Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Boscanova

Thanks to the blog, and what I like to think of as a healthy spirit of adventure (propelled by an even healthier appetite), I don’t often eat in the same places repeatedly. Sure, there’s a couple of local spots where I do seem to spend a large proportion of my time drinking beer flights and eating hot wings, or enjoying mutton biryani or a Friday night thali. And old favourites like Hawksmoor and Chick’n’Sours demand repeat visits - the thought of only eating potted beef and yorkies covered in onion gravy only once is a sad one. But mostly I still enjoy the hunt for new things to try.

One exception to the rule is CafĂ© Boscanova in Boscombe, which I committedly (mostly successfully) attempt to visit at least once every time I’m down visiting friends in Dorset. Not only is it an eclectic spot, with lovely staff and a great ambience, it’s also begun to feel like an old friend; a home from home where I can chill out and enjoy great coffee and brunch. Which is ideal as my friend, as wonderful as she is at hosting, doesn’t have culinary skills to match.

Although I’ve made many repeat visits, it’s never managed to make it onto the blog. A situation I’m remedying here, despite the fact it might mean getting an elusive table is that little bit harder on my next trip. (Air Show weekend, if you’re wondering, where everyone has already refused to go with me, anticipating the queues on one of the busiest weekends of the year…)

All good brunches start with good coffee, and here it comes from South Coast Roast, independent roasters who also have their own coffee shop on Richmond Hill, in the centre of Bournemouth. My go to coffee is the red eye, a mug of their single origin drip coffee with a shot of espresso over the top 'for a proper kick'. Normally I don't drink much coffee at all, sticking firmly to a diet of pints of PG tips with a splash of milk, but I do like decent drip coffee, and South Coast Roast is second to none. 

The extra espresso shot is an entirely superfluous addition, but I'm usually in need of a little caffeine kick when I visit, much to the amusement of my friends, who have noticed how wired I get after a mug. The Ewing sticks with drip, she doesn't need any more energy...

As an avowed ouef avoider the first meal of the day can often be a tricky one, as everything seems to come adorned with egg in some guise. Which is what makes the Boscanova vegan breakfast ideal, and is my choice if I've had too many pancakes (doesn't happen very often). 

Alongside the usual suspects – tomatoes, potato and onion hash, mushroom and beans – there is added bonus humus, dukkah, rocket and some avocado on toasted sourdough. A cornucopia of delights that, while unconventional, make the perfect combo. Especially when you add an extra pork sausage, or two, to the proceedings.

They also do a good meat brekkie (slightly less good since they stopped offering black pudding as an extra) and a veggie breakfast with halloumi. Alongside hipster-pleasers such as granola with greek yoghurt and berries, perfectly poached eggs and avocado on toast.

As good as the fry ups are, there's one real reason I keep coming back to Boscanova - their american style pancakes. In fact, these may be my favourite pancakes, which is a pretty bold claim as I do like pancakes. Here they are extra thick and fluffy, and always perfectly cooked through. A surprisingly tricky skill to master; having produced many carbonised discs of dough on a Saturday morning as supporting evidence to that fact. 

They come topped with an amazing organic maple butter as standard, although I always get them with extra blueberries, which are dropped straight into the batter, and bacon.

Just like in a burger, bacon with pancakes should always be streaky, and crisp; here it is both. As I’m greedy, I usually find two rashers aren’t enough to service two huge pancakes. But at a quid for a brace, you can easily throw in an extra portion.

They also have a full lunch time offering - with wraps and burritos and healthy-sounding salads and such like - but with their majestic breakfast menu being available right through until close, I’ve never had recourse to try them. Why would you, when you can be greeted by a warm welcome, stiff cup of coffee and a plate of something so gloriously comforting (and slightly phallic...) all day long.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Italians do it better

There's lots of good things about having good friends, but you know you've got a keeper when they're in the last throes of a painful and difficult break up - devastated and off their food - and you arrange to meet them so you can go and eat ramen; followed by a burger. Of course there was wine involved, and beer, and turkish delight, and possibly even some good advice. Who knows. We're still friends now. so it can't have been all bad.

Not only are we still friends, but Stealth often appears in the blog - at least behind the scenes, to spare any readers from losing their appetites. We're also still enjoying a beverage with our food, so much so that, although we've eaten at Mercado Metropolitano several times before - Stealth's flat being staggering distance away - the only picture of the food I seem to have is this box of cold leftover pizza.

No matter, I knew I could persuade her out for another afternoon visit, lured by promises of cocktails and spleen-venting and melted cheese. It also worked well for me, the weather was far nicer than on our fledgling winter visits - meaning we could sit outside in the sunshine (or in the shade, while moaning about how hot it was). The food and drink stalls have also expanded since then, giving us more options to feed the previous night's hangover, while stoking the one to come tomorrow.

While I'm sure you can get a Peroni, or certainly a Four Pure Pils, there's also plenty of craft here, courtesy of the Italian Job 'the UK's first Italian craft beer bar'. I went for a Neck Oil; not terribly Italianate, but always a delicious, low ABV, drop and a gentle way to ease myself into the afternoon's revelry. 

Stealth went with her favourite cured meat and Italian cheese combo - something blue, something hard and something oozy. A little like our Saturday night... .The oozy one was particularly good; full on and sticky, matching up well with the spoon of spiced chutney, balanced artfully on a prosecco cork.

For me, the pizza here is some of the best in London. The crust is chewy and puffy and blistered, with that lovely sour tang that compliments the sweet milky mozzarella. And, while resolutely being a Neapolitan pie, it retains enough structural integrity to pick up and eat with your hands, not dissolving into tomato soup in the middle like some, often lauded, examples.

The Pasquelina - a white pizza with sausage and wild broccoli -  is wonderfully balanced between bland cheese, bitter greens and spiced meat. Similar is the Ripieno- a pizza bianca with ricotta, cherry tomatoes, salami and parmesan. On this visit I went classic with a napoletana - tomato sauce, mozzarella and anchovies; the hairy little divisive fish giving a salty piquancy to each mouthful.

There was also more drinks, obvs, starting with a negroni (that Stealth had already drunk while waiting for her cheese) before moving on to Aperol spritzes and then London spritzes, which I'm a bit hazy on now. Possibly elderflower and apple? maybe some mint. Definitely, thanks to the photo evidence, some cucumber. 

The Jim and Tonic mobile drinks van was closed when we arrived, much to the disappointment of Stealth. But her beady eye - for possibly the very first time - spied they had opened as we were finishing our lunch. Because I'm a good friend - and even though it went against the very core of my being - I asked, on Stealth's behalf, for 'the one that tastes most like Hendricks'. Not because I dislike Hendricks, but because, having seen Stealth pull this kind of stunt every time we go anywhere, I knew it would cause that awkward umming and ahhing. Which it did, but in a very polite way. 

Still not sure what we actually got, but it was full of cucumber, hence tasted pretty much like Hendricks. Although by that point I'm not sure either us would have known. We then followed it up with another double, this time made with Death's Door gin, because it was the option that came adorned with the marshmallows, that Stealth was by this point eating straight from the jar on the counter.

It wouldn't be Sunday without a sundae, or a gelato at the very least. The gelato here is not any old gelato being from Badiani, one of Florence’s oldest gelaterias, who have launched a new store in the English capital.

So we swung (definitely swaying by this point) past for a double scoop in a cone; one of bright and sharp raspberry sorbet and another of, even better, sweet and nutty black sesame. An Instagrammers dream, and just as dreamy to eat.

Despite our best efforts I still haven't tried the pasta, or the arepas, or the grilled Argentinian rib eye with chips, or the lurid green cassata cakes, or freshly filled cannoli with chocolate chips..... But, no matter; I've got a feeling they'll be plenty more happy news and heartbreak to break bread (and heal sore heads) over.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Thai Aroy Dee

For me, good Thai food should be vibrant with heat and smoke, punchy with the sourness of lime and gently humming with shrimp paste and fish sauce. Which is why it's often so disappointing out of its natural habitat - relegated to bland pub curries; sugary supermarket stir fries; or, possibly worst of all, served in micro portions, in overwrought surroundings, adorned by carved vegetables.

The good people of West Yorkshire, however, seem to have lucked out, with several notable places to get good South East Asian food in Leeds, including the funky Zaap Thai - with it's mix of crowd pleasers and unusual street snacks that made the Ewing cry - and the stylish stalwart Sukothai - with it's slowly burgeoning mini empire.

Thai Aroy Dee - looking more like a mattress salerooms than a restaurant, despite the fairy lights strung out in the windows - might not have either the excitement or charm of the previous picks, but it was always rated highly and was always somewhere I had hoped to squeeze in a visit, at least until their lease ran out on their original spot on Vicar Lane, and they were forced to close unexpectedly.

Fortuitously, another spot became available just down the street, which is, even more fortuitously just adjacent to the car park the Ewing and I park in on our customary last trip into town (to stock up on fish, meat and veg from the Kirkgate Market) after visiting my Aunt and Uncle.

Unusually, the place is licenced but also offers free BYO - Tall Boys Beer Market is just over the road in Thorntons Arcade if you fancy a beer - but, being early on a Tuesday lunchtime and with the long slog back down the M1 awaiting us, we stuck to the soft drinks.

Not a hardship here, where you can pick from exotic sounding beverages such as 'pink cold milk' and 'iced milk green tea' or drinks flavoured with pandan or longdan. I chose the rather more prosaic roasted coconut water, with a extra thick straw to suck up the chunks of the fruit; while the Ewing went for an eye-opening Thai iced coffee with condensed milk and tamarind seeds.

I find it hard to not to order som tum if it's on the menu - the famous green Papaya salad mixed with dried shrimps, carrots, fine beans, fresh chillies, garlic, lime juice, tomatoes, fish sauce and ground peanuts. Here it's served alongside gai yang - crisp and smoky grilled chicken with a hefty punch of spice - improving it even further.

Pad Kee Mao, or 'drunken' rice noodles, with pork, turned out to be flatter than the noodles - the only misstep of the whole meal. While it was generously portioned and packed with a pleasing squeak from the green beans and white cabbage, it missed the advertised punch of the chilli and holy basil. In fact, it seemed to be missing any seasoning at all, something an extra splash of Squid fish sauce some what ameliorated.

In contrast the duck curry with pineapple, cherry tomatoes, pea aubergine and squash, was exemplary. The duck was sweet and tender and the sauce redolent with coconut and fragrant spice, punctuated with bursts of tangy tropical fruit. Alongside was a basket of steamed sticky rice, my favourite kind of rice (or at least on par with Ambrosia, straight from the tin).

The Ewing has a deep and endearing love of prawn crackers and is always insistent we order some; not really a hardship. Despite them forgetting to bring them out until we'd almost finished eating, these were fine examples although, curiously, there were also a few of the more familiar chinese-style interlopers amongst the darker, crisper thai crackers. 

While it might not have the tuk-tuks of Zaap or the ornate carvings of Sukhotai, Aroy Dee (delicious, in Thai) does exactly what it says on the tin. And only thirty quid all in for more food than even we could manage - they also do a two course lunch menu for £6.95 - it also meant we had a bonus bag of prawn crackers to sustain us on the drive back down the M1.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Will and Vics

Until this year Harrogate has consistently topped the poll of the happiest place to live in in the UK, a crown recently stolen by the cheeky Essex charmer, Leigh-on-Sea. Having visited both in the last twelve months and enjoyed, respectively, a Fat Rascal at Betty’s and pints of prawns and a beer down at the cockle sheds, I say it’s pretty much a dead heat. Although you can eat a Rossi’s whippy on the seafront in Leigh, which may just nudge them ahead.

One advantage that Harrogate holds is its proximity to my Aunt and Uncle’s house, making it the perfect place for us Ladies wot Lunch to visit for a refined stroll around the Valley Gardens before luncheon at stalwart on the restaurant scene, Will and Vics.

Downstairs is a curious mix half-olde worldy wine bar and half airy bistro, with a posher dining area upstairs. Popular, even on a Monday lunchtime, there was nearly no room at the inn, and we were tucked away in the cosy alcove just off the bar.

While warm and welcoming, it was also rather worrying that every conceivable surface seemed to be covered in excerpts of the menu - from 'British tapas' to a roster of daily specials. While I can see the potential for spontaneous enticement as you're enjoying a drink, even I found it exhausting to be bombarded with such a huge array of strange-sounding snacks as we were waiting to be seated.

Thankfully they also offer a simple set luch menu (with a slightly amended prix fixe for later in the evening) with two courses for an eminently reasonable ten quid - although, slightly strangely, to add a third course from said was an extra seven pounds.

Bread was the soft, sweet malty stuff that my Mum used to buy warm from the new-fangled in-store bakery at the supermarket (really feeling my age now), and that I used to eat slathered thickly with butter for breakfast as a treat. Fast forward a couple of decades and it still had the same nostalgic appeal.

Fish and chips – haddock, obvs, as we were north of the Watford Gap – was served in Whitby Whaler sized-portions and came with mushy peas and some excellent homemade tartare sauce. If I was being ultra-fussy the posh vinegar missed the point of an abrasive slosh of Sarsons, but luckily ketchup seems to taste the same, whether its out of a ramekin or squeezy bottle.

My Uncle also chose the fish, and  we decided a pint of something cold and creamy was in order to help wash it down. The Theakstons Pale ale - a keg beer, based on their bottled pale ale of the 80’s, and brewed locally in Masham - proved just the ticket.

On first appearances I feared the Ewing’s chicken Milanese appeared a little dry, I had also breezily assured her it was going to be served with frites, rather than ‘fat chips’. Fortuitously both poultry and fried potatoes were very well received, the chicken in particular being excellent; hot, juicy and crisp while being a slightly sad reminder that it’s a dish not seen on more menus.

Of all the puddings, summer fruit pudding must rank right up there. Sadly, like rice pudding - which is also firmly in my top five - it's seldom seen on restaurant menus.  Seemingly the idea of combining stale bread and desert seems to divide and conquer, although I don't rate it nearly as highly when made with sponge cake. 

Thankfully this was properly constructed from white sliced (no pale bits showing through the carapace) and a perfect example of squidgy summeriness, stuffed with tart fruit and topped with a quenelle of Stamfrey Farm clotted cream.

The Ewing's coconut panna cotta served with a mango compote was equally summery and also very good. The panna cotta itself was clean and refreshing - although set rather like a Trump Jr comb-over than a wobbly like a Titian nude - and the mango, one of my favourite fruits, fragrant and tangy.

My aunt, not a pud fan, chose the lemon curd cheese cake to share, and promptly scoffed the physalis on top, before asking if i wanted to capture a picture of it for posterity for the blog. Here she is after replacing the papery skin on top and assuring me any eagle-eyed readers would hardly notice...

Of course, she may just have been happy to live near Harrogate; If I had Will and Vics just down the road I’d be very happy to live here too.

Monday, 17 July 2017

The cat that got the cream

I like curry; I like a the Guardian food review recommendation; and I very much like the company of my cousins, Uncle and Aunt. So when the latter proposed a Sunday drinking beer and eating at The Cat’s Pyjamas, recently favourably rated by Jay in the Grauniad, what wasn’t there to like?

It’s unavoidable that the combination of craft beer and Indian street food in this part of the world will bring comparisons to Bundobust, whose first branch is just five minutes down the road. Although here the menu sees the addition of more substantial meat and fish dishes.

They also serve their food on proper plates, with real cutlery. I have no objection to using a plastic fork to shovel up the last scraps of bhel puri from a paper dish when half-cut on fancy double IPAs, but sometimes it is nice to hold a proper knife and fork (then promptly abandon them to scoop everything up with up with a basket of fluffy naan bread...).

Speaking of the beer, I had been promised good things by my Uncle, who had eaten their the week before. Although, clearly our visit had been preceded by some thirsty Loiners and sadly half the choices were scratched off the board, including the tasty-sounding First Chop Mango Pale, that ran out just as we arrived.

In the end I went with a pint of the Wild Beer Lobster Gose - a beer made with cockles and lobsters, seaweed and sea herbs, and seasoned with Cornish sea salt, saffron and star anise. As you can imagine, not a choice for everyone, although the briny, spicy undertones matched up well to the punchy food.

My Uncle's curiosity overcame him and he also ordered a bottle of coconut beer to share, spurred on by the Ewing's enthusiastic love for the tropical fruit. While it smelt unnervingly like Ambre Soliare, it was also strangely delicious; although I heard its sun protection isn't great. 

We started with baskets of poppadoms, obviously, with a tray of punchy fresh dips - tomato, mango and an appreciated raita, they haven't stinted on the spice levels here. Followed by sharing platters of tandoori mixed grill - including chicken and prawns - and fiery seekh kebabs packed with flecks of fresh green chilli and served with a zingy green mint chutney.

We also shared a plate of pani puri, little bite sized baskets of crisp dough stuffed with spicy cubes of potato and pomegranate seeds, served with a dish of fiery tamarind water to pour over, before devouring in one with as much decorum as you can muster. (Not much, based on the amount of my Aunt’s Vanish Gold I got through later that evening).

The Ewing’s sea bream was a whole fish grilled in a spice paste of lemongrass, red chilli, ginger and lime  and served with a chopped salad and more mint chutney. A decent specimen, nicely cooked to be both crisp and yielding, and at five pence under eleven quid, it was also good value.

Keema mattar, or minced lamb and peas, is a childhood favourite that my mum often used to cook from her battered copy of Madhur Jaffrey. This version was light and delicately fragranced, perhaps a little too underpowered, but served in a generous portion. I also loved the nostalgic fresh pop of peas added towards the end of the cooking time and not boiled until mealy and grey (my Mum’s peas were always perfect).

To accompany our mains we worked our way through the naan menu, from classic garlic and coriander to a great peshwari, stuffed with plenty of coconut-ty filling. I went a bit more outrĂ© with the Yorkshire cheese naan, spurred on by Mr Rayner’s words; ‘ordered because it would be rude not to in Leeds, is the sort of thing you order early here, when you have somehow managed to arrive drunk. It’s oily, melted cheese and oven-scorched bread. It’s filth.’ 

Having managed to arrive not only early, but drunk too, I can also confirm it is filth. Of the highest order; shared with these Filthy Animals. I wouldn't want it any other way.