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 :)

Saturday, 22 October 2011

A Little Thai Adventure (Part One)

It all started when a friend of mine went to a Thai cooking class. He was so excited that he'd just made a Thai Green Curry. I'd recently been making my own curry pastes but more for Indian curries, so I asked if he could send me the recipe. To my surprise, this cooking class involved using a jar of bought curry paste and pre-made fish balls. I'm wondering what kind of cooking class my friend actually attended! Pre-made ingredients are certainly not to be dismissed, often being a saver and quick win, but I was really after more.

I have lightly attempted making Thai food before but never from scratch. As I'd recently started making Indian curry pastes from scratch, it seemed sensible to try my hand at Thai curry pastes too.

My first attempt was a Massaman curry a while back but I very quickly failed as I found that I couldn't get all the ingredients from my local Tesco. Oh, how amateur of me! So I ended up buying a jar of paste since my heart was set on a Massaman that night. My friends’ Thai cooking class encouraged me to give Thai cooking another try, but with the right ingredients this time.

Key ingredients

There are a few key ingredients in Thai cuisine. I started with a fixation on making Thai Green Curry, and due to the quantities I bought of each ingredient, I found myself trying a fair few dishes with Thai influences in an effort to use up my fresh ingredients. These delights (and mishaps) will feature in part two of My Little Thai Adventure.

I found the main ingredients for Thai lovelies are:

  • Galangal
  • Kaffir Limes and Leaves
  • Lemongrass
  • Shrimp Paste
  • Coriander Root
  • Palm Sugar



I didn't know what galangal was before, and was naive to think that I could find it in my local Tesco Extra which seems to be attempting to stock a few bits out of the norm. They have dried galangal slices, but fresh ingredients are always nice, right?

Galangal is from the ginger family. It looks similar with it being a root and knobbly, but is much paler in colour and tougher to cut through. Popular in Thai and South-East Asian cuisine, it has a peppery flavour and it has a much cleaner and fresher taste than ginger.

I managed to purchase a few of these from a visit to Loon Fung in Chinatown, London. I had to buy a pack of them containing about six pieces, since they were not sold singularly as with ginger in mainstream supermarkets. I only needed half a piece for my Thai Green Curry!

Kaffir Lime and Leaves

Kaffir limes and leaves

Now, this I had heard of before. I had some Kaffir lime leaves in my cupboard from a previous attempt at cooking something Thai related. It has a really fresh limey scent.

I have read that Kaffir is an offensive term and the proper term should be Magroot. Though Kaffir is so commonly used rather than the latter, that it seems pretty accepted. Kaffir is used on all the packaging so I think it’s a safe term to use... I hope.

Both the leaves and fruit itself are used in a lot of Thai cuisine. The leaves are stocked in many supermarkets in dried form and this is what I have used. I didn't manage to locate any fresh leaves unfortunately.

I hadn't managed to find any Kaffir limes either, and a normal lime is often used as a substitute. However, authenticity does not take kindly on substitutions!



Ah, the lovely aroma and freshness of lemongrass. I’ve tried the delightful infusion of lemongrass in various foods and drinks. Lemongrass tea is so fresh with citrus notes, and I've recently tried a Lemongrass Collins cocktail from LAB in Soho not too long ago.

Acquiring fresh lemongrass is another tricky one. I defaulted to Tesco again since that is where I do most of my grocery shopping anyway. They stock fresh and dried lemongrass. Again, I would opt for the fresh ingredient but I do hesistate on the quality of it. The outer parts of the stalks seem dry and overall, quite short. Waitrose is similar, perhaps slightly better, but I found what seemed to me a much higher quality version of it in Chinatown. The stalks are longer, they look like they have a bit more life in them, and a firmer to the touch. I’m still convinced I can find better, but I’ll make do for now.

Shrimp Paste

I failed miserably at acquiring this when attempting a Massaman curry, which is partly why I ended up buying a jar of curry paste instead.

So, after I went for dim sum (oh, how I love dim sum) at Tai Pan in Liverpool not too long ago, I checked out the Wing Hing Lung store downstairs. Why hello there, shrimp paste! My Mum warns me that it's a stinker and how true that turned out to be...

Coriander Root

Coriander Root

Fail. I never managed to acquire this in the end and used coriander stalks instead. A few recipes I had researched seemed to suggest either / or were fine, so i hope I didn't do too much wrong with this!

Palm Sugar

Easy to acquire from my local Tesco Extra. I wish I had bought it from the Wing Hing Lung store as I remembered seeing it there in a bigger jar. Each recipe hasn't required more than two teaspoons but I think it would have been cheaper to get it from Wing Hing Lung than the speciality foods section in Tesco.

You try and you learn

The moral of the story really is that you can’t find everything at your local Tesco, however much you might wish for that to happen. Go to an Asian supermarket, or it may be useful to buy online. I haven’t tried purchasing online yet but I’ve read that you can buy good produce on some websites.

Maybe don’t go up and down the country like I did. I just happened to be at a Chinese supermarket in Liverpool during a visit and thought to buy a few things. Must explore more places around London!

Keep your eyes peeled for Part Two of My Little Thai Adventure where I will be putting my Thai ingredients under a bit of heat and telling you all about how I get on.

Monday, 17 October 2011

A Fresh and Delicious Addition to the Seaside Town of Southport

Arriving on a grim October’s day, I really fancied some nice warm food. I’d heard about Finos at the Waterfront, a new Spanish restaurant in my home town of Southport, and had been waiting for my next opportunity to visit home and give it a try.

I’ve chosen this location to meet with a friend of mine to talk business, but also to catch up as we hadn’t seen each other for a while.

We were at the restaurant at 2.30pm on a cold and rainy Monday afternoon, so it’s no surprise that it wasn’t particularly busy. On entry, we are greeted by a smiley waitress and I’m quiet uplifted by the bold and bright decor. Our order of tea’s were quickly served providing the warmth ordered for this rather autumnal day.

The Food

The menu’s seemed to have a good choice. From a selection of tapas to paella dishes and grills. My friend and I quickly opted for the lunchtime deal - 3 tapas for £6.95. I felt the selection slightly limiting, but was quiet pleased with what came out.

Not too long after we ordered, a delight of colours and aromas were served in front of us. I’ll give an overview with mini descriptions if one is, like my uncultured friend, unfamiliar with Spanish lingo:

Yes, I did take the photo after we had eaten half already!
Albondigas - meatballs in tomato sauce (x2)
The meatballs were of a nice size, but in a very small dish. So we were glad we ordered two. They were meaty, juicy and delicious!

Crisp Calamari - fried squid served with alioli (garlic mayo)
I adore calamari, and have been disappointed so many times. This was not one of those times. Cooked perfectly and seasoned beautifully. The accompanying alioli was a wonderful subtle dip. Not too garlicky as with many I’ve tried before.

Chorizo - Spanish spiced pork sausage
I’m a big fan of good chorizo. Well, if only I managed to try some! My friend enjoyed it very much, however. It’s drizzled with orange blossom honey and thyme which sounds lovely to me.

Patatas Bravas - cubed roasted potatoes in tomato sauce
These were nice. Not the best I’ve had, but nicely cooked and the sauce was tasty. I like mine with a bit more kick.

Anchovies on Tomato Bread
The pile of anchovies were staring at me being placed on a slice of tomato bread on a bed of rocket drizzled with a wonderful mustard dressing. Oh my. This was my favourite dish and highly recommended. So full of flavour and textures - just divine!

I’d really recommend the anchovies and the calamari in particular. Delicious!

Service and Atmosphere

The waitresses were friendly and quickly served us drinks and food. They were quick to take away empty plates without being intrusive at all. Aside from the restaurant phone ringing without anyone to pick it up whilst an interview was taking place at the other end of the restaurant, the atmosphere was not bad at all. The decor is nice an bright - inviting and welcoming.

Location, location, location

Having walked past the restaurant a couple of days before dining there, it seemed like an odd location. I passed this area on the promenade a couple of days before when I was heading down to get to the cinema. The restaurant is positioned just before the pier at The Waterfront. What was this Waterfront? Obviously, I’m behind the Southport times. I’ve found that it’s a new development, directly linked with the Ramada Hotel next door. There is not a great deal of activity here, but is offering Southport a lot of new opportunities for businesses and once it’s a little more established, I think Fino’s will really thrive in this location.

The location is it’s only downfall at the moment as it’s a little away from the high street, but it’s not far to walk to - only 5 mins. It’s just not really on the way anywhere unless it’s a bright and sunny day in which case you might walk past it on the way to the pier.

Is it worth it?

I hear that business is not too bad considering the restaurant has only been open for a couple of months. Being fully booked on the weekends, it’s just the weekdays which are not consistent. I think this could be a really popular location for a business lunch, or a casual eat out on a lunch break. The service is so quick that you needn’t worry about being late for your afternoon shift! I can see this would be a great place for an evening too. I’d like to take my family there next time I’m in the area.

As long as people know about it, whether it’s through marketing and promotions or word of mouth, I think diners will be pleasantly surprised with the wonderful food and atmosphere. I feel that many restaurants in Southport have taken a turn for the worse, and this place offers a fresh and new injection of culinary delights to this seaside location. I shall certainly make a return and I hope to try something from the main menu next time!

More information

Finos website:
Finos blog: