Restaurant 23, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire
If visiting a fine dining restaurant is a little daunting, or you want to make sure that you will enjoy the experience before splashing out, then I’d recommend trying the lunch menu first.
Nearly all restaurants offer a fixed price lunch menu, with fewer choices than the evening a la carte menu, to get to grips with a chef’s style of cooking.
This was the view of my mum, who hadn’t eaten at Restaurant 23 before, when she joined me for lunch there on Saturday 25 March.
While we were reviewing the menu, a platter of freshly made bread with plain and Marmite butter arrived. This is the first indication that Head Chef Curtis likes to play with favours.
With three choices of starters, mains and desserts it was quick and easy to choose what we wanted to eat. From Rabbit (with peanut, gherkin and carrot, Mushroom (with pasta, balsamic and parmesan) and Salmon (with avocado, dill, buttermilk) I went for the veggie option.
The sweet beads of Balsamic vinegar were almost like berries, cutting through the earthy mushrooms. Then followed an amuse bouche of sweet tomatoes and knobs of mozerrella, which Maitre D Eduardo Nesto poured water into our bowls to make a refreshing, clear broth and imaginative change from sorbet as a palette cleanser.
For mains our options were Chicken (with swede, maple, and kiev) Pollock (with baby gem loveage seaweed) and Egg Yolk (with celeriac, burnt onion and watercress).
Traditional roasted chicken melted in the mouth, the Kiev ball was deep fried to crisp perfection and the sweet maple syrup and swede alongside creamy mash were a winning combination as far as my mum was concerned.
Eduardo was back to pour jus over mum’s chicken and a (I think) a lemon sauce over my pollock which made the loveage and seaweed crackle into life.
Always leaving room for dessert, Mum was straight onto the Raspberry meringue, sorbet and panna cotta without giving the Egg custard (with nutmeg and Yuzu) or Chocolate (with biscuit, clementine and fennel) a second look.
Facing competition from numerous branded chains as well as independent venues, Restaurant 23 is offering an exceptionally good value two course lunch for £19.95 or three courses for £24.95. On Sundays the prices are higher for lunch, at £37 for two courses and £45 for three courses.
I must make a special mention for Eduardo, who deserves a medal for the tact, diplomacy and charm in dealing with a non-eating toddler and a couple who wanted to order from the (unavailable) evening tasting menu for lunch. What a star!
I’d sum Restaurant 23 up as elegant without being intimidating and creative but not scary cooking making it a must visit eaterie.
Restaurant 23 34 Hamilton Terrace, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire @Restaurant23
DISCLAIMER: I was invited to review Restaurant 23 by the new chef Curtis Stewart and received a complimentary meal. This blog post represents my honest views.
Tom’s Kitchen, Birmingham
Less than a month old, Tom’s Kitchen is the shiny, new, opening in Birmingham’s Mailbox and fifth UK restaurant for chef Tom Aikens.
I went along on a Friday lunchtime with my mum to review the new eaterie. From the warm welcome, as soon as our coats were checked we were presented with an invitingly long list of wines by the glass. Like us, the other two booths and stools around the bar were all occupied by couples who looked in no hurry to move, happily savouring craft beers and cocktails.
With an open seating area at the front of the restaurant, we were shown to a jumbo Chesterfield occupying the whole of the back wall of the interior dining area.
This was a comfortable table with great views of the kitchen and bar. Huge pendant lights, oak cabinets and verdinant green tiles soften the industrial exposed ceiling. A glass display case next to the open kitchen is also a useful reminder of the quality and provenance of the meat and game on the menu, with hanging hooks to age ingredients from pork to partridge.
Skipping starters Mum went for one of her favourite main courses – fish and chips (£15). She couldn’t fault the light, crispy batter and juicy, firm fish. A big tick also for the triple-cooked chips for the perfect blend of crispy outside and fluffy inside. Mini pots of crushed peas and tartare sauce were as expected, the only touch missing was half a lemon wrapped in muslin rather than just a wedge to squeeze over the fish.
Distracted by the specials board and Detox v Retox menu options I went back to the main lunch menu for a chicken schnitzel. The was a lot bigger that I expected, covering the plate with strips of crispy chicken pieces (£18). Less successful was the oversweet bed of caramelised onions and red peppers that the meat rested upon. I probably should have gone for mash and spring greens as sides but couldn’t resist the chips (£4).
We’d missed starters to save room for desserts, which was a tough choice from a good selection of panna cotta, plum bakewell tart and sticky toffee pudding (to share). I tried the blackberry cheesecake (£7). The cheesecake was whipped to a light mousse and top was studded with nuggets of honeycomb and blackberries, alongside a zesty berry sorbet which was fab.
Our waitress Nicky warned mum that her dish of chocolate and peanut butter fondant (£8) would be hot and as the blob of vanilla ice cream melted she was able to tuck in and declare her dessert was a ‘chocoholics dream’. I had to take her word for it as the moreish pudding was devoured before I had a chance to try it!
The second part of Tom’s Kitchen is the Deli. This is a daytime café offering sandwiches, soups, hotpots and salads in the central seating on Level 2 i.e. ‘The Urban Room’ of The Mailbox.
With drinks and two courses each, it is easy to rack up a bill of £60 for the generous portions of gastropub style dishes at Tom’s Kitchen. I like the simple, bold flavours that show off the key ingredients and quality sourcing. I’m going back to see how the atmosphere differs in the evening and try the poached monkfish and the chocolate and peanut butter fondant which I can’t stop thinking about.
Tom’s Kitchen 53/57 Wharfside Street, The Mailbox, Birmingham B1 1RE
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Sauce Communications and received a complimentary meal at Tom’s Kitchen, however the views expressed are my own.
British tapas in Northampton
As the votes are counted tonight (Thursday 3 November) one venue in particular will be waiting for baited breath when the Restaurant of the Year is announced at the Carlsberg Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards 2016.
Despite only being open for a year, Chef Adam Church and his team have quietly created a great little place serving British tapas called Bread & Pullet.
In amongst the patchwork of barber shops, pubs, fast food outlets and restaurants of every cuisine you can think of, you will find this charming rustic restaurant on the Wellingborough Road.
The urban setting is the base for a foodies larder of meats, breads, cheese, oils, sauces, beers and gin sourced locally from independent suppliers and producers. Some like the table bottle of Bite Me sauces and Warner Edwards gin at the bar are more obvious than others to identify.
The careful selection and provenance of ingredients is a credit to Adam and shines through in all of the dishes. Deep-fried whitebait had a perfect crispness and juicy fish, while beetroot sourdough just the right level of garlic.
My mac ‘n’ cheese was dotted with crayfish to break through the moreish melted cheese. As they were on the small plates section, my partner was surprised (and secretly pleased) when not one but two domes of Yorkshire Puddings arrived. For my partner gravy is a deal breaker. He smothered one crispy dome in the ‘proper onion and Saxby cider gravy’ before requesting another jug which he received without any fuss. This to us was another sign of the genuinely friendly and efficient service which flows seamlessly.
The hash brown and mussels on the specials board caught our attention, but we were getting full so we ear-marked those for a future visit.
The best advice that I can give you is to forget any ideas of Spanish and Italian tapas dishes, order as you go, have a drink, have a nibble and do be swayed by what other tables are enjoying and you won’t regret it. At these very reasonable prices you can afford to try a range of dishes.
We shared four small plates and two large ones (but only had one drink each as we were driving) and the bill came to £45 which we thought was great value for the quality of the food.
After our supper I went up to the open kitchen to say hello to Adam. He loves it when diners explore the menu and keep returning to keep enjoying new dishes. With a brunch and afternoon tea on offer as well as a main dinner menu this is very easy to do.
My only gripe – the high backed chairs have a low shallow seat, so aren’t hugely comfortable after an hour!
The restaurant didn’t know that I am a food blogger, or that I wanted to review the evening and we paid for our own meal.
Value for money: 4/5
Bread and Pullet, 176 Wellingborough Road, Northampton 01604 638520 http://www.breadandpullet.co.uk
Tea for two and two for tea
Sandwiched between lunch and dinner, afternoon tea is a crafty way of treating yourself in between meals that I wholly approve of.
So after hours of trying on dresses and hats for Summer weddings, my mum and I gratefully sank into a calm and comfortable booth at The Balcony in Selfridges to try their new afternoon tea.
Shown to our table and given water straight away by Samantha, our waitress then took our drinks orders. As you would expect from a champagne bar the choice of bubbles, cocktails and wines were extensive, but less so on the beverages, so we opted for standard green tea and a flat white.
Here comes a spoiler alert! Our spirits were raised when a jolly orange Searcy’s hatbox was brought to the table, opening to reveal three layers of finger sandwiches, scones and macarons plus desserts.
Straight from the fridge the sandwiches were not quite at room temperature, but the colourful trio were tasty enough if not over generous on the filings. Beef and mustard on tomato bread, cucumber and cream cheese on spinach bread and salmon and crème frâiche on brown bread were all light and fresh.
We then moved onto the floury mini scones, which were gone in two bites.
I have been told by a patisserie chef that macarons are deceptively time consuming to make. If you adopt the ‘French Meringue’ method you could be straining egg whites for up to 48 hours in advance and sifting the flour up to three times to get that smooth shiny finish. I hope that the chef hadn’t gone to all that effort to create our mixed berry macarons as, even with a pause to admire the creamy vanilla centre, they were gone in seconds!
Dinky choux buns piped with creamy lemon curd had a pleasing zest and the dusting of crushed pistachio nuts is a nice touch.
Next we tried a strawberry jam tart topped with clotted cream in a pastry base.
We saved the best until last. The blackcurrant slice wasn’t a delice with mousse or a millefeuille with razor-thin pastry, so we pondered on this while we enjoyed layers of moist almond-flavoured sponge topped with a glossy dark chocolate layer.
Pretty and dainty is the order of the day here for The Balcony’s afternoon tea, which takes favourite desserts from the main menu and creates miniature versions with eyecatching presentation.
Afternoon tea is served daily from 3pm to 7pm and costs £36 for two people. That includes a selection of seasonal sandwiches, classic scones, clotted cream and jam as well a selection of mini cakes.
Value for money 3/5
The Balcony, 4th floor, Selfridges, Bullring, Birmingham http://www.thebalcony.co.uk
*Disclaimer I was invited to review The Balcony by WAA and received a complimentary meal.
Dining at Rofuto, Birmingham’s latest restaurant opening, brought back very fond memories of Nobu, Hakkasan and Pearl and I have loved those delicate Asian flavours and beautifully presented dishes ever since.
From the noisy, urban entrance at Five Ways you are whisked up to the 16th floor for a more serene setting. Flooded with light, the dining room has an open kitchen at one end, a circular bar in the middle and well spaced tables. Light ash tables, wooden pendant lights and purple backlit cabinets for the sake make an attractive and unobtrusive design.
Our waitress Jo was attentive, knew the detail of the dishes and didn’t show any impatience when she had to come back twice to take our order due to our indecisiveness. There were simply too many good dishes to choose from.
On sushi, sashimi, starters, Robato grill, mains and desserts there is a very good range of choices showcasing both familiar and unusual Japanese ingredients. Fish and seafood are definitely the star attractions of the menu. Eel , sea urchin, soft shell crab, salmon, mackerel , halibut and a favourite of many high-end Japanese restaurants the black miso cod are all crowd pleasers. Cut with forensic precision, my slivers of yellow fin tuna sashimi melted on the tongue perfectly.
I couldn’t tempt my convive with some fish, as he was already sold on sesame chicken yakitori from the robata grill and crispy chicken with kimchi. He raved about the perfectly seasoned chicken.
I almost regretted not choosing the Japanese style fish and chips, when I saw them brought to Paul Fulford’s table. This envy vanished when my soft shell crab tempura arrived. The slivers of sweet crab meat dipped in translucent batter were ace and the crispy fried noodles on top a fun addition. Even the garnishes are intriguing, the dinky white triangle in the photo is a type of radish.
Halibut, Champagne yuzu miso (a sauce rather than a broth or soup) on pak choi as my main was elegant and delicious. A stand out dish for me, as the firm fish had only slightly absorbed the amazing miso. Top tip – ask for a spoon as you won’t want to leave a drop of this sauce.
My partner could not fault the succulent Black Angus fillet, with slivers of Gobu crisps, garlic ponzu and truffle. Despite the menu offering a selection of small plates to share, the only one we managed to agree on was a moreish bowl of sticky and rich duck fried rice. Each dish arrives on its own distinct plate, no gimmicky vessels or boards here thank goodness.
Drinks wise a bottle of Gewürztraminer and Kirin beer were a good match for our food. I also happily sipped through two vodka based cocktails a Melon Fizz and Midnight Geisha and we tried some sake too. The triple height windows in the Kurabo bar next to the restaurant gave another panoramic view of the city, in a
It won’t be long before we are back, as the saffron black miso cod, razor clams and pancetta is calling me and my partner is curious about the garlic yuzo kosho lamb chops .
With two starters and a main course each, you can easily spend £50 a head just on food. However, the best Japanese food is extremely fresh and designed to please the eye as much as the palate, so for that level of sensory pleasure Rofuto it is worth it.
Value for money 3/5
Rofuto, Park Regis Hotel, Five Ways Birmingham
*I was invited to review Rofuto by Neil Reading PR and received a complimentary meal.
Jimmy Carr, the Happy Mondays and Dan Clark were all performing in Birmingham on the night that Ross and I were dining at Annexe, so we weren’t the only couple grabbing a quick bite to eat before shows.
Tucked away at the very end of Corporation Street, Annexe is a cosy, candlelit bistro that mixes vintage elegance with their love of films. Two screens project classic black and white movies, the walls are dotted with film posters, blackboards show the wine specials and towering pot plants between tables adorn this nostalgic restaurant. I’d quickly looked at their Face Book page enroute and loved the photos of diners in flapper dresses at the speakeasy parties, burlesque and 1920’s themed parties that they also run.
With a warm welcome by Restaurant Manager Damien Portefaix, Damien showed me the larger dining space at the back of the restaurant where we saw Head Chef Suzanne Russell getting ready for service in the open kitchen.
Suzanne’s childhood passion for cookery and an Italian grandmother have naturally influenced her cooking style. Trained at Birmingham College of Food, Suzanne combines Italian and classic French dishes at Annexe with a sprinkle of British ingredients.
Garlic and chilli prawns with rosemary bruschetta and roasted garlic aioli (£7.50) was a fiery starter, so the lemon mayonnaise was a nice addition to this dish.
Chorizo picante croquetas (£6.50) was exactly as expected. Three plump, crispy croquettes filled with gooey cheese and nuggets of chorizo, topped with shavings of parmesan and a side of Ancho chili sauce.
Annexe Rossini weighed in at a hefty £24.50 for beef fillet, pancetta, sage and potato galette, pâté de fois and sauce Forestiere. A lot of elements to this dish, some of which worked better than others, but they all combined to give an earthy Autumnal flavour. With still pink meat though, my partner wished that he had chosen the four hour braised venison osso bucco instead, as he likes his meat to fall apart from the fork.
Sole Grenobloise (£18.95) usually has capers, croutons and a brown shrimp butter with it, so I wasn’t expecting the mound of gherkins with my main course. Underneath the heaped pickles was a beautiful piece of Dover Sole that didn’t need the vinegary accompaniments. I was sold on this dish because it also came with truffle mash, which wasn’t quite as generous with the truffle oil as I am at home!
Onto desserts. Semifreddo al torroncino is simply nougat ice cream covered with crushed hazelnuts and praline. A delicious mixture of sweet treats with the added bonus of a shot of hot chocolate to pour over the ice cream (£6.50).
A mini tower of pear, pomegranate and tonka bean mille-feuille with wild flower honey, bee pollen and cinnamon syrup (£6.95) contained some lovely ingredients that were light and fragrant.
Our three course meal, with a cocktail, glass of wine and three beers would have totalled around £110. In addition to the kitchen’s main a la carte menu, are prix fixe lunch menus which change weekly at a much more wallet-friendly £9.50 for one course or £12.50 for two, if you want to give Annexe a try during the day.
Value for money 3/5
Annexe 220 Corporation Street Birmingham B4 6QB
Tel: 0121 236 1171
*Thank you to Maija Atanasova for the invitation to review Annexe and the team’s hospitality
Malllory Court Dining Room, Leamington Spa
As a guest of Mallory Court I was lucky enough to join a select group of diners on Friday 25 September to experience a special dinner as part of the Mexican UK 2015 Restaurant Festival.
From just six UK chefs, Paul Foster, head chef at The Dining Room at Mallory Court, was deeply honoured to be approached by the Mexican Tourist Board to take part in celebrating ‘The Year of Mexico in the United Kingdom’.
He visited Mexico in May, with chef Alfredo Villanueva from Romero y Azahar restaurant (Monterrey) as his guide to local markets, cantinas and restaurants where he tried ants eggs, a cactus fruit called tuna and pigs liver amongst other local delicacies.
In an exciting exchange of flavours, Mallory Court hosted Alfredo to jointly prepare a six course dinner with Paul, with each chef creating three courses each of their own unique culinary styles.
The first dish of the evening was Alfredo’s ‘Chicarron en salsa verde’ of crispy pork cheek with tomatillo, cured pork belly, jaapeno pepper, courgette, epazote, corn and a raw green sauce which had a vivid zesty colour.
Paul followed this with a hand-dived scallop, black garlic, charred leeks and onion ketchup, where the garlic had been roasted almost to a caramel.
‘Mar y cacao’ was Alfredo’s fish course of cured mackerel, adobo pepper ash, mashed beans in cacao butter, radish and fermented turnip. This was my first taste of adobo ash and fermented turnips and I was a fan of both.
Paul’s meat dish was grouse breast and ragu, with parsnip and elderberries which had a lovely seasonal warmth.
The first of two desserts followed with Alfredo’s ‘Campechana de dulce de leche’ of caramalized goat’s milk and Mezcal mousse, puff pastry and spiced chocolate sauce with the tang of the goat’s milk offset by the sweeter ingredients.
Our dinner concluded with Paul’s whipped pumpkin, vanilla poached chicory and muscavado ice cream, where Paul adeptly demonstrated that you can use vegetables in desserts to give a sweet taste without the sugar content.
Paul and Alfredo chatted to guests after service about how much they had enjoyed the experience and what they had learnt from each other in this exchange. This is always my favourite part of the evening when you get a chance to talk to the chefs, discover what inspires them and be able to thank them in person for an amazing evening.
Our dishes were paired with organic Chablis Brocard, Pinor Noir and Moscato d’Asti, which were all included in the £95 cost of the meal, along with cocktails and canapés upon arrival and petit fours with our coffee.
Like all great meals, the company makes an extra special and we were fortunate enough to be seated with a couple who were about to get married at the hotel and their friends. The bride and groom to be turned out to be Reg Keys and his partner Jenny.
Reg is a founder member of the campaign group Military Families Against the War. His son Lance Corporal Tom Keys, was a Royal Military policeman and one of six Red Caps killed in Iraq in June 2003. Reg stood against Tony Blair for the Sedgwick seat and is commentator for national media. He has a fascinating and emotional life story, which is currently being filmed by Willy McGovern, with Tim Roth playing the part of Reg. The programme will be broadcast by BBC1 in the New Year.
I can’t guarantee that you will be dining with such interesting company, but If you have enjoyed reading my review and would like to experience Mallory Court for yourself, the next dinner event will be on Saturday 17 October for The Battle of Eden – 70s Style. Read all about out it on the October events page.
Mallory Court is a stunning 31 bedroom manor house set in 10 acres of grounds, just outside of Leamington Spa. I had pegged this luxury hotel as a venue for weddings, but not necessarily dining, so even though it is very local to me I hadn’t visited before last week’s dinner. I don’t intend to wait too long to return and enjoy Paul Foster’s cooking and the hotel’s faultless service again.
Mallory Court, Harbury Lane, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire CV33 9QB
For #MeatFreeMonday I’ve returned to the vegetarian bistro 1847 Birmingham in the Great Western Arcade for a new lunch review.
A lot has happened since my last visit – chef Alex Claridge has left to host his own creative pop-ups (featuring wood ants!) and the restaurant owners are gradually expanding their veggie empire to other cities including Brighton and Bristol.
A busy Saturday lunchtime, as a pitstop between shopping with a girlfriend, seemed as good a time as any to perk up our tastebuds. Even though it was 2pm when we arrived, the ground floor of the restaurant was full, with many customers taking advantage of the £10 meal and a drink deal.
You will have eaten pretty much everything on this menu, but perhaps not in these combinations and that to me is the beauty of 1847. You think that you know how things will taste then you try them and are very pleasantly surprised at how light and flavoursome they are together. Each dish packs a punch with only a few, select, ingredients.
For Tara’s lunch, her starter of three falafels on a bed of quinoa, with burnt baba ghanoush, yoghurt and watercress was a good choice. I normally avoid falafels as I always seem to get dry, crumbly ones but these were bound together perfectly.
My starter, even for fromage fans was a bit overkill on the cheese. Mille feuille of two wafers of flaky pastry sandwiched together with a huge dollop of creamy ricotta cheese that even though I like I just couldn’t finish. The cold slices of courgette and two cherry tomatoes forlornly plonked onto a blob of tapenade would have benefited from being hot.
Tara moved on to Mac ‘n’ cheese which was just on the right side of moreish with a golden brown crumb topping (she will kill me for saying this but she could have quite happily put her face into the plate it was that good.)
For my main course I had the tried and tested deep fried halloumi with chips. The three golden balls overshadowed the five chips considerably and rightly so, all with a fabulous pea puree and a drop of lemon curd as well. This is a signature dish that 1847 have absolutely nailed.
Tara had left enough room to enjoy a brownie, with the seasonal pears replaced by raspberries which was a tangy cut through the triple chocolate. I’d already seen two other diners share the deep pink Earl Grey cake, so intrigued by the beetroot jam that was my dessert choice. It didn’t need ice cream, sorbet, cream or anything else with this lovely, moist cake.
Two mocktails later and we tripped lightly out to House of Fraser, feeling almost virtuous but definitely refreshed, after a tasty lunch of imaginative and delicious food.
When you can spend £20 in a coffee shop, £19 for two courses and £25 for three at 1847 Birmingham is very good value in a relaxed city centre venue. If my lunch review has piqued your interest, then discover more in the five or seven course tasting menus in the evenings.
The new Autumn menu is on its way, so you won’t have to wait too long to see what seasonal treats Head Chef Tony Cridland has in store for diners, who says that his last meal would be: “Confit cauliflower, wild rice, black truffle and crispy egg”.
Value for money 4/5
847 Birmingham 26 Great Western Arcade Birmingham
Monday – Saturday 12 – 3 & 5 – 10pm. Sunday 12 – 8pm.
*Thank you to Vicky Osgood and Damien Davenport for both the invitation to revisit 1847 and kind hospitality.
The Almanac Kenilworth
On a sunny Saturday afternoon my partner and I went over to Kenilworth for lunch at The Almanack. My partner was slightly put off by the restaurant’s location being on the ground floor of a small block of flats, with an all glass exterior looking out onto a main road, but once inside the newly refurbished interior had more of the country chic style you associate with Peach Pubs.
With Head Chef Rob Hartwell coming over from the Rose & Crown in Warwick, I couldn’t wait to see the new menu, but my partner was side tracked at the bar by a sausage roll (of Aubrey Allen’s Warwickshire Whizzer sausage) and dollop of piccalili (£2.75).
He then honed into the Brunch Menu for his starter of corned beef hash and a fried free-range egg (£7). While I admired the bright pink colour he raved about the quality and quantity of shredded meat, with only a hint of potato – just the way he likes it.
For my starter, dressed Brixham crab, spring onion and tomato salad, with a preserved lemon dressing (£8) was essentially lettuce leaves smothered in creamy crab, but a very tasty appetiser none the less, with just the right balance of sweetness and citrus.
The Loch Duart salmon steak, with fennel and lemon rub (£16.50) was grilled to perfection and I added a serving of buttered courgettes, peas and beans to it (£3.50).
My partner’s eyes lit up when he saw the Cornish Lamb shank with wilted garlic spinach and jus on the specials board (£16). As you’d expect from meat that had been slow-roasted overnight it melted away from the bone and he loved it. He was too polite to ask for bread to mop up the jus but I knew that he was tempted!
From telling us about the raised strawberry beds to the cheese makers, our server James was super friendly and knowledgeable, leaving just the right amount of time between courses to refresh drinks and see how we were getting on.
We did the classic ‘we’re a bit full, but will have a look at the dessert menu anyway’ which didn’t fool anyone. My partner went for the lime cheesecake straight away. Normally I’m not a fan of cheesecake but the whipped centre in contrast to the blueberry glaze topping won me over.
The star of the dessert menu though is without a doubt the ‘Dip your own’ succulent strawberries, with individual pots of dark dipped Valrhona chocolate and whipped cream, with just a hint of vanilla. Fabulous both in presentation and in content.
I genuinely wished that I hadn’t eaten so much as there is also a great selection of carefully selected cheeses, which are so often overlooked on a menu.
The quality of the food here is fantastic and the plush new furniture and décor have lifted what used to be an uninspiring space. With a well chosen menu of breakfast, brunch, lunch, sharing platters and dinner options, you can definitely have a convivial meal all day long at The Almanack in Kenilworth.
The Almanack, Abbey End North, Kenilworth CV8 1QJ
*We were guests of Peach Pubs and the restaurant knew that I was writing a review on them when we visited
En place pop-up
After following En Place on Twitter for a while, it was time to see what their fine dining pop-up in a coffee shop after hours would be like, so I booked myself and Eat With Ellen onto the Thursday 9 July evening.
For two nights a month, Mike and Josh take-over the tiny kitchen at Six Eight Kafe in Millennium Point. Imagine a private dinner party in a public space, where even though you’ve seen the menu in advance every course still holds a surprise and you get an idea of ambience.
The contrast between sweet and citrus in the Beetroot air and chilled orange shot granita got the meal off to a great start.
A cool sliver of cucumber marinaded in fiery spices was a side to the mojito in-spherification – a clever geleatine ball ofalcohol that dissolved on contact with your mouth which was a definite talking point.
An updated salmon tartar, with crispy scraps, curried apple, aioli and rape seed oil crumbs gave us an insight into how Mike and Josh enjoyed mixing up textures with ingredients that were not quite what they seemed.
After two treats, we were presented with our starters. I’d swapped the black pudding for a tasty sliver of skate when I’d booked, but kept the cauliflower puree, capers and spinach.
In my main course I’d also swapped the lamb for chicken and appreciated the crispy skin even more after Josh said that he had nearly burnt his hand in the process of cooking it!
This level of contact, with Josh introducing and serving all of the dishes personally, was not just informative but charming and showed you just how much En Place care about giving diners a great experience.
A simply stunning dessert of cherry jelly drops, almond crumb and peanut butter parfait was next and was so mooreish that everyone demanded seconds. On the plate this deceptively simple looking dessert hid the complicated process of blending meringues with cream, then freezing for four hours to achieve the final silky smoothness of the parfait.
Petit fours of strawberry and clotted cream fudge with chocolate mousse and honeycomb bites ended our meal.
This isn’t something you see every day – the ‘black book’ of recipes (complete with scorch marks) reveals the partnership of Mike’s more traditional style with Josh’s modern take and how they fuse together to create dishes like sticky toffee pig cheeks.
Throughout the dinner, Mike had kept the flow of food going in the kitchen, so it wasn’t until the end of the night that both chefs took a well earned beer and accepted the praise of happy customers.
My photos don’t really do En Place justice. For a meal packed with carefully thought dishes, that are anything but ordinary, £35 seems a small price to pay and offers outstanding value for such a lovely dinner. So take a group of friends and your favourite drinks, then sit back and savour a fab evening.
The next En Place pop-up is on Thursday 6 and Friday 7 August where you can expect:
- Pea, goats curd, wasabi,
- Mackerel, smoked vodka, cucumber, lemon sherbert,
- Belly pork, lentils, carrot, apple, piccalilli,
- Banana, peanut, jam, dark chocolate
*Although the chefs knew that I was reviewing the meal I paid in advance for my ticket.
Rose & Crown Warwick
On Wednesday I was in Warwick with an old school friend for a preview of the new Winter tasting menu at the Rose & Crown.
The first opening in the Peach Pub group, the Rose & Crown has been serving great food in the heart of Warwick town for more than a decade and has recently had a bit of a makeover.
Brightening up the foggy evening with a glass of fizz, manager Suzie Ayling greeted us and the six other guests with an update on the pub’s swanky new look.
“As well as a fresh look on the outside, we’ve made the interior more comfortable with new seating, lighting and some lovely pieces like stained glass and artwork, which bring out the interesting features of the pub.
“The eatery has an elegant new look and we’ve also added an extra 20 casual dining covers by turning a space behind the pub into The Yard, a new spot with its name in lights, white-washed brick walls and comfy booth seating.
“We’ve completely transformed the private dining room as well to create The Wood Shed, a really great new place for a bit of a do. It’s got rustic chic mixed up with some quirky antique pieces and plenty of space to sit back and have a special lunch, dinner or a meeting.”
The Wood Shed was our venue to meet Head chef Rob Hartwell, who has been with the Peach Pubs company since he was 19. Now leading the kitchen with four young chefs, the former Masterchef quarter finalist has brought travels and work experience from Australia, Japan and Asia to the table.
Our starters of crab cakes were encased in honey panko rather than traditional breadcrumbs. These gave a smoother texture and bound the crab meat to the pesto dressing.
One of my favourite fishes, pan-fried sea bass, was cleverly paired with Bombay potatoes an onion bhaji and cardamom yoghurt. As we were discovering the taster menu, our portion sizes were almost half of what they would be normally, as everyone was clamouring for more of the cardamom yoghurt dressing!
The chicken in the Coq au vin had been marinated for 24 hours, so the succulent meat just fell off the bone and was served with creamy mash, whole shallots and chestnut mushrooms.
Some diners opted for the vegetarian dishes, with parsnip croquets and gruyere and herb pancakes. Other new arrivals include dishes like mulled Cornish lamb casserole as well as smoked haddock and king prawn pie with parsley crust with winter greens.
There was a moment of hush as the platters of three desserts were brought to the table. A white chocolate cheesecake with Bailey’s cream, a pecan and pumpkin pie with a deliciously short buttery pastry and a deluxe Valrhona chocolate brownie that had the crispy top and molten centre.
Comfortably full after our feast, but still curious to try more, the table decided that they would share a cheeseboard of English produced cheeses, served at room temperature with quince and toasted almond and fruit thins. As Rob encouraged us to roll a nugget of cheese between our fingers to release the aroma and enhance the flavour, we eased back onto our sheepskin throws and savoured the quality of carefully sourced ingredients that we had enjoyed.
For each course Rob discussed the ingredients, where he found his inspiration and gave us cooking tips along with his culinary anecdotes. This for me made the evening. The Wood Shed is free to hire and has the winning combination of delicious seasonal menu, in a private dining room that has that easy country house chic that Peach Pubs do so well.
*Thank you to Sarah Pracey PR and Peach Pubs for the kind invitation to this evening. All the views expressed in this post are my own and I was not paid to publish this post.
Ye Olde Saracens Head, Balsall Common
En route to the Godiva Festival in Coventry, my partner and I wanted to make the most of a clement summer evening, so went to Ye Olde Saracens Head in Balsall Common for an early supper.
The wire framed sheep ‘grazing’ on the lawn outside the 16th century building are an indication that you have left the city behind. This is reiterated under the twisted arch guarded by ducks to the back door of the pub and the ‘countrified’ interior.
Bending your head down to avoid the low beams, when you look around you realise just how many different seating areas and cosy nooks there are to sit in and dine. From the choice of squishy leather chairs, chunky wooden tables and the privacy of The Den, we chose a sunny table by the patio doors.
Instead of a starter each we shared the meze and were presented with a platter full of appetising treats. We homed in our favourites, with my partner hovering up the four skinny lamb koftas while I made short work of the olives and dolmade. The carrot and orange and beetroot and walnut hummus were colourful and tasty out of the norm flavours that we both enjoyed. The falafel were flat discs instead of balls and the other nice surprise were the hot flatbread straight from the wood-fired pizza oven. All for £15.95.
After a good start we eagerly awaited our mains. My partner’s 35 day aged 8oz sirloin steak was cooked to his request of very well done and came with the usual onion rings, chips and peppercorn sauce for £23.95. Some greens, mushrooms or even a grilled tomato would have been nice to add some colour and moisture to the dish, but these are charged as additional sides for £2.95 each or £1.50 for a small jug of sauce.
I chose my dish of swordfish with sweet potato fries and a Greek salad from the daily specials menu. The fish was succulent, the fries were chunky and crispy and the salad was light and refreshing. A definite hit.
The sun was still shining so we took our desserts to eat outside in the garden, where we watched a constant stream of people coming in for their wood fired pizzas to take away.
I’d already chosen then rhubarb and custard ‘bocker glory’ for dessert, so I was disappointed to be told that this was off the menu. As it is summer Eton Mess, ice creams and sorbets would have been good options, but the menu offered us apple and butterscotch crumble and a white chocolate cookie stack with raspberries and cream. Both were dry, flavourless and uninspiring which was a shame as we had enjoyed the rest of our meal.
If you live in Coventry or the suburbs of Solihull then Ye Olde Saracens Head is worth a visit for the relaxed ambience, friendly service and hearty portions of competent pub food in a countryside setting.
Balsall Street, Balsall Common, Coventry CV7 7AS 01676 533 862
I had mixed emotions when Ferguson’s opened in Rugby last Autumn, as it was taking over the site of Vermillion which had become one of my favourite places to eat locally.
The excitement of a new chef and menu soon kicked in though and I broke the unwritten rule of restaurant reviewing by visiting during its opening weeks.
Although for customers there is a buzz about being in the latest place, the restaurant may still be trying to find their feet and this is exactly how we felt after our first meal there.
My partner and I ate three courses, paid and left feeling a little underwhelmed. We were hopeful that when we returned the obvious ambition of the chef would be reflected in fine- tuned dishes and service would be smoother.
So six month later and we’re back to see how Ferguson’s is shaping up.
To get to your table the first thing you’ll see is the compact, open kitchen where Executive Head Chef David Ferguson and his small brigade work. We were seated at a table by the open doors to the patio garden, which on a temperate Summer evening was appreciated.
A cooling appetiser of salmon tartar, pea shoots and half a quails egg, served with sun-dried tomato bread (made inhouse) was an indication of the seasonal menu ahead.
Our starters were pan fried scallops with basmati rice dotted with pomegranate salsa and mizuna (Japanese mustard). The crunch of pomegranate against glutinous scallops and zest of the mustard were appreciated by my partner, who likes the added interest of spices with his food. I love fish and the way in which my smoked salmon was enlivened with mango and avocado salsa that also held a hidden heat with chilli flakes.
For our mains the seared duck breast was served with sweet potato mash pak choi, peanuts and Asian jus. The mash was a nice twist on what could have been a Pan-Asian dish with noodles and really complimented the sweetness of the meat. My partner’s fillet of beef came with a delightfully creamy brie and spring onion mash that didn’t overwhelm the beef. As you can see from the photos the jus was over generous on both dishes!
Desserts are simple classics where David can still have some fun. A ‘deconstructed Snickers’ peanut butter parfair with chocolate truffle and a chunk of honeycomb was moreish and I loved every mouthful. White chocolate panna cotta had a slightly runny texture rather than the firmness you’d expect, but was still tasty with a topping of oranges and a segment hidden at the bottom of the glass.
Looking around the room, the chocolate brownie with milk ice cream seemed a popular dessert choice with other diners, in a restaurant where the whole ground floor was full.
Even with the £3 supplement for the scallops starter and £5 supplement for the beef, the pricing at Ferguson’s is a reasonable two courses for £21.95 or three courses for £24.95. You can easily spend this at other outlets nearby and not achieve the same sense of satisfaction of a well-prepared meal from a chef trying hard to please.
David’s culinary career began fifteen years ago at Nairns, a busy 120 cover restaurant in Glasgow, where he worked alongside TV Chef Nick Nairn. He worked in rosette standard restaurants in Lincolnshire and Leicestershire, before making his way over to us in Warwickshire and opening Ferguson’s with his business partner.
On the way out diners thanked David for their meals and even though he was preparing the last dishes of the night, he chatted to us about how challenging opening the restaurant had been. The happiness of finding the right dishes to please diners, that still gave him the freedom to use the best local and seasonal ingredients, was evident in his soft Scottish burr.
Ferguson’s is a good quality neighbourhood restaurant, that can easily take on establishments In nearby Leamington Spa or Kenilworth for casual dining in a relaxed setting.
Ferguson’s 7a Eastfield Place Rugby Warwickshire CV21 3AT http://www.fergusonsrugby.co.uk
Bistro 1847 new Supper Club
On Thursday I was the guest of Alex Claridge, head chef of Bistro 1847, for the launch of their new Supper Club. My photos cannot do justice to the thoughtful and delicious five course menu, which blew me away.
A pretty starter of edible bouquet edible flowers, garden herbs, goats curd and candied beetroot held a little surprise. The star ingredient of this dish was the ‘soil’ which consisted of specks of black olives that had been dehydrated for 36 hours. Alex is nothing if not a patient man when it comes to creating a dish.
He could not reveal his sources, but the rich, earthy, lovage and herb soup was a special treat, as Alex had acquired the plants a week before they come into season. Also known as sea parsley, the leaves and stem of the lovage plant add an intense celery-like flavour to soups.
Taking one ingredient and exploring the ways to cook and present it is one of Alex’s specialities. After cracking the caramelised onion topping of the savoury crème caramel, the melted blue cheese oozed out and was handy to dip the tempura fennel strip into. We also had hay and honey-roasted potato with fennel encased in naan bread to enjoy. The whisky infused yoghurt dressing also gave us a hint to what was next on the menu.
Smoke and whisky was the point where Alex went all Willy Wonka on us.
Each table was given a cigar box, which when opened smoke billowed out to reveal individually wrapped pieces of fudge! Even the wrappers were edible as awed guests savoured the smooth sweets with a mellow glass of Laphraig single malt whisky. This was inspired by Alex’s visit to the Isle of Arran and penchant for a good whisky, so you can expect more whisky flavoured dishes in the future.
Our final course was a rhubarb and ginger bakewell tart, where the zest of forced rhubarb was offset by the brown bread ice cream that topped this dessert off beautifully.
There will be more supper club events to follow. Alex is already thinking about cheese and gluten- free menus so keep checking the website for updates. At £35 per head they will be an experience that you do not want to miss.
26 Great Western Arcade Birmingham
0121 236 2313
The Italian Job
My partner and I were guests of Alex and Sara Chambers, the Italophile couple in Warwickshire behind Squisito deli for their first pop-up in Birmingham. After a cocktail in The Jekyll and Hyde bar we moved upstairs to the Gin Palace, where the Italian Job was silently playing.
A friendly crowd were looking forward to the Squisito supper club. 34 people in the room made it sociable but a bit of a squash – especially for my 6ft 4 boyfriend, whose arms and legs looked giant sized in the dinky Victoriana chairs. Our fellow diners included some Jekyll & Hyde regulars, foodies who had enjoyed Alex’s sausages at local farmers markets and one lady who had heard Squisito mentioned on Radio 4’s Food programme!
As we were seated, two long thin wooden boards were placed at the centre of the table and slices of salumi and prosciuttio were placed. On hand were Lucky 13 Bakehouse dinner rolls, with Calabrian olive oil and Puglian green olives. Nobody could name them, but the moreish peppery biscuit-like snacks also rapidly disappeared.
Our antipasti selection was a burst of vibrant colour and flavours – courgette carpacccio, rocket and pecorino cheese, tomato and basil on pane carasau (that looked like a poppadom) chicken liver crostini, ricotta drizzled with chestnut honey and Alex’s salsiccia.
Even with a menu, there was still a sense of excitement as to what was coming next and the convivial sharing and passing plates of food around the table made it feel like a family feast, rather than a group of strangers in a restaurant.
Half an hour between the antipasti and the primi courses perturbed some people, but it was worth the wait for the pappardelle pasta with black truffle butter, chives and Grana Padano cheese. As a recent convert to truffle oil, I wasn’t surprised when my boyfriend accepted seconds from Fee’s giant saucepan that was ladled out at the table.
The basil and lemon salmoriglio gave a playful zing to the chunk of rolled Fosse Meadow chicken. With marrow, chard and rosemary roast potatoes I liked being able to taste all of the summery ingredients without the meat being drowned in sauce.
My favourite course formaggi was coming up and the boards were back out for us to try slivers of gorgonzola, taleggio and Sardinian pecorino with pink peppercorns and Worcestershire honey. One of the cheeses had an almost black rind with a smokey flavour that I forgot to ask what it was called.
Due to the train timetable we unfortunately missed the Plymouth gin and tonic sorbet, raspberry gin and Autumn bliss, raspberry semifreddo and dark chocolate studded with toasted almonds. I hope that photo gives you an idea of how light and refreshing the closing course was.
During the night Alex served and chatted to guests while Sarah was upstairs in the kitchen, so we didn’t get a chance to see (and thank) her for a lovely meal until the end of the evening.
On the back of Alex’s t-shirt is the phrase ‘Provenance is knowing the person who made your dinner by first name’. By the end of the evening my boyfriend had paraphrased it as ‘Provenance is knowing who made your tummy happy’ ©Ross Martin 2013.
Details of their November and December supper clubs are on their website
Hotel du Vin’s Al Fresco Summer lunch menu
Normally when I meet Sally from the Gastro Card we are at an event or launch, where we spend so much time talking we don’t have enough time to savour our food. Last week was different though, as we had a leisurely two hours to try the new Summer menu at Hotel du Vin*.
On a hot summer day the golden- hued Hotel du Vin bistro was a quiet and calm dining venue. We were joined by two other tables of local businessmen and a trio of friends who were tasting the fresh, seasonal menu.
With three to four choices for each course of £7.50 starters, £14.50 main courses and desserts at £6.95, you’d expect high quality ingredients and this menu does not disappoint.
With the exception of beetroot, I prefer my strips of melt in the mouth Gravalax not to be marinated. Hotel du Vin served their salmon plain with a cool cucumber salad, which was ideal and didn’t really need the heat of a mini pot of mustard sauce.
Sally’s Treul Serrano ham and grilled nectarines glistened with a shallot and sherry vinaigrette sheen.
For our mains Sally chose a classic poached Scottish salmon with hot buttered potatoes, watercress and hollandaise sauce, with a lemon wrapped in muslin as a neat way of adding zest without fishing pips out of your meal.
Our waiter told us that the free range chicken was sourced from Gloucester and had been given a Gallic twist of creamy Longueville cider sauce, served on a rustic board with pommes frittes.
The dessert menu had a tasty selection of light, fruity sweets. A pretty strawberry vacherin, with layered strawberries, meringue and vanilla cream was like a neater Eton Mess. We both agreed that my dessert was the star of the meal. A whole roasted, sliced, nectarine fanned out onto flaky pastry, with a scoop of crème frâiche and sprinkle of pistachio nuts was delicious.
The friendly and professional service ensures that you feel at ease. As it was a midweek lunch we weren’t able to take full advantage of the wine list, which this boutique hotel is known for, so we’re looking forward to a return evening visit.
*Thank you to Kirsty Lee at Hotel du Vin for the invitation to review the Al Fresco Summer Menu. www.hotelduvin.com/Birmingham
The Lost & Found
Birdcages and butterflies peep out from the foliage in The Lost & Found, a decadent drinking den in the heart of Birmingham’s business quarter. Housed in a former bank, the Grade II listed building retains its grand columns and high ceilings, which have been given a clever makeover courtesy of Hettie G Watson.
Hettie is a fictional Victorian botanist, whose collection of flora and fauna gives The Lost & Found a playful and whimsical aspect, warming up what used to be an impersonal space. The Victorians used to forage hedgerows for plants and flowers to follow the new craze of discovering botanicals, but at The Lost & Found your medicinal doses come in the form of three cocktail menus.
From the ‘Lost’ menu of tipples from the 19th century, we tried The Explorer’s Cup. A crystal tumbler of Kraken Black Spiced Rum, Lillet Rouge, The King’s Ginger liqueur, lemon juice, vanilla and ginger ale, garnished with a chunk of orange and sprig of fresh cranberries. This had both the warmth and seasonal ingredients that were perfect for a cold night.
In keeping with the bar’s theme Ms H.G.Watson is a muddle of Bombay Sapphire gin, blackberry puree, apple juice, lavender syrup, lemon juice and sugar syrup. This long drink is a sophisticated take on a Bramble. Also pictured is a Sunlit Cloud of Southern Comfort, Courvoisier VS, lemon juice, gingerbread liqueur with a creamy foam of pineapple (centre).
The Earl of Birmingham was a winner from the ‘Found’ menu of signature house cocktails. Earl grey infused Beefeater 24 gin, the Italian aperitif aperol, pink grapefruit soda and rhubarb bitters combined to a refreshing drink that our gin aficionado friend couldn’t fault.
The third section of the cocktail menu features sparkling cocktails with champagne and Prosecco. Power To My Flower mixes Hendrick’s gin, hibiscus syrup for the lovely pale pink tinge, lemon juice and Prosecco with a slice of cucumber garnish.
The Lost and Found has two raised dining areas, one with a banquette the other with booths with the Botanical Library of glass jars as a backdrop. The main wall opposite is adorned with a giant vertical garden, home to a projection of animated butterflies and en route to the lavatories you will find yourself immersed in an aviary of birds flying above your head.
I don’t normally photograph toilets for my reviews, but the attention to detail and integration of the design features even in the smallest room was too quaint to resist.
The best was yet to come though. We’d walked past what looked like a sheet of bookshelf printed wallpaper on the way in and thought nothing of it. On the invitation of the manager, we followed her to the wall where a door magically opened to reveal Sshhhh – a secret cocktail bar! When the door closed behind us, we were transported to a Victorian private members club.
As we reclined on the leather banquette we took in our surroundings. A beaten silver ceiling, vintage suitcases from Hettie’s travels, frameless pictures with bird feathers and wire frames outlining lightbulbs create a decadent salon. (I didn’t take any photos in here).
Mixologist Luke Pearson introduced himself and explained that he was there to be challenged to create an off the menu cocktail, or a drink using some of our favourite flavours or ingredients. After a quick conflab we came up with rum, midori and marmalade. Unfazed, Luke returned with our drinks which were exceptionally smooth and displayed his attention to detail with droplets of hand crafted ice.
Infusing food flavours into drinks fascinates Luke, so expect to see his dry martini distilled with olives and Campari sherbert soon. Port and fig cobbler is his signature drink, so if you’re lucky enough to be invited into Sshhhh you must try it!
With an inventive cocktail list, quirky decor and an appetising food menu you can easily lose track of time in this stylish bar. Cocktail prices range from £7.25 – £8.95, with non-alcoholic drinks at £5.50 each. From Monday to Friday, 5-8pm cocktails on the Found menu are all £5.
The Lost and Found
8 Bennetts Hill Birmingham B2 5RS
0121 643 9293
Fleet Street Kitchen, Birmingham
Designer Kelly Hoppen said that the kitchen is much more than a place to prepare food, “it can be an informal dining room, play room and even office space.” At Fleet Street Kitchen I can imagine all of this happening, in the loft-like space of Birmingham’s newest restaurant and bar.
Invited by PR Tessa Gee to a special preview, for family, friends and supporters of the restaurant before it opened, my partner and I went for Sunday lunch. For starters we had baby back ribs, with meat softly falling off the bone and a mini pot of the fruity house sauce, plus slivers of smoked salmon, dotted with capers and wafer thin lemon rice cakes.
The sharing platters are a great idea as you choose meat and cheese options, which are served with olives, herb butter, red onion marmalade, chutney and homemade breads. As I looked across the room, fellow food bloggers Ahmed and Sangeeta were tucking into one of these.
The star attraction at Fleet Street Kitchen is the UK’s only barbacoa grill. Housed in a neat alcove alongside the main kitchen, the lumpwood charcoal smell doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the dining area, just flavours the 28 day aged Herefordshire or 35 day dry aged Dexter beef.
Poring over the rump, ribeye, sirloin, fillet on the bone dexter chop and tbone menu options my partner chose the 10oz sirloin (£17.95). As he likes steak well done he was served his cooked meat on a mini griddle. By turning the heat up or down for as long as he wanted, he added the finishing touch to his perfect steak. An unusual and effective personal touch.
A sprig of vine roasted tomatoes, mushroom garnish and cone of chips accompanied his steak, to which he also added a pot of peppercorn sauce. My main dish reminded me of the chicken at Tramshed – half a corn fed rotisserie chicken, golden crunchy chips and house ‘slaw’ of red cabbage in a creamy dressing (£12.95). The range of seven different sauces, vegetables, chips, mash and salads side orders for £3 each, quickly make an expensive way of building your meal though.
A bright white space, softened with splashes of dove grey, the social trestle tables, banquettes and marble topped tables for two are bright and congenial.
When I come back with girlfriends, I know that they will like the Cowshed toiletries in the bathroom as well as the vegetarian choices. Stilton and walnut flan, minted pea risotto, oven roasted vegetable orzo. Hilbeh hash rosti and berlotti bean boulangerès (potatoes traditionally slow cooked by the French in bread ovens). They won’t want to miss the daily specials or classic English puds either.
The mix of relaxed dining with partying is a trademark of the owners, who also run Après and Mechu. Perched on the edge of the business district and Jewellery Quarter, Fleet Street Kitchen is also handy for the ICC.
I just wish that it had been open when I lived in Birmingham.
Restaurant 23 Leamington
Restaurant 23 has been on my ‘must visit’ list for a while and last week I finally got the chance to experience Peter Knibb’s modern European cooking in the six course tasting menu.
Since opening in May 2006, Restaurant 23 has earned a reputation for fine dining in a neighbourhood restaurant. Head chef and owner Peter Knibb’s menus showcase the finest seasonal and local produce in classic and innovative dishes, honed from working at Claridge’s Hotel, Chez Nico and for the Gucci family on their private yacht.
Peter’s restaurant is an elegant, converted townhouse in Leamington Spa that reveals three different dining rooms on one floor. To the left of the entrance is an inky blue panelled room that seats eight. With its fireplace and bookshelf it has the feel of a private dining room. Straight ahead is the main airy dining room which seats 40, with muted green leather banquette and signature oversized pendant lights. My partner and I were seated in the dining room which has four tables in it and views over both Holly Walk and the patio. Even though Restaurant 23 is on a busy road the traffic noise is non-existent, so you can focus on your dining experience.
An appetiser shot of creamy artichoke soup was a welcome injection of warmth, accompanied by a mini sweet and savoury bread basket. We read our lunch menu building anticipation of the dishes to follow and chose our wine. The wine list is selected by Peter’s partner Antje and has a strong European focus. We chose a bottle of Macon Pierreclos Domaine Jambon 2011 Burgundy and before we knew it our first course was served.
A diver caught seared scallop with a carrot bhaji, curried coconut and coriander cream was the first time that I could appreciate Peter’s skill in pairing harmonious ingredients.
My partner ate a delicate fan of spiced carpaccio of Balmoral venison, with truffle celeriac and cubes of beetroot before I had a chance to take a photograph! So you’ll just have to imagine how delicious this dish was.
Both of us savoured the next course of roasted partridge, pancetta, Brussels sprouts, chestnut stuffing, roasted cocotte potato and roasting jus, that evoked the smells and tastes of Christmas dinner.
I always look forward to the fish course and wasn’t disappointed by the pan fried sea bass cauliflower, capers, shrimps and parsley butter. As with the scallop starter, the Indian seasoning twist added unexpected pleasure without overshadowing the succulent fish.
A citrus cleansing dish of pineapple pieces with passion fruit mousse was our pre-dessert.
I was expecting a simple crouton with our Vacherin Mont d’or cheese with port reduction, but loved the filigree wafer of nutty walnut, rye and carroway seed. Readers forgive me but I dropped my table manners temporarily and used the wafer to scoop bite sizes of creamy cheese.
With the dessert we were given not just flavour combinations but a trio of textures as well. A base of soft vanilla cream was topped with crisp filo pastry, which was dotted with a scoop of ricotta sorbet, blackberries and popcorn.
The timing of service between courses is exceptionally good and unobtrusive, which made us feel relaxed. We were comfortably sated by our lunch, but still chose the pork belly ravioli, poached wild brill and pear and rosemary tarte tartin with salted caramel ice cream from the a la carte menu for our next visit. At 3pm when we were leaving Morgan’s Bar upstairs was opening, but we decided to return another evening so that we could also try their fantastic cocktails.
Restaurant 23 www.restaurant23.co.uk 01926 422422
Invited by Lois Burley PR, Fumo’s soft weekend launch was a chance for local business people, media, personalities and foodies to sample the new concept of Italian style tapas. I was joined by my Italian girlfriend Amanda, who in all her years of eating her mother’s cooking hadn’t tried ciccchetti before.
We were initially seated at the horseshoe bar that sweeps around the restaurant. Here we could take in the interior’s subtle cream and gold palette whilst sipping an Aperol Prosecco. This orange Iiqueur is a blend of spirit, rhubarb and herbs, which when it is mixed with the Prosecco makes a zesty aperitif.
Appetisers of bruschetta included pancetta ricotta and parmesan, green beans pesto and pine nuts, creamy cod sprinkled with caviar and cherry tomatoes as toppings, were presented to us on a rustic wooden block.
The restaurant is staffed by male Italian waiters in immaculate suits, who guided us to our table. The concept of chiccetti was explained to us and we were shown the full, main menu where customers could choose their dishes which would be served in tapas sized portions. For the soft launch though, a special menu of nineteen different dishes had been prepared.
We took a deep breath and began. Antipasti of Arancini golden filled rice balls, Fried Baccala, honey smoked salmon and smoked carpaccio della Valtelina quickly filled up both our table and the one next to it. Amongst the classics, there were dishes that I hadn’t tried before. A thin, unleavened pancake of chickpea flour Farinata and calamari strips that were dressed in olive oil rather than being deep fried, with a crunch of nuts and bacon, were twists on traditional dishes that I enjoyed. My favourite would have to be the Ravioli di Branzino though, with the giant pasta pockets stuffed with sea bass.
Much to the amusement of two local businessmen seated next to us, the dishes kept on coming. They leaned in to hear our waiter describe each dish and gave appreciative sighs. As existing fans of San Carlo restaurant, they were already planning a return visit to sample more of Fumo’s menu.
Then along came some of the mains. Ham and cheese oozed from the Pizza Fritta. A giant skewer of tender chicken breast, Spieino di Pollo with tomatoes, peppers and onions sprinkled with capers and pomegranate seeds, was a fragrant and succulent dish with Moroccan influences.
Agnello al Fieno e Mirto is a star dish. Lamb cutlets are oven baked on a bed of hay. Sealed in a bag, our waiter cut this open at our table to let the aroma escape, then carved the lamb cutlets and added a sprig of fresh rosemary before serving. Amanda prefers meat to fish, so she consumed this plus the two slices of moist boneless pork roast Porchetta andthe generous portion of Halibut and Samphire was all mine. These were accompanied by two lightly battered vegetarian side dishes, the cauliflower florets and crispy zuchinni threads were like French fries but without the guilt.
We finished our lunch with Dolci Cicchetti. A mini selection of fruit and cream desserts, One bite strawberry cheesecake, lemon tart and crème anglais puff rounded off our meal perfectly.
With the attentive service, our leisurely lunch was a lovely way to discover a new style of dining. In a prime spot in the heart of the business quarter, it is easy to see Fumo becoming a popular haunt for business diners, but I’ll be back with girlfriends for a stylish evening of drinks and authentic Italian cuisine.
Fumo, 1 Waterloo Street, Birmingham B2 5PG
On a Friday night, my partner and I went to Edmunds to try the three course A La carte menu. We were expecting a mainly business crowd, but the restaurant had a good mix of families, couples and friends all enjoying dinner.
The restaurant is a single room, with sixteen well spaced tables, softly lit by drop pendant lighting and two walls of windows. Single yellow gerbers on the tables added a pop of vibrant colour, to the organic soft palette of gold and taupe. Definitely a grown-up and comfortable dining room.
We chose a bottle of Armidale unoaked Viognier while we read the menu. Edmunds has a concise menu and straightforward pricing options. The De Jour Menu (for lunch and pre-theatre) has two course for £19.50 or three for £24.50. The lunch and evening A La Carte features two courses for £39.50 or three for £44.50. There is also a blowout Surprise Tasting Menu for £69.
Our amuse bouche was a lightly bread-crumbed langoustine, with white asparagus and soft egg. Two of my favourite ingredients already before we’d even ordered were an auspicious start.
I chose the new season green and white asparagus, with soft poached egg and smoked olive oil sauce for my starter. The white asparagus is French, with the green and purple varieties from the Wyre Valley in Worcester.
My partner had an inviting plate of morel mushrooms, broad beans, peas and golden sticks of toasted brioche.
With beautiful presentation, my main course of Turbot, white asparagus, ratte potato, broad beans and razor clams were a light and delicious combination. The light coating of Tahitian vanilla foam on the razor clams was a variation that I hadn’t tried before and really enjoyed.
It was a difficult choice between the lamb and pigeon for my partner, who likes both. He went for the Loire Squab with Perigord duck liver, spinach, morel mushroom, shallot purée and pigeon jus. He confirmed that the moorish, intense flavours all complimented each other very well, but from his enviously glances at other diners plates I know he will choose the lamb next time.
A pre dessert of pineapple compote and coconut bridged the gap while we looked forward to our desserts. They didn’t disappoint.
Our waiter pierced the top of my partner’s hot toffee soufflé to push in a spoonful of chocolate ice cream, which melted in the gooey depths of the dessert.
My dessert – Le Chocolat consisted of three miniature dishes of hot, cold, milk and dark chocolate. Cherries soaked in Kirsch in a warm chocolate sauce, a deep, dark chocolate cake slice and soft milk chocolate ice cream were the trio of a chocoholic’s dreams.
It is obvious that the dishes are created with great care and precision. The menu is a triumph of blending seasonal ingredients with classic French cuisine and every flavour can be savoured.
The team of five staff in the restaurant were warm, friendly, informative and attentive without being obtrusive. Edmunds reputation for fine dining is essentially safe in Didier’s hands and I for one am anticipating even more great things from them.
Six Brindleyplace Birmingham B1 2JB
0121 633 4944
Although I had enjoyed breakfast and mid afternoon coffee there before, last Friday was the first time that I had dined there in the evening. Three of my girlfriends were more than willing to help me see if the classic menu and contemporary setting would become a regular dining spot for us.
As I’m not a fan of the safe brown and cream colour palette of most restaurants, the interior of Café Gnosh is a welcome and stylish change from the norm. Blue and grey velvet backed chairs are dotted around the 60 cover ground floor restaurant and there is subtle blue lighting at the bar that lifts the eye-catching black, sparkly floor.
On the recommendation of front of house manager James, we chose a bottle of rosé from Bearley Vineyard in Stratford upon Avon. This is their first English wine on their wine list and they will soon be selling all four Bearley varieties. We are fans of English wines and this bottle, with its bright strawberry and raspberry flavours and a hint of cherry, was a fruity companion to the Prosecco we were also drinking.
The bar area is a comfortable place to browse the drinks list.This has a great mix of more than 40 hand picked wines, champagnes, spirits, beers and cocktails.
Complimentary bread and olive oil were brought to the table while we chose our meals. With one vegetarian, two carnivores and one pescatarian we were prepared to do the menu justice by all sampling different dishes.
My starter of honey roast beetroot and goats cheese with warm vine tomato salad, blended the tangy goats cheese with sweeter, mellow, beetroot perfectly.
Another great combination was the poached pear in red wine with Warwickshire truckle, pickled walnuts and mixed salad that Carol chose. Poached pears are often accompanied by a strong blue cheese like Stilton, so the milder cheddar was a less jarring pairing by Head Chef Paul Tingay.
Amanda’s salmon and dill fishcake which had just the right balance of fish and potato. Served with wilted spinach it proved to be reasonable value for £5.95. (Jackie skipped a starter to keep room for a dessert.)
Onto the mains. My mushroom and onion suet pudding with herb mash, seasonal vegetables with tarragon cream was tasty and filling without being heavy or stodgy. I enjoyed the sweetness of the mushrooms and onions together and the suet casing just melted in the mouth.
Amanda’s main course of slow roasted shoulder of lamb with creamy mash potatoes, curly kale and mint and caper sauce was deemed a hit. Only a boat dish for more sauce would have made her even happier.
Jackie’s main course of duck confit leg on a bed of puy lentils was cooked to perfection with moist duck meat and plumped up lentils, without the two main ingredients fighting each other for prominence. Duck Confit is a very traditional French method of preserving duck, where the legs are salted then poached gently in duck fat for several hours before cooking. Duck confit isn’t typically sauced, as it is so rich and salty on its own, so the dishes of complimentary seasonal vegetables provided the additional moisture for this dish.
Carol’s vegetarian option was a favourite combination of baked aubergine stuffed with chargrilled vegetables, red pepper crumb, spiced couscous and a pepper coulis. Sweetness, spice and variety of vegetables show that the chef can cater for vegetarians.
The special for the evening was a rump steak, but if my partner had been with us he would have homed in on Chef’s signature dish. A 32 oz Dorchester rib-eye steak served with homemade chips, mixed salad and roasted vine tomatoes, weighs in as the restaurant’s most expensive option at £34.95. This prime beef cut is marbled with fat, which gives the steak flavour and tenderness.
The quality of ingredients is a passion for Chef Tingay, who buys his meat from the acclaimed butcher Aubrey Allen. Paul has been in Warwickshire for a number of years and has honed his skills by working at Coombe Abbey and Vermillion, before leading the kitchen team at Café Gnosh.
Although we all claimed to be full, we had to try Jackie’s double- decker dessert of Berry Pavlova with Chantilly cream and berry coulis as it was too pretty to resist.
Our bill topped just over £100 for a meal and drinks for the four of us, that we all enjoyed. With a full restaurant, a hen party, team of work colleagues and various groups of friends all shared a pleasant, buzzy atmosphere. James and his team provided spot-on friendly and efficient service all night .
Café Gnosh makes a seamless transition from daytime café to evening bar and restaurant, by adding more sophisticated dishes onto the menu. It is attracting customers who want good value food in a stylish environment. Their customers really like the relaxed, informal dining offered and look at it as a starting point for their night out.
Live music and burlesque performances are planned – which will fulfil be a much-needed gap in entertainment for Rugby. With the development of the new Cathedral Quarter, that promises a new hotel, park and independent shops, Café Gnosh is ideally located to be at the heart of a good night out in Rugby.
2 Eastfield Place, Rugby CV21 3AT
The tiny medieval buildings on Spon Street have been transformed into an unusual combination of a teddy bear shop, a gym, fast food outlets, pubs and three restaurants. We were there on Saturday night, trudging through the snow, towards the twinkly fairy lights of Blue Bistro as a challenge to discover a good restaurant in Coventry city centre.
Owner Peter Dunkley and team took over the 1450 Cafe Bar in September last year, with the intention of creating a great restaurant. Inspired by the building and special location Blue sets itself the challenge of becoming one of the best restaurants in the West Midlands.
Initial impressions of the restaurant are good, with the picturesque original beams and rustic hewn wooden chairs and tables, that can seat up to 70 people on two levels. There was a hum of conversation from the other diners that had also braved the cold, against a sonic backdrop of classic Etta James.
Described as modern British with a Mediterranean twist, Blue’s menu isn’t extensive, but has clever ingredient combinations that demonstrate the restaurant’s considered sourcing policy and allows the chefs a greater freedom to be creative with seasonal ingredients. Frogs legs as a starter leapt out of the menu straight away and Peter confirmed that this is one of their most popular options.
Usually I hone in on a restaurant’s fish options, but as the monkfish had run out I opted for a vegetarian choice instead. Gorgonzola spinach and walnut risotto gave a satisfying melted cheese moorishness and a tangy crunch to well seasoned rice.
My partner likes his steak well done, so was pleased that his 8 oz Hereford cross ribeye was cooked to perfection. Accompanied by garlic prawns, hand-cut chips, vine roasted tomatoes and watercress that added zingy colour and texture to the meal. His hand cut chips disappeared before I had a chance to try them, but he gallantly let me demolish the garlic prawns – which are a favourite of mine.
A small dessert menu included Liquorice Brule, Queen of Puddings and a special triple chocolate and cherry gateaux, together with a well stocked cheeseboard, providing interesting after dinner options. Cheese lovers can also enjoy a tasting with wine for £7.95 or a cheeseboard for two with a bottle of house wine for £17.95.
Chatting to owner Peter Dunkley, it became clear how committed he is to an ethical sourcing policy that benefits both the restaurant and customers. He said: “ We are trying to be as local as possible with our suppliers – and there are some great local suppliers that make this an easy option. Our meat comes from the Earlsdon Butchers, who only supply free range meat, and our fish comes mainly from Clive Miller, an award winning fishmonger based in Coventry Market, which is walking distance from Blue.” Peter also told us that the chefs go on butchery courses and visit local suppliers and farms, to fully appreciate the traceability and provenance behind their ingredients.
We enjoyed a bottle of Welcombe Hills Hollow Meadow white wine from a local vineyard in Stratford with our meal. This blend spends a month in French oak barrels, which balances the crisp, floral aromatic Sancerre like gooseberry undertones. Bearley Wines, also from Stratford ,feature in the red, white and rosé selections.
Recently a diner, who had been at the NEC for a trade show, was delighted to discover her local beer from Estonia in Blue’s well stocked bar. The lady had lived opposite the brewery for years but had not tried the beer as it was only for export. Her trip to the UK sated a long-held desire to try her local brew!
The team at the Blue are a mix of youthful enthusiasm, creativity and experience. They all have passion for the restaurant and believe that Blue should be a great restaurant for their customers and a fun place to work.
Having young staff, who are completely engaged in Blue’s success, also generates non-traditional ideas for events and marketing. A recent Alice in Wonderland themed night had drama students from Coventry University in costumes from the nearby Belgrade Theatre, which will be followed by a Titantic themed menu on 12th April.
Blue Bistro is definitely a hidden gem, being so close to Coventry Cathedral and the Belgrade Theatre, and deserves to be well patronised by Warwickshire diners who enjoy good food in a convivial atmosphere.
21 Spon Street Coventry CV1 3BA
024 7622 9274