Kingfin Calamari

Over the summer I have been finding myself in Bristol on a Friday so I have had the chance to eat at the Finzel Reach market. There is a wide choice of stalls with a varied choice of food. You can have Thai, Pizza, Vegan, Mac ’n Cheese, Dumplings to name a few of the many choices.

Though I do like to try out new things I have found myself over recent visits going to SheSellsSushi and having their delicious Bento Box of beef donburi and a chicken flapper hirata bun.

On my most recent visit there was a new stall I hadn’t seen before, Kingfin who sell fish wraps and chips. As well as their fish wraps, which sounded rather tasty, what really caught my eye was their special, which was Calamari. Everything was cooked to order which was nice to see.

Kingfin Calamari

The squid rings were coated in a flour mix and then deep fried. They were served with aioli, some salad and rosemary fries. This was quite a substantial meal and I had initially thought I might be just a snack and I might need more food, but I was glad to be proved wrong.

Kingfin Calamari

There was quite a decent portion of squid. It was quite tasty, you could certainly taste the difference with the fact they cooked the squid from fresh, rather than heating up or second cooking pre-cooked squid. The fries on the other hand were pre-cooked and then fried again, but this didn’t matter that much. I would have liked more salad. Overall though I really enjoyed the food and would certainly have it again.

Time to enjoy the meal please…

Pizza Express at Cribbs Causeway in Bristol

I haven’t been to Pizza Express at Cribbs Causeway for a while now, I think it was for my birthday last year following a game of bowling.

Okay having checked my blog, yes it was last year…

Time for a pizza and some antipasto

With just the three of us, and having just visited the cinema we ventured in, having booked a table earlier that evening. That made sense as the place was quite busy and we were given a nice booth.

One of the features of Pizza Express is that they individualise their restaurants depending on location. The Weston-super-Mare branch for example has beach huts. Pizza Express at Cribbs Causeway has a number of Banksy inspired graffiti executed in his distinctive stencilling technique. I don’t think they are painted by him though.

Taking the time to peruse the menu I was tempted to have a salad, but in the end decided to go with the pizza option.

I was tempted by the Calabrese, which I have had before, but decided to try the new Funghi di Bosco. This pizza comes with portobello mushroom, tomato, mozzarella, rosemary and garlic oil, finished with fresh parsley and shaved Gran Milano cheese on a Romana base.

I was warned that despite no mention of this on the menu description, the tomato sauce that they use on this pizza was quite spicy, nice of them to warn me, but I decided to go down that road.

Before the pizza arrived we shared a portion of Calamari, described as lightly-crumbed, crispy calamari rings served with Çaesar dressing, a wedge of lemon and fresh parsley.

The squid was quite tender, even if the crumb wasn’t that crunchy. I thought it was okay, but I was a little disappointed. Regular readers of the blog will know that I find the way in which a restaurant serves squid or calamari, is a good way to compare or benchmark across various restaurants.

The pizza arrived and it was large, the Romana base, is stretched out and as a result is thin and crispy. I do quite like this kind of base.

Funghi di Bosco. This pizza comes with portobello mushroom, tomato, mozzarella, rosemary and garlic oil, finished with fresh parsley and shaved Gran Milano cheese on a Romana base.

I found the pizza delicious and tasty. There was plenty of mushrooms and they had a nice mushroom flavour, it was the reason I chose this pizza more than any other reason.

Our table also saw the Leggera Superfood Salad, a mix of black rice, edamame beans, red quinoa, mung beans, chickpeas, cranberries, pumpkin seeds and kale in a vinaigrette, on a bed of mixed leaves, rocket, cucumber, roasted peppers, red onion and fresh parsley with our light house dressing.

Leggera Superfood Salad, a mix of black rice, edamame beans, red quinoa, mung beans, chickpeas, cranberries, pumpkin seeds and kale in a vinaigrette, on a bed of mixed leaves, rocket, cucumber, roasted peppers, red onion and fresh parsley with our light house dressing.

This was delicious and fresh.

Another member of our party had the Fiorentina pizza on a classic base. This has spinach, free-range egg, mozzarella, tomato, garlic oil and black olives, finished with Gran Milano cheese. Apart from the olives, it was eaten with gusto and pronounced scrummy.

iorentina pizza on a classic base. This has spinach, free-range egg, mozzarella, tomato, garlic oil and black olives, finished with Gran Milano cheese.

Overall we were well pleased with the food, which was fresh, hot and tasty.

As for the service… well that’s a slightly different matter. To start off booking the table and the welcome we received was excellent. It was warm and friendly and we were made to feel right at home.

Alas our drinks order was incorrect and we had to send it back, even though I think it was a genuine mistake down to a noisy busy restaurant.

We had one big concern, the jug of tap water we were given without asking, was a nice touch. What did concern us was the huge crack in the glass jug which was leaking water. We were worried that the jug would break apart… We got a replacement, and an apology. That jug also had a crack, not as big, but still….

Our starter of calamari arrived promptly and we enjoyed eating it, but we hadn’t even finished our final mouthful when our pizzas arrived. I do like a bit of a gap between the starter and the main, and prefer not to have them on top of each other. We have gone out to eat and when going out it’s not just about the food, it’s the whole experience.

We hadn’t even finished our mains when we got asked a couple of times if we had finished. Rushing people isn’t needed (there were a fair few empty tables) and it can ruin what is actually a quite nice experience otherwise.

Overall not as good service as it could have been, the staff were certainly friendly, helpful and polite, but the service felt somewhat rushed and disorganised. When you get asked a few times if you want desert, you know that something is amiss.

Having said that we did really enjoy the food and overall the whole experience was good. Would we go again? Yes we would.

Moorish Calamari

Over in St Nick’s Market in Bristol are many stalls including a really nice looking Moorish place. As well as serving food to take away, they also have a few tables and seats for table service. I’ve always meant to give them a try, but either didn’t fancy the food that day, or there was no space!

The other week they had a specials board out and on there along with a grilled halloumi special was a Calamari Salad. Regular readers of the blog will know I have a fondness for calamari or squid and see it as a benchmark about a restaurant or place.

Sitting down I ordered the calamari and the service was excellent, the order was taken quickly and the food arrived just as quickly.

Moorish Calamari

The dish comprised freshly cooked squid rings in batter with a selection of salads, dips and potatoes.

The calamari was delicious, the batter had a nice light crunch and the squid was very tender.

The salads and dips were greta, very fresh and full of flavour.

I enjoyed the dish.

Time for a Coffee: Top Ten Blog Posts 2015

Illy Coffee

So what food, drink and coffee blog posts were people reading this year? Interestingly none about coffee?

At number ten is an article entitled, Alba Ristorante Part Two. Back in 2008 when attending Handheld Learning, one evening we went to a local Italian next to the Barbican in London. I do remember the meal, it was delicious. This was a really nice upmarket Italian restaurant but with quite reasonable prices, especially for London.

The ninth most popular post was a Classic Heineken Advert from 1976.

Classic Heineken Advert from 1976

The eighth post was about cooking Chorizo, Cooking Chorizo. as was the seventh post Chorizo Frito al Vino.

The post at number six was about Basil & pine nut marguerite and a simple pasta recipe was at number five, Pasta in Tomato Sauce.

The fourth most popoular post was not about just any pork medallions, but Marks and Spencers Pork Medallions.

Reminiscing about Newquay Steam Beer was the third most read post on the blog.

The second most popular post was one of the many on the blog about squid, this one was about the Chilli Squid from Wagamama.

The most popular post this year was Sirloin for Beef Wellington? This was a response to the high ranking of another post about using sirloin steak in a Beef Wellington rather than fillet steak due to the way people were (at the time) searching Google.

Well here’s raising a cup of coffee and wishing you all the best for 2016.

Bella Bella

Bella Italia

My last experience with Bella Italia was rather a disappointment, so with a little trepidation we went there for dinner, though this time it was a much better experience.

When we had arrived the place was quite empty, well it was after 4pm and you wouldn’t expect it to be that busy. What I didn’t realise when we left just before 6pm the place was buzzing and pretty much full. It certainly didn’t feel like that sitting down, I suspect the main reason is that this branch of Bella Italia is very much zoned into different areas, with clever use of walls and bannisters (or railings) though the place is quite big, you actually feel you are in a much smaller cosier venue. Compare this with the Bella Italia at Cabot Circus which is smaller, but feels much bigger and more open, and as a result less cosy.

There was a different menu to the time we last went and I would say that I was certainly less inspired. It felt a little more bland and corporate than previous visits, but that doesn’t mean it is, it just felt that way.

As a last minute choice I went with a starter and chose, despite my plan to be choosing different things, I went with the calamari at £5.95. Lightly breaded and deep fried tender squid, with lemon and caper mayonnaise. The squid was tender, but I have had much nicer squid at Bella Italia. It was apparent they had changed the recipe (well probably supplier). The last time I had the squid it included the tentacles as well as pieces of squid, and they were covered in a parmesan batter. This time they were rings and were breaded rather than battered. The only criticism I would make back then was that sometimes they overcooked the squid, this time though with the new recipe they didn’t.

So what about the main courses?

My son decided to go with the Gamberoni at £9.95, that is described on the menu as eight succulent king prawns sautéed with spaghetti, garlic and chilli in a spicy pomodoro sauce. As with a previous experience the waiting staff did ask if he wanted the chilli to which he replied yes. I find it amusing that they say eight prawns, obviously a combination of marketing the dish, and making sure that people don’t complain about the number of prawns! My son really enjoyed the dish and finished it all off.

After a lot of thought I went with the Formaggio Double Burger at £12.95, described in the menu as a double Americano with melted mozzarella, parmesan and gorgonzola cheese. It was served in a soft ciabatta bun with fries and smoked tomato and onion relish.

Firstly if they are chips, they are not fries! Fries are thin and skinny and the chips are chunky. These were chunky! The best way to describe them was as okay, they weren’t awful, but they were certainly not the best chips I had. Reflecting on this I think the problem was they were quite tasteless.

The burger though on the other hand was delicious. I was very impressed with the flavour and the texture. It was just how I like it. When I compare this one, the last time I had a burger at the Holiday Inn Express. When I ordered it, I was a little concerned that the three cheeses would overpower the dish, but that wasn’t the case, they complemented the burgers really well.

My wife went with the Portobello Mushroom Burger, which was a portobello mushroom, with goat’s cheese, roasted red pepper and onion, baby gem leaves, tomato and mayonnaise, served in a soft ciabatta bun. What I found funny was that she thought this was just the topping on a regular burger, she didn’t realise that the mushroom was the burger. Despite that “mistake” she really enjoyed it, she said it was delicious and the really liked the goat’s cheese.

My two younger children went with the pizza and spaghetti bolognese and both of them really enjoyed their food and ate a lot of it.

As for service, well I would say that the place got it just right. We had really good service throughout the meal.

Seafood Platter

For New Year’s Eve we decided to have a fish and seafood platter. It was an opportunity to cook and eat some great food. However one problem, as you may recall New Year’s Eve is not only part of Christmas, it’s also a Monday. As a result it was virtually impossible to find any fresh fish or seafood. Generally the fishing fleets don’t go out at weekends and I suspect that they certainly wouldn’t go out over a weekend during the festive season. As a result we went with frozen seafood, not my first choice, but with what we wanted it was better than nothing.

We got some frozen king prawns, scallops and squid from Sainsbury’s as part of their Taste the Difference range. One of the key things to do when using frozen seafood is to defrost and defrost safely. If you cook frozen seafood from frozen, generally what happens is that you overcook it and it becomes very rubbery. You need to take care when defrosting to avoid food poisoning. The best way to defost is in the fridge, but this takes time. If you do defrost at room temperature, make sure you move the seafood to the fridge once it has defrosted.

The prawns I cooked on my griddle, whilst the scallops were cooked very quickly on a hot flat frying pan, as were the squid rings.

scallops, prawns and squid rings

The scallops were perfect and I was really pleased with how I cooked them. They were browned on each side, but were only just done on the inside. As a result they were melt in the mouth tender, and full of flavour. The prawns were very good, and served with some lemon were delicious. I was less impressed with the squid rings. In the past when I have cooked squid, I have bought frozen whole squid from Tesco and cut it into pieces of squid. I much prefer using this way of preparing squid, usually scoring one side to ensure even cooking and browing of the edges. The squid from Sainsbury’s comes ready sliced into rings. It cooked fine, but it lacked the depth of flavour I have had in the past with squid from Tesco. Why didn’t I get my squid from Tesco, well they’ve seemed to have stopped selling it.

Alongside this plate of seafood I also grilled some giant tiger prawns in their shells. These were placed under a really hot grill, after they were fully defrosted and brushed with some olive oil. The main reason for these prawns is twofold, one is the visual impact, secondly was flavour. They were delicious, though of course were quite messy to peel.

Taste the Difference Whole Giant King Tiger Prawns

We also had some dressed crab, these were small crab shells filled with a crab pate and white crab meat. They looked really nice, but lacked the depth of flavour I would liked to have. This was served with some fresh crusty bread.

Dressed Crab

Another successful dish was some clams. I got a pack of frozen Big and Juicy clams from the Big Prawn Company which I mananged to buy at Waitrose.

Big and Juicy clams from the Big Prawn Company

Again the key was to ensue they were properly defrosted before cooking, well they’re cooked already, all they really needed was heating up. I did this in a pan with some freshly chopped garlic and parsley. I thought they were delicious and very good value at £3.29. I think they would also work with linguine if wanted pasta and seafood.

We also cooked some salmon, this was roasted in the oven with a little olive oil.

Overall this was a delicious meal, we served it with some fresh salad and I also made a paella.

Don’t overcook the squid!

A recent birthday treat was to go to the new Frankie and Benny’s in Weston-super-Mare. As it was lunchtime, I went for the lunchtime menu special, which seemed reasonable value. For my starter I went with the Bruschetta, a homemade mix of fresh tomato, red onion, basil, olive oil and cracked black pepper served over toasted garlic ciabatta bread, finished with a balsamic glaze. I was not that impressed with this, I found the red onion very harsh and astringent. Normally red onion can be very sweet when raw, however I didn’t enjoy this as much as I thought I would.

The Calamari Caesar Salad came next, which consisted of (according to the menu) lightly fried and seasoned calamari, crispy Cos lettuce leaves, white anchovy, tomato and fresh garlic ciabatta croutons drizzled with our Caesar dressing, topped with Grana Padano and served with a wedge of lemon.

Calamari Caesar Salad

I would probably take exception to the phrase “lightly fried” as the squid had been overcooked to the point where the calamari was crunchy on the outside and quite rubbery on the inside. It wasn’t unpleasant, but I do think that Frankie and Benny’s could do a much better job of cooking the squid. It’s not difficult to cook squid well, however I think that the squid at Frankie and Benny’s is double cooked, it is cooked already and then cooked again when it is ordered. I of course don’t know that for sure. The chef has used the larger outside leaves of the Cos lettuce for the dish, which meant they were more limp than crispy. Overall I did enjoy the salad and it was a good sized portion and value for money.

Pizza time in Swindon

Bottelino’s is an independent chain of Italian restaurants in the South West, they also have a branch in Swindon next to the shopping outlet. I do enjoy the pizza at Bottellino’s, so on a recent visit to the STEAM Museum we decided to take advantage of their lunchtime offer, of any pizza or pasta for £5.95.

We shared a Piccante, with spicy sausage, bacon, mushroom, chilli and mozzarella cheese. It was nice and fresh, but probably a little too spicy from what we actually wanted, but it was very tasty.

Alongside, as it was only £2.50 as part of the offer I went for the Calamari Fritti, squid coated in seasoned flour and deep-fried. This was a nice sized portion, interestingly portioned as sticks of calamari rather than actual sliced squid or the rings one usually finds. Slightly rubbery in texture they did taste nice and the accompanying salad was good too. Very different to the dish when I have had it previously.

My son went with the Spaghetti alla Vongole, spaghetti with clams and garlic, in a white wine, fresh basil and tomato sauce. I think initially he was disappointed with the look of a dish expecting fresh clams, however he really enjoyed the dish once he started to eat it.

My two younger children went with the children’s menu, one had a cheese and tomato pizza and the other Spaghetti alla Bolognese. Both enjoyed their meals. These were good sized portions on proper plates. I remember when I first visited Bottelino’s they didn’t have a children’s menu, they do now, which is quite good value for money, at £4.96, as alongside their pizza or pasta they get a drink and for desert a scoop of proper ice cream.

On previous visits to Swindon, we usually went for lunch at the National Trust Heelis Cafe, however back in April 2010 we had a very poor experience and as a result we’ve not gone back. I think on any future visit to Swindon, we are probably more likely to get to eat at Bottelino’s now.

Lunch at La Tasca

I do like tapas, but haven’t eaten at La Tasca for a while. It’s a great place to go in a group, but unlike a few other places I could mention, it’s not a place I often go to when eating on my own or needing a quick place for lunch. However needing a quick lunch, I did notice walking by that La Tasca had a lunch deal on, two tapas dishes and bread (or salad) as an accompaniment for £5.95, that to me seemed quite reasonable. I had considered going to Jamie’s Italian which was close by, but they don’t appear to do a lunch menu and the main menu was a little expensive for a quick lunch.

PaellaFor my two dishes I went with Calamares Andaluza, crispy squid, served with a roasted garlic & paprika mayonnaise and Paella Valenciana, a paella with chicken breast and mixed seafood. Alongside I went with the bread, the Pan de Barra, freshly baked white baguette, olive bloomer and caramelised onion bread, served with an extra-virgin olive oil & balsamic vinegar dip.

Not sure how freshly baked the bread was, but though it may have been freshly baked at some point it didn’t feel that freshly baked to me. Probably because I have been spoilt by going to the Royal Well Tavern where the bread is so fresh that it is still warm when it arrives at the table! However it was nice to have three different kinds of bread and my favourite out of the three was the olive bloomer.

CalamaresThe calamares and paella arrived together. The calamares was nicely cooked, crisp batter and tender in the middle. The mayonnaise complemented the squid well. I enjoyed the calamares and was certainly one of the better dishes of squid I have had from La Tasca, so was impressed.

On previous visits to La Tasca, when I have had paella, usually as part of a special offer, tapas for a tenner, it wasn’t that special. I thought it was a bit of a risk taking the paella, but I thought why not. I was quite pleased though, it was very pleasant and certainly much better than previous paella I have had at La Tasca.

Overall, good service, nice food and value for money, just what I wanted for lunch.

Selezione Classica

A quick lunch at Bella Italia was on the cards and not fancying pizza or pasta I went with a sharing platter all to myself…

Our selection of oven baked lemon & rosemary chicken wings, spiced meatballs, calamari, mini garlic filled calzoni and lightly battered courgettes served with flamed pepper and lemon herb dips.

I have talked before about platters, sometimes they consist of a bundle of stuff that was thrown into a deep fat fryer. This one from Bella Italia was more imaginative than most.

The chicken wings were, as I expected, reheated from cooked, but you could smell and taste the lemon and rosemary. The problem with reheating is that it changes the taste and texture of the chicken. Freshly cooked chicken wings are much more succulent and have more flavour and when you have had freshly cooked, you are always disappointed with the reheated versions. These, though reheated, were very nice, and it was also a nice change not have them covered in a sweet sticky sauce.

The meatballs were nice and spicy and were something I wasn’t expecting to find on the platter. They came in an earthenware tumbler and were covered in a pleasant tomato sauce.

The calamari were typical of the calamari at Bella Italia, covered in flour and deep fried. Slightly overcooked for my liking, but it was proper squid and not just rubbery rings as you find at some places. I do like calamari.

The mini garlic filled calzoni were simply small pizza bases, with garlic butter, folded and baked like a calzone pizza. Soft on the inside, but with crunchy edges, the garlic was subtle and complemented the bread.

The lightly battered courgettes, reminded me of a dish I had ordered on Kefalonia. Chunky strips of courgette, covered in a batter and deep fried. These were crispy on the outside and the courgette was lovely and tender, almost melt in the mouth on the inside. Really nice.

Overall I enjoyed my platter and would be happy to order it again.