Thursday, 19 October 2017

Under Counter goes Over Counter at The Tavern Cheltenham

I feel as though The Tavern has been a little lost lately. Since the fire it has never seemed as confident as it once was. First it came back with one big burger bang, then a few months later teased us with some secret menu offerings, and earlier this year the Sunday roasts made a reappearance. Slowly but surely it was as if they were reverting back to their pre-fire days (when they were fucking awesome), and HALLELUJAH! At the start of September it was confirmed. The under counter menu is now over counter and has a whole host of new delicious things under its belt. Happy days.

In my last post on The Tavern I raved about their under counter menu, clutching onto that little glimmer of what was one before. There's something about that style of relaxed and comforting food that doesn't seem to be anywhere else in Cheltenham. Maybe I'm wrong, but it always seemed as though The Tavern had the whole package - good food, good drinks, good prices, good vibes - and now it's back I can breathe a sigh of relief.

Photo Credit: The Lucky Onion
Ronnie Bonetti, previously of Soho House Group, and Head Chef James de Jong’s menu is made up of delicious taverna style food from Europe and far beyond. As always, there's the best local produce, pimped up with punchy flavours; old favourites still stand their ground, whilst some seductive new dishes vie for attention. Starters include Bavette tartare, Arlington egg yolk & toast (£9) and half a pint of prawns (£8), along with their classic salt 'n' pepper Squid with nuoc cham (£7.50). Then for mains, you have an abundance of choice!

Faithful Taverners will be glad to see that the French Dip is back on the menu, and there are still a selection of burgers, wings and fries to get stuck into if you're not bothered about change. As for the rest of us, there's Loch Duart salmon, shitake, ginger & Asian greens (£17.50), whole brown crab & mayonnaise (£19.50) and spatchcock poussin, preserved lemon, straw potatoes & aioli (£15.50), just to name a few. Oh and chargrilled steaks! You can't knock their steaks.

The build-your-own sundaes have been sacked off and replaced with a concise dessert list; lemon & cherry posset (£6) and a sticky toffee ice cream sandwich (£6) feature, though you can still get a simple scoop of ice cream for two quid.

In the week that the under counter went to over counter, The Chap and I were invited along to try out the new menu. Hells-frickin-yeah. Date night on a school night, and for a Tuesday the place was absolutely packed. Good sign methinks. Cocktails on order - a Sazerac for The Chap and The Last Word for me - it was heads down to try and decide what to have.

Predictably, The Chap picked the spicy pork & fennel meatballs (£8) to start. He hasn't stopped banging on about the ones that we had previously, and although these ones no longer have the nduja depth of flavour in the sauce, they were still stellar. It kept him quiet for a bit at least.

I had clams, Dunkerton’s cider & samphire (£9.50), which came with a healthy helping of toasted baguette. The clams were sweet with the samphire boosting that sea saltiness, and the sauce had a decent apple tang, freshened up with a scattering of dill. Get yourself a crisp glass of white wine with this one and you'll be winning.

Having tried some of the lamb chops at the over counter launch party, The Chap only had eyes for those, with lentils, rainbow chard & salsa rossa (£19.50). Two meaty chops sat atop simply cooked lentils and veg, and were kicked into gear with with that super salsa. The peppers and tomatoes offer a much sweeter flavour than it's green counterpart, and it marries so well to lamb. Once again, I barely heard a peep as he gnawed every morsel off those bones.

There was no hesitation for me either; I had to order the Hereford beef short rib, borlotti beans, girolles & salsa verde (£17). One huge wedge of beef is a carnivores dream. Beefy, juicy, rich and unctuous; it towered high above everything else, and the bone satisfyingly slipped out with ease. Comfort food at its best, and truly a dish which signifies Autumn is well under way. A steal at that price too, I'd say.

Almost at bursting point, we felt we should at least try to squeeze in dessert. We were told the favourite on the menu was the sticky toffee ice cream sandwich, and having seen it on Katie Charlotte Blogs' and Honeybourne Line's reviews, I'm certain it would have pushed me over the edge! Instead, I got suckered in by the chocolate & peanut butter tart with vanilla ice cream (£6)... PB 4 life. It wasn't as rich as it sounds, with just a thin laver of peanut butter on the bitter chocolate tart base. The chocolate filling was light, but perhaps a little fridge-cold as my fork didn't glide through like ganache, it almost crumbled. Still, it melted in the mouth ticking all the right boxes, so no complaints from me.

The Chap went for the most OTT option, The Queen of all banana splits (£6). Banana (obvs), chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream, whipped cream, drizzly sauce, nuts, cherries, THE WORKS. Could've definitely shared between two, but we didn't, so with that we practically had to roll ourselves out of the door.

Like a cat that's gone astray, I've been pining over its absence, desperately willing for The Tavern to return to its original state. Now that it has, I couldn't be happier! With its varied menu, it's back to being that place you could go with anyone, for whatever occasion, at any time of day. See you there!

Monday, 25 September 2017

French Baking with Marianne Bradley at One Mile Bakery

There really is nothing more inviting than the smell of freshly baked goods. A crusty loaf, a flaky pastry, a buttery brioche. Mmm. Just a waft of it in the air sends my stomach rumbling, and romantically reminds me of sunnier times, queuing at Parisian boulangeries whilst on holiday, desperate to get my croissant fix for the day.

Luckily I don't have to hop over the channel every time I want some decent dough; we're surrounded by fantastic bakeries here in the Cotswolds too (Cheltenham's Baker & Graze do some mean almond croissants FYI). But how about learning some knew skills and making your own tasty treats?... Think of it; that delicious scent every weekend (if you're extra keen)... Meet One Mile Bakery.

In 2012, journalist turned baker Elisabeth Mahoney launched the first One Mile Bakery in Cardiff, delivering artisan bread, seasonal soups and delicious preserves by bike within a mile of her domestic kitchen, and teaching inspirational baking classes to more than 2000 people. Earlier this year, two new branches with exactly the same ethos were launched; one with rugby player Nick Macleod in Rhiwina, Cardiff, and the other right here in Cirencester with the super-talented Marianne Bradley.

Now, Marianne and I have been following each other on Instagram for quite some time. Me admiring her flour based wizardry (in between pictures of kids, dogs and foraged foods) and her liking photos of my utter gluttony and love of booze. Despite having never met, it felt like we knew each other's lives pretty well, so when she invited me along to the French Baking Class she was doing in August, I jumped at the chance.

Coffee in hand, and three other eager bakers by my side, Marianne welcomed us to her home - this ain't no poncey cookery school - introducing herself and her helper for the day (India). We'd learn laminating, try our hands at enriched dough, and bang out some baguettes. Oui oui! Somewhere along the way would be a French inspired lunch with a glass of French wine too. Now you're talking. Sadly I was sans breton and beret, but let's just pretend that's what I was wearing, yeah?

Croissants were first on the agenda seeing as they're the most laborious thing to make. Though let's just stop right here to say that if you don't wish to know how much butter goes into your breakfast bake, just go and buy them; ignorance is bliss. I've come to terms with the slightly obscene amount, but I've never been able to master the art of lamination - the process of folding butter into dough multiple times to create very thin alternating layers of butter and dough. Ten minutes of kneading, patience, a fridge and a rolling pin are required… And a couple of hours pottering about the house. Just going to the shop sounds more appealing now, doesn't it? But that self satisfaction and knowing exactly what's in what you're eating - no hidden nasties - more than makes up for it. You can totally taste the love that's gone into them too!

Whilst our soon-to-be-croissants were doing their thing, we moved onto an enriched dough, where butter, sugar, eggs and milk are mixed into the dough. It was sticky business with another ten minutes of kneading, and even when it looks like there's no hope of rescuing the pool of gloop you've created, with some persistence it will come together in the end. Trust.

We did a sped-up version to create the perfect brioche loaf in class, but there's the option to do an overnight prove to take the pressure off. And since we'd been working so hard (aka we had a bit of time to kill before the next step) we stopped for a little tea break with treats. On Saturdays, Marianne bakes buns for Rave Coffee in Ciren, and thankfully she'd saved us some back. A semi-sourdough roll, with a sugary cinnamon swirl is her signature - amazing - but she also had a seasonal damson offering too.  Sweet jammy layers, with a sharp electric pink icing that was made purely from a combination of damson purée and icing sugar. I gladly wolfed one down and snaffled one to take home. Winner.

In between croissant rolling and folding, we managed to whip up some bread dough (much more confidently than at the start of the class) and shape our brioche ready for it's second prove in the tin. Then LUNCH.

With One Mile Bakery's local values in mind, everything Marianne had made was sourced from Abbey Home Farm, an organic farm shop just down the road from her in Cirencester. We started with a classic vegetable soup mopped up with some of her sourdough baguette slathered in fresh butter. Then a three onion and cheese tart, with garlic roast potatoes and a gem lettuce salad. Simple and delicious.

With full bellies and extra energy, we baked our brioche loaves, rolled, slashed and baked our baguettes, then turned our attention back to the croissant dough. Once you've worked hard to create those laminated layers, it's all in the shaping darling, and Marianne showed us how to roll both a traditional croissant and a pain au chocolat. I was pretty chuffed with my efforts having only ever attempted to do them (a little unsuccessfully) once before. Gold star for me and in the oven they went.

The house smelt incredible as the kitchen table was being piled high with all our French goods. Dished out to each respective baker, we smugly left with heaving bags, and despite still being full from lunch, I had to scoff a warm croissant as soon as I got home. Had to.

"Nothing beats the feeling of baking your own beautiful bread and sharing it with people you love," One Mile Bakery says. I couldn't agree more. And with OMB's informal but informative classes, you can sharpen your skills to do just that.

Unfortunately Marianne's Cirencester branch is no longer running classes, but if you fancy tripping across the Severn Bridge, then she highly rates Nick's One Mile Bakery in Cardiff. Whether you're a newcomer to bread or not, there's something for everyone, and with the C-word in our sights, there are even Festive Baking classes to get stuck into. No shop bought mince pies for Santa this year!

Meanwhile, Marianne is pursuing another baking venture; Bun Mistress. When you want to cheat on your diet, come to the Bun Mistress... I can vouch for their tastiness. There are plans to run 'buns & bubbles' evenings, bun baking classes, and also to team up with her friend India, who owns Jua Kali - a mobile coffee bar in the back of an old Land Rover. A decent flat white and a sugary bun is exactly what you want at festivals, right? Definitely one to keep an eye out for. In the meantime, I know who to call when I'm sick of salads…