Friday 30 November 2012

Fischer’s at Baslow Hall, 1 Michelin Star, Derbyshire

Fischer’s at Baslow Hall is actually the closest Michelin starred restaurant to our home. It’s one of those places that we have visited previously, enjoyed and keep saying we will return but don’t seem to get round to doing so. Now that we have been back… we promise to return more often!

What Michelin says: ‘Edwardian manor house with impressive formal grounds and walled vegetable garden. Classically based and accomplished cooking, with the occasional modern twist, uses much local produce.’

What they say (see here for Fischer’s website): ‘Head Chef Rupert Rowley’s cooking is always evolving. He combines classic favourites with more modern combinations and relies heavily on British produce in season including Derbyshire Lamb, Scottish Razor Clams, Cornish Shellfish and Yorkshire forced Rhubarb. The abundance of herbs and vegetables during the summer months at Baslow Hall and High Ashes Farm in Barlow supplement the Kitchen and create innovative dishes.’

The journey taking a little less time than expected, we first headed to the nearby ‘Rowley’s Restaurant & Bar’ (see here) that is co-owned by the Fischer’s and their Executive Chef, Rupert Rowley for a drink (we plan to go back one day for food.)

It was soon time to take the small journey up the road and through the impressive grounds of Fischer’s. It was a bright autumnal day and the gardens were  resplendent in their reds, yellows, browns and greens.

Over some spiced nuts and a drink in the reception room, we selected to eat from the lunch menu as opposed to the tasting menu, mainly because I wanted the Venison Suet Pudding.

What we ate:

Breads: the day’s breads were swirled Sundried Tomato & Pesto rolls and a sliced Treacle and Stout loaf. Both were delicious, served warm and replenished when I greedily gobbled them up – an excellent start!

Amuse bouche: King Edward Consommé – with the added treat of three light, fluffy potato dumplings lurking in the depths, the potato skin consommé was stunning.

To start, my wife selected the Roast Pumpkin Mousse – Berkswell custard, Pedro Ximenez & grated truffle. The presentation was nothing short of splendid – the vibrant orange and greens with pops of red amaranth making it one of the prettiest plates of food I have seen in a while. It didn’t just look good, the fresh flavours also wowed, set off by the rich Pedro Ximenez jus and tittles of truffle.

Nasturtium Cured Salmon – tartar, pickled kohlrabi & horseradish snow. My starter may not have had quite the same visual impact as my wife’s but the clean lines and vibrant colours matched the fresh flavours of the tartar, pickled kohlrabi and cucumber. The subtle horseradish snow and gentle cure on the salmon, working in perfect synergy whilst adding a lively twist to the dish. 

Blade of Derbyshire Beef – there was a fillet available for at a supplement but I think my wife chose well with the rich, robust and redolent blade, braised in red wine. Perfect pommes purée and roasted root vegetables completed the dish.

Venison Suet Pudding – as mentioned, the suet pudding was the main reason we opted for the set lunch menu as opposed to the tasting, unfortunately I found it a little dry inside and as such, it did not quite live up to expectation. I also found the sloe gin sauce a little harsh.

Warm Chocolate Pudding – my chocolate pudding with caramelised hazelnuts was very good. The accompanying damson ice cream was fantastic.

A selection of British Cheeses – served simply on a slate with celery, grapes and a fig and almond cake the selection consisted of: a fresh tasting Bosworth Ash; the cider washed Celtic Gold; creamy Cote Hill Blue and a delicious St Oswald that was similar to my favourite, Livarot.

Tea and Petit Fours – Fresh mint tea from the garden with Chocolate Truffles; Almonds coated in Raspberry & Blueberry and Dried Apricots coated in Mango & Yoghurt.

Food high points: the most memorable dishes were the King Edward Consommé and the Roast Pumpkin Mousse.

Food low points: nit-picking, I know, but for me the petit fours could be improved upon – they were nice enough but felt like they had been made well in advance. A macaron, some madeleines or other even a little take on the famous local Bakewell Tart would be a step in the right direction.

Décor / ambience: classical, formal and old fashioned without being stuffy or dated. A stroll around the grounds definitely adds to the whole experience.

Service: faultless.

Verdict (Would I return?): definitely (and hopefully we will not leave it quite so long this time.)

Thursday 29 November 2012

Bo.Lan, Bangkok

Also meaning ‘ancient’ Thai, Bo.Lan is a clever portmanteau of chef / proprietors and partners Duangporn “Bo” Songvisava and Dylan Jones.

The chefs met and worked together at David Thompson’s, then Michelin starred Nahm in London and share his passion for showcasing Thai food at its best using the best ingredients in the most wonderful of settings. 

What they say: ‘Bo.lan was founded on the belief that the best Thai restaurant should be found in Thailand. Food is heavily attached to the Land and its people therefore Bo.lan believes in following the cooking rituals practiced in Thailand for countless years. By utilising the abundance of natural resources and incorporating the geographical diversity Thailand offers, Bo.lan actively strives to serve Thai food at its very best taking full advantage of the fresh and seasonal produce available.’

Décor / ambience: Mainly because I felt it would be too dark to get decent pictures inside, we opted to eat outside (the lighting more beneficial to romance than food blogging!).

Set in a charming wooden building with a lush tropical garden and veranda, complete with lily filled water features, we found Bo.lan to be one of the most romantic dining destinations of our trip.

What we ate:
Welcome drink – a refreshing cup of Chilled Lemongrass & Pandanus. This drink seemed to capture the scent and essence of so much of our South East Asian travels - most welcoming indeed!

We selected the Bo.Lan Balance set menu, which featured an amuse-bouche and starter; main courses of salad, curry, relish, and stir-fried dishes with rice followed by tea and a large selection of Thai petits fours.

Amuse Bouche – a spicy, crispy  bowl of puffed rice with palm sugar, lemongrass and chilli. Wonderful!

We were served Ya dong grachai dum with sour fruits and pandanus juice ‘shooter’.

Ya Dong is basically a type of ‘homebrewed’ herbal Thai ‘whisky’ (Ya translates as medicine and dong means to pickle or ferment in liquid). It has no set ingredients but herbs, bark, roots and alike are common additions (a less common one is reputedly lizard’s penis).

As far as I’m aware there was no lizard winkle in Bo.Lan’s version, the main flavourant being the bitter ‘grachai dum’ or ‘black finger root’ (also known as black ginger). Re. flavour, all I can say is that it doesn’t surprise me that Diageo have not tried to buy the bottling rights.

A trio of mini starters included, a Taro Dumpling; a Chicken Curry on a coconut pancake and a pickled salad on a spoon with Prawn & Anchovy.

In typical Thai family style, the main dishes arrived together for sharing.

Salad of grilled Bo.lan cured pork and “Ranong” squid with orange chilli dressing – a beautiful dish featuring sweet, spicy orange sauce with hints of chilli and wonderful textures of tender squid, crisp coriander, sticky pork and crunchy peanuts.

Khii lek (casiova) leaf & flower curry with slow cooked “KU” beef in Mon style, accompanied by a pickled mustard green salad. Whereas Nahm served imported ‘Wagyu beef’ (see here), Bo.lan use locally reared ‘KU’ beef – maybe not ‘quite as tasty’ but much more eco friendly!

The Mon are believed to be some of the earliest inhabitants of mainland South-East Asia. History shows that they were exposed to Theravada Buddhism more than 1000 years before the arrival in the area of the Thai and Burmese. Mon cuisine in characterised by a sour taste (often from Tamarind), combined with a spicy and a salty flavour. Saltiness comes from shrimp paste as opposed to fish sauce, which is used more widely in other regional Thai foods.

Salted Spanish mackerel simmered in coconut cream with prawn accompanied with stuffed local flower chicken dumpling. Thai dishes cooked in this way with coconut milk or cream are referred to as ‘Lon’. Again characterised by a balance of sweet, sour and salty flavours, it was great to dip the accompanying crisp fresh fruits, herbs and vegetables in the rich creamy sauce.

Stir-fried squid and clams with spicy red curry chillies and palm heart – this red curry packed a real punch. The clams were big and juicy and stood up to the rich flavours. I particularly loved the bitter bursts from the cherry eggplants berries and the crisp sweet crunch of the hearts of palm.

To end the meal we were served, a pot of Bo.lan Blend and Petit fours.

Bo.lan Blend – I’m not usually a fan of tea infusions but this Chiang Mai Tea with infused with spices, mint, ginger & honey proved a fitting ending to the meal, especially supping it in the tropical surroundings.

Petit fours – theatrically served amid an explosion of colours, shapes and textures, the petit fours presented flavour upon flavour of sweet Thai treats - fruits, candies, jellies, rice crackers, tapioca, caramels, coconut creams, white chocolate nutty clusters. My favourites were the pandanus flavoured jelly and the cone of tapioca peals and coconut.

Service: we found the service to be swift, friendly and efficient. A nice touch, bearing in mind the tropical climes, was providing guests that chose to sit outside with mosquito repellent.

Next time we are in Bangkok, we’d definitely be keen to return. 

Monday 26 November 2012

Manchester Christmas Markets A to Z, 2012

“Holidays are coming…  Holidays are coming…” As ever, each year, there are three things that tell me Christmas on its way. The first is seeing the Coca-Cola ‘Holidays are coming!’ advert; the second is hearing Fairytale Of New York on the radio and the third is the opening of Manchester’s Christmas Markets.

The Manchester Christmas Markets will be open until Sunday 23rd December

A – Albert Square, Angels & Alcohol

BBrätwurst, Baubles & Bells

C – Candy Canes, Chestnuts & Cheese

D – Deansgate, Decorations & Donkeys

E – Evergreens, Elves & Ethnic Crafts

F – Fudge, Fairies & Fruit (covered in chocolate)

G – Gloves, Gifts & Gingerbread

H – Holly, Hats & Hog Roast

I – Italia: Torrone, Cannoli & Panettone

J – Jumpers, Jewellery & Jesus

K – King Street, Knitwear & Kisses

L – Love, Late Night Shopping & Lancashire Hotpot

M – Mead, Mulled Wine & Mince Pies

N – Nativity, Noel & Nudity?

O – Overindulgence, Oversized Baubles & Oranges

P – Putz (Christmas Villages), Paella & Pancakes

Q – Queues, Queues & Queuing

R – Rudolph, Rocking Horses & Robins

S – Santa, Snowmen & Strudel

T – Trees, Toy Soldiers & Turkish Delight

U – Under the Tree, Under the Mistletoe & Unity

VVive le France! Macarons, Crêpes & Camembert

W – Wreaths, Windmills & Wassailing with a Winter Warmer

X – Xmas Hampers, Xmas Candles & Xmas Cheer

Y – Yuletide Greetings, Yuletide Lights & Yuletide Singers

Z – "Ze Germans are coming!" Glühwein, Salami, & Stollen  

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