with gelatin/agar and also lacked enough punch to its orange flavour to be very interesting. I’m going to damn it with faint praise and call it innocuous.

That aside, we enjoyed our meal at The Dogs very much. Even more so as the price is rock-bottom for the very centre of Edinburgh, many of the mains just a tenner and 3 courses being only about £20. We had a couple of decent glasses of wine for equally slight money. Go on, go to the dogs!

Loved these devils

Loved these devils

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