Salt, Stratford-upon-Avon

I knew I would like Salt way before I arrived. Way before I looked at the menu online, way before I read the glowing reviews. It’s the name you see: Salt. That most simple of ingredients which has a place in almost every dish; one that humbly elevates it’s plate-fellows to heights they would never reach were it not present. In short, salt is like the person I wish I could be (but am definitely not). As a restaurant name, it connotes nothing but good things.

The restaurant itself must have once been a Stratfordian’s home and has retained a charming wonkiness, with low slung beams and cosy corners. Whitewashed walls and a lick of grey paint on those beams do wonders to lighten the space and prevent any suspicion that you are attending some sort of National Trust historic experience dinner. The kitchen pass along the back wall gives a view of a kitchen so poky that it reminds me of my own, which only serves to make the brilliance of the dishes that will shortly appear even more impressive.

At lunch, you’ll find an a la carte and a six course tasting menu. Both are obscene value, although at a measly £45 the tasting menu seems the obvious choice.  For that you get plump green olives and smokey almonds on arrival, quickly followed by malty bread rolls to smear with sunshine yellow butter.

The first course happens to be my favourite; pink fir potatoes under a layer of transparent lardo and radish, dusted with roasted yeast flakes. My boyfriend is right: it evokes the feel of a jacket potato. Buttery, rich and warming, it’s the kind of dish I wish I could reproduce in my poky kitchen so that I could eat it on the sofa, wrapped up in a dressing gown and sweeping up the remnants with my finger.

Without wishing to turn this into a loveathon I also get a little bit weepy over two fillets of hake, panfried to a golden crust. The accompanying caramelised cauliflower purée is sweet and earthy, with shaved fennel for some acidity. Following this comes carrot roasted in chicken fat which sits in a puddle of carrot broth, with crispy chicken skin and pickled carrots. Carrots cooked in chicken fat might just be my new thing. They’re the flavour of a Sunday lunch without the excessive carbs. The Northerner in me wants to clean out the bowl with a Yorkshire Pudding, but for now the last of the bread will make do. There seems to be a theme here; Salt is plate-lickingly good.

The pheasant that comes next is probably my least favourite course, if only because it lacks the same whack of flavour as the others. The breast was tender, the cavolo nero retaining a little bite, the pickled onions zingy. It’s a solid piece of cooking that on another menu would be a star, but here it is among such good company it pales slightly in comparison.

Desserts start with an ice cream of brown bread. No, I’m not using Cockney rhyming slang; it’s a transitional course that pairs savoury ice cream with a sorrel granita and sweet, sharp poached blueberries. As a dish it takes some getting used to, but in the end we are both agreed that it’s rather lovely in character.

The second dessert steers us into more recognisable territory with a dreamy ganache of Valrhona chocolate paired with some other chocolatey bits and a pumpkin cream. Chocolate is always a crowd pleaser, but the balance and quality here is clear.

We end on another high in the form of choux buns filled with raspberry and Douglas fir. They are as near to a perfect mouthful as any I’ve had. If these were available in shops, I would no doubt be the size of a house but blissfully happy.

Now, here I have to be honest. My visit to Salt fell around November last year and so the above dishes will be shamefully out of date, but I recently sent a good friend here who reported back that the standard is still just as high (and those choux buns still the finale). In fact, despite a visit to L’Enclume a few days earlier, her dessert of sea buckthorn mille-feuille was declared her “favourite dessert ever!”. And if that’s not enough to make you want to visit, I’m not sure we would ever get along.

Salt is at 8 Church Street, Warwickshire, Stratford-Upon-Avon, CV37 6EP. WEBSITE.

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‘Modern Greek’ by Leo Kattou at Purecraft, Birmingham

Leo owes me dinner, technically. Wind the clock back a few months and you’ll find him stood in my kitchen at 4am, my boyfriend attempting to feed his ego by feeding Leo his beef ragu. A bowl of beef ragu that was supposed to be my dinner the very next evening. I would have been annoyed, but Leo is too impossibly likeable for that.

Wind the clock forward again, and Leo has just finished a successful stint on Masterchef: The Professionals, gaining a place in the semi-finals and a horde of female fans which has led to his Modern Greek pop up at Purecraft Bar & Kitchen selling out not only once, but twice after the basement was opened up for extra bookings.

The menu is a fine dining twist on Leo’s Greek-Cypriot heritage, and at £55 for five courses plus beer pairings it’s an absolute steal. We start with smoked cod roe, blitzed smooth and smeared onto squid ink crackers. It’s a classic Simpsons snack, and a perfect introduction to the evening.

The next dish veers firmly towards the Mediterranean, combining fried halloumi with tomato, smoked aubergine purée and olive tapenade. Bar the unseasonal tomato, which reminds me that I’m sadly still in Birmingham, every element is packed with flavour and executed perfectly. It delivers what you always hope a halloumi dish will, but so rarely does in this part of the world.

‘Fish and Chips’ is a wonderfully playful dish that takes all the best of the classic dish and abandons the worst. Gone are the greasy, heavy carbs, replaced by panfried cod with a punchy sauce which references tartar by way of capers, onion and lemon. Peas give bursts of freshness, and the ‘chips’ (essentially a fine dining version of Salt and Vinegar Chipsticks) bring tang and crunch.

So far, so brilliant. It gets better though. Lamb kleftico, brined and then slow roasted so that the bone slips cleanly out, the kind of dish I could never tire of eating. On the side, black cabbage and a salad of bulgar wheat, golden raisins, pine nuts and onion. I could rave about this dish for hours, but really I just want the recipe.

Dessert is equally as delicious; in essence it’s cherries topped with yoghurt, honey, walnuts and filo, made a bit clever. I try and wangle a second portion out of Leo but he’s having none of it, so I settle for nicking my mate’s cherries whilst he’s not looking. I haven’t really talked much about the beer pairings, because in all honestly I know fuck all about beer, but the Bacchus cherry beer that accompanies the dessert deserves an honourable mention for being really rather nice.

The pedigree of those in attendance, and the lovely things they have to say about the dinner, is a sure sign that Leo is one to watch in the Birmingham dining scene. Not only is he a rising star, he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. Next time he announces a pop up, take my advice and book in immediately.

Leo’s Modern Greek pop up took place at the always fabulous Purecraft Bar and Kitchen on Waterloo Street, Birmingham, B2 5TJ. Alternatively, catch him in his day job at Simpsons.

Ynyshir Restaurant and Rooms, Machynlleth

We first visted Ynyshir in August last year, but I didn’t post about it. It wasn’t because I didn’t love it; our lunch was so good that we immediately booked in for dinner that night. It was more that I loved it so much that I wanted to write an amazing post to match, but couldn’t seem to do it justice. But screw the vanity. Ynyshir is incredible and I want to shout about it.

Like the first, our second trip to Ynyshir falls just shy of 24 hours yet we leave with a sense of content that usually only follows a holiday. The food here is stunning, but as much so is how a trip to this little corner of Mid-Wales makes you feel. Nestled amongst the Cambrian mountains, close to Snowdonia, it’s the kind of place that is good for your soul; the kind of place that makes you feel that there is a book inside you.

Today mist blankets the surrounding hills, so heavy you’d swear there were no hills at all. It’s beautiful, giving everything a mysterious feel and making you glad to be inside. As our tyres crunch up the drive, we are greeted by a familiar building, sturdy and white. Inside, jewel-toned walls and period features combine with furs, moss and natural wood; it’s both cosy and grand at once, the intrusion of nature a sign of the seasonality reflected on the menu. The snug dining room has Welsh mountains at one end and an open kitchen at the other, and a record player spinning a well-curated collection of vinyl. It feels like home. Except for the cooking, of course.

We tear ourselves away from the incredible Garden Suite (the nicest place I’ve stayed, EVER) for a drink in the bar before dinner. The decision to move 200 kilometres away from Birmingham means I don’t get to drink Rory’s cocktails nearly as often as I used to, but he is working wonders heading up the bar here, serving up creations with complexity and depth. The wine list has expanded, too, with a greater range of both price and style; it feels as though the bar has really come into it’s own since our last visit.

Dinner, then. Four hours, twenty or so courses, an exciting romp through seasonality and flavour. Gareth Ward has a unique ability to present everyday, familiar flavours in a totally new way. Take, for example, lamb neck fillet topped with kombucha which on the tongue becomes lamb and mint sauce; duck liver with tofu, spelt and smoked eel which you would swear on your mother’s life was smoked bacon; or wagyu, sourdough mayonnaise and fermented lettuce which brings a burger into the realm of fine dining. It’s incredibly clever, without falling into the trap of being clever-for-the-sake-of-being-clever.

Elsewhere there is langoustine of fantastic quality, grilled with wild garlic and a bisque-esque dressing of which I refuse to leave a drop. Onions cooked in beef fat and beer produce a deep, rich cooking liquor, which poured over sourdough makes the best bread course I’ve ever eaten.  A dainty lamb rib falls from the bone with the lightest of touches, a triumph of fat, meat and flavour; a theme repeated throughout the meal. Rhubarb and custard is a nod to childhood, whilst tiramisu comes as blobs of coffee and vanilla, topped with a shard of sugar, grated chocolate and mascarpone granita. The food echoes the feel of the building; spectacular pieces of technical chef-ery that still retain warmth and appeal. There are many more courses that I won’t go into, but each delights – full of surprises in content and presentation – without abandoning the central element of flavour.

What Ynyshir are doing is exceptional, exciting and – on top of all this – pulled off by the friendliest, most down-to-earth team I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.Trust me when I say this place is truly special; I can’t wait for my next visit.

Read about our first visit here.

Ynyshir Restaurant and Rooms can be found in the extremely pronounceable Eglwys Fach, Machynlleth, Powys SY20 8TA.

Ynyshir Hall Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Spring Menu tasting at The Belfry, Sutton Coldfield

Ambition is a trait I really admire. Therefore head chef of the Ryder Grill, William Dimartino, is someone I immensely admire. Rather than taking the easy route and slinging out the same dishes month in, month out to his captive audience of golfers and businessmen, he has introduced a seasonal a la carte menu. Each menu will be launched via a two night, seven course tasting menu – priced at the ridiculously generous £40 (with wine pairing at £25) – and I was lucky enough to be invited along to the first summer menu tasting.

We start the evening with amuse bouche which come in the form of pork cheek croquettes, topped with a burnt apple puree and wholegrain mustard. Classic flavours, with tender pork enclosed in a crisp shell, these are a winner with the whole table.

Lichfield asparagus, duck egg mayonnaise, brioche crumb and burnt onion powder combine in my favourite dish of the evening. Served chilled, it’s light and refreshing whilst still packing a huge amount of flavour. I also get some serious plate envy at this point.

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A solid rendition of a chicken liver parfait is up next, made more interesting by it’s companions: savoury granola, pineapple, vanilla gel, demerara sugar, rum and garlic flowers. Nice, but if I was choosing a starter from the a la carte menu the asparagus would win hands down.

Sea trout divides the table, with nearly half of us professing their hatred for trout. The chef happily whips them up an alternative, but their loss is my gain; the sea trout topped with a chorizo crumb works perfectly, although I’m not so keen on the almond puree that accompanies the fish.

Up next is confit shoulder of lamb and rack of lamb, served with artichoke hummus, sweet red pepper oil, broad bean and feta. It’s probably the only dish of the evening that doesn’t work in the tasting menu – although I do think it would be fine as an a la carte main, here there is too much food. The cooking of some elements wasn’t quite right, but I’ll chalk that up to first night nerves. The artichoke hummus was bloody outstanding though. I’m still dreaming of it weeks later.

The entire table agreed that both desserts were outstanding. ‘Creme Brulee’ appeared as a bite sized puff of pastry, with beautifully sweet poached strawberries, dehydrated strawberries, basil and creme fraiche. My companion’s plate was licked clean before I’d even taken a photo – that’s how good it was.

Passion fruit tart was served with meringue, mango gel, brioche breadcrumbs, chocolate and coconut sorbet. Tropical flavours and faultless execution, this was declared a star of the evening.

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Service struck a perfect balance between being friendly and formal, with the staff clearly passionate and all knowing their stuff. I can’t tell you too much about the wine – I was too engrossed in the food – other than that they were all lovely and very well matched. Dimartino’s ambition has led to a an interesting and well-executed menu which I would happily eat again. Especially for £40 bloody quid – it’s criminally good value.

I was invited to the taster evening as a guest. Information about The Ryder Grill and details of the next taster evenings can be found here. The Belfry Hotel can be found on Lichfield Road, Sutton Coldfield, B76 9PR.

Simpsons x Sticky Walnut collaboration

A couple of weeks ago I turned 25. And as if I wasn’t already depressed about reaching my first quarter century, the birthday gods also decided to bless me with two accountancy exams on my birthday.

It would have been the worst birthday ever if my lovely boyfriend hadn’t booked us a table at the Simpsons x Sticky Walnut collaboration as a surprise (I say it was a surprise, but I accidentally ruined this one months ago by also booking us a table, forcing him to confess!).

Sticky Walnut is a neighbourhood bistro in Chester with a fistful of accolades & a brilliantly entertaining Twitter account (@stickywalnut). I have family in Cheshire so have wanted to eat there for a while, but Simpsons brought them to me – even better!

Simpsons is tucked away in a gorgeous building in Edgbaston. The décor is elegant and classy with beautiful design features – it’s the perfect setting to sit and enjoy a meal. Here’s me trying to look fancy and civilised..

For the evening, Sticky had put together a 5 course tasting menu. We started with some canapés; lamb tartare (with anchovies, linseed), salmon (squid ink, egg yolk) and calves brain (beef fat beetroot, walnut and verjus). They were all fantastic. The lamb and the salmon were perfect mouthfuls with amazing flavour and texture.

I have to admit I was a little bit terrified of the calves brain at first, especially because I’m not much of a beetroot fan either (probably due to bad school dinner flashbacks). But it turned out to be one of my favourite dishes of the night. It was full of flavour and I loved the crunchy exterior with the smooth, soft inside. It paired perfectly with the rich sweet beetroot  – I think Sticky have managed to convert me into a fan! I also enjoyed the fact that it kind of looks like a chicken nugget..

The second course was wood pigeon, apple, morcilla & savoury granola. I love morcilla (it’s basically the Spanish version of black pudding) but usually just have it on the BBQ in Spain so it was great to try it combined with the rest of the ingredients. It looked beautiful and tasted even better.

Next up was halibut with romesco & gem lettuce. Every part of this dish tasted good but the romesco was incredible. If I hadn’t been trying to behave myself in Simpsons I definitely would have licked my plate clean..

Course number four was lamb rump, scichimi togarashi (a Japanese spice mix – I had to google it as well..), carrot, goats curd and burnt onion. The sauce was super rich, so the goats curd brought a nice freshness to the dish. One of my favourites of the evening.

Dessert was toasted porter, treacle, caramel and chocolate. It didn’t blow my mind but was a solid, tasty end to the meal. We went for the drinks flight with our meal & instead of wine, the dessert came with a chocolate & orange old fashioned. I’m not a big whiskey drinker but this was so good and I’d order it again in a heartbeat.

I had an amazing birthday evening & it more than made up for the fact that I am now officially closer to 30 than 20 (ugh). Big shout out to the boyfriend for treating me – sorry for ruining my surprise!

Sticky Walnut can usually be found at 11 Charles Street, Chester, CH2 3AZ (WEBSITEwhilst Simpsons is at 20 Highfield Road, B15 3DU (WEBSITE).

Simpsons Restaurants Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato