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They’re not lying

31 Oct

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I get it. I get the hype. After months of reading and hearing others rave about Honest Burgers, I finally experienced it for myself this weekend, while in London to see both friends and some wonderful noise in the form of Japandroids. (As ever, I suppose, this delay is what I get for not living in the capital.)

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Caerphilly rarebit is a beautiful thing in itself. Sitting atop of a juicy, medium-grilled burger, it’s practically obscene. With braised leeks, smoked bacon and pea shoots, as well? Cor. And let’s just say that I want to make some very grovelling amends for the 24 years of my life spent unaware of the existence of crispy leeks.

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Unless you want to be here all day, it’s best not to get me started on the rosemary-salted chips or the home-made lemonade, served in jam jars with twee straws.

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Oh, and the fact that we had an hour-and-a-quarter wait after putting our name down for a table, meant that we were veritably compelled to tide ourselves over with these snack-sized tacos with beef and pretty much everything else from the incredibly cheerful man running the stand outside El Panzon.

Double win.

A tiny taste of NYC

20 Sep

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Full and frank disclosure: I have never been to New York. Nor have I ever been especially desperate to – I’ve seen enough episodes of Friends and enough photos from actual friends to feel like I already have. But I have been to the New York Deli. Many times.

Tucked away in one of Cardiff’s quirky city-centre arcades, it’s a tiny place perfect for grabbing lunch. I spent many a happy hour gossiping over me of their hoagies while at uni (probably when I should have been in a lecture), and every time I manage to make it back there I’m veritably overwhelmed with nostalgia. And hunger, obviously.

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This is one of their Reuben sandwiches – salt beef, Swiss cheese and thousand island on rye bread (plus coleslaw, but I was wearing a posh dress and scared of spilling on myself). Just look at the amount of amazing filling in it.

Actual authenticity? I wouldn’t know. But this feels like a very good approximation of my imaginings, at least. Seriously, who needs to go to NYC?

I really wish this was my local

17 Sep

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“Can we go to The New Conway while we’re in Cardiff for Huw‘s wedding?” asked my friend Jamie, before we returned to our ex-adopted hometown on the weekend. “My friend’s taken it over. The food’s really good – I think it’s the only place in the city in the Michelin Pub Guide.” I’m not entirely sure what part of that he’d expected me to refuse. Hell, he had me long before the word ‘Michelin’.

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I am so glad we didn’t have to choose between the starters. Some decisions are just too tough to be made when in a slightly fragile state on a Sunday. Instead, we had a platter of pretty much all of them: houmous; olives; butternut squash arancini; fishcakes with onion and coriander salad; and roasted garlic, thyme, honey and kidney bean fritters. The latter were my favourite – light, crispy shells surrounding a soft middle, with whole kidney beans adding texture and a lovely, subtle undernote of sweetness.

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My philosophy that almost every savoury food can be improved with the addition of generous amounts of chorizo apparently holds true when it comes to a roast, especially when said roast involves large, juicy pieces of chicken complete with crispy skin.

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We had another platter to share for dessert: banana cake with apple compote and white chocolate icing; shortbread and toffee sauce; rhubarb panna cotta; and Jamaican ginger cake. I think it was somewhere around the panna cotta that we simultaneously realised our hangovers had lifted, and that we were sat giggling with joy over a fantastic board of pudding.

Somebody please remind me why I no longer live in Cardiff?

Gin FTW

24 Aug

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A few months ago, the question above is exactly what I’d have been asking myself. It’s also up on the wall in The Canary in Bath (credit for the photo goes to their website, by the way). The answer is: ‘drinking gin’.

I’m a recent convert to gin, but as soon as I realised (thanks to my friend Izzi) that I didn’t actually hate it, I quickly got well and truly on board. Now: gin is great. Nice gin is even greater.

The Canary is a specialist gin bar. Seriously, the selection it’s packing behind the bar is incredible. It’s also the newest addition to what could feasibly be described as a ‘street of win’ – Bath’s Queen Street – which also features such treats as The Raven, Firehouse Rotisserie and Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights (well, those last two are technically John Street, but close enough).

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The highlight of my visit was the Victorian Mojito. A double shot of Hendrick’s, muddled with cucumber, mint, lime and golden syrup, then topped up with tonic. Basically, like a normal mojito, but even more impressive. But that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the raspberry gin, or the sloe gin. I enjoyed both of those very much.

The decor is quirky, the ambience warm, and the batman friendly and knowledgeable. Do you like gin? My newfound evangelicalism says that you should. And if you do, I can’t recommend a trip to The Canary enough.

*insert Blondie guitar riff here*

11 Aug

It started with an excited text message from a friend who lives in Oxford: “Atomic Burger have opened in Bristol! You must go – they’re amazing!” The name did ring a bell – I’d probably heard him raving about the Oxford branch before – so, after a quick scour of the menu online (sold!), I went.

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I can see why America has private healthcare: heart surgeons are almost definitely in cahoots with whoever invented this starter. Potato croquettes, wrapped in bacon and then smothered in a gooey layer of cheese and scattered with jalapeños. If I hadn’t been sharing it with someone else, I’d probably have needed a bypass on the spot. But what a way to go.

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The best thing about Atomic Burger, though, was the genuinely madcap range of burgers on offer, ranging from one with mini pizzas in place of the bun, through to ones topped with nachos or pulled pork. I went for the Mel Gibson: salt beef, thousand island dressing, cheese and gherkins. It was probably the toughest decision I’ve had to make all week, but admittedly I do lead quite a sheltered life.

It was also a good decision, because the combo worked perfectly – juicy, medium-cooked burger, with the tang of gherkin offsetting the richness of the other toppings. Best burger I’ve had in Bristol or Bath, I’d say – and that’s including The Burger Joint and The Market. Oh, and the ‘sci fries’ (chips with a chilli and garlic rub) were moreish like popping bubblewrap.

My only niggle was the service: slow, fairly uninformed and for the most part lacklustre. We had a couple of nice, enthusiastic waiting staff, but statistically that had to happen, seeing as we must have been passed between every employee in the place. It’s only been open for a few weeks, though, so I didn’t come away feeling too pessimistic on that front.

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On a final, positive note, they sell wine in litre bottles like this one. I’m definitely going back ASAP.

Happy foodie birthday

1 Aug

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So, yesterday was my birthday. I’m not keen on adding another year to the tally, nor on the fact that my mid-twenties are looming darkly, but I am keen on birthday cake. And my mum is absurdly good at birthday cake.

Since she got into baking a few years ago, she’s been the one called upon for every family birthday and office celebration. She’s good (not to mention inventive) with icing in ways that I can only dream of. She’s also probably starting to dread what I’ll ask for next year on year, after previously having to fashion pirate flags, pandas and rollerskates – with the constraint that the only icing I actually like is butter icing. This year: bunting. Bunting that spelt my name. And yep, I got it.

Other treats included a tapas-making course at Bordeaux Quay’s Bristol School Of Food And Wine (booked for September), a Paul Hollywood baking book, tasty tapas at El Bocado and a food coma-inducing rack of ribs at Starz. Oh, and all the drinks. I was spoilt bloody rotten.

Brixton Village: hangovers and crêpes

22 Jul

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For a girl who resides precisely nowhere within the embrace of the M25, I have a disproportionate number of hangovers in Brixton. (See also: Kentish Town, but that’s a whole other blog post in itself.) It’s where some of my worst-influence friends live, and visits to stay with them usually culminate in a less-than-pleasant morning after. Still, there’s always Brixton Village.

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I’d love to pretend that I’m au fait with every nook and cranny of this lovely little warren of cafes, restaurants and shops. But that would be a lie; despite my best intentions, I’ve still yet to even make it to Honest Burgers. It’s always Senzala and its amazing crêpes for my friends and I. It’s pretty much our Bar Italia.

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Most of the menu looks incredible, but my favourite is the Picante: spicy minced beef, red onion, peppers and a generous blaze of jalapeños. It’s got enough zing to cut through even the most horrendous of hangovers. Teamed with a glass of refreshingly minty homemade lemonade? I’m almost a functioning human being again.

Stokes Croft: why I love living in Bristol

15 Jul

Photo courtesy of heatheronhertravels.com.

Here’s a snippet of conversation I often find myself having. Person: “You work in Bath, so don’t you ever think about just moving there?” Emma: “Yeah, I do consider it.” Person: “Why don’t you just do it?” Emma: “I dunno. I still might one day. I just… kinda like Bristol.” And I think areas like Stokes Croft, which is about 20 minutes’ walk from where I currently live, are a big part of that.

Ignore what you’ve seen on the news – last summer just wasn’t a very good one, alright? Let’s not dwell – and Stokes Croft is a massively community-focused area, brimming with independent character. And it’s bloody great for eating out.

 

Photo courtesy of jontangerine.

Last night I went out to The Runcible Spoon. It’s a small, modern British restaurant that makes everything from scratch. It’s also a co-op venture, with a goal of keeping prices low. I had a starter of smoked and soused mackerel, followed by a main of saddle of lamb, lamb moussaka and broad beans. My friend and I shared a bottle of wine, and were given an appetiser of soup, plus petit fours afterwards. Including tip, I spent just £25. And it was all delicious.

 

Photo courtesy of stanjourdan.

Another favourite of mine is the Canteen. The menu changes daily (sometimes even on the fly throughout the evening) to reflect the emphasis on seasonal produce. The only feasible reason to be saddened by this is that you’re unlikely to be able to eat that really tasty thing you had last time – be it warm lamb belly salad, beef shin ragu or pan-fried duck breast with sweet-and-sour sauce – again. Again, the focus here is on reasonable pricing rather than big profits: mains are usually £7 or £9, with a free starter of soup and bread included. The bar staff are always thoroughly lovely, too.

 

Photo courtesy of jontangerine.

There’s also Cafe Kino. Their home-made rosemary tossed chips are possibly the best thing to happen to weekends since the invention of brunch. They’re one of the few places that actively offer mustard on a sausage sandwich, rather than just giving you a funny look when you ask for it. (Seriously, it’s not like asking for arsenic or rat poison – other places should take note of this.) It’s another co-op, “working to create an atmosphere of respect and understanding in which everyone is valued”. As such, you’re as likely to see families with kids as you are groups of punks. I only wish there’d been a vegetarian cafe like this in Exeter when I was a teenager.

And this is before I’ve moved on to the beautifully dainty macaroons from Patisserie Leila, the £5 halloumi and pine nut pizzas at The Bank or the fantastic atmosphere at The Social or The Bell on a weekend evening. Basically, it’s a chunk of Bristol full of great food and drink, served by people who really believe in and care about what they’re doing. How could I not love that?

Get her to the Greek

8 Jul

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A couple of days ago, I returned from a week in Tsilivi, Zackynthos. Yes, I am still grumpy about being back in the British weather. And yes, I did drink enough cocktails to procure all of those little flags myself. But I also ate a lot of amazing Greek food. I’ll confine myself to the highlights…

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Saganaki. My favourite Greek starter from every family holiday ever, it’s local cheese (Google seems to suggest that kefalotyri and kasseri are common varieties), rolled in flour and fried. It has a wonderfully light, crisp crust to it, and tastes great liberally doused in lemon juice.

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Souvlaki. This mixed one – at Romios, like the saganaki – featured beef, lamb, pork, chicken and spicy village sausage. As the picture suggests, it’s basically a posh kebab – but with infinitely better seasoning.

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Meze plate. If the name isn’t Greek for “I don’t know what I want, so hit me with a bit of everything that’s tasty”, it bloody well ought to be. Deep breath: moussaka, lamb kleftiko, beef stifado, Zackynthian chicken (in a tomato and herb sauce with local cheese, although our maitre d’ at Calypso informed me that every restaurant has its own variation on the recipe), dolmades, tzatziki, Greek potatoes and potato salad… Oof.

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Kalamari. I have little patience with people who are squeamish about squid, especially when it’s absurdly fresh from the sea, like this was from Sweet Revenge. Also, crispy tentacles are the best.

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Roast chicken with olive oil, garlic and rosemary (again from Sweet Revenge). Simple, but with a ton of flavour. I really can’t wait to attempt to recreate this at home.

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Mixed dips – houmous, tzatziki, taramasalata and a spicy cheese dip called tyrokafteri. It sounds daft, but I’m always (pleasantly) surprised by how different fresh humour tastes from its supermarket counterpart; more garlicky by far, and thicker in texture. The Olive Tree‘s did not disappoint.

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Grilled swordfish. Greek islands were my family’s holiday default throughout my teenage years, but amazingly, at 23, this was my first trip as a meat-eater, having spent about six (some might say misguided) years as a pescetarian. As such, stuff like swordfish steak was a staple for me, so it was fantastic to revisit it at Athena and find it just as delicious as I fondly remembered.

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Baklava. Probably the most famous Greek dessert (this one also from Athena), chopped nuts wrapped in filo and then drenched in honey is always going to be a winner. That will probably give you impossibly high blood sugar levels, followed by type two diabetes. Worth it, though.

Squirrelled away in my suitcase on the flight home were several packets of herbs (oregano, mixes for souvlaki, tzatziki, potatoes, feta…), a couple of different olive oil blends and a Greek recipe book – *cough* but definitely no honey *cough* – so I’m really excited about giving some of this stuff a go myself.

In the mean time, though, is it really too much to ask that all of my drinks look like this?

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The Milk Thistle and a taste of the high life

14 Jun

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When a friend insisted on taking me to The Milk Thistle, I was initially slightly ambivalent about the idea. On one hand, I loved the name (it reminded me of one of my favourite Conor Oberst songs, for a start) and I’m a sucker for a good cocktail; on the other, the bar’s website features a list of ‘house rules’ and I am at heart a small-scale scruffbag who gets intimidated by the idea of having to be approved just to enter a drinking establishment.

I needn’t have worried. Behind the unassuming central Bristol façade – you genuinely wouldn’t suspect there was anything there from the outside – was a cosy space reminiscent of a country house library. Complete with taxidermied badger sporting a necktie above the bar. The menus were glued into the pages of hardback novels (ambivalence? What? Where? Menus in books!), and the service was charm personified.

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I ordered a Mermaid’s Tears, involving rum, crème de violet, lime and rock salt, among other ingredients (sadly it’s not listed on the website’s menu, so I can’t be more specific). It tasted like someone had crossed a seriously decent Margarita with a Parma Violet, and had just the right delicate, salty twist at the end. I’m easily sold on anything involving salt, so I was veritably giddy with joy.

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My friend went for a Foux-Roux, which alas I can only be vaguer still about the contents of. It incorporated ginger, but was subtle and layered, rather than overpoweringly fiery.

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And oh, the bar snacks… I’m pretty sure that when Felicity Cloake wrote her recent Guardian Word of Mouth blog post about the perfect Scotch egg, she in no way involved confit duck. Judging by the Scotch quail’s eggs (served with grain mustard mayo) we had, she really should have. Meaty and dense, they were a delight. The same goes for the pork scratchings – elegantly presented in a teacup and not too greasy, lifting them out of the realm of ‘shamefully guilty pleasure’ – and the cutely named ‘wasabi pea shooter’.

While it’s not cheap – two cocktails and some nibbles came to just under £23 – it was definitely an experience I’d like to repeat. Although there is one thing I feel justified in my ambivalence about: I’ll never be content with a humble packet of Scampi Fries again. Sigh.