Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Two Tonne Tusker

I've been working at Humble Bee Films for quite a few months now and on the 18th October, 'Two Tonne Tusker' will be TXing on BBC 2 at 9pm. It's a lovely film and the three Walrus (walruses? walrusi?) are very funny. Just shield your kiddie's eyes from the jiggly-jiggly, man juice extracting scene unless you want to answer awkward questions...

Seriously, the best things with moustaches ever! And that includes:


Monday, 16 September 2013

Meals.co.uk - Takeaway with a difference...

This review also appears on Bristol Bites

Don’t get me wrong. I love cooking. I love making everything from stir fries to stews to big full on roast dinners but sometimes, I don’t want to. Sometimes I wish I could wave a magic wand and POOF, have my dinner appear in front of me. On those nights, the first alternative is to go out for dinner. But what if I don’t want to? What if I’m quite comfortable in my pyjamas; wine /beer /cider in hand with the latest episode of ‘Breaking Bad’ to catch up on? Next alternative is to order food in but truth be told, as my local area is served by the typical big four - Pizza, Indian, Chinese and Kebabs, my taste buds and I are never very excited about the variety the home delivery food market has to offer.

Until now.

Launched in September 2012, Food Couriers set out to change takeaway and home delivery as we know it. Recently rebranded as Meals.co.uk, their aim is to deliver great tasting, freshly cooked quality food from fantastic local restaurants and places where you love going, to your door.

The technology behind the site is mind boggling - it only allows you to see restaurants that serve your particular area, ensures that your order goes straight to the restaurant, all the while co-ordinating the pick up time for your driver to make sure your dinner arrives hot (or fresh, in the case of sashimi!) but for a customer, it couldn’t be easier to use.

The homepage invites you to input your postcode and from there tells you which restaurants are open and available to deliver to you. The range is pretty impressive spanning from Salvatore’s Kitchen to Obento giving you the choice of ordering dishes such as sautéed veal escalope to a grilled fish Bento box. Confirmation of your order is almost instant and Meals.co.uk aim to get your food to you in an hour. Delivery is a separate charge of £4.99 but just think – if you were to go out and eat, a combination of petrol and parking, taxis and babysitters far outweigh that cost and if there are a few of you, the delivery cost split between you is nominal.

One of the niftier functions that caught my eye was the fact that you are able to pre-order either on the day that you want your food or days in advance when you might be arriving home late or have guests round and want food at a particular time.

I popped along to the launch of Meals.co.uk in the beautiful Merchant’s Hall to meet the brains behind the operation and find out a little more about the site and to sample some of the quality food from restaurants signed up to the service.

The evening started with a wine tasting and a lesson in how to pair wines with Asiatic cuisines – very interesting as wines are normally abandoned in favour of beer when eating a curry. According to Richard Davis from DBM Wines, sweetness is the key as the spices in Asian food strip the sugars out of the wine so going for a sweet wine with good acidity will refresh the palate and allow the wine to stand out from the food. As for those looking for a red, choose one with a low tannin level and avoid anything that has been aged in oak as this, combined with spice, will dry the palate.

Meals.co.uk offer a selection of wines as well as beer, cider and non-alcoholic alternatives to be delivered along with your meal – another thing in their quest to offer you a restaurant dining experience in your own home.

From the wine tasting, we were seated for our meal and given a few words by Mark Oakley, one of the founders of the site, who re-iterated their mission to change the face of take-away food and to show that you could have high quality, delicious, healthy alternatives that you would be happy to go to a restaurant and eat.

For my meal, I had chosen a mixed sushi platter and side of Tempura from Obento as it’s practically unheard of to get authentic Japanese food delivered. I also picked it because I was curious to see how well it travelled and if the tempura would still be crispy and whether my hand rolls had fallen apart. Happily I can report that the sushi was still as beautiful when it got to me as when it left the restaurant – I was half expecting the fish to have fallen off the rice and egg roe to be strewn all over the place but all was well and my delicious salmon temaki was intact. As for the tempura it was light, crispy and still warm with a great mix of prawns, aubergine, baby corn and pumpkin.

As the evening drew to a close, I questioned Dotun Olowoporoku, one of the other founders and it’s clear to see that he’s very excited about the future of Meals.co.uk. There’s still a lot of work to do – he hopes to be able to offer customers information on past orders so they can remember which of the many memorable dishes impressed them. He also pondered whether a loyalty scheme might be possible or the re-cycling of old takeaway cartons.

Many more restaurants have signed up to the service but Dotun explained they will take a couple of weeks to go live on the site because of the technology involved. He also hopes to expand the business to Bath soon and from there, who knows? What he does know is that he firmly believes that there is a place in the market for Meals.co.uk and he hopes that Bristol will well and truly embrace it. I think it’s a great service and it gives accessibility to those who may not be able to get to restaurants – those without transport perhaps or parents with young children. From the quality of the food, I for one will be happy to bin my drawer full of takeaway leaflets and enjoy the likes of Siam Harbourside and Byzantium alongside my OH, my bunny slippers and Walter White

Friday, 13 September 2013

Goings on

Like everyone else in Britain, I thoroughly enjoyed the weather this summer. I went to Larmer Tree Festival in Salisbury, I enjoyed some outdoor theatre - the fantastic production of 'The Boy Who Cried Wolf' courtesy of Bristol Old Vic and I attended quite a few of the brilliant festivals that we are so lucky to have in Bristol.

Now that we're moving into autumn, I'm sad to see the warm weather go but so excited that my love of everything and anything musical and theatrical doesn't have to stop, we just get to move inside... 

My fridge door magnets are straining with the tickets for these little beauties:

'Great Expectations' & 'The Little Mermaid' at Bristol Old Vic
'Cabaret' at the Hippodrome
Russell Brand at the Colston Hall
Hayseed Dixie at The Fleece
The Darkness at Bath Pavilion

And I'm hoping to add a few more to that list by the end of the year, in particular 'The Last Voyage of Sinbad the Sailor' at the Tobacco Factory Theatre. 

Bring it on, Bristol!

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Bristol Bites

I'm very proud to say that I will be writing a few pieces here and there for Bristol Bites. It's blogs like Emily's that inspired me to start writing again and so am seriously pleased to be able to contribute towards their output.

Am off to my first official outing for them on Thursday so watch this space (and theirs!).

Monday, 9 September 2013

Bengal Raj

This review also features on Bristol Bites - Bristol's biggest food blog...

The first curry house in England opened over 200 years ago and thus began the great British love affair with Indian food. From Queen Victoria to those of us craving a post pub meal on a Friday night, we can’t get enough of the stuff which is why I find it truly astonishing that there are so many bad curry houses about. You know - the ones that serve tiny cubes of meat lost in a luminous sauce topped with a scalding pool of florescent oil. But here in Bristol, we’re blessed enough to have the pick of some very good Indian restaurants, the Bengal Raj being one of them.

Opened in 1998, it was the second of two Indian restaurants opened by four brothers. The first one is the acclaimed and multi awarded Brunel Raj in Clifton Village. The Bengal Raj is situated within a few doors of the excellent Stoke Bishop Fish Bar (it’s sister shop also residing in Clifton Village), and its tranquil location belies the cuisine inside.

I visited the Bengal Raj with my OH, mother and brother at 7.30 on a Friday evening and the first thing I noticed that the inside of the restaurant was a bit beige and entirely different to the more quirky Brunel Raj but it was packed out – surely a good sign! Although busy we weren’t kept waiting at all and our waiter was quick to collect our drink  and food orders.

We opted for popadoms to start with and they came with a fully laden tray of delicious looking dips and pickles – cooling minted yoghurt, fragrant mango chutney, sweetened coconut, sour lime pickle and a very finely diced onion salad.

For our main dishes we ordered a lamb dhansak, chicken tikka rezala, chicken kerala and a chicken achari. My mother ordered the achari but as she rarely finds Indian curries hot enough for her we spoke with the waiter and he offered to take it to the level of a madras but offered more chillis should she need them. We also ordered sides of sag paneer (spinach with Indian cheese) and brinjal bhaji (aubergine) along with a variety of naan breads and a tandoori roti.

Our food was brought to us steaming hot in beautiful hammered curry bowls which our waiter told us were made to order especially for them from a manufacturer in London – they were deceptively large as they were much deeper than ordinary curry bowls which meant the portions were very generous.  All of the dishes smelt wonderful and were extremely appetizing in appearance – no day-glo sauce and certainly no pools of oil floating on the top.

The dhansak was hot, sour and sweet all at the same time with a great depth of flavor and made the perfect pairing with my peshwari naan which was light and fluffy with sesame seeds scattered over the top providing a pleasing texture. The chunks of lamb were tender and meltingly soft, I was able to cut through them with just my spoon.

The chicken dishes were packed full of large pieces of moist chicken breast but most important of all – they all tasted completely different. I’ve been to so many curry houses where the dishes all look the same and barring different ‘heat levels’, all of them taste the same. The rezala was thick and flavoursome with tomato and onion and the kerala was highly spiced with fresh coriander, fennel, cloves and red chillis but could definitely have been hotter.

The achari came and it was delicious – sharper than you would expect as it is cooked with both lemon and lime juices but not in an overly acidic way, just enough to enhance the taste of the other spices and as requested the chef had slipped a few fresh green chillis into it to try and bring up the heat level. Although still not hot enough for my Mum, it was great that they had tried to cater for her and she was very pleased with it – no easy feat, I can assure you!

I’m a massive fan of spinach in general and sag paneer is one of my favourite side dishes – again we were given a generous portion and the iron heavy spinach was cooked with fragrant garlic and lovely chunks of paneer cheese with the texture of firm tofu.

The brinjal bhaji was also delicious – due to it being an aubergine dish, it was understandably quite oily but that was to be expected. Cooked with tomatoes and onions, the smokey aubergine’s white flesh was almost creamy and was delicately flavoured with cumin. The only thing to question was that the tandoori roti was quite soft like a chapatti rather than being crispy on the outside but that might just be down to a regional variation

The dishes were so huge that we had to take a lot of it home with us and the very friendly waiters were more than happy to bag everything up for us. It was a thoroughly enjoyable meal and we will definitely be back to tackle other things on the menu, especially the many cast iron sizzling dishes that we were eyeballing at another table! If you haven’t found your ‘HG’ go-to curry house yet, I urge you to try the Bengal Raj – and wear your stretchiest trousers!

Harvest Time!

After the most fabulous summer, it really is starting to feel autumnal - misty mornings, dew on the grass and a chill in the air in the evening. It's my favourite time of year and I expect many others feel the same. One other reason I love it is that the shops are full of amazing, recently harvested produce and the glorious weather is certainly showing in the size and taste of the fruit and vegetables.

I've bought bags and bags of heavy, sweet cherries and punnets of gloriously fragrant strawberries. The other day I picked up a bag of juicy English plums the size of small apples and crowned a home made tarte au citron with jewel like clusters of redcurrants, blackcurrants and raspberries. One of the best treats though has to be fresh figs. I love the colours - the wonderful pinky red against the sumptuous aubergine shade and the flash of green and they're so cheap! I stopped at a farm shop and bought six plump and soft beauties for 50p each, easily enough for two meals.

Back home, I cut the figs into 6's, and sprinkled them over a rocket salad dotted with mozzarella and salty sheets of parma ham. I finished off with my home made balsamic glaze et voila - a salad fit enough for the kingliest of kings.

Balsamic Glaze

1 cup of balsamic vinegar (no need for an expensive sort)
1/2 cup of water
1/4 cup of brown sugar - I used dark brown muscavado

Pop all the ingredients into a non-reactive saucepan and bring to a slow simmer.

Simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid burning all the while reducing the liquid to its desired consistency. (Be warned though, it will thicken as it cools - I tested the viscosity by taking teaspoonfuls and cooling it quickly on a plate)

You will be left with a sticky, unctuous sauce that you can use for sweet or savoury dishes.