Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Hong Kong Wok, Sheffield

Hong Kong Wok is a cheap and cheerful Chinese restaurant, one of several on the London Road strip. I doubt it serves the best food in the vicinity, but the staff are friendly, prices low and portions enormous. Just the thing for a casual, low key Friday night.

There's a full menu of individual dishes, covering all the usual Cantonese stuff and a few Sichuan dishes, and a great big long list of one plate meals, appropriately named 'Wok Woppas'. Appropriately named as they are indeed whoppers.

We started, customarily but completely unnecessarily with some crispy duck and pancakes, and a bowl of chicken and sweetcorn soup just to make sure. Then onwards to our woppas.

I can't recall ever having been served a single plate of food so unfeasibly large, certainly not for £6.50 anyway. I had the ma po tofu (on rice), a classic Sichuan dish that's supposed to be tofu, some sort of mince (beef or pork) and some vegetables in an oily broth laced with chillies and Sichuan pepper. Depending on how you wish to translate it you might like to call the dish 'pockmarked old woman's tofu' or perhaps 'leprous old crone's tofu'. Yum.

Slightly disturbing names aside, done right this is a really satisfying dish that warms the cockles with layers of chilli heat and numbing spice (ma la) from the Sichuan pepper. This version was tasty enough, hot and savoury, but completely lacking in the ma la element leaving it a bit one dimensional. The sauce was a bit too cornflour-gloopy as well.

AS had a serviceable and also humongous plate of special fried rice, most of which we took home for Saturday lunch.

With a couple of booze drinks the bill was still less than thirty quid, but you could be in and out for well under a tenner a head if you stick to the one plate meals. The food wasn't brilliant but I'm still rather enamoured with the place; everything was just so generous. Plenty of food, friendly service, free ice cream for afters and fortune cookies!


200-204 London Road
S2 4LW

HK Wok on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Mrs Atha's, Leeds

After a brief hiatus over the last few months Katie at Leeds Grub is back. This is great news as she's always quick to spot anywhere new and interesting on the Leeds food and drink scene. Very helpful if, like me, your finger is nowhere near the pulse.

You'll find Mrs Atha's exactly as described in Katie's review, it really is a very nice space. It's obvious that lots of time and effort (and money too I would imagine) have gone into the fit out;- I could imagine whiling away a good few hours in there, especially during the dark days ahead.

A beautifully made flat white was smooth and strong with quite a pronounced but balanced bitterness. Excellent stuff, I could drink one hell of a lot of these.

This was a breakfast visit, so of course a bacon sarnie was in order. This wasn't so great, the two very thin rashers being a bit meagre in the presence of thickly sliced granary bread. Unusual choice of bread for a bacon sandwich too, though I quite liked it.

The staff were also very friendly and eager to please, and prices are about par for the course for a good quality coffee shop (£2.30 for a flat white I think). I'd highly recommend this place despite the slightly underwhelming sandwich, it's really all about the coffee and that was fantastic. They have some good looking cakes too.


18 Central Road

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Taco Mazama, Glasgow

I usually eat splendidly when I visit Scotland's number one city (get over it Edinburgh). Take a look through my other posts labelled Glasgow and you'll see what I mean.

Last week I didn't. I'm not sure why I'm bothering to write about this really, another boring burrito is hardly exciting news. Probably because I like to whinge.

Here's that boring burrito, or rice sandwich as I'm renaming it. No-one really wants a rice sandwich do they? Especially when the rice is overcooked verging on mushy.

For balance I should point out that there was some beef and other stuff in there too, which was quite nice when you chanced on it. But why it cost an extra quid for the barbacoa shredded beef I'm not entirely sure. Update: I've just wikipedia-ed it and apparently proper barbacoa meat is cooked in a hole in the ground covered by maguey leaves (or if you spell it differently, it's a shit Jamie Oliver restaurant in London). That explains it then.

Not nasty or inedible or anything, just six quid's worth of boring boring boring.


261 Byres Road

Monday, 22 October 2012

The Old Red Lion, Grenoside, Sheffield

The idea of having a proper local pub always appeals. A regular haunt, nothing fancy required, just reliably good beer and food. Somewhere you can rock up any night of the week for an impromptu pint or pie, safe in the knowledge you won't be disappointed. 

It doesn't sound like a big ask, but if, like me, you never end up living in the leafy, fashionable or well-to-do suburbs, it can be a challenge. Live in Dulwich, Chorlton or Chapel Allerton and this mission ought to be straightforward. Try Woolwich, Sale or Outwood and you might struggle. 

Now that I'm residing on the north side of Sheffield the challenge starts anew. The Old Red Lion would just about fit the bill, so it's a shame it's not quite within walking distance.

It looks like a traditional village pub, but the food on offer is a little more ambitious. There's a menu of pub classics, pitched around the ten or twelve quid mark, and a fixed price menu at £23 for two courses. We thought we'd try the pub grub first time around then return for the more upmarket stuff at a later date if it was any good.

On the face of it the beef, mushroom and ale pie ticked every one of my 'dislike' boxes. China bowl of stew with a pastry lid rather than an actual pie: check. Jenga chips: check. Another annoying china bowl with not enough peas in it: check.

Putting my prejudices aside I got stuck in and what do you know, it was really good. Tender beef and fat slices of earthy mushroom in a thin but well-flavoured broth encased in short, delicate pastry. Peas that were a lot better than they looked and competent chips.

AS had the rump steak, a decent enough piece of meat that was accurately cooked, a feat beyond most pubs. A side of onion rings were fine specimens, hot, crunchy and more-ish. I enjoyed them so much I'm even prepared to forgive the great big pointless tomato, which was big, pointless and not great.

That return visit is definitely on the cards, there's a partridge dish with my name on it. Were it half a mile closer to home The Old Red Lion could be my local, as it is I'm still on the lookout. Any good pubs in Oughtibridge?


210 Main Street
S35 8PR

Please note: Don't mistake this place for the other Red Lion in Grenoside on the A61, which is a bit crap.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

SoLIta, Manchester

A celebratory dinner in anticipation of the Blog North Awards (congratulations to Around the World in Eighty Bakes, which won in the food and drink category) was required on Wednesday, so I thought it high time we ate at one of the multitude of new restaurants that have opened in Manchester over the last year or so.

SoLIta got the nod primarily as it's an easy stroll from Piccadilly station, but also because of an American influenced menu filled with interesting sounding deep-fried stuff and meat cooked on an Inka grill, a super high temperature charcoal burning piece of kit presumably similar to the more well-known Josper.

Starters (or small plates if you prefer) of bacon jam on sourdough toast and rooster scratchings were a mixed bag. The scratchings, being deep-fried chicken skin, were bloody marvellous, but the bacon jam didn't really do it for me. It seems strange to criticise jam for being too sweet, but it was just a bit too one-dimensionally sugary and not bacon-y enough. Not unpleasant but just a bit boring.

My tribute burger was the best part of the meal. I've read some early reviews of this place where the burgers were overcooked and weirdly textured. They've certainly addressed this as mine had quite an open, loose texture and was a lovely even pink inside with a thin, blackened, savoury crust. That grill is working just fine.

Classic accompaniments (hence the tribute name) of cheese, pickles, onions, ketchup and mustard complimented the meat well and the bread was up to the task but a bit oversized relative to the patty. Chips were of the bought in frozen variety.

AS went a little more experimental, choosing the deep fried mac'n'cheese with pulled pork. Anyone who's ever been to New Zealand and ordered lasagne from a chip shop will be familiar with this. Slice up cold pasta in a bechamel based sauce, breadcrumb it and fry it. What could possibly go wrong?

In this case, nothing, at least not with the macaroni fritter itself. The crumb was greaseless and the macaroni cheese within smooth and peppery how I like it. The down side was a smear of teeth-itchingly sweet barbecue sauce dolloped on top that didn't do it any favours at all. The pulled pork had the same problem, the flavour of well cooked shreds of moist meat drowned out by the overly sweet sauce.

Service was very good throughout our meal, the front of house guy was friendly and eager to please. Prices are fair, some of the smaller things are a bit steep (£2.90 for a bit of chicken skin) but that's countered by the booze which is great value (£3.95 for a large glass of wine, £3.20 for a pint of well-kept beer). We paid around £36 including service.

I liked SoLIta, my burger lived up to expectations so I'd definitely return to see what that grill could do with a good steak. If they cut back on the sugar and made their own chips I'd probably love the place.


Turner Street
M4 1DW

Solita Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 18 October 2012

New Cod on the Block, Crookesmoor, Sheffield

I was going to have a serious word with Sheffield about its fish and chips. After a complete disaster the other week I wasn't taking any chances, and had to walk away from no less than three chippies in a row that reeked of stale fat. Why? What is going on? Surely changing it from time to time is not that difficult.

I was on the verge of giving up completely and going to KFC instead (it really was that bad. Mind you I'd probably have ordered 15 hot wings. I like hot wings), when I recalled having seen them queuing out the door at a place only a few minutes further away.

It was New Cod on the Block. Nice pun! I was the sole customer on arrival and the fish was fried to order. Oh cod but it was good. Sorry I'm floundering now, this is roeful. Eely roeful. I think I should take the opportunaty to stop before I get stuck between a rock and a hard plaice.

I really am sorry. The cod (it seems cod is number one in this unruly part of Yorkshire) was about the girth and length of my upper arm and flaked beautifully in a puff of steam as I broke through the batter. Great work.

Chips were decent enough though not quite on a par with the fish. Peas were suitably sloppy but seemed to have been dyed more green. Bit unnecessary.

Around a fiver for fish, chips and peas. Less if you're a battered sausage or pukka pie fiend. Animal. You got away with it Sheffield. You can do fish and chips after all.


17 Commonside
S10 1GA

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Mumtaz, Bradford

I might just be falling out of love with Mumtaz. I’ve been a big fan since my first visit to the original Bradford restaurant 7 or 8 years ago, and have never been disappointed with a meal there or in the Leeds branch.

Not everything they produce is quite so good though. The supermarket ready meals are a mixed bag (although still better than virtually all the store own branded versions) and I’ve had poor food from the Jaldi Jaldi takeaway outlets. There were just a few signs in our Bradford meal over the weekend that all might not be well in mothership of the empire either.

That’s not to say we weren’t well fed though. Some things were very good, like they always have been. The pickle tray has always been a cut above, and still is. The tamarind chutney is gooey and tangy and lovely, there are two varieties of raita both made with proper, thick yoghurt and the lime pickle is fierce. What the hell the cheap pitted black olives are doing there I have no idea but I’m willing to overlook them as a foolish mistake.

A piece of chicken tikka on the bone was even hotter than the lime pickle, surprising but not in a bad way. The heat was tempered by lovely bits of charred marinade, singing with ginger, encasing still tender meat.

It was the curries that let the side down a bit. Both a karahi lamb and a karahi channa tasted a bit mass-produced, a bit like commodity curries made in bulk from a base paste. I could be completely wide of the mark but I have a sneaking suspicion they pre-cook everything in the same kitchen that supplies those ready meals and takeaways.

If I’m right then they still scrub up well after being fried in a good splash of ghee with extra ginger, garlic and coriander. I was merrily scooping away with my roti for ages. Something was slightly lacking though, they didn’t have that vibrancy and depth of flavour I seem to recall from visits past.

Back to the usual high standard with the bread though, each tandoori roti costing 85p a pop was thin, beautifully crisped and absolutely bloody enormous. They know how to cook rice too.

I haven’t fallen out of love with Mumtaz yet, and I hope they don’t give me cause to. A visit here is always a pleasure, the huge, bling, marble clad restaurant is an experience in itself and I like the atmosphere, lively with the chatter of families rather than the clatter of the booze-fuelled. That lack of booze also makes it nigh on impossible to spend over fifteen quid a head. We paid £28 including a tip. 


Great Horton Road

Mumtaz on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Lagos Spike, Manchester

Hidden down a dingy back alley off Chapel Street Manchester's worst kept secret has recently opened, the exuberant hovel of iniquity that is Lagos Spike.

Shivering from the autumn chill, I'm welcomed in from the street by Jeb Jepson, the elegantly coiffured front of house guy, one of three people running the show here, alongside business partners Tarquin Micklethwaite and Rose Rose-Gidley.

Jeb shows me to the bar, a solid, muscular presence in the room, brightly illuminated in intermittent circles by enormous filament bulbs hanging overhead. It's constructed, he tells me, entirely from pig iron reclaimed from spinning looms. It's a nod to the area's industrial past and in keeping with the ethos of the place that he proceeds to expound on.

Not before the drinks duly arrive though. I start with the excellent house white, a Pinot Grigio from the concise, no choice list where it's described in amusingly forthright manner as 'Fucking Wine'. It arrives in a distressed tumbler, a continuation of the post-industrial theme.

'There's a burgeoning movement here in the Western Quarter', Jeb tells me, 'the area has come on in  leaps and bounds since the renaming last year. Past associations with decline have been superseded by a truly vibrant urban renaissance. We really wanted to reflect that rebirth, but to keep things grounded in the history of the place we wanted a warts and all establishment, somewhere the local creatives can get down and dirty with the local locals, kick back and enjoy great food and booze without the formality. It's dining without the frippery, the reservations and starched table linen stripped out and pared down so we can focus on what's really important to our guests'.

It's clearly working, as the hour long queue outside in the drizzle attests, the democratisation of dining drawing in the crowds from across the city. Once inside, the place has a joyous buzz, twenty-somethings flitting about in the shadows, perching on Supermalt crates and making merry on recovered foam mattresses.

So what about the food, that's why I'm really here of course. 'We're bringing something new to the scene', Jeb proceeds, 'dishes the likes of which have never been seen in this town before. Eats that will blow your mind. The emphasis is on local produce, cooked with ingenuity. African food is so hot right now, and we really feel the polygamic marriage between the originality of Nigerian cuisine, the technique and classic dishes of Mexican street food and the produce of Lancashire has yet to be fully exploited, so that's what we're aiming to do'.

A selection of dishes from this Afro-Mex fusion tapas menu soon arrive, and boy are they good. The highlight for me is the bury plack pudding taco with hot shito, a dish whose fame has spread so rapidly it's already the stuff of legend in foodie circles. The artisan cornmeal tortillas act as the perfect vessel for the dense, porky goodness of the black pudding morsels within, the hot shito adding a brow-mopping hit of pure chilli heat. Totally dirty and utterly delicious.

Second prize for next best dish of the night went to the peanut butter burrito slider, a splendidly sloppy confection of rare breed (from Longhorn cattle farmed in nearby Monton apparently) rare beef chilli doused in extra spicy Ghanaian peanut sauce and held together in a slightly sweet brioche bun. Genius. Salivating genius.

Also commendable were the chipotle fufu fries, strips of deep-fried mashed yam doused in a smoky Mexican relish. By this time I was also gasping for more booze, and refreshment in general. Although the wine list is brief beer features more extensively. They have a huge range of imported craft beers all served with care in elegant stemware. I enjoyed an absolute belter of a triple-hopped imperial mild from Guam, sadly the name of the brewery escapes me.

Desserts are a more straightforward affair than the savoury dishes, a short list is split into very small plates, small plates, and less small plates to share. Being pretty much full up on dirty meaty filth I ordered the quarter of an Eccles cake from the very small plates section and was presented with a quarter of an Eccles cake on a wooden board. Simple, wonderful food with no need for prissy decoration.

Thereon the night progressed into a slightly drunken haze of meaty treats, strong booze and beats. After beers we moved onto the extensive cocktail list, the standout mix for me being the Aperol vimto spritz.

It's for that reason my photos are so terrible (apologies), that and the fact that there are no lights anywhere other than at the bar. 'It suits the vibe', Jeb explains, 'which if we're getting things right should be one part Dickensian workhouse to two parts West African stout den to one part illicit bookmakers in Gorton'.

Lagos Spike is undoubtedly one of the finest places to eat and drink in the north. The drinks are strong and applied liberally, the innovative fusion-filth food will tempt any budding gastronaut and the atmosphere rocks. As recently as five years ago this place just couldn't have existed in these parts, maybe in London's east end, but not in the north. See how far we've come.


off Chapel Street
The Western Quarter
M3 5FF

No website, no reservations, no bullshit.

I was invited to review Lagos Spike.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Good things to eat [Volume 12]

Here are a few more things I've been eating lately, including some particularly fine bread and cheese that's worth seeking out.

Ogleshield cheese

Let's kick things off with the cheese. Ogleshield is a washed rind cow's cheese, and it's an absolute bobby-dazzler. It's got that penetrating, lasting intensity of flavour you only get from cheese made with unpasteurised milk. Very smooth and quite dense in texture, it melts slowly on the tongue releasing wave after wave of tangy, almost wine-like flavour.

I've eaten it with apples, on bread and toast, and grated into a mushroom risotto as an adjunct to the parmesan. Every which way was a winner.

A quick google search told me that it's made by the Montgomery family in Somerset, the same people who make my beloved Montgomery's cheddar. I have no doubt that they are among the finest cheese makers in the land. Marvellous stuff.

The Lincolnshire Poacher stall at Sharrowvale market sells Ogleshield, as will any Neal's Yard Dairy stockist. If you're in the North-West (or Ilkley) give Booth's a try.

Sabra Hummous

I finally found a good brand of hummous that's readily available in the supermarket. Spend any time in the Middle East and British supermarket hummous will forever be a disappointment. But it's just mashed up chickpeas, oil and tahini you say. No, no, no. The really good stuff is smooth and light, and lemony and nutty, and delicious and really, really bloody more-ish. The rubbish stuff is dull and dense and grainy and boring.

You can get this in Sainsbury's and while it's not absolutely top notch it's a far better effort than the norm. Having looked at the ingredients I think the key to good hummous is probably more tahini and oil, and fewer chickpeas. We all know fat equals flavour after all.

Seven Hills Bakery bread

Alongside the aforementioned cheese, bread from the Seven Hills Bakery stall was the best thing I bought at the Sharrowvale market on Sunday. A quick word on the market: it's excellent, with a good range of stalls on the food front (cheese, meat and especially cakes are well represented) covering all bases the only exception being a complete lack of fruit and veg. It was busy without being overbearing and the atmosphere was fantastic. Highly recommended.

Seven Hills Bakery have a shop on Sharrow Vale Road, but also set up a stall out front on market days. Their Sharrow sourdough is the best bread I've eaten in ages. I can't find the words to describe precisely what makes it so good, it's just got that magical combination of taste and texture. You'll have to try it for yourself to see what I mean. It's pictured at the top of the post with the cheese, and above, toasted with my porky beans.

Although way past its best for eating as it is, five days on it's still toasting beautifully. I will be back for more.

376 Sharrow Vale Road, Sheffield

Watkins Mushroom Ketchup

I'd like to continue the Sheffield love-in here and talk about Henderson's relish, but the truth is I'm not a big fan of the stuff. It's touted locally as some sort of magical elixir, a wonder condiment far superior to Worcestershire sauce to be applied liberally on all manner of foodstuffs. Sorry, to me it's the other way round, Henderson's just tastes like a crapper version of Lea and Perrin's.

A new and exciting sauce I have discovered however is mushroom ketchup, which is rather like a super-mushroomy Worcestershire sauce. Adding fungal depth to whatever you put it in (having just read what I've written I'm not sure 'fungal depth' is really an appropriate descriptive, but never mind) I really like this stuff. So far it's gone in a mushroom risotto and the porky beans I've just had for tea. There will be many more uses for it.

Widely available in supermarkets.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Chappati Corner, Cheetham Hill, Manchester

The cheap and cheerful theme is continuing round here at the moment, I've not been out for a meal costing more than a tenner in weeks. I had to travel from Salford up to Oldham a few days ago, and with only six quid on me and a large appetite a curry café visit en route through Manchester was inevitable.

Chapatti Corner is one of several on the Cheetham Hill Road strip, none of which I'm familiar with.  Selected completely at random it did the job with aplomb. A colossal portion, reasonably distinctive curries (far better than the beige slop appearance would suggest) of which the chickpeas were the best and added zip from a generous topping of ginger, coriander and chilli.

Given the name of the place I had to order a chapati on the side, anyone hanging the name of their restaurant on one particular foodstuff ought to make sure they do it well. Thankfully they did. The bread was the best thing about the meal, big, light and crisp, probably the best bread I've had in a curry caff and a bargain at 50p.

I was charged a fiver for rice and three curries, less than the £5.80 advertised on the menu, and handy given I needed my spare quid for that chapati. Cheap, satisfying food in a grubby caff, cricket in Urdu on the telly. That's how they roll in Cheetham Hill.


Chappati Corner
Cheetham Hill Road

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Bacon Sandwich Quest: September

It's that time again. Here's what you've all been waiting for, the nervous tension reaching a climax, the anticipation almost unbearable as you hit refresh with ever increasing frequency, sweaty palmed at what porky joys await.

I'll try to let you down gently. Most of September's pig related fun came in the form of Spanish jamon, British bacon appearing on my menu just the once in a spectacularly underwhelming effort from the Breadbox kiosk in Manchester Piccadilly station.

It didn't cost much (£2 or £2.50 including a tea?), but that's where the compliments end. It's one of those places where the breakfast butties are pre-made, then reheated in some sort of industrial megamicrowave grill machine that zaps the shit out of them in mere seconds, somehow rendering the bacon fiercely hot yet limp and flabby, and the bread damp inside but dry out. There's a reason microwaves with grill functions never took off.

That ought to be your lot, but I did say I'd let you down gently, so just for the hell of it here's October's first entry. I ate it at lunchtime on the first so it wasn't far off September.

This was better, a £2.20 large from our Gert's cafe in Walkley, Sheffield. A good soft roll harboured three rashers of sturdy, rough hewn bacon. The cooking was a touch irregular, some bits crispier than others, but other than that a solid effort. The chap serving was friendly, but he didn't offer me any sauce. No sauce! What is the world coming to.

Three more months and the ordeal will be over. It's becoming increasingly clear from the leaderboard that most bacon sandwiches are mediocre, and you'd be better making your own. Ho hum.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Trafalgar Fisheries, Wadsley Bridge, Sheffield

And so it goes, that a pleasant surprise is followed by a thoroughly unpleasant one.

I really wanted to like this place, it had the air of a classic back streets chippy. The staff were friendly, there was a steady stream of custom and free Ben Shaw's pop was on offer with larger orders. So far so good. A six week chippy hiatus had me salivating.

It's just a shame the fish and chips were dire. A lumpen, ossified shroud of batter enveloped the fish, the flesh within fragmented on impact into dry shreds, the only thing holding it together the still-on skin. A vague whiff of tinned tuna hung in the air. This was haddock, allegedly. Whatever it was it had been fried an age ago, and caught back in the mists of time.

Those eating cod fared better, but not much as far as I could tell. Chips were ok if underdone, and the only real redeeming feature were peas with a pleasingly sloppy consistency.

I'm awarding a bonus point for the peas and the free pop. It didn't cost much but you'd have to pay me to eat fish like that again. Don't bother.


Trafalgar Fisheries
17 Trafalgar Road
Wadsley Bridge
S6 1JY

Friday, 5 October 2012

Rowsha, Walkley, Sheffield

I haven't eaten out much over the last few weeks, at least not in the evenings in a restaurant with a bottle of wine sense. A few takeaways and a few quick lunches has been about it, but that's not to say I haven't eaten any good food.

A randomly chosen takeaway last weekend was a really pleasant surprise. Rowsha is a little Lebanese restaurant in Walkley with a very reasonably priced takeaway menu. All sorts of mezzes, hot and cold, can be had for less than four quid and kebab wraps are just three pounds each.

The fattoush was a match for those I ate in the Middle East last year, bright and fresh, the veggies tart with sumac and the bread properly crisped. An absolute bargain at three quid for a large container full.

Falafel and shish taouk (grilled chicken) wraps were both well-made, with more fresh salad and thin, lemony hummous. The chicken was particularly good, beautifully moist with lovely smokey barbecued edges. The only down-side was slightly thick, dry bread.

An unexpected delight, simple food cooked really well. I'd love to return to dine in the restaurant at some point.


288 South Road
S6 3TE

Rowsha on Urbanspoon
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