Christmas time at the Mud Dock Cafe

December is often the time for office Christmas meals. With the number of staff in our office, the main Christmas meal we have is often dictated by the availability of the venue and to be perfectly honest I have not been too impressed with the food at the last few I have been to. The fact you also need to order your choices weeks in advance is also a little annoying. What I fancy eating in November, may not be what I actually want on the day. Then again do you really go to an office Christmas meal for the food?

Having missed the main office Christmas dinner (intentionally) last December, I was looking forward to our team Christmas meal which was taking place the week after. There was only going to be a few of us so it wasn’t going to be that massive crazy kind of event. The plan was to have a meal at the Mud Dock Cafe in Bristol.

We had a meeting before heading off to the venue. What I did like about this meal was that we could choose from the menu. As I looked over the menu we were impressed with the salad that a neighbouring table was eating. However we couldn’t work out what it was and didn’t appear to be on the menu. I then cheekily asked the neighbouring table what they had ordered, they were very happy about the query and told us it was the Caesar Salad from the specials board up on the wall!

One of my colleagues was impressed enough that he ordered the salad for his meal.

It looked really impressvive and delicious. Though I was tempted by the salad, in the end I went with the Festive menu. For my starter I had the ballotine confit of turkey leg, cranberry compote and dressed leaves.

This was rather tasty, though as with these kinds of dishes, I could have done with more bread.

I wasn’t sure what kind of main course I wanted, but when I read truffled mushroom I went with the homemade chestnut and parmesan gnocchi in a truffled mushroom and spinach cream.

This, though rather hot (as in temperature) was a rich comforting plate of food. It was tasty and I really enjoyed it.

I was persuaded to have a desert, so I went with the selection of West Country cheeses.

A rather delightful selection and beautifully presented board of cheese.

Overall it was one of the better Christmas meals I have had. It was nice to have a choice and choose on the day, rather than days or weeks in advance.

This year I don’t think we will be having any kind of festive office meal but if and when we can do that kind of thing, I hope to return to the Mud Dock Cafe.

What we had for Christmas Lunch

I blog about what we eat for Christmas lunch, mainly to remember things that worked well and for those that didn’t, not to repeat that mistake. This post is a little later than I planned, but it’s here now.

This year we ordered two Christmas roasts from Tesco. I was a little concerned as the night before the day I was going to collect the order I got a phone call from my local Tesco saying that part of my order had not been delivered to the store and offered a replacement. I wasn’t too happy with this, as it was quite short notice. In the end they had a late night delivery so I got my order in the end.

The main one was a part-boned turkey with chestnut stuffing. This was really nice roasted the chestnut stuffing was really nice too, with who chestnuts within it.

The second was a three bird roast, comprising a duck stuffed with goose and turkey. I remember once spending a lot of money on a Marks and Spencer four bird roast, which though very nice was mainly a big turkey with some duck, goose and chicken. So was a little bit of a disappointment, I blogged about that here, which reminded me not to go down that road again.

Along with the roasts we had roast potatoes, these I cooked in my usual way, which is as follows. I used Maris Piper potatoes, the type of potatoes I find is critical for getting crispy roast potatoes and a fluffy centre. I peel the potatoes and then par-boil for about ten minutes. Whilst they are in the pan of boiling water, I place the roasting tray in a hot oven with some sunflower oil (and I also add a splash of olive oil for flavour). This means once the potatoes are drained they are added to the pan which is pre-heated and has hot oil in. This speeds up cooking time and ensures a crispy roast potato.

I also did my regular dish of brussel sprouts pan fried with chestnut smoked bacon lardons and chestnuts.

brussel sprouts pan fried with chestnut smoked bacon lardons and chestnuts

I did roasted parsnips. Along with them I did some festive carrots, I followed a Jamie Oliver recipe for carrots. I took a frying pan, this I filled with evenly cut carrots, either whole or halved in the main. I then covered them with boiling water. To this I add a large knob of butter, a splash of white wine vinegar, the juice from two clementines (or similar citrus fruit, or one orange) and some dried mixed herbs. Then let the carrots bubble away on the stove top for about 40 minutes. Once the eater has evaporated, the carrots should caramelise in the remaining sweet and sour mix.

We had a selection of stuffings and pigs in blankets.

Overall we were very happy with the meal, it was very tasty.

Time for some Italian food

It has been nearly ten years since I visited a branch of Carluccio’s.

I do like Italian food, but I’ve not really had the inclination to visit Carluccio’s in that time. Their menu always looks interesting, but for quick lunches it was always on the pricey side.

So staying over in London and needing somewhere close and not too expensive, finding and reading the set menu online for Carluccio’s which was a few minutes walk away, I thought, well why not. It might be nice.

This branch of Carluccio’s was very close to Spitalfield Market and inside was dark and atmospheric. There was limited lighting, complemented with candles on the tables. I felt that it spoke of mystery and intrigue, so different to brightly lit restaurants.

I had a lovely warm welcome from the waiting staff and I was allowed to choose my own table. I do like being able to choose my own table, I realise when it’s busy that may not be possible, but when the place is quiet (as it was when I got there) it’s really nice to have a choice, and not been placed somewhere because it makes life easier for the waiting staff.

As it was dark, it was challenging to read the menu, I am glad I read it online before I had gone out.

The set menu I was choosing from had four choices for each course. I went for the Antipasto Misto. This was pane carasau with gorgonzola dolce & 14 month aged prosciutto, caperberries, olives, finocchiona salami, baby pepper with pesto, marinated green beans, caponata.

Antipasto Misto. This was pane carasau with gorgonzola dolce & 14 month aged prosciutto, caperberries, olives, finocchiona salami, baby pepper with pesto, marinated green beans, caponata.

I’ve not had pane carasau before, it is a traditional flatbread from Sardinia. It is very thin and crisp. It is made by taking baked flat bread, then separating it into two sheets which are baked again. It was interesting, but I think I would have preferred some ciabatta or focaccia instead.

There was very little gorgonzola dolce, reflecting on this when writing this, I initially thought there hadn’t been any on the plate, but then remembered there was a small piece. The prosciutto and finocchiona salami were nice, and I enjoyed the caponata, but I think it would have gone better with some bread (and not the flatbread).

My main course I chose was the Risotto ai Funghi. This was a risotto made with porcini, chestnut, oyster, shiitaki, shimenji, baby king oyster, closed cup mushrooms and garlic.

Risotto ai Funghi. This was a risotto made with porcini, chestnut, oyster, shiitaki, shimenji, baby king oyster, closed cup mushrooms and garlic.

You could certainly taste the mushrooms in this risotto dish, and the risotto rice was al dente and creamy. I thought it was slightly salty for my taste.

I had intended to go with the cheeses for a third course, this was three Italian cheeses, truffle honey, pickled walnuts and ciappe crispbread. However I was feeling somewhat full, so didn’t.

When I was presented with the bill, they had added a 12.5% service charge which was “optional”. When I have had good service I do tip, however adding the tip to the bill always strikes me as presumptive and I find it insulting. It appears to be saying we don’t trust you to leave a tip, so we are going to add a service charge to the bill to make you feel bad. I also wonder how much of that “service charge” goes to the actual staff? As I didn’t have any loose change on me, I left the charge on the bill and paid. I know waiting staff are poorly paid for what is a busy and can be stressful job (I have done it myself), so I think tipping for good service is a good thing. If I receive poor service then I don’t tip.

Overall I did enjoy the food, the service was attentive and quick. The environment was nice and did not feel crowded, nor was I rushed. Would I go again, probably.

Our Christmas Dinner

I usually document our Christmas dinner in December, in the main so that I can recall what we had and when, what we liked and what we wouldn’t get again.

In 2014 we went with an Aldi Four Bird Roast and though we enjoyed it, I wanted to have something different in 2015. Due to a range of reasons we didn’t pre-order any thing for lunch, so in the end it was a quick trip out to the local Morrisons. I bought a small turkey and a duck.

These were roasted in the over, taking about two hours. The flavour was pretty good and I managed to not over cook (or under cook) the roasts.

They were served with some traditional accompaniments, such as pigs in blankets and a range of stuffings.

The brussels sprouts were peeled and halved. These were then pre-cooked for a couple of minutes in boiling water. As we neared the serving time, in a hot frying pan I added a small amount of olive oil and fried off some pancetta. I then added the brusels with some pre-cooked chestnuts.

Overall a really nice festive meal.

Brussels with Chestnuts and Pancetta

brussel sprouts pan fried with chestnut smoked bacon lardons and chestnuts

I once again cooked this accompaniment to the Christmas roast we had this year. It is very simple to cook, has festive overtones and really adds something special to the humble sprout.

I peeled and halved the sprouts, now I know some people will think that what is he doing, sprouts are supposed to be whole! Well what I want in this dish is for the sprouts to be a similar size to the chestnuts. The sprouts were partially cooked in advance, by placing in simmering water for about five minutes, drained and plunged into cold water and left to one side. You can do this earlier in the day so freeing up hob space for other things.

When you are close to serving time, in a hot frying plan, add a splash of olive oil and add the pancetta. I went for smoked pancetta, as I much prefer the stronger flavour and it goes well with the similarly strong flavour of the sprouts. Cook the pancetta until is just going crispy. The add the partially cooked sprouts and the chestnuts. I used the cooked and vacuum packed chestnuts from Merchant Gourmet. These are already prepared and cooked and are quick and easy to use. Next year I might use fresh chestnuts and prepare them myself. You can season with some black pepper, but no need to add extra salt, as the pancetta bacon adds the saltiness to the dish.

Toss and saute the sprouts and chestnuts with the pancetta and serve with your favourite festive roast.

Cooking the Turkey

Well the Christmas dinner was a real success this year, really pleased with the end result. I like to write about it so next year I can remember what we had, what we liked and what I should avoid.

We had a fair few extra people around so I cooked two roasts, one was the four bird roast from Aldi (which costs just £10) and a more expensive roast from Morrisons, comprising turkey breast wrapped around a smoked pork tenderloin and then covered in pork crackling.

Both roasts were simple to cook and were both full of flavour. Turkey can often be dry, but I managed to avoid that, but that was probably much more down to the style of the roast, it wasn’t a whole bird.

The Aldi four bird roast was a little skimpy on the goose and duck, but I did expect that for a £10 roast. The stuffing was okay, but was slightly overpowering and could probably have down with less herbs.

Alongside the main dish I served a range of vegetables, including a brussel sprouts with chestnuts and pancetta. Timing I find is quite critical with this kind of meal, so I had done a fair bit of preparation in advance, so things went smoothly. For example I had made and prepared my stuffing the night before, I had already trayed up the pigs in blankets and cocktail sausages.

Overall the meal was a success and enjoyed by all.

Ambassadors at Bloomsbury Part One

I was recently up in London and stayed at the Ambassadors Hotel in Bloomsbury. Staying with friends we had the Christmas dinner at the Number Twelve attached restaurant. I started off with the Chestnut Pasta and had the Ribeye steak for my mains.

The home made chestnut pasta was served with seasonal wild mushrooms and a white butter sauce. I did enjoy this dish, the pasta was cooked well and nice selection of mushrooms.

For my mains I had ribeye of 28 day Donald Russell beef, served with celeriac, braised red onion, wild mushrooms and roast potatoes.

ribeye of 28 day Donald Russell beef

The steak was not the best I’ve had, slightly tough and was certainly not full of flavour compared to others I have eaten. The celeriac was nice as was the onions and mushrooms.

Overall I did enjoy both the started and the main course.