Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Earl Grey Tea Rooms, York

York on a damp Bank Holiday. The Shambles. Probably the most touristy street in a very touristy city. Afternoon tea here could well have been rubbish, but it turned out to be very good. I'm allowed to complain about tourists by the way, I was in York with the folks and my parents live there so technically that means we're locals.

Five of us shared an assortment of goodies by ordering a couple of high teas, an afternoon tea, and some extra pots of tea. Plenty of tea.

Starting off with the savouries, the sandwiches were very good. I'm not really a fan of the overly dainty afternoon tea sandwiches you usually get (no crusts, I like crusts!), and these were a more substantial affair. Generous quantities of thinly sliced ham or chunky egg mayo on thick cut brown bread.

Next up, scones and cake. The scones were light and served with plentiful clotted cream and jam. Anything served with clotted cream is inevitably going to be lovely, and these were no exception. Of the two cakes, carrot was beautifully moist and spicy but a yorkshire curd tart was the only duff note as it was very dry.

All told a most civilised way to spend an afternoon. The tea was a good strong brew as well, and some of the food being served up to the group of Oklahomans at the next table looked appetising. Our bill worked out at £6 apiece, not bad at all. Service was pleasant too. Who needs Bettys?


Earl Grey Tea Rooms
13-14 Shambles

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Primo's Gourmet Hotdogs, Leeds

Yesterday I had breakast at Primo's before an afternoon spent supping some decent ales from Ilkley Brewery. Primo's is a grand place to while away some time with a coffee, situated as it is in the corn exchange under the spectacular domed ceiling. The menu theme is very much an American one, the focus on shakes and dogs with a few salads and breakfasty things listed too. I chose the American pancake stack with maple syrup and bacon (about £3) and a flat white coffee (£2.30).

The coffee didn't look great (here's a pic of a better looking Flat White by way of comparison), but tasted excellent.

The pancakes were good too, thick and fluffy in the American style and drenched in maple syrup. Sandwiched inbetween were strips of salty bacon, which tasted fine but let the side down a bit by being limp rather than crispy.

I've only lately been persuaded of the joys of the sweet and savoury combination at breakfast time, but it really does work. There is just something so addictive about the calorific salt/sugar hit, it never fails to please. I must offer an apology to a certain friend of mine, who was ribbed mercilessly as we travelled through about 23 states of the Union over the course of 5 weeks some years ago, mainly because of his unseemly American habit of pouring maple syrup on anything porky in the mornings. Sorry, you were right all along. Bacon + syrup = winning formula.

It seemed a bit unfair to judge Primo's solely on their breakfast offering, particularly when the place is named after hot dogs, so today I went back to sample one of those. My first two choices were both off because they had run out of chilli, so in need of spice to clear a fuzzy head I ordered the Mexicana (£3.95), an all beef frankfurter, topped with Monterey Jack cheese, guacamole, sour cream, tomato salsa and jalapeños.

It was ok, but nothing more really. The best part was the bread, a good quality, slightly chewy seeded bun. The sausage and toppings were pleasant enough but unremarkable, no particular flavour really stood out other than vinegar and chilli from the pickled jalapeños.

The above all sounds a bit critical, but I still quite like it here. I'd certainly pay another visit for a coffee, and would give another dog a go. The shakes look good too.


The Corn Exchange
42 Call Lane


Primo's Gourmet Hot Dogs on Urbanspoon

Friday, 27 May 2011

Tony's Fish and Chips, Outwood, Wakefield

This blog is getting really repetitive at the moment. I eat curry, then I eat fish and chips, then I eat curry, then I eat fish and chips. If you're getting sick of it, please stay tuned as I'm going to be out and about in Leeds, Glasgow, Newcastle and Manchester all in the next ten days or so. Hopefully I'll have something new and exciting to write about after that lot.

But first, back to the fish and chips. I was tired and hungry, I'd just got back from football, my kitchen isn't going to be sorted out until next week, so last night I accidentally went to the chip shop again.

This time I tried Tony's, just up the road from the Empire and pretty much the exact opposite in scale. No drive through, no restaurant, just this hut:

 Photo credit: Betty Longbottom

I found the photo on Wikipedia, courtesy of Betty Longbottom. Wonderful name, wonderful hut.

Here is the lowdown on the fish and chips:

Fish - not cooked to order, but not overcooked, small but pleasant.
Batter - bit too thick, but pleasingly crunchy on the outer layer.
Chips - ok, had better.
Peas - good. Sweet and sloppy.
Scraps - yes please.
Value - Cheap as chips. Cheaper than chips in fact. £3 for fish and chips. £4.10 with peas and a can of Ben Shaw's pop. How do they make any money?

The verdict: Not bad, especially for the price. I'd go again.


653 Leeds Road

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Megabites, Rothwell

It's been a while since I've posted a quick lunchtime bite, so here is a sandwich from Megabites in Rothwell. Ham and sliced egg salad on an oatmeal roll.

I can't fault Megabites on their rendition of a classic English sandwich. Don't come here for focaccia or rocket or anything remotely continental. Do come here for good quality ham, iceberg lettuce (which is fine in a freshly made sandwich, absolutely not in a pre-made one), and eggs as a salad item. Obligatory sauce is salad cream. I like salad cream.

The only annoying thing is that they have started charging 10p for a little sachet of salad cream or mayo. What's wrong with having a big tub of the stuff to smear on? Since when did salad lubrication become an optional extra?

Still good though.


10 Gillett Lane
LS26 0EG

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Red Chilli II, Wakefield

Last weekend I was mostly eating curry. After a veggie Indian meal on Saturday, Sunday was a rather meatier affair. Red Chilli II is one of a mini chain (others in Castleford and Bradford) of well regarded Indian restaurants, not to be confused with the fantastic Chinese Red Chilli group. I was a regular at the Wakefield outpost when I last lived in the area, so I thought it was worth a visit to see if it still passed muster.

Sunday night is buffet night, all you can eat for £8.95. It's always quite busy so there is a swift turnaround of food meaning nothing is hanging around too long.

There was a choice of three starters; veg pakoras, shami kebabs and something that I think were labelled vegetable shatkoras. I've just googled shatkora and it turns out to be a type of citrus fruit, so I've not a clue why they were called that. In practice they were just unusually shaped samosas and very good too. Densely packed with assorted vegetables not cooked to mush, and really well spiced. Cumin, fennel and mustard seed were all prominent. The kebabs and pakoras were ok but nothing special.

On the curry front there was one lamb curry, two chicken, a saag aloo and a channa dish. The lamb was the star, a really concentrated, rich roasted spice curry with soft, moist strands of meat. It was reminiscent of the haandi goat I ate at Delhi Grill earlier in the year. Of the chicken options one was a lurid looking tikka masala that I didn't try, and the other a pleasant and exceedingly garlicky offering. The chicken was a bit dry though, I'm not sure chicken lends itself well to a buffet as it drys out too readily. The chickpeas were good but the saag aloo was a bit bland. Carbs were provided by pilau rice and nan bread. The rice was fine but the nan just re-inforced my view that the only nan worth bothering with is fresh from the tandoor.

Unless something exciting and new has popped up elsewhere over the last four years this is probably still the best curry house in Wakefield. The buffet is good value, our total bill was just under £30 for three including a couple of soft drinks. A la carte is more expensive, but still very reasonable as the standard is generally high and the portions huge.

And finally, in matters completely unrelated to the rest of the post here is a photo of the Hepworth Wakefield. The new gallery opened on Saturday. It's a remarkable place and an outstanding asset for the city. You should pay a visit, whether you're an art buff or not (I'm not).


148 Kirkgate

Red Chill 2 on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Manjit's Kitchen, Leeds (and sometimes elsewhere)

Manjit's Kitchen is a home delivery service based in Leeds. Anyone on Twitter with an interest in all things food and all things Leeds has probably heard of them by now, as they've been getting rave reviews for Manjit's home cooked vegetarian Punjabi food. I'm no vegetarian but if meat abstinence was forced upon me I would almost certainly survive on a diet of Indian food. Rich, creamy dhals; crunchy, fresh thorans; light dosai with zingy chutneys; India is pretty much number one in the world for vegetarian cuisine. I live way outside Manjit's delivery area so when I heard they would be manning a stall at the first ever fiery food market in Dewsbury I was there like a shot.

A quick word on the market first. I was quite impressed, there were a lot of stalls selling some good looking stuff. Of particular note was a truck selling food from the Seychelles, not something I've ever come across before. A free sample of a pork curry was delicious with tender, slow cooked meat in a fiery, coconutty sauce that also had hints of peanut. Back to Manjit's Kitchen. Did it live up to expectations?

The dhal certainly did. I think it was a dhal makhani (black lentils in a rich buttery sauce). The sauce was wonderfully rich and creamy, cut with acidity from the addition of tomatoes. The spicing was just right, complex and slow burning but not too fiery. I could eat this stuff by the bucket load.

Accompaniments weren't all so successful. The rice was fine, plain basmati cooked perfectly. The nan bread was rubbish though, foamy and lifeless. I just don't think nan bread really works pre-cooked and then warmed up, chappattis would be a better bet. Full marks for letting us help ourselves to salad, but a bowl of dressing would have livened things up a bit.

In summary the main event, the dhal was excellent. The meal was good value at £4 for dhal, rice, bread and salad. A chick pea dish and the samosa's were also looking good. If I lived in the delivery area I'd definitely be ordering soon.


Home delivery within a 4 mile radius of LS8 (which covers Gipton, Harehills, Oakwood, Roundhay)
Also at various other events - check the website for details


Friday, 20 May 2011

The Empire, Outwood, Wakefield

Fish and chip quest continues. A bit of a disappointment this one. I had high hopes for the Empire, mainly because it's the only drive-thru fish and chip shop that I know. Fish and chips without ever leaving the comfort of your own car. Fancy that.

As it happens the drive-thru was closed. It wasn't yet 9pm and the website claims it's open until 10pm daily. Fibbers. So I had to struggle from the car (muscles were seizing up from football, I'm not morbidly obese) and go inside.

Fish, chips and mushy peas was a fairly standard £4.70. The main problem was that both fish and chips had obviously been sat around for too long. I know that few chippies cook everything fresh to order, but there are limits to how long you can keep it warm after frying before it's way past it's best. The fish was very overdone, but the batter had gone a bit soggy. A real shame as it was a lovely chunky piece of haddock. The chips were dry and mealy. Good peas though.

The food from here is probably a whole lot better if you turn up when it's busy and turnover is rapid. The basic ingredients all seem to be good. Having said that just because it's quiet when you arrive doesn't mean they should serve you up something fried two hours ago.


550 Leeds Road


Empire on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Ham, chickpeas and kale

Here is a recipe for a simple, quick and delicious supper. It relies on a tried and tested combo of three main ingredients:- some sort of bean or pulse, some form of cured pig and something green and leafy. In this case it's cured spanish pork shoulder, chickpeas and kale, but there are loads of possible variations on the theme. Think of boiled gammon, split peas and cabbage, or maybe ham, lentils and spinach.

You will need:
olive oil
one medium-sized onion
2 fat cloves of garlic
2 medium-sized ripe tomatoes
a tin of chickpeas
50g of cured ham (I used paleta ibérico - cured pork shoulder from Spanish Ibérico pigs)
a pinch of dried chilli flakes
half a cup of boiling water
a handful of kale
salt and pepper
a lemon

This will serve one greedy person as a one dish meal, or two people with plenty of crusty bread and a pudding to follow.

What to do:
1. Roughly chop the onion and sweat it in olive oil for five minutes or so without browning.
2. Finely chop the garlic, add it to the pan and fry for another minute or two.
3. Roughly chop the tomatoes, add them to the pan and fry for another minute or two.
4. Drain the chick peas and add them to the pan with the pinch of chilli.
5. Roughly chop the ham, add it to the pan and fry for another minute or two.
5. Add the water to the pan, stir and bring to a simmer.
6. Add the handful of kale and simmer for a few minutes until the kale has softened.
7. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
8. Serve immediately with a squeeze of lemon, a drizzle of olive oil and plenty of crusty bread to mop up the juices.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

A few good things to eat (volume 4)

Here is volume 4 of my 'good things to eat' series. The general aim is to waffle on about any food or drink I've particularly enjoyed and hopefully promote some good producers and suppliers in the process. After the last post in the series was a sweet-tooth special this time it's back to the savouries.

Pork Pies, Lishman's Butchers, Ilkley

A rival to Wilson's! I think these pies might actually be better. They are damn good growlers. A classic butchers pork pie, nothing fancy but very, very good. As well as pies Lishman's supply a wide range of meats, including some harder to find stuff like a lovely bit of mutton.


Boerewors (spicy beef sausage), South African stall, Leeds Kirkgate Market

Photo credit: TempestSA

I ate these at a friend's barbecue and forgot to take a photo, so I nicked this one from Wikipedia. I'm not normally a fan of beef sausages, but these were the business. Densely packed and quite lean but still moist with a lovely spicy kick. They don't twist the sausage into individual links so you buy it by the metre. You can't miss the stall, it's on the Butchers Row and has loads of Biltong (South African dried meat) on display.

British asparagus, available everywhere

The British asparagus season lasts for another month or so. Get it while it's good. You can buy the imported stuff (from Peru or wherever) all year round but I think the flavour is muted in comparison. The local stuff just tastes wonderful; fresh, sweet and green. For me, simple is best. Steam it for a few minutes then serve with loads of butter, salt and pepper or olive oil and parmesan. Maybe a squeeze of lemon but nothing else. I'm holding the stuff in the photo after we picked it in a friends back garden. Lovely.

Beer, Beer Ritz, Headingley

Photo credit: real-ale-reviews.com

Particularly after it recently closed down then re-opened Beer Ritz has had a lot of publicity of late. I thought I'd give it a mention anyway just in case anyone reading this isn't aware of it's existence. It's quite possibly the best beer shop in the North. Located on a side street in Headingley (just across the road from Bryan's chip shop) this little shop is an absolute treasure trove for any beer lover. They have a huge range, including many bottles that I've never seen on sale anywhere else. Prices are a little higher than you might be used to paying, but bear in mind they are obviously sourcing in small quantities from small producers with none of the savings associated with supermarket bulk buying. If you like beer you should go.


Sunday, 15 May 2011

Fuji Hiro, Leeds

Normal service is resumed. After all the gadding about in Croatia, London and Kent over the last week or so I've finally made it home, and on Friday night I finally made it to Fuji Hiro. I don't know how long Fuji Hiro has been around for, but it's a long time. I must have been planning to go for at least seven years, attracted by its solid reputation for good quality, fairly priced Japanese noodle dishes. I'm pleased to report it lived up to expectations.

The menu is concise. There is a page of side dishes (mostly gyoza and yakitori in various guises), a page of ramen (soup noodle dishes), a page of stir-fried noodle dishes and a page of something and rice dishes (katsu curry and the like). There is also a meal deal available at all times, that will get you any side dish, any main dish and a bottle of beer for £15. Taking up the meal deal offer I opted for ebi gyoza (prawn dumplings) and chilli beef ramen.

The gyoza were very good if a bit greasy, they were lightly fried to give one edge a nice crust and the prawn filling was sweet and fresh.

The ramen had a deeply savoury chicken stock base, and the beef was a sliced sirloin steak just dropped into the broth to allow it to poach a little and stay rare inside. Lovely. There were also quite a few different vegetables in the mix, including leeks which added a nice touch of sweetness. The noodles themselves were fine, though I'm a novice when it comes to Japanese food so I'm not really sure what texture they should have. As ever with soup noodle dishes the serving was huge.

Overall a very good meal with friendly service. Independent places like Fuji Hiro really are an asset to Leeds, especially at a time when every new opening seems to be another chain. The food here is made with a level of care and attention that you just won't get at a chain restaurant, and is consequently miles better than what you'd get at Wagamama or Tampopo. It's better value too, exactly the same meal (even the same brand of beer) will set you back £21.20 at Wagamama. Go, and don't let the rather down at heel decor (they really should spruce the place up a bit) and out of the way location put you off.


Fuji Hiro
45 Wade Lane

Fuji Hiro on Urbanspoon

Friday, 13 May 2011

The Crown, Rochester

Dinner and drinks with three work colleagues last Tuesday night. My department is scattered all around the country so we don't often get to meet up and put the world to rights over a few beers. On the odd occasion that we do it's usually in Leeds or Kent. This time it was Kent's turn so we thought we'd give Rochester a try.

Very few of the pubs on the high street seemed to contain any diners, so we sort of ended up at the Crown by default as it's at the end of the road. The menu covered all the standard pub stuff, but the handwritten specials board and numerous signs proclaiming their status as a Freehouse suggested that perhaps they were making an effort. They weren't.

Things started to go badly with the non-arrival of a starter. All of the mains arrived, but no sign of the one starter that had been ordered. The following conversation ensued:

'Excuse me, we ordered a calamari starter' said I.
'oh yeah, it's just in the lift' said the waitress.
'err but it's a starter' said I.
'Did you order it as a starter?' she queried.
'well it was ordered from the section of the menu headed 'Starters', I ordered it before the main course, and asked for it 'to start' I explained.
'Oh well it's here',  she replied, a touch indignant by this stage as if she was thinking 'well we didn't forget it entirely so what's the problem'.
'You'd best bring it out then.'

That was that. And what had just arrived in front of me. This:

Steak and ale pie with mash and veg. I really need to have a rant about the mash. It was the most unpleasant thing I have been served in a long time. It tasted of starchy water and had the texture of lumpy wallpaper paste. This is not an exaggeration. I can only assume it was some sort of Smash. If it was made from actual potatoes then fuck knows how they managed to create that texture. None of the rest was actively vile, in that you could eat it. You probably wouldn't want to, but you could. The vegetables were overcooked, the pastry was undercooked and the gravy was congealed budget Bisto. The chunks of meat in the pie were ok, but there weren't many of them. This cost a tenner.

Two of us had steaks (one in a mixed grill, one in a surf and turf). Both were cooked way beyond the level requested (medium) to a uniform grey throughout. And finally this:

which is belly pork. Allegedly. First time I've ever seen belly pork served in a thin slice covered in packet gravy and half cooked onions before. My friend couldn't identify what it was, but she didn't think it was pork. This cost thirteen pounds, and was from the 'Specials' board.

The waitress did come over to ask if everything was ok. We'd pretty much given up by that point. I told her that no, it was horrible. She said she would go and inform the chef. We hung around for a while to see whether this would elicit some sort of response (an apology, free drinks, anything??). It didn't. We left.

The next pub we were about to stop off at was in the process of having its drains cleaned. It stank. We headed back to the safety of Wetherspoons, which had a great selection of ales on, and on the basis of this admittedly small sample is probably the best pub in town.


The Crown Freehouse
2 High Street


Thursday, 12 May 2011

Northern Food on tour: Zadar, Croatia

Last weekend I visited Croatia for the first time. A friend has a friend who is opening a hostel out there, so we thought we'd go over and check the place out. Ryanair flights from Stansted weighed in at a frankly ridiculous £33 each (return, including all the extras) so it almost seemed rude not to.

First the travelogue bit. Zadar is a lovely city. It has a compact, historic old town, a scenic waterfront with views of mountains and islands, and plenty of lively bars and restaurants. The people are friendly and most of the women are very beautiful (many of them slightly intimidating six-and-a-half feet tall goddesses). I can't comment on the menfolk but I'm sure they are lovely too. There is loads to see in the surrounding countryside as well, with some rather stunning looking national parks. I'm definitely planning a return visit to the Balkans.

That's my promotional piece done for the tourist board (cheque in Sterling payable to D Williams please). Now down to business. Was the food any good? It was good, but not great. We didn't dine anywhere terrible, but nowhere was amazing either. Most of our meals were eaten in a Konoba, the Croatian word for a casual bar/restaurant. Most of these places advertised a fairly generic menu that give or take a few local specialities you could find in anywhere vaguely touristy and Mediterranean. A few pizzas, a few pasta dishes, several meat and fish dishes mostly served with chips and salad. There may well be better food out there, but this wasn't really a foodie trip and we didn't seek it out.

Breakfast: strong fags not pictured

Away from the restaurants the Italian influence is even more pronounced. Takeaway pizza is everywhere, as is Gelato style ice-cream. Breakfast also seems to be in the coffee/pastry/cigarette style beloved of the Italians. We ate a couple of pizza slices which were really good, and the coffee was great too. The pastries seemed a bit hit and miss and I wasn't impressed by the ice cream. The two we ate were both mass produced and a bit artificial tasting. Maybe we didn't chance upon the good stuff.

Ice cream: that's squirty cream on top. It's not Mr Whippy

On the booze front the beer is all standard 5% any lager, of which Karlovačko seems to be the most popular and easiest to pronounce. For fans of the strong stuff there are numerous potions available that will blow your head off, including the Maraschino cherry liqeur which is local to the area. Jägermeister is also very popular. The hostel guys have made friends with the local club owner so we got to hang out in the VIP area and order Jäger by the litre. Because drinking Jäger by the litre is what Very Important People do obviously.

Here is a summary of the main meals that we ate:

Konoba Stomorica

Our first meal got off to a poor start. In need of rehydration we both ordered soup. Tomato for me and Meat for my mate. Mmm meat soup.

I'm 99% certain that both of these soups were straight from a packet. The meat soup was probably a packet of chicken noodle soup in case you were wondering.

The mains were much better. I had the Dalmatian beef stew with gnocchi. The beef was rather tough and I left half of it, but the stew was really concentrated and packed with flavour (probably wine based I think), and the gnocchi were light rather than stodgy.

Service was dour but efficient. The bill came to about £11 each for two courses and a drink.


Konoba Dalmatia

We ate here on Saturday evening before the big night out, so needed something sturdy to set us up for the evening. Three mixed grills and three large beers then please. There were actually three of us at this point, we didn't get one each plus an extra to share.

The mixed grills consisted mostly of pork. Pork chop, pork steak, two types of sausage and a bit of chicken for variety. And plenty of chips. The meat wasn't overcooked. Not much more to say really. It did the job.

Service here was much better. Our waitress was really friendly and gets bonus points for fetching us out some free shots of local firewater. It was horrid but did warm us up a bit. We paid about £11 each again, but with more beer and a generous tip this time.


Konoba Vrulje

Sunday afternoon and it was high time that we sampled some seafood, for which the Dalmatian coast is renowned (according to Lonely Planet anyway).

A starter of marinated anchovies was fine, but the star of the day was a bowl of black cuttlefish soup.

Once you got past the weirdness of eating black food (I know there are other black foods, liquorice or whatever, but not in soup form there aren't) this was delicious. The seafood stock base of the soup was rich and perfectly seasoned and the pieces of cuttlefish were tender.

A shared platter of grilled seafood was a bit hit and miss. The shellfish (mussels, crayfish) were about two days past their best and a whole grilled fish (not sure what it was, maybe small bream?) also wasn't very fresh. The tuna was ok, but the calamari were excellent. The batter was crisp and light and they weren't in the least chewy. Very moreish with a squeeze of lemon and good sprinkling of salt.

The service was fine. Two courses, salad and a drink was about £18 each.


Restaurant Bruschetta

The final meal of the trip was probably the best, quality wise. We had planned to just grab a pizza or pasta dish at one of the cheaper, more casual places but most of them were shut on Sunday night. Bruschetta is one of the posher places in town, but prices are still reasonable. Greed took over and we accidentally ordered three starters to kick things off.

Clockwise from the top we have a mozzarella, tomato and rocket salad, a plate of cheese (a local speciality from the island of Pag just up the road) and a mixed plate of fishy patés and various other bits and pieces. All of this was good, particularly the very rich creamed cod paté and the cheese which was a grower. It seemed a bit dull at first, but was actually quite complex. The interior was mild and nutty, but the harder bits towards the crust were stronger with an almost 'blue' taste. The menu claimed it was a goat's cheese, but I think they messed up the translation. Sheep's I reckon.

Pasta mains of penne with tuna, tomato and capers, and tagliatelle with chicken, courgettes and cream were both fine though my pasta was a touch overcooked. The portions were colossal so we were a bit overfaced after eating half a loaf of bread apiece with the starters.

The service here was very good if a bit slow at times. We paid about £16 each including one drink.


Monday, 9 May 2011

Taste of Lewisham, Lewisham, London

I've just returned from a long weekend in Croatia (of which to follow), and I can't go home for another couple of days because of work related matters in Kent. And so I find myself at the Swanley Premier Inn with a craving for something spicy. The options are thus: head Kent-bound; head-London bound; chance a takeaway in Swanley itself; or last but least dine at the Beefeater Grill adjoining the hotel. I weigh up the options and have a little think to myself before hopping in the car.

London-bound it is then. Fifteen minutes up the A20 and here I am. Lewisham, lovely Lewisham. I like to think of Lewisham as the Stratford of South London (transport hub, large-ish non-descript town centre etc), but Stratford will soon have a Westfield mega-shopping centre and the Olympics and Lewisham won't. Such is the lot of South London.
As I waffle on you may have noticed that I seem to know London well for a Northerner. Before my year in Manchester I lived in South-East London for three years, Woolwich to be precise. Woolwich is hardly a foodie mecca (there are supposed to be a couple of good Nigerian/Ghanaian restaurants, but I never got round to trying them), and Lewisham was the nearest suburb to boast a fairly good selection of Asian food places.

One of my favourites in the early days of my time in the capital was a scruffy Sri Lankan and South Indian café called Aru Suvai. It was probably the cheapest restaurant that I have ever dined at in the UK. I recall a particular feast a friend and I had that cost £12 in total. Not each, in total including starters, several curries, rice, breads and drinks. I never knew how they made any money, and it became apparent one day that they probably didn't as I turned up to find the place had been spruced up and renamed Taste of Lewisham. So it has remained ever since, doing the same sort of food but for about 50% more expensive. Which is still dirt cheap. So for old times sake, and to blow my head off with some chilli heat I headed there this evening.

This is a Lamb kottu roti. Kottu roti is a stir fried dish made by chopping up roti (flatbread) and frying it with egg, vegetables, meat and spices. I suppose it's what Sri Lankans would call comfort food, as it's good solid, hearty stuff but packed with flavour from the aggressive spicing (plenty of chilli, curry leaves and a very hot curry powder) typical of the cuisine.

I hadn't eaten for a long time, so rather overdid it with the carbs. This is a bowl of lentil curry and a couple of parottas. The lentils were fine, but a bit stodgy as they were bulked out with potatoes for some reason. The parottas were excellent. They're a sort of layered, fried flatbread. These were crisp, greaseless and very moreish.

This lot cost me a total of £10 with a couple of mutton rolls and a can of Sprite. Cheap, filling and very spicy. Just what I needed.


Taste of Lewisham
19 Lee High Road
SE13 5LD

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

A year in Manchester

After an all too brief year I have just left Manchester and moved back to Leeds (well, Wakefield actually but most of my eating and drinking will be done in Leeds). I enjoyed my time in Manchester so thought I'd sum up my favourite things with a list. I like lists and this is the first opportunity I've had to write one on my fledgling blog.

I could have veered completely off topic here, and created a Manchester Top Ten of all the things I love about the place. But this is a food and drink blog, so you don't want to hear me banging on about industrial architecture or trams or cycle paths or whatever. Instead I've included some nice photos of sunny Manchester. Here are five food and drink things I love about Manchester:

1.  Pubs
There are absolutely loads of fantastic pubs in central Manchester (and Salford). The key things I look for in a pub are a good selection of beer and a convivial atmosphere. Add interesting buildings/interiors and good food into the mix and you're really on to a winner. In vaguely pub crawl related order here is my lucky 13: The Marble Arch; The Angel; Bar Fringe; Crown and Kettle; The Castle Hotel; Port Street Beer House; The Britons Protection; Peveril of the Peak; Knott Bar; The Lass O'Gowrie; The New Oxford; The Kings Arms; The Mark Addy.

2. Chinese restaurants
In my opinion Manchester has the best and most varied selection of Chinese restaurants in the UK outside London. I have barely started working my way through all of them, but I have eaten very well at the following: Red Chilli, Middle Kingdom (both Szechuan); Hunan (Hunanese); BBQ Handmade Noodles King (hand made noodles!).

3. Curry cafés
The curry cafés of Manchester appear to be a unique phenomenon. I've certainly never come across anything similar in this country (although strangely I do recall them having the same sort of thing in Australia, but with really rubbish curry). The premise is simple. The curries are pre-cooked and kept warm at the counter. You get to pick any three curries on rice for a fixed price, which is always under a fiver. The quality can be a bit hit and miss, the decor is invariably scruffy, but you are guaranteed to get a decent feed for a low price. Sometimes they really surprise you with a corker of a dish too, one of them does a lovely keema with whole hard boiled eggs in it. Great stuff.

There are loads of the places scattered around the Northern Quarter and various other parts of the city. I'm not going to bother listing them all here. Instead I shall refer you to the comprehensive and excellent Flavours of Manchester blog.

4. Traditional caffs
Manchester seems to be well stocked with places to get a good fry-up or some other home cooked and ridiculously cheap meal. Perhaps the same applies to most towns and cities in the UK, but I just seem to have noticed it more over the last year or so. In the city centre I like The Koffee Pot and Abergeldie Cafe.  In the suburbs my favourite spot is in the grotty precinct in Prestwich. Can't remember the name of it (not sure it has one), but they do a competent and comforting corned beef hash followed by crumble & custard for about £3.50.

5. Markets
This might seem a strange one, particularly for Manchester itself. Central Manchester hasn't even got a proper market, either indoor or outdoor. What impresses me is the way the council has made the most of its meagre resources. The only permanent central market of any size is the Arndale Market, which is essentially a small, spare corner of the shopping centre. About half of the space has been given over to traditional market stalls, and the other half turned into a thriving food hall. There are a good selection of stalls, including an ale bar and the excellent Pancho's Burritos. Glass of ale and a spicy, porky burrito for lunch. Don't mind if I do. In addition to this is a rapidly expanding number of street markets that are spreading all over the suburbs as well as the city centre.

A special mention is also due to some of the markets in other Greater Manchester towns. Bury and Ashton-under-Lyne have particularly good examples. If you'd heard rumours that the good folk of Bury like to eat entire black puddings, on their own, with a dab of relish, mustard or ketchup, they are true. Don't knock it 'til you've tried it, it's actually rather delicious.


Monday, 2 May 2011

The Mark Addy, Salford

I've been planning a trip to the Mark Addy for some time now, as intermittent glances at the menu on the website have had me salivating for months. Friday was pretty much the last window of opportunity before I move back over the hills to Yorkshire. I'll still be in Manchester from time to time, but far less frequently in future.

Four of us stopped off for lunch, midway through a tour of some of Manchester's finest hostelries as a way of bidding farewell to my home for the last year. As chance would have it, the Mark Addy has been getting a lot of coverage of late, with reviews from Jay Rayner in the Observer and Sarah on the North West Nosh blog. Both of those two gave the menu a more thorough going over than we did, so I'll try to keep my thoughts relatively brief and point you in their direction for a more detailed review and a bit of background about the place.

First up we ordered various bits and pieces to share with a couple of pints. I can't remember what we drank, other than that it was ale, and very well kept. Homemade pork scratchings were spot on, with just the right blend of crunch and softer fatty bits.

Spam fritters were also crunchy, piggy and lovely, and came dressed with brown sauce and ketchup. I don't think they used actual spam though, which seemed a little strange (unless they cut it into semi-circular pieces).

Welsh rarebit was intensely cheesy, but just the one small slice seemed a little stingy for £5.50.

For the main meal two of us ended up having scallops and black pudding starters and a shared side of chips with tarragon sauce. Both scallops and pudding were high quality and cooked just right. The chips were very good but the tarragon in the sauce was barely detectable.

The other two had roast beef sandwiches which looked great, stuffed with generous amounts of pink meat. Feedback was positive.

We sat on the riverside terrace, which really is a splendid place to be on a sunny afternoon. Don't be put off by the less than pleasant entrance to the pub which requires you to pass the door to the Gents and descend a flight of stairs carpeted in the style of a cheesy nightclub circa 1995. They really ought to sort that out. We had no problems with service but were probably there in a quieter period (around 2-4pm). Good value too for the standard of cooking, we paid just under fifteen pounds each for all of the food, a couple of pints and service. I'm definitely planning a return visit.


The Mark Addy
Stanley Street
M3 5EJ

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