Posts Tagged ‘Food’

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I know this is probably an over-generalisation but in my travels in the USA (both in the past and more recently) I feel as if eateries in USA make a great deal of brunch as opposed to a normal breakfast – like a pumped-up breakfast; on steroids – You still get fresh OJ and a cup of coffee but you’ll also get fries with that!   Ask for plain toast and butter and some establishments would be offended that there was nothing in their extensive brunch menu that you wanted and they would struggle to provide this measly option for you as the toast would be considered a side to accompany your pancakes, Eggs Benedict or ommelette!

Some of the simpler breakfast options were a French patisserie and a cup of coffee to eat on the go, however, these occasions were few and far between.  Hence, on some days we were only able to have brunch and dinner as we were so full-up.

Eggs Benedict
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Eggs Benedict

One of my all-time favourite breakfast/brunch dishes is Eggs Benedict.  Poached eggs sitting on roast ham, resting snugly on English Muffins and covered with hollandaise sauce.  At least that’s the way they come in New York; which is magnificent.

On the West Coast, Eggs Benedict was an adulterated version of the classic and arrived on food platters to feed a family of four!  In LA, these were served with a side of oil drenched French fries and toast!

Hash House a Go Go; Las Vegas

Hash House a Go Go, advertises itself as “Twisted farm food” – saw its popularity rise after IMG_2355a Man V Food Challenge and is almost as much a tourist attraction as it is a 24hr cafe.  The menu choices and portion sizes are out of this world; if somewhat vulgar.  Drink combos such as their BLT Bloody Mary which arrives in a tall glass with a romaine lettuce leaf and a slice of bacon sticking out of the glass – I could do with one of those now – are just as obscene.

HHaGoGo’s extensive brunch menu of pancakes and waffles also has 4 different versions of Eggs Benedict.  I gave Andy’s Sage Fried Chicken Hash House Benedict a go – the very same one that Adam Richman ploughed through on Man V Food.  I was amazed that the waitress could carry the huge platter in her hand with such ease and set it down delicately in front of me (let’s not forget she was carrying two dishes to the table at the time).

I remember holding my head in both hands and whispering, “Dear Lord, what have I done?!”

Picture a platter, filled with mashed potatoes topped with wilted spinach, slices of tomato, more bacon and a mountain of scrambled eggs; sitting proudly on this, a huge sage fried chicken breast escalope skewered in place with a rosemary spear, all smothered in a chipotle cream sauce.  Oh I forgot to mention the English Muffin that was in there somewhere as well…

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…as you’ve probably gathered, on 19th July; food won.

Seafoodseafood risotto OLIVES

The other ubiquitous West Coast food staple is seafood, more specifically prawn and lobster.  In Vegas, most restaurants have a plethora of lobster/prawn inspired dishes on their menu – you could devour a plate of prawns whilst playing on the slots if you wanted.

Of all the meals I had in Vegas, the stand out dish was at Bellagio’s Olives by celebrity chef Todd English.  A stunning seafood risotto that arrived loaded with clams, razor clams, shrimp, fish, crab and lobster set in a saffron broth.  Delicately divine.

Los Angeles

San Francisco

I’ve never experienced a winter so cold as a San Francisco summer!  – Mark Twain.IMG_2789 (Edited)

And on cold, misty days by the sea – a bowl of heart warming soup hits the spot.  I know
that clam chowder is a New England culinary creation but serve it in a hollowed out Boudin sourdough bread and you’ve got something that is totally San Francisco.  Even though the locals don’t eat this, tourists queue up at all of Fisherman Wharf’s seafood establishments for a taste of their chowder.  Boudin’s Bakery being one of the most popular.

Another delicacy is crab – Dungeness Crab – served whole either steamed or roasted in garlic butter or in crab cakes, or served with garlic noodles.  I enjoyed my snow crab legs thoroughly as they poked out of a mountain of shrimp and whitefish in Bubba Gump’s “Boat Trash”.

Cycling from Fisherman’s Wharf, through the Marina district, over the Golden Gate Bridge and into the village of Sausalito, you work up a pretty good appetite and the Seafood Peddler’s Daily Special of Clam chowder (in a bowl) and pound of lobster served with ‘slaw and corn on the cob was exactly what I needed.  Clearly not conducive to cycling back.

Therefore, a ferry trip back to Fisherman’s Wharf is essential to help the food settle as well as breathing in the sea air to open up your appetite for the next onslaught of sea-crustacean delights.

Please note that the photos above are only some of the food memories I’ve experienced throughout the past two weeks, more often than not, either excitement or greed, or a little of both would take over my usual self-control and I’d forget to take the photo before ploughing through the dish.

It has now been a week since I got back from my hols in Las Vegas, LA and San Francisco and even though I enjoyed every mouthful of food I am glad to return my belly (and gout!) to a proper food regime with enforced portion control.

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“Wagamama, Gibraltar was faring the best across Europe!”  Rumoured the naughty child.

And after shifting 1 month’s worth of duck and beer in 3 days I can see why!

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When I first came across Wagamama in London in the late 90’s, I nostalgically remember it as the perfect antidote to a night of student revelling London-style (stylie).  We’d wake up and trundle down to the nearest Wagamamas and cluster around their long tables and immediately get a vitamin boost from their super green, super fresh, body cleansing, high antioxidant smoothies followed by a bowl of something spicy with plenty of carbs – if my mind goes that far back, I think my dish of choice was always a Pad Thai.  It would beat going to Maccy-Ds any day!

Flash-forward over 20 years and in June 2016, after a social media frenzy of freebie tickets, £5 sittings and press evenings, we are treated to our very own Wagamama here in Gibraltar.  With the stunning setting that Ocean Village provides, Wagamama, with its roots in Japanese-inspired cuisine, fits right in amongst the palm trees and ferns that line the promenade.

long tablesUpon arrival everything seems to be at one with nature –chairs are large wooden blocks with simple metal legs, rattan chairs out on the terrace; long wooden-topped tables (ideal for families) presented in a minimalist Japanese canteen style with spotlights aimed along the centre of these.   Fully opening glass doors bringing the sea into the room.  The 3 large mirrors at the back of the room creating  a sense of depth, reflecting images of staff whizzing from station to table.  And last but not least, its vast open kitchen and prep area with its denizen of chefs glancing from screens to chopping boards to woks to plates.

The menu is not organised as ‘starters and mains’ but as: Sides – to order with your main dish or to share; Gyoza – either steamed or fried dumplings filled with goodness; Ramen – a bowl of hot soup filled with noodles; toppings and garnishes; Curry – fresh curries served over rice; Teppanyaki – sizzling soft noodles with crunchy veg/meat/prawns; Omakase – 4 different Chef Specials; Donburi – a big bowl of steamed rice and stir fired meats/veg; Salads -2 stir fry salads and Extras – miso soup, Japanese pickles, ‘century’ egg, kimchee, chillies or rice/noodles.

I found the exemplary waiting staff to be very cheerful and friendly at all times.  Their knowledge of the menu evident as they would translate dish numbers into dish names; scribbling your order onto your placemat.  Before leaving our table, the waiter asked us if we’d been to Wagamama before so as to clarify how our food would arrive.

For the uninitiated: as your dish is created it is served – regardless of whether there are 2, 4 or 6 of you dining; there is no procession of courses.

Fried duck gyoza

fried duck gyoza


Steamed pulled pork gyoza

steamed pulled pork gyoza

We ordered some Gyoza to see how they fared against authentic Japanese gyoza, which are dry-fried on the base and then steamed to perfection.  As the menu advertised either fried or steamed gyoza we tried the fried duck gyoza (99) – delicious, deep decadent duck meat in a deep fried gyoza, however, not what we were expecting.  Preferring a steamed gyoza we ended up stopping the waiter to order some steamed pulled pork gyoza (105) which were much more authentic in flavour and texture and upon reading the menu a second time realising that the steamed gyoza are served grilled!

Omakase – entrust the chefteriyaki lamb

Trying to avoid my Pad Thai Wagamama staple, I decided to let the chef recommend me one of its four Omakase (Japanese for ‘to entrust the chef’).  The grilled Teriyaki lamb served on a bed of soba noodles in a pea and wasabi dressing with grilled asparagus, kale, mushrooms and mangetout – simply scrumptious; grilled teriyaki lamb, grilled veggies, soba noodles.

Since then I’ve been again and had the chilli squid (107) crispy fried squid dusted with shichimi, served with a chilli/coriander dipping sauce – tongue tantalisingly tingly and the pork ramen (30) which even though I slurped my way through, could have been hotter – both in temp and spice, and saltier; however, I suppose that’s why there is soy sauce and chilli oil on every table!

banana katsuAs part of the ‘harmony, balance and chilli’ mantra that Wagamama is legendary for, ending your spicy meal with Banana Katsu (142) – banana covered in panko bread crumbs and deep fried with salted caramel ice-cream equals perfection.  I’ve asked for the mochi balls (124) and the sweet onigiri (135) but unfortunately they still haven’t received them from the Uk.

I suppose that if we are dependent on Uk deliveries for the food to be franchise-exact we will, on occasion, have this wait-time on certain dishes when items expire.  Next time I go I know I’m going to try the prawn itame curry (39) and here’s hoping that they’ve got the pork ribs (97) in stock!

But all is good with the world when you end your meal with jasmine flower tea…

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Whilst the refurbishment took place through the long drawn out winter months, the team at Little Bay made sure to keep tantalising people with morsels of information about their warming exotic food menu, enticing cocktails and ultra modern decor.  When they finally opened in April 2016 people were intrigued and couldn’t wait to sample Little Bay’s alluring Eastern delights as presented to us through social media.

“Cumin, cardamon and clove.”

I eventually made it down there one Thursday evening in mid-May and the place was buzzing: groups of friends, individuals, couples – of all ages.  I think we may have even been the second or even third sitting that evening!

“Comfortable decadence.”

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Dominating the centre of the restaurant is the heart of Little Bay – its circular bar.  The bar staff shimmering between the glinting glassware and beaten copper water jugs, mixing enticing cocktails.  Guests are encouraged to sit at the bar on plush stone coloured velvet bar stools studded with metal rings hanging off the backs whilst waiting for their tables to be set.  Masala Mules being everyone’s cocktail of choice.

The menu is varied but not extensive; 14 starters and 16 main dishes – a good balance of chicken, lamb, seafood and vegetarian options, as well as the ubiquitous rice dishes, naans and sides.

My menu choices were as follows:

Little Bay2Starter – Chicken 65 (Chilli Chicken)
Marinated pieces of chicken breast, stir fried and tossed in spring onions, chillies and coriander.  This was a very generous starter.  Succulent chicken pieces, fresh zingy ginger coming through the heat of the chillies.  Like popcorn chicken – but grown up; delicious.  With some rice or a naan this could have been a very decent lunch.  I would have liked to have been encouraged by the waiter to have perhaps ordered some raita to go with, not because it needed to be tempered but just as another texture/sensation on the tongue; hot chicken pieces, fridge cold raita.

Main – Keema MattarLittle Bay4
On the menu there is a “Little Bay recommends” next to this dish and I was not disappointed.  Spiced, minced lamb cooked in a tomato and spice infused sauce, freshened up with vibrant green peas. Rich and full of body, this dish was perfectly accompanied by a plain naan and steamed basmati rice.  Any other flavours would have conflicted with the musty-heavy scent of cumin, cardamom and clove.

We decided to forgo dessert as I didn’t really want chocolate cake, carrot cake or pecan pie after a delicious Indian meal.  What happened to the Indian desserts normally served in Indian restaurants?  Mango kulfi? Mango Lassi? Kheer (milky rice pudding)?

Gibraltar desperately needed a proper Indian Restaurant in the leisure areas.  Since Masai Grill, Viceroy and then Laziz shut down, we’ve had to succumb to the Indian takeaway.  Little Bay, which I can’t help but feel, should be called, The Bay Leaf, is a high end Indian Restaurant with high quality food.  A restaurant that wouldn’t be out of place next to London’s The Cinnamon Club or The Red Fort.  Its Directors have worked hard to create an image of comfortable decadence.   Their dynamic team of managers, exciting bar staff and committed waiters making the place buzz with youthful exuberance.

There is an Indian tapas menu which has many dishes from the a la carte menu so that guests may discover the menu, however, I would like to see more “Little Bay recommends” next to different dishes to encourage diners to choose something delicious but unfamiliar.  All tables should be offered a copper pot of poppadums and accompanying chutney whilst diners peruse the menu – we weren’t.

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Masala Mule

I, for one, can’t wait to return.  Promises of exotic spice and Eastern delights did not disappoint.  Next time though, I’d make sure it was in a large group so that I could try lots of different dishes!  And I’d make sure that I tried one of those Masala bad boys!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1415Slurp, slurp, slurp can be heard throughout Japan as people slurp on their ramen noodles.  Ramen was made for slurping.  It is believed that as you slurp the ramen noodles, you create a greater umami experience.  In one of my poorer attempts at this, I wore my ramen broth down the front of my tailored shirt!  Simply put and almost disregarding the recipe’s complex flavours, ramen is Japanese noodle soup.  But leaving the description there is unflattering at best and insulting at worst.

Ramen is a Japanese noodle soup consisting of Chinese-style wheat noodles (alkaline noodles) served in a meat or fish broth, flavoured with soy sauce or miso and served with sliced pork, dried seaweed and green onions.  Nearly every region of Japan will have its own ramen variation.

Ramen has become a staple food in Japanese culture and is more popular than sushi with many salary men queuing up for hours at the more popular ramen hotspots to get their bowl to slurp.

Believed to have been brought back from China at the end of the second Sino-Japanese war, many soldiers, familiar with this Chinese cuisine, set up Chinese restaurants throughout Japan serving ramen.  But like everything the Japanese do, they made it better.  Eventually the instant ramen created by Momofuku Ando allowed anyone to make a simple ramen dish at home just by adding boiling water – indulge me if you will – Japanese pot noodle but better.

Unapologetically absolutely delicious!

However, if you are aiming for authenticity in your kitchen you need to plan well in advance.  If you want a bowl of ramen on Friday, you need to start with the recipe on Wednesday!

ramen10Momofuku

If you follow Dave Chang’s Momofuku (Lucky Peach) recipe, we’re talking

BROTH: 1) steeping Kombu (kelp seaweed) in hot water for 1 hour, 2) adding chicken backs and necks to this water simmering gently for 5 hours, 3) skimming, straining and chilling the stock,
TARE: 4) make the tare by roasting chicken backs for 20 minutes until mahogany brown, 5) deglazing the pan with sake, 6) adding mirin and soy sauce, 7) add pork belly/shoulder pieces to the liquid, 8) simmer gently for 1½ hrs, 9) strain the meat and bones out of the tare, 10) chill the liquid and remove the fat that rises to the top (Keep this fat to add to the ramen dish when serving).
ASSEMBLING THE RAMEN DISH: 11) season the broth with tare and salt, 12) add bacon fat, 13) serve with whatever accompaniments you want.

There are so many stages – each adding levels of depth to what inevitably becomes a complex flavoured dish screaming UMAMI at you from every direction.

Even though the stages themselves are not complicated they are time consuming and no-one has the time or the inkling to carry this out in today’s busy routines.  So I’ve come up with a cheat’s version of this dish cutting out the need to boil kelp for hours on end and roast chicken carcasses into the mahogany spectrum.

Cheat’s Ramen – serves 2

Ingredients:
1 pouch of good quality chicken stock                      1 carrot
4 spring onions                                                                Ramen noodles
4 Dried Shitake Mushrooms                                        Bean sprouts
Pork belly                                                                           Soy sauce/Miso paste
2 boiled eggs                                                                      Nori
Seasoning

To make the tare:
Olive Oil
2 cloves of garlic

Method:
1st: Pour the chicken stock into a large saucepan and heat gently.
2nd: Add 3 spring onions cut in pieces from root to tip and add to the stock.
3rd: Cut the carrot into chucks and add to the stock.
4th: Reconstitute the dried shitake mushrooms in boiling water and add this to the stock with some of the mushroom flavoured water (mushroom dashi), simmer gently until the dish is ready to assemble.
5th: Season to taste with soy sauce, salt and pepper.  Simmer for 20 mins.
I used chestnut mushrooms as dried shitake mushrooms are sometimes hard to find.

6th: Put the pork belly into a 200˚C oven for 20-25mins until the pork is cooked through.
7th: Prepare the tare by heating olive oil and pouring it over the grated garlic.
8th: After the pork belly is cooked bring it out of the oven and allow to cool slightly.  Pour the rendered fat into the chicken stock.
9th: Boil your ramen noodles following the instructions on the packet.

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ramen

10th: Assemble and serve: Pile your ramen noodles into the centre of your ramen bowl and assemble the shitake mushrooms, bean sprouts, pork slices, sliced spring onions, and boiled egg around this.  Pour ladles of your chicken broth into your noodles until you have a bowl filled with soup.  Spoon some of the tare over the noodles.  Serve with a nori rectangle.

I know it is inauthentic but it’s a long way from pot noodle, ingredients are accessible, easily recreated and unapologetically absolutely delicious.

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ramen

 

 

 

 

 

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chocolate cake

Baking soothes the soul

Unsettled, squalid weather makes for a perfect cake baking day.  And yesterday was such a day.  Whether you opt for a sandwich cake filled with something sweet and creamy or whether it’s a cake popped out of a spring form tin, baking a cake – for yourself and/or loved ones – is a pleasurable act.

They say that baking soothes the soul.  How can it not?

“The reassuring ritual of quietly weighing out butter, sugar, flour, cracking eggs, whisking, beating and folding”

The smell of a cake wafting through the house providing instant comfort and security from the world outside.  The sense of achievement that you managed to combine the ingredients and create an elemental change in them should never be underestimated.

Basic quantities are 225g of self-raising flour, sugar, butter and 4 eggs.  Baked for 20/25mins.  But feel free to create variations – e.g. for a chocolate sponge swap 2 table spoons of the flour for 2 of cocoa powder.

What filling/topping you go for is a matter of how far you allow your imagination to take you.  Sandwich style cakes can be filled with fruits and or cream as well as topped with a dusting of icing sugar, chocolate ganache, or a calorific butter frosting.  Whether it’s a childhood psychedelic marble cake or a traditional Victoria sponge cake, there is a nostalgic nursery-teatime quality to the custom of cutting cake.  And any iced-cake is ultimately a birthday cake waiting to be called into service.

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ultimate chocolate cake

Relaxed home cooking

What would you define as: relaxed home cooking?  For each of us the term will mean something different.  For some of us, relaxed home cooking will literally just be simple home cooking, for others it may be the one pot meal, the tray-bake or bowl-food, however, for some it may be something that requires meticulous or repetitive action which in itself can create a sense of calm.  Ultimately we will all have different benchmarks of what we perceive as relaxed home cooking; let’s be honest, some people can find the idea of walking into a kitchen stressful!

First of all, people need to make the distinction between what is easy and what takes a long time.

For me it is all about the familiar.

No matter how simple or complicated a recipe is to follow or a dish to recreate – if it’s familiar to me, getting immersed in its necessary activity will make it relaxed home cooking.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently as I’ve spent a lot of time cooking away from my own kitchen, however, never daunted nor panicked that it hasn’t been my kitchen, with my cupboards organised the way I have them back at home.  And I can only attribute this to the fact that the food was familiar.

The time away has taught me a few things and I’ve picked up a few kitchen tricks along the way too.

One of my new favourite dishes has to be homemade gin and tonic battered fish – or as I like to call it: fish and tonic!

Fish and Tonic

This is very easy to put together in mere moments but does require a deep fat fryer for optimum results.  The first time I made this, I measured all the ingredients accurately, however the second time I was looking out more for the consistency of the batter:

Ingredients:

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Relaxed home cooking: Fish and Tonic

200g plain flour
1 tspn baking powder
1 small can of chilled tonic water
1 shot of gin/vodka/cider vinegar*

*I left this out of the mixture on both occasions to very good results.

Coat your pieces of fish in the batter and deep fry.  Hold the fillet in the bubbling oil for 30 seconds until the fish fillet floats near the top then let the rest of the fillet dive into the oil.  If you drop the fish into the fryer it can stick to the wire basket at the bottom – flavour will be untarnished but the battered carapace will be torn.

Every time I served fish and tonic for dinner we would wolf the pieces of fish down!

Recently, I boiled cauliflower florets and sliced them before dunking them into the same batter recipe but replacing plain flour for chickpea flour and then mixing this with a teaspoon of cumin and turmeric.  As the cauliflower slices as smaller than fish fillets, they were easily shallow fried.

I never wanted a deep fat fryer before but after this I can see myself having to push, a new food processor, down my list of kitchen-gadget-priorities!

This time round El Capote surprised us by holding its food and wine event on a Saturday! Children were sent to their grandparents’ houses and the old faithfuls treated their partners to a fantastic night at El Capote.

Not being allowed in before 9pm opening time, we congregated on Market Lane wondering what delicacies were to be sampled forthwith.

Everyone waited in anticipation…

good food, good wine, good company

We started off the evening with a beautiful Cappuccino de Foie. Having previously tasted this on a previous occasion I was very appreciative to see it on the menu again as it was one of my favourite dishes served on these evenings. So much so that I firmly believe that this dish could make its way onto their regular menu.

20131019-115059.jpgOur next treat was a lamb and grape meatball which was delicious but it was the presentation that did it for me. Like something out of a science Lab we were instructed to squeeze the soy sauce pipette into the lamb meatball. And without cutlery there was nothing to be done but pick up the meatball on the pipette and drop it into your mouth as you squeezed. The sweet succulent lamb and sweet juicy grape doused in salty soy sauce was delicious. I could have feasted on a bowl of these!!

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Following this was a delicious light gazpacho which we felt was more like a salmorejo as it was so smooth and silky. Poured over the sea scented meat of some juicy muscles, gently sprinkled by some micro herbs for a crunchy, floral back note to the gazpacho. A delicate dish. The only thing that annoyed me was that the square bowls it was served in made it difficult to scoop any dregs of gazpacho left behind!

20131019-123318.jpgAnother gorgeous dish was the fillet of bass (ròbalo) served on a salad of soya beans, cubes of mojama, seasoned with yuzu (an Asian citrus fruit used to season dishes) and dressed with an infusion of baby prawns (camarones). The mojama adding intense saltiness to the otherwise bland fish broth created by the camarones. Each mouthful bursting with citrus notes cutting through the fish. Every mouthful was exquisite.

What would have complimented this dish well would have been some tortillitas de camarones – as served in El Faro, Cadiz.

The last of the savoury dishes was an oxtail and shiitake empanadilla served on a wave of creamed ras-el-hanout potatoes. The aromatic spices in the potatoes working beautifully with richness of the oxtail and shiitake mushrooms. The empanadillas had been steamed which is traditional when using this type of pastry for dim-sum, however, as the potatoes were creamed I felt the textures here were too similar; the dish needed an extra texture and perhaps either deep frying them or even cooking them as Japanese gyoza (first fried in a pan until the bottoms are golden and then steaming them) would have provided this something extra.

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I say all this having thoroughly enjoyed the dish and fully aware that having to fry something would have been time consuming and an extra task to have to be done in an already extremely busy kitchen and considering the amount of other jobs that had to be done to create this evening’s menu.

My favourite dish of the evening followed. And even though I’m not one to have to end a meal (or 6 course dinner!) with a sweet this one did it for me. Rice pudding, enticingly referred to as Risotto de Arroz con leche with a twist, was a seductively sublime dish. As it arrived at the table my immediate thoughts were that it was very pretty with its pink decorations and fruit – absolutely beautiful.

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Freeze dried raspberries crushed over to add colour, texture and flavour. And topped with a cloud of raspberry flavoured candy floss!  Each spoonful was a voluptuous sweet dream, everyone at my table was silent as we feasted; frequent sounds of instant gratification coming from all over the room…

…Mmmm…que bueno…ooooh….delicious…mmmmm…

I can imagine that had people been eating this in the comfort of their own homes they would have been licking the bowl with greedy abandon.  It was absolutely delicious.

Nothing more to add other than what a beautiful dish to end what was another great evening of good food, good wine and good company.