Sunday, 27 May 2012

UPDATE: Try Thai, Faulkner St, Manchester

Three years ago, I had the most exquisite lunch in Try Thai, a glamorous restaurant in Chinatown, and enjoyed it so much I was determined to go back. However, I couldn't find it- please don't tell me my favourite place has gone bust! Thankfully, after much searching, I discovered it had moved next door and one floor up. Phew, relief.
TT's reincarnation is a feast for the eyes as well as the tastebuds (no, not Take That, Try Thai! Steady on ladies)and its refurb is miles away from its former self, a bit like the Madonna of the restaurant world. Its previous form was a chilled, pine, cafelike affair, its new one is all rich fabrics, interesting Thai statues, and moody atmospheric dark furnishings. Thankfully, the prices are still low for lunch, the staff are cheerful and smiley; so far so good, let's sample the food!

I perused the menu and it was like returning home to an old friend- it had not gone up by much and was now £7.95 for a 3 course, still plenty of veggie options and the delicious cocktail list was ever present. To start with, I devoured a strawberry kick mocktail, made with freshly pulped strawbs- perfection. For a moment I was swept away to a tropical beach.
My starter was the generous Vegetables Tempura (see pic), a selection of battered aubergine, babycorn, broccoli, cauliflower, carrot, onion and pepper served with a chili dip to dunk them in. This was extremely filling and was wondering where I was going to make room for my main! In addition, they have another tasty veggie alternative in the form of sweetcorn cakes- breadcrumbed patties seasoned with coconut with a moreish sweetcorn filling.
Vindaloo Queens and Kings- now this bit is especially for the hardcore spice fans, if you like kormas, look away now. My main course was the extremely potent Aubergine and Tofu with chili and holy basil. Sounds non- threatening, doesn't it? Never mind holy basil, this dish is the holy grail for all those lovers of eye watering cuisine. The dish consists of succulent braised aubergine and tofu, tender and juicy but secretly tucked away in between the tofu laid chillies of all variety in technicolour greens and reds, laughing cheekily at my watery eyes. I downed a litre of water during the course of this culinary masterpiece, enjoying the cleansing sensation of an ultra- hot chili.
After this chili delight, there was the choice of ice cream or potent coffee for dessert, needless to say, I chose ice cream to extinguish the flames. I wolfed my ice cream dessert appreciatively, just the antidote for a lunch on the chillies.

In addition, Try Thai have now converted the original restaurant into a funky bar. Keeping with the Thai theme, they offer the same extensive drinks menu along with special drinks deals in a tranquil surrounding. Clearly, Try Thai's new year's resolution was to come up with a new quirky drinks menu! Their new selection really pushes the boundaries of the imagination and I thought I'd share this pic with you all to prove it. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's actually a cuppa.

Take one massive wine glass, fill it with hot water and put an interesting, flowery ball in it made of flowers, herb and tealeaves. Watch it open, grow and colour the water. Once it is at full bloom, let it stew then enjoy. Green tea with a difference-teabags are soooo last year!

Try Thai? No, don't just try it. Devour it! Do not miss this fragrant beauty of a restaurant. Your senses will thank you.


After a year of discovering new restaurants both in Manchester and abroad, I decided to revisit our old friend Try Thai. Sadly, the Carnivore and I were greeted with surly service and were fobbed off with a rubbish table in a half-empty restaurant. We didn't settle for this and moved to one of the larger tables. My keen eye observed other couples trying to be moved to the rubbish table too but funnily enough, some people who were obviously friends of the staff got welcomed with open arms and given the good tables. Really, I expect that sort of behaviour from N*ndo's but not my beloved Chinatown! The service continued to be haphazard and surly, with the Carnivore waiting 15 minutes for his beer- his starter came before his drink. Since our last visit, an extra couple of tables seem to have been crammed in, making this once tranquil experience reminiscent of a 2 star hotel on the Costa Brava. Gordon Gekko's 'Greed Is Good' catchphrase perfectly sums up this place. Sadly, it is a far cry from its more humble beginnings when it was still a hidden gem on the Manchester culinary scene. On a positive note, the food is still amazing- I actually feel sorry for the obviously talented chef, whose masterpieces are overshadowed by the haughtiness of his fellow staff members. One for The Restaurant Inspector I think.

Try Thai on Urbanspoon

Wasabi Dessert Room, Faulkner St, Manchester

After the abysmal service and high prices at Try Thai, I was loathe to spend any more money there. I like to enjoy my desserts and post-meal coffee in a relaxed surrounding and Try Thai had the ambience of school dinners. Since the demise of my old favourite Bubble Cafe, I was desperately seeking a new Bubble Tea joint in Manchester. Enter Wasabi Dessert Room- Chinatown's latest, sparkly addition. Upstairs from Wasabi sushi, this far-Eastern twist on the humble ice cream parlour is a delight. Featuring 15 flavours of Bubble Tea priced at £2.50 (the pic above is Lavender flavour- delicious) along with traditional Chinese and Japanese desserts, this place is a far cry from grabbing a boring croissant at Costa Coffee! Its relaxed setting with Asian pop videos playing creates the perfect atmosphere for whiling away a few hours. An absolute must is its speciality, the Snow Ice dessert. Priced at £4.99 but serves 2 easily and possibly even a 3rd person, this concoction of fruity sorbet, fresh fruit and tapioca is a work of art.

Wasabi Sushi & Noodle Bar on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Mandarin, Liverpool

I am still trying to find a replacement for my much loved Golden Phoenix and its super business lunch. One of Liverpool's oldest Chinese restaurants with charming 70s decor, friendly staff and the famous Dessert Island sweet display, it sadly got demolished during the Capital of Culture propaganda in 2007. Regular blog readers will be aware of my disapproval of Liverpool 1 and the city's 'regeneration', fabulous old businesses and buildings were and still are being culled in the name of modernisation and yet more soulless chains are being erected in place. Boring. Anyway, rant over, time to eat.

The Mandarin is on the fringes of the business district and has been around for years, but in its previous form, was on the opposite side of the road. Now it has hit back with a glitzy glossy refurb but still offers a cheap and cheerful business lunch for approx £7- 3 courses and a drink. Ornate furnishings and statues complement the interior, modern but not faceless and brash. The spacious interior is a godsend, there's enough space in between tables as not to eavesdrop on your dining neighbours' conversations. The staff are attentive and friendly, the menu extensive but not overwhelming- just like Gordon Ramsay and every other discerning restaurant connoisseur likes! The menu is conveniently divided into a Vegetarian and a Meat section which saves a lot of umming and aahing what we veggies often have to put up with in Chinese restaurants. (Veggies will know what I mean- 'do you do vegetarian hot and sour?' 'We can take the meat out''Veg and Tofu? Errm we'll see if that's possible or if there's a surcharge'. It's vegetarianism, not rocket science.)

To start, there is the choice between soup or 'Pancake' rolls. Here, this translates as spring rolls, not actual pancakes, but nonetheless a decent portion. I opted for the Sweetcorn soup- a decent portion albeit lukewarm. The Carnivore went for the non-veggie spring rolls, a generously sized portion of 2 fat ones.

My main was a sumptuous Veggie Vermicelli, one of my staple dishes when I am bored with Szechuan. The mix of carbs and fresh veg with a hint of spice make a healthy yet filling dinner. The portion was generous but there was a distinct lack of vegetables bar peppers. I would have loved to have seen some broccoli, sugar snap peas, maybe some mini corn. Nonetheless, it was tasty and the sesame seed garnish gave it some much needed bite. Meanwhile, the Carnivore chowed down on the meat version, which also had a distinct lack of meat. What meat there was, it was cut up into small cubes.

The dessert was a choice between coffee and mint or ice cream, the Carnivore didn't want one so I ended up with both. The ice cream (vanilla) was a generous portion and served in a stylish ice cream dish as opposed to the ubiquitous metal ones, but the coffee got thumbs down. Yes, it was instant which really got my goat as I'm pretty sure I spied a filter machine behind the bar. For a top class restaurant, instant coffee is a bit shabby, even if it was the business lunch. And there was no mint, despite saying so on the menu.

A drink was also included in the meal- a half pint, soft drink or glass of wine, but the Carnivore ordered an additional pint. At £3.50 and tasting a bit iffy, it had a bigger head on than Marge Simpson. Stay teetotal here, it's the better option.

The Mandarin may look the part, but it definitely hasn't replaced the Golden Phoenix shaped hole in my heart. A good standby for a cheapo business lunch, but not top of my list.

Mandarin on Urbanspoon

Oasis, Manchester Rd, Chorlton cum Hardy, Manchester

When Manchester and Oasis are mentioned in a sentence, the first thing that comes to mind are two bushy-eyebrowed rock and roll brothers. The second thing that comes to mind is a ladies' clothes store that was popular in the 90s and has now faded into oblivion. Google agrees with me too- type in Oasis Manchester and the first page of results references the band and the shop. Ladies and Gentlemen, let me introduce you to the other Oasis in the city- a fabulous ice cream parlour tucked away in suburban Chorlton.

Chorlton is a fabulous area I have recently discovered and packed with foodie gems, reminiscent of the Berlin suburb of Kreuzberg. Discerning foodies can try a wide range of cuisines here- Indian, Arabic, Spanish and potent coffee is ubiquitous. It knocks spots off the much-lauded Didsbury, which as far as I'm concerned, is haven to what I call The Usual Suspects of La Tasca, Wetherspoons et al. The first stop on my foodie discovery of Chorlton had to be Oasis, with its instantly recognisable shop frontage, a ray of sunshine on a characteristically grey Manchester day. A few years back, I lamented that Britain has a distinct lack of ice cream parlours (in continental Europe, ice cream parlours are like our chippies and pubs; it'd be unthinkable not to have them). Thankfully, times are changing and ice cream parlours are having a slow but sure revival. Anyway, back to Oasis.

Boasting over 36 flavours of ice cream, not to mention creations like Knickerbocker Glories and sundaes, Oasis is most definitely an oasis in a sea of traditional coffee shops and pubs. Its cheery staff are a ray of sunshine, the sheer enormity of the ice cream range transports you to a Mediterranean seaside. I tried the Turkish Delight ice cream (sometimes known as 'rose' in Europe) which was simply divine, I've never understood people who go to an ice cream parlour for boring vanilla. Next was a beautiful Smoothie, the Blue Banana which is a concoction of blueberries and bananas which despite its name, was a luscious pink colour. The coffee here is fabulously potent too, not to mention the extensive range of cakes.

The resident fish in this cafe are also a sight to behold- the fish tank tucked away in the corner feature some of the most hilarious fish I have ever seen- ugly yet endearing at the same time!

The cafe also offers free wifi, but let's face it, who's going to be surfing the net when there's over 30 flavours of ice cream to try!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Tony's Fish Bar (aka Mario's), 6 Southway, Eccles, Salford

I confess. I never used to be a chippy kind of girl. I always dismissed them as bland, greasy and not the most comfortable dining experience. Fancy standing up in the street eating out of paper, for goodness' sake! Not to mention the fat, grease and the fact it goes against my commitment to spicy, exotic cuisine. They say your tastebuds change as you get older, and as I'm about to enter my 4th decade, mine have decided to become a bit more welcoming to good old English grub. Maybe it's my time in Dubai that's done it to me and the five years I spent living in Berlin's Turkish community, the onset of spice fatigue. Or maybe it's seeing all these other cultures and watching how in touch they are with their own traditions, it's become high time for me to explore mine.

Eccles is a quaint, old fashioned town in Greater Manchester, often overlooked by foodies in favour of its cosmopolitan neighbour central Manchester or its new, up and coming competitor Salford Quays. However, if it's good honest grub you're after, Eccles is a safe bet. After wandering through and absorbing its old-fashioned charm, I spotted the kind of establishment that's becoming a rarity since the advent of healthy eating, kebab culture and identikit Ikea furniture. Tony's Fish Bar. Nestled under an equally retro-looking Indian (which is definitely on the to-do list too), Tony's fish bar is known locally as Mario's, which apparently was its former name and has stuck. A bit like us Liverpudlians calling Home Bargains 'Home and Bargain' as that's what it used to be called on the Mersey, dear fans of useless trivia! Furnished with cosy booth-style seating which probably hasn't changed since back in the day, I was instantly overwhelmed with a sense of nostalgia, a refuge in a world populated with Costa Coffee and its ilk.

The menu is standard chippy fare with some dishes that would be considered old fashioned, like Spanish Omelettes, and calorie-laden fry ups and pie dinners. Far from selling paninis and wraps, this place goes back to basics with filled barms- and they are much loved for it. No chorizo or halloumi cheese here. I ordered a plate of chips with curry sauce as you can see above, which came in at £1.90.

The chips were chunky, fresh and not a slither of grease upon them, the curry sauce being perfect for a discerning Vindaloo Queen. It appeared to be home made with some evidence of peppers in- kudos to Tony's! The staff were friendly and I was greeted with a warm smile despite appearing like an obvious newbie- this place definitely has its fan base of regulars, everyone seemed to know each other.

Tony's is like a time-capsule. In today's modern age of hideous commercialism and the attitudes of people only being seen where it's 'cool', this place, like much of Eccles, is a breath of fresh air. If you've got a hankering for the good old days and for a calorific belly-buster of a dinner, this is your place.

Ultimately, I could never decide between foreign and English grub though. The world's a big place full of fascinating customs and cuisines. I'm just enjoying the culinary ride- I'm having my Victoria Sponge and eating it!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Flavours, Nevill St, Southport

2011 saw the arrival of a fab new development in Southport- an ice cream parlour in an area with a high density of pubs, chippies and identikit chain coffee shops! Flavours has gone from strength to strength since its opening and despite being in a traditional English seaside resort and being part of Silcock's amusement arcade, Flavours retains a certain Continental charm.

Thanks to its potent coffee machine (a rarity in this neck of the woods) and numerous flavours of ice cream, Flavours pushes all my buttons and to top it off, you can have a flutter in the adjacent amusement arcade. If you have been to Germany or Italy and seen how an ice cream parlour is properly done, Flavours fits this template perfectly.The staff are always smiley as well, despite being rushed off their feet by demanding brats. So far, I have sampled their blackcurrant liquorice and after eight flavoured ices and have been bowled over that something has achieved ice cream perfection in little Britain. And yes, I am also pleased to say that I have found a fabulously potent coffee in Southport after a year of searching. Flavours has given the cafes of Southport a much- needed kick up the backside.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

China City, Faulkner St, Manchester

Back in 2010, I discovered an unpretentious, unassuming treat nestled away in a basement in Chinatown. I had just moved down from Edinburgh and I was gagging to burst right on to Manchester's culinary scene and sample its bountiful delights. This was about to become my new home city and I wanted to immerse myself right into its food paradise. China City's bargainous prices locked me in- admittedly, the restaurant has a basic interior but as I have previously said; if the food is good, you're not going to be admiring the wallpaper! China City wormed its way into my heart thanks to its friendly staff and great prices- important in these austere times.

I revisited today for one of its £5 3-course business lunches, a no-brainer when some places in downtown Manc are charging the same price for a limp sandwich. Descending into its atmospheric basement, the staff instantly recognised me despite being out of the country for months. The menu has had a slight reshuffle since my last visit, with a few new specialities being added. To start, I opted for an old favourite of mine, a vegetarian Hot and Sour broth- fabulously potent, with a strong distinction between the hot and sour tastes, padded out with tofu and pickles. The Carnivore slurped a Chicken Noodle soup which was surprisingly hearty with some veg thrown into the chicken noodle mix.

The Main Event for me was the Chinese answer to Vindaloo- Bean curd and mixed veg in a Szechuan sauce with lashings of EFR. The Szechuan was potent, punchy and plummy, combining well with the moreish slabs of tofu. Meanwhile, the Carnivore was silent, obviously enraptured in his satay chicken. Silence is golden and definitely the sign of a decent dinner.

The third course was a choice between fruit salad and coffee- as there was no trace of a coffee machine, signalling the potential weak potency of a cup of Nescafe, I sensibly opted for the fruit. And a Mint Imperial, naturally. Put this friendly, credit crunch busting lunch on your Mancunian lunching itinerary and ignore the chains.

China City on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 3 May 2012

New Hong Kong, Faulkner St, Manchester

In order to be objective in my reviews, I like to visit a place a couple of times and to give restaurants the benefit of the doubt. We've all had off days at work and done things we regret, so why should it be any different for restaurant staff? If a place is truly awful and other reviews show how consistently bad it is, then I'll give it a wide berth, but if it was just slightly bad with room for improvement, what I tend to do is visit again around a year later to see if it can deliver. Vindaloo Kings and Queens, I am happy to report that the New Hong Kong is back on top form!

I last visited New Hong Kong on Pride weekend, a stressful time for all bar and restaurant staff in close proximity to Canal St. This also coincided with August Bank Holiday- double the stress meaning half the customer service. My review was rather scathing, both the food and the customer service not faring well, but as I have had takeaways from the New HK, they have always been top notch and deep down, I knew they could come up with the goods. I decided to try their bargainous lunch deal- £5.50 for 2 courses. How did it match up to Chinatown's similarly cheap lunchtime offerings? I am pleased to announce it was top drawer.

The place was packed to the rafters with both Chinese and British clientele, a good sign. Dim Sum and other Cantonese specialities were in free flow, along with other business lunch bargain hunters like me. The amiable staff showed us to our table and made me and The Carnivore feel welcome. Proceedings kicked off with soup of the day- in both our cases, it was Vegetarian Sweetcorn, a generous portion, unlike some of the thimblefuls of soup on offer in Chinatown. And delicious it was too. FYI, there wasn't just one soup of the day, carnivores could have also indulged in hot and sour or chicken and sweetcorn. This was washed down with a fizzy water each at £1.60 a bottle.

The staff have impeccable timing between courses- not rushed like some business lunches and not too long either. A suitable pause in between sitting down, ordering, digesting the starter before chowing down on the main was expertly timed, a small yet important factor that some restaurants lack but New HK has down to a T.

Here are the mains- Singapore Vermicelli for The Carnivore:

and Fried Mix Veg with Cashew Nuts with lashings of EFR for me:

As you can see, the portions are HUGE. I have never been for a business lunch with such a huge portion- well, not in England anyway. Mountains of veg struggled to contain themselves in the constraints of the plate, bursting with flavour. Despite them being in a plain sauce, the eclectic mix of cashews and veg padded out nicely into a tasty serving of good old British Chinese. The Carnivore's Vermicelli went down a treat too, packed with pork, prawns and a colourful selection of veg. The sesame seed garnish was the piece de resistance, showing attention to detail that some restaurants neglect during Business Lunch period.

At £5.50, it'd be rude not to try New HK. A delicious lunch and a friendly, underestimated restaurant which deserves more praise and attention.

New Hong Kong on Urbanspoon