Archive for the United Kingdom Category

Leeds – The Victorian Quarter – The Man Behind the Curtain

Posted in Leeds, United Kingdom, Victorian Quarter, West Yorkshire, Yorkshire with tags on February 10, 2017 by gannet39

Even though I only live a short drive away, I stayed in Leeds for one night as I’d been tipped off by Chris Feinmann, a fellow foodie friend, about a very special place to eat…

The Man Behind the Curtain (Advanced A+), 68-78 Vicar Lane, on the top floor of Flannels clothes shop,

I don’t have time to wax lyrical but suffice to say, this is my favourite fine dining experience in the North of England. Not only are all the dishes visually spectacular, the flavours are there as well.

Due to its success, reservations are essential. Access to the restaurant is quite unconventional as you have to walk through a men’s clothes shop to take the lift to the top floor.

You have to have one of the tasting menus (lunch or dinner), there are no other choices. I had the £65 evening menu with the wine matching add on for £50. It probably costs more now since they got a Michelin star in 2016.

You’re not supposed to take photos but I got a few sneaky ones in to give you an idea of the amazing creations that were put in front of me.

Upon arrival I was greeted with a glass of nutty Chenin Blanc champagne (A).


Cooked Oyster & Pearl with the ‘pearl’ containing oyster emulsion (A+).


Next an Olive Sachet (A) with the instruction to dip it in my drink. Sorry, I couldn’t really take photos of the wine so I can only occasionally tell you what it was.


This with a Rioja by Bhilar which had a fantastic nose (A+).


Next, Mackerel Wrapped in Pak Choi Leaf with Lime (B+).


This with a Beaujoulais made from 100% Gamay grapes by the producer Lapierre of Morgon; one of the best wine villages in the Beaujolais region.


The Red Mullet Allioli and Sea Fingers with Ham Fat and Sweet Corn was fantastic (A++). I liked the Sauvingon Blanc and Semillon blend by Exmoor Drive from Western Australia that came with it (A).


Slow Cooked Egg with Bread and Squid Ink Cinders with an Edible Shell made of milk!! Visually it scored very well (A+) but not so well on taste (B). This was served with a great Vouvray Chenin Blanc (A).


I was given a sweeter wine, a Riesling (B+), to go with the Black Cod with Fried Potato and Squid Ink and Squid Ink Cinders. It was the coddiest tasting cod I’ve ever tasted! It started well (A+) but the cinders became slightly overbearing so my score went down (A).


Next, the Roast Duck with Beetroot Sponge, Caramelised Pineapple and Orange Sauce was amazing (A).


The best thing I ate were the Sweetbreads (thymus glands) with Black Pudding Gnocchi and Parsleycake, always a favourite but here one of the best times I’d ever eaten them (A++).


I got a Basil Sorbet palate cleanser before the sweet.


The dessert was a Milk Chocolate Violet Ice cream with Potato and Vanilla Custard, Salt and Vinegar Rice and Beetroot Vinegar. This was very good as I remember but I’d lost the plot when it came to grading by this point!


It was served with a nice glass of Els Pyreneus Maury Grena; a sweet red wine by Jean-Marc Lafage from the Languedoc-Roussillon region.


After this I added a Baron de Sigognac Armagnac to finish things properly.


Next to arrive was a ‘tree of spoons’ containing various sweet tasty things. I was delirious with pleasure by now and totally forgot to record things! The last item was this ‘Cupcake’.


Overall a fantastice experience. Michael O’Hare is a genius in my view. You definitely need to check him out.

Marina O’Loughlin agrees.

Please see my previous post for pics of the Victorian Quarter where the restaurant is located. You’ll find it on my Google map.

Leeds – The Victorian Quarter – Architecture

Posted in Leeds, United Kingdom, Victorian Quarter, West Yorkshire, Yorkshire with tags on February 9, 2017 by gannet39

Although Leeds is only about 45 minutes drive away from my hometown, Sheffield, this was only the fourth time in forty years that I had come to visit the neighbours.


Naturally there’s a lot of competion between the two cities, especially when it comes to football and my previous experiences as a visiting Sheffield United supporter to the Elland Road stadium had been less than pleasurable to say the least!


On this occasion though I was visiting for work and I could walk around and appreciate the good things about the city centre without worrying about my choice of football team.


I’d never realised it before but the Victorian Quarter, the main shopping district, has some beautiful architecture.


Quirky period buildings are at every turn.


I particularly like the galleries of the old shopping arcades.



Here’s my Google map. Please see my next post for a great place to eat in the Victorian Quarter.


2017 here we come!

Posted in United Kingdom on January 9, 2017 by gannet39

Dear Readers

First of all I want to thank you all for your support and comments in 2016 and wish you a very happy New Year and all the best for 2017 🙂

Secondly, I’d like to apologise for being so quiet in recent months. Those who follow this blog will know it alternates between bursts of intense activity, in my off season when I have no employment, and long dormant periods when I am away working and too busy to update and upload my latest experiences. Now in chilly January I finally have the time to try and catch up on my travels and relive all those happy memories.

I’m currently 18 months and about 6 countries behind but I hope to catch up as much as possible in the coming weeks before I set off again. Wish me luck!

As ever, please feel free to comment, correct and ask questions.

Right, lets hit the road! 😀

Raif x


Manchester – Vietnamese food in Northenden

Posted in Manchester, United Kingdom with tags on November 20, 2015 by gannet39

I love Vietnamese food and will happily travel a long way to get my fix (please see my Hanoi and Saigon posts), so when I heard about this place in Manchester I was on the train and through the front door like a ferret in a drainpipe.

Mi & Pho (Elementary A), 384 Palatine Rd, Northenden

According to people who keep an eye on such things, Mi & Pho came out of nowhere and became the Trip Advisor #1 restaurant in Manchester, a position it held for a month before somebody mucked up their algorithm with a poor review (inevitable, there are always snarks). More recently they have won Restaurant of the Year for the North of England in the Food Awards.

Such accolades are quite an achievement for a small no-frills café located in Northenden, a highly unfashionable part of town. They’ve done it on the strength of their food which is authentic and healthful while being excellent value for money. Much of this is down to their chef, a cousin of the owner, who quit his restaurant job in London to come and work up here. It also helps that they are nice people who give all their customers a warm welcome.

Three of us were made to feel very much at home by the young owner before tucking in to…

Gỏi Cuốn – rice paper summer rolls with prawns and roast pork. I make these at home with leftover roast chicken, love them so much.


Gỏi Du Dử – green papaya salad with mango, carrots and mixed herbs. Not as spicy as it can be, which is good, as a version I once had in Thailand with grated chilli is officially the hottest thing I’ve ever eaten in my life!


Bún Huế – hot and spicy soup from Huế province with bún noodles, and in our case tofu and vegetables.


Bún Sài Gòn – southern style stir fried marinated pork with onions, lemongrass, chilli and beansprouts served with bún noodles, mixed salad, pickled vegetables, crispy shallots and crushed peanuts.


Pak Choi Chinese cabbage stir fried with tofu.20151102_191241

Salt and pepper spare ribs.


Bánh Xèo – pancakes made with rice flour and coconut milk and stuffed with pork and bean sprouts. A bit oily but oh so good.


This would be a bit of an overkill for three normal people but we finished everything off! It’s the kind of food that’s so good you just can’t stop eating, and it feels okay to do so because so much of it is healthy veg and herbs.

We didn’t get round to trying the Pho (pronounced ‘fur’) as it’s a meal in itself. But I’m sure it’s very good given the quality of everything else.

My only criticism is that they should get an alcohol license. You can BYOB and we got our beer from the Polish shop a few doors down but they are missing a trick by not selling it themselves.

So, top marks (A). Just wish we had an authentic place like this in Sheffield.

Manchester – Chinatown

Posted in Chinatown, Manchester, United Kingdom with tags , , on November 20, 2015 by gannet39

Every now and then I get a bit of work in central Manchester. I always head for Chinatown for lunch as there are so many good places to eat there.

My current favourite is…

Siam Smiles (Elementary A), 48A George St,

I have Marina O’Loughlin to thank for this one as she gave them a rave review in the Guardian.

It’s a no-frills place with plastic chairs and condiments in Tupperware boxes, located in a cellar which doubles as a Thai supermarket.

It’s quite easy to miss as there’s no sign but when you’re on the street just keep an eye out for a downward flight of stairs. It’s just about opposite to the Hunan restaurant below.

As I only ever have lunch, a bowl of Kuay Tiew soup noodles is all I can manage. Pictured is the Chicken Kuay Tiew with flat rice noodles in a Nam Sai (clear) broth. Simple, clean and delicious (A). And very good value as well.


Haven’t had the chance to go for an evening meal yet but it needs to be done, soon.

Hunan Restaurant (Intermediate B+), 1st Floor, 19-21 George St (opposite Siam Smiles),

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I like my Chinese food spicy so I usually go for Sichuan food. It’s quite unusual to find a restaurant that specialises in Hunan cuisine.

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Both provinces are neighbours and both like to put a lot of chilli in their food. However the Hunanese tend to use fresh chilli more whereas the Sichauanese dishes prefer dried chillies.

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Also, Hunan cuisine is described as being dry hot (干辣), as opposed to Sichuan cuisine, which is hot and numbing (mala) due to the inclusion of Sichuan peppercorns.

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In reality you can get dishes from both these regions in this restaurant (eg the Sichuan classic Kung Pao chicken) but suffice to say whatever you order will be packing heat!

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I last came here for a birthday treat so I didn’t take any notes, but it’s all top tackle!

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Wong Wong Bakery (Elementary B+), 28 Princess St,

If I’m in a rush for my lunch I tend to just get a Char Siu Bau (steamed barbecue pork bun) to eat on the hoof. This small Chinese bakery does a very good one (B+).

London – Kings Cross – St Pancras

Posted in King's Cross, London, St Pancras, United Kingdom with tags , , , , on October 30, 2015 by gannet39

St Pancras station is one of my favourite buildings in the world, partly for its architectural beauty and partly because it’s the station that I, and my fellow Yorkshiremen and East Midlanders, always alight at when arriving in London, which usually signifies the beginning of an adventure of some kind.

Built in 1868, it had at the time the largest single-span roof in the world. It’s a masterpiece of Victorian Gothic engineering and for me, it’s one of the most elegant train stations in the world.

Station buffs may be interested to know it was also the model for Victoria Terminus, now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, in Mumbai, which looks like a fancier version with several Indian adornments added.

The station was renovated between 2001 and 2007 to be a public space in preparation for the London Olympics, and there are now a few places to go for a drink or a bite. The oyster bar is a bit out of my price range so if I really need to eat, when I’m waiting for my off-peak train, I invariably end up at Carluccio’s where you can get decent Italian food at a good price. They have a deal where you can get two courses for a tenner, and add on a dessert or a glass of wine for £3.50 or so, which isn’t bad. You can sit outside and take in the enormity of the roof above you.

I’m also a fan of ‘The Meeting Place’, the huge bronze statue created by Paul Day which is just by the restaurant. Supposedly showing an amorous couple, either meeting or saying goodbye, the woman is looking at her mobile phone over the shoulder of her lover! I also like all the small friezes cast in the plinth of the statue.

Click on the photos for a better view.

For a good cocktail in splendid Victorian surroundings, I like to go to the bar of The Gilbert Scott (out the front of the station and turn right, the entrance is at pavement level in the west wing of the station building), a brasserie named after the station’s architect. It’s on the ground floor of the old Midland Grand Hotel, now the five star Renaissance Hotel, which occupies the distinctive frontage of the station.


I like the building so much that I’ve hired the station clock tower to celebrate my 50th birthday in 2016, but more of that in this space next year!

If you have a bit more time and want something cheap and spicy to eat then I strongly recommend Roti King in the basement of Ian Hamilton House at 40 Doric Way (just five minutes around the corner). Their rotis are sublime and the curries are pretty good. Marina O’Loughlin likes it too.


London – Islington – Chapel Market

Posted in Chapel Market, Islington, London, United Kingdom with tags , , , on October 29, 2015 by gannet39

Chapel Market is how markets used to be in London, before all the farmers and artisans appeared on the scene. It’s a good place to come for some good old fashioned Cockney grub.

Alpino’s (Elementary B+), 74 Chapel Market, open 06.30 to 15.00

A classic old Italian café that’s a local institution. This is the place to come if you want a proper greasy spoon full English breakfast for a fiver (B+) but they also do Italian specials as well. Friendly and very popular.

Manze’s Pie & Mash (Elementary A), 74 Chapel Market

One of a chain of four Manze’s, the original is in Deptford, a family that have been making pie & mash for over 100 years. Double pie and mash is the way to go for a bellyful of satisfying stodge. You will also need a good pouring of ‘liquor’, a parsley and cornflour sauce made with the water from stewing the eels.

Get Stuffed, 105 Essex Road,

Although nothing to do with food, I feel a mention should go to this nearby institution who proclaim themselves to be ‘the UK’s premier taxidermy company’. A peak through their windows is a quite a trippy experience with crows, albino peacocks and birds of prey tussling for space with giraffes, antelope and zebras!


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