Sunday, 24 November 2013

Bonjour French Food Hamper - Review

French food is great, I think we can all agree on that, and I like having a snoop around French supermarkets when we are over there. The cheese, bread and cured meats, caramels, jams, chocolate and everything else in between. I heard about Bonjour French Food on Twitter, a monthly hamper full of unique and sometimes hard to find French treats, with a specific theme each time. They were kind enough to offer me a box to review, and I eagerly awaited their next shipment date at the beginning of November.

The theme for November was tartine, a traditional French open sandwich layered with any number of things - cheese, vegetables, pate or cured meat. A perfect quick lunch. My box contained a mix to make Pain de Campagne (country style bread), pork and mushroom terrine, tomato spread, olive tapenade, comte biscuits and apple caramel.

Our plan for the box was to nibble through the contents for dinner, with some excellent cheese and bread (making the pain de campagne had to wait for another day).

The tomato spread was by far our favourite - so intensely tomatoey, like fresh summery tomatoes with a hint of herbs.

Olive tapenade is one of my favourite things, but it is normally not made very well, due to the cheapness of olives used. The Aix & Terra black olive tapenade was gorgeous, so intense and really good quality. You just need a little spread on a piece of bread. I'm sure this would be great stirred into pasta, although it is a little precious for that.

The little spreads made a lovely addition to a cheeseboard and we nibbled on the gorgeous Michel et Augustin comte biscuits with a glass of wine, after dinner. They were generously packed with cheese and I liked that they are made with wholemeal flour - giving a nice nutty taste and extra texture.

Finally, the sweet. The apple caramel reminded us of the apple galettes we had in Paris - intensely fruity, buttery and sweet. I made french toast for breakfast the next day, and the caramel worked perfectly in the place of syrup. 

We really enjoyed nibbling through our box, it was full of interesting brands, most of which are small producers, that we'd not heard of before. The box came with a card explaining the stories of each item, and where you can buy them. It felt like a real insight into French food, and like a great secret that was being shared with us across the Channel. 

Each box is £29 per month, with discounts if you sign up for longer, quite reasonable when you think about the quality of each item, and the time that is spent sourcing them. Find out more here.

Thank you to Bonjour French Food for sending me a box to review.

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Monday, 4 November 2013

Pint Shop Preview Party, Cambridge

A very exciting addition to the Cambridge restaurant opens today - Pint Shop. Their slogan is 'Meat, Bread, Beer' and if that doesn't make you happy then you can stop reading now. Although don't actually, because even if you're a vegetarian or don't like beer, there is something here for you. A magnificent vegetarian pie is on the menu, and 40 different kinds of gin!

I was lucky enough to be invited to their preview party last week to sample what their bar had to offer along with the kitchen. I was greeted by the lovely manager, Clare, who told me simply, there are gin and tonics inside - sold! I was there to see this fabulous new restaurant open but also to celebrating landing a brand new job (yay!).

Pint Shop is a three story former bank, inside which is a bar area and a dining room plus further rooms upstairs. It's nice that the rooms are split this way so you don't feel lost in a huge open plan restaurant. I believe in the bar area you can just grab a drink and a bar snack or a full meal, and the dining area for meals only.

I'm not a beer drinker but I have recently developed a liking for gin (my age maybe?) so I was glad to see they have 40 gins on the menu, plus a regular house gin specially picked out. On the preview night it was Adnams Copper House gin so I gladly ordered a G&T which was expertly and quickly made up. I've mostly had bad experiences with G&T but this was really nice, not too bitter and just the thing after a long day.

Beer wise they are chalked up on a huge blackboard daily, with plenty of variation to suit all tastes. There is a good looking selection of wine but disappointingly no cider  - maybe this is something they will have in the future? Hopefully, there is some great cider being made locally and it would be a shame to miss out.

As we settled down food started to come around, so much of it too! There were chilli 'beer sticks' made from cured pork and spices, a nice hit of spice and perfect with your drink.

Then we were treated to rabbit and potato mini pasties with pickle, fish pie scotch eggs with saffron aioli, potted pork with plum on lovely Jigsaw Bakery sourdough, rolled shoulder of lamb with welsh onion cake and cabbage and finally beetroot with a herby nutty pesto on more of that lovely sourdough. Everything we tasted was really novel, comforting homely food with a nice twist - I can't wait to dine there again.
Potted Pork and Plum 

Rolled Shoulder of Lamb, Potato Cake, Red Cabbage

As part of the festivities there were also talks from their suppliers  - we got to learn all about the Cambridge Gin Distillery and their yummy 'P' Gin made from, you've guessed it, peas, in honour of the Peas Hill address of Pint Shop. We first got to taste a pea spirit which amazingly captured that freshly picked pea taste but in booze! Amazing. Their unique vaccuum distillation process means that they can capture delicate flavours in a spirit. The actual P Gin is made from Juniper (as required by gin, to be called Gin), fresh peas, mint and spices. It was very interesting indeed, the peas are less strong but you get a lovely fresh, mint, herby taste backed up with the obligatory juniper. Novel stuff.

Pint Shop opens tonight, and I believe it is already proving to be a big hit. Get there as soon as you can, it will be great. Find out more here. 

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Friday, 1 November 2013

Morston Hall, Norfolk

Every year we visit an excellent restaurant, with a Michelin star (or two) to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Last Sunday was our fourth year married and we carried on this excellent tradition with a trip to Morston Hall. Located on possibly the most Northerly Norfolk part of Norfolk we drove up on a blustery day looking forward to a sumptuous Sunday lunch in beautiful surroundings.

This might be the most positive restaurant review I've ever given - everything was brilliant - we started with a Kir and canap├ęs in the cosy lounge - the two canapes were a fresh herb pate with a confit tomato and girolle cream with a crispy piece of ham hock. As Mr is vegetarian they also whipped up an additional vegetarian one, marinated chestnuts with pickled elderberries. The staff are so friendly, and we even had a visit from Chef Rich Bainbridge before lunch - to wish us a happy anniversary - such a lovely touch and excellent start.

The dining room is split into several rooms meaning you don't feel lost in a large restaurant. First we started with bread - poppy seed & fennel sourdough, a really lovely combination - perfectly crunchy on the outside and pillowy soft inside. As the lovely Dollybakes said in a recent post, it was genuinely upsetting how good this was. Bread is not going to be the same for me again. I also had some of the white sourdough which was just as delicious.

Sunday Lunch is 4 courses for £35 which also includes said canapes and coffee plus petit fours - very good value. We started with Cauliflower Soup with a cheese mousse and a chive oil - it looked like a very small portion when it arrived but once we dug in, it was very rich so a small portion is only required. A smooth base of cauliflower soup is whipped up with a rich cheese mousse and finished with a swirl of chive oil - I couldn't taste the chive too much but otherwise it was a fantastic start.

Second starters arrived - a beautifully poached salmon fillet for me sitting on a tomato butter sauce that tasted so fresh, summer tomatoes concentrated in to a sauce. Mr had gorgeous roasted beetroot with lots of thyme and a refreshing blackberry sauce - so much flavour for a simple vegetable dish. Often you can struggle with the vegetarian offering at fine dining restaurants, but nothing was too much trouble here - the vegetarian menu was just as inventive and tasty as the meatier option.

On to mains following the tradition of Sunday Roast but like you've never had before. Sage roasted celeriac - such a simple but great idea - fluffy on the side and crispy and smoky on the outside with a herby flavour throughout - they must do this on wood beforehand to get the crispy smokey flavour. Oh, and they put truffles on it too - truffles! Accompaniments included rich buttery fondant potato, silky confit carrot, mini Yorkshire pudding, roast parsnip and a lemon butter sauce.

Onto pudding - we both opted for a sticky toffee pudding - it had been the subject of much conversation earlier in the week on Twitter as it was being served at a conference I was organising - and it would have been rude not to try it at Morston Hall. This was textbook - dark, rich sponge covered in a dark, sticky sauce topped with a whiskey ice cream. Rib stickingly good, and we both really liked the ice cream, it wasn't too strong with whiskey as they can be sometimes.

Before our puddings arrived the waiter very kindly offered us a complimentary dessert wine, as we were celebrating our anniversary - such a great touch once again. He recommended an Hungarian dessert wine to go with our sticky toffee puddings, a great choice. I'm not much of a wine expert but the rich, golden dessert wine was a great match.

After a breather we were offered coffee which came with petit fours. Raspberry marshmallows and little green tea chocolate cakes. The marshmallows were great, and I got to have two as they contain pork gelatine, score! I wasn't so impressed with the green tea cakes, I'm not much of a fan of the matcha/green tea fad, luckily Mr thought they were great, so maybe just a matter of taste?

We thoroughly enjoyed our relaxed lunch at Morston Hall, the staff could not have been more helpful and each course was cooked beautifully with some surprising touches. We left feeling very happy, full and well looked after.

Morston Hall also do an Afternoon Tea which looks excellent, so if anyone fancies a trip to the Far East, sorry, Norfolk, there is an exquisite tea waiting for you and a willing companion.

Morston Hall

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