Saturday, 31 December 2011

Festive Dining: Langs Bistro

From a series of three blog posts on Festive December Dining.

I’ve been really keen to try new places around the Southport area as I feel that it’s been lacking on the food front in recent years. There used to be some really great restaurants many years back, but due to various reasons, usually a change of management, these once great places have gone downhill. It’s such a disappointment to go back to a restaurant with a certain level of expectation and then come out never wanting to back again.

Langs Bistro seems to have a good reputation. It’s had good reviews and is currently ranked 5th on Trip Advisor for the area. I’d attempted to try this place before, but unfortunately it was closed for some reason or another that at time. So, on this occasion, when we had failed to book somewhere else because they were closed (how ironic) we called up Langs Bistro to see if they had availability. And they did.

The highlight

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Langs. What I did not expect was such beautifully presented quality food. Each plate was enticing but also looks elegantly plated. Each mouthful and combination of flavour was a good one.

Turkey & Sausage Meat Spring Roll

Breast of Chicken

Fillet of Salmon

Overall impressions

Looking at the website, I wasn’t expecting a fancy place, or the quality of food that we experienced. To be honest, I thought it was going to be an Italian similar to Ask or Strada. Then the font used for the word ‘Langs’ along with the actual name being ‘Langs’, I don’t know if I’m being too presumptuous in thinking that it might have an Asian influence.

Totally not what expected.

Walking in, we are greeted by a well-dressed gentleman, offering to hang up our coats. The ambience is lovely and intimate. There is some festive decoration, but nothing at all that is over the top; a few bows on the picture frames, and crackers on the tables. The restaurant isn’t very large, so I was surprised I managed to get a booking for three on the day as the other tables were obviously booked and were all full up by the time we finished dining.

First impressions: good. On with the food…

The food

I originally had a nosey at the menu on my mobile, and it’s not easy to read this menu on such a small screen when the font is so curly. Anyway, once being able to actually make out the Christmas Table D’hote Menu (PDF), you can see that they have a good selection adding a bit of turkey in there for the festivities.

I was sat in a nice restaurant, and wanted to try something a bit different. Instead, I was really craving something fresh and fruity. I must have been eating a load of rubbish recently. So I ordered the melon starter and didn’t expect much of it; only that it would satisfy my fruit craving.

Duo of Melon
Exotic fruit and fruit coulis

To my surprise, a pretty little arrangement was served to me with an array of colours. It was certainly fresh fruit, and I was pleased with the wonderful star fruit making an appearance – something that reminds me of Hong Kong, as it’s always a fruit I eat when I go there. The freshness and the sugary coulis were a wonderful combination. I was literally just expecting fruit. Nothing more. So this was a really pleasant and delightful surprise.

Beef Bouruignon
Baby herb dumplings, sautéed potatoes &
braised red cabbage

My main was really wonderful as well – a warming stew with interesting crisp-like potatoes on top. Putting crisps next to a sandwich or a panini is normal, but if someone was to tell me that they were serving crisps with a main, especially a stew, I’d be inclined to raise an eyebrow. Yet, it seemed to work. The stew had a lovely sauce and the meat and dumplings were lovely and soft that the “crisps” were a good contrast.

Assiette of the Day
Pear drop ice-cream, chocolate brownie,
raspberry & white chocolate cheesecake, lemon posset

The dessert choice looked lovely, and as my boyfriend and I often share dessert and we had room, we figured we would share the Assiette of the Day. Plus, we’re greedy!

Four delightful looking desserts came to us. Who wouldn’t be excited by this?

The most interesting thing was the pear drop ice-cream. My goodness – it actually tasted of pear drop sweets in ice cream form. It was so yummy and reminded me of my childhood.

The chocolate brownie was ok. A decent chocolate brownie. But having ate the most awesome chocolate brownie ever at The Gastro, it was hard to think this was more than average… and I do feel bad for saying that.

The cheesecake was pleasant. As I’ve said before, I’m not a massive fan of cheesecake. This was nice and I ate it, so it must have been a decent cheesecake!

I really enjoyed the lemon posset. A bit of zing and zang in the cool and smooth mixture with a bit of shortbread on top. There was no way I wouldn’t be happy with something like that.

We all enjoyed our meals, and I hope to make a return visit soon enough. My mission to find a great restaurant in Southport accomplished. Thank you Langs Bistro!

More info

Langs Bistro, 21 Stanley Street, Southport, PR9 0BS

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Festive December Dining

December encourages a bit of indulgence, doesn’t it? Despite saying that I would be saving the pennies after jetting off to India and having awesome food there, I wasn’t feeling so conservative after hearing of all these Christmas menu’s and new places to try out.

I’ve been to a few restaurants this month at both ends of the country:

Monday, 26 December 2011

Festive Dining: Duke of Wellington

From a series of three blog posts on Festive December Dining.

I’m a fan of local places and I love a good pub that serves delicious grub. Set in the small village of Ryarsh, Kent, the bar and restaurant has a lovely warm and cosy interior, and is seconds away from the beautiful countryside’s of Kent. Sourcing locally produced ingredients, the Duke of Wellington serves a good variety of quality foods.

The highlight

The overall experience at this pub restaurant is what makes it a great place to go. I’ve been several times, and am never let down by food or service. The local charm of the pub is something I hope it never loses. The full Christmas Party menu takes care of you well – a 3 course meal with mince pies and coffee at £24 is certainly a winner in my books. The three of us were sat in our own booth, with Christmas crackers and a little heater.

Our table set out in our own little booth

The food

I really enjoyed my meal and the combination of dishes that I had.

The stuff aubergines for start were a lovely combination of flavours. It was nice and light too, which for me, made it a great start to the meal.

Italian-Style stuffed aubergine with rocket leaves and balsamic glaze

The venison was cooked wonderfully. Really tender and the jus was a great accompaniment. I really enjoyed the celeriac chips. I enjoy normal chips, but this was a great alternative option I’d definitely have again. This was served with a side of veggies too.

Peppered pave of venison with celeriac chips and juniper jus

I’d forgotten what I had ordered for dessert as it was all pre-booked and ordered a while ago. Turns out that I didn’t go for a good helping of chocolate, but decided to go for something fruity and different to usual. It was a great choice in the end. Nothing too heavy and I enjoyed having something fresh at the end of the meal. Maybe I enjoyed the ice cream more…

Warm Amaretto soaked cherries
and clotted cream ice-cream

Mince pies and coffee made a good end to a festive meal with my lovely friends.

Mince pies!

More info

Duke of Wellington, Birling Rd, Ryarsh, West Malling, ME19 5LS

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Festive Dining: The Gastro Bar and Grill

This is one of three blog posts on Festive December Dining.

The Gastro was a Twitter find and I’d been following them for a couple of months. I remember seeing the tweets about the Christmas and New Year menu (PDF), and although the menu didn’t really excite me greatly, it was top of mind for when I came to visit in Southport earlier in December. I’m always on the lookout for nice new restaurants in Southport and this would be my first Christmas meal out.

The impression I get from reading about The Gastro is that it oozes a bit of elegance that I’ve found lacking in Southport restaurants these days. It encourages a bit of sophistication, but also has a sense of fun. It’s certainly not trying to be completely snobby, but rather offers a place for casual dining.

The Gastro Bar and Grill

The highlight

Now, listen when I tell you that the warm chocolate brownie is nothing short of AWESOME! It is meant to come with chocolate ice cream but I asked it to be changed to vanilla as I thought it might be too much chocolate for me. It was the perfect combination. The brownie is nice and moist, melty and divine and the best brownie I’ve had in a long long time. I’d come back, just for this brownie. It’s served with honeycomb sweets which was a nice touch.

Warm Triple Chocolate Brownie
chocolate ice cream and honeycomb

Overall impressions

The place has a nice casual dining feel to it on arrival. Nice ambience, well stocked bar on the right and plenty of room for diners. It was a Tuesday evening, so I wasn’t expecting a whole load of people but it was obvious that they were expecting a couple of large parties as there were some tables set out already.

The staff are friendly and quick to serve. A bit too quick, if I’m honest, as I do like to let my food settle just a little bit between courses.

Restaurant interior

The food

We had lovely fresh and filling breads and oils to begin with so I knew I wouldn’t have enough room for a 3 course meal! It wasn’t long before our mains were served. A tender leg of duck for me and a festive turkey breast for my friend. Both meals were quite pleasant and we enjoyed them, but neither of us felt that it was anything spectacular. My friend wasn't too keen on the sprouts as he felt they were undercooked but I don't know anyone who isn't picky about this certain type of veg!

Roasted Turkey Breast
duck fat spuds, pigs in blankets, chestnuts and crispy sage

Confit Leg of Duck
braised red cabbage, English plum chutney

Desserts were served very soon after, and although I rave about the chocolate brownie, I literally could not fit it in. I wanted to, honest! My friend was not too enthusiastic about the Christmas pudding, but agreed that my brownie was the business.

Gastro Bar Christmas Pudding
with vanilla bean custard

All in all, a pleasant meal and a nice location. Not altogether sure that it lives up to the place that it is trying to be, but not bad at all.

More info

The Gastro Bar and Grill, 45 Liverpool Road, Birkdale, Southport, PR8 4AG

Friday, 23 December 2011

An Indian Accented Food Journey

Featured in the India Daily on 24th Dec 2011.

Our stay in Delhi was short and packed full with a rigid itinerary. Our only free day was the same day we arrived back in Delhi from Rishikesh, and I'd already had my eye on the hotel restaurant. It was partly why I wanted to stay at The Manor New Delhi Hotel. The Chef's Tasting Menu really caught my eye. Both the boy and I love trying new foods and we decided that we would eat once at this restaurant as a treat during our trip. So we would just go straight in for the Chef's tasting menu in order to try a selection of dishes here.

Tasting menu’s

I'd only tried a tasting menu once before, and it was at Fusion 5th Floor in Hong Kong which I visited earlier in the year. I was in heaven sampling the variety of dishes served in front of me. So naturally, I was just too excited for the next tasting menu experience.

There is a vegetarian and non-vegetarian option available at Indian Accent. The other half was straight in for the non-vegetarian having had a meat-free few days in Rishikesh and being the carnivore that he is, but I was tempted for the vegetarian option just so that we could try even more dishes. I didn't mind not having meat, but it was the number of dishes containing cheeses which put me off. I'm not a fan of cheese at all and I find a lot of people think that's kind of weird.

Time to taste

So first up – prior to being served anything from the tasting menu – some appetisers of blue cheese naan and this spoonful of wonders. The naan’s look delicious, but the smell of the stinky blue cheese was making me queezy. I still don't like cheese, but it doesn't mean I won't give it a go. Sorry, not for me but my cheese-lover boyfriend loved them. What delight is in store for us next? Oh, this lovely spoonful of amazing flavours. Oh my goodness. Crispy on the outside, with an explosion of wonderful flavours on the inside.

Mini blue cheese naan’s

Spoonful of yum


Excited by what we had just experienced, we couldn’t wait for the next mouthful from this tasting menu. The potato thread spheres were our first starter. These were so delicately light and crispy, the fresh flavours against the sweet worked so well. This was getting just a little exciting!

Potato thread spheres, white pea ragda, summer kaldi

I recall having pomelo with a soft shell crab dish in Pho 24, a Vietnamese restaurant I went to in Hong Kong. It's similar to grapefruit but less sour, more sweet. It's very light and fragrant. Why do I not eat this fruit more? Reminder to pop down to the Chinese supermarket and grab me some pomelo! Anyway, this tandoori chicken and pomelo dish was decent. Not my favourite, buy still tasty.

Tandoori chicken chaat, thai pomelo segments, crispy garlic

The waiters are so attentive. Quickly clearing our plates and keeping drinks topped up and explaining what was in each plate for us. At no point was the service intrusive.

Next up is a beautifully cooked piece of salmon with a really fresh and tasty dip. This was one of our favourites. The textures and flavours were just such a good combination. It was such a small dish and it would have been lovely to have had more. But we had to remember that this is a tasting menu and there are more dishes to come!

The foie gras was quite unusual. I haven’t had foie gras many times, but I recall trying this at Fusion 5th Floor. It was seared and just melted in my mouth with delicate flavours. At Indian Accent, it didn’t have the same effect. Still quite nice, and the chutney was a nice compliment. But I have to compare it with the better version.

Scottish salmon tikka, dill leaves,
garlic and mint aioli

Foie gras stuffed galawat,
strawberry green shilli chutney

Time for a palette cleanser before being served our mains…


The path of the main’s

This is where the plates get a bit bigger. There were two choices for the main, so of course, I ordered one and my boyfriend had the other.

Served in front of me is a plate of lightly battered fish, some mash and steamed asparagus. I’m told that the fish is John Dory from the Australian Seas. The meat is so succulent and tender. Falling apart with a touch of my knife and coated in a wonderful tomato pepper curry.

In front of the other half, is a dish named Chicken 65. I’ve never heard of this dish before, but it seems it is a popular dish in South India, and the origins of the name seem to be varied and uncertain. The crispy circular accompaniment was a nice addition. It added a bit of crunch to the dish and a dipping or scooping device for the chicken pieces or upma. Upma – what a strange name. To me anyway. Upma is a popular breakfast dish, but the upma served here seems like a more liquid version of the breakfast meal. Some new and unusual, but tasty flavours here. I’m definitely still preferring some of the earlier dishes that tantalised my tastebuds.

Pan seared John Dory,
tomato pepper curry,
new potato ‘chokha’ mash

Chicken 65, spiced upma,
marinated feta

Along with the mains, we have some black dairy dal, with some bacon kulcha. After trying dal a few times this year, I’ve decided that I’m not a massive fan. It’s such a popular dish, but there is something about it that is just not to my liking. I also found the bacon kulcha a bit odd – it was a bit like spiced pizza with dry cured meat. It’s a nice idea to be able to dip the kulcha in the dal, and as an accompaniment to the mains, but it really wasn’t my thing.

Black dairy dal

Apple wood smoked bacon kulcha

Any more?

DESSERTS. Oh my goodness, the desserts! Three little taste sensations on a piece of slate. I can’t say that they are my favourite dishes ever, but they were certainly interesting to try!

Chooran, anar and Cointreau kulfi
Fresh cherries
Baked coconut cheesecake

Let’s start with the spiced pomegranate ice lolly. Had it been simply a pomegranate and Cointreau ice lolly, I probably would have really enjoyed it, but it wouldn’t have made me think, “Ooh, what was that?!” or “Wow, what a combination!”. Kulfi is meant to be a dairy-based Indian ice cream. This really was like an ice lolly. No dairy. Anar is the Persian word for pomegranate. Whether it’s in fashion or something for food names to be presented with Persian words, or if pomegranates are generally known as ‘anar’ in India, I really do not know. But I love pomegranate, so tick that box. Cointreau I like, so another tick. Ok, so far, a pomegranate and Cointreau ice lolly. Sounds yummy. Only, I couldn’t taste the Cointreau and instead some quite strong spices which is the combination which really made me find this dish really interesting. The ‘chooran’ part of the dish eluded me. I wasn’t expecting it, nor did I know what it was at the time. I can see the bits of spce or powder in the kulfi, and I wasn’t sure if I was repulsed or intrigued. I was intrigued so took another bite. You have the freshness of the pomegranate, then a whole sensation of bitter, salty, and a whole manner of other things I don’t think I can quite describe. It was so fresh and then bizarre that I wanted more but really one of these kulfi’s was enough. I really didn’t need two. That became too much for me.

Ok, so then the so called cherries. They are the most grape-tasting cherries I’ve ever tasted. I’m pretty sure they weren’t cherries. They looked like grapes, and tasted like grapes. With some more of the chooran, or other spices of course. Again, interesting, but I’m not wanting anymore of this new and strange spice sensation.

Cheesecake. As I said, I’m not a lover of cheese but I’ll try. I usually despise cheesecakes so of course I’m dubious about this little piece with the whizz of sugar spirals placed on top of it. Wow. I love this cheesecake! Rich in taste and texture, creamy but not too cheesy. Maybe I like cheesecake after all?

Would I go back?

So, we most certainly enjoyed our meal here. Really interesting and wonderful flavours and textures. It wasn’t all to my taste, but I really enjoyed trying it all and we adored the food so much that we dined here on the remaining two nights stay. Yes, it was meant to be a one-night treat. We were on holiday – a few more treats is okay. Maybe.

Recommended dishes

These were my personal favourite dishes, some of which are on the tasting menu and others tried on the other nights we dined at Indian Accent.

Potato thread spheres, white pea ragda, summer kaldi
Scottish Salmon tikka, dill leaves, garlic mint aioli

Masala wild mushrooms, water chestnut, paper roast dosai
Peanut butter chicken, kasuri methi crisp, chai glass lachha salad

Baked cheesecake

Restaurant and Hotel details

I’d really recommend staying at The Manor Hotel. I was told that 4* star hotels would be more like 3* in the UK, but after searching around and reading reviews on this hotel I really liked it. I’d recommend it to anyone staying in Delhi. The staff are so attentive, the hotel is wonderful, and of course, the restaurant is great. The only thing to watch out for is the location. It’s in South Delhi, so it depends where you want to be based, but it’s away from the hustle and bustle of Delhi. It’s easy to get around on transport, and the hotel staff help to arrange taxi’s for the day if required.

The Manor New Delhi Hotel
Indian Accent Restaurant

Monday, 12 December 2011

Super cute café's

I've been to a couple of really cute café's recently. One up north in my home town of Southport, and the other in Kent when I was visiting a friend.

Claude's Bakery and Restaurant

I try to visit home, where my mum and brother reside, at least once every couple of months. I mainly visit to see the family, not to visit Southport itself. I grew up there, I've seen enough of it. It's changed a lot over the years, and although there are new developments, changing places, there isn't really a great deal that inspires me. Until recently that is...

Sitting in Claude's – a cute little café in the this quaint little village of Churchtown – my Mum and I reflected on the surroundings and our morning visit to a wedding venue nearby. It has so much character and charm, much like the rest of the village. We are sat by the most welcomed fireplace on this cold and wet winter's day.

The village has 17th century thatched cottages still standing, and everything is just about black and white. I thought it was fitting to order a cream tea. The cream was freshly whipped, which I enjoyed very much.

My Mum's toasts came with about 6 packets of butter. For the rest of the day, I was seeing too much butter everywhere. Was I oblivious to Southport's butter obsession while growing up, or maybe it's a more recent occurance...?

Twig and Spoon

How can you not want to visit a place called Twig and Spoon?

Visiting the Woodlands Garden Centre, near Sevenoaks in Kent, my friends and I went to this little café. It feels nice and homely, yet modern too.

They seem to have a good variety of warm meals and also a selection of cakes. My friends opted for coffee, tea cakes and carrot cake and I just ordered a cup of tea. Mmm, decent cuppa. I seem to have had a string of bad cups of tea's lately.

Looking at the surroundings, it has many items from the garden centre scattered about. I love the style of the little table number holders and how sweet the salt and pepper was!

In conclusion, I'm an old lady at heart :)

Thursday, 8 December 2011

A Pure and Spiritual Way of Life

I'm playing blog catch up... bear with me! :) This blog post was featured in the travel section of The Spirituality Daily on the 8th Dec 2011.

I adore an Indian meal. I’m a lover of the spices and aromas tickling and tantalising my taste buds – from scoffing my face with that cheeky weekend takeaway to a more civilised date at a stylish restaurant. I can’t get enough of mopping up a good sauce with a bit of naan, chapatti or roti. I’m getting a bit more familiar with regional dishes, rather than just knowing that a dish comes from the ginormous country that is India. I’m certainly no expert, but I’m learning and excited by it all! I want to try every kind of food this country has to offer.

I visited India for a friend’s wedding earlier this month, in the spiritual town of Rishikesh in the Uttarakhand state. Non-vegetarian foods and alcohol are strictly permitted in this area. I've been brought up to become quite a carnivore, although I've been more mindful of it in recent years for general health reasons. So, in a way, I was looking forward to a few days of vegetarianism and spiritual well-being!

The Sivananda Ashram is home to the Divine Life Society - encouraging one to refresh themselves spiritually through all aspects of life. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in a dining hall – canteen style – for all members of the Ashram and visitors. Everyone at the Ashram dines together and at the same times every day. There is a real sense of community and belonging here.

My first meal here is on the day we arrive. I’m invited up to see my friend and her family and to enjoy some lunch. I’m very used to rich Indian foods; bags of flavour contributing to a big wholesome meal. So to my surprise, the food here is nothing like that. Many of the dishes have a lot of sauce, but they are very light – notably with the flavours of Indian spices, but very mild. Like anything buffet style or new, I like to try a bit of everything. So here you see me trying a bit of everything below.

On my plate:

  • A spicy broth with vegetables
  • A chapatti, which turned out to be quite greasy
  • Some poppadum's – "true poppadum's" as my friend called them – and they were very good!
  • Some tomato chutney which was very yummy
  • A mix of some other vegetables which seemed to have been boiled with some spices
  • A rice, coconut and yogurt mix – I was told that it was very good for you and is very cooling for a warm day. To me, it tasted like feet :/

We were also serviced some fresh naan in a basket, which was more flat than the usual naan’s that I’ve had. But lovely to have freshly made bread with my meal!

I found out that foods in the Ashram are prepared without any ingredients deemed to be an aphrodisiac or known to cause aggressiveness to the mind. So this cuts out some of my most used ingredients at home – garlic and onion.

I also had breakfast here and again, tried a bit of everything.

  • In the left bowl, there is some kheerm which I’ve never seen nor tried before. It’s very sweet, not really to my taste but interesting. It’s roasted vermicelli in a sweet milk dessert.
  • Some Indian broth which is very similar to what I’d had for lunch on another day. The broth seems to be a popular dish served each day and at each meal. The flavour varies but it is generally quite similar.
  • Some white round sponge-like idlis which I am told that I should dip into my broth as it’s not very flavoursome. Apparently, it’s a very common breakfast in South India
  • Papaya – yummy! I adore papaya and it’s so lovely to have fresh and ripe papaya so readily available

I was slightly (more like very) disappointed to find that mangoes were not in season. The mangoes we get in supermarkets are just not as sweet and ripe as can be! The mangoes imported from Pakistan that they sometimes have in Chinatown, and ones from Southall or Tooting are always so juicy and full of flavour. I was hoping to try some fresh and ripe from its native country, but it’s not to be.

So my first tastes of Indian food are certainly not what I expected and I didn’t love it as much as I’d hoped but a new experience indeed! I do go on to find amazing food so watch this space!

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Snickerdoodle Fun

'Snickerdoodle' has to be one of my favourite words ever. How much fun can one word be? What does it even mean? I really couldn't tell you how this word came about but it isn't related to a Snickers bar, nor is there any drawing involved. It's simply a delicious sugary cinnamon cookie – a wonderful soft cookie with crisp edge to bite into.

I was introduced to these wonders when a former colleague came over from the US a couple years ago. She baked and we scoffed our faces. Just like that.

I've made them many times since then and now have tried to mix it up a bit. I still love the original sugar and cinnamon version, but then I decided to try a chocolate version too. Adding some cocoa powder to the mix worked quite well. I even added some chocolate to the middle of some of them for a bit of added flavour and texture.


The recipe

There are several variations of this recipe about, but this is how I like to make mine.


125g butter, softened
125g light brown caster sugar
25g brown soft sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla paste
200g plain flour
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 tsp salt


  1. Cream the butter and sugar until soft then add the beaten egg and vanilla paste and beat till smooth.
  2. Mix in the remaining dry ingredients and leave in fridge for 30 minutes to chill.
  3. Roll into balls the size of a walnut and lay out on a baking tray leaving space to spread. Leaving the mixture in the fridge allows the balls to keep shape while baking instead of spreading out too much.
  4. Bake for approximately 12 minutes at 160°C.

Alternative methods

  • Roll the balls in some granulated sugar before placing on baking tray for a simple sugary and buttery cookie.
  • Roll the balls in a tbsp of granulated sugar and a tsp of cinnamon before placing on the baking tray. These are the original method and delicious and moorish.
  • I added in a heaped teaspoon of chocolate powder to about a quarter of the dough and rolled the mixture around some chocolate ganache for a nice chocolately centre for each cookie.
  • I also tried the chocolately centre for the plain sugared versions.

Happy baking!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Food for a Good Cause

After writing the below post this evening and prior to publishing, I have found out that a friend of a friend's Dad has just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Then I find out that the long term girlfriend of a former colleague has just passed away after a long battle with cancer.

A friend of mine passed away due to cancer a year and a half ago, just before his 26th birthday.


Everyone likes food, right? We all eat. If you do something you normally do and are able to help a good cause, then why not? And / or one of these charities could help you!

I really think it's great that there are a number of organisations promoting and helping worthy causes. I've heard about a fair few activities in recent days - some that I knew of already, and some were new to me.

Macmillan Cancer Support

The Tastecard, also mentioned in my previous blog post, has partnered with Macmillan Cancer Support and have raised £32,640 by donating £5 from every membership card purchased. Discount for you, donations for charity. Win!

Macmillan Cancer Support have raised a whopping £7,422,542 with their Coffee Morning campaign. Marks and Spencer are their official sponsors donating 10p of selected products from their café.

British Heart Foundation

I regularly donate to the British Heart Foundation who support those affected by heart disease and are active in pioneering research. The BHF educate us on the importance of keeping our hearts healthy and provide some really great recipes for a healthy diet. I love my Heart Matters magazine, which keeps me in check and the Healthy Recipe Finder app for some really great meal options.

My Dad passed away at the early age of 46 due to heart disease nearly 9 years ago, so I find the advice from the BHF really helpful to keep myself healthy and I completely support their cause and research to improve heart health.

Breast Cancer Care

My Old Dutch supported Breast Cancer Care by painting their restaurant pink and donating £1 for every strawberry milkshake sold. What a great effort!

Eat, Drink and Support

Food is our fuel, and so it is a powerful means of fundraising. These charities, amongst others, do amazing work and they deserve all the support they can get.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

An Elegant Modern European Restaurant, Dining with a Tastecard

Restaurant interior

Following the reviews from TopTable, I chose this Modern European restaurant to meet a friend for lunch. Twentynine is located in the Continental Hotel and I get the impression that it's popular with business travellers as well as passers by in the area. Armed with a tastecard, providing 50% off the food bill, I can't wait to try this place out.

The restaurant is very modern and on entry looks like it is set to impress, yet isn't pretentious. Walking up to it from Hounslow Central tube station, it doesn't seem like you would find a restaurant like this here so it was a nice surprise. It's part of the Continental Hotel, but it doesn't feel restricted to those staying there.

The waiter greeted me by name which was a pleasant surprise since I'd never been here before. I think he must have been the same person I spoke to when I called earlier in the day to confirm the booking.

The food

The menu has a good variety on it, the prices are a little high for a casual lunch but since I had my tastecard, I didn't mind and it was partly why I chose this place.

For mains, I fancied something fairly light as I had pigged out all weekend. As you do. My sea bream was a really decent portion - two large fillets served on a bed of spinach and roasted potatoes. The flavours were delicate but well seasoned and the creamy sauce was a great match. I didn't get too much of a basil flavour but that didn't deter from the dish. Nothing was competing, everything was very complimentary.

Grilled Sea Bream with sauté potato,
wilted spinach and basil sauce

8oz Rib Eye Steak
with grilled tomato, hand cut chips

My friend had ordered a steak, holding the filled mushroom, and it looked really great. I really like the presentation of these dishes.

Desserts? Yes, please! As if we were going to say no. I'm partial to a gooey and melty chocolate fondant so it was an easy choice. The warm melty chocolate and the cool vanilla ice cream was a treat. My friends' apple charlotte was even better though! Beautifully presented, this little treat had a crisp casing containing the luxurious apple filling with a really good hit of cinnamon. That combined with the ice cream was a mouthful of wonders.

Dark Belgium chocolate fondant
with vanilla seed ice cream

Apple charlotte
with vanilla seed ice cream

I really enjoyed the food here and out of what we had, I would say the sea bream and the apple charlotte would be high on my list of recommendations.

The verdict

The quality, presentation and flavour of the food was really great.

The service, not too bad - friendly, welcoming and attentive. There was only one waiter, and although it wasn't particularly busy, I felt as if he was a bit rushed off his feet.

I wouldn't visit if I couldn't get an offer as I feel it's fairly expensive. But it is good, and I would make a return visit with my tastecard.

Know your offers

After ordering mains, we are told that the 50% discount is only valid for a two course meal so I was a little surprised but glad to have been told at this point. I contacted those at tastecard afterwards to see if this was a valid condition of the offer. This is their response:

I have spoken to the Food & beverage manager at the hotel who informs me he is new there and our old contact did not pass on the full details of the offer to him.  I informed him that at tastecard we cannot stipulate a minimum number of courses and he has agreed to do the discount correctly.  The manager has sent his apologies and assures me that this will not happen again as all members of staff are going to be re-briefed on the offer.
Restaurant Liaison Team, tastecard

How cheeky. Not that the desserts weren't completely adored, but I dislike it when people try and pull a fast one. Shame on you, staff at Twentynine! Great food though...

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

A Little Thai Adventure (Part Two)

After all the trials and tribulations of acquiring ingredients that I needed (see Part One), I’m ready to get my Thai cooking on! My initial aim is still this Thai Green Curry. I will make my own paste. I will!

Without wanting to waste any fresh ingredients, I ended up making the following dishes:

  • Monkfish and Prawn Thai Green Curry
  • Monkfish Bites with a Herby Lime Dip
  • Chicken and Galangal Soup
  • Duck Massaman Curry
  • Orange and Lemongrass cupcakes

And here is how I got there....

Monkfish and Prawn Thai Green Curry

Thai Green Curry Paste

I had a friend over for the weekend and decided to make this for the very first time that day. Was it really such a good idea to attempt this for the very first time, from scratch, for a visitor? If it all went wrong, Fish and Chip Friday was bound to save us.

Before the cooking even starts for a curry, there is a fair amount of prep work involved. When making a curry paste, I have my trusted pestle and mortar. I've read that you can mix all the ingredients in a food processor but it's best to pound them in a pestle and mortar to release the full flavour. If I actually owned a food processor, I would have been tempted to use it!

I've been very well advised that you should mix the dry ingredients first before adding the wet ingredients. I was really pleased that my curry was taking shape when adding the coconut milk and other ingredients including some aubergines, bamboo shoots, monkfish, prawns. I really liked this combination as it was nothing too heavy.

My Homemade Thai Green Curry

My plan was all came together and both my friend and my other half enjoyed this meal. Twice in the fella’s case. Greedy pig!

My friend even ended up taking some of my curry paste home with her as she wanted to cook the same thing for her family! So needless to say, I was very pleased with the outcome.

Recipes adapted from the following:
Felicity Cloake's Perfect Thai Green Curry Paste
Rick Stein's Green Monkfish and Prawn Curry

Monkfish Bites with a Herby Lime Dip

Monkfish Bites with a Herby Lime Dip

Ok, so I've got a fair few fresh ingredients left that I want to use up before they get wasted, so I try and figure out what else I can make! I didn't use all the monkfish that I bought for the curry, so what else could I do with it?

My friend and I had spend a day shopping at the new Westfields Stratford. When hunger striked, we decided to carry on the Thai theme and visited Busaba Eathai. I've been to this restaurant before in Soho and off Bond Street. It's always a great eat and reasonably priced.

One of the dishes we had was the Gong Tohd Prawn, which are butterflied prawns fried in breadcrumbs served with a chilli lime sauce. The sauce was so zingy and refreshing! I knew I couldn't make an exact replica of it, but I tried to make something similar. Being hungry at home, and not really wanting to head out, this little concoction came to life from whatever I had in my kitchen.

In goes the coriander, some home grown minuet basil leaves, a dash of fish sauce, chopped galangal, a squeeze or two of lime juice, finely chopped lemongrass, a sprinkling of palm sugar, the heat of a birdseye chilli and a bit of seasoning. I probably should have written this down as it turned out to be quite nice!

I chopped up the monkfish into bitesize chunks and coated them in Ottogi breadcrumbs - a friend had bought me these so that I could make a Chicken Katsu Curry :) After frying my breaded seafood leftovers up in a little oil, it was time to plate up.

This really went down a treat and I will definitely be making this again.

Chicken and Galangal Soup

Chicken and Galangal Soup

Oh, the galangal. Why could I not have bought just one piece of it? I ended up giving my friend a few pieces to take home with her but I still had a good amount to use up.

Why, hello there Google Search! Chicken and Galangal soup came up quiet a lot. I'd never even tried it before and we quiet fancied a soup so I gave it a go.

After searching through some recipes and trying to find one which doesn't contain cup measurements, I decided against calculating the measurements and ended up doing a bit of guess work.

The usual suspects went in plus some mushrooms and chicken. Not too bad. I've no idea how it's meant to taste but it was quite a pleasant meal.

Duck Massaman Curry

Massaman curry paste

A massaman curry is a Southern Thai dish traditionally made with beef. I actually only tried a massaman for the very first time earlier this year - and I loved it. There seems to be a lot of variation on the name, but Google seems to favour 'Massaman'. I've seen it written as Mussaman and a few other ways I can't quiet remember.

On visiting the aforementioned Busaba Eathai restaurant, my friend had ordered a Duck Mussaman Curry (as written on their menu). It was surely delicious!

With ingredients still to use, I figured I'd give it a go having bottled out by purchasing the curry paste before. I followed a mix of recipes again. I've made a decent amount of paste so that I can give this dish another go. I'm glad, as this didn't really go to plan.

Massaman Curry

I think I've gotten the flavours a bit mixed up. Too much cinnamon involved, and I definitely put in too many peanuts. It could have been better but I do think my paste is a good base for it so perhaps next time it will turn out better.

I had leftovers and had read that this usually tastes better the day after. Why not, hey? Its so true. It does actually taste better the next day! The flavours just seem a little more aromatic and my cinnamon error seemed less noticeable.

I have found that I have a new ingredient to love though. Tamarind paste - it has a lovely sour flavour which really worked nicely in this curry. It's meant to be a popular ingredient for a traditional Thai sour soup. Yum!

Orange and Lemongrass cupcakes

What else could I make, eh? Something sweet of course! I hadn’t baked for a little while and so thought it would be a good opportunity to. My default bake is a lemon cake as it’s easy, tasty and a hit with friends and family. I didn’t want to do too much thinking, so decided to use the same base for my mixture. I added orange zest instead of lemon, a grating of the remaining lemongrass, and some ground ginger hoping these flavours would compliment each other.

Orange and Lemongrass cupcakes

After baking for about twenty-five minutes, the cupcakes came out of the oven. I tried to make a buttercream icing, but my mixture was too runny and too sweet. The cupcakes were quite nice though. Subtle flavours which made it nice and light. I was pleased that the sponge was very soft and fluffy too! The cupcakes had a lovely slight crust that I don’t usually get with my cakes. I think that it’s because I used cane sugar as I didn’t have caster sugar at the time. It’s not as fine so when mixing it with the butter, I didn’t get the same creaminess I normally would. But I think this resulted in the nice little sugared crystals on the top of my cupcakes :)

Now what?

Although my initial focus was the Thai Green curry, I’m glad that my excess of ingredients encouraged me to explore more on Thai culinary delights. Whether they are authentic or not, it’s nice to experiment with new flavours.

I will be sure to revisit, perfect and write down some of these recipes! Although, I’m quite happy to continue dining at the wonderful Thai restaurants we have here in this country :)