Wednesday, 15 December 2010

El Macho Liverpool - a sad loss!

Scousers and foodies- let us take a moment to remember a legend.

Vindaloo Kings and Queens, my Christmas was spoiled when I heard the news of a sad loss to Liverpool's restaurant scene. I was about to book a table for my beloved El Macho when, as I was googling the place, a series of blog posts popped up in the search reporting its closure. Why, El Macho, why have you done this to the foodies of the North West?

El Macho burst with a splash of vibrant colour onto the restaurant scene in the 80s but never dated, always looking fresh, original and one of a kind. Upon stepping into Machos, you forgot you were in Liverpool and thought you were in much warmer climes- green decor with faux bullet holes in the wall, fascinating artwork, Mexican tunes in the background hid the fact that the restaurant was situated in a grand Georgian terrace. The seating arrangements were unconventional- if you were lucky, you could bag one of the private rooms upstairs, perfect for romantic nights or a good old private gossip. The back of the restaurant was home to the famous conservatory; this seating area gave the impression you were actually outside with its paved floor and cacti collection.

I never knew of its existence until 2000, when I started Liverpool Uni and formed friendships with a funky crowd of foreign students. They introduced me to Machos, talking me through the menu, leaving me with a lasting impression. This was the best Mexican in Liverpool and no others came close. El Macho's tasted fresh and funky, all the others tasted as if the chef had popped down to Tesco's. Back in my student days, it was a pricey affair but I was pleased to note that on my last visit in 2009, the prices had stayed exactly the same so were no longer expensive, but had actually became a bargainous eaterie! The staff were mainly foreign students, the mish mash of accents giving Macho's it's unique holiday vibe.

My favourite Macho experience always involved their fantastic Nachos which no other establishment can replicate and a huge steaming platter of veggie chimichangas complete with refried beans. The coffee hit the spot and was rich and potent, rounding the meal off nicely.

I'm welling up with tears here at the fact that I will never visit Macho's again. Why have you closed, old friend? My memories of you are fond, joyous ones. Is it due to that evil L***rpool O*e, that ugly concrete jungle filled with even uglier 'restaurants' like N**do's and Z**zi's? Is it due to people becoming so lazy, they can't be bothered venturing into classier, more interesting quarters of the city centre? Are you all blinded by bright lights and boring chains, can you no longer think for yourselves? Or, El Macho, have you made enough money and don't need to work anymore and have sold up? Well, I wish you well if that is the case.

So, in 2010 I have said goodbye to Lewis's, Buca di Bacco, Balti House, El Macho...what next? Hopefully one of the bland chains!

Thanks for the memories you Macho man!

Friday, 10 December 2010

Lime, Salford

Lime? Limescale would be more appealing!

When one thinks of Salford, one doesn't think of glam nights out and gourmet paradise, but rough council estates and chip butties. However, Salford is trying to rid itself of its chav reputation with the creation of the Quays bar and restaurant complex, resembling Liverpool's Albert Dock or Edinburgh's Leith Shore. The Quays bring to mind the memorable quote from the film 'Clueless' when they describe a girl as being a 'Monet'- like the paintings, they look great from a distance but a big ugly mess close up. Salford Quays is such a place. A concrete jungle festooned with lights, glass tower blocks and more concrete, the Quays has all the culture of Luton town centre. Step inside the Quays and one finds such culinary lowlights like Cafe Rouge, Pizza Express and Harry Ramsdens. I was fortunate enough to eat at Lime, not a big chain but a polished turd nonetheless.

On first impressions, Lime looks a bit like a cool nightclub but as you enter its hallowed portal, it looks like Yates Wine Lodge with better lighting, cleaner tables and dearer prices. The meal was part of my work's Xmas celebrations and therefore had the Xmas 'special menu' with a price tag one needed an unsecured loan for. So pull up a chair at my dining table and I'll talk you through the courses.

To start, I had French Onion soup, a generous portion with beautiful velvety onions and a cheesy crust. Something was missing though... it wasn't served with any bread or butter! Minus points already, not a good start.

Veggies, now for the disappointing part. The only option was a Vegetarian Stack which looked like something off the Findus production line made by a Salfordian forced off the dole. Runny tomato puree, layers of peppers, a thin sliver of cheese and a morsel of courgette, this kiddies' portion wouldn't even fill Posh Spice. However, some 'sides' turned up- more courgette, burnt chips, tough sprouts and a microscopic morsel of parsnip. I was starving and felt as if I had turned up at a weight watchers convention.

Thank god for dessert. I ordered a wonderfully stodgy Xmas pud, the highlight of the meal. You can't go wrong with shop-bought from the cash and carry, can you?

So veggies, if you need any further persuasion, do not go to Lime. Better still, avoid Salford like the plague. The only decent grub I have ever ate here was in a packet, on a shelf and at Sainsbury's. Now, Mr Taxi Driver, Wilmslow Road tout suite

Lime on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Casa Tapas, Manchester

A sumptuous feast straight from the Med!

Sundays in December are often chaotic. Angry shoppers, people pushing and shoving to buy an ever increasing list of presents, screaming brats getting under your feet and people moaning (already) about hating turkey and sprouts. People, I have the antidote if you can empathise with the aforementioned. A summery Mediterranean slap up lunch far away from the city centre! May I introduce Casa Tapas...

Casa Tapas is one of those cosy yet modern eateries that is decorated in such a way, you think you are actually outside in an Andalucian courtyard in Grenada. Upon entering the restaurant, you are transported into a sunny holiday world far away from the hustle and bustle of last minute Xmas panic buying. It is located in Didsbury, the perfect area for cafe society away from the city centre, so you can incorporate a visit to Casa on a coffee/bar crawl.

On Sundays, Casa does a deal for £10.50- any 3 tapas, soup to start, garlic bread and salad. A feast fit for a vindaloo queen. Unlike my most hated La T**ca, Casa has an eclectic selection for veggies and not just boring salads and Iceland frozen chav feed. Now let me talk you through my feast.....

Tomato and basil soup started proceedings- home made, rich and served with delicious crusty bread, it was the perfect start to a winter warming feast. Next came every food lover's favourite side order- garlic bread. This too was crusty and tasted home made. The salad exceeded my expectations. Normally, restaurants (and places that have the cheek to call themselves restaurants like La T**ca)serve some limp lettuce as a salad. This was the full monty. Feta cheese chunks, olives, beautiful dressing and crisp veg. So far,so good.

Now time for the actual Tapas! Vindaloo Queen went for the spicy option (obviously) of Patatas Bravas- my, were they totally brava! Next dish to come was tortilla, this was a slightly different variation on the usual cold eggy recipe. Casa Tapas' take on this ubiquitous Spanish dish was dare I say better than in Spain! Layers of potatoes made it a far more appealing dish than some of the greasy cold offerings I have exprienced when working in Espana. I don't know if any of you have been unfortunate to try Barcelona Airport's tortilla baguette, if you haven't, please don't do it and eat your Easyjet 'snack pack' instead. For those of you who know what I'm talking about, I do hope you were prepared enough to bring your Imodium and Rennies!
The third dish to come was a veggie paella- WOW it was HUGE! It came in a proper paella pan and exceeded the size of your common or garden tapa. I was gonna need help with this bad boy...

Needless to say, I was stuffed and full of the Latin spirit after this impressive display of Andalucian grub. As a veggie, anything Spanish is a minefield for me but Casa Tapas made it a pleasant stroll through a scenic food landscape. I promise I will make room for dessert next time though...

Buen Provecho amigos!

Casa Tapas on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Sanam, Manchester

Traditional but more than just a curry house!

The Curry Mile has its fair share of competition as far as the humble curry house is concerned, but for someone new to the city, where do you go? The process of elimination is the best method as follows:

1. Copious amounts of Googling to look for good reviews
2. A gentle drive/stroll down the Mile
3. A quick glance at the decor (I was in the mood for a traditional Indian, none of this nouvelle cuisine modern art rubbish)
4. A quick glance at its appearance (are there staff outside saying 'come to my beautiful curry house? Are there garish posters in the window? If yes, then it's usually rubbish. A restaurant should sell itself).

...and by this scientific method, I ended up in Sanam!

Sanam is one of Manchester's oldest restaurants and is more than just a curry house, for the entrance to the restaurant leads you through a beautiful confectioners, the sweet house. The Sweet House is a wonderland of exotic treats including kulfi to go, plus a display loaded with syrupy treats almost distracting you from the curry.
The restaurant is traditional with 70s/80s style velour booths, chintzy carpet and all the ingredients of a proper curry house apart from the booze that is. Sanam is a teetotal restaurant and booze in any form is prohibited here. Perfect. That means no chavs, stags or students! People in Sanam are people like me- going on a good night out at a restaurant purely to enjoy the food, conversation and the surroundings. A good sign as it means they won't scrimp on quality- I don't know if you've noticed, but a lout of restaurants get their customers tanked up and use it as an excuse to serve pig swill (yes Tippoo Sahib in Edinburgh, I mean YOU).

To start, I gorged on poppadoms and for the main event, I chose a veggie madras (pictured), basmati and a peshwari naan. I am such a creature of habit. The menu was brilliant for veggies as all the veggie dishes were boldly pinpointed.

WOW! A PARTY IN THE MOUTH! A FEAST FOR THE SENSES! This Madras was more of a vindaloo, packed to the brim with lots of shiny green chillies.The veg was fresh and chunky, the sauce tasted home made and prepared with care. The peshwari was unusual to my previous peshes as this one contained almonds and pistachios, beautifully complementing the coconut. Yum. I will definitely be back here.

Wait a moment, I wasn't finished there! I washed it down with a jug of freshly made strawberry lassi, silky and rich. At last, someone does an alternative to mango!

I didn't want to leave after such a fabulous experience and clearly, nor did the other diners, a friendly bunch of fellow foodies, who like me, understand that you don't need to drink to have a good time.

Sanam Sweets Centre on Urbanspoon

Friday, 19 November 2010

Bubble Cafe, Manchester

A tea party with a difference!

If you don't want your tea hot or in a bag, where do you go? If you're sick to death with the cheesy marketing of Innocent Smoothies and want to avoid those annoying ubiquitous drinks chains, where do you seek your refuge? If you want to drink, rather than eat a buffet in Chinatown, where do you chill out? Readers, I have the solution.

The Bubble Cafe in Portland Street has plenty of tea varieties but not as we know it! It is a Vietnamese owned cafe and sells smoothies, hot chocolate and tea with a twist. The name of the game, the USP if you may, is the fact that everything comes with bubbles. But what are bubbles I hear you ask?

Bubble Tea is an Asian trend (and not a fad as the menu in BC says) and consists of iced teas in varying flavours having tapioca balls in the bottom of the glass. These balls ave a distinct chocolatey flavour and a chewy texture and add to the drinking experience. You can suck them up through the fat straw provided or scoop 'em out with a spoon. BC offers a special combination of tapioca bubbles and coconut jelly, enhancing the experience. This is one of those unusual combinations that happens to work, a bit like chips and vinegar, and once you've tried it, you will definitely return for more. All the trendsters in Taiwan can't get enough of this delectable drink and Bubble Tea chains spring up all over the place there like mushrooms. Manc will be following suit, if the popularity of BC is anything to go by, promoted for free by student groups' word of mouth and bloggers like myself. If you wander through Chinatown and peruse the menus, 2 more outlets, namely Ho's and Try Thai are jumping on the bandwagon- before you know it, ~Manchester will be gripped by bubble fever!

For a winter treat, you can also take hot choc with bubbles and coconut, and for those balmy summer nights, try my favourite, the mango slush with bubbles. The staff are ever so helpful and realise the Bubble phenomenon is new in the UK, and are happy to advise and explain. BC will also be launching some Vietnamese dishes like spring rolls and casseroles, so watch this space for a possible restaurant review!

So, if you're ever thirsty in Chinatown, or got some time to kill waiting for the coach (BC is opposite Chorlton St bus station), pop in to BC and become part of the Bubble Phenomenon. Trust me, you will be hooked....

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Dragon City, Manchester

Veggie unfriendly and rude staff!

While I love Try Thai, being the inquisitive foodie explorer I am, I need to explore other eateries in Chinatown and update my database with my findings! After so many bad buffet experiences of cold food, I made sure I went with the business lunch option rather than feed your face. Stumbling through Chinatown, I spotted the sign of a traditional Chinese- a restaurant with ducks hanging up in the window. Yes, I know I'm a veggie, but to me, this is a sign of authenticity. The confusing thing was, I spotted ducks, but the rest of the exterior looked contrastingly plush! Let me introduce you to Dragon City, a restaurant of contrast.

Upon entering DC, I realised that we were the only diners in there- was that a bad sign or were we just early? I sat down to a frosty reception, menus slammed down in front of me. Surly staff aside, the restaurant looked plush and with interesting artwork adorning the walls. In contrast with the very British carpeted floor, the window set the scene of part of the kitchen with a bubbling urn of jasmine tea on the go and a chef hard at work tending to his drying ducks hanging by their necks in the window, beaks intact. That is when the first crack in this polished turd's exterior became apparent- the chef handled raw meat then he wiped his hands on his rotten apron. Hello- environmental health on speed dial please!

The second crack showed when the menus were plonked in front of us. The menus' covers were made of metal; imagine a drunken reveller in the mood for fighting getting their hands on this potential weapon! Speed dial to a health and safety jobsworth please!

These quibbles aside, it was time to get down to business and eat. From the £5.50 business menu, I chose a veggie Hot and Sour soup followed by satay veg with EFR. Still no smiles from the staff. My soup came, and the first mouthful I had contained chicken! I asked for veggie! As readers of the blog will know, I have not touched meat since 1995 but I still recognised the distinctive taste. I immediately sent it back but got no apology whatsoever. However, the final product was absolutely divine, with the right amounts of hot and sour elements. Now for the main course. The EFR was beautifully fluffy, the portion sizes just right. Delicious. The one thing that dampened the otherwise fabulous feast was the endless pacing up and down of the staff like members of the Third Reich on patrol.

Dessert was either Jasmine Tea, Coffee or ice cream. I spotted a naughty jar of instant behind the counter so coffee was a no-go, the ice cream in Chinese restaurants is always Asda Smart Price so Jasmine Tea it was. The tea was freshly made,no bags involved and left a refreshing taste in the mouth, a perfect way to digest a feast!
While supping my tea, I was interrupted by the most almighty racket; the staff having a screaming match at the workman. What a way to conduct yourself in front of diners! Furthermore, isn't it a hygiene risk getting work done in a food prep area? It was to get more Fawlty Towers- esque when one of the ladies started cleaning the lampshades in the eating area. Polishing the polished turd indeed! Dragon City, please ensure your restaurant is clean before you open, not only does it look rude otherwise, but the dust will get into the food and cause your more vulnerable customers to have allergic reactions.

Despite this chaos downstairs, I was pleasantly surprised by the toilets- ultra modern with Molton Brown smellies! However, the loos weren't enough to tempt me back to this Fawlty Towers hellhole. What a shame, as DC's food was actually delicious when they actually get the orders right. With a bit of improvement, DC might actually be a shining star in heavily competitive Chinatown. Unfortunately, right now, it will remain a polished turd.

Dragon City on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Buca di Bacco, Liverpool

A real Italian experience sadly confined to the past!

In 2001, I was desperately seeking an authentic Italian experience in Liverpool. Fed up with the plasticky grub served up in chain restaurants, I craved checked tablecloths, kitsch decor and authentic tastes. Stumbling around the business district, I found Buca di Bacco's by spotting their confidently-stated sign ' the best garlic bread in Liverpool'. Being an Italy connoisseur myself, I detest being served the ready-meal style garlic bread and love the pizza base style bread.

Vindaloo Queen went down to the basement of Buca's, not knowing what to expect. Was it to be a rip-off merchant like Allerton's La Scala? Was it to be a bland affair like Be**a Pa*ta? Or was I to be transported to the Amalfi Coast?

I was instantly enveloped in the passion that is Italy. The smell of garlic bread, the checked tablecloths and the menus in the shape of Italy's famous boot shaped coastline. Only the Scouse accents of the staff and the sounds of the sixties CD playing reminded me that I wasn't in bella Italia!

The garlic bread was certainly the best in Liverpool but I have to say,the Minestrone was severely underrated. This soup should be promoted as the best soup in the city! Every time I visited Buca's (several, over the course of 8 years!) I ordered this veggie treat without fail. And as I am the Vindaloo Queen, only the spiciest dish on the menu was good for me, so I always gorged on Penne Arrabiata. Portion sizes were always decent here, unlike some other Italians in the city. Yes, Villa Romana, I DO mean you.

Dessert was always a treat. The potent coffee was served with a Flake and the selection of cakes changed each day, my fave being the carrot cake. Canny bargain hunters like myself would always squeeze in their Buca fix midweek before 7, as two courses plus coffee was only £6.99- perfect for combatting those midweek blues.

However, the wonder that is Buca's wasn't to last forever. On a recent visit back to the Pool of Liver, I noticed my beloved basement of Bacco had transformed into yet another club/bar showing footy and didn't look like the inviting Italian I knew and loved. The homely atmosphere had gone and looked like another brash bar. Apparently, they still serve Italian dishes, but that's no good when the atmosphere is like Wetherspoons.

Please, bring back my beloved Buca's! You were the best Italian in Liverpool and I've told everyone about you!

Buca di Bac on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Golden Phoenix, Liverpool

The once loved Chinese that is now a building site....

My very first Chinese in the early 80s was at the Golden Phoenix. Downtown in Hanover Street, this Chinese was an institution in the city loved by families, clubbers and businessmen alike. Its banquets were legendary and the decor was a throwback to the 70s, a time when eating out was more special. However, when the restaurant really came into its own for me was of a lunchtime.

Business lunch in the Phoenix was a plentiful affair, you were left in peace to linger over it if you weren't stuck for time. The last time I went was in 2006, just before its closure and a slap up lunch cost £5.50. The starter was always chicken and sweetcorn soup, the veggie soup of the day or bizarrely sometimes even a glass of orange juice! It was always served with crusty bread...mmm!

Main course was heaven. Served with either EFR, chips or boiled rice, veggies could order practically anything and your fussy friend who hates foreign food could even get a roast! I always had the veggie vermicelli or veg curry.

The folks at the GF always went the extra mile for dessert- yes, the ubiquitous ice cream in a metal dish was there, but they also offered a hot pudding with custard and these were so moreish! Once I even got one served with a piece of plastic in it- what a tasty garnish that could choke! This little slip aside, the GP always come up with the goods to please my choosy veggie tastebuds.

If you wanted to splash out, you could have had a cheeseboard for another quid with 5 different cheeses, crackers and grapes. Or, if you had more room in your belly, why not take a trip to Dessert Island?

Dessert Island...oh the memories! In the middle of the restaurant was an ornate island of gateaux and more with a huge statue of a fish in the middle of it. I always joked that I wanted one in my house. The coffee here was suitably potent as well, and always served with mints.

On the way out, guests could always help themselves to more mints or if you were cheeky as I was, you could help yourself to the kiddies' chocolate bars- Phoenix guests were well and truly spoiled!

The staff here were friendly and took the effort to get to know their guests, I was nearly invited on the staff nights out as I was so regular here. The toilets left a lot to be desired here, the seats painted maroon and the paint chipping off, and I'm pretty sure Environmental Health give them a big fat fail. Another quirky memory I have of the place was on entering, you were greeted by a glass display cabinet filled with cat statues and you got a whiff of the NCP next door- yes, it shared an entrance with the aforementioned car park but the combining scent of petrol and egg foo yung added to the ambience of the GP!

I am saddened to think I will never return to the GP, thanks to the greed of those pesky Liverpool One developers. A true icon of my childhood has now been destroyed, along with many others, paving way for another boring set of chains like N***o's, C**ta and Gourmet B****r Kitchen.

If the owners are reading this, what have you done with Dessert Island?

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Kebab House, Liverpool

A long gone favourite where many a raucous night was had!

Back in the old days,a good night out always started off with a meal. Clubbing was fun, but it was better when you got some energy in you beforehand to ensure you could dance the night away! Nights out can be pricey, so the best way to combat this was to combine the meal and the dancing part into one!

I first visited the Kebab House in 2000 when I was 17 and if my stash of photos is anything to go by, what a jolly time I had. From the outside, it looked like a low key restaurant, but then upon further exploration, there was a basement. The 'Sleazy Basement' as my friend Lizzy christened it. In the so-called sleazy basement, you could eat your slap up meze and have a dance along to live Greek music and some cheesy 70s tunes when the musicians were taking a breather. Admittedly, the food was not a patch on Zorba's and the kitchen seemed a bit grotty, but the atmosphere was second to none. Checked tablecloths and 'traditional' blue and white decor set the scene with lots of souvenirs glued to the wall, perfect for recreating the holiday vibe.

The tables were centred around a stage and dancefloor and pride of the restaurant were the musicians, Nikos and Costas. Nikos was a slip of a man who wore clothes 2 sizes too big and sometimes smelled of happy cake, while Costas was a cross between Tom Jones and James Bond character Jaws. They sound like a right pair of menacing characters but Nikos had the voice of an angel, while Costas played the bouzouki like a pro. Often, fat old hens on a hen night would don the beer goggles and throw themselves at these two gents, whereas the male guests would go gaga for the scantily clad belly dancer. Diners would get pulled up and embarrassed on the stage by being asked to perform Greek dancing- I became quite a belly dancer I tell you! Things always got raucous when the chef brought out plates for a little smashing session- yes,
you heard right, we all smashed plates in there, cue a few injuries (I wonder what environmental health made of this!)

After all the hen parties and drunken Scousers departed, the Kebab House took on a new twist. Packs of international students and the odd gangster descended on the basement, people were crammed in and Greek pop got blasted out on the stereo! Everyone danced and supped ouzo and Greek coffee, tables were danced upon and English was barely heard. It was like the Basement had been stuck in a Tardis and flown to Greece. It would stay open till 4am (naughty in those days!) and the international revellers would overspill into Charmers, a secret nightclub on the first floor that only foreign students and their friends knew about. This place was an oasis of friendly, happy party animals in boozed up Liverpool and was the gateway of meeting lots of interesting characters.

The Kebab House was definitely a hidden gem in the fact that a quiet meal could become a lively, Mediterranean style night out, a refreshing alternative to the usual nightspots. Sadly, the Kebab House is no longer with us, nor is Charmers, so if the old owner is reading this, please come back! You made my student years complete!

Kebab House on Urbanspoon

Friday, 5 November 2010

New Beijing, Manchester

cold food but oh so helpful staff!

Hi readers! Hope I'm not boring you with my over enthusiastic blog posts on Chinatown- sorry, I just LOVE the place so much and the novelty of having such a glitzy place 15 min walk from home hasn't worn off yet. If you're a new reader, don't worry, I do discuss other foods too- even ready meals! I had a visitor from Liverpool this week who was desperate to visit Chinatown in Manchester; if you've been to Liverpool lately, you can't fail to miss the sad decline of our once glorious Chinatown, so Manc Chinatown is on the itinerary for Scousers hungry for authentic dim sum!

Time was of the essence, so we decided to eat at the first place we stumbled across, which was the New Beijing. Situated in a basement, the NB looks a bit like a bus station cafe- basic but nonetheless friendly, the type of place you can eat at as a sole diner and not stand out like a sore thumb. What attracted our attention was the fact that the tables were green and glittery and they sparkled up at us invitingly, a bit like Alice in Wonderland's 'Eat Me' biscuits. The buffet was a snip at £5.50 and half a litre of fizzy water was £1.20- not bad!

I explained to the staff that I was veggie and they were ever so helpful, pointing out 'safe' dishes. I helped myself to a bowl of seemingly veggie Hot n Sour soup and the kind gentleman rushed over before I managed a spoonful, explaining that it was in fact made with chicken stock. What honest, veggie friendly staff! My starter is pictured above- curried veg samosas, spring rolls,seaweed, mashed potato sesame toasts and battered aubergine with a chili hot, Vindaloo Queen approved dip. These dimsums were extremely tasty, but the only problem is, they were luke-warm to cold. It was like being at a kids birthday bash picking at cold pizza and sausage rolls. I ate them with a grimace, hoping that they were going to come and offer me usage of a secret microwave.

Now for the main course. I sampled veggie vermicelli, foo young, veg in garlic sauce and EFR. These too were cold, despite heatlamps being on full blast. These dishes looked well prepared but it was such a shame they were freezing- if the starters were reminiscent of a kids tea party, then the main course was either school dinners or a homeless hostel! It pains me to criticise the restaurant, as the staff were lovely but I am honest in my blog; constructive criticism is only a positive thing after all.

The only time food should be cold are when it involves salads and desserts, let's just hope they get the sweet temptation right! I feasted on beautiful, plump seedless grapes, gateau, mini individual Swiss Roll and juicy pineapple wedges. The dessert was easily the best part of the meal.

Overall, the New Beijing was a pleasant experience- if they can get the oven to work, I will definitely return and give it a re-review! However, MAN Chinatown is huge with so much competition, there are plenty more fish in the sea and more culinary delights to explore!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Aeroplane food by Thomas Cook!

Come fly with me....

As a former air hostess, I extended my foodie heart into the murky world of aeroplane meals. These are often slated but I have hardly ever been disappointed with the veggie selection on offer by the UK's major carriers. I had the joy to sample this exquisite Penne Arrabiata on a Thomas Cook flight bound for Gran Canaria and no, I'm not being sarcastic, it was beautiful! If you've ever been to GC, you'll know the food tends to be awful, Gordon Ramsay, if you're reading this, this is one destination to avoid.

If only all the meals in this chavtastic resort could have been so nice....

Zorba's, Liverpool

Keep the holiday memories alive!

Back in 2000, I made an excellent discovery that has been a mainstay on my food itinerary ever since. I was out celebrating the end of my A-Levels and even back then, I was a foodie. A night out wasn't just about clubbing, it had to start with a meal to give you the energy for clubbing in my opinion! I stumbled across Zorba's, Liverpool's oldest Greek and was immediately enveloped in a warm yet fresh atmosphere of stonebaked bread, Mediterranean sun and undertones of mint. Fast forward 10 years later and it hasn't changed.

Zorba's is a textbook example of 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'. The menu is identical to that of 2000, the only changes have been the inflated prices and the expansion of the place, a testament to its popularity. The decor consists of vines, cool blues and whites and a mishmash of Greek holiday souvenirs like plates and stuffed donkeys (not on the menu thank God). Adding to the mood is my beloved Europop playing in the background- Greek pop gets you in such a summery vibe and transports you to a sunny beach, try it!

The portions here are massive and leave you feeling as if you have had a good proper meal out. Being the creature of habit I am, I always start with Melitzanosalata,a beautiful aubergine dip served with crusty bread and as my main, the Vegetarian Tourlou, a mix of assorted delicacies as pictured above. All mains are served with tomato rice, homemade chips, crusty bread and a splendid Horiatiki (Greek salad) with a sublime mustard dressing. The above dish costs £10 and is money well spent. Devour the mintiness of the stuffed vine leaf, savour the Kolokithakia (courgette fritter), feel the smooth Gigantes beans slip down your throat and marvel at the Greek take on Cheese Pie in 'Spanakopita'. The variation of these dishes is nourishing, filling and makes for an exciting meal. This dish is perfect for those like myself who get bored of 'samey' dishes like pizza and pasta and whose tastebuds are crying out for variation.

I must stop this review, I am making myself hungry and I've not even got to desserts! The coffee is filter so of moderate potency and the desserts are a mix of traditional Greek pastries like Baklava and the ubiquitous ice cream filled orange.

If you want to get away from chain restaurants and need a holiday from curry and Chinese, come to Zorbas for some homespun hospitality, a warm sunny welcome and the feeling that your meal out has been a journey for the senses.

Gia Mas!

Zorbas on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Delta Takeaway, Edinburgh

Takeaway food at restaurant quality!

Last night, I was at a loose end with nobody to play with so I thought to myself, why should I miss out on some vindaloo fun just because I'm on my own? I decided to have an Indian blowout just for me and scoured the Internet looking to spice up my life. Then I remembered a recommendation from fellow food blogger the Delta Takeaway in Murrayfield! Perfect!

I ordered a sumptuous feast of Aloo Chat (potatoes and pickles in a lemony, buttery,spicy sauce), a Sabzi Sambar (a party of chunky fresh veg, lentils and spices- perfect for Madras fans), pilau and a pistachio kulfi. This haul came to just over £12- a bit dearer than usual takeouts but for portion size and quality it was well worth it. The Chat was a great side dish, or for those with slightly smaller appetites it would also be a great main dish. The potatoes were nutty and buttery, offering a sumptuous texture to a simple yet pleasing dish. The Sambar was prepared with beautiful fresh greens, not a tinned or frozen broadbean in sight, the richness of spices creating an unforgettable concoction of curry heaven.

Delta on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Kebabish, Edinburgh- a tale of two visits

Visit 1- May 2010

Since living in Edinburgh, I have experienced nothing but disappointment with the city's Indian restaurants. Back in England, I was spoiled for choice but here, they were either too touristy, too expensive, too bland, too rude or were quite simply, a lost cause. After my last disappointing visit to my former favourite Abida, I challenged myself to find a decent Indian restaurant that ticks all the boxes.

I discovered Kebabish, a name already familiar to me from my Manchester curry crawls, had opened a new restaurant close to my place and after scouring the menu, I decided to give it a go. I had nothing to lose, I still needed to find a good Indian in this city.

After such a great meal, I can safely say I have found 'my' Indian!

Kebabish is extremely modern inside, no sticky carpets and dodgy wallpaper here! The restaurant focuses on its open-plan kitchen, so you can watch your meal being prepared with much excitement, an artwork in progress if you will. After a warm welcome by the staff, I approach the menu like some people would approach a gossip mag, devouring every word. Wow- old favourites and new surprises. This time, I vowed to have a Kulfi so passed on a starter, heading straight for the main event, a vegetable pathia. I am becoming increasingly bored with Peshwari, so instead I opted for the lighter chapati and pilau rice. The smells emanating from the kitchen were promising, a party of cardamon, cumin and other exotic Eastern spices. My Pathia arrived and was absoultely stunning; a quality I haven't experienced since my old-school Liverpudlian curry crawls. The curry was of supreme quality and consisted of beautiful chunky potatoes, peppers and wedges of carrot (none of my old enemies the frozen veg in sight- I breathed a sigh of relief!). The chapati made a welcome change from the hard-to-digest peshwari and was a great accompaniment to mop up the remainders of the Pathia. My mum had a veg Jalfrezi which I cheekily helped myself to, this was chunky, peppery and not watery like some of the past jalfrezis.

Cleverly, I made room for dessert and treated myself to mango kulfi and an Americano coffee. The Kulfi was huge- two big scoops of velvety mango heaven and the coffee was of a high standard, none of this instant rubbish that some Indian restaurants torture their customers with.

Visit 2- August 2010

It was my birthday this week and as I have friends and family scattered everywhere (a legacy of my former jetset life), my first celebration took place this week in Kebabish with my ex-colleagues. I spoke highly of Kebabish, its great portions, affordable prices and smily staff won a place in my heart. However, I would come to eat my words.

There had been a slight staff change since my last visit and a new attitude reminiscent of Ryanair when it came to sales technique. We were asked 4 times if we wanted a Mocktail, a non-alcoholic cocktail. Being a teetotal, I ordered one and when I saw it winging its way to me, I regretted it. Served in a doll-size tumbler, the cocktail consisted of two Rubicon drinks mixed together and was charged 3.50 for the pleasure. No brollies, no glitz or glamour on this wee chappy. It was like being promised Emirates and getting Easyjet. My friends learnt from my mistake though so thankfully, no further Mocktail profits were made that night and tap water was the name of the game.

Here is the 'service' that ensued.

'No thanks'
'Would you like popadoms?'
'How about popadoms and pickle?'

So, after that hard sell experience (my God, am I in Tenerife getting flogged a time share?), we settled down to or mains, which admittedly were delicious. But as soon as the plates were cleared, a similar hard sell routine ensued. Simply replace the word 'popadoms' with 'dessert,mocktails,coffee'.

When the table was cleared, the rude young lady who cleared it stood those darned mocktail menus up on the table, thus blocking our view of each other. Hello, we are on a night out and want to have a conversation, learn some basic etiquette and leave the menus flat.Oh sorry, Miss Kebabish, you are not interested in customer service, are you? Just hard sell, profit and those damned mocktails with their hefty profit margin. Readers, listen up. Rubicon costs 50p a can. The mocktail glasses are approx 250 ml, a can 330 ml. So roughly, the mocktail costs 30p, but remember, Kebabish will buy in bulk which means the mocktail might actually cost 10p. You do the maths. I have sure done mine and will be avoiding Kebabish at all costs.

Kebabish Original Edinburgh on Urbanspoon

Monday, 30 August 2010

Turkish Kitchen, Edinburgh

Turkish Delight!

As I have mentioned many times in the blog, I spent 7 years living in Germany and as many discerning Germany fans know, the country has a high population of Turks who have brought their delicious cuisine with them. Similar to the abundance of the UK's Chinese and Indian eateries, Germany, especially Berlin, has seen an onslaught of Turkish restaurants, grills and Simitci (traditional bakeries). The smells, sights and sounds whisk German foodies off on an edible magic carpet of tasty treats- but what about UK foodies? Yes, I'm afraid to say it, us Brits are missing out on one of the most versatile, nutritious cuisines and some of the naughtiest, stickiest, diet-busting desserts! Slowly but surely though, the Brits are looking past the Döner Kebab and discovering what else the Turkish dinner table offers, and gradually, more restaurants are popping up (sometimes under the umbrella of 'Mediterranean Cuisine'). Tucked away in Edinburgh's Rose Street, I decided to sample Turkish Kitchen thanks to the recommendation of a friend (who had also spent a lot of time in Deutschland).

I glanced at the menu and although the prices were a million miles away from Berlin's offerings, the smells and descriptions were identical. The business lunch seemed like the best option at only £6.95 but to my dismay, there were no veggie options on the business menu. However, the friendly chef adapted it for my herbivorous tastes. To start, I had spinach and feta börek (Filo parcels) on a bed of crisp salad garnished with red cabbage. The combination of warm and cold whisked me off to a sunny beach on Turkey's Riviera! I waited with anticipation for my main course.

The main course hit the spot. Nutritious, filling, wholesome, the aubergine casserole topped with cheese was a hit. The plump aubergines burst with flavour in my mouth and was served with my favourite, tomato flavoured 'pilav' rice. I first sampled this speciality back in 1994 on a family holiday in Alanya (South Turkey). Back then, most people went to Spain on their hols and I was intrigued by this 'new' country and its exotic cuisine. Maybe it was that holiday when I first discovered my passion for the cuisines of other cultures; the different ways to prepare a vegetable, the fact that other countries do not use vinegar for chips but for salad, the way other cultures celebrate their food and not see it as a microwaveable chore. Sorry for strolling down memory lane; this rice just brought back some fond childhood memories.

After the stroll down memory lane thanks to the rice, it was time for dessert. The sweet treat on offer was Kemalpasa, but due to its sticky, sweet consistency, I gave it a miss this time and settled for a coffee. Regrettably, the coffee wasn't of the potent variety that I rave on, but it was a pleasant end to a pleasant meal.

Whether you want to revisit your holiday, have some summery food or have a chilled day off work with the papers and a business lunch, this is the place for you.

Afiyet olsun! (bon appetit in Turkish!)

Turkish Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 22 August 2010

No.1 Sushi, Edinburgh

Was that it? I'm still hungry!

I was a woman on a mission on Sunday, a mission for a tasty, exotic wholesome lunch! My first attempt was the beautiful South Indian Mezbaan, alas it was closed. Big Fat Greek Kitchen was my second choice but it looked ominously empty. Third choice was my favourite hot and sour soup in the whole wide world, the Panda Inn, but that was closed too. So I decided to push the boundaries, step outside my comfort zone and try Japanese at No 1 Sushi, Edinburgh. Traditionally, Sushi bars aren't the best friends of veggies as the menu reads like the cast list of Finding Nemo. Surely they offer some veggie specialities too?

I entered No.1 and the interior was basic yet funky, straight out of a cool film like Lost in Translation. (Looking onto the street and witnessing neds, scruffy students and charity shops, it was far from Hollywood though.) Perusing the menu, the prices seemed rather high but hopefully the quality and quantity of the food justified this. The staff were distant; not overtly friendly but not rude either. It is the type of place where you could while away the afternoon and not be disturbed; that is if you are fortunate enough NOT to be seated by braying Hooray Henrys which I was...oh yah!

I ordered a Mix Veg Udon Noodle dish, it came in the form of a huge soup bowl and I felt like Alice in Wonderland after she ate the shrinking biscuit! It was beautifully presented, a combination of carrot, squash, broccoli, aubergine and spring onion, floating on a bed of fat noodles. However, as I began to eat, I noticed the main ingredient of the soup was its bland stock; extremely watery but with no pleasant kick like a Chinese soup. Although it was fresh and cleansing, it was extremely bland, the type of stuff you would probably eat on a crash diet.

Needless to say, I was starving after and made a dash to Loopy Lorna's to fill up on sponge cake! No.1 caters more for the fish loving market and veggies will feel short changed. So, if you're a strict veggie like me, cross this one off your list, but send your carnivorous colleagues!

Number 1 Sushi on Urbanspoon

Chocolate Tree, Morningside, Edinburgh

Great chocolate, shame about the staff!

Have you seen the film Chocolat? I love that film, beautiful creations out of chocolate which change peoples' lives. I was hoping to get such a fulfilling experience out of the Chocolate Tree, an enticing gateway to chocolate heaven. It was a muggy Saturday, the air oppressive and I needed something to perk me up. As they are self proclaimed specialists in choc, I decided to head to the CT for a 'chocolat chaud' as, along with many other culinary feats, the British take on hot choc fails miserably. Either it tastes 'instant' or full of cream. I like my hot chocolate like I like my men; dark, rich, full bodied and well presented! None of this squirty cream malarkey what many Great Britons are fond of, I don't know why people pay through the nose to drink something that tastes like a concoction made by a harassed mum to help her toddler sleep. Chocolat is all about richness, a revitalising experience.

Upon entering the CT, it seemed rather run-of-the-mill inside, a bit like Starmegabucks, but with lower prices and an individual flair. However, the staff left a lot to be desired. A dreadlocked girl watched me from behind the counter in a rather unnerving manner. No pleasantries were exchanged, no hellos, no whatcanIgetyous, just sulky, stroppy tangible silence. I felt as if I had invaded her territory, interrupted on her private party. I ordered a mug of Hot Choc.
'MARSHMALLOWS AND CREAM?' she barked. Jawohl mein Führer.
'No, just the chocolate, thanks', I replied
'TWO POUNDS!' she woofed back.
No thank you, no please, not even a cheesy enjoy. My change was thrown back at me like I was a leper. I sat outside as inside was full of those annoying equine people that congregate in Morningside, students taking up tables with empty glasses of tap water, muggins taxpayer worker me being shafted yet again.

CHOCOLATE HEAVEN!!! This chocolate was heavenly, done in the best continental style, its velvety smoothness slipping down my throat. I felt like I was on set at Chocolat and the chocolate's magical powers were about to be revealed. Sumptuous. I haven't had choc this good since I worked in France in the summer of 2006. I would definitely go back to CT providing I get an apology about the rudeness of the staff member, or she gets replaced. However, as I have said in the past, it doesn't matter how good the food and drink is, what matters for me is good customer service and an ounce of respect for the people who are your bread and butter. CT looks like a classy establishment, so get some classy, polished people working there to match your product, dreadlocks don't really scream 'food hygiene'.

Maybe I could set up the Barker with the Grunter from Montpeliers! What a couple that would be! Just call me Cilla Black...

Caffe Salvo, Edinburgh

A taste of Italy with a retro kick

Since I have been back in the UK (my anniversary was 1 year yesterday-woohoo!), I have been missing many things from my other home country, Germany. Many of these things are culinary of course; I miss the fact that the UK is severely lacking in bakeries; I miss the smell of fresh bread of a morning and these melting pots on every street corner. I miss the ability to go out and get a decent vegetarian kebab and last but not least, I miss the authentic Italian ice cream parlours.

Ice cream parlours are ubiquitous in Germany and together with kebab shops and bakeries, are part of the Berliners' eating habits. Every single shopping centre has its own ice cream parlour and in summer, parlours spring up like mushrooms on every street. The choice of flavours are overwhelming and imaginative eg After Eight, Tangerine, White Chocolate ...mmmm.. heaven. So you can imagine my disappointment when I arrived back in Blighty and all I saw was boring vanilla, chocolate and strawberry if I was lucky. I seriously do not understand how the British can call Mr Whippy ice cream, to me it is just mush.

Browsing around Edinburgh this sunny Saturday,I craved a Berlin-style trip to an 'Eisdiele' (as they are called in Germany) and Salvo's struck me as a place where I had to check out. It's not a run-of-the-mill chain, but a one-off, Sicilian ice cream parlour that also does meals and good strong coffee. I went in and stepped back in time to the 1950s and gasped at the surroundings. The place seemed to be a shrine of past Hollywood legends! Pictures of Monroe, Sinatra and other greats adorned the walls, a bit like my bedroom when I was a 12 yr old Take That fan! This was done in a way that it didn't look tacky (unlike my Take That gallery), but gave atmosphere to the place and added to the experience. It was almost like the stars were dining with you, their eyes watching you as you eat, guiding you towards the ice cream counter...

As I had a massive lunch that day, I couldn't face an ice cream but I checked out the selection for future reference. 10 flavours. Fantastic. Instead, I just opted for a beautifully strong cup of coffee. It met my high rigourous coffee standards. In fact, it exceeded them. This cafe is the perfect place to relax with a good book and is so charming, it finds a way into your heart. My only complaint is the opening hours are a bit restricted for me, as most days they shut at 3pm.

As I left, the film stars on the walls looked at me, willing me to return, which I did. I managed to grab some wholesome food,a steaming plate of Rigatoni Arrabiatta (pictured) and it was just the way I like it- spicy and with an added chili kick! In my previous life, I worked in Italy for 3 months and fell in love with the cuisine, it's a shame so many Italian restaurants in the UK cannot replicate these standards. However, the Sicilian Caffe Salvo doesn't fail to deliver the goods; a taste of sunshine in grey Edinburgh. Bellissima! Every inch of the restaurant oozes retro kitsch, from the window display of Marilyn Monroe down to the toilet doors emblazoned with Audrey Hepburn. Heartwarming and belly-filling.

And for those people wanting the taste of great Britain, you're not forgotten. Salvatore shows his allegiance to his new home country by offering Full Scottishes, all day breakfasts, beans on toast and fish and chips!

Edited August 2010

Salvo Caffe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Loopy Lorna's. Morningside, Edinburgh

A colourful yet civilised riot of tea and cakes!

I've never understood the British enthusiasm for a cup of black tea and milk. It is the source of amusement for our continental neighbours as although we have a reputation as a tea drinking nation, we tend not to drink it properly. The Brits tend to stick a bag of PG Tips or similar in with a load of milk and sugar and think that is the correct way. I never used to like tea much, but then when I discovered the wider world of leaves and more, I became quite a fan! When I moved to Germany in 2002, I was astonished to find the continentals were the tea fanatics, not the stereotypical Brits! Here, I discovered tea is an artform. Fruity flavours play a prominent role, as do the correct type of sugar, teapot, strainers and cups. More importantly is the fact that tasty tea needs to be served in its purest form and not enslaved in a bag. If Germany can pull this off successfully, how come so many places in tea's spiritual home the UK serve bagged tea? (Even sometimes with the bag bobbing up and down in it...ugh!) No worries, the revolution is coming and Loopy Lorna's is an exemplary tea house leading the way!

Loopy Lorna's has just opened its second branch in Edinburgh and once you have been, the experience will fill you with so much colour and joy it will stay imprinted on your mind, urging you to plan your next visit. It is owned by a Liverpudlian living in Edinburgh (remind you of anyone?!) and is a tribute to her late mum Lorna. Tea here is not just something to pass the time, it is a ritual, an event. The decor is predominantly pink which makes for great photo opportunities, perfect for a girlie afternoon. The china is mismatched with flowery prints and the clash of colours somehow match. It is a tea room but they serve other drinks like coffee but it would be a shame to come here and have an Americano (although it is potent and deliciously roasted...). Spoilt for choice, I read the tea menu like a book, devouring every description. Whoever thought tea could be so varied, so tasty? It was like reading a food menu. In the end, I settled on a Mint Pow, a zingy revitaliser. It was a combination of spearmint and peppermint which was extremely peppy-uppy. As the tea is served in its purest form, all teas are served with a strainer. Beats squeezing a bag with the back of a spoon and slinging it on the draining board! However, the highlight of LL's is the range of tea cosies.

Tea cosies? I hear you cry. Yes, cosies. Each teapot has its own personal touch as it is served with a handmade cosy. Glance round the cafe and you will see a riot of colour and homeliness. My cosy was a cheeky frog and I spotted a strawberry, an octopus, a bunny and more! What I love about this place is its individuality and attention to detail; the effort invested to make the cafe stand out from the crowd and not just to be another copy of Costa lot and Starmegabucks. Quirky touches like the cosies and the display of balloons in the entrance bring a smile to your face and leave a lasting impression.

Afternoon tea isn't complete without cake! On the counter is an amazing array of cupcakes, Victoria Sponge and many more delicacies. The cakes are arranged on delicate cakestands, temptingly standing there waiting to be eaten...this was the stuff dreams are made of! If LL's across-the-road neighbour is Willy Wonka, then this place is Alice in Wonderland.

In case anyone is reading this who knows me, my birthday is in 2 weeks. I really like cake, funky tea cosies and the idea of afternoon tea. I also have the day off work. Please take me to Loopy's. Not subtle I know but thanks anyway.

Loopy Lorna's on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

S. Luca, Morningside, Edinburgh and Musselburgh

Regular readers will know how much I miss living on the continent and visiting ice cream parlours on a regular basis. I love ice cream and I think there is a huge gap in the market in the UK for ice cream parlours to fill. Sure, we don't really have the perfect ice cream weather, but Germany's parlours thrive even in winter when it drops to -20 (yes, seriously. That cold.) The UK is so boringly bland when it comes to the creamy stuff, all I tend to get offered is vanilla, chocolate or strawberry, or if my restaurant of choice is feeling exotic, raspberry ripple! Wow. I have been on the hunt for the perfect ice cream in Edinburgh and have finally found it. Okay, it is technically not Edinburgh, but Musselburgh, however, the place I have found also has a branch in the city.

Step forward S. Luca, ice extraordinaire.

If, like myself, you are not a native, the name S. Luca would not mean much to you. The Edinburgers and Musselburgers get excited at the mention of its name. It conjures up childhood memories, sunny days and a reason to ditch the diet. A long established tradition in the city, Luca's has been around for the best part of a century, dishing up experimental taste explosions. Forget vanilla and its Neopolitan mates, try mango, banana and passion fruit. I sampled the banana ice cream, its rich flavour combining well with its sumptuous texture. The most imaginative flavour I saw had to be Irn-Bru, a testament to the company's Scottish success. This really was a thirstquencher.
The really indulgent should go for the Knickerbocker Glory or one of the other 'ice cream meals' as I call them. If you're in a rush, you can even get them to go!

If you need further proof that this place is popular, check out the queues snaking round the block. Even last Sunday, when the rain was lashing down, the loyal fans of the parlour were patiently queuing to get their fix.

The queue did indeed put me off and I ended just grabbing my gelato to go, determined to find the branch of Luca's close to where I live. Overjoyed, I found it was only 10 minutes away from me and with none of the long queues that Musselburgh has! I arrived a little after 8pm and the atmosphere was a lot more chilled than last week's Communist-style queuing, giving me time to peruse the menu and take in its offerings in greater detail. Luca's sells a wide range of savouries too like soup and burgers so why not make a meal of your ice cream parlour trip. Luca is really reminiscent of Germany where I could easily spend a whole afternoon and evening in a parlour- is the UK finally cottoning on to our hunger for ice cream and the fact that us British don't want just pubs and chippies?

After going up the spiral staircase, I was greeted warmly by the staff and shown to a table, the decor of the seating area a lovely lilac shade. According to the photo on the wall, Tony Blair sat at my very table. Now, I don't agree with his politics, but as this is a food blog, I can only say the man has taste in this instance! The menu offered some fabulous concoctions like Knickerbocker Glories and Banana Splits, but I fancied 3 assorted scoops at a bargainous £2.10. I opted for vimto sorbet, mint choc chip and banana with a topping of crushed nuts (50p extra). Heavenly. Each scoop was like an explosion of flavour and originality. A visit to an ice cream parlour is not complete without a cup of potent coffee either, so I downed a cup of Italy's finest brew. It passed my rigorous test.

Upon leaving, I spied Luca's other speciality, its chocolate. Perfect figurines of animals stand to attention in the display cabinet, so intricate they look like ornaments. However, they are made purely of chocolate. Too cute to eat, my favourites are the goldfish and the hedgehog. I would love to know where the chocolatier learnt his skills, I mean, the spines on the hedgehog and the fish's gills show such attention to detail!

After a night of Willy Wonka- style dreams, I was like a woman possessed. After my sumptuous meal at the nearby Scottish restaurant Howie's, I had to stop by Luca's for yet another fix. This time, I asked for a surprise sorbet medley, one of which was orange flavour...intensely summery.

I'd better quit while I'm ahead as I know if I carry on writing, I may become dangerous and let the Luca effect get the better of me again. Oh well, maybe I can pay a visit after work tomorrow. Or all weekend. Help, I am addicted....

Monday, 9 August 2010

Howie's, Morningside, Edinburgh

Classy lunch, slick service and not an ounce of pretentiousness!

This week, my usual routine of a Saturday night out (incorporating a meal of course) was interrupted due to boring technical difficulties and instead, I decided to have an extravagant Sunday lunch. No baguettes or chips for the Vindaloo Queen this week! As the city centre was fit to burst because of some festival or other (don't know what that could be, not heard anything about it but apparently lots of tourists go, aren't I sarky?!), we headed up to Morningside, my new favourite area of the city. Bypassing my old faithful Lee-On after last month's debacle, we headed to the leafier, more polished Morningside Road and I immediately got excited at a treasure trove of bars, cafes and restaurants to sample and review. Some were ominously empty, some were closed and some were fit to burst. Howie's stood invitingly on the corner.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but Howie's has the appearance of an old bank. Once you are inside, the mixture of old architecture and crisp modern furnishings and tableware creates a cosy yet spacious atmosphere. It is a bit like a Tardis- it seems small and squashed but once inside, it is surprisingly spacious with room to manoeuvre and you can still have a private conversation here. For me, there is nothing worse than being nudged and shoved and hearing snippets of supposedly private conversations. After a warm welcome, we were shown to a roomy table for two and given beautiful fresh crusty bread and butter. On a Sunday, they have a special lunch menu for £8.99 but as I am veggie, the same meal was on the normal menu for 8! Always the sneaky bargain hunter...

The starter was a Tomato and Basil soup; this was fresh, plummy and piquant. The quality was evident in its texture and it definitely was not any of your bog standard Heinz tinned rubbish. Chives, basil, tomatoes and onions got on extremely well together in this little party in a bowl!

For the main, I opted for the vegetarian kievs with a side order of wedges. I was surprised at the superb quality of the wedges; they were definitely homemade. Sadly, I have become accustomed to being served up the frozen rubbish and was overjoyed to taste spuds so fresh. The kievs were a brilliant, experimental dish for veggies sick of getting fobbed off with mushroom risotto and bland pasta which so many British restaurants seem fond of. These spherical treats (see pic) were a rich combination of lentils, garlic and other herbs rolled in breadcrumbs, served on a bed of chunky courgette, minted peas and parsley.

The portions were not huge but they were filling, proving good things do come in small packages and appearances can be deceptive- excuse my corny choice of cliches please! This is quality food and most certainly not for gluttons used to Jimmy Chungs and N**do's (don't make me swear). Veggies like me will be impressed at the thought gone into the veggie creations; hats off to Howie's for pushing the boat out and being imaginative when creating a meal for us. The effort is appreciated and you have a repeat customer in me.

Howies on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Abida, St John's Road, Edinburgh- the rise and fall


Since I have been in Edinburgh, I have visited Abida approx. 10 times. This obviously shows how much I like it and the fact that they never compromise on quality. The staff will always go out of their way for you, make you feel welcome and even remember you when you return. On New Year's Eve, they went out of their way to accommodate us, even though we hadn't booked.

The restaurant is a newcomer to Edinburgh and looks very modern inside, with lighting that changes colour throughout the evening, has exotic plants on the tables and the cutlery is quality Wedgwood. At first glance, I thought it was going to be one of those expensive restaurants with small portions, but I was wrong. The prices are 'normal' Edinburgh prices (a bit dearer than England, but good for a capital city), the portions are very substantial and the quality is second to none. I always start with the Popadoms as I know if I order a starter, I wouldn't have room for the main event and the dips come beautifully arranged. The yogurt dip isn't present but they have a more than satisfactory replacement-a tangy, spicy brown dip that at first tastes of brown sauce but once swallowed, has a fiery aftertaste. Yum!

For my main,my 3 favourite curries are the Madras, Pathia and Dansak. Each dish is full of the freshest veg imaginable and packed with a great blend of tastes. The curries here aren't oily like some restaurants (Eastern Pavilion, take note!), and are extremely filling. One rice is enough for 2 people. Predictably, I always order a Peshwari Naan and it never fails to impress.

In Abida, you can really take your time and spend a lovely, relaxed evening here without feeling rushed. I always unwind with one of their freshly brewed Italian coffees or a mango Lassi. For a decent curry in Edinburgh, Abida is always my first choice.

FEB 2010

I have been looking forward to Abida all week as I haven't ate at my old Edinburgh favourite since February. It seems to have increased in popularity as now, booking is necessary when it never used to be. On arrival at the restaurant, I felt as if I was in a nightclub-it was packed to the brim, sweaty with a lack of fresh air, and noisy screams echoing off the walls. The 'party room' (a room separated by glass at the back) was occupied by a stag party and they were dancing on the seats, looking a bit like a chimps tea party.

I was hungry and knew what exactly I wanted- veg madras. The popadoms were up to their usual good standard, but I winced as I saw that there had been a price increase. All the dishes had gone incredibly expensive (hello, we're not out of recession yet!) and they had committed the sin of charging the same price for a vegetarian meal as a meat meal. Come on, anybody with an ounce of common sense knows that they cannot justify charging the same for a beef curry as for a veggie pea-and-onion packed curry! My veg madras was not up to its usual standard. The veg was sparse, the curry was starting to separate and there was only 1 sorry-looking potato in the whole curry.

I seriously hope this is just a glitch and they are not taking their loyal customers for granted. Maybe they have got a bit complacent after all the good reviews flying around on the net (like my old one) and the fact that it has actually become established in the Edinburgh restaurant scene. There are hotels nearby as well, hopefully they're not using this as an excuse to treat their customers like ignorant tourists.

JULY 2010

We're in competitive times at the moment. The country is still recovering from recession, small businesses are struggling to stay afloat and us consumers are being more choosy about where we spend our money. Never has the phrase 'the customer is always right' been more appropriate (I prefer the German phrase 'der Kunde ist König' myself, meaning the customer is king!). However, some lucky people can afford to keep on splashing the cash and some rather greedy businesses are taking advantage of this and even increasing their prices. Yes, Abida. I am pointing the finger of blame at you.

Another reason why I am about to review Abida again is the fact that people are allowed to make mistakes and the culinary business is dynamic; peoples' tastes change and restaurants might have a staff/menu change. Just because a restaurant was fantastic in 2007 doesn't mean it's good today- they might have a new chef for example, or they may have got greedy and put the prices up. It's good to keep abreast of the latest restaurant trends as you never know, you might get a pleasant surprise in that 'abyssmal' greasy spoon round the corner! Or the 'renowned, award winning' restaurant may have given you gastroenteritis. Keep an open mind, I say.

Anyway, I went to Abida last night and was met with a frosty reception by a member of staff I had never seen before. After going through an airport-security style questioning about reservations, he got us a table in the half-empty restaurant. A humid evening, the air conditioning wasn't even turned on and I felt like I was in Dubai. Eventually, the penny dropped and he put the air con on. (it brought me back to the days when I was an air hostess and we used to turn the temperature of the plane down to flog more coffee- naughty! Don't tell anyone!) 10 min went by, and Mr Personality asked us if we wanted drinks. We ordered a bottle of bogstandard Highland Spring to share which came in at a whopping £4.50! Wow, does this water have a cure for the common cold or something?

We missed the starters and headed straight for the main- Veg Madras, Chicken Dhansak, 1 pilau rice, 1 peshwari naan. Along with the water you need a second mortgage for, this meal weighed in at a whopping £27.50. I don't know about you, but for a meal with no booze, no starters, no sides, half vegetarian, this is a pure rip off. Even the most boring, basic black coffee was £2.25. Needless to say, the meal was fantastic, but rice and vegetables are basics and do not justify a price tag of nearly 30 quid in the middle of a recession. Mr Personality and his staff did not once ask us if we enjoyed the meal or if we wanted any more drinks/desserts/sides etc and after a 15 min wait for the bill, we ended up chasing it up ourselves.

Abida sees its customers as just a herd of cash cows lining up to have their bank balances slaughtered. Customers are not valued here anymore, the staff lack basic manners and it seems that takeaways are its only saving grace. Even the menu in the window is misleading as it is not the complete menu with all the prices. It's a shame because back in 2009, this was such a lovely place with well mannered staff who got to know their customers. The food here is fantastic but £3.50 for a portion of rice is taking the mickey. The whole ambience of the restaurant has got a bit uppity- it thinks it is on George Street but can obviously not afford their rents and have decided to bring pretentiousness into suburbia.

Sorry, Abida. I've given you a second and a third chance. You are now just another Tippoo Sahib but with quality food. Customers should not get treated like s**t by you lot, we are your bread and butter after all. I have had better service in a greasy spoon in Dalry.

Abida on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Las Iguanas, Liverpool

An unlikely place to need Imodium or so I thought!

The final day of my holiday in Liverpool, I decided to have a 'last supper' before I got lumbered with a meal deal at Manchester airport and a Flybe cup a soup. The oh-so-chainy Liverpool One development seemed to be the most convenient option as I had a case to lug around and didn't fancy a long trek around the ever expanding Scouse restaurant scene. The first few restaurants were full and after much deliberation, chose Las Iguanas. Please,never suggest Nando's to me. I react to the name Nando's with the kind of horror most people reserve upon hearing such obscenities as the 'c' word. Well,N***o's is a profanity to people who appreciate good food and service.

Las Iguanas is also a chain but I'm afraid that's all one finds in Liverpool One. If you're looking for individuality, cosiness and home cooked grub, please avoid this area. We got a friendly welcome and the staff were ever so helpful, the seat they offered us was roomy and the decor was pleasing on the eye. Generally, you know what you are going to get with chains but this place impressed with its cool Latino summery surroundings.

We opted for the business lunch and I chose a spicy soup with butternut squash and nachos to start, and for the main course a vegetarian burrito. This deal was 7.95 plus any soft drink, beer or wine for £1. The courses were well-presented but looked rather sparse, no chips or rice with the main; no bread with the soup. However, it was a filling dinner. The soup was spicy and the addition of nachos to the soup was interesting but it tasted anything but homemade, it reminded me of Tesco's own brand's pitiful attempts at an authentic Mexican delicacy. The main course was a huge burrito, packed to the brim with various veg but as it was so thick and well packed, I wondered how well cooked it was as surely it would take a long time to heat it right through to the middle. It was tasty, don't get me wrong, but it didn't bowl me over as much as the Edinburgh Mexican restaurants from my previous reviews. I am astonished that this place is full but my ultimate favourite tex-mex in Liverpool, El Macho, is empty nowadays. Sadly, it boils down to location, location, location and the idleness of people not to walk around and search for something better,not leaving their comfort zone.

My favourite test when it comes to reviewing restaurants is the coffee- this place passed with full marks! However, my story does not end here. Later that night, I got the most awful stomach cramps and funnily enough, one of the people I was eating with did too- we both ate the same. Without going into too much detail, it got to the stage where Imodium was deployed.

On this note, I'll end the review and leave it up to you if you want to pay Iguanas a visit. All I'm saying is, you know what I think about chains. And Imodium moments.

Las Iguanas on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Tso's, Liverpool

The Jeremy Kyle of the restaurant world!

Readers, I understand if you are confused. This is a restaurant review site and so far, you have had no evidence of a dining experience in this review. One bizarre photo of a deformed strawberry and a reference to Jezza Kyle seems rather strange, I admit. However, I am just setting the scene for an atrocious dining experience. A chimps tea party if you like. Sorry to insult any chimps who may be reading this.

Liverpool, a scorching hot summer day. I was starving, craving Chinese food. The aim of the day was to try somewhere new to put on the blog. Mayflower was out of the question then. As was the disgusting Shangri La. I really wanted to go to the Phoenix but as it closed in 2007, that was a no go, unfortunately. Shame, that was one quality place. After getting lost en route to where I thought the Mandarin was, we ended up at Tso's buffet which bore the legend 'All you can eat £5.95'. Will it be as chavvy as it sounds? I was pleasantly surprised with the May Sum buffet.

I went up a staircase and thought it was derelict. My first view was that of a cloakroom cum storage cupboard. Is this place actually an abandoned social club? It looked like a relic from 1974, considering it was only opened in 2000. I pushed open the door and took in the surroundings. Large buffet looked decent. The walls were painted in that nasty paint reserved for council flat corridors. The carpet was well-worn, patchy, rotten and looked a bit like astroturf. We were met by a grimacing trio of staff.
'Sit here!' she barked, reminiscent of Hitler in a low budget war film. Frau Hitler pointed us to a table under the coffee machine. One for health and safety to watch! Forget that. The customer is always right, I am paying so I will sit where I want. Hitler moved me quickly from my chosen table 'no no' she barked. I chose another one. (She barked at all the other guests wanting to sit there too, what was it, a trap door?)
Anyway, time to eat.

STARTER: two vegetarian soups, sweetcorn or hot and sour. The soups were freezing. Also on offer were pancakes, spring rolls, samosas (completely devoid of filling, cash n carry rubbish), and for the meat eaters ribs, chicken wings and that authentic Chinese delicacy Chicken Nuggets.

Oh I forgot to mention the state of the plates and bowls. They were all plastic, dirty, cracked, chipped and with the ground in remnants of other peoples grub. Takes recycling to a whole new level, doesn't it?

MAIN: the only rice was Egg Fried which tasted neither eggy nor fried. Also, there were chips (oh my god, you are really spoiling us! What with the chicken nuggets and all) a large selection of meaty dishes. As this is a veggie blog, I will bypass them and head for the veggie stuff. Vegetable vermicelli was delicious, as were the braised aubergines. The curry was like gravy, the broccoli reminded me that I needed to go to Iceland on the way home and stock up on frozen veg.

DESSERT: yeah yeah, I know that's what you've been waiting for after seeing that strawberry pic, it's really whet your appetite, hasn't it? Let us commence.
Ice cream was vanilla, choc and strawberry. All rather tasty, but I needed a chain saw or an aircraft de-icer to actually get some out of the rock solid containers. I made my way to the fruit. At first, I was pleasantly surprised as there was no cheat's option of tinned Netto fruit, but real, live fruit pieces! Watermelon and honeydew made a delicious change, a few bruised peaches were not so hot. Apples, strawberries and other fruit were in abundance. But then the cracks started to show. A few tinned peaches made an appearance, as did a few tinned lychees (I find they taste better tinned though). Then the mutants appeared. Like an incestuous produce of a strawberry and a raspberry, I spotted a bowl of deformities. At first, they looked like normal strawbs, but then I noticed some of them had two stalks. Some of them looked like Siamese twins. Some of them had six other strawbs growing out of them! One of them looked as if it had warts. Anyway, I snapped the freakiest one for you readers!

If I thought I was queasy then, nothing prepared me for my further discoveries. I spied a weird take on a prawn cocktail. Untouched, a bed of prawns lay there, mixed with more (mutant) strawbs, fruit cocktail and mayonnaise. This looked like hell on earth. Was it one of those fake vomits they use in Hollyoaks and Holby City? My train of thought was interrupted by a loud sneeze. Over the buffet. By the waitress (Hitler's Mum). She wiped her nose with her hand and proceeded to tidy up the plates. Ooh tasty!

Time to visit the bogs. The smell hit me, a smell I haven't experienced since a three hour delay in a Turkish airport. Exposed bins displaying used (how can I put this?) monthly items that a lady may use and even nappies;surely that's a potential health risk? The best was that when I flushed, the whole building shook and vibrated.

Before I left, I took in the decor one more time. Post-it notes and signs littered the room. TAP WATER IS UNAVAILABLE. DO NOT WASTE FOOD AS YOU WILL BE CHARGED. WHEN BUSY, PLEASE LEAVE AFTER 90 MIN. OPEN ON XMAS DAY. KIDS UNDER 4 FT EAT HALF PRICE. FREE WINE ON BIRTHDAY. OAPS AND STUDENTS 10% OFF. PLEASE USE CORRECT CUTLERY FOR CORRECT COURSE. If the toilets were a Turkish airport, then the dining area was Soviet Russia.

As for the Jeremy Kyle like clientele? Well, these were the people who were happy slurping away, not batting an eyelid to all I have mentioned. One young lad I spotted was even bending down and drinking his soup out the bowl! And his mother was using her hands. You'll never meet a nice young lady with those table manners, young man.

I managed to escape before someone got offended at the amount of photos I was taking, they probably thought I worked for environmental health or in the investigation department of benefit thieves. This place is a haven for people on long-term sick with a bad back and for rats with a healthy appetite.

Tso's oriental buffet on Urbanspoon

Monday, 19 July 2010

Tabac, Liverpool

A great selection of veggie delights!

Tabac has been a Liverpool icon and hangout of hipsters since the 1970s. With its cool, retro feel and interesting artwork, Tabac is the perfect place to relax with a coffee and a paper, meet friends before a big night out and to chill to some retro beats. But what I wanted to know is; is the food any good? More importantly, are the prices also retro? I took my hungry dad along to investigate further.

People who know me know I detest pretentious places. When I see 'trendy', I read 'overpriced and small undercooked portions'. Not naming any names, a lot of the new Liverpudlian bars fall in this category. Tabac, however, is more of a trusted classic. Cool yet unpretentious, chilled and classy. You won't find any WAG types in here but a comfortable mix of students, professionals, young and old. The odd luvvie type is known to stray in though, and it does attract boho babes. I visited on a Sunday and it was rather empty, a menu outside listing various dishes from around the world, plus a world cup special of beer and a burger for a fiver. So far, the prices seemed great, considering it is slap bang in the city centre.
Veggies, you will be in heaven. They offer a selection of soups and sandwiches including feta cheese and brie, the soup on this particular day being carrot and coriander. I decided to go for the tapas option, £4 each, 2 for £7.50 or 3 for a tenner; we made it 5 for £17.50. After much deliberation, I settled on halloumi kebabs, a feta cheese bake and that holiday favourite, patatas bravas. Strict veggies look away complete the tapas, my dad chose mussels and huge Albondigas.

The tapas hit the spot! I would say they were better quality than fake Luton based Spaniards La Tasca. These tasted home made. The halloumi kebabs may be Cypriot, but variety is the spice of life; after all, there aren't many traditional veggie tapas in Spain. Juicy cheese with cherry tomatoes on a bed of rocket was heaven. The feta cheese bake was a type of fondue; a melting pot of tomato casserole and feta hunks served with a right doorstopper of bread to dunk in. Finally, the Bravas. Oh my God, these were heaven! Never had I had such piquant sauce meeting perfectly roasted potatoes since I went to Almeria in 1998. Madrid, Barcelona and the Balearics failed to provide me with such tasty bravas, little did I know the perfect Bravas were on my doorstep in Liverpool!The sauce was exquisitely spicy, the potatoes lightly roasted with a dash of rosemary. Portion size was impressive too.

To finish, I opted for an Americano which passed my rigorous coffee quality control. Potent beans! The tapas were surprisingly filling, I had to pass on the beautifully squidgy fudge cake but there's always a next time.

TIP: if you're just coming for drinks, lounge about in the 'hidden' area at the back with the cushions. Dim lighting, comfy furniture and 60s sounds make for a perfect chillout. If you're eating, grab a front table and peoplewatch and believe me, Bold St is a paradise for peoplewatching enthusiasts!

I thoroughly enjoyed my Mediterranean experience in 1970s Liverpool, but if I were to do it again, I would alternate one of the cheese dishes for one of the other options; maybe pittas with tzatziki and hummus. It was foolish of me to have such a cheese overload; after all, it ain't easy being cheesy!

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Bombay Palace, Sliema, Malta

Please stay away- for your sphincter's sake!

A self-confessed Vindaloo Queen, I cannot go on holiday without visiting an Indian restaurant. Halfway through my Maltese jaunt, the craving for the hot stuff was kicking in. Plus, I also wanted to compare curries. In the beautiful hotspot of Sliema, Bombay Palace seemed promising- fresh, airy with modern decor. But as I already know, appearances can be deceptive. There is no nicer way to put it, this place was a s**t hole.

We were in and out in 30 min so I will just summarise the experience quickly- come to your own conclusions.

- this place also serves Chinese food in the same kitchen
- the Naan is actually Chapatti but sold as Naan
- the bombay potato is potato wedges doused in curry powder
- the pilau rice was out of a huge bag with a few frozen peas scattered on
- the chicken is multicoloured. Thank God I'm a veggie.

What was that? Multicoloured chicken?

Yes. The chicken came in funny shaped pieces, some of them with a black coating on, some with green spots inside. This place needs to be reported to environmental health ASAP. When we asked the chef, his lame excuse (after much stammering and blushing) was 'we are trialling a new spice.' Whatever.

Sorry this review isn't too exciting. The restaurant was so dire I was left speechless for once. The staff all looked as if they had been slapped across their sour faces with a wet fish too.

UPDATE: This hellhole has now gone bust and in its former location stands a pretty decent coffee shop instead. Maltese tastebuds have been saved.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Blue Room, St Julian's, Malta

Chic, minimalist yet cosy

At first, I thought it was a trendy lounge bar or nightclub. No red lanterns, no flashy 'open' sign in the window currently en vogue with Chinese restaurants in the UK, nobody touting for business. I wasn't sure if this was a good sign or a bad sign- as you know, I am into bargain cuisine and the name of the game with this blog is to visit affordable places. There is nothing I hate more than pretentious 'lounge-bistro- boutique-bars' where the portions are minimal and the atmosphere is like a doctors' waiting room.

On close inspection of the menu, this was not the case. 'Normal' dishes like sweet and sour, satay and noodle soups peppered the menu, plus a few more experimental ones. The restaurant was on the second floor with beautiful views of St Julian's, the cool blue lighting and mood music creating a luxurious yet chilled ambience. I selected a Vegetable Soup to start; sounds unimaginative but this veggie soup was an artwork unlike the oily, salty slop what they serve up back home. The tableware was a sight to behold too, my soup was served in a black hexagonal bowl- trendy!
For my main course, I opted for a braised tofu hotpot (see pic) served on a bed of Egg Fried Rice. We waited what seemed like an eternity for the food, but the quality and careful presentation made it worth the wait. The tofu came in an ornate lidded pot; a melt in your mouth texture fusing with zingy chilli. Even the EFR was perfection; it tasted lighter and fluffier compared to its UK counterparts, no remnants of burnt fat on this baby!

I would like to give the waitress a special mention too as her service was impeccable. She was working alone and managing the bar, food and cash all by herself, keeping a cool head and remaining smiley at all times. Beautifully dressed and with perfect make-up, her manners were outstanding and put most restaurants to shame.

Would I go back? In a heartbeat. Blue Room offered a romantic setting without being cheesy; a slick, sophisticated location.