Saturday, 17 December 2011

Whittard's Coffee Shop, Dubai Festival Centre

A British product that I've never seen back home!

Back in the UK, my favourite shop for all things coffee-related is Whittard's. For those unfamiliar with the brand, they sell colourful crockery straight out of Alice in Wonderland, huge mugs reminiscent of Central Perk, freshly ground coffee and fragrant tea. The Whittard name is synonymous with quality and are professionals in their field at making a house a home with their cheerful wares. Imagine my delight to find that they have a cafe in Dubai's Festival Centre! Conveniently located next to M&S, British expats can have a double helping of retail therapy to combat homesickness. Along with their extensive tea menu, they do a fine array of coffees, their Americano passing my stringent quality control. A must for all coffee addicts is their Turkish coffee too, beautifully enhanced with cardamon. If you want to bring the magic of Whittard's home, they even sell some of their famous cups, however their selection is limited compared to their UK stores.
It's left me wondering why they haven't thought of this concept back home as I'm sure it would go down a treat; everyone could indulge their inner Mad Hatters and celebrate their 'unbirthday' there!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The wonderful world of Dubai Airport Free Zone!

An unlikely hidden gem- who thought airports had cheap food?

The path to settling in a new place is like the runway of a substandard airport. Some bits are smooth, then when you're least expecting it, it gets rather bumpy. Coming to Dubai has been no exception. I'd somehow ended up with no fixed address and living out of a suitcase! I was residing in the Layia Plaza Hotel in Al Qusais (review to follow), very nice, but eating in hotel restaurants can break the bank. What's a budget-conscious curry connoisseur to do? Luckily, I had had a tip off from a member of my Curry Royalty who happened to be a pilot- head for the Airport Free Zone. Good food and dashing pilots- what more can a lady ask for?

The Airport Free Zone, commonly known as DAFZA, is not the terminal building but a separate office block home to all manner of businesses. Thanks to its cheap cuisine, it is heavily frequented by airport staff and Qusais locals, offering an alternative food court experience to the malls. International chains like Subway are side by side with national chains and local one-off outlets, all happily nestled together in a foodie extravaganza. A tip for you- Subway offers the cheapest and most potent coffee! My outlet of choice is the Arabic buffet. At 28 dirhams, this is an all you can eat extravaganza complete with starters, main and dessert. Couscous, soups, salads and rice dishes make up the buffet, along with favourite dips like Mutabal, complete with the delectable Umm Ali for dessert. If that doesn't float your boat, go to the Indian outlet next shop along with its bountiful thalis, bargainous biryanis and masala chai to wash all those spices down with! The biryani barely moves your bank balance, costing only 15 AED, the thalis approx 22. Or, if you're having a break from the spicy stuff, you can always grab a six incher from Subway. Never have I been so enthusiastic about a food court in all my life.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Zaatar W Zeit, Festival Centre, Dubai

The chain that sucks the life out of Lebanese cuisine!

My regular readers are going to say 'I told you so' when they read this. Normally, I avoid chains like the plague as I am all about supporting independent businesses. I love the atmosphere of eating falafel in a noisy backstreet of Bur Dubai, enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of not just the dish, not just the eaterie, but the whole surroundings. However, I was in a mall, and as we all know, malls have as much atmosphere as the lost luggage room at an airport. After having Sidra and Al Mallah withdrawal symptoms, I could hear halloum and mutabal calling me- yes, my Lebanese cravings were back.
I had recently discovered the Festival Centre mall which I liked due to its calm, tranquil atmosphere, the polar opposite of Deira City Centre where you are constantly shoved, poked and trampled on. Normally, I make a beeline for the food court, but as I couldn't be bothered hunting for it (I know where it is now though!), I grabbed a table in Zaatar W Zeit as I mistakenly thought it was affiliated with my local, Labneh Wa Zaatar. Yeah right, like Mc Donalds is affiliated with Burger King...
It took a whopping 10 minutes for the waitress to bring a menu, an omen it was going to be a bad review. The two guys next to me looked obviously frustrated as they had both received the wrong meals. Oh yes, this was going to be one of my infamous Fawlty Towers experiences. As I opened the menu, I gasped in shock at the fact that they were charging for a pickle plate, a nicety that most Lebanese eateries in Dubai offer for free. I wanted to escape, especially when I saw the size of my neighbour's meal and the fact it was served in a sort of basket rather than a plate. The prices were ridiculously high for street food; topped with the waitress running round in a ditzy way like Rachel Green from Friends, I was slowly losing my patience. Also, the veggie choice was minimal, either a halloumi sandwich or a falafel sandwich. Wow, mind-blowing. In the end, I settled on a fried halloumi dish, which was just that. No sides, no fresh plate of salad a la Sidra. The meal was a couple of sorry-looking pittas, a thinly sliced tomato on a plate with a limp cucumber slice, and a skillet with about 10 pieces of cheese in. Who can possibly eat 10 pieces of Halloumi with nothing much else? Don't get me wrong, I adore Halloumi and have been known to raid a cheeseboard for dessert, but even the most loyal cheese connoisseur can't polish off 10 pieces of the same cheese in one fell swoop. I was beginning to get really cheesed off. Please, don't excuse the pun, my jokes are as limp as Zaatar's salad. Moreover, this exotic creation along with a bottle of water took a whopping 25 mins to emerge from the kitchen.
After that heartburn fest, I was itching to get out and buy a bumper box of Rennies, but as this was Fawlty Towers, it took another 15 mins to flag the waitress down in the style of a tourist suffering from heatstroke on Jumeira Rd flagging down a Camry. ZwZ's advertising on each table then had the audacity to ask me to 'like' them on Facebook. Instead, I shall confine them to my list of profanities along with N*ndo's and the R*inforest Cafe.

Monday, 28 November 2011

La Mia Favola, Garhoud, Dubai

Nespresso and arrabiata- the perfect combination!

Sometimes, I just need a break from the rich curries and exotic meze snacks that make up my diet and need to go back to basics. I see it as cleansing my palate, giving myself a clean slate for my next curry night so I can enjoy it at its fullest. Food I consider 'basics' include anything involving plain unsullied veg, British staples like chips, beans and toasties, and Italian food. Why Italian food, I hear you ask. Well, look how it is made. Mainly plain carbs, be it pizza, pasta or a bread based dish like Bruschetta, Italian food bridges the gap of Mediterranean spice and Western European plain food. Minestrone soup, insalata caprese, antipasti are all tasty dishes but aren't too taxing on the digestive system. It does annoy me sometimes that quite a few restauranteurs hike the prices right up for Italian cuisine and season it with an air of pretentiousness. The Italian kitchen is all about being homely and rustic, not nouvelle cuisine with a whopping price tag. I've spotted a few in Dubai who are of this school; in my mind, the ideal Italian restaurant is from the school of Buca di Bacco, my much missed Italian bolt bolthole in Liverpool which went bust, or Edinburgh's Salvo Caffe; both of which I have previously blogged about with watering tastebuds. Both restaurants offered a great atmosphere at a bargain price but were bursting with Mediterranean flavour. But does such a place exist in Dubai?

As if by magic, I found La Mia Favola. Tucked away in the Garhoud district in the shadows of the Emirates training centre (yes ladies, there is pilot eye candy nearby!), this cafe/restaurant is actually Libyan owned but reeks of Italian authenticity. Garlic and oregano greet you on entering, but not in an intrusive way, interrupted by the smell of fresh Nespresso coffee. The decor is in typical Italian style of reds and greens (or is it a nod to the UAE?) with the obligatory checked table cloths that no Italian restaurant is complete without.

To start, I stuffed my face with a massive plate of garlic bread, one portion being enough to fill 2 or perhaps 3. This was baguette style as opposed to pizza style and was delicious, the right amount of butter which didn't leave my hands greasy. Staying true to my Vindaloo Queen method of eating spicy treats, I ordered Rigatoni Arrabiata, the vindaloo of the pasta world. Fiery chillies and rich tomatoes oozed their way into delightfully fat tubes of rigatoni, the sauce being just right and not swamping the pasta like some eateries I've experienced. I mopped up the rest with my garlic bread which I knowingly saved, and rounded the meal off with a potent Nespresso. At 9 dirham, this must be one of the cheapest restaurant coffees in Dubai. Couple this with their free wi-fi and have a relaxed afternoon curled up on one of their comfy sofas.

For all you bargain hunters, LMF has now introduced a bargainous meal deal- any pizza or pasta plus garlic bread (4 slices), either a Greek or chicken salad and a coke, only 35AED! Who could resist such a deal in this economic climate?

Edited Feb 2012

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Empire Bangalore, Al Qusais, Dubai

The Indians whose USP is blue lemonade!

I was beginning to grow tired of my usual eateries; a bad sign, considering I'd only been in Dubai 10 minutes. I had even gone across to the dark side briefly and ate at a few chain restaurants! To be honest, I think I was suffering from cabin fever as I'd been stuck in a hotel in Al Qusais; a very nice hotel I must add, but a bit far from central Dubai. Hotel food begins to taste samey after a while, and my beloved airport free zone was closed as it was a bank holiday weekend. However, Al Qusais is a hidden gem on Dubai's culinary spectrum, and once you look further than the scruffy buildings and dusty roads, you can find exquisite restaurants for all tastebuds. Enter Empire, the Indian restaurant that took my breath away.

Empire is a bustling hive of activity, reminiscent of the eateries on Manchester's Curry Mile. Although it is marketed as a non-vegetarian restaurant, there are more than enough spicy treats for us veggies. Upon entering the restaurant, the first thing to catch my eye was the massive display of fruit and ice-cream in a rainbow of colours, not just boring vanilla here then! The smell of piquant spices and freshly baked naan filled my lungs as I prepared myself for an Indian feast of Mancunian proportions.

I began my feast with a vegetable dosa. Dosas are quite hard to find back home, so for those unfamiliar with them, they are delectable breads the size of a pitta, the consistency halfway between chapati and naan. These dosas came with a chickpea curry and a vegetable curry to be poured on the top. Dosas are messy fun to eat- shove the curry on top and wrap it up like a kebab! Cut it up and eat it like a pizza! The choice is yours, enjoy! After that, I scoured the menu for vindaloo but it was nowhere to be seen, so I settled for the next best thing, Aloo Gobi with pilau and naan. The Aloo Gobi was different to the one back home, it had a creamy consistency which I normally wouldn't entertain (regular readers will know my opinion on korma!) but as it was packed to the brim with massive potatoes and huge blooms of cauliflower, this gave it some oomph. It was unbelievably cheap too, with some curries only costing 10 dirham- bargain!

The drinks menu was a lengthy, fruity read to rival Al Mallah but this time, I went back to basics with lemonade, or so I thought. This was no ordinary 7up, this was home made Blue Lemonade! Despite my curiosity, I neve asked how they achieved such a brilliant shad of blue, but I suspect sherbet had some involvement. The lemonade had a sweet underlying taste of sherbet, reminiscent of Love Hearts and Parma Violets, beautifully harmonising with the acidic lemon to make a memorable cocktail.

I was too full to even contemplate dessert, but I know I'll return, ready to majestic a multiflvoured banana split from Empire's fine window display. Thanks to Empire, I am no longer homesick for English curry, this is the real thing.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

China Times, Jumeirah, Dubai

The quest for Chinese food in Dubai begins!

Coming from the north west of England, I have always been surrounded by top-notch Chinese food and it has become so engrained in my diet, I actually class it as a taste of home. When I am on my travels, a little taste of Chinese food always helps to combat the dreaded homesickness. However, a lot of 'foreign' Chinese doesn't match up to the British taste my tongue is accustomed to and has the opposite effect- I get even more homesick! Some of the worst ones I have had were Spain, Germany and Portugal- salty, bland and no spice whatsoever. How will Dubai's offerings measure up?

My first Chinese I encountered was China Times, situated in the ground floor of one of Jumeirah Road's many mini-malls. (I love these smaller malls, so much more character than the bigger ones). It was a Saturday night and empty, but that didn't deter us from going in as I wanted a quiet night. The restaurant consists of a mix of booths and normal tables, for some reason, I always make a beeline for booths! Guess it reminds me of ice cream parlours or good old fashioned Indian restaurants back home. The decor was 1990s/modern style, bright and airy, minimalist but not too basic, a far cry from the garish red and gold decor that usually flashes before my eyes in a Chinese eaterie.

We were shown to our table by a smiley, efficient waitress who was refreshingly honest and didn't let us order too much, admitting that one portion of jasmine rice could easily feed two and possibly three. I had a fabulous aubergine in a home made honey-based sauce- that too was a generous portion. Admittedly, it was different to any Chinese dish I had back in England, but Vindaloo Queen likes to embrace change! It had a plummy,rich taste which combined with its velvety consistency was a heavenly meal.

Regrettably, I was in a bit of a rush, so I didn't have a chance to sample any more delights from the menu. Around 30 dirham for a main veggie meal, it was considerably cheaper than whipping up a similar creation at home.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Rainforest Cafe, Dubai

Back in the UK, I avoided chain restaurants like the plague. Boring interiors, expensive menus, poor quality and all the ambience of a furniture showroom, chains never did inspire me or stretch my tastebuds to the extreme. As a noob in Dubai, and not knowing where the 'good bits', the 'dodgy bits' and the 'chav tourist bits' were, I spend my first week muddling my way from one mall to the next, trying to dodge hordes of tourists. When I noticed that the Rainforest Cafe was stone empty, I decided to go there, not questioning why there is such an empty restaurant in a jam-packed mall.

The cafe's USP is its rainforest theme- mechanical animals move round the restaurant, fake vegetation surrounds the tables. At first, this seems quite cool, but you and your fellow diners will soon feel like caged animals yourselves, as other curious mallrats peer in at you in this alternative eaterie. The Rainforest is not completely private, which a high-priced restaurant should be, but allows visitors to the Dubai Aquarium to look in at you after they have looked at the sharks. At this point, I felt like asking whether they could pay me for eating there!

I was looking forward to seeing the menu as I thought it would be as vibrant and exotic as the decor. Nope. Completely bog-standard offerings were served up, reminiscent of a 'two for a fiver' meal deal in a grotty pub back in Blighty. Veggie options were rare, but I managed to find one- oh, how grateful I was! A limp ciabatta with a layer of mayo and some bits of supposedly fresh grilled veg, served with some chips. This non-feast was about £8- a rip off for what was essentially a chip butty. The carnivores could enjoy some processed chicken with more chips, or even a selection of fishy delicacies- a bit inappropriate, considering the view from the restaurant is the world's largest fish tank.

The only plus point to this dismal experience was the friendly staff. I suppose they pity any diners who are so foolish to part with their cash and buy an overpriced, substandard Subway, which is what you're doing if you eat at this overhyped tourist trap. I declare R*inforest C*fe a profanity for all food lovers!

Sidra, Dubai

Another taste of Lebanon in Al Dhiyafa Road

My quest for the perfect Lebanese experience in Dubai continues along Al Dhiyafa Rd, where the bright lights of Sidra call me to try their tasty morsels. What delights was I going to discover this time? Shall I be set in my ways and order falafel for the umpteenth time, or shall I be brave and order something with an unrecognisable name? Luckily, I am building up an extensive vocabulary of Lebanese dishes thanks to the takeaway menu from Labneh wa Zaatar and trusty Google.

As I entered Sidra, I had yet another flashback of my student years when I pounded Berlin's immigrant quarter in search of the perfect veggie kebab. The sweet smell of strawberry shisha combined with a distinctive Levantine spicy smell brought me right back to my wild years. I instantly knew this would be a place where I'd be spending many a Dubai dinner in the years to come. Sidra has a beautiful mural painted on the wall of a Mediterranean coastline, the other walls being glass. For those cooler days, you can soak up the atmosphere outside in a simple but effective garden which somehow minimises the noise of the traffic.

I received a warm welcome from the staff, along with a plate of pickles, olives, labneh and fresh out the oven pittas. Delish. As I perused the menu, I knew it was going to be another difficult choice as there were so many delectable options to pick from. After much deliberation, I chose 'Potatoes with coriander', a predictable Falafel Sandwich and some Halloumi while my carnivorous colleagues settled with the Shish Tawuk as per usual. In a similar vein to Al Mallah, Sidra also do a fine selection of fresh juices so I sampled a home made lemonade. The drinks here are slightly more expensive than Al Mallah but are tasty nonetheless, the lemonade perking me up from the tiring heat.

My potatoes arrived and words couldn't describe how moreish they were! Despite being advertised as plain old potatoes with coriander, they were also fantastically spicy and, unlike Al Mallah, they were boiled as opposed to fried. Fans of Bombay Aloo and Patatas Bravas will undoubtedly love these spicy morsels. The Halloumi was a perfect rubbery yet chewy consistency, exactly like Halloumi should be. Finally, the falafel sandwich was one of the best my keen tastebuds had ever sampled, not too dry like some of the European ones, not dripping with sauce like some of the British ones. This was the right combination of falafel, hummus, pickled turnip and tabbouleh- it was like a mini meze in one neatly packed wrap!

The desserts looked pretty delicious with my old fave Banana Split on the menu, but I was stuffed to the gills after my feast, so I settled on settling my stomach with a Turkish coffee. Turkish coffee is the holy grail of potent coffees for me- more exciting than espresso, more fragrant than any artificial concoction that St*rbucks can come up with. The blend of coffee and cardamom make for the perfect, dessert in a cup experience.

Al Mallah, Dubai

Authentic Eastern atmosphere in glitzy Dubai!

The media tends to paint a distorted picture of Dubai. People who have never been seem to think it is some glitzy, overpriced playground full of expensive hotels, faceless chain restaurants and tourist tack. These people have either a) never been outside Europe and read the papers too much or b) have been to Dubai once as a package tourist and never strayed from the concrete jungle that is The Palm. I compare it to going to Manchester and only seeing the Printworks, or Edinburgh and not straying from Leith, you get my drift. What I'm saying is that it's great to explore, to go to the older, more developed parts of the city where 'normal' people and not just celebs live.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a severe lack of Emirati cuisine here but fear not, Arabic food is still in abundance with the city's numerous Lebanese restaurants!

Following on from my previous review, I was starting to become addicted to Lebanese food and needed to see what else was on offer in the world of Tabbouleh and co. I found myself on the bustling Al Dhiyafa Road which is slowly finding a place in my heart and becoming a firm must-see on my culinary itinerary. Like Manchester's (in)famous Curry Mile, restaurants compete cheek by jowl for custom, a colourful melting pot of cultures and cuisines. Thankfully, there is no hard sell like its Mancunian brother so the atmosphere is somewhat more relaxed. Like a moth to a lightbulb, I found myself drawn to Al Mallah which apparently is one of the original restaurants on the street. You cannot miss this culinary gem with its green fluorescent lighting, rotating chickens and delicious smells of spice wafting your way. As I sat at its outdoor seating area, the whole atmosphere of the place brought back memories of childhood trips to Turkey, where I gorged on lamb kebabs (I ate meat then!) and supped freshly squeezed orange juice, the throngs of people, the buzz of the traffic and the faint background 'Arabesque' music adding to the ambience.

The menu is worth a read before one automatically defaults to the standard chicken kebab or falafel shawarma. Sure, these Lebanese standards are available, but so are many other treats. Why not create a meze for yourself like I did? I ordered the spicy potatoes and a huge bowl of Mutabal and some labneh (of course), which when combined with the basket of pittas, fresh vegetables and pickle tray is more than enough to satisfy me. The Mutabal was rich and velvety, the pickles fresh, the salad crisp. In addition, I got my greens from a gigantic bowl of Tabouleh (pictured). My only minor complaint was that the spicy potatoes were a tad greasy and tasted more like chips, not what I was expecting. Nonetheless, they were lovely! My meat eating acquaintances filled their faces on shish tawuk, apparently 'the freshest chicken in this street or possibly in Dubai' according to them.

The best part of the Al Mallah experience comes at dessert time. They have an extensive list of fresh juice dessert drinks which are possibly the cheapest on the street. They come in 4 sizes from small to XL; I went for the Medium which was gigantic! The drinks have unusual names, some after celebrities- Charles and Diana feature on the list, along with footballers from the past like Maradona and Pele. I wonder when this list was last updated and when the Camilla or Beckham will be on the menu! I chose the Tahiti drink, which was a fresh strawberry juice mixed with banana, pineapple, strawberry and pear pieces topped with vanilla ice cream. Decadent yet healthy at the same time, I will definitely be working my way through this drinks menu!

The night drew to a close and as we were bade goodnight by the friendly staff, I was already Facebooking my friends to tell them all about the legendary Tahiti experience. Al Mallah, you have the Midas touch.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Labneh wa Zaatar, Deira, Dubai

Back in my murky past, I had an addiction. When I say my murky past, I mean my decadent student days in Germany. Germany was a different place back in the day; before it was invaded by budget airlines, tourists were few and foodie bargains were aplenty! I used to eat out every single day as this was cheaper than shoving something in the microwave (plus the German supermarkets are notoriously awful). Pizza was 3 euro, a curry 4 euro and my addiction was only 2 euro, sometimes 50 cents depending on the competition in the area. Yes, you guessed it. My addiction was Falafel. Now, Germany has a massive Turkish population who used to peddle Falafel, strange considering that falafel is not native to Turkey. However, if you delve closer into the snack bar scene, you will find the Turks are facing stiff competition from their Lebanese brothers! The Lebanese took my falafel addiction to the next level, as they knew how to deliver the perfect chick pea patty. Sprinkled with tabbouleh, doused in houmous or wrapped in a pitta alongside the marvellous halloumi, the Lebanese won my heart every time.
That addiction was about to be awakened with my discovery of Lebanese restaurants all over Dubai.

Lebanese food is MASSIVE here. Brits, think the blanket coverage of curry houses and Chinese restaurants in Blighty, I'm talking such a massive scale. The first Beirut bombshell I came across was the fabulous Labneh wa Zaatar in Deira, so good I can't keep out of there!

You're probably wondering what the name means. Labneh wa Zaatar is a scrumptious soft cheese (think Philadelphia mixed with yogurt) garnished with a thyme-based spice mix. This is delicious spread on pitta or as a dip with crudités. All meals, no matter how small, are served with some complimentary Labneh, pittas, mixed pickles and olives to start. (I later found out this is the norm in Dubai's Lebanese eateries- talk about fab customer service!) The cold drinks are a bargain 3dhs, or if you want to splash out, try a freshly blended fruit juice at around 16dhs. Highly recommended is the mint lemonade, a zingy, refreshing home made concoction which complements the spicy food well.

I pushed the boat out and created a monster meze for myself; stuffed vine leaves, tabouleh, a falafel sandwich and a huge vessel of Foul Medames. The vine leaves, like in most places in the middle east, were served cold. I am used to eating them warm as I like the contrast between a hot vine leaf dunked in tzatziki or hummus straight from the fridge. However, they were still scrumptious in all their herby glory. The portion size is huge here, one Tabouleh is definitely enough for two. Yum, this place is food heaven.

With its informal atmosphere, friendly staff and choice of seating areas, I would wholeheartedly recommend this cosy, chilled restaurant. If you're staying in one of the area's hotels and are bored with their faceless, overpriced restaurants, pop over to LwaZ (as those in the know call it!) where you'll be sure of a warm welcome and fabulous food.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

The Emirates Business Class Experience

A foodie fantasy from start to finish!

Air travel ain't what it used to be. The glamour, glitz and professional service seems to have been replaced by chavs in tracksuits munching Pringles- and that's just the stewardesses! Budget travel has helped quality airlines like Emirates retain a little bit more prestige and make it a covetable product, meaning people like me who crave old-school air travel can appreciate the mile-high life in the 21st century.
The Emirates package is one of decadence, luxury and gives the passenger the feeling of being spoilt rotten. Well, that's how I felt.

I was so happy when it was announced that my flight was to be 4 hours delayed as it meant 7 hours in the executive lounge at Manchester. The journey for my tastebuds began immediately with beautifully potent coffee along with a biscuit selection. Unfortunately, I had to decline the breakfast-type dishes due to overindulgence at the Radisson in the morning. I was soon hungry again though as lunchtime ticked round, the smells of Arabian cuisine wafting through to tempt me. In the lounge, there is a dedicated dining area but there are no qualms if you want to eat dinner on your lap in a comfy seat, watching the planes as if they're an episode of Corrie! The choice of dishes were amazing- being the eclectic foodie I am, I started with some traditional Arabic meze like Falafel, Tabouleh and Mutabul (the aubergine dip I rave about at the Armenian Taverna, Manchester!) and moved on to a bit of Italian (tomato and mozzarella ravioli). To freshen things up, I raided the salad bar for some rocket infused salad. Little did I know, this would be my staple diet for probably the rest of my Dubai life as you will see in later blogposts.... For the non-veggies and less adventurous folk, there were also the options of a homemade steak pie with a beautiful flaky crust and artily-presented fish and chips (no grease or newspaper for these bad boys!)

There were still four hours to kill, so I stretched my legs and mooched around the terminal, observing the great unwashed bemoaning their Boots meal deals and queuing at C*sta only to be served by a rude jobsworth youth. Scenes like that made me grateful for business class. I'd seen enough so I went back to the lounge for a raid on the desserts.I chose the healthy option of pears soaked in rosewater which tasted like a funkier type of Turkish Delight; definitely full of Eastern promise. Other desserts included scones with clotted cream and a decadent chocolate pudding.

The flight was absolutely amazing and represented everything that air travel should be- luxury, finesse, excellent customer service and a home-from-home feeling. The telltale hum of instant coffee, chicken soup and cheesy Pringles pertaining to Sleazyjet wasn't to be sniffed, instead the air was filled with the smell of quality. With my own in-seat minibar (with MANGO JUICE- fab!) and the cabin crew serving me a bottomless reservoir of coffee, I was in heaven. Forget Dubai, this flight was set to be a foodie tour in itself! The meal consisted of stuffed vine leaves, German bread rolls (can this GET any more tailor made to me?)and a pepper stuffed with pasta- and that was just the starter. After this spread, there was barely any room for the main, but I devoured the pasta dish anyway. Dessert was more semi-potent coffee (minus points for EK there, but at least it wasn't instant- take note EZY!) and a doorstopper slab of cheesecake. Bloated, I settled back to watch more in flight movies, aware of the fact that Belgian chocs had just been placed next to me.

A business flight isn't complete without a trip to the inflight bar, which is what I squeezed in just before landing. After getting a specially mixed teetotal cocktail, I sat back and what caught my eye? Yes, more food: this time a big plate of Baklava and other Middle Eastern syrupy bundles of sin. I couldn't possibly indulge in another dessert...could I?

After this culinary extravaganza, I landed in Dubai with one aim. To change Emirates' slogan to 'Fly Emirates: Your tastebuds will thank you.' Now, I actually cannot wait to leave DXB so I can indulge again! Emirates, thank you for restoring my faith in 21st century air travel.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Cafe Bravo, Southport

Potent coffee alert!

I keep saying 'this'll be my last Southport visit this season' but it's a hard habit to break. I love Southport, and even though summer is over, why should I stop visiting? This is what destroys home-grown tourism. In my quest to dig deeper into the Sandgrounder culinary scene (that's the proper word for Southportian/Southportish believe it or not), I ambled up the other end of Lord Street. Wow, a feast for the eyes and senses! I spotted the fab Cafe Bravo which ticked the boxes- veggie options, independent, papers, comfy seats and immaculate toilets.

Cafe Bravo appears to look like C*sta at first, but when you step inside, it is independent through and through. Homemade sandwiches, friendly staff, clean tables and a helping of local charm with an artwork of Southport on the wall. I chowed down on a cranberry and brie panini (flavour of the month for me!) and a hot,strong, rich and black one! The panini was fresh and filling- so much so, there was no room for my dessert at Flavours ice cream parlour! The Americano passed my stringent potency test too.

So, put this one on your itinerary for your next coffee crawl!

Friday, 9 September 2011

Pudding and Pie, Southport

A modern cafe in Victorian surroundings! I love Southport. People are so dismissive of the great British seaside resorts nowadays, thanks to Sleazyjet and Ryanscare offering cheap flights to Spain. Even the chavs are getting particular about where they holiday now (in my opinion, they shouldn't have a holiday as they're living off the taxpayers, but I'll save my rant for another blog!) We should be helping our country as let's face it, Britain is not particularly attractive to tourists with its unpredictable weather and greasy food, but if you delve deeper, our land has a lot of character, fabulous architecture and history, hidden gems, and thanks to its bad food reputation, it now has the world on a plate and some of the best restaurants ever! If you haven't been to Southport before, yes it does have tacky shops selling salt and pepper shakers in the shape of breasts, but it also has classy designer shops. The same goes for its eateries. There are greasy chippies which quite frankly, are very good for a naughty treat, the usual chains that shall remain nameless, quaint Indian and Chinese, old school tearooms and modern cafes with some of the most potent coffee known to man! I found myself in the fabulous Wayfarers arcade, a magnificent Victorian building packed with quaint antique shops, trendy furniture shops and the delectable Pudding and Pie Cafe. The cafe is the focal point of the arcade, with seating both in the cafe and in the arcade itself. I chose to sit in the arcade in order to take in the victorian splendour of its glass roof and simultaneously windowshop. I ordered my usual Americano, generous and potent, passing my stringent coffee test. There isn't much on the menu for us veggies, but what they do have is a break from the cheese butty/ lasagne norm. On my first visit, I chowed down on spicy vegetable wrap which was beautifully stuffed with fresh, spicy veg but at £5, I felt the plate was bare- for the price, it should have come with chips or even a baked spud. On my second visit, I chose a 'proper' meal, the Shepherdless Pie. This is a veggie take on the Shepherd's pie; instead of the mince filling, it was stuffed with a vegetable medley in sauce (I suspect it was soup or stew, but nonetheless it tasted great). This came with chips and salad. The chips are a masterpiece here. Not the cheapo lazy option of frozen skinny chips, but home made, hand cut mis-shapes of potato- YUM! Please note, the chef automatically cooks all chips in lard, but he does have a separate, vegetable oil fryer. If you're a veggie or simply hate lard, you will need to ask for them to be done separately. 'You've forgotten us!' I hear the carnivores cry. You meat eaters are in for a treat with succulent home made pies topped with flaky pastry, full Englishes and more! I'd definitely return here, but I feel it is rather expensive. However, the food is freshly produced. made from scratch and the staff are well mannered. Plus they have daily papers!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Bistro Pierre vs Bistro Franc, Liverpool

A taste of France in Liverpool, but who is the best?

Does anyone remember the defunct Pierre Victoire chain from the 1990s? When that went bust, the gap for a French bistro in Liverpool was seized and Bistro Pierre was born, offering fine food at an affordable price. Frogs Legs and Escargots turn your stomach? Fear not, as Bistro Pierre is very accommodating and has lots of Mediterranean-influenced dishes for traditionalists and veggies. Bistro Pierre has since expanded and now has Bistros Franc and Jacques in its portfolio. All restaurants offer a lunch deal at approx £8.I visited both Pierre and Franc in the space of a month- here is my critique.

Staff, decor and ambience:

Pierre is located around the corner from Beatles heaven Mathew St and is slap bang on the tourist trail. Situated upstairs in an old warehouse building, it seems authentically French inside with some kitsch posters and wall murals thrown in for good measure. Both have a 'teach yourself French' tape playing in the toilets- original idea! Franc has the same kitsch posters and rustic interior, but is high-ceilinged with a balcony-style second floor, looking down on the main eating area. Minus points go to Franc's toilets though- considering this restaurant only opened two years ago, the toilets already look worn, dirty and broken. Merde. On the whole, I found the staff in Franc somewhat friendlier than Pierre's on the days I visited. As we entered Pierre, the lady serving me offered us a cramped table for two which was on the small side, sandwiched between the elbows of other diners, despite the restaurant being three quarters empty. The customer is always right and has power to take himself elsewhere, so I demanded a bigger table ('more than my job's worth') else I leave. After Miss Jobsworth consulted with her manager, I finally got my much needed bigger table.


Both bistros offer a 3 course lunch which changes weekly. This can be a good thing as familiarity breeds comtempt, yet it can also be bad as sometimes the only veggie dish on offer can be the much dreaded mushroom risotto. What is it with restaurants thinking all veggies like mushroom risotto? It must be one of the most bland, uninspiring dishes ever! Pierre's portions were definitely bigger than Franc's,in fact Franc's offerings were paltry. Both times, I ordered a starter whose name has surpassed me but the main ingredient was warm blue cheese- delicious. In Pierre, my main was a bountiful vegetable and cheese bake filled to the brim, with an eclectic selection of side vegetables like red cabbage, carrots, broccoli and potatoes. Heavenly. Franc's main course disappointed me, it was a mushroom stroganoff which was basically mushrooms with a type of gravy poured over, displaying a lack of presentation and to put it Franc-ly, a lack of substance. This wasn't a meal! This was like something I would imagine those purveyors of chav cuisine Wetherspoon's to serve up. Never mind, there was always dessert... Pierre won this round again, offering me a sumptuous rum and raisin cake, so big I nearly asked for a doggy bag. Franc's chocolate cake was measly, however they did raise a chuckle from me as they had written 'blueberry waffle' on the specials board, prompting various 'blue waffle' related jokes. (If you don't know what blue waffle is, please do not ask. This is a food blog after all).

Despite the initial impression of the jobsworthy staff, Pierre is the winner of the Bistro Battle. The other staff were really pleasant in there, and it just goes to show that this old dog doesn't need to be taught new tricks. On the other hand, this bistro should not grow into a nasty chain, as its good reputation will be diluted thanks to Franc and its broken bogs. Bon appetite!

Bistro Pierre on Urbanspoon

Bistro Francs on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Great Wall, Manchester

Yet another cheap, cheerful bargain lunch!

Regular readers of my blog will know my new year resolution was to do every restaurant in Chinatown. It has proven a difficult task, as we are more than halfway through the year and I have selected a couple of favourites that I keep going back to time and time again! I had a visitor up from Liverpool and to make things easier, they decided for me!

The Great Wall is a basement restaurant, oozing old fashioned charm and traditional British Chinese out of its pores! Sticky carpet? Check. Ducks in window? Check. Cheap 'businessman's deal'? Check. Don't you just LOVE old school Chinese?

They are in direct competition with the neighbouring China City, with both of them offering their business lunch at £4.50. It's cheaper than a Meal Deal, I hear you cry. To start, I had my staple dietary requirement of Vegetarian Hot and Sour soup and my goodness, it blew the cobwebs away. Take a bow, this is a strong competitor for the most fiery soup in the North West! Predictably, I chose a saucy Szechuan tofu as my main, hair of the dog after a hot and sour! The main portions were a bit on the small side, but what do you expect for such a cheap price? A small ice cream was also included, plus I threw one of their scrumptious mango desserts down my neck from their normal full price dessert menu. YUM!

Great Wall on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Passage to India, Monton Rd, Salford

Fur coat and no knickers- or should that be high price and no spice?

In my quest to test Salford's culinary waters, I decided to take the plunge and go for an Indian. As my beloved Shabna doesn't have a restaurant, I decided to try Passage to India which is directly opposite it on Monton Rd. I figured the food must be excellent to keep up with Shabna's competition, however the reviews on line were not very favourable. Rude staff! Bland food! Small Portions! Being the objective Vindaloo Queen I am, I decided to ignore the reviews and make my own judgement. I wish I hadn't now.

The bars of Monton were heaving in contrast to Passage, where only 3 tables were taken. As I entered, I had my first rude staff experience. 'Sit down there!' he barked at me. 'I need to prepare table'. I perched on a stool, wondering what needed to be prepared in this practically empty restaurant whose tables were all fully set. 'You come now'. I was ready to run out but in the name of blog research, I decided to stick it out. If the meal was hideous, then at least its a story to tell, right?

I scoured the menu and was shocked at the high prices- thank god I was getting a veggie dish otherwise I would have had to get a second mortgage. I still squirmed at paying £8 for a veggie curry though... 'Do you want drinks?' I was barked at yet again by the same surly staff member who seated me. 15 minutes later 'Do you want drinks?' Throughout the meal, we were asked 5 times if we wanted more drinks. Either they were on commission to flog drinks or they couldn't actually see the full glass of water before their eyes. Maybe they were just glass half empty kinda guys.

As the veggie samosas were a ripoff £4, the starter was to be pops, followed by a veggie madras, veggie biryani, pilau and naan. The pops were thankfully crisp and fresh, but the complement of dips wasn't the most adventurous. I awaited the main course hungrily. It was abyssmal. Not quite on the same abyssmal level as Edinburgh's Tippoo Sahib (the worst curry in the history of Imodium), but it seemed to have come from one of Iceland's 'reduced for clearance' freezers. The Madras sauce had the consistency of a lava lamp, the veg from one of those infamous frozen mix bags from the aforementioned supermarket- corn, peas and perfect budget cubes of illuminous carrot. Continuing the theme of frozen veg, the biryani looked achingly familiar from my student days, when I used to shop mainly at cheap shops and live off frozen meals. The rice was boiled rather than fried, and was padded out with yet more frozen veg. We weren't even asked which sauce we wanted with this monstrosity, but a witches brew of oil and gravy-like curry sauce was plonked in front of us. This meal was inedible.
Halfway through the meal, the restaurant manager approached my table (and all other 3 diners) and fired off a series of questions in the style of a quiz show host.

'Are you local?' (I thought this was a chat up line at first)
'Is it your first time or do you come here often?' (ooh the old charmer!)
'How did you find out about us?' (Well, not from Gordon Ramsay that's for sure)

After the interrogation, I was feeling more angry at this place, you know when you feel like slapping someone round the chops but don't actually do it? I had to get out for my sanity. Enter Surly Staff Member no.1, the fellow who seated me. He was back again, this time on all fours brushing the floor (note: he didn't wash his hands after). Then, he came to our table and instead of cleaning it properly, he swept the crumbs up with one hand into his other cupped hand. Wow, fabulous hygiene and service standards, I am impressed.

This bland meal had finally drawn to a close and will thankfully never be repeated. Such a shame, as Passage looks like a promising, opulently decorated eaterie from the outside, but it quite frankly a case of fur coat and no knickers. Back to the Curry Mile it is then.

Passage To India on Urbanspoon

Playfoots Cafe, Monton Rd, Salford

If you're looking to grab a reasonably priced lunch and coffee without the chainy boredom of St*rb*cks, Playfoots is the place. Situated on Monton Rd, this neighbourhood cafe attracts regulars thanks to the friendly staff. With veggies catered for and a healthy selection of daily papers, this is the perfect place to while away an afternoon. For the early birds, they even offer a bountiful breakfast. The coffee is only a quid which left me collapsing in shock after today's extortionate prices. However, the coffee is a tad weak but with such a friendly atmosphere, it's easy to overlook. Steaming soups, crisp salads, an extensive selection of sandwich fillings and beautiful home-made muffins make Playfoots one for Vindaloo Queen's roster of independent coffee houses.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Master Chef , Liverpool (twice in one week!)

This month, Spring had well and truly sprung so what better to do than go out on a restaurant crawl? I was feeling in the mood to visit the home town of Liverpool and revisit an old favourite- this was proving easier said than done as most of my faves have gone bust thanks to pesky N*ndo's and co! I checked out Zorbas but after hearing not so favourable reviews lately, not to mention a huge price hike (capitalising on being one of the few decent Greeks in Lpool?), my mind turned to my pleasure, my pain, my passion- CURRY. The mothership aka the UnI in Renshaw St was calling me, but it didn't open til 6 and it was 5 and I wanted curry immediately, same went for Indian Delight. So the default diversion was Master Chef, which fitted in great with my eating buddies thanks to its fab BYO policy! Being the teetotal I am, I was happy as they are one of the few restaurants that do fruity Rubicon as an alternative to Coke and Sprite, along with a wide range of lassis. Master Chef has been in Liverpool for over 20 years and never fails to come up with tasty, exotic food, good prices and fantastic portion size. Great for nights out, quiet lunches, parties and solo diners, Master Chef is more versatile than run-of-the-mill curry houses. Recently refurbed without losing its character, the restaurant is a modern twist on the stereotypical curry house- twangy music, a sticky carpet and pictures of mosques and palaces are all present and correct, but the furnishings and layout of the place could be from a generic wine bar.

I ended up visiting twice in a week, so let me run you through both meals at once. Service and atmosphere was chilled and efficient, with a smile and helpful tips on what the meals included spice-wise. My only complaint was that the heating was on full whack- not the best thing when the temp outside is nearly 20 and you're shovelling hot food down your throat.

To start, I had samosa the first time which was packed with chunky fresh veg with a kicking aftertaste, costing under £2. Credit crunch tastic! The second time, I went along the road less travelled and tried an aubergine pakora and potato bhaji, also under £2 and they were fabulous. The aubergine melted in the mouth and was set off nicely with a wedge of lemon and the old chutney tray, the potato bhaji making a change from old faithful onion. The potato bhaji looked like a fishcake with golden breadcrumbs but was thankfully packed to the gills with spud, like the best chip butty you have ever had.

For mains, I went for veg achaari (medium curry with a pickle base, perfect for fans of chutney and piquancy) and madras. Both curries were of high quality and packed full of nutritious greens and potatoes, the madras firing up my tastebuds while the achaari enriched the senses. Achaari has a rich hot and sour taste, a rich alternative to Vindaloo without being ridiculously spicy. CURRY HEAVEN. Both meals were accompanied with a massive naan and lashings of basmati.

The dessert menu was standing on the table, tempting me into the perfect conclusion of a good meal out. I chose a Matka Kulfi, a pistachio icecream presented in a pretty pot which they let me take home.

Readers, in times of rip-off merchants and credit crunches, I recommend you get down to Master Chef. At £36 for 3 people (2 meat, 1 veggie, 2 courses, 1 dessert and soft drinks), this is a bargain. And with good customer service at that.

Master Chef on Urbanspoon

Kosmos, Manchester

Authentic Greek meze- a ray of sunshine!

The summer will soon be upon us again, and it's high time Vindaloo Queen started seeking out some Mediterranean eateries in Manc. After the feast that was Katsouris, my appetite was whet for a bit of evening Greek style. Unfortunately, my beloved Katsouris closes early evening, so it was time to deploy Google to get me to the Greek! First it suggested Bouzouki by Night, but it sounded a bit chavtastic/ drunken hen and stag rabble for my liking, I was looking for a rich tapestry of Hellenic delights. Then I found Kosmos- meal deals, a warm Greek welcome, away from the city centre, free parking nearby- a winner!

Fallowfield might not be the first place that springs to mind for a Mediterranean infused evening, but that's what makes Kosmos the diamond in the rough it is. Tucked away between the Curry Mile and Didsbury, it makes a welcome change from the Indian and pub food what populates this neck of the woods. The interior of Kosmos reminds me a bit of Zorbas in Liverpool with its blue hues and souvenir pictures from Greece adorning the walls, but with my favourite Greek pop and well spaced tables to add to the pleasant ambience. I was welcomed warmly by the owner, a cheerful Cypriot gentleman who was more than happy to chat to his customers.

As I arrived just before 19:00, I qualified for the early doors 2 course special for £12. Normally, these offers are never any good for veggies, but this menu was veggie heaven. To start, I ordered a combo of 2 dips (tzatziki and foul muddamas) served with stonebaked pittas, and the main event was Kolokithokeftedes (pictured, for those not in the know, courgette and feta fritters). As a twist on the bog standard side of rice-or-chips, Kosmos offers a third option, cracked wheat which was a welcome break. The dips were chilled and fresh, the courgette succulently infusing with the warm feta. This feast for Greek gods and Vindaloo Queens was extremely satisfying; its authenticity seemed to sweep me away from grimy Manchester to the beaches of Kefalonia. For the duration of the meal, I was in a sunny climate in a land where the grape is grown (Sorry Shirley Valentine!), confirming my beliefs that superb food isn't just about its taste, it's about its power to change your mood and give you the feeling of travel.

After such a sumptuous feast, I regret to say there was no room for Baklava or Loukoumades...

Kosmos Taverna Ltd. on Urbanspoon

Friday, 18 March 2011

Drip, Manchester

I didn't expect doggy style- call environmental health!

Back in 2009 when I was living in Germany, I went somewhere really exotic on holiday. That's right, I went to Manchester! (The things ex-pats do when they get homesick for good curry...) While I was there, I visited a fab cafe in the Northern Quarter called Drip and decided to visit again now that I live in Manc Land. However, it's true what they say, never visit the same place twice...

The prices are staggeringly high for a cafe in an old run down inner city and the service isn't particularly overwhelming, but this is made up for in its cosy interior and well stacked selection of mags. I sat there, engrossed in Jordan's love life until I heard a terrible cacophony. A family with a huge dog had rudely interrupted my coffee sesh, a hulking smelly beast of a thing and I was waiting for the staff to tell them to chain it up outside. But no, this group of freaks were welcomed with open arms with barely a drink bought with their dirty smelly dog. Isn't this some sort of environmental health breach?

If they welcome mutts in their eating establishment, I shan't be going back. It really has gone to the dogs.

Drip Coffee on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Gran Melia Palacio de Isora, Tenerife

The hotel that goes the extra mile to include all culinary preferences!

I owe Tenerife a huge apology. The thing is, after many visits to Spain and its islands, I became disillusioned with the lack of good food for veggies. Whether it was Madrid or Majorca, Barcelona or Playa del Ingles, I was faced with a barrage of chips and cheese toasties. For this reason, these trips didn't feel like holidays, they felt more like dinner hour in the work's canteen. For me, food is a big part of my holiday as I like to immerse myself in local cuisine, the problem being Spaniards are very carnivorous and don't offer the veggie alternatives that my beloved tapas bars in Manchester offer! However, it was February, I needed guaranteed sunshine so after perusing online reviews and hundreds of holiday brochures, it was decided to stay at the aforementioned hotel, otherwise known as Thomson Sensatori. With numerous restaurants on site and the legend 'all dietary requirements will be provided for', the hotel was immediately booked.

I visited three restaurants during my stay, the Market Grill, Oasis and Pangea and was overwhelmed by the selection. It exceeded my expectation regarding food and managed to have something different every day (I was full board too!).


This is the poolside restaurant open for lunch and while admiring the infinity pool, you can start with either veggie spring rolls or soup (I had neither as I was still full from brekky). Main courses were what I class 'substantial pub grub'- chips with everything from veggie burgers, paninis loaded with guacamole, pizzas, salads, toasties- you get the gist. Portion sizes are generous and keep you full until dinnertime. Dessert is also included in the full board package- a veritable feast of black forest gateau Spanish style (much tastier than English chemically induced from Iceland!), apple tart and for those feeling guilty after the chips, fruit cocktail.


For those on the full board option, Oasis offers a healthy take on the three course lunch (well, apart from dessert unless you get a fruit salad!) With seats both in the sun and shade overlooking the infinity pool, chillout music calming your soul, this restaurant is equipped for both sweltering and chilly days. My starters usually consisted of a hearty soup or fresh salad and I managed to have a different main every day. The food here is quite Mediterranean and always presented with a flourish without any trace of it looking like an amateur tourist hotel- this hotel truly is top drawer. I enjoyed a roast vegetable pasta, a vegetable and halloumi stack, verduras a la plancha (Spanish style roast veg)amongst other delicacies. Desserts here are the same as Market Grill.


Pangaea is a multinational buffet restaurant but don't worry, there are no chavs pushing and shoving here- it's not Playa de las Americas y'know! You can sit inside but it is reminiscent of a service station with nicer decor or outside on the Oriental- style terrace overlooking the koi carp pond. (Can I point out on this note that two chavs did slip through the net here to my amusement, a couple who looked as if they should be on Tool Academy who were throwing bread rolls to the carp. Get back to Butlins thank you very much.)

The selection is so large, it's best I review it as starter, main, dessert.


Two soups, one of which veggie plus a Gazpacho every night. I was in heaven as I discovered one of my fave Spanish dishes. What I like about Gazpacho is that you decide how much ingredient you put in, be it onion- heavy or tantalisingly tomatoey!
Copious amounts of local and -yippee- German bread are provided.


Vindaloo Queen was very happy when it was discovered that an Indian chef is resident, whipping up a spicy storm every night. Bountiful basmati, aloo gobi saag and bombay aloo awaited me. The piece de resistance? Homemade naan! Alongside him was the resident Chinese chef, making stirfrys and noodle dishes to your preference, along with two ready prepared ones. For those carnivores wanting a taste of home, a carvery also gives you the option to have best of British.
Needless to say, Spain was well and truly represented with a huge Paella every night and constantly changing varieties of Tapas- Catalan spinach, pine nuts and raisins tortilla, pimientos de padron and many more tapas bar faves. For those wanting low fat but nonetheless tasty dishes, the salad bar was a riot of colour, offering more imaginative ingredients like jalapenos, Greek chili peppers, olives of every size and shape, a rainbow of dressings plus rice and pasta pre-prepared salads. And that's not all. There are several hot dishes, an eclectic mix of central European, Caribbean and much more, providing a party for your tastebuds! One night I sampled some heavenly sweet potatoes stuffed with cheese and tomatoes stuffed with cheese- brings a new meaning to the phrase 'get stuffed'! Plus, if you're feeling a bit overwhelmed by the riot of spice and fragrance, there are always good old chips, onion rings and meat and two veg for the carnivores!


You mightn't have any room after all that, but try and make some for your tastebuds' sake! Try at least one of the 10 flavours of ice cream. Dive into the chocolate fountain- white and milk choc on alternate nights. Be good and eat a massive bowl of fresh fruit. Show the on-site confectioner your appreciation and eat one of his hand made chocolates (believe me, you will never eat Milk Tray again after sampling these bad boys!) Admire the way the pastry chef arranges his artworks of sweetness on dainty plates, a taste explosion waiting to happen. See my picture above to realise what I mean. If you don't already have a sweet tooth, you will now.

Buen provecho!

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Punjab, Manchester

Understated and underrated!

I have been in Manc long enough now to see past the bright lights of the curry mile and know not to take some of these jazzy looking restaurants on face value, after all, there is no such thing as a free lunch. However, I have not ruled out the curry mile entirely, especially when one is expecting guests from outside the city and have heard such legendary tales of the Mile. My guests had come from Liverpool and sadly, the city is somewhat lacking in good Indian restaurants these days. Any newcomers to the Scouse curry scene tend to be of the nouvelle cuisine, yuppified variety with small portions and all the ambience of an overpriced 5 star boutique hotel. Curry is about cheesy decor, twangy Bollywood choons and being as stuffed to the gills as humanly possible! So me and the Scouse ladies were on a mission for old school curry.

The lucky recipient of the VQ posse was Punjab, one of the less glitzy venues on the Mile. Understated yet homely, Punjab hides shyly away behind its larger, better endowed neighbours. We all know size isn't everything, it's what you do with it that counts and believe me, Punjab may be small, but its kitchen packs a punch, giving your belly a night to remember!

To start, I digested complimentary pops with 4 punchy dips, funny how things taste better when they are free. For mains, I diverted from my staples of madras and vindaloo and chartered unfamiliar waters with a bhuna. This was a fab blend of spices, fresh veg and no nasty greasy bits. Surprisingly, it measured up to some of my vindaloos as far as the spice factor was concerned! YUM. To mop it all up, I tried a chili naan for a change (all peshwari and no chapatti make me a dull vindaloo queen). This went down a treat by all my party, Punjab winning a place on the coveted VQ night out curry itinerary.

Now, no review is complete without the constructive criticism bit, right? The food and staff here are faultless so all I have to complain about are the antiquated toilets which are a bit dirty and the cramped restaurant.On the whole though, Punjab made for what was to be the start of a fab night out. Ignore the touts on the Mile and head for this shy beauty!

Punjab Tandoori on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 23 January 2011

The Armenian Taverna, Manchester

Exotic, retro, homely and sumptuous!

Many years ago, I visited Manchester and passed the Armenian Taverna on my travels. Instantly, I became intrigued. Armenia is a country that some people have never even heard of, never mind their cuisine so this eaterie was definitely going to be one of a kind. I knew Armenia was nestled in between Russia and Turkey, so judging by my mutual love of Borscht and Imam Bayildi, it was a dead cert to win my tastebuds over. Upon moving to Manc, my mission became to finally seek out this promising tavern.

The restaurant began to win me over as I descended its subterranean steps. I'm a sucker for a good old fashioned 70s style restaurant, a decade when brash,garish decor was in, chavs and N**do's were non-existent and dining out was still a luxury, not a weekly pleasure like it is for most of us now. The basement was illuminated a sleazy yet cosy shade of red, calling my hungry belly down to dine. What a delight I had in store! This place combined a chilled, sunny holiday vibe and British granny's sitting room retro kitsch. I felt as if I were in a quirky museum as I was shown to my table as the walls were adorned with a mix of souvenir kitsch and tacky jumble sale ornaments of days gone by. I'd almost forgot I was here to eat!

The menu was just what I expected and my tastebuds had longed for. An eclectic mix of Turkish-style, Arabic, Russian with a pinch of Greek, this colourful menu provided loads of veggie treats for me and the meat eaters had their fair share of kebabage.
I started with an aubergine dip, a sumptuous velvety blend of aubergine, yogurt and herbs, served with beautiful pitta straight from the oven. The main event was a veggie couscous and was out of this world. The couscous was fresh and fluffy and its crowning glory was the beautiful medley of curried veg- aubergine, courgette, okra and other faves blended in to make a taste explosion. All main courses are served with a boat of Armenian special sauce- a wicked tomato and pepper gravy for added zing. Furthermore, if you needed any more 70s cuteness, the plates were those gorgeous ones popular back in the day decorated with pretty flowers!

After this feast, I was stuffed to the gills and couldn't manage dessert. Nor could I manage a potent coffee as I had work in the morning (I'm a terrible coffee drunk!)However, in the name of research, I checked it out next time and spotted some right Turkish delights- Baklava and Künefe. Hmmm, my stomach is pestering me to go back....

Armenian Tavern, that's a big thumbs up from me. Here's to another 40 successful years in business!

Armenian Taverna on Urbanspoon

Fu's, Manchester

Fu's, glorious Fu's!

In my quest to visit every restaurant in Chinatown, it was high time I broke my Try Thai habit and ventured into unchartered territory. At first, I was going to try the Great Wall as it had a purse-friendly offer on (business lunch £4.50) but as I descended the rickety stairs into the sleazy basement, the staff looked ever so unfriendly and the restaurant looked like a condemned council flat from 'Grimefighters' complete with furnishings that looked as if they had come out of a skip. I ran as fast as I could before I could catch anything (hopefully it will close before I have a chance to visit it as part of my New Year challenge). Then I spotted Fu's.

Fu's doesn't have any garish signage, nor does it do any special lunchtime deals- this place relies on the sheer brilliance of its food and word of mouth in the Chinese community. It is tucked away above mainstays like Try Thai and China City, the name of the game here being back to basics with its food doing the talking. The decor is informal like a cafe but nonetheless crisp and clean. No tacky paper lanterns here! There are no stereotypical Chinese souvenirs littering the walls, but pieces of football memorabilia and photos of stars. The tables are all set with chopsticks, indicating this place is geared up more for Chinese people and foodies, not drunken stag parties of louts slobbering over their chicken chow mein.

There are two choices of menu here, one typical menu what Brits are used to and one specialist Chinese menu with what I call 'Bushtucker Trials'- you know, the feet and private parts of cows and chickens. Although I consider myself an intrepid explorer in the foodie world, I stuck with the 'normal' menu being veggie. To start, I had veggie hot and sour soup (I am so predictable) and for mains, tofu in black bean sauce.

CONGRATULATIONS FU'S!! You have won Manchester's best Veggie Hot and Sour soup! This H and S was the most amazing I've tried since coming to Manchester. Velvety yet with bite, a great distinction between both hot and sour tastes, this soup can join Edinburgh's Panda Inn and Liverpool's Chung Ku in Britain's best hot and sour hall to fame. Let's hope the main course measures up...

It did. Wow, what a huge portion, I thought I was going to need a doggy bag. The single portion of EFR was enough for two,the main course consisting of huge chunky tofu slabs gently marinated in the blackbean sauce, garnished with spring onions. Beautiful. Fu's, you have the winning formula. Unobtrusive yet friendly service, informal yet not chavvy atmosphere, authentic, filling dishes suitable for veggies, a brilliant drinks menu and even potent coffee!

Try Thai, you have very stiff competition now on your doorstep, but you're both my babies, it'd be cruel to pick a favourite one!

Fu's on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Tokyo Season, Manchester

An oasis of calm in jam packed Portland Street!

I don't believe in New Year's resolutions as I believe if you want to change something in your life, it should start ASAP and not be dependent on a particular day in the year. When I moved to Manchester, I set two challenges for myself: 1. to experience something different every week, be it bubble tea or a fish pedicure, and 2. to visit every restaurant in glorious Chinatown! When I popped into Tokyo Season, I killed two birds with one stone.

Tokyo Season is a wonderful Japanese restaurant on the outskirts of Chinatown on Portland Street, and is situated in the basement so you don't have to look at Magic Buses belching out fumes and scruffy chavs coming out of Yates's, erm well, belching!
As soon as you step into this little slice of Japan, the calm and tranquility envelopes you into a cosy yet unstuffy culinary paradise and the exquisitely dressed waitress makes you feel welcome. I visited on a Sunday afternoon and was lucky enough to get a traditional booth. The booths mean you have to take your shoes off and enter the seating area via a sliding door, the seats being slightly sunken in relation to the table and floor. Very 'Lost in Translation'! Being inexperienced in all matters Japanese, I opened the menu (and my Vindaloo- blinkered eyes) to discover what treats were on offer. Previously, my Japanese experiences had been limited- I love the veggie sushi in Tesco for example, but my eating out experiences were bad. The first was in 2005 at a Berlin bar named Silberstein (I know, what a Germanic name) which was pretentious with weird, scruffy staff hankering for tips, and the second was in my earlier review at No 1 Sushi, Edinburgh. Tokyo Season offered an outstanding choice of dishes and even though veggies normally draw the short straw when it comes to dealing with the cast of Finding Nemo that Japanese restaurants tend to offer, it was clear to see here which dishes were herbivorous. I chose a lunch special for £7.99 which included a drink (Japanese green tea for me!), a stirfry of veggies and yakiudon noodles and 4 pieces of sushi.

The tea was cleansing and I chose a refreshing Aloe Vera water to down my meal with. This tastes like normal flavoured spring water but with Aloe Vera globules inside, making even drinking something as boring as water exciting!
The Yakiudon were a dream. These noodles have a brilliantly chewy texture and were fried with minicorn and mushrooms, flavoured with soy sauce. Heaven.
My sushi platter was like a work of art! Our hostess explained what was in each small parcel, one of them was rice encased in tofu skin which was a pleasure for the senses, and were served the proper way with ginger to cleanse the palate after each morsel, and wasabi for the daring vindaloo queens amongst us.
As I digested this feast, I took in the calm surroundings, the cool bamboo furnishings making me yearn for a country I am yet to visit.

This bountiful lunch deal was rather filling, but it left me hungry for my next visit. I highly recommend you escape from the garish lights and too cheap to be true buffets and visit Tokyo Season to rest your eyes and mind from the rat race of central Manchester. Believe me, your soul will thank you for it!

UPDATE:In March 2011, we paid a return visit, ordered a business lunch (not the cheapest or biggest portion in Chinatown, mind) and were rudely told no meat was included in this set lunch (Yes, I'm a veggie anyway, but nonetheless I found it impolite, a sign of penny pinching.) Then, another gentleman came in and she told him there was a service charge for sitting in the booths what she failed to tell us, not that I can see what difference it is whether you sit on a normal table or a booth.
Finally, as we came to pay, she told us we couldn't pay with debit card if we were getting a business lunch. When challenged, she came up with a cock and bull story that it costs the restaurant 50p per card transaction which is ok on a normal meal but not on a business lunch. At this point, we were truly lost in translation. 'Next time,' she warned us,'if you get business lunch again, you bring cash, yes?' No, missy. There won't be a next time. Or any further recommendation.

Edited Jan 2012

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Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Al Nawaz, Manchester

Left a bad taste in my mouth- and that's before I read about its murky past!

Oh, the Curry Mile, street of delight and mystery. If, like myself, you're not a Mancunian and have little local knowledge, it's hard to know which are the best restaurants in the city and which are going to confine you to the bathroom for the weekend. It's rather like a game of Indian roulette! When choosing a restaurant, I try not to be taken in by bright Blackpool illuminations and eager touts forcing you in for custom like a Turkish bazaar, and base my decisions on a healthy balance of nice price, great quality and excellent service. However, last week I was blinded by the light and hindered by the inclement weather, so chose the nearest restaurant to our parking space, the Al-Nawaz.

The Al- Nawaz appears gloriously tacky from the outside, fluorescent lighting reminiscent of a Benidorm nightclub in 1984, but the real treat is the entrance. When you enter the hallowed portal, the focal point is actually the floor. It is glass and has fishtanks embedded into it with some glorious koi carp! What a treat! However, look past the fish and the restaurant is rather disappointing. The decor reminds me of a church hall and chav christenings, all long tables, stark walls, chipped paint and cheapo furniture. There is absolutely no atmosphere and has all the ambience of a job centre. Hopefully the food will spice things up....

To start, I feasted on popadoms and a huge chutney tray which were free- brilliant. This treat was let down by the incompetent staff, who, as they took away our dirty plates, they laid our dirty cutlery back down on the table- tight, lazy and dirty. This was a bad sign and set alarm bells ringing off- if they can't be bothered to provide clean cutlery, what the hell does the kitchen look like?! Also, the family next to us had just left, and their disposable tablecloth was wiped over with a j-cloth! HELLO! They are called disposable tablecloths for a reason, tightwads.

The meal arrived promptly and was actually quite pleasant. My vegetable madras was packed to the brim of beautiful fresh, succulent greens and was vindaloo hot, a single portion of Pilau was enough to feed two. The peshwari naan was filling and cakey and was a slightly different recipe to normal with a few glace cherries thrown in. Yum. However, as the restaurant was lacking in ambience, the meal wasn't really enjoyed- I just wanted to shovel it down and go next door to my beloved Treats. I felt like I'd gatecrashed a party and had to hurry out for some reason.

Upon leaving, I made my obligatory toilet assessment and my god were they filthy. To top it off, the mens bogs had 'gents' handwritten with marker pen on the door!

Sorry, Al Nawaz, you were distinctly average. And if I wanted to have a further excuse for not visiting, I read the below article. Cockroach kebab anyone?

THE boss of a restaurant on Manchester's 'curry mile' has been fined after a court heard it had been crawling with cockroaches.

Magistrates were told a public health inspector had found a 'well developed' infestation at the Al Nawaz restaurant on Wilmslow Road, in Rusholme, last summer.

The court was told that manager Gopal Dangol, 64, was ordered to shut it down after the inspection. He was fined £2,500 and restaurant owner Elite Chain Ltd was fined £12,500. The restaurant has since re-opened under new management.

The court heard that the inspector went there on July 24 last year after a customer made a complaint. Barbara Gora, prosecuting for Manchester council, said: "He saw live cockroaches running around the bar area, over shelving and on drinking glasses.

"Live cockroaches were also found around the washing up sink, under the coffee machine and over electrical equipment.

"A live cockroach was also found in a foil food container. There were also a number of dead cockroaches, which was indicative of a well-developed infestation."

Dangol, from Buxton Road, Stockport, and the firm had earlier pleaded guilty to five offences under food hygiene regulations.

Miss Gora said salad had been left next to raw meat in a fridge and the refrigeration units were in a poor state of repair. She said samosas and onion bhajis had been left out overnight at room temperature. Waste food and unclean kitchenware had also provided a source of food for the cockroaches. The waste bin was also full and overflowing.

She said: "The council prosecutes these matters because the public health is being put at risk. These defendants are clearly putting their profits before public health."

The court was told Dangol had a previous conviction for five food hygiene breaches while he was manager at the New Tabak restaurant on Wilmslow Road in 2007.

Barry Cuttle, defending, said Dangol had worked in restaurants as a waiter, a chef and a manager all his life. He said: "He's a family man. He hails from Nepal. He has worked very, very hard and very honestly and sincerely."

He said Dangol had already resigned from his job when the inspector visited but had 'copped a rocket' because he was still there while the firm waited to appoint a replacement manager.

He said the firm's pest controller fighting the infestation had needed access to the flats above the restaurant, but the residents often would not let them upstairs.

He said the restaurant was now under new management and he had been told by accountants that Elite Chain Ltd had ceased trading. Dangol was fined £500 for each offence - a total of £2,500. He was ordered to pay £1,124 costs and a £15 victim surcharge.

Elite Chain Ltd was fined £2,500 for each offence - a total of £12,500. The firm was ordered to pay costs of £1,124 plus a £15 surcharge.

Dangol was told by magistrate Catherine Feeney it was the worst breach of hygiene regulations she had seen in 30 years in the hospitality industry. She said: "Hygiene is important because people can become ill and die. You're in a very prominent position on Wilmslow Road and it's totally unacceptable."

(Copyright Manchester Evening News)