The wine guy: lettuce eat!

No grapes were harmed in the making of Andy Clarke’s latest column – he’s ditched the wine for something a little hoppier

On a recent sunny Sunday afternoon, a friend suggested meeting for an afternoon beer. Not my usual tipple, I thought, but I can always have a cider. When I found out we were meeting at a Bristol-based brewery, though, I realised I’d have to embrace my inner hop-lover and go a bit off-piste from my usual sips. Visiting Wiper and True’s taproom that afternoon was a revelation and I grew rather fond of the local brews. It really got me thinking about the potential of beer and food matching, so I’ve (temporarily) shunned wine this month in favour of my new muse.

But, to make a successful food and beer match, I needed a bloody good recipe to play with. Enter the team at newly revamped Severnshed, the restaurant housed in a former boat shed designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, which has one of the best views in Bristol. This waterside stalwart of the local food scene has been a restaurant for two decades but was one that I hadn’t visited in years. I’d heard, though, that it was entering something of a new chapter, with the team from former Clifton restaurant Wellbourne having taken the helm…

The trio of executive chef Ross Gibbens, head chef Michael Kennedy (both formerly of Dabbous in London) and general manager Ben Porter (who worked with Jason Atherton at Pollen Street Social) are together again, working their magic on a restaurant I hadn’t been to in 16 years. Suitably impressed with the menu and its focus on local ingredients, I asked Ross and Michael to come up with a recipe that celebrates their style of cooking and gives a nod to the summer now drawing to an end. 

The charred allotment baby gem with feta, golden linseed and lemon balm dressing that the boys have created is something quite special. Its bright flavours and intriguing textures are a delight and, happily, perfect with pale ale. In particular, Wiper and True’s Kaleidoscope, which, as of mid-September, is newly available in smart-looking cans, as well as bottles. The nose of this local brew has hints of lemon and candy floss which leads into a bright citrus character that’s fantastic with the dressing of lemon balm and lemongrass. It’s best friends with feta on the tongue, and the frothy, sherbert-like texture of the beer is wonderful with the crunch of the baby gem and crispy shallots.

If you’re not into beer and suspect you won’t have a hop-led epiphany any time soon, then my second match might be more up your street – it comes from the Aladdin’s cave of booze known as Bristol Cider Shop. As well as my beloved cider, Pete Snowman and the team sell perry – a much-underappreciated thirst quencher made from pears – and I’ve found a cracking example by maker Tom Oliver. At The Hop #8 is made using Tom’s own Herefordshire pears. Once the drink has been fermented, it is infused with USA Simcoe hops, giving it a unique beer-like charm. Initially, the nose is hoppy, but this subsides to give ripe, ripe pears and caramelised sugar. The taste is mouth-wateringly unique with a delicate fizz, reminiscent of a freshly poured lager, with a slight taste of fruit beer mixed with a dash of floral charm. It’s delicious with the fresh, clean baby gem and that lemony dressing, and the hoppiness gives way to a zesty hit of citrus and sweet orchard fruit which complements the tang of the feta perfectly. Both drinks are the ultimate sundowner for autumn.

Andy Clarke is a freelance food TV producer, follow him on Twitter

Fancy making it yourself? Here’s the recipe for charred allotment baby gem lettuce with feta and lemon balm dressing.