Dinner Out: Firehouse Rotisserie, Bath

Sometimes, when eating out, I think it’s ok to make a non-choice. That’s not to say that it isn’t a decision, or a valid decision, but sometimes you don’t want to think of somewhere new, or challenge yourself. Especially when you have a fussy son who only wants to eat pizza. Sometimes you just want reliable. And Firehouse Rotisserie is reliable, for the most part.

The restaurant is clean and airy, the staff are friendly (and friendly to fussy son, which is important to me) if a touch forgetful. The menu isn’t long, or particularly varied, but what they do sell is of a high quality, very tasty and suited to most palettes.

We started with some bread and olives, which were delicious. The bread had been warmed in the oven and came with a lovely pesto which was gorgeously parmesany, and the olives came in a lovely olive oil and balsamic vinegar, which was also perfect for dipping the bread in.

For our mains, the fussy one had a margherita pizza (herby sauce, light base, stringy mozzarella), I had the half rotisserie free range chicken, with thyme, lemon, bacon and aioli. Tender chicken, and gorgeous thick bacon. Mr Greedy had the confit duck, which was very rich, with lovely cheesy creamy mash. Perhaps a little too rich for my tastes, but lovely nonetheless. I had ordered a bowl of fries with my main, which never arrived – I found this a bit irritating, but also a bit of a relief because it was all more than enough. Maybe they were subtly trying to tell me that my bum would only spread further with the addition of deep fried carb. Who knows?

We had to wait a long time for dessert – a touch irritating in a half empty restaurant with a son desperate for a chocolate brownie. I was  a little torn what to have, unusually for me as I don’t have that sweet a tooth I wanted everything but I settled for chocolate brioche bread and butter pudding, but it was tepid and badly warmed as it was fridge cold in spots and luke warm in others. Texturally though, it was a triumph. Mr Greedy won the prize for the best chosen dessert with a strawberry shortcake.


At £73 for three of us with wine and coffees, I don’t think it was fantastic value for money, but given its location and food quality it wasn’t terrible. Any cheaper than that and you’re going down to paper napkins and battery chickens. In all, I’d give this a 3.5 out of 5 – a good half a mark lost for serving my dessert poorly warmed.

Eating Out: La Campagnuola, Bristol

I haven’t eaten at La Campagnuola for about 15 years. Mr Greedy, although he too has lived in the neighbourhood for around that length of time, has never eaten here. It has to be said that my meal, 15 years ago – what I can remember of it anyway – was not all that special. It was a boyfriend’s work Christmas party. I didn’t have a great time so maybe it was me that was off, rather than them. Still, that’s a long time to avoid a place.

Anyway, a friend of mine went here fairly recently and she liked it so when looking for somewhere local, it had been on my ‘italian places to try in Bristol’ list for a little while now. I guess I don’t tend to eat at Italian restaurants very often – there are a couple of exceptional italian restaurants in Bristol as well as a few grotty chains – but decent neighbourhood trattorias seem fairly thin on the ground. And that’s all we wanted really – a good plate of pasta, a bottle of wine and an informal atmosphere. And La Campagnuola perfectly fits that bill.

The greeting was very friendly and welcoming and the restaurant fuller than we expected for a Sunday evening. The music was predictably Italian Trattoria …’HEY MamBO! Mambo Italiano!..” but no worse for that, really. I wouldn’t know what music to pick, if I had my own place – I think I’d end up settling for silence – that or Radio4. Which probably means I’d be a bad choice to run a restaurant. I’d like Edith Piaf, but I feel that would only be a spot on choice in a french bistro, a dark one. Anyway, welcome fine, music fine, atmosphere fine. In a bit of an error of our part we found ourselves sitting opposite a group of what I originally mistook for language students. Noisy ones. But we can’t blame anyone but ourselves for that.

The menu is absolutely standard Italian Trattoria.This makes a restaurant extremely easy to review, as actually I don’t believe that decent Prosicutto, or a decent plate of lasagne are all that subjective. Starters, which included Mozzarella in Carrozza, Funghi Ripieni, Melon & Proscuitto and Antipasto were inexpensive, beginning at £3.50 and finishing at £6.  I had breaded calamari with garlic mayo and the Mr. had Mozzarella in Carrozza. They were fine. Nothing groundbreaking but well cooked and the spicy tomato sauce that came with the Mozzarella, was fantastic. I moved onto Spaghetti Carbonara and Mr took the seafood stew. They were great – the Carbonara sauce was great – clingy and unctuous, with perfectly cooked pasta and the stew was also lovely, very saffron-y with lovely seafood. We chose well, undoubtedly, but ever time I saw or smelt a pizza go by, I did feel a pang of envy. I know I would never have finished a whole pizza by myself, but that’s what the doggy bag is for, no? Again, the mains were well priced and fairly Italian standard – pizzas, pastas fish and meat, good value again, starting at roughly £6 and topping out at £13 I think, with Mr’s stew being the most expensive thing I noticed. The wine was pretty cheap – which we took good advantage of.

Mr didn’t have any room for dessert, but I had a bit of room left for Tiramisu. It felt and tasted homemade, but for me it wasn’t a complete triumph, maybe a touch soggy.Or maybe my eyes were just a bit too big for my belly, and I wouldn’t have appreciated anything a  great deal by then. But still, average Tiramisu usually is better than no Tiramisu in my eyes. We had a couple of Irish Coffees, which were ok. As usual, the staff seemed to get a collective case of waiter’s eye, when it came to getting us the bill, not noticing us then forgetting us. But they were great, really, very charming so completely easy to forgive.

I’m looking forward to going back soon and trying one of their pizzas – which I’m sure will be a pleasure to review, even if just to myself – and I think I’ll take my son next time as it will be lovely for him and completely the right place to take kids – somewhere adult but friendly, with plenty of quiet corners and very kid friendly food. I just need to lose..a .. few…pounds first.

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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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Graze Bar & Chop House, Bristol

graze1

verb 1 (of cattle, sheep, etc.) eat grass in a field. 2 informal eat frequent snacks at irregular intervals

average

adjective 1 constituting an average. 2 usual or ordinary. 3 mediocre.

A Bristolcentric post I’m afraid.

Bath Ales make a fine beer. Their organic lager, Natural Blonde, not only has a cute name, but its my favourite beer in the world. I don’t know  what benefits having organic lager gives you mind, but it does taste good. Their other ales are apparently excellent, but I don’t tend to drink dark things, so I can’t say. Bath Ales also run some very nice (if getting slightly samey) pubs in Bristol & Bath. Their formula would appear to be a reasonable one, usually; friendly staff, decent wine list, natural woods, sunday lunches, real ales. They are not cheap, which is good from some perspectives – never a bad idea to price out the chavs. So I was interested to see what the score was in this bona fide non pub.

And it was – ok. The staff were nice if slightly absent to begin with. The place is nicely lit. There is music – and if The Magic Numbers on constant loop is musically your cup of tea, then your luck’s in, for I heard the whole album three times in a row. Obviously our drinks were fine.  The menu, on first glance, looked great – there’s a lot of stuff. From things on toast, salads, seafood, proper meals, steak and chips, pork chop (natch). Greedy companion and I were so pathetically grateful to have ended a pair of pretty grim working days and to get out of the snow, that we fell on the menu like it was some sacred text. It’s not a sacred text, but its a pretty varied choice.

We’d settled on bread and olives to share for a start. And we were rewarded by a huge bowl of the most delicious olives. I mean really fantastic. I would venture to say that the best thing about the place was the bowl of olives we got. Sirisly! But it was let down by some half heartedly toasted bread, which was neither here nor there with the stingiest smear of olive oil. We asked for butter and got a chunk so cold it wasn’t feasible to spread it on the bread. Not a huge deal. Just irritating. Greedy companion went for steak and chips and I went for pork chops, which comes on a bed of quite vinegary red cabbage. Now, it strikes me that if your steak comes with chips, then for the same price your pork chop should come with a side of carb (we’re not talking about an organic, rare-breed or even free range chop as far as I can tell), but apparently not. So I ordered some ‘triple cooked’ chips at £2.75. When my teeth stopped grinding at the cheek of that, we settled down to our meals. Greedy companion’s steak was a perfectly cooked medium rare. Some of her chips like mine though, despite being ‘triple cooked’ (arrghhjg) were so thick that they hadn’t cooked completely through and were slightly al -dente. They tasted great, but I ask you now, whats the point of triple cooking something for it still to come out a bit hard?! My chop was nicely cooked. It was very sagey, which is not a bad thing at all.

Nothing on the dessert menu took our fancy, and despite the snow coming down like.. bloody Alaska, we decided to head on out into the night.

Total bill for a bit of bread and olives, pint and a half of real ale, small bottle of (organic!) lager rump steak & chips, pork chop & chips and a cup of coffee: £40. Which, is not the end of the world in terms of food bills, but for what was an essentially average bar meal, seemed a bit steep. We didn;t even get tipsy .

I think the problem that Graze will have, is actually, places around there just do that sort of thing better, a smidge cheaper and better quality and have done so for years. Given the choice I’d take Bordeaux Quay, Goldbrick House, The Cafe Bar at River Station and even the Arnolfini for the same proposition. Still. next time I fancy lamb kidney on toast with a cheeky natural blonde for my lunch, I won’t dismiss it out of hand.

3/5 (1 whole point for the olives)

Graze Bar & Chop House, Queens Square, Bristol.

Dinner Out: Joy Raj, Clifton Village, Bristol

Y’all know I’m not a professional food writer (No, really?). Nobody pays for my dinner, no one even buys me a drink actually, for writing this stuff. And I’m sure you realise this, when reading some of my reviews which may have been less than flattering. The ones I can’t pick any holes in? They’re just really good – there is no bias. It’s also worth considering that I do drink – and when I go to a curry house, I sometimes drink more than one beer. I just like to think I’m reviewing in context, anyway.

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So on Friday night, the opportunity for a curry presented itself, somewhere new. In CliftonVillage there is  some stiff competition in terms of curry houses ( I can think of maybe 4 within a 5 minute walk) and loads of other places to eat, Joy Raj doesn’t particularly stand out for me in the street. But, Greedy Companion girl insisted and down we went. And we went downstairs, were greeted and sat down immediately. The tables we really wanted were booked out (always a fairly good sign that people would bother to book for a high street curry house in Bristol) and they were fairly busy so I don’t think our spot was the good, but it was lit well and comfortable. The decor wasn’t stunning.. by any means, but it was clean and bright.We had pickles and poppodoms to start – the pickles were delicious, and I am fairly picky about pickles . So far so tasty. When ordering our the rest of our food I got into a conversation with our charming waiter about one of my obsessions, the tandoor. Would I like to go into the kitchen and watch them cook in it? Would I? You don’t need to ask me a question like that twice. So I waited until the chef was ready and I tottered in. I know I don’t get out too much, but wow, it made my night! I think the kitchen staff were a bit bemused as I stuck my head down and started taking photographs of the oven, but you know, simple things for simple minds..  The other bonus, as an inveterate nosy parker who is always trying to stick her head through the kitchen door, is that its always nice to see that your food is being freshly prepared (it was) and that everything is nice and clean (it was) and that people working in the kitchen at the very least, appear happy, and clean (they did). This may seem like some fairly basic criteria to people who aren’t always poking their nose about but believe me, not all is as you’d hope in some of the least obvious places. And to avoid getting sued by anyone in particular, I’m going to stop it there.

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So, I went and sat back down and our food arrived very shortly after. I had lamb saag (the best dish out of the three mains), greedy companion girl had a lamb dansak and greedy companion boy had a tandoori mixed grill. We also had garlic naan, mushroom rice and saag bhaji. It was all lovely, with beautiful fresh flavours. The naan was particularly delicious, light and fluffy and without any dry or burnt spots – seemingly so hard to acheive in some places. Oh naan, how do I love thee? All very trad curry house of course, and nothing surprising, but theres really nothing up with that on a friday night after a beer or two.

joyrajmainslambsaagjoyrag

With all our chatting, eating and drinking, we must have been in there a long time and I think we were the last to leave. Staff were extremely welcoming and we never got any feeling like they were waiting for us to get lost so the could clean up and go home. In fact, apart from a small incident with an unpleasant drunk (hazard of a friday night curry), which got cleared up very tidily, the atmosphere was lovely all through. In short, it was a great curry, a great night and a great place to go.

Joy Raj, Clifton