Saturday, 6 June 2015

Jimmy's in Brighton

Well, here's a new experience.  I've had good food and bad food in restaurants, and I've heard good and bad news in them too, but I've never before had a restaurant meal that made me cross.  I'm still cross, nearly two weeks later.

Even my cathartic angry Tripadvisor review hasn't made me feel any better.

Jimmy's isn't somewhere we'd normally eat, but we wanted to go to the cinema (Avengers: Age of Ultron, a fun actiony explosiony film with a bit more character development and a lot more heart than usual, but the usual waffer-thin plot) which entails going to one of those complexes on the edge of town that has nothing but chains.

We went to Jimmy's because we'd been to all of the other chains before and thought it might offer something different.

I won't repeat my review here, except to say that the food was far and away the worst thing I've put in mouth... well, ever, actually.  Worse than the canteen at work.  Worse than supermarket ready meals.  Worse than anything you'd find on a station concourse.

Until now I had two amusing bad-meal stories: the most disappointing meal I'd ever had was in a pub in Whitstable where I ordered moules marinieres because I could see the harbour with all the fish suppliers along it, and it came out still frozen in one-half of the dish.  The worst meal I'd ever had was a breakfast in the Wetherspoons in Brighton (to be fair to 'spoons they are quite variable and the Bright Helm is a dive) which came out stone cold and when I sent it back the same breakfast reappeared a few minutes later having spent some time in the microwave.  Do you know what a fried egg looks like when it's gone cold and been re-heated?  Or what happens to brown sauce when you nuke it?

This was worse.

But why am I still cross about it?  I'm generally quite a laid-back sort of person so I thought it was worth examining.

This must be about more than just bad food: I've had bad food elsewhere and not got angry about it.

The aforementioned canteen at work has some shockers, but it's quite easily navigated: avoid all the bought in gack (pies, pasties, burgers etc) and eat what's been made in-house - the salad bar, the sandwiches, the excellent haloumi burgers and the curries, chillis and pasta bakes.  This doesn't make me angry: it's a small team of dedicated and friendly people doing their best on the minimum wage with crap raw materials and equipment.  I salute them, and I'm very happy to eat haloumi and portabello mushroom in a bun with salad, coleslaw and chips for £3.50.

We went to a gig recently at a venue in Southampton where the only food within walking distance was a McDonalds.  The restaurant experience is a bit nasty with the queuing, the noise, the bright lights and the uncomfortable chairs, but we needed food and it did the job without being actively horrible.  The worst thing I can say about McDonalds is that it makes me sad: the place has stood completely still since my 'teens in the '90s at the very least while the general standard of food in the UK has got better and better.  Look objectively at your town: I guarantee there's somewhere you can get a better burger than McDonalds.  No, I can't be angry about a place that sells lunch with no real nutritional value but an all-right-I-suppose flavour for a fiver.

Last time I serviced the car, the national chain of garages I chose ballsed up my booking so rather than spending a pleasant afternoon in Brighton with its wide range of dog-friendly eateries and strolling opportunities I found myself on a trading estate in Newhaven.  My dog isn't allowed in the McDonalds or the KFC on the trading estate, so it was a mile-long walk around the harbour for us, to the nearest pub.  I had a chicken burger which was a bit rubbish.  It all seemed to have come from Tesco: a breaded chicken breast in a cheapo white bap with oven chips and some limp salad on the side.  Still, it was cheap and I liked watching the boats come and go.  The pub was done up nicely and the chairs were comfy too.  No, I can't be angry at a pub in an out-of-the-way corner of a fairly run-down town where the food isn't up to my high standards.  I was probably the first person who'd eaten there all week: what would be the point of paying a top-end chef?

So.  Jimmy's.  What have you done to earn my wrath?

Last time we went to the pictures it hadn't opened.  It looked very exciting though: it's all glazed and the windows had been filled with really exciting images of food and slogans.  It looked like an exciting, up and coming sort of place.  There were fliers.  They had an online presence.  There was buzz.

So, onto our recent cinema trip.  The place looked great from the outside, and inside.  It's big, but it's done up nicely.  There are serving staff everywhere and they're obviously well-trained as they're very efficient despite being uniformly very young. It looks like a slick new restaurant.

And there it is.  That's the root of my anger.  It feels like we were lied to.

Most places telegraph their intentions.  I know, for example, never to go into a pub with a Sky Sports banner strung across it.  I know that no matter where I am in the world the Golden Arches mean an unhealthy but not-horrible meal for not much money and a clean toilet to use afterwards.

Jimmy's wrote cheques its food couldn't cash.  It ran an effective local advertising campaign, fitted out a big but lovely-looking room, trained its waiting staff to perfection... I was even excited by the "how Jimmy's works" stuff on the paper placemats.

Then we were punched in the face with the worst food we've ever had.

Then we paid a bill which was about twice what it would have been in the neighbouring Nandos or Wetherspoons.

More fool you, you might say: surely a buffet restaurant is never going to be any good!  Not so.  We've eaten at Zsa Zsa Bazaar in Bristol which was quite impressive.  It's a noisy barn of a place and you're on a time limit but the food is pretty good.  Not somewhere for a special occasion, but reasonably priced for quite decent food.

If you ask yourself "How can I make the most money out of my customers for the least outlay?" you wend your way along a road which probably starts with Russell Norman's Polpo brand (London locations, high end food, all the numbers are worked out well in advance - and good luck to him for that) via Nandos (one sort of food done really quite well with a nod at ethical sourcing) then your burger joints.  Finally, at the very end of that road, after its gone through some gates and become a rutted track you find Jimmy's: a chain that claims to appeal to even the most fractious and divided family, or to offer everything to the most adventurous foodie, while actually just peddling schlock that's a bit worse than the supermarket value ranges.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Pork and chickpea stew

I have a confession to make.  I've got a bit overexcited, having moved here to Lewes, and bought a lot of exciting ingredients because they looked amazing then realised that there are only two of us and put the whole lot in the freezer.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing: I reckon we can get from here to pay day without buying anything other than some odd bits of fresh veg and salad, so all the money in my wallet is mine and mine alone, to spend on fun stuff.  That's what the freezer's for, no?

I also seem to have gone a bit overboard on chorizo.  The freezer seems to be full of the stuff, which is fine because I love it and it's really versatile.  That and the pork belly seemed to suggest a Spanish style stew.

Start by finely chopping a carrot and an onion (the classic trilogy would include celery as well, but neither of us can stand the stuff) and sweating them in olive oil over a low heat.  Chop a chilli pepper and stick that in too.

Get some potatoes boiling while that's going on.  We're using stock later on, so I used some of it in the potato water to add a bit of extra flavour.  When they're nearly cooked drain them and put them to one side.

When the veg is getting soft, add your chopped up chorizo.  I love how the colour starts bleeding out of it and into the veg straight away.

While the veg is softening and getting to know the chorizo we want to get some colour onto the pork.  I used pork belly, removed the skin and cut it up into bite-size pieces - it is available skinless if you don't want the extra work but I used the skin to make pork scratchings so nothing was wasted!

Just get a pan really hot, season the pork with salt and pepper and brown it on all sides.

Now, back to the main pan.  Throw in the pork pieces when they're nicely browned along with a small tin of tomato purée (or about four tablespoonfuls if you're using purée from a tube), a drained tin of chickpeas, a splash of red wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.

Now move it all around so everything's coated in spice, then add the rest of the stock - 300ml or so should do it.  Raise the heat until it just starts to bubble - not a rolling boil - then back it off to a simmer.

It doesn't need long, maybe 20 minutes or so until the stock has reduced to a thick sauce and everything heated through.  Add the cooked potatoes and let them warm through, then serve.

This made four portions for us - so the level of stock in the freezer hasn't really gone down, it's just turned from ingredients into meals ready to take to work and microwave!

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Pork buns

We had roast belly pork last night, mostly so that I could have a stab at making this item (opens in YouTube) that I saw on TV.

It gave me a chance not only to cook prawn crackers (which was great fun) but also to play with two new kitchen gadgets, a food processor and a set of Chinese bamboo steamers, bought from one of the stalls in the Open Market in Brighton.  I wasn't so obsessive about using local independent shops when I lived here before, but I wish I had been - I reckon if you live or work in walking distance of Brighton or Hove you'd never need to set foot in a supermarket again.

Mine didn't turn out as neat as Jamie's, mostly because my dough was unbelievably sticky, but they were tasty if a little heavy - I'd cut the quantities right down next time, this would easily have fed six.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Curry goat

It's considered bad blog etiquette to start a post by apologising for being away for so long but given my performance over the last year or so I feel I have to.

The enforced peripatetic life of a tenant means that not all food bloggers have a dream kitchen and for the last year I've endured the foodie hell of living in a town with some really excellent food shops in a flat with a tiny kitchen.  I just haven't wanted to cook anything more than the simplest meals, which is why there have only been four posts in the last year, and I note that one of those has the word "fail" in the title and another "leftovers."

Another move has happened though, and this one through choice!  Shall we find out what good quality, value eating is like in one of the foodiest destinations in the south?  We're going to have to because after a long absence I've returned to Brighton.  There's everything here, from the dirtiest fried chicken or kebab to fine dining via some of the most exciting, innovative food going.  I'm really looking forward to this chapter.

Let's start with some home cooking though.

If this blog has a regular reader, he or she might remember a rant I did a couple of years ago about the quality of food at outdoor events.  My internet campaign didn't change anything, obviously.  I still go to folk music festivals where the food is amazing, and I still go to more traditionally male events like air shows where the food is barely fit for the dog.

Never mind.  In consolation, I polished off a most amazing Jamaican curry goat from a stall making its debut at the Cropredy Festival this year and when, a month and a house move later, I saw a stall selling goat at the monthly Lewes Farmers' Market I knew what I had to do.

I can't claim this as being a "value" dish because the goat mutton was expensive - £9 for 500g, making it about twice the price of braising steak - which suggests there's something wrong in the industry.  There's a huge amount of goat milk and cheese available in our shops... what's happening to the male kids?  I'd suggest the goat meat industry has to grow as an urgent welfare issue - presumably they're just being slaughtered otherwise. If it's happening anyway, much better that the meat goes to good use.

I did some intensive googling and came away with this recipe from Girl Interrupted which I pretty much followed to the letter, except for running out of ginger and using coconut milk instead of water to cover the meat before putting it in the oven.

It includes a step of dry-frying spices, which I quite like doing at six o'clock in the morning after a night shift because it means the first time I see my girlfriend is when she appears round the door saying "That smells amazing," which is not what she usually says to me first thing.

Oh, and I used home-grown Bartlett's Bonnet chilli peppers.

Definitely one to add to the repertoire.  It was easy and delicious, and if you can't get hold of goat it would be just as good with sheep mutton - and if you can't get that (and it is stupidly hard to get hold of) I reckon lamb neck would be a good economical substitute.

Balance is maintained.  One of the first things I did after moving was attend the Shoreham Air Show which was a brilliant event marred by beige food.  If it wasn't cheap fried meat you wanted, tough tits.  Shame.

Oh yeah, I didn't, did I?  Sorry for being away for so long.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Chickpea and bean stew with egg, or posh baked beans

Joy! I have a supply of home grown eggs again, from a colleague who has just started keeping hens. I hadn't planned anything for today and I wanted to use them as I know they're only a day old so I had a dig in the store cupboard and decided to make a spicy bean thingy.

When I was lining up the "before" shot I did wonder if I should feel guilty about constructing a meal almost entirely from tinned ingredients, but I don't think I should.  The debate over whether or not tinned vegetables are good for you has opened up again, but I'm pretty sure it's better to eat a tinned vegetable than no vegetable at all.  You also have to factor in convenience and cost - it's not realistic for busy working people to get to the shops every day for fresh, and tinned beans and pulses are an incredibly cheap way to get some nutrition.

I like to use anchovies as seasoning but if you're a veggie, or you just don't like anchovies, feel free to leave them out. I'm starting by sweating an onion in the oil from a tin of anchovies though.  Once the onion's started getting nice and soft (it'll take at least five or six minutes over a low heat) add some spices - cumin, paprika, some cayenne pepper for heat - and mix it all up so that the onions get nicely coated.

Drain and rinse a tin of chickpeas and add them to the pan.  Again, swirl it all around so that they get nicely coated in spice.

Now chuck in a tin of tomatoes.  Chop up the anchovies into small pieces and they can go in too.

Drain and rinse a tin of cannellini beans and it's time for those to go in too.  Give it all a stir, have a taste and season with salt and pepper and add some more chilli heat if you so desire.  I thought it wanted some green herbs too and it's vaguely Italian so I threw in a little basil.

Everything from the tins is already cooked so you don't want to boil anything, just let it heat through.  Pop a lid on and let the whole lot simmer for about 20 minutes, then have another taste and adjust the seasoning if you want to.  Crack in an beautiful garden egg per person, put the lid back on, and let them poach for four or five minutes.

These quantities divided into three equal portions for us - one each tonight, and we'll have the remainder tomorrow between us with a couple of sausages, or maybe on toast for lunch.

Between three, this comes to seven WeightWatchers ProPoints and (depending where you buy your tins - tomatoes in Sainsbury's range from 37p to over £1 and I'm perfectly happy with the cheap ones) less than £1 per portion.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Lasagne Fail

Tiny kitchen in the new flat, a couple of injuries which prevented me from cooking, stuff going on in life elsewhere...  It's bad form to start a blog post with an apology for the gap since the last one but the sad fact is I haven't been cooking much from scratch lately.  I suddenly started missing it though, so here goes.

I wanted to make a big lasagne today as I have night shifts coming up and the freezer is a bit Mother Hubbard.  Homemade food is one of the things that makes nights bearable so I really wanted a freezer full of tupperwares.

All was going well until I took the pack of lasagne down from the store cupboard and found this.  It's not something I make very often, so it can run low without me noticing.

I posted something on Facebook and my friends came up with a couple of awesome solutions:
  • Make moussaka instead, if you have an aubergine in the fridge
  • Make pasticcio instead
Personally I've never had an aubergine in the fridge but we've all got our little quirks...

My solution: Cook up a batch of whatever other pasta was in the cupboard (penne, as it happens), mix it in with the ragu, and just cover with those lonely sheets of lasagne.

I'm not quite sure what to call my finished product, beyond "cheesy ragu pasta bake type thing," but it tasted good and I really enjoyed making it.

Here it is before and after baking.

An economical meal, too - 120g or so penne, three lasagne sheets, 500g really top quality local beef mince from a local farm, a glass of red wine, an onion, some mushrooms and a carrot - call it a tenner absolute tops - and this made five portions and the difference between enjoying my nights (sounds weird, I know, but I do like working nights) and dreading them.

No plated photos because I just glopped it out like I usually do and also because this.

Enjoy your home cookery, do it cheaply and well, don't worry about the presentation... just get cooking from scratch.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Pasta, mushrooms and cream cheese

We have fibre internet in the new house, and a Youview box which means free access to catch-up services on the main TV set.  So much food porn available on 4OD, but lately we've been catching up with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Three Good Things.

The premise of the show is simple, three celebrity chefs competing to see who can make the best dish using just three ingredients (plus store-cupboard stuff like herbs and spices).  It's actually a really good way to cook: most of the recipes on the show have looked really tasty, and most of them have stuck to techniques that any home cook should be able to use with no really cheffy stuff.

This offering from Allegra McEvedy is ace.  Cheap, easy and really delicious.

On the show she made the point of frying the chestnut mushrooms for some browning and flavour then adding the oyster mushrooms later for just a gentle heat-through as that suits their natures.

She also emphasised on the show that it's important to fry in a mix of butter and olive oil: it always tastes better with butter, but oil will raise its burning temperature so that you can get some nice browning without burning and smoke.

I've also made a couple of minor alterations, the addition of a couple of rashers of smoky bacon (pancetta would also work well) and the substitution of mascarpone for Philadelphia Light in order to lose a couple of WeightWatchers points.  In my version (plus bacon, minus mascarpone), using our usual 40g pasta person, this is 9 points.

The multi-coloured pasta is tricolore spelt fusili, incidentally, from our local farm shop.  I'd never had spelt pasta before but it's nice, very similar to normal pasta but it cooks quickly and had a nice bite to it.