Category Archives: food

Love Cooking Festival, Bristol

Whenever I brag and rave about Bristol, I tend to mention the festivals that are such a huge part of life here. Sometimes there’s one every weekend, I say and what I really mean is that they’re all the same, pick one and go to it and you’ll find the same stands, the same crafts, the same people wandering in and then leaving again. Some charge and some don’t and occasionally that seems to be the biggest difference.

With this thought in mind, there wasn’t much surprise when reading about the Love Cooking Festival although its location at Colston Hall was an interesting twist. However, who would want to go see people cooking on stage at around £20 a ticket? A visit seemed to be a good idea.

Richard Allen was the first chef I saw and she was announced on stage by Nigel Barden, the food and drink presenter for BBC London TV, Radio and Online.

Nigel did not just do the presenting and introductions but stayed on to help Rachel with the banter and consistency. She had been up since 2.30am to make her way to Bristol and my heart sank a little at the potential half-hearted performance. The show proceeded at a steady pace and Nigel filled in with chat for about half of it.

Rachel cooked a three course menu of Scallops with Brussel Sprouts, Bacon and Orange; Roast Duck Legs; Lentils with Red Wine and a Treacle Tart. Her commentary was consistent, her manner professional and by the end I thought I would try out the recipe. I couldn’t help but be distracted throughout the session, however, with crying babies, half empty rows of seats – it was held at 2pm – and general thoughts of ‘this would be just as good on TV’.

All the slight detachment disappeared when Ainsley came out to play. Ainsley Harriot was on between 4 and 5pm and he was magical. A well seasoned TV presenter who has hosted various TV shows and food specials and is probably best known to daytime viewers as the host of Ready, Steady, Cook for 20 seasons. His ease and charm with everyone in the room meant that Nigel’s role quickly became redundant as he sat back and also enjoyed the show.

Ainsley danced and cooked and sweated and told us all about his life. In the early 1990s he was part of the musical act Calypso Twins with schoolfriend Paul Boross and released a hit record in the early 1990s, “World Party”. We were treated to various renditions of calypso music throughout the show which accompanied his dishes. The chilli cornbread muffins were prepared as a side to Peppy’s Ackee And Salt Fish In De Pan which brought with it stories of his mum. The Chargrilled Jerk-Slashed Chicken brought up opportunities for banter with the audience and he even promised some food to a woman a few seats in front of me.

Ainsley stepped out into the crowd, joyfully hugged a woman celebrating her birthday, interviewed the catering college students from the City of Bristol College who helped out with the preparations, and brought to the stage an audience member tasked with tasting the wine and the food.

He put on a show and I would pay to see him again but I must confess it was Rachel’s duck dish for which I passed by a supermarket and bought the ingredients. The Love Cooking Festival in Bristol was a great example of how not all festivals are alike and there was not a Pieminister pie in sight.

Love Cooking Festival sessions: London, 2 November. Harrogate, 5 December. Tickets are still available.

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Severnshed, Review

The view from the Severnshed is one of the loveliest in Bristol and it held my gaze for most of the evening although it was mainly the smokers who enjoyed the fresh air on the balcony. The lounge / bar area to the left of the entrance is suffused with warm lighting in a comforting dark wood environment. The restaurant to the right is spacious and has a similar set of doors that look out towards the floating harbour and the houses on Redcliffe.

The Severnshed changed owners in March 2010 to the same people who own Coal Grill and Bar at Cabot Circus although apparently the staff stayed in place. Monday night provided an opportunity to sample the new wine menu and some new dishes. There were four of each and I expect they were either chosen for their differences in order to demonstrate the range of the kitchen or because they were the best of what was available. I’m hoping it was the former.

The first combination was lime and chilli king prawn skewers seasoned with just salt and pepper, accompanied by an Australian Riesling. The prawns are on the starter menu for £6.95 and they were quite under seasoned with no hints of citrus or spice. In contrast, the pineapple addition to the skewer was juicy and had a just barbecued, sweetly grilled flavour. The wine, of which I had a taste was pleasant and chilled enough.

This was followed by chorizo with garlic oil accompanied paired with a rose cabernet sauvignon tempranillo. The spicy sausage flavoured with paprika was thickly cut, full of flavour and the best dish of the four. The rose had a nice colour and was suitable for the dish. The cost of the dish at the restaurant is £4.50 for a small dish or £11 for three dishes out of a selection.

The lobster risotto had an actual piece of lobster which was cooked from fresh. Sadly the dish was slightly under seasoned and the parmesan cheese added a gloopiness to the very well cooked rice which was interesting if not actually useful. I’ve had better risotto so not sure how happy I would have been with the menu price of £11.95 for the slight blandness which was served.

The last taste was a dish of beef on skewers in meatball sized portions. I managed one of mine but it took so long to chew that I didn’t bother with the second one. It was served with a more robust merlot red wine which was nice enough and could have been a good choice for a meal.

For most people the highlight of the evening seemed to be the service and the cocktail served at the start. For me it was the atmosphere and the view although the latter was slightly marred by the blackboard by the balcony doors which had a list of drink prices. At £4.50 for a pint of Westons Organic Cider it would have made an expensive round for two. This slightly spoiled any thoughts of a future visit although the chorizo promises that there may be some hidden treats on the menu. Despite the waterfront location, seafood was not a winner on this beautiful evening.

Souk Kitchen, So Loud But Hard To Resist

From the outside, Souk Kitchen looks like one average sized room with a bright and colourful menu posted on the window. The bright pink, yellow and blue of the menu is not exactly what I expect from middle-eastern cuisine with its modern brightness. I also find it surprising that they do a breakfast menu but it’s 11.40am and it will have to do since the Tobacco Factory does not open until noon.

We are seated quickly at the last empty table and the service is friendly. The dark brown tables look similar to the ones at Flinty Red and the wooden white chairs are comfortable. The place itself though is so loud. We can barely hear ourselves across the table and have to repeat things and point to menu items. There are 10 tables in the restaurant and four of them are playing host to infants. There’s a very cute six-seven month old who finds it entertaining to practice her new noise-making skills. At the start of the meal this is lovely but by the end it has become mind-numbing.

Suki: tea of the month – Mango Tango £1.70

Weekend specials
Vegetable chorba soup, cauliflower puree, toasted almonds + bread £3.95
Souk Mezze + grilled flat bread £7.50
Chicken Shawarma wrap, hummus, red cabbage & fennel slaw £6.95

The food specials sounded delicious and colourful but I didn’t think there was much you could do with breakfast. I was wrong.

They had ‘the local’ for £6.25 which comprised Lincolnshire sausages, grilled back bacon, two free-range fried eggs, fresh grilled tomato, sautéed mushrooms, homemade bubble & squeak cake, toast with butter + jam or marmalade; eggs on toast with possible extras; basket of toast; basket of pastries; granola;and french toast with the possible toppings of – cinnamon +almond French toast, with seasonal fruit compote, crème fraîche and maple syrup £3.95, – Crispy bacon, grilled banana and maple syrup for £4.50.

I didn’t go with any of those and instead we both chose something that sounded more like a special, the Shakshouka, which for £4.95 was described as a typical Middle Eastern breakfast dish of poached eggs cooked in a sauce of tomatoes, peppers, onions + spices, served in the pan with homemade zatar flatbread (extra grilled merguez sausage £1.50 or feta 50p). I ordered mine with both sausage and feta while companion chose only the feta.

The dish was very tasty and the eggs were cooked (poached) well but with a yolk still runny while the whites were firm. There were peppers in the sauce which itself was well seasoned and fresh tasting. The feta cheese was very good, and I’ve tasted many varieties over the years. This was a salty and firm cheese that wasn’t too sour while the heat from the food helped it become even creamier. The sausages were firm and spicy and well suited to the dish.

The breads were also very good with a spicy rub as a topping and served warm in a basket.

I ordered a decaf Americano which I enjoyed and there was a special little touch of bringing heated up and frothed milk as an accompaniment (a shame I didn’t use it). My companion ordered a green tea which was served in an individual teapot so that it was freshly brewed from tea leaves rather than a tea bag.

If I was awarding marks then Souk Kitchen would easily get 5 / 5 or 10 / 10 for food. The service and atmosphere, however, were a whole other story. Admittedly there were only two people serving and while the guy seemed distantly friendly, the service from the woman was poor and sloppy. My coffee was sloshing away as it was placed down with the waitress barely breaking stride before she was off to the table behind us. I saw her smile only once when an older woman walked out after asking her a question and not waiting for a reply – it was more of a ‘why are people so strange’ expression that included a smile. It was the kind of service that didn’t expect a tip so I didn’t leave one.

The noisy children and the groups of people on tables made the place very loud and conversation for us was nearly impossible. I ended up writing in my notebook while he read a book he had with him.

The food may be too tempting though, enough to overcome the atmosphere. Some more dishes:

  • Chargrilled lambs liver, cabbage, walnut & barberry bulgar pilau, pomegranate & cinnamon molasses £10.50
  • pan fried salmon, zatar roast anya potatoes, roast red peppers, courgettes, harissa & mint £10.95
  • Greek yoghurt panna cotta, saffron poached fig £3.95

They sound quite hard to resist.

Souk Kitchen, 277 North Street, Southville, Bristol, BS3 1JP, 0117 966 6880

Southville Deli, Bedminster

I had brunch at Souk Kitchen last Saturday and the service was so slow that I thought it would be better to go elsewhere for dessert. I hadn’t been in the Southville Deli before but it was across the street and looked lovely and bright and the tables outside looked comfortable and continental enough to be interesting.

I was thinking about getting a cake and having some coffee and I spotted some exquisite looking cupcakes at the counter. I took a look around the shop before ordering and noticed some Pukka teas which I hadn’t seen before. There was a whole row of them. Then I looked down and there was another row. I looked up and only then realised that the whole row of shelves from top to bottom were full of boxes of tea and some to the right as well. It was heaven. There were so many decaffeinated ones that I couldn’t choose between them and ended up buying seven boxes. There were Big Chill teas and Pukka, Ayurvedic and Yerba Mate and rooibos with vanilla. It was amazing.

I also bought two red velvet cupcakes which had cheesecake icing. They were the most delicious cupcakes I have had in a while, very moist and wonderful with the distinctive red colour and buttermilk addition.

There were many more things in the deli which were surprisingly affordable since the latest delis I have visited have been Papadeli and Arch House Deli. The latter two are distinctly magical but not always affordable since many products are imported. In the Southville Deli there were organic eggs from a farm at £1.89 which are cheaper or at least comparable to other places.  I remember the eggs because I chose not to buy any and then bought some today for £2.09 from Sainsburys. I was too blinded by the teas to remember any other products and will go back for more and cupcakes and maybe I’ll browse a little wider.

p.s. my favourite so far has been the Pukka Herbal Chai, soon to be renamed vanilla chai. Blissful.

262 North Street, Bedminster, Bristol BS3 1JA Telephone 0117 966 4507

Glassboat: a delightful lunch

On Thursday, 16 August, I had reason to celebrate and thought I’d find a lovely place for lunch. From St Michael’s Hill I walked through the Galleries at Broadmead and through Cabot Circus. I passed St Nicholas Market and did not stop for Pieminister or Source but carried on through to the Welsh Back right next to Bristol Bridge. I have written about the Glassboat before and promised to come back after a mildly unimpressive meal. On this Thursday at 12pm, the restaurant was almost empty and I could not resist the view from inside or the two-course meal for £10.

There was a special menu for £10 for two courses or £15 for three and a selection also available at normal prices.

I chose the bream on greens with a dill sauce for a main and an earl grey chocolate pot with chantilly cream for dessert. I almost selected the coq au vin with mashed potato because there was no mention of potatoes with the fish and on its own I feared that it would be less than substantial. Luckily it arrived with sauteed new baby potatoes which were a great accompaniment.

The fish was pan-fried and well-seasoned and while the portion looked medium sized it was just right for me. The skin was slightly browned at the edges and crisp, while the white flesh was firm with a mild flavour. The sea bream sat on a bed of kale and sauteed new potatoes which were surrounded by a drizzle of dill sauce. The tangy dill, with its almost fennel or aniseed hints of flavour, worked well with the fish and the butter sauce. The dish was a delicious treat.

The Earl Grey chocolate pot was served with a biscuit, a dollop of chantilly cream and splash of orange marmalade tasting sauce. The chocolate was very rich and needed all the other additions to make each bite pleasant. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it but I couldn’t finish the whole thing because the cream and marmalade splash finished before the chocolate did.

The chocolate was dark and was served as a firm mousse of sorts with a hint of the earl grey giving it a slight edge. Of the three selections available it was probably the right choice although a bit too decadent in its portion size that day for me.

My lunch at the Glassboat on this particular Thursday made up for the brief disappointment the previous May. The dishes afforded me a delicious chance to linger and I sat facing the Welsh Back which shone and reflected under the midday sun all the way to Radcliffe Bridge. A wonderful experience and I happily recommend the restaurant and the view.

The Glassboat, Welsh Back, Bristol BS1 4SB, tel: 0117 929 0704 email: restaurant@glassboat.co.uk

Tobacco Factory: Tapas and Coffee

The Tobacco Factory for lunch on a Sunday did not offer a roast. Instead, there were some warm brasserie style lunches, baguettes, English muffins and a selection of tapas dishes.

Luckily they also had decaf coffee so along with the bread and humous (£3.20), olives and humous (£3.20) and patatas bravas (£3.80), I was able to enjoy a vanilla soy latte (£2.10 + 0.20p) and my friend had a green tea.

The bread was lovely, from Mark’s Bread across the road, and was firm of texture with a harder crust but not too tough. The selection was made up of white and brown bread drizzled with olive oil and supplemented with two triangles of butter. The first basket had five mediocre sized pieces while the second had a better amount.

The patatas bravas were roasted new potatoes, seasoned with salt and pepper and parsley. I say seasoned but most were barely flavoured while the rest were nice but the pepper was not entirely appropriate. The tomato sauce / salsa accompaniment had no seasoning at all and I didn’t bother with it after a couple of tastes. The humous was chunky but not too rough although again there was no seasoning apart from parsley and cumin. Salt was not a big factor in the meal at all (the butter was unsalted as well). The best dish was made up of the green and brown olives which were nice and the portion was a good size.

The vanilla soy latte was pleasant and tasty and the green tea was pretty standard and drinkable, apparently.

The meal was nice although it wasn’t meant to be more than a snack. It wasn’t amazing and could have done with more seasoning but it was worth the money. The environment was the most enjoyable aspect to the midday break. The room was large and most of the tables were full, families with little children, men on their own with newspapers and books, gatherings of young women and random urban professionals passing by. The space was large enough to make the conversations a slight noise in the background which allowed for comfortable talk and some semblance of privacy.

I suspect I’ll try a different dish next time and English muffins sounded very good. £5 for one of four selections including mushroom and cheese and smoked salmon with cream cheese. For an additional 50p each you can add a poached egg as well. Sounds ideal for brunch.

The Tobacco Factory, Raleigh Rd, Bristol, Avon BS31TF, 0117 902 0060

Papadeli, Delicious and Magical

I’ve written before about how much I like Papadeli and I have previously visited to shop around, browse and read a paper while drinking coffee. That all happened downstairs, however, and this time I ventured upstairs to the magical little restaurant above the shop. Some joyful staff members informed me that I could order upstairs and that sitting there to have just tea was not a problem.

As I stepped into the cozy area upstairs the waiter greeted me and I told him that I would like some tea. ‘Tea?’ he asked. ‘Tea’ I replied and he went off to fulfil my order. I hadn’t meant proper tea of course being on a decaf diet due to my pregnancy, however, I was feeling adventurous and didn’t call him back.

I seated myself at a table near the stairs and asked for a menu when he brought me my Lahloo Breakfast Tea (£1.50) in the by now familiar solid white, individual tea pots. My friend Mark, who also had never been upstairs, arrived and ordered a Green Mulberry Lahloo tea and an apple and cinnamon tart (£3.95) from the dessert menu.

My tea was fragrant and delicious, accompanied by milk and made from loose leaves, although I chose to leave out the milk. Mark’s tea was brought in a similar Lahloo pot and his dessert was served with a dollop of fresh cream and fresh, large cherries. The tart was delicious as were the cherries, what a great touch to a lovely dessert.

We managed to stay for a couple of hours and even when the restaurant emptied we weren’t given any funny looks about clearing out near closing time. There was a specials board of food dishes and of cakes for the day which included brownies and other chocolate based sweets.

We went downstairs to pay and had a browse around the shop while comparing the merits of Arch House Deli and Papadeli. Mark had managed to buy some of the risotto of which I’d been so envious a couple of weeks back but I couldn’t feel too jealous as he treated me to some amazing looking Italian capers and of course to the tea. We oohed and aahed over the salads and delicious cakes, on display and freshly made, in the kitchen behind the counter.

I lingered at the cheese counter and vowed to come back when I could have some blue and unpasteurized cheese again. I’m looking forward to a main meal there one day which would also be a treat.

Papadeli, 84 Alma Road, Clifton, Bristol, Avon BS8 2DJ, 0117 973 6569