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Wednesday 31 October 2012

Celebration Curry at Rajmoni

Last week was one of celebration, Rich had got a new job, with immediate start, after his first day and after a tough work out at Jolates, we went for curry with friends Claire and Katherine. The Rajmoni is right by the Victoria Rooms a venue that looks rather like a scout hut from the outside but is rather charmingly different on the inside. 'Banquet Night' is every Wednesday which for £10.95 you will get poppadoms with chutney, a starter, main and rice or naan bread.

Rajmoni Bristol
We were seated under a brightly lit table, and given the banquet night menu. The rules are you can order any starter which is priced £3.50 or under and any curry under £8.50 which considering most of the classics are under the £7 mark gives you quite a bit of choice. The poppadoms arrived promptly and we were rather pushed to hurry and order our starter and mains which did seem a little rude, luckily I already knew what I wanted and I was hungry.
Rajmoni Bristol
With half of us ordering onion bhajis I went for somosas and Rich the lamb tikka. The bhajis here are enormous you could easily share one portion. They are also some of the best bhajis I have had in Bristol so far. Crispy strips of onion contained with in a spicy batter and the size of a small fist, so if you like bhajis certainly give these ones a try. My somosas were well filled but nothing special, Rich's lamb tikka was fairly small but very well flavoured. I was the partial loser here as far as choosing starters goes.
Rajmoni Bristol
Giant Bhajis
Rajmoni Bristol
Lamb Somosas
Rajmoni Bristol
Lamb Tikka
Recently I have been trying to branch out with my curry ordering, and tonight was no exception, I always tended to order either lamb saag or rogan josh so this time I decided to pick korai lamb, a spicy dish with ginger, chopped onions, pepper and tomatoes served in an iron korai. Rich chose one of his favourites, chicken madras, and Claire and Katherine went for, chicken tikka masala and chang saag ponir respectively. Although when the curries arrived mine was wrong this was swiftly rectified and my sizzling iron korai clad curry came smoking to join the rest of the set.
Rajmoni Bristol
Chicken Madras
Lamb Korai Bristol
Lamb Korai
The lamb in my korai fell apart and was delicately flavoured, I was not expecting quite so much chopped onion but it had been cooked down for a while, and slowly so it was almost caramelised. I am glad I took a chance on something different because I was impressed, my only gripe was that on the menu it is labelled as medium, to me it was not in the least bit spicy, definitely full of flavour, but I was expecting a tiny kick. Rich's madras was pretty hot, although madras' can vary wildly in our personal opinion from one's we have sampled so far. It was a good madras though, a nice building heat softened by the yoghurt giving it a silky creamy texture.
Rajmoni Bristol
Claire's Tikka Masala
Rajmoni Bristol
Katherine's Chang Sag Ponir
Happy eating sounds hushed the conversation on our table for several minutes. The classic tikka masala was pronounced a perfect partner to Claire's peshwari naan. Vegetarian Katherine's curry was made up of chickpeas, spinach and paneer cheese and looked really comforting and homely. Curry is definitely one of the nicest things to eat when the nights start drawing in and if you find yourself looking for a bargain you can do no better than the Rajmoni. It is not the best curry house in Bristol but it definitely ticks all the boxes for a warming tasty curry, nice surroundings and a good deal. Check out their rather dated website for a browse of the menu.

Friday 26 October 2012

Planet Pizza Rebooted

Back in May, Rich and I checked out Planet Pizza on Whiteladies Road. In truth though the pizzas were tasty, if a little too doughy, the interior was truly dreary. It was way too dark and unwelcoming inside and it just didn't feel quite right, when you consider how The Burger Joint has turned around the interior of this venue you won't quite believe how bad it was before. Rich and I decided to visit the site of the new Planet Pizza, in the old Burger Joint spot on Cotham Hill, to see what changes had occurred.
Planet Pizza's New Home
The inside could not be more different, it's cosy, warm, welcoming and romantic with altar candles dotted on the tables. The lights were down fairly low and soul and samba beats were playing out at a pleasing level. For a Tuesday night it was about half full but we were there pretty early due to extreme hunger. On a Monday and Tuesday Planet Pizza operates a 2-4-1 policy on all of their 12" pizzas which is a complete steal. I expect it to get busier as the weeks towards Christmas progress and people's going out budget is  reallocated to presents.
Saturn and Meteorite
Saturn up close
Got to say we were both impressed Planet Pizza has really pulled it's socks up. Whereas earlier in the year I liked the pizzas, but thought the dough was too thick and filling, now they have improved the dough and have rolled it much thinner. They also now do gluten free bases which I know will be great news to my gluten intolerant friends who normally have to forgo this classic. 

The toppings were of great quality and very plentiful, they also went right to the edge which you don't normally get. I chose the Saturn, bacon, mushrooms and creamy gruyere whilst Rich went for the Meteorite, ham, chorizo, salami, pepperoni, sausage and jalapenos. The Saturn has almost topped my poll of favourite pizza in Bristol, but it will have to be content with 2nd place because my heart still belongs to the ham, artichoke, mushroom and olive pizza from Beerd. 
Now a perfect cosy Winter venue which is welcoming and warming. A great range of vegetarian pizzas this is the place for a bargain midweek meet up with friends or date night. Without the 241 offer the pizzas are pretty reasonably priced, check out their menu on the website.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Bargain Refuel at Thai Pepper

Rich gives the low down on our visit to Thai Pepper before our night of guilty pleasures at The Gallimaufry, which was sing-a-long enjoyable fun.

Thai Pepper is one of many Thai restaurants now peppering Bristol, and which is widely accepted by most as being a good ‘cheap and cheerful’ dining experience. Situated on Cheltenham Road and armed with a slightly basic and dated website, ‘cheap and cheerful’ does undersell the venue somewhat.
Very Pretty Crockery
A small restaurant, and light on decoration it offers a ‘bring your own’ alcohol policy that it puts down to religious reasons, and happily only charges a small corkage fee of £2 per person. The menu is also large and varied (without being too much so) and offers a good selection of vegetarian options.
Prawn Cracker Boat
Owing to the cheap prices on offer, and wanting to have a decent amount to review, we picked a selection of starters to share, taking in Thai prawn crackers, Ka Nom Pung Na Gung (prawn toast) and Taow Hoo Tord (fried bean curd). Off to a good start, the crackers had flavour (as let’s face it, most don’t) the prawn toast was light, non-greasy and very meaty, while the fried bean curd was just delicious.
Prawn Toast
Fried Bean Curd
What though was particularly nice with each of these starters was the sweet chilli dip that came with all of them. Where too many chilli dips have a thick cloying syrupy texture and are more sweet than chilli, this one had a lightness to it and a nice clean and sharp tang to it, that just added to each of the dishes. Whether it was a home made or bought sauce we don’t know, but I’d really love it if more restaurants used this sauce instead of the usual bought chilli syrups you normally find.
Gai Path Ma Muang Him Ma Parn (chicken & cashew)
Mu Path Pick (pork with ginger)
On to the mains, and my lady dining companions opted for Mu Path Pick pork and Gai Path Ma Muang Him Ma Parn, or to be more helpful, pork stir fried with fresh ginger, spring onion and mushroom, and chicken with cashew nuts, spring onion and mushrooms. Both of which got a positive double thumbs up. I went for the Paht Pick Khing pork, which is medium-to-hot red paste stir fried pork dish usually served with green beans, and having had a fair few in my time, of varying quality, I was very surprised with just how good this one was. A very moreish chilli flavour was complemented brilliantly with the infusion from citrus leaves.
Paht Pick Khing
Food then, good , and the drinks (in this case our own white wine acquired from Corks Of Cotham) also very good. ‘Cheap and cheerful’ does it a disservice, as while not 5-star dining , it does do very good and nicely presented Thai food for a very good price, and on those standards it does very well. The service was perhaps a little slow, and stuck behind a plant and pillar we were in a fairly bad position to get anyone's attention, but overall no complaints and the food was very tasty. So if you are feeling the pinch but still fancy a treat, two courses with wine worked out at about £14 each but mains are under the £7 mark if you wanted to tighten the belt even more. To check out the menu visit their website.

Friday 19 October 2012

A Moroccan Lunch at St Nicholas Market

The other day Jayne T and I had decided to meet up for lunch on our break. We both work in the centre and St Nick's market is less than five minutes walk for both of us. I have sampled a lot of what the food court at St Nick's has to offer and as the weather was rather inclement we decided something warm was what was needed. It was a choice between Pieminister and Al Bab Mansour, the Moroccan place, we picked the latter as neither of us had been.

Moroccan food is something I enjoy but sample fairly sporadically. Ironically like buses, two posts on this cuisine pop up in the same month after 9 months of nothing, thank goodness we don't have to wait that long for public transport, although sometimes it does feel like it.

Falafel Lunch
Al Bab Mansour, like most of the dine in places under the glass arcade at St Nick's, is small but the turnover of diners is fairly high at lunchtime so chance of getting a seat is basically pot luck. Inside it is beautifully decorated like a soft furnishings stand in a souk it does make you feel like you are a world away just stopping for lunch before going off to haggle a deal with a spice vendor. Jayne chose the falafel whilst I went for the Moroccan chicken.
Moroccan Chicken with Cous Cous
For under £6 (for mine and less for Jayne's) the quality of food you get is fabulous. My Moroccan chicken dish was very hearty, full of lots of veg and flavour, really warmed me up on a grey day, without being too stodgy or unhealthy. Going out for lunch mid week is a bit of a treat for me, I usually bring my own soup to work and spend the hour reading whatever book I have on the go. However I have tried nearly all the places to eat in the glass arcade now, looking forward to revisiting Al Bab Mansour, Caribbean Wrap and Spice Up Your Life again, amongst other places. I am sure a lot of fellow Bristolians have been to Al Bab Mansour so would be good to hear other people's views on it.

Friday 12 October 2012

A 7 Course Taster Menu at Square

Wuthering Bites (Sarah) and I were invited last Friday to sample the 7 course taster menu at The Square. We were allowed plus ones so we took our misters for a foodie night out. An extremely wet Friday evening meant we arrived rather damp to The Square. I had only been to the cocktail bar before a year or so ago and enjoyed a lovely tiki cocktail so was looking forward as to what they would come up with in the restaurant. Taster menus are something to be enjoyed occasionally because they are usually something quite special and the food is designed to wow the customer, but the sample menu I saw didn't thrill me as much as I had hoped but I was ready to be impressed.

Entrance to the restaurant
The entrance looks a bit like a faded 70s Hollywood star's attic of memories, it is certainly not what I expected to greet us but I loved it, kitsch and different. Those who know me know how I love my kitsch. We were led into the dining room which was laid out with 3 long tables, rather like you get when dining at school or possibly a prison. Luckily they had provided chairs rather than benches so it felt a bit more normal and with the candelabras scattered about it definitely felt cosy and romantic.
Tables and settings
The Menu
The menu looked slightly daunting, the prospect of 7 courses sounds a bit feast like but I was up for the challenge. Thought the wine flight price per person was a tad steep so Rich and I chose a bottle of Italian white to go with our courses instead.
Our first offering was a selection of 3 appetisers each. Pea and ham soup, mackerel tartar with horseradish and cucumber and finally some truffle and thyme popcorn. The popcorn was just piled in the middle of the slate which was just lazy presentation. The taste was alright but nothing special it didn't help that the flavour of the truffle and thyme wasn't mixed in properly so some pieces were more strongly flavoured than others. The winner was the pea and ham soup, a beautifully vibrant colour and chunky pieces of ham hock at the bottom which just melted in the mouth. Sometimes soup can be more stunning than clever new concepts.

Finally the mackerel tartar, served in an oyster shell, the mackerel it'self was pretty good but the flavours it was paired with completely drowned it's delicacy. I could taste mostly beetroot and radish and it was far too sharp and sour to go with the fish. So far a mixed bag but the next course we were waiting for was seared scallop with raisin and granny smith apple. I felt quietly confident this would be more of a winner.
Seared scallop
The scallop was delicious very well cooked I would argue the apple slice was unnecessary as the raisin sauce covered the sweet and tangy base more than adequately. For some reason I rarely order scallops, Rich usually has them as his go to, but after eating this one I am going to rectify that next time I see them on the menu. Our next course was the meat Battenberg, this had been the subject of much discussion on our table. Rich was full of the joys of standard Battenberg it is all he went on about pre and post the meat version  everyone was very curious as to how it would work.
Meat 'Berg
The meat Battenberg was made up of ham hock, duck confit and foie gras complete with crostini, piccalilly, apricot and hazelnut. I have had foie gras before and liked it but not overly so, this was even too rich for foie gras, all I could taste was butter so I left most of mine the ham hock was really delicious though as were the crostini. I didn't really like the piccalilly finding it way too bitter and tangy to work with the meat.
Cornish Turbot
The fish course I think was my favourite of the evening. A piece of Cornish turbot with pommes mousseline, pork belly and sea garnish, which turned out to be a couple of mussels, a clam some samphire and some foam. First off the pork belly was really delicious, soft enough to be able to fork through it, but the crackling was crisp. The turbot was flaky and pretty tasty but it could have done with a little more seasoning in my opinion. Pommes mousseline, basically mashed potato with a whole pack of butter in it, was very smooth and creamy but I thought too salty, adjusting the levels of seasoning in the fish and potato would make this dish perfect. My only main gripe about this dish was the plate it was served in, a fancy flying saucer type one which left little room to move the empty shells around to get to the rest of the plate.

Finally the course we were all dreading just a little bit. Venison, salsify, soil, snails, flowers and nettles. Snails. Why did it have to be snails? I have never tried snails but I was going to try and be brave as an intrepid food adventurer I had to be up for most things.
Venison garden
As soon as this plate arrived all my courage deserted me. The deck was stacked, and not in my favour. Snails are not something that most people would want to eat so, anyone who says otherwise has to be lying*, so putting them on a menu is a massive risk.  Also snails that look like they are in their natural habitat of the garden, was not playing fair. I did not need to be reminded where they came from, but there they were recreated garden, soil and all.  Like a coward I started to move the shells to the other side of the plate and as I picked one up the snail fell out, that evening I was no food hero.
My nemisis
Sadly this was the most disappointing course of the night, the venison was very bland, even with the herb crust and we all agreed they should have sliced it to make it look more appealing. It also was a tad dry and with very little sauce to liven it up a bit in my head I had already moved on to the penultimate course.

Once our untouched snails were moved away we were brought a half full shot glass of pear and whiskey with sherbert. I rather liked this the pear flavour was very strong and the sherbet gave it a pic n  mix flavour, if there was any whiskey in there I could not taste it, but I really enjoyed the refreshing sweetness after such a dry main. It was a tad baffling as to why we were only brought half a shot glass but I am a glass half full kind of person so happily topped it up with the bowl of sherbet provided.
Pear, Whiskey and Sherbet Shot
Finally we had reached course number 7. Thai curry flavours, a ginger cake, coconut and coriander panna cotta, chilli meringue, lime leaf ice cream and lemongrass custard. First off the ginger cake was superb I loved it I also liked the tiny chilli meringues, though I was possibly in the minority on our table. The meringues were crunchy but perfectly chewy on the inside they gave off a pretty full on heat but I could take it. Unfortunately the other two items on the plate faired less well. The coriander and coconut panna cotta did not work at all, it was pretty bitter and almost savoury I couldn't eat it. The lime leaf ice cream was a little better when eaten with the cake but on it's own it was not that palatable sadly. I think a much sweeter dessert was what was required at the end of this meal, just to finish it off properly.
Thai curry desserts
I like the idea of tasting menus but this one needs a little work to be truly excellent. The service was also at times a little absent but again this is something that can be fixed. Loved the decor and atmosphere so would consider going again if the menu tempted me and definitely would head to the cocktail bar which is very chic. Sarah did write a blog from a gluten free perspective but due to unforeseen circumstances decided it would be best to remove it.  As guests of The Square our food was free but we paid for any drinks we ordered, so this review is unbaised, I will not bow to any sponsor and I will not be censored. To see what else The Square has to offer, including a very good lunch deal, check out their website.

*For people who have had a sense of humour bypass, I am sure if the escargots were swimming in garlic butter and surrounded by bread I would have been more tempted. Sorry Anthony Bourdain not this time though, food has to attract the eye as well as the mouth and these looked dry to me. I am ready to be coaxed so if any readers have a burning desire for snails let me know what the secret is.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Hot Dogs and Hard Shakes at The Diner

Last month when Rich and I went to London for the John Foxx and The Maths gig we reviewed Taqueria, an awesome authentic taco cafe in Notting Hill. Right before the gig though we stumbled upon The Diner, an American themed restaurant.  What swung it for me was the prospect of an alcoholic milkshake so we walked on in.
The Diner London
The Diner in Shoreditch
Very friendly staff greeted us and due to the time of day (around 5.30pm) the restaurant was pretty empty. American diner style restaurants have slowly been cropping up through out the towns and cities for quite a number of years. Bristol has Rocatillos, The Lanes, and more recently Atomic Burger, but it is quite a hard thing to do well because it is very easy to cut corners with this type of food, the quality of ingredients will vary wildly from place to place. 

The Diner definitely feels very Americana in it's decor, like you seen in any classic films from the 1970s onwards with film posters, booths and neon signs. There are 6 of these restaurants located across London , we were at the Shoreditch one, and the menu is enormous, ranging from burgers to giant breakfasts to corn dogs and dessert pies to top it all off. 
The Diner London
Just a small section of the menu
Keen to get my hands on one of their alcoholic shakes I pawed at the menu eagerly to see what was on offer. There are 9 hard shakes, as they are known, on the menu and it was difficult to choose just the one but as I didn't want anything too full on I decided on True Blue; vanilla ice cream, amaretto and blueberries, whist Rich went for a Hollows alcoholic ginger beer, one of the best ginger beers out there, in my opinion. Food wise we picked the Yankee Pig Dog, the Cuban and the Chilli Cheese Fries, that's some real health food right there. 
The Diner London
True Blue
The Diner London
Yankee Pig Dog
The Diner London Review
The Cuban
The Diner London Review
Chilli Cheese Fries
First off the True Blue was immense. Almost the best shake ever, if they could some how make it taste the same without the alcohol I would be drinking one of these every week. Amaretto is my easily one of my favourite spirits and it complimented the blueberries beautifully, I almost want to try recreating this myself in my kitchen but without a proper blender this will have to be added to my list of things to make when I finally get one. 

My Yankee Pig Dog, a 100% beef frank topped with pulled pork, mustard, pickles and I added some swiss cheese, came in a brioche style bun and it was big. The dog itself was excellent quality and really tasty I wasn't expecting to be that impressed with a hot dog to be honest but was pleasantly surprised. The Cuban was maple roast pork, ham, monterey jack, sliced dill pickles and mustard in a cuban roll. This came with a jug of thin gravy to dip your sandwich into. This is definitely something I have seen on Man Vs Food, they submerge the whole roll in the gravy and serve it up, to me that sounds odd, who wants wet bread?  However the roll held up to any dipping Rich did to test this theory and proclaimed it was rather tasty but on the whole a rather unnecessary addition to the sandwich. 

The Diner London Review
Yankee Pig Dog Close Up
The Diner London Review
Inside the Cuban
The bread got too much for me by the end and I had to admit defeat. I was pretty impressed with the fries at The Diner, nice and crisp and mine came with a slight Cajun rub on them but do not make the mistake we did and order two lots, one will be more than enough to share, unless you are Godzilla. I ordered diner fries and Rich went for the chilli cheese ones, but there about 4-5 different types you can order and the portions are enormous.  

For American diner style food this is pretty good and I am keen to return, if only to try their burgers which sound so delicious, but they also do a good range of pancakes for brunch which would more than set you up for the day. Check out their menu and events on their website. Plus where else can you dine next to such 'quality' film posters such as the one below?
The Diner London
Knievel Dines!

Friday 5 October 2012

Moroccan Evening at Assilah Bistro

The wonderful Jamie had organised a meal out last weekend at Assilah Bistro, a family run Moroccan BYO restaurant in Totterdown. Now I completely trust Jamie's recommendations she expects a high standard of food and it has to be well flavoured, every place she has said was good has turned out to be spot on. So 6 of us travelled to Totterdown, a pretty much unexplored area for me, to Assilah for 8pm.

Assilah Bistro Bristol
Assilah from the Outside
Assilah inside is really nicely decorated, lots of Moroccan style mirrors, draped cloths, cushions and ornaments really makes the place feel like you are somewhere far away. The back room, which we didn't dine in on this occasion, was decked out more Moroccan lounge style with low seats and more soft furnishings, I hope next time we will get to dine out there.
Assilah Bistro Bristol
much to look at inside 
The menu at Assilah is fairly short but all the Moroccan bases are covered with staples of tagine, grills and falafel. It didn't take us long to decide what to eat nearly everyone on our table prompted for the same dish, Chicken Megrebi, bar two and we shared a couple of starters. Rich and I had bought a nice bottle of Spanish red to enjoy with our food and so our table got settled into chat mode.
Assilah Bistro Bristol
Falafel Starter
Assilah Bistro Bristol
Sardine Charmoulla
Whilst Rich and I decided to share some falafel as we can never resist these delicious balls of chickpea charm, Jamie and Boz picked the sardine charmoulla dish. The hummus that accompanied the falafel dish was very tasty but the falafels were lacking somewhat, we found them a little dry. After sampling the sardines I realised Jamie had won this round. The grilled sardines were so good, flavoured with coriander, harissa and garlic amongst other things, it was superbly seasoned and really delicious. What was good was that it was not something I probably would think to order but I definitely would next time, that is how good the sardines were.
Chicken Megrebi Assilah
Chicken Megrebi
Lamb Meshwi Bristol
Lamb Meshwi
Seafood Tagine Bristol
Seafood Tagine
As you can see the portions are very generous so you certainly won't go away hungry. Four of us went for the chicken megrebi, a whole poussin which was cooked in ginger, honey and saffron topped with flaked almonds and boiled eggs. This was some of the best Moroccan food I have ever had. The flavour of the sauce was just the right side of sweet with some whole apricots sunken down into the dish like little hidden amber treasures. The chicken was juicy and full of flavour, I would be hard pressed not to order this again as it was so good. 

Rich went for the lamb meshwi, it arrived and the amount of meat on the plate was sizeable. The lamb was marinated with Moroccan spices and chargrilled the meat was full of flavour and really good quality meat. Mar, one of our other dining companions, picked the seafood tagine which was full of cod, mussels and prawns in a tomato based sauce, proclaimed very good. All mains came with cous cous or rice and salad.

We were pretty full by the end, a whole poussin is quite an undertaking but we decided to order two portions of baklava and some mint tea for the table.
Assilah Bistro Bristol
Just one of the portions of baklava
Each plate came with 7 pieces of this classic Moroccan sweet, which makes me very grateful we didn't order more as this was more than enough for 6 of us. Great baklava, it is easily one of my guilty pleasures, I am glad I don't come across it too often because I can easily eat a couple of pieces, which for a person with not such a sweet tooth is quite a feat. 
Assilah Bistro Bristol
Assilah's windowsill

I could not recommend Assilah Bistro enough, home spun authentic Moroccan food in a relaxed atmosphere with friendly service. Yes we had to wait a bit longer for the food but in such nice surroundings and company I really didn't mind. The corkage is £2 and so all in all I think for 3 courses we paid just over £15 each which is pretty good going for a Saturday night. If you want to know a bit more about Assilah Bistro check out their website.