Time for a Christmas Meal

Generally this time of year would be the time for Christmas meals, whether that be friends or family. I have been planning our traditional Christmas meal (for Christmas Eve) but in the past I have been to various Christmas meals for various things. 

My work would do a regular Christmas event with a meal, we didn’t have one last year (2020) due to the lockdown. I also didn’t go to the meal in 2019, as the one before in 2018 had been terrible. Rubbish food and awful service, didn’t want a repeat of that experience. I did  though have an excellent meal with the team I was in, in 2019 at the Mud Dock Cafe. Then I had a tasty homemade chestnut and parmesan gnocchi in a truffled mushroom and spinach cream followed by a rather delightful selection and beautifully presented board of cheese.

I am not attending an office Christmas meal this year, my (newish) team is rather geographically dispersed, but I did recently attend a festive gathering of our Scout Leadership team (I am a trustee). We went to the Fork ‘n’ Ale Taproom & Kitchen in Weston-super-Mare.

I drove down to the seafront, parked my car and walked to the taproom, it was blowing a gale and it was bitterly cold. I was reminded of Bill Bryson, who in Notes from a Small Island said of Weston-super-Mare.

First, you were born. This in itself is a remarkable achievement. Being born was easily the most remarkable achievement of your whole life. And think: you could just as easily have been a flatworm.

Second, you are alive. For the tiniest moment in the span of eternity you have the miraculous privilege to exist. For endless eons you were not. Soon you will cease to be once more. That you are able to sit here right now in this one never-to-be-repeated moment, reading this book, eating bon-bons, speculatively sniffing your armpits, doing whatever you are doing – just existing – is really wondrous beyond belief.

Third, you have plenty to eat, you live in a time of peace and ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree’ will never be number one again.

If you bear these things in mind, you will never be truly unhappy – though in fairness I must point out that if you find yourself alone in Weston-super-Mare on a rainy Tuesday evening you may come close.

It wasn’t Tuesday! Well at least it wasn’t raining, though I wish I had worn a hat. I opened the door to the Fork ‘n’ Ale and the wash of heat was welcome and needed.

First things first after finding everyone, was to buy some drinks. They had a really interesting selection of beers. As it was festive I went with the Christmas Nectar, a light beer which was delicious.

The service was excellent, friendly, warm and efficient.

For my starter I had the pulled chicken and maple bacon terrine. It was supposed to come with toasted chunky bread, but we had chunky bread (untoasted).

It was certainly an interesting concept and though I enjoyed the dish, I think it was something I wouldn’t have again. The bread was excellent though.

The turkey choice on the menu was a breaded turkey escalope with ham, and though it was turkey, the dish didn’t sound very festive, so I went with the lamb.

This was a lamb shank with a red currant and port gravy. It came with roasted potatoes carrot and parsnips. I don’t think it came with the butternut squash mentioned on the menu! Served alongside were the Forks collard greens, which was peas, beans, courgette and cabbage. 

The lamb was kind of what I was expecting, slow cooked lamb in a delicious gravy. The lamb was very tender and I enjoyed it. I expected it was brought into the pub and then heated as required and served, nothing special, but still tasty.

I did think though that the accompaniments were excellent, the roasted parsnip and carrots were delicious and I really enjoyed the collard greens. I could have done with a few more potatoes, but they were nice and crisp.

I would have preferred cheese and biscuits to finish, but that wasn’t on the menu, so I went with the brownie and ice cream. They had run out of coffee ice cream, so we were given a choice of a range of flavours. I went with vanilla.

The brownie was moist and had a rich chocolate flavour. That was a great end to the meal.

I have in the past had some terrible festive meals, this one was rather good. Some interesting choices made about the menu, but I did think there was some really tasty food on offer.

I had never been to the Fork ‘n’ Ale pub before to eat, actually not been there to drink either. They have a great choice of beers and the food was interesting, I think I would visit again.

I do take photographs of my food…

…but I don’t always blog about them, nor do they always go on Instagram!

Usually it’s time, but sometimes it’s because the food wasn’t very good.

Back in July I went to Taka Taka. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was hungry and the concept did seem interesting. I do like Greek food and have enjoyed the meals I have had from The Real Greek chain.

I looked at the menu and went with the Mix Meat Meze.

A freshly grilled mix of gyros, pork, lamb, chicken souvlaki, and sausage. Served with fries, pita bread, tzatziki, and authentic Greek Salad.

I went to Queens Square to eat, I opened the box. There were fries, three skewers of meat, sausage, tubs of tzatziki, and Greek Salad, as well as some warm pita bread. I was a little disappointed that there was no mix of gyros, I did consider going back and complaining, but was running out of time, and I was hungry.

It wasn’t very good. The meat was dry and chewy. I think it had been cooked and then stored. There is a (big) difference between freshly grilled kebabs and those that have been done and then stored in a warmer. There wasn’t really enough salad and the lack of gyros, was disappointing.

I haven’t been back!

Merguez sausages with salad and flat bread

The title of this blog post really doesn’t do justice to the plate of food I bought from Kabylia at the Finzel Street Food market.

I was going to our office in Bristol more over the summer and one Wednesday in August I once more found myself in Bristol.

I popped out for a walk at lunchtime and it was nice to see the St Nicholas market bustling with people after seeing it a few months ago quite empty.

There were huge queues for Matina, Low & Slow, and the felafel place. I didn’t feel like queuing so I left the market and I popped to Finzel Reach market to see what was on sale.

There weren’t as many stalls as there was pre-pandemic and it isn’t as busy as it was on Fridays/

I decided to try Kabylia, the Algerian street food stand. 

Kabylia is a cultural, natural and historical region in northern Algeria. The Kabyle people are indigenous to Kabylia and speak the language known as Amazigh.

I had some Merguez sausages with a feta and pepper pickle, salad and flat bread. The sausages were reheated to order, placed on flat bread and then the salads were added.

Took it back to the office it was rather nice. The pickle was tasty, the salad was lovely and I enjoyed the flat bread. The Merguez sausages were a little soft, I prefer a meatier sausage and these weren’t quite to my liking, though they did taste right. Overall though it was a lovely plate of food which I did enjoy eating.

Overall I did enjoy something I wouldn’t have normally chosen.

Back to the Mediterranean

Back in London and it was time for lunch.

Didn’t really know what I wanted, the Leather Lane street food market was full of possible choices. In the end though I made a return visit to the Mediterranean Grill which I had been to a few weeks back.

I went with the large mixed salad box, but it came on a plate as I was eating in. I was asked to take a seat and they prepared the salad. I had the choice of rice or chips, I went with chips this time. The dish came with chicken and lamb and the salad was served with some chilli sauce, hummus and yoghurt.

The chicken and lamb were very tasty and tender.

The chips were rather nice, crisp and hot, if anything too hot.

The salads were nice and fresh and well seasoned. I personally would (again) have liked more yoghurt, but apart from that it was very tasty.

Yes it was basically a mixed kebab without the pitta bread. Even so it was fresh and delicious. I then paid my bill and again like last time left feeling happy about what I had eaten. 

I think next time I will have rice again, I don’t know if they do pitta bread on the side, but I might as well ask.

Grilled Lamb Salad (okay it was a kebab)

Feeling hungry and not really sure about what I wanted I headed out from the office in London to see what was around and what tickled my fancy for lunch.

I did initially think another salad from Birley Sandwiches as I had really enjoyed the one I had last week. There was quite a queue (which isn’t too surprising), so I thought I would venture up to the Leather Lane Street Food Market and have both a bit of a walk and just to see if there was anything else I might want to eat. There were quite a few familiar stalls which I have frequented on my recent visits to London, and I did think, did I want to return to any of them. There were some I was quite tempted to try as well.

As I walked down the road I noticed the Mediterranean Grill on the side (a permanent physical place, not just a temporary street food stall) and the display of salad and curry looked very tempting.

I initially wasn’t sure, but after another short walk, I turned around and headed back.

I went with the large lamb salad box, but it came on a plate as I was eating in. I was asked to take a seat and they prepared the salad. I had the choice of rice or chips, I went with rice. They lamb was not cooked to order, but taken from the hot plate. The dish came with some chilli sauce, hummus and yoghurt.

It looked great.

The lamb was flavourful and tender. The salads were nice and fresh and well seasoned. I personally would have liked more yoghurt, but apart from that it was very tasty.

Yes it was lamb and salad, but it was basically a kebab without the pitta bread. Even so it was fresh and delicious. I then paid my bill and left feeling happy about what I had eaten. I think I will go again.

Barbecuing in the sun

With the lovely weather we have been having a lot of barbecues recently. I try and cook different things, and we usually have a selection of salads alongside the grilled meat.

I do like cooking boned and flattened chicken thighs on the barbecue.

These were marinaded in lemon juice, olive oil and herbs. I leave the skin on as this is the best bit.

I also do ribeye steaks, but I find you need to have the temperature just right otherwise they can either be bland or overdone. I season my ribeye steaks with salt and pepper and a little garlic oil.

The lamb leg steaks were marinaded with olive oil and rosemary.

I am also know to do burgers, but I try and use a good quality burger to get the best results. These are served in a brioche bun with cheese and salad.

With sausages, like the burgers I like using a good quality meaty sausage. I prefer chipolata sausages, they remind me of the French sausages we cooked when we were on holiday, but sometimes I use  other kinds.

With pork belly slices I find it best to marinade them for a few hours in a salt and pepper marinade for a few hours to tenderise the pork.

Thinking now about other possibilities.

Chargrilled Lamb Shish Kebab

Now as we leave the third lockdown I have been reflecting on some street food I had over the last few years which never made it to the blog. Sometimes I just run out of time to write up a review and sometimes I just plain forget to write up the meal. 

So this is quite a long wait for this review which was four years ago in May 2017 It was a beautiful sunny day in Bristol and during my lunch break I popped out for a walk and went down to the Temple Quay street food market.

There were lots of choices and lots of people queuing. One of the challenges of the Temple Quay street food market is deciding what to choose. In the end the smell of the charcoal grill and the menu on MurrayMays van was very tempting.

The Lamb Shish kebab was £6.50 which is a more than I usually spend for lunch (well it was back then in 2017). However it sounded so good. It was charcoal grilled marinated salt marsh lamb leg, smokey babaganoush, wild garlic, pesto and preserved lemon. The kebab was served with a house salad, flatbread and dukkah pomegranate.

It looked great, despite the big preserved chilli on top, which in the end I didn’t eat.

The lamb was tender and had so much flavour. I really liked the flavour that the charcoal grilled process added. The accompaniments were excellent and a nice mix of taste and textures.

Despite really enjoying the dish, and having a similar dish in October 2017 as well, I don’t think I have made a return visit to the MurrayMays van. Sometimes I think this is because I fancy something else, or the queue for the van looks too long. However I also noticed on return visits that the  Lamb Shish kebab wasn’t on the menu, and the other menu items didn’t appeal. However now as we ease lockdown and I expect to be in Bristol quite a lot more now, I think I will search out the MurrayMays van and have another kebab for my lunch.

Butterflied Leg of Lamb

For Easter lunch we had a butterflied leg of lamb from M&S along with their belly of pork joint.

leg of lamb

The box was quite large, the joint of lamb, not so much.

The lamb came with a light and zingy garlic, lemon and herb dressing which was rather nice.

I followed the instructions on the packaging and the result was rather nice.

A nautical theme

Before the pandemic I would travel a fair bit for work and stay overnight in cities across the UK. In August last year I had a meeting in Liverpool and was staying at The Liner Hotel. 

This hotel has a real nautical theme to it, complete with portholes in reception as well as extensive use of blue and white in the rooms.

Having arrived quite late into Liverpool I decided I really should get something to eat. I initially thought about eating at the hotel, then thought I would find somewhere cheaper in the heart of the city. As I looked around the place I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted and walked round for a bit. I didn’t really know what I wanted so never actually could decide what I wanted. In the end, as it was getting late I went back to the hotel and decided to have a late dinner there.

The welcome was warm and friendly. The place wasn’t very busy (well it was quite late) and I looked over the menu. I started off with some halloumi and felafel kebabs.

These were very nice and well presented.

For my main course I went with a favourite of mine lamb rump.

This was served with cabbage and some very nice, but brightly coloured, beetroot gnocchi. It was a little salty for my taste, but was cooked well and an interesting dish to look at and taste.

I ran out of time for pudding, but I was quite full as well. I did in fact really quite enjoy my meal.

Grilling in Euston

So I was staying overnight on the Euston Road before heading off to France on the Eurostar the following morning.

Having been walking around earlier I had noticed the Cattle and Co and it looked both inviting and interesting.

Cattle and Co

Having looked at the online menu I had quite liked the idea of chargrilled squid, which regular readers of the blog will know I quite like.

However the online menu must be slightly out of date as there was no squid on the menu, however to compensate there was a selection of grills that I hadn’t seen online.

Of the starters I did think about the Buttermilk Wings, but the “Now we talkin’” spice rating of the Buffalo Sauce made me think again.

I was tempted by a couple of items on the main menu. If I was really hungry I probably would have gone for the The Cattle Platter.

The formidable showcase of what we’re about here at Cattle & Co. St Louis Rib, Beef Short Rib, Smoked Chicken Thigh, Honey & Beer onion rings, and in just in case you needed something else; Fries. A wheelbarrow taxi service home also available upon request. No judgement here, we’ve all been there.

As I wasn’t starving (and I was eating alone) then decided that at £35 it was a bit extravagant to go for something that sounded delicious.

I also quite liked the sound of the Buttermilk Fried Chicken as well as the Angus Short Rib.

Now we’re talking. Our imported smoker really showing off its potential with this dish. Hickory smoked on-site for at least 12 hours (Low and Slow), Pickles, Sauce, AND Your choice of Fries.

In the end decided to go down the “specials” route and have a grill. The grills covered a range of prices, but was tempted by either the hangar steak or the lamb rump. In the end I went with the lamb.

It was served with a confit tomato, mushrooms, a green salad and some melted garlic butter. I did order a side order of truffle and parmesan fries.

Grilled Lamb Rump

I had expected the fries to be served with a large helping of freshly grated parmesan and grated truffle. That expectation was based on seeing a similar dish at one of the Bristol Street Food markets. However I didn’t see any real evidence of either parmesan or truffle. The fries were nice and I did enjoy eating them.

So what of the lamb? The lamb was cooked how I asked, the cut was full of flavour and it was really tender. I really enjoyed the chargrill which imparted a great flavour and hadn’t been overdone. I couldn’t believe how tender it was, easy to cut with a regular knife.

I also enjoyed the other accompaniments on the board. The tomato was lovely and tender, yet still full of flavour, so much nicer than just either a chargrilled tomato half or even an uncooked one. The mushrooms were nice as was the salad.

The service was warm, friendly and efficient. I should say it took some time for my food to arrive, but I wasn’t in a hurry and good food does take some time to cook. I think there were quite a few people in the other side of the restaurant by the kitchen, it was much quieter on the side I was in by the bar.

Would I like to go again? Yes I would.