February 20 2018
Review: Dinewithi, Bristol
Many years ago – and for many happy years – I worked for the legendary Venue magazine (now sadly RIP) and contributed lots and lots of words to its famous/infamous food pages. It was during this time that I first became aware of chef Tim Owen, who has stints at both the Star and Dove and The Oxford under his belt, but has been working independently running his Dinewithi pop-up ventures for quite a while now. Anyway, Tim recently got in touch with me and said hello again. And I was delighted to hear from him. And I was even more delighted to be invited to his most recent Supper Club, which he hosted at the lovely Totterdown Canteen last Saturday. And I’m absolutely delighted – not to mention lucky – that I took him up on his invitation, because it turned out to be an experience that I won’t forget for a very long time to come.
Tim is one of those characterful, opinionated, tenacious chefs that, in these “keep corporate/toe the (maximum profit) line” days, are fast becoming a lesser-spotted breed; confident but not conceited, headstrong without being belligerent about it. And he’s clearly a very popular man – on the evening we visited, his £30pp BYO event was packed to capacity; party atmosphere? Bring. It. On!
Having taken to our table, opened the first of the many bottles of wine we’d transported with us from Bath and started to soak up the gently buzzing vibe that thrummed all around us, the first treat (of many to come) hit the table in the form of mini pissaladière – tantalisingly moreish little bites that brought sweet caramelised onions and salty anchovies together in perfect harmony on crisp toast, and offered a taste of southern France to Totterdown. I could have eaten three of these, or six, or more… but then again, I’m glad I didn’t because we were skipping back across the channel for a hearty Cullen Skink: a creamy, dreamy combination of smoked fish and tender chunks of potatoes in a silky, quietly complex stock/broth served with sourdough bread courtesy of Baked of Totterdown, which arrived slathered in a vibrant, lemon-infused garlic butter that added a zingy blast of citrus to the depth charge of flavours in the bowl. Talking of depth charge of flavours…
Next up on our Dinewithi discovery: 24-hour Somerset lamb shoulder as succulent and tender as lamb can possibly get, flaunting those intrinsically sweet, slightly fruity characteristics that are only pushed to the fore when the meat is sourced this well, and cooked this properly. To accompany our meaty feast, a generous pillow of crushed white bean, parmesan and savoy cabbage mash that bought yet more luxurious texture and grounding earth notes to an already boldly authoritative dish, while a splash of piquant Chimichurri (which I always think of as the bolder foodie’s version of sauce vierge) turned the whole combination into a loud, proud celebration of all that is good about really, really good food.
Halfway through this dish, it occurred to me that Tim had, in the nicest possible way, shaken me out of the kind of soporific, “I’m used to eating out” slump that food writers can so easily slip into. He’d confidently lured me out of complacency and taken me on an exciting excursion back to a place that reminded me why and how chefs can be this exciting. On one level, Tim’s food is about as down-to-earth and accessible as real eating gets. But when a properly passionate, properly brave, properly talented chef takes those down-to-earth, accessible ingredients and turns them into magic on several plates, a very special kind of alchemy happens. And the enchantment didn’t end there.
For dessert, there was caramelised zest lemon posset served with chocolate orange florentine – think of traditional lemon posset served with a shortbread biscuit, then throw that thought out of your mind altogether and think again; this was a properly indulgent pudding, satisfyingly creamy but not over-excessively so (as is often the case, with posset,) while the addition of that nutty, orange-infused, distinctively textured nibble was pure genius.
And actually, in summary, that’s how I’d describe Tim: pure genius in the form of an inspired chef with a uniquely charismatic personality. Tim: your good old days haven’t happened yet; keep doing what you’re doing, and the best is yet to come.
Keep up with Tim/Dinewithi on Twitter @dinewithi
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