Tag Archives: food reviews

Zazu’s Kitchen, Stokes Croft

The bright dining area with Story I by Mila Furstova, a £4,500 art work, on display may be surprising for Stoke Croft but wait until you taste the food. It is shockingly elegant and delicious.

Of course, if you’ve already eaten at the Runcible Spoon you may be a little less taken aback at one more of the area’s restaurants providing good, local and seasonal offerings.

What stood out for me was the chips. I still keep thinking about the perfectly seasoned, hand-cut chips which were ordered as an aside. (A side as an aside, get it? I’m being silly.)

They were even better than the posh chips with parmesan and truffle oil at Jamie’s on Park Street.

I had a whole mackerel which was almost beautifully cooked. It was nice but slightly, and I mean barely, overdone. However, the raspberry and lemon sauce was just right with the salad and samphire and the fried new potatoes also very good. The dish was of exceptional value at £7.95 and it was equally to, if not better than, the one at Jamie’s for £13.

The restaurant provides no menus. The dishes and specials of the day are written on a blackboard. The orders are taken at the front which was interesting as we were seated at the back.

A few rattles, a broken cup and the general cooking noises seemed loud to my ears which were mindful of the fact that my five month old daughter was sleeping but she didn’t seem to mind.

Many people passed water glasses over her pram as they helped themselves through the free dispenser.

I’d like to go back for a rooibos espresso and cake sit for a while. Zazu’s Kitchen is friendly and warm and feels very inviting. If you’ve passed by outside you’ll definitely be surprised at how much more spacious it is.

Not huge, but there are six or seven tables at the back and some space at the front for the cafe. Our party of six was lucky to book on a Saturday as it got very busy.

I recommend the chips. I hope to have more recommendations in the near future. This restaurant is a much more authentic choice to Jamie’s and I keep picking on it because the meal was almost identical but much cheaper and tastier.

For further details on the background of Zazu’s, see Bristol Culture.

Zazu’s Kitchen

By Jontangerine

Zazu’s Kitchen, 45 Jamaica Street, Stokes Croft. 0117 923 2233.

Juniper, Food Review

Juniper seems like a lovely restaurant on Cotham Road South placed on the edge of Kingsdown and Cotham. The area has big houses, quiet roads and seem almost rural rather than suburban. I used to walk around there when I was a little more local and can see how the twilight and the electric lights all help to make the restaurant one further step along a very pleasant route.

The start of the evening is lovely and the restaurant has a very nice ambience as I walk in. There are five tables by the door and their location seems to make for a potentially breezy couple of hours so I take a seat somewhere in the corner. The lighting is low without making the place too dark and there is a genuine sense of intimacy without it feeling like someone’s boudoir.

My dining companion arrives and we are given menus with selections for three courses.

I choose the red mullet with a seafood combination comprised of crab, crayfish and smoked salmon for a starter. The main is pan roasted duck with cheesy potatoes and a selection of vegetables and the dessert is a pistachio crème brulee. Where available, I will always choose the crème brulee and my expectations are high.

The starter’s mix of seafood is delicious and provides a very fresh offering that is both savoury and sharp. The golden fried red mullet piece that sits on top of it may have been cooked well but is not very flavoursome. I look around for some salt until I catch myself and just try to enjoy it as best I can. It was underseasoned and disappointing.

The duck is very well cooked and is a nice sized portion. The vegetables are ominously full of brussels sprouts which while not really a problem for me, bring to mind a Christmas dinner rather than a special night out at an enchanting restaurant. The cheesy potato dish is not particularly appetizing and for a £17 main I am not particularly enthused. I have had amazing potatoes at Graze at very reasonable prices and I feel embarrassed for this place which can’t compete with a gastropub, although admittedly there are few restaurants that can at the moment.

I couldn’t imagine that they would go astray with my favourite part of the meal, the crème brulee, but again it was slightly disappointing. The sweet was served at room temperature and while the sugar on top was indeed caramelized the rest had a Mediterranean feel and a thick and granular texture, which left me uninspired. It just didn’t fit in with the rest of my dishes.

My friend’s dessert was added to the menu just that day and promised a bit more of a wow factor. It was a tasting platter of chocolate consisting of five items: a chocolate brownie, a white chocolate trifle, a cookies and cream white liqueur and some other type of cake. I’m not sure if it lived up to expectations but it looked ok rather than fantastic.

I may be a little harsh in my recollection of the dishes but let me point out the prices on the menu: £7 for a starter, £17 for a main and £7 for a dessert. If you were to add some wine to the £31-each selection then the cost for two would come to around £100 and that would be an extortionate amount to pay for what felt more like a roast dinner suitable for the weekend.

This place has all the characteristics that could have made it a special experience worth coming back for and instead it turned out to be quite humdrum and average. A shame.

Juniper, 21 Cotham Road South, Cotham, Bristol, BS6 5TZ, 0117 942 1744

Masterclass In Food Writing, Interesting?

The Guardian has started to present masterclasses in various topics and one of the first ones is about food writing. £500 for two days sounds a little steep for me but the description of the contents is well worth an inexpensive visit.

Tom Parker-Bowles leads the course and his credentials include being an award-winning food writer, a Contributing editor to GQ, as well as the author of three books, E is for Eating – An Alphabet of Greed; The Year of Eating Dangerously; and Full English – A Journey Through the British and Their Food.

The course aims to provide a brief history of food writing, as well as practical advice on everything from attracting the eye of the commissioning editor, to restaurant criticism, blogs and self-publishing.

The main parts are as follows and knowledge of these should be an asset to any food writer:

History of food writing – reading and knowing about food is seen as important. The course discusses all the greats apparently, from Apicius and Acton through Glasse and Grigson, via Liebing, Trillin, Davidson, David, Fisher, Meades and Slater.

How not to write about food – there will be an examination of bad reviews filled with cliches and pointless adjectives I presume. This will be useful in finding out which “clichés, words and phrases to avoid at all times”.

Writing the food review – during the course there will be an opportunity to enjoy a specially prepared lunch, write about it and then discuss it.

20 books to trust and love with your life – the students will be told about some favourite books.

Blogging and self-publishing is a session that provides advice about how to get on with practical matters and grander visions of setting up your own magazine. What are the pitfalls? How much cash do you need? And are you mad for even contemplating the idea?

The last parts are about a passion for food and ending with an open discussion “food writing, contacts, and the best places to work.”

Please note that this isn’t just a promotional piece on the Guardian’s masterclass. Instead, I’d like to use the contents as a starting off point for interviewing food reviewers. Based on the above I would ask the following questions:

  • Who do you consider to be the greats in the history of food writing?
  • Which are your current top five books about food?
  • What are some of the worst cliches and pointless adjectives you avoid in your writing?
  • Which is your favourite review that you have written?
  • What advice do you have about food blogging and / or selling reviews?
  • Which has been your favourite place to work?

If you have any suggestions for further questions then please let me know. On my side, I will let you know how I get on and you will hopefully see the results on these pages. If you are a food reviewer and want to send me your replies, then please comment and I will be in touch.

Love Food

Eating: yes. Blogging: sporadically. Critiquing: ?

Everyone Eats is a feature article, by Robert Sietsema, in the Jan / Feb 2010, Columbia Journalism Review. Its title continues with the pointedly honest appraisal: ‘but that doesn’t make you a restaurant critic’. Too true. The article provides a history of restaurant critics and the evolution of food reviews. Most importantly, Sietsema notes the process used by a prominent restaurant critic, and it is this latter part that I want to share with you.

Craig Claiborne, food Editor for the New York Times from 1975 and for three decades after, is generally credited with being the inventor of the modern restaurant review.

Claiborne added structure and ethics to restaurant reviewing: reviews would be done by a single individual who would be named in the piece. At least three visits would be made to the restaurant and a party of three or four would eat and try to cover as much of the menu as possible. Some dishes would be eaten more than once to check for consistency. There would be no free meals and the publication would pay for the dining experience.

Most important of all the reviewer would remain anonymous and not allow the restaurant to realise that a review was in progress. Any reservation would made under a false name and no suspicious behaviour would take place during the meal.

These were his rules and the very structure of them provided a thoroughness that almost makes this critiquing business into a science.
I admire the notion that food reviewing is a serious business and should be addressed as such. In my reviews I want to be as truthful as possible while also noting that my opinion is as subjective as anyone else’s.

I would love to be thorough about all the food but I often get distracted by one item and then lose interest in the rest. As an unpaid blogger I also don’t have the funds to visit a restaurant at least three times over a short period, let alone take along three friends, so we can sample all the items on the menu.

Sometimes it’s not the food but the atmosphere or the company that will be the highlight of the evening. The service may stand out or the dessert might be the only thing I remember with any clarity. I take photos of the food before I eat and occasionally may take notes as well. That’s sure to arouse some attention although I can’t remember anyone offering any free dishes.

I have doubts about my own consistency and there are few professional food reviewers I go out of my way to read. I adore the work of Mark Taylor who writes in the Bristol Evening Post on a Thursday and edits the magazine Fork. However there are other reviews, such as ones I’ve read in the Metro, where from the first sentence I failed to believe a single judgement. A particular review was about a place I had visited recently and the effusive proclamations about the food had probably more to do with the two bottles of wine drunk by the reviewer, and partner, than the actual quality of the restaurant.

I raise these points as an exercise in self-awareness and with the intention to introduce more consistency into my critiques. If you also write reviews, professionally or not (i.e. paid or unpaid), then do mention any rules you may have, or procedures you may follow. I would love to hear them. (Don’t forget to mention the bribes.)

The image is from the tapas style lunch I ate at the Clifton Lido in Bristol.