Tag: dining

Catch and Cook Fishing Trip

Catch and Cook Fishing Trip

At the time of writing this, ‘England’s Seafood FEAST’ is well under way. It is a two week event, running from the 22nd September until the 7th October, celebrating the wonderful array of restaurants, produce, and experiences that Torbay has to offer.  When I looked at the schedule I quickly decided that the one event I had to take part in was the catch and cook fishing trip run by the Cantina Kitchen and Bar in Paignton.  I have been looking for an excuse to go Mackerel fishing for about 3 years. Now was finally the time.

Bad Omens

It’s lucky I’m not superstitious as my journey from Exminster to Paignton would have probably been enough to put most people off going to sea.  An accident on the main road forced me to detour though country lanes and villages, relying on the sat-nav on my phone to steer me through, while also trying desperately to get hold of the bar to let them know I was delayed.  Poor signal and low battery threatened to derail me at any moment.  Queues of cars squeezed past one another as we all inched our way along what we hoped was the lesser of two evils. Each time we came to a halt I peered anxiously at the ETA displayed on the screen, and watched with horror as the meeting time of 5 o’clock became a distant dream.

Upon my arrival in Paignton I ran from the car park to the harbour – desperately hoping that the boat, ‘Our Joe-L’ would still be there. To my horror, as I rounded the corner into the harbour, I spotted the boat just pulling away from the harbour wall. In a last ditch effort, I legged it towards the boat, ready to jump from the wall like a slightly asthmatic, less grumpy Liam Neeson.  Fortunately, no such heroics were required (I do not have a very particular sets of skills). The boat was just picking someone up from the other side of the mouth of the harbour and came back for me moments later.

Quickly getting my breath back, and apologising to everyone for keeping them waiting, I boarded the boat and tried to put the past, profanity filled hour behind me.

Catch and Cook: Out to sea

It didn’t take long.  We were blessed with the perfect evening for a boat ride, with the sun still warm but low in the sky, bathing the sea, coastline and us in a glorious golden glow.  I have always been a fan of autumn, and it is because of days like this one; they feel like a reminder of the summer days that have been and gone, but more valued because of their scarcity.   If we had failed to catch a single fish I don’t think I would have been disappointed.  Fortunately that was not going to be a problem.

I am happy to report that I caught the first fish of the night. This was in no way due to any particular skill on my part however; I was still being shown how to cast the line in when I felt something pull on it. And my fellow fishermen and women quickly got off the mark too.  Shaun, our skipper, was kept very busy helping to unhook fish, but before long everyone was mucking in and helping each other as the fish were reeled in.

Just as the sun was beginning to sink behind the headland we turned for home.  We had caught more fish than we could eat in a week, but none of it was going to waste.  Shaun kept some of the smaller fish to use as bait, but the rest of the catch was strung together and after reaching the harbour we strolled proudly back to the restaurant with our catch.

Dinner

On arrival at Cantina we handed the fish over to the kitchen who busied themselves with prepping dinner.  We had a table reserved for us with a view of the kitchen so we were able to watch them working, while we chatted over a well-deserved drink. One of the highlights for me was the demonstration of how to prepare the fish including gutting and filleting it.  I was given the opportunity to have a go myself and discovered it was actually really simple, and very satisfying to successfully remove the fillets; no more getting the fishmonger to do it for me!

This was followed by a wonderful two course meal that was included in our ticket price.  To start we had a scallop, with pea puree and bacon crumb – a classic combination of flavours that was executed brilliantly: the scallop sweet and succulent, the puree velvety and the bacon crumb providing a little seasoning and a hit of umami flavour.  This was followed by our freshly caught mackerel, served with horseradish mash and Swiss chard. Again the dish was beautifully balanced – the oily fish matched brilliantly with the heat of horseradish.  Undoubtedly this fish tasted all the sweeter for being a part of our own catch, but the skill, care and passion of the chefs was what really made it shine.

When it came time to leave I was genuinely sad to go.  We were looked after in a friendly, informal but diligent way throughout, and felt like we had been not just customers for the evening, but welcomed into the community for a time.  I will definitely be back.

Many thanks to Kate and all her team at Cantina for looking after us and to Shaun for his exceptional fish finding. Also a special thanks to one of my fellow fishers, Tina, who provided many of the pictures above after my phone gave up the ghost!

Links

The boat we fished from, Our Joe-l is available to charter for fishing trips, wildlife observations and more. Click here for more details

Cantina Bar and Kitchen is a gem of a place. Family and dog friendly, the atmosphere is relaxed and informal and the food is excellent.  They organised the catch and cook event as part of ‘England’s seafood FEAST’ but have regular events advertised on their website. They even have their own craft gin, which I will definitely be trying next time I go. Find out more at www.cantinagoodrington.co.uk

There is still lots happenening between now and the 7th October. Find out about the other events that make up ‘England’s seafood FEAST’ by clicking here.

If you are interested in taking part in the Catch and Cook trip, it is running again on the 3rd October and details can be found here

Visits: 79
REVIEW: Alboka, Mijas, Spain

REVIEW: Alboka, Mijas, Spain

I have just returned from a family holiday in Spain, and while a trip with three families, five kids under six and only one real foodie (yours truly) doesn’t exactly lend itself to a plethora of quality dining experiences, I was pleasantly surprised by the standard of food we ate. Even the London Inn, which, thanks our middle class snobbery and the presence of a Scot in our group, we initially dismissed out of hand, did an excellent fish and chips which we ate sitting on the beach in the evening sun.  The stand-out meal, however, was courtesy of a restaurant called Alboka.

Situated in the picturesque town of Mijas, up in the mountains overlook the Costa del Sol, Alboka is a fairly unassuming little restaurant nestled between two competitors that, to the untrained eye, appear to be offering variations on a similar theme. I cannot say with any certainty that I would have chosen it if it hadn’t been for a recommendation from our friends who had visited the previous evening.  But to have missed this gem would have been a real tragedy.

As we entered I was struck by two things – firstly, this place was not courting tourist clichés. The décor felt stylish, contemporary and relaxed – a world away from many of the beachfront restaurants in the nearby town of Fuengirola. The second was the size of the kitchen. Through the serving hatch was a space that appeared to be about the size of a match box.  Now, I know there are plenty of great chefs producing wonderful food in small spaces, but I never fail to marvel at the logistics of this – I can barely make toast without turning the kitchen into a bomb site!

Once we were seated and got a look at the menu, I realised we had a problem: We couldn’t possibly eat everything.  Fortunately, many of the dishes were collected under tapas or sharing plate headings, so we did order quite a lot…

As with any tapas menu the dishes simply arrived when they were ready, so we started with a salad of crisp, fresh leaves, beautifully sweet cherry tomatoes, confit mushrooms, boiled quail’s eggs and a light, herby salad dressing.  It was a lovely showcase for great fresh produce, but what really set it apart was a soft, silky-smooth olive-oil ice cream that topped it off.  It was cooling and indulgent with just a hint of sweetness, and unlike anything I was expecting.  It was clear from this opening salvo that this was not going to be tapas as we know it.

The dishes that followed all subscribed to a similar ethos – familiar things, prepared and presented impeccably with a fresh spin on the idea.  Beef croquetas were served with a creamy goat’s cheese based sauce that brought a delightful tang to each rich, unctuous bite.  The same sauce was used to top fried potato wedges in a delicious (and infinitely more interesting) take on patatas bravas.  Two little pork meatballs were gone in a second; spicy and succulent, I could have eaten them by the bucket load. A dish of black pudding served on fried breadcrumbs is something that sounds like hangover food but it was served with casual elegance that elevated the humble ingredients to new heights.

A couple of the dishes took things a step further however. Pork fillet wrapped in ham was served with a spicy, sticky Pedro Ximénez sauce that I am determined to recreate and then have with everything, it was that good. Meanwhile, a plate of octopus with orange, chilli and radish was a work of art – bright, vibrant and modern, it would not have looked out of place in a Michelin-starred dining room.  The combination of flavours worked brilliantly too.  The flavour of the octopus packed a punch while the orange brought sweetness and freshness to the dish.  Lastly the chilli joined the party to give a moreish kick to each mouthful.

We ordered desserts out of pure gluttony – a chocolate fondant and a lemon posset. Both were delicious, crowd pleasing puds – although not quite as exciting as the mains, they were still well made, well presented and very enjoyable to eat.

Throughout the meal, the waiters were attentive and friendly, the service was prompt without ever feeling rushed and the value for money was beyond excellent.  For everything I have described, plus drinks, we paid just over 50 Euros.  If you are planning on heading to the Costa del Sol for your holidays, you should seriously consider making time for a trip to Alboka.  If not, watch this space as I fully intend to reverse engineer the recipes…

Visits: 34
Scripts for Supper: Wind in the Willows

Scripts for Supper: Wind in the Willows

Dinner theatre is something which fills me with equal parts excitement and dread.  Done well it combines two of my favourite things; done badly it leaves a bad taste in the mouth – in every sense. That being said, when I saw that West Town Farm in Ide was hosting Scripts for Supper’s latest performance – a production of Wind in the Willows with dishes inspired by the story, it was an easy decision to go.

Scripts for Supper is the brainchild of former MasterChef contestant Annie Mackenzie and she has taken on the not inconsiderable task of directing the show and devising the menu. Having watched Annie’s progress through the show two years ago I was curious to see what her food would be like but confident that we were in for a good meal.

We had tickets for the final night of the performance – and what a night it was.  We arrived at the farm bathed in glorious, golden sunlight and were greeted with a pre-dinner cocktail which we drank with the sun on our faces while leaning against the warm, red-brick farm buildings.  The cocktail was sharp and refreshing – the perfect accompaniment to a late spring evening.  While guests arrived canapés were served by the kitchen team: a light-as-air tart tatin filled with sticky caramelised onion; a delightful way to get things started.  The meal/performance  began a little later than scheduled but this was bothering no-one – it was the perfect evening for taking your time over things.

Soon though we were led to the dining room. We were greeted with a space that managed to be simultaneously rural and refined.  What is in effect an open sided barn had been filled with two long communal tables covered with green astro-turf tablecloths, tea lights, golden placemats and silverware.  As soon as everyone was seated the performance began, setting the tone for the meal – the actors, out of character, frantically tried to wake the narrator who fallen asleep in a corner of the room.  Throughout the performance, which was punctuated by the various courses, the actors regularly referred to each other by their real names, stopped the action to redo moments because they hadn’t got the right reaction and broke the fourth wall so often and so thoroughly that the remains would make Humpty Dumpty’s injuries seem like a scraped knee.  It was full of anarchic energy but for all the chaos, the story was still clear and the characters were well interpreted.  It was a smart choice to perform the play in this style, as it created a convivial atmosphere among the guests and meant that, in the breaks to serve food, the actors could interact freely with the diners while serving, without worrying about destroying a carefully built illusion.  Not all of the improvisation hit the mark for me, however.  We were there on the last night of the run and with some of the ad-libs it felt like the cast were getting a little carried away. Although momentarily awkward, these did little to mar what was an otherwise extremely enjoyable play.

The performance was only half the story though.  Throughout the play there were four intervals for different courses to be served, the first of which was inspired by Ratty’s rather generously over-packed picnic hamper.  We were treated to a terrine that was delightfully gamey, with sweet, smoky flavours from the bacon that encircled each slice. Studded throughout were pieces of cornichon, which added a very pleasing sharpness as a counterpoint to the rich meat.

Next was a sardine croquette: crisp on the outside, light and fluffy inside. The flavour here was excellent – not overpoweringly fishy, buttery and moreish.  I would have eaten them all night if I could.

The main course was a bubble and squeak risotto topped with a soft-boiled egg rolled in crispy crumbs. The risotto was creamy and satisfying while the egg added some welcome textural variety. Also what dish isn’t enhanced by perfectly runny egg yolk?

To end the meal we were served rhubarb trifles.  If I ever find myself on death row, rhubarb and custard will be strong contenders for a place in my final meal.  So needless to say I enjoyed this dessert immensely. My wife, who also loves rhubarb, sadly is not a fan of booze in a pudding, so I selflessly ate hers too. I would have felt bad about this but was too busy enjoying myself.  The custard was thick and sweet, the fruit soft and tart. The alcohol gave the whole thing a mischievous, grown-up kick. It was the perfect end to the meal and a fitting dish to sum up the evening: sweet, playful and satisfying.

 

At the time of writing, Scripts for Supper’s next project has not been announced but do head to the website, www.scriptsforsupper.co.uk for contact details and to keep an eye on what comes next!

Visits: 5