I have been holding a free Gourmet Society membership card for the last near-two months now, and despite being someone who frequents restaurant for a semi-professional reason, I have not yet used it once. As it expires in a week, I was desperate to put the discounts to good use, and happened upon The Canopy Restaurant, the upstairs part of a bar called Penn Central in Poole. To cut a long story short, they NO LONGER ACCEPT GOURMET SOCIETY CARDS. This is an error on the part of the Gourmet Society people, according to staff at Penn Central, who say their deal with them ended three years ago.
The upstairs restaurant is reopening after a refurbishment this week coming, so a visit there may be on the cards, but in the meantime, I was joined by my friend Kelly Kingham, who has joined me in a couple of reviews in the past, and her boyfriend Tom Herbert, a manager at The Yachtsman pub in Hamworthy.
Tonight was to be a Tapas Banquet, though admittedly we had no idea of the sheer size. One can never be to careful with Tapas; they are in many ways deceptively filling, as we were about to find out. As you can see pictured left, that selection of dishes was only had by Kelly (apart from the Oysters, two of which were had by me).
It was the first time Kelly had tried Oysters, so it’s just as well that Penn Central allows you to buy them individually at £1.75 each – quite reasonable, I thought. They get served quite simply (see pictured), with just a little bowl of Shallot Vinegar. Compared to some of the specimens I’ve had in restaurants in the past couple of years, they were quite easy to eat – some practically need hacking from their shells whereas these just needed a light prise with a table knife. It was a bonus as Kelly and I had only ordered one each, but were given a third at no extra charge.
Another dish that Kelly and I had in common on this visit (again, a first-timer for her) was the Twice-baked Cheese Soufflé (see pictured left). I was tempted by the fact that I had never had a savoury soufflé before (I first had a sweet one back in October, at a chain pizzeria in Vilnius). Kelly was more interested to see how successfully they were made – anyone knows that a soufflé is notoriously difficult to make properly and successfully. Chef had done well here.
It’s hard to believe that a generously-sized lump of savoury egg custard swimming in molten cheese could be visually appealing, but weirdly it was. My first impressions of the flavour was “Oh God, this just tastes like egg – I hate eggs!” but as I carried on eating it, the cheese flavours thankfully began to dominate. And for the extra sauce, of which there is a lot, they provide you with a bread roll. A very welcome addition to the plate.
On the side, I heard Kelly commenting on the excellent quality of Tom’s choice of a Grilled Rump Steak (see pictured), done Medium Rare despite the waiter’s recommendation of just Medium, which comes served with chips and a pepper sauce just like a miniature steak dinner. Again, you think “Tapas” and a series of mouthful-size portions immediately come to mind. I have been pleasantly surprised before, like my visit to Circo Lounge in Westbourne last year – but even the size of their Tapas don’t reach the mark of Penn Central!
The most expensive thing on the bar menu is the Whole Lobster Thermidor, which costs £35. Thank you but no thank you – not when I can have (admittedly half a lobster) for just over half the price in a restaurant in Covent Garden. London prices are a category in their own right, and we’re in Poole. An echelon down, I think most will agree. Anyway, instead I chose Tiger Prawns Thermidor (see pictured) – so a really mini version. A really nice thing about this dish was the mustardy tang to the Thermidor sauce – that brought out a beautiful flavour. Nevertheless – not all perfect – they could take the tails off the prawns to spare any unsuspecting diners (such as myself) the plastic-feeling shell surprise when they first bite into one of the otherwise succulent and juicy little shellfish.
My final choice of Tapas was an old student gourmet favourite – Chicken Wraps with Streaky Bacon stuffed with Mozzarella (see pictured). If I’d served those in the Halls of Residence I would have been called a master chef. Delightfully easy to make, but sometimes simplicity is an appealing factor in a meal. Without any airs and graces nor any panache or pizazz. Just meat wrapped in more meat and stuffed with cheese. True, chef needn’t have salted the bacon, which in turn became almost intolerably salty, but otherwise a decent choice on my part.
Prior to ordering, Tom had contemplated getting a main course, and as usual, I had eyed up which among the comparatively small selection of desserts I was going to have before even considering the Tapas. Needless to say, following that feast, neither of us were going to hazard another bite. The downstairs bar comes highly recommended for food, even though the service staff at times seem to lack a little communication between them – at times, all three of us felt we were only being given half-messages, so I’d say be wary of that. Otherwise brilliant, and we will definitely be visiting the upstairs restaurant as soon as availability allows.