PRODUCT REVIEW: Bacco Tipicita' al Pistacchio Colomba

The UK is well and truly sold on the Christmas panettone. Before, my family had to go to very specialist delis or someone would send one over to us from Italy, but now they are stacked sky high in most supermarkets and delis. Even my husband's traditional British family have ditched the fruit cake in favour of them!

Lesser known though is the Easter Colomba. Traditionally, this is similar to the panettone but contains no dried fruit and is normally topped with sugar paste, pearl sugar and almonds. It is also shaped as a dove (but is always a very, very abstract, minimal version of a dove!). Anyway it's delicious and if you ever need a break from the Simnel cake, then this is it.


But here I have a particularly special version of the Colomba - this one is made by Sicily based Bacco Tipicita' al Pistacchio who specialise in products made with pistachios grown on the slopes of Mount Etna. Bronte is a village renowned for its special kind of pistachio, known as Etna's 'green gold', and believe me, this ain't no ordinary pistachio. The plants (which can live up to 300 years!) are grown on lava soil so the nuts receive unique properties and a flavour that distinguishes them from your typical bar snack. They can only be harvested every two years and the whole village of Bronte, young and old, get involved in shelling the nuts one by one. I love that thought!


I don't like overly sweet things but this is just gorgeously fragrant with the taste and aroma of good quality pistachios. The emerald colour is natural and the thick paste injected throughout adds interest to the plain base.  It is also topped with frosted paste and chopped pistachio nuts. I thoroughly enjoyed it and try as I might, I doubt the rest of it will see Easter day.


I was sent this to review but you can order one direct from Sicily in three days for £20.28 (inc P&P). It's available from http://www.artimondo.co.uk/pistachio-colomba-easter-cake.html 

Buona Pasqua!

REVIEW: Stanmer House, Brighton



I've been meaning to get to Stanmer House for far too long. But if I'm honest, the heinous, shouty pub chain website has kept me away, making me expect laminated bangers and mash menus.

Here's an example of the menu for Mother's Day. "She's in for a treat!" and "Book early to avoid a Tantrum" slogans - I kid you not. And a breakfast menu that would be more at home down West Street on a hungover Sunday or a motorway service station. Either orchestrated by two design geezers in a loft studio somewhere or, more likely, two marketing geezers in a loft studio somewhere. What works for the other Whiting & Hammond pubs, clearly shouldn't be applied at this venue.




Despite being taken over in 2011 by the chain, the interior has been more sympathetically renovated than the website and print collateral portrays and is modern and comfortable without detracting from the elegant 1722 heritage.



A jaunt across Stanmer Park on the first sunny day since, well forever, the outdoor dining area looked just too inviting to ignore. Walking through the heavy doors of the entrance the house is just stunning, there are cosy little nooks with open fires, a bar area or a more formal dining room to choose to dine in. But on a day as glorious as this, sitting outside is a must. Children (and dogs) are really well catered for with space to roam in, I can't comment on the children's food as they hadn't printed any menus yet. This was despite it being a freaking busy lunchtime and the sun was clearly going to bring in scores of diners. Duh. So I had to make do with a half blank waitress recalling what possibly was on the menu whilst being corrected by another member of staff. Ideal. So we kind of ordered haphazardly. 


I finally did get to see a menu, which was huge and a clear nod that we are in pub chain territory, but there were some good ideas on it. It was a Sunday but we wanted a lighter lunch as we had dinner plans, and they do a roast ciabatta which is their roasted dinner meats served as a sandwich with roast potatoes and gravy. Now. I eat out a lot and see some pretty daft presentation materials but a gravy boat served on a twatplank wooden board is up there for utterly bonkers impracticality. I assume you are meant to dip the potatoes in gravy? Anyway, meat could have been better, there could have been something green to lighten the stodge factor, but yeah, as sandwiches go it's been elevated enough to be classed as a little more special.



My choice of smoked salmon terrine and bream rillettes was a nice light option from the starters. Again, it was ok but the ciabatta toasts were almost stale, not enough of them, and served on my pet hate of slate. Watching the poor staff weaving around the large garden trying to find diners whilst keeping capers on flat slates was like some assault course inspired by Manuel from Fawlty Towers. Anyway, the bream rillettes were actually lovely, light and a good texture. The salmon terrine was enjoyable too and even though the salad wasn't dressed, the inclusion of it made the dish suitable for a light bite.

Generally, people seemed to be ordering the sausage rolls to wash down their chilled beers with but I did see a few roasts go out with huge Yorkshire puddings. Maybe inside people were ordering full meals, but really, with the sun blazing, I think everyone was giddy on vitamin D and wanting just drinks and nibbles.



Junior Foodie had to make do with a plain scone alongside bites of our meals as I was worried about the wait time following my mathematical equation of (bumbling staff + massive queues) = horrific toddler meltdown². He just threw it down his neck and was more concerned with running round and round the pond, squealing with glee anyway. The scone wouldn't have me rushing back for afternoon tea but it was fine, although I did see a tweet of their homemade cakes that did look pretty good.

All the food was just about acceptable really so yeah, go along for a light bite at lunch or a nibble to keep you going on your hike across the park. Prices are a little high but you have to accept you're in wonderful surroundings. Would I come here for a special occasion dinner? No, of course not. Despite the amazing venue, there is too much that winds me up about the design, staff, slates not plates and manilla ownership of the place. But an hour or two spent in their garden in the sunshine, or tucked up inside in front of the fire on a cold winter's day for that matter, is time worth spending, even if just to soak in the atmosphere.

www.stanmerhouse.co.uk
Stanmer Park
Brighton
BN1 9QA

On a side note, the following (read below upward) is a prize example that highlights that this is a heritage property with a chain pub mentality. Nothing like protecting your brand with good PR, eh. Kerching boys, kerching.

Read Rosie's review of the full roast dinner here. (At least that was served on a plate but possibly the only redeeming feature.)



The Graphic Foodie at Glug Brighton



Last week I spoke at Glug which is a really fantastic series of events for the creative industry. The format and venue changes each time but generally involves speakers in a really informal, welcoming environment. There is normally a bar (which seems pretty key too - it's Glug innit) and is great for catching up with old mates and meeting new people. Industry meet ups always seem so cringy in other sectors but this is far from the business card, handshakes and grey off the peg suit thing you would expect, trust me.

Although it started in London, there are now six other cities in the UK and abroad that have regular events and our Brighton ones are well hosted by design agency Crush and illustration Agency Rush.

The event last week was at The Sallis Benny Theatre, a place I hadn't been back to since my university days an eye-watering aaaaaaaaaggggggeeee ago. The theme this time was "Passion" with speakers from the design industry who have branched out and followed another path instead or alongside their day job.

The talks were brilliant actually, with Adam Kemény and his Photobot business (a photobooth completely out of the ordinary and a fantastic start-up story to boot) and Matt Sewell, the "Banksy of the bird world" (yes really).



To be honest I've never spoken to a large audience like this, certainly not in a bona fide auditorium and certainly not 8.5 months pregnant with my lung capacity at like 20% either. By hey, I wheezed my way through it and it was pretty good fun. As you can imagine, pizza featured quite heavily (what, no really?) as well as how and why I started the blog and where it has led me to today, in a completely unforecasted twist actually - one that I couldn't really say much at the event or here yet either!

Still, the feedback was great (as well as all the tweets and emails I received - thanks!) and even managed to wangle someone a table at a packed out restaurant that night. I like to be useful at least.


Afterwards they showed the incredible film The Man Whose Mind Exploded by Toby Amies - a touching documentary of local Brighton resident Drako Oho Zarhazar, an eclectic man (understatement) in his 70s who suffers shocking memory loss after a series of accidents. I loved it, especially the relationship that formed between Drako and Toby over the course of four years filming. Check it out if you can.

For upcoming Glug events visit www.glugevents.com



Images via Glug and www.alice-jacobs.com

REVISIT and REVIEW: The Chilli Pickle, Brighton



The Chilli Pickle is a restaurant I've returned to the most, not that I get much chance too, flitting to new openings and reviews, but since it's opening in 2009, it still remains fresh and exciting as those early days in Meeting House Lane.

Maybe it's because the owner, chef Alun Sperring, continues to keep a close eye on things (he was on the pass at lunch today even) but the quality has never slipped and complacency never set in. And that is their success story.

But enough gushing, how the heck was lunch?

Well, to be honest, trying to fit a Chilli Pickle King Thali into an hour lunch bread is probably bordering on insane as there is a lot to get through. You choose a main curry and this is presented on a silver tray, peppered with pick and mix dishes of chutneys, pickles and raiita, snacks and breads. Deliciously gluttonous and for what you get, I think, pretty good value for money.



Mutton they do very well here so Mr GF went for The Mutton Nilgiri curry, with soft chunks of tender meat, roasted coconut, poppy seed paste. It was sweet, fragrant and perfectly spiced. I had the Methi Keema, again mutton but in mince form. This was also very good, tempered with onions and curry leaves.

The main pull of thali is the accompaniments and today the curries were served with a creamy black lentil dal (dal Bukhara at a guess), the most delicious grated beetroot and coconut chutney, a spiced aubergine chutney, classic mango chutney, saffron Raita and chunky tomato chutney. You could then dip away with naan bread or the crisp pappad.

In the middle of the dish were my favourite Indian "snacks"; a very nice onion bhaji and a crunchy potato kadak (like a croquette) filled with cheese and green chilli. Absolutely delicious and great idea with the crushed poppadom crust.

There was also a perfect square of what I assume was corn bread. To be honest this didn't have much flavour but maybe intended to be a dipping sponge for all those amazing flavours on the plate.

If you survived all of that there was a small dish of sweet condensed milk with a little crunchy topping. Indian sweets are not my forte but this tiny dish was the perfect sweet not to end on a meal of robust spices and flavours.

The rest of the lunch menu includes lighter meals, street food, roti and dosa and a pretty amazing sounding Indian fried chicken dish. Kids are also catered for well with their own menu which I'll have to bring back the not-so-baby Foodie in for. Dinners involve more of the tandoori, roasts and kebabs (you KNOW how I feel about the tandoori platters here...oh my...) as well as curry, dosa and biryani.

But whenever you come in I think you'd be had pushed not to enjoy your meal here. The Chilli Pickle remains one of Brighton's very best.


www.thechillipickle.com
17 Jubilee Street
Brighton
BN1 1GE

See my previous reviews here

And also a review of their take-away service

RELAUNCH: The Gingerman, Brighton


I can't believe the Gingerman has been in it's Norfolk Square home since 1998. It's always been the quiet older sibling of the rest of the group (which includes the Ginger Pig, Fox and Dog) and perceived as being more reserved and grown up. Which may be why my young, sprightly self *cough cough* has always made use of the other restaurants, not that I don't think a prim and proper restaurant doesn't have it's place.

But the Gingerman has just emerged from a bit of a face lift which has seen a new brand, new fit out and a change of layout to communal seating. Even a new head chef. I don't think any of this would really deter the former clientele, just help to attract some fresh custom. Personally, I'm a big fan of it all, it seems to sit very well with what a modern, solid, quality restaurant should look like.

And after a taste of the menu at the press launch, I can also vouch for the food. I am right on board with owner Ben McKellar's ethos for real food, cooked elegantly. He clearly knows his customers and wants to feed them well yet make a good impression on the plate. I think it's very easy to get carried away with overly fussy food and process, leaving you with something to admire visually but possibly not so enjoyable to eat. At the end of the day, if I don't leave a restaurant feeling like I've been fed well, then that restaurant has failed its job. They are NOT supposed to be art museums.

Anyway, we started off on a very good foot with a silky cauliflower velouté, given a modern edge with an inspired bacon crumb (totally stealing this idea).


The starter was a great twist on the classic chicken liver parfait. Here you had breaded, boned chicken wings (the poshest KFC in town), a teeny chou farci (stuffed cabbage with chicken), silky sweetbread and mushrooms served on a honey brioche.


I can't eat scallops at the moment so mine were replaced with a lovely plump piece of cod for my fish course. As with the starter, everything had it's place on this plate with salsify, crisp bacon, quail egg, sauce verge and onion puree. Nothing shocking or showy, everything delicious.


I think pork is one of the best meats to do a tasting plate with - so many cuts to celebrate! In this dish there were slices of tender pork fillet, a rich, savoury pork cheek which collapsed at the tap of the fork and a beautifully rendered cube of belly. Even the ear was crisped to crackling style. The raw or lightly pickled slithers of cauliflower looked beautiful and gave texture too.


All our courses were matched with wines from Bibendum Wines. I'm no wine expert but can appreciate when they have been selected by people who are. Wines from Italy and New Zealand were joined by wine closer to home (from Bolney Estate up the road), but I must say my favourite was the sparkling Mocato d'Asti from the Italian Vietti estate. Sweeter than I normally go for in a sparkling but perfect with the impressive passion fruit soufflé and fresh mango, mint and passion fruit salad.

I left with such a good impression of the Gingerman. It feels special without stuffiness and you leave well fed. Everything we ate is on the dinner menu, which I think is very good value at £32 for 2 courses and £37 for 3 courses. If like me you have overlooked the Gingerman in the past, or been swayed away to the bright lights of the latest shiny new restaurant opening in the city, think again as despite being one of the older restaurants in Brighton, there is plenty still fresh about it, particularly with a new spring in its step. In fact, it's going straight into my Black Book of Brighton Dining.

The Gingerman Restaurant
21a Norfolk Square
Brighton
East Sussex BN1 2PD

I was invited to the launch. Opinion, as always, is my own. Pictures kindly from http://www.rosieposiespuddingsandpies.co.uk/ - after a technical malfunction my end!  

REVIEW: The Set Restaurant, Brighton


The dining scene in Brighton has changed such a lot in the past few years. Not only have we seen an influx of casual street food and pop up restaurants in pretty much every pub, there has also been a demand for something at the other end of the scale; refined, high-tech food that wouldn't be out of place in a lab rather than the kitchen.

And this is where The Set comes in, the eagerly anticipated restaurant from Dan Kenny and Semone Bonner, the former head chefs of the Gingerman and Ginger Pig. This is their first permanent venture, following a series of pop-up events and Christ, they have thrown everything they have at it. For work ethic, these guys get 10 gold stars. The restaurant sits comfortably at home within the Artist Residence hotel and also offers more casual food in the daytime as well, think seafood burgers with an unexpected twist.

I have to remark that the food offering at The Set is not for everyone. It's contentious, attention grabbing, ticks off every current food preparation trend in the book and will provoke and delight in varying measures. If you want safe meal and a full happy belly, then a plate of bangers and mash it is not. It's the sort of food that causes discussion and makes your palette work hard. The menu is written de rigueur as ingredients rather than dishes, so you also have to be happy with an element of surprise. And I think this is exactly what the chefs want. They want you to talk about their food and dare I say it, want to stir things up for recognition from the offset.


Prices are surprising, in a good way. There is a choice of three set menus of four courses which vary from £27-£35. (Let's face it, you could easily spend that per head in one of the chain restaurants for a full meal if you wanted to torture yourself.) Wine flights to match each course are also available for around £15-25 which is a really good idea and again, the typical price of a bottle of house plonk in other places. This is great news at it makes a restaurant like this inclusive to a wider range of diner, maybe the younger audience which can only be a good thing.

It's too early to really comment on the food in detail, so this is more of an overview than a review as such. New restaurants need some time to really find their feet but on the whole I was impressed with how smoothly things were running even though the paint was still drying here.


Highlights included a dish of baby leeks with an angel-hair pastry filled with cheese and honeyed pecans. There was also a little pile of kale powder which melted on the tongue, much like Coffee Mate. I think a chef once explained it to me as a pine oil preparation but aside from that, I loved the clean, fresh flavours on the plate.


The slither of compressed oxtail was also very good. Crisp on the outside and meltingly soft in the middle. This was the one dish that was designed to be harmonious with each element complementing rather than contrasting; sweet burnt lettuce, three purees, lightly pickled onion and a small piece of toasted brioche.


The amuse actually deserves a mention. I really loved the shredded "chicken nuggets" and could see these on the daytime menu with lashings of the red cabbage ketchup they were served with.


It was a shame that the octopus was lost in the seaweed broth as there was quite a lot going on with other ingredients. Pretty to look at though.


Maybe the dessert of cereal milk, spelt granola and milk ice cream wasn't for me. Even as a student I didn't eat cereal past 8am, and it's not something I want to see in my dinner. Granola is fashionable (and irritatingly, more so in meat dishes) so it's a trend I'm going to have to ride out. I did have writer Patrick McGuigan on my table that polished it off with gusto though. I will say the dehydrated (and boy, do these guys sure love to dehydrate!) milk shards and milk ice cream were a nice textural and temperature contrast.

The other thing I'm not too sure about is this trend for open kitchens. Chefs sure like to be seen and heard these days wielding their craft on the pass and to be fair, I kind of like the theatre. Luckily I just had a trip home but if you are heading out after, then you will smell like you've just done a shift in the kitchen yourself.

Design and interior wise I was a big fan. They have hit upon a really unusual combination that I don't recall seeing anywhere else but it really works. Concrete tile topped tables, industrial lighting, distressed reclaimed doors and corrugated metal panelling. They have teamed this with American diner, bluesy music which relaxes the whole place and the waiting staff are young and bouncingly enthusiastic. Apparently you will be as welcomed here in jeans and t-shirts as you would dressed to the nines and that's what the environment evokes.

And yes...plates. It seems I only ever talk plates but The Set have chosen really well with elegant designs and colours that show off the food. This is, happily, a slate free zone by the look of it.

So there we have it. The Set shows great promise. I'm sure they will be incredibly busy for months to come as people clamber to get a reservation at one of the limited number tables they have. I'd certainly be keen to return to try the more casual day time menu at The Set of Scales when it's fully running, as much as standard burgers bore me I'm sure their version of a dirty diner will be anything but standard.





The Set Restaurant
Artist Residence
33 Regency Square
Brighton BN1 2GG

I was a guest of The Set. Views are my own.

REVIEW: Deliveroo services in Brighton


This is the second instalment of my restaurant food delivery reviews. As I said, I think there really was a huge gap between restaurant standard food and typical take-away food (the latter I firmly steer away from). So raising the bar on the quality of delivery food can only be a good thing and it widens the dining-at-home market to people who may want a little more than a sweaty kebab in a bag for their dinner.

Today I tried out Deliveroo. Being fresh to Brighton, they are starting with a small delivery area so my home wasn't within the catchment for now. So a treat lunch at my studio it was then! Deliveroo already have some decent local restaurants on their books like Warung Tujuh, H.en, Indian Summer, Gars, Kenzi and my choice for today, Moshimo. But they also have some home delivery food that you would typically expect for home delivery like burgers, pizza and burritos.

You order though the website so this is a huge part of the customer experience. Happily, Deliveroo have really thought about the user experience of their site. It's quick, efficient, clean and well laid out. It also gets to the point from the homepage with little waffle. Enter your postcode and time and away you go.



The restaurant menus are clear and you can add and subtract from your order with ease. There are no irritating drop downs and all the information is presented at top level. You can see the total of your delivery at all times as well.


Payment transaction was also nippy, even with an account registration to fill in.


The status of the order was updated in real time (as well as an email alert) and the option to give feedback once your transaction is complete also given.



Website-wise I really had little to complain about. They could maybe include a field for further delivery instructions for awkward properties or flats (or doorbell ban warning for sleeping babies!) as well as a special dietary requirement area.

Delivery is just a flat rate £2.50 which is reasonable. I really put the delivery chap to the test as my studio is build on a development where the wayfinding part of the project was conducted by a sadist. But he found me at 12.30 spot on without so much of a sweat on his brow. I was also pleased not to see any cheeky credit card fees added to the order unlike some other food delivery services.



So to the food...Well I didn't need to know that Moshimo food was good, I really like the restaurant already, but how did the meal travel? My crispy vegetable gyoza were still true to their word on the outside and looked pretty in their patterned container.



I won some serious brownie points for my healthy choice of Loch Duart Salmon Teriyaki with brown rice. This was as enjoyable as the food envy looks it was getting from my colleagues and the salmon skin crisp. I was expecting two "salads" as per the menu but these were a nice selection of seaweed and ginger pickles. Lovely. (Dine in or in their stunning restaurant but you MUST try Moshimo out.)

Everything was hot and well packaged when it turned up. If delivery services continue to take off, maybe we need to consider packaging for the environment though. At the end of the day, it needs to be transported in a container but maybe there is a sustainable solution that is also appealing to look at.

Anyway, Deliveroo gets the thumbs up from me. The process is excellent, the delivery fees sensible and the scope for quality restaurants to get involved really exciting.

https://deliveroo.co.uk/

I was invited to review the Deliveroo service. Thoughts, as  always, are my own.