Friday, 31 July 2015

Heverlee Pop-Up @ Tontine Lane

Last week I was invited celebrate Belgium's National Day at a new pop-up bar in Glasgow's Merchant City by Belgian brewer Heverlee. For two weeks, Heverlee @ Tontine Lane has been impressing visitors with quality food and drink including an almost endless supply of belgiums national dish - moule frites.
The pop-up bar is situated within an old loading bay behind Glasgow's Trongate and High Street with the entrance to the bar on Bell Street. Heverlee @ Tontine Lane is only running until Sunday 2nd August so if you're about the city centre over the weekend, pop in to the pop-up and sample a little piece of Belgium.

Our evening turned out to be more than just beer and moule frite as Heverlee had sent their Master Brewer, Joris Brams, over to talk us through the beers that we would be drinking as well as some of the unique brewing styles that are used. In addition to this, they had also flown over one of Belgium top chefs who would be serving up a six course tasting menu to myself and the other invited VIP's.
Wim Dejoghne, head chef at Het Land Aan de Overkant in Leuven, is regarded as one of belgiums most exciting young chefs who is always pushing the boundaries of taste and texture.
All of the courses that were served across the evening were fantastic with the Americain Preparé starter being one of my favourite courses. The steak tartare was seasoned perfectly, perhaps overshadowed a little by the strongly flavoured tarragon mayonnaise, but when combined with the black olive crumble and imaginative radish 'snow', it resulted in a tasty forkful of food.
Another standout dish was the Solle Buere Noisette. Soft, well cooked sole in a hazelnut butter was topped with mushrooms and a lemon and hazelnut crumb. The initial flavours were not dissimilar to lemon meringue pie but once the lemon flavour disappeared, the sole came into its own and worked well with the Buerre Noisette.
Over the course of the evening Chef served up a few other strange flavour combos but they all seemed to work on differing levels for me and my fellow diners.
Each of our courses were served with a matching beer, including two of Heverlee's own brews. What I liked about this part of the evening was that Joris and Heverlee didn't try to force their own beers down our throats, (I'm not sure anyone would have minded), but instead Wim and Joris served up beers from Belgium that they felt would work best with each of the courses. In fact, the Stouterik Brussels Stout only arrived thanks to DHL making a late afternoon delivery!
I'm generally not a stout drinker but I did enjoy the chocolate-y notes in the Stouterik. The two Heverlee beers that we were served were both easy drinking with their newly launched Witte was my favourite on the night. We were also given a few Geuze, beers that are brewed in the Lambic style. This type of beer,unique to Belgium, is made using wild yeasts resulting in a sharp, musty, sour tasting beer which wasn't to everyone's taste. It's safe to safe that most of the group struggled to properly appreciate these beers and whilst they weren't 'session' beers, they did actually work well with their corresponding food courses.
If this celebration of the food and drink of Flanders wasn't enough, we were told towards the end of the evening that there was a prize of a trip to Belgium, which had been hidden in plain sight by the staff earlier.
Well wouldn't you know it ...... I found the hidden prize (a cunningly disguised beermat) and as we speak, I am working with the good people at Visit Flanders to make sure that myself and Nicola get the most from our impending trip to Leuven and Brussels.
So overall, not a bad way to spend a Tuesday evening!
As stated earlier, the pop-up is running until this Sunday and I'll be doing my best to get back in to Heverlee @ Tontine Lane - well, I do need to start practicing my Dutch. (Dutch in Belgium, that just sounds like a lot of waffles)


Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Alston Bar & Beef - Steak & Lobster Wednesday

One of my favourite restaurants in Glasgow is Alston Bar & Beef which is situated underneath Central Station on Gordon Street. I was fortunate enough to be invited to Alston shortly after they opened when I was treated to a night of fine dining matched with an array of stunning gin accompaniments, and have been back to dine with them a couple of time since then.
I was delighted to receive a tweet from the restaurant a couple of weeks ago announcing that they would be launching a Steak & Lobster evening and would like me to come in for a trial run. Not one to turn down a bit of luxury, I happily accepted their kind offer.
When myself and Nicola arrived on Wednesday evening, both the bar and restaurant were already looking rather busy. We were shown to our table and our waitress explained that the Steak and Lobster deal would normally allow you a choice of any two mains from either a 250g rump steak, half a North Atlantic lobster or a North Atlantic Northern Roll but as we were their special guests for the evening, we would be getting all three. These would be accompanied by skinny chips and garlic butter. The deal also includes a bottle of white, rose or red wine too which meant that the £40 cover charge for two offers fantastic value for money. We decided to go for the white wine and received a crisp, Chenin Blanc from South Africa which worked well with our meal but would also work just as well on its own.
We were both hungry when we arrived so decided to share a starter of lemon and coriander crab cakes with lemon mayonnaise. The three crispy patties were packed with flavour and plenty of crab filling. Too often, crab cakes are stuffed with potato as a profit making filler but this wasn't the case at Alston. The portion size was pretty good as well and this shared starter was a good base for the main event.
In all fairness, we didn't need a starter because the feast that arrived next was more than enough to keep us suitably satisfied. We were presented with two silver platters, one containing the steak and chips, the other with the lobster and lobster roll - each platter also had its own little gravy boat filled with the richest garlic butter that I've tasted in a long time! (please note that when the menu launches in earnest, the steak and lobster will be served on one platter alongside the chips and garlic butter)
Alston Bar & Beef are renowned for serving fantastic steaks and the dry aged rump steak that we had was exactly as I would have expected. The meat was cooked perfectly and cut easily with a standard knife. Steak and chips is so simple but can be done so poorly. Alston didn't disappoint and I would have been happy to dunk my steak and chips in the garlic butter all night.
The other platter contained a half grilled lobster, complete with its huge shelled claw, and the the lobster roll. This is a new one one me but the best way to describe it would be lobster cocktail in a hotdog roll. There was tons of chopped lobster meat in a rich homemade Marie-Rose sauce stuffed into a steamed bun. The filling was wonderful but the roll was too heavy for our tastes. The lobster roll might make a better lunchtime, which is handy as the offer will run every Wednesday from 12 o'clock in the afternoon.
Moving on to the lobster, there was plenty of tender meat for us to share, which had been cooked wonderfully. Another little garlic butter gravy boat was served alongside the sweet lobster meat, (Which incidentally is one of the best tastes combinations ever!) It didn't take us long to strip the lobster down to to the shell.
After our hearty feast, we were both feeling pretty full and probably didn't need a pudding ...... however, it would be a crime to visit Alston Bar & Beef and not have the Crumbled Pear with Creme Anglais from the dessert menu.
I've eaten a lot of puddings in my life and can honestly say that the crumbled pear is possibly my all time favourite. The pear is poached to perfection in a spiced white wine, dusted in a buttery crumble mix before being placed ceremoniously on a bed of more of the butter crumb. What a great balance of texture and flavour, the soft juicy pear, rich butter crumb and sweet vanilla flavoured Creme Anglais are all great individually but even better together. What a great way to finish a wonderful meal.
With dinner over, I asked for the bill, expecting to pay for the starter and pudding but we were advised that everything was 'on the house', which was a very pleasant surprise. Overall, we had a great night and despite the fact that we didn't pay, this has no bearing on my honest review. Of course, I would like to thank all at Alston Bar & Beef for the invitation to try their Steak & Lobster deal, and for the hospitality shown on the night. Rest assured, we will be back in very soon!
If you've never had lobster before, this is the chance to try one of life's little luxuries without breaking the bank. In fact, at £40 for the Steak & Lobster (and a bottle of wine), you'd be a fool not to pop along to Alston Bar & Beef out of nothing more than morbid curiosity - it's a fantastic deal! So go on, give them a call on 0141 221 7627 and get booking for the first (or every) Wednesday that you can.

 Written by Gerry Haughian Written by Gerry Haughian

Sunday, 26 July 2015

5 Questions - Chika's Foods, as seen on Dragon's Den

There are literally thousands of independent food and drink producers operating in the UK doing their best to get their wonderful products in front of a wider customer base. Some of these producers are happy to sell their wares at local farmers markets and delicatessens, thankful that people know that they can find something unique on their doorstep.
Of course, some producers take things to another level when it comes to driving their business forward. Chika Russell from London believed that her West African inpired snacks were worth shouting about so she recently stepped into the Dragon's Den in the hope that one of the Dragons would agree and invest in her business - Chika's Foods.
As it turned out, Chika had the Dragons eating out of the palm of her hand and she had more than one offer of investment to consider. In the end, Chika decide to accept the offer from Dragon's Den stalwart, Peter Jones. With a massive network of influence, Peter Jones is sure to add great value to Chika's Foods brand, plus Peter is no stranger to investing in a fledgling food businesses and making them households names - who hasn't heard of Reggae Reggae Sauce?
After seeing the show, I made contact with Chika through Twitter and suggested that she might like to tell her story through 5 Questions. She might be a busy girl after the successful entry into the Den but it didn't stop Chika getting her answers within a couple of days.
Here's Chika's story;
How did you get started?
I was working in Finance before I started CHIKA’S. My ambition was to have my own business and change people's vision of African food. I’m quite a good cook, and whenever I made some of my African dishes, my family and friends always asked for my recipes. Realising the success and interest in the food I prepared and loved, from so many people led me to finally launch Chika’s Foods.
What’s the best piece of business advice you could give?
The best piece of business advice I could give, would be these expressions:
- " Fall 7 times, get up 8 ".
- " Impossible = I’m possible ".
Where would you like to see your business in 5 years time?
In 5 years I would love to see Chika’s Foods as a household brand. I would like for it to be associated with exotic flavors and naturally delicious snacks with provenance.
If you could only have one of your own products, what would it be & why?
It should be the Hand toasted peanuts, because I love the romance in producing them.
You can invite one person (living or dead) to your last meal – Who would it be and why? …and what’s on the menu?
The person that I would like to invite for a meal would be Oprah Winfrey, because she is the best example of how much women can succeed in life. Moreover to have a face-to-face encounter with her would be unreal and a great honor. I would cook her some fried chicken because I know that it is her "Achilles’ heel".
If the story of Levi Roots is anything to go by, I'm sure that it's only a matter of time before we are seeing Chika's Foods everywhere! However this weekend, I took a trip to my local Whole Foods Market in Giffnock as I was under the impression that they stocked the Chika's range but they were unfortunately out of stock so I wasn't able to put them to the taste test. (There was a beer festival on at the store so it wasn't a completely wasted journey)
I'm sure that it's only a matter of time time before I manage to get my hands on some of Chika's tasty snacks, they are now stocked across the UK in various places including selected branches of Waitrose, Whole Foods Market, WHSmiths plus you can even buy directly from Chika's online.
I would like to thank Chika for taking the time out to answer 5 Questions and wish her and Peter Jones every success for the future. You can keep up to date with Chika's Food on Twitter and Facebook.


Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Meet the Master Brewer Tour @ Tennent's Wellpark Bewery

Recently, I was kindly invited to a guided tour with the chance to meet the Master Brewer at the home of Tennent's Lager, Wellpark Brewery on Glasgow's Duke Street.
As someone who grew up in the west of Scotland, I thought that I was well aware of the big red T and what it stands for but the tour opened my eyes to what really goes on behind the walls of the 18 acre site.
The tour started with a short video that tells the history of beer brewing in Glasgow from the early 1100’s when monks were building Glasgow Cathedral, into the centuries when the Tennent family grew the business, through to the modern era and a time where the now familiar Tennent's Lager is on sale in 70% of the pubs in Scotland and exported to over 100 countries across the globe.
The video made reference to some of the brilliant marketing campaigns that Tennent's have run over the years including the hugely popular ‘Lager Lovelies’ who were emblazoned across the side of lager can from the late 1960’s until 1993 when it was deemed inappropriate in these modern times. Oddly enough, I have very clear memories of Fiona from the late 70’s – very weird as I was only 6 years old at the time!
With the safety talk out of the way (the tour does cover a large part of the working site), myself and the other attendees donned our high visibility vests and regulation hair nets before following our tour guide Michael out into the vast expanse that is Wellpark Brewery.
As we made our way past an old Tennent's delivery truck in the yard, Michael talked us through some of the important numbers from Wellpark including a 47 mile pipe network that brings water directly from Loch Katrine to the brewery, 300000 pints of unpasteurised pints of Tennent's lager sent to the T In The Park music festival, 1.75 million pints of lager in the storing tanks waiting to be put into bottles, cans or kegs, and a mind blowing 9 million pints of ale brewed every week!
We worked our way through into the inner sanctum of the brewery but not before Michael pointed out the impressive artwork by Glasgow street artist Smug that adorn a number of the storage tanks and walls around the yard. If you're ever driving along Duke Street, look out for some of the former Glasgow School of Art students work on the outside walls of the Tennent's building.
Once inside, our first stop was the brew room where the magic happens, before working our way down to the huge bottling and canning plant where the end product is packed up before being distributed all over the world to the Tennent's faithful.
One of the things that surprised me most whilst on the tour was when we were told that the brewery also produces lager and beer for some of the UK’s major supermarket chains. I know that the supermarkets need to get beer made somewhere, I just hadn't thought about where that might be. Another little surprise was finding out that the brewery also produces one of the best selling big brand lagers too but I'll not give too much away but if you want to know more, then you'll need to get along for your own tour!

From here, we left the industrial setting of the bottling plant and continued on to the Tennent's Training Academy which is situated towards the back of the huge Wellpark site. I had always thought that the academy was nothing more than a simple cook school for wannabe home chefs but The Tennent's Training Academy is so much more.
Yes, the academy does run a range of varied cookery courses and themed events where resident chefs put the course attendees through their paces but the Academy also delivers a huge amount of training, as well as offering support to staff within the growing hospitality industry. Hotels, restaurants and bars can send their staff along for training to qualification level ensuring that their staff are at the top of their game when it comes to serving their own customers.
We didn't get to see much of the presentation kitchen as there was a Curry Cookery class on at the time of tour and the students were just about to sit down to eat the fantastic smelling food that they had just prepared.
Our tour was coming to an end and we worked our way back to the main building where Keith Lugton The Master Brewer was waiting to continue our indoctrination of all things Tennent's.
Keith has been employed by Tennent's since 1977 and is now heavily involved in the research and development of new products as well as being a true ambassador of the brand. Aware that we had spent the last hour walking around the site, Keith was the perfect host as he offered us some welcome light refreshments. We tried not one, not two, but 13 different beers that are produced within the site, including a few beers that are brewed specifically for the export market. (More’s the pity as the strong 9% ABV Tennent’s Extra and Tennent's Scotch Ale were both popular with almost all of the tour guests)
I haven't drank Tennent's Lager (or any it’s siblings) for quite some time so was not expecting much from this section of the evening. Perhaps the craft beer snob in me has turned me away from my heritage? However as Keith talked us through each of the beers, explaining the processes used to make the beers and helping us identify the different notes and flavours that each beer holds, I have to admit that maybe I should remember that there are some pretty good locally produced beers that shouldn't be overlooked.
Our night was almost over but not before a huge selection of tasty nibbles and bites were served up to go with the free flowing beer, including miniature Scotch pies……. well it wouldn't be right to have a pint and no pie, would it?
The Meet the Master Brewer Tour is something that Tennent’s hope to run on a more regular basis, in fact we were the guinea pigs for the tour but based on what we experienced on the night, I hope to be back as a paying customer on the tour and also as a student at The Tennent's Training Academy.
The standard tour is informative and fun whilst giving a great back story to Tennent's and the role that the company and its products hold in our history. So if you happen to have a spare few hours on an afternoon, why not get yourself along to Wellpark and do a little learning? Don't worry, you can grab a cold pint of Tennent's when your done… After all, learning can be thirsty work!

 Written by Gerry Haughian Written by Gerry Haughian

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

30 Second Beer Review - Long White Cloud by Tempest Brewing Co.

There's no shortage of great brewers these day and thanks to Aldi's Summer Beer Festival, it is now a lot easier to get your hands on craft beers that you would struggle to find otherwise.
On my last visit to the budget supermarket I spotted bottles from another brewer that I hadn't had the chance to sample yet. Tempest Brewing Co from the Scottish Borders have signed a six month deal to have their bottles on the shelves of Aldi and as a result have seen a massive uptake on their beers. In fact, the Long White Cloud sold over 1700 bottles in its first two weeks on display, but the beer gods were smiling on me as I managed to get a bottle for myself.
Long White Cloud (5.6% ABV) from Tempest Brewing Co
  • Bought at Aldi for £1.49
  • Pours with a foamy head that sticks to the glass as you drink it.
  • Medium carbonation.
  • Dark copper in colour. I expected it to be cloudier but it only had a little haziness.
  • Notes of pine are evident but are fighting for attention alongside tropical fruit and citrus notes.
  • To taste, the beer starts off with citrus notes coming through before the bitterness of the hops turn up to dry the palate. I also detected slight caramel flavours too that help to give the beer a crisp bittersweet finish.
I really enjoyed Tempest Brewing Co's take on an American Pale Ale and as I reached the bottom of the glass I wished that I had picked up a few more bottles from the range. Oh well, I'll just need to make another trip back to Aldi.


Monday, 20 July 2015

Recipe - Devilled Mackerel with Sweet Potato & Spinach

I love fresh mackerel and I always try to make the most of the firm fleshed fish during its very short season. Mackerel is an important part of the diet, the oily fish is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. A few weeks ago I picked up a pack of mackerel fillets from Lidl and set about looking for a dish that could be prepared in half an hour that wouldn't take a great deal of skill or a massive list of ingredients. This devilled mackerel recipe ticked all of the boxes as most of the main ingredients are things that most people should have in their fridge or cupboards.
Ingredients (serves 2)
  • 300g mackerel fillets
  • 250g potatoes, cut into small cubes
  • 150g sweet potatoes
  • 100g spinach
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp curry paste (I use Patak's madras spice paste)

  1. Parboil the potato and sweet potato then drain in a colander and set aside.
  2. Remove all of the pin bones from the mackerel then divide the curry paste over the top of the mackerel fillets and spread to cover the length of the fish.
  3. Heat a little cold pressed rapeseed oil in a pan before adding the parboiled potato and sweet potato and fry until the potato begins to brown at the edges. Add the onion and garlic and continue to cook. Season well and continue to keep the pan moving to stop the veg from burning.
  4. In another frying pan, heat a little more cold pressed rapeseed oil before adding the mackerel fillets with the skin side down. Cook the fish for about three minutes before turning the fillets over to finish cooking them.
  5. Add the spinach to the other pan and toss with the potato and onion mix until the spinach begins to wilt.

To serve, divide the potato, sweet potato and spinach into two bowls and layer the mackerel fillets across top. The firm oily fish stands up well to the spice in the curry paste and a spoonful of soured cream and a scattering of freshly chopped coriander help pull all of the flavours together.

I've made this dish twice in the last few weeks and hope to bring it to the table a couple more times before the mackerel decide to head out into the depths of the Atlantic, never to be seen again.... Well until next spring.

So there you have it, another quick and easy recipe that is packed with flavour. Why not give it a go and let me know how you get on?



Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Product Review - Gordon Castle Gin

So summer has eventually decided to turn up and spend a little time with us. When the sun is out I do enjoy soaking up some rays whilst supping on an ice cold beer but some of the big IPA's that I have been drinking are to strongly flavoured to work well in the heat which means that I need to find a new Summer drink.
Fortunately the beverage market has plenty of drinks that work wonders to quench the thirst on a hot day. Gin has always been a drink that soars in popularity during the summer months, either as a base for cocktails or as the star in a refreshing G&T.
The gin market is booming right now as more and more artisan distillers work tirelessly to carve out their own space on the crowded shelf by putting their twist on 'mothers ruin'.
I recently wrote about the success of newly launched Gordon Castle Gin scooping gold at this year's San Fransisco World Spirits Award so I was delighted to be sent a sample of the world's best gin to try myself.
The branding of Gordon Castle Gin is very eye-catching in its solid square glass bottle. The imagery on the inside back wall of the bottle depicts some of the botanicals that are used to produce the award winning gin. Those very same botanicals, including lavender and garden mint are also grown and picked from within the walled garden at Gordon Castle in Moray.... How's that for provenance?
The miniature bottle that I was sent didn't really carry the brand message of its bigger brother but that didn't stop the contents of the bottle doing their best to shout for my attention.
I decided to sample my gin by serving up a gin and tonic over ice so that I could compare against the other gins that I have tasted in recent times. It is recommended that Gordon Castle Gin is garnished with lemon or lime and a sprig of mint but as I had no mint at home, I had to make do with a few wedges of freshly squeezed lime. The gin is really clean to taste, in fact I could easily drink the Gordon Castle neat as it has very little burn, the garden mint leaving the mouth feeling oddly fresh. It tastes much lighter than some of the big brands and I needed less of my normal mixer in order to get my perfect serve. Looking back, maybe the strong tasting Indian Tonic from Schweppes was just too big a flavour for the subtleness of Gordon Castle Gin. Next time I'll mix with Fever Tree or Fentimans mixers for a more evenly balanced G&T where the gin is the star of the show.
So sum up, I thoroughly enjoyed Gordon Castle Gin and can see me drinking it in the future. The 70cl bottle retails for £32.99 and can be purchased from selected stockists or online here.


Monday, 13 July 2015

Review - The Lawns Restaurant @ Thornton Hall Hotel & Spa, Neston, Wirral

Last weekend myself and Nicola spent a very relaxing weekend at Thornton Hall Hotel & Spa, a four star hotel about 10 miles north of Chester. We had been kindly invited to the hotel to try out The Lawns Restaurant which is run by Executive Chef Matt Worswick, who will feature on this year's Great British Menu. Having previously been awarded a Michelin star at Ayrshire's Glenapp Caste, Matt has been appointed with the hope of improving on the three AA Rosettes that Thornton Hall Hotel & Spa currently holds and gain an elusive Michelin Star for their own fine dining restaurant.
Thornton Hall Hotel & Spa is located just outside the sleepy village of Thornton Hough, Cheshire and has recently undergone a £580k refurbishment. After checking in, we made our way to our room which was very spacious and well decorated with a feature wall with brightly patterned wallpaper that was complimented by the equally eyecatching headboard and soft furnishings. The room was very comfortable and boasted one of the biggest beds that we have seen in a hotel, in fact the bed was so big, we were able to double starfish with ease!
When we arrived last Saturday, the weather was lovely with the north of England enjoying a mini heat wave so we were surprised that the room didn't have air-conditioning although a plug-in fan was in the room to help cool things down. (Thankfully, I was able to get a second fan sent to the room later). Another thing that surprised me was the lack of fridge, mini- bar or safe in the room. Now whilst this didn't have any real impact on our stay, I would have expected these features to be standard in a four star hotel.
As part of our stay, we had been booked in for a spa treatment at the connecting Thornton Hall Country Health Club. After a long drive, I was able to relax with an Espa Back, Neck & Shoulder massage that was expectly administered by spa therapist Beth. Meanwhile, Nicola was treated to a relaxing Espa Facial from Beth's spa colleague, Shannon. Feeling refreshed, we spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the swimming pool, sauna, steam room and snow cave (that's right, I said snow cave) before enjoying a drink in the outdoor jacuzzi under the blazing sun.
Feeling totally refreshed and relaxed, we made our way back to the room to get ready for dinner at The Lawns. We had time for pre-dinner drinks so made our way to the outside seating area at the bar and ordered from the well priced bar menu. It would be easy for the bar to take the easy route and stick to the usual generic bottled beers so I was pleased to see that they had a decent array of bottled beers and choosing wasn't easy. In the end I opted for a bottle of Anchor Steam Beer from San Fransisco, a great beer with a lovely malty breadiness that set me up nicely for dinner. Never one to turn down the offer of a cocktail, Nicola relaxed in the gardens with one of the restaurant signature cocktails, The Lawn Spritz - a chilling balance of Aperol,Gin, Prosecco and sparkling water. We could have sat outside all night watching the sun go down but before we knew it, it was time for dinner and we made our way through to the restaurant.
We were shown to our table which sat in one of the bay windows, giving us a view of the wedding reception that was taking place at the hotel, and settled down and looked forward to our meal ahead.
We were ordering from the A La Carte menu which was a three course meal at £55. The menu had a choice of three starters, mains & desserts, and as we tried to decide what to order, we were presented with a little plate of canapés which included a crispbread with taramasalata & coriander, and a cube of slow cooked pork which was deep fried in breadcrumbs.
Each of these canapés offered tiny explosions of flavour and gave us a good idea of what to expect for the rest of the evening. Both canapés were delicious seperately but even better together as the sweet pork and salty cod roe made sure that the tastebuds were awake for the main event.
The wine list was fairly extensive with a great selection of well priced wine from across the globe, in the end we settled on a very nice bottle of Wave Rider, a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand's Marlborough region. The wine was packed full with tropical notes and worked well with our meal.
We were next presented with our bread board which consisted of four miniature freshly baked loaves with two butters. The truffle butter was very nice but it paled into insignificance when we tasted the fantastic salted butter which turned out to be from one of the businesses who have previous answered 5 Questions - Abernethy Butter.
Before our starter arrived, we were treated to an amuse-bouche of smoked quinoa, cardamom yogurt, Ras el hanout, & sultanas which was an interesting combination of flavours. The dish was a great balance of smokiness, spice, sweet and sharp, once again demonstrating the chefs ability to push our taste boundaries to the edge.
It wasn't long before our starters arrived. Nicola had ordered seared scallops, sticky chicken wing, & charred leeks, which immediately gave me food envy! The scallops were divine and worked incredibly well with the sticky chicken wings and crispy chicken skin. The sweet pea purée and peppery charred leeks rounded off the plate.
For my own starter I had ordered the foie gras, chamomile, & apricot which was accompanied by little cubes of orange jelly and a granola crumb. The foie gras was so smooth and creamy that I could have eaten it all night whilst the quenelles of apricot compote were packed with fresh fruit flavour. There was no need for me to have food envy as my own dish was wonderful too - each of the components worked well with each other. If I were to make one small criticism of the starter, I felt that for my own taste, there were too many big citrusy flavours on the plate to allow the delicate foie gras to really stand out as the star of the show.
The main course options included a choice of red mullet, halibut, pork, lamb plus a vegetarian aubergine dish and in a strange break from tradition, Nicola didn't order the lamb! Instead, she opted for the Pork Belly, Confit Potato & Wild Garlic which was amazing!
The dish looked stunning and I definitely had food envy here as Nicola cut into the perfectly cooked pork belly. The meat was soft and sweet, topped with the crispest salty crackling and the accompanying wilted greens, wild garlic salsa verde and porky jus brought the dish together nicely. There was a final little surprise on the plate in the form of an intensely flavoured pork bonbon that just melted in the mouth.
For my own main, I chose the Loin of Lamb, Asparagus, Peas & Cockles which sounds like a slightly odd combination on the plate but it worked surprisingly well.
The lamb was ridiculously tender, and cooked really well. It was served on top of a bed of creamy buttery mash that was well seasoned and although I would have preferred the mash to be a little firmer in texture, it didn't stop me clearing the plate. Fresh asparagus spears with the tails neatly trimmed were joined by fresh peas and wilted baby gem lettuce and a handful of well cooked cockles. Loin of lamb isn't the stron gest tasting piece of the animal but the addition of the cockles and a deliciously rich and meaty gravy helped round of this very accomplished plate of food.
By this point of the meal we were both beginning to feel a little full so asked for a short break to allow our mains to settle and let us finish off our wine.
Once the last of the wine was gone, we were presented with a pre-dessert and palate cleanser of chamomile pannacotta with lemon jelly, lime shred & honeycomb. It might have looked relatively simple but the balance of subtle and sharp, smooth and crunchy was perfectly balanced. I really enjoyed this little pre-dessert, however this was the only dish on the night that didn't tick the boxes for Nicola.
Desserts are always the dish that you expect to see the chef go over the top when it comes to creative design and when the simply named Gariguette Strawberries, Vanilla Parfait & Shortbread arrived, it was clear to see that there was nothing simple here. Fresh strawberries that actually tasted like.... well, strawberries, were accompanied by strawberry coulis, strawberry dust, strawberry sorbet and the creamiest vanilla ice cream wrapped in a cylinder of strawberry ice. This five ways strawberry pudding was a great way to wrap up a fantastic meal and once again I was slightly jealous of Nicola's choice!
I had opted for Dark Chocolate, Aero, Salted Caramel & Yogurt Sorbet which was a much more grown up pudding. Three frozen squares of chocolate that had the texture between ice cream and brownie were layered over frozen meringue crumb, and topped with the saltiest caramel ice cream and sharp lemon yogurt sorbet. The balance between bitter chocolate, salty yet sweet caramel and the sharpness of the sorbet was sublime. I love a chocolate dessert and this was easily one of the best that I've eaten in a long time.
We were both stuffed by this point, plus we were also both feeling the effects of our early start and long drive from Glasgow. Matt had sent me a tweet at the end of service to let me know that he was planning on coming out to say hello so we made our way through to the bar for a nightcap whilst we waited on chef to finish up in the kitchen.
When Matt arrived a few minutes later, he was bearing gifts of a tray of petit fours which included homemade fruit jellies, homemade fudge and an amazing salted caramel chocolate pot! What a way to finish of a great night.
Matt has a real passion for quality food and he explained to us that he wanted people to think of The Lawns Restaurant as a "go to" destination for fine dining. The a la carte menu is £55 for three course but in reality, when you include the canapés, amuse-bouche, pre-dessert and petit fours, diners are actually getting fantastic value for money on what is essentially a seven course meal. Myself and Nicola have been lucky enough to have had a couple of Michelin chefs cook for us and I can honestly say that some of the cooking that we had on the night was every bit as good as those Michelin meals. There is currently only one restaurant on Merseyside that boasts a Michelin star but I wouldn't be surprised to see The Lawns added to that number when the new list is published in October.
Executive Chef Matt Worswick is already a well known name in and around Merseyside but by the end of the Summer, he will be much more widely recognised as he is due to appear on this year's Great British Menu representing the North West in the popular TV show. If Matt turns out the same quality of food that we had when we visited The Lawns, I'm sure that the restaurant will definitely see an upturn in new diners.
I wish that we had more time to spend at the hotel but as I have a shortage of annual holiday days left, we could only stay the one night and before we knew it, it was Sunday morning and time to check out. Although I can safely say that this will not be the last time that we are guests at the hotel.
Both myself and Nicola would like to thank the hotel for their generosity and also thank all those involved at the hotel and spa for making sure that our stay was enjoyable and relaxing. Special thanks to Assistant Restaurant Manager Jen Eastwood and her waiting staff who looked after us in the restaurant. Last but definitely not least, a massive thanks to Matt who served up a fantastic dining experience and also took time out of the busy kitchen to chat with us after service. Keep an eye out for Matt on BBC2 when The Great British Menu returns to our screen and also keep an eye out for Matt's answers in his very own 5 Questions post coming soon.

I would like to say that although we were guests of the hotel and restaurant, all views above are my own honest opinion of our stay. Myself and Nicola would have no hesitation in paying for a trip to Thornton Hall Hotel & Spa or The Lawns Restaurant in the future.

 Written by Gerry Haughian
© Gerry's Kitchen
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