Saturday, 6 August 2016

Nottingham Forest 4 - 3 Burton Albion

I have a confession to make. I didn't renew my season ticket this year (#notarealfan). There are a number of reasons for this: I won't be able to make as many matches, the off-the-field apathy and mismanagement and the on-the-field stagnation amongst them. After watching Forest breeze sweep stagger drunkenly past Burton Albion today, part of me wishes I had renewed. Another part - the one which is concerned about the well-being of my heart - is glad I didn't. I don't think it could take many matches like this one, and I have a feeling there might be a few this season.

Philippe Montanier's first competitive Nottingham Forest lineup was so youthful that it'd probably have been asked for ID when buying a pint. Academy graduates Alex Iacovitti and Matty Cash made their debuts, as did equally youthful new recruits Thomas Lam and Hildeberto Pereira. The slightly-more established Jorge Grant and Oliver Burke lined up in midfield alongside the relative veteran Ben Osborn. The more-experienced-but-still-hardly-ancient Britt Assombalonga, Henri Lansbury, Matt Mills and Dorus de Vries completed the starting XI, meaning that new signings Pajtim Kasami, Apostolos Vellios, Stephen Henderson and Damien Perquis all started their Forest careers from the bench.

If Burton Albion were meant to turn up and roll over clearly nobody told them, as they shaded the opening exchanges. A collision between Mills and de Vries gave the returning Chris O'Grady a chance which was scrambled away, before disaster struck when a challenge between de Vries and Brewers' striker Lucas Akins caused the Forest 'keeper to fall awkwardly, and, following a long period of treatment, get stretched off. Henderson would be handed his debut more quickly than anyone could've predicted or wanted.

Five minutes later however Forest shrugged off this setback and netted their first goal of Montanier's reign. A stray ball in the Burton penalty area fell to Grant, whose shot was probably heading wide before Assombalonga popped up at the far post to slide it home. The joy was short lived though as the match was turned on its head in a matter of minutes.

Firstly a Burton corner wasn't properly cleared and the ball found its way to Akins who fired home. Then a suspiciously-offside-looking counterattack ended up at the feet of Lloyd Dyer who steered a shot past the helpless Henderson. Whilst this was exciting stuff it certainly wasn't in the script. Indeed matters could've been worse if O'Grady had any pace, as another Burton break saw him set clear. Luckily he had to cut back inside and his angled shot whizzed wide of Henderson's post.

Parity was restored at the ideal time for Forest - just ahead of the half-time break - when a short corner was taken to Lam. The Finnish defender atoned for a couple of shaky moments by curling in a nice shot which beat Burton goalie Jon McLaughlin at the near post. The teams trooped off all-square while the sun-drenched crowd tried to take it all in.

Swiss international Kasami replaced the slightly anonymous Grant after the break and it wasn't too long before he made a difference. His free kick from just outside the box thudded into the wall before his rebound looped kindly to the waiting Burke. The Scotsman's shot wasn't cleanly hit but it had enough pace to bobble in at the far post with the Burton defence berating the referee's assistant for not giving him offside. Which he probably was. But so was their second goal. So, them's the breaks.

The goal seemed to settle Forest down somewhat, as did Kasami's introduction, and they exercised more control for a period. Burke and Pereira looked dangerous down the right whilst the midfield trio of Cash, Lansbury and Kasami took turns in spraying mostly-accurate long passes around the field. The defence still looked shaky however and it always felt like another goal was needed.

This duly arrived with around fifteen minutes to go when another break down the right found Pereira in space. His cross looped up off a Burton defender and over McLaughlin and may have dropped in anyway before Assombalonga made sure by nodding in at the far post. Two goals from about the same amount of yards.

Hopefully this cushion would allow the Reds to see the game out comfortably but it didn't because they're Forest and that's not how they roll. More slack defending allowed substitute Tom Naylor to plant a fine header past Henderson, who must have been wondering what was going on. A late scramble and a shot which flashed just wide of the post almost gave Burton a late equaliser but the home side just about held out to give Montanier a victory in his first meaningful match in charge.

So, how did this new-look Forest play? It certainly wasn't all roses but there are definitely reasons to be cheerful. Henderson looked a little unsure behind an almost totally new defence. The soothing presence of de Vries was certainly missed and one hopes he isn't out for too long. Watching the replay of the incident he turned his ankle nastily upon landing, but hopefully it's just a sprain rather than anything more sinister.

Iacovitti had a decent debut on the left, though he was guilty of drifting inside a few times. Still, Danny Fox does that too and he's considerably more experienced. His counterpart on the right - Pereira - looked a massive threat going forward. His pace and willingness to run with the ball could be a huge asset, though he too was caught out of position more than once. He did however produce one tremendous block. Someone needs to teach him how to take throw-ins though. Still, he and Burke could cause mayhem down the right. Hopefully his late substitution was due to tiredness rather than any injury.

Mills was his usually muscular self, but Lam - at this early stage - looks a bit lightweight for a Championship centre-half. He won some decent tackles on the floor but was often out-muscled in the air. He does however look excellent on the ball and again was more than willing to bring it out from defence. Perhaps he's more suited to a career in defensive midfield, but it's very early days.

Osborn was busy down the left without being outstanding whilst Lansbury put in a solid performance punctuated with some excellent passes. Cash, in my opinion, outshone Grant in central midfield. He pressed, harried, tackled and passed well, including one phenomenal long-range crossfield ball to Burke.

Burke himself showed just what potential he has. His pace caused problems all afternoon, even though he sometimes lacked an end product. But of course that's only to be expected. If he delivered every time he got the ball he'd have already been snapped up by someone else. His goal was well deserved and I'd have given him man-of-the-match ahead of the sponsor's choice Assombalonga.

How nice it was to have the Forest number nine starting, playing a full match and back in the goals again. Both of his strikes were easy, but they needed someone with a finisher's instinct to be there - which is something we sorely missed last season. I imagine he'll get the night off against Doncaster in midweek but he can reflect on a job well done.

Eric Lichaj replaced Pereira late on and didn't have too much to do, but Pajtim Kasami's first contribution was far more meaningful. He's an imposing figure in the middle but also very mobile. He never stopped moving and always gave an outlet, while his passing was good and one piece of skill left two opponents in his wake. Him, Lansbury and Cash/Vaughan or whoever in midfield has a nice look about it.

There's plenty for Montanier to work on, but there's also a great deal for him to work with. Tuesday night's team should be interesting and I wouldn't be surprised to see many of those who missed out today being given a chance to stake their claims. One thing seems to be sure though, if today is anything to go by: Forest will be very, very entertaining to watch this season, and that's a pretty good place to start.


Tuesday, 19 July 2016

The Nosh at Fosh is Definitely Worth the Dosh

After booking our family holiday to Mallorca, I decided to take a punt and see if there were any Michelin starred restaurants situated on the island. Of the seven that I could find the most easily accessible was Marc Fosh (formerly Simply Fosh) in Palma. Their menu also seemed very reasonably priced for set lunches so I duly booked as soon as our preferred date was available.

Located in a boutique hotel on a quiet side-street of Mallorca's bustling capital, it's unlikely you'd stumble upon Marc Fosh if you didn't know it was there. That's a real shame as you'd be missing out on an absolute treat. Having not been to a Michelin starred restaurant in such warm conditions before we were a little worried that shorts and short-sleeved shirts might not be acceptable attire. They were though, and indeed the whole atmosphere of the restaurant was pleasantly relaxed. We were pleased to be seated in a covered outdoor area, which provided shaded coolness but lots of natural light too.



From the set lunch menu available I chose the gnocchi starter while my companions both went for the chilled tomato soup with bonito - which we didn't realise was marinaded salmon until it was served. They both seemed to enjoy their starters and I certainly enjoyed mine, with the light gnocchi being matched with a rich black olive sauce and some crunchy candied walnuts.

For main I chose the herb-crusted hake, which was again excellent. Meaty, flaky hake with a crunchy herb crust and accompaniments including caviar, apple and fennel. Clare's lamb was wonderfully pink and served with the most stylish looking Greek salad I've ever seen.


My dessert of rich chocolate ganache, sour cherries, sesame puree and bitter lime gel was a lovely finish to the meal, and Clare raved about her peach sorbet and matcha green tea ice-cream.



€25 per person for this set lunch was an absolute steal, and even with a bottle of crisp Chardonnay, still water and service included, the final bill, when converted into Sterling, was just over £110 for three diners, which for food and service of such quality was an absolute steal. Palma is a fantastic city to visit on holiday, and there can't be many better places to eat there than Marc Fosh.

Monday, 20 June 2016

House of Fun

The best laid plans oft go to waste, and so it was during our recent visit to John's House. Not because of anything the restaurant did wrong though - quite the opposite in fact. It was our plan of sampling the reasonably-priced set lunch menu which went awry; laid to waste by the almost-as-reasonably-priced tasting menu. Still, everything happens for a reason, and the reason was clearly so we could enjoy seven courses of top-notch food.

I have a confession to make. Until the UK Michelin stars were announced for 2015 I'd never heard of John's House. But when a restaurant barely 20 miles away from where I live gets awarded one then I need to take notice. Perusal of the website and a subsequent booking took us to the Leicestershire town of Mountsorrel wherein the restaurant is located, within the slightly jarring surroundings of a busy main road and a housing estate.  I can't imagine having a Michelin-starred restaurant sitting literally on my doorstep. For my wallet's and stomach's sake it's probably just as well.

After being ushered through to the comfortable lounge area we made our menu and drinks choices. To curtail the spending a little bit we only ordered one drink each; a punchy white wine and a rather splendid lavender and Champagne cocktail. These ordered, we were led upstairs to the dining room, where we took our seats under the watchful gaze of three stern-looking cows. In a painting, obviously. Some crunchy stout-infused bread and a delicious onion roll later and the meal proper commenced.

A snappy spear of asparagus kicked us off, garnished with fragrant herbs, crispy chicken skin and an unctuous quail's egg. Raw scallop was next, matched with a delicious tube of crab meat and crunchy, fresh greens in a wonderful combination of textures and tastes.

Asparagus


Indeed it was such challenging and interesting combinations which really stood out for me during our meal. The flaky cod of the fish course was accompanied by a disk of rich brawn, which was perfect when smeared with a blob of the passion fruit gel which also adorned the plate. Blood pudding of the deepest crimson joined belly pork as the main, but its depth was delightfully tempered by the seared pineapple and subtle pineapple sauce sharing its real estate.


Cod

Dessert number one was possibly the standout dish: invigorating pea sorbet concealing gloopy coconut ice cream and a crunchy chocolate crumb, whilst itself being covered with sprigs of mint and a dark chocolate sauce. The black pepper in the shards of meringue which - with honey cream and yoghurt ice cream made up the second dessert - left a pleasing thrum at the back of the throat which stayed with us until our coffees. Even these had a surprise in store, with one of the petit fours being a smoked fudge which tasted nothing so much like a peaty Islay whisky made squidgy and cubed.

Service and surroundings were pleasant and relaxed and, though the meal cost more than we'd originally intended, it was entirely our own fault and still represented excellent value for money. There's something very pleasing about finding a gem like John's House outside of the big cities and I'm thankful that the Michelin inspectors recognised it too, otherwise we may never have stumbled upon it. I'm certainly glad that we did.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Up The Junction

In Carrington, many years ago, I had my first ever experience of Indian food: a volcanic hot meat followed by an equally unsubtle Chicken Madras. Despite this searing initiation I was hooked. The restaurant where I sampled these delights is no longer there; however, there's a new kid on Carrington's curry block, and it's a cracker.

Occupying the former Natwest Bank premises on the corner of Hucknall and Mansfield Roads, Masala Junction is the new venture of the former owner of city-centre eaterie Mem Saab. Like Mem Saab it's pointed firmly toward the higher-end of the curry market, and also like Mem Saab it does a very good job indeed. This isn't a place where you can just roll up after a night out and, in a fit of drunken bravado, order the hottest thing on the menu. No, this is sophisticated cooking and definitely best enjoyed while in full control of one's faculties.

The interior sets the scene for the rest of the experience, with nary an algae-covered fish tank or oversized elephant vase to be seen. Instead we have nicely designed window blinds with a pattern which matches the menus, and a high, white-painted ceiling. The music is similarly non-clichéed, so much so that I can't even remember what it sounded like. Which is as it should be.

Our party forewent the poppadoms and pickles and opted instead for starters of paneer, cod, scallops and - in my case - duck. I can't speak for the others, but my duck was a delight; perfectly pink with a spiced coating and served with, among other things, tiny pickled cauliflower florets and a coriander puree.

As good as the starter was however, the main was even better. After a lot of deliberation I finally settled on a Murgh Methi, which is one of my all-time favourite curries, and it's fair to say this was the best one of these I've ever had. Firm chicken thighs smothered in thick, deep, smoky sauce. Pilau rice and a crispy, light keema naan complemented the dish perfectly. Clare asked for "something like Tikka Masala but not Tikka Masala" and the restaurant rustled up a sublime Butter Chicken which wasn't even on the menu.

Service was slick throughout, our house wine was an excellent Chenin Blanc and the final bill for four of us was just short of £100.00, which I think represents excellent value for a meal of such quality. It's early days yet but Masala Junction looks like a winner. We'll be going back without a doubt. 

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

The Moor the Merrier

For all the wonderful food in the world, there's something eternally satisfying about a good steak. Pink, spongy interior with a charred, salty crust; a well cooked steak is a thing of beauty indeed.

Hawksmoor is a London-based steakhouse which certainly cooks a good steak. Only now it's not just London-based - it also has a restaurant in Manchester - and it was to this restaurant that we made our way recently to celebrate Clare's birthday.

We'd been to the Seven Dials Hawksmoor before and the interior of Manchester's version compares favourably. Rather than the cellar-like feel of Seven Dials, Manchester is open and airy with smart and comfortable furniture. But, we weren't here to eat the furniture, so what was the food like?


I'm happy to say it was every bit as good as it's London counterpart. Our medium-rare Porterhouse (half sirloin, half fillet) was maybe a tiny bit less pink than we've had before, but still beautifully soft and retaining the wonderful chargrilled exterior. The half lobster was sweet and succulent. Triple-cooked chips were crispy on the outside and fluffy in the middle. And the greens, mushrooms and Bearnaise sauce rounded the meal out perfectly. Cocktails were impressive too.


As far as steak goes, I'm yet to try a better one than Hawksmoor's. I just wish they'd open up in Nottingham...

Monday, 21 March 2016

Nuts About Ginger's

Well, technically the title should be 'Nuts About Purnell's Bistro,' but that's not quite as catchy.

Purnell's Bistro - and Ginger's Bar - is Birmingham-based chef Glynn Purnell's second city-centre eaterie. Barely a few minutes walk from his eponymous Michelin-starred restaurant, the Bistro is a little more laid-back and a bit easier on the wallet, but no less impressive in quality. We'd been to Ginger's bar for drinks a couple of times but never eaten, so we were really looking forward to our Saturday lunch. After ordering a couple of very reasonably-priced cocktails we were shown to our seats.

Although there was a 3 courses for £20.00 prix fixe menu available we decided to swing for the a la carte option. Whilst more expensive it offered far more choice. We weren't disappointed.
My starter of lamb croquette on a bed of lentils was crunchy, earthy and delicious. Clare went for seared mackerel on a beetroot and goat's cheese tart, which looked equally impressive.

Lamb croquette
For our mains we swung for the ox-cheeks and duck respectively. My (well, the ox's) cheeks were tremendously rich and sumptuous. Our waiter challenged me to eat them without using a knife and the melting softness of the meat made this an easy task. Clare's duck was pink and springy with a lightly crisped skin and it was every bit as tasty as the cheeks. For a side I ordered the confit duck cabbage - pleasantly salty cabbage paired with shredded duck meat. Delicious.

Duck

The one slight blip in proceedings concerned the dessert. This wasn't down to the food however; my chocolate moelleux was missed off the order and arrived a few minutes late. It was worth the wait though, with rich, gooey chocolate sauce covered an a spongy crust and topped with almond ice-cream. To make up for the error we were given coffees on the house, which was a welcome but unnecessary gesture as we were happy enough with the food and service anyway.

Purnell's Bistro is every bit as impressive as his main restaurant. If you fancy top quality food at a very reasonable price then it's most definitely worth a visit.


Monday, 8 February 2016

Just Short of the Marc

If you've watched any reality TV-style cookery programmes over the last few years then you'll recognise Marcus Wareing as the steely character who's caused many a novice chef to tremble in their aprons. And a few of the more established ones too. Happily, since taking over the mantle of judge in MasterChef: Professionals from Michel Roux Jr., Wareing seems to have mellowed somewhat. As we made our way to his eponymous restaurant located in the Berkeley Hotel, we were excited to see what it had in store.

Being a Saturday night, the a la carte option wasn't available so it was 8 course taster menu or bust (though there was a vegetarian variant too). This taster menu did offer a choice of lamb or duck for the main however. After making our choice (both duck) and enjoying our amuse bouches of puffed potato balls, goats cheese and a prawn cracker, we were brought our bread and first set of cutlery before being asked to choose our wine for the evening. This was a little odd though hardly earth-shattering, and indeed our freshly-selected bottle was served up midway through the first course proper.

I can't fault any of the food, or the service, or indeed anything to do with the evening; yet I was left slightly and strangely unfulfilled. Each of the courses was cooked perfectly and all were delicious, and there were a number of real highlights: the quail breast served with pigeon tartare and blood orange was wonderful. The crossover dish of Nottinghamshire (yay!) Colston Bassett Stilton with candied walnuts packed a real punch and the gooey sauce which seated the second dessert was a joy. But these were highlights of an evening - not a lifetime. That's the best way I can put it. I'll be talking and thinking about certain dishes from other meals for years to come, and I just don't think I'll be doing that with any of the courses we were served at Marcus.

Quail, pigeon and blood orange

As an example of a high-quality classical restaurant Marcus ticks all the boxes; but if you're looking for something a bit more contemporary, challenging or innovative then you might be better served looking elsewhere. This isn't a criticism in any way and, of course, food is a very subjective thing, but it was Storm Imogen that nearly blew us away on the evening, rather than anything we'd eaten.