Saturday, 26 September 2009

Pete's "Courgette 'Saka"

During my August trip to Dusseldorf (for work), Pete was keen to find new ways to use some of the beautiful courgettes we've been growing in the garden. When he told me of about the moussaka-like dish he made one night (using courgettes instead of aubergine) I insisted he make it again as soon as I got home! We both enjoyed it so much he's made it a number of times since then.

The recipe has varied each time he's made it. Apart from the first time, when he used beef, he uses lamb mince - more in keeping with a traditional moussaka. The ratios of ragu, courgette and bechamel have changed too. The first time he made it, he fried the courgettes briefly before layering them into the dish but he no longer does this. And the last time he made it, he skipped the bechamel, and it was still delicious! Don't be scared to adapt this recipe!

You can, of course, substitute your preferred recipe and methods for the lamb ragu. Pete's very simple one, below, is easy and delicious but any thick, rich ragu recipe would work.

Recipe: Pete's "Courgette 'Saka"

500 grams lamb mince
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 Oxo cube
3-4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
A little flour for thickening (optional)
Olive oil for frying
-Courgette layer
Approximately 500 grams courgette
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
Approximately 200 ml milk
Small handful of grated cheese (optional)

  • Brown the mince in a little olive oil. (You won't need much as lamb mince releases it's own fat).

  • Add the garlic and Oxo cube and stir in well.
  • Stir in the flour (if using).
  • Add the tomatoes.
  • Bring up to a simmer and leave to thicken for 20-30 minutes. (You can get away with 10 minutes if you're in a rush, as long as the mince was browned off properly).

  • Slice the courgette, lengthwise or crosswise, as preferred. (Seed first if particularly large).
  • Once the mince is ready, start the bechamel.
  • Melt the butter.
  • Mix in the flour with a whisk until it becomes a coherent paste.
  • Heat the milk (a quick blast in the microwave works well).

  • Add the milk to the flour butter paste gradually, whisking continuously. Don't worry if it seems to separate when the milk first goes in; if you keep whisking it comes together again.

  • In a oven dish, use half the mince to create the first layer. Cover with half the courgette slices, spread out over the mince and half the bechamel. Repeat.
  • Sprinkle grated cheese over top, if desired.
  • Pop dish into medium oven (160-180) for approximately half an hour. (Exact cooking time will depend on how thick your courgette slices were, as these need to cook through).


Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Ming the Masterchef: Mat Follas @ The Wild Garlic (Part 2)

A review of our evening at Mat Follas' The Wild Garlic in Beaminster is long overdue. For those champing at the bit for feedback on the meal, it was lovely. Food, service, ambience... everything came together to create a wonderful evening which everyone in our party very much appreciated.

The Wild Garlic, Beaminster

The Wild Garlic is proving popular with locals and out-of-towners alike and weekend nights in particular were solidly booked months ahead. Luckily for me, I made or August booking weeks before the restaurant even opened it's doors in June.

Several large Marnie Moyle tables were pushed together to seat our large party of 15 adults and 6 children in a long 'L' shape. Most of the kids were seated at the far end by the bay window, separating them a little from customers at the other end of the restaurant and giving them a bit of space to move around. Mat underlined his genuine welcome to the kids by letting us know that he was happy for them to move around, crawl under the tables or play in the window area. I am sure this helped reassure the parents that a little boisterous behaviour would not be a problem.

Two of Mat's affable front of house team

We quickly settled in. The tables had already been laid with carafes of water and glasses, a nice touch. Mat's warm welcome was echoed by his front of house team.

Our group settling in

Mat distributed and discussed the menu and his front of house team got busy taking drinks orders and serving nibbles.

Mat hands out menus, the specials board is written and hung up and we order

As well as wasabi peas we also enjoyed a wonderful pea and cottage cheese dip served with home-made seeded savoury biscuits. Delicious and very moreish, these kept us going whilst the kitchen worked their magic.

Before too long our starters began to arrive.

A number of our group ordered the tomato and pea soup with cheesy soda bread listed on the specials board. A short while later, we were told that there had been a mix-up and the soup today was actually courgette and goat's cheese. Those who had ordered soup were given the option of switching to a different starter. I'm glad Pete didn't because this soup was a revelation. I would not have thought to combine these two ingredients and yet they really brought out the best in each other. The courgette mellowed the sharpness of the cheese and the cheese added richness, creaminess and depth.

Courgette and goat's cheese soup

The squid was perfectly cooked and the sweet chilli dressing over it's fresh flesh gave it a lovely zing without overwhelming.

Sweet chilli squid

Not only did the pork belly starter look great, it was also delicious. A creamy mushroom sauce coated the generous serving of lardons. I am glad the friend who ordered this let me taste! But only a tiny bit - he liked it as much as I did!

Wild salad with slow roasted pork belly lardons cooked in wild mushroom jus

I wasn't sure whether the strong flavours of garlic and miso would overwhelm the sweetness of scallops but I shouldn't have worried. The dish worked well, and again, it was visually very appealing. The miso seaweed was a particularly nice accompaniment.

Hand dived scallops cooked in garlic butter with Miso infused seaweed

As the starters came out so did the pasta Mat had made for the children. They seemed captivated with the tiny star or flower shaped pasta and I've been told that more than one of them has been demanding it from their parents ever since!

Starters cleared away, the mains were served. Both Pete and I went for the water buffalo sirloin, as did several others in the group. Whilst most were served as ordered, including the blue one, both our medium rares were closer to medium well. Luckily, the meat was tender and full of flavour so the dish was still enjoyable and we chose not to send them back. I wasn't a fan of the smoked mash, which surprised me as I do liked smoked foods. But I was in the minority (and someone quickly made short work of my leftovers).

Water buffalo sirloin steak with roasted vegetables and smoked mash

The whole John Dory was absolutely huge and cooked to perfection. The flesh was extremely moist and so delightfully fresh. Another happy diner!

Whole John Dory with caper butter, new potato and wild salad

The lamb went down well not only with the adults who ordered it but also with some of the kids. What stood out about the lamb for me was not just the quality and flavour of the meat but how well the mange tout, pea puree and salsa verde brought out the inherent sweetness of lamb.

Lamb loin with mange tout, salad, pea puree and salsa verde

During ordering, one of our party asked whether it would be possibly to serve the lemon sole special (served in the same way as the John Dory) already taken off the bone for her? Only when assured this would be OK did she go ahead and order. Unfortunately, when the dish arrived it hadn't been boned so she sent it back. What was returned to her was a bit of a disaster. Less than a third of it had actually been boned at all and that bit still retained a very high number of bones. Although the fish tasted good, the mess of flesh and bones made it unappealing and much harder work than it should have been. Her comment was that, if she had been told it would be a problem she would have ordered something different.

Fresh berry mess

In another nice touch, Mat came out and gave us some New Zealand Cadbury's Fish chocolate bars for the children. I later learned that these are traditionally given out when kids have behaved themselves through the meal! Sweet!

Desserts were fabulous. The fresh berry mess was an impressive looking dish and I'm afraid it's rightful owner guarded it carefully. I didn't get to taste but can confirm from his expression that it was extremely tasty indeed with a nice mix of fruits and a good balance between meringue, cream and fruit.

Gooey chocolate brownie

The gooey chocolate brownies went down a treat, especially with some of the kids who got well stuck in. They asked for theirs to be served with ice-cream instead of cream, which the kitchen kindly did.

Chocolate mousse and Lavender mousse

Pete and I decided to share Mat's signature lavender mousse and a chocolate mousse. Both were served in kilner-style jars and beautifully presented. The lavender mousse was the very essence of this distinctive flower. The chocolate mousse, for me, could have been more intensely chocolatey, perhaps a touch darker, but was also enjoyable.

The nectarine, ginger and whisky crumble went down well though the two comments were that it needed some cream or custard to provide a cold and moist counterpart to the crumble, and that the whisky flavour didn't really come through but that the nectarine and ginger was a tasty combination.

Throughout the meal we were regularly looked after by the team and I think I can speak for everyone when I say we had a lovely, relaxed evening of good food and company in a warm and welcoming environment.

The bill, including a range of soft drinks, beers and a little wine, came to approximately £35 per head for adults and about a tenner for children (kids pasta, a regular dessert and drinks). Plus service.

Here are some images of our group enjoying the evening:

Some of us enjoying the evening

And some comments they've made:

It was fabby. Lovely food. Delicious but not too rich or too heavy.

Loved the decor and the wooden tables and lack of fuss, the friendly service and the focus on the food.

I felt spoilt for choice with the menu but didn't regret any of the selections I made.

The John Dory was melt in the mouth - went well with the capers.

I didn't feel too laden down to have dessert and what a dessert - the loveliest 'mess' I'd ever tasted!

Thanks for booking us into the Mat Follas place - very good indeed, and a fine way to end the holiday.

The kids _still_ go on about 'star' pasta!

That was probably the best Mess I've had!

What he should really have done was set up his restaurant near Guildford so that I could eat there more often!

(Click here for the previously posted interview with Mat).


Restaurant Review: Brasserie Blanc, Bristol

Having enjoyed such a magnificent meal at Bell's Diner the evening before, it was really hard to assess our meal the following night, at Brasserie Blanc, objectively. It suffered in comparison. Which is a shame as it's the kind of relaxed, straightforward French brasserie that we'd probably appreciate more without that juxtaposition.

The brasserie is located within a beautiful historical building. The exterior of this former Georgian Quaker meeting house doesn't really prepare you for the amazing room inside. As you walk through the doors your gaze sweeps around a cavernous space, beautifully and sympathetically restored and adapted. Tables in the balconies are accessed via a striking modern staircase hanging infront of an impressive decorative wine display cabinet.

The balcony tables along the front wall seat two. Those along the other two sides seat 4. I really liked being up in this area, we had a great view and plenty of space but it felt cosy and intimate at the same time.

After ordering drinks (a carafe of wine for Pete and a mojito for me, though I asked for a regular rather than the vanilla version on their cocktail menu), we were served sourdough and butter; very nice.

I order mojito's quite often, always requesting them to be made on the sweet side, but otherwise normal. What arrived was undrinkably bitter, with an additional unpalatable flavour I couldn't identify. This is where our fantastic waiter, Luke, came into his own. When I explained the situation, he suggested he'd pop down, have them make another (or make it himself if need be) and if it still wasn't to my taste, we'd find something else for me instead. A South London lad who'd come to Bristol to study several years previously and ended up staying, he was the kind of waiter that's a little too rare in the UK - knowledgable, friendly, extremely professional, efficient and very good at making his customers feel well looked after. Like Shelly, the previous evening, Luke's input improved our overall evening's experience. And my second mojito was absolutely spot on!

Both of us went for the day's special starter - a chicken liver parfait with white truffle butter served with toast and pickled vegetables. The parfait was really rich and creamy (though Pete earned brownie points when he said it wasn't as good as mine). I quite liked the pickled vegetables served with it, which helped cut through the fattiness though on reflection, I rather like sweet chutneys with rich, smooth pates such as this one. Given the generous serving, I would have liked more toast.

Pete opted for the beef Stroganoff with pilaf rice, which he enjoyed. It was a far subtler sauce than his version, and less creamy too. He enjoyed it but I prefer the one he makes, based on a Nigel Slater recipe, though it's no doubt less authentic.

For my main I chose rump of Cornish lamb with pommes château (translated as pot roast potato). The lamb was really good. Full of flavour what I really liked was how the outside was really nicely browned, to the extent of provided a little crunch here and there, and yet the inside was beautifully pink, as requested. The potatoes were nicely seasoned and just the right texture; both firm and soft. And the jus or thin gravy was really tasty too. With the meat and potatoes came a few baby carrots, some braised celery pieces and a huge mound of rocket. The first I enjoyed, the second I removed from the plate as fast as possible and the third I found rather baffling - it doesn't really go with or improve the dish at all!

I booked the table by phone on Thursday and had phoned again on Friday to check whether or not anything later than our 6.15 slot was available. It wasn't. But on neither occasion was any turnaround time mentioned to me. So we were pretty annoyed when Luke came up at 7.25 to deliver a message he'd only just been given informing us that they were expecting the table back at 7.30. To his credit, when I responded that, as far as I was concerned, that was too bad, since it wasn't mentioned on booking and I would not have gone ahead and made the booking if it had he agreed completely and said not to worry about it. We didn't and went ahead and ordered dessert.

None of the desserts really grabbed me and I was feeling a little full so I abstained whilst Pete went for the rhubarb brulée cup. Served in a martini glass, a base of rhubarb compote was topped by a compotent creme brulée with silky custard and crunchy topping. It disappeared fast!

There was no further pressure to hurry us away from the table, though we did soon pay the bill and head back to the hotel. Without drinks or service , our bill was a little under £25 a head which is reasonable for the setting, service and food.

I'd go back to try the pork rillettes and cheese soufflé starters and perhaps the steak or fish mains.

Back at the Hotel Du Vin, we decided to stop in the bar for a while. The restaurant was extremely busy but the restaurant manager and staff were happy to serve me a dessert at a table in the bar. I had a delicious buttermilk panna cotta with fresh cherries and a glass of Pedro Ximinez with which to finish off the evening!