Friday, 28 August 2009

The Old Vine, Winchester

On Wednesday we ate at home, so it seems a little strange to review my own cooking (I'd give it 10/10) so I'll move onto our next meal out. The venue - The Old Vine in Winchester. It started out promising because when Ian phoned up to book, he was told that there was only one table left - rubbish restaurants don't tend to be fully booked, especially on week days.

After a fun journey through Winchester's crazy one way system, we made it to the restaurant, and on first looks it seemed more like a bar, but through a curtain, we found the restaurant area, and were shown to our reserved table. We'd looked at the sample menu online, and had already set our hearts on the scallops, but they weren't to be found on the menu placed before us. Instead we chose the crispy squid with sweet chilli sauce, the garlic chilli king prawns & goats cheese, aubergine & tomato on toast. Yes, three starters! Starters are clearly the best part of every meal, so we decided to have one each and share the third - and I was pleased we did.

The aubergine starter was really nice, although I think it would have benefited from a layer of onion chutney also - 8/10. Ian's starter, the crispy squid, really was crispy but also excellently cooked so that it wasn't at all rubbery, 9/10. The garlic & chilli prawns were meaty and had a great flavour, the only disappointment with the starters was that the bread that came with these didn't have any butter with it, but instead we dipped the bread in the chilli oil - 8/10, losing points for portion size and lack of butter.

For the main course we attempted to order two slow roasted lamb shoulders, but were informed there was only one available. I quickly picked the duck confit, and am sooo glad I did - when it arrived it was lovely and pink, and fell off the bone, and was juicy and succulent and amazing and the best thing in the world (can you tell I really liked it?). I could have eaten ten but Ian wouldn't let me order any more - 10/10. His lamb was tasty, served on a bed of sweet potato mash. Annoyingly the chef decided to garnish it with chives but they were all in a big clump so we could get them out. The sweet potato mash was nice, Ian wasn't keen on the green beans that accompanied it, he didn't seem to think they worked with the rest of the meal (and he also isn't keen on them in general!) - 8/10, mainly because the lamb was quite fatty.

For dessert we ordered the banoffee cheesecake and the summer fruit pudding with ice cream. I've never had summer fruit pudding, mainly because there is usually something more enticing on the menu, but the list of desserts weren't amazing here. I think the pudding would have been better if the filling wasn't all currants (blackcurrants, redcurrants), and was more berries, but it was quite a nice light end to the meal, 6/10. Ian's cheesecake looked nice, it came with some sliced banana on top, but the base was quite thick, 8/10.

The food here was good, despite the disappointing choices of desserts, and they had lots of wines on their specials board, so if that's what you value, I'd recommend this place to you. It was also in a nice location, just across from the cathedral, although you couldn't quite see this out of the window, but would be a good location for a post dinner stroll.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Ceno, Southampton

Tonight we decided to try a new restaurant from our long list of possible places. Ceno, in Portswood, won as it's not too far away and wasn't the same sort of food as the previous day (we wouldn't want to eat chinese twice in two days!). The restaurant doesn't have a car park, but there is plenty of street parking near by. There's a lot of outside eating space but it was a bit chilly so we decided to eat inside.

We browsed the menu, and there were a lot of nice choices on there but most had one small part that Ian wouldn't like (mainly onion). We settled on the shredded mongolian lamb salad for Ian, and scallops on curried lentils for me. My scallops were well cooked, and the curried lentils nice too, but I'm not sure they were a match made in heaven - the lentils really overpowered the delicate flavour of the scallops, and I decided to eat them separately - 8/10. Ian's salad was awesome, the flavours really worked together, the lamb was well cooked, and I wish I could have knocked him out and eaten it myself! Thankfully Ian doesn't like salad, so he just picked all the lamb out, so I got all the tasty other bits so was happy - 10/10!!.

For the main course, Ian chose the confit of duck, which was served with spicy potatoes, rocket and a mango salsa. I went for the rump of lamb, served with fondant potato, and veg. Ian's duck looked quite greasy but that is usually the case with confit of duck. It tasted good, but his potatoes were a bit too dry for our liking and didn't really seem to work. The mango salsa came with a lot of onion, which the mango had absorbed so Ian didn't eat that. One of Ian's complaints about the meal was the sneaky kitchen staff hiding some crazy cheap salad leaves under his rocket, 6/10. My lamb was very tasty, but again the potato was a bit dry. The veg was good, but the restaurant seems a bit over enthusiastic with the large sea salt flakes, and so was quite salty in places (I never add salt to my food so this isn't something I rate) - 7/10.

With our mains, we ordered two sides - one portion of chips, and one garlic ciabatta. These were great - the chips were much better than both of the potato options that came with our mains, and the ciabatta was really garlicky and yummy.

At this point I should explain about the service. Ian likes a drink with his food (whereas I tend to wait til after my food to drink). His lemonade ran out approximately two mouthfuls into his main. Everytime our waitress came by we attempted to get her attention, but she kept turning the wrong way and running off. She did not come back to our table to check everything was OK with our meals. She also spent a considerable amount of time at the bar, talking to her friend from the looks of it. It got to the point where I had to get up from my meal and go into the bar to ask for more drinks. Ian and I don't find this kind of service acceptable - which is why we gave a crappy tip (don't get me wrong, we're not saying we'd never go back, we always give somewhere a second chance, but I'm not going to tip you for good service if that's not what I got!).

For dessert we chose the chocolate brownie and the sticky toffee pudding. I can never resist a sticky toffee pudding, even though I generally don't have enough room. My pudding arrived, but it wasn't really pudding shaped, it was more a big square of toffee cake. I've had better, but it was quite nice, and the portion size was reasonable - 7/10. Ian's chocolate brownie was gooey in the middle, but lacked a nice crispy crust. There were also nuts in it, and that wasn't advertised on the menu, not usually a massive problem, but they were large chunks of walnut and they didn't really add to the brownie in the right way - 6/10.

We'd definitely give the restaurant another go, the meat was good, and the sides excellent but the menu doesn't seem very big so we'd maybe wait to see if it changes at all for a bit of variety.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Water Margin, North Baddesley

Ian and I have two weeks off work, and instead of going on holiday, we've decided to have two weeks of playing games, reading in the sunshine, and eating out. So, for our first meal out, we decided to go to the Harvester in Eastleigh. But reviewing a Harvester seems pointless, so I'm about to review the second place we visited, somewhere we go often because the food and service is great, but somewhere we've not gotten round to reviewing yet.

Water Margin is a small restaurant set between two peoples houses on a road in North Baddesley. It's clearly a family business, and it does well - possibly because it's so reasonably priced. They do a gourmet buffet Sunday - Thursday, £14.90 for all you can eat - but everything is cooked fresh to order. We also noticed they were doing a set lunch menu for £6 when we went today (Soup & Spring Roll + Main & Rice).

Every time we go, we always seem to order a large selection of the appetizers and they tailor the portion sizes to the size of your group (3 people, 3 spring rolls etc). We have the steamed dumplings (Ian doesn't like these because they are a little oniony but I love the flavour so I eat the extra one), sesame prawn toast (this is well topped with prawn), spring rolls (not my favourite but we usually get them for my mum), spare ribs (messy but yummy), crispy won tons, smoked chicken (this is amazing, a definite one to order) and this time we ordered some of the king prawns (again tasty, but not available if you have the reduced lunch buffet at £11.90). Ian always likes to order the soup (Crabmeat & sweetcorn) and I can usually be seen sneakily sticking my spoon in to steal some. I like the way chinese soups are thick, but not creamy - I'd love to be able to replicate this at home (I've never tried so it might be simple).

After the appetizers is the duck course, but they also do really good crispy mongolian lamb (those that know the song should be singing it right now!). So we have half duck and half lamb. The duck comes with the usual cucumber and spring onion with hoisin sauce, and the lamb comes with a sweet plum sauce, which works really well. If I'm honest, I could eat this course for the main as well, but not sure they'd let you.

There are a lot of mains to choose from, and we always hope to try something new if we have room. This time we had lemon chicken (the sauce is nice and lemony), sweet and sour pork, lamb szechuan style & duck with ginger and pineapple. I'm not big on ginger, but that was actually really good (although I couldn't eat too much of it). Other dishes we've tried before include crispy chilli beef (this is very crispy, and possibly my favourite), the squid (I'm still not sure about chinese cooked squid - always seems a bit rubbery to me), and some of the prawn dishes (not exactly sure which) - the prawns are always big and meaty.

Usually desserts in chinese restaurants aren't good, but the Water Margin do a wonderful pineapple ice cream that we can never seem to resist.

So to conclude, the food is great, the value is amazing, and the service friendly - highly recommended!!

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Valentino's, Bournemouth

Yesterday, my mum and I went to Bournemouth for the Bournemouth Air Show. The beach was packed, and the show was excellent. Instead of opting for the fast food found all along the seafront, we decided to hold out til the end of the show, and wander back into the town in search of a nice restaurant. Many places seemed more like bars than restaurants, but we eventually stumbled on a little round italian restaurant with a terrace outside. We hovered by the door, only to be told by Joe, the proprietor, that he was fully booked. However, being an italian, he moved around some tables, and endeavoured not to turn anyone away.

Usually, before eating out, I tend to research a bit more, and see what other people have thought - but this was spur of the moment dining. The menu was a decent size, and offered mussels (my favourite if you've not already realised) so seemed perfect to me. I chose the mussels (obviously) followed by tagliatelle carbonara, while my mum went for garlic bread with mozzarella followed by the cannelloni.

The mussels were served in a basic tomato sauce, but as the all you really want is the flavour of the mussels, this is perfect. They were decent sized, hardly any shell breakage (which is irritating when you come to devour the sauce at the end), and very tasty - 9/10. The garlic bread with mozzarella was less crispy than in most places as it had more of a middle to it, which my mum said good (I only ate the crispy bits as I stole bites when she wasn't looking!). The cannelloni was well filled, and tasty, and remained hot for ages despite eating outside where it was slightly chilly. My carbonara came and it was a huge portion, and left me feeling very full but comforted - there's nothing like a big plate of pasta when you've been walking around all day - 8/10.

The food was reasonably priced - £30 for all that, plus 3 drinks (non-alc), but it was really the atmosphere that added to the charm of this restaurant and the friendly banter between Joe and some of the diners showed that it was clearly popular with the locals.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Further Cake Experiments

These days, following recipes seems to easy. So I try to mix it up a litte (if you pardon the pun!). I decided to make something for my friends housewarming, and I had some leftover blueberries, so considered making blueberry muffins. But, Ian decided he wanted lemon drizzle so I chucked the blueberries in with the cake mix so as not to waste them. It worked well, although I could mostly taste the lemon.

I also took my trusty banana loaf recipe and added strawberries. I wasn't sure how to add them - do I mash them like I do with the banana or do I add them whole? I had quite a lot of bananas and strawberries so I decided to do both. The one with whole chunks of strawberry was the one I preferred, mainly because the strawberry flavour was more intense in this one instead of an underlying strawberriness in the second one.

One thing I have discovered though.... fruit in cake rocks!