You know sometimes you go through phases with food? Well I do, anyway. Some months I’ll be boring and frugal – not that being frugal always means being boring – but anyway, sometimes I’ll eat cheap and homely meals like jacket potato, ham egg and chips, homemade lasagne and so on. Then in total contrast (which must leave my digestive system wondering if I’ve suddenly robbed a bank), I’ll go through a phase of eating rich, ingredient-laden meals out. This was a month of the latter type.
Between a few family visits, a Hen Party and my general greediness, I seemed to dine out A LOT over a short space of time. The happy result of which, was that I ate dishes that I’d never tried before and more importantly, I put on a few (most welcome) pounds! There’s a lot to be said for over-indulgence, I think…
So, where to start? How about with one of my favourites: Mussels in a cream and white wine sauce. This classic dish is always a winner with me and some how getting your hands dirty in the eating process adds to the enjoyment. The venue for this shellfish treat was The Passage House in Topsham, where the portions are more than generous. In fact, they’re so large that when I was presented with quite literally a mountain of mussels, I thought I’d struggle to finish them. But worry not: I had a cunning plan – I was going to share them. Being decisive is not one of my strong points, especially when faced with a choice of delicious dishes, as was the case here. Luckily, my sister shares the same weakness so we made a pact: we’d order different meals, then swap half way through.
So the mussels were just my starter, really. And for second course? The remaining half of my sister’s scallops and chorizo on a bed of creamy risotto. This was a very rich dish which although delicious – the scallops being cooked until just firm – again I couldn’t have eaten the whole meal. I’m not convinced that the chorizo really worked in this dish either, as the distinct peppery-sweet flavour almost overpowered the scallops. It was still tasty though and perfectly edible, so naturally I did my best to leave a clean plate.
Now from local seafood to Japanese sushi. I recently went to a friend’s Hen Do in Bristol, where the chosen venue for the evening meal was a sushi bar. I’d never eaten ‘proper’ sushi before so this was a first for me, and this wasn’t just a standard sushi bar. Oh no, in true Hen Party style, it had a twist. Not only did we remove our shoes and sit in a wooden-clad room not dissimilar to a sauna, we also passed a microphone around the room whilst staring at a TV screen on the wall showing music videos. Yes, it was a karaoke and sushi bar. Oh goody.
It will come as no surprise that I was more interested in the food than the entertainment and after some time trying to make sense of the menu, I decided to order a ‘Bento’ box. I chose king prawns and mixed vegetables fried in a tempura batter. The meal began with miso soup which certainly tasted better than it looked – a good job really as it quite closely resembled the water left in the bottom of a washing-up bowl!
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the ‘Bento’ box, but when it arrived it was definitely interesting. The tempura batter was light and crispy without being greasy and the vegetables gave a good crunch to the bite. A few more king prawns would have been welcome but the ones I did get were whoppers so I couldn’t really complain. In a far corner of the box were some sliced pickled vegetables which I thought might be a bit too tangy on the taste buds, but they actually had quite a subtle taste which went well with the batter.
In a room full of ladies who seemed to be almost sushi experts, I was concerned that I’d embarrass myself with chopstick incompetence, wielding them like a starving maniac stabbing at the food. But to my own surprise I managed respectably well and hardly dropped any food down me at all – always an achievement. Thank god for sticky rice, I say. So all in all my first sushi experience was a hit and despite the karaoke, I very much enjoyed popping my sushi cherry.
On now from seafood to country living. I was happily invited to dinner with my boyfriend and his parents to a beautiful little place in the Devon countryside – The Lazy Toad Inn at Brampford Speke. I’d been once before for lunch, the memory of which was enough to have me salivating at the thought of going back there for dinner. Just as I’d anticipated, the menu offered some rather special dishes alongside a few homely classics, all with locally sourced ingredients. It was a tough call with so many tempting meals to choose from, but my sushi experience encouraged me to try something new again. This time, I opted for wild rabbit with nettle tortellinis and black pudding and quails’ scotch eggs. Quite a mouthful, in more ways than one!
But before sinking my teeth into some wild bunny, I started with a cappuccino. Yes, that’s right, a cappuccino. Strange to have such a thing at the beginning of a meal perhaps? Not this time. This was a crab cappuccino! Accompanying some tasty potted crab, this was another first for me. It was frothy and slightly sweet and with sour dough toast on the side it felt a little bit like a mini soup. The dish was delicious and did its job as a starter: got me hopping mad for my second course.
I’d been harbouring a desire to eat rabbit for a while (I also want to try squirrel but generally try to keep that to myself…) and this was my chance. The generous plate gave me plenty to go at and I found the rabbit tender and moist. The skin had been cooked to get the most out of the flavour and the slightly caramelised taste complimented the bitter flavour from the nettle tortellinis well. Then came the rich and perfectly cooked quails eggs, packed with a surrounding soft crust of black pudding. Being a northerner, the pudding of course was not new to me but I’d certainly never eaten it in a dish as sophisticated as this before. Where I’m from it’s either an essential part of your greasy full English, or you buy it from the market, served in a white polystyrene tray and drowned in vinegar. A total contrast here and I was very pleased with my choice. Pushing all Watership Down thoughts firmly to the back of my mind, I’d definitely eat rabbit again.
What an enjoyable and indulgent few weeks I’d had, expanding my palate and generally stuffing my face. So would I return to my frugal ways after this stint of culinary luxury? We’ll see…