Archive for July, 2008

Restaurant Review – The Old Bank, Swindon

Posted in Food, review with tags , , , , , , , on July 27, 2008 by helenphillips

First of all, I have to apologize for a lack of photos to accompany this review. My camera was in my bag, just waiting to jump out and capture each dish as it arrived. But, each time I got carried away, and got stuck in before remembering that I should have photographed the dish. This happened 3 times. You could say that this is a testament to how good the food actually was. And it was, it really was. My husband even said that it was the best meal he’d had in Swindon by a long way – praise indeed.

But first, let me take a step back and describe the restaurant a little. As the name suggests, the building used to be a Bank, located on Wood Street in the Old Town of Swindon. The ground floor consists of a small cocktail bar, and the dining area. The bar is often host to live Jazz music, and on Saturday we were treated to a solo Saxophonist.  The volume was just right to ensure a mellow background noise to our meal.  There are 2 more floors above, each hosting a separate bar.

While browsing the menu we thought it would be nice if we could have just one glass of something bubbly, before having wine with your meal (it was our anniversary after all). We were quite impressed to be offered bottles of ‘baby’ for around £7 a bottle – not only is it my favourite champagne, we thought the price was quite reasonable too. The wine list offers plenty of choice, and to accompany the rest of our meal, we plumped for a full-bodied Pinot Noir.

The summer menu can be described a contemporary, with a good selection of dishes. The menu has recently been changed, following the acquisition of a new Chef – Jim Mckenzie, formerly of The Three Crowns, Brinkworth.

To start we both the Scallop and King Prawn Salad. This consisted of two plump scallops and 2 king prawns, presented on a rectangular platter with salad and a balsamic dressing. I would have never thought to pair prawns with balsamic vinegar, but it turned out to be a beautiful combination, and one which I will try at home. This dish was even declared delicious by my husband who doesn’t usually like fish – this was his first taste of scallops.

For our main course, I went for the Guinea Fowl wrapped in Parma Ham. The meat was beautifully moist and tender, and complimented well by the rich Madeira sauce. My husband had the day’s special – Venison, served on a bed of mash, and in a red wine sauce.  Again the food arrived beautifully presented, with a side dish of vegetables between us. The portion sizes were perfect, meaning that we both had room for dessert.

My husband opted for the Vanilla Creme Brulee, and practically licked the dish clean. I had the selection of cheeses – unfortunately I don’t remember what the cheeses were – which was a very generous sized dish indeed. Despite my best efforts, I was unable to completely clear my plate, but I enjoyed every crumb that I did manage. This was served with a glass of port, which I gave to my husband not being a fan myself.

To finish, we had to have one of the excellent Mojitos – the best that we have ever come across.

This restaurant ticks all the boxes for me – great food, great wine, great staff, and great atmosphere.

Mushroom Risotto

Posted in Cooking, Dinner, Food, Home Cooked Food, recipe with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 22, 2008 by helenphillips

Last night was one of those occasions when a ‘store cupboard challenge’. We had ordered the week’s grocery shopping online, but our delivery slot wasn’t until 7-9 pm. We were both hungry, but faced with what appeared to be an almost bare fridge with a few random items. Then I found some Risotto Rice on top of the fridge, something which is always a great way of using odds and ends. Using the items listed below, I managed to produce a delicious appetizer that kept us going until dinner time. And it was a great opportunity to get out some dishes that had been sat at the back of the cupboard for a while.

  • 1/2 portabello mushroom (it was a truly huge mushroom!)
  • 125g Arborio Risotto Rice
  • 1/2 onion – finely chopped
  • 1/4 aubergine
  • 50 ml white wine (ish)
  • 250 ml vegetable stock (if cheating use bouillon)
  • Couple of roasted peppers (Mine came from Giodarno, obviously fresh can be used)
  • Basil (from the windowsill)
  • 6 asparagus heads

Heat a little olive oil and butter in a pan. Add the onion, and gently fry for about 1 minute, before adding the mushroom and asparagus. When the veg has softened, stir in the rice, so that it’s well coated. Stir-in the wine, and occasionally stir until fully absorbed. Add a little stock, and again occasionally stir until absorbed. Repeat until all the stock is used up. Check the rice. If required add, a little boiling water until the rice is ready. Stir in a knob of butter, and serve.


Mushroom Risotto

A risotto recipe with Portabello mushroom that stemmed from a …

See Mushroom Risotto on Key Ingredient.


London: Authentic Recipes Celebrating the Foods of the World

Posted in book, Cooking, Food with tags , , , , , , on July 19, 2008 by helenphillips

Today whilst killing some time in Borders, I picked up a new cook book – London: Authentic Recipes Celebrating the Foods of the World. It caught my eye as a book that celebrates British food and cooking, or more specifically, that of London.

A good chunk of the book is dedicated to the history of London’s food – from Roman times, Norman times, World War times, right through to today. It talks about immigration and the introduction of imported flavours, and great British traditions such as Cream Teas and the local Pub. Beautiful photography of food and London scenes enhances the text.

Further in, the recipes start. Snacks, starter, soups, mains, and desserts are all covered. The recipes make the most of foods that are sourced locally from ever increasing popular farmer’s markets, as well as more exotic supermarkets.

I’ve yet to try any of the recipes, but I’m looking forward to giving it a go. Top of my list is the lemon & lavender drizzle cake.

Retail Price of this book in the UK is £20, but I picked it up for the bargainous £4.99. It’s also available internationally on Amazon.  Other books in the series are New York, Rome, and Paris. After having a better look at the London edition, I am tempted to pick up some of the others – but it’s probably just as well to stick with what I have!

Strawberry Duck

Posted in Cooking, Dinner, Food, Home Cooked Food, recipe with tags , , , , , , , , on July 18, 2008 by helenphillips

This recipe was a bit of an experiment that fortunately turned out to work! It had been a while since we had Duck, so I grabbed a couple of breasts for our Sunday Dinner without thinking about what sort of sauce I was going to serve with it. Sunday afternoon, and a quick browse of the fridge revealed a large punnet of strawberries. Fruit generally goes well with Duck – a la Orange, blackberries, etc. A quick google told me I wasn’t mad – there are recipes out there that use Strawberries with Duck. So, I investigated my herb & spice cupboard, and identified some ingredients that I could try together in order to create sweet & sour flavours with an Asian slant.

  • 100 ml red wine
  • 1 tbspn red wine vinegar
  • 2 tspns caster sugar
  • 2 tbspn dried cranberries
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 piece of blade mace
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • Salt & Pepper to season

The two duck breasts (with skin left on) were marinated in this concotion for several hours, with an occasional turn of the breasts to ensure adequate coating.

Cooking: The duck was removed from the marinade and put skin side down into a hot griddle pan. One the skin is brown, the duck needs to be turned over to seal all sides. With the breasts skin side up, I added the retained marinade to the pan, and brought it slowly to the boil. I then added 100 ml of vegetable stock, again bringing it to the boil. I left it to simmer gently for around 10 minutes before adding the chopped strawberries (around 2 handfuls in this case). I left the sauce to simmer gently, and it started to thicken. Cooking time will vary depending on how well done you enjoy your duck – for pink duck, just as the sauce thickens should be adequate. If the duck needs more time, you can always add a drop more wine to the sauce. And of course, you can always increase the amounts of the original marinade for larger servings.

I served this with roast potatoes, but mashed potato or potato puree would have worked better in order to soak up the sauce. Vegetables can be whatever you fancy.

Raisin out! The Revels Eviction

Posted in Chocolate, Food, News with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 9, 2008 by helenphillips

News for chocolate fans! In a Big Brother style eviction, Mars are letting consumers decide which flavour should be given the boot. This is just a short term expulsion, as a limited edition flavour will be introduced for a short time. The flavour has not yet been announced.

The current flavours are:

Coffee, Orange, Chocolate, Caramel, Malteasers, and Raisin.

Personally I have voted to get rid of the Raisin – bleugh.  It recently replaced the Peanut flavour, which is a big mistake as far as I’m concerned. As I write this, Raisin is in 2nd place with 28% of the votes. Coffee (which I would be voting for if it wasn’t for the Raisin) takes the lead with 36% of the votes.

Voting is here, so go on, VOTE RAISIN OUT! Your selection will be disposed of in the fashion of your choice, my particular favourite being the Thelma & Louise drive off the cliff.

For the more dedicated fans, you can join in the debate on Facebook. And let’s wait and see what the new flavour is. Strawberry maybe? Bleugh again!

Stir-Fried Chicken with Noodles

Posted in Cooking, Dinner, Food, Home Cooked Food, recipe, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 8, 2008 by helenphillips

When it comes to ‘stir fry’, my husband likes lots of ‘sauce’. It is difficult to feed him stir-fry that doesn’t come from a packet – simple soy sauce and spices is not sufficient. However, whilst flicking through an old Good Food Magazine, I came across a recipe that uses sweet chilli sauce and thought that maybe here was something I could use.  So, I read through the recipe, which turned out to be entirely cooked using a microwave (something we no longer own), and then decided to put it away, and see what I could come up  with using my trusty wok, a bottle of sweet chilli sauce, and of course soy sauce.  The inclusion of chopped peanuts isn’t one I would have thought of, so I owe that to the magazine recipe. The coriander gave it a lovely fresh tang, without being over powering – in fact it reminded me of the Pad Thai I recently ate in Minneapolis – yum!

Serves 2 (possibly with leftovers, we both had seconds, but it’s healthy, right?)

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • Around 100-125g egg noodles (as per pack instructions).
  • 1 red pepper
  • 4 spring onions
  • 200g beansprouts (fresh or tinned)
  • 2 tbspn sweet chilli sauce
  • 3 tbspns light soy sauce (I use the lower salt version)
  • 25g / 1 oz peanuts
  • handful coriander

1. Roast chicken in oven at 180c for approx 20 minutes (dependent on size) until cooked through. Shred using 2 forks, and put to one side.

2. Cook the noodles according to pack instructions, these can be cooked in advance, or in tandem with the rest of the stir fry.

3. Heat the oil in a wok or heavy based pan, at a medium high heat. Then add the red pepper and spring onions. Cook for around 2 minutes until the pepper starts to soften, then add the beansprouts. Stir-in, and add the shredded chicken.  Stir-in the chilli sauce and soy sauce, so that everything is evenly coated.

4. Roughly chop the peanuts (I use a hand blender), and add to the wok along with the roughly chopped coriander. Cook for a further minute or so before adding the noodles. Mix well, and enjoy!

We enjoyed ours simply with some prawn crackers, but if you fancy a vegetable side dish then Pak Choi or tender-stem broccoli would go beautifully.

Taste of London

Posted in events, festivals, Food with tags , , , , , , , on July 6, 2008 by helenphillips

The weather was muggy, and the skies cloudy, but this was far better than the rain we were expecting for this outdoors event.

The Taste of London is in it’s 3rd year (we first visited in 2006, last year we did Taste of Bath), and is essentially a food festival run over 4 days in July in Regent’s Park.  It’s an opportunity for some of the best restaurants in the London area to showcase some of their favourite dishes.  In addition, there are plenty of drinks to be sampled, and merchants representing the food and drink world.  The festival has it’s own currency – the Crown.  One crown is equivalent to 50p, and can be purchased in books of £10.

We had purchased VIP tickets at a cost of £50, which included £20 of Crown.  This enabled us to join a much shorter queue to get in, and also allowed us access to the VIP tent where we were provided with a complimentary glass of Laurent Perrier.  A glance at the drinks menu inside told us that an additional glass could be purchased for a scary 20 crowns.  When we first visited in 2006, we were treated to some tasty amuse bouche in the VIP area, so we were a little disappointed that this time the nibbles were confined to olives and nuts.
The other ‘advantage’ to access to the VIP tent was a chance to mingle with the ‘stars’.  I spotted Anthony Worrel-Thompson in an early scout for a table, and beat a hasty retreat.  Later in the evening, the tent became packed with people eager to listen to a performance by Jazz performer Jamie Cullum.  We were fairly close to the stage, so I was able to take a few photographs before escaping the crowds.

There were 40 restaurants represented there, but we were only able to sample a handful.  We each tried different dishes each time, and where possible tried different restaurants.

I think one of my favourites was one of the simplest – fish & chips from Tom’s Place.  I joined the crowd of people at the stand, but it was obvious what that popular dish was.  “who wants fish and chips” was answered with a  show of hands, resulting in a quicker service than anticipated.  The portion of beer battered red gurnard was generous in comparison to most of the other dishes, the chips were deliciously chunky, and tartar sauce was served on the side.  At the next stand, my husband sampled the ‘Seven hour braised lamb shoulder with balsamic onions and mash’ from Tom’s Kitchen.  It was worth the crowd and wait – the lamb was beautifully tender, and complemented well with the slightly tangy taste of onion and simple mash.
From the Arbutus stand, I found that the gruesome sounding ‘Braised Pigs Head’ was in fact delicious – moist and tender, though a little fatty.  It was accompanied by potato puree and caramalised onion (a popular combination it seems!).  Meanwhile, my husband was enjoying Canteen’s ‘spit roasted pork with mash & gravy’.
The only stand where we both tried a dish was Bumpkin – he had the Bumpkin Burger – a lamb burger with rosemary and olives, whilst I tried the Charter Pie.  I had no idea in advance what this pie may contain, and found that under the light pastry lid was chicken, ham and vegetables.  Later research indicates that ‘Charter Pie’ is the traditional name for this type of pie, and was the dish that Bumpkin manager Dariush Nejad recommended for ‘starving models-‘  Full story here.

Also available was wine and champagne tasting classes, cooking demonstrations and book signings.  The chefs demonstrating included Gary Rhodes, Aldo Zilli, and Marcus Wareing, but we did not attend any of these events.  At last year’s Taste of Bath event we participated in a beer tasting session, and thought it was a bit of pity that there was nothing similar here.

Despite them twisting our arms (again!) into spending lots of money on wine, I really must recommend Charles Mitchell wine merchants.  Not only is Chris Pacey extremely knowledgeable, he is also friendly and happy to help you choose the perfect wine – no matter how many samples it may take!

The atmosphere was laid back, with visitors ranging from the well-heeled to the more casual, and from couples to young families.  The dishes generally are quite expensive (and small!), but if you plan carefully you can make the most of your crowns, and take the opportunity to sample dishes that you may not if faced with a larger dish.