Back in December I emailed Olive Magazine to ask if I could write a review of a restaurant for their Pro vs Punter feature. Amazingly they got back to me saying they would like me to write 200 words on a restaurant I had been to recently and that they would then think about it...
So I wrote a review of our recent trip to Bacchus with Oli and Mariana:
Inspired by Marina O’Loughlin, we made decided to trek out to Shoreditch to sample boil in the bag cooking East End Style. At 8 the smart dining area seemed disturbingly empty but soon filled up with noisy locals and keen foodies, eager to see what all the fuss was about.
Service ranged from naïve to expert as the owner/head waiter taught his fresh staff on the job. The freshly baked bread was the best we had eaten all year even though we had to add our own salt to give it a bit of zing.
Starters were sublime; Scallops cooked sous vide with a subtle cauliflower puree were delicious if a little bit like a Foxton’s home – too beige and a bit homogenous; calamari gently warmed for a day or so were the most tender rings of squid any of us had ever had the pleasure to eat; and my duck cannelloni was beautifully textured if a little bit low on flavour. This was a theme with the meat throughout our meal – fish was brilliant sous vide, meat wasn’t… my rare steak was plain dull whereas the halibut was sensationally juicy with flesh that was firm but fell apart if you gave it an intense glare.
The highlight of the meal was the range of foamy deserts. Cinnamon pie with apple air and Malden was outrageously weird, assaulting my taste buds with such veracity that I could only laugh deliriously. Having eaten at the Fat Duck it’s safe to say that Heston is safe in Bray for the time being, however Bacchus was much more fun and I’d love to return.
And remarkably they replied to me asking if I would like to review the Speadeagle restaurant in Greenwich for the March edition. So on January 2nd Cowie and I trekked down to South East London...
Fresh from a refurbishment, this homely, high class French restaurant is housed in an enchanting art gallery full of 18 Century paintings of Greenwich at its highest ebb. A cosy fire and waitress kept us company in the stylish, but empty bar before we dined. Our fellow guests were a mix of locals drawn by the excellent reputation this establishment has. A restaurant in Greenwich is always going to rely on its fan base being locally rather than recruiting customers from further afield. Getting there was fine. Escaping Greenwich was far harder!
Our discussion of what to choose on the menu started in hushed tones owing to the lack of fellow diners – but as the evening progressed you could feel the restaurant collectively relax.
There’s not one thing we didn’t want to tuck into on the menu. Even the veggie options sounded delicious. I started with foie gras with poppy seeds, quince puree and caramelised girolles which was silky smooth and magnificently goosey. Whilst the sweetness of the quince balanced the depth and saltiness of the fois gras perfectly we were disappointed by the presentation and the homogeneity of the texture. Some crunch would have transformed this dish.
The fricassee of langoustine and squid with beef bresaola was a very interesting dish – a very sophisticated version of surf and turf! The beef was a slightly gamey slice of deep red carpaccio that complimented rather than contrasted with the langoustine and squid combination. Again the textures were a bit limp and would have been aided by a hint of citrus zing.
Roasted Lobster with rosemary, red pepper veloute and mushroom croquette arrived, much to my disappointment without its shell. Nevertheless it was plump, juicy and covered in the most deliciously sweet and scarlet pepper sauce which almost made up for the lobster’s lack of shell. The sorry looking mushroom croquettes were a waste of time. I adore mushrooms but can only think these were either meant for the children’s menu or were a flourish of experimentalism by a very talented and ambitious chef. The dish would have been better for their absence.
The seared fillet of beef arrived with an incredibly convincing Jerusalem artichoke sauce that reminded me of my grandmother’s famous fartichoke soup. I shouldn’t be rude though because this was arguably the highlight of a meal. The artichoke stole the show. Sweet, creamy, slippery and firm the artichoke made the advertised star of the show look like an extra. Whilst the brilliance of the artichoke is a good thing it did nothing for the balance of the plate. The steak was completely upstaged and not helped at all by being sliced up and a bit tough.
All the dishes had the same DNA. On the positive side the sauces were deep and smooth as you would expect from a top class French chef and the flavours were subtle and intelligent. Unfortunately we felt that all the dishes were under seasoned and the fish dishes would have benefited from a touch of lemon. We also felt that the textures lacked development – your teeth
Charming staff made you feel like you belong. The Albanian head waiter was in complete control making you feel that you are in very safe hands. The waitress who greeted us helped us select an excellent bottle of Vouvray which we felt like inviting her to share with us. Throughout our meal questions were answered quickly and with great pride although I would have liked a satisfactory answer to question about where the lobster and the beef had been sourced from.
Chez Bruce this isn’t quite. The food’s not as accomplished or as well rounded, but the ambiance and history mean that it could outdo its Wandsworth equivalent. It’s a charming, modern take on classic French cooking all situated in a place that’s almost impossible to get home from… unless you are lucky enough to have this cracking restaurant as your local. In which case it probably makes living in Greenwich a joy.
Food 7 Atmosphere 6 Service 9
Jonathan’s bill for two including 3 courses and a bottle of wine was £104 with service.
Olive edited the review a little bit but it didn't change much. I was really pleased to see that Gregg Wallace had written a really similar review. I think there was about 4 marks between us. I got lucky cos the month after, the review was of a fish and chip shop in Suffolk which got a combined total of 10 points with a spend of £20!
I'm blogging whilst tucking into my personalised tea and thought it might be worth a mention. It's amazing. For 27 quid you get a brilliant personalised blend of tea from Alex Probyn who used to work at Tetley. I met him at the Good Food Show having heard about his business in Olive Magazine back in September. Actually it was in the same edition as the article about the Tree House as it happens.
I came home from work after going on a monster lash up for Cordelia's leaving drinks. Hideously drunk I decided to make toast in order to soak up some of the booze swimming around my system! This would have been fine if like any normal house, we had a toaster. Unfortunately our toaster broke many months ago, and being a house full of busy boys we've never sorted it out.
So on went the griddle pan at maximum heat and in went 2 slices of bread. I sloped off to the sitting room to watch a bit of sky sports news whilst the bread transformed into wonderful steaming toast. 5 hours later as Henry slammed the front door shut at 8.30am I woke up with a blistering head ache and a twitchy nose. Smoke lingered in the kitchen. Confusion swamped me until I realised that I had almost caused one of the biggest fires ever to hit SW11! Gilly's girlfriend, Polly, had woken up at about 5am and told Gilly that there was a fire. Whereupon Gilly saved the day by putting out a small fire in the kitchen. Thank God I am here to type this out as a vaguely amusing anecdote and the Towers is still standing!
So... we need a toaster. I'm keen for something a bit funky like some of the designs below from NotCot and This Next.
Woke up very late on Saturday morning, exhausted after yet another arduous week. Getting home on a Friday night at 10.30 is never fun and seems to happen too often these days. My stomach felt a bit dicey after my second lamb shish in two days! By 12 it was time to face the day. Super 14 rugby and some left over chips from last night kept me company on the sofa.
I made my way to the fridge in the vauge hope of finding something edible for breakfast. 2 sticky, over defrosted pheasants dominated in terms of space and smell! Bin for them. It makes me really cross to defrost food in advance and then have to throw it away because I haven't been at home to eat it! Such is life when you're starting out in a career I guess. 2 dubious eggs, half a dozen continental sausages, some onions and cheese leant themselves to whipping up a tremendous rendition of mexican scrambled eggs. A touch of smoked paprika and some chilli cut through my morning sloth! What they wanted for in terms of appearance they more than made up for with their flavour and spicy impact!
Simon and Andrew found me in my pants and tshirt dawdling on the couch when the came back from some early morning common action. On such an immense day of sport we decided to visit the Northcotte Road for some lunch. We went down the road for a sandwich and came back with a huge hunk of rump steak from Hennessy's, a poppy seed loaf from the Lighthouse and 3 enormous brownies and some shallots from the market!
I super heated the griddle pan, salted and oiled the steaks and trimmed the fat off. I added some extra salt to the fat, put a few sharp grooves in at and threw it in the pan to crisp up. As the fat started to sizzle we lobbed the shallots and mushrooms in the other pan and let them cook down to a sweet brown mush. In went the steaks for about 5 minutes on each side until the outsides were griddled with regular brown stripes and the centres were warm but pink. I added some balsamic to the onions and sliced the steak on an angle and loaded the heaving hunks of black and blue meat onto the buttered poppy seed break and spooned on the onions and mushrooms. And o my god it was amazing. Juicy. Salty. Sweet. And utterly delicious. Well done Hennessy's.
What a trip. I booked the Tree House near Petworth back in October after seeing it featured in Olive Magazine on Cowie's birthday... I only found it because she managed to lock me in her house and had to courier her keys home to me! As they say every cloud has a silver lining... and our silvery lining was finding the tree house to beat all tree houses!
We had to book 6 months in advance but the wait was well worth it... trips to Argentina, Barcelona and the Lakes came and went in the meantime (more on them later)...
After a typically arduous week at work we drove down to the tree house via Godalming specifically to go to their fish and chips shop. It seemed a good idea to save some money and not rush. Our planning paid off as we wolfed down some first class haddock and cod accompanied by fluffy chips and acres of tartare sauce.
Arriving at the tree house happened more by luck than judgement. Our instructions, pulled from their website were so detailed that they were incredibly hard to follow... "at the second post box after the dusty sign you can either go left or right but make sure you are going uphill... after the dead badger make sure you drive safely around the corner and look out for a church". Given that it was pitch black we just followed the map instead!
Ron greeted us like long lost Naval friends and showed us along the seductively lit path to the mysterious tree house we had travelled so far to stay in... Created out of a sweet chestnut the structure is actually supported by telegraph poles, but you'd only realise this if you happened to take a big sniff on a hot day...
The balcony was decked out with 2 cotton hamocks being overlooked by a slightly frayed stuffed lion/tiger (even after 2 days we couldn't tell what it was). Pulleys winches and a defunct sauna completed the decking area that we spent so long reading the papers on and sipping gin and tonics. You look down from the perch onto an emerald green pond past a wicker pidgeon.
The room itself featured an enormous and utterly brilliant bed, heavy suede curtains, an enormous wardrobe (that neither of us used), flat screen telly, bright brass sink and leopard skin bedding! What more could you want from a room... let alone a tree house!
My excitement escalated as I sipped tea whilst reading a selection of "how to build your ultimate tree house" books... I had no idea such a cult existed! Maybe Cowie will let me join. I still feel a bit bereft that my old tree house in Stevington has been taken down, tree and all!
I haven't slept this well in ages... both nights we both slept without even an inkling of waking up. Even our dreams were sweet... Probably helped by the weather being very favourable and not blowing us to kingdom come.
Breakfast started badly. Very badly. I was almost hospitalised after headbutting the rather low hanging chandalier. It actually turned out to be a very good way of breaking the ice with our fellow guests... all of whom were green with envy 'cos we were in the tree house and they weren't!!!
It got better and better as we moved on from an impecabble full English (with the best fried egg ever) to their incredible array of things to go with your toast. Homemade madmalade and blackberry jam were sensational and all the better for being smeared on home made bread. Coffee arrived sizzling to the table and did a great job of making me forget about the slightly bloody lump on my forehaed!
Their recommendations of things to do during the day were typically strewn with idiosyncratic directions. But they worked. Arundel was brilliant. Even the ludicrous pricing of the castle at £13 each worked in our favour as we realised that neither of us wanted to go there anyway! We found a cracking deli that supplied us with incredibly Stinking Bishop, salami, jam and bread which we feasted on in a field near Diddlington on the South Downs. This was England at its most relaxing best.
Dinner was just what we wanted. Fishy. Informal. Tasty. Local. For more see Cowie's post here.
This was only ever supposed to be a cheeky little weekend break away. But we returned to London so re-energised that it felt like a 2 week holdiay.
We still love to go on trips around the UK, staying in BnBs or camping in search of a good meal or two - hence, Around Britain with a Paunch. Quite often the trips have been prompted by Diana Henry's Gastro Pub Cookbook. Here's where we've been to: