REVIEW: Agua Dulce, Brighton

Good Spanish food in the city is almost as hard to come by as Italian cooking even though two of the most popular restaurants are exactly those. When you walk past they are heaving to the rafters with parties and hen dos lining their stomachs on set meal menus. 

But if you like it authentic then it's all a bit sad face. So when fellow blogger Rosie wrote a glowing review of Agua Dulce, a place I've been hearing very good feedback from in general, I knew I had to pay a visit.

Located in a slightly grotty street just off the seafront, the grey and grubbiness subsides as you pass through the doors and are transported into the sunny interior. The welcome was slightly less sunny and turns out the charm is only showered on the "pretty girl" tables. Myself and Mr GF clearly were not the waiter's type! We were also gruffly told that we'd only be allowed to put an order in once to the kitchen as they were busy, which looking at the half empty room and trying to get my head around what I believed the casual concept of tapas was peeved me off slightly. Not the greatest start.

Still, I was generally in a rare good mood so didn't walk out but ordered two dishes initially, stubbornly retaining the menu with a solid grasp my best firm "business" smile.

Luckily the food arrived and we soon forgot about the bad start.



The fish here is very, very good. I have never eaten octopus that didn't remind me of car tyres, but here was cooked by someone who must be very experienced with seafood. Being thinly sliced helped the off-putting texture of the suckers and made it far more enjoyable. Usually Mr. GF has to polish off the seafood plates but I ate my half of this quite happily. I also like that it had been placed on sliced potatoes for substance and generously sprinkled with paprika. Although it was one of the more expensive small plate dishes, was larger and good value at £8.95.


Small pieces of marinated shark steak were floured and fried, giving you that crisp exterior whilst locking in the sweet, tender fish on the inside. Delicious.


Gambas Pil Pil is a classic, simple dish and what not to like about a sauce of wine, lemon and chilli? 



Chorizo is a must and although not as interesting as some of the other dishes, essential for mopping up that incredible oil with bread. I normally like it cooked in sherry but this was just pan fried, but still really nice.


And finally...Padron peppers are an absolute must, aren't they?

On the subject of bread, I was amazed, even though I'd seen it on Rosie's blog, at how rubbish the bread was. Cheap, gloopy supermarket "French Stick". (Won't insult the French by calling it a baguette even.) It could be a lot better, especially with the increasing amount of the great bakeries in town. I almost felt sorry for the decent aioli served with it.

We didn't really bother with the dessert menu which had the usual flans and things. Moving on for dessert after a meal is my new thing this summer.

I would be very keen to go back for the main meals, especially the fish, possibly even a paella. The one on the table next to us looked a treat. Some of the more unusual tapas specials were quite enticing too. 

So what they lack in desirability of location, they do make up for with fresh, good quality and reasonably priced food. I think our bill came to abut £60 which included service (ho-ho) and a £28 bottle of wine.

If you fancy that taste of Spain then I think this it the closes you are going to get to it. Just make sure you go with a group of your prettiest girlfriends and leave the bearded dude at home in front of the telly.

Brighton
East Sussex BN1 1NE

Brighton Gourmet Bus Tour: Vinyard visits


Brilliant fun, a dash of adventure and plenty of deliciousness, I think anyone interested in food or drink (or both) should hop on a Gourmet Bus Tour. Run by the fabulous people behind the Brighton & Hove Food Festivals, they have so many contacts to the best of our Sussex producers that they can create the food itineraries of our dreams.

I've previously been on their food bus tour which visited CocoaLoco, Dark Star Brewery and High Wield Dairy but today we were heading to a couple of Sussex's amazing vineyards. I love visiting these and take a geek load of notes but really go yourself and find out why we should be buying more English wine.

The bus tour itself is great, pulling out of Brighton all pleasant and genteel and arriving back full of chatter and laughter. There's a jolliness about a Routemaster bus that compels people to wave at you or raise a smile as it passes. At times it's pretty impressive it squeezes down some of those narrow country roads too.

Bolney Wine Estate

First Stop: Bolney Wine Estate www.bolneywineestate.com
This estate has been around since 1972 and is a family business. The daughter of the original owners, Sam Linter, is now head winemaker and the feminist in me LOVES the fact that a lady is the wine head honcho here (her assistant winemaker and vineyard manager are also female). Sam has won plenty of national and international awards and you can also buy the wines in places like Waitrose.

The estate is very pretty and geared up for tours. Normally they do the lunches in the cafe but we had ours in the winery itself which made for a stunning backdrop. We tasted four of their wines; The sparking Blanc de Blancs, Bolney Rosé and the Pinor Noir. I find Bolney wines to always be surprising, either lighter than you expect or very fragrant and sweet (the rose), certainly never boring. My favourite was actually the Pinot Gris we had with lunch which was a really well balanced white, very creamy.

Lunch was very well done, buffet style but lots of dishes.


The tour was informative, interesting and relaxed and the vineyard itself is actually a lovely place to walk around in the sunshine.

Ridgeview

Second Stop: Ridgeview www.ridgeview.co.uk
Ah Ridgeview! I must say, these guys produce some of my favourite sparkling wines so let's get straight onto them. The Grosvenor Blanc de Blancs is a must. I insist on a bottle for special occasions and if I were to be washed up on a dessert island I'd prefer a few cases of this than rum for company. It's very light, super pale and fresh. It doesn't suffer from that biscuity yeasty dryness (all official wine terms!) that some sparklings suffer with. Love it.

I also adore the Fitzrovia Rose (all the wines are named after London Boroughs). It has the most beautiful salmon colour and again, fresh, light and so drinkable. I discovered this at Plateau in Brighton so grab a glass if you're passing.

We also tried the Bloomsbury (their entry level sparkling) and Knightsbridge, all of which are excellent. Everyone will adore at least one of their wines, look them up if you can.

The story of Ridgeview is charming. Again primarily a family business, with the second generation now heading up production. The tour is very detailed, well put together and again delivery is entertaining. There are plans to extend their visitor facilities soon which will make visits even better. We were actually hosed in the temporary marquee but was really pleasant!

I was surprised by the volume of production since my last visit a few years ago and that they had been selected to produce wines for the likes of M&S and Waitrose, which goes to show their quality of produce.

If you want to learn about wine in an informal and relaxed way, then these tours are great. Wine production is so interesting and especially learning the challenges and quirks of growing grapes in Sussex.

The whole bus tour last around 8 hours. This vineyard trip was £75 which represented good value for money with lunch, amount of tasting (and generous wine at lunch), plus breakfast pastries and a trip on a Routemaster. Would make a fabulous gift for someone special too.

For more details or to see the next available tour dates then visit www.brightonfoodfestival.com
(There is actually only one left this year in October so go, go, go! http://brightonfoodfestival.com/events/sussex-wine-bus-tour-2/)


I was a guest of the Brighton Food Festival.

Cookery lessons at home with Indian Tadka


I've been to so many cookery classes and demonstrations over the years, from courses at Leiths School to one-on-one classes at the teacher's home. But I've never been taught in my own kitchen and this is one of the services Indian Tadka offer. I thought it may be a little odd but owner Kirthi Mundada was so sweet and friendly, that she instantly made me feel right at er, home. 



We started the lesson with a spice tasting. Some were from her masala dabba, the steel tin with a number of smaller pots inside, kept close for everyday cooking. Things like mango powder, turmeric, salt, coriander and cumin seeds. Then a wide range of spices from Kirthi's next set of most used spices (and she has a further two sets!) with some more unusual spices like asafoetida, khus khus and even some Indian salt varieties I hadn't come across. We tasted them both raw and some cooked and I think I gained a much better understanding of the spices. I used to be quite proud of my collection but this made me realise I only own the tip of the iceberg! It was also fascinating to discover their healing properties too although some of my Indian friends have already forced me to eat raw fenugreek seeds and turmeric drinks in the past (they work!).



Although you can choose to learn many things, my favourite on the day was making dosa, something I adore to order in restaurants and now know how to make! Tips like adding oil to the edge during cooking to really crisp them up and how to make the dosa so paper thin was really useful. And they are so easy too, I had no problem making them for dinner later that evening on my own. Kirthi brought the batter but the recipe booklet (which included all the food cooked on the day) she left me seems very simple to follow. We filled them with a fragrant potato curry and dipped them in peanut and tamarind chutney. I was so impressed with these, and the complete dish was as good as restaurant level. Without doubt I'll be giving these a whirl from scratch and perfecting the thinness.



Tadka means tempering and is an incredibly important element of Indian cooking. (Hence the inspiration for the company name.) This tempering is nothing to do with chocolate (as we may know it), but heating spices in hot oil to wholly extract their flavour and aroma. This can be done at the beginning or end of a dish and Kirthi showed examples of both in her dishes. The peanut and tamarind chutney for the dosa had used a tadka poured over the top to finish the dish and the rice dish we cooked began by tempering the spices.

The simple sounding "Lemon Rice" dish is a little misleading as it contains two different dals, a number of spices and peanuts, all fried in oil so they are aromatic and crunchy. The sweetness of grated carrots and sourness of lemon as well as heat from fresh chilli all added dimension to a humble rice dish. As a mid-week quick meal, this would be pretty special and so good to try everyday Indian food. Most Indian recipes I normally go for are quite involved so I keep it to weekends, but simplicity with so much flavour like this dish is a great combination for time-poor people.



Kirthihad also made up a gorgeous shrikhand yogurt dessert, infused with saffron, cardamom, honey and nuts to finish off our wonderful meal. I'm not really a fan of Indian sweets so this was a great alternative.

Not only was I left with a better understanding of Indian food, and more confidence in cooking it, Kirthi also left a pot of her mum's garam masala mix, containing no less that 56 spices. A really lovely touch I thought. Although Indian Tadka is a relatively new Brighton business, you can tell this is the sort of knowledge someone has amassed over the years with a heritage rich in food culture. Kirthi's stories of growing up with the food she is so clearly passionate about is something I could really relate to with my own childhood.



Indian Tarka also offer catering for events and parties you can even have Kirthi as a personal chef for a dinner party or a special occasion for two of you. After sampling even a small selection of her food I would have no issue recommending her for that. Cookery lessons range from £30 - £80 per person depending on how many dishes you choose to learn and how many people in the class.

Learning to cook unfamiliar dishes makes for a really enjoyable afternoon, either as a one-to-one of a group of you. All you have to do is supply a list of ingredients and you are good to go.

For more information or to choose your dishes to learn and book lessons visit: www.indiantadka.co.uk

I was invited to review Indian Tadka

COMPETITION: Win a Discover the Origin hamper worth £70


I met Discover the Origin at the last Brighton and Hove Food Festival over a gorgeous supper at Hotel Du Vin, with all courses made from their fabulous products. And really, pretty much all the produce they promote are my favourites; Parmigiano Reggiano, Parma Ham, Bourgogne Wines, Douro Wines and Port. (Although I must say the white port did have me skipping home a bit too merrily!)

Anyway, the work that DTO do is vital for consumers to know where and how these products are made by making information available about their provenance and unique characters.

These products are so steeped in tradition that their status as heritage products is protected, guaranteeing that they’re made using age-old methods that in turn give an assurance of quality each and every time. You can learn how to spot real Parma Ham at the supermarket and find out which wines pair best with your favourite meals by visiting the Discover the Origin website which is full of tips and recipes for enjoying these natural, nutritious and affordable luxuries at home.

And I'm so pleased to offer one lucky Graphic Foodie reader a chance to win the most incredible hamper filled with £70 worth of these luxury authentic European products. The hamper contains Parma Ham, a wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano, Douro Wine, Bourgogne Wine and port. Don't say I don't treat you!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Discover the Origin is a campaign financed with aid from the EU, France, Italy and Portugal that celebrates and protects the fine heritage of products with Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status. For more information visit discovertheorigin.co.uk

T&Cs: The competition closes on 09/04/2014. A winner will be chosen at random. Winners must be over 18 years old. UK entries only.

REVIEW: Blackbird Tea Rooms, Brighton



A visit to Blackbird Tea Rooms really is a must if you adore that quirky vintage vibe served along with your tea. It's really difficult to pull off without being too gimmicky or themed but they do it with such style and authenticity, as well as a contemporary twist in the food they offer. So far from stuffy or quaint.


I particularly like that the areas of their interior give you a different experience. The gorgeous, formal tea room upstairs would be nice for a special occasions but there is a more casual, yet splendidly vintage cafe at the front. And a real rarity in Brighton town centre is the hidden gem of the garden for a peaceful pit stop. (And check out the outside loo!)


Huge cakes are housed in vintage glass cases and they are well known for their sweet treats but their latest chef has brought in a new brunch and lunch menu...and why my focus for this visit wasn't the afternoon tea (which is handily on display - look how lovely it is!)



So, back to the job in hand, I started with the homemade granola. It was really nicely presented, topped with plenty of varied fruit and had two layers of yogurt, one that was blended with fresh fruit. The granola itself was an interesting mix with a lot of ingredients too. Portion-wise, this would set you up for the day, possibly even a mountain trek.



I love panzanella for a light, summery lunch. Normally the bread is stale and soaked in the juices of fresh tomatoes but this version came in the guise of croutons. There was a generous full buffalo mozzarella here, which when you think about the £5.40 price tag is pretty amazing. A nice touch was that the red onions had been pickled to take the edge off them and the colourful mix of heritage tomatoes were not fridge cold. Hooray!



The smashed avocado with feta on granary toast is somewhat of a "signature" dish here. For me, feta and avocado is an odd yet not unpleasant marriage, my main issue is the similar mushy texture. The toast was decent bread but suffered from the heavy loading and dressing and became a little soggy. Poached egg was a good addition and you can have bacon added too. This one wasn't for me but apparently customers love it and does make for a hearty breakfast/brunch alternative. Strangely this dish with bacon tots up to £9.80 which, when you consider the price point of the rest of the menu, seems a bit on the high side too. Not sure what that lemon was doing either!



But this I did like! A Moroccan twist on sausage and beans. Underneath the vivid green herb breadcrumbs were baked chickpeas in tomato sauce and spices. The chef's links to NZ and love of fusion food were apparent with the addition of a goat cheese bon bon, chorizo sausage and poached egg. Can't say I've had anything like it before but I really did enjoy it.

The service here is attentive and just adorable. The lovely ladies are dressed in vintage clothes but as per the interior, doesn't come across as themed or gimmicky. They have struck a very difficult balance to achieve and honestly felt transported back in time for an hour or so.

Cakes themselves were sublime and I couldn't leave without a little taste. The chunky carrot cake was moist and not over frosted which is a pet hate. The chocolate option was decadent, rich and fudgy. My favourite was the orange and almond though, the lighter option of the bunch. I loved the unfussiness and quality of these cakes, think of the best upscale nanna cake you'll ever have in your life. That. 

The presentation and craft of the full afternoon tea is very good and at £14pp is much better value than some of the more generic teas served in the city. That is certainly the case for the hotels who charge far, far more for less.

So, the food now goes beyond just the (very good) cake and tea you automatically think of with Blackbird tea rooms and on the whole the prices make it a viable option for a quick workday lunch as well as a special occasion. It's a gem and one that's made my Brighton Black Book listing for being somewhere different in the city.

www.blackbirdtearooms.com
30 Ship Street
Brighton 
BN1 1AD

I dined as a guest of Blackbird tea rooms. Views, as always, are my own. 

GF Guides | The best cocktail bars in Brighton


The party town of Brighton is certainly not short of a place or two to drink. Saying that, the majority of bars cater for the influx of stag and hen parties and mainstream clubbers that want their drinks cheap and cheerful. But if you prefer your poison refined and a little more exclusive then these bars are worth noting for your black book.

Plateau
Don’t let the fact that Plateau is primarily a small plate French restaurant put you off. In the evening, the vibe is stylish yet relaxed and the small bar to one side of the venue is definitely worth propping up. Although notorious for their carefully sourced organic, biodynamic and natural wine from small-scale producers, the cocktail menu is just as considered. Some of the drinks have a prohibition-era feel to them and others are 40s recipes from the cocktail masters.

Try the Satan’s Whiskers (gin, orange curacao, dry and sweet vermouth, fresh orange juice and orange bitters) or the “odd-ball” Pan American Clipper (le lieu calvados, fresh lime, grenadine and absinthe). And if you get hungry there is far more on offer than a packet of ready salted to satisfy cravings. Bonus.

Cocktail Shack
The newest and possibly the best boutique hotel bar in the city, you’ll find the Cocktail Shack nestled away in The Artist Residence on Regency Square. Grown up yet creative and convivial, this is the sort of place to sip your drinks if you want to avoid the mainstream mojito masses. This place perfectly reflects Brighton vibe, heck, part of it is even made with wood reclaimed from the West Pier.

Although the Shack’s tipple of choice is their sizable rum list, the cocktail menu covers some cherry picked classics and their own more adventurous house originals. Kick back and relax with a Tequila Negroni or for something a little adventurous for the taste buds, go for a Truth Be Told (gin, pineapple, coriander, jalapeno water and egg white).

The New Club
With views of the sea and the remains of the West Pier, The New Club should be a must for every visitor to Brighton. As well as serving gourmet American fast food, the bar is just as visit worthy. With a very cool NYC eatery style, they are now gaining national recognition for the effort they are putting into their food and drink. The cocktail menu is divided into three sections. Start the evening with their fresher, pre-dinner drinks like the Tre Bellini (crème de peche, peach puree, peach bitters and Prosecco) or one of their whiskey flight selections. The Club Classics list includes twists like Cherry Cola Bottle (Amaretto, Cherry Heering, cola syrup and lemon juice).

And finally, top the night off with the dessert cocktails, which along with the usual sweet options list drinks like the Rock & Rye (Rye Whiskey infused for a few days with Rock Candy, Orange, Lemon and Maraschino Cherries, served with an Aperol rinse).

BYOC (Bring Your Own Cocktail)
This is a relatively new concept to Brighton. Hidden away (behind the façade of a faux juice bar) in The Lanes, most people would pass it by which is part of the appeal, feeling almost a little illicit. Booking is advised and a set fee of £20 will buy you two hours of expert mixology. Unusually, you are requested to bring the alcohol but your drinks will be crafted to your individual taste preferences using their own in-house created syrups and bitters or pressed fresh fruit and vegetable juices. Not having to read lengthy cocktail menus is worth the entrance fee in itself and you will not be able to get tailor made drinks like these anywhere else.

The moody, candlelit interior makes for one of the most glamorous bars in the city, with quirky details and drinks served in vintage glassware. There’s even a tiny six seat cinema squirrelled in there as well. A unique experience in a modern speakeasy.


Graphic Foodie Guides 
A series of targeted, helpful guides for Brighton. If you would like me to create a guide on anything in particular drop me an email!
For other guides featured visit www.thegraphicfoodie.blogspot.co.uk/gfguides

This post first appeared on SocialandCoctail.co.uk

RECIPE: Antipasto diverso


A decent Italian meal must start with an antipasto but that doesn't mean just popping cured meats and olives on a plate from packets and jars. This alternative ("diverso") antipasto just takes a tiny little bit more effort but looks far more impressive. There is just a single piece of cooking - 5 minutes tops! The three elements are married up with a universal dressing of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. 

Serves 4, easily multiplied

Parma ham and melon cubes - makes 8
Gala melon, not over ripe, skin and seeds removed.
Few slices of Parma ham

Using a sharp knife, cut long pieces of melon into perfect rectangles, about 2.5cm wide and 2.5cm tall. Wrap these in Parma ham then wrap with cling film and chill for an hour. Remove from the fridge and cut again to form into eight 2.5cm cubes. Remove cling film.

Goat cheese bon bons - makes 8
150g soft (but not the very loose spreadable kind) goats cheese
Bunch of mixed herbs ie, rosemary, parsley, tarragon, mint
Large handful of pistachio nuts, shelled (optional)

Crush the pistachio nuts if using with a pestle and mortar or rolling pin, or chop with a sharp knife. Place onto a flat plate along with the chopped herbs and combine well.

Remove any rind from the goats cheese if any and then crumble into a bowl. Take a teaspoon of the cheese and roll into a neat ball, they should be roughly 15g each.

Roll each ball lightly around the herbs and pistachios, until well coated.

Courgette rolls with lemon ricotta - makes 8
1 large courgette (green or yellow) as fresh and firm as possible
150g Ricotta cheese
Zest of half a lemon
Few sprigs of fresh mint, very finely chopped
Sea salt and pepper

Using a vegetable peeler, slice the courgette lengthways, so you get long thin strips. Choose the best 8 strips. Brush each length lightly on one side with olive oil then place oil side down on a hot griddle pan. Cook until charred on one side only, retaining a nice pattern if you can.

Meanwhile combine the ricotta, lemon zest and mint in a small bowl. Season to taste. 

Laying the courgette strips, charred face down, spread a spoonful of ricotta filling across each one, finishing short of one edge. Trim this edge with sharp knife for presentation. Roll up neatly, finishing with the trimmed edge.

To serve
Extra virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar

Using individual plates or sharing platters, drizzle equal amounts of olive oil and balsamic onto the plate. Arrange the Parma Ham and Melon Cubes, Goat Cheese Bon Bons and Courgette Rolls on top. 





I tested out the OXO Good Grips Herb Mincer in this recipe. Although I normally get on fine with just a knife, the mincer did zap through the chopping in quick time and would be handy for recipes that use a lot of herbs (my ricotta herb ravioli for the whole family? I'm looking at you!). As always the ergonomics of OXO products has been carefully deigned, it was comfortable to hold and I loved the flat nose to push down and pile the herbs with. It also completely opens up so washing is an absolute breeze.

Also thanks to Filippo Berio for supplying the Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar - they were ideal for this recipe and great examples of affordable products for everyday. Very impressed with the taste of them both.