The tales of a half-Spanish, Southern guy with Yorkshire roots living in Bolton and looking for some half-decent grub

Sunday 22 June 2014

La Becasse, Ludlow

As you can probably tell from our recent blog posts, we certainly treated ourselves to some lovely meals on our family holiday.  

This was the case 
again on the way home when we decided to spend a night in Ludlow.

La Bécasse was the proud holder of a Michelin Star but sadly lost it last year. In their quest to regain the honour, chef Chris O'Halloran came on board. He, with the rest of the team, are offering one of the best dining experiences available.

We had booked to stay at a historic hotel The Feathers  (photo below) in the centre of Ludlow so we only had a short stroll down the hill to the restaurant. We had arrived in the town a few hours earlier than planned and La Bécasse were very accommodating in moving our reservation forward two hours earlier than we originally booked for.  

Like many places in Ludlow, the restaurant interior is traditionally oak panelled and timber framed adding to the atmosphere. From the moment we arrived we were made to feel special by restaurant manager Marc Antoine De Re and he invited us to have a drink in the upstairs lounge.  

Complete with beams and sloping floors, the lounge is a comfortable setting to begin the evening. Hannah promptly ordered a perfectly mixed Cosmopolitan and I went for a soft drink.

To go with our beverages were a quartet of bar snacks including sweet potato crisps, caramelised nuts, chilli popcorn and olives.  A nice few bites to prepare us for the meal ahead.

After being informed that our table was ready, we relocated to the downstairs dining room where they had placed us at a special table for our anniversary that allowed us to look out towards the rest of the restaurant and the kitchen.  

The dining room exudes luxury with oak panelling contrasted against areas of exposed brick.  Suede artwork of rich reds and oranges along with carefully crafted glass work adds to the feeling that you are somewhere special.

I ordered the Gourmand Tasting Menu to taste all the delights available whilst Hannah ordered from the dinner menu.  

Chef's Seasonal Appertiser:
To start we were brought small cones filled with salmon tartare.  It was light but full of flavour with a gentle hint of sweetness from a delicate créme fraiche.

A Tray of Warm Breads:
The obligatory bread was served warm in three different flavours.  The beer bread had a unique tangy aftertaste which made it my favourite of the trio. The Parmesan bread and walnut rolls also went very well with the silky smooth butter.

Amuse Bouche:
To further prepare us for our starters, we were served with a small cup full of sweet potato soup with basil ice cream.  The combination works a treat and the different temperatures sit nicely on the tongue.  

My first starter arrived which consisted of lobster ravioli with scallop, tomato and spinach.  The server then poured over a creamy chervil veloute which gave the dish a depth of flavour.  Definitely the nicest lobster dish I have tried.

My next starter was something I would not usually order were it ever on an á la carte menu but this is the wonder of the tasting menu. You end up trying things that you normally overlook when given a choice.  The ballotine had the distinct flavour of duck's liver, matched with free range chicken, cauliflower, marinate mushrooms and a port syrup.


An asparagus risotto served inside a squid.  A new combination of flavours for me.

As Hannah didn't go for the tasting menu, she ordered the loin and confit shoulder of lamb. Pink and tasty packed with flavour. It was accompanied by baby onions, buttered vegetables and a thyme jus.  She was even happier when they left her a pot of extra jus... such a Northerner!

Wild Boar:
I have only had boar before and previously found it a little dry. However, this version was anything but.  I devoured the boar cheek and the bourguignon reduction in no time. This was easily my favourite course.

Chef's Pre-Dessert:
A fruity trifle with a tirimisu topping was delivered to us so we could cleanse our palettes in preparation for dessert.  The fruits were sharp against the cream topping and dark chocolate straw.

To finish our meal we were treated to Chris O'Halloran's special dessert of bittersweet chocolate fondant, chocolate veloute, malt ice cream and cookie.  We were informed by our waiter that this dish won 'Britain's Best Dish' on the TV show of the same name. With an undertone of cinnamon, I can certainly see why. Rich and satisfying. 

After clearing our plates we asked for the bill but Marc has one more anniversary surprise for us in the form of little sweet treats which I think was a lovely touch as Hannah only mentioned it in passing to the waiter.  

The experience at La Bécasse was one to remember.  Not only for the good food but memorable for the best service we have ever received.  
The meticulous service was superb, La Becasse really look after us making us feel special and comfortable.

I am sure that the awards they deserve must soon await Chris, Marc and the team. 

La Becasse on Urbanspoon

Wednesday 18 June 2014

Angels Tea Rooms, Babbacombe (Paignton Zoo and Broadsands) by Hannah

Heaven is a paradise many spend a life time searching for.  

However, strolling around the sheer cliffs and rugged coast line of the aptly named English Riviera in Devon on a sunny day and you may think you have found your heaven, right here on Earth. 

There were two things I insisted on during our trip to Devon: cream tea and the seaside so Elliott took us for a drive and we ended up at Babbacombe in Torquay.

We decided to have an adventure and took a ride on the Babbacombe Cliff Railway which takes you steeply down to the beach so you can explore the coast and gawk at the massive landslide which must have happened as a result of the winter storms.  

After a good hours stroll along the shore we were parched and headed back up to the promenade to find somewhere for a cream tea.  That is when we discovered that there are actually angels here in Devon too. 

Angels Tea Room to be precise! 

Sometimes the very best meals are eaten at places you only stumble upon by luck and this was certainly the case where Angels is concerned.  We hadn't made a reservation and the warm interior was fully booked but given the great weather, we were very happy to sit outside under reams of bunting and overlooking the bay. 

As I had been looking forward to it all day, we ordered a cream tea.
But not just any cream tea, oh no!  The special Angels cream tea for two is the mother of all cream teas. 

First, they brought us out fresh tea in a teapot served on quaint crockery, as is the law.  You know the experience will be good when it's the proper kind of loose leaf tea you have to strain in order to catch the tea leaves from falling in your brew! 

Then they bring out a three tiered cake stand full to the brim of goodies.

We started this epic cream tea journey at the bottom tier with a choice of two sandwiches.  We opted for traditional ham and mustard and a wonderfully fresh mozzarella, pesto and tomato. 

Above that were four slices of doorstop toast covered in cinnamon that Elliott soon polished off. 

Right at the top were two scones; one plain and one chocolate chip. both shaped in the form of a heart and accompanied by clotted cream, strawberry jam and a special bumbleberry jam (raspberry, strawberry and blueberries).  Truly the most scrumptious scones we have ever consumed.

Then back down at the bottom was a chocolate brownie the size of a house brick. 

To say that my cream tea desires were satisfied would be an understatement and both of us agreed that it would be hard to find a better version of this old English classic.

The area has loads of great family days out too, so after demolishing our incredible lunch, we met up with my family at nearby Paignton Zoo.  I was a bit skeptical about the place but it really took me by surprise and is certainly worth a trip.

To end our day I needed another dose of the seaside so we ended up on Broadsands Beach which is situated between Paignton and Brixham.  

It was gorgeous. Flat and sandy with brightly coloured beach huts lining the promenade. I couldn't resist having a cheeky paddle even if it was a bit nippy out.

There's nothing better than your traditional English day out at the seaside, it really does warm the cockles of one's heart. 

Pure heaven!

Angels Tea Rooms on Urbanspoon

Wednesday 11 June 2014

The Church House Inn, Marldon

Good service is just as important as good food.

Personally, I think every eatery should live by those words.  The dining out experience is as much about the way you are treated by the staff as it is about munching on memorable grub.  You want a special experience everywhere you go.

Just like the quality of the food, a rude waitress or unhelpful manager can ensure you never return to that establishment ever again.  

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I have just returned from a family holiday in Devon where I had some memorable meals out.

Sadly, not all of those meals were memorable for the right reasons...

As a family we decided to have a celebratory meal out at the beginning of the week and set about finding a good pub somewhere close to where we were staying in Compton, near Torquay.  

Close by we found The Church House Inn, Marldon which, according to their website, has won multiple awards including 'Country Pub of the Year' as voted by readers of 'Devon Life'.

However, if I learnt anything from the trip it was that not all restaurants with 'awards' live up to the hype.

The first thing which took us aback about the Church House Inn was the price of the drinks. A cider and southern comfort and lemonade came to £8.

When we rang to book a month in advance, we were advised to come at 2pm. However straight after ordering drinks, we were rushed to our seat and rudely advised whilst browsing the menu that the chef was awaiting our order as the kitchen was about to close. Everything from then on was hurried and it soon became clear that the staff were hovering, eager to get us out.  

I ordered the Roast Beef which was of a decent standard but Hannah's portion, which I tasted to confirm, was as tough and dry as old boots.  The veg was also looking sorry for itself but at least they gave a decent, 'northern' amount of gravy.

My Brother-in-Law ordered the Seafood Platter which looked pretty good and had several small portions of fish from the coast, including smoked salmon. 

In fact, The Church House Inn seems to do seafood much better than they do other dishes. My Father-in-Law had a pleasant prawn curry dish which he really enjoyed.

This meal was not ruined because of the food though, it was the poor service.  

The accolade for 'worst service I've ever encountered' goes to the staff at the Church House Inn who started hoovering around the restaurant as we ate. It was only until we mentioned this to the Manager that they turned the hoover off.  When I confronted them about these issues, I was informed that the reason for the rushing and cleaning up around us was because the chefs and waiting staff wanted to go home and were waiting for us to finish our meals.

Determined not to let this spoil our family meal we asked to look at the dessert menu (which didn't go down well) as my two nieces fancied ice cream on this beautiful day. However the ice cream was £5.50 a portion which seemed extortionate given the quality of the mains.

In the end the Church House Inn took the disappointing beef dish off the bill after we explained we were not paying for it. We left a disgruntled note on the comment card and subsequently the owner called me the next day with an apology and an offer of a free meal for two.  

No one was keen to go back. 

A strong reminder to us foodies that when it comes to places with awards that all that glitters is not gold.

The Church House Inn on Urbanspoon

Sunday 8 June 2014

Casamia, Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol

Last week saw the Wife and I depart from the North West on holiday to Devon so we took the opportunity to try some culinary delights on the drive down.

As it was our second wedding anniversary, Hannah and I decided to break up our long journey with a special evening at Casamia.

If you watch the Great British Menu then you may recognise the name Peter Sanchez-Iglesias.  He and his brother Jonray run Casamia with their parents, Paco and Sue, and have successfully transformed the restaurant from a local Italian to a modern, British food experience.  Their achievements were rewarded with a Michelin star in 2009 and subsequently, 4 AA Rosettes.  

The restaurant is discreetly situated on Westbury-on-Trym high street, hidden behind a set of gates.  It took us a moment to locate the restaurant but once we strolled up the path to the entrance, our sense of excitement grew.  The location makes you feel that you are entering a secret club and the mystery intensifies as you catch a glimpse of the kitchen through the windows on the way in. 

We were pleasantly greeted by Paco Sanchez-Iglesias and shown to our table. We definitely stepped into spring as the small dining room was decorated according to the season with large canvases of bluebell woodland.

The restaurant is open plan and the kitchen is part of the dining room so we were able to see the chefs busily working like a well oiled machine to the smallest of details on their dishes.  The beauty of the experience at Casamia comes from watching each dish be carefully and quietly constructed in full view.  To add to the experience, the food is brought to the table from the chef who lovingly prepared the dish and this is followed up by an explanation of the ingredients and the background to each course.

The menu (which would end up bringing our taste buds to life) was presented to us at the beginning so that we could keep track of what we were eating.

Seeded Leaven Bread, Jersey Cow Butter:

To start off the first of 10 courses, we were presented with freshly baked bread and creamy butter which was warm and inviting. The sommelier offered us the wine flight, however not being wine lovers (and because we had another 2 hour drive ahead) we opted for cocktails, Hannah chose a cosmopolitan and I chose a Kir Royale and a coke for later which were delicious.

Goats Cheese, Beetroot:

There may be only one in the picture below but I assure you we were given one each.  Hannah scoffed hers before I even had the chance to take a picture! The goats cheese was light and foamy, delicately balanced with a sharp beetroot jam base.  I love anything with goats cheese and this was the tastiest use of the ingredient to have passed my lips.

'Breakfast Egg':

Aerated scrambled egg, toast, black pudding, tomato, ketchup and pancetta all placed in a chilled egg and laid on a bed of grass.  
This inspired dish, which ended up being Hannah's favourite of the ten, packs an enormous amount of flavour into a small dish. Hannah likened it to the bubblegum in Willy Wonka - an entire English Breakfast in just a couple of bites! 

Spelt from Sharpham Park, Parsley, Garlic:

This bright green dish combines flavours I have never experienced before and offsets the fresh taste of spelt with sharp balls of vinegar and cider in the risotto.  

Spring Salad:

One of the prettiest of the ten and with over 30 different raw and cooked ingredients there is no better taste of Spring.  We were invited to eat the dish using tweezers which ensures you enjoy each flavour individually.  Each little morsel hits you with a different taste and enthuses you with thoughts of the season. For a salad this was a truly amazing dish, if only all salads were this exciting. From such tiny ingredients the flavours blew my mind. Ingredients such as a micro radish and spring onion mixed with old favourites like coriander and baby asparagus, this dish was almost too beautiful to eat... even the flowers and petals were edible!

John Dory, Cider Sauce, Greens:

The fish is cooked perfectly with the addition of sweet apple jelly and crushed walnut topping complimented by a smooth cider cream. The asparagus and samphire provided an extra tasty crunch too. 

Lamb, Allium, Mint, Potatoes:

My most memorable dish was the perfectly pink lamb, carefully sous-vide and served with a spicy parsnip crisp, dehydrated mint and flowered slice of onion.  It was a perfect plate of food and I would return just to have another portion.

Carrots and Thyme:

This dish is probably the most creative of the menu - described to us as a 'transition' dish between savoury and sweet. Hidden at the bottom of the bowl is a carrot sponge with dehydrated and caramelised carrot on top.  The chef then pours thyme ice cream, made with liquid nitrogen, over everything to create a fog which pours out the bowl.  A blend of cold and warm which really worked well together. As the ice cream melts the flavours come together and it tastes a lot like a sticky toffee pudding and cream. 

Blood Orange, Rosemary:

A refreshing collection of orange, crunchy mandarin, icy blood orange and rosemary cream cleansed my palate towards the end of the meal.  The slight taste of rosemary in the cream sits surprisingly well with the tangy naranjas (Edit by Hannah: oranges to you and I).

Rhubarb, Vanilla:

Finally, a smiling chef excitedly brought us a smoked Madagascan vanilla pod in a glass jar.  She explained that this is collectively the kitchen's favourite smell bringing back memories of childhood and the perfect end to the meal. She released the smoke and allowed it to waft over us before placing a rhubarb pudding covered with vanilla cream, scorched nuggets of meringue and juniper caramel wafer in front of us. Another delightfully light dish, not overly sweet, to leave us perfectly full and satisfied. 

Casamia provides not only memorable food but a unique and exciting food experience. The Sanchez-Iglesias brothers make food a science, however the technicality of the dishes doesn't overtake the food itself.  It is, by far, the best meal I have had the pleasure to enjoy and the family are taking this restaurant places.  I have no doubts that more Michelin stars will follow. It felt like we'd had a life changing meal at a place which is yet to be discovered, who knew that food could taste this good from everyday ingredients?!

There are not many places like this one. Definitely worth a visit and the poshest motorway stop we've ever had! No more Little Chef from now on...

Casamia on Urbanspoon