Archive for the England Category

Sheffield – Romanian food in Attercliffe

Posted in Attercliffe, England, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, United Kingdom, Yorkshire with tags , on April 10, 2019 by gannet39

To start with I should tell you that two of us were given a free meal in return for this review but these are still my real and honest opinions.

The dining scene in Sheffield is coming on in leaps and bounds at the moment, not just in terms of the quantity and quality of new places to eat, but also in the number of different kinds of cuisines on offer. In the last few months I’ve eaten excellent Korean, Ethiopian and Portuguese food, all of which were quite hard to find in our city just a short while ago. And now we can add Romanian cuisine to the list of exciting new arrivals…

The Vlad (formerly The Sfinx) (Intermediate A), 539 Attercliffe Road, Sheffield S9 3RA, +44 114 244 3123, www.sfinxrestaurant.co.uk

Tucked away in deepest darkest Attercliffe, this hidden gem is virtually unknown to most people outside of the local Romanian community. It’s on the main strip, opposite La Chambre, but you can easily park round the back on Kimberley Street.

The Vlad is owned and run by Adrian and his wife Camelia, both of whom are from Transylvania, the central region of Romania. The restaurant takes its (former_ name from a famous rock formation in a national park in the nearby Bucegi Mountains that bears a resemblance to the famous Egyptian Sfinx.

The dishes on their menu are taken from all over Romania but Adrian and Camelia give them their own personal touches. In turn Romanian food has been greatly influenced by a number of neighbouring cuisines but has interpreted each of them its own way. From the north-west, influences have come from Germany, Austria and Hungary, and to the north-east, from Poland, Ukraine, and Russia, while to the south you have Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. While Romanians share many common foods with these countries they have also developed their own distinctive cuisine.

Although I’ve never been to Romania, I have been to Moldova which was once a part of its larger neighbour so I have some knowledge of its food and wine as they are very similar (my Moldova posts are here).

On arrival I slaked my thirst with a bottle of Ciucaş Export (4.6%). It’s a slightly sweet beer, with hints of roasted malt and flavoured hops, made with spring water from the Ciucaş Mountains between Transylvania and Bucharest. It was a little too sweet for me but it’s still a nice beer.

We began with the delicious Sharing Platter. Starting clockwise from top left this included Salată Muraturi, a traditional pickled salad with green tomatoes, gherkins, sweet pepper, carrots and cabbage. You either love pickles or you don’t, personally I’m a big fan. Continuing to the right; Ouă Umplute (devilled eggs filled with chicken liver pate, served with lambs lettuce), some black olives, ‘winter salad’ (roasted aubergines and peppers, onions, mushrooms and beans), Salată de Vinete (roasted aubergines blended with chopped onions and mayonnaise, served with sliced tomatoes and Pâine, fresh bread). Finally, bottom left are some Sarmale; cabbage rolls stuffed with seasoned ground pork, bacon and pickled cabbage, and some cubes of fried cornbread served with sour cream and chilli pepper.

Sarmale are my most favourite Romanian dish. They are probably a take on Greek stuffed vine leaves but personally I prefer the Romanian version. At the Vlad they can be served as a starter (two rolls) or as a main (four rolls). I strongly advise you to get at least two per person.

I added on the bowl of Ciorbă de Burtă as an extra starter. Adrian was a bit surprised that I finished it so quickly, given that it’s a soup made with cow stomach parts. It’s true that it’s not a dish most Brits would usually go for but personally I adore tripe when it’s cooked as well as it is here. The soup is a deep and flavourful stock with small strips of tripe settling at the bottom. I agree with Adrian’s observation that the tripe has a very similar texture to squid. The soup is served with separate pots of garlic and chilli sauces on the side both of which I emptied into the bowl. I can totally understand why it’s one of the most popular dishes with Romanian customers.

Moving on to the mains, we got to try a selection of meat stews. We really enjoyed the Gulaş Unguresc, which is of course the Hungarian national dish but is also very traditional in Romania. Also good was the Tachitura Românescă, a Romanian stew which is a mixture of chopped pork, chicken breast, Romanian sausages, mushooms and tomato sauce, served with a topping of polenta, fried egg and Brinza cheese.

Our favourite though was the Ficătei de Pui Prăjiti in Ceapă; chicken livers fried with sliced onions. This went well with the Cartofi Piure Cremosi; creamy mashed potatoes.

After the Sarmale, my second favourite dish was the Ceafă de Porc la Grătar, a chargrilled pork collar steak, (the juiciest cut according to Adrian) which had spent some time in the restaurant’s secret marinade. It’s pretty much unmissable I’d say.

Also nice were the Mici la Grătarl they came with; minced meat rolls reminiscent of koftas, made from a mixture of beef, lamb and pork with spices and served with a dipping sauce of Romanian mustard and mayonnaise.

At this point I feel I need to say that although our selections were very meat heavy, there are two or three vegetarian options for both starters and mains on the menu. Romania has a surprising number of vegan and vegetarian dishes due to their long tradition of fasting for Lent. The menu features many dishes with beans, wild mushrooms and other kinds of veg and for dessert there are vegan pancakes with jam.

Happily Romania also has a long wine making tradition and we really enjoyed all the ones we tasted. Adrian started us off with a glass of Fetească Neagră, a Merlot blend de Ceptura, demise DOC Dealu Mare, Crama Ceptura. Jokingly Adrian said that he had inherited a love of this table wine from his father, much as you would a football team!

After this we moved up a notch to a really nice Moldovan wine; Rara Neagră, a 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon from Bostavan www.bostavan.md.

The best though was a Reserve Sec by Budureasca called ‘Origini’ from the DOC Dealu Mare, which was a blend of Shiraz (50%), Cabernet Sauvigno (34%) and Merlot (16%) www.budureasca.ro.

To finish we had the classic dessert of Papanasi, also known as papanash, which are sweet doughnuts made with cream. Here they are served with yet more whipped cream and drizzled with a loose, homemade, wild berry jam. They weren’t as sweet as I expected them to be (a good thing) and in fact one mouthful tasted slightly savoury to me, but that changed when I slathered a bit more cream and jam on it. A perfect ending to a great meal.

In Moldova I would have finished with one of their excellent brandies but I didn’t want to take the mickey as I wasn’t paying! They have a likely looking bottle on the shelf though.

So for me the Vlad is a great new addition to the Sheffield dining scene. I have no hesitation in recommending the food there to anyone, carnivore or vegan, adventurous or not, and there are also plenty of new experiences for wine lovers. And if one of your party isn’t in the mood for trying something new, they do pizza as well. What’s not to like?

Sheffield – a few of my favourite things

Posted in England, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, United Kingdom, Yorkshire with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 9, 2019 by gannet39

I’m often asked why I don’t write reviews of restaurants in my home town Sheffield. The reason is that I know a lot of people who work in the local food industry personally and I don’t want to upset them, so by way of compromise, in this post I’m just going to accentuate the positive and list some of the things that I really, really like.

You’ll find all these places and many others on my Google map.

Full English Breakfast at The Hidden Gem, Bents Green, Ringinglow Rd, Sheffield S11 7TB, +44 114 262 0094, www.hiddengemcafe.co.uk

The Hidden Gem Full English comes with Moss Valley sausages, bacon chop, fried egg, black pudding, charred tomato, mushroom and their own baked beans, served with freshly-baked, toasted bread. All the ingredients they use are top notch but it’s the homemade black pud with that seam of confit belly pork running through the middle of it that wins it for me. This helps them beat off strong breakfast competition from Ceres and Jonty’s down at Hunter’s Bar.

Pancakes and Maple Syrup at Four Corners Canteen, 150 Abbeydale Rd, Sheffield S7 1FH, +44 114 250 0768

Slathered with butter with a bottle of syrup on the side, these pancakes come as the second less healthy part of the Big Sur breakfast, another strong contender for my favourite breakfast in Sheffield. I do my very best to avoid them but have to succumb every now and then!

Hot Roast Pork Sandwich from Béres, 151 Pinstone St, Sheffield S1 2HL, www.beresporkshop.co.uk

Not many people know that one of Sheffield’s most famous ‘delicacies’, the hot roast pork sandwich with all the trimmings (crackling, apple sauce, stuffing), was first introduced to the city by Mr. Béres, a Hungarian immigrant butcher fleeing the Russian invasion of his country in the 50s. Thank goodness he came here is all I can say. Many other places do a good one, Roney’s on Sharrowvale for instance, but you can only get your bun dipped in gravy at Béres. Or you can treat yourself and ask for a double dip.

Toasted Sandwiches at Braggazi’s, 224-226 Abbeydale Rd, Sheffield S7 1FL, +44 114 258 1483 www.bragazzis.co.uk

All the focaccia and sourdough sandwiches are killer here. You can have them cold but they’re best toasted. I loved this one with Fennel Salami, Emmental, Basil Pesto and Vine Tomatoes. I’m quite partial to their coffee as well. And their Sicilian lemons.

Chicken Flatbread at Shoot the Bull Rotisserie & Grill in Kommune, Castle House, Angel St, Sheffield S3 8LS, www.shootthebull.co.uk/rotisserie-grill

Maple-brined chicken with a waldorf salad made with lemon mayonnaise on a soft flatbread. Fresh, healthy and very tasty.

Sarmale at Sfinx, 539 Attercliffe Rd, Sheffield S9 3RA, +44 114 244 3123, www.sfinxrestaurant.co.uk

Sarmale are cabbage rolls stuffed with seasoned pork mince and vegetables, a Romanian take on Greek Dolmades (stuffed vine leaves). For me they are the tastiest dish in a great cuisine, and the Sfinx is the only place I know of where you can get them in Sheffield.

Fried Chicken at Yoki Social Table in Kommune, Castle House, Angel St, Sheffield S3 8LS, yoki-sheffield.business.site

I adore Korean food and this outfit are the only authentic purveyors in the city. Their fried chicken is dangerously moreish. Stay away.

Cod & Chips at Brenda’s, 2 Earl Way, Sheffield S1 4QA, +44 114 249 3035

For me this is the best chippy that I know of within striking distance of where I live. You can get a small cod and chips and a can of Vimto for a fiver. They’re only open at lunch times, never in the evening. Another fantastic shop is Hicks Street Fish & Chips where I had an amazing beer-battered cod with some excellent chips. I also like the Admiral and the Abbey Friar but I don’t have a car to get to them, so Brenda’s it usually is.

The Special at Kurdistan Charcoal Grill, 97-99 London Road, Sheffield S2 4LE

For a mere £12.50 you get five different kebabs, rice, salad, four sauces, naan and a bowl of lentil soup. Not only cheap but delicious as well, especially the soup and the lamb doused with their yogurt. So what if they got a zero rating from the environmental health inspectors. I’ve eaten there a dozen times and never had any problems. It’s a takeaway but they have a few tables and your food experience will be better if you eat in. Be warned they close at 9.

Aubergine Dips at Narooz, 140 London Road, Sheffield S2 4LT, +44 114 255 5522

I come here when I’m desperate for an easy kebab and the Kurdistan Grill is shut. Narooz’s kebabs are quite average but I love their aubergine dips Kashkeh Bademjan (aubergine with yogurt) and Mirzaghasemmi (aubergine with eggs and garlic) as starters.

Mixed Seafood Lunch at J.H. Mann, 261 Sharrow Vale Road, Sheffield S11 8ZE, +44 114 268 2225

A slightly pricey fishmongers but oh god, they do the best seafood lunches. You’ll be hard pushed to eat fresher seafood in Sheffield which is usually a nono for me.

Beef Noodle Soup at Noodlesta, 192-194 Brook Hill, Sheffield S3 7HE, www.noodlesta.com

The ‘Braised Beef Pull Noodle’, aka beef noodle soup made with hand-pulled noodles, at Noodlesta is as authentic as any I’ve ever eaten on my trips to China. Hordes of Chinese students seem to agree.

Hot Pot at Golden Taste, 279 London Rd, Sheffield S2 4NF, www.xiangweiqing.co.uk

Definitely the best hotpot in town. You check off what you’d like on the tick box menu (maybe skip the meat) then cook it yourself in one of the two different stocks in the hotpot. The helpful staff are always happy to explain some of the more unusual items like the seaweed (order it).

Vinegared Cabbage at China Red, www.chinaredsheffield.com

I know, it doesn’t sound great but don’t knock it till you try it. My favourite out of many excellent dishes served at this completely authentic Sichuan restaurant. Other great dishes are the Kung Pao Chicken, Mapo Doufu, and for the more daring, an offal dish called Husband & Wife, or alternatively their delectable thinly sliced pig’s ear. Expect big flavours and lots of dried chillis, chilli oil and Sichuan peppers to scorch and numb you.

Thali at Hungry Buddha, Unit 2, Food Court, 77 The Moor, Sheffield S1 4PF, www.hungrybuddha.co.uk

Choose between the curries of the day, or have them all as I do. Nepalese Chicken Curry, Goat Curry, Yellow Gram & Cabbage, Aubergine & Potato, Rice, Dal, Homemade Chutneys and a Roti for a mere fiver. Lunch time only, get there early or they may run out.

Lamb Curries at Mangla, 149 Spital Hill, Sheffield S4 7LF, manglarestaurant-sheffield.co.uk

When it’s on form, which isn’t all the time, the Mangla does the best value curries in the city. The lamb on the bone, and anything else made with lamb, is considered very scoffable by me. They don’t sell beer but you can bring some in from the offy a few doors down.

The Pulled Pork Burrito at Street Food Chef, 98 Pinstone St, Sheffield S1 2HQ, www.streetfoodchef.co.uk

Too plain to photograph but oh so good, especially with extra avocado, sourcream and a cold beer. A must whenever I’m passing.

Pork pies from Waterall Brothers, 26/27 Moor Market, Sheffield S1 4PF, www.waterall.co.uk

Now that Kempka’s has closed to the public, this is the best pork pie in Sheffield that I know of.

Halloumi from Porter Brook Deli, 354 Sharrow Vale Rd, Sheffield S11 8QP, www.porterbrookdeli.co.uk

This is the best halloumi I’ve ever eaten, although for legal reasons it has to be called Yorkshire Squeaky Cheese (it’s made in Huddersfield). Sublime when grilled, perhaps with some psb. The deli also sells a fantastic Colston Bassett Stilton, which for me the is best example of Britain’s greatest cheese.

The donuts from Forge Bakehouse, 302 Abbeydale Rd, Sheffield S7 1FL, www.forgebakehouse.co.uk

A variety of flavours are on offer from traditional jam to vanilla cream and they’re all good (no pic sorry). Make sure you get them early, I’ve seen a group of Chinese students come in and buy the entire stock of twenty plus donuts in one go!

Ice Cream from Ikea, Sheffield Rd, Sheffield S9 2YL, www.ikea.com

Not an obvioius one I know but super soft ice cream, or Soft-Is as it’s known in Scandinavia, is very nostalgic for me as it was a special treat for me as a child when I visited my family in Norway during the summer holidays. Ideally it should be dusted with chocolate powder but this inferior Swedish version comes a good second. Have a hotdog first (another must) and finish off with this.

There’s more to be added but that’s it for now!

What are your favourite foods in Sheffield? 🙂

London – Clerkenwell – Eating and Drinking

Posted in Clerkenwell, England, London, United Kingdom with tags , , , , , , , on February 1, 2019 by gannet39

There are some excellent pubs and restaurants in Clerkenwell. As ever, they’re all on my map.

Sushi Tetsu (Advanced A), 12 Jerusalem Passage, sushitetsu.co.uk.

This sushi-ya is a bit hard to find (it’s down a side alley off Clerkenwell Road) and nearly impossible to get into (there’s only seven seats and it’s booked out weeks in advance).

You definitely need to reserve to get in but you can only do it by phone (+44 20 3217 0090) and you can only call on the first and third of the month, between the hours of 11am and 4pm. Good luck!

It took a few weeks and a fair bit of planning for Tom and Karen and I to get in but we made it eventually, and it was totally worth the effort. We received a friendly welcome from the chef’s wife Harumi who seated us with the other customers at the bar. This meant we could easily chat with the chef Tetsu (aka Toru Takahashi) and enjoy watching his knife skills.

I didn’t grade any of the food as I was too busy chatting and having fun but the experience as a whole scored top marks. We started with a classic; Buri Daikon (stewed giant radish and yellowtail amberjack).

Next the Omakase (chef’s sushi selection).

After this we ordered several à la carte Nigiri. These are I think seared tuna, salmon, yellowtail and squid nigiris.

Also a tuna Temaki (hand held roll).

Can’t remember what this fish was, but again super fresh flavours and immaculate presentation.

All washed down with a few flasks of Atsukan (hot sake).

St John Restaurant (High Intermediate A), 26 St John St, www.stjohnrestaurant.com

This is my favourite restaurant for eating offal as it famously specialises in ‘nose to tail eating’. I recommend the bone marrow on toast.

Morito (Intermediate A), 32 Exmouth Market, www.morito.co.uk

This is the tapas bar associated with the famous Moro moro.co.uk next door. The proprietors, Samantha and Sam Clark, are renowned for their renditions of Spanish, North African and Eastern Mediterranean dishes. I’ve never been able to afford the restaurant but I love the more economical tapas bar.

The most famous dish is the Borani; an Iranian dish made with beetroot, feta and walnuts, which has been replicated in small plates restaurants all over the country.

I enjoyed their Negroni, made with Spanish Lacuesta vermouth, as well (B) although perhaps I love the label more than the vermouth.

Granger & Co (Intermediate B), 50 Sekforde St, www.grangerandco.com

Bill Granger is a famous chef from Sydney so when my friend Tom told me he had a place here I wanted to compare it to Caravan, another antipodean chain that does a good breakfast. I had the poached eggs with avocado, and kimchee which was fine (B).

However, the reason I go back though is for their Spiced Bloody Mary (£10) with vodka, Clamato (clam and tomato juice), gochugang, lime and coriander . Although it might more correctly be called a Bloody Caesar, it’s now one of my favourite hangover drinks (A).

Iberica (Intermediate B), 89 Turnmill St, www.ibericarestaurants.com

This is one of a small chain of new breed tapas restaurants where you can try classic as well as more playful examples of Spanish food. The Chorizo Lollipops dipped in Pear Allioli were fun and we enjoyed the Croquetas and the Arroz Negro as well.

Caravan (Intermediate B), Exmouth Market, www.caravanrestaurants.co.uk

This is a top spot for an Antipodean breakfast. I enjoyed the meatballs once for lunch as well.

Terroni (Intermediate B+), 138-140 Clerkenwell Rd, www.terroni.co.uk

Terroni’s is a historic Italian café that has lingered on after the original Italian community has moved away.

They have a great range of artisinal Italian hams and cheeses, amongst many other wares.

I had three small Cannolis (Cannolini) here which were pretty good (B).

The Jerusalem Tavern (Intermediate B+), 55 Britton St, www.stpetersbrewery.co.uk

This is the local pub of Fergus Henderson, the proprietor of St John restaurant above, who was in residence when we visited. He comes for a good reason as it has heaps of atmosphere and a good choice of quality craft ales.

The Crown Tavern (Intermediate B), 43 Clerkenwell Green, www.thecrowntavernec1.co.uk

As I mentioned in my last post, this is one of London’s most historical pubs and doubles as a small theatre used for experimental productions. Lenin used to drink at the Crown and Anchor as it was known then. Engels, Marx, Dickens and many others have all supped a pint here.

See my previous post for walking around Clerkenwell.

London – Clerkenwell – Walking Around

Posted in Clerkenwell, England, London, United Kingdom with tags , , , , , , on January 31, 2019 by gannet39

Clerkenwell is steeped in history and culture which makes it one of my favourite London neighbourhoods. Happily I’ve managed to see a fair bit of it thanks to my friend Tom who lives in the area and has shown me around.

There are heaps of good places to eat and drink as well which I have put in the next post. My Google map with everything on is here.

Clerkenwell has a long tradition of left wing politics, starting in the middle ages. Clerkenwell Green was the scene of some of the events of the Peasants’ revolt in 1381. It was were the London Corresponding Society demonstrated against the Napoleonic Wars and in 1887 it saw a huge demonstration demanding freedom for Ireland.

In the early twentieth century it was where the Communist Party used to meet and the Marx Memorial Library is located here. The library has tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays marxlibrary.org.uk.

Marx, Lenin and Stalin all lived in the area at various times. Their local was the Old Red Lion www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk at 418 St John St which is one of London’s oldest boozers. Over its 600 year history, many other notable people, including Dickens and Stalin, have taken refreshment here. The Second Congress of the Communist League was held in an upstairs room and the meeting requested that Marx and Engels who were attending the meeting should write the League’s programme; the Communist Manifesto.

In 1890 Clerkenwell Green was the scene of the very first May day rally. In 1919 the rally called for British troops to be withdrawn from trying to bring down the Russian Bolshevik government and in 1969 it demanded equal pay for the women of Ford’s Dagenham plant. It’s hard to think of any place that has a longer or more illustrious history of struggle.

The ancient military order of the Knights of Saint John, also known as the Knights Hospitaller, has a long association with the area which is why they appear in many local names. You can still see St John’s Gate which was built in 1504 as the south entrance to their priory.

Now a volunteer ambulance charity, they were originally formed to protect sick pilgrims in Jerusalem during the crusades. They have a museum next to the gate at 26 St John’s Lane www.museumstjohn.org.uk.

The famous Smithfields Meat Market is just at the bottom of the road.

In the 19th century the area around Clerkenwell Road, Farringdon Road, and Rosebery Avenue was known as Little Italy due to high levels of immigration from that country. A couple of businesses and an annual festival are all that remains of that legacy, as well as the community’s church, St Peter’s Church on Clerkenwell Road.

Elsewhere, Charles Rowan House is a landmark housing estate built in the Expressionist style. It was built in the 1920s as married quarters for Metropolitan policemen (Rowan was one of the first Commissioners of the force when it was formed in the 1820s) but became a Council estate in 1974 and is now a Grade II building.

Many other historic and beautiful buildings grace the area, I’ll try and expand on this post when I have time to write about them. If you’re on a PC, click on the photos to enlarge them.

Eating and drinking in Clerkenwell next!

London – feasting in Holborn

Posted in England, Holborn, London, United Kingdom with tags , on January 30, 2019 by gannet39

When logistical issues caused a rethink for my 50th birthday celebrations, my friend Andy came up with this Japanese Yakiniku restaurant (recommended by some of his Japanese friends) as a good plan B. Our friendship started when we were both living in Japan so this was a great choice.

Kintan (High Intermediate B+), 34-36 High Holborn, www.kintan.uk

Yaki Niku means barbecued meat and this is a Japanese take on a Korean BBQ restaurant. You make a communal order of several plates of thinly sliced marinated meats, seafood and other tidbits, and cook them yourselves on a grill set into your table.

At Kintan they have about six different set menus which work out at between £24 and £38 per person depending on how much you want to eat.

Twelve of us had the Matsuri menu…

… which included Miso Soup, Kintan Salad, Spicy Cabbage, Ebi Furai (fried shrimp) and Beef Sukiyaki Bibimbap (rice mixed with veg and egg) as starters.

And for the main barbecue we were served Kalbi (short rib in sweet soy), Harami (skirt steak in miso), Premium Rib Eye in Ponzu, Pork Kalbi Shio (salted ribs), Garlic Tiger Prawns, Chicken Teriyaki and various veggies.

The Kalbi and Harami were listed as USDA Premium, the top level of quality for American beef. This isn’t a patch on Wagyu grading of course but at least you know it’s good meat.

To finish, S’mores (some mores) or chocolate and marshmallow sandwiched between Graham crackers. They’re a campfire classic in the US but you can make them on a grill too.

Queen Street (Intermediate B+), 32 Great Queen St, www.greatqueenstreetrestaurant.co.uk

I occasionally work in Holborn and more often than not I come here for lunch when I do. The food (rustic modern European/British) is good, the staff are friendly and the space has a bit of character.

On weekdays they have a Worker’s Lunch menu where you get two courses for £20 or three for £22, which is very good value for London. Here I got the Gloucester Old Spot and Duck Heart Terrine (A).

And the Morrocan-style Lamb, Mint and Barley was good too (B+). Reviewed 19/01/17.

My Google map for London is here.

London – top Turkish food in Harringay

Posted in England, Haringey, Harringay, London, United Kingdom with tags , , on January 29, 2019 by gannet39

I lived on Burgoyne Road in Harringay (a local area in the London borough of Haringey) for a year back in the late 90s so it was nice to go back in 2017 and experience a bit of déjà vu.

Along with Dalston (see my post on Mangal Ocakbasi), the area has a large Turkish community and you’ll find some great restaurants along the main road.

My London Google map is here.

Gökyüzü is one of the most famous ones. In 2017 they won the British Kebab Awards for best kebab restaurant in north and west London…

Gökyüzü (Intermediate B+), 26-27 Grand Parade, Green Lanes, Harringay, www.gokyuzurestaurant.co.uk

I came here with my friends Tom, Karen, Jishan and Lucy so we could share a bit of a spread. We began with a mixed mezze. From 11 o’clock; Soslu Patlican (fried aubergines with tomato sauce), Haydari (strained yogurt with garlic, dill and feta cheese), Kisir (bulgur wheat with tomato sauce, herbs, fresh mint, dill and spring onions) and of course Hummus (pureed chick peas with tahine, lemon juice, olive oil and garlic). All great.

After this we also had some Lahmacun which is described as very thin traditional Turkish pizza covered with seasoned minced lamb and onions, fresh tomatoes, parsley and red peppers. Lish!

I find it very hard to say no to some marinated and charcoal grilled lamb chops, especially with some beautiful Turkish rice which I crave on a regular basis. All buttons pressed here.

Antepliler (Intermediate B), 45-46 Grand Parade, Green Lanes, Harringay, www.antepliler.com

This is another Turkish kebab restaurant just a few doors down from Gokyuzu which no doubt also does decent kebabs but they also have a dessert room which was recommended to Tom.

We came to try the Kunefe; a kind of stringy cheese dessert topped with grated pistachios, which you can have with or without clotted cream. We opted for the cream which made it feel very indulgent but all the other customers went without. It was very enjoyable (B+), especially with a glass of strong Turkish tea.

These Turkish restaurants on Green Lanes in Harringay are definitely worth the trip if you’re looking for a good place to feed a group.

Manchester – Rusholme – Kurdish food off the Curry Mile

Posted in England, Lancashire, Manchester, Rusholme, United Kingdom with tags on January 28, 2019 by gannet39

Rusholme famously has a mile of mediocre curry houses, except for the occasional gem like this one. In my opinion the better places are run by the most recently arrived immigrants and it’s best to swerve the more longstanding restaurants. Thanks to the war in Iraq, the local curry scene has been enlivened by this great little spot..

Kurdish Restaurant (Elementary A), 4 Grandale St, Manchester M14 5NS

This café-style place is down a side street off the main drag away from the posher curry houses. It seems to double as a social club which is always a good sign.

As soon as we sat down a small complementary bowl of chicken and lentil soup arrived. It wasn’t great to look at but it was very tasty (B+).

Our first main was Lamb Quzy (also spelt Quozi or Kozi), a famous Iraqi dish where traditionally a whole lamb is stuffed with a mix of spices, nuts, currants, vegetables and more minced lamb and roasted (recipe here) and served on a bed of rice. Obviously it had been scaled down here but was still delicious (A) and the rice was good too (B+).

It came with another two soups, chickpea (B) and lamb with (A) for the grand total of £6.

Also the ‘Kurdish Kebab’ was effectively a very delicate keema kebab (B+) and came with grilled marinated liver (A).

With a large salad of red onion, lettuce, lemons and marinated red cabbage (B), three naans made on the premises (B), two cups of salted yogurt (B) and four cups of strong black tea the total bill came to £17, which given the quality of the food was an absolute bargain.

I’ve been to the Kurdish area in western Iran and if anything the food in this restaurant is better. A solid recommendation.

Manchester – small plates in the city centre

Posted in City Centre, England, Lancashire, Manchester, United Kingdom with tags , on January 27, 2019 by gannet39

Like the UK in general, the restaurant scene in Manchester has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years. Here are two of my favourites for Mediterranean flavours…

Google map here.

The Refuge (High Intermediate A), in The Principal Hotel, Oxford St, Manchester M60 7HA www.refugemcr.co.uk

I need to declare a conflict of interest here as one of the proprietors of this top notch small plates restaurant is my best and oldest friend from school but believe me, my boy knows his grub, and if it wasn’t really good, I wouldn’t write about it.

As well as holding the contract for this hotel bar and lounge, Luke and his business partner Justin run their own restaurant, Volta voltafoodanddrink.co.uk in West Didsbury, and a boozer, Electriks Bar electrikbar.co.uk in Chorlton, both of which I also highly recommend for good food, drink and vibes.

The Refuge is located in the former office building of the Refuge Assurance Company who occupied the building for nearly 100 years, from 1895 to 1987.

Their red neon ‘Refuge’ sign, at the top of the building’s sixty-six metre tower, was an Oxford Road landmark for much of this time. The building has now been converted into an opulent hotel called The Principal www.phcompany.com

It has a beautiful red brick and terracotta exterior.

The walls and pillars of the bar area are decorated with decorative ceramic tiles known as Burmantofts facience.

Beyond this there is the tastefully decorated restaurant which seats ninety in cosy banquettes.

On the far wall is a legendary stencil which was taken from an old poster the boys found in the cellar.

As luck would have it, I occasionally work in an office just two blocks up the street. Usually I eat a light Thai lunch in Chinatown, but when I deserve a treat, I come to the Refuge.

The food takes inspiration from Mediterranean cuisines; Spain of course but also North African and Levantine. The small plates are best shared with friends and you need at least two but ideally three per person. Everything I’ve ever had has been great.

The menu is always changing but here are some past favourites; Sake cured salmon with spring onion and ponzu, Lamb tagine meatballs with apricot and pistachio, Char grilled cauliflower with carraway and pomegranite, Chargrilled Picanha steak with smoked Cafe de Paris butter, Mackerel with couscous , Daal Makhani, Salt cod croquettes, Battered squid, Salmon on rye, Roast baby new potatoes with bravas sauce, parsley and aioli, Grilled broccoli with beetroot Romesco and hazelnuts. Click the pics to enlarge them.

Service has always been friendly and on-point. As a miserly Yorkshireman if I was to criticise I’d say some portions are a little small for what you pay but hey, you’re getting top quality grub in a beautiful space in trendy Manchester so it’s to be expected.

And now for the competition…

This is a highly renowned tapas bar in the central retail district of Manchester. Luke loves it as well despite the fact it is a rival.

El Gato Negro (High Intermediate B+), 52 King St, Manchester, www.elgatonegrotapas.com

This is a review of my experience in 2016 so the menu and wine list may well have changed. I’m sure the quality of the cuisine is still the same though.

To drink I had the Morfil Garnacha (B+), one of the cheaper wines at £21 a bottle. I also got complementary Aqua Panna.

The Jamon Croquettes were very good (B+).

As were the Lamb Skewers (B+).

I loved the Syrian Lentils too (B+).

I was really looking forward to the Scotch Eggs with Morcilla but sadly the flavours just weren’t there for me (C).

The Ribs were okay (B).

And to finish, the Yorkshire Rhubarb & Cream Crumble was a winner (B+).

I pushed the boat out with a £7 glass of Emilio Lustau Moscatel (B+) to go with it.

And even further out with a glass of Alvear ‘El Presidente’ Brandy from Cordoba which was a new one on me and unexpectedly good (B+) for a £5 glass.

The staff were very attentive, as was the chef owner which makes a nice change. My total bill with a tip came to a greedy £80.

So a couple of Mediterranean inspired gems to bring you some sunshine in the Rainy City. Enjoy!

Birmingham – fine dining in the city centre

Posted in Birmingham, City Centre, England, United Kingdom, West Midlands with tags , , , on January 26, 2019 by gannet39

Birmingham has many fine dining establishments, some Michelin starred and some on their way to getting one. Here are three I’ve been to in 2019, 2016 and in 2010. My map here.

Adam’s (Advanced A), New Oxford House, 16 Waterloo St, Birmingham B2 5UG, www.adamsrestaurant.co.uk

At the time of writing in January 2019, Adam’s is TripAdvisor #1 in Brum, beating off competition from four other Michelin starred restaurants. Its five star rating is fully deserved in my experience.

I went for the £65 three course à la carte menu rather than the £95 tasting menu (the only two choices) as I wasn’t hungry enough for six courses. You get three choices for each course with the à la carte menu and this being a Michelin place, lots of little extras as well.

The first amuse bouche was fairly non-descript but the second was fantastic. The tiny lump of savoury ice cream (forgot what it was sorry) paddling in a beetroot based liquid and anointed with olive oil was full of flavour and looked great (A). This was the case with all the following dishes.

The beetroot theme continued with the following dish of Cornish mackerel. A beetroot jelly overlaying tiny cubes of beetroot and apple accompanied an immaculately grilled fillet (B+). On the side in a bowl of pebbles was a tiny goblet of grilled eel in some kind of pastry which was fabulous (A).

Next a little extra of a warm bun with a mushroom filling served with butter topped with seaweed powder (A).

With this a glass of Greco di Tufo by Lapilli, one of my favourite Italian whites. It was okay but I’ve had better (B).

Next a satisfying main of Cumbrian suckling pig, both loin and confit belly, pressed all the right buttons (A).

I really liked the St Laurent by Johanneshof Reinisch from Thermenregion in Austria which had a great nose and an unusual fruity flavour (B+).

The ‘transition’ from savoury to sweet was made with this little number. Again I didn’t keep track of what it was exactly (mango, creme fraiche, pecans?) but it was wonderful (A).

For dessert an innovative concept called Pear William; a candied sponge filled with speculoos (spiced shortcrust biscuit popular in Germanic countries) , vanilla and bergamot (an Italian citrus).

It looked great but I was slightly disappointed it didn’t have more flavour (B+).

To go with it a glass of sweet 2017 Auslese from Tschida Angerhof (B).

Finally a chocolate bonbon and another chocolate in a box to take home.

By this time I think they’d worked out I was a blogger as I was given a tour of the kitchens and an introduction to the head chef.

Total cost just shy of £100 with tip. The wines were £7 and £8.50 respectively for a 125ml pour, and £5 for 70ml of the dessert wine. I felt it was pretty good value for a top quality experience.

After such a good meal I wanted a brandy to finish but nothing on the drinks list grabbed me so I went around the corner to the The Old Joint Stock, www.oldjointstock.co.uk at 4 Temple Way. It’s in a lovely building with an opulent interior.

I had a couple of glasses of Janneau, a French brandy I hadn’t had before (B).

And in 2016 I went to…

The Wilderness (Intermediate A), 27 Warstone Ln, Birmingham B18 6JQ, wearethewilderness.co.uk

Rather strange location, inside an office block, less than a minute away from the south exit of Birmingham New Street. The décor scheme makes use of moss glued to the walls train-set style and a canopy of artificial leaves springing from dead branches fastened to the pillars.

As a lone diner I got the worst seat in the house but I didn’t mind it too much. The lovely attentive staff made up for it, especially Luby. It’s the kind of place where they refold napkins whenever a customer leaves the table.

I had their tasting menu ‘The Full Story’ with wine matching for £105 (£65 without drinks). Apologies for the lack of good photos, the lighting did not allow.

Proceedings began with a hot bread bun and some smoked homemade butter which was made delicious by some heavy salting, a bit too much on my second serving, and I like salt (A-).

After this, Mackerel, Apple, Pear and Bergamot (A).

This was matched with a Digby Reserve (A). Made with the same grapes and methods as Champagne and Chardonnay.

Pork Belly, Parsnip, Squid (A+). The pork had been roasted for 16 hours and would have got A++ but the meat was a little bit dry, although the flavour couldn’t be faulted.

The Wobbly Munk cider was flat but had great depth of flavour (A).

Seabass, Cauliflower, Turnip, Kohlrabi, Chorizo (A).

Green Gimlet (A).

Celeriac, Egg Yolk, Caviar, Wild Mushrooms, Chicken Skin (A).

To drink, Mencia (2012) an unusual red from Galicia with notes of Cherries, Liquorice, Dark Tannins (B+).

Lamb, Carrot, Swede (B).

Albillo, a fresh wine from Madrid with notes of white flowers and stone fruit (B+).

Cheddar , Shallot, Wood Ants, Edible Flowers (A). The ants tasted strongly of citrus, apparently from the formic acid they produce for defensive purposes. A first for me! Wish the photo had come out as it’s quite a sight seeing a plate dotted with ants.

Black Cow Vodka made from milk whey. The curds were used to make the cheddar in the next dish.

Beetroot, Lavender, served with berries and the plate coated with Beetroot Dust (A).

My only dissatisfaction was that the food was served quite slowly. I was served in lockstep with the table next to me, which was a bit annoying as they kept going for a smoke.

To finish a Kings Heath Americano with Dark Chocolate, Salted Caramel and Butter Scotch Whisky.

A very interesting experience, thoroughly recommended.

And from back in March 2010…

Purnells (Advanced A), 55 Cornwall St, Birmingham B3 2DH www.purnellsrestaurant.com , GEM ALERT!

This was an eight course Michelin starred escapade with my friends Luke, Alex and his lady and the Bragazzi’s boys; Tim and Matt. This was one of my first meals as a blogger and I hadn’t yet started taking photos but here’s what we had anyway:

Amuse Bouche (can’t remember what).

Poached egg yolk, smoked haddock milk foam, cornflakes, curry oil.

(In the shape of a fried egg, the foam was wonderfully fishy and the cornflakes gave flavour as well as texture).

Royal of goats’ cheese and pineapple on sticks, watercress puree.

(A nostalgia trip reminiscent of my parents cheese and wine evenings in the 70’s, but far more refined! Loved it.)

Salad of Devonshire crab, apple, celeriac, smoked paprika honeycomb. (Loved the combination of crab with apple).

Monkfish masala, Indian lentils, coconut, coriander, pickled carrots. (Not what I wanted to eat after a month in Bangladesh! but the fish was great and the dahl far better than over there!).

Breast of duck, liquorice charcoal, butternut squash terrine, cep & liquorice purees, quinoa. (My favourite course and the best duck I have ever eaten. Wonderfully concentrated mushroom puree, left the liquorice one though. Quinoa has left me cold in the past, but again this was the best I’d ever tasted!).

Warm, dark chocolate mousse, mango & rosewater sorbet, mango leather. (Filled the need but drowned the sorbet, which was very nice).

Burnt English custard egg surprise, blackberries, crystallised tarragon, blackberry sorbet. (Memory going but was great at the time! Crystallised tarragon!).

Coffee and petit fours. (Nice little machiato. Matteo rated the coffee highly so it must be good!)

The wines, waiter’s handwriting permitting were:

Michel Arnold Grand Cru, Verzency Rose. (Refreshing pink fizz to start).

Jordan Estate Chenin Blanc South Africa 2007. (Lovely honey coloured, good legs, great with the cheese and pineapple).

Akaishi Sai Junmon Sake, Yamada Nishiki rice, Japan. (Rather unsettling nose and dry leaf taste but very interesting. Like no other sake I had ever tasted, even after three years of living in Japan. Amazing when combined with the crab salad).

Gewurtztramiener Austria, Willi Opite, Spaatslese 2006. (Went very well with the spices and the monkfish).

Merlot Coonawana, Western Austrailia 1999. (Perfect accompaniment for the duck, pure bliss).

Pineau des Charentes, South of La Rochelle, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot of Cognac, no vintage.

Colecaian (?) 125, late harvest Moscatel, Julian Chinte, Navarra 2005. (Wonderful, clear singing dessert wine that reminded me of Muscat di Trani).

£150 all in, worth every penny.

Peterborough – a walk around town

Posted in Cambridgeshire, England, Peterborough, United Kingdom with tags , , , , on January 25, 2019 by gannet39

I worked in Peterborough on a couple of occasions back in March and August 2016. It’s a historic market town with a famous cathedral so I stayed overnight to get to know it a bit better.

My Google map is here.

From the train station, you’ll see some nice street art if you take the pedestrian subway under the Queensgate Roundabout (click on the pics to enlarge).

I arrived in town around 4pm which meant I had time for a very quick tour of the cathedral which closes at 5.

The Cathedral Church of St Peter, St Paul and St Andrew was founded in the Anglo-Saxon period, but the architecture is mainly Norman. It’s one of the most important 12th-century buildings in England to have remained pretty much intact.

However my favourite part is the fan vaulting in the “New Building” around the end of the Norman eastern apse, which is a rare example of Perpendicular Gothic. Fan vaulting are an architectural feature peculiar to England (again click on the pics to enlarge).

The old market hall in the centre of town is another nice old building.

The Charters Bar www.charters-bar.com is a pub on an old Dutch barge. My friend Matt who is a football journalist told me about it. He’d stop off here for a pint before going to the London Road stadium which is just down the road.

The Leendert-R was built in 1907 and is apparently the largest continental barge in the UK. The lower deck is a real ale pub while upstairs is a Thai restaurant. My pint of IPA didn’t have much of a head and was a bit pricey at £4 but the surroundings made a change from the usual.

The Draper’s Arms at 29-31 Cowgate, www.jdwetherspoon.co.uk is a big old pub with a lovely polished-wood interior. It’s a former 19th-century draper’s shop with floor-to-ceiling windows.

When I was there in March 2016 I ate well at Clarkes on Queen St in the centre. It was the best restaurant at the time as far as I could make out. It has since moved to The Fox in Folksworth just outside Peterborough. www.foxatfolksworth.co.uk

The Lake District – an evening at Lake Road Kitchen in Ambleside

Posted in Ambleside, Cumbria, England, Lake District, United Kingdom with tags , on January 23, 2019 by gannet39

Although I’m quite well-travelled (fifty two countries and counting), to my shame I’ve hardly been anywhere in my own country, the Lake District being a case in point. My father tells me we came on a family holiday when I was ten but that it was a soggy affair as it rained all the time. The weather wasn’t much different on this one night visit in late July 2016 when I was up in Windermere for work, but I didn’t mind, I was happy just to be there, even fleetingly.

Here’s my Google map with a few other hotels and restaurants recommended by guides and friends.

Lake Road Kitchen (Advanced B+), Lake Road, Ambleside, www.lakeroadkitchen.co.uk

This excellent restaurant was recommended by Alex Shaw an award winning chef friend of mine and it also features in the 100 Best Places to Eat in the UK list.

They are known for their obsession with sourcing quality ingredients, which includes growing their own and foraging in the Cumbrian countryside.

It was a bit quiet on the Sunday I went so I got a lot of attention from the friendly chef (owner?) as I was seated right next to the pass. I think he’d worked out I was a blogger so he regaled me with the backstories of a lot of his ingredients. It was fascinating but I was too tired from work to fully retain all the wisdom he passed on.

I began with a Negroni which was pretty decent (B+) although I was later scandalised to find out it cost £15!

On the positive side it was made with an unusual vermouth from Turin (the home of vermouth) called Mancini which I hadn’t tried before.

I had the eight-course tasting menu for £90. It began with the Braised Hereford Snails with LRK Miso, Parsley and Chickweed which looked suitably slimy but also managed to taste very good (B+).

This was matched with a 2013 Domaine Du Daley, Le Chasselas Selection, Villette Grand Cru from Vaud in Switzerland (B).

Next the LRK Garden Salad, plucked from their own garden, was lovely and fresh (A).

I loved the Tempura Courgette Flower that came with it as well (A).

The 2013 Albourne Estate Bacchus from West Susex, England, went well with this (B+). It had a fantastic nose and showed once more that you can get decent wine from England. I must try and get some. [2019 note, just looked at their website www.albourneestate.co.uk and the 2017 was going for £15 but sold out really quickly].

I really enjoyed the Monkfish Cheeks, Charred Spring Onion, Chicken & Herb Stew (B+).

The 2013 Valpolicella Classico Velluto Meroni from Veneto that went with the cheeks was fine (B).

My favourite dish was the Cumbrian Milk Fed Veal, Stew of Summer Legumes which had fantastic green flavours (A).

This was paired with a glass of 2012 Domaine A et P de Villaine, Mercurey Les Montots from Cote Chalonnaise, France (B).

I also loved the Lemon Verbena Tart, Buckwheat Pastry, Alpine Strawverries and Wild Strawberry Sauce (A). My photo was too blurry sorry but I can assure you it was beautifully presented.

This went well with the 2012 Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, Delas Freres from the Rhone Valley in France (B+).

Finally I was given an extra dessert of Tayberries, Salmonberry Sauce, Rose Granita (A). I’d never had these berries before which isn’t surprising as they have a very short season and the chefs had to wade along the river banks to pick them.

The Lake District generally is quite expensive and this restaurant was no exception. However I admire their dedication and the efforts they go to in order to procure the finest, freshest local ingredients. Definitely somewhere I’d recommend you go to if you’re in the area and want to treat yourself.

Leeds – The Victorian Quarter – The Man Behind the Curtain

Posted in England, 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, www.themanbehindthecurtain.co.uk

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).

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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).

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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).

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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).

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

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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++).

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I got a Basil Sorbet palate cleanser before the sweet.

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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!

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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.

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

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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’.

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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 England, 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.

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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!

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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.

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

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Quirky period buildings are at every turn.

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I particularly like the galleries of the old shopping arcades.

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

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Manchester – Vietnamese food in Northenden

Posted in England, Lancashire, Manchester, Northenden, 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 www.facebook.com/miandpho

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.

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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!

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

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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.

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Salt and pepper spare ribs.

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

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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 – Asian food in Chinatown

Posted in Chinatown, England, Lancashire, 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), NEW ADDRESS: Deansgate Mews, Great Northern Warehouse, 253 Deansgate, Manchester M3 4EN
OLD ADDRESS: 48A George St, www.facebook.com/siamsmilescafe

2018 update! The new location on Deansgate Mews (ie no longer in Chinatown) is a little hard to find but still very much worth the effort. Once in the Great Northern Warehouse go up to the Odeon on the first floor but turn right out of the doors onto the hidden mews. The shop is smaller and less rough and ready, but the menu is pretty much the same. The duck soup is great!

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.

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.

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

I Am Pho (High Elementary B), 44 George St, Manchester M1 4HF

A decent bowl of Beef Pho but nothing spectacular (B). The bean sprout pancake is okay too (B).

Hunan Restaurant (Intermediate B+), 1st Floor, 19-21 George St (opposite Siam Smiles), www.hunanrestaurant.co.uk

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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, www.wongwongbakery.com

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 station and around

Posted in England, Kings 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.

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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.

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London – Islington – old school eating in Chapel Market

Posted in Chapel Market, England, 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 www.manzepieandmash.com

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, www.thegetstuffed.co.uk

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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London – salivating in Soho

Posted in England, London, Soho, United Kingdom with tags , on October 28, 2015 by gannet39

Nowadays Soho is heaving with great places to eat. These are a few of my favourites.

Google map here.

Koya Bar (Intermediate B+), 50 Frith St, Soho, London W1D 4SQ www.koya.co.uk

An Udon noodle specialist that attracts a lot of Japanese customers. I wanted some advice on what to get but the Japanese waitress couldn’t understand my question so the friendly chef took over and sorted me out with a bowl of their Kitsune (B+); sweet tofu with udon noodles and spring onions which I spiced up with a bit of shichimi chilli powder.

A bottle of Kernel craft beer was the perfect companion (B+).

Barrafina (Advanced A-), 54 Frith Street, Soho www.barrafina.co.uk

On the Soho scene since 2007, Barrafina is very much trying to emulate the Barcelona institution Cal Pep by providing high end Spanish cuisine in a tapas bar setting. (please see my El Born post)

Like Cal Pep it’s not possible to make reservations but you can have drinks and nibbles in the queue while you’re waiting (about 40 mins in my case). Again like its counterpart, it’s not cheap, but the food is usually top notch. Since my visit in mid-2014 they’ve been awarded a Michelin star which goes some way to justifying their prices.

I started with Chorizo & Potato Chips which were a bit of a surprise as they looked more like spring rolls than ‘chips’. Don’t recall being particularly blown away by them (B). Gambas (just two) al Ajillo (A) and the Morcilla Iberica with Quails Eggs (A) were more to my taste and Chips with Brava sauce were okay (B+). To drink their cheapest wine, a Humilitat red, off a pricey list, was pretty decent (B+).

This place is great if you’re flush and happy to pay top dollar for good food. Personally I found it tough to justify the expenditure because I know I can get as good or better on my travels, and for less money. Don’t let me stop you going though, it’s definitely a good foodie experience.

Other great places I’ve not had time to write up:

Bone Daddies – Ramen (Intermediate A), 31 Peter St, Soho, London W1F 0AR, www.bonedaddies.com

The Palomar – Israeli/Palestinean fusion tapas (Intermediate A), 34 Rupert St, London W1D 6DN, thepalomar.co.uk

Kiln – Thai Grill (Intermediate B+), 58 Brewer St, Soho, London W1F 9TL www.kilnsoho.com

London – fine dining in Shoreditch

Posted in England, London, Shoreditch, United Kingdom with tags , on October 27, 2015 by gannet39

Came down to the big smoke in 2014 to try a couple of the new kids on the block that were creating a stir. In a nutshell I loved the first more down-to-earth place but felt ripped off by the second more pricey establishment.

As a consequence I’ve virtually given up on high end eating in London as it’s so hard to get value for money. Yes the quality is there but you have to pay through the nose for it, and I know I can get better food for a fraction of the price on the continent. But then that’s London for you…

My Google map of London is here.

Lyle’s (Advanced A) , Tea Building, 56 Shoreditch High St, www.lyleslondon.com

The no-choice set menu was a good deal at £39 for 7 courses with extras like bread, water and petit fours. The menu is constantly changing depending on what’s available that day. I came here in October 2014 with my buddies Tom and Toby. We had:

Blood Pudding
Mackerel Broth
Squid & Tomato
Middle White, Pumpkin & Chestnuts (Middle White is a rare breed pig from Yorkshire)
Pear, Wigmore & Walnuts (Wigmore is a soft sheep’s cheese from Berkshire)
Plums & Vanilla Ice Cream
Les Clapas Cote de Rhone 2012 (Garnacha/Syrah blend)

I was having fun so didn’t take any notes but it was all B+/A as I remember. Décor is all white ceramic tiles which complements the simple, practical feel of their food philosophy. Service was friendly and efficient and we were able to take our time over the food. Would definitely go again.

Clove Club (Advanced B), Shoreditch Town Hall, Old St, www.cloveclub.com

I came by myself and had the £65 set menu (plus a supplement of £12 for the scallop) for which I got 6 courses and 3 extras, and the wine matching for an additional £50. The menu stated:

Wild Irish Trout Tartare, Citron Baches, Sesame & Chives
Raw Orkney Scallop, Hazelnut, Clementine & Perigord Truffle
Cornish Pollock, Peas, Ham, Morels & Wild Garlic
Slow Cooked Black Faced Suffolk Lamb, Wild Seaweed & Spring Cabbage
Amalfi Lemonade & Sarawak Pepper Ice Cream
Warm Blood Orange, Ewe’s Milk Yoghurt Mousse & Wild Fennel Granita

nb Perigord truffles are named after a region in France famous for black truffles.

However there were several free extras, such as a short section of sausage, Longanzina I think, a piece of fried chicken, and a freshly baked Madeleine. I also added a cheese board to the bill. I can’t remember that are in a couple of the pics, but I do remember it was all very good!

Again no notes were taken, but everything was excellent if occasionally over presented (like the single piece of fried chicken in a basket of pine twigs, what the hell?). They make their own bread and even have a specialist citrus supplier.

All the wines were very big on the nose but didn’t seem to linger on the palate as long as you’d think they would. I also noticed this at Man Behind the Curtain in Leeds so perhaps it’s becoming a trend to serve more pungent wines.

Service was friendly and efficient but the next morning when I reread the bill I was disappointed to see that I’d been upsold a glass of wine that cost £22 just by itself. If I’d been told the price before I had it I’d have refused it, or at least savoured every valuable drop.

I can’t even remember what the name of the wine was, but here are some of the others:

La Morandina, Moscato d’Asti, 2014 is £12.50 a bottle from here.

Richard Leroy’s ‘Les Noels de Montbenault’ Chenin 2011 was unavailable on the net but the 2013 is around €30 on this French website.

Solera 1842 VOS (Valdespino) is a medium sweet Oloroso blend from Jerez. What’s known as an ‘Oloroso Abocado’. Gets 4 stars on this wine tasting website.

Clos Thou, Supreme de Thou 2010, Jurancon France. Complemented the dessert fruits I had but a review suggests that it’s not best drunk on it’s own. The 2014 is €17.50 here.

Service was also 12.5% which although the industry standard in London, is pretty hefty for a provincial like me in a place like this. The total cost of £175 left a sour note on an otherwise enjoyable experience. I did complain, and was offered a free course next time I came, but I have no plans to go back, even though they now have a Michelin star.

UPDATE: Clove Club now ask that their diners pay in advance, to cut down on losing money on no-shows. It will also hopefully cut down on problems like the one I had.

Getting it on with the Green Fairy

Posted in City Centre, England, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, United Kingdom, West Street, Yorkshire with tags , , on March 20, 2015 by gannet39

I’m occasionally asked by chef and restaurateur friends to come and eat at their places and give my opinions about their menus. I tend to avoid blogging these experiences as it’s a good way to lose friends, and besides my readers would think that my opinions were biased, and they’d probably be right.

20140514_221143However I did want to share my experience at my friend Dave’s place (the Wick-at-Both-Ends  on West Street, in my hometown, Sheffield) for two reasons. Firstly to big them up for being a quality establishment (great cocktails, good food) in a sea of city centre mediocrity, and secondly to show you the pictures of their beautiful antique absinthe fountain (please click on them for a better view).

20140514_221353Absinthe was originally invented in Switzerland, originally as a medicinal drink, but it became most popular in 19th century Belle Époque France, especially with artists and writers who attributed drug like effects to drinking it, which ultimately led to it being banned. Science has since proved that absinthe is no different from any other alcohol in this respect but the reputation has remained.

20140514_221227Absinthe is known as ‘the Green Fairy’ because of its psychedelic reputation and the colour of the spirit (due to the inclusion of green anise). Absinthiana, the equipment needed for the preparation ritual, has become very collectible for its aesthetic beauty.

20140514_221914The traditional ‘French method’ of preparing is to put a sugar lump on a slotted absinthe spoon on a glass containing the absinthe and slowly drip iced water onto the cube and then into the drink turning it cloudy (absinthe was the forerunner of French pastis). This ‘louche effect’ creates a microemulsion of tiny oil droplets in the water, bringing out subtle flavours that wouldn’t be so apparent in the neat drink.

20140514_221640Absinthe fountains allow the water to be dripped evenly and slowly out of two, four or sometimes six spigots. This meant the fountain could be shared with groups of friends.

20140514_221236With the more modern (since the 90s) ‘Bohemian method’, also known as ‘The Flaming Green Fairy’, you douse the sugar cube in alcohol, set fire to it and drop it into the glass to ignite the spirit. The flames are then put out with a shot of water. Although more spectacular, purists say this spoils the taste of the alcohol.

I think we tried both methods but I wouldn’t like to say which was better!

20140514_224334Thing is, although I love the ritual I’m not actually that keen on the drink, which is unusual for me! I used to DJ at a night called Absinthesis that received sponsorship from a drinks producer in the form of free absinthe, so I remember the terrible hangovers only too well! It’s nice to pretend you’re a French artist for a couple of drinks though.

I love the art of the period. Check out these absinthe postcards.

The food was good too, but I’ll let the pictures do the talking for that.

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Thanks to Dave, Chloe and all the staff at the Wick x

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