Thursday, 27 February 2014

Eureka, Myrtle Parade, Liverpool

2001. Liverpool in the days before the Capital of Culture, before all the budget airlines put us on the map as a tourist destination. The days before Liverpool One and pricey restaurants. Bargain eateries were in abundance, some of them were hidden gems. Back then, I stumbled upon a small, unassuming taverna called Eureka, hidden away at the back of the now defunct Mythos Village. Prices were cheap, coffee was potent and the atmosphere was a little bit of Greece in the rough of Toxteth. Fast forward to 2014 and after too many disappointing Christakis meals and rude staff in Zorbas, it was time to revisit my old haunt from my uni days. It had doubled in size since my last visit over 10 years ago, as had the prices- ouch. However, it still had the ambience and a fabulous menu; I was so happy to see Melitzanosalata! I shared this with some tahini- plus points for dip portion and quality, minus points for charging for bread. Poor service when a restaurant sells dips which obviously require something to dip in and don't include bread with the dip. The dips were rather on the pricy side, especially considering the location of the restaurant, an area that became synonymous with riots in the 1980s so obviously their overheads aren't high. £4.50 for tztaziki, the cheapest, easiest dip to make seemed rather cheeky. The Other Carnivore ordered calamari which were delicious, fresh and good quality but the price was a bit painful. At almost £7 for a starter, I was rapidly budgeting in my head worrying how I'd pay for a taxi home!

Time for the main event- I had dolmades, the carnivores Kleftiko and lamb kebab. All main courses were excellent quality, portions huge and not too expensive- £9 for the veggie meal, between £10 and £14 for the meat. The meat I was told was 'better quality than that processed rubbish in Christakis and was like being in a Greek taverna'- thanks for the input Carnivores! My dolmades were plump, filling and with the right amount of marinated tomato flavour. All mains were served with tomato rice, chunky rough cut potato wedges seasoned with basil and rosemary and a crispy, fresh horiatiki. Best Greek meal I have had outside of Greece in years.

A sneaky shot of the camera-shy Carnivores and their dishes! Wish I would have took a doggy bag for work the next day.

Needless to say, I was too stuffed for dessert so I had a potent REAL coffee at a reasonable £1.50. Although the starters were pricey and the location dire, I wouldn't let this deter me from making Eureka a payday regular. Food was top notch, the staff couldn't have been more helpful and the grittiness of Toxteth is soon forgotten when you enter this little piece of Greek island bliss.

The good: Quality Greek food and massive portions
The bad: Paying for bread with already expensive starters

Eureka on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Maharaja, London Rd, Liverpool

After years of being on my to-do list, I finally got round to going to Liverpool's only true South Indian restaurant. I had previously avoided going here due to London Rd not looking like one of the most inviting locales and there didn't seem to be the opportunity to incorporate a curry into a coffee/pub crawl itinerary. However, London Rd seems to be improving slowly but surely, plus my new workmates who live in the area had arranged a big night out there so it'd be rude to refuse! When I lived in Dubai, South Indian eateries were commonplace so I had an idea what to expect; put it this was, if you're expecting stag parties eating ringburners and predictable samosa/bhaji/rogan josh combos, you've come to the wrong place.

The meal started in the usual way with popadoms, however the pickle tray had a whopping 6 choices and some new unfamiliar faces! The three on the right are self-explanatory but check out the other 3 bad boys- the one at the top is another variation on lime pickle, this one in its purest form unlike the rubbish in the jars, next one down is a tomato based one which reminds me of thick Gazpacho soup and the other was a mint yogurt with a fiery aftertaste.

On to the starter. I ordered idli which are traditional steamed rice dumplings, served with a coconut chutney and a delicious vegetable curry for dunking the dumplings in. What a generous sized starter for only £3.95!

The curry was seasoned with lemongrass, coriander and aniseed and contained carrots, sweet potato and green beans. For those who are unsure whether they would like idli, I'd recommend them to fans of Gnocchi, dumplings and pasta.

After a nice gap between courses for us all to discuss what we'd eaten so far (it was a new experience for most of us) it was time for the main event. I ordered Aubergine Pal- an aubergine curry with a cashew based sauce. I ordered this thinking it would be blow-your-head-off strong like Phaal but this was a more sedate affair. At first, I thought I wouldn't stomach it due to my hatred of cream and Korma but it wasn't too overpowering and the aubergines provided enough padding to overpower the cream base. I ate this with Tamarind rice, a more vibrant alternative to basmati or pilau. Curry was approx. £7, rice £2.50 so average curry house price but for fresh ingredients that you could tell weren't mass produced curries but a labour of love, an artwork of a meal.

We were offered complimentary chai at the end which smelt wonderful but due to me liking neither milk nor tea, I opted for a mango lassi instead. Fruity and only £1.95.

Maharaja is quite possibly the only Indian in Liverpool which is neither pretentious nor screams Big Night Out, but instead takes you on a cultural journey of the regional variations of Indian food through your tastebuds. Staff are friendly and are willing to advise and tell you a bit of the food's history too.


The good: A refreshing alternative to the curry house experience with generous portions
The bad: Only bad point was the glasses of soft drinks were a bit small and rather flat

Maharaja on Urbanspoon

Passage to India, Bold St, Liverpool

After visiting so many new restaurants lately, it was time to revisit an old classic on the Liverpool curry scene. The Passage to India has not been graced with my presence since 2006, when I made a flying visit from my then-home in Germany, absolutely gagging for decent British grub like Vindaloo. At the time, I stormed out in a huff as they only offered instant coffee (how uncivilised and not very continental at all) but this time I got tanked up in Caffe Nero beforehand! I remembered Passage as an old school 1980s traditional curry house with the bells and whistles like flock wallpaper, sticky carpet and booths but oh my, it had had a makeover and how pretty it looks now! The booths were still present but have been pimped up with diamante and white leather, crystal chandeliers and trendy wallpaper complete the look. I took advantage of the early doors deal- 3 courses plus an ice cream for a tenner. At first, they didn't offer me the cheap menu, only when I asked. Was this going to be a bad sign?

I needn't have worried. Both food and service turned out to be excellent and even had a BYO policy with no corkage charge! To start, there were popadoms with 4 dips:

After a breather was second course of onion bhajis. Excellent presentation, crisp salad and decent portion size!

For mains, I had my current favourite Veg Madras (Vindaloo Queen is losing her touch) with pilau. The Madras was potent, spicy and packed full of aubergine and potato, just the way I like it with not a tinned or frozen pea in sight. A textbook curry at its finest.

As part of the meal deal, we should have got a strawberry or vanilla ice cream but they forgot to mention this. I couldn't be bothered chasing it up as it is usually Happy Shopper served in one of those nasty metallic dishes. Instead, I pushed the boat out and ordered this decadent chocolate dessert for £3.50. A rich chocolate cheesecake base, double chocolate ice cream and a chocolate truffle on top, this may not have been wise after a curry but it sounded too good to resist!


The good: Generous portion size, quality ingredients and BYO with no corkage
The bad: Could do with a real coffee machine and could be a bit more pro-active at offering their customers the meal deal

Passage To India on Urbanspoon

Monday, 10 February 2014

Spice Lounge, Albert Dock, Liverpool

After last week's effort of getting out of my curry comfort zone and going to so-called trendier, modern places, I went on the tourist trail to the dreaded Albert Dock. Dreaded because the last time I ventured there was 2002 when I had an awful weekend job working at La Crepe Rit (faux French café for those who haven't been unfortunate enough to discover it) back in the days before Liverpool became a capital of culture and you never got asked by Japanese tourists if you know John Lennon. After being away from the city for a decade, I'd heard amazing things about the Dock and the foodie grapevine was saying it was finally safe to go there- in other words, swerve Liverpool One as it's full of that faceless, identikit rubbish like N*ndo's. Enter Spice Lounge, one of the Dock's two curry houses!
Spice Lounge is an opulent modern Indian in one of the old original dock buildings, its chandeliers contrasting with the architecture. Its USP can be found in the bar area- one of the tables is actually a huge fishtank full of koi! I visited of a lunchtime where there is a choice between 4 business lunch menus- 2 meat ones, 1 fish and 1 veggie, each with 3 choices of starter and main. My veggie lunch was £7.95- all the lunches include pops, starter, main and a coffee.
To start, I had the pops which came with a choice of 3 pickles- the ubiquitous lime and mango and a third mint yogurt dip.
Next up was Aloo Moti Tikki, a potato fritter reminiscent of fish cakes without the fish and plenty of spice, served with a crisp salad. Non-greasy and full of flavour, a refreshing alternative to samosas, bhajis and co.

 For the main, I had Sabzi Miloni, a vegetarian curry with brown basmati rice. Bursting with flavour and packed with vegetables, the portion size was more than enough for my bargain lunch. All this was rounded off with a real potent coffee.
My veggie meal was no cause for complaint and I would give it a 10 out of 10 but Spice Lounge had a big thumbs down from my carnivorous colleagues. The Chicken Jalfrezi was apparently 'spongy and a bit pink in the middle' while the beef curry which on the menu was described as having 'pieces of meat' was in fact very thin shreds of meat, even I would have eaten it! Also, the nan bread didn't arrive with the meal so one of my dining group had practically eaten his curry by the time it arrived. Another bugbear was the service charge whacked on the bill- why should you be held at ransom to give a tip? Not normal practice in this city, save the mark-ups for the tourists with cash to splash.
The Good- Friendly service and opulent surroundings in a great waterfront location
The Bad- meat quality and enforced service charge

Spice Lounge on Urbanspoon

Monday, 3 February 2014

Zaaffran, Allerton Rd, Liverpool

I have always been a bit apprehensive about these fancy modern Indian restaurants after being stung so many times in the past by small portions and a pretentious wine bar type atmosphere. I'm a traditionalist you see, a sucker for chintzy carpets, tacky décor and those all important booths. Zaaffran is a relative newcomer to the South Liverpool dining scene. Facing stiff competition from its neighbouring rivals Millon and Sekander, plus the fact that from the outside, it just looks like every other bar in the street, will it meet Vindaloo Queen's expectations?
Saturday night and stone empty- this wasn't a good sign but to be honest, it was freezing out. At least I managed to bagsy the solitary booth down the back! Despite being empty, the staff were friendly and didn't rush me or make inappropriate small talk like some other places (Yes Spice City, I mean you.) I was delighted to see they offered mocktails! A collective nod of approval from all us teetotallers. I tried this kiwi and aloe vera based mocktail. At £3.99 it was a bit pricey but it made a great photo on my Instagram!
To start, I feasted on popadoms. They weren't greasy like the usual pops and the dips didn't taste mass produced either. The chutney tray was a different take on the usual choice of 4- it consisted of a chili with onion, a mint yogurt and a spicy orange chutney. Delicious!
The main event was this Jeera Aloo at approx. £6- it's about time restaurants realised they were overcharging for veggie dishes, can't complain at this bargain price! I had it with a generous portion of brown pilau rice- not the usual coloured rice. The spuds were nicely marinated in a chili based sauce infused with coriander and parsley. A simple yet filling meal, spicy without being a ringburner.
The dessert menu looked extensive but I couldn't move so settled for coffee instead. The coffee was potent and they had a real coffee machine! About time the curry houses cottoned on to the fact that instant won't suffice in a classy establishment any more. Zaaffran is a great example of how Indian restaurants are keeping up with the times and paying more attention to quality, presentation and that all important after dinner coffee. Modern without being all nouvelle cuisine and scrimping on portion size. I'll still make my occasional trips to the UNI and Royal Tandoori though. Some things never change!
The good- great drinks menu and a mix of old classics and new, more adventurous curries
The bad- hard pressed to say! Ok.. the heating was rather stifling. My only minus point.
Zaaffran on Urbanspoon