Saturday, 25 January 2020

Osip, Bruton, Somerset restaurant and rooms review


The quaint village of Bruton has been described as the Stoke Newington of Somerset.

It certainly doesn’t disappoint. There’s an old chapel which has been converted into a bar, bakery and wood-fired pizzeria, an organic village co-operative, countless art shops and an uber-lux gallery where Princess Eugenie is a director.

The jewel in the crown though is Osip, a farm-to-table restaurant where the brilliantly named and brilliantly talented Merlin Labron-Johnson runs the show.

Labron-Johnson made his name at London’s Portland where he earned a Michelin-star at the age of 24, just nine months after opening the restaurant. He’s originally from the West Country so Osip is somewhat of a homecoming.

On the night we visited, Osip’s restaurant manager was off work so Labron-Johnson ran the pass as well as front of house simultaneously. It was an impressive feat, especially when everything was so seamless.


Osip’s menu focuses on seasonal, organic locally sourced produce. There’s just one menu available in the evening, a tasting menu costing a very reasonable £49.


A compact wine list has every bin available by the glass. Mrs G and I worked our way through glasses of Rietsch Alsatian orange wine (£9.50), highly neckable Landron Chartier rosé (£5.50) and a light and fruity Yann Bertrand Fleurie ‘Phoneix’ (£11.50).


A big bruiser of a duck broth kicked off dinner. Intensely meaty, it was infused with tea leaf and the smokey hit of tea oil.


A quartet of snacks were all belters.

A warm and light pumpkin financier was topped with sweet and earthy pumpkin puree and the fragrant crunch of deep fried sage leaf.


Quail egg mimosa was the ultimate egg mayo, the yolk puree twanged with warming spice.


A crisp and light choux bun was stuffed with a silky, tangy and thick yet light smoked cheddar custard.


Finally, sweet and salty caramelised pecans were wrapped in a piggy cloak of lardo which melted on impact.


Uber-well-crusted bread contained dark notes of treacle and a malty hit of ale. It was joined by whipped smoked butter and a coarse, gamey potted pheasant.


Pickles included sweet and earthy yellow beetroot, a turnip-y tasting veg and another root which was sweet with hedgerow berries.


A solid pumpkin soup was elevated by wood-fired pieces of tender chestnut with a lovely yielding texture and a compelling nut brown butter.


The first standout dish of the meal saw a warm spelt salad interlaced with the crunch of hazelnut and buckwheat. Sat on a silky mushroom puree, it was topped with soft discs of mushroom and a dusting of funky truffle and tangy Westcombe cheddar.


Next up was the other highlight, a ludicrously comforting combination of caramelised meaty diver scallop pieces bathed in intense chicken roasting juices and topped with an airy jerusalem artichoke foam and crunchy jerusalem artichoke crisps.


Our main was a quality roast chicken. Both breast and thigh were juicy, flavour-packed and crisp of skin. They were accompanied by a silky mace-laced smooth bread sauce, sweet hay-baked apple sauce, fine red cabbage and the richness-balancing tang of redcurrant.


We shared a supplementary cheese course. A camembert like Old Burford with fine shards of thyme cracker and sweet membrillo. A complimentary shot of ice cider was seriously appley and not at all boozy. Dangerous.


Finally, an eclair was a genius piece of pastry-work. The light and crisp choux bun was stuffed with smooth and not too sweet hazelnut custard, and topped with lightly salted caramel and praline hazelnuts. Woof.


Warm madeleines and deliciously citrusy lemon verbena fragranced pâte de fruit brought the meal to a close.


We had a brilliant dinner at Osip. There’s bags of technique and flavour in Merlin’s cooking but he doesn’t throw too many elements at the plate.

We stayed the night (£130) at Osip’s sister bed and breakfast, No.1 Bruton, which is located just upstairs. We had one of the best night’s sleeps we’ve had in long time on a whopping bed.


Complimentary face packs, a mini truckle of somerset cheddar, crackers and a couple of bottles of Somerset cider added even more luxury.


A self-service breakfast buffet overseen by Merlin the following morning was top notch. A giant wedge of tangy Westcombe Dairy cheddar, fresh and super-crisp sourdough, soft boiled eggs, rillettes and a fine pear and quince tart were just some of the first class produce on offer.


But, a super thick and creamy cold rice pudding with homemade milk caramel was the highlight. If I was served this for dessert in any restaurant I’d be a very happy man indeed.


I seriously recommend a visit to Osip. If you're looking for a luxury break just an hour and a half from Cardiff then it's well worth a trip.

The Details:

Address - Osip, 1 High St, Bruton BA10 0AB
Telephone - 01749 813322

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Alex Gooch Baker, Pontcanna, Cardiff vegan pizza review


When I was first told Alex Gooch’s baked goods are all vegan, my sizeable head almost exploded. Things like his delicious challah buns and rich viennoiserie including croncs (a muffin shaped croissant filled with chocolate) are all free from butter and eggs. Wowzers.

It's unsurprising they taste so good considering this Hay-on-Wye based organic artisan baker has won multiple awards including British Baker of the Year 2015 and the BBC Radio 4 Food and Farming Award Best Producer 2010.


So, when Alex decided to branch out into wood-fired vegan pizza from his weeny Kings Yard shop in Pontcanna, it was always going to be a dead-cert.

With a limited menu of just four pizzas (available as whole pies or by the slice), they’re available to takeaway on Fridays 4pm-8pm, Saturdays 12pm-8pm and Sundays 12pm-4pm. Coincide a visit with Pipes Brewery and Lazy Leek and you’re laughing.

 
Whilst we waited for our pizzas to be cooked, I guzzled a half pint of light and zingy Pipes champagne strawberry sour.

It’s worth flagging just how good the crusts are on Alex Gooch’s pizzas. Crisp and airy with a lovely chew and tang, they’re made from 30 hour proofed sourdough using organic rye and wheat flour, sea salt and water. 

 
A smoked margherita (£10.50) was topped with light and fresh tomato sauce, creamy and smokey melted cheese, and a good drizzle of perky herb oil. 

 

Another delicious pie (£12) was topped with punchy pickled jalapenos and briny green olives. 


The best of the bunch was a genius garlic based pizza (£12) topped with squished sweet and earthy butternut squash, melted cheese, toasty sesame seeds and creamy tahini. It’s one of the best flavour combinations I’ve had on a pizza anywhere. 

 
Six of us shared three sizeable pizzas alongside a couple of boxes of kick-ass Lazy Leek dirty fries and Buffalo cauliflower wings and it was plenty of food. They happen to be located directly opposite Alex Gooch so you can feed two birds with one scone.  


I highly recommend Alex Gooch’s vegan pizzas. If you’re looking for first rate pizza in Pontcanna, vegan or not, then this is the place to come.

The Details:

Address - Alex Gooch Baker, 183A Kings Rd, Cardiff CF11 9DF
Telephone - 01497 822 708

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Da Ling Kitchen, Roath, Cardiff pan-asian diner and takeaway review


Da Ling Kitchen on Albany Road is a Pan-Asian diner and takeaway with influences from across China, Malaysia, Japan and Korea.

With a chef reported to have earned their stripes at London’s Michelin-starred Hakkasan, it’s clear someone in the kitchen knows what they’re doing.

The menu reads very well with crispy duck salad (a Hakkasan speciality), Malaysian chicken curry, shichimi pepper squid and stir-fried morning glory with garlic all grabbing attention. It’s worth noting  that dishes are slightly more expensive than the average takeaway with mains ranging from £8.50 to £10. But, there's 10% off these prices to be had for cash collections and the portions are very generous too.


Korean kimchi mandoo (£6) saw a generous portion of thin-skinned and lightly crisped dumplings stuffed with juicy pork mince and diced kimchi with a good honk of garlic and chilli. They were accompanied by a deliciously savoury soy and sesame dip. 

 
A complimentary taster of crisp-crumbed and tender chicken cutlet was served with warming wasabi mayonnaise. It doesn’t appear on the menu but I’d reckon their wasabi king prawns, squid or tofu would be equally tasty. 


Salt and pepper pork chops (£10) were the most delicate of the dishes we ordered. A stack of super tender and nicely caramelised boneless pork was lightly twanged with garlic and red chilli. 

We've already gobbled a few of the chops in this box
In contrast, sambal king prawns (£10), the standout dish of the meal, were deliciously bold in their spicing. A generous quantity of sweet and tender crustaceans and crisp veggies were bathed in a seriously punchy chilli and shrimp paste sauce. 


Last up, a beef rendang (£10) saw a generous amount of long-cooked beef brisket bathed in a thick spice-heady sauce fragrant with coconut, garlic, galangal, lemongrass and chilli. It’s not the best rendang we’ve ever eaten but it was very tasty. 

 
Boiled rice was nicely fluffy. As an opening offer it was complimentary but it would normally be a fairly sharp £4.10. 


We really enjoyed our takeaway from Da Ling Kitchen. It’s most certainly bringing something different to Roath and there’s a lot more dishes I’d be keen to get my gnashers around. I hope they continue to include the free rice with main dishes as otherwise £14 for a main with rice is a perhaps a bit pricey.

As a footnote, we ate our takeaway at the brilliant Bottle Shop in Roath where I spend the bulk of my spare time and money. With a vast selection of craft beer and a small range of wines by the glass, it’s handy to know they’re BYOF (Bring Your Own Food). We regularly order pizzas from Anatoni’s and Da Mara and pancake rolls from China Kitchen to accompany a skinful of beers.


The Details:

Address - Da Ling Kitchen, 108 Albany Road, Roath, Cardiff CF24 3RT
Telephone - 029 2049 8808

Address - The Bottle Shop, 4 Pen-Y-Lan Rd, Cardiff CF24 3PF
Web - https://twitter.com/cf24bottleshop
Telephone - 029 2049 0096

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

The Coach, Clerkenwell, London pub review


Rowley Leigh. Alastair Little. Shaun Hill. Simon Hopkinson. Fergus Henderson.

There are some British chefs who have an almost mythological status in British cooking.

Henry Harris is another in the pantheon. He trained under Simon Hopkinson at Hilaire and Bibendum before most recently running Racine in Knightsbridge, a French bistro which closed in 2013 due to unsustainable rent.

Which brings me to the Coach in Clerkenwell, one of a quartet of local pubs with dining rooms which Harris oversees as Chef Director.


Clerkenwell on a Saturday night is a curious place - tumbleweed rolls through the streets where pinstriped city boys trough at overpriced wine bars during the week.

The Coach is a charming boozer. And its petite dining room even finer with its fairy lights and eclectic pictures adorning the walls.

With Harris's love of French cooking, it's unsurprising where the focus of his menu lies. Calves brain, steak tartare and confit duck all put in an appearance. 

We start with a selection of charcuterie (£18) to share. It's decent - Bayonne ham, salami, bresaola and speck all feature but they're all a little cool in temperature and indistinct in seasoning. The star is a big hitting celeriac remoulade with plenty of crunch and a good wallop of mustard. 


Bread lacks crispness and is accompanied by rock solid fridge cold butter which we vainly chisel at. 


Our mains our both good.

A rabbit leg (£19) is nicely caramelised and juicy but the flesh has a little bit of bounce to it. Its accompanying mustard sauce is killer - warming and decadently creamy. Al dente green beens and rashers of smokey Alsace bacon hit the mark. 


An overflowing bowl of golden chips are ideal for dredging through all that sauce.


Mrs G's fillet of coley is lovely (£18.50) - it’s crisp of skin, meaty and falls into flakes. Borlotti beans have a nice bite to them and roast squash is tender and sweet. But, it sits in a slightly wishy-washy broth fragranced with rosemary. 


A perky green salad (£4) is nicely dressed. 


Dessert is the star of the show. A creme caramel (£6) is all wobbly dairy with a lovely twang of toasty caramel. A boozy armagnac prune (£3) seals the deal. 


So there we are, a tasty meal with flashes of excellence. But at £90 including a glass of booze each, I'm not sure if good is good enough. With the standard of cooking in London, I think you can get a lot more bang for your buck elsewhere. 

The Details:

Address - The Coach, 26-28 Ray St, Clerkenwell, London EC1R 3DJ
Telephone - 020 3954 1595

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Dark by Dusty Knuckle, Cardiff city centre restaurant review


With its graffiti adorned pizza oven and menu of quirky kebabs and lesser used cuts of meat, Cardiff's newest restaurant is clearly influenced by Lee Tiernan’s acclaimed London-based Black Axe Mangal. However, Dark is very much a Dusty Knuckle venture with Phill and Deb Lewis channeling their skills with a pizza oven in an entirely new direction.


The cosy space, formerly Cafe Minuet, can accommodate around 20 people inside with seating for more outside. But, if you want to grab some nosh to take back to your desk, Dark are still operating the takeaway hatch which was well-known back in Minuet’s days. 

 
With a focus on nose to tail eating, Dark’s regularly changing menu is divided into kebabs, pizzas and plates. On the day we visited, intriguing sounding dishes included fiery chicken and chilli eggs (£6.50), dark shakshuka (£6.50) and kippers with kimchi butter (£7.50). 

 
As they’re currently waiting for their alcohol licence, Mrs G and I stuck to the tap water. But, for the time being they’re BYOB if you want to get on the booze.

A couple of cracking small plates kicked off the meal.

Gorgeously tender, buttery and lightly-crisped beef tongue (£6) was accompanied by a sauce gribiche heady with herb and light richness-balancing acidity. Made with egg, mustard, pickled cucumber, capers and green herbs, it’s the first time I’ve had this flavour-packed sauce. 


Crispy jerusalem artichokes (£5.50) most certainly delivered on their billing. Brilliantly crisp with a soft, sweet and earthy interior they were joined by a thick, garlicky and nutty ajo blanco sauce and a delicate kraut which harmonised rather than overwhelmed. 

 
A pair of gargantuan wood-fired kebabs formed the main event. Both flatbreads were enjoyably thin, crisp and airy. In fact, they were so crisp the knives provided weren’t quite up to the task. 

 
The first kebab was topped with a coarse lamb offal mince (£9.50). It had bags of lamby flavour and only a delicate offal twang so it would be more than suitable for entry-level entrail eaters. It was joined by tangy pink pickled onions, crunchy red cabbage and carrot, creamy yoghurt and chopped parsley. A fermented chilli sauce was lovely but the dish could certainly have taken a bigger punch of chilli. 

 
A chicken bits kebab (£9) was the clear winner. Laden with tons of crisp, tender and juicy dark chicken meat, it was joined by a compellingly savoury teriyaki sauce, silky and nutty sesame aioli, huge flavoured spicy kimchi, shredded carrot and cabbage and a vibrant green herb sauce. 


We really enjoyed our lunch at Dark and with a heap of food our bill only came to £30. Dark is a great addition to Cardiff city centre’s independent food scene and I’m looking forward to trying a lot more of their offal-laden cooking.

The Details:

Address - Dark, 40 - 42 Castle Arcade, Cardiff CF10 1BW
Web - https://twitter.com/dk_dark_side
Opening hours: Mon, Tues, Wed, Sat, Sun - 10am-6pm, Thu and Fri - 10am-9pm