Month: January 2011

Bell’s Diner

Bell’s Diner opened as a restaurant in 1976, and has, in the past decade, become the vehicle for chef-proprietor Christopher Wicks’s culinary creativity. Set in the bohemian Montpelier district of Bristol, somewhat appropriately, in a former grocery shop. Probably to pay homage to that, the window displays consist of baskets of seasonal fruit and vegetables, and antique kitchenalia. The neat looking restaurant sticks out a little from its ‘rustic urban’ surroundings, which just adds to its charm in my opinion, it’s also walking distance from my flat which is always a bonus. It is one of the few fine-dining establishments in Bristol and has been showered with accolades over the years. I have been a few times and tried various a la carte dishes (3 courses averaging at £28.50 per person, menu changes seasonally) but had never sampled the tasting menu. When I spotted a LivingSocial deal £49 for 2 people to have the 8 course tasting menu, I told some (food blogging) friends and we decided to partake of this great offer. Usually priced at £47.50 per person with an optional wine flight for £36.50 chosen by manager/sommelier Lionel Perinier, one of the few certified sommeliers in the South West. He is very serious about wine and knows his stuff. The other staff, I have to say, are also very knowledgeable about both the food and the wine. The service throughout the evening was faultless. We had a glass of house wine included in the deal which was surprisingly good. Unfortunately, none of us were really in a drinking mood, otherwise I would have loved to have tried a wine matched with each of the courses.

So, anyway, on to the food…

Firstly, an amuse bouche of butternut squash velouté topped with a cumin foam, served in a shot glass, and a goat’s cheese gougère which certainly kept us busy for a couple of minutes and whetted our collective appetites.

Next, the bread was served, eagerly anticipated by my neighbour who challenged himself to try all four varieties, if the waiter allowed. Freshly baked in-house, the choice was from a tapenade foccacia, sourdough, a French-style baguette or walnut and raisin. We managed every one except the baguette, all were delicious but the foccacia was my favourite.

When the ‘first’ course arrived, it was so pretty I almost didn’t want to disturb it. A goat’s cheese cannelloni (made of truffle jelly I believe) with pickled vegetables, and walnuts. It’s not something I would have chosen from the menu, but the flavours worked well together. Ok so far.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next up was a seared scallop, confit potato, haddock foam and baby leek served with Vichyssoise. I really liked this dish, elegantly presented, seasonal ingredients that married well. Not too fussy or complicated.

(Apologies for the poor quality of the photos, I really must save up for a proper camera.)

 

 

 

 

Following, was a two-hour-poached hen egg with truffle mousse and wild mushrooms. This dish had quite an Autumnal woodland feel to me. Again, not a dish I would have chosen from the menu but, as this was a tasting menu, I was willing to try anything. The egg is cooked at a very low temperature, in a water bath, for two hours to achieve a texture that would be difficult to recreate by any other method. The egg is cooked but still soft, very clever and technically skilled. However, it wasn’t particularly to my taste and I was beginning to get bored of truffle. I think the others liked it though.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next to come was truffle poached chicken (ahh, truffle again!), chips and foie gras. The chicken was tender and moist and thankfully the truffle didn’t come through too heavily. The foie gras was nicely seared on the outside but was a little too soft in the centre. The chips were fantastic. There was a tart caper dressing which balanced it well. I think we all liked this one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ‘main’ course was brill with oxtail ragout, sea purslane and salsify lasagne. I think this was my favourite dish of the night. In ‘E’s opinion the brill was a little over-cooked but the layered ‘lasagne’ of oxtail, sea purslane and salsify was as delicious as it was beautiful. An interesting combination of flavours and textures, and the oxtail was wonderfully rich. ‘M’ suggested that it being the ‘main’ it should have been a larger portion and I suppose some may feel disappointed but I felt, as did ‘E’, that it was just right. After all, we still had courses to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had a brief break and then the ‘pre-dessert’ arrived. At the table, a waiter poured a small amount of pine gin into iced shot glasses and then filled with lime foam. It was fun to watch him do this. The foam was lovely and refreshing, and together with the pine gin, was a nice palette-cleanser.  The gin was very strong however and none of us managed to finish it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The dessert was chocolate praline parfait, salted caramel and pain au chocolat. The pain au chocolat was thin sheets of pastry layered with the parfait, caramel and ganache. There was also chocolate ice cream, praline ice cream and a meringue-like tuille. The portion was quite large, compared to the other courses and was a bit of a struggle to get through. However, it was lovely. All the different componants were delicious. It was rich but not heavy. The different textures kept the mouth busy and interested. Our table fell silent for the first time while we enjoyed the jouney through this quite complex chocolate arrangement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We then had a selection of dainty macaroons to finish; chocolate, raspberry and green tea (if memory serves). The green tea one was particularly yummy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, in summary, a fantastic meal. I can’t say we were completely bowled over, most of the dishes were excellent but there a few niggles here and there. Don’t get me wrong, this is far above my standard of cooking and is always interesting to try food at this level. It is not too pretentious and fussy so it’s still accessable, however, probably not as cutting edge as it used to seem. The discerning foodie expects that bit more for his/her money nowadays. I know I will go back again and again as I always enjoy the experience and I heartily recommend it for an occasional treat.

Bell’s Diner is open for lunch Tues-Fri 12-2pm and dinner Mon-Sat 7-9.30pm.

http://www.bellsdiner.com

1-3 York Road, Bristol, BS6 5QB.

0117 9240357

info@bellsdiner.com

‘E’s review http://t.co/549cAVe

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Scone Recipe Challenge

I was recently browsing other foodie blogs found via Twitter and came across http://bakelady.wordpress.com/ a blog from the lovely lady who is responible for the Secret Tea Room in Leeds and, as the name suggests, is all about baking yummy treats.

She has just posted a Scone Recipe Challenge, to try to get lots of people to share their favourite scone recipes, and I decided to play along.

The inspiration for my scone recipe came from a visit to Huntington Gardens in Los Angeles where I had afternoon tea with my mum, sister and niece for mother’s day a couple of years ago. Their scones were the best I’d ever tasted, I had a bet with my mum over what was in them. Unfortunately for my mother, when we asked the waitress my suspicions were confirmed and I won a dollar! They were blueberry and rosemary scones, still warm from the oven, bliss. I have a particular penchant for blueberries, and although not strictly in season at the moment, I’ve decided to include them in my recipe for the Scone Recipe Challenge.

I have tried a few basic sweet scone recipes (and some savoury ones too!) but I like this one. You could also try the other scone recipes on Bakelady’s blog to decide for yourself which is your favourite.

Clotted cream is a must, and I also like to serve these with homemade blueberry jam.

This recipe makes about 4 scones (for 2 people), multiply as necessary.

128g plain flour                                                                                                                                    7g baking powder                                                                                                                                17g caster sugar                                                                                                                                   22g butter                                                                                                                                             53ml milk (full-fat)                                                                                                                             35ml double cream                                                                                                                             20 fresh blueberries, whole                                                                                                               1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves, chopped finely

Pre-heat oven to about 175c

Weigh out the flour, sugar, butter and baking powder and rub together in a bowl to form crumbs. (You could do this in a food processor.)

Stir in the cream and milk a bit at a time until the dough starts to come together. Mix in the fresh whole blueberries (try not to crush them as you do) and the finely chopped fresh rosemary. Try not to over-work the dough. Turn out on to a floured work-surface and roll out to about 3-4cms deep. I then use a floured cutter that’s about 5cm diameter. It’s important not to twist the cutter as you cut, just go straight down or the scones won’t rise properly.

Place the scones on a lined baking tray and brush the tops with beaten egg.

Bake at 175c for about 15-20 minutes until risen and golden brown on top.

Leave to cool for a couple of minutes then dig in while they’re still warm. Failing that, they will keep for a day or two in an airtight container but they may need ‘refreshing’ in the oven for a few minutes.

If you have a scone recipe you’d like to share why not visit  http://bakelady.wordpress.com/ .

Seeing in 2011 at Montpelier Basement

I was honoured to be invited to Montpelier Basement’s special New Year’s Eve supper, along with a handful of faithful followers and ‘basement’ regulars, most of who I’d met before so I was immediately at ease. I’d donned a posh frock, brought some wine from a wine merchant for a change and was tingling with anticipation and a healthy appetite.

The tasting menu kicked off with some yummy Keen’s cheddar palmiers, crisp and melt-in-the-mouth. A great start to the evening’s festivities.

Next came beetroot jelly with horseradish cream, a light and refreshing savoury jelly with the silky horseradish giving a bit of a kick. The dill finished it off beautifully.

The next course was creamy Jerusalem artichoke soup which was velvety and delicious. The knobbly tuber is one of my favourite winter vegetables and it’s texture lends itself well to soups and purees. It has quite a distinctive, almost truffle-like aroma which I love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then a bit of fun; ‘posh fish fingers with tartare sauce on yesterday’s news’ served on an article by Mark Taylor in the Bristol Evening Post from the day before about Bristol supper clubs, mostly referring to the success of Montpelier Basement. What a great touch and a great conversation piece! Very tasty too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The treats kept coming and the Champagne kept flowing, to the delight of the diners.

Next came a Stichelton risotto with pear and walnuts. The piquancy of the cheese came through gently, punctuated by the sweet, sticky pear and the crunchy walnuts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We then had a chance to have a little rest to prepare for the main event; the fillet of Exmoor venison with haggis and bashed ‘neeps (actually swede, I learnt recently from one of my ‘students’ that the Scots and Irish call swede turnip and vice versa). There followed an interesting conversation about the life and death processes of said animal, grim for some perhaps but fascinating for me and a great tribute to the beast we were all enjoying eating. The venison was expertly cooked, pink and succulent (not easy to do for 11 people at the same time). I was lost for a few moments in the bliss; the rest of the room melted away as I munched gratefully on the tender and flavourful meat. The haggis mashed together with the buttery swede was a perfect and appropriate accompaniment. Delicious, possibly the best thing I’ve eaten in a long time. I was a happy, slightly rosy-cheeked bunny.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2010 was swiftly drawing to a close so we took a break and went upstairs to ring in the new year with Jools, and Montpelier’s offering of fireworks.

But the night wasn’t quite over, we still had courses left to come.

Caramelised apple tart with thyme ice cream was next. The tart itself was lovely but the ice cream was divine, silky smooth and, well, creamy with a hint of aromatic thyme coming through, pairing beautifully with the apple. Genius.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were all bowled over and well-sated, and then came the cheese!

Dan gave us a little introduction to the expertly chosen selection, see his blog Essex Eating (blogroll) for his latest post on cheese for more info.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The feast was rounded off with some hand-crafted chocolate truffles.

It was definitely a night to remember, Dan and Elly are excellent hosts and their food is up there with the best restaurants in Bristol. However, the experience is unique and unlike what you’d expect from a restaurant. The only way to find out for yourself is to go along. Their next (double) event is planned for the Friday 21st and Saturday 22nd January 2011. Book early to avoid disappointment, they fill up fast! Suggested donation is £25, but it’s well worth more than that. Follow them on Twitter @MontpelierBsmt or email montpelierbsmt@gmail.com to book or to keep up to date.