Monday, 23 April 2012

The Naz, Monton Rd, Salford

I had previously slated Salford for its paltry contribution on the culinary map, but things seem to be gradually looking up. The coffee on Monton Rd's cafes is becoming increasingly potent, the takeaways are upping their game as the recession bites, and the only eyesore on the horizon is the newly opened Harvester at Salford Quays, presumably laid on for the BBC peeps who have recently migrated. I decided to revisit The Naz, a contemporary Indian on Monton Rd which is an all you can eat buffet on the top floor and a takeaway at street level.

The Naz provides coffee while waiting for your grub and you can watch the chefs prepare your creation while you wait, your tastebuds salivating as wafts of spices fill the room. The Carnivore and I ordered what is increasingly becoming our staple diet, popadoms with the trimmings, peshwari naan, 2 pilau rice, a Vegetable Madras and a Chicken Dhansak, this coming to approx £15. What I love about the Indian takeaways in Salford is that rice is always included in the price- a rarity in today's greedy society.

The popadoms were wonderfully crisp and stayed fresh all the way home and were served with the full complement of dips- tomato and onion, lime pickle, yogurt and mango chutney, giving me that proper curry house experience in my kitchen. I had to stop myself filling up on them otherwise I'd be too full for the main event, bit difficult though as the pops were a delicious meal in themselves!

Using a tomato base, the madras was a refreshing alternative to other curry houses. As you can see on the pic, the sauce was red as opposed to brown, but it still had the same level of piquancy that the Madras connoisseur appreciates. Fresh veg was used, including chunky potatoes which for me, is make or break for a decent vegetarian curry. Thankfully, not a tinned vegetable was in sight in this perfect curry. The pilau rice was of the coloured variety which won bonus points from me, and the peshwari naan was beefy and bouncy, perfect for shovelling up copious amounts of dhansak and madras. The Chicken Dhansak appeared to get thumbs up from The Carnivore too, as the whole lot was demolished, definitely a winner.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Spice Lounge, Church St, Swinton, South Yorkshire

I'm sure you've gathered from my recent, frequent blogging that since I've been living in England again, I've been indulging my passion for eating out on a regular basis. From kebabs in Liverpool to Manchester carveries, the north of England is not safe from my voracious appetite. In recent weeks, I have eaten my way through the chippies in dilapidated seaside resorts and become a permanent fixture in Morrison's cafe- oh egg and cress sandwiches, how I missed thee! However, after a few bellyfuls of British stooge, it was time to get back on the curry again. As I am currently staying just outside of Sheffield, an area I'm not that familiar with, I relied on trusty Google to come up with a takeaway that delivers. Last time I was here, I came a cropper with the awful Sahib, let's hope my judgement won't let me down this time!

Spice Loungs is a restaurant and takeaway which does fantastic deals for diners, including early bird specials and midweek multi-course curry feasts. It gets glowing reviews on Trip Advisor, with diners going gaga over the fact that it gives out drinks on the house- a generosity the curry lover isn't accustomed to nowadays, what with the credit crunch. I feasted on popadoms served with a rainbow of dips, the dips plentiful, good quality and bursting with flavour. Popadoms beautifully crisp unlike some soggy failures that have been creeping into takeaways lately.

For the main event, I had a veggie Madras while The Carnivore chomped his staple diet, chicken Dhansak, with pilau and peshwari naan. My Madras was fantastically fiery, the veg an eclectic mix of cauliflower, huge potato chunks, carrots and more. My only complaint was that it was slightly on the greasy side and when I spooned it onto my plate, it separated like a Poundland lava lamp. The aftertaste of the Madras led my tastebuds to believe the spices weren't mixed properly. On the plus side, the rice was fresh and the peshwari bouncy.

The Carnivore enjoyed his chicken Dhansak, despite it being 'a different take on dhansak' in his words- by that, he meant it was the same colour of my Madras and a bit more watery than previous dhansaks. The chicken was beautifully tender and despite the different consistency of the curry, it made it somewhat easier on the tummy.

To sum up- nothing to rave on, but if you're in the area and are desperately seeking spice, it's a brilliant stopgap.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Fung Lok, Allerton Rd, Liverpool

As you can probably tell from my recent posts, I've been hammering the North West's cheap lunch deals over the last few weeks. After all, we're still in a state of financial austerity and it's never been a better time to grab a bargain. Strolling along Allerton Rd last Sunday, however, deals seemed to be thin on the ground; a bit strange, considering all these new wine bars and bistros are jostling for business cheek by jowl. After reading a few of the menus in the window, the veggie dishes seemed to be concoctions of Asda's chiller cabinet and were obviously dishes I could rustle up myself at home, defeating the purpose of eating out for me! After much menu perusing, I finally spotted a place offering lunch meal deals in the form of a restaurant I had not visited for 10 years, the Fung Lok.

The Fung Lok is a Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant which to look at is nothing special, but I was enticed by its 3 course lunch for £6.50. Resembling a living room with a few tables shoved in, a bar devoid of coffee machine (bad sign) and a table for takeaway customers straining under the weight of 50 issues of Now magazine, it wasn't the easiest on the eye. Coupled with a few handwritten signs on the wall about leaving tables unattended and some draconian rules about doggie bag etiquette, this restaurant resembled some sort of community centre. The staff were welcoming enough, friendlier than my visit 10 years previous. On closer inspection though, the menu seemed to have been written by Michael O'Leary. Some Ryanair-esque rules seem to have been imposed; although the lunch was £6.50, you could 'upgrade' certain dishes for an extra couple of quid. I stuck with the basic package, as 'upgrading' would have defeated the object of a bargain lunch.

To start, I had Sweetcorn soup which was tasty but lukewarm, so didn't come up to the standard of the Mayflower's soup from the week before. My carnivorous partner in crime 'upgraded' for £1 to Hot and Sour soup, which fared the same, passable, but should have been renamed Lukewarm with a Hint of Taste. The main courses fared better, I opted for the Vegetables in Hot Bean Sauce as pictured above. The taste wasn't dissimilar to Szechuan and the veg were pleasantly fresh as opposed to the prepackaged stuff. The Egg Fried rice was passable, but the portion size paltry. The Carnivore had a fried beef dish which got full marks, the beef being tender and not like that processed rubbish some Chinese restaurants are fond of.

Dessert time brought an eclectic choice of Cake of The Day, a fried banana or pineapple, jelly and custard (yum!) or that business lunch standard, the ice cream in a metal dish. We opted for the ubiquitous ice cream and a fried banana doused in toffee. The fried banana was freshly prepared, the batter fresh and not chippy-like like some restaurants.

The Fung Lok may not win awards for mind-blowing cuisine, nor will it blow the socks off you. But if you live in the suburbs of South Liverpool and don't fancy travelling too far, it's certainly a perfect, unpretentious failsafe.

Fung Lok on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Nostalgia, Lord St, Southport

Regular readers of my blog will know that I don't buy into these new-fangled trendy restaurants. For me, eating out is all about an experience, a little journey for the eyes and the senses as well as the tastebuds. In my favourite seaside resort of Southport, I have found the perfect antidote to your chains, your glass fronted wine bars and the nouvelle cuisine brigade. My friends, let me take you in my time machine to Nostalgia.

Nostalgia has been present in Southport for decades, before all those pesky budget airlines took away all its tourists to Majorca and it was still a thriving seaside resort. It sums up the essence of an English tearoom- quaint and stereotypical for foreign tourists, buying into their idealistic image of England being genteel and taking tea in a similar vein to when we go to Spain and watch a flamenco show. The waitresses are immaculately turned out in pinnies and hats (calm down gents, thats not all they're wearing!), 40s music plays in the background, old fashioned decor (please, don't refurb!) and cabinets filled with gooey cakes.

The dishes aren't the most exciting and for the main part consists of soups and sandwiches, but you are in an Olde Englishe tearoom, it'd lose its purpose if it were to serve sushi and curry. You wouldn't expect a cream scone in a Chinese, would you? In a similar vein to pub grub, the hot dishes of the day include traditional favourites like lasagne, fish and chips, and for us veggies, a homemade cheese, onion and potato bake (above) for £5.99 served with salad and crusty bread.

Where they do get imaginative however, are the desserts and drinks. A variety of teas, milkshakes, sticky puds and more really whets the appetite. My drink of choice is the Spider, a mix of cherry coke, normal coke and a dollop of ice cream, followed by either jam roly poly or apple crumble with lashings of custard for dessert.

So, next time you go to Southport, please visit this beautifully nostalgic cafe. You can eat chips, pizza etc any time, cafes like this are few and far between in today's C*sta filled society of no imagination. I guarantee you will leave with a warm fuzzy feeling in your stomach and a sadness that this country ain't what it used to be.

Nostalgia Tea Rooms on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Mayflower, Duke St, Liverpool

The Mayflower is one of those restaurants that has been around for years but seems to be rather displaced. Tucked away in Duke St, it falls out of the border of Chinatown but isn’t fortunate enough to benefit from the footfall of Liverpool One either, despite it being in spitting distance from the bus station. With Chinese buffet restaurants springing up like mushrooms, how does the Mayflower measure up of a lunchtime with its £5.90 business lunch?

Despite its dull fa├žade, the Mayflower has a garishly eye-catching interior, a 10 foot Buddha statue greets you on entering, a fish tank fills the length of the back wall and the tables are flanked with red ornamental pillars. To top it off, a Pan Pipe version of My Heart Will Go On fills the room, a perfectly cheesy soundtrack to a credit crunch lunch.

The staff were friendly and not rushing the diners, unlike some other restaurants in the city I shan’t mention. Despite it being an express lunch, I felt no need to hurry and the service was just as good as if I were paying top dollar somewhere.

The starters consisted of the usual Chinese mainstays like Chicken and Sweetcorn Soup, Spring Rolls and ribs, with a good choice of meat and veggie options. I went for the Vegetarian Sweetcorn soup while my carnivorous colleague went for the proper version.

This is where some business lunches fall down by serving lukewarm soup, or putting meat in the veggie soup, but Mayflower did me proud. The soup was roasting hot, and as you can see from the picture, it was a decent-sized portion.

Like the starters, the main courses consist of the usual old favourites of Anglicised Chinese cuisine- satay, sweet and sour, chilli sauce, curry and black bean sauce dishes, served with either tofu, veg, chicken, beef or prawn. I opted for the Stir Fried Mixed Veg in Chili Sauce, while The Carnivore chowed down on Sweet and Sour Chicken, both served with Egg Fried Rice.

The Chili Sauce had a fabulous kick, Chinese Vindaloo you may call it. An eclectic mix of cashew nuts, baby corn, water chestnuts, carrots and beansprouts, it’s nothing fancy and wouldn’t win any praise from Gordon Ramsay, but it tasted amazing. The Egg Fried Rice tasted freshly made, fluffy with the perfect balance of egg and rice, unlike some of these pesky buffet restaurants where it tastes overcooked, over-steamed and over-oiled.

The third course of the meal was a choice between coffee, ice cream or fruit. I am pleased to report the coffee was ‘proper’ and not my pet hate instant coffee. Eschewing the fruit, I chose the ice cream, served in one of those little metal dishes synonymous with business lunch desserts. Top marks for Mayflower for using Neapolitan ice cream instead of boring old vanilla.

At £5.90 a head plus a litre of sparkling water at £4.60 (for some bizarre reason, it’s actually cheaper to buy two 500ml bottles I found out later), this credit crunch lunch for two came in at a reasonable £16.40. Unpretentious Chinese food at its best combined with Pan Pipes cover versions of cheesy crooners- what more can you ask for?

This review also appears on Sevenstreets

Mayflower on Urbanspoon