Thursday, 28 August 2014

Restaurant Review: conTenedor, Seville

Onion flowers
On the penultimate night of our stay in Seville we had diner at conTenedor. The highly rated restaurant is touted as a good example of modern Seville dining and recommended by the owner of the apartment we were staying in.

The menu had a big focus on biodynamic wines and organic ingredients. With boxes of fresh ingredients on display, chefs working in an open kitchen and an eclectic mix of tables and chairs in the dining room, it felt like the type of place that was appealing to the Seville hipster crowd.

My favourite dish of the evening was the arroz con pato (€13). Cooked rice was then fried until crispy giving a lovely crunch and texture. The rice was accompanied by chicken, thyme and swirls of a punchy sauce. I also remember the tarta chocolate (€5.50) that we shared for dessert.

I enjoyed our diner at conTenedor, but I was expecting a bit more from one of Seville's 'top' restaurants. The vibe was a little different to other places we'd eaten in Spain, but the food was at the same (good) level as many of the other places we'd eaten. At €57 for two it certainly didn't break the bank, but was higher than the €35 level we'd usually been paying.

Arroz con pato



Tarta chocolate

Calle San Luis, 50

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Restaurant Review: Sylvan Oak, Earlsfield

Rabbit Loin with Rabbit Leg Pastille
The staff beamed as we walked into Sylvan Oak for dinner. All of the guests were being greeted warmly, but as they took our names, our welcome became extra bright due to a surprise I'd organised for later in the evening. But first it was time to take a look at the menus.

We were given some warm homemade bread, fragrant with fennel seeds, and olives to snack on while we looked at the menus. There were lots of appealing options on the relatively compact menu, containing six mains and five starters and puddings. We both decided to skip starters and head straight for the main courses.

I had the Rabbit Loin and Bacon with Rabbit Leg Pastille, Mustard & Honey Glazed Chantelle Carrots. The rabbit loin came topped with a piece of black pudding that was full of flaovur and not too rich. The rabbit leg came wrapped in filo pastry that also hid some couscous inside.

The dish looked great and streaks of mustard hiding under the jus added a bite to the whole dish. I would have enjoyed a bit more mustard and a little pot on the side would have gone down well.
Harissa Roast South Down Lamb Rump
Becks chose the Harissa Roast South Down Lamb Rump with Crushed Pea, Goats Cheese & Potato Millefeuille, Aubergine & Spicy Tomato Sauce. I thought it could have been a brave combination of flavours as both harissa and goats cheese can dominate a dish. I shouldn't have been surprised to find that they were both spot on, with the mellow harissa providing a gentle warmth and the goats cheese adding a creamy dimension.

Our mains were accompanied by a couple of glasses of the Minervois La Touge from Chateau Maris, which was a great recommendation from the wine list.
Hot Chocolate Fondant with Vanilla Ice Cream
I wanted to make an occasion out of giving Becks her engagement ring now that it had been re-sized and she could wear it for the first time. I got in touch with the restaurant a couple of days before our visit and asked them to help create a special dessert which they did brilliantly.

There wasn't quite the same reaction as when I originally proposed, but I am happy to report the answer hadn't changed!
Rhubard cheesecake
My dessert was the dish of the evening, the Rhubarb Cheesecake with an Assortment of Rhubarb Delight. The rhubarb cheesecake was topped with a rhubarb jelly and pieces of stewed rhubarb, all with a rhubarb ice cream on the side.

The service throughout the evening was friendly, knowledgeable and excellent conspirators in helping me organise a little surprise. At £30 for two courses and £36 for three I also think it represents great value for the standard of food and service that you get.

Sylvan Oak
560 Garratt Lane
SW17 0NY
Sylvan Oak on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 24 August 2014

East Sussex Weekend: Bodiam Castle, Smallhythe Place and a proposal!

Bodiam Castle
Having missed a few opportunities to propose on the Saturday, Sunday had to be the day. I knew that if I left it unplanned, as I had done the day before, the day might slip away and it could be a service station on the M20 in the way back to London at the end of the day.

Deciding that a service station might not be the most romantic venue I resolved to propose before we left the B&B that morning. I woke an hour before Becks and it was a restless time waiting for her to wake.

The proposal itself passed in a bit of a blur. I thought Becks would have been expecting it (I hadn't been thinking of much else all weekend), but it seemed to be a genuine surprise with Becks only working out what was going on when I said her name. There were tears, joy and a yes!

We decided that the first people we should tell were our parents, so spent the whole day keeping the most amazing secret to ourselves.
First photo as an engaged couple
Once we'd checked out of the B&B (Did you enjoy your stay? Yes, we got engaged!) we headed down the hill to Bodiam Castle. Already bustling with tourists on a hot summers day, the ruined castle is a popular attraction with kids.

We spent around an hour looking round the castle and climbing up a couple of the towers to see views from the roof of the local countryside. East Sussex was looking glorious in the sunshine with golden tinged fields, oast houses and the river Rother all within view.
Inside Bodiam Castle
Having sampled a carafe of English wine the previous night we decided that it might be fun to visit and English vineyard while we were in the middle of a prime growing area. We headed across to one of the best known vineyards Chapel Down.

We were a little disappointed by Chapel Down. There were no grapes in sight of the visitors central and the shop had the feeling of a generic deli. Their wines weren't particularly prominent when you walked in and much of the produce wasn't local either (we spotted flour from near my parents in Oxfordshire).

After a quick spin round the shop we walked down the hill to our second National Trust property of the day, Smallhythe Place. The Sixteenth century house was originally built by a ship builder, but was most famously owned by Ellen Terry an actress (I'd never heard of) from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
Smallhythe Place
We joined the garden tour shortly after arriving and had an interest walk round the garden where we were told about the history of the house and Ellen Terry as a person. Part way through the tour the heavens opened and we had to shelter under a tree in the orchard for a while.

After a the garden tour, rather than go back to the house, we decided to visit the next door church which was having a flower festival. Hungry, we had a late lunch in a marquee which had been set up next to the church before going inside to look at the flowers.

It was the five hundredth anniversary of a major five in Smallhythe and the flowers had been done in vibrant reds and yellows in reflection of the fire. It was an excellent display for such a small church.

We completed our visit to the church with a slice of cake / dessert back in the marquee. As the heavens opened once again we decided to end our rather special weekend in East Sussex and head back to London.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Restaurant Review: The Curlew, Near Bodiam, East Sussex

Jersey Royals
For the Saturday night of our weekend in East Sussex I had booked a table The Curlew Restaurant. Close to our B&B and having one Michelin Star, I hoped it would be the culinary highlight of our weekend away.

The food, in my humble opinion, was worthy of it's Michelin Star. The presentation was great throughout and the food was varyingly bold (like my starter made from just a single ingredient, Jersey Royals), delicate (like the tomato essence poured over the heritage tomatoes Becks had for her starter) and new (I'd never tasted sea blight, until I tried it with my main course of sea bass).

The highlights were probably the desserts. Becks declared the Kentish strawberry parfait with basil and almond to be even better than a very similar dish we had at Triciclo in Madrid earlier in the year. High praise indeed.

My cherry with pastry, pickled cherry and cherry sorbet was pretty good as well. It was great to be eating local cherries in the peak of their season. The pickled cherries were the highlight for me.

Although the food was worthy of a Michelin Star I didn't think the whole experience matched the same level. Our young waitress was a little bit surly, although she did warm up during the night. The penchant for serving the food in bowls, particularly the steeper bowls used for the starters, was a little awkward too. Where do you put your knife and fork if you wanted to put them down to take a sip of wine?

Finally there was an unpleasant odour outside the front door which meant the evening started and ended with a whiff. No one wants to walk away from an evening with drain smells stuck in the back of their throat.
Heritage tomatoes

Live caught cod

Sea bass

Kentish Strawberry Parfait


The Curlew
Junction Rd
East Sussex
TN32 5UY
The Curlew on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

East Sussex Weekend: Sissinghurst Castle

In the vegetable garden at Sissinghurst Castle
Still full from the night before, our day started with an over indulgent breakfast in the orangery of the Prawles Court B&B where we were staying. It was totally unnecessary, but did set us up for the day and we barely ate again before dinner in the evening.

I'd put quite a bit of effort into planning the weekend selecting accommodation, activities and dinners that I thought we'd enjoy, all for one purpose; I was going to propose to Becks during the weekend. I didn't know when or how, I was just hoping that an opportunity would present itself during the weekend. I slipped the jewellery box into my bag as we left the B&B for our day at Sissinghurst Castle.

When we arrived I was hoping to slip the jewellery box out of my bag and into my pocket but Becks didn't turn her back for a moment, so I had to let the opportunity pass and we headed off towards the entrance.
View of the tower from the orchard
Unlike most NT properties there isn't a house to visit at Sissinghurst Castle. You can climb the tower (above) and that is what we did first to get our bearings. From the top we could see the formal gardens, orchard, oast houses and fields beyond.

Having negotiated our way back down the narrow staircase we headed into the formal gardens. There was a board in the tower describing the gardens as having a maximum formality in their structure and maximum informality in their planting. It was a pretty good description. The beds in the walled garden were laid out just as you'd expect from a formal English garden, but the planting was a lot more free form.

After doing a first pass of the formal gardens we walked along the moat and through the orchard (where the grass is cut once a year - by hand this time around), we went for a final spin round the formal garden. Just after I took the picture of the sunflower below, another visitor snapped the head off the plant trying to smell it. What a waste of a good sunflower!
Leaving the gardens we headed back to the car to pick up another bottle of water and this time I was able to slip the jewellery box into my pocket while Becks changed her shoes. Armed with more water we headed off on a walk around the estate.

Escaping the crowds we were pleased to be walking through the shade of tree lined paths during the heat of the day, resting for a while in the bird hide overlooking a pond. Despite the bird feeders being full of nuts we didn't see a single animal while we were sitting there.

Continuing on, we arrived at the high point of the walk, with views back over Sissinghurst. Being in a secluded spot with great views, I thought about popping the question. However, Becks started saying how hot she was and I could tell the moment wasn't quite right.
We arrived back at the house, amused ourselves with a novel stile, and then visited the café for a scone. Fortified from a sit down we headed across to the vegetable garden. I was expecting to garden to be bursting with produce in July and was surprised to see it less full than I expected. I don't have any green fingers, but had thought that at the peak of summer there would be a lot more fruit and vegetables on display.

After a quick look round the shop we had a sit down in the shade under the trees. We sat listening to some Kiwi accents behind us and then I dozed off for an afternoon snooze. I don't remember dreaming but I must have been thinking about proposing, as when I woke up I thought "this is the moment". Until I realised that there were some people sitting a short distance away from us and it wasn't quite as private as I thought.
Nearly again
Just before we left, we visited the oast houses which had an exhibition about the former owners Vita Sackville-West and her husband Sir Harold Nicolson. The exhibition was full of letter between Vita and Harold. I clearly read them too quickly as I missed all the scandal of their various affairs.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

East Sussex Weekend: Part 1

Country lanes and sunsets in Ewhurst
Last weekend Becks and I went away for what turned out to be a very special weekend. The original plan was to head to Whitstable to visit the Mondrian exhibition at the Turner Contemporary Gallery,  but all the decent accommodation in the area was booked so I set about finding a Plan B. Having enjoyed our National Trust weekend earlier in the year I decided to centre the weekend round a visit to Sissinghurst Castle.

We got lucky with the traffic as we headed out of London on the Friday evening and, despite one wrong turn, arrived at our plush B&B in just over an hour and a half. Much better than I feared it might be.
Becks during golden hour
After a short time settling into our room we headed through to the village to the pub for dinner.  As the sunset lit up the countryside village of Ewhurst was looking picture perfect with oast houses, a quaint church and manicured front gardens.

I'd booked a table at The White Dog pub as I heard it could get busy during the summer, but there was lots of space with only a few people in the bar and the restaurant about half full. From the website I'd unfairly pre-judged it as a 'chicken in a basket' type place, but it was far smarter than that. We grabbed a couple of local ales and took a seat outside. Only to decide it was a little chilly for that and headed back inside.
Outside The White Dog pub
For dinner we decided to order the seafood platter to share from the specials board. A huge plate of smoked prawns, king prawns, hot smoked salmon, smoked trout, crab and half a lobster arrived at our table with a small basket of bread from the local Lighthouse bakery.

The small smoked prawns were the stand out of the seafood platter, I also liked the samphire underneath the huge mound of fish. Having to attack the crab claws helped me from scoffing down the seafood too quickly. It isn't the type of dish I'd usually order, but I really enjoyed it.

We left the pub at around ten thirty and the village was pitch black with the moon barely out. It was a very dark walk back to the B&B, we should have taken one of the torches from the room....
The seafood platter

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Sitting in the window of Taste Inn on the Lee High Road

Stir fried beef with silken bean curd and chilli
After a long day at Lords watching the cricket on Saturday, we decided to catch the train straight to Lewisham in search of dinner. Lewisham doesn't usually spring to mind when looking for dinner venues, but I was intrigued to try the recently opened Model Market which is bringing bringing out the local hipsters in droves.

When we arrived at the market there was a queue trying to get in and there was a £3 entry fee. Admittedly not a huge sum, but I object to the idea of paying to go into a market, especially when the price of 'street food' has started nudging towards the £10 mark.

Suitably put off we decided head towards Taste Inn, a small Chinese on the Lee High Road that has been floating round the back of my mind since I heard a recommendation for the place a couple of years ago.

The average shop front on the Lee High Road looks pretty drab, and while Taste Inn's exterior was better than average, I was a little hesitant about going inside. However, inside we went and you couldn't fault the friendly and welcoming staff.
Steamed dumplings with pork and Chinese leek, with stir fried broccoli and garlic
Having sat next too each other all day at the cricket, we took the bench seats in the window to keep the feeling going. Becks and I had clearly developed an aversion to sitting opposite each other!

The window seat was a fascinating place to people watch. La Fontaine Patisserie and Deli opposite seemed to be a real hub of activity with lots of people hanging around the shop. At one point in the evening the parking space outside the shop was reserved with bin bags (classy) by a man in a sharp suit. The bin bags were moved when a Volvo turned up, cake boxes and cake stands were piled in the car before the man in the suit jumped into the passenger seat and the car drove off.

I was eyeing up the patisserie for dessert, but it closed soon after the cake collection.

Once the opportunities for people watching at La Fontaine had disappeared environmental enforcement officers for Lewisham Council came down the road opening up bin bags and checking for business which were disposing of waste illegally. The Caribbean restaurant over the road seemed to be getting a bit of a talking to.

Not only does Taste Inn provide the entertainment the food was pretty good too. The stir fried beef with chilli and silken bean curd was a bit of a challenge with chop sticks but definitely worth the effort. The steamed pork and Chinese leek dumplings were the favourite dish of the night, just beware the steaming soupy innards. It was good value too with three dish, rice and tea for £22.

On our way our of the restaurant we heard the waitress tell a neighbouring table about their handmade noodles. I'll be coming back to try those.

I'll also be heading back to the Lee High Road to check out Rox Burger which has just opened next door to Taste Inn.

Just beware of marauding buses shooting through red lights on the way home.....

Taste Inn
80 Lee High Rd
SE13 5PT