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Review: Bellita, Bristol

Pulpo!

Pulpo!

I’ve already reviewed the classic Bell’s Diner, an absolute pin-perfect neighbourhood bistro. And now I’m jotting down a few words about their other outpost in another Bristol neighbourhood: Bellita. A bit more bijou, more of a bar with a menu, but every bit as adept with the Mediterranean small-plates.

We had a masterfully cooked bit of octopus, truly generous chunks of tentacle with exactly the right meaty texture. The smoky aubergine puree with olives and lemon would have been an excellent tapa on its own but accompanied the cephalopod perfectly.

Panisse are more of a snack: soft little chunks with a crispy polenta-dusted exterior and a creamy soft interior. Dressed with an anchovy and vinegar dressing they are insanely moorish.

Turnip

Turnip

And then there’s an entire white turnip, presented whole and steaming. Of course it is soft and wet inside, terrifically soothing with the gentle sour brassica tang at the back. The salad of winter leaves with persimmon and hazelnut is tasty as a side dish.

Finally, the star of the show. Hake head with aioli. Seeing that on the board I couldn’t not order it. I had no idea he’d be such a monster! Not something I’d like to meet in his element. But on a plate I can cope, and by the time I’d skilfully picked and winkled around the bony skull I had a pile of silky translucent meat bigger than a handsome fillet and arguably more tasty (and all for a fiver – how crazy is that?).

Bellita is just as good as Bell’s and just as great value. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend either to anyone needing a great bite to eat in Bristol.

Haaaaaake!

Haaaaaake!

Review: House of Trembling Madness, York

House of Trembling Madness

House of Trembling Madness

Not really a proper dining review, as will become clear, but everyone who visits York ought to be aware of this iconic hidden gem.

House of Trembling Madness? It’s an homage to “delirium tremens” or “DTs” – the shakes you get if you’ve really done yourself some serious over-drinking. And you could easily do that downstairs here, in an absolute cavern of beery goodness. I’ve never seen such a well-stocked beer shop, and I’ve seen a few! There’s a nice collection of spirits in the basement too (woooOOOOooo!), but the fun part is upstairs.

Upstairs is the “pub” although I think their own description – “medieval drinking hall” – is far more accurate. It certainly looks the part, with a wood-beamed ceiling and old timber crucks forming the walls at either end, an entire wall covered in the trophy heads of an eclectic collection of beasts from antelope to canada goose, and a dense maze of small wooden tables surrounded by high-backed chairs that you imagine a skald might sit at to sing a song of legendary battles. The only thing missing are rushes strewn on the floor.

This being York, the history is real. Those walls and the ship beams holding them up are over 800 years old. Medieval literally as well as thematically.

As you’d expect, the beers on tap are all eclectic and from small breweries. Mine was a “ganache stout” which was sweet and richly delicious. They have a good selection of food suitable for a beery evening, from pies and burgers to snacks and sharing platters. And in a very civilised manner they serve food at all times, believing (as their website says) that making sure drink can always be partnered by food is the best way to chip away at the sh*tty drinking culture in this country.

Platter

Platter

Except we showed up for some dinner (and a beer) at 10:20pm on an evening when they had been so busy that they had literally sold every hot thing. And at 10:20pm this really was the only alternative to McDonalds. The barman couldn’t have been more thoughtful, though, putting together a sharing plate and piling extra bits on to make sure we’d not go hungry. Some of the bits were jolly good too: chilli pickled eggs that made me growl like a viking and tiny toe-sized salami sausages with a manic juniper flavour.

The layout is thoughtful too, by the by. They’ve packed every inch with tables and chairs, so this is a pub where there really isn’t any standing room. They’ve optimised for a buzzing and convivial atmosphere, rather than an elbow-to-elbow scrum of beer-swiggers around the bar. Good for them! Long live the House of Trembling Madness!

Review: Skosh, York

The wine journal

The wine journal

I’ve only ever been offered a “Savoury course” in one restaurant before: La Becasse in Ludlow, under chef Will Holland. So seeing a savoury course on the menu at Skosh felt like a good sign! For those unfamiliar, a savoury course would usually be something interesting involving cheese that you could take instead of (or in our case, as well as!) a sweet course at the end of the meal.

They do another fun thing at Skosh, they keep a wine journal. Every now and then they buy the odd case of interesting wine and scribble down their own tasting notes in a little leather journal along with a price; you can choose from any of them that they haven’t already sold out of. Fun to read. And of course they also have a perfectly good list of very drinkable wines, all available by the glass or bottle.

Cheese not egg

Cheese not egg

So, food. It’s small plates but they build a meal for you by picking a sensible order in which to serve up whatever you’ve ordered. First up were eggcups full of a dreamy cheddar mousse with snarky bits of burnt cheese and cardamom at the bottom. Nobody could possibly dislike this.

The follow up dish was an odd mixture on paper: spicy venison tartare, avocado mousse, goat curds, pickled pear. It was all very tasty, but although the goat curd and avocado certainly lightened the dish this was kinda at the expense of a clear, punchy flavour.

Cauliflower manchurian was delish, in a properly elegant sweet-and-sour-and-spicy sauce that favoured the sour over the sweet. Nice soft and crispy batter on the cauliflower.

Lovely bit of salmon sashimi next, with peppy little wasabi tobiko piled on top. To make it a “sashimi pizza” it was served on a little round paratha and… well, I just didn’t need any bread of any description with my sashimi.

Sashimi... pizza?

Sashimi… pizza?

Pork belly in vindaloo gravy with yogurt rice on the side was back on track. The gravy was absolutely to die for, a warmy spicy hit. Thin slices of pork with nicely crisped fat worked brilliantly. The rice was a cool complement, though I think serving it at fridge temperature didn’t do the dish any favours – by the time we were eating it the meat and gravy wasn’t hot enough to contrast properly with the cold. I can see how well it would work if they were proper hot.

Our final two dishes were tied first place for absolute brilliance. Pheasant and cavalo nero with a creamy/spicy sesame bang-bang sauce was magic; a beautifully cooked breast with plenty of pink still in it, the sauce with it’s earthy nuttiness and spicy creaminess, the brassica all wrinkly and ready to catch up the sauce. Mmm. And then the char-grilled leek with salted duck egg and smoked celeriac puree was almost even better. Spikily salty crumbled egg, yielding braised leek with bitter blackened edges, melded together by the rich smoky puree. Double-mmm.

Savoury dish

Savoury dish

The savoury that I couldn’t resist was quirky goodness. Vacherin Mont D’Or baked in banana leaf with some black truffle, accompanied by pickled celeriac slaw and to be eaten with a chestnut and pear roll. It was as good as it sounds, though if I’m honest all the flavours kinda bundled in together to give a generic gooey-savoury richness which made for a satisfying finale.

Except for pud, of course, which we had to at least attempt. Maureen’s tiny quince jam donut with a shot of rum-infused milk was the light option and basically yum. My “bauble” was a pretty jumble of chocolate and caramel and cumin scrunch. The bit of parsnip in it got a bit lost.

So. We absolutely loved our meal at Skosh, for the sheer inventiveness and for the depth of flavour, especially in the spicy sauces and gravies. Sometimes they seem to trip over themselves in over-invention, but never to the extent of putting out a duff dish. It feels like £40 would be typical per person before drinks, but there’s such a range of pricing in their small plates that you could have the same sized meal for £26 or £48. Go go go!

Leek and duck egg

Leek and duck egg

Review: The Raby Hunt, Darlington

Fat oyster

Fat oyster

TL;DR: We enjoyed something like fifteen courses of splendid fine dining at the Raby Hunt. There were no dishes we didn’t love, and some we loved a lot!

It looks like the old drovers’ inn has had a thorough makeover recently, with a sharp modern display kitchen and edgy touches like the silver skull that grins up at you as you cross the threshold. I reckon they’ve got the combo just right, the dining room itself feeling relaxed and country but with those modern elements hinting at the spiffy food to come.

The first little puff of potato with a saline seaside taste of oyster hidden inside was superb. Followed by a whole oyster, absolutely perfectly poached. This might be my favourite oyster ever, from Lindisfarne where apparently the oysters are fat and sweet and delicious. Oyster leaf and cucumber granita were clean, helpful accompaniments. Another great bite was the cube of roast suckling pig, served as a taco on a disk of blue corn tortilla that was as soft as a feather but had a great dirty taste to go with the sweet lump of pork. One of those “please, just line me up ten more of these and I’ll be happy!” dishes.

Razor clam magic

Razor clam magic

Crispy fried Jerusalem artichoke skin with hot and cold offal on top was another deliciously filthy bite. Next up, joint-best dish of the day: buttery razor clam with brown shrimps and pied de mouton mushrooms. I have no idea why this works so well, but the earthy flavour of the mushrooms was a big part of the magic. So was the presentation. There’s no grand centrepieces or dinner theatre at the Raby Hunt, just very beautiful plating.

I’ve never had beef tartare paired with smoked eel mousse and caviar before, but I could certainly get used to it! I guess I might have preferred the beef chopped even finer, but otherwise a magical little dish. Oh! And then a teeny tiny burger made with a slice of meltingly soft pastrami and two slices of black truffle. Heheheh… loved it.

Tiny truffle burger

Tiny truffle burger

Joint-best dish number two, surprisingly, a salad of winter vegetables. Pinpoint perfect flavours, and such a mixture of elements; turnip, squash, cauli, artichoke, broccoli, carrot, kale. Smartest of all, chef resisted the urge to throw in beetroot and overwhelm the rest. I’ve forgotten how it was dressed, though I recall that scallop powder may have been involved.

The main couldn’t possibly compete. But it was a very nice piece of lamb, and the scorched leaf and anchovy mousse worked well with it.

First pud was best pud: black olive tuille over a gorgeous little chocolate mousse and a dollop of goat cheese ice cream on top. Second pud was also great: a mango tart with brillat saverin cream and coconut ice cream.

The Raby Hunt was a great ending to the year, immediately joining Ynyshir and El Portal de Echaurren as my top 3 gastronomic experiences of 2017. The menu is £105 and the ambition and execution of every single dish makes that price tag perfectly good value to me. Wines by the glass were expensive, but we did leave ourselves in the hands of the (very helpful and well-informed) sommelier.

First pud best pud

First pud best pud

Review: Moshimo, Brighton

Cod cheek tempura

Cod cheek tempura

It’s so long since I last visited Moshimo that I haven’t even blogged it! So it must be at least six years. In fact this Brighton sushi restaurant has been here in the very centre of the Brighton Laines (and yet neatly hidden in a small empty square that most visitors walk past unnoticed) for as long as conveyor belt sushi has been in the UK. And Moshimo is to Yo! Sushi what Five Guys is to McDonalds. The same, but much better. As an aside, they’re also the restaurant responsible for starting the FishLove photography campaign that has been so successful in raising international consciousness of the issues of overfishing.

We sit down and enjoy chunks of char-grilled aubergine bathed in dollops of really pungent miso and sprinkled in sesame seed. Simple tuna nigiri with generous chunks of purple fish and rice having the perfect bite and just a delicate hint of vinegar. Inari sushi with a savoury rice and veg mixture inside the tofu skin case. We order one hot dish off the menu: tempura cod cheeks. Light, crisp, dry batter encasing slippery pieces of fish – it goes better dipped in soy and wasabi than in the classic tempura sauce it comes with. We finish with authentic rice flour buns filled with dark bean curd.

We’re in and out in thirty minutes, made happy by sushi washed down with clear green tea. The menu has a whole lot more but this was a quick lunch stop. Exactly what conveyor belt sushi is for. The interior isn’t cheap-n-cheerful though, it’s stylish and modern with a vivid red ceiling and slaty grey walls: you could have a splendid evening feast here too. Price is right around the Yo! mark.

Moshimo

Moshimo

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