Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Michael Caines Restaurant at Abode Exeter: Amazing Graze

I was drawn to this 'Amazing Graze' menu offer by doing an internet search for my own website and stumbled upon this fantastic offer at Michael Caines' restaurant at Abode, Exeter:  three course lunch for £9.95.  A few days after our trip to Caines' other establishment, Gidleigh Park (more luxurious, more traditionally English country house) we treated ourselves to lunch at Abode overlooking Exeter Cathedral.  After the whopping bill from Gidleigh, we kidded ourselves that eating here would balance out the average of the two meals.

This restaurant is in the hotel (the left hand door half visible in the picture - not the cheaper cafe, MCs next door) and is modern: light and airy with wooden floors and no tablecloths.  The waiting staff were efficient with dealing with a jam-packed dining room.  A slight delay with bringing the bill, but I could hardly blame them as it was so busy.

I chose the confit salmon that I had enjoyed at Gidleigh a few nights previously, just to compare it.  It was not identical, but pretty damn close, and at a fraction of the cost.  My husband had the mushroom risotto - a small portion of deeply flavoured goo.  After this tasty morsel, he wanted to upgrade to five courses for an extra £8, but I wouldn't let him.  Still had to collect the kids from school at 3pm.

The mains were spot-on for lunchtime: seasonal, well-cooked and delicious.  Pollock with a creamy saffron sauce and pork with boulangere potatoes.  Desserts were lovely: glazed lemon tart with lemon confit sorbet (tres tangy) and pistachio nougat glace with chocolate grue.  Yes, we had to ask what 'grue' was - a type of cocoa bean, the waiter informed us.

The petits fours with the coffee were wonderful - two wonderfully large round, sugared fruit jellies that reminded me of the boxed sweets my grandparents used to get at Christmas.  These were passionfruit and apricot flavour served alongside two dinky little chocolate and pistachio madeleines.  These have got me seeking out a mini-madeleine mould on Amazon.  Going to have to mimic them at home.

Since yesterday the price of Amazing Graze has gone up a little.  At £9.95 for three courses, it represented exceptional, unbeatable value for money.  At the new price of £13.50 for three courses it's still highly competitive and for food, service and location like this, it's definitely worth it and recommended.

You can book a table online, which I really liked.  You can see all the times that are available and you get a confirmation email - and you get to see all the special offers - early dining in the evening (be seated by 7pm) also seems good value.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Gidleigh Park, Chagford, Devon - Restaurant Review

I realise that I may have to change my profile description that says I enjoy eating at 'unpretentious' and 'good value' places.  Gidleigh Park does not exactly fulfil either of those criteria.  This was an incredibly special treat - a gift to my husband for his fortieth birthday. I said I wouldn't blog about it, but then out came the camera and, yep, in true food blogger style, I wasn't taking pictures of my husband (attractive as he may be), but of the beautiful food.

Gidleigh Park is a posh country house hotel par excellence: two Michelin stars, Executive chef is Michael Caines MBE, and number one in the Sunday Times Best Restaurant List 2010 - it feels as if you're eating in a National Trust property.

Drinks in the lounge....oops before we knew it, no we weren't sticking to our 'local food' credentials and ordering some Luscombe apple juice or Camel Valley sparkling wine.  For me a glass of Champagne (NV, thank the Lord) and for him, a Vodka Martini.  I almost guffawed.  So not a Peroni then. 
The service was wonderful - not at all stuffy.  The staff were friendly, chatty, knowledgeable and so enthusiastic about the food and wine.  Special mention to the cheery 'cheese waiter'  (apparently they're called cheese sommeliers in the States) who brought round the fantastic cheese trolley resplendent with many Devon and Cornish cheeses, plus some oozing French ones.

We chose the five course Seasonal Tasting menu with a couple of glasses of appropriate wines.  My first taste of the amuse-bouches and I was in heaven:  a crispy morsel of Cornish sea bream with a Thai froth on the top (far right of picture below).  It was a riot of flavours and made me smile to know that I was going to have such a gourmet evening.  The middle one was an aubergine mousse and on the left a piece of foie gras with a Sauternes jelly.

Matthewsfoodblog has asked me to comment on the bread (one of his fave things about eating in high-end establishments.)  A basket of three types of home-baked , incredibly fresh bread:  a small rustic French-style roll with pointed ends was delicious, my favourite was a small brown round roll containing honey and burnt 'bran' or 'prawn' or 'brown'- (after asking the waitress to repeat the phrase three times, I gave up), and a slice of sun-dried tomato bread which was very nice on its own but so full of flavour that it wasn't good to accompany the delicate food.

The food was superb:

Confit of Salmon, followed by Boudin of pheasant with foie gras, couscous and bouillon (pictured below)

.....then Langoustines with leeks and truffle, Lamb with Boulangere potatotes, Chocolate and Orange Three Ways, Coffee and Petits Fours.

The food was exciting, full of flavour, beautiful on the plate and felt like a culinary adventure.  I could go on about the individual dishes but will just mention the highlights:  the sweetness of the langoustines with the backnotes of a truffled sauce, the melting tastiness of the tender, herbed lamb, the bitter orange sorbet served in a dark chocolate shell and the caramel chocolates served as part of the petits fours.  

My Dad joined us for coffee and petits fours in front of the fire in the lounge (thanks for the lift home, Dad!).  The entire bill came to.......ahem..... £352 (without tip) which is the most I have ever (and will ever) pay for a meal in my life.  We will need some post-traumatic counselling to deal with that.  The coffee and petits fours cost £6.  And there's the 'good value' part of my review.  You get three mini desserts on a wooden platter, plus a handful of chocolates and a pot of coffee or tea, that you don't have to strain your wrist to pour for yourself, for six quid.  A superb end to a memorable meal.  It wasn't just a meal, it was an event that we will remember.  

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Graze - A New Concept in 'Healthy Snacks'

I have noticed this company, Graze, primarily as it is so close to my own moniker, Grazing Kate.  The concept is that they deliver 'healthy' snacks through the post to your home or workplace, twice a week and you hand over your credit card details and end up paying £ 3.49/ box, including delivery.  I think this is aimed at people with office jobs who know they snack unhealthily whilst at their desk.  The aim is to replace the old crisps / kitkat / another kitkat routine with healthier alternatives in snack-size portions.

 The first two attempts at entering my details on their website failed, but third time lucky.  The package arrived as promised, on a Wednesday.  Next one due on Friday.  I had heard from fellow blogger, Mme Guillotine, that they had paid no attention to her personal taste preferences that she had edited on their website.  Like Madame G, I can't eat seeds or whole nuts (and a lot of their products are very nut and seed based), so I I unticked all those boxes, and I was happy to receive this selection with no nuts or seeds whatsover.

My first pack contained Korean Chilli Rice Crackers (a guilty pleasure), Sticky Choccy Pudding (chocolate buttons and two types of raisin), Pitted Kalamata Olives with Herbs and Milkshake Mix (white chocolate discs, dried strawberries and bananas).  My daughter and I ate the Milkshake Mix straight after school today - they were delicious, and we kidded ourselves that they were healthy.  

Value for money?  I guess if I were a City Slicker (oh, yes, I once was, hard to believe, but that's another story) these would be convenient, a bit trendy and not too expensive compared with other products within the Square Mile.  

However..... I'm an unslick, unhip Devon food blogger who minds her pennies, so after the first pack (free of charge) and second pack (half price), I shall cancel my regular order.

They claim their packaging is as eco and recycled as they can be, although anything in such small packets (within a packet, within a packet) like this is going to involved an excess of packaging.  But at least they've tried.  And I really like the little bamboo cocktail stick for picking up olives.  And I liked it arriving through the letterbox with the rest of the post.  And I liked kidding myself that eating chocolate buttons with raisins is healthy.

This is the 'personalised' nutritional info sheet they include.  I'm really off some of the 'matey chit chat' packaging companies use at the moment e.g. Innocent smoothies springs to mind 'contains 100% absolutely no squirrels', but I quite liked being addressed by name: 

'so Katy, how healthy is this box....?'
'Er....not very.  But thanks anyway.'

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

A Child's Food Blog from Giggling Wombat

A food blog from a child's perspective.  What a great idea.

Giggling Wombat promises to provide honest opinions on food, drink and cafes and this week she provides details of her 'top five fave foods':

am slightly worried as I think someone's about to get their own back and start reviewing the food I serve for dinner....Quick, I'd better start thinking about wiping clean those sauce-splattered plates, adding garnishes, getting in some forgiving light sources, and making my food look a little less rustic-homemade i.e. thrown-on-the-plate than usual!

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