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.

 

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Poco

Poco

Brunch is becoming quite a thing in Bristol. So it’s only proper to get on board. There are many things about going out for brunch that appeal. There’s no bleary-eyed drudgery of attempting to make it out for breakfast, especially as I find it nigh on impossible to leave the house without some sort of sustenance. It has the sort of relaxed casualness that you always wish could happen at an evening meal out, but never quite does. There is also a jubilant sense of infinite possibility: brunch could be followed by coffee, cake, or, lets face it, wine.

Montage 1

When I first moved to Bristol, I was obsessed with trying every restaurant, bar and café that was even casually mentioned, by anyone, as worth a visit. I had a (very) long list of places, which was constantly being updated. Now I have rationalised this somewhat, and have narrowed it down a shorter (but only slightly) list of my favourite places. Poco is near the top. It’s in Stokes Croft, the area of Bristol famous for that kerfuffle with Tesco, and all the Banksys. Occupying a pretty nondescript corner, with a few rickety tables clinging to the pavement outside, a first time visitor might wonder what all the fuss is about. But step inside, and you’ll soon see.

Montage 2

The atmosphere is that of a casual Spanish tapas bar, with a tiny open kitchen surrounded by clusters of bar stools. Poco was founded by chef Tom Hunt, who champions ethical, local produce, and lets these ingredients shine through with simple, sympathetic cooking. This view is demonstrated in his cookbook, The Natural Cook, one of my current favourites. Going inside Poco is like stepping into the cookbook, complete with the same blue-rimmed enamel hipster plates – which, upon noticing, I had to suppress a squeak of excitement. I visited Poco to conduct some very loosely termed ‘networking’ (any excuse for brunch) with the lovely Rin, a writer and fellow Instagram obsessed foodie. We opted for the famous Poco brunch dish, consisting of exotically spiced sausages, fluffy scrambled eggs, sourdough toast and fiery Moroccan harissa. This dish definitely deserves the cult status that it has achieved, and exemplifies the simple approach to quality ingredients for which Poco is famous.

Poco 2

Read some of Rin’s writing here.

http://eatpoco.com

The Swan Hotel, Almondsbury

Spoons

This week I was invited, along with several other Bristol-based food bloggers, to attend an evening at The Swan Hotel in Almondsbury. To us jaded and bleary-eyed city folk, the suggestion that Almondsbury, which is technically in South Gloucestershire (and therefore ‘in the country’) was a mere 15 minutes drive from central Bristol seemed unlikely. However, this turned out to be entirely true, and we arrived at The Swan after we’d barely had enough time to exchange Twitter handles. Loitering out on the no man’s land that is the Almondsbury Interchange, it’s easy to sail right past the hotel. The relatively unassuming exterior belies what’s inside however, as we were about to find out.

Wine

We were greeted by the charming owners Garth and Katie, whose passion for food and service is evident from the moment you meet them. We were plied with wine, and given a cocktail each in a jam jar complete with a kitsch stripy straw, which again defied expectations to be an surprisingly original take on a Moscow mule, made with marmalade. We were then presented with several dishes to taste, including tea-smoked salmon, fried pigs ears (which divided opinion) and herb-crusted cod. The food was cooked with obvious attention to detail, and the menu demonstrates chef Nigel Bissett’s passion for local produce and skill in letting these ingredients shine.

Salmon

The next part of the evening consisted of a food quiz. I surprised myself by correctly labelling kohlrabi and salsify in the vegetable identification round, but didn’t fare quite so well when our knowledge of Bristol food trivia was tested -Ribena originated in Bristol, who knew?! We were then presented with a range of Heston Blumenthal-esque concoctions, and we had to guess the main flavours. The one that flummoxed all of us was a dark, sticky and intensely sweet substance that tasted not unlike blackcurrants (or maybe I just had Ribena on the brain from the previous round). This actually turned out to be Guinness, reduced down for several hours to a sickly paste. Other dishes included iridescent orange pearls of ‘salmon caviar’, with cauliflower puree and apple smoke, which was more pleasing to the palate and less confusing to the brain.

Panna

This was followed by a delicate lavender panna cotta, topped with ground bee pollen, which was slightly harder to identify. We casually mentioned that we liked the look of the Amaretto and sour cherry mousse, and charming little cupfuls of it were whisked over in seconds. Nigel delighted in explaining how he’d come up with the idea and how he made the mousse – describing techniques and thought processes that would be at home in top restaurants. He obviously reigns in his ingenious creativity when it comes to the main menu, as I doubt Almondsbury is quite ready for apple smoke wafting over their roast dinner. But these dishes typify the playful experimentation with flavours that makes the food at The Swan so much more than just your standard pub fare. It was a lovely evening, not least because it was nice to have a meal with people who don’t roll their eyes in a long-suffering manner when you whip out your phone to take a picture of every dish.

Cherry

Hub Box, Exeter

burger

This is a first for the blog – a restaurant review. I wasn’t too keen on the idea of doing reviews, as I feel a bit uncomfortable with the snobbery surrounding them, and the notion that some people have more say in what constitutes a good meal than others. However, when I heard that a Hub Box, a gourmet burger and hot dog joint originally hailing from St.Ives, was opening in my neck of the woods, I thought I’d give it a shot.

outside and menu

Hub Box, so named for its incorporation of an industrial shipping container into the interior, offers freshly prepared, delicious burgers and hot dogs, using locally-sourced meat and served on artisan brioche. I opted for the recommended full-on meat heart attack burger called ‘The Big Kahuna’, which involves the overwhelming combination of beef burger, BBQ pulled pork and cheese, with a side of onion rings. Other tempting options include ‘Hot Chick’, comprising of buttermilk fried chicken with butternut mayo, or the ‘Mack Daddy’ – crispy mackerel, beetroot jam and horseradish mayo.

inside

The restaurant caters really well for both vegetarians and vegans (my dining companion being the latter). The ‘Bella’ burger – grilled goats’ cheese, roasted red pepper, crispy courgette and beetroot mayo – sounded seriously tempting. The vegan option is a falafel burger with sweet chilli jam, charred corn and avocado salsa, which looked lovely. There’s an impressive range of sides, vegetarian and otherwise. One that deserves special mention is the ‘Burnt End Beans’ – in-house made baked beans, with bits of smoky pulled pork hidden in the tomatoey depths. The restaurant also offers a range of craft beers to wash down the delectable grub with.

burger on table

I went in with very high expectations of this place, and it delivered on all counts. The food was cooked to perfection, presented with care, and the service was excellent. It was very good value for money, especially considering the quality of the dishes and the generous portions. Hub Box is a very exciting addition to Exeter’s food scene, and I’ll definitely be returning.