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Restaurant Review – A Midweek Treat at the Muddy Duck

It feels slightly strange blogging about our village pub as we are up there on a frequent basis (maybe a little too frequent!) but we had such a good meal recently, I felt it merited a post. Rather than trying somewhere new, Ian and I decided to wander up to our local for a midweek dinner.

I started with an Aperol Spritz cocktail which looked like a glass of Iron-Bru but this Italian aperitif has a lovely bitter-sweet taste and is apparently rather popular with the Hackney hipsters.

For my starter, I went for a salad which included two of my favourite ingredients: beetroot and goats cheese. Containing golden yellow and deep purple beetroot, which had been both pickled and roasted, this salad had a rich sweetness from the beets matched by the sharpness of the goats cheese, some of which had been whipped with lemon to add another texture and flavour. I thoroughly enjoyed this and I think the only thing missing was a crunch of some nuts or crispy bread.

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Ian had a twist on ham, pea and mint in the form of this rustic ham terrine, served with a pea puree, mint and griddled new potatoes.  This was a hearty little starter and I was glad we opted to share them!

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For my main, I went for another veggie option in the form of courgette arancini. Arancini, for those of you who are yet to discover this Italian delight, are little deep fried balls of risotto and one of those things I have to order when I see it on a menu! These ones were courgette arancini, with a cheesy, rich filling and served with marinated mozzarella, griddled vegetables and courgette and radish ribbons. The combination of these ingredients were spot on and I have my own take on these rice balls coming soon!

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Ian went for the lamb served two ways but I have to admit I was enjoying my own dinner so much (and trying to pick apart the recipe so I could cook it myself at home!) that I don’t think I even tried any!

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Ordering two veggie courses left me with some room for pudding and I could not resist the sticky toffee pudding, served with honeycomb and clotted cream ice-cream. This was a lovely end to the evening and no doubt we will be back soon x

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Restaurant Review – Taplow House Hotel

It feels like I haven’t done a good restaurant review for ages! I think that’s probably because we keep eating at places I have already reviewed or just places that don’t lend themselves to a good blog post.

Anyway, today I wanted to share the amazing meal Ian and I enjoyed at Taplow House Hotel when we stayed there recently. We had a three course meal included in our hotel stay which I always like as it means you don’t have to have that argument about who will be the designated driver!

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We started with a good bottle of Merlot while we perused the menu. There were 4 or 5 options for starter, main and dessert which were a nice variety of meat, fish and veggie dishes. The dining room was beautifully decorated but I have to say there wasn’t much atmosphere…maybe that was simply because it was a Wednesday evening though.

I am going to get my other niggle out the way now because I really couldn’t find fault with the food. The night we ate at the Taplow House Hotel, there was a large party in the other room which meant the service in the restaurant suffered a bit. We actually had to wait for almost an hour for our starters which normally would really annoy me but because we were ‘on holiday’ I didn’t mind too much as we were enjoying our wine and conversation.

Onto our (much anticipated!) starters…

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I had a dish of lightly whipped goats cheese which came with salt baked and pickled beetroot, green apple, sesame seed sponge, blackberries and leaves. The pairing of goats cheese and beetroot is a favourite of mine and this was one of those perfectly balanced dishes with a lovely variety of flavours and textures.

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Ian had the grilled mackerel (which were smoked in-house) which came with avocado, celeriac remoulade, mouli, pickled mustard seeds and shiso cress. Again, this was a well-balanced dish with the rich fish matched well against the accompaniments.

I think you can usually judge how good a restaurant is after you’ve had the starters and I have to say we were both really impressed with what we had had so far.

For my main, I really fancied fish so ordered the fillet of cod. This was a huge portion (not complaining!) and it just flaked away perfectly. It was served with artichokes, cockles, mini turnips, squid ink gnocchi and a smoked herring roe butter sauce. Whilst it did look a bit messy on the plate, this dish was incredible! The rich sauce brought everything together and I thoroughly enjoyed every mouthful.

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Ian opted for the lamb which again looked a bit messy on the plate but more than delivered on taste. There was a braised neck of lamb fillet and loin as well as sweetbreads served with pearl barley, charred baby leeks, celeriac and a lovely rosemary gravy.

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Onto pudding now and I had the white chocolate cheesecake which turned out to be a delightful deconstructed version and one of my favourite dishes of the night. The filling part of the cheesecake part was one of the balls sat atop the biscuit crumbs, the other being a rich vanilla ice cream. Surrounding the rest of the plate was a combination of chocolate ganache, shards of milk chocolate, hazelnuts, cocoa nib sherbet and cocoa marshmallows. It was truly delicious and every mouthful was different.

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Ian doesn’t have as much of a sweet tooth as I do so opted for the cheeseboard which had a nice variety of local cheeses, crackers and a chutney.

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If this hotel was nearby, I would be back to this restaurant in a flash. Although the atmosphere and service left a bit to be desired, I absolutely loved the food here and that would be enough to tempt me back. x

Restaurant Review – The Northey Arms, Box

A couple of weeks ago, Ian and I headed down the road to revisit the Northey Arms, a country pub that we’ve enjoyed some good meals at before.

After a quick G&T at the bar, we were seated in the restaurant area to have a good nose through the menu.

For my starter, I ordered chicken liver parfait which was served with a brioche roll, some chutney and rocket, which I think is the devil’s food! I really enjoyed this starter (once I had tipped the rocket onto Ian’s plate!); the pate was beautifully rich and creamy, the chutney had a good amount of spiced fruitiness and the brioche roll was tasty too. My only complaint was that there wasn’t enough brioche for the amount of parfait. A second roll or some additional crackers would have been nice.

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Ian had deep fried crab served with a mango salsa and avocado sorbet. I only had a bit of the sorbet, which was beautifully creamy, but I got a thumbs up from him for the starter!

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For our mains, I opted for lamb and Ian had a steak.

My lamb was served perfectly medium-rare on ratatouille, potatoes, more rocket and a lovely sauce. The lamb was gorgeous but I just wish there was more of it as I didn’t really enjoy the ratatouille. It was a bit bland although I’m not the biggest fan of aubergine.

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Ian had a whopping steak (I can’t remember if it was a T-bone or rib-eye) served with green beans, grilled mushrooms and roasted vine tomatoes. He also ordered some chips and a delicious Roquefort and parsley butter.

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Honestly, one of those crispy chips dipped in the rich, cheesy sauce was a little taste of heaven!

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As always, I had saved room for a pudding but after trying to catch the eye of a waitress for over 10 minutes, I soon got bored of waiting and we left. This was such a shame and left a bit of a sour taste after a really nice meal. I am quite ruthless when it comes to poor service as I think there are just so many good places to eat near us that I don’t feel we need to waste our time and money at a place that doesn’t offer decent service. Too harsh?!

It may have been a one off with the poor service as previously I had liked the atmosphere and there’s no denying the food is really good here. And I may have to go back for that cheesy chip combination soon!

 

Restaurant Review – The Dandy Lion, Bradford-on-Avon

Well, March seemed to fool us all into thinking it was going to herald the start of spring but the rain has returned today!

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We decided to make the most of the burst of sunshine we had yesterday by pulling on our wellies and going for a walk. It was still incredibly wet and muddy but we had fun splashing in puddles and the views over Bath were definitely worth it.

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The eagle-eyed readers will notice this is my second review for this local pub but it’s somewhere Ian and I find ourselves going back to, both for food and just for drinks, so I thought it deserved a second mention.

A few weeks ago, we were heading out for dinner and seeing as it was pouring with rain, we wanted to eat somewhere with its own car park so we didn’t have far to walk. However, when we drove through Bradford-on-Avon, we spotted a space right outside the pub so felt it was meant to be!

As always, I was going back and forth over what to order as it all sounded so good. I finally decided on a main course and sent Ian up to the bar to order with instructions to ‘surprise me’ with a starter!

He did well and we shared two starters of deep fried Thai crab balls which had a lovely crunch to them before you bit into the meaty, spicy centre.

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We also got some breaded chicken goujons to share which were nicely seasoned and came with an aioli and a BBQ dip and salad.

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For our mains, we both went for something hearty. I had the most wonderful fruity Moroccan lamb tagine served with warm, homemade flatbread and topped with a dollop of yogurt. This was warming and had a generous amount of lamb in it – I think I’ll have a go at recreating this at home.

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Ian had one of the specials – beef brisket served with a ‘Bloody Mary’ sauce in a sourdough roll and triple cooked chips. This was a lovely twist on a steak sandwich and their chips are unbelievable too!

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Unfortunately I was too stuffed for pudding (so not like me) but I actually came home to a lovely little package from a friend which contained some of my favourite salted caramels from Hotel Chocolat so I had these with a cuppa instead – thanks Luce! x

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Recipe – Lamb, Fennel and Black Olive Ragu

So I decided to start off this half term as I mean to go on, by eating, drinking and pampering!

After a quick pedicure, we headed into Bath for the afternoon, which was looking glorious in the sunshine. I had forgotten how lovely it is to have the sun streaming in through your window on a Sunday morning – it definitely helped me get up in a good mood.

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I devoured The Observer Food magazine (how cool is Jack Monroe?!) then devoured a pulled pork burger and a side of fried pickles…why is all food better fried?! Note to self…must eat a salad today to balance things out!

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Today’s recipe is a tasty sauce which I made for a midweek pasta dinner.

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It’s a twist on a classic Bolognese with the lovely aniseed-like crunch of fennel to add a bit of variety.

Ingredients

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A glug of olive oil

Salt and pepper

400g of lamb mince

1 fennel bulb, peeled and chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

A few pinches of dried rosemary

1 can of tinned tomatoes

A small jar of black olives, roughly chopped

How to make it

  • Begin by frying off the lamb in a little oil, spooning away any excess fat
  • When the lamb has browned, season well then add the fennel, garlic and rosemary and cook for another 5-10 minutes until the fennel has started to colour
  • Add the tomatoes and olives
  • Simmer for around 15 minutes – if your sauce becomes too thick then add a dash of waterragu3
  • Serve with spaghetti (or any other type of pasta you fancy) and a generous serving of Parmesanragu4

Recipe – Rack of Lamb

I love lamb.

However, as the price of it has continued to creep upwards, we have it less and less and when we do, it is often the cheaper cuts of meat that tend to go a bit further.

This weekend, for our Sunday roast, we decided to forget about all that and just enjoy a really good cut of meat…rack of lamb.

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It came with the adorable little chefs hats on each of the bones which I loved!

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There are lots of fancy recipes online and I bookmarked a few in my cookbooks which involve ‘crusts’ to stick onto your lamb when I have more time to play around with flavour combinations.

If you eat this cut of meat a lot and want to start experimenting then that is fine but this weekend I wanted the gorgeous flavour of the lamb to shine through so here is my very simple method for cooking a delicious Roasted Rack of Lamb. I decided to pair the meat with rosemary, a classic combination and one which just works!

Begin by heating some oil in a frying pan and sear the fatty side of the meat until golden brown. This will ensure the fat on the lamb crisps up beautifully.

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In an oven tray, lay a few sprigs of rosemary down then place the lamb joint on top, with the fat facing upwards, and season well.

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A couple more springs of rosemary on top should do the trick, and then it is put in the oven at about 200°C for 25 minutes. This will ensure your lamb is quite pink (how it should be served in my opinion!) but if you prefer your meat a bit more well-done then check it after about 35 minutes.

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Leave the lamb to rest…I know it is tempting to tuck in straight away but at least 5 minutes resting on your board will ensure the meat stays really juicy.

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I decided to echo the rosemary flavouring in my roast potatoes and following my own recipe I added some garlic and chopped rosemary for the last 20 minutes of roasting.

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Slice your lamb into cutlets and serve with crispy roasties, some roasted vegetables and the all-important mint sauce.

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This cut of meat even deserved a good bottle of red and some candles!

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We try to do a roast dinner whenever we are home for the weekend and this was my favourite one this year so far…and it will take some beating!

Restaurant Review – Juniper, Bristol

Last night, Ian and I headed over to Bristol to take advantage of a Groupon deal we bought a little while ago. It is also our 9 year anniversary on Monday and my last weekend off before going back to work so it felt like a good idea to go out for dinner.

I was also happy for an excuse to wear my new polka-dot shirt!

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Our voucher entitled us to two 5-course dinners with a glass of wine for just £47 – a real bargain I think you’ll agree! Judging by the prices on their website, it would have cost us £55 a head if we had paid full-price so there was no denying it was good value for money.

The restaurant itself is very cosy and welcoming and it was full last night so had a good atmosphere.

We both had a glass of the house red, which was very pleasant, and ordered. I was very impressed with the selection available to us. We had about 5 different starters, mains and puddings to choose from with the 2nd and 4th course offering just the one option.

For my starter, I ordered flaked smoked haddock served with pancetta, salad, a soft boiled egg and a mild curry dressing. This may sound quite an odd combination but it reminded me of the tastes you get with a good kedgeree; slightly spicy, smoky fish and soft creamy eggs. It was a really interesting and well put together starter. The only thing I would say is that I was expecting this to be served as a warm salad and it was cold which didn’t take away from the enjoyment but was slightly unexpected nonetheless.

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Ian ordered a duck starter which consisted of a duck liver terrine, slices of duck breast, some toasted brioche and a red wine and shallot jam. He let me try all parts of this dish and it was another well put together starter and I felt both plates were very generous with their portions. It was lovely to have the duck served two ways and the breast was very moist and tender.

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After our starters, we were brought a lovely fresh salad of heritage tomatoes, beetroot, goats cheese, horseradish crème fraîche and a balsamic dressing. Again, the flavour combinations were exquisite and there was a nice variety of textures on the plate too.

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Next were the main courses which were enormous! I have to say that while I like to feel like I have got my money’s worth when I eat out, I also think too much food on a plate can be a bad thing. The type of people who would be going to Juniper to enjoy their 5 or 8-course menus, I would assume, are into their food and not simply going out to feel stuffed when they leave. When the quality of food is good, which it definitely was at this restaurant, I don’t think you need to cram the plate full of food to please the customer and neither Ian nor I managed to finish our mains – and I have a very good appetite!

Anyway, onto the food itself! I ordered the pork which came with a very large pork loin, a pulled-pork and pearl barley casserole, dauphinoise potatoes, an apple salsa and a stilton, Parma ham and sage cream sauce. The loin was well-cooked but as I mentioned before just too large for me to manage it all. The crowning glory of the dish was the pulled-pork casserole which was absolutely stunning. The meat was falling apart, the seasoning was spot on and the pearl barley added another texture to the plate. The dauphinoise potatoes were good but tasted strongly of garlic. The sauce was perfect for the pork, although I couldn’t taste the stilton in it. The only disappointment was the apple salsa. The lovely balance between sweet and sharpness that I was expecting was completely overpowered with the addition of green peppers in it, and I struggled to taste any apple at all.

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Ian opted for the lamb which was delicious. His meal came with two generous pieces of lamb rump, served pink (how it should be!), dauphinoise potatoes, ratatouille and a rosemary jus. All elements on the plate really complemented each other well and the sauce was divine. Again, one thing neither of us were keen on was the ratatouille. I thought it sounded like a great pairing to the lamb but it was extremely salty (and I do like heavily seasoned food) and sharp.

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The main courses also came with a bowl of vegetables but we barely touched them and to be honest the al dente celery which was mixed through the vegetables didn’t really go.

After our monstrous mains, we asked the waitress for a little break in the food so we could make some room for the last two courses!

Next up was the cheese course, which was very simple but tasty: three crackers, a lovely tomato chutney and three mature English cheeses; a cheddar, a brie and a stilton. I did have to ask for some butter because, as I am sure my Mum would agree, you can’t have a cheeseboard without some good salty butter! All three cheeses were lovely and the chutney cut through the richness of them.

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Finally, we had our puddings. I don’t know how I found the room but I couldn’t resist the sticky toffee pudding, which was served with a rich toffee sauce and honeycomb ice-cream, and a chunk of very hard and sharp kiwi which added absolutely nothing to the dish! The cake was gorgeous; warm, rich, moist and complemented perfectly by the sauce and ice-cream.

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Ian had a lovely chocolate and orange truffle pot, topped with a sour cherry compote which worked really well together.

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Now, I have to mention the next thing that happened because it really annoyed me and I am interested to know what you think of it…

We asked for the bill, knowing the food would come to £47 because we had already prepaid this through Groupon, expecting to pay for the wine and then a tip. I usually tip around the 10% mark, obviously adding or taking away a bit for exceptional or poor service, which I assume is fairly standard, right? On our bill, the waitress had costed our dinner at £55 a head (what it would have cost us had we paid full-price) and then worked out her 10% from that £110 amount. Does anyone else find that a bit cheeky?!

Part of me felt we had got a fantastic deal anyway so it wasn’t that big a deal but then I thought to myself ‘what am I paying over £10 for?’ The service was fine but by no means exceptional. For example, when we were served our cheese course, the waitress simply put the plates down on the table in front of us without telling us what each cheese was. For a higher quality establishment, this quick explanation of the dish is what I think is generally expected and all our waitress really did was deliver the food then clear the tables. So I ended up leaving a tip of about £7-8 (the change that was in my wallet basically). I know the difference of a couple of pounds may seem petty but, for me, it was the principle of expecting a hefty tip for not much work – I would love to know what you think or what you would have done!

While I am on the negatives, I also have to say that I found the stairways and toilets damp-smelling and quite grubby. I know it has nothing to do with the food but, as part of the whole dining experience, the restaurant itself wasn’t completely up to scratch.

Overall, apart from the sneaky tip calculation and toilets, we had a fantastic evening and I would definitely return to Juniper. It was laid-back and friendly and the food was excellent. My only niggle, and I imagine it is something many people wouldn’t mind, was the huge portion sizes. If you were going in for a main course alone, then fair enough it is a hearty meal, but as part of a larger tasting menu I think the chef needs to slightly refine the quantities on the plate because when the food is that good you really want quality over quantity.

Streat Food, Bath

Hello…long time no see!

It doesn’t feel like it has been over a week since my last post (something which is not like me at all!) but I think there are a couple of reasons for this.

Firstly, I have been really busy at school, winding down for the holidays. I have had my final observations, the school show, sports day, the school fete (where we were in charge of the egg throwing stall!) and lots of other things.

Secondly, I have been ploughing on with painting our dining room. Although I seem to spend a large chunk of the time clearing up the mess I leave behind, I’m getting there and can soon do the big reveal!

Finally, this damn rain has really affected my mood and makes me want to just curl up on the sofa with a blanket and a cup of tea rather than cook, garden and do other things like writing! However, I did make a damn good Spanish omelette for a family party…

We did have a brief glimpse of sunshine on Sunday which inspired me and Ian to get out in the garden for a few hours.

Our lawn was looking like a jungle so Ian attacked it with the lawn mower while I weeded and filled a wheelie bin full to bursting with the darn things!

Although I have to admit I did like how pretty and wild the lawn looked with all the daisies and purple flowers, it definitely looks much neater now.

All this rain has done wonders for the borders – I noticed this new plant which has just come into flower:

But I also noticed some huge slugs which are definitely not welcome chez Duffy/Lye!

Rumour has it that the sun might be coming later this week. I don’t want to tempt fate but my BBQ is ready to go as soon as I see the first ray of sunshine!

This Friday night, Ian and I headed to the first of several Streat Food evenings in Bath, held at Green Park.

Each week there will be a couple of independent food stalls selling a delightful selection of cuisines.

Ian went for the lamb kofta from Coconut Chilli which was served with a variety of dips, salad, homemade Abu Noor pitta bread and spiced potatoes.

I opted for a traditional stone cooked pizza from Baz and Fred, which was cooked to perfection. It had a lovely crispy base and was topped with a generous helping of goat’s cheese, balsamic onions and fresh basil (I soon picked off the rocket!)

Finally, we finished our evening by sharing an indulgent sundae from Vee Double Moo,  a gorgeous converted VW campervan (called Daisy!) serving frozen yogurt with an excellent selection of toppings.

There is a real trend for gourmet street food in the UK at the moment and there will be a variety of stalls in Bath every Friday night for the next few weeks. I’ll certainly be heading back for some good grub and hopefully to enjoy something a bit different.

Restaurant Review – Ronnie’s of Thornbury

I had been looking forward to today’s lunch date all week. Not only did it involve a long overdue catch up with my good friend Cat, but we also enjoyed some delicious food at this award winning restaurant.

Ronnie’s is in the lovely village of Thornbury, close to Cribbs Causeway, and it is well worth the trip. The restaurant itself has a relaxed atmosphere and the exposed brick and beams in the dining room were right up my street!

We began our lunch with starters of pigeon and confit of duck.

My pigeon breasts were served rare (how they should be!) with gorgeous accompaniments of puy lentils, creamed cauliflower, steamed broccoli, a rasher of streaky bacon and a game flavoured crisp. The combination of textures and flavours worked perfectly and I could have eaten this again for my main!

My friend had three beautiful crispy balls of duck confit, served with greens and a swipe of beetroot. I am assured this tasted as good as it looked.

For my main, I opted for two slices of perfectly cooked lamb (rare again) with a carrot puree, some more game crisps and Cat had roast beef with a huge Yorkshire pudding.

We shared a bowl of crispy roast potatoes and a selection of seasonal vegetables, which added to a great roast dinner!

I don’t usually order roast dinners in restaurants, as they never live up to how good they taste at home, and don’t seem to have as much care taken over them, but Ronnie’s is far from the usual carvery offerings. The food here was cooked really well and each meat came with different side dishes.

There was a good selection of puddings on offer but we were both a bit too full so just opted for coffees to finish. However, we couldn’t resist the lovely petits fours brought to us; miniature chocolate brownies, crumbly butter shortbread and fragrant Turkish delight squares.

It is no wonder Ronnie’s has won several accolades over the past few years and it was one of the nicest meals I have had recently. With a menu that changes with the seasons, I think it a place that is worth going back to to experience their latest offerings.

Incidentally, this is my 100th post so sending out a virtual high five! When I wrote my first post back in May of this year, I had no idea I would enjoy writing this blog as much as I have.

It has made me look for inspiration in everyday things, attempt new recipes and take more photos, all of which I have relished. Looking back on the site is like finding an old diary and it is fabulous to relive holidays, days out, tasty meals and other adventures…I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have loved writing it! xxx

Recipe – A Tasty Lamb and Spinach Curry

One of our treats on a Friday or Saturday night is a takeaway. Where we live at the moment, we are lucky enough to have Chinese, Thai, Indian and Nepalese restaurants to choose from but I wanted to try and beat the takeaway this weekend so attempted to make one of my favourite Indian dishes, Lamb Saag.

The problem we have in this house is that I like mild and medium curries whereas Ian loves really spicy ones so my challenge was to try and make something that was really flavoursome, with a bit of a kick but not so much that it would set my mouth on fire!

This recipe uses quite a cheap cut of meat, lamb neck, which is full of flavour and when cooked slowly is meltingly tender.

Ingredients

A good glug of oil

Enough diced lamb neck for 2 people (about 400g)

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

A teaspoon of lazy ginger (or a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, grated)

1-2 fresh chillies, finely chopped (or one tablespoon of chilli powder)

One onion, finely chopped

2 teaspoons of a good curry mix, in powder or paste form (I used a Balti Mix which contained coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cinnamon, cardamom, fennel seeds, turmeric and mustard seeds)

3 large tomatoes or a handful of cherry tomatoes, roughly chopped (the picture above shows the tomatoes I grew from seeds on our balcony *proud smile*)

300ml of lamb stock

1 bag of fresh spinach leaves

Fresh coriander to garnish

How to make it

  • Begin by heating the oil in a large casserole dish and browning off the lamb. When done remove the meat from the pan and set to one side
  • In the same pan, add the garlic, ginger, chilli, onion and spice mix and fry for a few minutes (the smell of these cooking are amazing!)
  • Add the lamb and ensure it is covered in all the fragrant spices
  • Add the tomatoes and stock, stir then leave for 45 minutes
  • Add the spinach and stir until the leaves have wilted
  • Cook for another 45 minutes,  by which time the lamb will be lovely and tender and the sauce will have reduced
  • Scatter with coriander then serve – I served mine with an Indian potato dish (recipe to follow tomorrow!), egg fried rice and a garlic naan and I can honestly say I think I beat the takeaway with this dish!