DINNER DIARY: Week 15



Week 14 came and went and lord knows what I ate, life's a bit of a whirlwind at the moment.

Pasta and meatballs is always good, I use a mixture of pork and veal mince with lots of parsley and garlic. My family seem to make them the size of cannon balls but I opt for slightly smaller ones.



Date night got a bit hijacked this week as Mr. GF had to go off somewhere and I went out for pizza with a friend. The offer on at Pizza Express was too good to miss and curious as I had never previously been to one. Having taken the mick out of their Leggera pizza range quite a lot recently, where they save the diner calories with the genius method of taking a great big hole out of the centre of the pizza and replacing it with salad (ta-dah!), I just had to try one. Erm, well, I can't say this was particularly good. The tomatoes were way too sweet and the base undercooked and flabby. You can kind of see in the pic how soggy parts of it were. This may be my first and last visit. Kind of want to try the Francesco Mazzei pizzas though.



My fool proof fishcakes were better, I had some pollack in but they really do need the smoked fish in the recipe, really nice with the spicy salsa.

No I didn't eat a "pizza sausage" on Friday, that would be odd. I had some lovely spicy Italian sausages left over that were crying out to be put on a pizza so it had to be done. I didn't cut a hole out of the middle of my one.



Stress really frazzled me this week so my lovely mother came over and cooked me a vat of "restorative chicken soup". I truly believe that this soup can cure 80% of ailments. Made me feel a whole heap better - thanks mum!

(I also ate the soup again on Sunday, not bin bags, that was Mr. Graphic Foodie's inability to write on the CORRECT area of the blackboard - grrr)

BRIGHTON FOOD EVENT: Residence pop up restaurant



How exciting! Brighton gets its first (well, that I know of) pop up restaurant.

Londoners have been treated to quite a few but we like to do things a bit differently down here and this pop up will also have the additional ingredient of a different resident artist at each service, creating work inspired by the restaurant (and its customers!) during your meal that you can then bid for after online. As well as painters; illustrators, graffiti artists and embroiderers have been billed and you can see which artist will be working and when here.

I met up with the organiser to get the low down. Alongside professional chefs, the food will be catered for by students from the hospitality and catering course at City College Brighton, who are no strangers to paying diners, operating a public restaurant Tuesdays to Thursdays anyway. Lunch is just 12.50 and dinner is £16.50 and wines will be supplied by local Butlers Wine Cellar and I am really looking forward to trying Dark Star Brewery's Espresso beer to cap things off with.

You may even (not confirmed) see me doing my best Manuel impression working front of house for one night!

Just down from the train station and part of the Brighton Fringe Festival, it's a date for your diary.

1st -23rd May 2010
Residence Pop-up Restaurant
Whitecross Street
Brighton
BN1 4FA
07825 508 083
residencepop-up.com

REVIEW: Table, Brighton

November 2010 UPDATE: Table has now closed and will become The Chilli Pickle - yay!



Table is a good looking restaurant. Situated on the former site of Zilli Café (which the Brightonians never really warmed to), it is now run by Company Of Cooks, who own the likes of the cafes and restaurants in the Southbank Centre, Regents Park and Tower Wharf.

It's a big restaurant too, which is why I suspect it is frequently empty when I walk past it. Bit of a kick in the teeth for them as on the same street the Pizza Express, Las Iguanas, Carluccio and Giraffe chain restaurants always seem to be bustling. Maybe the problem is that Table looks expensive which is a shame as if you study the menu–certainly the lunch or early dinner menus–prices are comparable with those ridiculous pizzas with holes cut out (sheesh!) in Pizza Express.

I was also keen to try this place as the reviews and word-of-mouth have been very favourable indeed.



Taking an early dinner one weekday, the offer of 2 courses and a glass of wine for £12 seemed an absolute bargain to me. Choice was limited as you would expect, but what there was to choose from was enticing. Having spied the puddings, starters were bypassed and as I was in a meat mood, I opted for the Soy marinated Skirt Steak, Onion Rings, Bean Sprout and Coriander Salad. Skin-on chips were extra at £2.50.

The plate arrived and my eyes were satisfied. Initially very tasty. Three mouthfuls in and still good but then something odd happened. Once the plate had (quickly) cooled, the onion rings and salad became very greasy, the chips became limp. It wasn't a terrible meal but it was er, hard-going. It didn't help that the steak (and not being asked how I wanted it cooked) was borderline raw. The cooked and rare parts were beautifully tender but the raw centre took some chewing and a bellyful of raw meat just doesn't sit well with me. I can't say I felt great after.

The other problem was the flavours. The soy marinade and oriental inspired salad I got. But the classic onion rings with these seemed misplaced on this plate. Skins were left on the too-thin-to-be-called-chips chips which weren't very moorish and for once I didn't fight for the last ones in the bowl.



Puddings were pleasant. My Seville Orange Marmalade Pudding served with Custard was good, gooey and stodgy. Mr. Graphic Foodie's love of Sticky Toffee Pudding was satisfied although it wasn't the best example he'd had recently.



Despite a bit of a so-so supper I still want to go back to try the full evening menu, maybe on a Saturday when there is more life in the restaurant and pizazz in the kitchen.

Also worth mentioning is that this restaurant runs a series of events, TableTalk. Local ale tastings, ice-cream masterclasses, live music nights... looks good.

Table Brighton
(Under myhotel Brighton)
17 Jubilee Street
Brighton, East Sussex, BN1 1GE

DESIGN: Paper high tea

I'm trying to shift a few (just a few) lb's because I've been eating like a little pig lately and the wedding dress I ordered is flipping tight, hence the lack of hearty recipe posts up here of late. Saying that I'm going out for pizza tonight! Tomorrow, tomorrow...

But how gorgeous is this, especially those darling cucumber sandwiches? I really love paper sculpted food, not as much as real food obviously, but this example by Benja Harney is the peachiest I've seen. Nice to see 3D, handmade items coming back into fashion in graphic design. Looking at my computer monitor day-in-day-out is DULL.



Works really well in editorial too. Nice.



Check out his other work over at Paperform.

Images via Paperform.

BOOK REVIEW: Bake and decorate by Fiona Cairns



Bake and Decorate promises a lot with its pretty foiled and pastel cover. This is a good looking book. But like any cake, it had to fulfill it purpose beyond the glossy good looks.

I like the idea behind this book. Half is dedicated to cake recipes (large, small cakes and biscuits) and the other half to decorating. Each cake has a suggested decoration but you are free to mix and match to some extent.

Apart from one or two exceptions, at first glance, none of the methods of decorations really wowed me or were particularly adventurous. There are good instructions for making sugar roses (something I really want to learn how to do) but nothing to put hairs on your chest.



In the end I chose two cakes to make from this book, both for birthday celebrations so I did go out on a whim by baking recipes I hadn't tested before but an author that produces 220,000 cakes a year instills some sort of confidence in you.

But the first, a Sticky Ginger cake (above) for Mr. Graphic Foodie's birthday was a bit of a disaster. When served up to a large group of rather er, "honest" friends, it generally had a big thumbs down. They were right, the treacle content was incredibly over powering and the timings gave a too dry cake, even after leaving it a couple of days to go sticky as suggested. It was saved from the bin to some extent by the salted caramel buttercream, however the instruction to let the caramel go "stone cold" before beating with the butter and icing sugar is just lunacy as it sets hard and is impossible to combine. I saved this by heating it again slightly and I was really happy with the eventual result.



For another friend's birthday tea party, I chose the Chocolate and Beetroot cake. This was slightly more successful and I overheared one person give it a nice compliment. But again some areas of instruction did not give the desired result. Straining the beetroot pulp gave me hardly any juice to make the pink icing with, but hey ho, the cake did taste ok, moist and rich. I went for the Jackson Pollock inspired decoration as suggested which was fun to do. Without any beetroot juice for the icing, I made mine more vibrant and bolder with thicker chocolate splashes which I preferred to the Pepto Bismol example in the book.



Quite a lot of the cakes in the book seemed to be aimed at young girls, lots of Barbie pink, bows and butterflies. I don't know why, but ribbon or any other unedible fabric decorations on cakes makes me feel a bit sick. No really they do. Pile up the edible glitter, sugared mice, petals, whatever, but things you can't eat don't belong on a cake in my book.



But there were a few cake designs that really stood out for me. The chocolate cone cake is beautiful and would be a real challenge to bake. A Bollywood inspired wedding cake with handmade sugar roses is breathtaking. I also really liked the little penguins and the crystalised, edible flower project.

Baking is a science and many factors can work against you. Ovens vary, the temperature of your ingredients is crucial and under or overworking a mixture can result in disaster. It must be very difficult to create a baking cookbook that is successful for everyone. I did check on Twitter and @gourmetraveller had baked the Victoria Sponge from the book rating it simply as a "dud" and the book as "all a bit "mum bakes for kids parties"", which aside from the few that appealed to me, I'd have to agree with.

The author, Fiona Cairns' CV reads like a dream and counts Waitrose, Conran Shop, Liberty, the Ritz hotel, Harrods, Selfridges, and Fortnum and Mason as her clients as well as cake maker to the stars. So this lady really does know her cake.

But apart from the beautiful design, I can't say I was overly enamored with this book after using it. I may try the mint and chocolate cupcakes and use the caramel butter cream again, but I will be sticking with my own baking recipes for now.

Bake and Decorate by Fiona Cairns is published by Quadrille Publishing and costs £19.99.

Many thanks to Quadrille for this copy to review.

DINNER DIARY: WEEK 13



If anyone is wondering what the heck is happening on Wednesdays, I tell ya, after 12 years together, you have to remind yourselves to still date one another. "Date night" usually involves eating out or movies and ice cream.



As for the rest of the week, the dinner diary highlight of the week had to be Easter of course! In my family, the Easter feast begins and ends in pie. The starter is a smoked ham, sausage and egg pie and dessert was a ricotta and chocolate crostata. To ensure adequate resting time between the pies, we had lasagna, then roast lamb and potatoes (we like to cover both Italian and British tradition!), a wonderful cheese course then a pre-dessert of poached pears in wine. Chocolate? Oh yes, we ate that as well.

BRIGHTON FOOD EVENT: Brighton Chocolate Festival and future dates for your diary



The Brighton Spring Harvest Festival (yeah I know, reminded me of bringing in gift wrapped tins of beans to school too) ended last weekend with the Brighton Chocolate festival. Throughout we had various events including spaghetti eating contests, cooking masterclasses at the Chilli Pickle and the city's first, and very welcome, Whiskey Festival.

It's becoming quite common for the New Road area and the redeveloped Jubilee Road to be full of stalls selling tasty treats for various foodie festivals. The Chocolate Festival was as busy as any of them in the glorious weather and there was some good stuff to be seen and eaten.



Most popular was the churros and chocolate stand. The queue was huge and those who waited were rewarded with a cup of doughy goodness.



Despite a few very fancy stalls including Damian Allsop, Paul Wayne Gregory, and the very good William Curley, the majority of them (remembering we are in Brighton) seemed to focus on raw chocolate and gluten, dairy, wheat and blah, blah free treats. Some were good and some were, er, not good but if you have a penchant for gritty truffles there were plenty to choose from.

Quite a few of the food related festivals down here are in their second and third year and are getting better and bigger. This was the first chocolate festival and if it returns next year it would be good to see a wider variety of stalls, maybe more savoury foods using chocolate? Just a thought. The off shoot events looked great, mainly the three course chocolate themed dinner and masterclass at Table.



But the best thing I tried by far was the brownie from the Choc Star Van. I had heard so much about these brownies and they are most certainly worth the hype. Amazingly light, meltingly gooey and rich... yum! I have to admit I was going to share it with a friend but snarfed the lot (sorry Rach). Looking forward to seeing Petra and her van at the artsy Brighton Festival and Fringe Festival this summer for one of her sundaes.



As for future foodie events, the main food festival for Brighton is throughout September this year with open house dining, food trails, various markets and the popular chilli festival (18 - 19th). For the latest news visit www.brightonfoodfestival.co.uk and hopefully I'll see you there!

Peyton and Byrne chocolate bars



Right-ho. Time to get more graphic than foodie for a sec so hold in there. The Peyton and Byrne brand design is one of my absolute favourites by the rather marvelous Farrow agency. As a designer it is all too tempting to over design, and simplicity, believe it or not, is a very hard and gutsy thing to achieve. Farrow have hit the nail on the head with this brand and I love, love, love it.

Chocolate is luxury and the experience always begins with the packaging. Look at how fervently Charlie from Chocolate Factory fame unwraps his precious bars. Peyton and Byrne is refreshingly void of the typical gold and flourishes, opting for a plain, uncoated white paper, seemingly hand-wrapped and casual (my mum would say sloppy) with simple black lettering and a single colour to differentiate the bars and to hint at the flavours.



And the flavours don't get more British than this. Cornish sea salt, English Rose, Marmalade, Elderflower and Toffee which vary between 40 and 70% cocoa solids. So were they any cop? I was lucky to have a stack of them to try.

The Cornish Sea Salt (Milk chocolate) was probably my favourite, just because it was so interesting and a little bit different. All of the flavours were incredibly subtle and most of the flavour was experienced as an after taste. Not necessarily a bad thing. The salt was only noticeable at the end as little sharp tinges on the tongue. Lovely.

The Marmalade (dark) was a classic orange-chocolate flavour, just a bit more grown up and the Single Origin Dark Chocolate was rich, deep and good quality. I do like rose chocolate but would have preferred this milk chocolate version to have been a bit stronger. Not everyone likes perfumy food but I like it when rose flavoured chocolate seems to coat your mouth in richness. The Elderflower (dark), which I though would be my favourite, was surprisingly my least-favourite. To me it just had a washing-up after taste with no sweetness.

That single blip aside I would much rather get a stack of these than a chocolate egg this Easter.

The chocolate bars are priced from £1.60 and are available at Peyton and Byrne Bakeries as well as www.peytonandbyrne.com

I received these complimentary bars for review.