Thursday, 8 August 2013

Peking Duck, Smithdown Rd, Liverpool

In my opinion, Smithdown Road knocks spots off its nearest rival, Allerton Rd, when it comes to food. Whereas Allerton Road's eateries all look the same and tend to offer small, bland portions, Smithdown provides the cheap and cheerful vibe with a lively selection of restaurants from all round the world. After my last meal out in the Royal Tandoori, a recent meal deal in Christakis and a gallon of potent coffee in Santino, it was time for me to sample the delights of their neighbour, Peking Duck. Like the Royal, this restaurant has been there for years but for some reason, I never tried it, it was either local ones in the Childwall vicinity or the city centre. After having so many bad Chinese meals in Liverpool compared to my previous home towns of Manchester and Dubai, my expectations weren't high for this one. How wrong could I have been?
Peking Duck offers a 3 course early evening deal- a soup, a dim sum and a main, with coffee or tea to finish for just £10.50. Inside, it is a typical old school Chinese- dark with the proverbial fishtank but with ever so friendly staff. To start, I went for that old favourite of mine, Veggie Hot and Sour.

Amazing. A perfect potent blend of hot and sour spices with meaty chunks of tofu, this was what Hot and Sour is all about. One of the best quality H&S's I have ever had.

Starter number two was a much loved favourite of mine, Spring Onion Pancakes:
Served with an orange flavoured dip, the pancake was fluffy and packed to the gills with spring onions, again top notch and far better than the freezing cold offering I had at Canton Palace a few months ago.
After those delights were digested, time for the main event, tofu in black bean sauce, served with boiled rice:

Fabulous again. Huge portion size, a rich black bean sauce, not watered down like some establishments, thick slabs of delicious fresh spongy tofu soaking up the flavours of the sauce. There was no scrimping on portion size here!

After digesting that feast, there was a complimentary coffee (albeit instant) with the cherry on the cake- an After Eight.  A perfect, classic old school good old fashioned British Chinese with all the ingredients of good food, good company and pleasant surroundings. Peking Duck, you have surpassed my expectations and saved me the journey to Manchester for decent Chinese grub.


The good- excellent portion size, bargain price and a great atmosphere. Good veggie selection.
The bad- instant coffee

New Peking Duck on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Royal Tandoori, Smithdown Rd, Liverpool

After visiting so many new restaurants that have been a letdown, I decided to visit an old favourite of the Liverpool curry scene that I've never been to but always wanted to go to- the Royal Tandoori. Smithdown Rd is becoming a great place for foodies, what with Christakis, Peking Duck and Santino's, offering better food than the uninspiring bistros of Allerton Rd. The Royal is an old school curry house with vital components like a sticky carpet, booths, twangy music and a fabulously ornate ceiling that wouldn't look out of place in Dubai. To start, we feasted on the usual popadoms and there was yet another variation on the chutney tray. Lime pickle, onions and mango chutney were there but with two other dips- red onion salad and a tangy concoction of hot, sweet and sour.
The main event consisted of Veggie Madras for me and Veggie Bhuna for the Other Veggie, served with lashings of pilau and garlic naan.
My madras was heaven- lots of spuds and other assorted vegetables, this was a quality curry experience. The pilau was at its oldschool best- the colourful variety and the naan lovely and fluffy with just the right amount of garlic without being overpowering. The veggie curries were only £6.20, bargain.
For dessert, I couldn't resist a Pistachio Kulfi- only £1.95. I needed it after eating a curry on the hottest day of the year so far! Note the retro tableware!

At around £30 for the two of us including 2 drinks each, the Royal is a great throwback to the days of a big curry night out before Indian restaurants got all pretentious on us. Amazing.
The good- the prices, the décor, the atmosphere, well everything!
The bad- could have done with a yogurt dip on the pickle tray.

Royal Tandoori on Urbanspoon

Spice City, Stanley St, Liverpool

Spice City, the former Balti House. A fond memory of my past, a whimsical world of sticky Chintz carpets, cosy booths and hot towel, orange slices and Vimto lollipops with the bill. A common feature on nights out, be it stag, hen or the dreaded office party. Sadly, the Balti House burned down and this traditional curry house became just another chapter of my past, along with Liverpool legends the Old Monk, Howl at the Moon and Plummers. I was delighted to find out it had recently reopened as Spice City- but how would it fare without its traditional décor?

It was unrecognisable as all the booths had gone and no longer looked like a curry house. Hopefully, the food would distract me from the boring décor. There was a meal deal on- 2 courses plus a drink for £10. Surely that would have the crowds flocking? Apparently not. We were the only ones in there. Awkward. To start, we paid extra for popadoms- £4.80 for the three of us- ouch! The chutney tray was plentiful though, 5 dips including a fiery hot tomato based one:

I washed them down with a glass of flat coke, good job the drink was free with the meal. My starter was vegetarian samosas served with a side salad. If you look, the salad includes that well known Indian vegetable, the Jalapeno.

The samosas were tasty, but my colleagues were less than satisfied with their starters. The Carnivore ordered a chicken kebab and it looked like something from the frozen section in the halal shop on Smithdown Rd, a dubious concoction of processed meat. The Other Veggie's onion bhaji tasted uninspiring and lacking in substance, a bit like the ambience of the restaurant. Time for the mains.

I ordered a Vegetable Madras, the Other Veggie a veg bhuna. The sauces were deliciously potent but the quality of the veg was abysmal. No potatoes or carrots, just lots and lots of leafy stuff and onions. Again, tasty but lacking in any real substance. It was pleasant to eat, but just that. It wasn't what I'd call an ultimate curry experience. The rice portions were decent though and the naan fresh and fluffy.

The Carnivore fared the worst though with his lamb pathia described as 'ropey'. The meat was sinewy and tough and didn't taste like lamb apparently. During the meal, no other diners came and the staff seemed desperate to push their delivery service. Spice City, you've got a lot to live up to if you want to recreate the big night out vibe that the Balti House was known for.


The good- Portion size and price
The bad- Meat quality and no atmosphere

Spice City Indian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Elif, Childwall Fiveways, Childwall, Liverpool

Hi foodies, long time no see! It's been quiet on the foodie front lately as I've been going to some of my usuals and hate blogging about the same place twice (Christakis, UNI and Red Fort in Liverpool to name a few) so have refrained from blogging til I discover some new eateries. The heatwave has put me off curries temporarily so I decided to try Elif, the Turkish place at Childwall Fiveways. I was a bit sceptical at first as Turkish cuisine UK style has been hit and miss for me, a seasoned connoisseur of mainland Europe's Turkish communities. The menu looked pretty enticing, 2 courses for £12 and there seemed to be a good selection for veggies.
First impressions were positive- beautiful Mediterranean décor and traditional Turkish wall tiles and a rather handsome Turkish staff member sweetened things up. Talk about dish of the day! (sorry male readers) To start, I ordered the Patlican Salatasi below, the Turkish equivalent of my Dubai staple Baba Ghanoush or my Greek fave Melitzanosalata. It was pleasant, albeit a bit too creamy. Not as good as ones I've eaten in Istanbul or even Turkish caffs in Germany.
My 2 dining partners ordered Cacik which tasted watered down and the chicken wings which were a success with the Carnivore. These were served with a bread basket which was sadly taken away when the starters were finished. I was disappointed that when it came to the mains, the meal I wanted wasn't available as it was the reason I had chosen to come to Elif instead of a repeat Christakis visit. I was craving stuffed vine leaves and tomatoes, and went crazy when they said it wasn't on but there was a veggie casserole instead. I'm not a fan of veggie casseroles, it shows lack of imagination and inspiration, a bit like when pubs do a frozen lasagne or 'posh' places fob us off with a mushroom risotto the colour of dirty dishwater. I had no choice but to order it, wishing I could've gone to Christakis instead. The Carnivores ordered a Lamb Casserole and Lamb Kebab. When the plates came, I was lost for words as were the carnivores. The meals were served with rice and salad but the portions were tiny. The rice wasn't even proper Turkish pilaf but reeked of Uncle Ben's. It appeared that between the three of us, we were sharing one bag of a boil in the bag rice. The salad was fresh and tasty but seemed ok for two but not sufficient for three. Carnivore 1 loved his lamb kebab- he had no qualms about the quality of the meat but complained how bare the plate was. No bread, no traditional Turkish dips and no chips or potatoes. Carnivore 2 liked the lamb in the casserole but the actual casserole was inedible- it tasted like someone had lobbed in a tin of Napolitana Chopped Tomatoes. And more toms. And even more toms. Even the lamb was probably suitable for veggies as the sheer amount of tomato puree had probably negated out the meatiness of the lamb. What can I say about my casserole? Pass the Rennies. A concoction of feta, peppers and even more tomato, I quit while I was ahead as I didn't want a sleepless night of acid reflux.
I was hoping I'd be won round by dessert but no. Instant coffee was on the menu plus ice cream for an astronomical sum. I gave it a miss and went to the Fiveways instead. Come on, if you're going to be a serious competitor in the restaurant market, please buy a coffee machine. I was disappointed as I really wanted to like Elif as it's local, plus I'm a massive fan of Turkey. £12 for a 'deal' seemed extortionate for a few tins of tomatoes and boil in the bag rice. As authentic as a bar of Fry's Turkish Delight.
The good: Friendly staff and beautiful décor
The bad: Small portion size and no decent coffee
Elif Turkish BBQ Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Millon, Allerton Rd, Liverpool

You never forget your first time. Mine was in May 1991. My debut on the curry scene was at the tender age of 8 in a proper old school, albeit posh at the time, curry house called Passage to India 2. I chose a very exciting dish called Chicken Korma and felt oh so grown up, not envying my contemporaries having to dine on something disgusting called a Happy Meal. The restaurant had booths, colourful rice, crystal glasses and Mum got given a carnation on the way out! Fast forward 22 years and it was time to head back to the place where it all began, Vindaloo Queen's Cavern Club if you will.

The restaurant is now called Millon Tandoori, it still bears a lot of the features of the original Passage to India but sadly, the booths have been stripped of most of their privacy and the carnations have gone. The food and drinks are served on bog standard tableware now but I'll try and not let it detract from the curry too much!

First impressions of Millon? Faded glory. The once posh décor looked a bit like 1990s period features now, but a bit of rough always means plenty of atmosphere for me. I was sad to notice its 2 USPs now absent, the carnation for the lady and the booths, no matter how twee that sounds, they were part of the character for me. I was greeted warmly by the staff, none of the brusqueness that its closest Indian neighbour Sekander's has. Now, I know it's only a minor point, but there was a vase with a dead carnation in on my table. If you're going to push the boat out and have some table décor, then make sure the flowers are full of life and not as limp as a Curry Mile popadom. The lack of effort in putting fresh flowers on your table could cast doubts upon the freshness of your food....

To start, I had popadoms as this time, I was determined to eat dessert. The pops came with 5 dips- the usual 4 plus one that tasted like watery strawberry jam!

No qualms whatsoever with the chutney tray quality, although I wasn't sure what to do with the strawberry jam. Maybe it was a practical joke, a bit like when I was an air hostess and we'd send newbies for a long stand. Who knows.

The main course was Vegetable Madras with the usual accompaniments of pilau and naan. This time, I had a craving for okra so took a side order of bindi bhaji. The curries were generously proportioned, albeit a little greasy. My madras had an excellent selection of fresh veg, including okra, potato, carrot, aubergine and peas. not a tinned or frozen 99p Farmfoods square carrot in sight. The naan was huge, fresh and fluffy. The bindi bhaji was a lovely healthy accompaniment with my curry, the okra just the right consistency and not slimy like in some restaurants. However, had I had known my curry contained okra, I mightn't have bothered and opted for an aloo gobi instead.

After that delicious feast, I simply had to have kulfi. At a bargainous £1.95, I pushed the boat out and had a mango one. Delish.

Millon's may not be the opulent eaterie it was 15 years ago, but at least they have kept their prices affordable and the staff friendly. While it won't win any good curry awards, it won't disappoint either and has something to please everyone. A reliable, good old fashioned curry house which is a breath of fresh air in today's pretentious times.


Plus points- friendly staff and generous portions
Minus points- flat coke and the dead carnation on my table

Millon on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Chilli Pot, North John St, Liverpool

Another rainy weekend in Liverpool, another day spent inside eating, drinking and not doing much else. I'm making the best of the bad situation that is this Great British Summer and dedicating it to the pursuit of business lunches and not eating picnics on Southport Beach. Finding a business lunch on a weekend can be rare as hens' teeth but thanks to a tip from my friend, I discovered the Chilli Pot in Liverpool city centre does a cracking 2 course deal with a drink for £8.90. Chilli Pot is a Thai restaurant and after a recent bellybuster in Allerton's Siam Garden, I was dubious about trying another Thai in case it didn't match up. Vindaloo Queen and Thai cuisine have had a tempestuous relationship with some establishments giving me fish based sauce so it was rare to find one that delivered the goods.

Chilli Pot is a clean, modern, friendly eaterie with professional, knowledgeable staff and enough space to ensure privacy during your meal. To start, I ordered veggie spring rolls- the portion consisted of 2 small, skinny springies and wasn't exactly overwhelming. They seemed a bit lonely on their bed of lettuce on the huge plate- for this reason, it became obvious why so many people love all you can eat buffets. Mind you, they were tasty and not swimming in grease like that abomination the Shangri-La.

My main course was vegetarian Pad Ped- a delicious concoction of spicy veg, served with boiled rice. Tasty? Yes, it was a healthy lunch, not greasy and bursting with flavour. Memorable? No. A bit bog standard to be memorable, full marks for presentation but it didn't leave a lasting impression. The portion size was small, even for a little thing like me so I think grown men, especially the Carnivores would come here and stop for chips on the way home. Great for dieters and the sushi brigade, but for the rest of us with voracious appetites, it falls a bit flat.


The good- clean surroundings and friendly staff
The bad- portion size

Chilli Pot on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Damon's, Speke Rd, Liverpool

I know what you're thinking- what was veggie curry fiend Vindaloo Queen doing in an establishment whose signature dish is ribs? Damon's is Liverpool's hidden gem for cocktails and contrary to popular belief, it is possible to go in there just for a tipple! As you have probably guessed, there was a severe lack of veggie friendly dishes on the menu so I checked out the cocktails and cakes instead. I had the Virgin Banana and Virgin Strawberry Daiquiri, £2.80 each or half price if you go midweek before 7. These delicious concoctions are ever so moreish and the atmosphere of Damon's is a throwback to a glamorous era. Utilising the old airport building from the 1930s, the Art Deco architecture is used to great advantage, providing cosy nooks and crannies to while away the afternoon in and some great photo opportunities. I also scoffed a carrot cake served with lashings of whippy ice cream for only £2.50. Now, if only Damon's decided to throw in a few veggie dishes, this place would be the perfect night out!
Damon's on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Canton Palace, Childwall Rd, Liverpool

The Canton Palace, the artist formerly known as Peking Garden, was an old favourite of mine 10 years ago. A traditional old-school Chinese on the Childwall Fiveways, it was a bit pricy compared to city centre restaurants but you were always guaranteed generous portions, a great atmosphere and sometimes even a coffee on the house! After a decline in quality and a disastrous report on Scores on The Doors for its bad hygiene, I gave it a wide berth until I noticed recently it has been taken over, refurbed and renamed. Is it keeping abreast of its new local competitors Spiceways and Elif?

Alarm bells started to ring when I noticed Elif, Spiceways and Owens were all bursting at the seams yet Canton Palace only had 4 tables taken. Hidden gem or bad smell I wonder? Despite being refurbed, the old carpet full of stains and the hideous 1970s artex was still present and correct, still intact from my first visit in 1999. Not that I'm an interior décor snob, far from it, it just seemed that only the sign outside had been refurbed. We were greeted brusquely and led to a table for three, despite the restaurant being 3/4 empty, with one of my poor companions having a nice view of the wall. After a long wait, our order was finally taken by a girl who didn't speak very much English, leading us to have to point at the dishes. To start, I ordered my much missed Spring Onion Pancakes, a firm favourite of mine when the restaurant was the Peking Garden. The two Carnivores ordered Vegetarian and Meat spring rolls.

Unfortunately, the starters were mediocre. The Carnivores reported that there was no difference between the meat and veggie spring rolls, a distinct lack of meat and a paltry portion of vegetables and the chili sauce that we shared was rather watery. My spring onion pancakes tasted more like Kwik Save potato cakes and were uncooked in the middle. However, they did try to redeem themselves with these unusual carvings decorating our plates- a nice distraction from the awful starters:

Spring Onion Pancakes- brrr freezing! An undercooked Cash and Carry purchase.

For the main, I ordered fried tofu with cashew nuts in yellow bean sauce, the Carnivores Singapore Chow Mein and Fried Beef in Ginger, served with egg fried rice. The waitress asked Carnivore 1 if he wanted prawns in his Singapore Chow Mein. What a stupid question. Do you want potatoes on your roast dinner?

I had no qualms with my tofu dish- the portion was generous, the sauce the right balance of piquancy and plum flavour. The tofu was in bitesize morsels, perfect for soaking up the flavour of the sauce, the cashew nuts giving it its signature bite. Carnivore 2's beef dish was out of this world too, it came over to the table on a sizzling platter, the ginger heightening the beef's rich flavour. Our fried rice at £2.50 a portion was disappointing as it didn't taste very eggy or fried, more like those 99p microwaveable imitations readily available in Farmfoods. Paltry portion size too. The Singapore Chow Mein wasn't worth the money- at £9 for what was essentially rice and a few beansprouts, the meat chopped up so finely it seemed like only one mouthful of meat was in it, a couple of prawns scattered for show.

I was looking forward to a decadent dessert as last time I visited, the knickerbocker glories and Pistachio sundaes were amazing. However, when I asked for the dessert menu, I was met with much confusion. It soon became apparent that the only desserts on offer were hideous concoctions you only ever see on £5 lunch deals like a scabby fried banana or a scoop of Happy Shopper vanilla in one of those school dinner-esque metal dishes. No thanks!

So, after wasting the best part of £50 on this monstrosity that probably cost £5 at the cash and carry, Canton Palace has entered my list of  'places where you'll need to go to the chippy afterwards to feel like you've had a decent dinner'.  Delightful.

Peking Garden on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Halfway House Carvery, Woolton Rd, Liverpool

Just a quick shout out for a favourite chain of mine- Crown Carveries. Yes, Vindaloo Queen doesn't normally advocate faceless, overpriced chains serving microwave meals at a premium so that's where Crown Carveries comes in. These budget carveries have sprung up in pub restaurants all around the country and are suitable for carnivores and veggies alike. Thanks to a voucher I found online, I enjoyed 2 meals for £7 but at full price, they're still a purse friendly £4.50 each or so. With fresh veg, generous cuts of meat and a veggie option, these carveries are a refreshing alternative on those days when you don't fancy cooking or want a day off from the vindaloo. My favourites in Liverpool are the Britannia in Otterspool and the Halfway House in Childwall, conveniently over the road from that awful sounding WAG haven Neighbourhood Cafe.

Here's what I had last weekend in the Halfway House- a delicious cheese, onion and potato pie with all the trimmings. Let me just add that the stuffing is out of this world!

Half Way House on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Blue Lagoon, Lark Lane, Liverpool

Vindaloo Kings and Queens, I have finally found it. After much complaining and putting on a good act at pretending paltry portions have filled me, I have now found a decent Turkish restaurant in Liverpool. Step forward Blue Lagoon, Lark Lane's latest burst of Mediterranean sunshine.

Mother's Day. Our original itinerary was to go to the Red Fort for a celebratory lunch, compensating for the immense hunger after last week's Alanya debacle. However, the greedy so-and-sos had removed their usual Sunday offer of 3 courses for £10, their feeble excuse being 'it's Mother's Day'. It wasn't as if they were overwhelmed with customers either, one table was taken. Cutting off their nose to spite their face indeed. Thanks to their rude behaviour, we discovered a little piece of Turkey instead! Blue Lagoon has only been open a month and manages to successfully combine modern with cosy decor. It's small without looking cramped and cafe-like. Pictures of Turkey and the delicious waft of calamari and garlic add to the ambience.

Top marks for affordability- the deal of the day was 2 courses for £8.95 or 3 for £10.95 and drinks were priced realistically eg £1.30 for a soft drink. We opted for the 3 course deal as a security measure- all the Turkish restaurants I'd eaten at in the area had left me ravenous, its across-the-street neighbour Elif had left me running to Tesco's to buy my own dessert last time I ate there.

To start, the Carnivores ate Calamari and Hummous while I chose this delicious Cacik.

The starter portions were excellent, the Calamari comprised of around 8 pieces and all three starters came with pitta and salad. The Cacik was refreshing, the right amount of garlic without being overpowering. The hummous had a hint of chili, giving the chickpeas a much needed kick.

For mains, the Carnivores had a chicken and lamb kebab each while I opted for the veggie moussaka. All meals were served with pitta, salad and my beloved Pilaf cracked wheat.

Positive sounds were coming from the Carnivores, the quality and smell of the meat almost convincing me to swap sides! My moussaka had a beautiful potato base, the aubergines succulent and just the right amount of bechamel without being sickly. Some eateries don't get the balance right and make it more of a bechamel crust lacking in veg (yes, Zorbas, I mean you!) but this was perfection. I loved the accompaniment of pilaf, a much appreciated change from the Uncle Ben's packet rubbish that a lot of places churn out.

After a comfortable period of digestion, we ordered baklava, toffee cheesecake and chocolate fudge cake for dessert, all served with a generous helping of chocolate ice cream. Again, the portions were excellent, the baklava an authentic alternative to the usual treats. To top it off, we even got a hunk of Turkish Delight apiece with our bill and a voucher for 10% off the next meal. Great customer service, full bellies and a meal I haven't stopped raving about, the Blue Lagoon is a much needed addition to Liverpool's often lacklustre Mediterranean dining scene.

Blue Lagoon on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Alanya, Allerton Rd, Liverpool

The first weekend of spring and the first bit of sunshine I've seen in ages has meant one thing in Vindaloo Queen's world- the quest for Holiday Food! By holiday food, I mean Mediterranean treats, be it tapas, pasta, Greek salad or falafel- stuff I like to eat on my travels as opposed to curry and Chinese. I seem to have been on an endless quest for decent, authentic Turkish food in the UK. After living in a Turkish community in Germany for over 5 years, plus immersing myself in the regional cuisine of Turkey, I guess I've been spoilt and have rather a critical eye when it comes to the price/portion size/authenticity ratio of what passes for Turkish cuisine in the UK. After noticing Turkish bistros springing up like mushrooms in the North West, I decided to see what the fuss was all about. Enter Alanya on Allerton Rd.

Alanya is a small eaterie that looks more like cafe than restaurant, with a lot of tables cramped into a small area so I was expecting the prices to reflect the spartan atmosphere. Last time I lived in Liverpool, this place was an estate agents, so I was curious to see if they made a miraculous Grand Designs style refurb. Its special offers were on display outside including the confusing banner proclaiming 'Lunch for £9.95 or £6.50'. I was there on a Sunday to take advantage of its seemingly generous 'all mains half price' offer. The restaurant was cosy inside with a warm welcome from the friendly staff, charcoal grill blazing and giving off an aromatic scent of kebabs, onions and basil. However, this didn't detract from the non-restauranty ambience of the place, and as I glanced at the menu, the price didn't reflect it either. £2.50 for a small bottle of water made me gasp, as did the prices of the hot drinks. These were also in the same price range of chic city centre watering holes like the Noble House and co. This food had better be good....

To start, the Carnivore and I shared 2 starters of halloumi and stuffed vine leaves, approx £4 each. The halloumi was delicious but only consisted of 4 skinny slices, the vine leaves evidently tinned ones sold in every inner city ethnic food store for £1.50 a tin. I should know, they formed my staple diet in my student days.

For the main, the Carnivore dined on a mixed kebab for £7 (half price, usually £14) and I had my old favourite, Imam Bayildi (half price at around £5.70). These were both served with rice, side salad, fried onions and Turkish bread. The Carnivore definitely won this battle of the dishes, the succulent chicken and lamb being excellent quality and good value for £7, however £14 would have been a bit steep. My imam bayildi was delicious, the aubergine succulent and a great blend of spices, however it didn't beat the one I devoured in 2006 in Istanbul's Aksaray district (words can't describe what a foodie adventure that trip was. Istanbul is like Ibiza for the tastebuds, a party in the mouth!) The side salad was fresh, crisp with a sweet, tangy dressing and the fried onions were a welcome change from the usual side orders. The onions were dressed in parsley and marinated in beetroot juice, a perfect combination of 3 very different ingredients. Dissapointingly, the rice tasted strongly of Uncle Ben and wasn't the Turkish Pilaf I was yearning for. Minus points there. The rice portion size was rather measly too and there was a notable absence of a potato-based accompaniment like roast potatoes or even chips as many of its competitors offer as standard. We left slightly hungry which was absurd for me, as someone who lived on Turkish food in Germany and never had an empty belly!

With a few tweaks, Alanya could be perfect- friendly staff and a huge target audience on the doorstep, but just a few small touches that it lacks will probably mean diners will default to nearby Christakis for a similar menu at a cheaper price. Even a chunk of Turkish Delight with the bill would maybe be enough to leave diners hungry for a return visit. The jury's still out on this one, I'm afraid.

Alanya on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Red Fort, Lark Lane, Liverpool

In my quest for recession-friendly dining, it recently come to my attention that a forgotten favourite of mine, the Red Fort, does a Sunday deal of 3 courses for £10. How have I not seen this before? I had not been to the Fort since 2008 and was not overtly impressed due to the sub-zero temperature in the restaurant, a veggie vindaloo which resembled an Asda special and a lack of real coffee. However with a bargain on offer like this one, it was high time that I gave them a second chance.

Lark Lane is a hive of activity on a Sunday, with all the eateries vying cheek by jowl for customers, all offering a similar priced deal as the Fort. Sunday lunches and little plates of tapas can become humdrum and sometimes all you want is a massive curry to spice up your weekend. The Fort was unusually empty with only 3 tables taken but at least the Carnivore and I had the pick of tables, opting for the cosy booth-style arrangement at the back. The staff were friendly and attentive without being intrusive; although the Fort is spacious, it still offers a degree of privacy so you don't feel like your conversations are being eavesdropped.

To start, we had popadoms- fresh and with the right amount of satisfying snap- and a bountiful pickle tray. Top marks for the Lime Pickle- the Red Fort's offering is a smoother, easier-on-the-eye offering and less oily than the usual chunky, greasy one that most restaurants have. A welcome change. For the second course, the Carnivore was kind enough to opt for veggie samosas so I could try them- delicious and bursting with fresh veg, home made as opposed to the cash-and-carry frozen that Master Chef and co offer. I liked the sound of Aloo Pakora, the starchy brother of the Onion Bhaji if you like.

The Aloo Pakora made a welcome change from bhajis, a fine batter filled with a lightly spiced fluffy potato, comparable to a fancy savoury cake. These were served with a chili dip and a yogurt. So far, so good and hopefully not too full for the main event.

The mains consisted of one pilau (coloured-yippee!), a wonderfully fluffy naan, a veggie madras for me and a lamb madras for the Carnivore. What a feast! The Carniovre devoured the Madras and I was overwhelmed at the amount of veg in mine. As you know, my pet hate is restaurants that use tinned veg or those frozen bags for 79p from Iceland. Full marks for the Fort, providing me a veritable feast of okra, spuds, mushrooms and aubergine, heightened with coriander.

Curryholics, I believe the UNI has been toppled from its throne as Liverpool's best curry house. All hail the Red Fort.

Red Fort on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Casa Italia, Stanley St, Liverpool

As regular readers may have noticed, I'm living back in Liverpool and keen to rediscover old favourites that I've forgotten about. With the advent of glitzy Z-list celeb haunts like San Carlo and its ilk along with the increase of faceless chains like N*ndo's, not to mention the seemingly constant regeneration of Liverpool city centre, it's hard to keep up with what restaurants have survived the double threat of recession and the opening of Liverpool One. Casa Italia is one old school eaterie that has survived and it's not difficult to see why. For years, it has had three main rivals in the rustic Italian genre- Buca di Bacco (now closed), Villa Romana (demise in food quality) and Franco's (massive price hike). Casa Italia is a survivor, a strong competitor on Liverpool's food scene. With word of mouth popularity, no flashy advertising and no need for special offers, Casa often has queues out the door and never has a problem filling up of a lunchtime despite the obvious absence of meal deals. I visited on a Monday at 6 and it was heaving. Full of Italian homeliness, the restaurant has all the essential ingredients like checked tablecloths, an open plan kitchen and the typical wall display of empty wine bottles. Casa has been a mainstay for around 40 years and was one of the original celebrity restaurants- back in the day, rumour has it that Cliff Richard was turned away as he wasn't dressed smartly enough!

To start, I had the Minestrone soup for £2.95. Like a meal in itself, it was full of celery, beans, pasta and was served with a huge hunk of rosemary foccaccia. Delicious.

My main course was my staple dish- penne Arrabbiata which came in around £7.50 (all pastas are between £7-8). Fiery and potent, it was the perfect winter warmer, a ray of sunshine in the freezing February temperatures. This picture doesn't do it enough justice as the portion was HUGE!

The two carnivores with me chowed down on Polpette, a Spaghetti and meatballs dish, and Amatriciana, a spicy bacon penne. Empty plates and full stomachs all round. Sadly, there was no room for dessert but I spied my favourite Cassata ice cream for £3.95 which I felt guilty saying no to! We settled for coffees- Irish, Americano and a Cappucino. The coffees were a bit pricy, £2.10 for an Americano but when the food and atmosphere was this good, it was a small price to pay.

Casa Italia on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 16 February 2013

P&D Italian Deli, Williamson Square, Liverpool

I just thought I'd make your mouth water with my new favourite antidote to that afternoon drowsy feeling! P&D's Italian Deli breathes a heady rush of caffeine and la dolce vita into the previously depressive surroundings of Williamson Square. The Americano is £2 for a small, a bit pricey compared to its city centre rivals, but when the staff are as hunky as theirs, they're worth it! Cakes are around £3.50 but for those watching the waistline and the pennies, they come in miniature form for £1 like mine above. I've not eaten Cassata since my trip to Malta last March, so it was a much deserved treat to find it in my hometown. The only minus point about P&D's is the temperature- the heating is always on full blast and gets rather uncomfortable. Never mind, there's always the outdoor seating area too.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Christakis, Smithdown Rd, Liverpool

Smithdown Road seems to be the new foodie haven of Liverpool. Underrated and overlooked by some, the area is sometimes viewed as student central and home of the raucous Finch and Firkin or whatever they call it these days (I'm showing my age now). Christakis is a ray of Mediterranean sunshine, occupying the site that us 1980s babies knew as Suzy's Cafe. Little did I think I'd be revisiting my much-loved greasy spoon 15 years later, albeit reincarnated as a Greek taverna!

In stark contrast to the city centre Christakis, famed for its hen night antics, this is a more civilised affair, perfect for solo diners, families and couples alike. After my most recent Greek experiences in Liverpool which were disappointing (Zorbas and Romios), I was hoping this would fit the bill. I can't afford to keep going to Manchester's Kosmos for my Greek fix!

To start, I had this delicious Melitzanosalata, my staple diet. This was served with warm bread. Top marks for not charging for the bread, unlike some eateries.

After much deliberation over the main event, I settled for a veggie Moussaka. All mains are served with beautiful fat chips which are like roast potatoes, a Greek salad (and I mean horiatiki with huge hunks of feta, not limp lettuce!) and rice.

What can I say? Christakis ticked all the boxes. Huge portions, friendly staff, value for money, spacious surroundings and the cutest tropical fish I have ever seen as the central focus in the dining area. Liverpool has a new Greek temple.

Christakis on Urbanspoon

Friday, 18 January 2013

Siam Garden, Smithdown Rd, Liverpool

Back in my student days, a must-eat business lunch for me was the Siam Garden. In between my busy schedule of Kimos, Caesar’s Palace and the now defunct Kebab House, I always squeezed in a visit to the Siam on days when I didn’t have lectures as it was near my house. Their three-course and a drink special offers were an open secret amongst us South Liverpudlians; its moody, purple exterior giving people the impression it was a select, pricey venue. Sadly, it started to rest on its laurels, its bad reviews on TripAdvisor and embarrassingly low scores on the food hygiene database Scores on the Doors being testament to its decline. After much Googling, it seemed that it has had a major shake up and I decided to sample its offerings all in the name of research!

Siam Garden offers a business lunch for £6.95- starter, main and dessert plus a soft drink or glass of wine. The addition of a free drink definitely gives it a head start above its local competitors, Fung Lok and Eastern Diner. The restaurant has had a bright, modern refurbishment without appearing too stark and Pizza Express-like, still maintaining the cosy ambience from before. Thai ornaments garnish the windowsill and an eyecatching fishtank complete with Nemo clownfish give the white restaurant a welcome touch of colour.

To start, I opted for the Tempura Vegetables- fluffy, battered carrots, peppers and onions served with a chilli dip. The portion size was extremely generous for a cut-price business lunch, a welcome change from a frozen spring roll oozing oil. My colleague had a chicken and sweetcorn soup but this old favourite came with a zingy twist as it contained spring onion and a hint of lemongrass. The perfect pick-me-up for these Baltic times.

For the main course, I chose the interestingly-named vegetarian Pad Ped, a mix of aubergines, minicorn, mushrooms and an abundance of greens in a sweet-hot sauce served with jasmine rice while my colleague opted for a vegetarian noodle dish which was heightened with coconut milk. Both mains were faultless and a much needed cocktail of vitamins after all the Christmas stodge.

Dessert was a choice between Banana Fritter and coconut ice cream, so we ordered both. The ice cream made a welcome change from Asda smartprice vanilla and was a generous portion, unlike its neighbouring rivals who serve their ice cream in those nasty metal dishes reminiscent of school dinners. There’s not much you can say about banana fritters, they don’t tend to differ but it was a great warmer before we braced the biting January frost.

Siam Garden, good to have you back on top form. May you continue to bring a touch of the exotic to damp, dull Smithdown.

Siam Garden on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Saravanaa Bhavan, Mississauga, Canada

I found this interesting alternative to bog-standard curry houses tucked away in suburban Ontario. A far cry from the beer, poppadoms, chintz carpet and rowdy vindaloo-eating contests, this eaterie is a tranquil retreat. Although this place is strict vegetarian, its gentle spices and combinations of exotic veg and home made dips can fill the belly of the most dedicated carnivore. I ordered the Special Meal (above) at approx $10- needless to say, it never got finished as there was so much of it! Even my carnivorous colleague didn't complain- the first time I've ever seen a meat eater say they were full after a herbivorous feast. The meal came as a traditional Thali setup,complete with rice, popadom and two puffed naan-style breads. If you're expecting familiar names like Madras and Chicken Tikka Biryani, you'd best either look elsewhere or embrace this alternative Indian experience with an open mind. To be honest, I didn't know what some of the dishes were on the menu, hence my decision to go for a mixed platter. I recognised some familiar faces like Dhal and Aloo Gobi, plus there were some familiar tastes with a different but nonetheless appetising appearance like lime pickle and raita. The lime pickle was out of this world, the zesty lime harmonising with a potent chili that was well off the Scoville Scale. Definitely a more culturally enriching experience than the nearby Pizza Hut and co.

Saravanaa Bhavan on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

New India Sweets, Britannia Rd, Mississauga, Canada

Check out this bountiful thali I picked up in Mississauga, Canada! At a bargainous $6, it included 3 veggie curries, pickle, naan, rice and salad. New India sweets is more of a cafe than a fancy restaurant, but they do not scrimp on quality. Despite its name, they are not just experts in sweets but put on a great show when it comes to savoury treats. At approx 50 cents for homemade samosas, who can resist? Popular with expats and locals, this is the perfect stop for homesick Brits too thanks to its convenient location next to the Yorkshire Arms pub. Recreate a slice of home with a curry here and a pint or several after!

New India Sweets on Urbanspoon