Review: Roast & Conch

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Being from the West Midlands originally, I’ve visited Cadbury World more than my fair share of times – celebrating various birthdays, school trips, foreign-exchange visits, heist attempts… – so I know my stuff when it comes to Chocolate and how it’s made.

The factory tour starts with a brief introduction to the humble cocoa bean, then there’s a fountain which looks like two glasses of milk perpetually being poured into a vat, then you go on a mildly exhilarating tour of a model village occupied my anthropomorphic cocoa beans, watch an old advert of a woman eating a Flake in the bath,  and finally you get to the end of the production line; nose full of smells – and get given a Curly Wurly to whet your appetite before being herded into the gift shop to buy a yard of Freddos and a ruler that looks like a Dairy Milk.
When we arrived at our table at Roast & Conch, and received an introduction to the concept, our waitress taught me more about Cocoa in 2 minutes than I’d learned in my entire childhood of Bourneville pilgrimages.  You see, Hotel Chocolat’s high-concept restaurant boasts a menu where every item contains chocolate.  
Sort of.
The menu combines British and Caribbean cuisine, and during the introduction it was explained that cocoa beans were used to season the dishes, rather than add sweetness – we weren’t going to find Creme-Eggs benedict on the menu, or superfluous squares of chocolate thrown on top of things for the sake of it.
We were shown a small plate of cocoa beans on our table and invited to crack them open and have a taste.  Sure enough, the first thing you notice is a familiar smell of dark chocolate, followed by an intensely bitter, nutty flavour.
This introduction to the concept was indicative of the high level of service at Roast & Conch; upon arrival we were greeted by a member of staff who took our coats before showing us to our seats, our waitress didn’t hesitate to keep topping up our table’s water throughout the meal and brought an amuse-bouche to the table before our first course – obviously not make-or-break factors, but appreciated details nonetheless.
While I’m not usually a fan of gnocchi, I decided to stray out of my comfort zone and take a friend’s advice to try the Sweet Potato & Cocoa Nib Cornmeal Gnocchi (£6.5) starter – tentatively billed as served with “Pumpkin and Nutmeg Air”.  
Nowhere near as pretentious as the menu makes out, the “air” was in fact a ridiculously smooth pumpkin puree which formed a bed for the nicest gnocchi I’ve tasted.  Substituting sweet potato and cornmeal for the usual potato and flour made it really tender, and the cocoa nibs gave it a real bite.  
I can say with total conviction that eating this gnocchi felt nothing like chewing an eyeball, which is something I’ve not been able to say about gnocchi before.  They’re welcome to quote me on that as well.
Being a big lamb enthusiast, I couldn’t resist the 8-hour Lamb Pepperpot (£15) main – the meat was cooked to the point where it disintegrated into layers of silk in my mouth, and the cocoa nibs perfectly complemented the rich, sweet umami taste of the lamb gravy.
If I had any criticism, it would be that the ground provisions – root vegetables – in the stew were perhaps too thoroughly cooked, a little bite to them would have added a welcome variety of texture.
My partner had the Mac & Cheese Pie (£12) which was presented inventively in an open-topped crust made from cocoa nibs, with hard-cheese crackling on top; a welcome change from the standard practice of slopping an earthenware dish of the stuff under a grill with some cheese on top.
The Macaroni itself was delicately flavoured with Gruyere and truffle oil, and surprisingly light but still felt like a satisfying main course.
We shared Green Beans and Sauteed Spinach (Both £4) which were both tasty, but a very rich addition to my main course.  I felt like the Pepperpot would have been better with Sweet Potato Ribbons (£3) as a bit of respite from the cocoa nib onslaught.
After a palette-cleansing Ginger Fizz cocktail (£7.95) we were able to move onto the desserts.  Considering the ubiquity of chocolate on the rest of the menu it was no surprise to see more of the same on the back page,  however some of the offerings were surprisingly understated.  There was no tacky Fudge Sundae or Death By Chocolate in sight.
We opted for the Ganache Tart (£6) which was served with a brilliant hazelnut praline ice cream, and Pecan Pie (£6).  The latter was my favourite of the two, due to the welcome but unexpected addition of raisins, and an amazing pecan brittle on the side.

At £74 for two people (including drinks and service) Roast & Conch isn’t cheap, and it’s not the type of place we could visit regularly – but taking into account the really high standard of service, the atmosphere, inimitable food, and the experience of the concept, it makes the restaurant a great choice when you’re after something a little bit special and different.
They haven’t got a car in the shape of a Creme Egg outside though, so Cadbury World has still got that going for it. 

Dough Boys @ Belgrave Music Hall

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I imagine you’ve been sat at your laptop since my last post, pressing refresh (or at least sitting back in a Muumuu and fat guy-hat while a pecking bird toy presses refresh for you, like when Homer becomes obese and starts working from home) and waiting for me to drop some more knowledge.  Well sorry for the wait guys, I’ve just been busy.  Get off my back, jeez!

I wasn’t too busy for a couple of lazy Sunday pints and pizzas though, so I lobbed my camera in my pocket and went to Belgrave – I reviewed their Street Feast last week and spoke fondly of everything but neglected to take photos of Dough Boys.  
The only way to correct this rookie error was by cramming food into myself so I could take photos of it, rather than forcing people to rely on eloquent descriptions of pizza.  Spoiler alert: It looks like pizza!


Really good pizza, mind you.  This is the Silvio, or their take on the Margarita – jazzed up with fresh basil and smoked sea salt after coming out of the oven.

And the exotic devil underneath is the Screaming Goat, which has Goats Cheese, Beetroot, Chervil and Walnuts on top.
They’re not stingy with toppings, but at the same time they don’t weigh down the slice and leave you with a lap full of wet cheese.  As before the dough is great – crispy on the edges and chewy in the middle with frequent air pockets and the occasional, welcome charred bit.
As well as the two varieties we tried, you can also get Sausage Fest (a meat feast with I think 3 types of sausage), Woodsy (Pepperoni and Mushroom), Baa No More (A Middle Eastern-inspired one with spiced Lamb) and another vegetarian offering aptly named Paul & Linda (Another vegetarian option with Artichoke hearts) which they can make vegan-friendly on request.  
As the pizza names suggest, they’ve got no problem being tongue-in-cheek about what they do.  Every month they host Dough vs Dude – a speed-eating contest which I haven’t taken part in yet because I’m giving everyone else a chance first – and they often come up with themed pizzas based on bands playing at Belgrave.  Hopefully they’ll do something similar for the Box Set Quiz nights which start next month – whole, unsliced pizzas with dipping sticks for the Breaking Bad quiz would be a good start.  And if you don’t understand why, THEN DON’T BOTHER COMING TO THE QUIZ, SON!
I mentioned it in passing before but I feel I should reiterate how good value they are as well, we got 4 slices – which equates to an entire 14″-ish pizza – for under a fiver thanks the ridiculously generous half price slice offer which runs every day before 7.  It’s so good that you wouldn’t hesitate to buy it at full price, but don’t tell them that.

Market Delivered – Leeds Market Produce Delivered to Your Door

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The virtues of buying fresh locally-grown produce are obvious (celebrity chefs have been campaigning tirelessly for the past 15-ish years to make sure we’re aware of them) , and us Leeds folk should count ourselves lucky that we have such an amazing hub of independent traders as the Kirkgate market, right in the middle of our City centre.

While it’s entirely feasible that Nigel and Jamie can spend lazy mornings wandering around a marketplace, testing the tensile strength of an avocado, the rest of us aren’t afforded that luxury and have to make do with a quick trip to little-Sainsburys in the spare 20 minutes between getting in from work and having to cook tea.  Just look how popular Tinder is, if people can’t devote more time than it takes to flick their finger to finding a suitable mate, then how can they go to the market and ensure they’re getting the best courgettes for their money.

This is where Market Delivered steps in.
As you might have guessed from the name, Market Delivered is a service which offers home delivery on market produce, giving you the benefits of market-quality food and prices, with supermarket convenience.
The website is split into categories, and with Fruit, Veg and Meat (Which I imagine is going to be most peoples’ reason for using this service) rather than filling your basket with individual items you buy a mixed box or pack, at a few different price-points based on how much you need.  You can also add individual items like Fish, Milk, Yoghurts, Eggs, Butter and Confectionary to your basket, so not everything is left to chance.
Having a Girlfriend who unfortunately suffers from Vegetarianism, I don’t cook a lot of meat at home (It’s actually quite good that my meat-gluttony is restricted to eating out), but we use a lot of vegetables in cooking, so we went for the Seasonal Veg Box for 3-4 (No Potatoes) (£10) and the Fruit Box (£5.50).  The typical contents are listed in the product description, along with accompanying photos to give a rough idea of what you can expect:

I liked this system, it saves time having to go and put each item in your basket, and it feels like the stall-holder is giving you a bit of a deal.  We also got some Smoked Haddock fillets (£1 each) and 30 Eggs (£3) which Market Delivered proudly announce are free range and laid fresh the day before they’re delivered to you.

We placed our order on Sunday night and booked delivery for 6pm – 9pm on Tuesday, with delivery only costing £2.99.
At about 6:30 on Tuesday the friendly Market Delivered proprietor (whose name I forgot to catch in all the excitement of getting loads of food given to me, and talking the business and Twitter) turned up with market boxes, laden with leaves and roots and shiny fruit, and our fish and eggs.  I was amazed at the sheer quantity of it.
The vegetable box contained: Winnie the Pooh-carrots, Cabbage, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Beetroot, Parsnips, Courgette, Mushrooms, Red & White Onions, Swede and Sweet Potatoes (Nosey cat sold separately)
And in the fruit box: 6 Bananas, 8 Kiwi Fruit, 5 Satsumas, 3 Peaches, 5 Plums, 5 Red Delicious, 2 Granny Smith, 4 Pears, Strawberries, Pineapple

All of it is top quality stuff as well, definitely not end-of-the-day off-casts, which could easily have been the case with my delivery being after trading hours.  Along with my 4 pieces of Haddock, 30 (THIRTY!) eggs and delivery cost, all of this came to just under £26.

I’m kicking myself for wasting so much time and money buying packaged fruit and vegetables from local supermarkets, I just wish I’d heard of Market Delivered sooner.  As the customer-base grows it would be nice to see partnership with more stalls so we can get more niche ingredients (Caribbean vendors especially please!), but I can’t find any faults with the current service offered.  This is how we’ll do most of our shopping from now on.