Dinner Out: Brunel Raj, Bristol

If there is anything guaranteed to make me happier than the proverbial pig in shit, then sitting in a curry house on a  summer evening with friends whom I love and make me laugh whilst drinking Kingfisher, gossiping and eating curries has got to be pretty  near the top of the list. That makes Indian restarants very easy and particularly hard to review, because I am predisposed to  love them – which makes being purely objective harder. But not impossible – as there are also some fairly shoddy curry places – I just happen not to eat in those for the most part. Anyway, objectively, The Brunel Raj in Clifton is one of Bristol’s best curry houses.  I am not the only person to think so, as the queues for table when we arrived last night, and the ability to book only for 6.15 or 9pm would testify. The small lobby was packed out with people waiting for tables and picking up takeaways – and I see that as a very good sign indeed.

We got our table a little after 9, and drinks, poppadoms and pickles were quickly arranged. We were absolutely ravenous by this time. They sat us by the french doors which looked out onto the quiet street outside, which was lovely – always great when you get the exact seat you would have chosen in a restaurant , especially when it is packed. There was a strange moment when my friend, (somewhat misguidedly in my view) ordered cider with his meal and was presented fairly unceremoniously with a can of Blackthorn, which seems a little strange in a place where the linen napkins are laid on your lap by the waiter as you sit down, and everyone else is drinking out of gold rimmed glasses but alright.  The poppadoms and their pickly friends came – five in total; mango chutney, lime pickle, tomato and onion salad, raita and that mango coloured coconut powder which I never know the name of. Really good quality, all, but maybe for 4 people, not really quite big enough.

My adventurous friends all opted for chicken dishes;  honey chicken, butter chicken and a chicken balti, and I chose a prawn bhuna. I would have liked one of their king prawn specials for which they are justly famous but as we were splitting the bill, I had to be a bit more circumspect. We chose garlic naan, peshwari naan, mushroom rice and pulao rice and saag bhaji. The table was absolutely groaning. Now, I don’t eat chicken in curry houses, I don’t eat chicken anywhere that doesn’t serve  at least free range (and this isn’t one of those places) , so sadly I can’t comment on their meals but from the sighs and groans and general lack of conversation I’m guessing everyone was happy. The rices and breads were light and  gorgeous, and the mushroom rice particularly so – I could have just sat there and eaten the whole plate, had my friends not started to give me funny looks, the saag bhaji was perfect and the prawn bhuna was fresh and full-flavoured, made with good quality prawns and very very moreish. But we couldn’t finish our food – nowhere near actually. We really didn’t need two rice AND two breads AND a vegetable side between us – god only know what would have happened if we had got a starter course too, but I’m glad we ordered it anyway.

I do think the quality of food is higher than average here, the service is fine if a bit brisk and in terms of cleanliness and comfort, I couldn’t ask for much more, certainly not at £20 a head for drinks and full bellies. This is probably not a restaurant for a romantic date – on a Friday or Saturday night, anyway – but it is a great place to go to eat, especially with friends, and if you are going to eat curry in Bristol the general consensus is that it’s not a bad idea to do it here. 4 out of 5 (point deducted for can on the table and strange poppodom/pickle ratio).

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Celebration Steak Dinner

Steak Frites

Green & Black’s Strawberry Icecream

I have finished my job – hence the celebrating – and I start a new one on Monday (my birthday – how dumb am I?) so I have a couple of days off. Cue another hugely costly trip to Legoland with the boy and a big night out on Friday with my closest work buddies culminating in a curry. A birthday meal with the squeeze on Saturday night and a family dinner on Sunday. I am going to be the size of my house.

Anyway, its a been a long day. And a long month, actually. I’m trying to stay away from takeaway, as always, but I wanted a dinner that felt like a treat without much too much effort so I picked up some steaks and icecream on the way home. I already had everything else I needed.To make chips yourself, you will need three things:

  • deepfat frier (or a chip pan, if like me you are cheap enough to live on the edge),
  • oil – preferably sunflower or groundnut
  • spuds. Maris Piper or King Edward – around 175g potato per person

There is nothing very hard about making chips, not as easy as oven chips I grant you, but infinitely nicer. Peel your potatoes and cut them in to chips about 1/2 inch wide by 1/2 inch deep . The fatter the chip, the healthier allegedly as they absorb less oil overall  (but lets not pretend health has got anything to do with this). Put them in a bowl of cold water and leave them to soak. Fill the chip pan to about 2/3 full and heat your oil to about 180*, then drain and dry your chips thoroughly, with a clean tea towel. Carefully lower your chips into the hot oil and cook for about 10 minutes until the potatoes are soft, but not browned. You can do this stage in advance if you like. Take them out of the oil and turn the oil up. Lower the chips back in, when the oil is at 200 and then cook until brown and crispy. Drain on kitchen towel and sprinkle with salt.

Meanwhile, cook your steak. I like rump and ribeye steak for these purposes. Ensure the steaks are at room temperature and take a heavy frying pan. Heat the pan until very slightly smoking, coat the steaks with olive oil and season with salt and pepper and put them into the frying pan. Cook over a medium heat for three – four minutes on the first side, without touching or agitating the steaks and then turn over and cook for another two- three, depending on the thickness of your steak.. When you see small pools of blood on top of the steak you know they are done. Remove and rest them for a few minutes on warm plates before adding the chips and serving.

Serve with mustard, tommy K and a slice of white bread in order to make a chip butty.

Take the icecream out of the freezer a few minutes before you plan to serve it. Serve and eat it.

*If you don’t have a thermometer for your deep fat fryer, the oil is hot enough when you can drop a chip in and it sizzles and risees to the surface within about 30 seconds

The Invisible Dinners

I have never been the faithful type when it comes to blogs, needing a muse to carry me through for consistent writing. I am like this in many areas of life, actually, piles of amazing books half read under the bed because another has taken my attention, email only friends long neglected for the immediate and easier IM and RL pleasures of life, grass is greenerism halfway through a course of study or 18 months in a job (its my last day tomorrow) and a gluttony for the opposite sex even greater than that of my gluttony for salty, fatty carbs. Its like adhd… you start doing the washing up, and ‘oooh, shiny!’ off you flit to do something else, soapy water long forgotten.

I haven’t even been cooking as much actually – 6 months of food blogging did my waistline no favours at all, and studying for professional exams eventually took over. Combine with work stress, and a bout of horrible depression and there you have it, no reason at all not to eat beans on toast every single night. While I’ve been gone I’ve eaten in Croatia, St Ives and in Amsterdam and in a couple of Michelin starred joints, I’ve eaten my way through the full range of M&S meals, and now due to these excesses have taken to thrifty pasta dishes and taking leftovers to work for lunch. They’ve been great, actually, I have a knack for leftovers it seems.

But almost a year after starting this blog, its time to start again. I’ve been listening to the strangely addictive Julie & Julia on audiobook this week and it has reminded me how much I’ve missed the cooking and the writing and the eating. A story about a woman approaching thirty who decides to cook all of the recipes in Julia Child’s ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’ (no mean feat)  and blog about it. It became a film last year I think which I never saw, but it was made by Nora Ephron, whose work depresses me a little (Its not all ‘When Harry met Sally’, you know) – so I may never watch it. I’ve been writing on another site with my friend Edgie, where I’ve been trying to write about thrifty living. Its ok, but the words seem to flow better when I’m talking about Michelin stars.