Cookbook review: Fresh India, Meera Sodha

Have you ever been so captivated by a novel that its story weaves with the fabric of daily life, until the characters seem real and you long to return to them each evening? For me, this captivation process is intensified by cookbooks, which not only introduce you to new characters (flavours, ingredients, dishes), but instruct you on how to bring them to life in your home. The best cookbooks are a unique form of storytelling that empowers the reader to recreate what is on the page.

And so it is that I have been enthralled by the writing of Meera Sodha, who many fellow Bristolians may know for her collaborations with the local Thali Cafes. Her latest cookbook, Fresh India, has become indispensable to the evenings and weekends that I spend in the kitchen. I can no longer remember a time when I wasn’t familiar with its tastes and smells, the rhythm of thrice washing rice or the sizzle of curry leaves, mustard seeds and spices jumping in hot oil.

On a recent trip to Kerala, the time that I spent cooking with our host impressed upon me how quick, fresh and vibrant Indian cuisine can be. It was rare for her to leave something for a long marinade or patiently build a rich sauce; instead, the meal’s building blocks (usually vegetables) were thrown into a wok with an instinctive mix of coconut, tamarind and ground spices. Alongside these distinctive South Indian flavours, I was surprised to encounter more familiar ingredients such as beetroot, squash and beans, with their earthy flavours enhanced by the interplay of spices. 

This light and lively style of cooking is championed by Meera Sodha in Made in India and, more recently, her vegetarian book Fresh India. The latter opens with her reflections on the ‘Gujurati way’: fresh, vegetable-first and totally at odds with the heavy, brown curries often associated with Indian takeaways. Happily, the Gujurati way also complements seasonal British produce. Indeed, Meera’s influences from Gujurat and her travels across India are merged with ingredients from her upbringing in Lincolnshire – leek, cauliflower, beets and chard. 

In this way, Fresh India not only offers a creative style that is alive with aromatic flavours, but also encourages us to cook in a way that is good for our health and the environment. 

Squash, black-eyed bean and coconut curry

Initial impressions: structure and style

It is hardly a surprise to find that Meera, who was taught to cook by her mother, writes like a mother – in equal measure practical and nostalgic. She at once provides practical advice and reminisces about the stories linked to each recipe. 

Fresh India opens with Sodha’s essential cookery tips, including sections on how to use the book, helpful weights and measures and her top ten tips for raising your game in the kitchen. Practical suggestions continue to be peppered throughout the books, from presentation skills to menu ideas to a glossary of pulses.For me, the alternative contents has been a particularly accessible method of encouraging my first forays into the book, with suggestions for midweek meals, weekend cooking, lunch boxes, batch cooking, allotment gluts and seasonal recipes. 

Her early emphasis on cooking with the seasons is carried forward into the structure, with chapters focussed on ‘hero ingredients’ such as greens, roots and squashes, or aubergines. This ingredient-led format helps us to eat both seasonally and economically – where a dish only requires half a butternut squash, for instance, there will be a recipe on the following page for using the leftovers.

Sodha’s pragmatism is rooted in a respect for ingredients and an understanding of how to bring the best out of each one. She advises us to cook onions for as long as possible so they are sweet and mellow, or to take the time to decorate dishes because we eat with our eyes. Her affection for food spills out in the preamble for each chapter and recipe, where we learn the story of the dish’s inception: who inspired it, the memories attached to it and how she has made it her own.

 From the tales of the best street food traders in India to the rhythms of rural life in a Lincolnshire farming village, her recipes and the people behind them are threaded together by shared flavours. It is these stories, told in Meera’s bright, honest writing style, that capture my imagination and make me yearn to cook her food.

Frequently found flavours: ingredients that appear often

Although Meera features dishes from across the Indian subcontinent, there are certain ingredients that she returns to again and again, with a particular focus on the vibrant, piquant flavours of Western and Southern India. Tamarind, coconut, ginger, green chilli, garam masala, cumin, coriander, tumeric, chickpea flour and lentils all abound in Fresh India. Often, there is a quick tarka of curry leaves, mustard seeds and spices sizzled in oil, then used to crown the dish.

Some of the recipes include almost all of these ingredients to create many layers of fresh, clean flavour. In the vegetable sambar, a traditional yellow lentil stew from South India, sturdy vegetables like squash and aubergine stage the sweet-sour dance of tamarind and coconut with the zing of chilli, fenugreek, cumin and coriander. And then there are surprising ingredients more typically associated with other regions, such as the presence of pomegranate and bulgar wheat showcasing the historical fusion of flavours between the Middle East and India.

Meera also champions to produce more familiar to the British cook: beans, brassicas, pumpkin, tomatoes, potatoes, mushrooms and onions are all elevated by aromatic Indian flavours. For instance, there is shredded roti with red cabbage and carrot, cauliflower korma, kale subji and corn on the cob in peanut sauce. Even the humble potato is transformed, whether crushed with creamed coconut and spices to fill chickpea dosas or married with classic Gujarati spices in a rainbow chard aloo.

Butternut squash shikh kebabs, Fresh India

New favourites: recipes I now cook regularly

The diversity of recipes in Fresh India means that I can, and do, cook from it throughout the week without feeling like I am eating the same cuisine every night. 

Having so far cooked from the book during autumn and winter, I have naturally gravitated towards the recipes with seasonal squash, pumpkin and root vegetables at their heart. A favourite has been the gentle, comforting olan, in which squash is roasted until its edges caramelised, then cooked until it almost collapses into a sauce of soft, jammy tomatoes, tender black-eyed beans and coconut milk. Squash has also graced our dining table in a more vibrant guise, dressed in a tangy marinade of coriander, garlic, green chilli and spices for the Portuguese-inspired cafreal.

Quick curries that appear often in our kitchen include the bhara baingan (aubergine and pea) and the chana saag (spinach, tomato and chickpea). Many recipes also work well for packed lunches guaranteed to induce envious comments from colleagues. Sweet-smoky butternut squash shikh kebabs are perfect wrapped in parathas, with greens and a mint yogurt to sooth the gentle heat of ginger, chilli and cumin. The ‘hara bara’ kebabs, bright with greens and fresh herbs, are also easy to transport and need nothing more than the bitter-sweet burnt lime raita and a crunchy green salad alongside. 

Banana and cardamom buns, Fresh India
Sweet saffron strained yogurt, Meera Sodha

Next on the menu: dishes I’m planning to make

During a recent Cookbook Club evening inspired by Meera Sodha, it dawned on me during the dessert course that I have yet to set forth into the sweet section of Fresh India. Within the next few weeks, I promise to fill my tins with pistachio, orange and date biscuits, whilst my fridge will house a jar of gulab jamuns - little milk doughnuts fried until they turn the colour of caramel, then soaked in rose syrup. The rhubarb and ginger compote crown my daily porridge, whilst the Bengal baked curd with tamarind berries will be a weekend treat. 

I’m also longing for the imminent arrival of spring and summer vegetables, so that I can get stuck into the chapters exploring greens and aubergines. I’ll be starting with the aubergine fesenjan in its sour-sweet sauce of pomegranate and walnut, and the baby aubergines cooked in a rich, tangy gravy of peanut, coconut and coriander. Matar paneer will be sublime with the sweetest summer tomatoes to accompany its greens and I dream of warm evenings, when I can sit outside with a glass of white wine and a plate full of leek, pea and mint samosas. 

 

Sweet or savoury, Meera Sodha’s recipes have brightened my hurried al-desko lunches and warmed the coldest winter evenings; I’m equally certain they will compliment the summer season. It’s unsurprising, then, that I heartily recommend Fresh India to everyone I encounter, vegetarian or not. After all, this is not really a vegetarian cookbook, but rather a book filled with delicious recipes that happen to be vegetarian. From sturdy root vegetables to delicate dairy products, Meera’s aromatic spicing animates even the most unassuming ingredient and showcases the best seasonal produce. 

Matar Paneer, Fresh India

Restaurant review: Bristol's best (takeaway) pizza?

Pizza taste test - Bertha's & Pi Shop

Bristol is becoming a hub of independently owned pizzerias, with a focus on sourdough. Often, they are run by the chef-owner, who has perfected the science of the sourdough pizza before training their team of bakers. When you're fortunate to live almost equidistant from two of the best pizzerias in Bristol - nay, in Britain - the difficulty lies in choosing which to visit. Bertha's or Pi Shop?

Yet, we recently realised, the beauty is that we don't have to choose. When both restaurants offer takeaway, why not order a pizza from each and see which we prefer?

What began as a piece of fun on a showery Sunday afternoon, soon looked more like a military operation. Detailed discussions ensued regarding how make sure both pizzas were ready at the same time, collected as soon as possible after each another and transported home as quickly as possible. In the interest of fairness, we decided they had to have the same topping: two margheritas for two people at two o'clock. 

Just as our lunch was never intended to be an intricately planned operation, it was also never intended to become the subject of a blog post. However, there was such interest on social media, that I thought it was fitting to write a few light-hearted words on our lunch. First, I must offer a disclaimer: what follows is my personal preference, rather than any expertise on authentic pizza making. 

Dough

Both Bertha's and Pi Shop offer a Neapolitan-style pizza, with a thin base and a puffed, pillowy edge. Both are blistered from the searing heat of a wood-fired oven, with blackened bubbles that sigh hot air at each bite. Both are made from sourdough, with that characteristic tang in taste and slight elasticity in texture. 

The most noticeable difference is that there is far more dough on the Pi Shop pizza, with its huge cornicione that collapses into a soft, chewy centre. Bertha's cornicione is softer and smaller, which makes it more in proportion to the centre and means you can finish the whole pizza with room left for pudding. 

Bertha’s pizza may be softer in texture, but it is far smokier in flavour. Perhaps it is cooked more quickly or at a higher heat, because the leopard-spotted dough has a more charred, bitter flavour that - for me - is a little too assertive and can overshadow more mild toppings. Whilst Pi Shop's dough retains complexity of flavour from the sourdough starter and long prove, its more subtle taste supports, rather than competes with, the toppings. 

Verdict: Bertha's for the size and texture, Pi Shop for the flavour. 

Takeway pizza - Bertha's & Pi Shop (2)

Toppings

Enough analysis of the dough, let's move on to what happens when the blackened lip gives way to the milk white of mozzarella and the blush of tomato. 

It is immediately evident, both to myself and several other Twitter commentators, that Bertha's pizza has more mozzarella. On both pizzas, the mozzarella possesses that lovely, mild milkiness and smooth, dense texture with a slight ooze at the edges. We take many bites of one pizza, then the other, but conclude that the mozzarella on each is of the finest quality. I can't claim to possess extensive knowledge on the 'correct' cheese-to-tomato ratio, but having more mozzarella (especially when it is this good) is my preference. 

If Bertha's celebrates the cheese, then Pi Shop definitely champions the tomato sauce, which is indeed excellent - rich, a little sweet and the slight superior of the two. This focus on the sauce makes for a soggier pizza, which some friends do favour, whilst I look for a more solid base. The drizzle of olive oil on the Bertha's pizza adds the moistness and richness that comes from the Pi Shop sauce, without leaving the pizza too wet. 

Verdict: Bertha's for the mozzarella, Pi Shop for its tomato sauce. 

The result?

My renewed realisation that both pizzas are sensational, with fantastic elements that make it too close to definitively decipher a favourite. I prefer the texture of one dough and the flavour of another; the mozzarella on one pizza, but the tomato sauce on the other. For me, Bertha's just pips it because of the proportion of the crust to centre and the less soggy middle, but - that said - I could quite happily eat that springy, subtly sour Pi Shop dough by itself. Delicious. 

Ultimately, the only strong conclusion I can draw is that I am extremely fortunate to live close by to not one, but two, such pizzerias. And, just a little further away, await more superlative pizza places, from Flour & Ash to Bosco. Perhaps a pizza tour is in order? 

Takeway pizza - Bertha's & Pi Shop (3)

Restaurant review: Box-E

It’s a sign of the times that I can not only find a restaurant’s menu on social media, but also request a particular dessert via an Instagram comment. Yet, in the case of Box-E, my prior knowledge does nothing to detract from the magic of the meal. The harbourside setting alone is enchanting: perched high up in a set of shipping containers, where light pours in through floor-to-ceiling windows. It will be fabulous on a summer evening, but it is still very special on a grey, February afternoon. 

Elliot Lidstone, Box-E

This is the passion project of Tess and Elliott Lidstone, a chef with superlative credentials, who spent their life savings on a stove named Sandra and launched headfirst into their own venture. It’s difficult to convey how tiny their restaurant is, with just 14 seats squeezed around the open kitchen and 4 stools at the counter. We are practically at the stove with Elliott, mesmerised by his rhythmic movements back and forth to the pass.

Tess is away on the day of our visit, but we’re greeted very warmly by our server, who offers boundless enthusiasm about the wine list and the food. He brings us freshly baked bread - a white tin loaf, still warm, which makes a refreshing change to the now ubiquitous sourdough. Its fluffy crumb and gentle flavour works well not to fight with, but rather provide a foundation for, the salty, umami seaweed butter.

After being encouraged to take several more slices of bread, we watch Elliott plate our food. Our meal begins with purple-sprouting broccoli dusted in truffles tasting of musk and wood, then brightened by peppery radishes and the sharp, apple flavour from Japanese shungiku leaves. It reminds me that, even in the depths of winter, vegetables can be sprightly and vibrant.

Then there is pollock, whose golden skin can barely hold quivering flakes of plump, pearly fish. It rests on a cradle of celeriac puree and fat borlotti beans cooked until just collapsing, but still with substance from flecks of crunchy celery and spring onion. Parsley oil adds grassy freshness; butter-bathed chard leaves bring richness. It’s a lesson in how to elevate simple ingredients - an inexpensive fish, beans, root vegetables - into a special, unctuous dish.

For my partner, a perfect pink fillet of lamb, its fattiness foiled by the slight bitterness and bite of quinoa and the blazing heat of harissa. A dab of soothing cauliflower puree, mirrored by shavings of raw cauliflower, is all that is needed to make this a well-rounded plate of food. The flavours in this dish, and throughout the meal, are earthy and subtle, with a touch of sharpness, sweetness or spice added here and there.  

Pollock, Box-E
Lamb, Box-E

As the waiter presents the dessert menu, he offers a wise smile that suggests he already knows what we will order. Indeed, in the short time it has been open, Box-E has become synonymous with one particular pudding: its superlative pannacotta. “Even when Elliott cooks the finest cut of beef or a beautiful piece of fish, people are looking ahead to dessert,” the waiter tells us. “If we don’t have any pannacotta on that day, they ask us if we’ve got any in the back!”

And it is every bit as good as its reputation would suggest. Its smooth, untroubled surface trembles slightly as the plate is set down, the accompanying blood orange like a blush on its milk white cheek. The clean, delicate taste of dairy and real vanilla is woken up by the acidic citrus fruit and the crunch of pomegranate. I’m not sure if they’ll ever be able to take this pudding off the menu.

It’s an ambrosial end to a deftly executed meal. I challenge anybody not to be wowed by the accomplished cooking and amiable, relaxed service. Elliott and Tess claim to have thrown caution to the wind with their venture, but I have a hunch that they’re well on their way to being swept up in a tornado of nationally-acclaimed success.

Pannacotta, Box-E
Pannacotta, Box-E (2)

 

 

Cookbook review: Simple, Diana Henry

Flourless chocolate cake

Much has been said about Diana Henry as a food writer who reads, whose voracious appetite for literature (epicurean or otherwise) has influenced the development of her own evocative voice. Yet, for me, it is equally important that she is a food writer who cooks - not in a restaurant kitchen, but in a home kitchen. 

In Simple, as in her other books, Henry’s experience of cooking at home is evident in her honest way of looking at food. She acknowledges that most of us never buy the utensils listed in the ‘cooking equipment’ section; she understands that many of us require meals that are quick to prepare; she reflects the change in our eating habits, with fish, vegetables, grains and pulses receiving as much consideration as meat dishes.

Cook Simple (2004) was a guide for less confident or time-poor cooks, perhaps those balancing a baby in one hand and a baking tray in the other, who required low-effort cooking. Whilst Simple retains this practical outlook, Henry offers a wider range of techniques and flavours to transform simple ingredients into something special. From refreshing salads to hearty, comforting meals and make-aways, this is not only food that you can cook, but food that you really, really want to cook. 

Initial impressions: structure and style

The structure of Simple supports readers to build layers of flavour: each chapter is based on a key building block for a meal, which is then assembled in a variety of different ways. There are chapters on eggs, salads, pulses, pasta and grains, fish, chicken, and so on. There is even, much to my delight, a chapter dedicated to toast. 

This structure is flexible, so you can use chapters (or blocks) both independently and together. For instance, the aubergine, chickpea, walnut and date recipe from the Pulses block is a wonderful side for a dish from the Roasts chapter, but works equally well on its own as a light lunch. Henry encourages the reader not only to combine, but to adapt, recipes - perhaps adding a grain to make a dish more substantial, or substituting one green for another depending on the season.

Each chapter features Henry’s reflections on the food group at its focus, written in her evocative style. We are transported to a quiet trattoria in suburban Rome to experience the joy of pasta; we trudge to the university spud van when, as a 2am essay crisis hits, only a jacket potato will do; and we kick off our shoes and turn up the music as we tuck into a hot dog. Together, we take in the simplest of pleasures: toast with butter or making a quick meal from a can of beans, a tin of anchovies. 

Each vivid memory precedes practical advice on how to cook the ingredient in question. We are told how to prepare pasta to retain its flavour and bite, rather than overcooking or cloaking it in a sauce, and to cook eggs with care to create a luxurious, silky texture. At each turn, Henry’s eloquent descriptions persuade us, and her instructions guide us, to bring the best out of every ingredient. 

Aubergine, chickpea, walnut & date
Root, shiitake and noodle salad

Frequently found flavours: ingredients that appear often

Throughout Simple, international ingredients are used to elevate more familiar flavours. Henry’s longstanding affection for Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines is especially evident. Pomegranate brings out the natural sweetness of roasted carrots and appears again later, this time with olives and chickpeas, to brighten a warm cauliflower salad.  Aubergine, preserved lemons, feta, tahini, dates, sumac and many other Middle Eastern items also appear regularly.

Other common ingredients stem from Henry’s research into colder climates for Roast Figs, Sugar Snow - spelt, caraway, blackberries. Dill is particularly prevalent. It appears often in the fish chapter, but its faintly aniseed flavour is also used elsewhere to balance creamy feta or to add clean, fresh notes to harissa roast carrots. Then there is spice and sweetness from Asia. Miso stands up to the robust, earthy flavours of root vegetables and mackerel, and a chilli, ginger and lime dressing heats up cool greens for a sprightly summer salad. 

And it’s not always international ingredients that transform suppers into something special. Crab, for instance, adds an element of luxury to more everyday ingredients, from toast to pasta to cod. Vermouth, too, is ubiquitous, lending character and complexity to roast lamb, baked tomatoes or a prawn pilaf. In these recipes, Henry shows that everything from the local catch in your fishmongers to the bottle of booze gathering dust at the back of your cupboard can be used to create variety in your cooking. 

New favourites: recipes I now cook regularly

As is the sign of any good cookbook, there are now a number of recipes from Simple that are on regular rotation in our house, as well as others that are reserved for more special occassions. 

Pappardelle with cavolo nero, chilli, garlic and hazelnuts has become a go-to speedy supper, for it is simple and frugal, yet very tasty. The root, shiitake and noodle salad is the solution when we have been craving something fresh and vibrant, yet seasonal, during the winter months. By the opposite token, the orzo with lemon and parmesan has offered rich, oozy comfort on cold nights curled up on the sofa. 

We’ve made the salmon en papillote and the prawn pilaf, both from the fish section, for several weekday dinners. For an alternative to a Sunday roast, I recommend both the parmesan roast chicken with cauliflower and the Moroccan-spiced chicken with aubergine and dates. Follow up with the bitter flourless chocolate cake, crowned by whiskey-laced coffee cream, and you’re in food heaven. 

Pappardelle with cavolo nero (2)
Pappardelle with cavil nero

Next on the menu: dishes I’m planning to make

Henry’s food inspires joy, both in the cooking and the eating, and there are many untried recipes that make me excited for the future moments I will spend in the kitchen. I am particularly looking forward to the arrival of spring produce, when the rhubarb and raspberry crumble cake is first on my list, closely followed by the asparagus with goat’s cheese and the griddled courgette with burrata and fregola.  

For a devotee of breakfast foods, I’ve surprisingly not yet made in-roads to the chapters on eggs and toast. On weekend mornings from here-on in, I hope to be found with a slice (or two) of sourdough piled high with Persian-inspired eggs, dates and chilli or with boozy mushrooms sautéed in cream and vermouth. Both dishes speak to me of something simple, yet utterly sumptuous. 

These are clever recipes. With no-fuss cooking methods, interesting flavour combinations and real respect for each ingredient, Diana Henry empowers us to create food at its finest.  

DSC08212.jpg

Recipe: Carrot, tomato and butterbean salad

Carrot, tomato and butterbean salad

This salad was born with the New Year. On the 2nd of January, after many days of excess, I fancied a lunch that was fresh and vibrant, yet still warming. With little more than carrots and a few tins in the cupboard, my expectations were not high. Yet this recipe goes to show that gentle spicing and a good dressing can transform even the most humble vegetables into a satisfying meal, rather than just a side dish. 

For me, a salad must always contain more than leaves. I need beans, pulses or grains to keep me going until the next meal. Here, plump, creamy butter beans are added to the vegetables, oil and spices for the last ten minutes until they become burnished and juicy. To build the final layers of flavour, toss with peppery rocket and the sweet-sharp pomegranate dressing. 

When you're ready to plate up, tumble the vegetables and beans in a messy pile, before embellishing with sesame seeds and a touch of tahini. Slice up a loaf of sourdough to serve alongside and soak up the juices. 

Serves 3-4 people.

Ingredients

For the salad:

  • 500g Chantenay carrots
  • 500g cherry tomatoes
  • 2 tins butter beans
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds 
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 60g rocket

For the dressing:

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp pomegranate molasses
  • 1 tsp honey
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

To serve:

  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
  • Tahini

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 200º C
  2. Begin by preparing the vegetables. Wash the carrots and cut them in half lenghtways. Half the cherry tomatoes. 
  3. Set a small pan over a low-medium heat. Once hot, toast the coriander and cumin seeds for around a minute, or until they smell aromatic. Leave to cool slightly before crushing in a pestle and mortar.
  4. Add the carrots to a large baking tray with the olive oil, the smoked paprika and the cumin and coriander mixture. Stir to combine well, then roast for 15 minutes.
  5. Give the carrots a stir, add the tomatoes and roast for a further 15 minutes
  6. Stir the carrots and tomatoes, add the butterbeans and roast for a further 10-15 minutes.
  7. While the vegetables are roasting, whisk the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl and toast the sesame seeds over a low heat until golden.
  8. Remove the tray from the oven and leave to cool for a minute, before tossing with the dressing and the rocket.
  9. Pile on your plate, before topping with the sesame seeds and a drizzle of tahini. 
  10. Serve with slices of sourdough or another bread of your choice.
Carrot, tomato & butterbean salad (3)
Carrot, tomato and butterbean salad (2)

Recipe: Cocoa, cardamom and orange porridge, with pear and hazelnuts

Cocoa, cardamom and orange porridge (1)

I love porridge. Not only on a cold winter's morning, but every day for breakfast - and possibly lunch or dinner - all year round. At university, I was known to skip a portion of chips on the way home from a night club in favour of returning home to make porridge. If we are what we eat, I am an oat.

Porridge's recent rise in popularity has often been within the context of the growing influence of Scandinavian culture, the much-cited concept of hygge and the experimentation with different grains - millet, buckwheat, rye, spelt, amaranth. But, for me, the humble oat porridge is quintessentially British. Porridge adorns our national breakfast table, whether it's served with a dash of drambuie in Scotland or a sliced half-banana, a sprinkle of sugar and a splash of milk in my family home on England's South coast.

As I've grown, my porridge has evolved with me. I'm certainly no porridge purist; on the contrary, I've found that porridge is the perfect base for an experimental cook - a litmus test of flavour combinations and textures, if you will. It is mild enough to withstand aromatic spices and sweet fruit computes, and even works well savoury flavours from miso to mushroom. Nuts, seeds and increasingly hipster toppings (bee pollen, anyone?) make the perfect foil to porridge's creaminess, yet it retains enough bite to withstand a velvety slick of yogurt or crème fraîche.

This winter, one of my favourite porridge flavourings has been just a touch of cocoa powder. Here, it's deep bitterness marries so well with the mellow sweetness of ground hazelnuts and vanilla, and with the sunshine of orange and cardamom. With its crown of honeyed pairs, the crunch of hazelnuts and a swirl of thick Greek yogurt, it makes an ideal bowlful for a slow, soulful morning.

Ingredients

For the porridge:

  • 1 large mug oats (about 100-120g depending on your appetite)
  • 1 large mug water
  • 1 large mug milk
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder
  • Zest of half an orange
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste
  • 1 tbsp ground hazelnuts

For the topping:

  • 1 pear, thinly sliced or cut into chunks
  • 1 tsp honey 
  • Greek yogurt, to serve
  • Chopped toasted hazelnuts, to serve
  • Brown sugar, to serve

Method

  1. Prepare all the ingredients - zesting, chopping, toasting and grinding - before you begin
  2. Place all the porridge ingredients in a pan and cook over a low heat, stirring often with a wooden spoon, for 10 minutes or until the porridge is thick and creamy
  3. Meanwhile, place the pear in a small pan with the honey and 2 tablespoons of water. Cook over a medium-low heat for 5 minutes, or until the water has evaporated and the pear is lightly golden
  4. Divide the porridge between bowls and top with the pear, Greek yogurt and toasted hazelnuts. If you are a sweet tooth, like me, a sprinkle of soft brown sugar is also lovely.
Cocoa, cardamom and orange porridge (2)
Cocoa, cardamom & orange porridge (3)

Restaurant Review: Birch

Birch Bristol

On the corner of a residential road just south of North Street, you will find a small former off-licence that emanates a cosy glow and a gentle chatter. A cold December evening sees the windows filled with festive fairy-lights strung between oversized squashes; garlands of berries and mistletoe hang from hooded lampshades and above the bright, geometric-partnered bar. This is Birch, the nationally lauded kitchen from Sam Leach and Becky Massey, and my new neighbourhood restaurant.

Those who know of Birch’s market garden and orchard in South Bristol will not be surprised to hear that the daily menu was filled with the finest seasonal produce. We begin with a sprout salad, whose vibrancy dispels thoughts of conventional boiling or pan-frying with chestnuts and bacon. Here, sprouts are shredded and dressed in a tart vinaigrette that plays with the slight, floral acidity of Old Ford cheese, before being completed by the creaminess and crunch from hazelnuts. This is not so much cooking, but a study in the balance of flavours.

Next, there is a nut roast that is not pioneering, but delivers big, reliable flavours. In particular, the earthy sweetness of the nuts is heightened by the accompanying celeriac puree and heritage carrots. We share a pheasant, mushroom and cider pie whose crisp shortcrust lid dissolves into buttery flakes on the tongue. I could try to make some intelligent comments about the cooking of the meat or the richness of the sauce, but all a reader really need know is that it was exceptionally tasty. I would return to Birch for that splendid pastry alone.

Pheasant pie at Birch

There are mince pies for dessert, but I have eaten one too many of those recently, and sadly no stodgy, cake-y winter puddings of the type I fancy. I settle for the medlar meringue, and discover that this isn’t settling at all. The chewy, deeply caramel meringue sinks into a golden mousse flavoured sweetly by the aromatic medlar fruit. It is a satisfying end to the meal, but fresh enough to prevent me from feeling like I've overindulged.

The meal is positively joyful from beginning to end. It's clear from our meal that Sam Leach isn't swayed by needlessly complex techniques or fashionable ingredients, but is focussed on preserving the integrity of regional produce. If you're after clever, sympathetic cooking that delivers delicious flavours, Birch is your place. You'll find me at a nearby table ordering anything that involves pastry.

Recipe: Keralan squash curry

Kerala

When you go on holiday, I highly recommend staying with a local family. Short of living somewhere yourself, a homestay is the best way to gain a real feel - and taste - for the region’s culture. The growth of Airbnb and similar websites is making this style of travel easier, and safer, than ever before.

On a recent trip to Kerala, we stayed with the Nair family, who live 15 miles from the main tourist hub of Alappuzha. After several trips up and down the main road, we found our turning and followed the narrow path until tarmac became dirt track and track became river. There, a canoe awaited to transport us to the beautiful white family home on the opposite bank.

Kerala (2)

Almost immediately, we fell into the slow rhythm of life on the Keralan backwaters. We enjoyed early morning yoga, hours spent reading while sipping sweetly spiced chai tea and gentle walks through the local village where children paused their play to gaze at us. Above all, there was the luxury of having time to simply watch life pass by on the Pamba: women washing clothes and cutlery, men fishing from canoes, houseboats carrying inquisitive tourists, and the spectacular twice-daily procession of five hundred ducks being readied for Christmas feasts. 

Food, too, soon fell into a familiar pattern. For breakfast, there were idlis (steamed cakes made from ground rice and lentils) or dosas (fermented rice-flour pancakes), served with vegetable sambar. Best of all were the steamed cylinders of layered rice and coconut, or puttu, which one crushes with banana and sugar before sprinkling with crushed popadom for crunch. At lunch time, a trio of vegetable curries and stir fries were served on a banana leaf or in small metal pots. At dinner, the pots were filled with more vegetables, daal, perhaps a little fish, mutton or chicken. We learned that popadoms are for lunch, chapatis for dinner and a mountain of rice accompanies both.

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As with may less wealthy countries I have visited, the people here intrinsically understand how to eat in a sustainable, healthy way: lots of vegetables, fruits and grains; a little dairy and a little meat; no undue fuss about oil or refined sugar. Everything is local, with few air or even road miles. Rice comes from the paddies behind, fish from the river in front or the nearby Arabian sea, fruit and vegetables from the garden, spices from the region’s mountains. The food’s flavour is that of the land, from sweet coconut to sour tamarind to spicy chilli.

Behind the flavours we enjoyed was the Nair family’s matriarch, Padma. I was lucky enough to spend a day in Padma's kitchen, where our language barriers disintegrated. It seems the patterns of chopping, sizzling, stirring, tasting and seasoning are universal. Happily, here I discovered that gourds, pumpkins, squashes, beetroots and beans feature heavily in their curries - perfect ingredients for creating a seasonal, cold-weather curry back in England. 

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Keralan squash curry

I made this curry with a beautiful green Kabocha squash grown locally, but it would be equally delicious with any variety of squash or pumpkin available to you.

Ingredients

(Serves 4)

For the curry paste:

  • 20g unsweetened desiccated coconut
  • 2 tbsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp hot chilli powder
  • 50-100ml water

For the curry:

  • 1 tbsp rapeseed oil
  • 6 shallots
  • 1/2 a large squash (about 750-800g)
  • 1 tin of lighter coconut milk + the tin refilled with water
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • Salt
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes
  • 100g green beans
  • Mustard seeds
  • A handful of curry leaves (about 20 leaves)
  • 4 dried red chillies 
  • Coriander
  • Brown basmati rice
  • Chapattis (optional)
     
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Method

  1.  Start by preparing all your vegetables. Finely slice the shallots. Peel the squash and cut into 1.5cm cubes. Roughly chop the tomatoes. Trim the beans and cut in half at an angle.
  2. To make the curry paste, fry the desiccated coconut in a dry pan set over a medium heat, stirring often to prevent it sticking or burning. Once the coconut is golden brown, remove from the heat and add the coriander and chilli powder. Leave to cool for a minute before transferring to a blender or food processor (keep the frying pan aside for later). Add 50ml of water and blend to a smooth paste, adding a little more water until it is a thick but runny consistency. Transfer to a small bowl, using a little extra water to swill round the processor and catch any stuck pieces that have become stuck.
  3. Warm 1 tbsp rapeseed oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat, add the shallots and cook gently for around ten minutes until they are sweet and soft. Now would be a good time to put your rice on to boil.
  4. Add the squash, turmeric and salt to the shallots, and stir before adding the coconut milk and water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 5-10 minutes until the squash is soft. Add the tomatoes, green beans and coconut paste, and simmer for a further 10 minutes until the vegetables are soft and collapsing into a thick sauce.
  5. Meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp of oil in the frying pan and add the mustard seeds, curry leaves and dried chilli. When the mustard seeds start popping, remove from the heat and leave to cool a little before stirring through the curry.
  6. Leave the curry to stand with the lid on for 5 minutes before serving with a sprinkle of chopped coriander, rice and chapattis.
Keralan squash curry

Restaurant review: The Ethicurean

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In July, l enjoyed my usual cup of afternoon tea in an unusually bucolic setting. Seated at a simple wooden bench set in a walled vegetable garden bursting with summer’s produce, we gazed across the valley to the rolling Mendips hills. From the greenhouse behind us, superlative slices of cake were served. This is no ordinary greenhouse, but rather a former orangery now known as The Ethicurean - a restaurant whose reputation has crept along the grapevine to every food lover in Bristol, before spreading further afield courtesy of glowing national press.

With the cake every bit as beautiful as the setting, we vowed to return for a full meal.

Ethicurean
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That promise is kept on a bright November day when the low, autumn sunshine transforms the greenhouse into a sauna. The garden has advanced from tomatoes to squashes, from berries to apples. Inside, walls are adorned with dried herbs, tables dressed with fragrant fresh herbs and windowsills stacked with pumpkins and pickling jars. The seasonal decor is reflected in a menu based on locally sourced produce, elevated by clever cooking.

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The meal begins with a stumble, but soon progresses to the sublime. The stumble comes with a leek and smoked potato soup, which is so suffused with smokiness that more subtle flavours - fermented leek, leek powder, nasturtium oil - are obscured. For somebody who takes half of the enjoyment of soup from the accompanying bread and butter, there was also a noticeable need for a hunk of homemade loaf to soak up those remnants that escape the spoon. 

Quibbles about bread (or lack thereof) are immediately forgiven when the main course arrives. A perfect fillet of hake, quivering beneath a crisp skin and flanked by clams, is heightened by a tapenade of salty, piquant capers and sweet, creamy hazelnuts. The fish is brought firmly from sea to land by the earthiness from mushroom 'soil', chestnut puree and butter-bathed cabbage. Across the table, dishes of pork belly and duck appear equally well-balanced but, evidently, are so good that I am not offered a mouthful. 

Then we are on to dessert. And, oh, what a dessert! Chunks of apple sink into a deep golden sponge, whose large, meltingly soft crumb is burnished dark brown by treacle and sugar. Surprisingly, it doesn’t feel too gluttonous. That is, until it is gilded with a swirl of toffee sauce, a scoop of ice-cream and three veritable boulders of honeycomb. Now it is no longer a cake, but a gloriously squidgy, truly rib-sticking pudding, guaranteed to provide enough padding to warm you during a post-prandial stroll through the garden.

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Restaurant review: Tradewind Espresso

Tradewind

With its stained glass windows and chic Scandinavian-style furniture, Tradewind Espresso offers a respite from busy Whiteladies Road. Tradewind was opened by a local micro-roaster, Roasted Rituals, after their mobile van gained a devoted following. So it comes as little surprise that you can find one of Bristol’s finest cups of coffee at Tradewind. There is a seasonal house blend and a selection of custom blends and single origins, each, they say, with their own ‘distinct character and story’. 

Tradewind also offers an exceptional all-day brunch. As much of the food as possible is made from scratch, from the nut milks to the preserves to the cured fish. Popular dishes include a BLT with homemade chilli jam and the chorizo, egg and avocado on toast, dancing with the sweet heat of charred corn salsa and citrusy coriander pesto. Even the humble porridge (here, comfortingly thick and stodgy) is elevated by seasonal fruit compote, natural yogurt and the hum of a crunchy hazelnut dukkah. 

If you’ve worked up an appetite walking up the hill or across the downs, you’ll be delighted to discover that the beloved La Marzocco coffee machine sits beside an impressive cake counter. Regulars here include brownies and blondies, granola bars and almond friands studded with fresh fruit. There is also a rotating list of seasonal visitors. A recent favourite featured a ring of peaches set into a deliciously squidgy, syrupy sponge of ground almonds and flecked with lavender. 

Tradewind offers a winnning trifecta: beautiful interiors, a fine cup of coffee and delicious food. With a house move on the horizon, I know that I will sorely miss being able to call this lovely little cafe my local.

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Restaurant review: Pi Shop and Bertha's

I hope the metaphorical bucket of my bucket list is bottomless, for it seems restaurants in Bristol are opening up faster than I can earn the money to eat at them. I have been reluctant to visit the new pizza quarter in Wapping Wharf, feeling that the Bristol pizza market is saturated, but I was overcome by a flurry of effusive social media posts. And I am so glad I was. Here, by the banks of the murky river Avon, I ate two pizzas as good as those found in the sparkling blue bay of Naples.

 

Pi Shop

Pi Shop

The first of the two excellent pizzas is at Pi Shop, the more informal restaurant from Casamia’s chef-founder Peter Sanchez-Iglesias. The combination of Italian parentage and a Michelin star has created high expectations, and Pi Shop does not disappoint.

It is a menu of two halves. In part, it is a riff on Italian-American classics, such as Hawaiian and Meat Feast, elevated by top-quality ingredients. In part, it is a purveyor of speciality pizza: beetroot and ewes curd, Australian truffle and parmesan, or lamb, courgette and blue cheese. A broccoli pizza emitted waves of flavour, from the bittersweet char of purple sprouting and the sharpness of Pugliese onions, through to the tang of goats cheese soothed by more mild mozarella.

But its the dough - dimpled with air pockets and freckled with blisters from the wood-fired oven - that makes Pi Shop’s pizza truly superb. The puffy crust yields to a comfortingly thick, doughy centre. The middle stands up to the toppings without becoming watery. There is the faint tang of sourdough, but it is not sour; there is a hint of smokiness, but none of the bitter charring that can come from pizza ovens.

I could rhapsodise on about the dough for several pages. Yet, for fear of becoming a bore, it suffices to say that I would have been satisfied eating a plain corniccione alone. The pizza was so good that we considered ordering another instead of dessert, and then regretted our decision not to for the entire evening. My advice: if you’re visiting Pi Shop, leave the self-restraint at home.

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Bertha's

Whilst Pi Shop evolved from a Michelin-star restaurant, Bertha’s began life as a more lowly yellow Land Rover. After receiving critical acclaim, the yellow of Bertha’s Land Rover has been re-figured as the yellow tiles of their bricks and mortar site in Wapping Wharf.  Head in through the (yellow) doors and take a seat in the upstairs gallery, from where you can gaze down on the chefs as they work.

Bertha's

Bertha, now in her third incarnation, is the hand-built Neapolitan pizza oven at the heart of the restaurant. Stoked to a searing heat of 500C, she cooks pizza in 60 seconds, which results in a dough that is softer, a little less airy than that at Pi Shop or Flour & Ash. The flavour, too, is milder, letting the toppings shine.

There are cured meats, seasonal vegetables and delicate cheeses - mozzarella and burrata - often brought together by a final flourish. Perhaps they will be embellished by herb oil, ‘hot house’ honey or brown butter, perhaps by a smattering of chilli or pine nuts.  For dessert, there is gelato. We order a scoop of chocolate and peanut butter, separately, and then swap spoonfuls when we realise they are best eaten together. They would have been better still, no doubt, with a scoop of the day's blackcurrant alongside.

Bertha’s, like Pi Shop, has grown quickly to join Flour & Ash at a height that is head and shoulders above the more pedestrian pizza restaurants in Bristol. Together, these titans prove me wrong: there is a place for more pizza in Bristol.

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Restaurant review: Pasta Loco

Just when I was finding my feet in the Bristol restaurant scene, a flurry of new openings has swept me happily off balance. One new opening is Pasta Loco, set up by cousins Ben Harvey and Dominic Borrell, who perform a kitchen and front-of-house double act. The restaurant is partly a tribute to their Italian grandfather, but is overwhelmingly a celebration of the joy that a bowl of fresh pasta can bring. In fact, the whole operation feels like a celebration - flutes of fizz are passed around to apologise for a glitch in the booking system, family and friends drop in to say hello, photos are snapped, friendly staff stop a-while to chat.

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From the wooden benches to the lampshades made of paper bags, Pasta Loco is a lesson in simplicity, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the menu. The main courses comprise of just five different varieties of pasta, each freshly made that day. The sauces prove that a few basic ingredients, when cooked with care and respect, produce the most delicious, evocative flavours. There is the comfort of cream and pepper coating fat strands of bucattini and the freshness from peppery rocket pesto. And, cradled by the waves of frilly campanelle, there is a tomato and olive sauce that evokes the fragrance of abundant, sun-ripened Mediterranean gardens.

More complex sauces often involve seafood or meat. A smoked haddock chowder is flecked with pearls of orzo, while an extravagant take on carbonara features pork belly and a lardo-wrapped egg. Our favourite is a goat ragu cooked down until the tender meat falls apart amidst broad ribbons of pappardelle that glisten with deep, rich meat juices. The sweetness from accompanying cavolo nero completes the intensity of the dish. Moments before we finish, something wonderful happens: we are brought hunks of focaccia 'for the sauce'. Needless to say, our plates are wiped clean.

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The pasta is undoubtedly the star of the show, but it is bookended by delicious, delicate starters and desserts. Slices of peach and streams of courgette are adorned with hazelnuts and edible flowers; a sweet-soft aubergine caponata is ringed by mellow robiola and more robust, earthy artichoke; salt cod mousse with croutons is given a punch by capers, balsamic vinegar and bell peppers.

To finish, we share the ‘squashed’ chocolate cake - a dense, dark torte decadently paired with salted caramel ice-cream, which is transformed from a clomp to a caper on the palate by a slick of vibrant, aromatic cardamom sauce. And then, just as we think the meal is drawing to a close, a batch of Dominic’s Negroni is made up and brought to our table. Evidently the night is still young at Pasta Loco, where the celebration - of good food and of good company - is just beginning.

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Restaurant review: Bar Buvette

Bar Buvette

One of the great joys of food and drink is its ability to transport us to different countries. This joy is apparent at Bar Buvette, which brings a feel of France to central Bristol. Set up by Peter Taylor and Mark Osoki as a seasonal pop-up while their idyllic Auberge in France closed for the winter, Bar Buvette now has a permanent site on Baldwin street. Here, in a light-flooded former insurance building, Buvette evokes a continental charm through its wood-panelling, red-topped tables and vintage French posters.

The focus is on organic, biodynamic wines from small French producers, with staff happy to talk and taste you through the latest menu. Unlike the wine we are accustomed to, which has extra sulphites and chemicals added to ensure a uniform flavour, the natural, organic fermentation process allows the taste of the grape to differ from year to year, even from field to field. The result is unusual, but delicious and intriguing: redolent with the smell of soil, full with the flavour of fruit and often with a slight, cider-like fizz.

These well-rounded wines need little accompaniment, apart from perhaps a simple cheese board or charcuterie platter - both of which find excellent form in the kitchen at Bar Buvette, where the emphasis is on quality over quantity. There are also excellent toasties, which have gained quite a following for their magnificent, molten centre oozing with cheese and leeks.

The chalk-board menu promises a number of other quintessentially French plat du jour, from a side dish of celeriac remoulade to a hearty coq au vin. On a recent visit, we enjoyed a gem lettuce salad soused in rich, mustard-spiked vinaigarette, studded with lardons and crowned with the golden yolk pouring from a soft-boiled egg.

An evening at Bar Buvette ends with seasonal fruit… and a side of pudding. Perhaps there will be apricots baked into a frangipane tart, cherries perched beside a pot au chocolat or a gooseberry compote to spread on delicate madeleines. Such desserts are the final thread in the tapestry that cloaks a busy Bristol street with the image of southern France.

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Restaurant review: Bulrush

Bulrush

Bulrush lies on a row of rather uninspiring shops, with an unassuming exterior that belies the excellence of its cooking. It is part of a small wave of neighbourhood restaurants set up by chefs, like Bulrush’s George Livesey, who trained in London before moving to Bristol to express their culinary creativity. Similarly to Adelina Yard and Birch, Bulrush is characterised by its simple decor, friendly but unfussy front of house and, crucially, its focus on local, home-grown or foraged produce.

We start with a complimentary onion soup, which is proof of the miraculous power of careful cooking to transform such a harsh, pungent raw ingredient into something mellow and sweet. Its sweetness is distilled by a pool of elderberry juice, before being focussed on the palate by bitter burnt onion 'dust'. 

This deft balance of tastes continues into the main courses. A perfectly pan-fried piece of hake and its attendant white asparagus are both delicately flavoured, yet robust enough to stand up to the sweet earthiness from celeriac puree and girolles and to the aromatic ox-eye daisy garnish. Seafood is celebrated throughout the menu: there is scallop ceviche with black sesame, mooli and beet; octopus in a tomato consomme; and turbot with courgette, blackberries and beetroot. 

More bold and experimental than the hake is a ‘risotto’ of sweetcorn and sunflower seeds, whose creaminess is tempered by starchy, nutty purple potatoes. The reappearance of the elderberry juice here is an unnecessary addition in an already sweet dish, but it is prevented from becoming cloying by a wreath of astringent shisho leaves, grown in the restaurant garden.

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For dessert, we cannot resist the charms of a chocolate delice. Comforting slabs of rich, velvet chocolate are cut though by the freshness from poached apricots and camomile ice-cream. The accompanying olive shards divide the crowd: I find their saltiness a distraction from the sheer, unadulterated joy of sweet chocolate and fruit, but others appreciate them as a counterpoint to the sugar. Love or hate them, these shards show that the kitchen here is unafraid to experiment. 

At Bulrush, familiar ingredients - onions, roots, seasonal vegetables, fish, seeds, chocolate - are elevated by Livesey's evident pleasure in playing with flavours. Every dish has touches of originality, whether an unorthodox cooking technique or an unusual, foraged ingredient. Yet the simultaneous adherence to sympathetic cooking ensures these ingredients are not lost amidst experimentation, and retain their simple, integral beauty. 

I hate to jump on the Bulrush bandwagon, but the place is blooming brilliant.

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Travel: Dining Danishly, a Guide to Eating Out in Copenhagen

For me, it seems almost unimaginable to plan a holiday without taking an interest in the cuisine of a destination. Food and drink are integral to understanding the life of a city: at the next table in any local café or bars there may be a business meeting taking place, friends catching up over drinks or a family celebrating their loved one’sbirthday. So, as well as visiting the galleries and museums, make time to venture out for breakfast, linger over a coffee and a pastry, shop in the nearby supermarket and heed local recommendations for dinner. 

In Copenhagen, in particular, food is celebrated, experimented with and savoured. Whilst bicycles may rule the roads, it is eateries who dominate the pavements. Alongside traditional Danish pastries and rye bread smørrebrød, one can also try excellent Neapolitan pizza, classic French food and experimental new Nordic cuisine.  Some of my top tips for eating in the city are below:

 

Mad & Kaffe - The lack of spare tables here, particularly on a sunny day, is a testament to Mad & Kaffe’s well-earned reputation as one of the best brunch spots in the city. Expect a magnificent smörgåsbord, with your choice of three, five or seven breakfast foods. Some of our favourites included avocado with chilli oil and almonds; yogurt with matcha and muesli; eggs scrambled with mushrooms; baskets of excellent rye bread; and of course decadent cinnamon buns and Øllebrød. On a hot day, I recommend the homemade iced teas too...

Mad & Kaffe

Sønder Boulevard 68

Granola - Start the morning slowly or relax over a leisurely lunch at this classic French-style cafe, with a 1950s feel and a beautiful wood-panelled bar. Perch outside or by a window to watch passersby on the fashionable Værnedamsvej, which is lined with tempting eateries, high-end interior design shops and colourful florists. We ate oozing croque monsieurs topped with fried eggs and the eponymous granola served with skyr, but were envious of the ‘big breakfast plates’ served to neighbouring tables. There are excellent fresh juices and the coffee, though not exceptional, comes with personalised sugar sachets and a crumbly, buttery biscuit.

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Værnedamsvej 5

Sankt Peder’s Bageri - Who could fail to fall for a city that makes a pastry especially to help its citizens get through Wednesday? Head to Copenhagen’s oldest bakery for the Onsdagssnegle (Wednesday snail): a sweet, wholemeal dough filled with a cinnamon-heavy spice mix and sprinkled with your choice of sugar or icing. Best taken away and enjoyed with a superlative coffee from the Coffee Collective site in nearby Torvehallerne.

Sankt Peder's Bageri

Skt Peders Stræde 29

Grød - Goldilocks’ spiritual home would look very much like Grød. This grain-focused cafe serves perfect porridge, which is rich and velvety, yet retains the slight bite of oats, barley or spelt. Toppings range from the healthy, such as fresh fruit, toasted nuts and skyr, to the pure decadence of their homemade dulce de leche. In my (rather beautiful) bowl, a sweet apple compote flecked with vanilla was the perfect counterpoint to tart, strained yogurt, with homemade muesli providing a little crunch. Later in the day, there are excellent savoury options, such as a seriously creamy risotto topped with lemon oil, parmesan and seasonal asparagus or a fragrant chicken, ginger and peanut congee.

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Torvehallerne - Hall 2, Stade 8A, Linnésgade 17

Aamann's Delicatessen - This deli is the place for seasonally-inspired, though rather pricey, open sandwiches known as smørrebrød. Though deli was rather lacking in atmosphere on our visit, the superlative smørrebrød were a delight of contrasting textures and flavours: crisp, soft, smooth, salty, sweet, sour. The avocado with pickled shallot, garlic and lemon cream was delicious, but best of all was a a herb-salted salmon and cream cheese, lifted by a little heat from pickled onions, radishes and watercress.

Aamann's Delicatessen

Øster Farimagsgade 10

Meyer’s Bageri - In a city not short of bakeries, Meyer’s is certainly one of the finest. Established by Claus Meyer, co-founder of Noma turned restaurant entrepreneur, Meyer’s Bakery is the place to pick up your daily loaf, a lunchtime sandwich bursting with fresh ingredients, or a beautifully-plaited kanelsnurrer (cinnamon bun) made with valharona chocolate. Alternatively, stop by the deli on Gamel Kongevej for a light lunch or gourmet take-away antipasti and picnic boxes. The deli also serves a generous brunch of almost three courses, including fruit and granola, soft boiled eggs, sausages with raw vegetables, Danish cheese, pancakes with lemon curd, and pastries.

Meyer's Bageri

Gl. Kongevej 107

Mother - set in the heart of Copenhagen’s lively meatpacking district, Mother constantly hums with hundreds of clientele who flock to the long outdoor benches or, in inclement weather, the cosy indoor tables that overlook the pizza oven. The ‘mother’ is the sourdough starter that imbues their pizza with that addictive tang and chew. In true Neapolitan style, the blistered, pillowy crust harbours a thin base topped with the best Italian cheeses, cured meats and vegetables, as well as Danish smoked salmon and mozzarella made with organic local milk. 

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Høkerboderne 9

Madklubben - Friendly staff and relaxed atmosphere make Madklubben the perfect destination for drinks with friends, an informal supper or a nightcap. You can also order three desserts for around £10, making Madklubben a good place just for dessert. Excellent cocktails have afocus on liqueurs, fruit and citrus flavours; the ‘El Diablo’ of tequila, cassis, lime and ginger beer was particularly good. For those who would rather steer clear of spirits, there are several local varieties of beer on tap.

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Vesterbrogade 62

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Höst - Those in search of new Nordic cuisine, but not seeking to remortgage their house to pay for it, would be well advised to make a reservation at Höst. Perhaps Copenhagen’s most atmospheric restaurant, Höst creates the consummate romantic feel through its fluttering candles, white-washed walls and furniture, gentle indie soundtrack and a small forest of plants (yes, trees inside the restaurant). But while the atmosphere may lull diners into a sense of contentment, the food is designed to startle and delight. Sometimes such attempts to defy expectations don’t work, for instance a delicate piece of hake was overpowered by a strong chicken broth. However, in most cases our initial scepticism turns into pleasant surprise upon tasting, from an amuse-bouche of meringue with ham terrine and cress, pork shank glazed in a lingonberry jus, or ice-cream and rhubarb compote served with crisps.   

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Nørre Farimagsgade 41

Restaurant review: Pinkman's Bakery

Pinkman's

If you’re in Bristol and asking the question of where to eat, the answer is Pinkman’s Bakery. Unlike many other bakeries in the city, Pinkman’s not only crafts incredible loaves, but also ambitiously serves an extensive food and drinks menu from 7am through to 11pm.Yet this ambition to do it all comes at no compromise to quality, and you will not be disappointed whatever time of day you visit. 

Breakfast is, unsurprisingly for a bakery, rather bread-heavy. Superlative toast can be topped with your choice of wood-fired mushrooms, beans, eggs and more. A bacon sandwich comes with sweet roasted tomatoes and a course, crumbly cornbread is softened by crème fraîche, avocado and smoked salmon. For those who do not live in fear of their dentist’s bills, there is brioche dipped in custard and served with maple bacon or blueberry compote.

At lunch, the kitchen produces a feast of quiches, fritattas and sandwiches. Our favourite is the baguette whose addictively chewy crust makes the perfect pocket for a creamy filling of mozzarella, avocado, tomato and pesto. We also enjoy a dense, nutty rye roll, which provides a study base to balance the saltiness of smoked salmon, the slight acidity of cream cheese and the spike of peppery dill. 

The non-bread options are also excellent. Perhaps you will opt for the aubergine parmigiana or one of the hearty salads. Amongst many tempting options, there is sweet potato, green beans and tuna;  earthy beetroot and lentils with tart, zippy chunks of goats cheese; or sweet peas, asparagus and new potatoes given a little heat by fronds of fiery watercress. 

Pizzas arrive from noon through until the evening, when they are joined by cocktails and mood lighting. Their deep acidic tang and elastic base give the very best sourdough pizzerias, from Flour & Ash to Franco Manca, a run for their money. On the topic of finances, it is worth noting Pinkman’s pizzas offer great value. Prices start from £6 for a margarita and stretching to a princely £8.50, in a city where it's difficult to find a pizza for less than a tenner.

My pizza sings with tender, caramelised confit garlic and bright, lemony wedges of artichoke, quietened by cooling clouds of ricotta. The meat eaters in our party are very happy with a pizza studded with meatballs, which pool their rich, claret-coloured juices on to the mozzarella base. 

If I’m being picky, I’d point out that the stools are not particularly comfortable and the acoustics leave you straining to hear your neighbours, but I can find little fault with the food. It’s probably enough to say that I’ve been three times in as many weeks. I’m still yet to try the sweets though, so I will undoubtedly be back for a fourth visit in the very near future.

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Restaurant review: Flour & Ash

Many long, effusive articles could - and, indeed, have - been written about Flour & Ash, particularly in the wake of its recent opening in Westbury. Yet, a short, simple review is perhaps the best way to do justice to this restaurant’s straightforward approach: pizza, ice-cream and a few starters cooked in the same pizza oven until they are charred and infused with a sweet, smokiness. All served by with a smile, by staff who take the time to stop, chat and share their passion for the food here.

The pizza is served in the traditional Neapolitan style: a thin base, still a little soft in the centre, rising to a deep, elastic outer crust. And, oh, what a crust. The long prove and naturally occurring yeasts give the dough a complex flavour, with the sourdough’s characteristic tang complimented by the bitter, burnished edges that come from the blistering heat of the wood-fired oven.

I would eat the dough alone but, needless to say, the toppings are also fantastic: local cheeses, roasted vegetables, salty charcuterie and slow-cooked cuts of meat such as lamb shoulder or ox cheek. The standout pizza of the day comes with thick slices of aubergine, marinated in mellow spices and roasted until soft and luscious, then studded with mountainous peaks of creamy, mild ewe’s curd.

For desert, there is only ice cream. We try a light, clean coconut, a deep, bitter-sweet chocolate and a caramel-y banoffee. A vivid blackcurrant sorbet is so startlingly fresh that it impresses itself on our memories. The ice cream finishes the meal with the same high precedent that are set by the pizza. Flour and Ash does a few things, and it does them seriously well.

Flour & Ash

Restaurant review: Bell's Diner

Bell's Diner

This year Bell’s Diner turns 40 and, during its 40 years, this veteran of Bristol’s fine dining scene has existed in many incarnations. Since Connie Coombs took over in 2013, it has been lauded in local and national press for its relaxed atmosphere and a small plates menu driven by seasonal produce. I cannot speak of Bell’s history or past prestige, but I can tell you that its current guise is characterised by sheer loveliness.

The restaurant is a simple setting, which is lit up (if you’re lucky) by the sunshine streaming in through large windows that wrap around the building. Bare floors and wooden furniture are prevented from becoming sparse by homely touches – cushions strewn on benches, old record players tucked in corners, shelves stacked with wine bottles, OXO tins and coffee roasters. Although the front parlour is the most atmospheric, open hatches and doorways allow the infectious buzz of a contented clientele to drift throughout all three dining areas.

Wine soon arrives. The house red is by no means the poor man’s choice. It is a gentle Grecian number structured by subtle berry notes and soft tannins, which glows a pale ruby-red in the last evening rays. It proves to be the perfect accompaniment to the Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern influenced menu.

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We begin with the 'lighter' dishes, though even these have touches of decadence. Bread comes with jamon butter, croquetas ooze with manchego and our salt cod fritters arrive with an irresistible, velvety garlic aioli.

Larger dishes seem, by contrast, a little less rich. A charcoal-grilled aubergine and pepper salad is suffused with a deep smokiness, which is balanced by the smattering of sweet pomegranate seeds. Falafels have crisp blackened shells that conceal a surprisingly green-hued centre, coloured by fava beans. Lighter and moister than chickpeas, fava beans also bring a nutty flavour that marries well with a slightly bitter tahini sauce.

Then there is a fillet of hake that has been cooked just-so until it flakes apart onto shreds of salty, smoked ham hock and pearls of broad beans. Best of all is a trio of vegetable fritters beneath a sweet tomato sauce, whose crisp golden crusts break through to a squidge of molten feta and courgette. The final touch is peppery dill, which works to focus the softer flavours of vegetables and cheese.

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For pudding, perhaps there will be a flourless chocolate cake, rhubarb frangipane tart or passion fruit meringue. Seeking something small to seal the meal, we opted for the salted caramel truffles. Except these truffles are certainly not small, but almost a dessert in themselves: their thick, dark chocolate cases shatter in the mouth to a smooth, buttery milk chocolate before yielding to a liquid caramel centre. They were a sweet ending to the sweetest evening at Bell's Diner.

Restaurant review: Bakers & Co

Bakers & Co

Bakers & Co has recently been the name on everybody’s lips because of their new supper menu, which follows a similar small-plates style to owners Kieran and Imogen Waite’s tapas restaurant, Bravas. Yet over the past two years Bakers & Co has forged its reputation not on supper, but on stellar brunches. It was this far-reaching reputation that led me to visit Bakers’ yellow awning on my very first day flat hunting in Bristol and has seen me make the trip up Gloucester Road on several mornings since.

The open kitchen is at the centre of the cafe, a layout which reflects that cooking and baking everything in-house is at the centre of Baker & Co’s ethos. Diners can perch at the counter overlooking the chefs or squeeze onto tables that flank the kitchen and stretch back into a long, light corridor behind. Bright yellow coffee cups, hanging baskets and sunny artwork add touches of colour.

The eponymous Baker's Breafast, a tower of dry cure bacon, fennel sausages, morcilla, thyme roasted mushrooms, pinto beans and fried duck egg, is always popular.  Yet the huevos rancheros commands an equally strong following, at least if the frequency of admiring Instagram shots is to be believed. To this traditional tomato and chilli stew, the Bakers also add pinto beans - cooked until just collapsing and turning creamy - and a hot salsa whose fire and freshness works well to cut through the richness of the fried eggs. A soft, warm corn tortilla is on hand to mop up any leftover yolk-streaked sauce.

Sweet breakfasts are equally tempting. The simply named of the ‘Morning Toast’ belies the trruly decadent nature of this dish. Torrijos - bread soaked in eggs, milk, honey and spices before being fried - are coated in orange and cinnamon sugar, then topped with grilled banana or bacon, crème fraiche, almonds and maple syrup. On a recent visit, the daily special presented an equally indulgent treat. The skillets once used for baked eggs had been transformed into homes for giant ‘Dutch baby’ pancakes, somewhat akin to a sweet Yorkshire pudding, filled with yogurt, fruit and granola.

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I have yet to succumb to the charms of the cake counter but, for those who believe in the concept of breakfast dessert, a buckwheat friand with raspberry and chocolate crème would make a perfect end to the morning meal. Or perhaps one could take away slices of spiced apple bundt, of banana loaf and of pistachio, lemon and poppy seed cake to sweeten the parting from this breakfast haven.

Restaurant review: Adelina Yard

Adelina Yard

My last supper would look something like lunch at Adeline Yard: a beautifully cooked piece of fish, fresh pasta, plenty of seasonal vegetables and a creamy desert crowned with sweet-sharp fruit. It would also be eaten on a balmy evening in the Mediterranean, with waves lapping the shoreline close by a table filled with family and friends, but there is only so much one can ask of a Bristol-based restaurant.

We start with strongly salty, golden spheres of arancini giving way to a delicately flavoured courgette and basil centre, and then we are on to that piece of fish. In this instance, it is a fillet of smoked trout, whose earthy flavour is complemented by the woodiness of the smoking  process. It plays the starring role amidst the attendant sour cream foam, sweet pickled cucumber and salty strands of samphire, all brought together by the brightness from a dash of lovage emulsion. Dominant flavours are treated deftly with just enough technique to elevate each ingredient, but not so much that it feels assertively ‘cheffy’.

Next we’re on to a dish with Italian origins, refreshed with local, seasonal British ingredients. A generous mound of fresh tagliatelle has been whipped with Caerphilly cheese, mint and chives until each silken ribbon is lightly clad in a tangy sauce, which manages to feel luxuriously creamy without being heavy. The pasta is lightened further by piles of mild spring peas and broad beans, and a crowning tangle of greens. This food has classical foundations, but it is delivered with a lightness of touch that avoids the weight of butter and cream that can accompany classic French cooking.

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For dessert, there is a pannacotta cut through by the crunch of caramelised panic breadcrumbs and the bitterness of burnt blood orange. It is served in a wide, shallow bowl to ensure each mouthful is accompanied by a enough topping to balance the rich cream below. The final flourish is a speckled layer of vanilla seeds coating the base of the bowl, which is revealed gradually as each spoonful is scraped away and, sadly, the lunch draws to a close.

The bill is sweetened by an accompanying almond cakes, but it hardly needs sweetening at all. It is just £15 for three courses - three generous courses at that - with bread, amuse bouche and petit fours. It is one of the best, and best value, meals that I have enjoyed in a very long time.

Adelina Yard (5)