Souk Kitchen

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When I go into a restaurant wielding a camera the size of a small dog, it can get some weird looks. I always feel the need to announce to the staff that I’m a food blogger, primarily so they don’t think I’m just some weirdo who has to obsessively photograph every meal I eat (although, this is also true). This announcement usually leads to a suspicious glance at the aforementioned camera, and some sort of half-joke along the lines of ‘please write something good’. I assure the staff that I recommend, rather than review, restaurants, so if I don’t have a good experience, I won’t write about it. Simple as. Needless to say, from the moment we sat down at Souk Kitchen, I knew it was going to make the cut.

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Middle Eastern food seems to be all the rage at the moment, with its wonderful combination of being relatively healthy yet full of exotic flavours. In Bristol, which likes to think of itself as nothing if not on trend, you can’t walk a hundred yards without bumping in to a falafel-stuffed pitta. However, Souk Kitchen was going long before hummus was as ubiquitous as it is now, and the restaurant has long been on my list of places to try. But the original Souk Kitchen is down in Bedminster, and therefore more than a five minute walk from my house, meaning that I’ve yet to venture there. However, the team has recently opened a second restaurant north of the river, so Paris and I went along to check it out.

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As I’ve got my finger so firmly on the pulse of Bristol’s food trends, I have recently acquired two new Middle Eastern ingredients: za’tar and sumac. Za’tar is a blend consisting primarily of dried thyme and sesame seeds, and sumac a lemony-tasting powder made from ground berries. I give them an occasional self-satisfied glance when I spot them lurking at the back of the cupboard, but don’t actually use them. Part of my reason for wanting to try Souk Kitchen was to give me some direction in this area. Luckily both ingredients, as I smugly pointed out to Paris, featured on the menu. The offerings consist of mezze type dishes to share (or not), as well as some more substantial options. We opted for an eclectic array of mezze dishes, from Syrian lentils with yoghurt and crispy onions, to falafel, the obligatory hummus and a rather incredible grilled halloumi topped with mango chutney. This was all mopped up with the most amazing freshly-made flatbread, sprinkled with, you guessed it, za’tar. All in all, Souk Kitchen was a thoroughly pleasant experience, not to mention being bang on trend.

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For the Paris perspective, click here.

 

Sweetcorn Fritters with Griddled Chilli Pineapple

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This recipe was written by my friend Clare, a chef. She’s an amazingly creative cook, and a fan of putting (non-toxic, as she always reminds me) glitter on top of everything from cakes to roast dinners. I remember a particularly surreal occasion involving rice noodles topped with silver glitter. Clare’s got an incredible gift for making a meal look like a work of art, meaning that the dishes she whips up usually look too pretty (not to mention too covered in glitter) to be edible. Clare wrote this recipe as a guest contribution to Ohana magazine, and asked me to take the photos.

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We cooked this recipe back on dreary, dark February evening. Ironic, considering Clare’s titled this recipe ‘Sunshine Sweetcorn Patties’. To make this recipe, Clare bought over her entire spice cabinet, and set about decanting pretty much the whole lot into the fritter batter. This is a relatively simple recipe, but one that is so much greater than the sum of its parts. Whilst Clare fried the fritters, I fussed about ‘styling’ the shot: arranging pieces of fabric on top of a wooden box and going through numerous plate options. I eventually settled on a neutral, sand-coloured plate to compliment the yellow of the sweetcorn.

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I have had a few (unsuccessful) forays into artificial lighting before, but as I had no other option on this occasion I had to give it another go. Sunlight is naturally more flattering to food than any other type of light, in my opinion. High-end food photography for big brands is usually done with carefully controlled artificial light in a studio, but I prefer the more authentic touch that natural light gives. My ‘set up’ for this shot involved dragging a wooden box to the middle of my bedroom floor and angling a desk lamp at it. Most of the problem with artificial light seems to be the high contrast and harsh shadows that using a single directional light source creates, so I counteracted this by placing a diffuser between the lamp and the food. This helped a little, but there was still some white balance adjustment needed in post-production to get the colours to look less washed out. The finished result is ok, but will never compare to the magic quality of natural light.

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