Friday, 23 May 2014

Bristol fashion

Ox cheek ragu with ricotta & sorrel dumplings
at Bell's Diner, Bristol

It had been a while, but the first Bristol Food Connections 11-day festival this month was the perfect excuse to pay another visit.  The format appealed because it necessitated visiting different areas of the city instead of the usual crowded events around the quayside.  It was a day-trip which meant we couldn't stay for any of the organised evening events; not even a tempting Cheese School event at Hart's Bakery.  With names like Joe Schneider of Stichelton Dairy; Tom Calver of Westcombe Dairy; Charlie Westhead of Neal's Yard Creamery; and Todd Trethowan of Trethowan's Dairy plus The Wild Beer Company and Raef Hodgson of 40 Maltby Street/Gergovie Wines, it was not an easy prospect to pass up.  But let's start where we did, with breakfast at Hart's Bakery.

Hart's Bakery, Bristol
Tucked under the arches of the approach to Temple Meads railway station, its location couldn't be handier for a train traveller.  Two minutes off the London to Bristol service we were nursing cortados made with locally roasted Extract Coffee and tucking into toasted spiced, fruity, Festival Loaf with muscovado butter; light, moist, lemon cake and apple crumble slice.  With the bakery occupying the far end of the arch space, there's the irresistible aroma of baking breads and croissants, cakes and tarts, pasties and sausage rolls to lure the hungry traveller.  The front space is taken up by a shop counter and cafe.  The feel is more like being invited into someone's kitchen than a commercial space and it's all the better for it.  Good coffee, great food, lovely service, a welcoming atmosphere and you get to take home a damn fine loaf of bread.  I know for sure that next time I visit Bristol, not breakfasting at Laura Hart's Bakery is unthinkable.  

Bristol is a city made for walking.  Gorgeous Georgian architecture, green squares, candy-coloured terraced house overlooking a revitalised harbour side, and thankfully there are plenty of good independent coffee shops and restaurants in between.  I was never going to stick to my usual 2 cups of coffee  a day in this city so we stopped off at Full Court Press (FCP), supplied, amongst others, by Clifton Coffee Roasters (already familiar thanks to its recent weekend guest appearance at Kaffeine).  The skilled and knowledgeable barista was happy to share local knowledge as well as good coffee.  We found FCP was just around the corner from Small Street Espresso which was also on our hit list so, sadly, had to give that a miss - next time for sure as this is the place that kick-started speciality coffee in Bristol.  Later we made it to Didn't You Do Well on Park Row which hadn't been on our list but came up in conversation on the day.  It proved to be a good recommendation - HasBean coffee, shots pulled on a Slayer Seattle-made machine in a beautiful, calm, pared-back room.

Didn't You Do Well

So where to lunch?  There were lots of recommendations so the final choice was made on proximity to where we found ourselves at the right time.  Bell's Diner, in the Montpelier district, won out. We checked with locals several times en-route to make sure we were going in the right direction and every single person said "Oh, Bell's Diner, it's great", and it was.  At lunch it's that, lately much-derided, 'small dishes' kind of place and it's a formula I like.  A dish of fresh peas in their pods came with slices of Manchego; Imam Bayildi was tender, smokey and silky; succulent, sweet scallops on cauliflower puree were topped with earthy morels and brown butter; and ox-cheek ragu was suitably melting beneath a trio of featherlight ricotta and sorrel dumplings.  I can't comment on the puddings as we didn't get that far but Prosecco was on tap and a house Molino red was an easy-drinking bargain.

Scallops with morels & cauliflower puree
Bell's Diner, Bristol

There were so many more places on our list.  Apart from Small Street Espresso there's The Lido; Flinty Red; Wallfish Bistro; The Rummer; Edna's Kitchen.  I'm also very keen to get back to Bristol soon to eat at newly-opened BIRCH in Southville for simple, locally sourced and home-grown food. OK, I admit I know owners Sam and Beccy, but believe me you too need to go.

My go-to person for Bristol food recommendations is local food blogger Food With Mustard. She's a mine of information and all round good egg.

Now, if only Hart's Bakery was open beyond 3pm (to fuel the journey home)  Bristol would be getting dangerously near to perfect.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Tarte Tatin

Tarte Tatin

The decider was the finding of my ancient cast-iron pan.  I hadn't set eyes on it since the flat move, three whole years ago.  It was the pan I always reached for when caramelisation was on my mind - and only that one would do to burnish sugar to the perfect degree.  Scrabbling around in our dimly-lit store, piled high with 'stuff' we couldn't discard but didn't have room for in a tiny flat', my hand grasped a familiar handle, and it felt good.  After trying to decide for days what pudding to make for a special dinner, here was the serendipitous answer - it had to be Tarte Tatin.  

At 20cm it's the perfect 4 portion size.  I use the word 'portion' rather than 'person' with deliberation because second helpings are more than welcome when it comes to Tarte Tatin. Anyway, it's mostly apples, well mine is because being mean with the fruit in a Tarte Tatin is a sin. No slabs of pastry and a few mimsy slices of apple thank you very much.  Apple halves please with quarters allowed only to plug the gaps.  I'm a fundamentalist about the pastry too.  Purists look away now - I use rough-puff, not puff, and not just because it's easier to make.  It is ridiculously easy but it also produces a pastry with 'bite' to perfectly balance the filling.

Now, I'm as keen as anyone to shop seasonally and locally and there's an English apple for most occasions, but the fact is our apple stores are now bare and expecting a Brit not to eat apples for 4 or 5 months a year is just too cruel.  My apple of choice for this dish is the Braeburn but there are over 3,000 varieties of apple and if we don't use them, we will lose them. These days Braeburns are grown in southern England but were discovered in New Zealand where they're just finishing harvesting this year's crop.  In England they're picked as late as November and store well for up to 4 months.  The fruit is firm and crisp with just the right level of sweetness to stand up to a bit of caramelising without collapsing into a mush.

I must have consulted a recipe the first time I made Tarte Tatin but it's so long ago I no longer remember who to credit.  Still, it's a classic and it's lovely and my pastry recipe is courtesy of the Roux brothers.

Slice of Tarte Tatin
with double cream

Tarte Tatin
(Serves 4 or two greedy people)

You need 150g (6oz) Rough-Puff 
This makes double the amount you need:

125g (4 oz) soft plain flour
125g (4 oz) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
Pinch of salt
60ml (2 fl oz) iced water

4 apples (preferably Braeburn or similar), halved and cored
60g (2 oz) unsalted butter
60g (2 oz) unrefined cane sugar

To make rough-puff pastry, add the salt to the flour and place on a work surface.  Add the butter and rub it into the flour.  When the butter cubes are small and half squashed, form a well and pour in the iced water, gradually mixing with a knife until everything holds together - do not knead or your pastry will be tough.  Roll out on a lightly floured surface to a rectangle about 1cm thick.  Fold in three, bottom to mid-point, then top to bottom, and turn 90 degrees.  Roll out again to a rectangle and fold in three again.  You have now completed '2 turns'.  Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes.  (If you only want enough pastry for one tart, cut in half at this point and freeze the unwanted half for later and, when you want to use it, defrost, roll and give it 2 more turns).
Roll out the pastry to a rectangle again and repeat the folding process to complete two more turns.  Rest in the fridge for a further 30-60 minutes.
Roll out the pastry thinly (cut in two first if you decided to make two rounds) to a rough circle and cut a disc(s) of around 22cm/9".  Place on a lightly floured tray in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 220C (Fan 200C)/Gas 7
Melt the butter in a 20cm (8") heavy-based, oven-proof pan.  Add the sugar and cook on a medium heat for 5 minutes to caramelise.  Add the apples, round side down, and cook for 5 minutes.  Top with the chilled pastry disc, tucking the edges down inside the pan, and cook for 2 minutes.  Place the pan in the oven and cook for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for 4-5 minutes.  Place a serving plate on top of the pan and invert to turn out (take care not to burn yourself with hot caramel).

Good with double cream or vanilla ice cream.