Thursday, April 04, 2013

The Big Bang, Oxford

About a year ago, when I first found out I was moving to Oxford, I did what any sensible person would do: research the restaurants and make a list of the ones I wanted to visit. The Guardian's Oxford's top 10 budget eats seemed a good place to start, but I was quite annoyed to find out that the Big Bang had since closed. 

Forward a few months later and it's back, at a different, posher location apparently. This was the first time I had been to the Castle Quarter, and I wasn't sure how I felt about all these restaurants taking over the beautiful historic buildings, but half asleep after a night shift and with only an hour on the car parking meter, there wasn't much time to worry about it.

I must have been a bit grumpy, as things started annoying me quite early on. I liked the newspaper-style menu, and the room was bright and spacious. Using a tablet to take an order though is silly, especially when it's obviously taking much longer than good old-fashioned pen and paper would. Service was friendly, but they did that weird thing when they pull out a chair and sit next to you when ordering, which I'm not very keen on. It just felt like they were trying a bit too hard to be cool.


But none of that is too important if the food is good. I suppose it's a bit silly to go for anything other than sausages, but Alex liked the sound of the bacon steak and poached eggs. It was pretty disappointing; the bacon was, and I quote, "fairly gash". The eggs were overcooked - is there a worse food experience than cutting into an egg expecting gooey yolk to ooze out, and getting, well, nothing?

My baguette was much better, with two fat juicy sausages and served with fried onions and a tangy homemade ketchup. I gave half of it to Alex to make him happier.


I guess the moral of the story is pretty obvious: stick to what the restaurant claims to be doing best - sausages, in this case. But you'd expect anyone to be able to poach a couple of eggs and fry some bacon. Having said that, I might go back for dinner at some point and try the main menu - the selection of sausages is pretty extensive and sounds pretty interesting.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Wild Thyme, Chipping Norton

We've got a new thing. The new thing involves going for "posh lunches" on Thursdays before fly-away races - having to be at work at 1 in the morning on Fridays means that I need to encourage myself to sleep for a few hours on Thursday afternoons/evenings, and a big boozy lunch seems the way forward. 

I quite like the novelty of half-day Thursdays actually, and there are lots of great value set lunches to be tried. For the first one, we headed down to the Wild Thyme, which is apparently the best restaurant in Chipping Norton. Well, I haven't eaten anywhere else there, but I'm happy to believe that.



The dining space is, for lack of a better word, cute. Some might find it a bit too much, but I've got a thing for white-painted wood and fancy wallpaper - blame Pinterest. Anyway, we ordered some (non-alcoholic) drinks - the problem with eating outside Oxford is that you have to drive back - and munched on the house bread which was really enjoyable - an olive focaccia, a potato bread and some brown sourdough, if I remember correctly.


I was tempted by a duck starter, but I also wanted the duck main so I half-heartedly settled on the butternut squash risotto, which was just as well as it was probably the highlight of the meal. Creamy and rich, I dread to think about how much cheese and butter had gone into it.


That's not to say the rest wasn't good - a seafood platter starter (brown shrimp, crab, smoked salmon, salmon mousse and probably something else I'm forgetting now) tasted fresh and my main of confit duck, lentils and chorizo was a great combination of strong flavours and textures - especially loved that deep-fried duck skin. Really, the only thing we could complain about was the few bones we found in the haddock main (served with hollandaise and a poached egg - very good). But obviously we didn't complain, as the rest was near perfect.


We of course had desserts, a molten chocolate cake with ginger ice cream (why do people put ginger ice cream on everything nowadays?! hate the stuff) and a baked vanilla cheesecake which was very rich and creamy. Nicely balanced though by the lemon curd flavour-wise and the meringue texture-wise. 


What always amazes me at restaurants like this is the quality of food you get for your money with lunchtime deals. 3 courses for £22 or thereabouts, and I could have easily spent that on something like Jamie's Italian which is just upsetting.


So, yeah, if you find yourself in the Oxfordshire countryside, go. Lovely service, lovely food, lovely space. I'll be back soon.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Shabu Shabu, Cambridge

Shabu Shabu is one of the many recent incarnations of the mirror image of Teri Aki, situated by the river just off Magdalene bridge in Cambridge. Teri Aki is one of my favourite restaurants in Cambridge - it helps that I lived about 200 metres from it for 3 years so I'm rather emotionally attached to it. Their stir-fried udon have cured many a hangover, and their dumpling soup is perfect for a cold wintery day. There's not much they do wrong, and that's why the restaurant is always packed. Shabu Shabu though (or Aki Teri as it used to be called) is a complete mystery to me. Having been an almost identical copy of Teri Aki initially, with a slight Korean twist, it moved on to being a cocktail bar, then started serving hot pots and dim sum and is now mostly Thai. We thought we'd be adventurous and give it a try.



We were hangover and starving so we ordered a few starters to share and a main each. The starters were slightly hit-and-miss. The pork skewers with some satay-style sauce were juicy and with a good bit of char on the outside. The sauce was great too. Deep fried chicken wings were also nice; good crispy skin, reasonably tasty sauce.


The squid rings though were mediocre at best, looking like what you'd expect to find in the freezer section of a supermarket. And then there were these deep fried strips of beef which were dry and strangely tasteless - though the latter could have been the effect of the rather spicy sauce that accompanied them.


My pad thai was OK - the noodles had a nice bit of bite on them and the prawns were large and mostly juicy. But the sauce was too sweet and it soon became a bit sickly. No lime to cut through the richness either.


A beef massaman was probably the best of the mains, rich and warming. I only had a small taste but I suspect that if I had to eat the whole thing I might have struggled with the richness. The third main was a completely uninspiring chicken and vegetable stir fry. I reckon they could do with some stir frying lessons from their older and more experienced sibling next door.


All in all, meh. I'll wait for the inevitable next version of the restaurant before I return.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Chocolate and caramel cake

Hello there.

I've baked and half-given a recipe for a cake over here (plus bonus loaf cake!). And I've started a new blog because, you know, I'm so good at keeping this one up-to-date.

We'll see how it goes.


Thursday, February 02, 2012

Courgette fritters

I always thought of courgette fritters as something you order at a greek tavern and because they taste so amazing I assumed they would be too difficult to make at home. I do have an irrational fear of deep-frying too so that might have contributed to my reluctance. It turns out they are pretty easy, and you can shallow fry them instead. We even made a "diet" version by dry frying them on a non-stick pan. They turned out less like fritters and more like savoury pancakes, but still tasted great. I added a red pointy pepper for sweetness and some chili for a bit of a kick.


Courgette fritters

Ingredients (serves 3 as a main)

2 large courgettes, grated
1 red pointed pepper, chopped finely
3-4 spring onions, chopped finely
150 gr feta, crumbled
1-2 chillies, chopped finely
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp dried dill (or a handful of fresh dill, chopped)
1/2 tsp dried oregano
pinch of salt
lots of ground pepper
2 eggs
about 4 tbsp flour, to get the right consistency

Mix all the ingredients together, adding the flour slowly and mixing until you get a gloopy but not too thick consistency. In the meantime, heat some sunflower/olive oil in a frying pan; you want plenty to cover the bottom of the pan and be about 1/2 cm high. With the pan over medium-high heat, use a tablespoon to carefully drop some mixture in the pan and slightly flatten the top. Cook on one side until golden brown and then flip it to cook the other side. If they seem to be cooking too quickly you can turn the heat down a bit, as you don't want them to still be raw on the inside. A few minutes on each side should do. Remove and place on kitchen roll to absorb the extra oil.


Serve these with tzatziki (garlicky yoghurt with cucumber) for dipping. They are also perfect as part of a greek meze dinner, as I did recently, serving them with spetsofai, a slab of feta and lots of crusty bread.
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