Review: The Rocking Chair Cafe, Bristol

I work in Bristol, I have written about this before – the culinary choices are actually pretty damn good, see my previous post “Bristol for beginners

Lunch is a contentious issue – between my mind and my stomach, I often have to eat at my desk because I don’t have the time to sit out and take a full hour for lunch, so food to take away is essential, but of course I don’t want to compromise on quality simply because I want to eat it at my leisure in front of my monitor.

The Rocking Chair cafe opened mid-last year, around the time I was discovering Bristol properly – taking walks when I could out of the Old City, up the hill to Broadmead and around the castle park to see what I could find. I saw the building being fitted-out and with a sign saying that they would be open soon and that they would be serving hot dogs – something that, other than when you find the rare burger van, is not usually on the menu – but if done properly (e.g. using real sausage and not cheap, processed canned dogs) hot dogs can be very good.

So, they opened and I went – but alas! They did not sell hot dogs. I was disappointed, but I was impressed by what they did have – two hocks of freshly roasted meat – one beef and one pork. With an array of different garnishes I went for it – and I was mighty happy that I did.
They aren’t  miserly with the meat – and it’s moist too, which is a pleasant surprise – often when you get roast meat from vendors it has dried out, from being cooked 6 hours ago and then kept under a heat lamp.
The salad is fresh and crunchy, another point gained there, and the bread is thick sliced, soft and tasty, I usually go with the granary but they do also have white on offer.

The real decider is the price; I had a showed a friend the picture above and the first question they asked was “How much was it?”, because it looks like an expensive sandwich. It’s deeply filled, has a lot of cheese and meat – all items which usually add quite a lot to the price tag; the Rocking Chair Café seem to understand that this is a big decider for a lot of people too, hell, I don’t go to Subway because I think that their prices are outrageous – I peeked into a branch a few weeks ago and notice that their “premium” subs have now gone up to £3.85 for a 6″ sub, a whopping £5.85 for a footlong – near enough £6 for a sandwich, ouch! Anyway, all of the sandwiches here are a very reasonable £3.10 each – a veritable bargain.

I like the Rocking Chair, I have been back many times since and have tried almost all of their sandwiches – their claim to have “the best sandwich in Bristol” is probably not far from the truth – it’s certainly the best I’ve had in the 7 months I have been working there, and I would recommend you try it.

The scores on the door – food hygiene results are available online, but did you know?

24_food-hygiene2As long as two months ago the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) launched their well overdue “Scores on the Doors” online system, where local authorities can publish the hygiene checks done on premises licensed to serve or prepare food – quantified in a 0 to 5 rating system where 0 is very bad and 5 is remarkable.

Despite there being extensive coverage in the Spring/Summer last year by WalesOnline – who were criticising the agency for not releasing their findings, when it was eventually brought online the Welsh publications had completely forgotten and failed to cover the launch, from what I can find using Google. I spent a little time this afternoon browsing the ratings and came across some real shockers, some results that I didn’t expect and frustrations with the website itself.

The reports can be viewed by local authority, or a search done of the whole of the UK – for my purposes I just wanted to see Cardiff establishments. Once at that part of the site there is a very simple search box – and that it is. There is no option to view and filter the list of establishments – you can either view them all or search by name, town or postcode – which is very restrictive.
The site does, however, allow you to order the list by rating – which then exposes a list of all eateries by worst rated first – and this is where I discovered some unexpected results in Cardiff.

Bad results in Cardiff

The Plan, Morgan Arcade – 0/5
Woodville Fish Bar, Cathays – 0/5
Bar Sicilia, Cowbridge Rd East, 0/5
New York Deli,  – 1/5
The Pot, Cathays – 1/5
Tony’s Fish Bar – 1/5
Juboraj Lakeside – 1/5

Quite why this website hasn’t had more press coverage is beyond me, since posting some of these results on Twitter this afternoon I have had some shocked replies – both at some well known venues receiving such bad food hygiene marks and at the fact that the site has not been publicised well enough – it should be used by anyone who is going to dine out as a matter of course, in my opinion, because we all have a right to know if the food that we are consuming is being prepared in an environment that is safe, clean and run responsibly.

Other countries, cities and states have had this a public system for many years and it it forces establishments to take food hygiene seriously – or else forfeit their business to low patronage. Food safety and hygiene is not something to be taken lightly because the spread of deadly diseases like e-coli and legionnaires is a serious subject.

Food Standards Agency hygiene ratings for Cardiff [Link]

Update: 29th July 2011 – Latest scores for establishments mentioned above

The Plan, Morgan Arcade – 4/5 (+4)
Woodville Fish Bar, Cathays – 1/5 (+1)
Bar Sicilia, Cowbridge Rd East – 0/5 (no updated rating)
New York Deli – 4/5 (+3)
The Pot, Cathays – 4/5 (+3)
Tony’s Fish Bar – 3/5 (+2)
Juboraj Lakeside – 1/5 (no updated rating)

Don’t call me a foodie

I hate the moniker “Foodie”, we’re all foodies – hell, all of us like to eat, right?

But there’s a difference between those who like to eat “good” food, and those who like to eat anything – including many with a heavy diet of processed foods.

What I’m most concerned about is the, hopefully small, amount of families who have their kids under the impression that processed foods, like McDonalds or fish fingers and chips, are “a treat”.

“We’ll go to McDonald’s if you’re a good boy”, “You can have a turkey burger tomorrow if you eat your salad now” – these are things that I have overheard parents saying to their kids over the years.

To me, a good salad or a roast dinner with vegetables is a treat; having to eat processed foods is something I do not relish and only happens when I do not have the opportunity to have something better – I don’t even believe that it comes down to cost, as this is often what I hear people blaming it on – “fish fingers are cheap”, “chips are inexpensive” – well, a couple of vegetables aren’t expensive either. At Cardiff central market £2.50 spent at the vegetable stalls could feed a family of 4 with ease – I have made a stew which has lasted two of us for 3 days before now with only £6; £2 for vegetables and £4 for stewing beef.

I believe that McDonald’s advertising over the past twenty years, coupled with that of the larger processed food companies – like McCain and Bernard Matthews, along with the major supermarkets have conditioned a lot of us, and with knock-on effect to our kids – to believe that a piece of meat that you can barely call meat is the definition of tasty eating, and that salad is something you have to eat or else you’ll be called a fat bastard – and for them it’s purely because of the difference in profit margin. You can make far more money per chicken once you have ravaged it to the bone, gristle and all – than you can per lettuce. We’re just the collateral damage, the unquestioning consumer.