Sunday, 18 May 2014

Khalisa, Bentham Drive, Liverpool

Despite being around for years, I visited the Khalisa (or the Tulisa as I've been calling it) for the first time recently. It's one of those curry houses you'd only go to if you are local and live in walking distance or just get a takeaway from, but as my mate lives around the corner, we decided to check it out in the name of research. She's been going for years and warned me it's nothing to get excited about, no cosy booths like UNI and no cheap and cheerful yet authentic details like Master Chef and certainly no daft photo opportunities for Instagram. (Incidentally, my pic of the meal I had got 83 likes on Instagram so at least the food is photogenic or maybe it's just the filter).



The restaurant is rather cramped inside, the takeaway customers standing awkwardly amongst the tables but needless to say the staff are friendly. The prices are a bit OTT considering the ambience and the location (residential area with no pubs or cafes close by) so maybe its a captive audience thing and they're playing on that fact. We went straight for popadoms with a generous pickle tray, my only quibble is the onion portion of the pickle tray tasted dried out. For the main event, it was a veggie sambar, a potent hot and sour curry combination not dissimilar to pathia. Packed with spuds and only a few frozen veg, this wasn't bad as far as curries go but at over £8 for a veggie curry, I expected something a bit more special. My friend's veggie bhuna was the same- decent portion but nothing midblowing. In the absence of a coffee machine and nothing much on the dessert menu, it was over the road to the co-op for afters.

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The Good- a convenient local Indian you can always get a table in
The bad- the bland ambience doesn't justify the prices.



Khalisa Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

New China Palace, Berry St, Liverpool

What do you do when you're disillusioned with cheap Chinese buffets and want a nice relaxing lunch out without being rushed like some of these Early Bird places do? Go to Chinatown, that's what. After its rise and fall, it seems to be on the up again with lots of new places popping up and my new favourite place there is the New China Palace, the artist formerly known as the Far East, old school Scouse foodies. With a huge menu including dim sums, authentic Chinese dishes and Westernised ones, this one is suitable for both adventurous foodies and the boring chicken and sweetcorn soup brigade alike. To start, I went for the 'boring' option of veggie spring rolls which were incredibly tasty! The hardcore carnivores can have an offal-ly good time here (groan) with kidneys, liver and various appetisers containing tripe.


For the main, I went for Szechuan tofu with EFR. The portion was so big, a doggy bag was necessary. One main here can easily do two. The sauce tasted home made and not a blue dragon jobby like some places. Chillies, pickled veg and silky tofu made an amazing combination!


I was too full for dessert, but the dessert menu didn't seem to be too exciting. There didn't seem to be a dessert menu for that matter as most of the diners seemed to be ending their feast with just a pot of jasmine tea. I spied mango pudding, but in lieu of a coffee machine in the restaurant I settled for a coffee at Café Tabac for dessert instead.

Amazing restaurant, friendly staff and the open plan kitchen is a show in itself, definitely worth swerving the bland buffets for.

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The good- generous portion size and relaxed ambience
The bad- lack of coffee and dessert


China Palace on Urbanspoon

Salvatore's, Lord St, Southport

Don't you hate it when you do your best to support local businesses (like me on here constantly shouting my mouth off that chains are bad) and get let down by a mix of shoddy cooking and overpriced tourist trap rubbish? This review is going to be a hypocritical one as I had a horrific meal last week in an independent and a fabulous one in a chain (post to follow later). As Spring has finally sprung, me and my mate decided to have a cheesy British seaside day out in Southport. After cheating death on the journey there (that fear you have when the train passes through Bootle and there's a salivating pitbull on the platform, hoping it won't get in your carriage) to navigating the area between the train station and the main drag nearly getting run over by inebriated pensioners on Benidorm scooters not to mention nearly getting defecated on by killer seagulls, we found what looked like a good old traditional Italian called Salvatore's. A fan of a bit of kitsch and 1970s nostalgia, we thought we'd get a decent, traditional and cheap bit of lunch here. The only thing I'd be eating would be my words. Oh dear...




The ambience was a bizarre cross between your typical 1970s Italian and a shabby bar in Benidorm, the cheesy soundtrack of Gypsy Kings in the background accompanied by an orchestra of phlegmy coughs from the clientele. Not one of the customers sounded local- was this going to be a rip off tourist trap? I looked at the menu and my fears were confirmed. Our host, Salvatore was a cheerful, Steve Coogan lookalikey kind of chap so no offence to him, he was the bright light in this dingy cesspit. I had to search long and hard for anything remotely Italian on the menu or veggie for that matter. Someone behind me was eating something burnt involving frozen veg out of Heron Foods or somewhere, the poor folk opposite me weren't eating Italian either. To start, we ordered garlic bread which looked like something I made in school cookery when I was 14- a few rough hunks of bread with a bit of garlic butter on. A poor imitation of one you get for 49p from Belle Vale, except this was near £3. For mains, I ordered Penne Arrabiata and I don't know what it was, but it wasn't Arrabiata. First of all, it was mild and creamy, it lacked its chili kick. Secondly, it was full of mushrooms. I didn't ask for funghi did I? The tinned tomatoes in its sauce were evident. This was the most disgusting pasta I have ever eaten and believe me, I've eaten at some dodgy places in my time. To add insult to injury, it was a tenner! £10 for what? A concoction that looked like a student had made it using whatever was left in the cupboard? Disgusting. A real shame, as this place is crying out with potential and the owner is obviously enthusiastic and a nice guy who's good with people. Sadly, as I left I saw so many more inviting restaurants with 2 for a tenner deals along the road. Suppose I should have just stuck to the chippy.

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The good: Ermmmm let's think. The music was rather nice!
The bad: The food, the price and the dust in the place.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Eureka, Myrtle Parade, Liverpool

 
2001. Liverpool in the days before the Capital of Culture, before all the budget airlines put us on the map as a tourist destination. The days before Liverpool One and pricey restaurants. Bargain eateries were in abundance, some of them were hidden gems. Back then, I stumbled upon a small, unassuming taverna called Eureka, hidden away at the back of the now defunct Mythos Village. Prices were cheap, coffee was potent and the atmosphere was a little bit of Greece in the rough of Toxteth. Fast forward to 2014 and after too many disappointing Christakis meals and rude staff in Zorbas, it was time to revisit my old haunt from my uni days. It had doubled in size since my last visit over 10 years ago, as had the prices- ouch. However, it still had the ambience and a fabulous menu; I was so happy to see Melitzanosalata! I shared this with some tahini- plus points for dip portion and quality, minus points for charging for bread. Poor service when a restaurant sells dips which obviously require something to dip in and don't include bread with the dip. The dips were rather on the pricy side, especially considering the location of the restaurant, an area that became synonymous with riots in the 1980s so obviously their overheads aren't high. £4.50 for tztaziki, the cheapest, easiest dip to make seemed rather cheeky. The Other Carnivore ordered calamari which were delicious, fresh and good quality but the price was a bit painful. At almost £7 for a starter, I was rapidly budgeting in my head worrying how I'd pay for a taxi home!
  
 

Time for the main event- I had dolmades, the carnivores Kleftiko and lamb kebab. All main courses were excellent quality, portions huge and not too expensive- £9 for the veggie meal, between £10 and £14 for the meat. The meat I was told was 'better quality than that processed rubbish in Christakis and was like being in a Greek taverna'- thanks for the input Carnivores! My dolmades were plump, filling and with the right amount of marinated tomato flavour. All mains were served with tomato rice, chunky rough cut potato wedges seasoned with basil and rosemary and a crispy, fresh horiatiki. Best Greek meal I have had outside of Greece in years.


A sneaky shot of the camera-shy Carnivores and their dishes! Wish I would have took a doggy bag for work the next day.



Needless to say, I was too stuffed for dessert so I had a potent REAL coffee at a reasonable £1.50. Although the starters were pricey and the location dire, I wouldn't let this deter me from making Eureka a payday regular. Food was top notch, the staff couldn't have been more helpful and the grittiness of Toxteth is soon forgotten when you enter this little piece of Greek island bliss.
 
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The good: Quality Greek food and massive portions
The bad: Paying for bread with already expensive starters

Eureka on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Maharaja, London Rd, Liverpool

After years of being on my to-do list, I finally got round to going to Liverpool's only true South Indian restaurant. I had previously avoided going here due to London Rd not looking like one of the most inviting locales and there didn't seem to be the opportunity to incorporate a curry into a coffee/pub crawl itinerary. However, London Rd seems to be improving slowly but surely, plus my new workmates who live in the area had arranged a big night out there so it'd be rude to refuse! When I lived in Dubai, South Indian eateries were commonplace so I had an idea what to expect; put it this was, if you're expecting stag parties eating ringburners and predictable samosa/bhaji/rogan josh combos, you've come to the wrong place.

The meal started in the usual way with popadoms, however the pickle tray had a whopping 6 choices and some new unfamiliar faces! The three on the right are self-explanatory but check out the other 3 bad boys- the one at the top is another variation on lime pickle, this one in its purest form unlike the rubbish in the jars, next one down is a tomato based one which reminds me of thick Gazpacho soup and the other was a mint yogurt with a fiery aftertaste.


On to the starter. I ordered idli which are traditional steamed rice dumplings, served with a coconut chutney and a delicious vegetable curry for dunking the dumplings in. What a generous sized starter for only £3.95!



The curry was seasoned with lemongrass, coriander and aniseed and contained carrots, sweet potato and green beans. For those who are unsure whether they would like idli, I'd recommend them to fans of Gnocchi, dumplings and pasta.

After a nice gap between courses for us all to discuss what we'd eaten so far (it was a new experience for most of us) it was time for the main event. I ordered Aubergine Pal- an aubergine curry with a cashew based sauce. I ordered this thinking it would be blow-your-head-off strong like Phaal but this was a more sedate affair. At first, I thought I wouldn't stomach it due to my hatred of cream and Korma but it wasn't too overpowering and the aubergines provided enough padding to overpower the cream base. I ate this with Tamarind rice, a more vibrant alternative to basmati or pilau. Curry was approx. £7, rice £2.50 so average curry house price but for fresh ingredients that you could tell weren't mass produced curries but a labour of love, an artwork of a meal.


We were offered complimentary chai at the end which smelt wonderful but due to me liking neither milk nor tea, I opted for a mango lassi instead. Fruity and only £1.95.

Maharaja is quite possibly the only Indian in Liverpool which is neither pretentious nor screams Big Night Out, but instead takes you on a cultural journey of the regional variations of Indian food through your tastebuds. Staff are friendly and are willing to advise and tell you a bit of the food's history too.

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The good: A refreshing alternative to the curry house experience with generous portions
The bad: Only bad point was the glasses of soft drinks were a bit small and rather flat


Maharaja on Urbanspoon

Passage to India, Bold St, Liverpool

After visiting so many new restaurants lately, it was time to revisit an old classic on the Liverpool curry scene. The Passage to India has not been graced with my presence since 2006, when I made a flying visit from my then-home in Germany, absolutely gagging for decent British grub like Vindaloo. At the time, I stormed out in a huff as they only offered instant coffee (how uncivilised and not very continental at all) but this time I got tanked up in Caffe Nero beforehand! I remembered Passage as an old school 1980s traditional curry house with the bells and whistles like flock wallpaper, sticky carpet and booths but oh my, it had had a makeover and how pretty it looks now! The booths were still present but have been pimped up with diamante and white leather, crystal chandeliers and trendy wallpaper complete the look. I took advantage of the early doors deal- 3 courses plus an ice cream for a tenner. At first, they didn't offer me the cheap menu, only when I asked. Was this going to be a bad sign?

I needn't have worried. Both food and service turned out to be excellent and even had a BYO policy with no corkage charge! To start, there were popadoms with 4 dips:


After a breather was second course of onion bhajis. Excellent presentation, crisp salad and decent portion size!


For mains, I had my current favourite Veg Madras (Vindaloo Queen is losing her touch) with pilau. The Madras was potent, spicy and packed full of aubergine and potato, just the way I like it with not a tinned or frozen pea in sight. A textbook curry at its finest.



As part of the meal deal, we should have got a strawberry or vanilla ice cream but they forgot to mention this. I couldn't be bothered chasing it up as it is usually Happy Shopper served in one of those nasty metallic dishes. Instead, I pushed the boat out and ordered this decadent chocolate dessert for £3.50. A rich chocolate cheesecake base, double chocolate ice cream and a chocolate truffle on top, this may not have been wise after a curry but it sounded too good to resist!


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The good: Generous portion size, quality ingredients and BYO with no corkage
The bad: Could do with a real coffee machine and could be a bit more pro-active at offering their customers the meal deal

Passage To India on Urbanspoon


Monday, 10 February 2014

Spice Lounge, Albert Dock, Liverpool

After last week's effort of getting out of my curry comfort zone and going to so-called trendier, modern places, I went on the tourist trail to the dreaded Albert Dock. Dreaded because the last time I ventured there was 2002 when I had an awful weekend job working at La Crepe Rit (faux French café for those who haven't been unfortunate enough to discover it) back in the days before Liverpool became a capital of culture and you never got asked by Japanese tourists if you know John Lennon. After being away from the city for a decade, I'd heard amazing things about the Dock and the foodie grapevine was saying it was finally safe to go there- in other words, swerve Liverpool One as it's full of that faceless, identikit rubbish like N*ndo's. Enter Spice Lounge, one of the Dock's two curry houses!
 
Spice Lounge is an opulent modern Indian in one of the old original dock buildings, its chandeliers contrasting with the architecture. Its USP can be found in the bar area- one of the tables is actually a huge fishtank full of koi! I visited of a lunchtime where there is a choice between 4 business lunch menus- 2 meat ones, 1 fish and 1 veggie, each with 3 choices of starter and main. My veggie lunch was £7.95- all the lunches include pops, starter, main and a coffee.
 
To start, I had the pops which came with a choice of 3 pickles- the ubiquitous lime and mango and a third mint yogurt dip.
 
Next up was Aloo Moti Tikki, a potato fritter reminiscent of fish cakes without the fish and plenty of spice, served with a crisp salad. Non-greasy and full of flavour, a refreshing alternative to samosas, bhajis and co.
 

 
 For the main, I had Sabzi Miloni, a vegetarian curry with brown basmati rice. Bursting with flavour and packed with vegetables, the portion size was more than enough for my bargain lunch. All this was rounded off with a real potent coffee.
 
 
My veggie meal was no cause for complaint and I would give it a 10 out of 10 but Spice Lounge had a big thumbs down from my carnivorous colleagues. The Chicken Jalfrezi was apparently 'spongy and a bit pink in the middle' while the beef curry which on the menu was described as having 'pieces of meat' was in fact very thin shreds of meat, even I would have eaten it! Also, the nan bread didn't arrive with the meal so one of my dining group had practically eaten his curry by the time it arrived. Another bugbear was the service charge whacked on the bill- why should you be held at ransom to give a tip? Not normal practice in this city, save the mark-ups for the tourists with cash to splash.
 
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The Good- Friendly service and opulent surroundings in a great waterfront location
The Bad- meat quality and enforced service charge


Spice Lounge on Urbanspoon

Monday, 3 February 2014

Zaaffran, Allerton Rd, Liverpool

I have always been a bit apprehensive about these fancy modern Indian restaurants after being stung so many times in the past by small portions and a pretentious wine bar type atmosphere. I'm a traditionalist you see, a sucker for chintzy carpets, tacky décor and those all important booths. Zaaffran is a relative newcomer to the South Liverpool dining scene. Facing stiff competition from its neighbouring rivals Millon and Sekander, plus the fact that from the outside, it just looks like every other bar in the street, will it meet Vindaloo Queen's expectations?
 
Saturday night and stone empty- this wasn't a good sign but to be honest, it was freezing out. At least I managed to bagsy the solitary booth down the back! Despite being empty, the staff were friendly and didn't rush me or make inappropriate small talk like some other places (Yes Spice City, I mean you.) I was delighted to see they offered mocktails! A collective nod of approval from all us teetotallers. I tried this kiwi and aloe vera based mocktail. At £3.99 it was a bit pricey but it made a great photo on my Instagram!
 
 
To start, I feasted on popadoms. They weren't greasy like the usual pops and the dips didn't taste mass produced either. The chutney tray was a different take on the usual choice of 4- it consisted of a chili with onion, a mint yogurt and a spicy orange chutney. Delicious!
 
The main event was this Jeera Aloo at approx. £6- it's about time restaurants realised they were overcharging for veggie dishes, can't complain at this bargain price! I had it with a generous portion of brown pilau rice- not the usual coloured rice. The spuds were nicely marinated in a chili based sauce infused with coriander and parsley. A simple yet filling meal, spicy without being a ringburner.
 
 
The dessert menu looked extensive but I couldn't move so settled for coffee instead. The coffee was potent and they had a real coffee machine! About time the curry houses cottoned on to the fact that instant won't suffice in a classy establishment any more. Zaaffran is a great example of how Indian restaurants are keeping up with the times and paying more attention to quality, presentation and that all important after dinner coffee. Modern without being all nouvelle cuisine and scrimping on portion size. I'll still make my occasional trips to the UNI and Royal Tandoori though. Some things never change!
 
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The good- great drinks menu and a mix of old classics and new, more adventurous curries
The bad- hard pressed to say! Ok.. the heating was rather stifling. My only minus point.
 
Zaaffran on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Tai Pan Buffet, Hanover St, Liverpool

After many bad buffet experiences, I tend to swerve them as they are usually full of chavs licking the spoons and putting them back in the food, clueless staff who don't know what the slop they're serving is, screaming kids running round people's ankles and all the atmosphere of a rubbish Skytours package deal hotel in Santa Ponsa. However, when Tai Pan opened in Liverpool, I was convinced by my mate to give it a try. It seemed that the Jeremy Kyles hadn't discovered it yet, or saying that it was 12.30 when we went so they were probably just getting up. The other Tai Pan restaurant in the city has a great reputation so this seemed worth a try. For under £8 and with reasonably priced drinks, it seemed too cheap to miss!
 
There was soup and dim sums to start- I was disappointed to see that out of 3 soups on offer, none of them were veggie. I did have some spring rolls though and the famous Chinese delicacies of Samosas and Onion Rings (yeah I know).
 
For the main, there was a beautiful selection of stir fries, aubergines in garlic sauce, vermicelli and all the usual Chinese dishes, plus an Indian corner which I devoured! Pilau rice, lashings of popadoms and a yummy pea and potato curry. Perfection. It made up for the lack of veggie starters. Veggies watch out though, as the Szechuan tofu dish actually contains some sort of mystery meat.
 
 
 
 
The desserts were the typical underwhelming morsels offered by cheapo buffets. A few dried chunks of Turkish delight, some obscure Chinese jelly with fruits in, cubes of jelly (there seemed to be a running theme here). Tinned fruit cocktail. There were however about 6 flavours of ice cream, but the taste was so synthetic it wasn't a pleasant experience, a bit like that banana flavoured medicine you used to have as a kid.
 

Tai Pan Buffet is a must if you're on a budget, not so if you want a delicious dining experience or are a strict veggie like me. After a while, all the food started to taste the same, not so much a party in the mouth than an oil slick of dirty chip fat.

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The good- cheap, cheerful and filling
The bad- boring desserts and not much for veggies

Tai Pan Buffet on Urbanspoon


Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Shangri-La, Victoria St, Liverpool

One of the perks of my job is that I work weekends, meaning I have two glorious days off in the week to make the most of cheap business lunches in the city. (Yes, unfortunately food blogging isn't my job- maybe one day!) Today I fancied being a tourist in my own city and visiting the museum, so decided to look for a cheapo deal in the vicinity. After walking through the foodie nuclear apocalypse that is Queen Square- the disgusting chav bolthole that is Tso's, the Yummy Mummy soulless chain that is Ask, the frozen meal tapas gone to Iceland La Tasca and the swearword of good food that is N*ndo's (I still can't bear to write it)- I backtracked to the old classic Shangri-La, where I spotted a business lunch offer.

Shangri-La has been around for decades and is your typical English Chinese albeit not in Chinatown. In recent years, the quality had declined and had became one of those places to you only go at 2am and have the tastebud equivalent of beer goggles firmly on. It also got a bad hygiene rating on Scores on the Doors but thanks to getting its 5 stars back and good reports from my workmates, I gave the new, improved Shangri another whirl. I had not been since 2008 where I feasted on a deep fried spongelike spring roll and a tasteless load of water chestnuts fried in rancid soy sauce, so needless to say I was dubious.

I got great vibes when I went in. The staff were now friendly and welcoming and gave me and my dining partner a great table down the back where we could have a reasonably private conversation. The deal consisted of 3 courses and a drink for £7.50- not bad!

My first course was this deliciously potent Vegetarian Hot and Sour soup- portion size generous, the right balance of hot and sour and yummy chunks of tofu padding it out.



Delicious- I feared I'd be too full by the time the main course came! Second course was veggie spring rolls with a seaweed garnish.


The spring rolls were huge and filled with a curry and glass noodle filling. Delish! The seaweed was a nice touch too, better than the inedible carrot or turnip carved into a flower. What is the point of those and more importantly, do they get re-used? Oh dear, I was definitely not going to manage the main event, beancurd fried with kung po sauce with egg fried rice.


The sauce had a right chili kick without being too salty, the egg fried rice fresh, fluffy and a generous portion. My only complaint was my beancurd was a little too fried and made it lack the spongy, bouncy taste that I prefer. Nonetheless, it was a delicious meal and the portion size left no room for complaint (or dessert for that matter!)

Shangri La is definitely on top form again and on course to re-establish its good rep it had back in the 1990s. An oldie but a goodie, it is staring all these young. glitzy pretenders in the face. Trendy restaurants have came and gone again during the time the Shangri La has been around, that's got to stand for something. Great food, pleasant atmosphere and an even better price.

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The good: portion size, great atmosphere and lots of choice for veggies
The bad: tofu was a little greasy

Shangri-la on Urbanspoon