Yet again I write in retrospect, because of time constraints. This was just over a month ago and it's still fresh in my mind. We're had the great pleasure of visiting several restaurants since then but for now this is my recollection of a wonderful night out at...

La Trompette





You won’t notice it if you’re not looking since it’s just off the main street. From a distance you might mistake it for just another one of those dull Italian chain restaurants that are literally littered everywhere these days. You know the ones; they make pasta dishes that, whilst fairly enjoyable, you know you can do a better job of at home.

Not so La Trompette.

First, let me mention the service. Excellent. It’s not just that they are attentive and helpful but that they go out of their way to make things right.

I should give some background.

We’d booked the private room for 16 but neglected to tell the restaurant that 4 more people than we’d originally planned for were coming. Not being a restaurant owner or manager it completely slipped my mind and the table size was too small for 16.

They made it work without complaint. Wonderful aversion from potential disaster. 

On to the food.

Starter

Z: Salad of Devon crab with apple, curry leaf vinaigrette and baby gem

A: Roast French rabbit with new season borlotti beans, pine nuts and raisins

I love nicely made rabbit and this was tender and sweet as it should be. I’ve no complaints and would certainly have this dish again. Raisins are the perfect complement to the subtle succulence of the meat and it was much less rich than I’d expected, and refreshingly so.

However, I have to hand this round to Z's salad. It looks a little boring on paper and the paper lies. You can’t tell exactly what is in a crab salad mix but that only added to the experience. Fresh, creamy, lush, more than the sum of its parts.


Mains


A: Roast Anjou pigeon with cracked wheat, preserved lemon, dates and purple sprouting broccoli

Z: Roast Hampshire roe deer with hazelnut dumplings, peas, broad beans and pine

I admit it; I went over the top. Rabbit and then pigeon is wrong, ordinarily (in my opinion as I don’t like two rounds from the same stable), but I was feeling a tad gluttonous. It all worked out though since the rabbit had been lighter than expected and happily the pigeon was too. It’s hard to say this because I did enjoy this dish, but I wouldn’t have it again. There is a reason for that though; the pigeon was meaty but light and the mild gaminess was complemented well by the sharpness of the lemon and the deep sweetness of the date. It was nowhere near as exciting as Z's deer though.

Oh the deer. Again I was disarmed by the lack of power because a lot of this menu sample had potentially rich gamey meats in it. The deer had all the flavour you should expect but much less of that bloody, earthy flavour one gets in much game. Perhaps I’m fooling myself and the grass isn’t really always greener but I really think Z's choices won both of the first two rounds.




Dessert

Z: Banana soufflé with cookies and cream ice cream

A: Mille-feuille of Kent mango with passion fruit and kaffir lime

The soufflé is served with the ice cream in the middle. They make a hole in the top of the soufflé and place the ice cream directly into it. It works and it works well. Good soufflé, good job. It’s a little heavy if you’re filled but just right if you’re not. When I was writing this Z saw the picture I was posting and reminded me how much she liked it. Remember, Z is really into desserts and is fairly particular. If the texture of your macaroon isn't right Z will pick it up in a bite. 

In contrast my choice lacked the punch I was hoping for; the mango was far, far too light. Mango is a powerful and distinctive flavour and can overpower other fruit so caution is welcome. But I'm pretty sure the maître d' is South African and they should let him taste it once in a while – it needs more guts. Perhaps it’s my experience of picking fresh mango off trees in Africa that’s biasing me but I wanted to be reminded of that refreshing and unique thirst that real mango quenches. Turn it up to 11, at the moment it’s on 6.


In conclusion

The night was a success. I should mention the excellent wines we had, including a lovely dessert vine to finish. I’ve no idea what they were as a friend of ours who is well versed in winery acted as sommelier but I will say I like the white, loved the first red, was indifferent to the second red (though luckily the first made a return later) and welcomed the dessert wine that I so rarely have.

Overall the food is very good, and although it’s not spectacular (I reserve that word for the truly tremendous places we’ve eaten in France, Spain and Italy) I would just love to go back to La Trompette. It’s a perfect place to have a get together and the private room is just great. And since we’ve never eaten there on our own I might give them a ring next month, in fact. I need a treat.


A few weeks ago I had the uncommon delight of being taken somewhere for lunch out of the blue. Following a cancelled meeting, and great trip to the Imperial War Museum, I was taken, sans Z, to what appears to be a hidden gem.

The Tickell Arms 


Yes.

Situated in the tiny village of Whittlesford and rated as the number 1 restaurant in Whittlesford on Tripadvisor, The Tickell Arms is a charming place. The building is quite quant and in the summer the rear garden will be the most relaxing place to sip a beer and enjoy the sunshine. The interior matches the food which really was rather good. Note: there are only 2 restaurants in Wittlesford on Tripadvisor and I don't envy the task the other one has to try and get our of last place.


Starter

A: Crispy Lamb Shoulder, Curly Kale & Sherry Dressing

We ordered off the set menu and not a single regret was felt that day. The lamb shoulder comes in crispy cubes and once you crack open the beautifully crunchy and delicately salty outer layer you discover exquisitely most, rich and tender lamb that comes apart with ease and goes down easier. Kale is, theoretically, bland. Not here though; I could have eaten an entire bowl of this crispy accompaniment and the sherry dressing added a sharp and sweet frisson. A trifecta of excellence. When I go back, and I will, it'll be very difficult to resist a repeat.


Main

A: Sausages, Mash, Caramelised Onions & Gravy

This appears incredibly run of the mill at first glance and on the day I was offered some special sausages instead of their standard pork. I went for the pork because I feel it better if the chef sticks to what they know, especially if I'm going to be reviewing it.

Every aspect of this main was, once more, delightful. The sausage choice was the correct choice; lovely, meaty and flavoursome without being too rich like some specialist sausages are wont to be. The mash was creamy but firm. the onions succulent and sweet with that mild savoury background that caramelised onion should have. I'd have liked more gravy but what was there was just right; pungent, rich, not runny and not separating. A triumph of a plate.


The service was top quality, the surroundings lovely and the food fabulous. Unfortunately we'd had a fried breakfast in the morning and the starter and main didn't leave any space for dessert.

Next time I'll be starved in preparation. What a wonderful treat.


We had the great pleasure of seeing Derren Brown live on stage this week, and beforehand popped into what is ranked at the 11th best restaurant in Dartford by Tripadvisor.

Le Tre Sorelle

Billed as an authentic Italian and being number 11 in Dartford Le Tre Sorelle appears very appealing. At first glance it looks okay, though it was very quite (and I'd booked a table just in case).


Starters

Z: Soup of the day - Turkey Soup

A: Sautee di Cozze - Mussels in Cream Sauce with Homemade Bread

The soup was adequate, being a tomato base with rather large chunks of turkey and little other flavouring. This isn't fine dining and there was nothing in the either starter that can't easily be made at home. Z didn't finish it because the portion was quite large.

My mussels arrived with a tiny pot for the shells but the portion was, again, large. This was the best thing about this dish as the cream sauce was uninspired lacking any real hint of flavour apart from... cream. It's lucky I really like mussels. The bread was rather plain and again, apart from the the bread (I cannot bake) this would be very easy to make at home. If I did though, I consider it a failure.

Mains

A: Linguine Prawn Rosa - Prawns, mascarpone and chilli oil

Z: Tagliatelle Quattro Formaggi - gorgonzola, mascarpone, parmesan, mozzarella and walnuts

My linguine was disappointing. The pasta itself was alright but a little overcooked for my taste as were the prawns which I'm sure hadn't been fresh, but frozen for a very long time. You'll never have prawns so cooked to death in Italy but that wasn't the worst part of this dish. There was too much sauce and it had it was both under seasoned (this was one of the few times I've used the table salt in a restaurant) and the mascarpone was too overpowering. Where was the chilli? AWOL it seems. My favourite part of this may have been the parmesan the waiter sprinkled over the top. I can't say I can do better at this particular dish but I can certainly make a superior linguine with sauce than this.

Z's tagliatelle was much better. The pasta wasn't overcooked and the sauce was delightfully cheesy and far stronger than I think most people would expect. It was the dish I would have ordered if Z hadn't and I regretted my selection upon tasting it. Even so, it was also (amazingly) under seasoned. I'd get this again though.

The portions were huge which meant when it came to dessert we only ordered one to share. Thank goodness we did!

Dessert

A & Z: Tiramisu

This is difficult to get wrong. They didn't get it wrong. This was far and away the best course and belongs in another restaurant. However, the potion was huge and a struggle for us both to finish.


I'd summarise Le Tre Sorelle as serviceable. It's not expensive and the food isn't bad. I'd be pleased to get this at home, and pleased with the tiramisu anywhere, but we won't be going back intentionally.




Hello Berkshire :)

It's been a long week with the move and we had an occasion to celebrate. Trip Advisor has served us well in the past and I found what looked to be a promising eatery. It turned out to be quite the surprise.




Getting here involved a long drive through what seemed like several small villages. The GPS was a bit out but we got there. This is what we found.

L'Ortolan located in a listed building it seems. It's some sort of large country house or manor and certainly looks impressive from the outside. A bit of guidance to the front would have been nice as I don't make it a habit to open large manor doors without signs on them. Oh, it's listed as being a French restaurant.

The decor is pleasant enough, though I did notice that, oddly, the carpet needs cleaning or changing. I shan't bore you with the wine choice as I neither know enough about wine to really comment,  nor think the selection to be the measure of an eatery. Suffice to say at £49 a bottle it wasn't cheap but I did enjoy it.

Pre-Starters

Yes, this is the type of place that gives an amuse-bouche. Or two 

The first course was a selection of house canepes, small fingers of breaded fish, peanuts in a chilli crust. This was a pleasant surprise and whet the appetite nicely. We then had a selection of small homemade breads which mostly fresh and excellent. After this it was the amuse-bouche, or Chef's appetiser; either pumpkin or butternut squash broth. Delicious. 

Starters

Z: Roast scallops, cauliflower & caraway purée, caramelised white chocolate, lime emulsion

A: Hen egg & herb ravioli, braised celery & salsify, Wiltshire truffles

This is "fine dining" so every part of every portion has to be tiny. Z's cauliflower was so thin I mistook it for some sort of exotic mushroom. The scallops were sweet, tender and complemented the white chocolate in a most interesting and tantalising fashion. This was a superior starter and I recommend it highly.

My ravioli was very good, but it was the best part of my dish by far. The celery was at least not offensive, as I usually dislike it if its not part of the base for a Tuscan pasta sauce. You can't go wrong with truffles but really all these accompaniments paled in comparison to the ravioli, which was indeed good and deserved better.

Mains

A: Tasting plate of suckling pig, cipollini onion, black pudding purée, sage jus

Z: Roasted breast and confit leg of grouse, savoy cabbage, cider fondant, honey roasted parsnips, blackberry & roasting jus

The pig was well cooked; just done and the crackling on the piece of belly was just right. The onion and black pudding puree were full and flavoursome but the sage jus was a little weak for me and if I'm honest the best bit of the pig really was that small cube of belly. I shouldn't say I was disappointed as it was all lovely. It just wasn't inspirational. 

The grouse, on the other hand, was fabulous. The breast is served quite rare and I didn't try it, but Z enjoyed it all and the portion of leg I sampled was just delicious. Z especially like the roasting jus and the parsnips, which I tried, were nice too. But then I like parsnips and it's hard to spoil them. I had initially chosen the grouse and when we go back (which we will) I may have to choose it.

Dessert

This was quite the odyssey, which isn't to say it was fraught with hardships but, well...

Z: Apple soufflé 

A: Salted caramel parfait, chocolate aero, honeycomb, hazelnut 

Before dessert there is the Chef's pre-dessert. This was a delightful touch of cheesecake in a glass. The chef was unhappy with the soufflé so our dessert was delayed. To make up for the delay we were served a caramel panna cotta with caramel crumble and honeycombs. This was a little sweet for me but it was certainly nice of them to "compensate" us for the delay. 

All of these "pre-desserts" made me a bit full and I thought I wouldn't manage the salted caramel. 

The apple soufflé, when it arrived, was competent. Light, apple-y, nice. Again, this wasn't bad just not inspiring. It was another dish I had initially though of ordering, but I relented to allow Z her first choice. In truth I don't like salted caramel; it's usually over salted or over sweet to compensate. Not here - my dessert was wonderful, and the stand out of the night. I finished it all and would have it again. It's not the caramel pancakes of Fiesta Del Asado but it's up there on my List Of Good Desserts.

L'Ortolan isn't cheap and you get the service and the surrounding you pay for. We didn't know it has a Michelin star until I looked it up again when we got home. I'm sure it deserves it as the chef clearly knows how to work some magic. I'm not entirely sure it's worth the price though because at over £100 a head (including wine) I expect to be wowed with every part of every plate. We've paid a lot less for a lot more, especially in Italy and France, but you'll have to read my other entries for details of that. We haven't fully made our minds up about L'Ortolan yet but it was a very enjoyable evening. 

We will certainly go again, and it in fact are planning on taking a party for the 10 course surprise, after which, I'll make a definitive judgement. 

Oh, and the jellies that came with the coffee were perfect. The toffee was far too chewy for me though. 


Bye Bye Birmingham

We've left Birmingham and before we left we had to try Lasan at least once, being that it's allied with Fiesta Del Asado in some way.

So try we did.


Lasan wasn't easy to find, being off a small street and having a "For Rent" on another building hiding the "Lasan" sign from one end of it. Which probably won't be the case if you go there of course.

First impressions were good; the surroundings are nice and the multilevelled layout makes it look bigger than it is. We were the first people to arrive, which never feels great, but it slowly filled up until every tablet was taken.

The service was very good, almost too good - our waiter was around all the time and had a good knowledge of the menu. I chose based on his recommendation, and I wasn't disappointed.

Starter

A & Z: Mixed vegetarian starter.

This was calculated so we'd have a range of samples. Overall it was competent but not fantastic. In fact the dips the popadoms came with were better, being themselves that impressive that they probably contributed to the disappointment with the actual starter.

If you go, get the popadoms just for the dips. Superior.

A (extra): Konkan Kekada (Soft Shell Crab)

Disappointing. I love nice crispy soft shell crab and that's why I had to sample this as an extra. It sounds so good on the menu too. I wouldn't get this again; it wasn't crispy, was a little cool and lacked flavour.

At this point Lasan wasn't living up to it's hype. In fact we'd been warned by a friend that it was all show and no action, but I refused to believe this one dissenting voice. Before our mains I thought I was wrong.

Main

A: Sikharandi Raan

Redemption in the form of lamb. I've eaten my share of lamb at various Asian restaurants all over Birmingham and this undoubtably the best dish out of all of them. It was oddly out of place, far exceeding the all of the starters and perhaps only approved in quality by the superb popadom dips. The meat was tender, subtly flavoured and had three different textures to it. Hearty stuff with a delicious lentil accompaniment.

I wish we'd had the chance to go back because based on this Lasan's kitchen has real potential. I'd love to try some of the chicken dishes - if they can do this to lamb who knows what wonders the chicken holds.

Z: Monkfish

Z actually wanted something else but they replaced the fish with monkfish, as they had run out. Monkfish is always nice, but the accompaniments were forgettable.

Dessert

A & Z: I had some sort of chocolate torte. Z can't remember what she had. Suffice to say, it was so-so.

Our conclusion was this; Lasan's clearly has some good ideas, and that lamb was tremendous. On that basis we'll go again if we get the chance. However, they sorely need consistency to capitalise on their strengths.

For our leaving meal we went back to Fiesta Del Asado. It was perfect, as always, and we'll miss it.

Disappointed? Skewered! 

We decided to try out another Birmingham establishment that we'd been recommended because in theory this is right up my street.

Rodizio Rico, a Brazilian grill/steakhouse.




The premise is simple; pay a set price per person (£25 + 10% gratuity) and eat as much as want. You have access to the salad bar/buffet and periodically a meat carver brings around a meat skewer with flame grilled meat on it and slices off a portion (or two) for you.

The meat is randomly rotated. We had

  • Chicken
  • Pork
  • Lamb
  • More pork, with fat and skin
  • Steak
  • Herb sausages
  • More Steak
  • More Lamb
So, unlike our usual outing, we just had a bit of everything. Z only liked the lamb and chicken and I was just disappointed overall. It was... okay. I can't complain about all of the meat but there wasn't anything that, if I'm honest, was really good. It's grilled meat and thats all there is to it. Perhaps I should have expected that but it didn't appear to be high quality meat and it wasn't flavoured or marinated in anything of note, especially for the price.

The most interesting parts of the meal were the sausage, because it was different, and the rice and beans from the buffet but mostly because it reminded me of the wonderful cassoulet I had in Toulouse last month.

I'll have to write about the trip to Provence because everything we had there was superior to the mediocre fare at Ridizo Rico. I wanted to like it but next time we feel like South American meat we'll be going to Feista Del Asado.

Rolling hills, valleys and sheep


A last minute getaway to Wales started with a gentle drive across the Midlands, out to where the road signs are in English and Welsh and ended with a trip along winding roads, across beautiful hills and past more sheep and lambs than I've ever seen. We'd settled on staying near the coast so we could get to the sea and the Snowdonia National Park for some walking in nature. 



One shouldn't forget to look up dining spots even before a drop-of-the-hat trip and so I booked a table at Bistro Bermo as soon as we'd booked accommodation. 





After an afternoon walking in some of the most beautifully wild country south of Hadrian's Wall you fancy something filling to recharge the batteries and if its good quality, well prepared and tastes divine you'd feel pretty please I'm sure.

We were pretty pleased.

Bistro Bermo is an unassuming establishment and very small. Don't be fooled. I don't know what the other restaurants in Barmouth are like but if they're like this there are some very spoilt Welshmen there. Service was excellent and friendly and it was a warm and intimate evening that started with a respectable pre-starter of fruited bread, olives and vinegar in olive oil, which I've always liked.


Starter

Z: Peppered goats cheese with mango sorbet
A: Duck pate with damson chutney

Its fair to say the options sounded good anyway, but you know that feeling when what looks like a good thing turns out to be better than good? That's what we got. The warm goats cheese was a fairly light cheesy goo (as it should be) with a delicious picante crispy crust. Having a cold mango sorbet as a counterpoint was marvelous and Z enjoyed it that much I now the task of attempting a replication at home. There's no higher praise than that. The pate was rich and smooth and perfectly juxtaposed with a delightfully tart damson chutney. I just wished the bread had been a little more adventurous; something seeded perhaps.

I'm quibbling. The starter made us eager for the mains and we were not disappointed.

Main

A: Supreme of cod with king prawns, mussels and a lobster sauce, and smashed garlic potatoes.
B: Fillet of Bream with cockles in a cream sauce and new potatoes.

Oh where to start?! The cod was so tender it was fluffy. The cod, mussels and sauce combination was just so; tender and sweet, which may seem an odd description for seafood but trust me when I say it was all a delicate wonder. The real star here the prawns though, and it was a great sadness to have so few. I stated in my mini-review of Rivera in Venice that the scampi was "was so, so good every scampi dish I have from now on is bound to be a disappointment."

I take my hat off to the chef at Bistro Bermo - this was no disappointment. Z tried one, on my insistence, and I asked what it reminded her of. "Venice" she said, with a large smile.

There was, in truth, too much cod and potatoes for me, as nice as it all was. I still finished it all though :)

Z's bream was, naturally, very different being a much more "fishy" meat with a more powerful flavour. Beautifully prepared and delicious and perfectly complemented by the cockle sauce (which is so much nicer to the taste buds than the eyes) I was almost jealous that I hadn't chosen it. With two excellent courses we just had to try the desserts.

Dessert

A: Sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice cream
Z: Mille feuille with fresh fruit and cream

Z is the dessert eater, not I, and be both agreed that the toffee pudding and butterscotch sauce was marvelous. The pudding was a slice from what seemed like a genuine homemade toffee pudding loaf and I could have had double. The trick to it was despite its description it wasn't too sweet. A lesser establishment would have made it sickly. I'd love another one tonight but alas we're back home.

The only disappointment of the evening was the mille feuille. The pastry was nice enough, the cream and fresh fruit all fine, fresh and tasty. But it had no crème pâtissière. One shouldn't call a thing a mille feuille if it has no crème pâtissière. Well perhaps it's not that bad as they are made without it sometimes, but Z loves traditional mille feuille and was a little crestfallen at this lack.

This small blip was just that though, a blip. It's a shame that Bistro Bermo is so far away as I can't say when we'll visit again. Its that kind of place that would draw me to it if I were to stay nearby again, simply for the fact that I cannot fathom how anywhere else close could hope to be anything but a disappointment. My biggest regret was that we didn't have enough cash on us to leave a decent tip - so we left all the cash we had. If the staff happen to read this - we're sorry, it was no reflection on you; far from it! Anywhere that does seafood that well (and those prawns!) with such simply inventive and scrumptious starters deserves a second, and third, visit. If I'm passing, lay me a place.