Sunday, 23 January 2022

Barrio Comida, Durham, Mexican taqueria review

Barrio Comida, a North East-based taqueria, has been on my to do list for a very long time.

It's owned by Californian chef Shaun Hurrell who's worked as a sous chef at London's St John as well as James Knappett’s Kitchen Table and Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley.

Starting out as a celebrated Newcastle pop-up, Barrio Comida now has a permanent space in Durham, located just across the bridge from the cathedral.

From the moment you walk in the door you can tell that Shaun has a meticulous eye for detail. With its metal open plan kitchen, muralled brick walls and panoramic views, it's one heck of a looker.

The attention to detail continues with their food.

On arrival, you're served a quartet of salsas which are made in house using imported Mexican ingredients. Complex in flavour, they all deliver different degrees of chilli pain.

A fruity and delicately smoky salsa roja, made with guajillo and morita chillies, was my pick of the bunch. The fact it was also the mildest was purely coincidence, of course.

A fresh and cleansing tomatillo, coriander and green chilli based salsa verde and Lao Gan Ma chilli crisp-esque salsa macha were also tip top. Salsa de arbol was probably one scoville too many for me.

To lessen the chilli burn, a pair of drinks most certainly did the job. A frozen margarita (£8) was smooth and packed with citrus with only a gentle wallop of booze. Creamy horchata (£3), made with rice milk, was nutty with a warming note of cinnamon.

Having ordered big on the taco front, we only made room for one side dish, papas adobas (£4). And what's not to love about crisped tender heritage potatoes coated in earthy chilli sauce and served with creamy grated queso and citrus-twanged guacamole?

Onto the main event and it's worth flagging just how good Barrio Comida’s tortillas are. Made in house every day, they're soft of texture with an excellent corn twang.

My pick of the tacos were carnitas (£7), topped with a tangle of tender, exceptionally well-flavoured slow-cooked pork, crisp puffed pig skin and zingy vegetable escabeche.

Baja fish tacos (£7) were my next favourite. Crisp lightly battered flaky fish was topped with a mountain of cleansing shredded white cabbage, pink pickled onions and creamy tangy crema.

Soft shreds of Hidalgo-style slow-cooked lamb (£8) delivered the intense meaty flavour which makes it my favourite meat.

Lastly birria de res tacos (£9) saw pieces of slow braised beef paired with a good ooze of creamy melted cheese. They had good flavour but it was a dipping cup of seriously beefy consommĂ© which took the dish to the next level.

We had a superb meal at Barrio Comido and their tacos are some of the best I’ve eaten in the UK. It's no doubt going to be a regular pitstop whenever I'm back in the North East.

The details:

Address - 34 Church St, Durham DH1 3DG
Telephone - 0191 370 9688

Sunday, 12 December 2021

The Stackpole Inn, Pembrokeshire pub review

With the imminent arrival of Storm Arwen, I didn't hold out much hope for our weekend in Pembrokeshire.

Thankfully, we managed beautiful yet blustery walks along Broad Haven South and Barafundle Bay and sought shelter by the fireplace of The Stackpole Inn, a restaurant with rooms which has previously been named the best pub in England and Wales by Alasdair Sawday.

Heading up the kitchen is Matt Waldron, a chef with a seriously impressive CV. He’s been sous chef at Restaurant James Sommerin and Ynyshir and also worked as a chef de partie at Helene Darroze in London.

Matt has channeled his classical technique into a menu of hearty fish-focused cooking. Multiple dishes on the menu grabbed my attention including black tiger prawns roasted in garlic butter, Pembrokeshire duck leg with mash and Llandeilo venison haunch with pappardelle.

To start, a round of coarse meat-packed ham hock terrine (£6.50) was served with crisp and mustardy celeriac remoulade, toasted focaccia and the richness balancing tang of a savoury mushroom ketchup. It went down a treat with a half of smooth Tenby Harbour Brewing MV Enterprise pale ale.

I love sardines and they're an essential order whenever I see them. At £6 they were pretty much being given away. Here they were treated with the respect they deserve with lightly charred skin and tender oily flesh. A smoky paprika mayo and well dressed leaves completed the dish.

Smoked salmon (£7.50), so often disappointingly slimy and thinly sliced. was served in excellent thick meaty tranches. Sweet white Solva crab, rich avocado puree and clean apple slices were all bang on too.

Onto mains and an absolute monster of a soft-fleshed skate wing (£25) was loaded with sweet shrimp, briny capers and salty samphire. It probably would have fed a small family.

Beer battered fish and chips (£17) hit the mark on all fronts with its golden grease-free coating, flaky flesh, sweet and salty mushy peas and ridiculously crisp and fluffy double cooked chips.

A Fred Flinstone-esque pork chop (£20) was coated in a compellingly sweet and savoury honey paprika honey glaze and was impressively juicy of flesh. Silky butternut squash puree with toasted seeds and zingy aniseed-twanged pickled fennel brought together this refined yet hearty plate.

Triple cooked chips were golden and crisp but curiously lacked the extreme crunch of the double cooked ones across the table.

Onto dessert and the only average element of the meal was a slightly soft-crusted salted caramel tart (£7) which lacked intensity and a hit of salt.

A fine example of an affogato (£5) hit the spot with its hot roasty espresso and cold smooth milk ice cream. Plus the mini coffee pot was too cute.

We had an excellent lunch at the Stackpole Inn. With his hearty technique packed cooking, it's fair to say Matt Waldron is cooking up a storm in Pembrokeshire. 

The Details:

Address -  The Stackpole Inn, Jasons Corner, Stackpole, Pembroke SA71 5DF
Telephone - 01646 672324