Monthly Archives: January 2011

The HH Restaurant – Broadclyst – Exeter – Restaurant Review

This well known restaurant has been situated in the village of Broadclyst for many years, many more than I have been blessed with on this earth.  It has taken different names and themes over the years and changed with the times, but not always with great success.  Most recently it has been known as the “Coachman’s Rest” which was known for serving “international” based cuisine from old British favorites to the odd curry dish etc.  Although successful in its final days it did struggle with very little business, which from the location of this restaurant should not be a problem based directly in the centre of town and on a very busy through road.

The restaurant was then purchased by new owners with the intension of completely rebuilding and refurbishing the tired looking building, bringing life and freshness back into its history.  The refurbishment took from September until the restaurant opened at the end of November/Start of December, they had also decided of the name of the establishment which would be based on the owners surnames and hence the “HH Restaurant” was opened.

I had to hold back from rushing to the telephone upon opening as I do think no matter how experience head chef you have (Thiers coming from a well known back ground of “Jack in the Green – Exeter), it takes time to familiarise yourself with the menu and your new surroundings.  I decided to wait until they did a menu refresh as I thought this would give them enough time, and through the wonderful world of Twitter and speaking to Darren who is one of the owners he kindly informed me the menu would be updated on January 8th, so I quickly booked a table on the evening of 13th January at 7pm.

Upon arriving the external of the restaurant does have a very fresh look with clean white walls and a large dark brown sign indicated the name and details of the restaurant, the conveniently placed car park is right on the side of the building and saves the annoyance of hunting a car parking space on the small streets of the village.

Upon entering we were immediately greeted by the front of house team and with our coats taken shown to a small sitting area and menus provided, our drink orders were then quickly taken and served.  Darren was then kind enough to come over and chat for a small time about the refurbishment and general chit chat etc.  First impressions of the internals of the restaurant are good with clean white walls, dark brown and black leather chairs and small bits of structural wood placed around the area, which all make for a pleasing environment.

Looking through the menu which was presented in a very large and I must say unneeded wooden folder, it is a mix of traditional English with a slight French influence thrown in for good measure.  I was quite glad to see there was not an abundant use of different mousse’s/gels/foams etc which can show a chefs need to show off in this sort of place, gladly though each dish was described well.

After making our selections and a short wait we were then asked to the table, where we were then greeted by a young waitress.  Any long term readers of my blog will know there are 2 real loves of mine when it comes to dining out, 1 being the dessert (It is the best part…. Period), and the second would be the offerings of different flavour/types of bread.  Luckily the HH restaurant did not fail on the bread front with our young waitress presenting us with a large basket of bread rolls, of which there was 3 different types which were:

  • White Buttermilk Loaf
  • White Poppy Seed Loaf
  • Country Fennel Seed Loaf

These all looked great and were served lovely and warm, my first selection being the White Buttermilk roll which was in a shape of a spiral, which as you unwound it released large amounts of steam which and just emphasized how fresh it was.  Being the child like person I am I could not decide how to easily cut the roll as it being in a shape of a spiral it would have just fell apart, so I proceeded by carefully unwinding the bread which allowed me to lather it with ample amounts of butter, then I was easlier able to roll it back up into the original spiral shape, this made for one of the nicest pre-dinner bread eating’s I have had, with the bread being soft and flavoursome, the milk and butter flavours being strong and complimented well with the butter, unfortunately at this time I was so enticed by the now dripping roll filled with butter my camera seemed a distant thought.  Next was the fennel seed loaf which had a strong hard crust but being nice and firm on the inside, the fennel came through well but I found it lacked some flavor and some additional salt could be used here, but this was resolved easily due to the ample use of butter! Unfortunately I did not make it to the try the final bread offering as the small loafs were quite a large size.

Amuse Bouche – Celeriac and Truffle

Just after the bread was presented a small bowl of soup was given to us, this had a wonderful rich flavour with the sweet, creamy flavours of the celeriac coming through which mixed with the taste of truffle made for a very very good soup.  This was indeed very rich and a small portion is only needed.

Starter – Ham hock terrine with seared foie gras, apple gel and black mustard seed and turmeric dressing

When Darren brought me this dish and his first words were “Ah sorry need to move your cutlery due to the different sized plates your having this evening”, now I am all for having different styles of plates etc and do appreciated how these add to the impression of the food, however if you are going to do this, please make sure you have spaced your table settings appropriately as it gives a feeling that the meal no matter how well done is just pretentious.  Onto the food, the presentation was good with each of the elements spaced out on the plate, on first glance I was disappointed at the size of the serving of the terrine, but this turned out to be a lot thicker than I had expected and quite filling.  The flavour of the terrine was good with the strong flavours of pork coming through, and surprisingly this was not salty at all as is the case when using ham hock, it was nice to see a good selection of root vegetables packed densely into this square and made for pleasing textures.  The apple gel I found paired perfectly with the ham hock adding the sweet element which tied and partnered these 2 different items perfectly, there was just the correct amount as well of this to allow for the gel to be tasted with every bite of the terrine.  The foie gras was very very lightly seared and placed in a pool of oil which I found gave to abit of a overally slimy texture to the entire piece, and due to the very light searing and the already “soft” centre of the liver, I found this texture just to much and slightly dampened my enjoyment of this.  The mustard and turmeric dressing which was dotted around the plate did not add anything special to the dish at all, and due to the very little amount use was very hard to sample on the palette, in the end to try and get the taste I used my knife to sample this individually and although the flavour was good, it was just overpowered by everything else.  I would say the dressing is used as more of presentation item than a item of substance.

Main – Fillet of Aberdeen Angus beef with braised shin faggot, dauphinoise potato and baby carrots

This dish was presented in my opinion perfectly with a slightly rustic approach that this countryside retreat from the city of Exeter needs, there were gladly no small dots of jus or mousse’s etc, everything was plain to see and easy to identify.  The steak was obviously the first item I sampled and asking for the meat to the be “rare” this was cooked just to my liking, the meat was incredibly tender with a wonderful taste and good sear on the outside, the accompanying sauce also added a wonderful taste and balanced the seasoning perfectly.  The dauphinoise potatoes were very densly packed thin slices and had a dense texture, with the rich garlic and cream flavours given a great sensation, however it would have been nice if this was abit more moist with the addition of more cream.  The shin faggot on this plate though stole the show with such great strong flavours of beef, and a very rich binding sauce making for a wonderful item to try, I only wish there was more of this on my plate, the meat within the faggot casing was moist, tender and succulent without being too salty and the seasoning balance was wonderful.  I did really enjoy this main course and really approve of the slightly more rustic approach to the plating of the dish, the flavours all worked well and complimented each other, being not too overpowering and ending up fighting on your palette.

Dessert – Hot chocolate fondant with salted caramel and praline ice cream

Now don’t act surprised that I ordered the chocolate dessert, it was bound to happen.  When Darren took our order for this dessert he was kind enough to let us know it was fresh and that would take up to 20minutes to prepare, not being in a rush and having thoughts of gooey chocolate on my mind, I really did not mind the wait.  As the minutes slowly ticked by my tapping feet got faster and faster the dessert arrived, the plating of this was gorgeous with the simple pudding easy to identify, everything look fantastic, my only disappointed thought at this time was that surely the salted caramel was not this small scraping on the plate.  Moving on to the pudding through both myself and my dining partner held our breaths as we cut into the cake to see if this was a true “Hot Chocolate fondant”, needless to say I think a picture tells a 1000 words.

The inside was incredible with the chocolate being moist, gooey, liquidy, and very runny, the outer cake had a slight crust which combining the 2 different texture was brilliant.  At this point I will say this was the best chocolate fondant I have every tasted, with the rich dark chocolate working well on the palette, and when combining this with the praline ice cream which was surprising light and refreshing it just made for a fantastic combo.  I can safely say that if you order this dessert you will not be disappointed, it was that good!  Overall I loved this dessert (if you didn’t already get it… I really did like this), my only disappointed however came with the salted caramel, as sampling this on its own was amazing with the sweet taste of caramel offsetted with the strong salt flavour work well but where was the rest of it? There was such a small amount on the plated unless you actually made a point to only pick this item up alone on your fork you couldn’t get the taste with the other items.

Petite Fours – Home Made Fudge, Chocolate Ganache and a Chocolate filled cylinder

When coffee arrived these items were also presented, and again the question instantly comes into my head…. Why give 1 item of each to a table of 2 people? This means only 1 person is able to sample an item, we attempted to cut the chocolate ganache in 2, but this failed and resulted in a mound of disfigured chocolate.  All of these were good (except for the fudge which my partner sampled and I cannot comment on) with the chocolate cylinder having a good thick shell and having a great crack upon biting upon.

Service - This was brilliant and considering they are still learning the ropes of the restaurant everything went smoothly, with both the owners being present on the evening in question im sure everyone was trying to impress.  It gives a great impression though for the whole team and our young waitress really looked after us well, and supplied me with ample amounts of bread.

Overall – 7.5/10

I did really enjoy the food here on this visit, and would love to give a slightly higher score, but there are some small little things which im sure over time will be address by the team.  A slight disappointment of the evening was the price of the starter and main course being £8.95 and £21.95 respectively this is quite a high amount and certainly for the starter would have expected abit more.

Personally I would love if they kept their food plating and styling like the main course I sampled tonight, the location of the restaurant, decoration and warm interior gives for a great rustic clean feeling, I didn’t feel there was a great need for the different size and styling of plates and gave abit of a over pretentious feeling to the evening.

I will be returning in the Spring for sure, hopefully to sample a new menu when it is released and knowing that this place has only been open for a little under 2 months, im expecting fantastic things to come.  I think it would be good to see maybe a mid week 3 course dinner special with a set price of £30-35 as this im sure would tempt people to visit and sample the wonderful food.

I would recommend the “HH Restaurant” for a intimate gathering with a partner, or makes for a great first date sort of environment as its very open and gives a fresh feeling without being too overbearing and fussy.

 

Gemelli Restaurant – Torquay – Restaurant Review

This small establishment is based right in the Town Centre of Torquay, just above the main high street.  From the exterior it is minimalist styled and unless you were looking for it, you would pass it right by as the front is the same size as all the other shops/operations which are on this street.  They advertise them selves as an authentic Italian restaurant, for me this instantly gets shudders of fear in my bones as the thought of deep pan pizza’s, pasta which is saturated in sauce and watery minestrone soups instantly comes to mind.  The owners of Gemelli’s are a complete family team with Lorenzo being based in the kitchen and his wife as head front of house, this is then combined with the kids staying upstairs which im sure are the future chefs of the establishment.

The table booked was for Wednesday lunch time at 12:30, upon entering the restaurant I was slightly disappointed to see the place completely empty with no sign of life from owners/staff or diners.  I guessed this was due to the pre-christmas detoxes and everything else going on, however standing waiting in the room, still no life was to be found to show us to our table or anything, I decided to take a look around the the Deli counter which has a very good range of items.  The small glass windows shows various marinated olives and vegetables, a good range of meats and also a wide range of cheeses.  Now at this point over 3 minutes had gone by with no sign of life what so ever, 3 minutes on paper seems no time at all, but when you are waiting for something or in an awkward unknown location it can seem like a life time.  At about this time I thought that was going to be it, but then I noticed by the door entering the restaurant a small bell and upon banging the dong, the head of front of house immediately popped out and offered a very warm welcome.

She was very friendly and kind to talk to and made you feel immediately at ease and due to being the only ones in the restaurant this was needed, we were shown to our table at the front of the restaurant with the large windows allowing you to people watch and the goings on outside.  The tables are all cleanly dressed with white table cloths and glasses and cutlery placed, with small flower pots placed around.  The entire dining room is airy, bright and offers a lovely calm atmosphere even at this time with few people around.

Menus were then presented to us, being lunch time they normally offer a special lunch time offering which is :

Main course + soft drink / coffee £ 6.45

Starter + Main Course + soft drink / coffee £ 8.45

However on this occasion I really fancied having the goats cheese starter which was on the evening menu, Lorenzo was more than happy for my to not go off the lunch time menu and switch to the full evening menu instead.  The menu is a great mix of authentic pasta dishes combined with a mix of main courses which suit most tastes, also due to the nature of the chef/cooking he is happy to alter these dishes to suit other tastes or preferences.  There is also an extensive pizza menu here which has all that you would expect to find.

With orders taken a small pot of olives and marinated sun dried tomatoes was placed on our table with small tooth picks, these were lovely and fresh and offered a great light snack to prepare us for our meal.  I am always surprised when Italian restaurants provide you bread and oils as a pre starter, as most of the starters/mains are carb based pasta and with this added bread it is just so easy to fill up too quickly and become bloated.  So this was a nice alternative and allowed you to snack without the concern of being to full to get through your main.

Starter – Caprino con ortaggi grigliati (v)  Grilled vegetables with goat cheese on  toasted crostone

When presented with the dish I loved how it was very rustically styled on the plate, with the produce not trying to made into something that they shouldn’t be. Everything could immediately be identified on the plate and simply sampled without the need to go routing through the dish to find that certain flavour.  The toasted bread was lovely and had a light helping of oil, which was added to by the grilled vegetables which were lavishly coated in a very good olive oil.  The large disc of goats cheese atop of the stack of bread and vegetables was gloriously gooey and melted on the outer edges, with the centre still having a good texture to it.  The cheese was extremely rich and had a slight hint of salt at the end of the palette which I did enjoy, particularly pleasant was the use of the oil and pesto which was actually melted into the cheese and provided such a great mix of garlic and herb flavours infused into the entire slice.  With all the flavours combined of the stack this made for a fantastic dish with the oil providing just enough moisture to compliment the cheese.  The small added salad was used well to provide a slight crunch to the entire dish and lightened the dense cheese.

Main Course – Paglia e Fieno salsiccia e porcini White & Green tagliatelle with sausage & creamy porcini – Starter Portion

Now due to the fact in my past experience of Italian restaurants it seems no matter what you ask for when you order a dish of pasta, not only do you get an extremely large and deep bowl, this bowl is usually piled high with dense filling carbs which is one of my pet annoyances when it comes to UK italian restaurants as it is so just too filling for one person to eat.  So with this in mind I decided on asking for a starter portion for my main dish, knowing that this is normally what I consider a main dish size.  When Lorenzo brought this to the table I must admit, I let out a sigh of relief as not only was the portion perfect but it was served on a plate and not in a deep bowl.  The presentation again was very similar to the starter, being very rustic and having that home style cooking look, with all items being simply found and no frills added to the plate, the only addition being a slight sprinkling of parmesan cheese which had already started to melt into the pasta.  On first taste I was very found of the seasoning which was perfectly balanced with the salt levels being on a very even level, which with the use of Italian sausage I normally find is a little off in these types of dishes.  The sausages added a lovely element to the dish with a great taste and a different texture to the pasta which was tender but not to hard, I would describe it as just have a “bite” and I was still able to easily wrap it around my fork.  The main praise here however is the perfect portion of sauce used, there was no cream dripping from the stands of pasta yet it just coated it lightly and allowed for all the flavours to merge together without feeling like you were eating more of a stew than a pasta, which again I found it alot of Italian eateries the sauce is outweighing the actually pasta portion.  I loved this dish and found the whole mix of sausage, earthy and juicy mushrooms and the perfectly cooked pasta a fantastic combination.

Panettone Bread & Butter Pudding with Pistachio Ice Cream

Having now fooled my mind into thinking that i’ve only eating 2 small starters I immediately set my eyes on the lovely dessert menu.  Unfortunately Lorenzo informed me that he was still making his Tiramisu so this was off the menu, however upon seeing the words “bread pudding” the thought of this stodgy dessert had my excited.   Again Lorenzo was kind enough to bring this dish to the table him self, and it was a lovely portion size with the pudding being a good 2×4 inches.  When I started tucking into the dish my immediate surprise was a Brulée type topping with sugar which had been glazed/burnt ontop of the bread to form a sort of gorgeous crunchy topping, this provided a sublime change in texture from what this normally stodgy dessert provides.  The panettone was great quality with juicy raisins and different fruits place densely throughout the entire section, the desert was served quite hot but not steaming, this was a nice touch as this allowed for the ice cream to start to slowly melt and not just form a pool of liquid immediately.  The ice cream was very good and had a good flavour, however it would have been nice to actually find some ground pistachio pieces in the ice cream but this is of personal taste.  This has got to be one of my favorite puddings of recent, the whole rustic no frills serving style is brilliant and allowed you to enjoy exactly what you saw on the menu.

Overall – 8/10

I really enjoyed my lunch at this small Italian eatery, and have very very few complaints here.  The food was all sublime with everything cooked, tasting and feeling fresh and not pre-prepared, the flavours and combinations used provide for a great authentic Italian experience and the whole in house family team only add to this. The service was also very good with everyone being pleasant and talkative without being to in your face etc, also it was very good service to be able to have 3 freshly cooked courses in the space of 1.5hours and can only praise Lorenzo for this.

The value is excellent as well with my entire meal costing between 15-17 pounds with water, and considering if I did have a main instead of a 2 starter portions this would still be under £25 per head, I think this is good value for money.

My only mine gripe being here is the lack of welcome upon entering and it would be nice to see someone permanently outside in the main dining area to great you, or a sign next to the bell asking you to ring to get attention would be nice.

I would recommend this place for a relaxed lunch for families, or would be fantastic for a close romantic meal for couples.  I have since returned to this restaurant as I enjoyed it so much and I am ashamed to say had exact same dishes as previous, this in my opinion is only a praise for the cooking as I enjoyed it that much.