Sunday, 18 September 2011

Prix Fixe

Good Food - Shame About the Service

I've fancied trying
Prix Fixe for a while - my friend Lianne recommended it for the food and the excellent value and I've read several good reviews too. So yesterday afternoon after visiting the Museum of London with my family we were in Soho around 5ish, and in something close to a miracle we managed to sway my mum away from our regular haunts in Chinatown, and got ourselves a table in Prix Fixe.

As it was early - far too late for lunch, and a little too early for dinner, there was only a couple of occupied tables in the restaurant. This did not prevent the restaurant manager from looking around at all the empty tables, 'finding' us one and informing us we'd have to be done by 7pm in a very sharp manner. This put my back up immediately as it was unlikely we'd be more than two hours anyway, and I found it be unneccesary rudeness.

One thing that must be applauded in Prix Fixe is the fantastic value for money available on their set menu. For £11.90 you get two courses and can choose from 7 starters and 12 mains. There is a good selection however for somewhere pitted (on their website) as a 'Classic French Bistro' the menu is a little bit confused - with items such as Falafel and Hummus, Halloumi, Canneloni and Sausage and Mash on there - definitely not dishes I would cite as French - however I was willing to keep an open mind.

To start we all fancied the same dishes - so we had two Crab Croquette's which came with avocado mousse, pickled cucuber, cream cheese and a red chilli salsa. I thought this was a great plate of food - prettily presented and with all the accompaniments working well together. The croquettes themselves had a good helping of Crab in there and were seasoned well. I love avocado and pureed as it was it tasted great with a bite of the crab. The cream cheese was wrapped in a slither of the cucumber and had chopped dill - another great partner to the crab and the salsa was actually chopped pineapple with chilli - which gave the dish an added element - sweetness. I asked my brother and my Mum who had this dish to mark it out of five purely on taste - and they gave it a 5 and a 3 respectively.

My Dad and I both had their special of the day which was a Chicken, Leek and Mushroom Terrine with homemade chutney and wrapped in parma ham. This came served with two little toasted slices of ciabatta bread. This was a fantastic start to the meal - the leeks gave the chicken a gorgeous strong flavour and the chicken was incredibly moist and well seasoned. The chutney was tangy and went perfectly on a piece of the bread with the terrine. We gave 4 each for flavour.

For the main course my Dad and I again chose the same - the infamous Steak & Frites. I'd read excellent reviews of this and with a £7 supplement on the set menu I thought it would be rude not to try at such a low price in the West End. The steak 'entrecote' itself was cooked well, had a round of garlic butter on top, which melted slowly and gave a lovely flavour. The Frites were perfect, thin French Fries and a small side salad was dressed in a fresh citrussy oil. A great dish and enjoyed by both. But what actually elevated this dish for me was the accompanying sauce - a peppercorn and blue cheese affair which was fabulous slathered over the steak and also to dip the chips into. A four each for flavour again.

Daniel had the Roast Barbery Duck breast with dauphinoise potatoes, marinated red cabbage and a cherry and red wine jus - this had a £6 supplement on top of the set menu too. This was by far the dish of the day for us. The duck was pink and juicy and full of flavour, the dauphinoise were cooked beautifully and the accompanying red cabbage was a lovely pickled addition to the plate. The sauce was like the final link in a chain of beautiful food to make this dish near on perfect. Again a five was scored.

The worst dish of the day was my Mum's - the Roasted Cumberland Sausages and mash. The sausages were good actually - herby and flavourful, but the mashed potato was a complete disappointment. Aside from the fact it was lumpy and not as warm as you'd like - it was watery, flavourless and was left on the plate pretty much untouched.

There was hardly any of the caramelized red onion and sage gravy so my Dad tried to get the attention of the Restaurant Manager again, as he had been serving us throughout the meal, to request more. The far from charming man waved us away and shouted to one of his waiting staff to come and 'deal with table 5'. I thought it was disgusting behaviour - after all the old adage goes 'manners cost nothing' and it's true. Hillariously once the ordered, but polite waiter had taken our request - he returned with a sauce pot full of gravy - the equivalent of a large tablespoon!

I'm working in Soho at the moment and a couple of Friday's ago I had Sausage & Mash in the modestly priced The Garrick Arms and I can honestly say this pub grub was a whole lot better than the slop my Mum was served.

Despite the rudeness of the manager, as always, I found room for dessert after my steak and opted for the cheese selection. This is three small pieces of cheese with biscuits, a plum chutney and red and white grapes - for £5.95. I had a piece of Comte, a Sauvageon and the divine Fourme d'Ambert. The Comte was actually not the best I've tried - but I have to admit I've been spoilt for cheese recently with a visit to Bistro du Vin's Cave a Fromage so I didn't judge too badly. The Sauvageon was mild, creamy and lovely and popular around the table and the Fourme d'Ambert was exceptionally good - a blue cheese triumph.

My Dad was the only other person to order dessert and he went for the Madagascan Vanilla and lime Cheesecake which came with raspberry coulis. This looked very pretty, and I'm told it was an excellent dessert too - with a strong vanilla flavour and a buttery biscuit base - exactly what you want from a cheesecake.

With only a minor complaint towards the food (mash-gate) I left with the opinion that the quality of food against the value for money was really very good. We paid £113 including service charge for four of us and this included a bottle of Chardonnay, a large glass of Merlot and a couple of Peronis too. The waiters were pleasant enough towards the end of our meal - but unfortunately the head waiter left more than a bad taste in our mouths and I doubt any of us would return again soon, despite all enjoying most of our food. Such a shame.

I can only assume that a restaurant in the constantly lively West End, which is constantly busy due to decent and well priced food, has given the manager of Prix Fixe an air of over-complacency. He clearly doesn't feel the need to employ even basic manners. We left at 6:40 and while it was busier than when we'd arrived - the majority of the tables were still empty. If you can bear the rudeness then do try but for heavens sake - don't choose the Sausage and Mash.

Prix Fixe Brasserie on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Feta and Roasted Vegetable Tarts

Following on from my last post ~Jerk Chicken the other addition to the Brighton picnic, with friends Stephanie and Jade and my brother Daniel, were some quick and easy Feta and Roasted Vegetable Tarts.

I have made pastry many times but this time I used shop bought - as I was stuck for time - and the result was excellent. I think little cheats like this are OK in today's fast-paced culture. Lifestyle means that whilst people are keen to cook and try out new recipes, time and money can often be the biggest hurdles to overcome, so if buying a packet of pastry helps then so be it - and if it's good enough for Delia it's certainly good enough for me.

Also I used tomatoes which were the fruits of my efforts which you can read about in Green Fingered Pursuits - and have to say there really is nothing as satisfying as using produce which you've grown yourself.

1 packet of Feta Cheese
1 packet of Shortcrust Pastry
10 Small Tomatoes
1 Red Pepper
1 Yellow Pepper
100g Spinach Leaves
200g Ricotta Cheese
Knob of Butter
Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar
Salt and Pepper to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 180D. Grease 6 tart cases.

Chop tomatoes in half and slice peppers. Place on an ovenproof tray and drizzle with a little Olive Oil, Balsamic Vinegar and Honey. Season with salt and pepper and bake for 25-30 minutes until the vegetables start to discolour and appear charred.

In the meantime roll out the pastry and cut out rounds and use fingers to place into tart cases, to fit cerrated edge.

Once vegetables are out of the oven place the tarts in for 10-12 minutes.

Chop the Feta into small cubes and place in a large mixing bowl with the Ricotta cheese. Stir in and add the vegetables.

Heat a pan and add the Spinach till it shrinks. Then add this to the Feta mixture and stir in well.

Season with salt and pepper.

Remove tart cases and spoon in a generous amount of the cheese mixture into each, flattening down with a knife.

Bake for 25 minutes, or until starting to brown.

Remove from the cases and either serve immediately with a fresh salad or allow to cool and include in a picnic as I did.

Jerk Chicken

A Picnic Twist

For those of you who read my post on my amazing
Jamaican BBQ.
back in June you'll already be familiar with my love of all things Jerk. I have eaten many variations of Jerk Chicken and Pork and have long been searching for a fail-proof recipe, I've tried several but something has always been lacking.
For the recent bank holiday I headed to Brighton for a couple of days with three friends and it was our intention to take a picnic for the first days lunch, each taking something different. I decided I was determined to find a good recipe for Jerk.

After a little Twitter-hunt (as you do) I quickly learned from @tehbus that @FoodStories is, in his words, The Queen of Jerk. Reading her recipe - I thought the inclusion of molasses or sugar was genius - the perfect addition to create sticky sweetness, that has been missing in all other attempts.

However this recipe was missing Soy Sauce which I've seen included in all others including family friends who refuse to divulge their recipes- so I bookmarked Food Stories and carried on my research - disregarding many recipes, I liked one I found here on Jamaica Travel and Culture. With a combination of the two - plus an added ingredient of my own - I came up with what has been my most triumphant Jerk ever - it really was superb, and I'm looking forward to creating again soon.

With thanks to Food Stories and the Jamaica Travel and Culture website for helping me to achieve food heaven - recipe below.

8x Pieces of Chicken on the bone (I prefer legs for this
6 Sliced Scotch Bonnet Chillies (deseeded~)
8 Garlic Cloves
3 Onions, chopped finely
2 Tbsp Thyme
100g Brown Sugar
25-50g Grated Ginger (can use dried)
3 Cloves, ground
1 Tsp Allspice
2 Tsp Cinnamon
2 Tsp Nutmeg
2 Tsp Black Pepper
2 Tsp Sea Salt
1 Tbsp All Purpose Seasoning
4 Tbsp Soy Sauce
4 Tbsp Olive Oil
Juice of 3 Limes
1 Tbsp Orange Juice
1 Tbsp White Wine Vinegar

Put all marinade ingredients into a blender/food processor and blitz until it becomes a rather unattractive looking brown mulch. Place chicken pieces into a marinade bag or dish and cover entirely in marinade. Wear plastic gloves and rub chicken all over on all sides so it's completely immersed.

Cover with tin foil - and place in the fridge for at least 12 hours - 24 is better. Be warned the scent isn't the best in the fridge while this marinates - so try not to have too much in there that this might interfere with.

Once ready to cook - remove chicken pieces and place in an ovenproof dish - removing excess marinade but leaving each piece coated.

Place in a pre-heated over at around 180D and cook for 30 minutes.

Remove and check chicken is cooked (pierce with a knife or skewer and ensure the juices run clear) - if not return to the oven for a further 8-10 minutes or until cooked.

For our picnic I cooled this and served with cooled basmati rice flavoured with lots of chopped Coriander - but this would work just as well with Mint too.

Tip: Use plastic gloves when chopping ingredients as the Scotch Bonnets are incredibly hot.

This worked perfectly as a alternative cold picnic dish - however the other, more traditional way to have this which is also gorgeous - is served hot from the oven with delicious 'Rice and Pea'. I've also made this and the method is simple. Just cook your preferred rice (I normally use Basmati) in Coconut Milk instead of water - season and add the 'pea' element, kidney beans, about half way through cooking. Drain and serve - delicious.