Friday, 29 August 2014

Bakers & Co, Bristol

'Bakers & Co', the most recent and most certainly welcome addition to the Gloucester Road foodie fiesta, is instantly a firm favourite of mine and all those I know to have given it a try. During popular brunching hours, a seat at a rarely vacant table is highly sought after. Upon entry you are instantly greeted with an array of baked delights- as you would expect, the quality of which however, you would only hope for. 'Bakers & Co' provide treats worth savouring, devouring and maybe over-indulging for by a slice or two; go on. Trust me, from the classic brownie with a hint of cherry tang (that simply works) to the more unusual (but not unheard of) options of courgette cake or pistachio meringues, they're worth it. 'But why should I trust you?' I hear you cry, because I'm brownie obsessed, have a mild/severe addiction to indie coffee houses and rarely diverge from my super-healthy diet. That's why.

Bakers Breakfast

Huevos Rancheros

Like their sister jaunt 'Bravas' (terrific tapas), 'Bakers & Co' seek their inspiration from abroad. It's the San Francisco brunch scene that they aim to emulate with their reasonably interesting breakfast/brunch menu. This offers both smaller dishes (such as their home-made salted chocolate spread on their sour-dough toast) and more challenging portion sizes with the likes of the 'Bakers Breakfast' which is essentially a meat feast. The custard toast with bacon, maple syrup and yoghurt is potentially (definitely) the best of the sweeter brunches I have ever tried. I'm not overly enthused by the likes of soggy French toast drizzled with mediocre artificial sweetness, but 'Baker & Co's' custard bread, prepared with egg yolks,  is akin to a Portuguese custard tart and is genuinely lush. I wouldn't usually go to the extent of typing 'lush', but hey, 'when in Rome'. Anyway, if you're invariably dismissive when provided with sweeter breakfast options for want of a good poached egg and sausage (like me), repress your inner waffle prejudice and order this. It's not overly sweet and far from bland, go with it and thank me later. Maple syrup, streaky bacon, natural yoghurt and mint - match made in brunch heaven. 

Custard toast AMAZING

Hold the sugar-frosted phone! I'm yet to say a single word about their coffee. Don't be thinking that's because it ain't good, the Extract single origin Brazilian espresso they served me went down a treat. I had a Cappuccino on one occasion, a Flat White another - both wonderfully smooth with rich chocolate flavour notes - just how I like it. I usually start with coffee but the heavenly custard toast distracted me. They offer iced coffees too that I can imagine being more of a temptation during hotter weather whilst enjoying the sun (please be sunny!?) at one of their outside tables. The coffee isn't cheap, but the best never is. If I complain about the Flat White price here, I would have to do the same for all my favourite coffee houses in Bristol and Manchester. I think the brunches are a tad over-priced, its not cheap due to it's exquisite (local) quality and  it is wonderfully prepared.  However, I think it could be a little less pricey. 

I couldn't quite finish the Bakers breakfast.  This literally never happens. I always finish my meals. On this day, food certainly won. An honourable defeat. The fennel sausages and morcilla (Spanish black pudding) were excellent quality and combined with the pintos negros provided an enjoyable twist to the traditional full English. I think the smaller breakfasts are over-priced. I don't really want to ever spend more than £3 on granola - anything more than that is a big ask given granola is essentially oats (cheap). The chocolate spread on toast that I had was seriously gorgeous, just maybe a quid less would be more appropriate.

What 'Bakers & Co' do is nothing extraordinarily different. What, instead, they give us is a great environment in which to enjoy quality coffee, breads and meats that are freshly and well prepared. The staff are friendly as you'd hope from such a place and the menu varies and changes appropriately. It's my favourite local breakfast spot when I'm back in my home town and wanting a treat.

Quick Rating:
Service: 4
Vibe: 4
Value for money: 3
Treat worthy? Definitely
GF/DF/Vegan? GF and DF bakes available, but not much on offer for vegans - you'll just have to have some coffee! They have bread options that will be vegan topped with avocados etc.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Moorish, Bristol

'Moorish' is an authentic Moroccan den nestled in the heart of St. Nicks Market, Bristol. A peaceful, patterned and almost palatial feel that triggered memories of my summer in Granada - a city that still very much lives in the backwash of Spain's Islamic conquest so long ago. What a summer. Whilst comfortingly surrounded by 'Moorish''s pattered drapes that formed the café's walls, memories of my Spanish summer flooded back. Whilst sipping on a mint tea my mind took me to the magical Alhambra palace - the red city majestically gripping the Sierra Nevada mountains, the enchantment of the Spanish guitar in the background and  the sweet smells of the street tea vendors drifting through the city's ancient cobbled alleys. For many, 'Moorish' won't evoke the nostalgia that I felt, instead it will bring something new and exciting to those who haven't visited the likes of Morocco or Granada. The eatery isn't a cheesily Moroccan themed tourist melting-pot, instead it gives off a genuine vibe. Admittedly Moorish is found in an area frequently inundated by tourists, yet all the same, it didn't feel like that.

The menu isn't massive, instead 'Moorish' provide quality food, served fast and leaving little impact on the old wallet. I went with my mum whilst lazily ambling through Bristol's historic centre. Suddenly gripped by hunger  and a little chilly, my mum couldn't resist 'Moorish's' enticing fabric cavern. The Mint tea is £1.50 and served traditionally in a metallic tea pot. With the addition of some sugary sweetness its perfect when feeling a little cold (standard's August). We hardly had time to stir in our sugar before our food arrived. We shared the Lamb and prune stew, and the 'Moorish Chicken'. The portion sizes were great!

Lamb & Prune Stew

Moorish Chicken
I had rice with the lamb, but you can have cous-cous. It also comes with some lentils and some chickpeas which were very tastily cooked. I absolutely love slow cooked lamb with the sweet and soft prunes. Although, I actually think I preferred the chicken dish, this we had with cous-cous - the sultanas were a welcome addition to the tagine. The chicken was really tender - I highly recommend it. This place has a rapid turn around, if you're after a quick but by no means meagre lunch this is the place. It's sociable- as such a small place and plenty of places to sit outside if you're blessed with good weather. There are a few large tables that area ideal for larger parties or as a communal space. The value for money is great - the lamb was £6.50, the chicken £6.00. There are daily specials, for example there was pita with a selection of three dips and spinach with chickpeas.

If you're after an extensive menu or a more fine-dining experience this isn't the place. For a fast lunch with  character this place is ideal. You can eat a large, healthy and pretty cheap meal here.

Quick Rating:
Service: 4  quick & efficient but not rushed or abrupt
Vibe: 4
Treat Worthy? This isn't really a treat place - it's all pretty healthy! No desserts. Go to the cake place further up - looks awesome!
Value for money: 4
GF/DF/Vegan options? Great for vegetarians, very flavoursome non-meat options. I think also good if avoiding gluten as there's plenty of rice and easy to avoid dairy if you're vegan too. No dishes explicitly say vegan but you can choose carefully.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Wilks, Bristol

Wilks is a modern, understated yet sophisticated and  informal yet fine dining experience. Their set-lunch menu gave me an opportunity to try three well presented, locally sourced and skilfully cooked courses for a mere £20. Relatively speaking, this is great value. Eating out generally isn't cheap. Yes, there's the odd lunch spot gem that leaves you well fed for a fiver, but all too often am I found resolutely uninspired by a mediocre main course that costs £12. The only value of which is to create a momentary and reasonably deluded sense  of  cooking skill superiority.  That's a positive right? Sometimes its fun to feel better than everyone else. I digress. The accomplished and attentive cooking at Wilks demonstrates what talent lies out there, if you know where to go...
Bread selection
The atmosphere was lovely, the décor is calm, simple and with a good attention to detail. The restaurant isn't big, the combination of the place's size and the well placed tables (there's a good distance between) creates a pleasing ambience. The waiters were very professional but not overly formal. They were friendly, relaxed and most importantly knowledgeable. With thick French accidents they proceeded to charmingly describe each delicate plate full that we received. The whole sexy French waiter theme that Wilks has going on is a bonus not to miss for 'ladies who lunch'.

The front of house persuaded us to have the bread as an appetizer and assured that we wouldn't be disappointed. A selection of five organic freshly baked breads arrived with olive oil and butter. She was right, the bread was very good and a worthy treat. As a side note, I enjoyed the butter knives that cleverly stood up. The sharp knife that came with my main course was also well designed.  Whilst we indulged in the bread selection, an amuse-bouche arrived. I've never received this before, so it was a pretty exciting moment within my personal culinary journey. Two little bites to give a taster of what the chef has in order for us. Salmon with creamy cheese and Yew's curd with caramelised onion. I preferred the later, but both were good.

 To start I chose a saffron risotto with parma-ham and fennel seeds. This was beautiful, rich and creamy. Saffron used in such a way brings a warming glow of yellow to the plate. The starters were well portioned. So often with fine dining I feel I'm having to savour each mouthful a little too much due to the minuscule helping size. My dad had pan-fried guinea fowl, spinach, trompettes (mushroom) and poached duck-egg. This was a deliciously rich starter that suited the lighter fish-main that he opted for. 

Guinea fowl - starter
Saffron Rissotto - Starter

An array of richness

For the main, both my parents had John Dory Fish served with a delicious sauce - I tried a little of everything. It was quite creamy and complemented the delicate fish well. The sauce played a pinnacle role with both the mains we ordered, but particularly with this one. It really made the dish. The French beans that accompanied with fish were 'Coco de Paimpol' according to our waiter very famous in France. They were comparable to butter beans and worked well with the crunchy romanesco that were studded around the otherwise creamy plate. I really love romanseco broccoli and wish I could eat it more! Where do I buy these crunchy green gems? To me these edible flower buds look like miniature green palaces in some fictional vegetable wonderland.  

John Dory fish - Main
 As my main I had local deer haunch (from bath). This dish was full of flavour and right up my street. The meat was perfectly cooked medium-rare and well rested. The sauce, and particularly the Juniper jus teamed with the butter-nut squash purée and tender deer to produce a heavenly melt-in-the-mouth delight. The slightly crispy onion was a welcome texture amid a very comfortingly soft mouthful. The meal was well presented and the colours aesthetically pleasing.

I was pretty full after my satisfying two-courses, but what's another £3? An offer not to be turned down I say. I chose the panna cotta. Not the kind of choice I normally make but the other option involved meringue. I'm not a meringue fan - although I'm sure Wilks would have done it well as the flavour combination sounded awesome (chocolate, coffee, almond and vanilla - yes please). The panna cotta came in an elegant bowl and was dotted with lushness: sweet blackcurrants, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries. Personally, crème -brulees are a classic that I think are pretty easy to do well. Panna-cotta however, is more tricky. The chef at Wilks did a very good job. The strawberry sorbet atop the creamy-smoothness had a well-judged sweetness. The crispy ring that majestically adorned the dessert was not only a feast for the eyes, the brittle texture took the creamy dessert to the next level of complexity. A welcome bit of crunch and vanilla caramel sweetness. 


My dad opted for the cheese: local Stilton and cheddar. Served with quince jelly, sliced pickled walnut, grapes and some more of the fantastic fresh bread. The sliced walnut was a nice touch, hadn't seen it served like that before. 

All-in-all it was a wonderful experience. We felt really content upon leaving Wilks and will definitely go again for a special occasion.  I just love that feeling when you have enjoyed taking your time to eat, lapping up the social dimension of food and consuming some quality local ingredients. Ain't nothing better.

p.s. Wilks has 1 Michelin star. I think this is my first ever Michelin star experience. COOL. Totally worth it - well done Wilks.

Quick Rating:
Service: 5
Atmosphere: 4
Treat Worthy? 5
Value for Money: 5 (for the lunch menu)
GF/DF/Vegan Options? Not a place for vegetarians or vegans if you are going at lunch as the choice is very limited (one fish dish, one meat as the mains). The a la carte has more to offer and has vegetarian options. Additionally when you book you can warn them of any dietary requirements, I would imagine that they'd be as accommodating as possible but I don't know for sure.  I think avoiding gluten would be reasonably easy, but again you'd have to tell them in advance. No explicit GF options. 

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Colonna & Smalls, Bath

Atlast I am back in the south-west, my home! A trip to Bath was in order. I specifically sought out Colonna & Smalls - another place that has been high on my to-visit list! 

This place deserves the reputation it has earned. The co-owner and coffee-world legend even has an awesome name: Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood. Fab. Colonna & Smalls (read: Maxwell) wouldn't dare employ just any average barista. The staff here are at the top of their game. Complete with smart Colonna & Smalls shirts, the whole set up is very professional. They do indeed take their coffee very seriously.

Both my mother and I had espressos, but there is a brew bar where you can try different filtration methods in order to find your perfect cup. I had a Kenyan (Kanthi) blend that had tasting notes of lime, brazil nut and black tea (when drank with milk, I had a flat white). My mother opted for a softer espresso from Ethiopia with floral tasting notes as well as a hint of vanilla and malt. The flat white's were prepared to perfection. Temperature, latte art and espresso, all spot on.

The staff were friendly and more than happy to share their knowledge and passion for coffee. As I sat at the brew bar, I spent a good chunk of time watching their careful work and chatting to the baristas. As they extracted a perfect shot, I tried to extract as much of their valuable knowledge about the coffee world as possible!

In addition to coffee, there's a selection of cakes and pastries. They all looked appealing, especially the carrot cake. If you don't want a wedge of cakey indulgence, there were small shortbreads with interesting flavours- for example rosemary and Stilton. These were two for £1. I think in general the cake looked to be fairly priced, cheaper than many cafes I visit in Manchester.

UK Barista Competition awards!

The interior of the cafe is light with interesting décor. The writing and drawings that decorate the walls looks really cool and appropriately coffee related. They also sell a reasonable array of beans for you keen home baristas. I spotted some 'Hasbean' products.

In terms of coffee, this really is as good as it gets.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Australasia, Manchester

Even the entrance is cool...

Australasia was a special experience. I enjoyed every moment, every bite. It was exquisite. This place had a lot to live up to in my mind, I had heard great things about both the food and the interior, I had wanted to go ever since I first read about its opening a few years ago. At last I had the right occasion/ excuse to spend that amount of money on a meal - my graduation. I had to book the table a couple of weeks in advance as its graduation season; you may not need do the same, but I wouldn't leave it too late just to be sure - trust me, you don't want to miss out!

The bar

You can enjoy two styles of dining at Australasia: 'local' - which is, for want of a better description, tapas style; and the traditional starter/main approach. With the 'local' style there are two pages of sushi and small dishes to choose from. The variety is fantastic - meat, fish and vegetarian dishes all in abundance. Being traditionalists at heart,  we had decided to each have a main dish, we shared just a couple of the smaller dishes to start: prawn and vegetable tempura and prawn, avocado and goats cheese California rolls. My parents had never actually heard of California rolls, so I figured this was as an apt a moment as any to introduce them to these cylindrical beauties. My parents have never had sushi and were unsure of the notion that I was taking them to a restaurant that was in part renowned for it. However, what I believe was simply a case of fear of the unknown transformed into an sensationally tasty experience. As for the tempura, it was perfect. There's only one other place in Manchester that I think gets their tempura spot on and that's 'Yuzu', (Japanese simplicity done perfectly in Chinatown). Tempura must be light, it's not the beer-battered fish one craves on the Cornish coast and its certainly not akin to a greasy Glaswegian mars bar. Its supposed to be light. And light it was. Served with a soy sauce with the optional addition of a small cone of Japanese Daikon radish that you can optionally dissolved into the sauce for a gingery kick. We took the chef's word and did as we were told - perfection.

What a beautiful table full of goods.
To drink, my father opted for one of the more expensive white wines on the menu, which I do hope he enjoyed as I'd rather just have another dessert. He did, don't worry. Sauvignon Blanc is his favourite. My mother had a light Rosé which she she sipped on happily while we awaited our mains. I had tap water as I don't drink alcohol and prefer not to have some jazzed up fruit juice with my food. The menu was pretty funky though, the high tech ipad with detailed descriptions and photos of the beverage would probably be useful if I got bored of my company. Luckily this wasn't  a problem and the Ipad was handed back to the excellent waitress. I am a bit of a Scrooge when it comes to exciting drinks due to my sporting commitments, however, I must say the cocktails look fantastic, the menu is great and I've heard wonderful things. Plus the bar is uber-cool, the DJ's epic computer-cum-deck is worth a visit in itself. Some serious jamming.

Our eyes lit up as the mains began to arrive. A feast for the eyes as-well as the taste-buds! The beautifully presented,  good sized portions, paired skilfully  with both simple and unusual side-dishes made the experience as a whole unforgettable. My mother had the spiced duck breast dish, she always seems to opt for duck when enjoying the fine-dining scene. As she finished the tasty dish she suddenly proclaims "oh sorry darling! I completely forgot to let you try some! Sorry!" The situation was akin to that old pringles advert, obviously I didn't take her word for it. It was so good she wanted it ALL for herself. Greedy bugger. As for my father, as we both wanted the pork-belly with pineapple curry, we struck up a deal. He ordered the rack of lamb with polenta and Japanese aubergine and I ordered the pork and we shared the two dishes. Both fantastic. I must say the combination of the lamb with the sweet potato mash (a side-dish) was a heavenly melt in the mouth moment. Something so simple: mash, prepared with skill, transformed this comfort food into a gourmet purée.

Pork Belly & Pineapple Curry
Lamb at the back, asparagus side at the front

I was advised to order the coconut rice as a side to complement my pineapple curry, but rice is old news. I requested the chilled spinach satay. That sounded far more exciting. Besides, I struggle to resist anything involving satay. All the sides were generously portioned, ideal for sharing. We enjoyed taking our time over our meal, occasionally topping up our colourful plates with the variety of sides displayed in front of us. The seats are well worth a mention. it was pretty lush sitting on something comfier than my lounge sofa. Australasia has such a cool vibe, as I sat back on the chunky chair, I felt rather cool- all dressed up in my graduation out-fit. A good place to impress friends or for a date. Although the music is pretty loud so maybe if you want an intimate one-on-one analysis of whether you want to spend the rest of your life with the person in-front of you, you should choose somewhere with a less impressive music system.

Chilled spinach satay; sweet potato heaven (sides)

So, the desserts. The grand finale of our feast. I was actually pretty full by this point, but it was my graduation. It would be rude not to order something involving chocolate. An ingredient sent directly from the gods.

Chocolate Soufflé 
The dessert menu provided multiple temptations. The waitress's description of the carrot cake almost succeeded in diverging me from my chocolate-related path way. I will have to have the exciting sounding carrot cake dessert next time, as I followed through and had the chocolate soufflé. I was happy to wait for the required 20 minutes as the chocolate delight was in the oven. I needed to let my main go down. I was like a little kid in her first sweet shop when the pudding arrived. The soufflé was popping out of a mini-saucepan, next to it was a mini-tea-pot filled with chocolate sauce to drizzle over the light sponge. If I'm honest the soufflé was enjoyable but not the best I have tasted. The flavour lacked complexity and the deep richness that I seek out in such a dessert. The sauce made it a pleasant experience, but without it I would have been disappointed.  Next to the soufflé was a wonderful raspberry sorbet that complemented the rich-ish-ness. My father opted for the lemon Crème brûlée. The smallish looking jar seemed to be never ending and turned out to be a really good portion size! The lemony custard was delightful. However, what was best about this dessert, for me, was the raspberry prepared a million different ways that accompanied it. Raspberry sorbet, raspberry coulis, raspberry sherbet, raspberry crispy thing (?), raspberry sauce and just for a nod to the original star: we were honoured with a raspberry itself.

lemon Crème brûlée
Mum decided she would take advantage of our large desserts as much as possible and order a dessert-coffee cocktail, she's a sly one. Espresso, chocolate liquor, fresh ginger and cream. Heaven in a glass. Funny that she seemed most excited about the three smarties that decorated her spoon. This was a good drink to finish the night, that was obvious from the look on my mum's face as she sat back, soaked up the atmosphere and sipped on a treat indeed.

Book a table, you'll enjoy it.

Quick Rating:

Service:  5
Vibe: 5
Treat Worthy? Hell to the yeh.
Value for money: 4
GF/DF/Vegan? Not great for vegans or coeliac, a lot of fish and meat. Some nice vegetarian dishes but not vegan. The main that I had seemed GF but it didn't specifically say.

I felt sophisticated (rarity)

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