Sunday, 27 February 2011

Barburrito, The Trafford Centre

I don't really like shopping, it's not my cup of tea. My least favourite type of shopping is shopping in huge shopping centres. Despite this I find myself in the Trafford Centre from time to time, because it's near my house and sometimes I need stuff. Convenience is King.

Saturday lunchtime was such an occasion. I needed some stuff before heading off for the rest of the weekend. I don't think I've ever been in the Trafford Centre on a Saturday before (I usually pop in in the evening after work) and I don't think I'll be doing so again. The place was absolutely mobbed. Prizes for the busiest stores of the lot go to Hollister and Starbucks. Which says pretty much everything about why I don't like shopping.

Take Hollister first. This place seems to have stormed the high street with a very cunning marketing plan. This consists of doing away with the time honoured way of identifying your shop to the world, i.e. putting a sign up out front with the name of the shop on it, and building a sort of lean-to/shed out front instead, through which one must enter. The lean-to obviously acts as a magnet to the passing public, as there must have been about 40 of them queuing up outside it as I walked by. And what do you get when you are finally allowed to enter through this hallowed portal? Is it a bounteous, fragrant land of milk and honey? No, you get to buy an overpriced hoodie in the dark. Anyone know why it's dark in there? Me neither.

Hoodie in the bag, you can then go and queue for an equally lengthy amount of time at Starbucks. What joys await you there? Some shit coffee and the most tedious playlist in the world. They actually release compilations of the music played in their cafes, in case you want to recreate that Starbucks 'vibe' in the comfort of your own home. I can think of a better plan and it involves an idling car engine and a length of hosepipe.

Sorry, got a little sidetracked there. There was a point to this post. Honest. After queuing at Hollister and Starbucks for two hours I was feeling a bit peckish, so sporting my new hoodie and slurping on a frappachococino I headed for the main foodhall. I've been to Barburrito before and thought it was ok, definitely a notch up from the obvious fast food suspects, and more importantly it wasn't too busy, so I thought I'd give it another try.

I went for the slow cooked pork burrito with chipotle salsa. Rice, beans, salad, cheese and soured cream are all included as standard alongside your choice of meat and salsa. Guacamole is a rather steep 75p extra (I didn't bother).

It was nice enough, but could have been better. Can't fault the portion size, it was a big fat burrito, but contained a little too much filler and not enough killer. Rice was the most generous of the fillings, and who wants a rice sandwich. The pork was nice and moist, and the chipotle salsa was warming and smoky but not hot as advertised. The beans and cheese didn't seem to add much flavour-wise. £4.75 for the burrito and £1.50 for a bottomless soft drink.

A reasonable option, but I won't be rushing back. If you're in town I'd recommend giving Pancho's Burritos in the Arndale Market a try instead. Haven't been for a while but I seem to recall it being a better burrito and better value.


The Trafford Centre
M17 8EH

Barburrito on Urbanspoon

Friday, 25 February 2011

Delhi Grill, Islington, London

The second meal of my day out in London was a visit to Delhi Grill in Islington. This is a fairly new place serving up robust, home style North Indian food. We're talking meats and bread fresh from the tandoor and curries cooked long and slow. It has been getting some very positive reviews in the press and blogosphere.

As I'm generally quite greedy, and as I was accompanied by the biggest man in the world, we ordered a feast.

First up, the tandoor cooked meat. Two of us shared the mixed grill platter; a pair of lamb chops, a pair of seekh kebabs and four pieces of chicken tikka. All were good, but not great. The meat was nice and tender, but rather lacking in that smoky taste and the crispy charred edges (you can just about tell the lack of char from the terrible photo) you usually expect from cooking at a very high heat. This may be the difference between cooking the meat in the tandoor or on a grill. Apparently the Indians prefer the former, the Pakistanis the latter. If this is the case I'm with the Pakistanis on this one, particularly for the lamb.

Curries swiftly followed, with a roti, a naan and a plain rice on the side. The curries were the high point of the meal, all three were excellent.

A chicken karahi was deeply flavoured with plenty of ginger, coriander and pepper in the mix.

Bhindi was more of a stir-fried dish, and all the better for it. When stewed in a curry it always seems to go a bit slimy. This was cooked until just tender with plenty of onions (and possibly tomatoes?).

Best of all was the haandi goat. Very tender goat on the bone (with a decent meat to bone ratio) in a rich, dark sauce, the spices probably roasted. It was bursting with flavour, absolutely delicious.

The breads were also good, particularly the naan which was very crisp and light. The roti was nice, but almost too soft and light,  I prefer them with a bit of chew and char to them.

This was a really good meal, all of the dishes were good but the curries were definitely the high point. For good value Indian grilled meats in central London I still think you might be better off heading to Whitechapel (to the famed triumvirate of Tayyabs, Lahore Kebab House and relatively new upstart Needoo Grill), but for curries in the same price bracket Delhi Grill is an absolute winner.

The two of us paid £20 each for all of the food, a large beer to share, and service (which was friendly and efficient). The decor is also pretty cool, canteen style but nicely done with wood floors and bar, and walls decorated with Indian newspaper cuttings.


21 Chapel Market
London N1

Delhi Grill on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Kaosarn, Brixton Village Market, London

First stop on my London day of eating, Brixton. Brixton Village Market, formerly known as Granville Arcade, was mostly vacant until a couple of years ago. A regeneration project is seeing it gradually fill up with a variety of interesting eateries, which are generally getting very positive feedback - see here for more information.

One of the latest openings is Kaosarn, a small Thai cafe located at the Coldharbour Lane end of the arcade. I was lured in by the thought of some decent Thai food after the abomination I had the other week. I ordered chicken stir fried with rice, chilli, holy basil and a fried egg (Kao pad kra pao or somethingorother in Thai), and water. Iced tap water was supplied without question or suggestion of the bottled stuff.

I enjoyed eating this. Sweet, salty and hot, with added richness from the runny egg yolk and texture from the crispy bits of egg white. The chicken wasn't overcooked and the rice was just right. My only criticism was that it needed a bit more chilli and a bit more basil. In summary, nothing mind blowing just good well cooked food, just what the doctor ordered on a damp, miserable day.

The staff are also worth a mention, as they were lovely. The waitress looked worried on delivery of my food, and explained that the fried egg was the Thai style of serving it. She seemed to be concerned I wouldn't like the look of it. I proved my satisfaction by eating the plateful in about five minutes. The older guy doing the cooking also left the stove when I was leaving to ask if I'd enjoyed the food and if it was too hot. I told him a bit hotter would be great and he was almost apologetic. I reassured him that I'd enjoyed it anyway and he seemed genuinely pleased.

I hope this place is a resounding success. The food is good, it's reasonably priced (stir-fry was £6.90 plus tip), and the people running the place are genuinely keen to impress.

7.5/10 (bonus 0.5 for being so nice!)

Brixton Village Market

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Breakfast aboard Virgin Trains

I'm on the train. I'm bored. So here is my first attempt at mobile blogging. The breakfasts in Virgin Trains first class (not my regular mode of travel, honest!) are really rather nice.

Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. The eggs are soft and creamy, and still warm. Well done Virgin!


Virgin Trains
Somewhere in the Midlands

Monday, 21 February 2011

Al-Safa, Rusholme, Manchester

The curry mile is a bit of a misnomer these days. A cursory glance up and down the Wilmslow Road in Rusholme will tell you that a rather significant minority (if not the majority) of the eateries on the strip are now from the Middle East rather than the Indian subcontinent. If the restaurant names are to be believed then I spotted Lebanese, Iranian, Palestinian, Iraqi, Egyptian, Afghan and Syrian places in a five minute wander. This is probably a good thing as rumour has it that most of the curry houses are actually a bit rubbish.

One of these Middle Eastern places is where I was headed, as I fancied a quality kebab. Following the recommendations of Flavours of Manchester I ended up in Al-Safa and ordered a single Kobeda (which I think are Iranian kebabs). As an aside, if you like curry, kebabs, beer, Manchester or any combination of those things than I strongly recommend you read Flavours of Manchester. I haven't been let down yet by any of their recommendations.

When the kebab arrived I was rather glad I hadn't ordered the double (which I nearly had) as the single was huge and far better looking in real life than the photo's on the menu display. The bread was light and crisp. The salad was fresh, varied and good quality, far from the limp afterthought it often is on kebabs. The meat itself was nicely chargrilled but of slightly dubious quality (ok lamb taste but a bit processed), and the accompanying chilli sauce was fiery.

At £3.50 it was a bargain. Great bread, great salad, great sauce. Meat not quite so great but what do you expect at those prices.


40 Wilmslow Road
M14 5TQ

Friday, 18 February 2011

Dosa Express, Withington, Manchester

A new place in my quest for South Indian food in the North. Dosa Express wasn't on my radar when I posted on this subject a few weeks ago, and I can't recall how I discovered it earlier this week (must have been from obsessively googling 'south indian food dosa Manchester' during a bored moment). But discover it I did, and I was immediately tempted as it seemed to be the kind of casual place you could pop in for a cheap bite on your own, rather than a more full on dinner with wine and mates or a date kind of place. Exactly what I was after this evening, so I headed on over for an early tea.

As I suspected it's a very no frills type of place, certainly not one for a first date. A couple of other tables were occupied despite the early hour. I ordered a portion of Medhu Vada and the chicken meal special, with a can of 7-up and a bottle of water to wash it down. Yes, a bottle of water. The first thing I do in pretty much any restaurant is ask for a glass or jug of finest corporation pop, fresh from the tap, but I had already spotted a sign on the wall saying 'No tap water for hygiene reasons, bottled water 50p' and couldn't be bothered arguing. Weird. I normally get a bee in my bonnet about the whole refusal to serve tap water thing that some restaurants still do, as it's often an excuse to sell you the bottled stuff at a ridiculous mark-up. At 50p they're hardly going to be raking it in though. Perhaps there really is a 'hygiene reason'. What are they getting from the taps? Is it unusually filthy in this part of Manchester? Are they importing it from Chennai for authenticity? What about the food then? Have they washed the salad in bottled water? I certainly hope so if I can't drink the stuff from the tap for 'hygiene reasons'.

Sorry, rant over. Here's the food:

Vada, chutney's and sambar

Vada are spiced, doughnut shaped fritters made from lentil flour. When freshly fried they can be very nice, and when pre-fried, left to cool then warmed up in a microwave they can be stodgy and horrid. Fortunately these were in the former group, nice crispy edges and a soft centre. They were a bit underspiced (chilli, mustard seeds, curry leaves, black pepper, onions are the usual suspects) but pleasant to eat with the accompanying chutney's (coconut, coriander, not sure about the orange one) and sambar.

Chicken gravy, rice, poppadum, salad

Chicken curry/gravy close-up

The highlight of the meal was the chicken curry (or gravy as it's sometimes known at South Indian places). The other components of the meal special (poppadum, salad, rice) were ok but the curry itself was excellent. It had a real depth of flavour, with cardamom and cloves being particularly prominent, and a slow building background chilli heat that had me shovelling in rice to cool the fire. Really good stuff.

The bill came to £7.26 including a 20% discount on food. I think the discount was because it was before 6pm, this was only mentioned at the till and didn't seem to be advertised anywhere in the restaurant. Service was efficient but dour until I was about to leave when the waitress came over all smiley. Must have been glad to see the back of me.

Overall I liked Dosa Express. The food is good and I'll be going back to try the dosai and the mutton curries. The no tap water thing is a little strange, but they're hardly profiteering on the bottled stuff so I can live with that.


19 Copson Street
M20 3HE

They also have another branch in Derby.

DosaXpress on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

A few good things to eat

I've been pondering whether to start blogging about food I've eaten at home as well as my eating out experiences. My mind has been made up by a few things I've enjoyed over the past week or so. I'm not going to start posting photo's and recipes of my cooking (I'll leave that to others who do it far better than I ever would), but I would like to sing the praises of any food producers or suppliers whose products I've been impressed by. So here goes:

Steak, Savin Hill Farm

I've seen the Savin Hill Farm stall at a few farmers' markets (if I recall correctly), most recently at the fortnightly Manchester Real Food Market in Piccadilly Gardens last Saturday. I'm always on the look out for a good steak but have been put off these guys in the past as the meat on offer is all vaccum packed. I suppose it might not impair the flavour when it actually comes to cooking it, but it always seems to make the meat so sweaty and unappealing. Anyhow I had a brief chat with the guy on the stall, who seemed very enthusiastic and knowledgeable. He told me that the beef is from British White Cattle, a rare breed native to the North-West. I bought a piece of rump steak (just over 9oz for just under a fiver), and here it is after a brief liaison with my griddle:

Pretty good it was too. Quite a mild flavour, not overly beefy with a good texture (not melt in the mouth, I don't hold with this 'melt in the mouth' business for steak. It's meat not ice-cream). Far better than your average supermarket steak, but not up there with my all-time favourite (I like beef from the Ginger Pig best. Yorkshire farmed but shops only in London. You can buy direct from the farm if you call to pre-order but I wish they'd open a shop up North). Worth a try.
At Manchester Real Food Market, also available by mail order.

Macaroons, English Rose Bakery

Macaroons as in French macarons. Not those English things covered in dessicated coconut with a glace cherry on top. These are the stonkingly expensive, beautiful, delicate almond meringuey type things made by posh Parisian types Laduree and Pierre Herme. Readily available from stores in the more upmarket parts of London I'm not sure if they have penetrated the North yet. So the English Rose Bakery have stolen a march and done it for them, and can be found at the fortnightly Manchester Real Food Market in Piccadilly Gardens (amongst other places).

Delicious, and at £2.50 for the four very reasonable for well-made macaroons. They were doing a good trade in Valentine's gifts, but not having a Valentine for the first year in several I scoffed all four myself. I think the flavours were raspberry, vanilla, pistachio and coffee. Pistachio was my favourite but they also do salted caramel (but had run out when I bought mine) which will almost certainly be no.1 in my book.
At Manchester Real Food Market, other markets, and can be ordered online.

Curry, Mumtaz

Finally a big up for a behemoth of the curry world that hardly needs the recommendation. I'm going to sing their praises anyway as I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of their pre-packed curries that are available in the supermarket. Last Friday night a few of us shared chicken and lamb karahi's, a keema matter (mince & peas) karahi and a chicken tikka masala.

Each of the four dishes was good, with distinctive, strongly spiced flavours. A big improvement on the usual watery, underpowered slop that ready meal curries provide. The best of the bunch, rather unexpectedly, was the tikka masala which had a really rich, reduced tomato sauce that had me scraping out the dregs with cold nan bread later in the evening. My only criticism is that the meat, particularly the chicken, was a bit dry and overcooked. At £2.99 per curry they are cheaper than any takeaway curry around, and probably better than most of them too.
Widely available. I bought them in Morrisons in Rothwell.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Cafe Logos, Salford

I was working at the Salford office yesterday, only five minutes walk from the attractions of Salford Quays. What with the Lowry, the Imperial War Museum, the Outlet Mall and various office developments you'd think the area would be better served with dining options. I haven't looked too closely but there's not obviously much of interest. Any suggestions would be warmly welcomed. Hopefully things will improve when the BBC and others start moving into the new MediaCity UK development.

In the meantime my favourite spot is Cafe Logos on South Langworthy Road. It's a big, clean, modern looking place serving freshly made sandwiches, soup and daily hot specials. The sandwiches are ok, but the cooked specials are better. There is usually a choice of two, always priced under a fiver, yesterday's being honeyed chicken on the bone with stir-fried veg and rice or chicken curry and rice. I opted for the honeyed chicken at £4.75. That's more than you might pay for a regular sandwich at lunchtime, but it's much more of a meal. I'd compare it favourably with most middling pub lunches.

Yesterday's choice was about par for the course, generous portion; fresh, crunchy veg and moist, tasty chicken. It looks burnt on the photo but wasn't, just nicely caramelised, gooey, crispy chicken skin. To be honest it looks entirely terrible on the pic, but that's just my rubbish effort at photography. I really need to brush up my skills in this area.

Cafe Logos won't blow your mind but it will serve you up a freshly cooked, tasty, healthy lunch for a reasonable price. Which is more than can be said for some of the places nearby.

p.s. according to the MediaCity website, Booths supermarket are moving in. Excellent news, much better than another Tesco Express or the like.


South Langworthy Road
Salford Quays
M50 2RP

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Crab and Lobster, Asenby, North Yorkshire

Today I met up with my sister and future brother-in-law for a long, leisurely lunch. We went to The Crab and Lobster, a North Yorkshire restaurant (it possibly just about classes as a pub, it does have a bar) specialising in seafood. I hadn't been there before, but had heard of it. It's been around for years and has become a bit of a Yorkshire institution with a good reputation.

Not normally a strong point of mine as I tend to focus on my food rather than the surroundings, but first a note on the decor. This place is eccentric to say the least. The main dining areas are kitted out in a sort of nautical theme, with fishing nets adorning the ceilings and even an entire vintage diving suit in situ. Some parts seem to veer off from this into a sort of 1920's opium den or speakeasy sort of vibe, with chinese patterned screens, hats and musical instruments adorning shelves and walls. The gents toilets win the prize for most bonkers of all, being entirely kitted out with photo's and paintings of Marilyn Monroe accompanied by actual real-life bra's and knickers hanging from the walls. Not sexy ones either, just plain white cotton smalls. All in all I rather liked it, mad but suggesting a place that doesn't take itself too seriously. Sometimes more upmarket, rural pub restaurants can be a bit po-faced. Not the Crab and Lobster.

Back to the food. The original intention was to order from the set menu (£18 for three courses) but it turns out that Sunday is the only day they don't serve this on, so a la carte it was. The menu is a mixture of classic dishes (fish soup, lobster thermidor, steak and chips etc) and some more ambitious sounding stuff (Grilled Fresh Local Halibut, Cauliflower & Almond Puree, Tomato, Asparagus Seared King Scallops, Lobster Bisque sounded good). I chose the fish soup, followed by fish and chips.

Pints or halves of well kept Best Bitter from local brewery Nick Stafford's Hambleton Ales went down nicely while we were waiting. The bread basket promptly arrived, and was excellent. Three different breads, one granary, one white with a cheese crust, and one dark with walnuts. The dark bread was my favourite, almost like a very nutty malt loaf. The accompanying butter was unsalted and creamy.

The fish soup was served the classic french way, with croutes, rouille, and Gruyere cheese. It was a delight to eat, the rich red soup having a good stock base and being chock full of salmon, mussels, prawns and scallops. The addition of all the cheese and rouille made it very rich, and a struggle to finish, but I just about managed it with strings of cheese dribbling down my chin. My sister's mussels (in a cream sauce with bacon and cabbage) were also noteworthy. Good plump specimens, not at all gritty.

After the fish soup, my main course was a little bit disappointing (probably also a poor choice after such a substantial starter). The fish was a good chunky fillet of haddock cooked just right, but the batter was too thick and rather stodgy. The mushy peas were dry and claggy, and would have been fine if let down a bit. The chips however, were excellent with very crisp exteriors and soft fluffy centres. The tartare sauce was also very nice.

Having ordered such substantial starters and mains, there was little room left for pudding so we ordered one to share between the three of us, a lemon meringue pie with raspberries. They were back on the top form of the starters with this, it was very, very good. Perfect balance of sweetness and tartness between the lemon filling and the meringue, and the pastry case was light and buttery. The raspberries on the side were more than just garnish, having the strongest, deep, tart raspberry flavour of any I can recall eating. No mean feat in February, I think they must have been macerated in some sort of raspberry syrup or liqueur.

In summary I liked this place a lot, on the whole it was very good. The fish soup was a particular highlight. It's expensive, 3 courses with service but no booze will set you back about thirty quid, but the set menu at £18 would represent great value. To add to the fun on a Sunday you get serenaded by a man with a banjo in a technicolour suit, who goes by the name of Richard Muttonchops, ably accompanied by his mate on sax. Apparently they play free jazz. Told you it was bonkers.


Crab & Lobster
Dishforth Road
North Yorkshire

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Rice, Manchester

Rice is a Manchester based mini-chain serving a wide variety of rice and rice noodle based dishes. I thought it might be worth a try for an early dinner as I fancied something vaguely oriental.

The Piccadilly Gardens branch is canteen style; you order at one end of the counter and collect your food dished up in takeaway containers at the other. The menu is a bit of a mish-mash covering pretty much every corner of the globe (Argentina, Russia, Spain amongst others), the only apparent connection being the presence of rice (or at least rice noodles).

On ordering a pad thai I was informed that there was a special offer on today, a free starter with every main meal ordered. A bit of a marketing ploy this, as what they actually meant was that filling in a scratchcard with your e-mail address and phone number would get you a free starter. I duly obliged anyway (real e-mail address, fake telno, I can't be doing with spam texts) as I'm not one to turn down free food without good reason. I chose prawn katsu from a choice of that or spring rolls.

The prawn katsu was more akin to a couple of frozen scampi fried some hours earlier, and was served up alongside some manky looking iceberg. Yum. Oh well it was free, what did I expect.

Unfortunately the pad thai wasn't a whole lot better. First the plus points; - a good generous portion and a nice smoky flavour (wok-hei I think this is called) to the noodles suggesting it had been stir-fried properly over a high heat. That's about it unfortunately so let's move onto the minus points; - the noodles were overcooked and had gone gluey, there was a solid mass of them about the size of my fist right in the middle of the pot. The chicken was dry and tasteless. The prawns didn't taste very fresh and were chewy. There were no beansprouts in it. No garnishes were available other than soy sauce, salt and pepper meaning the whole thing was pretty bland. I ate less than half of it before giving up out of boredom.

In summary it was poor, and not cheap either (£7 for the pad thai), but perhaps I chose unwisely and some of the other dishes are better. I'll maybe give them another try in future as they certainly seem popular (not that that's always a good sign, every branch of Wagamama is always rammed full and I think it's overpriced and boring). In the same area any one of the curry cafes up the road will feed you better for less money (£4-5), as will Baekdu for about the same amount of money. If chain places are your thing I reckon Tampopo is probably a better bet, and at least they stick to Asian food and don't try and shoehorn every cuisine of the world onto the menu.


Rice Piccadilly
Piccadilly Gardens
M1 1RG

Rice on Urbanspoon

Deli Central, Wakefield

I'd planned to head back over the Pennines to spend the day in Manchester today, but my mate Barry had a few hours to kill before meeting friends in Leeds so I agreed to accompany him on a tour of the splendours of Wakefield.

Before you laugh there are some splendours in Wakefield, honest. The civic quarter has some solid victorian architecture, the cathedral is pleasant, the chantry chapel is historic and interesting, the new Hepworth Gallery is opening in May, and the marvellous dereliction of Kirkgate railway station is not to be missed.

Sorry, forgot this was a food blog for a moment. Back to the comestibles. Before the grand tour we popped into Deli Central for a bite to eat. It's a very good looking little place, all blond wood and posh chutney for sale. I rather unimaginatively opted for a ham, cheese and tomato panino and a pot of tea. Just a pot of tea for Barry who was still full after dining on fish and chips, curry, trifle and beer the previous evening.

The panino was generously proportioned and tasted fine, but was otherwise unremarkable. The leaf and tomato salad on the side was limp and undressed, but the potato salad (cold new roasted potatoes with sun dried tomatoes, spring onions and some sort of dressing) was good. The pots of tea were loose leaf and very nice. At £5.45 for the sandwich and £1.80 for the tea it wasn't cheap.

In summary a decent option, but a bit expensive. Quiches on the deli counter looked good though.


Deli Central
20 Northgate
The Bullring

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

A Tale of Two Lunches

We are quite blessed in the UK these days with the variety of lunch options in many of our towns and cities. We have welcomed the midday offerings of other nations, adapted them and made them our own. But we also still like a good British pie, fry-up or sandwich with salad cream. Here are a couple of contrasting places on either side of the Pennines.

La Bottega Milanese, Leeds
La Bottega Milanese sits squarely in the new, modern Britain category. It’s a Milanese coffee bar transplanted to the Calls in Leeds. Sandwiches are made to order on ciabatta or focaccia, coffee is an art form and cakes are supplied by Anthony’s.
On today’s visit I ordered a Milanese on ciabatta (parma ham, rocket, mayo, parmesan, olive oil, lemon – I think) and a slice of torta della nonna (Grandma’s cake). Nice piggy ham and peppery rocket, and a light, fresh ciabatta made for a good sandwich. Possibly a bit stingy with the filling but that’s a minor complaint from a greedy person.

The cake (not one of the Anthony's supplied ones) was very good. It’s a sort of thick custard tart garnished with pine nuts. Fairly plain and simple but I mean that as a compliment, it’s nice to have something more restrained with a cup of tea instead of the increasingly prevalent sugar and icing bomb American style sweet things (not that I don’t love cupcakes sometimes...). The pastry was good too.

I can’t comment on the coffee, as I rarely drink it (caffeine doesn’t like me) but given their enthusiasm for the stuff I’m sure it’s great.
At £3 for the sandwich and £2 for the cake it’s good value for quality ingredients in a city centre location. It wasn’t very busy when I was in there (about 12.30 pm so peak lunchtime) so I hope they’re doing a good trade. Please go – we want places like this in Leeds doing well.

32 The Calls

La Bottega Milanese on Urbanspoon

Pat’s Place Cafe, Knowsley Industrial Estate
Pat’s cafe has its steel toe-capped boots firmly in the traditional camp. If you spend your days in a hard hat engaged in robust industrial toil (just like me obviously) then this is the place for you. Situated on Knowsley Industrial Estate, an outpost of genuine heavy industry, it offers up fry-ups, pie dinners, toasties, chips and sandwiches (salad is available) to the masses. When I’m feeling healthy sandwiches are the way to go, but at other times it has to be a pie dinner. £2.50 will get you a choice of pie, with chips, peas and gravy.
It’s usually pretty good but last Friday it was strangely disappointing. The chips were soggy and they were out of peas. Usually the chips are fried to a good crisp and not at all greasy. The pies are of reasonable quality, and definitely contain genuine meat. I like the Steak and Pepper best. There was a photo but it's gone missing; - think pie & chips, covered in gravy, in a polystyrene tray.
On the off chance anyone reading this spends time in the area, you could do much worse for your lunch than Pat's. Not that it needs a recommendation, it’s always rammed.

5/10 (recent visit)
7/10 (most other visits)

Pat's Place Cafe
Charley Wood Road
Knowsley Industrial Estate

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Baekdu, Manchester

Stinking hangovers all round after last night's exploits. I usually want something spicy and soupy at times like this, the heat clears the head and the liquid rehydrates. I've been to Baekdu a couple of times before and thought it would fit the bill nicely.

It's a fairly cheap, casual canteen sort of place situated on Shudehill serving up Korean food. To start we ordered a kimchi pancake and a side of kimchi to share between the three of us. Kimchi is fermented cabbage (I think you can get other veg varieties but the usual stuff is cabbage) with loads of chilli in it. Sounds weird but give it a try, it's lovely. Korean pancakes are sort of a cross between a thick american style pancake and an omelette. This one was good, thick and eggy with a good crisp crust and a soy based dip to dunk it in. Great comfort food.

                                                          Pancake, soy, kimchi

For the main event I opted for a clay pot stew with beef, kimchi and vegetables (can't remember the Korean name). A bubbling cauldron of fiery red stuff arrived with a calming bowl of boiled rice. The photo is rubbish because there were was so much steam rising off it it was like peering through fog. Not particularly complex flavour wise, it delivered salty, beefy stock and bucket loads of chilli heat. It perked me up good and proper. My friends opted for a dolsot bibimbap (clay pot dish of rice, chicken, egg, vegetables, spicy red bean paste. It comes all prettily arranged on top of the rice, you mix it all up with your chopsticks) and a chicken noodle soup. Both were good.

                                     Steaming hotpot with beef, kimchi & vegetables

                          Dolsot bibimbap (rice, chicken, egg, veggies, red bean & chilli paste)

The bill came to £36 for three including green teas and a tip. Recommended for a quick, cheap, spicy filling alternative to the more common asian offerings.


77 Shudehill
M4 4AN

Baekdu on Urbanspoon

The Castle, Castleton, Derbyshire

A visit to the countryside with some mates from down south didn't exactly go to plan due to the untimely interjection of the weather. Lengthy hikes are not really much fun in pouring rain and howling gales. And so it was we rolled up in Castleton, drenched through after legging it up Mam Tor and back from the car park in about 10 minutes flat. At least we got to see the view (just) as the murk parted briefly to reveal the beautiful Hope Valley.

The Castle was the first pub we came across so in we went. Fairly standard pub food on the menu, including a prix fixe at a very reasonable £6/8/10 for one/two/three courses. From this menu I ordered the shepherd's pie with plum and almond frangipane to follow. Other choices included mushroom and soup starters, goats cheese salad, and profiteroles. On ordering we were warned of a half hour wait for the food. Not a problem as we needed drying out time anyway.

When it eventually turned up the shepherd's pie was reasonably good. The meat had a good depth of lamby flavour with plenty of rosemary in the mix and the mash was creamy. The accompanying vegetables were overcooked though and it needed extra gravy. The pudding was fine and creme fraiche on the side rather than cream was a good choice. They didn't work out that the profiteroles had sold out until about an hour and a half after we'd ordered them, but offered a choice of the full dessert menu as an alternative. The apple and blackcurrant crumble chosen was the best dish of the day;- a huge portion with a crisp, buttery crumble and tart, not overly sweetened fruit.

I have no idea whether this is the best pub for food in Castleton, but I doubt it's the worst either. Does exactly what it says on the tin. Countryside done, we headed back to Manchester to hit the town...(see previous post).


The Castle
Castle Street
S33 8WG

A Manchester Pub Crawl

Enjoyed a great pub crawl last night in Manchester. There seem to be an ever increasing number of pubs serving an interesting array of real ales, which me and my friends all love. I would happily recommend all of these five that were on our route:

The Marble Arch
The Angel
Bar Fringe
Crown and Kettle
The Castle Hotel

.. that was the planned bit. After that things were a bit more 'freeform' and my memory is a bit sketchy. I think it went something like this:

The Bay Horse
Hunters Asian BBQ
24hr garage

A grand time was had by all. There was much merriment, laughter and intellectual debate (sort of). Favourite beer of the night award goes to Marble Ginger, which is wonderful stuff. Favourite food of the night award is a tie between pork scratchings and smoky flavoured nuts (they taste of bacon!) (both in the Marble Arch). Mistake of the night award goes to the visit to the 24 hour garage (3am cigarettes and Ginsters. Not necessary).

I won't be posting a review of the curries as I can't remember what I had or what they tasted like. (Which is entirely a reflection of my drunkenness and in no way reflects badly on the standard of Hunters).

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Riverside Sourdough Bakery, Dock Street Market, Leeds

Just another quick lunch post, and my first from Leeds. I got wind of this place on Twitter and it looks like a good find. The sandwich menu is short and interesting. Fancying a healthy-ish option I went for the Baba Ghanoush, Feta, Chargrilled courgettes, Sesame seeds & Rocket on a brown roll (£2.95).

When I opened it up on my desk it looked a bit disappointing to be honest. The feta had been forgotten leaving me with a rather vegan looking sandwich. I shouldn't have worried. The inclusion of cheese would have improved things (the inclusion of cheese improves most things obviously) but it was really, really good anyway. The other flavours just worked perfectly, making it far more than the sum of its parts. And the bread was fantastic, really tasty with a nice open texture and proper crust. Oh and chargrilled courgettes are great too. I can't really describe why, but they are. Recipe idea: Chargrilled courgettes, olive oil, black pepper, too much parmesan, squeeze of lemon, all stirred through pasta. Yum.

I digress. Soup is also available for a very reasonable £1.50 and I couldn't resist a pot of that on the side. Lentil and butternut squash it was, and very nice. I took a photo but it just looked like some indistinguishable brown stuff in a pot so I haven't bothered posting it.

The place is still under construction at the moment, with work ongoing on the main bakery and part of the cafe. I will definitely be returning and so should you.


Riverside Sourdough Bakery
Dock Street Market
22 Dock Street
LS10 1JF

Riverside Sourdough Bakery on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Little Saigon, Newcastle

This week's grand tour continues. The final leg before home was Newcastle and I was after something with a bit of zip and zing to it after the previous nights debacle. I spent quite a lot of time working in Newcastle a couple of years ago so I knew it had a Vietnamese place. Situated incongruously on the Bigg Market across the road from a row of neon doner and chips emporia is Little Saigon.

Free prawn crackers arrived promptly and I ordered a saigon beer to wash them down with. First up, a salad of prawn and papaya. I love South-east Asian salads, the kings of the salad world without a shadow of a doubt. The range of textures and flavours crammed into each mouthful brings sheer gustatory pleasure not always associated with the word 'salad'. This was a fine example, soft prawns, crunchy peanuts, crisp juicy papaya, crispy fried onions. Classic hot/sour/sweet/salty dressing. I wolfed it down in no time. The only criticism I have is that it was a touch too sweet/salty and not quite hot/sour enough. More chilli and lime please.

For main course beef with lemongrass, chilli and onion. Not as successful as the salad, the sauce was a bit gloopy (possibly reduced with cornflour) and there wasn't much chilli or lemongrass involved. It tasted generally fine though and the beef was tender.

A good option overall, we don't have too many Vietnamese restaurants in the North (is there one in Leeds at all??) so the more the merrier. My dinner was £21 for the salad, the main, steamed rice, one beer and service.


6 Bigg Market

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Scotch Pie, A J Learmonth, Jedburgh

To cheer things up a bit after the last post, here's a pie:

and a very nice pie it was too. A warm scotch pie bought en route from Cumbernauld to Newcastle. I've only ever had a couple of scotch pies before and this was better than those. Just the job.


Club Bar & Grill, The Westerwood Hotel, Cumbernauld, Scotland

I travel away for work fairly often, and a recent restructure has extended my patch to Cumbernauld in Scotland  for the first time. I always try a few different hotels if it's an area I'll be returning to fairly frequently, and if nothing comes up trumps I end up back in a Premier Inn (reliably good, clean rooms/reliably good breakfast options/reliably rubbish evening food). First up in the Cumbernauld area on recommendation of a colleague - The Westerwood. It's one of those big corporatey/conferencey/golf spa type places but not all in a bad way. The rooms are rather lovely so if this were a hotel review blog it would rate quite highly. Unfortunately it's not.

The Club Bar & Grill (big, bland, corporatey, conferencey) was serving meals to an array of lost souls wondering what they were doing there on a Monday night. Or at least I was anyway. On perusing the menu I was foolishly lured in by the description of 30 day dry aged Orkney beef. I should have known better. These corporatey,conferencey,golf spa type places often have menu descriptions that flatter to deceive, I know this from experience. And so it proved.

Steak: rubbish
Rib eye steak, chips and tomato (£19.95) and an accompanying house salad (£2.50) were rubbish in just about every way. The steak was a damp, greyish, flabby specimen, with little flavour beyond salt. It had been cooked unevenly despite being uniformly thin (the alleged 200g weight seemed unlikely) so that one side was medium-well whereas the other end was the requested rare. The chips looked promising, but had somehow gone horribly wrong. They were a lovely deep brown colour, promising crispness, but in practice offered greasy limpness. I have no idea how they managed this, the only thing I can think is that they were fried to well done earlier in the day and then refried in oil that wasn't hot enough. The tomato was pointless. The side salad appeared to be dressed, as it had a sort of glossy sheen to it, but I've no idea what with as there was no discernable flavour. The bag of leaves it came from had probably been open some time as the cut ones were browning at the edges. Any redeeming features? No problems with the service and a glass of Malbec was fine.

A pretty terrible experience all told. If that steak was burning a £20 hole in my own pocket I would not be a happy bunny. Onwards and southwards, tomorrow night I'll be in Newcastle.

Oh and apologies to anyone reading this and wondering why I seem to be anywhere but the M62 corridor. I'll be spending a lot more time in Manchester & Leeds over the next few weeks so you may find something of interest if that's your area!


The Westerwood Hotel & Golf Resort
1 St Andrews Drive
G68 0EW
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