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Wednesday 28 June 2017

The Inaugeral Pudding Society of Bristol

Before I went to New York I had the great honour to be invited by my friend Charlie to sample her first stab at a pudding pop up. What stemmed from a Twitter conversation amongst Bristol pudding fans soon snowballs into an idea. It was revealed that there was a distinct lack of classic puddings available to us Bristolians. So Charlie, decided to start her own tribute to great puddings of old, resurrect some classics and introduce some soon to be favourites. What was quickly first established from a poll was that treacle tart was a much longed for and hard to acquire dish so this was one of the first pudding courses to be thrown in to the ring. 

Less than 20 tickets were offered up for the first pudding society, hosted at Bristol Spirit in Easton. Run by Espensen Spirit creator Sam, who creates the most wonderful concoctions of flavoured spirits all from fresh fruit, expect to find rhubarb and custard vodka and blueberry gin. Charlie and Sam worked to create a wonderful menu of puddings and matching cocktails. An exciting prospect to those who particularly look straight at the dessert offerings on a restaurant menu or to those who are merely disappointed with the often lack of thought that goes into pudding menus, 
pudding society menu

To cleanse our palate a home made slice of sourdough toast with beetroot ketchup, goat's cheese and rocket, salty and slightly sharp. What was the most amazing thing was how good the bread was. I've often been under the impression, in fact in a hugely humorous blog post by Charlie herself on failed starter doughs, that sourdough can be quite the beast to master. But master it she has and it was just the ticket to get the tastebuds flowing for the start of our journey into Sugarland.

A British favourite to begin, a constructed Eton mess. Crispy meringues topped with booze soaked fruit and whipped vanilla cream. Just the right amount of booze on the fruit and a fluffy innard to the meringue shell. I have to confess early on that this was probably my favourite pudding of the day. It is hard to get meringue just the right texture and they evoke a deep nostalgia in me. Meringue shells with fruit and cream was often a go to pudding when I was growing up, not that puddings were a very regular thing. Spoons were licked and there was barely a plate left unscraped, but I was in a room of pudding fanatics and they were in their element.

 We weren't waiting long when the much talked of treacle tart made an appearance. The staple of the lunch room's dessert arsenal at my school, along with jam roly poly and cornflake tart,  and in all honesty it had been about then when I last had it. But banish all visions of pink or mint green custard as the expected accompaniment this individual tart was crowned with a scoop of Brozen's brown bread ice cream. An ice cream flavour first popular in the Victorian era and then in the 90s, it could well be due a renaissance. The tart was sticky and sweet but the pastry was buttery and short enough but not that it was dry and crumbly. A good treacle tart is a wonderfully comforting thing, and this was just that. Which is what a good pud should be, happiness on a plate. We voted for a pause in proceedings whilst we digested the first three courses. As I don't have a big sweet tooth I was glad because I was struggling a touch.

On to the penultimate pud. Chocolate stout cake with salted caramel and whipped mascarpone. Charlie was the first to admit this course had not gone to plan but she improvised with plating differently to accommodate and we were greeted by old fashioned mini pint glasses filled with cake and rich promises. This was my least favourite I think because I found the cake a little too heavy and rich for my tastes but the mascarpone was light and sweet enough to be divine. I made a tactical decision to leave some of this dessert to make sure I had enough space for the finale.

To finish a light last course. A gin and Prosecco jelly with rhubarb curd and fruit compote with shortbread. If anything was fighting for first place with the meringues it was this. Slightly sharp and clean tasting, Charlie should bottle that rhubarb curd and sell it. I guarantee a chorus of: "shut up and take my money" if she did. A perfect end to a pretty successful afternoon of eating. 

I realise that as a friend it can be hard to remain impartial. I think what surprised me the most was just how accomplished and organised it was for a first pop up. I don't want people reading this to think I believe Charlie to be incompetent but she is pretty quiet about her skills but I never doubted her passion. And that is what is the best thing about Bristol, it has so many people who are passionate about food but have the goods to back it up, quietly building their rep up and gaining a following on their merits. Two more pudding societies have been and gone since I visited, each one sold out and each time a couple more tickets have been made available as word spreads. If you haven't had a chance to eat your body weight in puddings there are now tickets available for the September - December societies each with different menus so get buying.

Fish and Chips at Catch22

Fish and chips, the signature British takeaway. Synonymous with seaside trips and post pub munchies. The humble chippy has made an appearance in most of our lives at some point. Fish and chips, so British it puts an appearance on every pub menu and if you watch American sit-coms it’s what they think we eat every day. However unless you are by the seaside it can be difficult to find a chippy to sit down and enjoy the crunchy golden delights at your leisure. Catch 22 opened at the bottom of Park Street earlier this year in what used to be a recruitment agency. I was invited by them last month to test out their wares and so one Wednesday evening I took one of my closest friends, Steph for a fish supper.

After sinking a pint at the nearby Hatchett, a pub where we have spent many a weekend dancing away, we headed the short distance to Catch 22. As you enter the counter and frying station are the first things that greet you and it is just like stepping into your local chippy, but with a restaurant with seating out back. The back is actually more spacious than I imagined the walls are covered with 50s B-movie posters, which greatly appealed to me as I enjoy kitsch very much. So you can happily dine whilst being watched by the creature from the Black Lagoon.

There are a number of options on the menu, the standard fare but for those looking for a healthier option they will also pan fry you some fish with garlic and herb or chilli for a bit of pep. They also have a separate fryer for gluten free fish and chips which I know can be a hard thing to track down for the gluten intolerant. A friendly waitress buzzed amongst the tables and we ordered cod and chips, the classic, and steph went for scampi and chips with some battered mushrooms and curry sauce for dipping. We waited about 15 minutes whilst we chatted away about up coming plans, the smell coming from the fryers was intoxicating to rumbling bellies such as ours. The waitress arrived with two plates filled with golden treasures and with gleaming eyes we got stuck in.

The batter on my fish was as crisp as you always hope for it to come but often are disappointed because it has come into contact with steam or rogue water from peas and become a bit too soggy.  My cod had a good batter to fish ratio and the fillet was plump and very fresh. Chips were just as enjoyable, with enough chunky fluffy ones but also some good salty crisp ones to satisfy all fried potato enthusiasts. The portions for both the scampi and the cod were generous, you certainly won't go hungry.

The only real disappointment were the battered mushrooms, no real effort to flavour these with anything that might make them sing out and worth ordering as an extra with your fish supper.  Catch 22 is definitely worth a visit, you'll be warmed by a very enjoyable British classic, that's a cut above most offerings in the city. Plus afterwards you can pop up the road for a scoop of Swoon gelato, if you have enough room that is. Although this meal was complimentary it did not sway my opinion. To find out more about Catch 22 visit their website.