Saturday, 31 March 2012

Wasabi Sushi & Noodle Bar, Manchester

Another flying visit to Manchester last week,  I was in the mood for noodles so headed to Chinatown. I was on the hunt for a hidden gem, I'm sure there must be more of them like this place, but it's tricky spotting them without prior knowledge. A lot of the restaurants are either above or below ground level, or don't have full menus on display, or have interesting things listed only in Chinese characters.

I ended up in Wasabi by default really. Menu on display in English - check. Something I want to eat listed - check. I can see inside and it looks ok for a quick solo meal - check. My expectations weren't particularly high so I was pleasantly surprised.

Seating downstairs is at the revolving sushi bar where just £8.50 will get you a bowl of rice or noodles and any three plates from the belt. I chose plates of salmon and mackerel nigiri, and a plate of edamame beans. I'm no sushi expert, I've never eaten really top notch sashimi, but both the salmon and mackerel seemed pretty good to me. Fresh and clean tasting, really good with generous quantities of pickled ginger. Certainly a cut above the high street sushi packs and cheaper too.

Roast pork ramen also hit the spot flavour-wise but was let down a little by the noodles. The broth was light but packed an intense umami punch. Really savoury and more-ish. The roast pork was tender and tasty and the sliced egg and wobbly tofu were welcome additions. Just the noodles weren't quite up to the job, being either overcooked or poor quality, they lacked bite and disintegrated all too readily.

A good find, I'd definitely eat at Wasabi again. The set meals are fantastic value, you could dine very well for less than a tenner if you drink water. I didn't, having a beer and tea, but still paid a more than reasonable £14 including a tip for the very friendly service.


63 Faulkner Street
M1 4FF

Wasabi Sushi & Noodle Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Sesame, Leeds

I was confident there’d be somewhere good to grab lunch up at the financial/legal/office end of town. Surely those hungry workers couldn’t all be satisfied with Tesco Express or Starbucks. It was starting to look that way until I chanced upon Sesame.

It's a little corner café and takeaway just off Park Square, the focus is on sushi, salads and noodle soups but I spotted there was a Friday special - a fishfinger sandwich for £3.

It was £3 well spent, a very good sandwich. I don’t think the fishfingers were home-made, but they were a cut above the average frozen effort, the crumb crispier, the fillet chunkier. There were also a generous three of them in there.

Combined with decent tartare sauce, salad and very good bread and you’ve got an excellent sarnie. It’s funny how you often don’t much notice the bread when eating sandwiches. Bad bread, cheap and nasty or stale stands out a mile, but average bread just passes me by as I home in on the fillings. It’s that average bread that tends to be the norm, so when you eat a sandwich made with genuinely good, well-made bread you suddenly realise what you’ve been missing. I do anyway.

I chose granary but rather than the open textured slightly dry stuff you might expect this was closer textured, slightly chewy and with a lightly glazed crust and a delicious mild, yeasty flavour. A proper sub roll I guess you’d call it, reminiscent of the rolls used for the sausage butties at the excellent Barbakan Deli over the hills in Chorlton.

The bread at Sesame was advertised as being from Thierry Dumouchel, a French baker and patissier based in Garforth. I’ve heard of him before but this was the first time I’ve sampled his bread. A trip to Garforth beckons.

Service was quick and friendly, even though they were very busy. Great stuff. I'll be back to give the noodle soups and sushi a try.


18 St Paul’s Street

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Northern Food on tour: Brno, Czech Republic

Following on from last year's visit to Zadar, my mate Sav's penchant for weekends in random Eastern European budget flight destinations continues. This year the text arrived: Fancy going to Brno in March? Where's that then? Czech Republic. Yeah why not, I like Prague.

And so to Brno. In case you're wondering, it's the historic capital city of Moravia, the Eastern half of the Czech Republic (Prague is in Bohemia to the West). It's hardly on the mainstream tourist trail, but easily could be, as it's really rather lovely. There's plenty of solid central European architecture, a fine castle surrounded by parkland atop a hill, a soaring cathedral and lots of squares to hang about in.

The weather was unseasonably warm and the whole place had a stately, relaxed atmosphere. Busy but with people rather than traffic (probably thanks in part to the 13 tram lines in a city of 400,000 people. Imagine that citizens of Leeds!), it was a pleasure to stroll the streets. It's not exactly nightlife central, but there are loads of good pubs and bars and the locals were friendly and welcoming. Beware the lack of a smoking ban though, stinky clothes are inevitable.

That's my customary travelogue done and dusted, so what of the food? Well that was a pleasant surprise too. Sturdy and rib-sticking as expected, but far higher in quality than I experienced in Prague a few years back. To be fair to Prague, I think we were poorly advised and ended up dining on the most meagre budget possible.

Even more surprising was that both of the pubs we ate in were chains, part of the Pilsner Urquell and Staropramen empires, both themselves part of brewing multinationals. Despite this the food was pretty good, and would easily have put the depressing crap served in most UK chain pubs to shame. I've reviewed each of them in turn below.

The beer was as I expected, good but unremarkable. Good quality lager, cheap and served well is the norm. We paid from 80p up to around £1.40 for a pint.

I did try a couple of more unusual brews, a dark beer in Pivnice pegas and an unfiltered Staropramen in another pub. Both were enjoyable but nothing to shout about.

We had some cheap street food and late night eats too, and even they weren't half bad. A 4am kebab was made from slices of proper pork, far superior to the low grade elephant's leg we're accustomed to in Britain (or at least I think it was, it was 4am so my 'quality radar' may have been off kilter). Anyhow, even if it was crap I did have a pint of lager with it. In a kebab shop, at 4am, in a glass. I love you Czech Republic.

Last but certainly not least there was Smažený sýr, a Czech dish I certainly do know the name of. It means fried cheese, which is what it is. Get a thick slice of cheese, crumb it, deep fry it, eat it in a sandwich. Filthy but delicious.

Would I recommend a visit to Brno? Yes, definitely. Flights from Luton or Stansted. Or if money and time are no object why not take the train via Brussels, Cologne and Prague? Much more fun.

Here are those reviews.

Stopkova plzeňská pivnice

Friday night and we were ravenous. This pivnice (beerhouse) looked like a good option. Very busy, huge, wood floors, good looking plates of food arriving at tables. We'd not eaten since a late lunchtime sandwich at the airport and it was well after nine by the time we arrived here. That in combination with an assumption that 'snacks' meant something not very big caused us to order an obscene quantity of food.

First up were a bowl of soup and two plates of those 'snacks', described as Czech tapas to accompany beer. I can't remember the Czech names for most of this stuff, so I'll stick to descriptions. This was a pan full of pork scratchings, croutons, spring onions and chilli served with half a loaf of bread and a tub of lard. Yes, an actual tub of lard. As I said, sturdy stuff but really quite delicious. The onions and chilli helped to cut through the fat and made the whole thing strangely reminiscent of salt and pepper ribs from the Chinese takeaway. In a good way.

I can verify that lard, chilli and pork scratching sandwiches are indeed a very good accompaniment to cold beer. In the background here you can see the soup; a bowl of chicken broth, also very good and bulked up with both pasta and potatoes.

As I was busying myself with lard butties and Sav was ploughing through what was in essence a massive bowl of chicken stew, the second 'snack' arrived. Three large potato rostis enriched with little nuggets of pork neck, garlicky mayo to dip them in, and some salad for good measure. They were a touch greasy but were good and crunchy and packed with flavour.

Onto the mains. Yes mains. Oops. We'd both chosen the Pilsen goulash. A generous portion of beautifully tender beef (possibly shin?) in a dark glossy, fairly spicy sauce. This was served with knedlicky, the ubiquitous Czech dumplings and some pointless lentil cake type things that were the only bad thing we ate all evening. I can't say I love knedlicky, but they do their job well. That is, to provide stodge and soak up rich, fatty sauces. Chinese food came to mind for the second time that evening, as the dumpling texture is not dissimilar (if a bit heavier) to baozi, the Northern Chinese steamed dough buns.

So yes, we could barely move after that lot, but we enjoyed it. Three pints in there was no more room for beer so we finished things off with large shots of slivovice, evil but strangely delicious damson brandy. Including a tip we paid around £28 for the lot: soup, starters, mains, three (or it might have been four) pints apiece and a round of shots. Fantastic value, good food, decent service and a lively (and not too smoky by Czech standards) atmosphere.


Potrefená Husa

Saturday night brought us here, much more modern and glossy in style, this seemed to be where the beautiful people of Brno came to hang out. The food and drink were pretty much along the same lines though, we went down the beer snacks route again only this time waiting to see how enormous the snacks were before ordering anything else.

A jar of cheese marinated in herbs (mostly thyme) and oil. What's not to like? This was delicious scooped on to bread from a basket containing several varieties including some good rye. There were four different cheeses in the jar, including a particularly nice creamy blue.

To accompany our cheese, a spicy sausage with beans and fried onions. Another success this, the sausage was like a peppery chipolata and with the beans made another great beer snack.

We were still a bit peckish after that, but not quite to 'colossal beef stew with a kilo of boiled dough levels' so ordered the conveniently positioned beef goulash soup instead. Less beef, no dumplings, same taste. Sadly it was terribly oversalted rendering no other flavours discernable and resulting in us necking beer at a rapid rate. Disappointing as the snacks had been excellent.

Service here was friendly if a little slow, and the ventilation was also fairly good so it wasn't too smoky. The bill was around £20 for all the food, three pints each and another bracing round of slivovices.


Thursday, 22 March 2012

World Service, Nottingham

Last week brought one of my rare excursions into more upmarket dining, at World Service in Nottingham. A birthday treat from my sister and her husband, all three of us were working in the city on that day so we’d planned to stay for dinner.

Before I'd investigated it in any detail I'd assumed World Service was a fusion restaurant or something of that ilk. It's described (their words) as having a 'colonial ambience' with 'various unusual artefacts from around the globe'. That in combination with the name put me in mind of a restaurant of empire, serving a mish-mash dishes from all over the place. It's not that at all. Artefacts notwithstanding the dining room is large and airy with a contemporary feel and the food is probably best described as Modern British.

Whatever it is I quite liked it. Opening drinks were a success (Sherry for me. A dry, salty Manzanilla that was great on its own and with my starter), it was comfortable and the menu read well.

A calamari starter was simple but good. Very lightly battered, not at all chewy and just served with a few leaves and some sort of mayonnaise (of exactly what persuasion I can't recall).

Veal shin with wild garlic risotto only served to re-inforce my opinions on veal. I’ve only eaten it a handful of times, but on every occasion the only lasting memory has been ‘this would have been far better with fully grown beef’. The shin had been cooked low and slow to what might have been beautiful moist shreds of meat, then re-formed into a cylinder that had then been browned off. The crusty, browned bits on the exterior were great, all dark and marmitey, but beyond that was just dull. The young shin just didn’t have the fat and sinew to cope with the cooking method, rendering it dry and flavourless.

This was a real shame as the risotto was excellent. Well cooked rice, creamy and packing a wonderfully fresh, fragrant punch from the garlic. This tasted divine with the caramelised edges of the meat, I could imagine the entire dish being a winner if they’d used the oldest cow they could find (or shoulder of mutton springs to mind).

A dish of pork several ways was also a bit of a mixed bag. I tried the belly which was lovely, but also sampled a sort of deep-fried nugget of something or other (apologies I didn't make note of the menu descriptions) that was chewy and tasteless.

Rhubarb cranachan for pudding. This worked for me. I love rhubarb, I love cream and it’s nice to have a dessert where the fruit stands out rather than being drowned in sugar. This was barely sweet at all, just thick folds of cream, tart rhubarb, and a few oaty bits providing contrast. Lovely.

A little bonus dessert arrived in the form of a birthday treat. It wasn’t requested honest! I’m beyond the stage of attending restaurants purely on their tendency to chuck freebies at those celebrating birthdays, really I am. (Although the three shots of tequila and a silly hat at Mex in Wakefield is always tempting).

Anyhow my birthday greetings must have been overheard, so here it was. A chocolate, a strawberry and a scoop of cherry sorbet. A nice touch really, reflective of the service which was good throughout. Fairly formal but not stuffy or over-attentive.

I've no idea how much the bill was, but I ate from the set menu at £26.50 for three courses. A la carte would probably be more like £40 or so. Overall this was a fine experience, service was good, the drinks list is excellent, but there were one or two duff notes with the food. Oh and the company was excellent too of course. Thanks!


World Service Restaurant
Newdigate House

World Service on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 15 March 2012

The York, Sheffield

I finally made it to Sheffield proper! It was rather more pleasing than Meadowhall. Sunday afternoon was glorious, sunny and unseasonably mild, so a stroll in the park was followed by a trip to the York for a roast.

It's a very popular place. A large pub that was bustling and busy throughout, despite it being that sort of inbetween time early in the evening.

Our roasts, one pork and one beef, were ok but didn't really live up to expectations. The vegetables were very good, plenty of variety including some lovely sprouting broccoli, and none were overcooked either. There were also loads of roast potatoes, cut small just how I like them (more crusty bits that way).

Sadly it was the beef and the Yorkshire pudding that let the side down. Both had the unmistakeable air of having been sat around for too long, tasting ok but being a little chewy and withered.

I still ate the lot even it was a little dull, the meat and Yorkshire were kept moist by a generous dousing with decent gravy. At £10.95 for the beef and £9.95 for the pork it's not a cheap roast and I'm sure there are better elsewhere in Sheffield.

Service was efficient and I did like the lively atmosphere though. The pub quiz was just getting going as we left too, it sounded like a good 'un so I'd definitely return for that and a couple of beers. The company was far superior to the food, so I'm hoping I might be paying more visits to Sheffield (and hopefully eating while I'm there!) in the near future. Watch this space.


243-247 Fulwood Road
S10 3BA

Monday, 12 March 2012

Macy's, Headingley, Leeds

Macy's is the new coffee shop that opened in the unit vacated by Starbuck's in Headingley. An independent replacing a chain is always good to see, so I thought I'd try it out for lunch on Saturday.

The good points first. It's not Starbuck's. The coffee tasted good but wasn't very well made, it wouldn't trouble the best in Leeds but was certainly better than Starbuck's though. The room has been done out nicely, modern with lots of stools to perch on but also some comfier corners with proper seats. I liked it. They are also stocking sausage rolls and cakes from the Sunshine Bakery, so full marks for that too. Did I mention that it's not Starbuck's. That's the main selling point for me really.

Moving onto the not so good points. Aside from the delectable Sunshine Bakery goodies they are doing 'New York deli style sandwiches'. Wonderful I thought. I fancy a great big meat-stuffed sandwich. Because meat-stuffed is what you expect with 'New York deli style sandwiches' right? Do a Google images search with the phrase 'New York deli style sandwiches' and you'll find meat rather prominently displayed.

Perhaps the most famous purveyor of such sandwiches is Katz's Deli. Here's a photo of their legendary pastrami sandwich.

Photo credit: followmefoodie

Now here's a photo of the pastrami sandwich at Macy's.

Spot the difference? I wasn't expecting New York-esque quantities of meat, I really wasn't. Not for the £3.95 charged at Macy's. But I was expecting something with maybe a moderate, even a fairly generous quantity of meat in it. A few paltry slivers of low quality wafer thin pastrami do not a 'New York deli style sandwich' make. Apart from that it was a fairly inoffensive salad-y sandwich that turned up on the wrong bread. I'd asked for white but received tomato. Rye bread isn't an option so if we're being picky that's another thing that makes it nothing like a 'New York deli style sandwich'.

To sum up, it's not Starbuck's which is a good thing. You can buy Sunshine Bakery sausage rolls there which is also a good thing. They're serving mediocre sandwiches described as 'New York deli style' which are nothing of the sort.


6a Otley Road

Saturday, 10 March 2012

French Living, Nottingham

Dinner for three in Nottingham last Tuesday night. It's not often I eat French food, so I had high hopes for French Living. It's a well established fixture on the Nottingham dining scene, serving classic French bistro food.

We started with a few nibbles; - bread, vinegar and oil, olives and saucisson sec. The bread and olives were nothing special but pleasant enough. I enjoyed the saucisson, which was mildly cured, fatty and moreish.

Onglet à l'Echalote for me, a large slab of skirt steak in a shallot and veal stock sauce. The steak itself was a beauty, properly rare as requested and strongly flavoured. It was also impressively tender, tricky to pull off with this cut. I picked the winner with this, a pricier rib-eye across the table looked a little thin and weedy in comparison, though it was declared a success.

The sauce was rich and reduced, perfectly nice but superfluous really. Every time I eat a sauce covered steak it just re-inforces my view that the main purpose of steak sauces is to mask inferior meat. If it's a good quality piece of beef, which this was, let the meat take centre stage I say.

The sauteed potatoes and vegetables were both fine, nice crispy bits on the spuds and al dente veg.

Cassoulet Toulousain was, I think, a classic rendition. It's not a dish I'm very familiar with but all the components were there;- soft, stewed beans, sausage and duck hidden beneath a breadcrumb crust. I tried a bit and really liked it. Definitely something I'll be ordering in the future.

The puddings we had were, putting it bluntly, a bit rubbish. Peach melba was made with crap ice-cream. You know the yellow coloured Cornish stuff from the supermarket? That. A chocolate cake was rather dry and needed a more generous hand with the custard to save it.

Dessert aside a good meal. Service was efficient and suitably Gallic, and prices are reasonable. Our bill came to £85 but that did include two bottles of decent Pinot Noir and 10% service. Worth a visit.


27 King Street

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Bacon Sandwich Quest: February

I almost forgot about Bacon Sandwich Quest, and then Gary sent me a link to this Guardian article and the piggy goodness was duly returned to front of mind. Bacon, bacon, lovely bacon.

What's clear from the article and comments beneath is that bacon sandwiches are a very personal matter. There's a lot to consider. Streaky/back, white/brown, soft/crusty, smoked/unsmoked, red/brown/other, buttered/unbuttered, grilled/griddled/fried.

I've already discussed the options at some length and for the record I'm usually an unsmoked grilled or fried back bacon, soft buttered white bread, brown sauce kind of guy. Variations are possible, but not when it comes to sauce. Brown is the correct choice. Ketchup is for chips and sausages. Ok? Good. And as for mustard??

Wilson's: squandered potential. Could have achieved great things.

So how did I get on in February? Terribly. I only ate two bacon sarnies, neither of which were very exciting. The Wilson's pie van offering had great potential, but was let down by chewy, wizened bacon. Excellent quality bacon mind, with a wonderful flavour, but surely there's a way of keeping it warm on the van without it drying out so much. They also lost out by having no brown sauce. Schoolboy error. If I ever get one of these while the goods are fresh we could have a contender.

Knowsley Industrial Estate Spar: the mushrooms couldn't save it.

The Knowsley Spar effort was mediocre in every way, and not worth discussing further.

Here's the leader board so far:

Where's that?
Wilsons pie van
Cosy Caf
A19 Billingham

Let's hope March is more exciting.....

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Booth's, Ilkley

Supermarket cafés, canteens, restaurants, whatever you want to call them. They're generally pretty dire. The food is cheap, but it usually shows.

I was having a conversation with my Dad a few weeks ago, during which he suggested that I ought to write a blog post comparing supermarket cafés. I did consider it, I'd be lying if I claimed never to eat anything in them. Sometimes they're convenient and I'm hungry. Sometimes I might eat something there that I actually like (Morrison's red salmon sandwich on brown bread. Always wins. Reminds me of sandwiches my Grandma used to make).

If I was going to compare like with like I'd have to eat the same meal in all of them though. The obvious choice would be breakfast. I thought about it but just couldn't subject myself to all the snotty fried eggs, rubbery scrambled eggs, underdone bacon, overdone bacon, floor-scraping sausages, greasy fried bread, watery tinned tomatoes, pointless grilled tomatoes, mushy hash browns and limp toast that would inevitably ensue.

The declaration of 'Champion supermarket fry-up' would have to wait. And then on Saturday I breakfasted at Booth's in Ilkley and can confidently proclaim them the winner without bothering to try all the rest.

This was a damn fine breakfast. Not the finest I've ever eaten, but by far the best I've ever eaten in a supermarket. Clockwise from the top we have beans, then bacon. There's more bacon here than is immediately apparent. One rasher is hidden beneath the egg, the other positioned at an oblique angle making it appear insubstantial. In essence, there is plenty of bacon. And it's good too, with a deep porcine flavour.

Next, forming the centrepiece, we have the egg. The yolk is runny and the white is not. Two sausages, small chipolatas, but most importantly they are good quality small chipolatas. A bit of texture and bounce to the meat and nicely seasoned. Mushy filth tubes these certainly are not.

The black pudding is also of a very high standard, robust and oaty just how I like it. And finally, hash browns. Sometimes a controversial addition to the full English (possibly a bit too American? What next, maple syrup?), but I enjoy them when they're fried properly, that's to say crispy and greaseless, which these were. The toast, not pictured, arrived hot and with numerous pats of butter.

It's a fair bit more expensive than breakfast at any other supermarket (except perhaps Waitrose), but that's reflected in both the quality and the execution. They operate a flexible choose your own items approach, at a fiver for five, six pounds for seven or seven pounds for nine. I opted for the seven item breakfast, which is why there are no vegetables on the plate. By the time I'd picked every available meat and stocked up on carbs there were no choices remaining for tomatoes or mushrooms. Oh well.

So without further ado I declare that Booth's have the finest supermarket cafeteria in the land. This is scientifically proven fact.


Leeds Road
LS29 8EE

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