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 d├ęcor 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