Tuesday, 30 July 2013

The Granville

A few days ago I got a phone call from my parents completely out of the blue to see if we wanted to book somewhere for a mid-week meal near us as they hadn't seen us in a little while.

There was a major problem with this.

They basically just asked me to make a restaurant decision.  They apparently do not know me at all.   I have a word document on my desktop at work that is filled with lists of restaurants to try and so can flip flop for days before committing to an actual booking.  A lot of them are fish based and in the seaside towns which I discounted immediately as I thought the Oyster Festival was on (it wasn't.  It was on the week after.  I need to learn to check websites before making sweeping declarations and doing myself out of trying that lobster place I've been eying up for ages).
There are three places in Canterbury that my folks have always loved.  Deesons, The Goods Shed and The Granville.  I ummed and ahhed and went backwards and forwards and eventually decided on The Granville as we hadn't been there in a little while. 
Backstory time.

My grandparents lived in America for a long time and picked up quite a few traditions whilst they were over there, including one involving a pre-wedding meal (rehearsal dinner I think it is called) which they treated Steve and I to when we got married (you basically invite the wedding party plus immediate family for a dinner or lunch the day before the wedding).    These rehearsal dinners can involve 5 people or 100 people.  I think ours involved about 20 and was held at The Granville.  It was a lovely opportunity to be able to spend intimate time with friends and family as the next day didn't really afford that luxury due to it being such a whirlwind!

Thank you again Grandad America! (my pet name for him when I was little).

So anyway, back to The Granville. 
The Granville is the sister pub to the Michelin-starred Sportsman in Seasalter.  We had been to the Sportsman many years ago and I have to say, despite the hype and the reviews I wasn't impressed.   Maybe we got it on a bad day and should give it another chance but it wasn't a great meal.

The Granville apparently uses the same local producers as the Sportsman does as well as fresh produce that the chef grows on his allotment but has a completely different atmosphere and I have always found the quality of the food to be much higher.

It is pretty unpretentious from the outside.  It has a gravel carpark that makes that satisfying crunchy noise when you pull up and inside it is pretty rustic. There is a large bar, board games on the sideboard, a dart board and a large garden.  You can sink into squishy sofas whilst you are sipping a pre-dinner drink or just come in for a pint and a chat (choose from local Kentish cask ales and a broad wine menu although surprisingly no local Kentish wines).  The menu is chalked up by the chatty owner on a daily basis and is full of fresh local produce and ingredients depending on what was caught or dug up that day.
Make no mistake, this place is more pub than restaurant but average pub grub this ain't!  There are two menu's - a la carte or set and you do get table service so you don't need to wander up to the bar (although a lot of people hover at the blackboard, make their decisions and then order at the bar anyway; relaxed and informal is the name of the game here).   The menu changes on a daily basis depending on what is fresh and available so you can always be sure of something new.
We arrived, got our drinks, avoided eating the chalk straight out of the pot that was still on the bar (mum absently mindedly dipped her hand in thinking the pretty coloured sticks were bonbons) and then took our drinks outside.

This was one of the only downfalls about the Granville.  It is right next to the busy Nackington Road and the sound of the traffic made conversation outside really quite difficult plus the bugs were particularly active that night.  We cut our losses and made a quick dash back inside where we nabbed a large table by the window.

I happen to love oysters and the Granville always serves beautiful large fresh rock oysters complete with a red wine and shallot vinaigrette, one of my favourite ways to eat them.  Dad, Steve and I ordered 6 to share (mum loves them as well but has eaten so many she has made herself allergic.  Cue Homer Simpson 'D'oh!').  There was also fresh baked bread and pumpkin seeds on the table to snack on before the starters arrived.
Steve and I shared a large plate of anti-pasta to start (which came with more oysters, this time with tabasco).  The olives, oysters and smoked salmon were meaty and full of flavour and the beetroot and carrot salad was light and fresh and the parma ham was excellent.  It was let down by the potato salad which was a little heavy alongside everything else.  I'm not a big fan of potato salad anyway so I'm probably not in the best position to judge!
Mum and dad both ordered the homemade scotch eggs which came out with gooey runny yolks and a thick layer of sausage meet and crisp coating.  They both looked divine.
For our main course mum and I both had the skate wing with salsa verde and new potatoes with a side salad.  This was very light, the fish was beautifully cooked and the salsa verde was well rounded, although not as lemon sharp as I like mine.  I couldn't manage the potatoes as I was so full! 
Dad and Steve both ordered the pork belly, a great slab of pork meat and crispy crackling on a bed of vegetables and mash potato.  This again looked fabulous although I was told it wasn't as good as previous pork belly we have had here.
Do you like dad's attempt to get arty with his food composition?  He grabbed the candle and his wine glass and then demanded I take the picture.
Our waitress bought the dessert chalk board to our table and propped it up on a nearby chair.  It certainly looked like an impressive selection and I was sorely tempted by either the posset, chocolate cake or creme brulee but just could not face the idea of more food! 
I like the rustic charm of The Granville.  In the winter the large fire pit in the centre is lit and it becomes really cosy in the candlelight.  This may sound like a rather trivial detail but I also really appreciate the fact that the tables are large and spread out on the restaurant floor so you don't feel crowded or overlooked by other diners.  We were there on a Wednesday night and I know that it doesn't look like it from the pictures (I feel really funny about taking pictures of a space which has people I don't know dining in it, especially if they are trying to enjoy a night out), the place was pretty full.  This is actually why I don't have many pictures of the interior - I couldn't without pointing the camera at someone trying to eat their dinner!
The Granville has a large amount of artwork up for sale by a local artist (annoyingly I can't remember her name!).  These pictures are mosaics, made of thousands of tiny fragments of shell and glass.  No mortar is used to hold the pieces in place, each is individually painstakingly glued to the board and the whole lot shimmers in the candlelight.
Dad was so taken with it he had a flick through her book to see what else she had available.  Each piece retails for about £1000 so he didn't leave with any after the bill was settled up!
I'm currently in two minds about the Granville.  I love the pub atmosphere, the cosiness and the environment and the food is normally mind blowingly good but this week I was a bit underwhelmed by it all.  Nothing was bad, everything was cooked perfectly, flavours were all there, ingredients were fresh, service was fantastic and friendly, they did everything right and yet I still left feeling a little disappointed and a bit lackluster and I don't know why.  I've never left The Granville feeling like that before so I'm going to chalk it up to one slightly off experience, put it down to maybe me being a bit off rather than the restaurant (it was another really hot day and this does do funny things to your appetite) and give it another shot later this year and see how I get along.

It is still a wonderful pub/restaurant that has served me numerous excellent meals and it deserves the benefit of the doubt!

Friday, 26 July 2013

Berry Go Round

At this time of the year I often have half-empty packets of berries floating around in the fridge.  They don't look particularly appetising and are often past their best but I am loathe to just throw them out for the birds.
The quickest, easiest option is normally to blitz them into a smoothie which I then gulp down in the mornings with breakfast.
As this is a strictly use-whatever-you-have-lying-around type of smoothie there isn't a 'recipe' as such.  It's more a nudge to have a think about how you can make the most of your leftover fruit and veg!
For this one I used half a punnet of blueberries, half a dozen strawberries and some cherries (that I remembered to de-stone at the last minute otherwise I would have had a busted blender blade).  I added some fresh basil for flavour and as I had no yoghurt in the house I used some sugar-free apple and blackcurrant squash (diluted, not neat) to mix it all together.
Hey presto, a few minutes blitz in the blender and you have an instant, delicious and refreshing smoothie!  I bottle it, stick it in the fridge and it lasts for about 2 days.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

BBQ's and Beaches

It's hot in the UK at the moment.  People everywhere are eyeing up the sunshine with a kind of morbid fascination, convinced it will turn on them the second they start to try to plan anything which relies on being outside.  BBQ's are treated with reverence and when we manage to get some sunshine that we think will last a little while we pile as many of them into our social (and occasionally work) calendars as humanly possible and once booked in, nothing come hell or high water will stop them from going ahead.

This has the effect of back to back BBQ's at the moment.  Never mind burning the candle at both ends, currently I appear to be burning the charcoal non-stop.  My waistline is not going to thank me when September hits.
On Saturday we escaped the heat of Canterbury and headed to the seaside town of Whitstable for Hannah's birthday BBQ celebration in her back garden.  I'm really quite jealous of summer babies.  Being an early spring baby myself it is far more likely to rain (or snow) on my birthday which instantly cuts out any form of outdoor activity.  Hannah got to take full advantage of this glorious sunshine and throw a BBQ and trip to the seaside in for hers.  The fact that she lives 2 seconds from the beach is neither here nor there.
Our first mistake was driving to Whitstable.  Never a good idea in the summer.  Should have taken the bus.  We circled the streets a couple of times and then headed to one of the lesser know car parks where we got lucky with a space as someone was pulling out.  We unloaded our bags of food and drink and fought our way through the crowds of tourists who had all seen the sunshine as the perfect excuse to head to Whitstable (you can't blame them really).  We made our way through the winding little back streets and down a tiny alley into the garden which was packed full of people drinking and eating.
Away from the busy high-street this was a sea-side sanctuary in the summer sun.  You could hear the gulls and feel the sea breeze, a welcome relief in the glorious sunshine we have been enjoying.  The air hangs with the tang of the ocean and gulls will bomb you for a scrap of bread (or a full fish and chip dinner.  They are quite bold).

In the garden people mingled and chatted, taking turns to cook the vast quantities of meat that people had donated.
I want to stress now that there was absolutely no competitiveness over the BBQ with people fighting for the sacred crown of BBQ king or queen! All the tong-leaders performed their duties admirably and we had a wealth of goodies to choose from throughout the day.  The chicken kebabs did flummox people though as they would not stay in one piece!
No BBQ is complete without a little bit of 'drama' and when the BBQ went out there was a frantic flurry of activity as people searched for fire lighters, newspaper and scrunched envelopes a hundred different ways whilst blowing gentle on the remaining feeble flames.
It eventually caught and was left to heat up and burn off causing a heck of a lot of smoke, leaving us feeling like we were in a smokehouse but at least there was more food cooked! You know you are with good friends when you don't care that your hair reeks and your eye makeup is halfway down your face as long as people get to eat!
There was plenty of drink to go around (absolutely essential for a good BBQ) and impromptu cocktails created from whatever happened to be floating around. 
There were also plenty of creepy crawlies - not so essential but really rather quite beautiful with their markings.
Plus pudding made by the birthday girl's fair hand.  Lemon cheesecake covered in equally delicious celebrities.  Yummy!  The girls got to request whose face they received on their slice.  The boys were less bothered it has to be said...
As the afternoon wore on we packed up the drinks and some of the left over food, locked up the house, piled into the street and headed across the road to the beach to watch the sunset over the sea. 
We found a nearly deserted stretch of the beach and set up camp on the stones.
We had hoped to go paddling but the tide was pretty far out so instead we played games and chatted, topped up our glasses with wine and munched though more snacks!  No wonder my tummy is feeling a bit full these days!
Chatter wasn't enough for the boys though and a wrestling session broke out on the clattering shale of the beach.
The sun set and that was our cue to pile back into the cars and drive home, tired, happy and smelling vaguely like salt and smoke.

How has your BBQ season been so far? 

Monday, 22 July 2013

Fruit of the Sea, Fruit of the Land

Whenever we go to an Italian restaurant you can be sure that I will gravitate towards the pasta that has shellfish and tomato in it.  Prawns, clams, langoustine, mussels, crab, cockles or lobster and wild (sea) horses couldn't keep me away.  It is one of my all time favourite combinations and perfect for the summertime with light, tart, sea-salt-fresh flavours.  For some reason I have never made it at home.
Until now.

This light dinner is divine.  It has an almost citrus overtone from the white wine that is mellowed out by the olive oil.  It's a bit like a mix of linguine vongole and linguine del mare.  If you are looking to impress, this dish will do the trick with very little effort from you.

You will need:

Punnet of cherry tomato's (halved)
Good quality olive oil
Dried Thyme
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
Small handful fresh basil
1/2 cup white wine
Pack of raw king prawns (or tiger prawns)
Enough linguine for 2 people

First off, scatter the tomato's over a baking tray lined with baking paper, slosh a generous glug of olive oil over the top and scatter dried thyme and salt over them. 
Toss the whole lot so every segment of tomato is covered.  Roast in the oven at 180C for 30 minutes.
When the tomatoes are lightly roasted but still holding their shape, put the pasta onto boil and start to cook according to the packets instructions.  Make sure you keep some of the cooking liquor back as you will need it!
Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a frying pan and on a very low heat start to gently heat the garlic.  You want to soften it but not brown it.  At the last minute add a large leaf of basil to the garlic and olive oil to lightly scent it.

Now add the tomatoes to the olive oil and garlic mix and turn the whole lot together. Add a little more basil and the wine, turn the heat up high and bubble the mixture away to reduce the wine down.
When the sauce thickens add one ladle of the pasta cooking liquor to the sauce and bubble away some more.  Taste it and see if it needs anything.  If it is a little sharp, add olive oil.  You may need to add some salt as well.

When the pasta is cooked add the prawns to the sauce and cook until pink.
Pour the linguine into the sauce and toss the whole lot together so that each strand of the linguine is lightly coated with the sauce.  Garnish and dig in!