Friday, 29 July 2011

South Indian Fish Fry

Back to the food this evening. That's enough serious discourse about markets for the time being. I'm on a bit of a South Indian food kick at the moment, having discovered a week or two ago that Morrisons in Hunslet are now stocking fresh curry leaves. Nothing else is really an adequate substitute for the unique, deeply savoury flavour of curry leaves. It's very hard to describe how they taste, they're very savoury and sort of earthy with a slightly bitter back note, and give extraordinary depth to any dish you cook with them. If you haven't used them before they look a bit like mini bay leaves.

Tonight I wanted something a bit lighter than a curry, but with the same tastes. I often cook a simple fish curry which is delicious but very rich, as it involves a bucketload of coconut milk. This recipe is really a starter, but will work as a light main course with a couple of chapattis on the side. The fish is fried until just cooked through, so you get tender, moist flesh with deeply savoury, spicy flavours, served with a sweet, tangy coconut chutney. This recipe is enough for two people.

For the fish fry you will need:
300-400g chunky filleted fish (I used hake, and practiced what I've been preaching by buying it on Leeds market!)
2 spring onions
2 cloves garlic
thumb-sized piece of ginger
10-15 curry leaves
1 tsp mustard seeds
2 small, hot chillies
salt and freshly ground black pepper
flour for dusting the fish

For the coconut chutney you will need:
fresh coconut (about 100g)
1 lime
1 tsp mustard seeds
7-10 black peppercorns
1 tsp jaggery (palm sugar)
1 tsp chopped onion

What to do:

1) First prepare the chutney. Chop the coconut flesh into very small pieces, and put it into a pestle and mortar with the jaggery, the juice of one lime and the onion. Add about 1 tbsp of water and bash to a pulp. Coconut is quite sturdy stuff so you might get bored with this and resort to a food processor. I did. Process to a very coarse pulp.

2) Heat up some vegetable oil in a frying pan, then add the peppercorns and mustard seeds. Temper them in the pan until they sizzle and pop, but don't let them burn, then tip them straight into the coconut mixture. Finish the chutney off by bashing it up in the mortar, adding another tablespoon or two of water to loosen it up. You want it to be moist, but not runny.

3) Finely chop the garlic, ginger, chillies and spring onions, and roughly tear up the curry leaves.

4) Cut your fish into 1-2 inch chunks, all roughly the same size, then dust it with a light coating of flour and a generous grind of salt and pepper.

5) Get the same frying pan as before back on the heat with some more oil (about 1 tbsp). When it's hot add 1 tsp of mustard seeds.

6) When they start to sizzle add the garlic, ginger, chillies and spring onions and fry for a minute or so.

7) Add the curry leaves and fry for another few seconds.

8) Add the fish, then fry until the fish is just cooked through. This will only take two or three minutes depending on the size of your chunks.

9) Serve immediately with the coconut chutney, and maybe some chapattis.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Leeds Kirkgate Market: Plans for the future

Today Leeds City Council Executive Board will discuss plans for the future of Kirkgate Market in Leeds city centre. Having become rather interested in the market in recent months, I thought I'd have a read through the draft strategy report. Now that I've done so I feel like putting my thoughts into writing, so here they are.

There are three particular things that concern me most with the strategy. The first of these is the money issue. The charge levied by Friends of Kirkgate Market is that the council have neglected the markets and siphoned money away from them for decades. The information in the reports would seem to support this argument. This statement in the facts and figures section of the scrutiny report is key:

In 2010/11 projected income is approximately £4.2m. Expenditure and other charges amounts to £2.1m, leaving £2.1m to support the Council’s budget.

So the market was projected to generate a surplus of over 50% for the last financial year. A 50% gross profit margin would be considered pretty good in most businesses. This doesn't really fit with the image of an institution in perpetual decline.

The implication is that the entire £2.1m was diverted away from the market for use in other areas of the council's budget. Now I don't know whether this is common practice or not, it may be that markets are usually expected to provide an income source for local councils, but it seems strange to me for a couple of reasons.

The primary reason being that the draft strategy considers lack of investment to be one of the key challenges facing the market. It is noted that the 1976 and 1981 halls have far exceeded their planned 15 to 20 year life span and are in very poor condition. Now if my maths is correct, that means the most recent possible year that either of these was designed to last until was 2001, a full ten years ago. It's not unusual for structures to last far longer than originally intended, but they need maintaining.

The current dire state of affairs could have been avoided if some of the surplus generated by the markets had been re-invested over the last decade. It is also worth remembering that most of the last decade was a time of plenty in the public sector, with budget cutbacks only a very recent phenomenon. It is also worth remembering that the strategy suggests that the market has been in decline in recent years, so it's not unreasonable to assume that the surplus generated in previous years was larger than the £2.1 million projected for the last financial year.

So, on the face of it this is how it seems to me. The council probably generated at least £20 million in revenue from the market over the last decade, most if not all of which it diverted to spend in other areas even though it knew that sections of the market were a rapidly depreciating asset in dire need of investment, and that the longer that investment was delayed the more investment would ultimately be required. At best that makes the council's actions over the last decade indifferent to the plight of the market, at worst grossly negligent.

All of which is in the past, and therefore largely irrelevant. We are where we are, so I'll move onto the second thing that seems strange to me about using the market as a cash cow. The strategy wants to see the market become a top destination for residents and visitors, and to be one of the five 'must do's' for people visiting the city. But the strategy also wants the market to return a tidy sum of cash back to the council. What other council funded 'top destinations' and 'must see' places in the city are expected to generate revenue? Surely places of inherent cultural and social value to both residents of, and visitors to any city are worth investing in.

After money, my second (very much connected) area of concern is the inference from the strategy report that the market will be made smaller. There is a great deal of waffle about 'determining the optimum size for the market'. For this read 'getting rid of the 1976 and 1981 halls'. Clause 7.5 of the stratgey states:

Therefore the sensible option is to use the £200,000 to carry out repairs needed on the 1904 and 1875 halls, whilst the Council determines the optimum size for the market.

I know this is hardly an explicit statement, but despite the dire state of repair that the 1976 and 1981 halls are in, the plan is to spend the available maintenance cash on the other bits whilst 'the council determines the optimum size for the market'. The remainder of this section of the report explains how the market is the biggest in the country, and how tenants and the public are supportive of proposals to reduce the market size.

I'm not in favour of reducing the market size. Call me a dreamer or fantasist but I believe that Leeds needs to think big for once. The implication is that Kirkgate market is the biggest in the country, so that's not sustainable. Why not? Leeds is the 4th or 6th or thereabouts largest city in the UK (depending which stats you use), so I don't think it's unreasonable to have the biggest of something-or-other. Why the hell does this matter, you might ask. What about quality over quantity? I think it does matter if you want to promote the city on a wider scale. Leeds sometimes seems to lack the confidence of our other great cities. Manchester, for example is always banging on about having the tallest (building in the North), first (industrial city) and best (music) of something-or-other. Everyone laughed when Manchester bid for the Olympic Games, but in a roundabout way that laid the foundations for the Commonwealth Games which ultimately led to the city having two football clubs in the Champions League (I'm a Leeds fan so this fact sickens me by the way). A bit of chutzpah can bring benefits in the long run.

I don't wholly buy the argument that the current size is unsustainable due to the vacancy levels either. The strategy gives the current vacancy level as 14%, and states that this is unlikely to improve. This actually compares very favourably with the Leeds city centre retail unit vacancy rate which was reported as 22.1% back in February. And why is it unlikely to improve? Surely this statement disregards the plans for achieving the objectives in the strategy, one of which is 'better promotion of available units, flexible terms and better business support', presumably to get new tenants in and reduce the vacancy rate.

Which leads me back on to investment. The strategy estimates the cost of imminent and essential works as between £2.1 and £2.3 million. Not an inconsequential sum, but not that huge given that the market generates that much in surplus every year anyway. If just 50% of the surplus (£1 million per year) could be re-invested in the market over the next few years, problem solved. I understand the argument about budget pressures for the council, but £1 million equates to around 0.17% of the annual council budget of around £580 million. To my mind this would be money well spent, and could actually help to increase council revenue in the future.

The alternative to this, if they really want to be bold (as the strategy claims) would be to entirely replace the 1976 and 1981 halls. I don't claim to know anything about the feasibility of this, but it would certainly be bold, and market halls needn't be the most expensive or complicated of structures. The new market hall in Wakefield apparently cost only £3 million.

The final thing that concerns me is how the market is going to be managed going forward. The strategy recommends that the market should be moved from direct control by the Council to an arms-length organisation, possibly a limited liability partnership. I don't have a problem with this, but the strategy doesn't make clear whether this should be a not for profit organisation. If a profit making entity takes control an additional layer of cash removal would be introduced, with the management company taking their cut as well as the council. I can't see how this would be anything but a bad thing.

In summary, here is what I think should happen:
  • Retain the market at its current size, through renovation or replacement of the 1976 and 1981 halls.
  • Renovation or replacement should be financed using the surplus generated by the market itself, or by public sector (i.e. the council) borrowing.
  • Move management of the market to an arms length, not for profit organisation.
  • Promote and improve the market by the means detailed in the strategy (see section 6), including innovative means like The Source.
  • Aim to improve the mix of stalls, including more upmarket offerings, but absolutely not at the expense of existing traders.
In summary, here is what I think will actually happen:
  • The market will be substantially reduced in size through closure of the 1976 and 1981 halls.
  • Management of the market will be moved to an arms length organisation, profit making or otherwise.
  • Any investment will come from the private sector, and therefore probably work out more expensive in the long run.
  • There will be a general drive upmarket with what remains, but we won't see a 'Corn Exchange' scenario. I don't fully agree with Friends of Leeds Kirkgate Market on this. I don't believe that the council are daft enough to think it's going to become the new Borough Market.
The relevant documents can all be found via the Friends of Leeds Kirkgate Market site here:

It will be interesting to see how things pan out.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Jino's Thai Café, Headingley, Leeds

Yesterday I was in transit between Haworth and York after taking my Mum to visit relatives. We'd arranged to go for a bite to eat and I wanted to pick up a few bottles from Beer Ritz, so Jino's just down the Otley Road seemed like a good option.

I'm glad we went, it was a pleasant meal if a little polite. Everything we ate was fresh and tasty, just a bit lacking in excitement. Very much in the toned down Anglo-Thai mould I felt.

A red curry (Gaeng Ped) with chicken was generously proportioned, and mild yet richly coconutty.

A prawn stir-fry with chilli paste and sweet basil (Pad Prik Gaeng) was described on the menu as very spicy, but wasn't at all. It was tasty though, and the prawns were beautifully sweet and fresh tasting.

A salad on the side (Som Tam of course!) continued the theme, in that it was crisp and fresh, pleasant to eat but very underpowered. It was hardly spicy at all, although the sweet, salty and sour flavours were well balanced.

Despite the lack of spice I still enjoyed this meal. I'd definitely eat here again. Prices are reasonable (all of the curries and stir-fries come with rice), chilled tap water is provided in generous quantities and service is efficient. It's also bring-your-own booze and they don't charge corkage. Our bill came to just over £21 with one soft drink.

For quick, healthy, cheap Thai food that won't frighten a novice well recommended. For authentic, spicy Thai food I'd probably go elsewhere.

Oh, and Mum paid. Thanks Mum!


46a Otley Road

Jino's Thai Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, 22 July 2011

Maxi's Rotisserie, Leeds Kirkgate Market

Another Friday lunchtime visit to Leeds market today. Resisting the temptations of the Sunshine Bakery I walked swiftly past and headed down to Butchers Row. And there, at the bottom on the right hand side you will find Maxi's Rotisserie, a little outpost of the Maxi's restaurants in York and elsewhere in Leeds.

I've had my eye on this place for a while. It's a takeaway with just four counter stools for eating in, and specialises in Chinese roast meats. There is roast duck, pork belly, char sui pork, soya chicken, and even suckling pig. You can buy a whole bird or pig, or just have a portion of anything you like on rice.

Done well, this Chinese staple is a great meal. Succulent, crisp skinned meat, soothing rice, a few steamed greens and perhaps a dab of chilli sauce or a splash of soy. I chose roast duck and roast pork belly on rice (£5.30).

Maxi's version lived up to expectations. The pork was especially good, a very crisp, salty fat layer giving way to sweet tender flesh. The duck was a bit flabby but still tasted good. The house chilli sauce (I think chilli with fermented/preserved beans of some sort) was fiery and livened things up, and the portion was enormous. I didn't get close to finishing all of the rice.

A very good feed for the price, I'd probably stick to the pork though. Next time I think I'll try that with the soya chicken. The staff were friendly too. Well worth a visit.


16 Butchers Row
Kirkgate Market

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The Mustard Pot, Chapel Allerton, Leeds

A Sunday roast in the pub. Something I used to do regularly that's become a once in a blue moon occasion. A quick scan at my blog archive and I'm fairly confident that Sunday just gone was the first time this year I've eaten a roast dinner, in a pub, on a Sunday. I'm not entirely sure why this is such a rare occurrence nowadays, but I have a sneaking suspicion it's because the Sunday roasts at most pubs are a bit rubbish and I can cook better myself. Not always the case though, and having heard good things about the food at The Mustard Pot I was rather looking forward to it.

Five of us for dinner, and everyone wanted a roast. The lamb was already finished, leaving a choice of beef, chicken or nut roast. Three beef and two chicken were ordered, and arrived promptly.

Appalling photo notwithstanding (sorry) it wasn't the most exciting looking plate of food. The beef looked good, but the yorkshire pudding and roast potatoes appeared limp and pasty. First impressions were correct. A good thick slice of flavoursome pink beef had some lovely caramelised, marmitey bits around the edges and was doused in a thin but rich gravy. Although it was good, a more generous hand with the gravy would have been better. The Yorkshire pudding was a desultory affair, small, under-risen and tasteless and the roast potatoes were no better. They couldn't have spent more than five minutes in a roasting tin and were completely lacking in any crunchy, roasty deliciousness.

Vegetables were brought out separately in dishes for everyone to share, and were also a mixed bag. Creamed leeks were lovely. Silky, sweet, unctuous and a great foil for the beef. The other platter of mixed (probably steamed) veg was fine but plain steamed veg is never going to be the interesting bit.

A one word summary of this meal would be: inconsistent. I could have eaten whole plates full of the beef and creamed leeks, they really were good. On the other hand, a roast dinner with poor Yorkshire puddings and worse roast potatoes is severely lacking.

We didn't partake but there were some great sounding desserts available (summer pudding with clotted cream for one). Despite the inconsistencies on this visit I'm sure you could eat really well here, I'd certainly give the food another try. It's a nice pub for a drink too, there's a large beer garden and usually at least a couple of decent ales on.


20 Stainbeck Lane
Chapel Allerton

The Mustard Pot on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 17 July 2011

A Thai style salad

Inspired by a fantastic som tam I ate a few weeks ago, I thought I'd have a go at making my own Thai style salad. I've cooked plenty of Thai curries and stir-fries, but have never tried to do a salad. I think the main thing putting me off was that the key ingredient in a classic som tam is shredded green (i.e. very unripe) papaya, not an ingredient readily available in these parts.

Reading the som tam recipe on this blog encouraged me further, as I learned that som tam means 'sour pound' in Thai, so the dish is essentially something sour, made by pounding the ingredients together. What exactly you put in it is a moveable feast.

The essence of the dish is in the balance of flavours at the heart of so many great Thai dishes. Sweet, sour, salty and hot all need to be in perfect harmony. The vegetables bring textural contrast. I thought that shredded raw courgette and cucumber would work, and it turned out pretty well. The aforementioned balance of flavours from the sugar, lime, fish sauce and chillies, crunchy refreshing veggies, bouncy prawns, pungent garlic and fragrant herbs. An assault on the senses in the very best way. Probably completely inauthentic but very tasty nonetheless.

Here's what you'll need (enough for 2 as a main, 4 as a side or starter)

For the salad:
200g large prawns
2 large courgettes
half a cucumber
4 spring onions
3 large-ish tomatoes
fresh mint
fresh coriander

For the dressing:
Thai fish sauce (loads)
1-2 limes
large thumb sized piece of ginger
2 fat cloves garlic
3-4 small hot chillies (birds eye or bullet)
palm sugar (about 1 tbsp)

What to do:

1. Roughly chop the garlic, ginger and chillies (leave the seeds in, you want it hot).

2. Pound the chopped garlic, ginger and chillies in a pestle and mortar with the rest of the dressing ingredients. This isn't an exact science, you'll need to taste as you go to get the sweet/sour/salty/hot balance right. For starters I'd suggest 3 chillies, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 tbsp palm sugar, juice of 1 lime, a thumb-sized chunk of ginger and 2 tbsps fish sauce. You can then add more lime, sugar, fish sauce or chilli as you see fit.

3. When you've pounded your dressing into a delicious fiery sludgy mess set it to one side to let the flavours marry. Chop the courgettes and cucumber into long, thin shreds. Finely chop the spring onions and roughly chop the tomatoes.

4. Throw the courgettes, cucumber, spring onions and tomatoes into a big bowl and add the prawns. Add the dressing to the bowl and give the whole lot a good mix. Be quite rough, bashing it about a bit so that the vegetables absorb some of the dressing.

5. Finely chop the mint and coriander and add them to the bowl. I used about half of a small bunch of coriander and 10-12 mint leaves, but as with the dressing this is really up to your taste.

6. Give the salad another good mix, check the flavour balance, adjust again if necessary then serve immediately.

Friday, 15 July 2011

The Sunshine Bakery, Leeds

So far I've eaten four different things from the Sunshine Bakery, and every one of them has been excellent.

Their black pudding sausage rolls are officially my second favourite sausage rolls ever (just pipped at the post by the porcine glory that is the Ginger Pig sausage roll). The pastry is lardy yet crisp and light, the sausage filling is porky, generous and well seasoned, with added iron-y depth from the black pudding.  Very good indeed, and good value for the quality at £2 a pop. Lardy in this context is a compliment by the way, in case anyone was wondering.


Cupcakes. First a confession. Cupcakes aren't really my favourite thing. It's not that I don't enjoy eating them, they're just a bit showy and American for my tastes. The focus is often on how they look and how much icing can be shoehorned on top of the cake, which itself is sometimes little more than an afterthought. I like to think of them as over-iced buns.

This was a damn fine cupcake though. Peanut butter flavour, with a whipped icing that was salty but barely sweet at all. The cake beneath was dense, moist and very chocolatey. Pretty as you'd expect from a cupcake, but backed up by really delicious and interesting flavours. £1.50 each.

Sandwiches are available too, today I opted for a pastrami and salad sandwich on basil, olive oil and cheese bread. The photo doesn't do this sandwich justice at all. It was huge. An absolute beast, almost like an American deli sarnie in proportions.  The bread was very tasty, sort of like a slightly denser focaccia. The filling comprised pastrami, pickle slices, tomato, cucumber, salad leaves and some sort of dressing (maybe a flavoured mayo?). Again, excellent value at £3, sandwiches half the size with poor ingredients go for this price.

And finally, a stem ginger brownie. Couldn't fault this. Classic crisp exterior, fudgy centre, a generous spread of ginger chunks, and a good strong chocolate flavour with just a hint of bitterness. I've no idea what chocolate (or cocoa) they're using, but it's good quality stuff. £1.50 for a large slice. 

The Sunshine Bakery is actually in Chapel Allerton, but I haven't been there yet as I bought all these things from The Source in Leeds Market. For more about The Source read my post about it here, and check out their website here

The Sunshine Bakery seem to be a fairly regular fixture at The Source now, so you should be able get your mitts on their goodies in town or Chapel Allerton. For market dates check the website here.  I would imagine a wider range of goods is available in Chapel Allerton, and they also run a supper club some evenings. If the baked goods are anything to go by, this could be an outstanding dining option. I'm hoping to check it out sometime soon.


The Sunshine Bakery
182 Harrogate Road
Chapel Allerton

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Takeaway home delivery: Is there anybody out there?

Despite the so-called foodie revolution in this country, there is still an awful lot of rubbish out there. Mass produced, catering pack pub food is probably the most popular dining out experience in the nation. Walk into any one of the multitude of branded pubs adjacent to a Premier Inn, and it will almost certainly be busy with diners, and the food will almost certainly be crap. I should know, work has taken me to dozens of them over the last few years (can't fault the hotels). I'm not singling out Whitbread here, there are plenty of other chains offering exactly the same sort of dross.

'Foreign' food is often no better. In most of our town centres you can often still find Indian and Chinese restaurants serving up the very worst anglicised version of these cuisines. Luminous red masalas flavoured predominantly with stale powdered spices and ghee. Even more luminous achingly sweet and sour sauce with indeterminate protein in stodgy, greasy batter. All still readily available.

These places don't bother me too much, because they are usually avoidable. I've only dined in so many poor pubs through a lack of time and effort, such meals provide essential fodder when sustenance is needed. In most towns there is a decent curry or a home-made pub meal to be had. You just have to make the effort to find it sometimes.

What does seem to be completely lacking in many areas is good quality, home delivered takeaway food. Over several years living or spending a lot of time in WF1, LS6, LS15 and LS26 I don't recall ever having any food delivered that was better than mediocre. It's been a few years since I've spent much time in some of these places, but on Sunday night's evidence not much has changed.

I should note at this point, I'm not talking about takeaway food in general, but specifically home delivery. There are a lot of decent restaurants providing takeaway, but not a lot of those offer a delivery service (Red Chilli II in Wakefield and Saengarun Thai in Leeds are is just a couple of one examples off the top of my head). Sometimes only a delivery will do. When you're tired and hungover, or generally slobbing about, or drunk perhaps.

On Sunday night I was very much in the tired and hungover camp. Surely it must be possible to have a good curry delivered to the north side of Wakefield? Having nothing better to guide me than the ratings on Just Eat, I opted for Taste of India (where it gets 6/6 for service, 5.5/6 for quality and 5.5/6 for delivery).

I ordered online and waited, fingers crossed for something decent. The food arrived promptly, actually a couple of minutes before the stated time, so no issues there. Depressingly that was the high point.

A seekh kebab was pointlessly red, and largely devoid of flavour. I left half of it, which says it all. I bloody love a good seekh kebab. This wasn't a good seekh kebab. The accompanying salad was at least quite fresh.

Next up, a chicken masaka, which according to their description was: 'Marinated chicken cooked with channa dall, fresh green chillies and garnished with fresh ginger, coriander and spring onions'. Well the chicken was indeed marinated, but in the same red food colouring as the kebab. Food colouring is not a marinade. The lentils were present and correct, albeit swimming in too much ghee. I'm not sure what happened to the fresh green chillies, fresh ginger or spring onions. They must have forgotten them. There was a little bit of something green in there though; presumably coriander. The overall flavour was not unpleasant, sort of a muted, sweet generic curry taste.

Starch came in the form of a couple of passable chapattis, and a portion of vegetable pilau rice. The rice also tasted sweet (sugar is obviously their 'go to' spice) and most of the vegetables in it were potatoes.

All in all not very good at all. If this was a normal review I'd give it 3/10. I've actually had much worse than this too. Most delivered takeaway meals I can recall would rate in the range 1/10 up to 5/10. Surely there must be better out there?

Part of the problem with takeaways is finding reliable sources of information. Restaurants are often reviewed by professional critics and trusted amateurs (the army of bloggers), takeaways rarely are. Call me a snob but I just don't trust the man on the street when it comes to food. Too many people like the aforementioned crappy pub grub, and too many people comment favourably about rubbish like Taste of India. On Just Eat it is described variously as 'the best Asian food in Wakefield', 'absolutely amazing food' and 'cannot recommend highly enough'. Really??

It may be that the ratings system on Just Eat gives some insight into the mindset of people using it. Equal weight is given to Service, Quality and Delivery. Assuming quality to mean 'is the food any good', that leaves service and delivery covering 'any problems placing your order and did it turn up on time?' Personally I'd happily deal with a convoluted ordering process and late delivery if I could guarantee the food was good.

To sum up, the food from most takeaways with a delivery service is very poor, and there is little reliable information to tell you which ones are better. I don't believe there is nothing decent out there, finding it is the tricky part. I have two local (Leeds) delivery services in mind for starters, both of whose food I've tried although not had delivered. They are:

Box Pizza - Leeds (
Manjit's Kitchen - Leeds (

What else have we got? Comments and suggestions welcome.

Edit: I have just found a menu for Red Chilli II in Wakefield. They deliver. I am an idiot. Three options covering two cuisines in two cities still isn't many though.....

Red Chilli II - Wakefield

Monday, 11 July 2011

A few good things to eat (volume 5): a stag weekend special

Last weekend was the stag party for my soon to be brother-in-law. We ate and drank exceedingly well throughout the event, so much so that I thought I’d write about it.

Breakfast booze to fortify us for the day ahead

Things kicked off on Friday night with a very good home-made chilli con carne and beers aplenty. Saturday began with Bloody Mary’s and bacon sandwiches before a spot of clay pigeon shooting (much more fun than I was expecting it to be), then back to the ranch for late luncheon. And what a lunch!

Game terrine, pickles and pies

The best man demonstrated impeccable taste with his sourcing of key buffet components. High quality pork pies from Lidgate’s Butchers and a classic cheese selection from Neal’s Yard. Colston Bassett stilton, Montgomery’s cheddar and a deliciously ripe, oozing brie.

Coke baked ham, cheeses

Other members of the group had chipped in with a cherry coke baked ham and a game terrine. There was also rare roast beef, Greek salad, slaw, chorizo and potato salad, crusty bread and all manner of chutneys and condiments.

Rare roast beef, coleslaw

After lunch: wine tasting provided by Rob from Thirty Fifty wines. Rob presented very well, giving an educational and interesting talk on various aspects of wine history, production and science as we worked our way through a couple of whites, four reds, a champagne and a port. Questions and intermittent heckling from a sometimes rowdy group were handled deftly and with aplomb. We were also split into teams for an entertaining quiz and a blind taste test, where all three teams correctly identified a Spanish Tempranillo from Rioja and a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough. Yorkshire folk have changed; we used to be happy with a pint of mild.

 Burger, cheese, pickles, tomato, seeded bun, perfect.

After a snooze or beers in the warm sunshine we reconvened to line our stomachs for the night ahead with a quick barbecue. Burgers, home-made by the best man and grilled expertly by a drunken stag. I had mine served in the traditional manner with dill pickles and a slice of cheese.

And thence to Derby, for a night on the town. From this point on the mask of foodie respectability began to slip a little. A few pints of ale, then swiftly on to tequila, jagerbombs, and ultimately Blue WKD.

To sum up, a wonderful time was had by all. Many thanks to the best man for the immense amount of time and effort invested in the weekend, and also to the others who contributed. I’ll see most of you at the wedding.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Barrica Tapas Bar, London

I made a flying visit to London for a meeting on Friday, in and out in barely more than a couple of hours. I just managed to squeeze in a quick lunch at Barrica, and am very glad that I did.

Goodge Street is a lively spot at lunchtimes, buzzing with people eating at one of numerous restaurants, cafés and even a few street food stalls in Goodge Place. I was in the mood for a tapas fix, and Barrica is one of two well regarded places serving Spanish food on the street (the other being Salt Yard). I chose Barrica because it seemed to be the more casual of the two. It's a proper tapas bar, rather than just a restaurant serving tapas, with stools available at a long, marble bar counter where you could perch happily with a glass of something cold and a few olives.

This is exactly what I did, kicking things off with some very good olives and a glass of bone dry Colosia fino sherry.

Next came clams, girolle mushrooms and peas cooked in fino sherry. This was a great dish, the clams and girolles having similar textures, soft but slightly chewy but complementary and contrasting tastes. The clams sweet and fresh, the girolles deeply savoury and earthy.

Cow's curd cheese, broad beans, tomatoes and mint was all about delicate summery flavours. Mild, milky cheese, sweet beans, fragrant mint. Really refreshing on a warm day.

Ham croquetas were available in portions of two, so I had to have a couple. Can't be going for tapas and not having anything with pig in it. They were greaseless and tasty, but could have done with more ham in the mix.

Rustic, chewy bread was perfect for mopping up. Possibly the most pleasurable part of a tapas meal is scooping up delicious oily juices from the terracotta crockery. I could do this all day, consuming loaves in industrial quantities.

A very good lunch, service was also good. Professional and unpretentious. The bill was just under £22 including 12.5% service added automatically. Not a practice I'm fond of, but pretty much standard practice in London. A minor quibble, because here they earned it.


62 Goodge Street

Barrica on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Moghul's Taste, Bury New Road, Manchester

Just a quick post this; a review of one of my favourite curry cafés in Manchester. I had planned to pontificate at length on my love for these places, but it just took me over two and a half hours to drive not quite fifty miles home, so I'm tired and can't be bothered. The M62 had been broken by some inconsiderate lorry drivers who couldn't quite manage to drive along it without crashing in to each other. Idiots. All other routes via Rochdale, Oldham et al were gridlocked.

Back to the food, although I suppose an occasional report on the status of the M62 is not entirely inappropriate given the tag line of the blog. I think that's the first time I've actually mentioned it! Sorry, back to the food now. Moghul's Taste is one of a little cluster of curry café cum kebab shops on Bury New Road (I think the area is actually Strangeways). I've been there a couple of times before for kebabs, which were very good, but today I needed a curry fix.

Rice and any three curries will set you back just under a fiver, about six quid with a roti and a can of pop. I had lamb karahi, keema and potatoes, and lentils. All were pleasant and tasty, the keema was particularly good. They're not the most vibrant, fresh tasting curries (they do sit stewing in the warmers all day, so are more gently warming comfort food) so the bowls of ginger, chillies and coriander sat on the counter for you to help yourself are a great idea. A good dollop of these mixed in and you've got yourself a feast.

Good breads too. A large, fresh tandoori roti is great value at 50p. Perhaps a bit stodgy, the dough could be rolled thinner, but that's being picky. On past experience the naans are good too. The only down side is that the service can be a bit sketchy (they forgot my roti today and had to be pestered) and the queueing system a bit vague with people all clamouring for attention round the counter. I wouldn't let that put you off though unless it's very busy.

Thanks as ever to Flavours of Manchester for the recommendation, there are reviews over there of the other two similar places in the vicinity; Qila Khyber and Lakshmi Chowk.


53 Bury New Road

Moghul Taste on Urbanspoon

Monday, 4 July 2011

Northern Food on tour: Newquay, Cornwall

Here's a round-up of what I ate in Newquay over the last few days. Nothing spectacular but a few good places that might be worth a visit if you're in the area. 

Pendeen Hotel

First up an honourable mention for the Pendeen Hotel. I stayed here for the first couple of nights before switching to the Premier Inn when my mates arrived for the weekend. The Pendeen is a traditional British seaside hotel with the look of somewhere last refurbished in the late 70's. I feel a bit sorry for places like this, as they tend to get tarred with the Fawlty Towers brush, sometimes a bit unfairly.

The rooms are basic and a bit tatty, but more importantly clean. The welcome is warm, the breakfast perfectly serviceable and the view out over Porth bay gorgeous. £25 per night for a single en-suite room including the full English (or Cornish as they have it). 6/10 for the brekkie.

7 Alexandra Road

Merrymoor Inn, Mawgan Porth

A Thursday morning hike up the coastal path brought me to Mawgan Porth, a beautiful little village and bay about six miles up the coast from Newquay. The Merrymoor Inn was advertising fresh Cornish crab sandwiches (£6.95), a perfect plan for lunch by the sea.

With a pint of local ale from St Austell brewery this was a lovely al fresco lunch. The sandwich was well stuffed with sweet, fresh crabmeat although the bread wasn't very fresh. The salad was undressed and not really up to much.

I think it was more the weather, timing and location that made it so enjoyable, and the food going out to other tables looked poor. Worth it for a pint and a crab sarnie on a sunny day, probably wouldn't bother otherwise.


Merrymoor Inn
Mawgan Porth
nr. Newquay

Café Coast

Situated looking out over another stunning beach (Porth in Newquay rather than Mawgan Porth up the coast), this places gets a mention for the wonderful view, and for serving up a nice brew and a slice of very buttery shortbread. £2.20 for the pair.


Beach Road

Fistral Chef

Friday lunch after another coastal hike, this time finishing up on famed surfers paradise, Fistral beach. Fistral is also a bit of a looker, although by no means the most spectacular beach in the area. I chanced upon Fistral Chef on one of the main roads that head to the beach from the town centre.

A very berry smoothie (£2.90) was pleasant enough, nothing remarkable.

A cheeseburger was bloody great. A whopping great big freshly made beef patty with a nice charred crust (well done, would have preferred medium but it was still succulent), plasticky cheese slices, grilled onions, lettuce, rocket, tomato, mayo. Spot on with the fillings with the exception of the rocket which wasn't really necessary. The bun was good too, managing to hold up to the multitude of fillings without falling to bits.

£5.95 for the burger. Not cheap but huge and good quality. Fries not needed.


2 Beacon Road

Indian Dining Club

On Friday night, the obligatory curry. The Indian Dining Club was a recommendation from a policeman, or maybe it was a bouncer, I can't quite remember. It's a large restaurant in the modern glammed up Indian restaurant style, and they had no problem accommodating about thirteen of us at short notice. Somethings were good (naan, okra), the rest adequate. It will do the job, especially after a few beers.

RP looks on pensively as poppadums sweep into view. Will there be lime pickle? he ponders. Or perhaps tamarind chutney.

In truth I can't remember what pickles there were. Perhaps RP will know. I'm not phoning him to check.  Unmemorable obviously.

Something else unmemorable with lamb in it. Again I can't quite remember what. Pleasant enough scooped in the naan which was very good.

An okra side dish was a cut above the norm. Dry fried and retaining bite, not in the least slimy.

High on spice (and lager), LM is fortified for the evenings festivities and raring to go.

A quick note on the festivities while I'm on the subject. Newquay is a fantastic place for a British seaside holiday, blessed as it is with some of the finest coastline in the land. Do not go in expectation of classy nightlife though. There are many hostelries, many of which are enormous, sell only low quality mass market booze, smell vaguely of vomit, play the most tedious of cheesy chart dance music, and are rammed full of mullered teenagers in fancy dress. Perhaps there are some nicer establishments hidden in the back streets, if there are we didn't find them. You have been warned.


8-9 Station Parade

And almost finally.... what of cornish pasties? Had a couple, they were ok. Far better than Greggs anyway.

And finally... if you've never been to Cornwall, go. It's great.
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