There’s No Free Advertising Here, Matey

I recently posted a review of an Italian restaurant here in the sunny bohemian climes of our fair Swinetown. It was scathing, but honest, but I’ve received no feedback (I also posted it on Trip Advisor – though, in the interests of full disclosure, I had to add the restaurant first, in order to trash it!). Imagine my surprise when, this very day, I receive a reply to my post. I know what you’re thinking, but you’re very much mistaken – this was from a rival restaurant. This rival restaurant (who will remain nameless, not because I fear naming them, but because they will have no free advertising from me, after their heinous crime) had not only the shamefacedness to plug themselves on my blog, but then went on to suggest that I would “enjoy” Christmas with them. The bloody cheek of it! As if it was ever going to be possible to “enjoy” Christmas… But I digress – that’s not the reason I chose to put fingertips to keyboard, oh no. Why? I’ll tell you why – the idiot that tried to get a free post out of me couldn’t even spell “restaurant” – a fairly basic requirement, for someone in the trade, I would have thought. Not only that, they also managed to get the URL of their restaurant wrong as well…!!!

I mean… come on! Sometimes I despair, I really do.

Non ci sono pubblicita gratuità qui, Signore …

Gaetano’s Italian Restaurant: a Review

As far as I can tell, the ‘new look’ of Gaetano’s extends no further than the sign outside. The service is still woefully inadequate (we waited for an hour for the starters to arrive), and the food tastes as though it’s just been lifted out of a low-cost catering pack. Dried parmesan – in an Italian restaurant? For shame!

House wine is supposed to be affordable, but reasonably good. It’s not supposed to be overly delightful, but be sufficiently well-rounded to go with anything. It’s not, I repeat NOT, supposed to strip the enamel off one’s teeth.
Our shameful meal consisted of (amongst other things) gristley meatballs, undercooked pizza, dried basil on my caprese, tinned tomatoes passing as a “rich tomato sauce”. Not a thing was fresh.

Despite repeated complaints about timing, and a request (ignored) early on for bread and/or olives to fill the aching void of our bellies, we waited another 30 minutes after a “dear god, no” to the desert menu, before we’d had enough and screamed for the bill. No coffee, no digestif, no service, no tip.

All in all, it was an experience I would have gladly exchanged for a root canal.

The website proudly announces “the best Italian food outside of Italy”. If I worked for the Italian tourist board, I’d firebomb them.
Need I say “avoid”?

Date & Marrow Chutney

This recipe is originally taken from Riverford Organic Vegetables – – but I’ve reduced the amount of salt, and upped the date content. And yes, I occasionally still work in imperial measurements!
1 lb = 448g, make it 450g if it’s easier – cooking’s not, nor will it ever be, an exact science

Overall involvement: 4-5 hours (clear your afternoon – this is a therapeutic experience)

3 lb marrow
1 lb onions
1 lb ripe tomatoes
1 pint malt vinegar
6 oz dates
2 tsp ground allspice
2 tsp ground ginger (though I tend to use fresh, grated)
1 tbsp salt
2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1.5 lb brown sugar

Weights: All weights are after you’ve peeled and/or de-seeded whatever needs to be peeled and/or de-seeded.

Sugar: I often use a mixture of different brown sugars – light/dark muscovado and molasses – whatever’s to hand or leftover (darker sugar gives it a deep, richer taste).

  1. Peel the marrow and cut into small chunks (about 1-2cm cubes). Peel and chop (or mince) the onions. Peel and slice the tomatoes (roughly chop is easier – they break down soon enough), taking care to remove the tough piece where the stalk attaches.
  2. Put all these into the pan with half the vinegar. Stone and chop the dates and add these to the pan. Simmer gently until soft (remember to move it all about every once in a while, to get the marrow evenly cooked) until soft and pulpy and the marrow is approaching crushable.
  3. Add the spices, pepper and salt, and simmer for another 12-15 minutes
  4. Stir in the sugar and remaining half of the vinegar. Continue to cook until thick, which may take up to four hours. If you’re concerned that the marrow isn’t softening sufficiently, just give it time. It’s ready when no liquid oozes into the path made by the wooden spoon as it is drawn across the pan.
  5. Pour into warm jars (sterilised) with plastic or plastic coated metal lids, and leave for a good six months before opening – it needs time to mature and mellow – a year is best, if you have the patience.

The Old Bank Brasserie, Swindon – A Review

I called in for brunch at the Old Bank Brasserie on Wood Street this morning, as on the whole the food there has been pretty good in the past (if a little pricey, perhaps). Although it runs up to 1145, the breakfast menu is pretty limited (there are about 10 items to choose from, but most appear to be egg-and-toast variations – egg on toast, egg and soldiers, French toast, etc.).

I plumped for two poached eggs on toast, with extra bacon. I like my bacon crispy, so I asked and got it just how I like (plus it was quite thick cut – again, just how I like it). I have to say, the eggs were perfect – runny inside, with just a hint of white that was yet to be fully cooked. But the toast? Oh very dear… If Mothers Pride did a bloomer (I have no idea, before you ask – and frankly I’m not sure I care), then that bastard love-child of stabilising agents and mill house floor scrapings that pass for flour was the toast that sullied my plate – doily thin, anaemic as a Glasgow tan, and not a solitary wheat germ in site. And I obviously missed the memo about butter having been outlawed.

My partner had the French toast with caramelised apples and maple syrup – it looked, and tasted, lovely. The apples were piping hot, maple sweet, and beautifully cooked, and there was enough maple syrup on the side to attend to the sinking ship that my brunch partner was rapidly becoming! But then I suddenly became insanely jealous – the bread was wonderfully moist, thick and chunky. Why couldn’t my toast have been like that, instead of the supermarket own-brand place mat offering I got? Safe to say it ruined the dish for me. Harsh, perhaps? Maybe; but then the Old Bank Brasserie looks to have standards, and this has been borne out by food I’ve had in the past, so the quest for high praise has a price.

I personally think anywhere that advertises ‘breakfast’ up to 1145 is at some point really talking about ‘brunch’ and a Brasserie should actually do a brunch menu – and when I think about brunch (which I do quite often, truth be told), I think Eggs Benedict, short stacks & crispy bacon, thick buttered hot cinnamon toast, sumptuous muffins, crumpets. I don’t think about unbuttered cardboard.

Other than the fact that there were no condiments, the toast was the only downfall. That being said, I won’t go back there for brunch until I’ve run out of places to go in Old Town.

Firemen and Pineapple Brunch!

We have neighbours of the desperately annoying variety, and I’ve been meaning to blog about their exploits for quite some time. I’ll probably get round to typing up my notes more fully sometime soon (Christ – it’s just knowing where to start; they drive me nuts) – but for now this will have to do, as I simply can’t keep this one in.

There’s often some confusion about whether they’re in or not (apart from when they’re making a god-awful racket – which is most of the time, but more on that later, perhaps); lights are on, windows are open, but no-one ever answers the door. I think they may have fallen foul of that last one this morning…

I was getting a start on brunch, after being badgered into it by Paspartout (remind me – what was it that Pat Benatar said about sex as a weapon?), when I realised that the smoke alarm was going off next door (we’re a terraced house, with the retards folk in question being the end terrace). Ah well, I thought, that’s what you get for cooking up under the hallway detector – next time perhaps you should try the bathroom, dumbass! After twenty minutes I’d had enough of trying to use cooking noises to mask the whining and pinging and general shutthefuckupedness of it all and decided to go round. At this point you might think it not very neighbourly of me to wait twenty minutes before worrying about the safety of my neighbours, but they’re twats. Anyway… I’d had enough, so thought I ought to go check it out. The upstairs windows were open, the side window was open as well as the kitchen window, and I could see a light on in the kitchen. I knocked on the front door, the side window and poked my head in through the kitchen window and shouted. No answer was forthcoming, so given that there had to be a reason for the alarm, I came back in and called the landlord (next door’s a rental), followed by the letting agent, and suggested that they might want to take an interest in the possibility of something being awry, and left it at that. They each said that they’d send someone round, and the alarm continued to wail. After a brief “I’ve done my bit” moment, I suddenly thought to myself: hang on a minute, what would I do if I actually liked these people? Hmm, that’s a bit of a no-brainer, I retorted. So I called the fire brigade, toute suite.

The emergency services said they’d send the police, which I found a little surprising (though when they asked, I had to say in all honesty that I could neither see nor smell any smoke – and judging by my barbequing exploits it’s not possible to have fire without it), but an appliance did arrive very promptly. Needless to say, Paspartout became very excited. Pah – girls, eh!).

By this time, my father had arrived, so it was back to brunch (after offering the firemen a cuppa, of course – they were all so lovely, squeal! Paspartout, get off my keyboard!). Yes indeed, they were all a friendly bunch, and IMHO members of what is arguably the finest profession. But only one of them was anywhere near cute! Oh yeah – and after all that, it turns out that someone was in next door. Twats, see!?

Anyway, brunch… I thought I’d share the recipe with you:

  • zest and juice 1 lime
  • 2 tbsp clear honey
  • 2 pinches ground cinnamon
  • few gratings whole nutmeg
  • 2 tsp icing sugar , sifted
  • 200g very low-fat fromage frais
  • 2 tsp butter
  • 1 fresh pineapple , cut into 8 long wedges, skin and core removed

Mix the lime juice and half the lime zest with 1 tbsp honey, a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg. Set this sauce aside. Stir the icing sugar and a pinch of cinnamon into the fromage frais.

  1. Heat the butter and remaining honey in a non-stick frying pan until melted. Add the pineapple and cook over a high heat for 8 mins, turning regularly until caramelised. Pour in the spiced lime sauce and bubble for a few secs, tossing the pineapple to glaze in the sauce.
  2. Serve immediately, sprinkled with the remaining lime zest and accompanied by a dollop of the cinnamon fromage frais