Sunday, 28 August 2011

Eating out in Dorset

I have just returned from my annual holiday with Liz and her brother. As per usual we ate out a lot. Our first port of call was Mat Follas' bijou little restaurant The Wild Garlic just up the road from our holiday cottage in Beaminster. I had been looking forward to it for ages and my meal didn't disappoint. Scallops for a starter were just right, and they were followed by one of the biggest plaice I have ever seen on a dinner plate, simply grilled with lemon and capers. Dave chose venison which arrived on a very cheffy plate of this and that complete with a pot of steaming pine needles to inhale. (Liz and I both thought lavatory cleaner). 

He didn't think it added much but the venison was very good. Liz chose cider braised pork belly, crackle and sweet potato which again came in a cheffy arrangement pictured above. The crackle was pronounced inedible because it was so hard. And her meal was disappointingly tepid. We shared a plate of cheeses and a selection of desserts. The cheese won hands down although Mat when questioned didn't know which cheeses were on offer. The puds looked lovely but the flavours lacked oomph.  Service was lackadaisical, dirty glasses being left on the table for ages for example. It was, however, pretty cheap for evening service. With drinks beforehand, a nice bottle of Temperanillo and a glass of pudding wine the bill came in at just under £140 for the three of us. And we saw Mat a few times, which was nice. (And by the way Mat the amuse bouche of carrot soup was revolting).

Yes, I would go back. It was just a shame that on that particular evening Liz didn't experience the wow factor.

Wednesday saw us returning to The Riverside Restaurant in West Bay. This really was a meal to write home about. Liz has been going there for years and says it never disappoints. I had been once before and had good memories. I started with my favourites. Oysters. Mmmm!

Oh how I love oysters. I love mussels too which is what the others had. All were delicious. And I could have eaten all the mains but settled on roasted wild sea bass with sea blite and a red wine jus. I didn't think it quite worked as the sauce tasted quite sweet and I'm not mad on fish with a sweet tang. It looked lovely though but I wish I'd had what Liz did, pan fried brill fillet with a leek, crab and mustard sauce.

The desserts were first class (better than Mat's I'm sad to say) and I chose an iced white chocolate, raspberry and almond parfait. It was a good choice. The others fared well too.

So, if you are ever in Dorset this is a fish restaurant not to be missed. I shall be back.

We spent Thursday morning on the beach and out on The Cobb at Lyme Regis, beloved by The French Lieutenant's Woman. Tempted though we were to go off on one of the many mackerel-fishing trips the unpredictability of the wind put us off. And anyway none of us are big mackerel fans. We had driven past Mark Hix's Oyster and Fish House but had decided to save that for another visit. As the wind increased and the sunshine began to disappear we hot-footed it back to the car and decided to find lunch out of town. In another town in fact. We had read that River Cottage had opened a canteen and deli in Axminster. We thought it would be very busy and that we would buy enough items from the deli to picnic with. In fact the canteen looked so warm and inviting we queued up for a table, not much of a queue either, perhaps a 5 minute wait.

The canteen does what it says on the tin. Seasonal fresh food simply cooked. My fish soup with croutons and rouille was perfect, Liz and Dave had corn on the cob which they both enjoyed. I then went for the organic beefburger which was, quite frankly, overcooked although the meat was tasty. Dave pronounced his pork koftas excellent and Liz's sardines in parsley and lemon were outstanding.

We had become seasoned chip eaters during the week and we all thought that those served here won first prize. Only Dave could manage a pudding. His blackberry pannacotta looked and tasted superb.

Lunch included a bottle of Rioja and came in at £68 which we thought represented good value.  On the way back to Bridport we passed the new River Cottage. It was a shame we hadn't realised our holiday cottage was in the same grounds as the original!

Friday, 12 August 2011

Lunch at The Waterside Inn

Once a year Liz and I treat ourselves to a very high quality (i.e. Michelin-starred) lunch out. Usually this is just after my birthday and my part is funded by the cheque my dad always gives me. But of course my dad passed away earlier this year and so I have been squirreling money away for this very special treat since then.

The Waterside Inn in Bray is very posh indeed. It is in a posh village (also home to Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck), it is in a posh part of the country (just to the west of Windsor) and it sits on a posh part of the River Thames. Last year the restaurant celebrated 25 years of holding 3 Michelin stars. Previously Liz and I had only eaten at a 2 star establishment, Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons, so we were expecting great things. And by and large we got them.

You drive down a narrow village lane and The Waterside Inn is at the end (as is a slipway leading into the river). You are waylaid by the restaurant's valet who parks your car for you. This is a first for me and certainly for my beaten-up old Honda. A friend had reminded me that he would need tipping on car collection but as he had only in fact reversed it into a space 5 metres away I felt that was a bit OTT. I was left wondering if he thought I might have gone down the slipway . . .

On entering the building I was greeted by a fairly frosty French receptionist who informed me that they would not be open for 4 minutes and would I like to wait over there (pointing at a couple of generously sized sofas). Liz was making her own way so this was fine by me. At that moment Alain Roux the head chef (and son of the great Michel) walked through in his chef's whites so I knew we were in good hands.

Liz arrived and we were ushered through the restaurant and out of the large glass doors onto the riverside terrace for our aperitifs. As it was such a lovely day we really reaped the benefit of the splendid views.

If you are feeling very flush you can book their boat (for £65 per half hour!) and take your drinks and canapés off for a little river trip. Sadly another party beat us to it. maybe next time (when I've won the lottery)!

Ah yes. The canapés. Absolutely gorgeous. I particularly enjoyed the carrot, ginger and vodka shot, and the little round one which was foie gras with something. You will have to forgive the fact that I had nothing to write on and forgot to get a copy of the menu on my way out so details of some of what we ate are a bit sketchy!

The restaurant itself is a bit tardis like, much larger inside than it looks. The clever use of mirrored panels all around the room also means you get to see everything that is going on, great for nosey people like me! We chose the 3 course Menu Gastronomique (basically the set lunch) at £68 for three courses. The other diners all appeared to be doing the same but this was hardly a surprise. We also noticed that all customers were drinking wine by the glass. Having seen the prices on the Wine List this was no surprise either. We both chose the smoked eel/celeriac/crispy egg as a starter. It was a very good combination indeed although the egg was a bit bland. Liz doesn't do eggs but I didn't feel inclined to help her out. The alternative was a creamy corn and prawn soup. The lady on the next table had that. It was decorated with popcorn. I am underwhelmed by great restaurants serving popcorn! Le Manoir used it last time I dined there.

It is now that I should mention the absolutely fantastic service. There were so many waiters running around that they reminded me of the penguins in Mary Poppins. But the service was faultless, friendly and they were all very French. They were charming to talk to as well. It was a bit like being pampered by a lot of lovely young men. Really top drawer. (And the waitresses were very sweet too).

I cannot remember all of the ingredients in our mains. Suffice to say that Liz had Red mullet and squid on a kind of potato wafer and I had roast rump of beef on spinach in a really rich jus serve with timbales of pearl barley which tasted nicer than they sound. It was topped with a lovely splodge of bone marrow, one of my very favourite things. Both mains were exemplary.

By now we were filling very replete but truly the best was yet to come. I think my dessert was probably the best dessert I have ever tasted anywhere. It's right up there certainly.

So we have a pistachio mousse with strawberries served on shortbread, strawberry sorbet and the best pannacotta ever which was enriched by having a trifley bottom. Just looking at the photo again makes me drool. Liz went for a passion fruit/mango sorbet/chocolate dessert concoction and pronounced it very rich but delicious.

 We were then escorted back outside to the river by yet another gorgeous boy where we enjoyed coffee (decaff of course) and wonderful little sweet treats. We must have sat there watching the world go by for a good hour. Really lovely.

 It was, as they say, A Grand Day Out. VAT and Service are all included and the bill, which boasted a large G&T and 2 glasses of wine, was £149. For a special occasion I don't think it can be beaten. Except by Le Manoir maybe.

We think next year's outing will be to Le Gavroche, if we can get a table.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Two good puds

A roast chicken dinner was requested by my second daughter this week. She and the boyfriend were off on holiday the following day and it is her default favourite meal. As Josh and his girfriend were also going to be in I decided that I would be a bit (but only a bit) adventurous with the puddings. I had a few packets of almonds in the cupboard (OK so I had six!) and thought I would give Nigella's Strawberry and almond crumble from "Kitchen" a whirl. It was dead easy and it was absolutely gorgeous. Puddingy and jammy at the same time. I urge you to try it.

The second pudding was this Squidgy Chocolate Torte which I have mentioned before. Again pretty effortless but very tasty. Think chocolate brownies and you'll get the sort of texture. This was a Very Big Hit with the boyfriend (my daughter's, not mine). I'm told it freezes well too so I will try and make a couple more before the school holidays end.

It says something that both desserts had completely disappeared by lunchtime the following day!