ASK Italian via Deliveroo

Having spent the day helping the better half pack up her university life for the third and final time, day became night which meant it was time for dinner. As everything had been packed away cooking wasn’t a viable option and due to my somewhat idle character, nor was getting out of bed. As a result, I did what I often do in these situations, grabbed my phone and turned to Deliveroo for help. Unfortunately, for all its charm, Winchester isn’t exactly loaded with options when it comes to food delivery. Italian however is something that Winchester does do, so after a skim through the options we eventually decided on ASK Italian. As Italian chain restaurants go, ASK isn’t bad. That’s not to say it’s the pinnacle of Italian cooking but there are definitely worse options.

Before I go any further I’d like to say that what is to come is in no way a reflection on Deliveroo. I’ve had nothing but positive experiences with them every time I’ve been too lazy to get off my arse.

Last night’s dinner was the biggest waste of £35 I’ve experienced in a long time. Less than 40minutes from our order being accepted to it arriving at the door isn’t bad going at all. Unfortunately, that’s as good as it gets.

A Garlic Pizza bread was dry and cardboard like in both taste and feel with what I consider the key ingredient not making itself known.

img_1290

A second starter of chunky Potato Croquettes filled with Mozerella, Broad Beans and Peas was better. The crispy outer giving way to a freshness delivered by the beans and peas all brought together with the merest hints of spice, coming from the spicy Tomato salsa.

img_1289

Things weren’t really going well and then as I opened the boxes containing the Fettuccine Bolognese and Risotto Con Pollo E Funghi, my fears that had developed when I took delivery of dinner were realised.

 

I appreciate there are challenges involved when it comes to packaging food for delivery but this is not the answer. A plastic container like those you get from any Indian takeaway would have been a far better option than what we received. It just makes the food look unappealing and makes me question just how much thought has gone into the packaging.

A Bolognese that supposedly featured a ‘hearty Beef and Pork Ragu’ served with Fettuccine Pasta left me wondering if the Deliveroo rider had got peckish on the way over. What there was of the Ragu lacked any noticeable traits of any Bolognese I’ve ever had, even the pasta was overcooked and only a few seconds away from disaster.

The Risotto wasn’t much better. Rice that wasn’t quite as badly cooked as the Pasta in the previous dish completely lacked seasoning accompanied by overcooked chicken and an array of Mushrooms that actually allowed the Risotto to come out just on top of the Bolognese.

So, there we go. As meals go, it’s one I’d like to erase from memory. I’m not saying I won’t visit ASK ever again – I’ve had some okay-good meals there. In future though, I’ll just use this experience as motivation to haul myself from my pit, get dressed and spend a little more time in their restaurant waiting for my food with a glass of red, it’ll be worth it.

3/10

 

New York, New York.

It’s been a busy but very enjoyable few weeks. Trips to New York and Scotland one after the other before diving straight back into work haven’t allowed me much time to get words onto screen.

The fact that New York has 77 restaurants with at least a single Michelin Star should demonstrate just how well the city is doing when it comes to food.  Should you need any more convincing of just how well not just the city, but the entire country is doing, back in April one of their restaurants was named the best in the world at the Worlds 50 Best Restaurant Awards. The restaurant in question is Eleven Madison Park, a short walk from the hustle and bustle of Times Square. Before I’d even finished dotting the ‘I’s’ and crossing the ‘T’s’ in the Travel Agents I had decided I was going and not a single person or event was going to stop me. Except of course a closure for refurbishment. That would do the trick.

img_1041

Not to worry though, I wasn’t going to let this minor hiccup beat me. Que Twitter. There isn’t much you can’t do on Twitter. Stalk your favourite celebs? Easy. The very latest news? Twitter knows about it before it’s on lunch time TV. Ask for recommendations on places to eat whilst in The Big Apple? Best place to do it. Did I get a response? I did. Several in fact. The best bit being that I managed to get to all but two of the suggestions.

For our first real taste of the US of A, we headed down 5th Avenue to Eisenberg’s. One of very few proper old school sandwich shops left in the city, there was only ever going to be two sandwiches in the running. For me, it had to be a Hot Pastrami Sandwich. The pastrami was delightful and not in short supply. Succulent, juicy, tender pieces of meat with a strong smoky flavour were housed between two pieces of dry bread. I bit through the beautiful Pastrami straight onto bread that instantly robbed my mouth of any moisture. Up until this point, the sandwich was maybe a notch above good. In all the excitement, I dived straight in forgetting about the side of Gherkins that came with the sandwich. Mind you, so did the waiter, bringing them to the table along with an apology mid-way through. This made it a sandwich quite literally of two halves. The palate refreshing nature of the Gherkins was exactly what I was looking for and made all the difference to my mid-morning snack. My partner opted for what I consider to be the only other REAL option and an American staple. The Grilled Cheese. A Lime-Rickey was the drink of choice to wash all of this down. My initial thoughts were twofold: One, just how moreish it was and two, how it tasted like a bag of Haribo had been emptied into a blender, blitzed, added to some fizz and served, which by the way, is no bad thing.

The next suggestion would emerge as one of my personal food highlights of our week-long trip. Founded by New York restauranteur Danny Mayer, Shake Shack is a hamburger and milkshake chain that started life in 2004. Originally operating out of a Food Cart in Madison Square Park just yards from Mayer’s formerly owned Eleven Madison Park and with popularity on the rise a permanent kiosk was built, where it still stands today. They’ve since expanded to a total of 134 locations, including three in London. A Double SmokeShack was the order of the day, a burger made up of two freshly ground 4oz 100% angus beef patties, cheese, smoked Niman Ranch bacon, chopped cherry peppers and shack sauce. All of this sandwiched in what has to be the best burger bun I’ve ever eaten. Carrying a distinctive buttery note, the potato bun used was actually designed to prevent burger slippage. I loved it so much that I may or may not have returned to have another before our departure back to the U.K. Once again, going for two patties rather than one and slightly more traditional in its build, my partner opted for the name sake ‘Shackburger’. Still a cheeseburger at its core, only this time accompanied by lettuce, tomato and shack sauce. With both burgers, chips to share, a large handmade lemonade and a shake coming in at a few cents over $33 this is the very definition of value for money. Should you ever get to New York, take a detour to the guys at ShakeShack. You won’t regret it.

A second suggestion was to get Pizza in Little Italy. Something I’d admittedly not even considered. The place recommended to us was Lombardi’s, America’s very first Pizzeria. Our instructions were to get there before opening time. At first, I thought this was odd to say the least. I mean, who wants Pizza at 11:30am? Apparently, as I discovered, quite a lot of people. Heeding the advice given, we rocked up about 20minutes early, to find a que already formed. Doors swung open and within a few minutes the restaurant was full. Having eyes bigger than our stomachs we ordered a large pepperoni and not long later a 16” pizza arrived at our table. I’m used to ordering large pizza’s, back home it’s not a problem. Let me tell you right here and now ladies and gents, 2” makes all the difference. At least, that’s what I’m told. Evidence of the coal oven used to cook these New York style pizzas are ever present on your fingertips as you pick up each slice. The pizza is fantastic, like, as it would turn out, a lot of food I ate in New York. If I had to criticise, the paper plates we were presented with wasn’t in-keeping with the rest of the vintage décor and quite frankly, made me feel like a child.

Less than a 5minute walk from the craziness that is Times Square lies ‘Broadway Bites’. A seasonal street food market popping up during the Summer and Fall. Take a walk through the market to discover a diverse range of offerings from local chefs and producers. Over our time in New York, we managed to work our way around the majority of the stalls, here being some of our most memorable. Hank’s Juicy Beef was our first stop, ordering a junior version of the signature sandwich. Slow roasted Italian style beef accompanied by marinated peppers was spooned into a buttered French roll. Hank’s beef really is juicy. Packed full of flavour, this was a wonderful late evening snack.

Next up came a S’More Taco from Squish Marshmallows. A milk chocolate Taco houses your choice of 3 marshmallow flavours which you can mix and match as you please. My partner being the one with the sweet tooth ordered 2 Birthday party marshmallows and 1 S’Mores. For even the sweetest tooth this was a touch on the sweet side.

On our penultimate day we went back, this time heading for Don Don NY and a Chicken Katsu Curry. Sticky white rice formed the foundation of the dish with breaded chicken, shredded white cabbage and a curry sauce making up the remainder. Rather filling this would turn out to be our last meal in New York.

Thriving more than ever, I’m pleased to report that New York is no longer a city living off McDonald’s, Wendy’s and $1 a slice Pizza, (although you can still get all of the above if you wish). The food scene is just as diverse as the people who live there, making it probably one of the best weeks of food we’ve had.

 

Eisenberg’s: 7/10

Shake Shack: 10/10

Lombardi’s: 8/10

Who is…Tom Kerridge?

Born in 1973 in the West Country Tom Kerridge started out as a child actor with several small parts in a variety of different shows. He went on to attend a culinary school at the age of 18 before moving around Gloucestershire and a series of restaurants and country house hotels. During his early 20s he left Gloucestershire and moved to London to work for chefs including Gary Rhodes, Steven Bull and Phillip Britton. After a number of years he moved to Norwich to take up the position of head chef at Michelin starred Adlards.

Beth Kerridge is an English sculptor born in 1970. Six weeks after meeting Tom she proposed to him, a question that would have an answer before the end of the sentence. In 2005, she moved from Norfolk to Marlow to open The Hand & Flowers, something they were able to do using the money from a commission Beth had received.

The original plan was to create a space that reflected somewhere both Tom and Beth would like to go during their days off. Just a year after opening, the pub got its first Michelin Star. Six years later, it became the first pub to be awarded a prestigious second star. You can read about my visit to The Hand and Flowers by clicking on the following link:

https://thehampshirefoodie.com/2017/03/28/the-hand-and-flowers-marlow/

With The Hand and Flowers ever growing popularity and bookings being taken three months in advance, it was no longer easy for the locals to nip in for a quick pint. Cue the opening of The Coach. Situated at the other end of the street to The Hand and Flowers, The Coach has an informal, relaxed atmosphere and unlike its sister pub has a strict first come first served policy with no bookings being taken. In 2016 it was the Top 50 Gastropubs Awards highest new entry coming in at number four. The quality of the food rivals that of some of the best restaurants, this being backed up by a Bib Gormand being awarded in the 2017 Michelin Guide.

Over his career, Tom has made appearances on various programmes including Saturday Kitchen and The Great British Menu where, in 2010, his slow cooked Aylesbury duck with duck fat chips and gravy was one of the four winning finalists. He has also hosted his own cooking shows such as Spring Kitchen and Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food.

Just before Christmas 2016 Tom and Beth were overjoyed with the arrival of their first child Acey, a name that is Anglo Saxon for number one.

Over the past three years Tom has lost 11 stone through using a dopamine diet. He has since released a book that reveals his personal experiences and also his go-to recipes to aid his weight loss. As part of his diet Tom went teetotal to help him reach his ultimate goal.

I openly admit that I’m a huge fan of Tom Kerridge. The Hand and Flowers is exactly the kind of place I’d love to eat every single day and thankfully, despite his recent (and rather dramatic) lifestyle change, the food he serves up, remains just like the Tom of old – big, bold and in all honesty, bloody brilliant.

The Boot Inn, Shipton Bellinger.

Not for the first time in recent weeks we found ourselves eating at a different location to the one originally intended. After initially making our way to a recently re-opened pub we were told there would be a 45 minute wait for food, this wasn’t a major issue so we settled down with a pint of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord and a glass of Rosé. After the 45 minutes had expired we were told that we had at least another 20 minutes to wait so we made the decision to jump into the car and head over to the Boot Inn in the nearby village of Shipton Bellinger.

As we walked through the porch and into the pub, a plaque above the reception area next to the bar caught our eye. It read “Arrive as strangers, leave as friends”. A trifle clichéd perhaps but based on our experience pretty close to the truth.

Midway through our drink at the bar we were taken through and shown to our seats. Low lighting produced by imitation candle lights made for an intimate setting at the table. The food choice here is massive – there were not one, not two but THREE menus to pore over. The regular menu is itself physically large and awkward to handle when there’s one each, drinks and a comparatively small table. On top of that we were given another, thankfully smaller, menu consisting of the Chef’s Steaks and Specialities from the grill. Just when you think the decision on what to have is going to be hard enough they chuck in the daily specials board for good measure!

We ordered our starters and mains and when I asked my partner if she would like any sides the waitress told us with what we’d ordered we wouldn’t need any. I loved the waitress’s honesty but in hindsight this should have set the alarm bells ringing given that neither of us could be considered trenchermen!

IMG_0801

A sizzling platter of King Prawns and Chorizo Sausage signalled the arrival of the starters. Hot in both senses of the word, the prawns were cooked to perfection, accompanied by a mixture of peppers and onions with the chorizo sausage adding its signature smokiness.

IMG_0803 (Edited)

The soup of the day, Cauliflower and Stilton, was my choice of starter. Mostly smooth apart from a few florets of cauliflower, the soup packed the familiar intense taste of stilton but a more concentrated flavour of cauliflower would have brought a better balance to the dish. Still not a bad effort by any means.

IMG_0804 (Edited)

My main course of Moroccan Lamb was one of the daily specials. I’ll say this straight away – there was A LOT of food here. So much so, that when I had reached my limit, I was asked if I would like to take the rest home. I duly obliged and it was enjoyed as a snack the following day. The fact I was prepared to take it home should speak volumes. The lamb was cooked so well it made my knife pretty much redundant as it fell through each slice. Surrounded by a wonderful selection of vegetables and Moroccan potatoes the dish was crammed full of flavour and a great example of hearty home cooked comfort food.

IMG_0805 (Edited)

Chicken Fajitas were the choice of main for my partner. I think it’s fair to say that the guys at The Boot are not in the slightest bit parsimonious when it comes to portion sizes. A sizzling platter of chicken and peppers arrived at the table, quickly followed by a plate that held two tortilla wraps, cheese, a cucumber, tomato and an array of leaves plus the traditional accompanying sauces of guacamole and sour cream. Either more wraps or less filling may have been a good idea, the amount of filling and lack of wraps lead to some rather messy, undignified eating.

For the first time in a very long while I declined dessert, even after I was again given the option to have it to take away. The fact that they suggest the option of take food away and have suitable containers readily available suggests that it could be a regular occurrence. If this is the case then it’s probably due to their portion sizes and may not be needed if they were slightly smaller. My partner spotted one dessert in particular, the Jaffa Cake Cheesecake, although we saved it until well into the next day before we felt able to consume it. The cheesecake itself was a delight, a superb buttery biscuit base topped with a beautiful, silky smooth cream cheese. If it had been left there and just served as a Cheesecake all would have been well, very well in fact. Unfortunately, the addition of the words ‘Jaffa’ and ‘Cake’ made it slightly less impressive than it should have been.  A few pieces of Jaffa Cake scattered on top and not a lot after that left me with the taste of disappointment in my mouth. A shame as it had started out so well.

IMG_0808

At £71 for a meal that didn’t include a dessert for myself, 5 other courses that for the most part were just good pub grub and 2 glasses of wine, it seems a little over-priced. The staff are truly wonderful and I make no bones about that. Our experience wasn’t bad but on this occasion at least the food was massively outshone by the service.

6/10

Who is…Hélène Darroze?

Hélène Darroze is a fourth-generation chef who did not take the typical route into the culinary world. In 1990 after graduating from University with a degree in Business she took a role in the office of Le Louis XV restaurant in Monaco. The restaurant was run by world renowned chef Alain Ducasse who eventually convinced Darroze to take a job in the kitchen. After three years she returned home to the acclaimed family restaurant in Landes, south west France taking a role as a chef.

In 1999 the restaurant closed down after suffering financial difficulties. Towards the end of the same year, Darroze moved to Paris where she opened Restaurant Hélène Darroze. Two years later the restaurant won its first Michelin Star, with a second coming two years later. In 2008 as part of a £70m refurbishment of The Connaught hotel in Mayfair Hélène was named the replacement for Angela Hartnett who had run the restaurant on behalf of Gordon Ramsay holdings up until this point. Alongside the new décor also came a new name for the reopening of the restaurant within the hotel: Hélène Darroze at The Connaught. The restaurant won its first Michelin star in 2004 with Angela Hartnett at the helm, but it was Hélène Darroze who would drive the kitchen to further success, gaining its second star in 2008, just months after its reopening.

Despite its numerous awards, the Connaught restaurant has not been without criticism. Infamous food critic Jay Rayner after a visit in 2008 wrote in The Guardian that he had

“ Two of the very worst dishes ever to be served to me at this level; food which creates a whole new category of awful, which encourages you to pick up one of those shiny silver forks and stab it into the hand of the nearest waiter.”

Unfortunately Darroze lost her second star for her Paris restaurant in the 2010 edition of the Michelin Guide. She has however, retained one star since it was awarded.

Darroze is the mother of two adopted daughters, Charlotte and Quiterie, from different orphanages in Vietnam. Running two thriving restaurants in different countries comes with its own set of unique problems when adding young children into the picture. Commuting between London and Paris on a regular basis, Darroze is often accompanied by her daughters who themselves have become regular commuters from a young age.

Darroze was the inspiration for the character Colette Tatou in the 2007 film Ratatouille. In 2015 at the World’s 50 Best Restaurant awards in London, Hélène was named the World’s Best Female Chef. Still at the top of her game at the age of 50, in a male dominated industry, running 2 highly successful restaurants in different countries and raising 2 children single handed, she might just be a real world super woman.

7Bone, Portswood.

Originally, this post was intended to be about the newly opened Newbury location of southern burger company, 7Bone. However, after making the 20 minute journey, we were met by this:

 

We thought we’d give them a chance to resolve the issue and wandered around for an hour in the hope that when we came back, the issue may at least be a little closer to being fixed. A shame, as this was not to be and with a little disappointment seeing as this was only their third day of opening, we decided to leave.

We didn’t however, give up on 7Bone, travelling instead to their Portswood address on the outskirts of Southampton. I can tell you right now, it was worth the extra miles.

IMG_0776

Open ‘til late every day of the week and even later at weekends, this is the kind of place I’d love to end up after a Friday night session at the pub.

The guys at 7Bone don’t take themselves too seriously, a point that can be seen in the use of comical names for their burgers. Ronald’s Revenge seemed like an obvious choice, their version of a classic cheeseburger. My partner deciding on the 6oz option rather than the heavier 12oz alternative. A soft white burger bun, sourced from a local bakery held a glorious shine, housing 2 x 3oz smashed beef patties, double cheese, minced white onion, ketchup, mustard and pickles. ‘I couldn’t have asked for a better burger, this is everything a burger should be’. A direct quote from my partner as she dived in.

IMG_0788 (Edited)

Prince Charles is Overrated was my choice. An aged beef patty, bacon, cheese, shredded iceberg, pickles and dirty spread, their house sauce. Once again, the bun doing a great job of keeping everything together as I chomped away. The crisp iceberg lettuce and the kick of acidity from the pickles cut through the cheese and sauce giving my palate the required refresher after every delicious mouthful. In the burger world, the latest trend is having the option to have your burger cooked to different levels of ‘doneness’. Requesting pink instead of well-done, the burger, although not served as pink as I’d hoped for, was an absolute joy to devour.

IMG_0786

A side of dirty fries consisted of a red basket containing fries covered in dirty spread, lettuce and smoked bacon. For me, the bacon could have done with being crispier, but other than that they went down a treat. The addition of the dirty spread was a welcome change to the standard fries usually served in burger joints across the country.

IMG_0787 (Edited)

When it comes to burger restaurants, they are in a league of their own. There’s nothing fancy about what they do here, they just serve simple, well made burgers, really, really well. With a beer, coke, two burgers and a side of dirty fries coming in at just under £26, the likes of GBK and Handmade had better watch out.

9/10

[Who is…] Heston Blumenthal?

Chef proprietor of The Fat Duck in Bray, one of only four restaurants in Great Britain to be awarded a coveted 3 Michelin stars, Heston Marc Blumenthal is probably one of the greatest chefs of recent times. Don’t just take my word for it, in 2005 The Fat Duck was named the best restaurant in the world at the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurant awards.

Born in 1966 to his Jewish father and a mother who converted to Judaism, Blumenthal has said on numerous occasions that he considers himself Jewish. Heston’s novel approach to cooking sparked from a family holiday to France, when he visited the three Michelin Starred L’Oustau de Baumanière. Little did he know, that this experience would light the fire to his interest in cooking and introduce him to what he would later coin “multi-sensory cooking”.

Heston’s interest in cooking continued past leaving school at the age of 18 and into an apprenticeship at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, but leaving after a week. Over the 10 years that followed, he held down a series of unrelated jobs, while teaching himself to cook in his spare time. One book particularly inspired him, On Food and Cooking: the Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee, the basic principle to come from the book being “challenge everything”.

In 1995, Heston opened The Fat Duck in a village in Berkshire. The restaurant quickly became known for its precision cooking and multi-sensory approach, this being reflected just nine years later in it becoming the fastest UK restaurant to earn three Michelin stars. In 2015 the restaurant temporarily relocated to Melbourne, Australia whilst the 16th Century building in Bray was closed for refurbishment. This meant that it was missing from the 2016 edition of The Michelin Guide, therefore losing its three stars as it was unable to be assessed. In 2017, it re-entered the guide, returning to its three star status.

The Fat Duck isn’t the only restaurant owned by Blumenthal in Bray. The Hind’s Head with one Michelin star and The Crown at Bray with two AA Rosette’s are also part of The Fat Duck group. Dinner by Heston Blumenthal is his first outpost outside of Bray located within the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park in London. Despite his name above the door and holding two Michelin stars, Blumenthal has credited all its success to Dinners head chef Ashley Palmer-Watts.

He has conducted multiple experiments as part of his pioneering work in multi-sensory cooking and dining with the help of Professor Charles Spence, the head of Crossmodal Research Laboratory at Oxford University. One of his main points of interests is how the name of a dish can change a person’s perception of taste. An example of which can be seen in his “Crab ice-cream”, a creation to accompany a crab risotto. He found that by changing the name, diners found the dish more approachable and less sweet. His idea was one ‘of creating a world, of transporting the diner – through sound, through food, through an integrated appeal to the senses – to another place’ (Blumenthal, 2008:23).

As well as his restaurants ever-growing list of accolades, Heston himself is also the recipient of several awards. In the 2006 New Year’s Honours List for his services to British Gastronomy, he was appointed an OBE. Later on that year, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree by Reading University. Other honorary awards include: Fellowship by the Royal Society of Chemistry, Master of Science from Bristol University in 2007 and a Doctor of Science degree by the University of London in 2013. He has also won many GQ awards, Chef’s choice awards at the 2007 World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards ceremony, was granted his own personal coat of arms by the College of Arms in 2013 and in 2017 was awarded the Diner’s Club Lifetime Achievement Award at the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards in Australia.

‘I feel like after 20 years, I’m just starting’ (Blumenthal, 2017).

References

Blumenthal, H. (2008) The Big Fat Duck Cookbook. Bloomsbury.

Blumenthal, H. (2017) Diner’s Club Lifetime Achievement Award Speech.