Monday, 26 May 2014

Bilbao Berria - London

Pintxos on the bar at Bilbao Berria
Just opened in Lower Regent Street, Bilbao Berria is a Basque influenced restaurant which offers an extensive menu of Spanish cuisine and wines. We chanced upon this bar/restaurant on Saturday evening just 2 days after its official opening and were intrigued by the sight of a veritable forest of sticks, each attached to a tasty snack. These were the traditional Pintxos which accompany the wines. We were enticed inside (it didn't take much) by the friendly encouragement of Alex who kindly gave us a potted history and a tour of the restaurant. We then stayed to enjoy a couple of superb Spanish wines and a range of the delicious Pintxos.

Bibao Berria London
The interior is impressive. Dominated by rich colours and lighting it has an upmarket Spanish atmosphere. The widespread use of copper tube, flattened and twisted into complex shapes on the ceiling gives a feeling that you are sitting inside a modern sculpture. Other natural materials including wood and stone add to the natural, arty feel. Bilbao Berria is located on two floors. At street level is the stylish bar with Pintxos and Spanish wines. On the lower ground floor, a more formal dining area offers a range of classic and modern Basque and Spanish dishes. The chef is the Australian, Ash Mair, winner of U.K. Masterchef Professional in 2011. He has had an interest in Basque cuisine for many years. 

Cod and Tuna Pintxos
Anchovies with Tomato
It was all too tempting to resist so we settled at a table in the bar and were greeted by our waitress Andrea who explained that all of the Pintxos were priced at £1.85 each and to grab a plate and help ourselves. She then enquired of our wine-type preference and recommended a couple, one of which we tasted first. We opted for the Pequenos Santos, a Galician wine made from Albarino grapes, which Andrea described as dry and slightly salty. A good description and very palatable. We collected about 5 Pintxos each and enjoyed the variety of flavours on offer. The range is extensive and it would be all to easy to just keep grazing but we managed some self-discipline until Andrea brought over grilled Chorizo on bread which was amazing. To follow, we tried a couple of desserts, a mini creme caramel and a chocolate brownie, complemented perfectly with a sweet Riojan wine called Seduccion, made from Muscat (50%) and Vivra (50%) grapes.

All-in-all a terrific experience combining tasty foods, beautiful wines and friendly service. Already successful in Bilbao and Barcelona, this latest London outpost is destined to succeed. So go and enjoy Bilbao Berria, we certainly will again!Square Meal

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Brittens Restaurant in Guildford, Surrey

Britten's logoDaniel Britten reached the quarter-final of BBC Masterchef in 2008 and now operates Brittens restaurant in the Tunsgate area of Guildford, Surrey.  Offering Modern British cuisine Daniel aims to bring 'foodie' dishes with an emphasis on locally sourced, sustainable ingredients. Since opening last November it is attracting a lot of attention and very positive reviews.
I had lunch there last Thursday and found the food to be high quality, the service friendly and the pricing good value.  Surprisingly there were only a few customers on this particular Thursday lunchtime but maybe that is a sign of the times.
Pan Fried Scallops with Morcilla
The lunch menu comprised Small Plates (£7 each), Large Plates (£13 each ) and Sweet Shop (£5 each) all with plenty of choice and thankfully no supplements on any of the dishes. So diners can mix and match depending on mood and appetite.  I opted for one small and one large plate which essentially amounts to a two-course lunch for £20.  Perfectly reasonable considering the careful preparation and quality of the food.

My Small Plate starter was Pan-fried Scallops with Morcilla and Apple.  The king scallops were cooked to perfection with pieces of morcilla (Spanish black pudding) and pureed apple.  A classic dish expertly prepared. My Large Plate main course was Pan-fried Sea Bream, Crushed New Potatoes, Brown Shrimp Butter and Parsley Sauce. Beautifully presented and a great combination of flavours this dish worked perfectly.  The brown shrimp butter melted over the top of the crispy skin ( how did he do that ?)  bream fillet was flavoursome and enhanced by the fresh green parsley sauce.  Accompanied by the freshest steamed curly kale this was a delightful meal.  
All-in-all I enjoyed this two course meal with a carafe of Sauvignon Blanc and an espresso afterwards for around £30 per person which for the quality was incredibly good value.  The simple surroundings were elegant and relaxing and the service was good.  This is a 'London quality' restaurant in Guildford - long may it continue.

Brittens Restaurant, 1c Sydenham Road, Guildford GU1 3RT, 01483 302888

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Slow Cooked Octopus at Andrew Edmunds

I have only written the title and already must own up to a mistruth.  I wasn't actually eating at Andrew Edmunds but was meeting a colleague for lunch in The Academy Club above the restaurant.  The food however, comes from the same kitchen so it's a fair assumption that the restaurant version is the same.

I chose the Slow Cooked Octopus with Tomatoes, Choritzo, Capers and Olives, starter size, as a light lunch with a plate of French bread to soak up the delicious juices.  I have cooked and eaten octopus many times and the secret of success for this flavoursome dish is the method of tenderising the meat. When I owned The Good Fish Shop, one of my customers who is Spanish, telephoned his mum (in Spain) for advice on tenderising octopus.  I was expecting a lot of bashing, stretching and sun-drying to be offered but no, her simple reply was 'freeze it for 24 hours'.  Andrew offered the same recommendation with one important addition 'thaw it out very slowly' i.e. 24 hours in the 'fridge.  The result was superb - generous portions of octopus (I'm sure the slow cooking helped too) in a rich hearty sauce with juicy pieces of chorizo and aromatic dark olives. I look forward to visiting Andrew Edmunds (the restaurant) for a full meal in the near future.

Square Meal

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Axis, One Aldwych, New Years Eve 2013

Axis, the flagship restaurant at One Aldwych in London, is run by Executive Chef Dominic Teague (previously of l'Escargot and Sandy Lane Hotel Barbados) so I was quite excited at the prospect of experiencing his special NYE menu. 

NYE 2013 menu at Axis, London
Lobster Bisque
Canap├ęs of crispy cod fritters, hand made cheese straws and mini-quiches were presented on arrival at our table. A glass of fizz would have been a nice touch but all drinks were excluded for the £85 per head price. We opted for a nice bottle of Sancerre at £48 which carried us through the meal.

First course for me was the Crab Bisque which was beautifully crafted to combine the delicate flavour of fresh crab with Montgomery Cheddar, crunchy croutons and Saffron Aioli. 

Lobster Cocktail
Next choice was Scottish Lobster Cocktail - claw meat with finely shredded leaves in a light citrus dressing and a touch of coriander. Very fresh lobster from the cool waters of Scotland,  perfectly cooked as this was, is moist and flavoursome and makes for a perfect intermediate dish. 

The main course of Pan Fried Wild Turbot Fillet was a change from the original menu of Halibut and a positive one in my book. Don't get me wrong, I like Halibut and I am sure that a chef like Dominic would have done it proud, but Turbot is 'the king of fish' and my particular favourite. Apparently the change was made due to our extreme weather conditions over the festive period which decimated the Halibut catch.  What a substitute ! (This must be how Man City boss, Manuel Pellegrini feels when he has to take Dzecko off and replace him with Aguero).  Presented on a bed of spinach with salsify, onions and a red wine jus ( Turbot is meaty enough to take this ) it was superb. 

Rounded off with a selection of 8 small desserts this was a delightful experience. 

Service and food quality were all top-notch thank you, One Aldwych and Axis.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Portofino - A New Restaurant in Lagos, Portugal

Portofino is a stylish restaurant which opened in November 2013 at the upper level of the Marina de Lagos and is attracting a lot of positive attention. Established and operated by Paul and Gorrete it is easy to see why. They are experienced restaurateurs who have run several successful eateries in the UK and they have applied their skills here too. The decor and lighting is stylish and relaxing with a pleasant view of the marina from this elevated location. 

Portofino was recommended by my good friend Carlos Ramos who is the proprietor of O Cantinho Algarvio, a favourite restaurant of mine. Carlos really knows about food so I guessed we were in for a treat on his recommendation. I was right. We were warmly welcomed and shown to our table next to the window. Mood lighting and contemporary furniture gave the space an almost London feel which is quite rare in Lagos.

I opted for the Fennel Crusted Calamari on a bed of Rocket to start. Tender squid rings with a nice dry batter and a beautiful aniseed finish from the Fennel. Main course was pan-fried Monkfish with Onions, Bacon, White Wine and Lemon Cream Sauce on Mashed Potato. Beautifully  presented, this dish had great flavour and texture. 

I should say at this point that Portofino is not a seafood restaurant.  It is essentially Italian  cuisine expertly crafted from high quality ingredients. We tried the meatballs with spaghetti which was probably the best I have ever tasted outside Italy. There is also a good selection of Italian classic wines and some good Portuguese ones too. We opted for the 1/2 litre carafes each of house red and white both of which were outstanding and great value at €8:95 each.
Three of us ate starters and mains with two half litre carafes for a total of €70, which in my opinion was a bargain. Go there ! 

Monday, 14 October 2013

Crayfish at Stockholm, East Sheen, London

 Crayfish are the smaller, freshwater cousins of the lobster and are best eaten during the season between Spring and Autumn. I was fortunate to enjoy some recently at the Crayfish Festival held at the Stockholm restaurant in Sheen Lane, East Sheen, London SW14. 

Stockholm is a friendly, family run restaurant which operates as a deli/cafe during the day and a restaurant at night. Restaurant Manager, Majvor provides a warm welcome while husband Goran is Head Chef running the kitchen. Shelves laden with Scandinavian culinary delights adorn the walls of the restaurant which has a homely feel       with plenty of Swedish style. 

Majvor explained to me that they buy live crayfish direct from a supplier in the Cotswolds who export much of their produce to Sweden. They source Dill directly from Sweden where they grow the herb with a full flower head to provide better flavour. The resulting dish was amazing with the sweetness of the Crayfish enhanced by the aromatic flavour of the Dill. I look forward to returning to Stockholm to try some of their other Swedish fish delights including 'Home Cured Salmon with Creamed Dill Potato' and 'Herring Platter'.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Fresh Pike at Lake Garda, Italy

In the UK, the freshwater Pike is generally not considered to be a fish worth cooking and eating. Although popular centuries ago there is a perception here that the fish either has too many bones or that it will taste 'muddy'. In my opinion neither of these statements is true.  The northern pike (Esox lucius) is a species of carnivorous fish of the genus Esox (the pikes). They are typical of brackish and freshwaters of the northern hemisphere (i.e. holarctic in distribution).

Although generally known as a "sporting" quarry, some anglers release pike they have caught because the flesh is considered bony, especially due to the substantial (epipleural) "Y-bones". However, larger fish are more easily filleted, and pike have a long and distinguished history in cuisine and are popular fare in Europe. Historical references to cooking pike go as far back as the Romans.

I recently enjoyed 'Pike in the Old Recipe of the Lake' at  beautiful quayside restaurant on the banks of Lake Garda in Italy.  The restaurant, which is also a small hotel with amazing views, is called Lepanto and it is situated in the pretty town of Salo at the southern end of the lake. The fish was poached and flaked off the bone before serving with Capers and Polenta.  It had a delicious delicate flavour and a firm texture (similar to Hake).