Tag Archives: salt cod

Anniversary lunch @ Pollen Street Social, London

It was my 5th wedding anniversary on the weekend, so while my husband was on a stag do having fun with the lads, I thought I should be having fun too!!! Some of my favourite things are the arts, food and theatre so months ago I booked to watch The Book of Mormon in the West End. Surprisingly for me, I hadn’t yet booked anywhere for lunch literally till the morning of the show, just before I got the train. This doesn’t mean I hadn’t been thinking about it though, I’d been scouring my Michelin Guide, Good Food Guide and using my other usual methods to find my yummy food fix for weeks. After looking through my ‘where next’ list I remembered a meal that one of my best mates and I had a couple of years ago where we ate at the Pollen Street Social, just before it gained a Michelin star. I knew I wanted to try Jason Atherton’s food after watching him win the starter and main course on the Great British Menu a couple of years before. Having previously worked with culinary heavyweights such as Pierre Koffman, Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsey, and even more notably at the World Famous elBulli working with Ferran Adrià, this was a chef who obviously had skill and an imaginative creativity to his food. That first encounter was memorable for both of us, so I thought a special day deserved a lunch that befitted the occasion.

The Pollen Street Social is found just off Regent Street and a couple of minutes walk from Oxford Street tube station, away from the hustle and bustle of all the shoppers and traffic.

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Today I chose from the set lunch menu, for Michelin starred cooking they provide a short but still an excellent menu of £26 for 2 courses or £29.50 for 3.

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For the starter I chose the slow cooked egg and main course the pork belly. Even though I wasn’t initially going to choose a dessert, I couldn’t help myself and the lemon verbena sorbet was just crying out to be eaten.

The main dining area is very sleek and stylish and from my table I could see into the kitchen where dishes were being finished off on the pass before being sent out.

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I was brought over an appetiser to start with – crackling with salt cod brandade and an apple and English mustard dip with some green olives. Wow the crackling was something else, when you snapped it the sound produced reminded me instantly of twisting a sheet of bubble wrap, so all the bubbles pop at the same time, it was that loud. It was quite amusing listening to the dining room, as table after table you would hear this sound repeated across the room. On its own I could have eaten bags of the stuff, but the accompaniments were delicious, both working in harmony with the crackling.

Crackling with salt cod brandade, apple and English mustard dip and green olives
Crackling with salt cod brandade, apple and English mustard dip and green olives

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I couldn’t decide which one I liked more to be honest, the salt cod brandade was light and delicate, while the apple and mustard was more punchy, with the mustard coming through. I’m not a big olive fan but I did have one, straight away you got hit of umami savouriness and helped to cut through the richness of the crackling.

The starter was brought over by my waiter who described the dish to me, I kept having to ask him to repeat it to me so I could write it down. The egg was cooked superbly and once the yolk had been split its vibrant orange content oozed out acting as a sauce. The delicate mushrooms on the thinnest toast were delicious and underneath the egg there was a mushroom puree (for want of a better word) which was very intense in flavour and provided a very woody note to the dish. The crumb made from chicken skin was lovely, with its crunch gave it another texture and added savouriness.

Slow cooked egg, mushrooms on toast and chicken skin crumb
Slow cooked egg, mushrooms on toast and chicken skin crumb

The main course of pork arrived, the dish looked extremely elegant with each element placed with immaculate precision. If you’ve read my blog before you should know by now how much I love pork belly!!! This was amongst the best I’ve ever eaten, just the slightest amount of pressure and the meat just fell apart. The pork was so tender and moist it really did melt in the mouth and there wasn’t even much need to chew. The pig cheek was also very delicious, lightly spiced so it didn’t overpower the flavour of the meat. For pig cheek to be cooked well, it must be slowly cooked so the gelatinous nature of it melts away leaving a wonderful texture behind. The accompaniments were also superbly cooked and all added to the overall dish. Such as the apple, which everyone knows is a perfect partner with pork, its tartness cutting through the richness of the meat. The black pudding was really tasty, I’m not usually a huge fan of the stuff when the flavour is too concentrated, but this was very tasty and a lot more subtle, it didn’t mask and overpower the star of the show which was definitely the pork. The potato fondant were buttery and soft and the sauce was glossy and deep in flavour, working fantastically well binding all the individual components together. The whole plate was a real winner and I loved each mouthful!!!

Wiltshire pork belly, spiced cheek, fondant potato, roast apple, black pudding and apricot puree
Wiltshire pork belly, spiced cheek, fondant potato, roast apple, black pudding and apricot puree

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The pre-dessert: My waiter then brought over something to help cleanse the pallet, he once again described it to me, and again I had to ask him to repeat it to me as each dish seemed so complex I couldn’t remember everything when I wrote it down!!! At the bottom of the glass there was a canteloupe melon and camomile tea sorbet, covered with a yoghurt foam which had a sprinkling of lime zest on the top. The foam was light and airy and the sorbet was intense and punchy, I loved the combination of the melon with the tea, it really worked.

Pre-dessert - Canteloupe melon and camomile tea sorbet, yoghurt foam and lime zest
Pre-dessert – Canteloupe melon and camomile tea sorbet, yoghurt foam and lime zest

The dessert: The dish looked so pretty it took me a minute to decide how I was going to tackle it, I didn’t want to grab my spoon and start demolishing it. The sorbet was packed with flavour from the lemon verbena, it had a lovely delicate sharpness and the meringue shards made with bergamot had a more intense flavour of orange, the texture of the meringue was wonderful, you could snap the pieces of meringue, but as soon as you put one on your tongue its moisture would help it to dissolve away. It was wonderful. I used to do exactly the same thing when I used to eat a bag of skips, but these were much thinner, lighter and more gorgeous. The olive oil gel was a good accompaniment to the other two components, to me it seemed to hold to other two together, with its own distinct but more savoury flavour that it provided to the dish, balancing out the lemon verbena and bergamot.

Lemon verbena sorbet, bergamot meringue, olive oil gel
Lemon verbena sorbet, bergamot meringue, olive oil gel

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Some gorgeous little financiers were then brought over and the waiter said ‘ooh, these are really good’, just before he walked away. I’m not a baker but I do know that a good financier is supposed to be moist, light, golden in colour and have plenty of almond. The waiter may be biased, but he didn’t exaggerate….. they were spot on, little gems of heaven filled with a very yummy strawberry jam. As I was eating on my own I got to have both of them too, so I was especially pleased about that!!

Almond and strawberry financiers
Almond and strawberry financiers

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Anniversary gift: I remember the first time I came to eat here they gave a little foodie gift to leave the restaurant with, my waiter brought this to my table and I waited till I got back on the train to Leeds to eat it. I’m not a chocolate fan, I’m much more a savoury person but I loved it. When I opened the box there was a large cube of soft sponge, layered with some sort of chocolate mousse which was packed full of air, then covered in a glossy chocolate ganache. It was wonderful, I spent the next ten minutes eating it (I know that’s a long time for most people, but it takes me forever to eat anything with chocolate!!) If all chocolate products were of this quality I could even be converted!!IMG_3808

IMG_3875In my opinion when you go to any restaurant of quality, Michelin starred or not of course the food is important, but it’s also the experience as a whole which is important too. All the staff that came to my table were very friendly, in particular two who served the dishes to me were particularly chatting and made me feel very relaxed. Service was very efficient without being robotic and the dining room had a lovely atmosphere to it, as I watched it seemed that the staff all worked with purpose and were certainly a well-oiled machine. It’s what you would expect in a restaurant of this standing. From the moment I stepped in the front door the service was impeccable, every part from the front of house to the waiters were superb and really made my anniversary lunch very special.

The total cost for my meal was £43.31 including service charge. I know it’s not the cheapest of meals, but for a dining experience of this quality it is well worth every single penny. I couldn’t help but recommend the Pollen Street Social, it definitely gets 10 on all fronts!!!

8/10 Pollen Street Social
Pollen Street
Mayfair
London
W1S1NQ
020 7290 7600
http://www.pollenstreetsocial.com

Pollen Street Social on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Pre-theatre tapas @ Sandinista

I’m a massive Strictly Come Dancing fan and had tickets for Midnight Tango, with Flavia and Vincent from the show @ The Grand Theatre booked for months. The criteria for food was somewhere I’d not been to before, but was also close to the theatre. Sandinista the popular Cantina bar was the place of choice on this occasion. imageFor those of you who don’t know of Sandinista, it’s a Latino based bar that has been open since 2002, just around the corner from nearby cocktail haven Mojo. From being such a successful bar in Leeds it has also opened a sister venue Smokestack on Lower Briggate and another Sandinista in Manchester.
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Even though I’d been many times for late night drinks on a Saturday, I’d never eaten there before. They had a couple of deals on offer – 3 tapas for £10 or 20% discount on food and drinks with a valid theatre ticket. We couldn’t miss an opportunity for having a cocktail as we were in one of the best cocktail bars in Leeds. We decided to partake in some cocktails of the mojito kind, so we could also reminisce about a well-loved holiday in Cuba.
Mojitos
Mojitos (of course!!)

They have a tapas menu with a lot of choice, both for meat eaters and vegetarians. Over the last few months I’ve been looking at places which also cater for gluten free and at least half of their menu is. Our man took a minute to go through the menu, including the specials and platters. We opted for a selection of 6 different dishes. The food took a little while to arrive (probably because we did order quite a lot of food), but they did arrive all at the same time and completely filled our table.

Gratinado de berenjas - Aubergine and tomato gratin
Gratinado de berenjas – Aubergine and tomato gratin
Croquetas de Bacalao - salt cod croquettes with aioli
Croquetas de Bacalao – salt cod croquettes with aioli
Rice and beans
Rice and beans
Tortilla - Spanish omelette with aioli
Tortilla – Spanish omelette with aioli
Alubias estofadas con panceta - roasted pork belly with a white bean and truffle cassoulet
Alubias estofadas con panceta – roasted pork belly with a white bean and truffle cassoulet
Chorizo asado - roasted chorizo with potato, onion, almond and manchego cheese
Chorizo asado – roasted chorizo with potato, onion, almond and manchego cheese

I didn’t know there to start we had so much choice, everything was yummy!! I think my favourites were the Aubergine dish – the aubergine had the right balance between being soft, but still had texture so it wasn’t like baby food. The melted mozzarella provided the seasoning and was unctuous and characteristically stringy. I loved the pork belly, with its crispy crackling and soft tender meat, it came with a tasty creamy white bean stew. Having a bowl of rice and beans will always remind my best mate and I of sitting in one of the many paladares in Havana and Trinidad. It was tasty, but not a patch on the ones we remember from those memorable Cuban evenings. The croquettes were good, possibly a little too ‘golden’ but the breadcrumb crust was light and thin and the filling was good, not too salty!! The tortilla was probably my least favourite, it was nice but a little under seasoned for my taste and more firm than I would have preferred. I will always compare tortilla to the heavenly ones I had on holiday in Northern Spain a few years ago. Where the egg bordered on being fully cooked or just runny, allowing the tortilla to have a little bit of give. All in all we enjoyed our pre-theatre meal and I was certainly very full at the end of it!!

We washed our food down with great mojitos, plenty of rum, mint and lime giving the drink its characteristic zing.

Overall the service was friendly, cocktails were great and the food was tasty. A couple of things I know i’m probably being a little picky about, but that aside I enjoyed the meal a lot.

With the 20% discount our total bill came to £35 (including tip) for 2 people. Pretty good I think, we both walked off to the theatre well fed and watered!! I’d always recommend Sandinista for drinks on a Saturday night, but I’ll also be recommending them for food now too!!

Sandinista Cantina bar

5/5a Cross Belgrave Street
Leeds
LS28JP
0113 243 0395
http://www.sandinista.co.uk/leeds/

Sandinista! on Urbanspoon

Van Zeller, Harrogate

After a hard school year myself and a best mate had our school holiday detox at the Harrogate Turkish baths, to remove any school demons out of our system and settle into the holidays. I’d been eyeing up Van Zeller and booked a table a month ago. Van Zeller has built up a fantastic reputation since it opened amongst its diners and critics, winning many awards. Most recently it was named Readers Restaurant of the Year by the Good Food Guide. The restaurant is run by Tom van Zeller and has backing from David Moore, the owner of 2 Michelin stars from Pied à Terre and L’Autre Pied restaurants in London.IMG_3429

We were welcomed into the restaurant by the Front of House Peter Gillespie and I was really pleased to be seated at the very front of the restaurant by the window. It was lovely and light and had a great view of Montpellier Street. The restaurant has two levels, the main dining area is on the second level, but if you can try to get the table by the window!!

We were very tempted to order from the Ala carte menu, but we were good girls and stuck to the 5 courses for £25 lunch menu.

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We were brought an amuse bouche and it was delicious, if you were blindfolded you could describe the flavours immediately because each main component was distinct and showed a lot of clarity. My favourite parts were the pea sorbet which was extremely refreshing and had fantastic flavour, the salmon which was perfectly smoked and the topping of crispy potato crumbs giving it a lovely crunch.

Pea sorbet with chilled potato mousse and hot smoked salmon
Pea sorbet with chilled potato mousse and hot smoked salmon

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Now that was a fantastic start to our lunch, and we were hopeful for the rest of our dining experience. Our starters were brought over and we were not disappointed. The croquettes had a tasty filling of salt cod wrapped in a thin breadcrumb crust. The sea spinach had a slight saltiness which helped along with the capers to cut through the rich butter sauce. It was a small enough portion so it didn’t get too rich and overpowering as a larger portion could have become too much.

Salt cod croquettes with sea spinach, brown shrimp, caper butter and cauliflower puree
Salt cod croquettes with sea spinach, brown shrimp, caper butter and cauliflower puree

For the main course I chose the Longhorn beef, while my dining companion ordered the hake. Presented beautifully, without being pretentious. My beef had incredible flavour and was so tender, the carrots gave a gentle sweetness, the onions, greens, soft risotto and it’s sauce completed the dish. The dish was perfectly cooked with all the ingredients complementing each other. I was told the sea bass was perfectly seasoned and cooked, with crispy skin and well flavoured sauce with tarragon and fennel. They gave it 10 out of 10 for hmmm factor and said they could have also dunked their heads in it, it was that good!! I did try some of the fish and it was beautiful and soft, a delicious plate of food.

Braised shin of Longhorn beed with barley risotto, carrots and spring onions
Braised shin of Longhorn beef with barley risotto, carrots and spring onions
East coast hake, Kombu buttered greens, salt baked celeriac, cockles and pickled mustard
East coast hake, Kombu buttered greens, salt baked celeriac, cockles and pickled mustard

Our pre-dessert came in a little shot glass. It was very refreshing and did its job of cleansing the palate before our dessert. The only questionable thing we said about it was we weren’t sure about the pine leaf and pistachio custard, it had a nice creamy texture but its flavour just didn’t do it for us. Apart from that the cassis granita and the blackcurrant compote were both fantastic.

Pine leaf and pistachio custard, blackcurrant compote and cassis granita
Pine leaf and pistachio custard, blackcurrant compote and cassis granita

Our dessert of Vanilla parfait was soon brought out and looked very pretty and perfect for a summers day!! The vanilla parfait was smooth and packed full of vanilla, topped with what I think was dehydrated strawberries. It sat on a shortbread biscuit which was perfect, lovely and short, with its characteristic crumbly texture. The tonka bean and elderflower kept it light and the strawberry gel and fresh Makin strawberries were summery and sweet. A great end to a fantastic meal.

Vanilla parfait with Makin's strawberries, Tonka bean and elderflower
Vanilla parfait with Makin’s strawberries, Tonka bean and elderflower

We both loved our dining experience at Van Zeller, the service was superb with both our waiter and front of house doing a great job. They provided the right balance of making you feel welcome while being attentive and informative, we didn’t feel rushed in the slightest and felt we could ask questions about the dishes if needed. We’ve been to Michelin starred restaurants where the service here matched to those.

The 5 courses for £25 lunch deal is very much worth it, overall the dishes are interesting, pack a punch in terms of flavour and the food is cooked well technically. There is a lovely atmosphere in the restaurant and we felt very relaxed throughout our meal. Our total cost for the lunch including wine and service charge was £100. I’ll definitely be making a bee-line for Van Zeller the next time I’m in Harrogate.

Van Zeller 
No.8
Montpellier Street 
Harrogate
HG1 2TQ
01423 508762
http://www.vanzellerrestaurants.co.uk

Digby’s @ The New Ellington

You could quite easily drive past The New Ellington Hotel as it’s tucked away very neatly on York Place. I’d read good things about the place and fancied trying it for myself, so armed with a Pink Gorilla 30% off voucher a table for 2 was booked in their restaurant.

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From the main reception and lounge area, downstairs we entered a dining room that was gorgeous visually, very sumptuous with deep purple velvet seats and walls covered with Art Deco pictures from Tamara Lempicka.

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I had high hopes after reading that their kitchen is lead by Anton Scoones, who had worked at The Town Hall Tavern previously. We were welcomed in and brought to our table, the only customers in there. The wine list and menus were soon brought over by our waitress who was immediately very friendly and chatty.

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Looking at the À la carte menu when doing my usual pre-meal research I found that they have a mix of traditional and more dishes with a twist. Starters range from £6.95 to £10.95 for lobster lasagne while main courses, e.g. Caesar salad, pot of mussels to a Yorkshire rib-eye steak range from £11.95 to £19.95.

I chose the crispy duck egg followed by salt cod and scallop, my fellow diner the lobster lasagne and flat iron steak.

Crispy duck egg
Crispy duck egg
Lobster Lasagne
Lobster Lasagne

The starters arrived looking pretty as a picture, my asparagus tender and an excellent crispy duck egg, perfectly cooked with a gorgeous golden runny yolk and coated with breadcrumbs giving it another texture. A great starter, light and tasty, making use of the very end of the asparagus season (due to prolonged wintery weather). The lobster lasagne was a far more complicated affair. Deconstructed into its component parts, with an avocado ice cream which even for me (who isn’t a fan of avocados) was delicious. It had a sprinkling of something with a flavour we couldn’t quite put our finger on, so after asking our waitress she consulted the kitchen and informed us it was a lobster oil turned into a snow. It had a very delicate taste, I wouldn’t really say we got the lobster favour though.

10Oz aged Yorkshire Flat Iron steak with hand-cut chips
10Oz aged Yorkshire Flat Iron steak with hand-cut chips
Home cured salt cod and King Scallop
Home cured salt cod and King Scallop

My main course of salt cod and scallop looked as good as my starter, perfectly arranged the plate. I dove straight in, going first for the salt cod which was well cooked and with a delicate saltiness, usually salt cod can be a bit full on for me, but this wasn’t too salty, I’ve had some in Spain (Bacalao) and I must admit I struggled with it. The scallops tasted nice, but were probably a touch over for me, then again I’m quite happy to eat scallop dancing between cooked/not cooked. The gnocchi were lovely and light, while the samphire was a perfect accompaniment giving it that added flavour of the sea. The steak looked great and I was secretly half wishing I’d ordered that instead, it was a decent size and cooked medium rare, as requested. It was very succulent, juicy and full of flavour and my fellow diner when asked about it gave a satisfactory nod which was all that was needed. A good steak must be partnered with good chips and these were. They had a golden crust with a lovely soft, fluffy centre. Very yummy!

I then ordered a dessert of lemon meringue pie – a decent sized dessert had a lovely zesty lemon pie, topped with lovely meringue and dehydrated strawberries. A refreshing sorbet, coulis and espuma craquant which was thin and crisp filled with a very yummy foam. We did get another snow though, again I wasn’t sure what it tasted of.

Lemon meringue pie
Lemon meringue pie

We wanted to try some cocktails so a Gin mojito and a non-alcoholic cocktail was ordered. Both were very refreshing and a nice alternative to the usual dessert wine or coffee.

Berry cup and Hendricks 'Ginito'
Berry cup and Hendricks ‘Ginito’

Apart from the À la carte menu they also have a set menu available at two courses for £16.95 and £19.95 for three. Digby’s is well worth a visit, it has lovely food, wine, great cocktails and friendly service. In terms of cost, with our 30% voucher it was £80 (without tip) for 2 people.

What I would say is it would enhance the dining experience to be told what it is in the dish in more detail, as some of their dishes show off technical wizardry. There were a number of times where we asked what things were, even though our waitress kindly asked the chef, it would have been nice if as part of their practice, they already knew this information.

That aside I’d still recommend Digby’s!

Digby’s Restaurant
The New Ellington
23-25 York Place
Leeds
LS12EY
0113 204 2150