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Monday 30 April 2012

Steak at Mickey Lavins (now closed)

Since the demise of Cattlemans on the Triangle, the boys in our group have not found a suitable place to eat ridiculous amounts of steak. Jamie suggested going to Mickey Lavins, on Denmark Street, on Friday evening to try out their steak. Mickey Lavins is run by some of the people involved with Cattlemans, if you go to the old Cattlemans website they point you straight to the Irish pub and give it their seal of approval as the only steak house in Bristol. I pass this pub almost every evening on my walk home and the fleeting glances I have given it have not given me much hope of it being a provider of delicious steak. Mickey Lavins' website claims you can order whatever size steak you want so Jamie booked a table for 6 and we were required to state our upcoming steak size desires. Our group's ranged from a 14oz rib eye to 24oz t-bones.

This evening definitely goes down in history as my strangest dining experience yet. Upon arrival on the allotted day we hovered in the doorway noticing that there was a cheesy disco experience in full swing and a busy bar. With trepidation we headed on in to the party atmosphere and into the back room where the restaurant area was. We were the only diners and with Studio 54 in view 5 metres away it was understandable why. Once we had fetched drinks from the bar, the boys labelled the beer as seemingly watered down, the staff took the particulars of our steaks and sauces. Medium rare 14oz rib eye for me, obviously a lady like amount of steak. Depending on the quality of the meat I will sometimes go for rare if I know the meat to be exceptionally good but as I wasn't sure what we would be getting I stuck to my default cooking time.
Rib Eye Steak House Bristol
14oz Rib Eye Steak
16oz Rib Eye Steak Bristol
Rich's16oz Rib Eye Steak
On the plus side we weren't waiting too long for our meals What was brought to us looked, the steak in particular, fairly appetising.The steak itself actually surprised me in flavour. The meat was cooked how I ordered and tasted very fresh. The boys who ordered the 24oz t-bones were less lucky as they were unevenly cooked one half being rare the other being practically blue. However nearly everyone found a patch of tough fatty meat, I was lucky that I didn't. The chips were a disappointment as well they were very soft and almost stale tasting. Even though we all got very generous portions on our plates the staff also brought a huge bowl of extra chips on the house. We were also told that they had run out of barbecue sauce and then rather unfeasibly, ketchup. Who runs out of ketchup? It is the most popular marriage with chips, although I am normally a mayonnaise or salad cream type of girl myself.

The steaks all came with a sauce of your choice either creamy peppercorn, mixed peppercorn, barbecue, now off the menu, sweet chilli and stilton. There was no point to having two peppercorn choices, the creamy peppercorn you could barely taste any pepper. The mixed peppercorn was more like the tradition traditional peppercorn sauce that accompanies steak. The stilton sauce was very bland, if there was any blue cheese in it, I would have been surprised.
Mickey Lavins Steak Bristol
16oz Steak
Although I was pleasantly surprised by my meal in parts the main problem was the atmosphere. 8pm on a Friday night and it was like eating at a club. Either they start the DJ at the decks later or close the restaurant early on Friday and Saturday nights, no one wants to have to talk over a certain level over dinner. The staff disappeared once our food was brought so getting the bill meant going on a hunt for someone out of the restaurant. The pricing also seems slightly out of alignment the main menu offers a 12oz rib eye for £14.95, I added an extra 2oz and that rocketed the price up by £6, especially when they offer a 18oz t-bone for £18.95, where is the logic in that?

We probably would not return to Mickey Lavins but it might be better visited during the day or a week night when the atmosphere is less night life ish. For a choice in such big cuts of steak there isn't anywhere else in Bristol that I can think of you could visit, however for quality and better atmosphere there are at least 3-4 places I've had a much better steak. Nothing has yet to beat Hudson's Bar and Grill in Bath for my steak perfection but I am willing to keep looking. Check the menu for Mickey Lavins here but for a perfect and more sophisticated steak experience at Hudson's go here.

Friday 27 April 2012

Sunday Snacking at The Brass Pig

I returned from a visit home in Bath, where I had tea with my mum and frolicked with the 4 cats. Here is Bobo playing around the sofa.
Rich and I were due to watch some jazz with some friends at The Brass Pig, which has free jazz gigs every Sunday, early evening. So being we didn't have time to make dinner before going out we decided to sample some of the food at The Brass Pig. The pub was empty when we arrived but the band, The Andy Hague Quintet, had already started setting up.

The menu is a bit more gastro pub with options such as Grilled Pork Loin, spring greens with cranberries, sautéed potatoes & cider gravy and Pan -fried Duck Breast served on a fresh bed of Asian noodles. But they also have a small pizza menu and some light bites. Rich and I decided to share the 'Meatzza' which had chicken, pepperoni, ground beef and chilli on it. We also ordered a side bowl of cheesy chips and bacon strips. Obviously this was not the healthy option but we both craved salt and something quick and easy.
The 'Meatzza'

Cheesy Chips with Strips
The Brass Pig is a bit of an odd venue, in what was previously home to a La Tasca, it's too big to have the pub atmosphere yet too casual to be a real restaurant. I can't help but feel it hasn't quite figured out what sort of venue it should be. Food arrived promptly enough the pizza was very generously topped the pepperoni especially was really thick and tasty. The pizza itself was way too doughy for my personal tastes, I like a really thin base but for those of the doughier persuasion then this is a good solid effort on the pizza front. It wasn't ground breaking but it was nice.

The chips were nice but something was not quite right about them. They were half way between wedges and chips but almost as if they had only been blanched rather than fried properly because they were rather anaemic in colour. The Brass Pig did a good job of pit stop refuelling food, I would be interested to go back to try some of the main menu to see if it is on par with the pizzas. If you enjoy live jazz definitely check out  The Brass Pig on Sundays because the acoustics in there are actually pretty good and you'll always get a good view in a relaxed setting. The Andy Hague Quintet were excellent chilled Sunday jazz, so definitely check them out. For more info on The Brass Pig visit their website

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Jazz Dinner at The Pump House

Whilst browsing the list of restaurants involved in the Eat Drink Bristol Fashion event, trying to decide what tickets to buy. I considered all and took a peek at their sample menus online. When I reached the Pump House website what caught my eye was that they were doing a jazz evening a week or so before Eat Drink Bristol started. Rich is a big jazz fan so by this point my mind was made up. The Pump House was out of the Eat Drink Bristol race but still in the spotlight.

When I rang to book I was offered the bar or the restaurant menu, I went with restaurant. I wanted to fully experience everything the Pump House had to offer. So Wednesday last week Rich, myself and Claire went to immerse ourselves in the musical stylings of Bristol born saxophonist James Morton. We were greeted very enthusiastically by their front of house and led upstairs to the dining area.

The Pump House offer a 3 courses for £20 on selected items on their menu which is an excellent deal. Rich and I however weren't swayed by the main courses in the deal, something more thrilling had caught our eyes. The name of our paramour was Celebration of Local Beef. This was a sharing main so Rich bowed out of having a starter in order to focus his full attention on the beef party. Claire and I did decide on a starter however. I went for the slow poached duck egg which sat on top of new season English asparagus topped with hollandaise and with dots of pink grapefruit surrounding it. Claire picked their smoked eel and Parsonage Farm egg with grain mustard mayonnaise, apples and field sorrel.

Slow Poached Duck Egg with New Season Asparagus
Pump House Bristol Starter
Smoked Eel with Parsonage Farm Egg
My duck egg I was informed had been cooked for 5 hours at 50 degrees which seemed baffling that it could taste so creamy and smooth after 5 hours of cooking even at a low 50 degrees. Duck eggs are for me always a rare delight. I hardly ever have them but each time I do I think how I want to eat more of them but I always forget, a bit like pancakes on pancake day. The asparagus was cooked to perfection, the whole dish was a light delight. Sampling Claire's smoked eel I found it to be delicate and much tastier than I was anticipating. I have only ever had eel cooked in tempura as part of a maki roll at a sushi restaurant. The egg was described as perfectly cooked and delightfully flavoursome. You can see from the photo that it pays to get decent quality eggs, just look at the vivid orange of the yolk, no insipid colours here.

A Celebration of Local Beef, Main Board

A Celebration of Local Beef , Steak and Kidney Pudding Side Dish
The Celebration of Local Beef did not give that much away from the menu description: "celebration of local beef with triple cooked chips and horseradish ice cream". When it arrived there were some surprises that greeted us. Some wonderfully rare steak, shredded fried ox tongue pieces, a small steak and kidney pudding and two portions of bone marrow. I pride myself on mostly being up for trying everything but I appreciate that some aren't as adventurous as myself.  The steak pieces were the crowning glory on this board, simply cooked and it really showed off the quality of the meat. The ox tongue was really tasty and slightly crispy it sort of reminded me of the crispy shredded beef you get in Chinese restaurants, salty and completely different in flavour than I was expecting.

The steak in the steak and kidney pudding melted in the mouth, the suet crust was rich and complimentary, nothing like the horrors some people might have experienced from such a dish when presented it at school.  As for the sides, the triple cooked chips were enormous and deceivingly filling but really delicious, fluffy on the inside crispy on the outside, just as chips should be. For me the beetroot was a revelation. I am not that big a fan of beetroot, but roasted lightly it was slightly sweet but still so moist we both couldn't get enough of it. The horseradish ice cream was interesting because once on the plate it melted pretty quickly but the taste was a light cream with the delicate flavour of horseradish. I would argue it could have been a little stronger flavoured but that is just a small quibble. Rich and I were more delighted with the beefy gravy that came with the board, strongly flavoured and perfect with the beetroot and chips.

The only let down for us personally was the bone marrow. I think this is just a personal taste thing because I have never got on with bone marrow that well. I have tried lamb bone marrow before and found it a little nicer in flavour than beef.  It was heavily salted and very rich. I just could not get on with eating salty fat on it's own, but the quality of the bone marrow was superb, in stock or a soup this would be divine, alone however, it was just not for me.
Steamed Cornish Hake 
Claire had the Steamed Cornish Hake with Palourde clams, Clevedon coastal vegetables and Jerusalem artichoke puree. Stating she had never had clams before, proclaimed them to be delicious. I tried a little of the hake and agreed with her that it was a little dry. I think this may be hake in general though from what I have sampled of it in the past. The accompaniments were perfect and complimented the clams and hake beautifully.

Although we were all pretty full we thought it best peek at the dessert menu. I was immediately drawn to the apple tarte tatin with cinnamon ice cream and calvados custard. Readers of this blog may already know how   much I adore cinnamon. Rich and Claire went for the crème brûlée cappuccino with cinnamon doughnuts.
Apple Tarte Tatin
Crème Brûlée Cappuccino with Cinnamon Doughnuts
For me my dessert was quite disappointing. The tarte tatin wasn't caramelised at all and the pastry quite dry. I was really looking forward to a sticky sweet caramel and it was just not what I would call a tarte tatin it was more like a miniature apple pie. The saving grace was the cinnamon ice cream which was absolutely gorgeous. Claire and Rich really lucked out on their puddings the home made doughnuts had a different filling, one was apple and the other chocolate then coated in cinnamon sugar.

Sleepy and full of food we headed down to watch the rest of the jazz and discuss the meal before walking home. The Pump House's food is high quality throughout with some different dishes that you may not have tried before. It is definitely worth booking up for a visit because you will not be disappointed. I am looking forward to going back for the next jazz night and this time sampling the bar menu. To check out events and sample menus for the Pump House visit their website .

Monday 23 April 2012

Lunch at Toro Pan Asian

Rich gives the low down on our visit to Toro Pan Asian...

Toro Pan Asian is the latest offering to occupy the space that Beijing Bistro previously sat in, toward the top of Park Street. Although the bistro offered good food at a good price, after almost a decade of service it suddenly closed down. Then, after a long period of being vacant, it was converted into Riva Italian, which promptly lasted all of what felt like a month before also going under. Perhaps opening another Italian on a road where Jamie's Italian, Mamma Mia and about three others are all less than five minutes walking distance was not as sound a business decision as they thought. Regardless, within about five minutes of closing down, someone decided that what Bristol needed more than anything else was another Pan Asian restaurant, and Toro appeared almost immediately too hastily appease our insatiable demands.

Saturday was deemed the day to go and try the establishment out, and the first thing we noticed was that although clean, spacious and bright, the restaurant appeared to look exactly the same as Beijing Bistro and even use the same furniture. A cheap renovation then, and in a way happily familiar, but we were quickly reassured of the venue with the extremely friendly and helpful staff.

The menus offer all the usual choices of food and drinks that you would expect, so the four of us went for beers and soft drinks, four different mains, one starter of BBQ ribs, and three starters of spring rolls. Now, I don’t really want to kick a place in the teeth so close to its opening, and I’m not prone to exaggeration, but believe me when I say that without a doubt the starters were the very worst I have ever seen or tasted. Anywhere.

Toro Pan Asian Spring Roll
Spring Roll "Presentation"
Hong Kong Bistro Spring Roll
In contrast, Spring Rolls from Hong Kong Bistro in Bath
Toro Pan Asian Spare Ribs
BBQ Ribs

When you order spring rolls, or even when you get them served at a friends house, you generally expect a dip or sauce of some kind to accompany them, usually a sweet chilli, soy sauce, or perhaps a thick hoisin. Instead we received a handful on each plate dry, with nothing else, and worse than that, they looked and tasted pretty much like the pre-cooked re-heatable ones you’d find in an Iceland party pack (seriously, force yourself to watch the next Iceand advert on TV, they are exactly like that). The BBQ ribs too were appalling. When I say BBQ ribs you instantly imagine and expect four/five hot ribs coverd in a sticky and tasty BBQ sauce, these however were dry and warm, and with a slightly rubbery consistency. I’m not going to say that they had been re-heated in a microwave before being served to us, but if you've ever warmed up meat in a microwave before, and even if you haven't, this felt and tasted just like that.

Toro Pan Asian Food
Crispy Shredded Beef
So with a resounding failure of a first course my optimism levels for the main were decidedly low. We were however pleasantly surprised by the comparative quality of the mains. While by no means great, or even close, some of the mains were quite tasty and possibly even freshly cooked. Sadly my classic favourite, the crispy shredded chilli beef, was not one of them. For a start there was no chilli or even a hint of spice, the sauce was thin and horribly oily, and even the beef itself was fairly grim. The batter for the beef was hard and crunchy, containing very little meat, with some pieces consisting entirely of batter and nothing else. The vegetables tasted okay, and whilst it may be damning with faint praise, but the rice was cooked properly at least.

Abby plumped for the Singapore noodles and described them as being mostly alright, if a little dry, but at least fairly generous with the meat and vegetables. The shrimp though was decidely small, rubbery, completely flavourless and worryingly reconstituted. If the ribs and springs rolls had raised the idea of these being obviously re-heated packets foods, then the shrimp near as completely confirmed it. Our other dining companions fared better with this visit, choosing the trusty classics of sweet and sour chicken and kung po chicken. And their dishes at least looked quite nice, and were eaten with a small amount of enthusiasm, even if the description used for them was a simple yet lukewarm “fine”.
Toro Pan Asian Bristol
Singapore Noodles
Toro Pan Asian Food
Sweet and Sour Chicken
Toro Pan Asian Kung Po Chicken
Kung Po Chicken
Most of us chose to skip dessert. However one lemon sorbet was ordered, which amazingly was actually very good. Crisp, zesty and refreshing, I should really have ordered one for myself to help clean my mouth of the unpleasantly oily feeling I was left with courtesy of my ‘beef’ dish, instead I relied on multiple cold beers.

Price wise it’s a fairly competitive establishment with the standard prices you’d expect, £3-5 for a starter, around £6-10 for a main, and drinks slightly more expensive than most pubs or bars. And the service is really very good, with attention and charm winning you over as soon as you walk in through the door, and crucially for me the lack of loud Nickelback and Westlife playing while we ate was a definite plus. The crucially important part of the restaurant though, the food, was frankly dire. Feeling cheaply sourced, prepared, cooked, and presented, it really didn't give the impression of somewhere where you can say they just had a bad day, as food wise it was it just got it all so wrong, but I would be interested to hear if anyone else has a different, and better, experience.

Personally for me, it left a nasty taste in my mouth, both figuratively and literally, left me feeling ripped off, and made me regret not having gone anywhere else. There is a huge bounty of good and great Chinese food in Bristol already, so why someone has thought they could contribute with such an obviously poor and cheap offering is if anything utterly baffling. If you're ever near Toro and fancy a Chinese meal, do yourself a favour and instead just keep walking and go to Wongs, Mayflower, Dynasty, Shanghai Nights or maybe even the new-look Cosmo when it opens later this month. Toro however, for me and without any doubt, is the absolute worst meal and dining experience I've had this year, and in a long time.

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Noodles at Hong Kong Bistro

For quick, cheap but tasty Chinese dishes Beijing Bistro on Park Street used to be the place to go for a zippy refuelling. I was sad when it closed down a year or two ago because I am a noodle addict and you could always guarantee a generous portion for around the £6-£7 mark. Luckily Bath has the sister branch, Hong Kong Bistro by the bus station, still open. I very rarely visit my home town for nights out these days, but being I still have close friends there, and my parents obviously, I thought it was about time I started.

Last week Steph and Helen and I had a long over due catch up at Hong Kong Bistro, one of our old haunts. Hong Kong Bistro's menu is exactly the same as Beijing Bistro's used to be. You can find a big choice of starters, noodles in soup, rice dishes and wok fried noodles. I will generally choose wok fried noodles when at a noodles bar if I am especially hungry. But the noodles in soup from here are also very good much nicer and little bit cheaper than going to Wagamama.
Hong Kong Bistro Starter
Prawn Toast and Breaded Chilli Prawns
It had been a long time since I last visited here and I had forgotten how giant the portions are. So naively we ordered some side dishes of prawn toast, spring rolls, prawn crackers and breaded chilli prawns. Once our heap of noodles rocked up we realised the size of our tasty problem. Steph had chosen one of my favourites, the Singapore vermicelli, Helen went for duck and ginger noodles and I decided on char siu chow mein.
Hong Kong Bistro food
Duck and Ginger Noodles
Hong Kong Bistro noodles
Singapore Vermicelli
As usual the noodles did not disappoint, they were hot, tasty and everything I could want from a wok fried dish and I snaffled them up as fast as my dexterous chopsticks skills allowed, which was fairly fast. I miss having such a place in Bristol and I hope we get a similar noodle bar open again soon. The restaurant itself is rather no frills with basic seating and it is quite small. The staff are fairly hands off when it comes to service but  we were served quickly and efficiently which is all that was required on this visit.
Char Siu Chow Mein
Although I did not opt for their Pad Thai this time round but I cannot recommend it enough, it was always my favourite and it is very delicious and moreish. Hong Kong Bistro has a great selection for vegetarians everything was well cooked and fresh, so if you want something Asian but don't just want to go for a chain like Yo Sushi or Wagamama then it is definitely a cheap and tasty alternative. Particularly when looked at in contrast to the post that will follow this one.

Monday 16 April 2012

Bank Holiday Dinner at Masa

It was bank holiday Monday and it was traditionally pouring with rain when Elisa and I walked down to the centre of town to meet Jamie. Having always preferred my sushi from Obento, for the dynamite rolls alone it would be enough, when Jamie told me that Masa did an all you can eat style dinner for £17.95 I was curious. Unlike other all you can eat style places in Bristol like Cosmo and the terrible Za Za Bazaar, Masa cooks everything fresh and will deliver whatever you have ordered to your table. The menu does not just consist of sushi. You can order teppanyaki items, fried noodles, rice, tempura and katsu curry, to name but a few.

Thrilled by the choice on offer us three girls decided to order a few items to share and just re-order when needed. So we went for two bowls of edamame, which I've never had before but I would definitely encourage everyone to try as they were so much nicer than I imagined them to be.

We also went for some sushi, teppanyaki steak, noodles and mixed tempura. All in all we probably ordered about 3 rounds of stuff to make sure we tried a bit from every section represented on the menu. One of the first things I noticed was that the service was very friendly and we were not kept waiting long for any of the items.

California Rolls and Salmon Nigiri

Mixed Tempura
The food was excellent. The mixed tempura was light and crisp and they didn't scrimp on the prawns which were enormous. The beef we ordered from the teppanyaki melted in the mouth and the juicy chicken terriyaki came sizzling to the table in big chunks. Our katsu curry was zingy with a crunch, plus I got to try agadashi tofu again which was much better than the first time at Obento, as it was a better tempura batter and the stock was a stronger flavour.

My only complaint about Masa is that it is not as good for sushi as Obento is, the rice was not as soft and the fish was not as meaty. However their tempura especially, was the best I have ever tasted and there are many other dishes to choose from on the buffet menu. What was so great about all you can eat Masa style was that none of it had been sitting warm in trays for a couple of hours. Japanese food is definitely one of my favourites and it can be a lot lighter than Chinese so it was a nice feeling when we finished our meal feeling full but not in that overly heavy way that you can experience when over indulging at a buffet.

Vegetable Noodles

Sizzling Chicken Teriyaki
Masa offers the option of their buffet menu all day but you can order from their main menu or sit at the sushi train at any time. Definitely worth checking out for the buffet deal alone as for £17.95, where you can order as much fresh food as you like, was a real bargain. Browse their menu here. Their website also claims to offer gluten free options which is a nice touch. Upcoming blogs for the week will be on Hong Kong Bistro in Bath and the new Toro Pan Asian on Park Street.

Friday 13 April 2012

Easter Sunday Lamb Shoulder

I only started cooking roasts when I moved to Bristol about four years ago, and very infrequent their occurrence was. When I first attempted one it was purely on the remembered knowledge of watching and helping my mum when she cooked them for the family. Our family were never one for roasts every Sunday however, it was more a once maybe every 6-8 weeks and only as a treat.

Easter Sunday I decided to bite the bullet and actually roast some lamb. Adding to the pressure I decided to invite my parents over to our tiny flat to dine with us. Mum is a wonderful cook and has never found any recipe too daunting so I wanted to do great job for her. I bought a medium boneless rolled shoulder joint and a small one incase it wasn't enough, I am terrible at judging quantities and as my mum says "It is better to have too much than too little", which is a mantra I've also adopted when cooking for people.

With some garlic cloves, thyme, salt, pepper and rosemary 'borrowed' from the nearest available garden source I speared holes in the shoulder and stuffed them with shards of garlic and rosemary. With a rub of olive oil we were in business. I said a quick prayer whilst they went in and got on with the prep for the rest of the roast. I made sure I staggered the cooking times of both joints so the second one went in after 45 mins. Halfway through the cooking time I splashed some red wine in the dish to keep the lamb from drying out.
The rest of the roast came together like clock work, my roast potatoes have now been crowned better than mum's, by mum herself no less. Success! Either way I was fairly pleased with the flavour of the lamb but it needed less cooking than I had been instructed, so although the meat was moist and full of flavour I would have liked it to be pinker. The gravy I served with it was red wine, stock and meat juices reduction with some red currant jelly and mint sauce spooned into the mix.

The best reward was how much everyone enjoyed their meal I was feeling the glowy buzz of doing everyone proud. Mum brought over a lovely forest fruit and apple oat crumble which was the perfect end to a lazy Sunday roast. I am definitely keen to cook lamb a bit more often as when cooked right it is a wonderful meat. Hopefully I have given you all some thought for your Sunday lunch times. Next blog post will be my trip to Masa Japanese restaurant.

Thursday 12 April 2012

A Birthday Lunch at Cafe Ronak

The first Sunday of April ended up being very warm and sunny indeed. This was extremely good news seeing as Rich's youngest sister had chosen her birthday lunch to be an outdoors affair. I had never heard of Cafe Ronak on Gloucester Road but I am genuinely glad to have rectified this. Run by two lovely brothers Kaveh and Kiarash Darafshi it is a chilled out, friendly and welcoming place. The crowning glory is the lovely garden at the back which is full of flowers and catches the sun in time for you to enjoy your lunch and soak up some rays.

Cafe Ronak mostly serves some of the usual cafe fare of fresh smoothies, breakfasts, wraps, paninis, cakes and burgers. But they also do a really good platter of all home made mezze, they even marinade the olives themselves. Milkshakes and smoothies were ordered all round and I went for one of their paninis and chips to share with Rich. A mezze platter was ordered, as we were reassured that we couldn't miss out, to pick at by the table.

Presents were opened and then the food started to arrive, and it was plentiful. The portions were very generous considering the reasonable price, nearly all main dishes were between  £3-£6.

Herby Chicken, Bacon and Cheese Paninni 

Mixed Mezze Platter
If you like mezze then I strongly advise you to order the mixed platter when you visit Cafe Ronak. The falafel are lovely and moist but crunchy on the outside. The aubergine dip is fresh and flavoursome and I loved the olives which, as I mentioned above, are marinated at the cafe.  Cafe Ronak has a lovely happy buzz to it which made visiting it all the more glorious and I definitely recommend them for lazy summer days. Plus the owners are so fond of Rich's sister they got her a giant cake to finish up our already generously portioned meal.

You can find Cafe Ronak at 169 Gloucester Road, or click for a map

Tuesday 10 April 2012

Tapas and Cocktails at Harvey's Wine Cellars

I pass by Harvey's Wine Cellars nearly every day on my way home from work. Ever since I spied the barrels outside I have been very curious, a curiosity that was heightened when I discovered they would also be serving tapas. Readers of this blog may already be aware of our fixation with these Spanish delights.

With a cocktail fanatic friend coming back to her home town to visit we thought this would be the perfect opportunity for trying somewhere new. Harvey's specialises in sherry, cocktails and wine so if you like beer you do have a limited choice, but Rich was pleased that they had one of his favourites, Asahi, on tap.

The cocktail list is enormous there is even a dedicated section to sherry cocktails, particularly using Harvey's Bristol Cream, imported and then bottled in Bristol since 1796. The cocktails were right up my street particularly the Kipling, the base of which was Disaronno which is probably my favourite liqueur of all time. The list is extensive so  there will be something for all cocktail palettes here.

We ordered some tapas to soak up some of the alcohol, I was pleased to see a good selection of classics on the menu such as patatas bravas, chorizo baked in wine and my favourite, ham croquettes. The latter are my absolute favourite tapas dish, I lived off of them when we went to Madrid and each one was sheer perfection. I have attempted making them myself a few times with a block of Serrano ham from Arch House Deli, taste wise the results have been spot on, but with out a deep fat fryer it is hard to get them to stay in their shape. So if anyone close by fancies some ham croquettes in return for a go in their fryer let me know!
Harvey's Wine Cellars Bristol Tapas
Calamari with Aioli and Ham Croquettes
Harvey's Wine Cellars Tapas

Chorizo Baked in Wine, Patatas Bravas and Chorizo with Morcilla 
The tapas themselves were really good, my personal favourites were the chorizo with morcilla and the ham croquettes. The chorizo with morcilla was wonderfully earthy, rich and indulgent it practically melted in the mouth. The ham croquettes were creamy with the meaty saltiness you get from hams like Serrano. The patatas were light with a slight kick. The only let down food wise was the hummus. We were brought some lovely bread and olives to enjoy and some hummus to dip. The hummus was very bland indeed and added nothing to the meal.

 However my main complaint about the tapas was the portion size. Everything was a bit on the small side compared to our trip to The Old Bookshop, where everything was amazing tasting but with generous portions and the 3 for £10 deal price. At Harvey's you definitely would need at least 5 or more dishes per person to keep the hunger wolves at bay, which would definitely rack up the price.
Hummus and Bread
The live music in the back area was a very nice touch, we had some lilting jazz and bossa nova singing floating out across the bar area, this definitely adds something extra to the venue and is worth visiting for. I did find the decor a bit soulless and formal the almost bare magnolia walls, black rectangle tables with big black leather chairs made it seem a bit too restauranty. Tapas to me is more about the informality of getting together for drinks and some snacks, it is what Spain is all about, making a big deal about socialising.

I think Harvey's could be very good if it tweaks a few things like the use of space and make it feel more welcoming and relaxing, because the drinks and food are very good. The service was excellent, friendly table service that did feel like we were on a cocktail bar stool with the attention to detail and smiles all round.  Harvey's will make a great addition to this area of Bristol and I look forward to seeing how it grows and improves on it's already good base.

For a peak at the upcoming events, cocktail, wine and tapas lists visit their website here

Monday 2 April 2012

Dinner at No.4 in Clifton Village

Rich and I have often walked past No.4 at The Rodney Hotel in Clifton Village with mild curiosity. The blackboards outside have often tempted us with their bright and luring messages, and yet still we had not paid them a visit. February a Groupon voucher popped into my inbox with 3 courses and a glass of bubbly for two at £37 it was too good an offer to resist.

Last Thursday we finally booked a table, spruced ourselves up a bit and enjoyed the short sunny walk up to the Village. Greeted by our friendly waitress for the evening, Nika and as we were a bit early decided to have our drink in the garden. Most of the sun had gone by this time but it was still warm. The garden itself was pretty, if a bit wild but it was lovely to outside sip our Prosecco and nibble on the very delicious rosemary foccacia which came with oil and balsamic. 

Rich posing with Procecco
The menu at No.4 is not large but the selection is definitely tempting enough with four carefully chosen choices for each course, including two vegetarian starters. After ordering Nika said we could stay outside if we wished and finish our drink, she would call us in once our starters were ready. It was little touches like this that you notice and appreciate in good service. 

Goats Cheese and Red Onion Crostini with Beetroot Relish

Gravalax of Salmon with Tomato Tartar
As you can see from the photographs, it was beautifully presented. For me the goats cheese was the right side of creamy and also slightly tangy like it should be. I am not a big fan of gravalax, it's the dill, but it did look really tasty. 
Lamb on Crushed Mint Potatoes
Rare Sirloin Steak with Double Cooked Chips and Salad
Although Rich and I quibbled slightly over who would have the steak, it is one of our favourite meals, I actually was happy to opt for the lamb this time. I was so glad I did, this was easily the most perfectly cooked piece of lamb I've probably ever had. I rarely go for lamb as it can be chewy or too well done, if pork belly or steak are on the menu, they will often trump any lamb options, but this was divine. The lamb was tender it melted in the mouth the mint in the potatoes was subtle and whatever the chef did to the parsnips had to have been nothing less than magic. I am not a big fan of parsnips but these were almost caramelised, they were soft yet chewy, like you get with caramelising. Delicious. 

Rich's steak was extremely well cooked, although not enough to top our favourite steak restaurant of all time, which is Hudson's in Bath, it was easily on par if not better than that from The Cowshed. Cooked rare the meat was juicy, well flavoured and the double cooked chips were wonderfully crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. The bottle of Malbec that Rich had chosen to go with our mains complimented the meats beautifully, a very nice wine.

What we liked about No. 4 was although it was a small dining room it felt wonderfully relaxing. Often music is either not present or kept to a minimum in nicer restaurants, No.4 was playing some cool choices and it was needed because whilst we were there I think there were only about 3 other tables that were occupied. We were pleasantly surprised that the 7 minute version of Light My Fire by The Doors made an appearance. The atmosphere felt intimate and romantic, definitely a good restaurant for a date.

Bitter Chocolate Tart with Orange Sauce and Chantilly Cream
Sailor Jerry's Rum and Vanilla Panacotta with Shortbread and Berry Sauce
We were pretty full from our mains but you can rarely turn down pudding so we made our choices. Panacotta, along with creme brulee, are favourites of mine so this was a no brainer for me. Both desserts were very nice, although if mine had Sailor Jerry's in it I could not taste it at all. This was not a particular problem for me because I am not a big fan of alcohol in desserts anyway. 

I want to thank No.4 for their on the spot service, very polite, accomodating and friendly. I even noticed on the table behind us when one of the customers wondered if he could exchange Chantilly cream for ice cream, Nika was unsure of whether they had any but that she would check. When she brought their desserts she had included both Chantilly and ice cream for the gentleman, a very nice touch.  I was sad to see No.4 was not that busy, the food is superb and the staff were perfect. Even the price of the food was reasonable for the quality you get, main courses averaging between £12-£22 and starters and desserts around £5-£6. 

Go support this lovely restaurant and enjoy a wonderful evening. Visit their website here.