Tuesday 25 February 2014

West Cornwall Top Picks, by Josh Barrie

Location: West Cornwall, UK
Josh and his girlfriend in Mousehole

After my recent post on a trip to Cornwall, I got chatting to Josh Barrie, a West Cornwall based food writer who spent his teenage years in Oxford. Just before he recently upped sticks and moved to London, Josh very kindly wrote a guest blog for me with his guide to the best food spots in West Cornwall - a big thanks to Josh for these fab recommendations.
Foodie x 

My time in Cornwall was fleeting. Ten months at The Cornishman passed quickly – just long enough to enjoy the fruits of summer and meander through winter under wind and rain.

Noting the weather may be tedious a beginning, but when seasons are so integral to food and food’s such a defining feature of the county, it’s hard not to. After all, it’s throughout the warmer months some of the finest fish in the world is at its best; it’s throughout those dark, damp weeks of November when soups and roast dinners are all the more satisfying.

Having journeyed to the distant west since a child it was odd to actually live there. Waking up every morning to the smell of the sea is wholly different to two weeks in August. And in staying there a while longer I was able to immerse myself in the food culture. It means so much more; it’s an industry relied upon and most importantly must never be heralded as fish and chips or pasties alone (however gorgeous they may be).

Great produce at a local grocer's

It’s in the small, independent farms such as Trevaskis near Hayle, or St Just Community Farm that produce some of the earthiest, most natural vegetables around. And the beef, such as that of Bollowal’s Red Ruby Devon’s – I remember talking to farmer Jeff Thomas at The Royal Cornwall Show and his love and care for his animals transposed to the steaks that resulted.

There’s the cheese too of course, and the luscious treats – ‘hevva’ cake, which sounds something so unglamorous with all its lard and simplistic nature (no polenta or agave syrup to be found) was as pleasing with a cup of tea as any at a hip Jericho café.

But let’s get down to some of the pubs and restaurants. It was there I enjoyed most what I believe to be west Cornwall’s greatest asset: fish.

First in line is The Rum & Crab Shack in St Ives, my last review for The Cornishman. For fear of repeating myself I’ll keep my gushing brief – but really, it’s a wonderful experience. A vast array of rums – more than Raoul’s, would you believe – is married with the coast’s tender and succulent crustacean. The food is Cornish with a Caribbean twist, such as a warming jambalaya or fragrant crab and rum soup, harnessing what’s good and sprinkling it with the exotic.

Rum Selection at Rum & Crab Shack

Marazion’s Ben’s Cornish Kitchen is a largely different affair. It’s somewhat more refined, yet retains the land’s casual charm. The menu is as seasonal as a tree, with touches of sheering wonderment nestled alongside rustic notes. You might have curried tempura John Dory fillets, with orange, fennel and baby caper salad and sweet chilli jam. Perhaps you might follow that with pan fried turbot and crispy ox cheek, alongside other delightful concoctions.

Another great spot is The Tolcarne Inn, Newlyn. Perched next to the sea the chef, Ben Tunnicliffe, is as loving of his fish as the fisherman are of their lighthouses. Sitting in the pub feels as if in a cabin, where rural comfort, such as ray and potato terrine or monkfish tail with grilled polenta, is cooked with expert hand.

These are just three of west Cornwall’s finest offerings. The list is endless. It may not have Rick Stein’s cemented stature, Nathan Outlaw’s two Michelin stars or Jamie Oliver’s name – all very much a part of the landscape east of Truro – but the trip to the edge of the country’s well worth it.

Sunday 23 February 2014

Slim Pickings at Foodie Hall

Location: Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, UK
Published in Feb/Mar edition of Vale Life Magazine

Feb / Mar edition of Vale Life

With almost four years of marriage, five Christmases, two children and thirty (something) years under our belts, MrF and I have reached that point where we need more than occasional exercise and salads, in order to stay in ok’ish shape.

I’d been warned about this moment, while I was young and carefree, stuffing my face with cream cakes and chocolate. I knew it would happen, but, you know, one day. No need to think about it till it happens right?

But, here we are, it’s THAT time.

MrF and I are probably at our most health-conscious, partly for actual health, partly for vanity, but mostly - like 80% - for the utter fact that if we don't do something about it now, we never will.

For a household obsessed with food, eating healthily does not come easily – especially when our go-to vices are bread and biscuits. We've had to drag our no-longer-twenty-something asses, kicking and screaming, towards a diet filled with lean fish and meats, lentils, bulgar wheat and beansprouts.

I know, I know. Sounds horrific doesn't it! Don't worry though, I've not gone all Gwyneth Paltrow on you, I'm still a believer in a little bit of what you fancy, just a little less of what I fancy than before.

So in a bit to avoid middle aged spread, MrF started triathlon training and I, well I did what I do best, hit the recipe books.

Having trawled my vast collection, along with a couple of my favourite recipe websites, I gradually built up a new repertoire of less hip inflating meals.


While we certainly aren't consigning these to the bin, our previously hearty repertoire of roast dinners, spag bol, chilli, sausage and mash and risotto, has mostly been replaced by a selection of surprisingly filling and tasty healthier options.

Our new family meals consist these days of Thai beef salad, Sicilian fish stew, chicken stew with bulgar wheat, or Thai crab cakes with stir fry veg. And basically, a lot less potatoes and a lot more greens.

I'm starting to sound all preachy and ‘I've found the light’ now though, so I’ll come down of my soapbox and admit to throwing it all out the window at Christmas, partaking in not one, not two, but three family Christmases. As I write this I'm still swimming in trifle, cold cuts and chocolate assortments – but come on… who diets at Christmas?

While the turkey and mince pies are beginning to fade though, I can hand on heart say there is nothing more appealing to me than a cup of mint tea and a low fat salad.

Whad’ya know, maybe I can be healthy after all. Don’t go ruling out the occasional cake though. All for research purposes... obviously.

Thursday 20 February 2014

PREVIEW - Jacobs Chop House, Oxford

Location: 3 Manor Buildings, Osler Road, Oxford, Oxfordshire OX3 7RA, UK
HOT OFF THE PRESS: Opening tomorrow!!

Preview days: Friday 21st Feb PM, Saturday 22nd February PM, plus Sunday 23rd February for lunch. Jacobs Chop House will then be open fully from the following Thursday (though please do confirm by email to avoid disappointment). 50% off food during the soft opening dates, bookings only through info@jacobschophouse.com

Ready for unwrapping...!

First came the cafe, with it's belly-pleasing breakfasts and upmarket deli style; then came the pub, adding a controversial foodie twist to a previously traditional Wolvercote pub. So what next for the Jacobs duo... world domination? Not quite yet, but they are planning to serve up a mean plate of meat at their latest venture, Jacobs Chop House, soon to open just down the road from their Headington cafe.

Taking over the building that once housed Cafe Noir, Damion and Johnny have retained the flavour of their trademark style, with white subway tiles, reclaimed wood and industrial lighting, mixed in this time with tan leather banquette seating and exposed brick walls.

But what about the food? Well, we know they can cook a mean breakfast, but this time they're focussing on interesting and unusual cuts of meat and fish (hence 'Chop House') - all cooked in a tiny kitchen downstairs, right next to some of their diners. Inspiration for their food and style comes from the likes of St Johns with their nose to tail philosophy and Electric Diner with their French-American menu.

Lunch menu will be slightly cheaper than dinner, but don't expect hefty prices either sitting. Coffee and alcohol will also be served on site, and speedy WiFi was literally being installed as I was visiting - so a great little venue for a spot of work or blogging.

Check the Dinner & Sunday Lunch menus out for yourself below... (menus are done in house so dishes will change weekly), lunch menu to follow.

Jacobs Chop House
3 Manor Buildings
Osler Road
Facebook: @jacobschophouse
Twitter: @Jacobschophouse
Website: N/A
Phone: 01865 558160

Monday 17 February 2014

Restaurant Review - The Rickety Press

Location: 67 Cranham Street, Oxford, Oxfordshire OX2 6DE, UK

Last year I published a list of all the places I wanted to try and review the year ahead. The Rickety Press was in that list. For one reason or another, it's taken me almost a whole year to get there. Yes they were shut for a little while as they extended the restaurant. Yes I'd heard a couple of disappointing recounts of the food. And yes I'm often put off by the painful parking in Jericho. But ultimately, I'd say it was a fear that it wouldn't live up to my expectations - and those are the reviews I hate to write.

Oh well, here goes.

Based on a side road off Walton Street in Jericho, chalk-blue gastro pub The Rickety Press is half sister to The Rusty Bicycle in East Oxford. Rickety has the same mismatched wooden tables you'll find in any pub of this ilk, with the same love of great typography as seen at it's sibling. The décor and styling is warm and inviting, seemingly designed to make you feel at home in some kind of family room or snug, with old leather-bound books adorning the bar and bookcases.

Bread and olives with balsamic and olive oil dip

I was a little early, and had to inform the waiting staff we had gained an unexpected guest, so required a larger table - which they handled incredibly well, showing us to a table at the rear of the newly extended dining room.

Having decided in advance I was having the roast beef, I was thrown by the lure of Foie Gras and Chicken Liver Parfait (£8.50). Could I manage a starter and a roast dinner? Stupid question, bring on the parfait! And maybe some bread and olives too (£3.50), just to keep MiniF occupied.

Rickety Press Sunday Lunch Menu

When the bread arrived, there was no way MiniF was going to get much of a look in. Pillowy soft centre with a firm crusty exterior, the bread was delicious on it's own, though the addition of balsamic with olive oil for dipping never disappoints. I had to reign myself it so as to not fill up prior to the meal.

MrF had selected the Salt Beef Salad (£6.50), which would have been my second choice. Served shredded and tousled with salad leaves, Lancashire cheese, quails eggs and green beans, it looked appealing, though it didn't sit well with MrF. I'd love to tell you how it tasted, but he'd polished it off before I'd even looked up from my foie gras - hopefully MrF's description of 'meh' will suffice(?!).

Salt Beef Salad

Our +1 had chosen Potted Smoked Cornish Mackerel (£7), which is delivered in a neat little kilner jar (maybe they could buy in bulk with The Punter), alongside pickles and toast. With horseradish and capers mixed in, there was a delightful sharpness cutting through the rich, smooth pate.

Potted Smoked Cornish Mackerel

The parfait? Well, I'm always a fan. Buttery, rich, creamy, almost fruity. I know it's often served with toasted brioche, which it was here, but I find that far too rich and crumbly, so dived into the remaining bread from the start of the meal - which was perfect. I didn't manage to finish the plate, but a certain husband of mine was on hand to lend a hand.

Foie Gras and Chicken Liver Parfait

God knows why, but MrF had ordered the Roast Chicken for main (£15). I do love a bit of roast chicken, but we eat it often enough at home to never bother ordering it in a restaurant - I don't really see chicken as a restaurant meal anyway, there are far more interesting meats to eat. Anyway, the chicken. It turned out to be a nightmare. I'll elaborate... While our +1 and I were happily tucking into our beef, MrF had to send his chicken back not once, but twice, because it was unacceptably pink at the bone. By this point, at least 25 minutes had passed and everyone else had almost finished their meals, so MrF passed on his main and I passed him mine to finish.

Roast Chicken

The handling of 'chicken-gate' was initially a little blasé, with the waiter taking the dish away and not returning to offer any word of a returning dish until it arrived 20 minutes later, though after the second complaint the waitress on hand was more attentive and apologetic, explaining that the meat had reached the perfect temperature. Unfortunately on this occasion, and for the diners on our neighbouring table, their meat thermometer must have been faulty that day as three chickens on two tables were returned within the space of an hour - seems they weren't learning any lessons fast.

With chicken in particular, MrF is a big fan of cooking it until just enough, I'm usually the one wanting it cooked a tiny bit longer, but this was pushing the limit even for him.

Slow Roast Sirloin of Beef

It was a tale of two halves with the meat though, as my Slow Roast Sirloin of Beef (£16.50) was spot on - perfectly pink and tantalisingly tasty, with a jug of extra gravy (winning!), a nice big yorkie, parsnips, decent roasties and silky celeriac puree. Delicious.

On requesting the bill, the waitress advised the two roast beefs had been taken off the total, as a gesture of goodwill. I'd expected them to offer a complimentary pudding or such, so was impressed that they'd ultimately exceeded expectations, though MrF's rumbling tummy may not have agreed.

In the end, it was the chicken and initially casual complaint handling that let them down. 

Overall score: 6.5 due to the issues, though I'd score the Roast Beef alone 8

The Rickety Press
67 Cranham Street
Twitter: @RicketyPress
Facebook: @TheRicketyPress
Website: www.thericketypress.com
Phone: 01865 424 581

Thursday 13 February 2014

Pinterest Picks - My Foodie Valentine

Location: Oxford, UK
With Valentine's Day fast approaching, here are some last minute helpful (and rather amusing) foodie picks from the weird and wonderful world of Pinterest...

Happy Valentine's Day for tomorrow!

Foodie x

DISCLAIMER - please note this is an interest feature and I am not in any way trying to claim these works as my own. Please follow the link to my pins to follow them on to their original source.

Wednesday 5 February 2014

FOT Top Picks - Oxford Date Venues

Location: Oxford, UK

Whether it's 'first date city' or date night away from the kids, with Valentine's quickly approaching, millions around the world will be wondering where the hell to take their beloved that's the right balance between flashy and stingy, romantic and dingy.

I've put together a few of my favourite date venues that shouldn't leave them shouting "taxi for one"!

Met them on a night out, maybe a few drinks into the evening, and want to see what they look like in the cold light of day? Here's a few safe bets:
  • Jacobs Inn - Good food, comfortable setting, animals in the garden to talk to in case the conversation dries up. What more could you want?
  • The Fishes - Tasty menu, nice big garden, light and airy dining space. Big enough that you can disappear into the crowd if you decide to make a run for it.
  • Big Society - Bright but funky venue in the daytime, with the bonus of being a bar, so if things go really well or really badly, you can hit the shots!

Not sure you like them enough to spend hours together? Drink dates are the perfect might-need-a-quick-exit set up, here are a few you might like to try:
  • Ashmolean Museum Roof Terrace - classy looking place with a roof terrace than looks out (just about) over the city. Or at least The Randolph.
  • Raouls - Awesome cocktails, lots of them and STRONG! Funky, intimate vibe too.
  • Duke of Cambridge - upmarket cocktail bar with big, comfy, round, leather booths to get lost in.

You know you like them, you're pretty sure you have enough to talk about over a table together, you'd like a few drinks with dinner in a romantic setting... ahhh, I can almost hear the romantic music from here. Dinner date venues guaranteed to impress:
  • Door 74 - low lighting, reasonably priced, tasty food - perfect dinner date setting.
  • Pierre Victoire - Delicious, French bistro food; low lighting; small, intimate, candlelit tables - ooh la la
  • Brasserie Blanc - The ultimate grown up date night - great food, great service, more low lighting (common theme here). MrF and I's date venue of choice... maybe see you there!
  • Crazy Bear - I've been here loads and always enjoyed the food. Book the English restaurant if you want your date to sit comfortably, but book the Thai restaurant if you want to get a little closer over some spices. I mean that literally, as the ceiling is low and the seating 'intimate'. Great food either way.
  • High Table - One of Oxford's most underrated restaurants, in my humble opinion, but a favourite of MrF and I (though we haven't been for a while and I'm yet to review). Lovely, elegant food, wine and setting. Often unfilled until later on, so you may get the restaurant to yourselves for a little while.
  • No1 Folly Bridge - Ahhh, mon ami, more yummy French bistro food - but this time riverside.
  • Sojo - darkly lit (even in the daytime); heady, sometimes-spicy, superb food. Lose all track of time here!

Oh, hello! How do you like your eggs? ;-) Where to take them the morning after the night before. Or at least stop off mid 'walk of shame'.
  • Jacobs & Field - famous locally for their breakfast selection
  • St Giles' Cafe - amazing bacon, amazing tea... need I say more?
  • Red Lion - right in the centre of town and a great all-rounder for breakfast. Good coffee, good food, plenty of space (for baby buggies?) and quiet, so no issue for hangovers. Foodie Family weekend brunch venue of choice (avec baby buggy).
  • Door 74 - already suggested for dinner, but their Eggs Benedict is phenomenal. Nuff said!


Foodie x

Sunday 2 February 2014

Restaurant Review - The Punter, Osney Island, Oxford

Location: 7 South Street, Osney Island, Oxford OX2 0BE
riverside pub

Just behind Botley Road, sitting on the banks of The Thames, amidst a quaint residential area of Oxford known as Osney Island, sits The Punter. An old, family friendly, traditional looking pub, with a small patio garden to the rear.

Having heard good things, I called to book a Sunday afternoon table for the Foodie family and some visiting guests. With parking in the area limited to residents, your best bet is one of the car parks near the train station, or one of the nearby retail parks. Either way, you'll need to walk the final 10 minutes or so. Not such a bad thing pre and post pub lunch.

With my search for the best Oxfordshire Sunday lunch in full swing, I was hopeful that The Punter could be a contender. We were disappointed, however, to see no roasts on the menu - if there were any available, we certainly weren't made aware of them. 

We didn't feel too disappointed though, as there were enough items of interest on the menu to distract us from our initial goal. The homemade Scotch egg and French onion soup were very tempting, as was the goose and pork terrine, though I ultimately settled on the potted mackerel (£5) to start. For main there was zero doubt, I was sucked straight in by the venison steak with dauphinoise  potato, braised red cabbage, greens and jus. MrF selected the chilli con carne with rice and garlic chive creme fraiche (£8) for main, while joining me in the potted mackerel starter.

We were seated in a corner of the pub, right beside the back door and an open lit fire, which did well in counteracting the occasional blast of cold air as diners nipped out for the odd ciggy. The pub itself is pretty rustic inside, certainly more 'old money' than 'new money' in style, but maybe without vast amounts of the actual money. With weathered wooden furniture and walls a mixture of deep blue and creamy vanilla, the décor lent itself well to the riverside location, while vintage mirrors, framed pictures and sash windows nodded to the buildings Victorian heritage. 

Potted mackerel with pickled cucumber 

After a perfectly reasonable wait, our starters arrived, served up on pretty rim patterned plates that had me dreaming of afternoon tea; the potted mackerel served in cute little kilner style jars beside a ramekin of salad leaves and pickled cucumber, plus a small portion of toasted sourdough. Small being the operative word. I had just enough bread (I could have done with one more slice to fit the measure of mackerel), while MrF was done-over somewhat in receiving one slice less than me.

Portion size aside, the potted mackerel was delicious - well-seasoned and well-balanced, with the spices and lemon juice enhancing, rather than overshadowing, the star of the show. A little stingy on the bread, but a good start nonetheless.

Along came our mains, my Venison steak looking impressive, though more like chunks of venison than a single steak which I had imagined. MrF's chilli looked no more or less than you would imagine of a chilli, while one of our dining companion's beer battered haddock and triple cooked chips (£10) looked utterly jaw-dropping - a whopping big piece of golden battered fish, atop the most tantalising looking chunky chips. Now I'm much more of a fries gal generally, but I do love a good dark golden crisp on my chips - and these looked perfect! On stealing a chip excitedly, I was sadly let down to find a distinct lack of flavour, though I imagine once doused in vinegar and smothered in tartare sauce they may cut the mustard.

Beer battered haddock and triple cooked chips

Handsome looking chips!

MrF was also grumbling, finding his chilli lacking punch, and not just in the heat stakes. But enough of other people's food, my venison was awaiting. Accompanied by two of my favourite side dishes - dauphinoise and red cabbage, this was a dish which should be right up my street. On digging in, I was again, slightly let down. The meat was rare, which I can handle, but bordering on too rare in parts. The jus and braised red cabbage were both pleasant, though the dauphinoise was approaching bland, with a shortage of both seasoning and flavour.

Venison steak, dauphinoise potato, braised red cabbage, greens and jus
I feel a pang of remorse reporting my findings, as I had high hopes for The Punter. I'd heard positive feedback and was expecting to be impressed, which I was, a bit. However the overwhelming feeling on leaving was one of  disappointment. I'm not wondering how soon I can return. I'd stop by if I was in the area, or visiting people nearby; but would I make an effort to go there? Not really. Would MrF return? Only for their beer - which he said was excellent!

Overall score: 6.5

The Punter
7 South Street
Osney Island
Facebook: N/ATwitter: N/A
Website: www.thepunteroxford.co.uk
Phone: 01865 248832

Saturday 1 February 2014

Foodie Events - FEBRUARY

Location: Oxford, UK

From 1st to 9th February, The Cotswolds will be overrun with breakfasts, brunches, lunches, teas & dinners, pop-up restaurants, cocktails & fine wines, masterclasses, talks & tastings, meet the chef & book signings, food fairs AND farmers markets... Phew! Check out their website for full details of events and how to book.

Local foodie Caroline Knight has been doing an amazing job making The Depressed Cake Shop pop-up a regular feature in Oxford. As part of a wider movement, the DCS is an opportunity to eat cake while raising money and awareness for mental illness. Do check out the latest event, taking place on Saturday 15th February at The Cape of Good Hope from 2-11pm.

Run by students, Oxford Brookes are hosting an event entitled "Five Plates, Five Cities, One Story", on Thursday 20th February at 7pm. Taking a journey through the life of Brillat Savarin, the original “foodie”, each ticket is £27.50, with the option of having a wine flight (includes 4 wines with your meal) for £12.
View the event details on their website: http://restaurant.business.brookes.ac.uk, or book tickets directly: http://www.avenista.net (remember to select 20/02/14 at 19.00, plus the table size)

#OxTweatUp number three takes place at newly opened and very exciting The Oxford Kitchen, in Summertown. The TweatUp table is booked for 7.30pm on 28th February, with some 'hot off the press' news in store for those attending (clue: gnawed, eaten, nibbled). If you'd like to take part then please contact me via twitter @FoodieOnTour - spaces will be very limited and must be confirmed with me in advance. And no, it's not a typo... tweet + eat + meet up = TweatUp ;-)

Sunday Jazz

The Oxfordshire Pantry at Blenheim Palace continues it's Sunday Jazz events on selected Sundays to 30th March. Featuring a selection of delicious food options will be available including, breakfast paninis, warming porridge, pastries and fresh tea and coffee as well as the Sunday newspapers, all accompanied by the soothing sounds of Jazz.

Waddesdon Manor have a number of interesting foodie events lined up for February, including Valentine's Afternoon Teas, Valentine's Dinner at the Five Arrows, Cookery Courses and Cookery Demonstrations. With such stunning grounds to walk around you can afford to indulge a little. Or a lot.

Don't forget local cookery classes and all our fab local farmers' markets, you can find details of everything on my Foodie Events Calendar.
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