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