Gousto Grub and Gaffs

Just a quickie, to say that we’ve now had four weeks of yummy Gousto food.

A mix of Moroccan, Chinese, American, Italian and other international dishes, which the children have welcomed with mixed reactions.

I would highly recommend it, but for one thing: the packaging. I mentioned in my first blog about Gousto, that there seemed to be a lot of packaging, and that is still a concern. But my real frustration has been poor packaging.

Week one – missing ingredient (not a replaceable pack of herbs, but an integral bag of mince beef!)

Week two and week three – leaking sachets of toasted sesame oil. Have you ever tried to open a myriad of packets when they are all covered in greasy oil? (Although the smell was fab!) Bizarrely, the second week, the leaking sachet actually looked as if it had been cut open!

Week four – leaking sachet of ketchup this time and a missing egg. Yes, not really a massive problem, but when you are paying a premium for your ingredients and the USP is convenience, then actually, it is a bit of a pain!

So all in all a brilliant service except for the poor packaging!

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A Partridge and a Pear Treat

I must confess, I was slightly confused when I was asked if I would be interested in reviewing a game night at a Chipping Norton pub.

It took a full 10 seconds for the penny to drop that it would be an evening involving eating meat from wild animals, rather than Cluedo, Monopoly and Scrabble. Once I realised, I had no hesitation in accepting.

Game, much like offal, is one of those things that separate the true foodie from those that just eat to stay alive. Many turn their noses up at the thought of eating something that was living in the wild, even branding it cruel to make a meal of a creature that was shot (while, ironically, tucking into factory farmed produce). Many worry about biting into pieces of shot. Others just don’t like the gamey taste. But isn’t flavour what makes food so great?

So it’s three cheers then for the Blue Boar in Chipping Norton for starting a regular Game and Wine Night, to celebrate the delicious food that so many shy away from. And all washed down with matching wines.

It’s a booking only affair, with a limited three-course menu, but it is all the better for that. Assistant manager and all-round cheeky chappie Christian Grant creates a welcoming and friendly atmosphere for the diners, making it more like a dinner party than a meal out, especially in the Blue Boar’s spectacular dining area created in the former stables.

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Well, it did differ from a dinner party in at least one way – it started with a demonstration of how to skin, bone and prepare items of game, including grouse, a pheasant and even a decapitated roe deer. Definitely not one for the squeamish, but if it’s your thing, it was a fascinating and entertaining glimpse into butchery.

We returned to our tables to find a little treat waiting for us – wild boar Scotch eggs and wild boar sausage rolls from the pub’s bar menu. As someone who has munched his way through tonnes of these sort of snacks in his time, I can honestly say they were the best I’ve ever tasted. The sausage meat was sensational, the pastry was perfect and the egg yolk was still runny.

The starters kept up the high standard. My local wood pigeon breast with butternut squash and sage risotto was a marriage made in heaven, with the rich bird – almost livery in flavour – complemented by the sweet, autumnal flavour of the squash.

My wife loved her crispy duck leg croquette with poached pear, but the star of the dish for her was the celeriac remoulade – coleslaw-like shreds of the raw root vegetable in a sweet, tangy mayonnaise dressing – she wouldn’t leave the restaurant without extracting the recipe from chef Dale Ventham.

So now we entered the business end of things with the mains. For me, whole roast partridge with bubble and squeak, roasted parsnip and redcurrant jus. The bird was nice and moist, thanks to it being vacuum-packed and cooked in a water bath before being brown off before serving. The bubble and squeak was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, and loaded with potato, carrot and cabbage, while the parsnip was a lovely sweet accompaniment. I would have liked a bit more redcurrant in my gravy, but nevertheless it was a lovely dish.

My wife’s venison, wild mushroom and celeriac pithivier was a hearty pie, served with roasted heritage carrots, shallots and a port jus. The aniseed flavour from roasting the veg with fennel seeds got mixed reviews, and the jus could have done with an extra glug of port, but the pastry was crisp, and the filling was rich and moist.

We might not be counting down the 12 days of Christmas yet, but it seemed fitting to follow partridge with a pear. It was poached in port and served with a crunchy walnut crumble and was beautifully light and not over-sweet. A seam of thick, almost cheesy clotted cream filled the inside of the pear, providing the ideal contrast in flavours. Sublime.

My wife’s cheese board was equally impressive, including Oxford Blue and Alex James’s little Wallop. Rock and roll.

All the courses were matched with a specially chosen wine, plus a glass of fizz to start and port to finish. Which makes the price of £35 per person exceptionally good value.

So, I would judge this first event a success. Bring on the next one: game on.

A Spoonful of yummy at Knife & Fork

Knife & Fork pop-up restaurant, Deddington, north Oxfordshire

IT WAS an evening of surprises. Subconsciously, as we rolled up the drive of the huge country pile on a chilly Friday night, I suppose I had some preconceptions about the idea of paying £45 a head for a meal in someone’s home.

Maybe I feared it would be a bit twee – home cooking with ideas above its station. Perhaps I didn’t want to spend an evening making small talk with strangers. I don’t know – I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Those fears were quickly banished as we were greeted at the door like old friends and had glasses of fizz shoved into our hands. The diners – up to 16 on any one evening – can mingle over drinks and canapés while infectiously bubbly chef Tanya Young and her helpers put the finishing touches to your feast.

Tanya is coeliac herself, which is why the menu is gluten-free. Not that you’d notice, or feel you are missing out on anything.

“Most of my diners are not gluten-free and are amazed to hear they’ve just had a gluten-free meal,” says Tanya, an accountant-turned-chef who has returned to her childhood home of Deddington – via France, Singapore, Devon and Bicester – to set up a restaurant in her house, opening a few weekends a month. Overnight stays are also available. Word is spreading, and slots get booked up quickly.

“Having lived in France I had always dreamed of running a home restaurant,” adds Tanya. “Not knowing the menu was always part of the fun of visiting these little restaurants, so I wanted to recreate this dining experience – a sociable environment where guests could enjoy top-quality food in a relaxed atmosphere. I decided to just do it and Knife & Fork was born.”

One bonus, as far as I’m concerned, is that diners bring their own drinks. Water is provided (including a lemongrass-infused concoction on our visit), but the alcohol (except the welcoming glass of fizz) is up to you, depending on how cheap or flash you want to be.

And the menu is fixed – and very seasonal – so fussy eaters should beware. You get what you’re given. But on the evidence of my visit, what you’re given is very, very good indeed. And with five courses, plus some bonus extras, chances are there’ll be something you like.

We started with sirloin steak canapés, thick, tender mouthfuls of succulent, rare beef with a light horseradish cream. A perfect appetiser.

Then we were ushered into the dining room for the starter proper – a little mug of delicate pumpkin soup served with mixed nuts.

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The soup was a real winter warmer, sweet but not overpowering, and the lightly spiced nuts were a perfect accompaniment to the squash.

Next up was the fish course – beetroot marinated gravadlax with remoulade. Again, a perfectly executed dish, with the clean taste of the salmon enhanced by the sweetness of the beetroot.

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The remoulade was rich and earthy, with a beautifully balanced mayonnaise. And it was as pretty as a picture.

Altogether more substantial was the main course. Three-bird roasts can be a bit hit-or-miss, but this one was excellent, if a tad dry.

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Chicken, Guinea fowl and duck, combined with a sausage stuffing, studded with pistachios and wrapped in bacon and served in generous slices.

Good as the meat was, the vegetables were arguably the stars. The onion purée was a sweet, savoury treat which I could have licked straight off the plate if I wasn’t in polite company. The cavolo nero gave the dish an irony hit, and the carrots were lovely.

We helped ourselves from a huge bowl of extremely moreish roasted new potatoes with their skins on, perfect comfort food alongside the gravy (that’s right; gravy, not jus).

Another unexpected treat was the intensely-flavoured apple sorbet to cleanse our palates before the cheese course. This came in the form of a blue cheesecake with caramelised walnuts and a glass of Madeira.

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A really innovative take on cheese and biscuits, it came with a grape and celery salad in a tangy dressing that cut through the richness of the cheese.

Dessert was a new take on an old favourite – Black Forest baked Alaska with cherry sauce and toasted almonds. The combination of chocolate cake, cherries and cream is a classic in my eyes, and the addition of ice cream under a light meringue was a fun twist.

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The almonds also lifted the dish, adding another dimension of texture and flavour – one of the hallmarks of Tanya’s cooking all night.

Make sure you book the babysitter until midnight (or splash out on bed and breakfast) because we were there almost until the small hours enjoying coffee and the most exquisite petit fours of chestnut and fig truffles. They looked dense and heavy but were light, melted in the mouth and tasted amazing.

We left feeling like we had joined a special club, or been let in on a little secret. A secret I now must share with you all.

For more information about Knife & Fork and to book, visit  www.knifeandforkeatery.co.uk.

When life gives you lemons…freeze them!

Ever had the odd occasion when you want a cheeky gin but ice and a slice means cutting up a lemon which will then go to waste?

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One option is to have G&Ts until the whole lemon is vanquished. Alternatively, you could try this clever tip…

Chop your lemon, pop the slices in a container and put it into your freezer – next to the bottle of Hendricks, which obviously tastes better under zero degrees! Next time you want a gin and slim, take a slice from the freezer for instant ice and a slice. And if you sip slowly enough (not possible after witching hour on a Friday) the lemon in your glass will defrost as you drink! Cheers!

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Turning Japanese (I really think so!)

IN THE words of Anchorman Ron Burgundy himself: “Well, that escalated quickly.”

Invited to review the Yo! Festival menu at Yo! Sushi’s George Street branch, my wife and I might have gone slightly overboard on the conveyor belt of gluttony.

For the uninitiated, diners help themselves to dishes as they circulate the restaurant, with plate colours indicating the prices, ranging from £2 to £8.50.

We had just planned a light lunchtime bite. By the time we squeezed out of our funky booth, we had demolished no fewer than 17 dishes between us. And therein lies the beauty – and the danger – of Yo! Sushi. It’s incredibly convenient, genuinely fast food, and all-too tempting to have just one more dish.

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Those people put off by the thought of raw fish should note that there is more to it than sushi. And if what you want is not on the conveyor belt, then just ring a bell and order one. Beware, though, the siren that you launch is not for the faint-hearted: It’s the booming vocals of an angry Japanese woman.

From the blue menu, highlights included the chicken katsu curry – breadcrumbed fried chicken with boiled rice and oriental curry sauce. A real crowd-pleaser.

The duck gyoza were also a treat – rich meat in a crispy dumpling with a hoi sin dip. Yasai yakisoba was a very tasty noodle dish, and the spicy pepper squid was really crispy.

We watched some Japanese diners to find out the correct way to eat the edamame beans (tip: DON’T eat the whole pod – they are not mange tout) and they were pretty moreish.

The popcorn shrimp (£5), deep fried, battered and in a sweet miso sauce, disappeared in seconds, as did the Japanese sea bass (£6).

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The sushi rolls were also great, coming as they do with a huge variety of fillings, although salmon and tuna feature heavily.

Star dish, though, was the hot and sticky sweet beef teriyaki. So good we had to grab a second from the belt.

Our meal was topped off with a rather yummy selection of Japanese soft drinks, including yuzu and pear juice, and Ramune Soda (billed as Japan’s oldest soft drink).

We left feeling bloated but stumbled back to the car sated! We didn’t take the sprogs this time, but I know they’d love most of the food – almost as much as the concept of tiny dishes travelling round the conveyor. Maybe next time…

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Yo Sushi, George Street, Oxford. For more information, go to yosushi.com.

Thaikhun

WE’VE all heard the old joke: “Waiter, waiter, there’s a bug in my food.”

“Please keep it down sir, otherwise all the diners will want one.”

Well, the people at Thaikhun – the ultra-funky Oxford Thai street food restaurant – seem to have taken this message to heart when they unveiled their new children’s menu.

As an eye-catching gimmick, all kids’ meals come with tubs of crispy creepy crawlies. It certainly caused a stir with our four young diners, aged between eight and 12.

We were invited to the George Street venue to give our verdict on the new menu for youngsters, heralded as “unique and refreshing in its approach the ‘mix and match’ concept”.

Children get a pot of crunchy vegetables to start and an ice lolly to finish, and can then custom-build their main course.

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They get to choose noodles or Jasmine rice, then grilled chicken, pork or mixed vegetables, plus a sauce – nut-free chicken satay, slightly spicy green curry or sweet BBQ. There’s also phad thai or breaded chicken and rice with a sweet chilli sauce. They all come with juice, water or milk and cost £5.95.

The restaurant was bustling when we arrived, and were ushered to a table where one set of seats was built out of an old boat – a big hit with the children, but not so good for the aching backs of the ageing parents.

It has to be said, the children’s meals didn’t go down particularly well. The first mistake was the plates they were served on – reminiscent of American-style school trays, with compartments for each item. It accentuated the difference between the adult and children’s food, and looked a bit canteen-ish.

The grilled chicken was a bit dry, the sauces were reasonable, but it was all a bit underwhelming on the culinary front.

My friends’ 12-year-old Niamh said: “What I really liked about Thaikhun was the ambiance – it was clear that a lot of thought had gone into the lay out of the whole restaurant, from the working traffic lights to the idea of turning a boat and a bathtub into seats.

“The decorations and the music too really gave of the feel of a street in Bangkok. The service at Thaikhun was also very good; the staff were all very smiley and friendly.

“One of my few criticisms would be the children’s menu. I was disappointed with the lack variety and the presentation of the food on it, particularly the dessert. After seeing the variety on the adults’ menu I was expecting a little more than just a mini milk ice lolly.”

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However, as if to prove that siblings hardly ever agree, her 10-year-old brother Johnny said: “The kid’s menu at Thaikhun was lovely although I wasn’t so pleased with the dessert. I’d expected more then a mini milk although this might be based on younger children.

“The creepy crawlies though were a clever and delectable addition to the meal.”

Yes, the bugs were a hit with three-quarters of the youngsters around the table, and even the adults were forced to give them a try.

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Not that the grown-ups had any need to resort to eating insects. Our food was sensational, beautifully presented, and really delicious.

I couldn’t find fault with my barbecued pork on rice (£11), with unctuous pieces of belly pork and a sticky, lip-smacking sauce. My wife’s spicy seafood noodles (£11.50) were equally eye-catching, full of huge mussels, prawns and squid. One of these meals – I’m not sure which, but I polished it off anyway, just in case it was mine – came with a superb, clear savoury broth that proved a perfect palate cleanser.

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Our friends went for the curries – well, when in Thailand… – and made short work of their aromatic chicken massaman (£11.50), with chunks of potato, cashew nuts, and a hunt of cinnamon, and the almost obligatory prawn Thai green curry (£13.50). It was the sort of meal where everyone is eyeing up each others’ food to see who made the best choice – and no-one could decide.

I’ve never been to Thailand, so I can’t vouch for its authenticity, but I have eaten poor Thai food and this was most definitely not poor. Very, very, good, fresh-tasting and consistent quality.

Desserts were almost as good. I devoured the banana fritters with vanilla ice cream (£5.50) and a lovely, sticky syrup – or at least I would have done if my children hadn’t kept stealing spoonfuls of it from me. And the Thai waffles with green tea ice ice cream (£5.50) also disappeared in an instant.

So, much like Brexit, the generations were divided. But hopefully we can come together if they decide they can manage another taste of Thailand in the future. I’ll let them choose though – I promise not to bug them.

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Despite its faults, Thaikhun scores 8/10

For more info, go to thaikhun.co.uk

 

The Pint Shop

img_2880Walking into The Pint Shop in Oxford’s restaurant-packed George Street is a little like walking into a 1960s pub – although it’s actually inspired by the beer houses of the 1830s. The venue looks sparse, with the type of benches and bar stools I can only remember from the dingy dives frequented in my university days. But don’t be fooled. This new bar-cum-restaurant is so on-trend, providing a wealth of ales, lagers and stouts for the would-be craft beer connoisseur, as well as a menu of 102 gins. While Marc supped on pints (including a deeply chocolatey stout called Holy Cow Bell), I tried my hardest, dear reader, to sample as many of the gins as I could. I simply ran out of time.

Below the bar is a simple and spacious restaurant which immediately makes you feel relaxed. The staff are friendly and know exactly what they’re talking about (whether your question is booze or food related). The food is cooked on coals – giving the meat a rich charcoal edge.

Browsing from the menu got my taste buds exercising, and choosing was a trial that no-one should have to endure on a date night! Just so many of the dishes looked enticing to someone normally used to a sloppy TV dinner in front of The Apprentice.

Marc had the unusual shrimp pasty with pickled red onion to start, while I had the southern fried chicken with saffron aioli. Both were delicious, although we agreed that while the pasty pastry was delicious, it did slightly overpower the prawns inside.

For main, I plumped for venison haunch, with squash hash and crispy sage, while his nibs had an all-time favourite: pork belly (cooked deliciously overnight) with braised hispy cabbage in an apple and mustard sauce.

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Both plates were soon depleted, along with the side orders of honey roasted carrot, celeriac and parsnips, red cabbage slaw with cider mayonnaise, and triple-cooked spuds – which were divine, despite the fact that I had failed to notice that they came in a truffle cheese sauce (yes, I am a Philistine who does not enjoy truffles!) Be warned, would-be-Pint-Shopper, the sides are big enough for two or more people, so you really don’t need too many.

At this point Marc and I were both sated, and had little room for anything else, so we sacrificed the coffees and begrudgingly had puddings instead *winks humourously*. Not wanting to mix my drinks, I decided on the gin float.img_2887

This was the most beautifully delicious damson sorbet bobbing in Broker’s gin and framed by a yummy ginger snap.

Marc was slightly disappointed at the size of his tiny espresso and chocolate pot, until he realised it was such a dark, rich delight that it was more than enough to savour with the accompanying shortbread.

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All in all, an evening well spent. Great food and drink, and welcoming staff wrapped in a friendly and relaxing hostelry.

Date night score: 10/10img_2889

For more information, go to pintshop.co.uk/

 

Amuse Bouche

Welcome to the Evans troops. Marc is the real foodie and has been an avid lover of cuisine since time immemorial. Whether its Chinese or a Sunday roast, Marc is the man to have around the kitchen.

Vikki eats the food Marc produces and, as chief parent, tends to be in charge of the nightly battle to nutritiously sustain the children! We’ve all been there: prepare a delicious meal and spend hours persuading the little ones that you’re not trying to poison them; cook an oven ready meal, which they wolf down with ease, and feel the guilt for the rest of the evening (over a well-deserved glass of plonk).

Can’t win can we? Well, we hope to help.

Grace, aged 10, and Barney, eight, will be guiding us through the pitfalls of this blog. The girl is a tea-time treasure, while the boy prefers to eat breakfast like a king and starve himself for the remaining 23 and a half hours! But both of them love eating out, so we’ll be reviewing all the places we eat.

Enjoy!