Tuesday 30 April 2013

Simpsons, Birmingham

Holding a Michelin star since 2000, Simpsons in Birmingham is owned by Chef Andreas Antona. Executive Chef Luke Tipping and Head Chef Adam Bennett complete the talented team heading up the kitchen. 

What Michelin says: ‘Smart Georgian mansion with stylish lounges, pleasant garden terrace and summer house. Tables are well-spaced; service is formal and efficient. Classical menu displays Mediterranean influences, contemporary twists and excellent produce.’

I visited for a Saturday lunch in March, taking advantage of their Set Lunch Menu of 3 courses and ½ bottle of house wine* for £40. I supplemented this with and additional starter (the Egg dish).

(*I cannot comment on the quality of the wine as I was driving and had a tonic water as an alternative; I paid for my second tonic water, which suggests to me that the house wine was pretty cheap plonk if they were only prepared to give me one tonic in its place.)

What I ate:

Amuse – Curried Jerusalem artichoke soup with hazelnut foam. A beautiful soup with great flavours, served nice and hot.

Breads – Cumin & Gruyere, Black Olive Tapenade, Sourdough & French Baguette. All the breads were good but the light and crumbly Black Olive Tapenade bread stood out.

‘Mackerel’ –
line caught mackerel, salt baked beetroot, pickled shallots & frozen horseradish.

Good clean, classic combination of flavours. The horseradish ‘snow’ could’ve been a little punchier but this is just a niggly criticism.

– crispy duck egg, smoked salmon, savoy cabbage & potato foam. A fabulous dish – the salmon was good quality and enhanced by salmon roe that were pleasingly secreted under the foam. The combination of crispy crumb and rich runny yolk was an obvious delight but I felt the Savoy Cabbage had been dicked about with too much.

– roast corn fed chicken, leeks, 
toasted pearl barley & truffle sauce. The best tasting piece of chicken I’ve had in a long time and perfectly cooked pearl barley with the heady truffle jus. The niggle here came from rubbery leeks.

Pre dessert – Chai Pannacotta with mango coulis & crumble. I loved this dish; I’ve not come across a chai Pannacotta before but have since made one at home (not as good as this one, mind.)

– carrot and walnut cake, 
cream cheese, carrot jelly & vanilla ice-cream. A good dessert – the main component of the carrot and walnut cake was moist and tasty, buoyed with the textures from the carrot jelly and sugared walnuts. The cream cheese added richness without overdoing it.

Food high points: The chai Pannacotta and the duck egg dishes were excellent.

Food low points: There were no low points – every dish was very good or better.

Décor / ambience: I visited on an unusually sunny day for March, I imagine their conservatory and gardens are fabulous in the summer.

Service: The greetings and staff interactions were spot on but it did take 15 minutes for my plate to be cleared after my main.

Verdict (Would I return?): To my mind, Simpsons serves very good, tasty food. If I lived locally, I’m sure it's the sort of place we’d get along to everyone and then for a reliably good feed in comfortable surroundings. Not being a local, I’m unlikely to return as I’d prefer to seek out more of what else the city has to offer when in town.

Simpsons on Urbanspoon

Monday 29 April 2013

‘TWG Tea on the Bridge’ Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

Since ‘ancient times’ the Chinese have known about the medicinal benefits of green tea – there are claims that drinking green tea can reduce the risk of developing certain cancers and it’s also supposed to be beneficial in aiding those with rheumatoid arthritis, high cholesterol levels and impaired immune functions.

It’s a diuretic, an astringent and a rich source of antioxidants that fight free radicals; it can aid weight loss, prevent dental cavities, prevent symptoms of colds and flu and may also be help treat genital warts… but I don't care about any of this – I drink it because it tastes good!

At least, the good stuff prepared correctly does!

You may be able to tell that I am ‘a bit’ of a tea snob. I rarely have tea when I’m dining out as so few places (even those with Michelin stars) serve high quality teas and even when they do, so few places know know how to prepare them.

My favourite tea and one that I stock up on when in Singapore (or have shipped to me between visits) is TWG’s Japanese Gyokuro Samurai (Order code: T800).

The largest in the world, TWG Tea’s collection numbers well over 1,000 different single-estate, fine harvests and exclusive tea blends from all of the tea-producing countries. Second only to water, tea is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world.

TWG's may be my teas of choice at home but somehow they taste better when enjoyed at one of their Tea Salons, especially when followed by some of their macarons (I also have a weakness for macarons – see here).

As you would expect, TWG macarons are flavoured with their teas. On this visit I selected: Earl Grey Fortune & Chocolate; 1837 Black Tea & Blackcurrant; Lemon Bush Tea; Grand Wedding Tea, Passion Fruit & Coconut and Matcha Green Tea.

During my visits to Singapore I have visited all eight of TWG’s Tea Salons and Boutiques but it’s their ‘TWG Tea on the Bridge’ at Marina Bay Sands that is my favourite as I like to watch the boats going up and down on the faux canal.

On this visit I thought I’d treat myself and ordered a pot of beautifully subtle fresh, flowery Yellow Tea Buds from Szechwan, China (T600), one of their most rare and expensive harvests. (The only other occasion where I’ve had Yellow Tea was at The Fat Duck… it’s really quite special.) I bought 100g back with me that should see me through for a while. 

Sunday 28 April 2013

Oishi Q – Japanese Yakitoriya, Manchester

Oishi Q (see here) is a new casual restaurant specialising in ‘kushiyaki’ (skewer grilled foods) with a particular emphasis on ‘yakitori’.

In recent times, yakitori, which translates as ‘grilled-bird’, usually refers to chicken but is often used to describe any food grilled on bamboo skewers. Back in the day (c. 17th century) people were more likely to skewer pigeons, quails and sparrows. 

Yakitori-ya (ya in this case referring to bar or shop) are typically signposted by small red lanterns out front, with the character for ‘tori’ (or bird, ), or the kanji spelling of 'yakitori' (やきとり).

Once inside a traditional Yakitori-ya, diners are customarily welcomed by cry of ‘Irasshaimase’ followed by the aromatic waft of smoke from the food being cooked over binchōtan charcoal sadly lacking from Oishi Q as their yakitori are cooked over an electric grill.

My ‘welcome’ was conducted by a surly East European, who looked at me as though I had just pissed on his kids; fortunately, the girl who took my order was much more convivial.

The menu is simple (Perhaps too simple? Which I’ll get to later.) All skewers were priced at £1.55 (with the exception of the scallop ‘special’) but if you buy four (which is the minimum you’d probably want unless you had the appetite of a once speared sparrow) you get one free!

I ordered a total of eight skewers and gohan (steamed rice, topped with soy an shredded nori, £1.50)

2 x chicken thigh (momo)
1 x chicken skin (kawa)
1 x chicken & leek (negima)
1 x chicken livers (rebā)
1 x shiitake mushroom
1 x cherry tomato & bacon (bēkon-maki)
1 x scallop (hotate - a ‘special’, not listed on the printed menu)

Although they were tasty enough (the exceptions being mushroom that were a little watery and bland and rubbery, overcooked livers), having been cooked over electric they obviously lacked that unique smoky barbeque flavour.

Each had been basted with the same ‘tare’ (a sweet soy based sauce, similar to teriyaki). It would be nice to have been given the choice of tare (Tare ni shimasu ka? ) or ‘shio’ / salt (Shio ni shimasu ka?).

Other options usually available include: chicken breast (sasami), chicken meatballs (tsukune), quail egg (uzura tamago) and asparagus (asupara) but they had their ‘Grand Opening’ the night before some ingredients were unavailable.

It’s important to remember that Oishi Q is a new business owned by a young Singaporean entrepreneur, that at the time of my visit had only been trading for a one of day. Whilst the concept is a proven success in London (most notably with Bincho), it needs to work for the Manchester.

In the hope of offering ‘constructive criticism’, I’d like to think that they’ll continue to offer a range specials – I believe there is a market for more offal and the use of authentic and seasonal ingredients.

Common ‘kushiyaki’ include sunagimo (kidneys), heart (hatsu), pork belly (butabara), ginkgo nuts (ginnan), ninniku (garklic), shishito (peppers), rice cake (yakimochi) and atsuage tofu. Condiments such as ‘shichimi tōgarashi’, ‘Ichimi tōgarashi’ and ‘yuzugoshō’ would also go down well.

The food was cheap and tasty enough and should go down well with the local student populous (their website has details of money off vouchers, competitions & a loyalty card), but for a fan of Japanese food like myself, I hoped for greater things. It’s early days so I’ll be sure to return soon. 

Oishi-Q on Urbanspoon
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