Saturday, 30 April 2011

BBQ Handmade Noodles King, Manchester

You can't beat a big steaming bowl of hand made noodles. If you haven't tried them before they are well worth seeking out. They are much chewier and more robust than dried packet noodles, and all the more satisfying for it.

This is a bowl of hand made noodles with braised beef in spicy soup. The soup base was very good, pungent with garlic and five spice. The beef, sliced thinly was fibrous, fatty and beautifully tender. It was a cheaper cut (probably brisket) cooked long and slow to melting unctuousness. A few greens added colour and texture and the noodles themselves were spot on. Wonderful Chinese comfort food. Great value too at £6.80.

Thanks to Mr Noodles for the tip. I'm not sure what the exact address of this restaurant is, but head to Chinatown, look for the sign and you can't go wrong.


BBQ Handmade Noodles King
Faulkner Street

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Zam Zam Tandoori, Chorlton, Manchester

A damn fine kebab this, my poor photography really doesn't do it justice. It's chicken tikka on nan. Both meat and bread were cooked freshly in the tandoor. The bread was light and crisp, the chicken was moist, succulent and had loads of lovely nubbly, smoky, charred bits around the edges, and the salad was fresh. Generous dollops of both searing hot chilli sauce and tangy yoghurt sauce to top things off. What more do you need? The only criticism I can come up with is the unnecessary red food colouring on the chicken. Outstanding value at £3.00.

The venue is a run of the mill, scruffy-ish takeaway with a few tables inside. I never have a clue with these places. Most of them serve absolute rubbish, but a few come up with the goods like this. Fortunately Flavours of Manchester comes to the rescue. Will someone please start a Flavours of Leeds blog, so I know where to get a good kebab there too? Thanks.


452 Wilbraham Road
M21 0AG

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

All Bar One, Leeds

I usually try to avoid eating at big chain restaurants or bars, because most of them are rubbish. That may be a sweeping generalisation, some are certainly better than others, but my experience at All Bar One on Sunday backed up the theory pretty well.

I wanted some brunch, I wanted to sit in the sun, I didn't want a meat fest (I was heading to a barbecue in the afternoon for burgers, sausages, steak, chicken, kebabs and beer) and All Bar One on Millenium Square met all the criteria. Bubble and squeak with fried eggs, spinach and salsa sounded great.

It looks ok too, but it wasn't. The egg on the left wasn't cooked, the yolk was surrounded by a thick layer of translucent raw white. The edible egg was very greasy. The bubble and squeak mix was fine, but as with the eggs whoever was manning the stove had completely cocked it up. What appears to be a nice crusty exterior was very thin and rapidly gave way to greasy, slimy, mushy innards. Hint: stuff doesn't fry properly if your oil isn't hot enough. The spinach somehow managed to stick to the greasy theme, seemingly having been wilted in warm oil rather than a drop or two of water. The salsa was inoffensive in a bland, tastes like the mild stuff you get in jars sort of way.

On being asked if everything was ok with my meal I complained about the state of the eggs. This brought a cursory apology but nothing further. The guy serving me was pleasant enough but clearly wishing he was anywhere but there on a sunny holiday weekend.

My meal was ordered from the £6 lunch menu. A cappuccino was £2.20. I had a nice time because I had the paper to read, it was sunny and I was about to go drink beer in my mates back garden. Nothing much to do with the All Bar One experience, which was rubbish. It might be worth noting that I've read a fairly positive review of this place on another blog that I read recently (can't remember which one), so perhaps I was just unlucky.


All Bar One Millenium Square
Unit D
Electric Press

Monday, 25 April 2011

The New Inn, Sowood, Halifax

The New Inn sits on a hill overlooking Elland and Halifax. The view from the tables out the back is marvellous and well worth an hour spent gazing out over the moors with a pint (if you ignore the pylons in the foreground). A friend and I did exactly this on Saturday evening, before it started to get a bit nippy and we headed inside for food. The downside to the lofty location is that it's usually freezing.

Inside it's very much a traditional pub interior, and obviously very popular. It was bustling with a mix of both diners and drinkers. The chap in charge (the landlord at a guess) was friendly and efficient, proffering menus and taking our orders as we waited at the bar for our table to become available.

My starter of poached salmon came all sort of mushed up, so that it had the texture of tinned salmon. I'd have preferred it just gently flaked but it was still pleasant to eat; soft, mellow and well seasoned. My companion's chicken liver paté was pretty good, very smooth and served in a ridiculously huge portion. It's not an exaggeration to say it would have stretched to three servings without appearing stingy.

I'm a glutton for punishment so ordered a 10oz sirloin steak for my main course. Steaks invariably seem to be disappointing in pubs (rubbish meat, overcooked, not rested and so on). I find pies are generally a safer bet. This one was probably better than average. It was cooked rare as requested and was tender and juicy so had clearly been rested. Whatever they cooked it on wasn't hot enough though, as there was very little crisping or charring of any description resulting in a rather dull and pasty finish. The accompaniments were a mixed bag too. The onion rings were lovely, sweet and soft onion in a really light, crunchy batter. The chips would have been great if they'd had an extra two minutes in the fryer. Pepper sauce had congealed and didn't seem to have any pepper in it. The tomato, in line with expectations, was pointless and the mushrooms were fine.

Across the table meat and potato pie was going down well. I sampled a mouthful, the meat and gravy were very good but the pastry a bit stodgy.

Everything was very generously proportioned so we didn't have room for dessert. A couple of coffees were provided free of charge as we were asked to move so they could re-arrange the tables to accommodate another group. Not a problem as we were about ready to leave anyway.

I'd eat here again. There were enough good things about the food to make it an enjoyable meal and the service was excellent. It's quite expensive for what is fairly standard pub food though. Our bill came to £46 before service for two courses and two drinks each.


The New Inn
Forest Hill Road

(2 minutes drive from Junction 23 on the M62)

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Café Lento, Headingley, Leeds

The cafés of Headingley have a nice quiet, laid back atmosphere at the moment because most of the students have buggered off for the Easter holidays (I'm not some sort of student hater by the way, I was once one myself in Leeds. Just can't be bothered queueing for seats in cafés). Last weekend I spent a couple of peaceful hours in Café Lento with the sunday papers and a fry-up. Here it is:

Pretty good effort, but not quite good enough to take the full english title from the Koffee Pot.

Plus points: excellent thick cut, meaty bacon; plenty of mushrooms and tomatoes (nice to have something vaguely healthy in the mix); butter for the toast.
Minus points: sausage tasted a bit weird, egg very slightly underdone on the top.

£5.25 including tea and toast. Another worthy breakfast option.


21a North Lane

Thursday, 21 April 2011

The Three Horseshoes, Oulton, Leeds

An outdoor pub lunch just had to be done this week. On Tuesday I had a lot of work to get through and there was no way I was missing out on the sunshine stewing in the office from 8 'til late.

The Three Horseshoes is a steady sort of place. Very popular with the pensioners due to their OAP specials. The food is nothing special but it's better than what you'll get in the Hunslet/Stourton area which is nearer to my office.

Ham sandwich, chips, salad

I had the hot roast beef sandwich, and my mate had the cold roast ham sandwich. No idea ff the ham sandwich was any good, but it looked ok. Decent quality ham in generous proportions. Chips frozen but fried properly. Salad probably rubbish.

Beef, onions, gravy, bread. You don't win friends with salad.

For some reason the hot roast beef comes unadorned. Just bread, meat and plenty of oniony gravy. It was pleasant enough. Soft, open textured bread but sturdy enough to handle all the gravy. Overcooked but thinly sliced beef. Thick, salty gravy. This is exactly as I expected it to be by the way, so it's not a criticism. Overcooked beef works with loads of gravy, and that's how the pensioners like it. I'm sure there are some elderly folk out there somewhere who like their meat pink, but not in Yorkshire there aren't (not in my family anyway). Maybe in France or London or somewhere. With a good dollop of hot english mustard I quite enjoyed it. And the sunshine was grand. Both sandwiches were about 6 quid each.


16 Leeds Road
LS26 8JU
(by the roundabout at the bottom of Rothwell)

Three Horse Shoes on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

A couple of salads

This week I have mostly been eating... salad. Honest. And there's no meat in it or pies or anything. The unseasonably warm and sunny weather has made slightly cooler, slightly lighter dinners seem appropriate already.  Barbecued meat would also be a winner, but I'm gardenless for another couple of weeks so that will have to wait.

Here are two really good, simple salads for a weeknight meal. Each recipe is enough for one, but they will easily double up or more.

Goats cheese, beetroot and watercress
This is a winning combination. Sweet, earthy beetroot works really well with creamy, tangy goats cheese. The cress adds a bit of crunch and pepperiness, and the dressing a fruity, sour note.

You will need:
50-60g soft-ish goats cheese (I used Chevre)
100-125g cooked beetroot (about half a pre-cooked vacuum pack. NOT pickled)
a big handful of watercress
a lemon
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
2 slices good bread for toasting (sourdough is ideal)

What to do:
Slice the beetroot and put it under a hot grill with the bread
Dress the watercress with the juice of half a lemon, a good glug of olive oil and some salt & pepper
Break up the cheese into small chunks
Turn the beetroot and bread to grill the other side
Toss the warm beetroot with the dressed watercress and cheese
Put on a plate with the toast, drizzle over olive oil and serve with the rest of the lemon to squeeze over.
Eat straight away.

Salmon, cucumber and watercress with yoghurt and dill
This is a rich, cool and creamy salad, quite fatty from the yoghurt and salmon. This is balanced nicely by the aromatic, fruity notes from the dill, lemon and olive oil, and by the crispness of the cucumber and cress.

You will need:
150-200g salmon fillet
half a cucumber
a big handful of watercress
a small bunch of fresh dill (half a small supermarket packet is about right)
2 tbsps greek style yoghurt
a lemon
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
2 slices good bread for toasting (sourdough is ideal)

What to do:
Season the salmon and wrap it in tin foil with a couple of very thin slices of lemon.
Bake the salmon in a hot oven until just done (this will depend on the size of the piece, about 10 mins or so).
While the salmon is cooking chop the dill very finely and mix it up in a bowl with the yoghurt, the juice of half a lemon, a good glug of olive oil and some salt & pepper.
Slice the cucumber into thin strips.
When the salmon is done leave it to cool a bit for a couple of minutes.
Toast the bread.
Toss the cucumber and watercress in the dill and yoghurt dressing.
Flake the salmon and throw it in with the dressed cucumber and watercress.
Plate it all up with the toast, drizzle over olive oil and any excess dressing, and squeeze over the last bit of lemon.
Eat straight away while the salmon is still warm.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Frankies Fish Bar, West Didsbury, Manchester

Fish and chips again. If you'd asked me how often I eat fish and chips before I started writing this blog I'd have said about 2 or 3 times a year. It turns out that once a month is probably closer to the truth. Having a written record of what you've been eating and where can reveal some interesting truths. Since I started this blog it's becoming increasingly obvious that I spend rather a lot of time eating pies, curry, fry-ups and fish and chips. Perhaps the documentary evidence will encourage me to get some bloody exercise done.

Anyhow not to worry, last Friday may have been fish and chip Friday, but this Friday will be very Good Friday as I'm off to climb the Yorkshire Three Peaks again. A 25 mile walk is exercise in anyone's book (we'll be taking loads of pies to sustain us through the ordeal obviously).

These fish and chips were from Frankies Fish Bar in fashionable West Didsbury. The chip shop itself has been rather trendified, and I've certainly never seen such a young and beautiful bunch working the fryers in any chippy before, but fortunately the product itself hasn't been messed around with. Haddock, chips and peas was pretty much spot on. Good sized moist, flaky fish in a nice crisp batter. Chips the right combination of crispiness and a hint of greasiness that I always waffle on about. Sloppy peas. The inclusion of a lemon wedge and a little pot of tartare sauce is the only hint of gentrification, and a welcome rather than pointless addition. The tartare sauce needed more bite though, it was too creamy and not sour enough for my taste.

A very worthy contender, but not quite good enough to wrestle my 2011 fish and chip crown from the Chippy in Hawes. That's still the top of the tree for now for using the king of chip fats, beef dripping, which I'm pretty sure Frankies doesn't, and also for serving an absolute monster of a haddock. More attractive staff at Frankies though, if that's how you rate your chippies (male as well as female, I'm not being sexist).

£5.50 for haddock, chips and peas which is probably a touch pricier than the average in the North, but hardly expensive either. Great stuff.


Frankies Fish Bar
178 Burton Road
West Didsbury
M20 1LH

Frankies Fish Bar on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 17 April 2011

The Last Viceroy at Enigma, Horsforth, Leeds

After a good hike yesterday afternoon a few beers and a curry were called for. We couldn't be bothered heading into town so decided to stay local in Horsforth. My drinking companion had been happy enough with takeaways ordered from The Last Viceroy in the past, so we thought we'd give the restaurant a try.

On arrival the door was open but no-one was inside. Strange. The place was completely deserted. After a few moments confusion we realised the curry house had moved into the bar next door, Enigma. They appear to be operating as both bar and restaurant, as a drinking area has been retained at the front, the lights were dimmed and the music loud. It made for a rather incongruous atmosphere as practically everyone in there was dining. Upping the lights and downing the volume would have been a good idea.

To start we ordered the liver and mushroom tikka and the vegetable samosa's, plus a couple of poppadoms and the pickle tray to get the ball rolling. The pickle tray was fairly bog standard stuff except for a nice vinegary coriander and mint concoction that stood out from the rest.

The liver tikka grabbed my attention because Akbar's do this dish, and it's excellent. The liver has a smoky, crusty exterior giving way to a soft, smooth pink centre. Lovely. Unfortunately this wasn't so good. The liver was overcooked, uniformly grey and not very appealing. It was also marinaded in something sweet and sticky, not like any tikka marinade I've ever known.

The samosa's were a complete disaster. Problem number one; - they were those small catering freezer pack ones. I don't know why otherwise decent Indian restaurants put them on the menu if they can't be bothered making their own. Problem number two; - they were still frozen in the middle. Fair play to the restaurant though, they offered us a free round of drinks to apologise.

Things improved rapidly with the arrival of the mains. A fish karahi was richly spiced and absolutely packed full of chunky white fish fillets.

A lamb handi was also good, with plenty of tender shreds of lamb falling off the bones. The sauce was a bit too oily though.

A nan bread arrived on the now ubiquitous nan tree and was very light and crisp. The chapattis also arrived folded and hooked onto the tree. Indian restaurants seem to be getting a bit carried away with these things. It's only a matter of time before one of them invents the meat tree, and a mixed grill will arrive with seekh kebabs dangling from a two foot tall metal spike. Pilau rice was fine.

I don't really know how to sum this place up. The atmosphere is a bit weird, the starters were terrible and the curries and breads were very good. Prices were reasonable (our food bill came to £32 not including drinks or service). A very mixed bag, but it definitely has potential. Decide whether they are running a bar or a restaurant, make a bit more effort with the starters and it could be very good.


The Last Viceroy at Enigma
145 New Road Side
LS18 4QD

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Tarka Dal

Here is my recipe for tarka dal. I'm no Indian food expert so it's probably completely inauthentic, but it tastes good. It's a very comforting dish to eat, gently warming rather than eye-wateringly spicy with a soothing nutty, buttery, garlicky flavour. I like to eat this when it's cold and I need a day off from consuming meat.

You will need:

This will make enough for 2-3 people as a main course, or at least 6 as a side dish.
250-300g yellow split peas (chana dal)
1 tbsp cooking oil (groundnut, sunflower or whatever)
a small cinnamon stick
2 cloves
2 cardamom pods
1 small onion
2 heaped teaspoons good quality curry powder (I think the stuff in tins is best. Bolst's is good. You can get it at most asian supermarkets)
3 fat cloves garlic
a big chunk of ginger (thumb sized if you have fat thumbs, if you don't then bigger than thumb sized)
1 fresh chilli
1 tbsp butter
a small bunch of coriander
Salt, pepper and lemon juice for seasoning

What to do:

1. First you need to rinse the lentils and get them cooking. Rinse them in cold water until the water is running clear then put them on the boil in a large pan.

2. The cooking time for lentils seems to vary quite wildly so you'll need to check them, but it will probably be around 30 minutes. A lot of scum will rise to the surface of the boiling water. Strain this off with a slotted spoon.

3. Once the lentils are on the boil prepare the other ingredients. Chop the onion as finely as you can be bothered to. Cut the stalks off the coriander and chop them finely (these definitely need to be chopped finely otherwise you'll end up with stringy bits in the finished dish). Also roughly chop the coriander leaves. Grate or finely chop the garlic and ginger, and last but not least chop the chilli.

4. If you're really slow at chopping stuff you might need to check your lentils at this stage. If not you'll have time for a tea break. I suggest a nice strong brew with a couple of hobnobs. The lentils should be cooked through but not starting to disintegrate yet. When they're done drain them and set aside.

5. Warm up the oil in a heavy based pan over a medium heat. Add the cinnammon, cloves and cardamom pods and fry for a few seconds until they start to release their fragrance, then add the onion.

6. Fry for a few minutes until the onion has started to soften, then add the chilli, ginger, garlic and coriander stalks and fry for another minute or two. Make sure it doesn't start to burn at any point as it will go bitter and unpleasant.

7. Now add the curry powder and fry for another minute or two, before adding the lentils and pouring over boiling water. Add just enough water to barely cover the lentils, then simmer for another 5 minutes or so until the lentils start to break down and the whole thing thickens up nicely. The final texture is up to you, I like the lentils to retain a little bit of their shape, rather than be completely dissolved into a uniform mush.

8. Finally stir in the butter. I've suggested about 1 tbsp, but it's a bit like mashed potato in that it can pretty much take as much butter as you can throw at it. I don't know if a 50/50 butter/dal ratio is feasible, but it's probably worth a try if you think your arteries can handle it.

9. Season to taste with salt, pepper and maybe a squeeze of lemon juice, then sprinkle over the coriander and serve with chapattis or plain boiled rice.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Salt House Tapas, Liverpool

I finally got round to a long planned day out in Liverpool on Saturday. Good intentions of spending some time in assorted museums and galleries were curtailed by the glorious weather, so I actually spent most of the day strolling the streets, loafing in parks, and stopping off for refreshments here and there.

Tapas had been part of the plan for a while, having not had any decent Spanish food for a while, and having received glowing recommendations for both Salt House and Lunya. On the day there was little to choose between the two, but Salt House won on account of its outdoor tables being in the sun rather than shade.

Things didn't get off to the best of starts. I was sat at the table for a good ten minutes, and watched a couple arrive after me, sit down, peruse the menu and order all before anyone seemed to notice I was there. A waitress eventually came over and said 'Are you waiting for someone?' 'No, just me' I replied. 'Oh', she said, 'can I get you something?' 'Perhaps a menu?' 'Ok', she wandered off, looking a bit surprised. Maybe solo dining is still unheard of in these parts, it's still quite uncommon in a lot of places, and can be an uncomfortable experience. I've long since stopped caring though, if I'm out and about alone and want a good meal then why not. I'm not going to get Iberico ham at Greggs am I?

Fortunately things improved rapidly from thereon, the menu arrived swiftly and the waitress was soon back to take my order. I chose from the lunch special menu (3 tapas plates and bread for £8.90) and added a half plate of acorn fed Iberico ham (£7) from the main menu. To drink, a glass of manzanilla sherry.

Before we proceed further, I need to make this clear. Sherry is categorically not just for your Gran at Christmas time. Anyone who still thinks this is true is missing out. Try a glass of chilled dry sherry (Manzanilla or Fino) with just about any savoury dish, you might be surprised. With a plate of good quality ham it's a match made in heaven.

The Iberico ham at Salt House was excellent, carved properly in thin slivers, each morsel delivered an intense flavour that was somehow both deeply savoury and sweet at the same time. The fat was rich and creamy, slowly melting on the tongue to release layer upon layer of flavour. This in combination with the cold, dry, slightly salty tanginess of the sherry is just perfection. I sound like I'm getting a bit carried away here, but it really is that good.

Once I'd stopped salivating over my ham, I did eat some of the other food that had arrived. A piece of mackerel with piquillo pepper sauce was excellent. Spankingly fresh and cooked accurately so that the skin was crisp and the flesh soft, moist and sweet. The portion was perhaps a touch stingy, I know it was from the lunch menu, but it was mackerel which is usually cheap as chips.

Which leads me on to fried potatoes with bravas sauce, which are basically chips of a sort. This was the only duff note of the meal. The potatoes were fried nicely, but the bravas sauce was a bit bland, having only a very mild tomatoey flavour. Something with a bit of chilli in it, or at least a more concentrated tomato taste would have been better.

A cos lettuce salad was simple and perfectly pleasant, it came dressed with olive oil, manchego cheese (I think), and a couple of anchovies. The sourdough bread with oil and vinegar was also fine.

I still had some ham left after finishing the other dishes, so I ordered a Mahou lager and sat back sipping my icy cold beer, nibbling on bits of ham, feeling the warm sun on my face and generally thinking I was in Madrid. I wasn't of course, but on Saturday afternoon Liverpool made a very fine substitute.

A great meal topped off by what turned into great service. After the initial hiccup my waitress became increasingly chatty and turned out to be a lovely Liverpudlian lass. This little conversation we had as I paid the bill made my day:

Waitress (hands me the card machine to enter my pin): Here you go.
Me (no option to leave tip on the machine): I'm not sure if I have any change, do you still get the tip if I add it on here? If so can I add it on here?
Waitress: Yeah you can, but you don't have to give me a tip.
Me: No that's alright, I want to. I've enjoyed it.
Waitress (not taking machine back): Nah, don't be daft I haven't done anything special, I don't expect one.
Me (entering pin then checking wallet for change): I used to live in London, I'm used to places adding 12.5% whether they deserve it or not.
Waitress: Well that's out of order that, I think it should be up to the customer if they want to leave a tip. I'm just doing my job.
Me (finds coins, leaves generous tip): I agree, I'm leaving a tip though 'cos it's been really good.
Waitress: Aww, cheers.

As far as I can recall that's the first time the staff in any restaurant I've been in have tried to turn down a tip!

In total the bill was £23 not including service. Good value for top notch ingredients and a generally high standard of cooking. Service was friendly, efficient and completely lacking in pretension. Highly recommended.


Salt House
Hanover Street
L1 3DW 

Salt House Tapas on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Vnam Café, Manchester

I love Vietnamese food, but it's a bit difficult to find it in the North. There's Little Saigon in Newcastle, Pho68 in Sheffield, Vnam Café in Manchester, and that's about it as far as I'm aware. I don't think there is a single Vietnamese restaurant in West Yorkshire. I'd love to be proven wrong here, so if anyone knows otherwise I'd love to hear from you.

I went to Vnam last summer and was a little underwhelmed, to the extent that I hadn't returned since. Someone kindly reminded me of its existence the other week and I thought I'd give it another shot. It wasn't bad before but I think things have definitely improved.

First up, Vietnamese style barbecued quail. Quails are not the strongest tasting birds, they aren't particularly gamey so benefit from livening up with plenty of spice and a good chargrilling. Most of the fun is to be had in gnawing the flesh from the bones caveman style. These were pretty good, not overcooked so the flesh remained moist. Dipped in salt and pepper with a good squeeze of lemon they were really enjoyable, although the skin would have benefitted from being a bit crispier.

And for the main event, Phở bò. This is the quintessential Vietnamese dish of beef noodle soup. The single most important thing in a good Phở is the beef stock used for the soup, it should have a real depth of flavour from long boiling of bones, and be aromatic with spices, particularly cinnamon and star anise. The stock base at Vnam was what really seems to have improved since my last visit, this really hit the spot whereas before it was weak and watery. The beef had plenty of flavour, but was cut into pieces too large to eat in one mouthful which made things a bit tricky.

The plate of greens and other accompaniments to add to your taste (I usually chuck the lot in) was also better than I remembered, with generous quantities of chilli, beansprouts, mint and coriander. Only a tiny wedge of lemon though, where a big chunk of lime would be better.

Vnam Café is well worth a visit, the food is good and it's cheap too. My meal came to £12.50 but I did choose the most expensive starter on the menu (£6 for the quail whereas summer rolls will only set you back £3). The staff are friendly too. It's a bit of a trek up Oldham Road from town, so why not combine a visit with a pint in the splendid Marble Arch round the corner.


140 Oldham Road
M4 6BG

Vnam Café on Urbanspoon

Friday, 8 April 2011

A few good things to eat (volume 3)

In volume 3 of my 'Good things to eat' series, a sweet treats special. I never used to have a sweet tooth, but seem to be developing one over the years. It's getting to the stage where I'll have tea and cake at any available opportunity, and don't like to finish a meal without dessert of some sort.

The first two of these are relatively new businesses that I think could fairly be described as labours of love. They are both making a high quality product with care, and are building loyal local fanbases through the modern mediums of farmers markets and Twitter. They deserve your support.

The third is an old stalwart, completely unfashionable but always there, and always good.

Ginger's Comfort Emporium

An ice cream van for grown-ups. That's how the website describes Ginger's Comfort Emporium, and it seems like a fair description to me. Ginger makes ice cream in unusual and rather delicious sounding flavours and sells them from the van in various locations around Manchester. I went to try some in Chorlton the other week.

This is the honey and tahini ice cream. Very dense textured, very creamy. Not overly sweet. The tahini lends it an almost savoury edge, which is nicely balanced with the sweetness from the honey. This was really quite special, so I'm keen to try some of the other flavours (Chocolate marble malt and Extra virgin olive oil with smoked sea salt are particularly tickling my fancy).

The van can be found at Chorlton and West Didsbury street markets, and I've just spotted that they'll be at the Northern Quarter street party that's taking place on the 29th April bonus bank holiday (or Royal Wedding Day for those of you with an interest). Selection packs for home delivery are also available.

Hashtag Brownies

I'm usually a bit indifferent when it comes to Brownies, but these are really, really good brownies. I had a sour cherry and bourbon one (with a cup of tea obviously) last weekend and was impressed. Really good quality chocolate offset by little fruity explosions of flavour. Perfect brownie texture too, crisp edges and a fudgy interior.

They are on sale in various outlets in Leeds, and also have a stall at the twice monthly farmers market.

Longley Farm Yoghurts

I hope I'm not the only one who loves these. They're thick, tart and creamy. The fruit flavours are chock full of fruit and not too sugary. My favourites are blackcurrant and rhubarb. I've been eating them for as long as I can remember and they never fail to please.

I also like the fact that they haven't got the marketing people in to 'posh up' the brand. They could easily upgrade the packaging, double the price and compete with the supermarket posh ranges and the likes of Yeo Valley. They haven't done this, and I hope they never do.

Available all over the place, especially in the North (but also in the South, I used to buy them from Morrisons in Thamesmead).

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Oxtail Stew

I bought some oxtail from the farmer's market on Sunday, and turned it into a rather delicious stew. As I was attempting to be both frugal and healthy I served it with a baked potato and some purple sprouting broccoli. For a more decadent meal some buttery mash would be great.

The total cooking time for this is about 3 and a half hours, but for 3 of these hours the stew is sat in the oven minding its own business. There's very little actual effort involved, so it's perfect for a Sunday afternoon.

Here is my recipe. Enough for 2-3 people.

You will need:
800-900g oxtail
1 tbsp flour
1 pint stout
boiling water
6-8 shallots
250g mushrooms 
2 cloves garlic
1 beef stock cube
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tbsp tomato puree
handful fresh thyme, chopped
2 bay leaves
oil (olive, groundnut, sunflower, any will do really)

1. Check the oxtail pieces and clean them if necessary. Set the oven to 160 deg C (320 F or gas mark 3).

2. Coat the oxtail pieces in seasoned flour, then put a knob of butter and a drop of oil in a casserole (or any sort of pot with a lid that's suitable for the hob and oven) over a medium heat on the hob and brown the meat for around 10 minutes.

3. While the meat is browning chop the shallots into chunky pieces, and the garlic finely.

4. When the meat is a nice golden brown remove it from the pot and set aside. Add the shallots to the pan and fry for 10 minutes or so, then add the garlic and fry for another minute.

5. Now return the meat to the pot, give it a stir, turn up the heat and pour in the stout. I used a bottle of Meantime London Stout, because that's the only one they had in individual bottles in the supermarket. A good choice though because it's lovely.

6. Allow it to bubble over a high heat for a minute or two to burn off the alcohol, then add the bay leaves, the thyme, the mustard powder, the stock cube and the tomato puree.

7.  Add about 100ml of boiling water, give it a good stir, put the lid on then put it in the oven.

8. Leave it well alone in the oven for 2 hours. Don't bother checking it, it will be fine.

9. After 2 hours have passed, remove the pot from the oven and take a look. There will probably be a rather substantial layer of oil at the top as a lot of fat will have rendered out of the oxtail. Skim most of this off and discard it. There should still be plenty of liquid left, just starting to thicken a little. Add some more water if it looks too thick. Have a taste, it should be intensely beefy already.

10. Roughly chop the mushrooms, add them to the pot then return it to the oven for another hour.

11. After the hour has elapsed remove from the oven and you should be ready to serve. Skim some more fat off if necessary. The sauce should have thickened to the consistency of a good gravy with all the gelatinous goodness from the oxtail, and the meat should be just starting to fall from the bones in tender shreds. It should taste even beefier.

This was pretty good but would probably have been even better with the addition of carrots and celery with the shallots. I also put the leftovers to very good use by cooking them up with a small pot of leftover chilli con carne from the freezer. Oxtail chilli. Delicious.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Pin, Leeds

Located on Dock Street, Pin is part of the small but expanding Leeds Brewery group of pubs and bars. I stopped off on a mini pub crawl with a mate on Saturday, and after a pint of Leeds Pale we decided to stay on and sample the food.

The menu is a concise list of pub grub staples. There are various sandwiches on offer, as well as sausages, burgers, fish and chips and the like. We both opted for the Pin burger with added cheese (£10).

The burger was made from good quality beef, quite coarsely minced. It was thick, juicy, well seasoned and retained just a hint of pink in the middle. I'd have liked it pinker, I know this isn't too everyones taste with a burger but it would be good if they asked how you'd like it cooked. The bun was just right, soft and yielding but holding its shape despite all the beefy juices. The inclusion of gem lettuce, roast tomato and cheddar kept things nice and simple (I'm not a big fan of some of the more outlandish burger additions out there. Guacamole for example. Just wrong). I didn't really see the point in the beetroot relish though, it just tasted of chopped up boiled beetroot. Nothing unpleasant, it just needed something acidic to give it a lift.

The chips were lovely, perfectly crisp on the outside with soft fluffy insides. They reminded me of home made chips, a rare treat. (I don't own a chip pan or deep fat fryer these days. If I did I'd accidentally use it every day). The side salad was largely irrelevant, but was at least dressed.

We also shared a very interesting beer, a large bottle of Gyle 479 (£8). This is a limited edition beer brewed by Leeds Brewery and then aged in Islay whisky casks. It's a sweet, rich, quite malty beer with a really quite pronounced whisky aftertaste, sort of smoky and earthy. Lovely stuff, and well worth seeking out. Just remember to drink it like wine, sipped from small glasses. You don't want to be necking pints of the stuff at 8% alcohol.

I rather like Pin. The food was good, and service was great. They serve drinks as well as food to your table, which is always a pleasant change in this country, and makes for a lovely, relaxed atmosphere. I'd probably rate the food a seven, but for the friendly service, good drinks and general all round pleasurable vibe I'm going to give them an eight. A great place to while away a couple of hours.


24 Dock Street
LS10 1JF

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