Sunday, 31 July 2011

Bill's Cafe and Restaurant, Cambridge, UK

The opening of Bill's Cafe and Restaurant in Cambridge has caused quite a bit of excitement amongst those of us here with a passing interest in food. Bill's is a small chain which started off with locations in Sussex and has now expanded to London, and most recently Green Street in the centre of Cambridge.

While Bill himself remains elusive, his cafes have gone for the Jamie Oliver-esque concept of also being 'stores' where you can buy Bill's jams, chutneys, and books (as well as lots of other stuff). The shelves full of interesting things cover the walls of the cafe, which means the interior looks quite relaxed and funky. And they actually manage to pull off the combo of faux driftwood wall panels with industrial ducting across the ceiling too.

Bill's do quite a wide range of cafe style food from breakfast through to dinner, and when I popped in for lunch with the Male Companion Person the other day we thought we'd try a selection of starters. I had the gazpacho, the MCP had an avocado and bacon salad, and between us we shared the mezze board and some calamari.

Both the salad and the gazpacho were very generously sized for starters. My soup had a great fresh balance of tomato, pepper and cucumber, with just a little onion kick. I suspect some might have preferred a smoother texture but I quite liked the fact that it hadn't been processed to death. This would be perfect to have on a hot and sunny summer's day, but was still pretty fine on a cloudy and overcast summer's day.

The calamari were light and crispy, as described on the menu, and the garlic mayo was particularly good as well.

The mezze board came with lots of little bowls of vegetarian goodness, including an outstanding red pepper hummous with pumpkin seeds, which (I think) was spiced with some cumin as well. The baba ganoush didn't really taste of smokey aubergine though. The strongest flavour was that of citrus, but it was still very tasty. As were the other bowls of roast vegetables, olives and guacamole.

What was particularly impressive, apart from the quality of the food, was the very reasonable pricing. We had a lot of food for two people, but all of the above along with some non-alcoholic drinks, cost just over £31.00 (including service).

So good food, nice atmosphere, reasonable prices- there's very little not to like about Bill's. I'd recommend going before the rest of Cambridge finds out about it.

Bill's Cafe, Restaurant and Store
34-35 Green Street
Cambridge CB2 3JX

Monday, 25 July 2011

Crust-less mini quiches

A quick post on these super-simple mini quiches which are perfect for a summer picnic, afternoon tea or a general snack. As they lack any pastry they are also suitable for people on a gluten-free diet, or for those who can't be bothered to make pastry.

I used the same filling as I've previously written about, caramelised red onion and mushroom, which was divided between 12 cupcake cases lined with grease-proof paper (I was worried about sticking issues but it probably would have been fine without the double layer). The liquid part of the filling was again what I'd use in a regular quiche- 300ml of double cream, 2 eggs, 2 handfuls of emmental cheese, a little salt and a generous grind of black pepper. This was ladled into the cases, and the tray placed into the middle of an oven pre-heated to gas mark 6. The quiches take around 20minutes to cook, and should be golden on top and set, but still have a little bit of a wibble. They also look very light and puffy initially, but will collapse back down as they cool.

Eat hot or cold while being quite surprised that pastry is not absolutely essential for a quiche.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Jerk trout

I have very little experience of Caribbean food. I own a book by Levi Roots and have heard about the classics like jerk chicken and rice and peas, but have never tried them. I don't eat meat so jerk chicken is unlikely to make an appearance on my table any time soon, but I liked the principle of something spicy and grilled. And when a couple of local supermarkets introduced small Afro-Caribbean sections in their ethnic food aisles, I enthusiastically bought some jerk seasoning mix by Dunn's River. Unfortunately this then sat in the cupboard for about six months before I got round to doing something with it.

But eventually I remembered it was there, and decided that jerk trout was the way forward. It's a pretty robust fish that can take strong flavours and is also relatively cheap (always a bonus). So for my jerk marinade I made a paste with one medium onion, a couple of fat cloves of garlic, about a tablespoon of thyme leaves and around two and half generous tablespoons of the jerk seasoning powder. I used a bit of oil to bind everything together too. This was then rubbed onto two whole cleaned trout, that I made some slashes in, and left to marinate for about 45minutes. If I'd planned better I would have left it for longer and maybe overnight. The trout were then drizzled with a little more oil and cooked under a hot grill, until the skin was crisp and beginning to char a little. So around seven or eight minutes on each side (or until cooked through).

And I have to say that I was really impressed with the outcome. I generally don't favour ready made spice mixes, but having no idea what should go in it, this jerk seasoning was a really convenient option and very tasty. Looking at the ingredients it contained coriander, chilli, pepper, pimento, cinnamon, marjoram, bay, and nutmeg, as well as salt and sugar. And I don't think it need any extra spices adding to it at all (unlike with many pre-mixed spice mixes). On a side note- it was quite salty though, so there's no need to add extra salt to this dish. The saltiness on the surface evened out when combined with eating the actual fish though, but if you're sensitive about that sort of thing then maybe use less of the mix than I did.

I served my jerk trout with some steamed broccoli and greens, and as we had one whole fish per person, that was more than enough. The fish was spicy with chilli heat but also had other flavours that I would have been pushed to identify. It was a very different type of spiciness to the Indian food I'm used to, but equally as good. So a definite thumbs up for jerk from me!

Have a look at the Food Stories blog for more information on all things jerk from a true enthusiast.

Dunn's River Jerk Seasoning
I rate it 8/10
Cost: Around £1.40 for a 100g tub

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Anita's dill and mint raitha crisps

So in the search for further snack innovation I stumbled across these crisps by Anita's a few weeks ago. I'm not sure if there really is a little ethnic auntie (Anita) behind it all as claimed, or whether this is just clever marketing, but the unique feature of this brand is its range of Indian flavours.
Their offerings are made up of chicken tikka, mango and lime chutney, achaari paneer, and a dill and mint raitha variety which I tried recently. And I have to say I was very impressed. A bit like the Hairy Bikers coconut prawn crisps, this is a flavour that sounds a bit wrong to combine with fried potatoes but actually works. The herb flavours are not too strong, but still distinguishable, and the yoghurt element of the raitha comes through too. Overall this leads to quite a fresh tasting crisp, with the raitha flavour cutting through any oiliness from the potato.

I'm looking forward to sampling some of the other flavours (all of them except the chicken tikka variety are vegetarian). And though I still a remain a stout (in all senses) advocate of the plain salted crisp, I think I will be adding these to my list of acceptable alternatives.

Anita's Dill and Mint Raitha Crisps
I rate them 8/10
Cost: Around £1.70 for a 150g bag