Sunday, 28 February 2010

Restaurant Review: The Bull's Head in Meriden

This review has also been published at

The Bull's Head in Meriden's claim to fame is that it is situated on the exact centre of England. This is marked by a sign outside displaying how many miles it is to various cities and, according to my fiancé, there is a spot inside the pub which is meant to be the actual central spot of the country, but the place was too packed full of bodies to go searching for it, so instead we sat at a table content that we were somewhere very close to it.

It was a busy Saturday lunchtime at the Bull's Head and we had wandered in a bit aimlessly trying to work out if we ought to wait somewhere to be seated or if we should grab our own table. A waitress must have noticed us looking lost and answered our question before we even asked it, informing us to find ourselves a table and someone would be along to serve us.

The speed of service was quite impressive considering how busy they were; we did have to wait for about 20 minutes for our mains to arrive after our starters, but we were kept informed of the wait and received several apologies from waiting staff.

The Creamy Mushroom Gratin with a Cheese and Herb Crust starter was reasonably priced at £4.75 but hardly spectacular. I failed to understand the 'crust' part of the description, as mine was mostly just soggy and rather bland. I've certainly had better, but at the same time it wasn't awful and I'd probably eat it again without putting up too much of a fight.

My fiancé had bread and olive oil rather than a proper starter and he praised the bread as being particularly good.

The main meals were somewhat more impressive, however. My fiancé, ever the meat connoisseur, went for the mixed grill (£14.95) and it was certainly one of the most well-presented and tastiest mixed grills I have ever seen. It included steak, gammon, lamb cutlets and hand-cut chips. His one complaint was that his steak was a little overdone (he had asked for it medium-rare).

I decided to have the Venison Steak (£13.95) while it's still in season, which came served on a bed of root vegetables, mushrooms and bacon and served with seasonal vegetables on the side (carrots and broccoli). The sweetness of the roasted root vegetables complemented the meat very well, and the saltiness of the bacon and mushrooms made for a scrumptious flavour combination. The sweetness was a little overpowering at times, but on the whole it was a very tasty dish.

I have yet to be asked in a restaurant how I like my venison steak and it always comes well-done; having some pink left in the meat is much more agreeable to my palate. I can't be the only one.

We saw some delicious-looking desserts whizzing past our heads, but we were more than sated by the food we'd already had, so decided to call it a day. I'd happily visit again if we were passing but feel I'd be unlikely to make a special effort to go. It's a perfectly good pub-restaurant, but not special enough to make it onto my list of favourites.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Valentine's Day Meal(s) & Pancakes

Valentine's Day this year for us was kind of overshadowed by hunting for a suitable wedding venue, so we didn't really do anything out of the ordinary: I cooked, but that is hardly unusual!

Our Valentine's meal was kind of in two parts: on Saturday evening I cooked a delicious free-range roast chicken, with roast potatoes, carrots, mushrooms (mushrooms popped into the roasting dish are delicious because they soak up the juices and take on a beautiful flavour), and decided to use up the homemade vegetable stock I had left in my freezer, by making this onion gravy recipe. It is very easy to make and went surprisingly well with the chicken. I blended mine and it turned out quite thick, so it was almost like a sauce - yummy!

The leftover chicken then made two wonderfully succulent and delicious sandwiches for me the next couple of days. This really brought home to me how much more economical it is to buy a whole chicken than to buy chicken breasts etc. We bought a (fairly small) free-range chicken from Sainsbury's for about £5.50 - this provided us with the roast, two lots of sandwiches, and I then made chicken stock from the bones which turned into a soup.

I made the chicken stock during the day on Sunday and it turned out much better than last time. I simmered it much more gently this time and it was much less greasy. I then used the stock in a favourite soup of mine - Egyptian Lentil Soup. I first made this soup after buying lentils for the first time on a whim, and it's been a favourite in our house ever since. Simple ingredients and ridiculously simple to make, it is filling and hearty and is wonderful served with some chunks of bread.


This is the first time I had made the soup with homemade chicken stock rather than a stock cube and I really noticed the difference in colour and flavour. It looked lovely and rich. It tasted pretty good too! I love the addition of the lemon juice - it gives it a real zing.
For dessert we had pancakes. My fiancé did the honours using the batter I had made earlier.

Yes, he cheated and used a spatula to flip them. We like our pancakes served with sugar, lemon and orange. Simple, but tasty!

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Sharon Fruit

Every once in a while something turns up in my fruit and veg box and I haven't got a clue what it is. This happened the first time we got some kale. This week I was utterly stumped by the Sharon Fruit (or Persimmon).

I mean, if you've never seen one before this looks a bit weird, right? Like a large berry. My fiancé's mum kindly informed us what it was and how to eat it. So, today I tried it.
I didn't dislike the sharon fruit, but I wasn't exactly bowled over by it. I think there is some kind of primal instinct in my brain saying, "Warning! This fruit is not in my database! Could be poisonous!", which is weird because I don't usually get that feeling when trying new foods - maybe it's because it's a fruit and looks quite berry-like. Who knows. Anyway, perhaps I could grow to love it!

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Chicken, Leek and Bacon Pie

Yesterday I had some boneless chicken thighs in the fridge to use up - I had been planning on making some spicy jerk chicken thighs and had even bought some chilli peppers in town in the morning with this in mind. But then we picked up our fruit and veg box from my fiancé's parents. There were two giant leeks in there this week, and so the rusty old cogs in my brain began to squeak into life as I began to mull over what could be done with them. All of a sudden, I decided I would make chicken and leek pie. I have these mad whims sometimes.

Now, the slight problem with this is that my fiancé has a slight lactose intolerance - semi-skimmed milk is fine, but cheese and cream are not good for him. A lot of chicken pie recipes use cream, so I had to find one that didn't. After some googling, I found this recipe for Chicken, Leek and Bacon Pie from the Waitrose website. Perfect!

Yes, and I would make the pastry myself, damn it! I only really skim-read the recipe before I set to work, and I really didn't realise what a faff making puff pastry involves. I mean all that sticking it in the fridge for 30 minutes in between!

It is important to bear in mind at this stage that the only other kind of pastry I had made before yesterday is the one in this recipe for mince pies - it is massively easy (you don't even have to roll it out!) and makes the tastiest mince pies known to humankind. So, with this puff pastry malarkey, I really didn't have a clue what I was doing and whether what I was doing was right - I probably could have done with some visual aids to guide me. I think some of the instructions in this recipe aren't that clear, especially if you are a novice - a couple of times I had to get my fiancé to read it and ask what he thought I should be doing.

I got there in the end, though. Hours later, after all the cooling and rolling out again, I had something which looked like pastry! This then went back in the fridge while I made the filling. This was considerably easier than the pastry, although by this point, I couldn't be bothered to fry the chicken in batches - I used my stock pot, which is quite big anyway, so I fried the lot all at once. I ended up with very dry hands last night as I had to keep washing my hands from handling raw meat!

Once the filling was done, you were supposed to leave it to cool, which I did for 20 minutes. I'm not sure if it was as cool as it should have been when I spooned it into the pot, but it was gone 7pm by this point and I was tired and hungry. On went the pastry lid, which I did my best to seal round the edges, steam hole slashed in the middle, and egg brushed over the top by my faithful assistant (fiancé), then into the oven for 40 minutes. This was an epic day of cooking, people.

I was thoroughly expecting the pastry to be a disaster, but see for yourself.
You can see that the pastry kind of sunk on one side where I didn't quite seal it properly but it doesn't really matter. The pastry tasted really good and was how puff pastry is supposed to be - crispy on top with softer layers underneath. I was astounded that it had worked! A fair bit of butter did seem to leak out into the pie, and I'm not sure that was supposed to happen, but it didn't seem to impair the pastry. I'd be tempted to use a little less butter next time, though.

The filling was absolutely delicious too. It's been a long time since I've had a homemade pie, and it just tasted like the most delicious pie on earth - very hearty and rich. I used chicken thighs, rather than chicken breast because that's what I had in the fridge, but next time I'd like to try it with chicken breast, as I think it would be even nicer. I used 2 large leeks, not 4 as the recipe suggests, and that seemed to be plenty.

My fiancé had to suffer the rest of the evening listening to me exclaim, "I made a pie!" at every available opportunity.