Thursday, 27 May 2010

Tung Fong, Salford

Appearances can be de deceptive!

Getting away from the hustle and bustle of Chinatown, I decided to explore Manchester's other Chinese offerings. After staying at the fab Novotel on the outskirts of the city (it has an outdoor pool that I could actually swim in without freezing to death), I was feeling too lethargic (read lazy) to make the trek to Chinatown and explored the leafy suburb of Worsley instead. This is a very picturesque area, home to footballers, rich pensioners and those who opt out of the hustle and bustle of the city. I strolled down a woody lane and into a fairytale village comprising of Tudor-style houses, quaint cottages and a duckpond. What an interesting place, I thought, expecting to find 'old man's pubs' and 'old lady's tearooms'. Instead, there was a trendy tapas and wine bar and the cosiest Chinese I have ever seen!

Tung Fong is chocolate-box pretty, a tudor cottage which looks like a place of historic significance. It looks nothing like a Chinese restaurant- no gaudy dragons, cheap red paint or tacky lanterns; this place simply blends into the village. Stumbling over the original cobbles, I dashed over to the menu excitedly and my checklist of prerequisites were checked! Hot and sour check. Szechuan veg check. Decent coffee check. Good dessert menu check.

Although it looks like a Tudor relic outside, the entrance to the restaurant looks like a 1980s semi complete with migraine carpet. On first impressions, the staff appear surly but during the meal, the service is top notch, they just do away with fake niceties like calling everyone 'love' and saying 'enjoy'. The restaurant itself is quite intimate; dim lights, cosy corners and the room is expertly divided by way of fish tanks and Oriental room dividers.

To start (I have been several times) I have tried both the Veggie Hot and Sour and the Veggie Noodle Soup. The Veggie Noodle Soup is like a meal in itself, chock full of noodles and fresh veg, it is a challenge to eat. The H and S is decent but is not one of my favourites. It is mighty hot and sour, but there are too many Birds Eye peas in it, making it a bit amateurish.

The Szechuan Veg is superb- quality veg and a vindalootastic spicy sauce provides the winning formula. Fresh veg and a fabulous sauce, what more could a vindaloo queen want?

I always ensure I leave room for dessert when I visit here, as their Mango Surprise is so delectable. A work of art, it comprises a mango sorbet garnished with refereshing frozen fruit. Heaven. Dessert is a two- course job here as the staff bring you a thoughtfully-assembled fruit platter. I don't just mean the ubiquitous Chinese orange slices either. The restaurant might be a favourite of Old Trafford's stars, but this doesn't mean the fruit resembles half-time oranges! Instead, diners are treated to melon, grapes and juicy strawberries.

It is always sad to leave Tung Fong at the end of the evening. It is a place that grows on you; the type of place that if walls could talk, it would definitely have a few tales to tell. A far cry from the neon lit Chinatown.

Tung Fong on Urbanspoon

Friday, 21 May 2010

New coffee/snack bars in my Auld Reekie crawl!

My other passion, coffee and snacks- updated!

At last, Summer has arrived! Edinburgh looks like a completely different place when the sun shines and takes on a holiday atmosphere. The good weather has encouraged me to get out and about and extend my coffee crawl pit stops. I feel as if I am stuck in a rut by going to my trusted favourites repeatedly- I need to discover some new hidden gems!

I have always pooh-poohed the Royal Mile as a tourist trap; a place that in order to buy a coffee, you would need to remortgage your house. However, I was proven wrong when I went down one of the little rabbit warrens just off the Mile and ended up in Brodie's cafe, directly opposite the famous Deacon Brodie pub. This cafe is a cute, old fashioned tea room and has an outside courtyard, a perfect summer alternative. The courtyard is a fairy glen of twinkly lights and a rainbow of flowers giving the kind of surroundings that you would like to spend all day in. The prices are fantastic too, a large coffee, large sparkling water and a soft drink came to around a fiver. (May I add that the coffee passed my rigorous quality standards- not a jar of instant or a bitter filter in sight!). Next time, I will make room for cakes. The tearooms offer a rainbow of approximately 20 cakes in as many flavours, lemon, carrot, chocolate with marshmallows etc... it felt like Willy Wonka's factory!

We crawl on to a midweek baguette 'n' coffee lunch, a rare aftenoon off work for me. Sick of Boots' production-line meal deals and fed up with breathing in the artificial perfume of Subway's fresh bread (fresh being their word, not mine), I opted for a bountiful looking freshly made baguette. Baguette to Go on Rose Street, nestled in between old mans pubs, kilt shops and annoying chain cafes, done what it said on the tin- efficiently constructed baguettes to go (but I ate mine in with a steaming large coffee!) These beauties cost around £2.20 and are packed to the brim. My baguette of choice consisted of brie, cranberry sauce and looooooads of salad with my requisite red onion. For me, a sarnie isn't a sarnie without red onion. If a cafe does not offer red onion, it is an automatic 'fail' in my cafe test!

The next day, I decided to take a trip to the Edinburgh institution 'The Baked Potato Shop'. Apparently, every veggie in the city should visit this place for lunch and the veggie concoctions are so satisfying, even a carnivore won't complain! TBPS is a hippy joint on Cockburn Street, reminding me of a smaller version of Liverpool's Egg, but TBPS was a lot cleaner! Unfortunately, there is only 1 table, but as it was a whopping 20 degrees (foreigners don't laugh at me, this is a HEATWAVE in this neck of the woods), it was a good idea to bask in the sun of the Royal Mile whilst devouring the spud.
The list of fillings were endless and after much deliberation, I opted for a summery Greek salad. The hot potato meeting the cold salad was a taste sensation. the chunks of feta melting on the tattie.Fat olives and chunky veg soaked in a lemon based dressing made the ideal accompaniment for a summer's day. I also sampled the veggie chilli- fit for a Vindaloo Queen! This chilli was red hot with a paprika kick and was padded out with chunky courgettes! In a way, it was similar to ratatouille.

The crawl draws to a close and we find ourselves in the old town's Grassmarket, a square of pubs and bars. My old favourite, Made in Italy, was fit to burst so as we were sitting outside, it didn't matter where we chose to sup coffee. I opted for the Beehive, a traditional pub in winter, but in summer, it takes on a pavement cafe ambience. Surprisingly, the coffee here also met my standards, unusual for a pub!

Have a great summer!

Baked Potato Shop on Urbanspoon

Beehive Inn on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Namaste Kathmandu, Edinburgh

It's not just Indian restaurants who make good curry!

Back when I lived in Berlin, I found that Indian restaurants weren't up to scratch and when the craving for chilli hit, I preferred to check out the city's Tibetan and Nepalese eateries. Unlike their Indian counterparts, their restaurants were temples of serenity and you almost felt that your soul was cleansed after eating there. It wasn't just about the food but the whole experience. As you can imagine, I got very excited when I discovered a cluster of Nepalese restaurants in Edinburgh!

Namaste stood out to me as a sparkly looking hideaway in a street full of 'old man's pubs',kebab shops and grungy student haunts crawling in listeria. It was a quiet Sunday when most of the area's population were either hungover or still eating their breakfasts so as you can imagine, the restaurant was quiet. However, this didn't mean that the restaurant lacked atmosphere. The beautiful decor of the place seemed to envelop me in serenity, almost like in a Buddhist temple.A plush red velvet bar area, mood lighting, traditional instruments from Nepal and a couple of cosy booth areas set the scene. The staff were incredibly helpful yet unobtrusive.

To start, I opted for my old favourite the humble popadom as I wanted to do a little 'compare and contrast' study with the typical Indian ones. The pops arrived at the table folded up! Now, this is going to take some describing, so bear with me....Imagine if your bog-standard pop was flexible and you could fold it like paper. Well, fold it in half then half again. Now fry it and get it nice and crispy. This is how the pops arrived. I am still perplexed as to how they managed this feat. They came with 3 beautiful dips which were based on their Indian brothers but with an extra kick. First up was the mango chutney but this one had a flaming aftertaste and was seasoned with peppery herbs. The lime pickle was less greasy than the Indian one and was vindaloo-hot but settled down pleasantly. Third up was the onion/mint/cucumber extravaganza which unlike its counterpart, also spiced up my life as it was garnished in a tomato chili relish. So far, so good.

Time for the main event. As it was lunchtime, I took advantage of its lunchtime Thali deal as I wanted to try something more traditional. What a feast fit for Buddha! I was expecting a small portion as it was lunchtime and a deal; instead, I was overwhelmed at the size of it! The thali is a purpose built tray for a meal consisting of various dishes- a far eastern take on the Greek meze if you will. A monster portion of fragrant Basmati rice accompanied with a filling lentil curry (you can request mild, medium or hot; being the Vindaloo Queen that I am, I don't need to tell you that I ordered hot!),a highly nutritious heping of boiled potato and spinach curry enhanced with stem ginger and to cool yourself down, fresh salad and a silky smooth Raita (if you like Greek tzatziki, you will love raita). I forgot how filling lentils can be, I only managed three quarters of the meal.

Part of the Thali lunch included a coffee or tea too, this rounded off the feast nicely. As it was an unsusually hot day, Mango lassi put out a few of the flames during the meal. The lassi met my strict criteria thanks to its freshness!

I cannot wait to visit Namaste again; it is an oasis of exotic pleasure in a grey city. As I stepped out of the door, I was swiftly reminded that I wasn't in the Himalayas, the drone of bagpipes filling my ears and the sight of 'Tartan Tat' shops a stark reminder.

Namaste Kathmandu on Urbanspoon

Friday, 14 May 2010

Kimo's, Liverpool

A trip round the world to please everyone!

When I was a student back in 2000, I got in with a crowd mainly made up of foreigners. I was determined to show them the sights of Liverpool but funnily enough, I learned more from them about the city's restaurant scene than I ever knew! They showed me places in my home town that I didn't even know about, a world away from bland greasy spoons and bog-standard Indian/Chinese places. My first few weeks at uni reminded me of a beautiful Mediterranean summer holiday with an accompaniment of tapas. Well I was studying languages after all....

Then I discovered it. The temple where worshippers of the Mediterranean sea go. A Mecca for foodies on a budget. A place for those who don't want to spend their lunch hour in a chavvy pub/Macdonalds/chippy. This place was Kimo's.

Back in 2000, Kimo's was a small shop conveniently located close to the Modern Languages department. Fast forward 10 years and they also have a large, more opulent outlet,which is where my review will take place. A self- service cafe open from early in the morning til almost midnight, Kimo's is a fascinating melting pot of students, businessmen, pensioners, tourists and those who just want a good book and a never ending coffee supply. Perfect for people watching. Arabic music plays low in the background and the lighting is suitably dimmed and twinkly, setting the scene. The seating arrangement is a random mix of normal tables and a few couches, chaise longues and patio furniture, giving the place a riot of colour.

The menu reads like a travel guide; the more you read of the menu, the more you get flashbacks of past holidays, holiday programmes and exotic climes. For your less adventurous, egg and chip loving friends, they won't feel out of their depth here if you order a Mediterranean platter as the chef has thoughtfully added burger and chips to the menu. Your mate on a diet won't be presented with a boring salad either, the salads are a taste explosion served with tabouleh and voluptuous olives.

As I am a Kimo's regular, let me take you through a day at Kimo's (if you were to spend 12 hours in a restaurant, that is).

Breakfast: all breakfast options come with a free hot drink, so I start the day with a caffeine kick in the form of a large Americano. It is usually a toss-up between the Arabic brekkie or the Mediterranean. How brilliant to be spoiled for choice as a veggie and not have to settle for uninspiring beans on toast. The Mediterranean breakfast reminds me of my holiday in Istanbul, an artwork of falafel, feta, olives, pickles and salad, drizzled in olive oil and served with a fat pitta. The Arabic breakfast is highly nutritious containing Fava beans (good source of iron)! falafel, foul mudammas, hummus and much more Arabian delights.

Lunch: Forget Boots and their production line meal deals- the sandwiches here are anything but boring and can be quite exotic! You can choose your bread, a bit like in Subway but without the artificial smell and not embalmed in preservatives, then try one of approx. 15 combinations. I am partial to falafel, hummous and salad in summer, but when Christmas time approaches, I have been known to go back to western tastes and have a brie and cranberry doorstop. The sandwiches are so filling and kept me going through my boring uni lectures. Don't forget to wash it down with a mango or freshly pulped guava juice!

Are you keeping up with this belly busting food diary? Room for more? Good. Try the banana cake followed by the carrot cake. PARADISE!

Staying true to my curry-loving stance, I opt for a chunky vegetable curry for my evening meal. This is served with rice and a salad (and the carnivores can have a chicken curry). The curry is good, but just that, good. I would advise going to an Indian restaurant for curry and sticking to Mediterranean/Arabic here as it is what Kimo's specialises in. Try Bamiah instead, a Greek/Egyptian Okra dish which has such a luxurious flavour, the okra plump and succulent. As a side order, why not mix things up a bit and throw in some Spanish tapas? Their take on Patatas Bravas is a breath of fresh air. Its appearance is more Eastern than Spanish as the Brava sauce has the consistency of curry. Fit for Vindaloo Queens and kings, the portion generous. For the omnivores amongst you, the chicken kebab (pictured) is the must-have dish, along with a Halal take on a Full English i.e. no bacon, beef sausage.

The best part of Kimo's is that it is too opulent to be called a 'Caff', too relaxed to be a restaurant in the traditional sense. It is a casual place, yet you can dress well here and not stand out, therefore making it a colourful melting pot. It is chilled out yet vibrant. Relax with a book and spend 5 hours here, grab a quick sandwich, have a three course meal or just a coffee- there are no rules in Kimos and that is what makes it a firm favourite.

So where are you going on holiday next? Greece, Turkey, Tunisia, Spain, Egypt? I'm going to all those places- I'm going to eat at Kimo's!

Kimos Cafe on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Panda Inn, Edinburgh

Good things come in small packages....

The Panda Inn is located in my favourite area of Edinburgh, the restaurant-packed Bruntsfield Place-Leven Street. On first glance, it looks like a chippy as it is small and unassuming, but on glancing at the menu, it is anything but a bland chippy. When my work colleague suggested organising a night out there, I jumped at the chance to sample these Cantonese delights.

Upon arriving at the restaurant, I felt like Alice in Wonderland when she ate the biscuit in the house and she grew! It was so small and can only seat about 25 people. This meant that the atmosphere was really cosy and proved that a restaurant doesn't need to be elaborately decorated to have atmosphere. I felt as if I was in the living room of the hosts as the kitchen was visible, separated only by a makeshift bar. The setting is incredibly informal, but please note if you want a private conversation, the lack of background music makes it almost impossible.

I ordered my beloved Chinese jasmine tea while I perused the menu. (I swear, I am addicted to this stuff now. Oh well, it's healthy, I'm allowed.)Wow, I was spoiled for choice! While my carnivorous colleagues ordered a meaty banquet, I headed straight to the veggie menu and ordered Vegetarian Hot and Sour soup to start, followed by Vegetables in Spicy Bean Sauce with egg fried rice.

Since I have been in Edinburgh, I have struggled to find the perfect Hot and Sour. The best I have ever had has been in Liverpool and Manchester, probably due to their fab Chinatowns and established Chinese community. I ordered the soup and waited in anticipation.....will it match up to its Liverpudlian and Mancunian brothers? Or will it prove that Edinburgh hot and sour is neither hot nor sour? This soup was crucial in my decision making..... OH MY GOD! This was the best H and S I have EVER had. In my whole life! It was hot. Fiery even, with the right amount of sour. The vegetables in it were abundant too, lots of sweetcorn, pea, carrot, everything in fact. This soup was a meal in itself. This soup was so good, it even wants to make me retract my last comment about northern English soup being the best! This was the king of H and S. There were even chopped green chillies.

Enough about my love for H and S. Now time for the main course. After the amazing soup, I was really looking forward to my main. The main was also a hot and spicy treat, the Vindaloo of Chinese restaurants you could say. It was a spicy bean sauce with a Szechuan base, packed with fried onions, minicorn, peppers, mushroom and much more. The carrots were carved into the shape of flowers, what a beautiful touch! I could feel it igniting my throat, the combination of this and the soup was such a pleasant feeling. Thank god I had copious amounts of Jasmine Tea on hand to extinguish the flames. The egg fried rice was beautiful and fluffy too and had finely chopped spring onions to add a bit of zing.

After such a sumptuous feast, there was no room for dessert but I glanced at the menu for future reference. The desserts are similar to Lee-On (see review) with classics like the Banana Boat, lychees and pineapple fritters.

Panda Inn, thank you for renewing my faith in Hot and Sour soup in the city. I will definitely be back in the near future as you can feed both my addictions- Chinese Tea and H and S!

Panda Inn on Urbanspoon

Friday, 7 May 2010

Ma-Bo, Liverpool

Liverpool's most quaint, interesting and authentic Chinese!

If you're ever in Liverpool, there is one Chinese you absolutely have to go to. The Ma-Bo is a Chinese like no other in the city and will provide you with an authentic Chinese experience. There are no dragons on the wall. There is no 'all you can eat' buffet. Instead of garish red lanterns decorating the window, there are ducks and chickens hanging up. It hasn't been decorated since 1950 and the kitchen is at the same time the window display. Welcome to the Ma-Bo.Liverpool's Chinatown was once a hive of activity but since the increase in all You Can Eat buffet restaurants and the changing tastes for Mediterranean food, it has turned into a ghost town in recent years. Recently, when I was looking for a lunchtime deal, only 2 restaurants in Chinatown were open for Saturday lunch, the China Palace buffet and Ma-Bo. Ma-Bo was quite easy to miss, it isn't bright and gaudy like the other eateries in the street and looks just like a Georgian terraced house. On close inspection, it is far from boring though. Chickens and ducks adorn the window and a lady is busy cooking in full view of the street, enticing the customers in with sumptous pancakes and the exotic smell of Dim Sum. Inside, you are overwhelmed with a cheerful, cosy atmosphere with a mix of Chinese and British customers who all seem to know each other, obviously regulars. It appears that if you go to the Ma-Bo more than once, you become a part of this bustling happy family. The tables are very close together and only seats about 25 people,the furnishings are basic but this adds to the exotic charm of the place. Once you are engrossed in your meal, you momentarily forget you are in England and think you have been transported far away to somewhere exotic.
If it is your first visit, you might be a bit put off by the abruptness of the staff, but you soon realise this is 'their way' and don't mean to cause any offence; it just adds to the uniqueness of the Ma-Bo experience. Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention it is a BYO.
I ordered a plate of veggie spring rolls with a chilli-hot dip, they were disappointingly average for such an authentic place, but were tasty nonetheless. I was hoping my main, Vegetarian Vermicelli, would impress. It did.
The Vermicelli was a massive portion, a colourful festival of noodles, beansprouts, peppers and more. No matter how much I ate, it never seemed to decrease in size. You could say it was the food version of that infamous Icelandic volcano! The juicy peppers kept erupting in my mouth , one taste burst after the other. Impressive.
Meanwhile, I seemed to stand out like a sore thumb, being probably the only veggie in the room. My fellow diners were concentrating on their duck delights, diligently preparing pancakes and plum sauce. Although this place has a good choice of vegetarian options, I feel that the veggies are missing out as the central focus of Ma-Bo is poultry.
I will definitely return to Ma-Bo as the whole experience is a journey to both 1950s Liverpool and a Shanghai kitchen. My only complaint is the lack of interesting, inspiring veggie dim sums. This place is obviously driven by creative, imaginative owners and they are more than capable of coming up with a mindblowing veggie platter.

Ma Bo on Urbanspoon