Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Back From France

Tues 30 Sept 2008

A week ago today I landed in France to spend a few days in the vineyards of the southern Rhône during vendange (harvest). We were a group of 12, mostly students (or alumni) of the Northern Wine Academy. Our base for the trip was the pretty town of Vaison-la-Romaine and we spent the days visiting various wineries. We spent a lovely day and a half at Domaine Roche-Audran, a biodynamic winery near Buisson, with Vincent Rochette, as well as half days at Domaine de Mourchon (Séguret), Domaine des Escaravailles (Rasteau) and Domaine de Villeneuve (Châteauneuf-du-Pape).

We had lovely weather and ate and drank far too much! Highlights on the food front were lunch in the vineyard at Domaine Roche-Audran, a meal with matched wines at Bistro du'O in Vaison and our final lunch at Verger des Papes in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

At the moment I'm a little bit grenache-d out but I'm hoping to bring you more detailed highlights (and even photos!) from the trip over the next few days.

In the interim, I draw to your attention a wine survey being run by Wine Sooth. Even though the background article's title mentions the 'average American' Arthur is happy to have responses from across the world.
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Monday, September 22, 2008

Just Quickly

Mon 22 Sept 2008

I'm off to France tomorrow for a southern Rhône winemaking adventure! And yes, I'm very excited, although this tends to manifest itself in me walking around moaning about packing. Some stuff has been thrown in a bag, so hopefully that's all done!

The trip may mean another hiatus in posting: that all depends on the availability of free wifi in Vaison la Romaine!

However, in the meantime, sign yourself up for alerts from Local Wine Events!

Sorry for being so brief, but I have to be up at 0530!
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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

WBW 49: Special Release

Wed 17 Sept 2008

This month's Wine Blogging Wednesday is hosted by dhonig at 2 Days Per Bottle. I'm a lot scared, because this month's topic is a bit political and here at Eating Leeds we stay off politics (unless it's directly related to food). We have been asked to choose the wine with which we'll toast the end of Bush's 2 terms in office.

I'm going to start with the wine and perhaps you'll stick around for the politics at the end (hopefully brief, but I'm not making any promises).

My wine of choice this month is De Bortoli's Willowglen Shiraz 2006, from the Riverina region of New South Wales, Australia. In the UK (possibly elsewhere) the region for this wine is labelled as "South Eastern Australia". My bottle cost £5.99 and came from Latitude Wine in Leeds.

The wine is ruby red, with a pale rim and of a medium intensity. The nose is clean and quite pronounced, although not nearly as fruit forward as I was expecting. It's a surprisingly complex nose, with some black fruit, earthy and green vegetal notes, with touches of vanilla and aniseed.

The palate is (almost aggressively) fruit forward, dominated by red fruit and a touch jammy. The alcohol is a little unbalanced - the wine finishes a little too hotly which probably contributes to the jamminess. Again, some really green flavours are evident and the vanilla is present, with a hint of chocolate. There is some acidity for a bit of backbone but the tannin is surprisingly low. The length isn't bad but it's alcohol dominated and the flavours aren't complex and they don't develop.

Drinking this is a bit like drinking a 'fruits of the forest' jam. I suspect that the green notes might put a lot of people off if you were serving this without food.

For £6 this isn't bad value. It's actually surprisingly complex for a relatively cheap wine. However, fans of a bigger, more aggressively grippy Australian Shiraz may be disappointed. I'd buy this again if I were going to a BBQ. It's an unpretentious, clean, well made wine that's happy to do it's job.

So, why I have I chosen this wine?

The wine comes from the Riverina in New South Wales. This is one of Australia's bulk wine production areas and it is also one of wine producing areas in the world hardest hit by drought. Apparently 2006 was a pretty bad year (things aren't improving) - and I suspect that the wine's greenness is a product of this.

Now, I think that the Bush administration has failed the American people on many issues. The world is not a safer place than it was eight years ago. The people of America have been let down by their government at times of crisis (yes, I'm talking about Katrina/New Orleans, and I'm sure there are other examples that didn't make the world stage). The American economy is in tatters.

I do think that these are all really serious issues that need to be addressed by the next administration. But the big issue? The massive issue? The issue where not only the American people but the population of the world have been let down is the environment.

I am not a geologist or geophysicist so I can't dazzle you with science. What worries me is that when we have concrete proof of man's effect on the environment it will be too late to do anything positive.

In life, as in medicine, prevention is better than cure. In the last eight years America, the world's largest polluter, has lost the opportunity to become a real world leader. America could have shown the way forward, invested in research and renewables, assisted developing nations and made real inroads in cutting domestic emissions.

But it hasn't. No individual driving a 4x4 is responsible for the drought that grips much of southern Australia. But every individual is responsible for his or her decision to vote, or not bother to do so, or to vote on emotive or short term or local issues, rather than taking a slightly broader, long term view. And frankly, when only 64% of the population turns out to vote*, then there's 36% that needs to take a good long hard look at itself.

In the mean time, I'd encourage anyone who's got this far to make sure they turn off their mobile phone charger when they're not using it, to catch the bus or take a walk to the shops once in a while and consider buying more energy efficient products. When you come to replace your car, buy something smaller and cheaper to run. Guys - you'll save money and maybe lose weight! I believe that grass roots action can make a difference and that it might be the only way to make politicians take notice - especially when so many of them come from big (polluting) business backgrounds. Oh, and VOTE! I can't say I don't care who you vote for but I'd rather the next presidency be one which is truly representative.

Otherwise in 20 years time we could all well be sitting in a room chanting 'drill, drill, drill' - and, environmental concerns aside, that kind of mob mentality really scares me.

More WBW and Shiraz on Eating Leeds: WBW48 (Peter Lehmann Shiraz) or Mitolo Jester with a good steak.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Sat 13 Sept 2008

In all the curry eating we seem to do I (at least) have never made it to Akbar's on Eastgate. It always seems so busy and my one experience of booking a table at the Akbar's on the Leeds Bradford Road (about seven years ago!) lead to a great deal of disappointment (of the 'would you like a drink and wait for about an hour?' kind).

However, everyone raves about how good the food is at Akbar's so I decided it was time to get out of my very comfortable Shabab rut and try it out.

Things didn't start off too well when we found out they don't take bookings. If you want to book, you can go to the restaurant on Greek Street (on a Saturday night - are you crazy?!). This meant that our early evening activity finished and we found ourselves wandering around town. In a moment of madness, we decided to give Akbar's a shot ... there might just be a table for two.

We arrived around half seven and the restaurant looked full. I thought I spotted a spare table so we stuck our heads round the door and, miraculously, there was a table for 2 ready to go!

I'm going to get all the bad stuff out of the way first, so we can finish this review on a high note. The very first thing you're likely to notice is that the restaurant has something of a personality disorder. This is a curry restaurant, and the menu (and website) are proud of its unique dishes and heritage.

So ... why the Egyptian décor?! I am not joking: busts of cats and Tutankhamun and generic mummies abound. There's a gold and black theme in the decoration which, normally, I'd say works quite well with the lighting and pale walls. But there is only so much Egytiana I can take - especially when I'm tucking into a curry ...

On a Saturday, the restaurant seems a little unsure if it's a restaurant or a nightclub. The hard surfaces and lack of soft furnishings mean that this is a noisy venue - particularly when combined with an eclectic (I'm being kind) and rather too loud soundtrack.

So there we were, bellowing across the table, waiting for our beers to arrive. They turned up without glasses, so then we waited for the warm glasses to arrive. By this stage, we were starting to realise another human comfort flaw: the air circulation. Those first beers went down very quickly, as we started to wilt under the oppressive conditions.

By the time our food arrived, we also managed to have a waiter's bum in our face. The tables are packed so closely together that there's little room for personal space and usual restaurant niceties.

Right - hopefully I've established that Akbar's isn't perhaps the ideal venue for a quiet dinner for two. And that's a shame because ... as everyone says ... the food is very good.

We began by sharing the keema samosa, which was delicious. It wasn't a huge portion: 2 quite small samosas, with some salad, but enough to whet our appetite for our (much larger) mains. Andy had the lamb handi (meat on the bone, and named after the cooking vessel) while I played safely and chose lamb and spinach. While we both agreed that my meat was more tender we both thought that respectively we'd won on flavour. It speaks volumes that this was one of the very few times that I've actually eaten my whole dish. We shared a pilau rice and decided against breads (Akbar's specialises in the massive naan breads which hang from comedy trees - walk past the restaurant any evening and you'll see what I mean!). In terms of flavour I think my sole criticism of my dish would be that I wouldn't have minded a little more chilli heat.

As we finished our meal, a flower seller turned up and made his way through the restaurant. The waiter collected our dishes and managed to spill a little rice mixed with curry on me.

Yes, the food is very good at Akbar's and it comes at reasonable cost (our final bill was around £30). But, from our experience, almost nothing else is. We were hot, uncomfortably close to our neighbours, and the service was harried. All the restaurant needs to do is turn down the music, take out a few tables and maybe hire an extra waiter or two - and then I'd go back in a flash.

But until that happens - I'll be heading over the road to Shabab, where I can eat my curry without being able to inspect every morsel on the adjoining table's plates.

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1. Akbar's, 15 Eastgate, Leeds, LS2 7LY, phone: 0113 245 6566, map.

Other curry restaurant reviews: Hansa's (vegetarian), Aagrah, and, of course!, Shabab.
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Monday, September 15, 2008

Honey Almond Cakes

Sun 14 Sept 2008

Back to baking! Hooray!

My eye was caught by a recipe for wholemeal honey cake in Saturday's Guardian, but (as usual) circumstances prevented me from following the recipe exactly. I was also a little put off by the large quantities involved, so I scaled it down to produce a tray of cupcakes. Perfect for work lunches!

Preheat the oven to 160C (fan).

I started by creaming together about 175g of unsalted butter and 130g of caster sugar. I wasn't able to buy golden/unrefined, and while I agree that the golden caster sugar does seem to taste better (I wonder if that's just psychological though ...) using the white stuff makes little difference in the baking process. I followed this with 2 eggs, 75g of ground almonds, 75g of (white) self raising flour and a teaspoon of baking powder.

A taste test revealed something a little lacking so I added a teaspoon of vanilla extract and gave the mix a final blast. I know cake recipes like this always encourage you to "gently fold" this and that, but I find that, unless I'm dealing with whisked egg whites, you can let your food processor of choice (in my case, a Magimix) do the work. Not only does it reduce preparation time, but it also reduces the washing up!

This amount of mixture filled perfectly my 12 muffin/cup cake silicon baking tray. I'd lightly brushed the holes with some oil but (for reasons to come clear) I'd recommend using paper cup cake liners.

Bake for about 25 minutes, or until a knife in the centre comes out clean.

With the little cakes still hot, stab a few holes in the top of each one and drizzle over some runny honey. I used just under a teaspoonful for each cake. My honey was slightly crystallised and this has given the cakes a slightly sweet crunch - delicious!

Of course - the honey works its way through the little cakes and makes them reluctant to pop out of the baking tray. Three of mine wouldn't budge at all, but after leaving them to cool completely the remainder more or less behaved. Still, paper liners next time!

The cakes themselves are gorgeous: moist, sticky, sweet, slightly dense. I'm not sure I'd want to use wholemeal flour - especially for cup cakes, as it might weigh them down a tad too much.

As far as we were concerned, my take on this recipe was just right! They'll definitely be made again!

other good cakes on Eating Leeds: apple & blackberry, plain almond, plum, chocolate & beetroot, chocolate & coke, and (if you've got plenty of time) Gâteau Opéra.

These cakes are also my contribution to this month's Root Source Challenge at CookThink!

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

More Rounding Up

Sun 14 Sept 2008

I apologise for the hiatus in reporting back from Wednesday's Eggs Factor. I didn't win.

There were 11 contestants, including quite a few professional chefs, and we were divided into three heats. My heat cooked first (quite a relief!) and I found myself pitted against at least two, if not three, chefs, including one from Harvey Nichols. Although I was less than thrilled with my gougères (my choux mix was far too loose, and they came out a little flat, although apparently very tasty) I won my heat - so I was pretty chuffed! We all received a copy of Michel Roux's Eggs as well as a British Lion Eggs apron. I'm sure most of you can guess that I would have turned up for the cookbook alone! The overall winner was another amateur, Daniel Costello, from Doncaster. He goes on to cook in the final in London at the beginning of October - so hopefully he does Yorkshire proud and takes home the winner's cheque for £5000!

Most of this week's news is rather gloomy. It appears that the credit crunch/recession/financial crisis is starting to bite. Thursday's Yorkshire Evening Post reported that the much vaunted food emporium to be housed in the Corn Exchange is finding it hard to sign up leaseholders. Very hard. In fact, so hard that the only area accounted for is the basement where Anthony Flinn (of Anthony's) is planning on expanding his empire. As much as I love food (and that's quite a lot!) I thought the treatment of leaseholders in the Corn Exchange was shabby and it's a disgrace that a really vibrant and interesting shopping area, in a stunning building, is now a shell.

The other closure noted this week is Cuban Heels, in the Dark Arches. The city centre is now running short on Mexican and Latin American eateries. Las Iguanas represents the chain option, with Viva Cuba and Sandinista more independent offerings.

The Townhouse, also near the Corn Exchange, is set to re-open as Chilli White (hmm, surely competing with @Larocca in the bizarre name stakes) at the end of September.

And if you missed it, the big deal in Leeds this week was the opening of the Alea Casino at Clarence Dock. Here at Eating Leeds we've had a sneak peak at the food and from what we've seen it's a massive thumbs up. The casino houses two restaurants: The Bird, run by Vineet Bhatia, a Michelin starred chef based in London, and Fig. The opening party on Friday night was a very loud (not to mention boozy) affair, and the venue should give the Clarence Dock area quite a boost.

tagged with:

1. Las Iguanas, 3 Cloth Hall Street, Leeds, LS1 2HD, phone: 0113 243 9533, map.
2. Viva Cuba, 19 Queen Square, Leeds LS2 8AF, phone: 0113 244 9550, map.
3. Sandinista, 5/5a Cross Belgrave Street, Leeds, LS2 8JP, phone: 0113 305 0372, map.
4. Chilli White, Assembly Street, Leeds, LS2 7DA, phone:
0113 2194001, map.
5. @Larocca, 5 - 6 Armouries Drive, The Anchorage, Leeds, LS10 1LE, phone: 0113 2346000, map.
6. Alea Casino, 4 The Boulevard, Clarence Dock, Leeds, LS10 1PZ, phone: 0113 341 3200, map.
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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Fingers Crossed

Tues 09 Sept 2008

Well, the last egg has been poached in preparation for the big Eggs Factor heat tomorrow morning! I had a full scale dress rehearsal last night which almost ended in tears when four out of five eggs had broken yolks! The final egg turned out to be a less than sterling example of what I can do (not to mention over cooked!), so I rushed down the shop, bought more eggs, had a relax and then produced a good poached egg! Hurrah!

I went to bed happy but still thought it prudent to have another go tonight. While not quite as pretty I'll be thrilled to produce an equivalent under pressure tomorrow.

My signature egg dish (which is gougères - I'm happy to spill the beans on that one now) has been practised over and over again as well. However, having seen press releases detailing the winning dishes from other areas I'm worried that it might be a little on the simple side. Still, it was described honestly in my original application, so the judges should be expecting simple!

The heat is taking place at the Thomas Danby College in Leeds and all the anxiety should be over by 1pm tomorrow. Of course, celebratory drinks (or just drowning disappointment in beer!) will be taking place tomorrow evening so results may not be posted here until Thursday. However, if you follow me on twitter you'll catch the news first!

Keep your fingers crossed!

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Round Up

Sun 7 Sept 2008

Let's start off with two closures in the Leeds area. Nooshi, the noodle chain which started in Headingley and spread to Chapel Allerton and Bridgewater Place appears to have closed its doors. Either that or someone's not collecting the mail! My original (and not particularly complimentary) review has been one of Eating Leeds' most commented upon posts. At first there was a fair bit of apparent astro turfing but recently action has hotted up again with some colourful opinions being expressed. It's no surprise that it's sitting fifth in my most read pages!

Another venue which has closed is Noode on Dock Street. I never managed to eat there (despite its proximity to work) and it looks like I've missed my chance. However, the restaurant appears to be available for immediate possession so if you're a budding restaurateur it might still be worth a wander down.

While you are that side of the river, interest in Larocca, Clarence Dock's Italian restaurant, continues. In just a couple of months it's become the most visited review on this site and with the opening of the Alea Casino this Wednesday Clarence Dock might be set to become a destination.

Wednesday will also see the Leeds' regional heat for the Eggs Factor - featuring me! Expect the highs and lows to feature here on Thursday! Stress levels are certainly up and while I'm hapy with my signature dish execution, I'm now worrying it's too simple. My poached eggs seem to have a mind of their own so I just hope that one the day I keep my cool and Lady Luck is on my side! Please all do keep your fingers crossed for me ...

In Headingley on Thursday night The Bowery is hosting a wine tasting which is part of this year's Celebrate Headingley. The tasting, which starts at 7:30pm, is led by Oddbins staff and tickets are just £10. Tickets and further details are available from The Bowery, phone 0113 2242284.

Other popular reading this month has included my visit to the Oakwood Farmers' Market. This has been in no small part due to its appearance on StumbleUpon. I've been a fan of StumbleUpon but only just managed to include a Stumble button for articles on this site. Check out StumbleUpon and if you enjoy an article - do consider hitting the Stumble button and sharing it with the nearly 6 million stumblers out there! You can also follow the Eating Leeds action on Facebook, twitter, by subscribing to our RSS feed or by signing up for email updates. If there's a form of social media you think we should be involved in ... let us know!

Fleshing out the top five pages for this month are Nigel Slater's fabulous apple and blackberry cake (which just serves to remind me how long it is since I've baked a cake!) and a review of Viva Cuba.

Now ... I really MUST get back to the egg poaching!
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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Trio, Headingley

Thurs 4 Sept 2008

I've just come home from a bar re-opening. Yes, it's about half past 7 and I'm writing a post about it. Something must have gone wrong ...

Last year, when I tootled along to the opening of Napa I had a great night out, wrote a positive post and all was good. So when I received an email invitation to the re-opening of Trio, Napa's Arc Inspirations stable mate, I thought I'd head along. After all, the party was starting "at 6pm with Champagne cocktails and canapés for the first to arrive" AND Trio is around the corner from my house AND I could easily arrive for 6pm. "Come early to avoid disappointment" exhorted my invitation.

Given the mad queue that built up early at Napa, come early I did. Somehow we arrived in time for Andy to have a cigarette and for it to turn 6pm. Things weren't looking promising: glasses were lined up for the Champagne cocktails but they were empty. Eventually someone appeared and started partially filling them with mango and raspberry puree. A few people went in ahead of us and we decided it was time to bite the bullet.

As the Champagne cocktails weren't ready we were just ushered down to the bar. The waitress, busy with the fruit puree, didn't look too sure what to do with punters. Down in the bar it seemed like a cocktail presentation was in full swing. The bar itself was almost inaccessible: bar stools with bodies made the pumps tantalisingly out of reach. As I waited to order drinks some women arrived who had the temerity to laugh too loudly. A member of the bar crowding-stool hogging crew turned and issued a stern "shush!". Oh dear - no fun allowed here!

Pints of Amstel in hand (£2.95 each) we shuffled off to find a table and settled down. It turned out that we'd actually stumbled into the middle of a cocktail making competition!*

By the time we'd acquired drinks, realised what was going on and inspected the food menu (£3.50 for some bread perhaps?), the not-so-early-arrivals were turning up and popping downstairs with Champagne cocktails in hand. Andy nipped out for a cigarette and on return asked about a drink. He was told that the bar was downstairs ...

Now, I'm not particularly fussed if I get a free drink or not - after all, I'd more or less stopped in on my way home and a couple of beers is not going to break the bank. However, what irks me is the "come early" on the invitation and the subsequent realisation that the Champagne cocktails were clearly for some but not for others. Don't bother having a launch party if you're not going to get organised.

On that note, we finished off our rather flat Amstel, waited for the results of the cocktail competition and took our leave. At this stage the bar was less than half full.

It speaks volumes that as we left the two staff members on the door were absorbed in messing around with fruit puree and bubbly and completely ignored us.

1. Trio, 44 North Lane, Headingley, LS6 3HU, phone: 0113 203 6090, map.

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* It turns out that the competition, for bartenders from across the north of England, was for a trip to Venezuela to visit the Santa Teresa Distillery (they make rum, rum being quite a theme for Trio) and I'm pleased to announce that the final standings were ... (drum roll ...):
  • 3rd place - shared by Nino from Jakes in Leeds and Tom from Menzels in Sheffield
  • 2nd place - Lee from Mojo, Leeds
  • 1st place - Alan from Socio Rehab in Manchester
Congratulations to you all - but particularly to Alan - I hope he enjoys the trip!
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Monday, September 01, 2008

The Box Tree

Sat 30 Aug 2008

I've managed to acquire a massive back log of potential posts and many things seem to be conspiring to prevent me from working my through it. Today, I was going to have a chat with you about wine ... but that has been set aside for another day because on Saturday night we ate at the Michelin starred Box Tree in Ilkley.

I could make this event sound a bit A-list, because we did only make our booking at lunch time on Saturday and we never even really made a decision to go ... but that would be dressing it all up, as we have been planning on going for ages, we had a small (and long overdue) celebration, and we did actually discuss it in the pub on Friday night. The availability of a table was down to luck and not the sway either of our names (or that of Eating Leeds!) holds.

If you need the executive summary: it was excellent. In fact, rather than dealing with the experience in order, I'm going to get the two niggles out of the way before discussing anything else.

Firstly, I was a bit unimpressed by the fact that our wine was opened out of our sight. The bottle was presented to us while we sat in the lounge and it then reappeared at our table, already open. The impressive theatre of the wine service at Pétrus aside (trolley, carafe, decanting at the table, silver coasters for the wine bottle - left for you to admire), I think it's essential to open the bottle in front of the customer. I also think it's excellent practice for the customer to see the sommelier at least smell, if not taste, the wine. While I hope that I'd pick a corked wine, and have a quiet word, I'm sure there are many customers who are either not confident in their nose or too diffident to 'make a fuss'.

Second grumble goes to the bread. We both chose granary, so the white may have been exemplary ... but the granary was really underwhelming. It had a slightly squishy, light weight consistency, with no real flavour or body.

We began the meal by sitting in the lounge-like bar area. Settled in our comfortable chairs we started with glasses of Champagne (Michel Arnould, £9.50 a glass) and a plate of treats which included anchovy cheese straws, roasted almonds, a pot of olives, some mini toasts and some delicious artichoke dip which was cold, smooth and scented with truffles.

Wine choice was complicated by the rather eclectic choice of dishes: I began with a roasted ceps and girolles risotto which I followed with roast turbot, served with a white bean purée. Andy chose to start with a warm salad of ham hock, smoked eel and duck liver, and a main course of roast grouse (the special - he ordered the last one). From a wine matching point of view - what a mess!

From a selfish point of view I was tempted by a Pinot Noir from Oregon (not ever having tried one before), but, on the advice of the sommelier, we opted for a premier cru Burgundy: a Chambolle-Musigny Les Charmes 2000 from Dme Amiot-Servelle. At £65 a bottle it looks to be the standard restaurant mark up of somewhere between 200 and 300%: not extortionate and not outrageously good value. This was a lovely wine: a very smelly farmyard Burgundy, with plenty of red fruit, but also a very restrained wine. The restraint meant that it worked really well with all of our food: the soft, approachable fruit and low tannin meant that, where it might have failed (with the eel) it was fine, and despite the grouse's strong flavour, it was not lost nor did it overpower the turbot.

The food was all ... delicious. The smoked eel was declared the "best thing ever tasted", the risotto was earthy, soft and redolent with truffle, and the fish was perfect: simply roasted, served atop some white bean purée, the plate scattered with olives, beans and tomatoes. The real pièce de résistance was Andy's grouse. Before being served the roasted bird was brought out whole (its oddly long, spindly legs crossed daintily, which caused some hilarity on my part), presented on a silver tray with all its accompaniments. Andy was quite grateful it was taken away to be plated up, although I enjoyed the grandeur of the moment. "Chef would like you to see the bird before we carve it for you". If ever you will feel like royalty at the dinner table I imagine it will run something like that.

After all this, it was only right to plough on to desserts. In a reversal of the usual state of affairs, Andy chose the Valrhona chocolate tart with orange sorbet while I lined up the cheese board. The chocolate tart was gorgeous: intense, smooth and Andy's "well, it's a bit plain really" meant I got to eat half of it.

Cheese was, as it should be, a highlight of the meal. A lovely big tray of cheese arrived and, in a show of restraint, I chose four: a Corsican cheese covered in lavender and rosemary, which I think is called Fleur de Maquis, Swaledale goat's cheese, Époisses and a Yorkshire blue - and some quince paste. The Époisses was, in my opinion, the (smelly) star of the show but for Andy it was trumped by the Yorkshire blue. We shared a glass of Pansal del Calas from Spain, which is a sweet, lightly fortified red wine from Spain. I often struggle with sweet red wines and this wine didn't convince me: I remain ambivalent.

After all of this, we rolled back out to the bar area (the upstairs coffee lounge might have been a challenge!), and enjoyed coffees, chocolate, Cognac and whiskey.

A night out at the Box Tree is hardly bargain basement material: starters were between £9 and £15 and main courses between about £28 and £35. That said, the wine list does run the gamut in terms of prices, and not only contains a good range of wines by the glass but also a selection of half bottles. So it would be possible to dine here and maintain a tight hold on the budget.

But with such good food and attentive service, I think it's worthwhile to make the effort to loosen the purse strings.

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