Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Mughli, Wilmslow Rd, Manchester

I've not had a very positive view of the Curry Mile lately. Once the place what a Vindaloo Queen's dreams were made of, it's become infested with cockroaches and even worse, rip-off merchants. The recession seems to have brought make or break to the Mile, with restaurants either going bust, putting their prices up and skimping on quality or opening new, smaller, non-curry eateries. After being treated rudely in Kebabish, being ripped off in Shahenshah and my old favourite Lal Haweli now a Turkish eaterie, I jumped at the chance to visit Mughli when my workmate who lives near the Mile invited me for curry one evening. I had previously been apprehensive about trying Mughli as it is strikingly modern, somewhat trendy, a characteristic I don't normally associate with a traditional curry house, but a change is as good as a rest.

Early evening, Mughli was heaving while most of the Mile stood empty, Shahenshah's staff desperately touting for business outside with empty promises of free drinks. Mughli didn't need any gimmicks. We managed to get a table, albeit a rubbish one next to the cooking area which was boiling hot and noisy. Serves us right for not booking, I suppose. Despite being uncomfortably hot, it was a great view of the cooking area and the smells were out of this world! The USP of the restaurant is its clay pit, where all the carnivorous treats are rustled up. The restaurant is decorated in orange tones, making you feel like you are literally in a clay pit. No twangy music, no booths and not a chintzy carpet in sight, you could almost be in a trendy nightclub.

The staff were like 4 of the seven dwarves- happy, grumpy, dopey and bashful- but to be fair, they were rushed off their feet. There was no personal touch to the service, making it a bit Pizza Express-esque; I like to have a chat to the staff about my food but it felt a bit difficult in here.

The prices are a bit dearer than average for Indian food in the area, but the quality was amazing. There was no need for starters, the popadoms were plentiful with a bountiful chutney tray, presentation immaculate.

I went for a vegetable Madras, garlic Naan and pilau rice, no change there. The Naan was presented in an unusual, eyecatching way, quartered and skewered on a stand- a brilliant way of sharing when you're a bit funny about where other people's hands have been that you're dining with! As you can see from the pic, the rice was served in a cute little bucket as well- top marks for presentation and usage of interesting tableware. The curry was amazing- a punchy, spicy fusion of chillies and vegetables, the veg fresh and not out of a frozen bag like its Curry Mile neighbours. Portion size was generous as well- there was no room for dessert!

For a modern Indian, Mughli has really impressed me. Plus points include the food quality, efficient service and great atmosphere. Minus points nothing serious, just that the A/C needed to be turned up and the staff need to personalise their service a bit more. Worth a visit if you're ever in the area.

Mughli on Urbanspoon

Monday, 19 November 2012

Cafe Latino, Bold St, Liverpool

Liverpool's eateries seem to have got a bit pricey in recent years and bargain cuisine, especially Italian, seems few and far between. Since the demise of my beloved Buca di Bacco's and the increase of chains in the likes of Liverpool 1, I've been yearning for a cosy, caffeine fuelled, garlic infused, traditional Italian treat. Enter Cafe Latino, Bold St's hidden gem.

Tucked away on the first floor, Cafe Latino is an unassuming doorway that you could easily miss. It relies more on word of mouth and has no web presence, giving it true hidden gem status. For those not as eagle-eyed as me, here's a helping hand:

This doesn't look like an Italian to me, I thought as I went up the unassuming staircase. Am I in the wrong place? Then a wonderful smell hit me; a combo of garlic, rosemary and freshly brewed coffee. Definitely on the right track. As the name suggests, Cafe Latino has an informal cafe style setting as opposed to a restaurant, making it the kind of place you could go on your own with a good book to linger over a slice of carrot cake. However, today was all about chowing down on Italian cuisine, not a coffee crawl. I was greeted warmly by the staff- excellent first impression. As I scoured the menu, I was delighted to see all the main courses were just £4.99 and from what I could see from the other diners, the portions were pretty generous. I ordered a penne rustica, the Carnivore ordered penne Polpette, we shared garlic bread and had a mineral water each. The mineral waters are only £1.50 and come in 600ml bottles- one would have definitely have been enough for two of us.

The garlic bread was £3 for 4 slices and it was delicious- big hunky crusty chunks, the garlic not too overpowering. Here is my Rustica- a combo of a rich goats cheese, tomatoes and rocket. A party for the tastebuds indeed, and a more generous portion than some of these pretentious Italian eateries that seem to have popped up all over Liverpool.

The Carnivore was more than happy with her Polpette, an Arrabiata-like sauce combined with a generous helping of meatballs. Her verdict? 'Far superior to Casa Italia. It used to be good in Casa's back in 2002 but it's rapidly gone downhill, and expensive. I'll be coming back to Latino!'

In typical Vindaloo Queen style, I left no room for dessert, but I managed to grab a look at the table of the caffeine-fuelled pensioners next to me. A veritable feast of fudge cake, carrot cake, Danishes... something for everyone. My only negative point of Cafe Latino is that it closes at 17:00, so if you want an after-work Italian treat, it's over to the city's rip-off merchants.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Uncle Sam's, Bold St, Liverpool

Back in 1999, the days before those monstrosities Nando's and Frankie and Benny's polluted our tastebuds, bargain hunting Scousers liked cheap grub in Renshaw Street's Uncle Sam's and Caesar's Palace. Conveniently located across the road from then shopping Mecca Lewis's and a stone's throw from nightlife in Hardman St and Bold St, these were THE places to eat. Even the most fussy eater could find something here- from greasy grub like burgers and pizza to the more exotic like enchiladas and tapas plates, not forgetting the huge ice creams and potent coffee, there was something for everyone in Caesar's and Uncle's as they were known. And ladies- how could you forget the international hunks who worked there? Talk about dish of the day. I would have a crush on a different Middle Eastern staff member every week.

Fast forward to 2012 and Liverpool city centre has shifted away from Renshaw St and co; Lewis's has gone bust, the Adelphi has a horrendous reputation and even the nightlife has relocated. While Caesar's has chosen to remain in Renshaw St (future blog post!), Uncle Sam's has moved to a smaller location in Bold St. Will it evoke memories of me partying like it's 1999? Or has it too been swept away with Liverpool's newly pretentious image? Only one way to find out... blog!

I was delighted to see that the menu had remained unchanged and the prices were still budget conscious. Taking a wander down memory lane, the dishes leapt out like reminders of the past, a bit like listening to a Now 2000 album and hearing THAT S Club 7 song. The Chuckwagon burger, the Baked Potato Engine...all these quirky names served as reminders of my past! The staff seemed to be all male (yippee!) and did I detect some cute foreign accents? This place would be hilarious on a hen night, think of all the flirtatious banter and photo-ready staff. The only thing missing is the fact the new premises don't have a fish pond. Might be something to do with those Health and Safety jobsworths- back in 1999 a drunk 'lady' actually fell in it.

I ordered a veggie burger and a potent cup of coffee- after the previous night's exploits in the UNI (Veg vindaloo, peshwari naan followed by a massive mango kulfi), my belly couldn't possibly accommodate one of Uncle Sam's famous ice cream sundaes.

What you see is what you get in Uncle's- not gourmet cuisine, nothing fancy, nothing memorable, just normal grub. A bit like a greasy spoon/diner/McDonald's food. There's only so much you can write about burger and chips- it is what it is, which makes Uncle's a great place to go if the budget's tight, your dining companions are fussy eaters or you just want a simple filling meal before a night out. However, its selling point is its huge ice creams which come in a variety of flavours, adorned with cocktail brollies and a sparkler if it's your birthday! Uncle Sam's, it's great to have you back.

The Balti House aka Shah's City Balti House aka Spice City, Liverpool

STOP PRESS: The following review originally appeared on my blog in 2010. I am now pleased to announce SPICE CITY has now reopened! Sadly, I'm living very far away from Liverpool again, but I can't wait to revisit this much-loved old haunt when I return next year. Fill your boots curryholics! Anyway, here's my original review for your perusal:

A catalogue of imodium moments.....

For me, the Balti House, renamed the Spice City, has always been one of those places that people warn you about, you know you shouldn't go, but somehow, you are severely tempted to give it another chance. My first visit was 1995 and my most recent visit was July 2009. Back in 1995, it was a glorious place to visit, with an impressive fountain under a bridge. You were even offered a free Bacardi or Baileys at the end of the meal and you were made to feel welcome. However, even in the glory days of the mid-90s, food poisoning was extremely common here (as a veggie, I was never affected but the meat eaters were). The restaurant has had numerous name changes, visits from environmental health and visits from Border Control over the years, giving it a dubious reputation. The business lunches were famous for being the cheapest and most plentiful in Liverpool as until 5 years ago, they were only £3.50 for a two course feast!

The business lunch consisted of a wholesome Dal soup to start and the choice of Bhajis or Popadoms, the main was a Korma, Madras or Rogan Josh. All the starters were beautiful and I enjoyed most of my curries here, despite what people told me about the place. I tucked into my Dal soup, lightly spiced with Cardamom, keeping the image of people I know suffering from Balti House-induced gastroenteritis out of my mind!

By the new Millenium, the fountain had been ripped out to make way for an extra table and the opulent interior was starting to look shabby. The booths were scratched and my feet were stuck firmly to the carpet. In my student days, it became an alternative to a meal deal from Boots and used to go with my classmates of a Friday. Christmas 2003 remains imprinted in my mind as 'The Eyelash Incident'. Us language students went to celebrate the last day before Xmas and I ordered a dessert. The ice cream had a piece of cardboard stuck to the bottom and it was obvious that it had defrosted and been frozen again. Then I saw it, a long black eyelash crowning the ice cream. Around the same time, my dad ordered a Chicken Tikka Biryani and when cut into, the chicken squirted out water and had a strange grey colour. The following day was another gastroenteritis incident.

Halfway through the decade, a new name and a staff change. I chanced it again on a flying visit from Germany. I was an air hostess back then and missed good curry as I was living abroad. The service was abyssmal and the staff were the infamous immigrants who border control busted. Our plates were slid along the table in the style of Jackie Chan performing Kung Fu.

2009. My final visit. I was sorely tempted to visit again and the quality went up tremendously. Balti House, now Spice City was back on top form and trying to win a place in my heart again. Juicy samosas and my spicy vindaloo proved to me that Spice City had definitely upped its game. The 70s style booths were still intact and the friendly service was back again, even down to its complimentary After Eight. Sadly, unbeknownst to me, this was going to be my last ever visit due to its closure in 2010. I had moved away from Liverpool by this time, so didn't get to say goodbye. Goodbye my curry, goodbye my friend.

Edited Nov 2012

Spice City on Urbanspoon