Thursday, September 11, 2008

Bella food at Bella Vista!

Bella Vista Italian Brasserie
3/5 Montpelier Vale
Telephone: 020 8318 1143

We went to visit our Lewisham friends last weekend and visited nearby Blackheath for dinner on the Saturday night. Our first stop was the micro-brewary and restaurant, Zero Degrees, where we were told it would be a 40 min wait at least. Deciding that was just too long we wandered around and found the charming little Italian called Bella Vista (not to be confused with the chain Bella Pasta). We were lucky and secured the last table for four.

The menu had a range of pastas, pizzas, risottos and meat and fish dishes. Everything was very reasonably priced with the most expensive steak dishes around 17 pounds and most other mains hovering at the 11-12 pound mark. Starters were also good from 3.95 to 7.50.

Myself and the language whizz went for the Insalata Tricolore to begin (Buffalo mozzarella,with plum tomatoes, avocado and basil). Whilst the Veggie and the EMI guy chose the Asparagus alla Parmigiana (Warm buttered asparagus with parmesan shavings).

Both starters were very good indeed with the good quality buffalo mozzarella and plum tomatoes reminding us why this salad is such a classic. I've had too many versions in the past with poor excuses for the milky cheese and under-ripe and flavourless tomatoes. My only gripe was that the basil consisted of just one leaf, which was rather mean. With regard to the other starter, the asparagus was cooked to perfection and tasted very fresh, whilst the parmesan was obviously top notch.

Sticking with being copycats, and after much studying of the menu, the Language Whizz, EMI guy and myself opted for the Porchetta Veronese; Roasted suckling pig, boned and rolled, with balsamic roasted peppers, new roast potatoes and juniper berry red wine jus, as the menu waxed lyrical (also extremely good value at 12.95).

The Veggie had plenty of choice and finally plumped for the Ravioli Con Ricotta E Spinaci;
Spinach and ricotta ravioli with wild mushroom and cream sauce

When we were presented with our main dishes I initially thought that the portion was rather small but it was exceptionally filing and just right really. The pork was gorgeous, melt in the mouth and with nice crunchy crackling. The potatoes, peppers and jus all complimented the meat very well, and although we were joking about them bringing the whole pig to our table the portion of meat was perfect.

The Veggie seemed to enjoy her ravioli very much, and we all did everything short of licking our plates!

Somehow we all felt able to challenge our stomaches with dessert! The Language Whizz and I both chose the Baileys Creme Brulee with Baileys
liqueur. The Veggie had the raspberry and lemon sorbet and EWI guy opted for the Vanilla Pod Panna Cotta with summer berries compote.

The Brulee was pleasant but the Bailey's flavouring was a tad too understated. Much laughter was provoked at the end of the meal when the Language Whizz realised that her Brulee ramakin fitted into mine with room to spare! I had no idea mine was so much bigger than her's! We should have mentioned it to the waitress, who was very nice, but didn't really have the heart - especially as she stacked them into each other without blinking an eyelid!

The Veggie pronounced the sorbet as lovely and the Panna Cotta was also a hit.

The meal with drinks and service came to just over 100 pounds. I considered this good value and would definitely return to Bella Vista when in the area again.

Scores on the doors: 8.5 out of 10

The brothel at the Blue Bicycle (York part 3)

The Blue Bicycle Restaurant,
34 Fossgate
YO1 9TA.
Tel: 01904 673990
After a look around the Shambles shops and a drink at a very local pub we headed to the nearby Blue Bicycle restaurant where we had a table booked downstairs. The Blue Bicycle is so named because it used to be a brothel. The lady owner always rode a blue bicycle and when the bike was outside the brothel clients would know that the place was open for business.

The Veggie had booked us a table in one of the booths that used to be a bed. The small alcove still boasted the original headboards, although they must have been pretty short in those days!
The menu and specials looked pretty good, but first we were treated to tiny flowerpots with a small bread roll baked inside, plus softened butter and a whole bulb of garlic slow-roasted to the point of being spreadable. An unusual and delicious opener.

There were quite a lot of fish dishes on the menu, although there was a ribeye steak on the specials board. However, as I had had one of those recently I decided to have the fettucine with fresh herbs and green vegetables to begin and then the fillets of sea bass on fondant potatoes with a kind of tomato and basil tart.

The Veggie went for the specials soup which was pea and watercress. Unfortunately there was only one vegetarian main which was a lentil and chick pea dhal, with naan and pakoras.
The whole atmosphere of the restaurant was nice and cosy, and candlelit. The downstairs was defintely preferable to the less intimate and noiser upstairs area.
Our starters arrived and were very nice. My pasta was silky and fresh-tasting, the pairing of the crisp vegetables and light and creamy sauce was successful. The Veggie's soup was also good, although not as nice as the D.C.H's.

My main of sea bass presented me with a well-cooked piece of fish and the fondant potatoes were lovely. Unfortunately I didn't like the tomato and pastry 'tart'. The pastry was overcooked and puff would have been better than shortcrust with this dish. The veggie curry was quite nice, but nothing that special. It was a rather large portion which The Veggie struggled with.
We decided to order some earl grey tea and share the tempting sounding strawberry and champene trifle. The dessert came in a teacup with wafers. It was exceedingly rich, heavy with cream and custard. Even between the two of us we couldn't finish it.

Dinner for two came to around 69 pounds with the optional service charge included. Service was very good and our waitress was very sweet.

Overall it wasn't the most memorable meal ever, but the setting added a special appeal and it was reasonable in price.

Scores on the doors: 7 out of 10

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Old-fashioned fun at Betty's tearoom (York part 2)

Little Betty's
46 Stonegate
Y01 8AS
Tel: +44(0)1904 622865

After a continental breakfast courtesy of our hotel we headed out to take in the sights and sounds of York. We decided to take afternoon tea at 'Little Betty's' tearoom. Betty's was founded in 1936 and is still offering superior examples of such English delicacies such as Yorkshire rascals ( a kind of teacake), scones, cakes, teas and sandwiches. We were nearer to 'Little Betty's' so decided to stop there. The main branch in York is always packed and you usually have to wait a while. As it was we queued for 10 minutes at 'Little Betty's'. The Veggie questioned whether it was going to be worth it, but I maintained that if we were going to take afternoon tea in York it was going to be at Betty's...

Eventually we were shown to a table. Everything about Betty's is traditional from the top quality service to the quintessentially English menu and decor. We decided to share an afternoon tea - around 15 pounds for "finger sandwiches with 2 filings of our choice (we plumped for egg and cress and roast chicken), a scone with jam and cream, and a selection of miniature cakes.
All sounding lovely but a bit too much for one person anyway. The Veggie had the included pot of tea and I ordered an additional Banana milkshake with vanilla pod ice cream.

Our tea was presented to us on a three tiered display and was very good indeed. The sandwiches were literally finger-sized but totally delicious as was the filing scone which we also split. I expertly halved the rest of the cakes, a lemon cake, a small eclair and another which I think was chocolate.

Afterwards I bought some biscuits, ginger and oat and brown betty's (chocolate) in the downstairs shop.

Now playing: Wiley - Wearing My Rolex
via FoxyTunes

A diner's dream at the D.C.H (York part 1)

Dean Court Hotel Restaurant
Duncombe Place
North Yorkshire

Tel : (01904) 625082

For our sixth anniversary I was whisked away to York by the Veggie. I couldn't have wished for a better surprise - I have always loved York and hadn't been there for years. We stayed in a lovely little hotel called Marmadukes and proceeded to eat are way around the city (or at least it felt that way!).

First stop for dinner was the impressive Dean Court Hotel (D.C.H), its restaurant offering beautiful views of York Minister. I was expecting good food as the place has two AA rosettes but it surpassed even my high expectations. I can safely say that dinner here was one of the best meals out I've ever had.

The staff were charming and just the right kind of attentive. Everything about the decor and the setting was perfect.

We ordered a lovely Rose wine and mulled over the menu whilst sampling the gorgeous pesto rolls and butter on offer. The starters were all rather tempting, with duck, scallops and pigeon being just a few of the choices. I finally decided on the Goats Cheese Bavarois with beetroot jelly, walnut and chive dressing. I must confess I wasn't sure what a 'Bavarois' was but it sounded unusual and I love anything with goat's cheese and beetroot. For my main I couldn't resist the appeal of the Ribeye Steak au Poivre (cut from 21-day matured Yorkshire Beef) with marinated tomato, grilled mushrooms and fat chips. Yes essentially 'steak and chips' but if executed with style you can't really beat it in my book.

The Veggie opted for the Pea and Watercress Veloute with a ravioli of ricotta cheese to begin, followed by the only vegetarian choice (the one thing that I would alter about the place) Spinach, Yorkshire Blue Cheese and Caponatta Spring Rolls with red onion tart tatin. At least the dish sounded imaginative and wasn't the usual risotto or pasta.

Before our starters arrived we were presented with a small amuse bouche of spicy sausage with black eyed beans on toast. Although they initially assumed the Veggie was a meat-eater once she let them know that was not the case they couldn't have been more accommodating. After asking if fish was an option, they eventually offered slices of perfectly ripe watermelon with a berry coulis instead. Top marks for making an effort and the Veggie was left feeling a little bit special.

The evening was beginning to draw in and York Minister was glowingly lit up outside. As I said, the setting couldn't be faulted. A feeling that our starters were in accordance with. My Goat's cheese dish, which turned out to be mousse-like, grey and wobbly. If that doesn't sound appetising, forgive me, as the contrast of the deep purple of the beetroot and soft brown of the walnuts was perfect. The mousse itself was wonderfully rich and full-flavoured as the Veggie agreed. Undoubtably one of the best starters I have eaten, the textures and flavours blending into a moreish delight.

Not to be outdone the Veggie's soup was creamy and light, the flavours astoundingly fresh. The addition of the ravoli took it to another level, and I was pleased that I wasn't the only one raving about the food.

Would our mains be able to continue such high standards? Well they certainly gave it a good shot! My steak was beautifully cooked and was a lovely piece of meat. The ribeye has always been my favourite cut and here it was the star of the dish. The accompaniments were fine, nothing too amazing but tasty, especially the marinated tomato.

The Veggie's spring rolls also went down well and were apparently unlike anything else she has eaten. It's always nice to have a dish that surprises you and with its unusual 'fusion' of asian and british cuisine this was it!

Whilst we were both full we couldn't resist sharing the creme brulee, which was not just your run of the mill dish, oh no, this was given a asian twist too. Lemon Grass Infused Crème Brulee with
coconut and chilli sorbet, was the perfect palate cleanser. The flavour of the custard had just enough hints of lemon and I adored the hot and sweet sorbet (although the Veggie thought it was a bit too weird).

The bill came too around 75 pounds, a total bargain for such a memorable meal. I will definitely be returning there next time we are in York.

Scores on the Doors: 9.5 out of 10.

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