On Friday evening we were in Clifton, staying with Matt's parents in their lovely new flat. To say thank you for putting us up (and putting up with us) on several occasions, we took them out to a newish restaurant just round the corner called Blue Rhubarb. Apparently it used to be a garage, but they've made very good use of the space inside, so it doesn't feel cold or industrial. The deep blue and purple velvet curtains hanging in swags, and the enormous and really-very-swanky-indeed chandelier give it a little bit of sumptuous, almost theatrical flair.
When I was handed the menu, I at first thought it was a bit of an oddity. Packed with British classics, it's obviously trying to give customers a fine dining experience. However, the choice of some of the ingredients and accompaniments seemed to me to be a little too hearty, and more at home on a pub or, dare I say it, a school dinner menu (although that might have something to do with my deep seated dislike of beetroot, swede and their ilk). But as soon as the starters came out, I realised how wrong I had been.
Matt and I love going out to eat, and while we're not connoisseurs of fine dining by any stretch of the imagination, we do like to treat each other to the odd posh meal for birthdays/anniversaries/just-because-it's-a-wednesday. It's funny how easy it is to pigeonhole menus or types of restaurants before you've taken a bite. I suspect I had subconsciously decided that in order for a menu to constitute a 'fine dining' experience, things had to be served in tiny or odd-shaped dishes, with emulsions and foams and other Willy Wonka-esque bits of showmanship. While these things are all undeniably great fun, and very tasty too, I think I need to be less of a menu jackdaw, who's distracted by the shiny, glitzy faff, and focus on the foundations of the dishes themselves.
So, my Blue Rhubarb starter was a welcome eye opener. Buttery soft pigeon breast came served simply but beautifully on a bed on puy lentils (a packet of which is consequently lurking in our kitchen cupboard, watch this space for lentil experiments). The meat was lovely and rare and was complemented perfectly by the sticky and warming lentils. The main courses followed in a similarly delicious vein. My wild mushroom risotto was full of flavour, with the special treat of a truffled marscarpone ball sitting and oozing gorgeousness through the middle of it. Matt had slow roast lamb shoulder served with lamb hash and a carrot and swede mash (which couldn't have been further from my middle-school recollections of hideous lumpy 'yuck swede'). Also at our table, and eliciting many yummy noises was moist and tender chicken breast with creamed cabbage, salty pancetta and saffron, and duck breast with pureed beetroot (a non vinegary, deep and sweet revelation - oh beetroot, how cruelly I have misjudged you!)
The portion sizes were so well judged that although we'd had a lot of pretty rich food, we were all up for pudding. My blueberry and rhubarb cheescake hit all the right notes of bitter, creamy, fruity and sweet, and a blackberry creme brulee was subtle and delicate. All in all, a highly recommended restaurant, serving classic food simply but with real style, and without the bumper price tag that you might be afraid of. Yum!
So then it was back to the Big Smoke, and what better way to get back into London than with an exhibition devoted to cake?!
This was Cake Britain, an entirely edible exhibition from Tate and Lyle and The Mad Artists' Tea Party. We caught it on the last day, and arrived just as the great and glorious 'smashing-everything-up-and-eating-it' part was beginning. Thankfully, we managed to get a good look at the installations before they were devoured by the clamouring hoardes. Each one was inspired by the word 'fair', to highlight Tate and Lyle's emphasis on Fairtrade.
So, we were confronted with this handsome stag made entirely of icing and texturised with brown sugar...
... this entirely edible and not-a-little-bit-sinister garden ...
... Captain Fairtrade, he sails the seas, made entirely of sponge cake and icing going 'Yargh' and 'Ahoy' ...
....and this 'Cloud Cuckoo Cake', which questions whether love is an unreachable ideal, with Brangelina on the top as an epitome of the unreal (ouch).
We watched the destruction of this one, and a strange shift came over the feeling of the exhibition. No frontiers of politeness were broken, but people did start to get a bit grabby as the portions were handed out, with bits of the meringue being broken off and stuffed into people's faces at alarming speed. It was fun to watch, but a little bit unnerving to see how quickly people had gone from calmly admiring the artwork, to chaotically grabbing bits of it and snarfing them.
I for one, am a fan of edible exhibitions, and would like to watch / taste / digest some more!
Tomorrow being bank holiday monday, and the weather promising to be awful I shall flee to the kitchen for a bake-a-thon. Any successes will no doubt make their way online soon. But right now, my snuggly bed is calling to me, so I shall bid you goodnight.