Tag Archives: restaurant reviews

Poppyseed Pop-Up!

We ventured South this weekend to Sheffield to try out an exciting new supperclub run by Marie from Poppyseed dining. We met Marie and her husband Steve at the Swine that Dines at the start of the summer and were instantly charmed by their passion and interest in food, which meant their supperclub could be nothing more than excellent! Marie has a Bavarian background and upbringing and this is food that I don’t have a lot of experience of and so the thought of lots of warming Alpine treats was exciting, especially in the run up to Autumn!

Poppyseed itself is a small affair with just six guests around the table, but given that Marie does all the sourcing and cooking herself I don’t blame her at all for this. This month’s menu was based around the food they had experienced on their recent holiday in the Italian Gran Paradiso national park. This is right on the Alpine cusp between France and Italy and is not a place I am familiar with but which I’ll certainly look into now. This was Italian food but not as you know it!

On arrival at Marie and Steve’s school conversion home we were greeted with delicious glasses of berry spritz which was homemade berry liqueur topped up with prosecco. This was very light and refreshing. Our canapés included mini puff pastry tarts topped with succulent and salty pork rillettes, which were an absolute porky dream! Also on offer were mini puffs with Marie’s homemade ricotta! I’ve tried to make ricotta before but it doesn’t work with homogenised supermarket milk so Marie must have gone to some effort to source raw milk straight from the farm. Finally we were treated to warm grissini with a salty and herby yoghurt butter with basil.

Poppyseed canapes

Our fellow guests were very lovely to chat to and had been to Poppyseed before so they were able to explain what the rest of the meal was likely to be like. Our first starter was a lovely little salad of braised figs, hazelnut and lardo brought back from Italy. This was a light and lovely introduction to the flavours of Alpine Italy. The ingredients were simple yet well sourced.

Poppyseed salad

Next up was an intriguing suepa, a new dish to me! This was a cross between a baked bread pudding and a soup, if that makes sense?! Layers of homemade rye bread and fontina cheese were baked in lashings of beef broth. The broth was light and clear and could have been served as a consommé. This was warming and comforting yet over so rich!

Poppyseed starter

For our main course Marie had cured a lovely piece of beef from Whirlow Farm. This was then slow cooked with red wine and mushrooms and served up with soft polenta and caramelised onions. This dish was a bit more familiar to us. The clever curing of the meat meant it fell apart easily yet was firm at the same time. The sauce was thick and rich and almost sharp from the red wine, helping it to cut through everything. We enjoyed leftovers poured all over rye bread, mmmm! There’s no picture for this as we all dived in and devoured it before it was too late!

After a small break our dessert was a cogne cream which is essentially a rum and chocolate set custard. This was probably my least favourite course as I could have done with a chocolate that was a bit more bitter and a cream that was a bit more alcoholic, as after all the strong flavours of the night this got a bit lost. The star of the dish, however, was a scoop of refreshing pear sorbet on top. I think the pear is often forgotten about so it was good to see it here.

Poppyseed dessert

If you dine at Poppyseed do try their coffee. Marie sources unique single bean coffees from a guy in Sheffield who scours the likes of Madagascar and Tanzania for the best coffee plantations. It is some of the best coffee I’ve ever tasted from a cafetiere. Petit four were homemade fruit pastilles that were flavoured with elderberry! These were deep and plummy. The final flourish was a little spoon of honey caramel which was a very light and tasty nougat.

Poppyseed caramels

Marie’s passion for sourcing good quality ingredients is very strong and influences her supperclub throughout every single course, from the main event to the little touches such as the canapés and the coffee. This makes it extremely exciting and enjoyable to dine at because you know her heart and soul has been put into absolutely everything. How she can make any money with using such top notch fare is not clear!

For us, Sheffield was not the easiest place to get to and from on a Saturday night without a car, but if you don’t mind driving or can convince someone else to then I do urge that you give Poppyseed a go. You won’t be disappointed by the beautiful ingredients and the warm and friendly hosts!

Midsummer House – Review

I grew up in Cambridge and so have always known of Midsummer House. But it was one of those places I never expected to go to, and was a bit intimidated by. It was the kind of place corporate business men took clients to show off a bit, not the place for locals to go for a meal, not even for a special occasion.

However 15-20 years on and Midsummer House has become far more accessible with Daniel Clifford at the helm as chef patron and a string of successful appearances on the Great British Menu. It was one of these Great British Menu appearances that got my attention and made me think, yes that food looks fun, I want to eat there! Plus it has managed to retain its 2 Michelin stars for the last ten years.

Midsummer House

As the name suggests, Midsummer House is a house and it’s based on Cambridge’s midsummer common. Cambridge is a funny old city with a number of protected commons, which are basically large areas of grazing land for wild cattle, which have the effect of making you feel like you’re in the middle of the countryside and not in the middle of a city. Midsummer House is located with the river Cam on one side and the common on the other. This sedate positioning means that cars cannot access the restaurant and in fact our taxi had to leave us at the edge of a footbridge to continue our journey by foot, which was quite nice and romantic.

The restaurant itself is surprisingly small, extended through the use of a conservatory and garden. As it was a lovely day the conservatory doors and windows were flung open giving us a feel of siting out in the garden. Our first canapés were delivered whilst we waited to see what would happen next. Little choux buns were filled with a truffle cream and looked just like mini chocolate éclairs!

Midsummer canapes

We started the meal with a glass of champagne which was brought to our table aboard a slightly pompous champagne trolley. This mechanical trolley magically presented the champagne from the depths of its cupboards, which was fun but a bit cheesy. The champagnes, however, were all dry and crisp and extremely refreshing. More canapés appeared including mini turnips in a pepper soil and smoked fish pate and a duck pate on a crumbly biscuit and encased in a pleasingly sharp redcurrant gel. Both were beautiful and full of flavour.

Midsummer canapes 2

Midsummer canpes 3

The menu is split into 7 courses or 10 courses depending how greedy you are. I was with my family who are not always big eaters and so I had to heartbreakingly agree to the 7 courses. This was tough as the courses we were giving up included the suckling pig and turbot with clams and squid ink pasta – devastating!

First up was a crab and pea dish, presented in a hovering little round bottomed dish. Full of crisp, green pea flavour and sweet, comforting crab this was a celebration of the British summer at its best. I was astounded by the superb flavours that had been captured in such a simple looking dish, and this was to start a theme for the rest of the meal.

Midsummer pea and crab

I had spied a little BBQ as soon as we had sat down and for our next course this was brought over to us by the head waiter on another little trolley. Inside the BBQ dome were a number of charred and wrinkly beetroot. These were sliced up with as much pomp and ceremony as could be mustered! The tender flesh was scooped out and added to our next dish of beetroot, goat cheese and quinoa. Beetroot is probably my least favourite vegetable but even I could appreciate its soft juiciness. The goats cheese was fresh out of Heston’s lab, frozen within an inch of its life in dry ice and steaming away on our plates!

Midsummer Beetroot

Midsummer beetroot 2

Next up was my favourite course – quail three ways! A beautifully rare and succulent quail breast was paired up with a sourdough toast finger spread with quail pate and a little deep fried quail egg. The meat was melt in the mouth, the pate umami at its best and the egg smoky beyond belief and full of skill, yum!

Midsummer quail

Midsummer quail 2

Our fish dish was probably the biggest scallop I have ever seen! Big, juicy and well caramelised. This came beautifully presented with granny smith batons and celeriac puree. Lovely little truffles were also brought along and liberally grated all over the scallop. What I noticed about this tasting meal was that every course was given its own importance, there was no dud dish and actually the sizes were all very generous

Midsummer scallop

Finally for the savouries was perfectly pink Cumbrian lamb. For me this was probably the least exciting course but this is mainly because it had such a tough act to follow after the high standard that had preceded it.

Midsummer lamb

Our first dessert was poached kumquat with tamarind sorbet. This did have the effect of cleansing our palettes and caused all manner of yum noises round the table. I felt there was a little bit too much kumquat for the size of the dish, to the point where it felt like I was eating a bowl of marmalade, but it was tasty nonetheless.

Midsummer kumquat

Our final dessert was a celebration of strawberry – who knew a simple strawberry was harbouring so much flavour! This included a little macerated strawberry, a ravioli coated in strawberry gel and a little cigar of strawberry. This was light, fruity and summery – just what we needed after a fairly rich meal!

Midsummer Strawberry

Coffees were not obligatory to enjoy the petit four. These were light little diamond doughnuts with caramel and calvados dipping sauces. The sauces were so good I was eating the leftovers with a spoon!

Midsummer petit four

And so that brought a very enjoyable meal to a close. Everybody agreed that they had been pleasantly surprised by the standard of flavours and the fact that we had been served generous courses and were perfectly full. Had I been offered the additional turbot and pork I’m not sure I could have fitted these in, so maybe 7 was the magic number?!

If I had any criticisms, and these are minor, it’s the toilet set up. For a medium sized restaurant (there’s at least 20 covers downstairs and a private dining room upstairs) there is only one male toilet and one female toilet, which is just not enough. I dashed to the loo just as the scallop was coming out and then had to queue, delaying the dish even further which I’m sure stressed the kitchen out. Also, whilst we were sat right next to a lovely open door that looked out on to the common, we were also right by the drains. So every now and then a lovely whiff of sewage greeted us. This wasn’t enough to cause us to ask to be moved but it does indicate that the restaurant’s toilet infrastructure is not quite right.

I was very impressed with the staff who were all very professional but also friendly and jolly at the same time, making the meal feel special. As we went to leave we were given a parting gift of a little box of chocolates. The chocolate work was obviously the hand of an expert as they were so thin. The insides were, again, superb flavours of pistachio and passionfruit. So if you want a meal where you’ll be thinking of and talking about the flavours long after then do try out Midsummer House – just avoid the private dining room (it looked soulless to me) and don’t sit too near the drains if the doors are open!

Leeds’ best new restaurant

I’ve got a major tip off for you all and I’ve agonised for ages about whether to go public with this, as if I do then it probably means I’ll struggle to ever get a table again! I concluded that I’d be selfless and let you all know that I’ve found Leeds’ best new restaurant…

The Greedy Pig is an unassuming greasy spoon on North Street (near the Reliance and Hansas). By night it becomes the Swine that Dines. The Greedy Pig has been independently run by Scots Jo and Stu since 2011. They started to dabble in a monthly supperclub last year, which I attended the other week. They’ve taken the plunge to start the move away from bacon sandwiches and lunchtime fare to establish their Friday evening small plates club.

How it works – they open between 6pm and 9pm every Friday. There’s no bookings so you just turn up when you’re hungry. A giant blackboard displays the plates of the day. There are about 10 tapas sized plates to choose from, which includes desserts and bread from Leeds bread co-op. You order what you want, settle down with your BYOB, and await the tasty treats to arrive at your table!

Our menu

Our menu

We greedily ordered everything on the menu, except the bread and the tabbouleh salad, and shared it. Now I’ve had the pleasure of eating Stu’s food before so I was expecting good things. However the standard and quality of what was presented to us last night was out of this world. The plates were generously portioned, expertly presented, full of clean and clever flavours and all extremely exciting. Here’s a quick overview of each one:

A summer salad of crunchy green beans and radish was bound together with a deliciously creamy and piquant duck egg dressing and toasted sourdough bread. This was veg at its most exciting.

Swine beans

Salt hake came firm and fleshy atop a generous mountain of buttery potatoes and greens.

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The pork ribs were so meaty I failed to find the rib bones for the first few bites! They were perfectly cooked with crusty bits of marinated meat to chew down on. Sour tasting mushrooms seemed an odd accompaniment but extremely moreish and tasty.

A leek, walnut and feta croquette was an unexpectedly large rocket (roquette?!) of crispy outside and soft and tasty filling. This had a clever salad with sesame oil which really contrasted against the creamy filling.

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The kid faggot I nearly didn’t order as I’d had similar at the supperclub the other day. However I am glad I did – this was my favourite! A giant dumpling of smooth kid goat meat and offal (it was shoulder and heart last time I believe) came atop sweet and creamy carrot puree and oozing with a rich and meaty gravy. Not the best dish for a hot day but comforting and full of flavour – gimme more!

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Our final dish was the majestic porchetta. A beautifully coiled piece of pork was beautifully marinated and cooked to perfection, it truly was melt in the mouth. The flavours were so complex I needed to have them explained to me. Apparently the meat is given both a wet and dry rub in a myriad of herbs and spices that include sage, garlic, coriander and chilli. It was served with soft braised fennel and shavings of raw fennel to give different textural elements. This was another favourite dish.

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And so we took a pause here, absolutely astounded at how good the food was but yet in disbelief that the dining room was still so quiet. A steady stream did arrive and leave as we ate but there was room for more. In summary, you need to get yourself here, we cannot let this fantastic food go to waste! I really don’t think Jo and Stu appreciate how good they are, it’s the tastiest food I have eaten in a very long time.

As we enjoyed our wine I reflected a bit on the venue, which probably wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s a very no nonsense, humble, honest venue. I personally love this as it means all focus and attention can be on the brilliant food. The informality is such a contrast to the fine dining style food, I love it! It truly is Leeds’ ultimate casual dining venue.

Desserts were not advertised on twitter so I was excited to see them added to the blackboard on arrival. We stuck to our trend and ordered both to share. A prune and Armagnac tart was bitter from chocolate ganache and sweet and sour from the prunes. It had a light and creamy ice cream and salted caramelised almonds for texture. Jo’s pastry was almost like a crumbly shortbread biscuit.

Swine tart

An elderflower posset was perfectly set and creamy. I couldn’t get much elderflower if I’m honest but the stem ginger shortbread biscuit was out of this world – buttery and crumbly. I loved spooning the posset onto the biscuit for a perfect combination.

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And so at this stage we declared ourselves full, having eaten nearly the entire menu! And now for the biggest shock of the entire night. Our bill came to less than £20 each. Now I know this doesn’t include booze, as we brought our own. But this meal was by far better than the one I’d enjoyed at Heston’s last week and was a fraction of the price. I love a bargain but the guys could easily charge more for the top quality food they serve. I’m guessing the low prices won’t be around forever, which is another reason to get yourself down there!

So I hope I’ve been able to convince you to get yourself down to North Street next Friday and every Friday after that. You won’t regret it. I just hope Jo and Stu save me a seat when everyone’s queuing out of the door! They don’t have a website yet so I recommend giving them a follow on Twitter – @SwineThatDines. You can thank me later!