Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Fig, Alea Casino, Leeds

Having attended the “Alea Casino - Cocktails and Canapes” session at the Foodies Festival a few months ago, we agreed with Sarah T and N that there was a visit to one of their restaurants in the offing! So we finally got round to it last Friday night.

Having not had my usual trip to Vegas this summer, I felt it was important to play a bit of Blackjack before dinner, and this is what we did. It was fun and I broke even!

Fig was very quiet, there was only one other table filled. It was explained to us that this is a quiet time in casino season – everyone is on holiday! Despite the emptiness of the restaurant, however, we didn’t feel awkward or uncomfortable. Maybe it was the fact I had already had a few pinots, or the good company, but a “right good laugh” was had by all!

The service was impeccable. A very pleasant and obliging waitress sorted our orders and brought our food. I didn’t get her name but she is an asset to Alea!

For starter, I ordered Parma ham “two ways” salad. This involved parma ham as you would expect, plus parma ham possibly grilled or oven baked – a nice idea.

Sarah T had the gazpacho – chilled tomato soup. She gave me a taste and it was lovely. It came with what seemed like a toasted cheese and tomato sandwich, which she wasn’t expecting. The rest of us helped her with eating this, however, so no problem!

For main, I ordered Moules Mariniere, which came with bread. Very good mussels in a nice cream sauce. The meal was presented on a wood platter, with an empty bowl for shells, and a water bowl for hand cleaning. It’s nice to have everything you need in one place!

N ordered prawns which he enjoyed. Not just a body eater, N, but a head and tail eater too! I imagine the chefs were rather surprised with the leftovers to his meal, as there was just a bit of shell left – waste not, want not!

The puddings looked great but we were itching to win back the price of our dinner (ok, sure!). So it was back to the Blackjack table. I actually ended about £60 up, but shared my winnings with A, as he has bailed me out of some bad losses in Vegas before.

Alea casino – not quite Vegas, but a cheaper substitute. Fig – lovely Mediterranean food with great service. A good night out, all round!

Monday, 16 August 2010

Petrus, London

Our second dining outing in London was Gordon Ramsay’s Petrus, situated in Belgravia and a bit of a nightmare to find! After a morning of wandering around the London Science Museum, trying to avoid screaming children and do some “learning”, we were looking forward to a peaceful, serene lunch in pleasant surroundings.

When we arrived at Petrus we were quickly seated and menus provided. The restaurant was quiet and we all admitted that we felt a little uncomfortable – it is very upmarket, and I felt that my choice of wearing a checked shirt made me look like I had come to mend the boiler rather than attend a Michelin star restaurant! My thinking was – who dresses up for lunch? Well some people do, apparently, especially in Belgravia. Also, the staff were very attentive, which in some ways is great (impeccable service) but in other ways makes me feel slightly uncomfortable (I’m just not posh enough for this!)

Anyway, Psycho Psu, Miss Babs and I all felt that as the lunch progressed, we started to relax a bit. It’s not like we eat with our hands and wipe our mouths on our sleeves. We may have broad Yorkshire accents but we can appreciate an amuse-bouche with the best of them.

The wine list is incredibly long and about 99% of it was out of our price range. So we ordered a Sauvignon Blanc at around £26. The reason I had chosen Petrus, however, was because of the £25 set lunch menu (three courses) -an opportunity to sample Gordon Ramsay food without breaking the bank.

The amuse-bouche was a pea puree with a tiny crouton and goat cheese balanced on top. This was an amazing colour and flavour, and may well have been my favourite part of the meal. For first course, I ordered lobster and salmon cannelloni, which was just one small tube of pasta, crammed full of the seafood. Fantastic! I don’t have a picture of these two courses, sadly, because at this point I still felt a bit weird about getting my camera out.

Second course was chicken with confit leg, creamed leeks and caper juice. (I finally plucked up courage to get my camera out at this point). Sides of pomme puree and baby carrots were served with this dish.

For starter and main there are only three choices for each course on the set menu, but we all easily found something we liked. For pudding, however, there are a lot more options and I found it really hard to make a decision. Before pudding is served another “freebie” was brought to the table – a tiny ice cream cone filled with lemon mousse – fabulous.

I decided on Hazelnut parfait with a chocolate centre and praline crust – it was incredible!

Psycho Psu had a crème brulee, which she said was good. Miss Babs ordered a raspberry dessert which looked fantastic and she reported it tasted as good as it looked.

Finally, as the bill arrived, so did a silver bowl with dry ice billowing out of it. When the fog cleared, there were three tiny lollies, white chocolate coated and vanilla ice cream centre. A lovely surprise for the end of the meal.

Along with all this food we had two bottles of water and a bottle of wine. With the free gift tasting portions, this is actually a six course meal but it is in no way overwhelming and although we were satisfied, we were not stuffed! The final lovely surprise was the bill – it only came to £45 each. Considering all we had eaten, the fact this is a Gordon Ramsay restaurant and it has a Michelin star, this is amazing value. Once we got past our initial “blimey, this is posh” feeling, we had a very memorable meal. I would definitely go again. And probably wear a smarter shirt!

Le Caprice, London

A few days in London means an opportunity to try a few top restaurants. The first was Le Caprice on a Tuesday evening. This is a sister restaurant to the Ivy, and despite it being Tuesday, it was packed when we got there for our reservation at 9pm.

The maitre d’ informed us politely that our table hadn’t been vacated yet (my understanding was that Le Caprice has a strict 2 hour policy on vacating tables for the next sitting) but never mind, we were offered the wine list and proceeded to order the cheapest one we could find! (This was a pinot gris at about £26, but for some reason they brought us the pinot grigio at £31). I didn't realise until the bill came so just paid for it!

Le Caprice serves food at the bar as well as at tables, which means that if you are waiting, there is really nowhere to go. We started at the reception desk and ended up practically in the cloakroom, and weren’t seated till after half nine. The staff were incredibly friendly, polite and apologetic, however, so that compensated a little.

I ordered Garden pea soup to start – served hot or cold – I chose hot! Very green, very flavourful and great with the Sourdough bread that was brought to the table.

My main course was the famous Le Caprice salmon fishcake – a huge cake, more salmon than potato, covered in a hollandaise sauce and on a bed of spinach. We ordered a range of sides – fries, salad and green beans.

Dining companions Psycho Psu and Miss Babs had calves liver and squid respectively.

The portions were pretty big for a fancy restaurant. All the food was excellent. We couldn’t manage pudding, although this was partly due to the late hour we ended up eating.

We didn’t see any famous faces, either. The place was packed, however, and very loud! It’s not cheap, but it's what you would expect to pay for a well known restaurant in London. There is a service charge added to the bill and a cover charge of £2 each (I have not seen this outside the US before) so it can really bump the bill up.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

The Punch Bowl, York

We decided to go to York for a bit on Sunday, as we had a free day. I was hungry when I got in the car to set off, so was eager to eat fairly quickly. We came across the Punch Bowl on Stonegate, which was a lovely traditional pub. A sign outside advertised their pie selection. I can’t resist a pie so in we went.

I ordered steak and ale pie – the biggest I think I have ever seen. It came with mash, broccoli and carrots and a side jug of extra gravy. Hacking through the lovely thick pastry, the chunks of beef and onion were cooked just right in a dark beer gravy – melt in the mouth!

They have a “pie board” with a list of options on the wall – about six different types – the Ham Hock and Pea suet pie looked good too!

A had the small fish and chips portion. Two big portions of fish were presented, with chips and mushy peas. Pretty good.

It was extremely busy in York with lots of tourists and shoppers. There seem to be lots of flower boxes and displays around the city centre, making it very pretty. We also popped in the Golden Fleece, supposedly one of Britain’s most haunted pubs. They have filmed an episode of Most Haunted here and apparently they lay on ghost nights, which sound like a right good laugh!

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Deeva, Farsley

A. has a strategy with big menus. He can’t be bothered to read through them so only reads three things and picks from them. Some Indian restaurants have extraordinarily long menus. So it is refreshing to turn up at Deeva, a fairly new Indian in Farsley, and find a nice simple menu – a choice of 12 starters, 7 starter specials and 10 curries with a choice of meat or veggie.

Drinks were taken at the bar, a lovely pinot grigio was on the wine list and the barman actually offered me a taste before he poured it, which I thought was a nice touch.

The popadoms were brought to the table with the usual dips. Lovely to pick at whilst perusing the menu.

I decided to forgo a starter, as I am in the habit of leaving lots of curry uneaten. The dinner guests (A, Robster and Gembear) had Shami kebab, lamb chops and chicken tikka respectively. All reported to be excellent.

Chicken tikka.....

I ordered Lamb Korma, pilau rice and keema nan. I like a creamy curry so Korma is often my first choice. All the food was excellent and I can report that this may be the first time I have ever cleared my plate in an Indian restaurant. The keema nan had lovely chunks of mince in it, rather than the lamb paste you get in some restaurants. The lamb in the korma was tender and the sauce full of flavour. All the other dinner companions were delighted with their dishes too.

Deeva has an open style kitchen, so you can see the chefs hard at work. The service is friendly and efficient, our second round of drinks was quickly delivered and the bill was presented with no held-hostage moment. An all-round excellent experience. Go!

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Delfino Blu Boutique Hotel, Corfu

We went on our first beach holiday in years, last week. Normally I can be found propped up at a blackjack table or slot machine in Vegas for a week in the summer, but this year we decided to do something different. I booked Delfino Blu owing to some fabulous reviews on trip advisor. Also, I have never been to Greece, and it was on my list. Flying out of Doncaster, Thomson airlines was a pleasant surprise, with a movie to watch on the three hour flight. I am used to sticking with the budget airlines for European flights so this was a bonus!

Delfino Blu is a boutique hotel in San Stefanos on the north west coast of Corfu. It is a small place, with only 14 rooms, and this means that you get lovely friendly service. We ate in the restaurant at the hotel twice for dinner, with seats on the terrace and an amazing view of the sun setting over nearby islands.

For our first dinner, I chose garlic mushrooms to start,

We both had moussaka for main course, which was excellent.

Service was attentive and friendly. They bring out some lovely bread and dips to start with, and the aubergine dip was fabulous – must try to make it at home!

Second dinner was disappointing. I ordered meatballs in a yogurt sauce followed by a spaghetti with olive oil, pine nuts and garlic. I like a simple spaghetti dish, without too much sauce, but sadly this was completely tasteless. I had to add salt to it, which I would never usually do. A ordered the mixed grill – chicken, sausage, beef burger, lamb chops, steak – all served on a pita bread. Except it wasn’t. And when we asked the waiter, he said it didn’t come with pita - a clear contradiction of what was clearly written on the menu. Unfortunately, the meat was all cooked to within an inch of its life, so not a great dinner.

The restaurant sells itself as fine dining, with a lovely setting and view. The latter part is true. Sadly, the food does not live up to expectation. There are a range of other restaurants in the resort where we had much nicer and cheaper dinners. In fact one of the best was a place called Ozzie Oils, run by an Australian called Kerry, serving Australian food (yes, I know we were in Corfu, but we did eat plenty of Greek food as well). The Australian meat pie with mash, however, was probably one of the best meals we had!

Despite our reservations about the food, the hotel setting is beautiful. An amazing view of the sea from the balcony, coupled with a lovely room and friendly staff. A short walk down the steps of the hotel leads you to a sandy beach where the hotel reserves sunbeds for its guests. Delfino Blu offers accommodation only and I would definitely take this option over B&B or half board.