Monday, October 29, 2007

The Bertinet Kitchen, Bath

12 St Andrew's Terrace
Bath BA1 2QR

I've been makng the odd loaf of bread for a few years, but never been totally satisfied with the results, except for the focaccia that I was shown how to make at La Cucina Caldesi last year which I love.

I'd read good review of Richard Bertinet's book "Dough" so I thought I'd book myself onto the three day course that he runs in Bath.

The kitchen is in the centre of Bath, a ten minute walk from the station and a five minute walk to the baths themselves.

The first day of the course is an introduction to bread making in which Richard Bertinet shows his technique for creating and working the dough. The dough he makes is quite wet and he doesn't add any more flour to it. The way he works the flour, from beneath with his fingers rather than the traditional way from the top with the heel of your palm, stretches the gluten and traps a lot of air in the dough. This allows the dough to become less sticky without the addiion of extra flour.

After the demo it is our go to make the dough, with some help from Richard and his helpers. It takes a bit of getting used to, because it starts off so sticky that you are really tempted to add more flour. However, once you get into the swing of it, the dough becomes less sticky and starts to come together.
After resting the dough for a while, Richard then showed us how to make olive and parmesan breadsticks, fougasse and various fancy rolls. He also showed us how to make hollow "puffballs" that you can fill with salad.

Then it was our turn. We made white dough and wholemeal dough with which we made some nice star shaped buns with poppy seeds, plaited buns with sesame seeds as well as more breadsticks and fougasse.

Once the bread had baked, it was time for a late lunch and to sample the bread. The bread was gorgous, nice and airy, just the kind of stuff they serve in the best restaurants.

The second day was French breads during which we got to make baguettes, olive bread and flamiche and the final day was Italian breads in which we made ciabatta, foccacia and pizza dough.

It was quite hard work, as we were making several different doughs on each day and in different amounts. However, Richard is a really nice guy and all the days were great fun.

I came away from the courses with both of his books, "Dough" and "Crust" and various samples of the bread that we had made. Since returning from the course, I've made various loaves and rolls and even made the puffball salads for a dinner party I cooked for - and they worked!

If you are interested in making really good bread, then I'd definitely recommend the Bertinet Kitchen. Richard Bertinet lives and breathes bread and as well as making fantastic bread on this course you'll also learn a lot about the mechanics of baking and have a great time.

Demuths, Bath

2 North Parade Passage, off Abbey Green,
Bath BA1 1NX

Demuths in Bath has a really good reputation among vegetarians however, a recent visit by a friend of mine was quite scathing so I decided to see for myself. The place itself is on two floors and I was shown to a table downstairs. I was the only one there for quite a while, during which time I skimmed through some sample copies of the restaurant's cookbooks that they have for sale, and they looked pretty good, with some nice recipes.

The menu I was presented with wasn't overly inspiring, there were roughly half a dozen choices on both starters and mains menus, and also an appetisers menu with a similar amount of options. I forewent the appetisers and chose the Beetroot and Potato Patties from the starters and an Ethiopean Platter from the mains menu.

The starters menu was quite varied, however the mains contained a curry and the Ethiopian Platter (essentially another curry) a risotto, and a nut roast. As curries, risottos and nut roasts are quite often the "vegetarian choice" on a standard restaurant menu, I didn't think they showed the culinary possibilities that vegetarian food can attain no matter how good they might

The Beetroot Patties were three in number and were quite nicely presented spread with pea puree and accomanied by a raita and a few salad leaves. They were nicely spiced and the pea puree was good, but there was little or no beetroot flavour, which was a little disappointing. If the sweet beetroot flavour had been there, this would've been a splendid little dish. However, as it was the only real clue to the presence of the beetroot was the colour of the patties.

The Ethiopean Platter consisted of two different dhals (yellow split pea and red lentil and bean), spiced spinach and potato, and bean and carrot curry served on an pancake, Each of the individual ingredients were fine in themselves, but nothing special. However, the pancake was tasteless and, when eaten in combination with any of the other parts of the dish, somehow had the power to render them equally tasteless which was a touch weird.

For dessert I had Red Wine Poached Pears served with Blackberries and a Honey Labne. Again the presentation was very well done and it tasted really nice. The dish was sprinkled with honeycomb and it complemented the pears really well.

The service was quick and efficient, but not particularly personal. The prices seem to me to be quite high - £6 for a starter and £14 for a main course is a bit steep for this kind of fayre. My three course meal with a coke and a water came to over £35, which is very high.

Would I go back? Probably not. The food was okay, but nothing special, and it was expensive. It is nice to be able to be given a menu in a restaurant where I can eat everything on it, however I'd much rather have a smaller choice of really imaginative and tasty food than a dozen "so-so" items. Plus there was another restaurat next door that had quite a few tasty looking options on the menu a lo cheaper.

I have had some fabulous meals in vegetarian restaurants, Terre a Terre and Il Margutta in Rome, for example, but the majority of the best meals I've had have been in restaurants where the non-veggie meals have been top quality too, like Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons or The Lanesborough.

I guess, in the end, it all comes down to the skill and imagination (and attitude) of the chefs no matter what kind of restaurant they are in.