Archive of ‘Eating out Adventures’ category
I was recently invited to review Luigikhans restaurant on Westgate Road, Newcastle, and decided to pop along having not been near a naan, poppadom or lamb saag in some time. Being asked to review local restaurants and attend menu launches and events is one of the real pleasures that’s come my way since starting my blog and while I can’t make it to all of the places I’m asked and don’t accept every invitation to eat for free, it has helped me get more of an overview of what’s on offer in the region and brought to my attention some places I may otherwise have missed.
Luigikhan’s is homed inside the Best Western Ryokan on Westgate road, which is why I probably would have been unlikely to come across it had I not been asked to visit. Though the building itself is easy to miss from the road, once inside the interior is rather surprising. The hotel won the first prize in the refurbishment category of the Lord Mayor Design Awards a few years ago and you can really see why.This snap of the restaurant’s bar makes the place look rather darker than it was, but my dining partner and I were big fans of the dark wooden furnishings, sturdy tables and the ample space. Too often when you go for a curry with friends (in certain town centre establishments) you are rammed elbow to elbow with the next table. Here, we were impressed to find lots of space between tables, large booths for dining groups and a separate area for private functions, which was full when we arrived for a very early dinner at 6pm on a Tuesday evening.
Luigikhan’s very woody interior and bar
We arrived a little early for our booking but were welcomed in and started working our way through the fairly extensive menu. Luigikhan’s is a Punjab restaurant, so I was expecting lots of ghee and paneer. I was a little disappointed to spot standard pub starters like potato skins and garlic mushrooms on the menu but presume these are here to accomodate hotel guests who aren’t fans of Indian cuisine.
I ordered the Lahori fried fish to start ‘cod marinated in Asian spice and coated with gram flour & deep fried. Served with a mixed salad’ and priced at £4.25. Hungry Hannah my dining partner, who had purposefully had a very light lunch to make room for curry, chose Baghbanpuri Samosa Chaat, which was described as ‘slightly roasted vegetables with a hint of spice wrapped in pastry, served with chichpea curry, fresh salad, mint yoghurt and tamarind chutney’ (£3.95).
Light and crisp Lahore fried fish
I was very pleased with my fish when it came out – a perfect portion for a starter, though the tamarind chutney it came with was a little runny and sour for my tastes. The moist fish was perfectly cooked in a very light batter, though the spices in the batter were slightly overpowered by the chutney – I think they may have been better set off with a mint pickle, a little lemon, or even a mango chutney. When Hannah’s starter came out the food envy started, the samosas at Luigikhans are served a little differently to most Indian restaurants I’ve been to and were all the better for it.
As Hannah is a good friend she gave me a taste of the samosa, which was light and crunchy without a hint of grease with a delicious middle. The vegetables within had been delicately spiced and the samosa itself would have been just grand on its own. However, it was the other elements to this dish that made it a real treat – a slightly sweet chickpea curry, tamarind sauce and yoghurt. I’m a real fan of raw red onion too, though the generous chunks of this may have been too much for lesser onion fans. In short, Hannah won in the realms of the starter.
After a short wait our main courses arrived and we were slightly scared to see the generous portions. We looked around the room to check if our bowlfuls were more plentiful than those served elsewhere, but ours seemed to measure up with everyone else’s. I can rarely resist lamb when at an Indian restaurant – when it’s slowcooked with spices it’s one of my favourites, so I chose Luigikhan’s Special Lamb Handi Lamb on bone with an onion, tomato and garlic sauce (£8.25). Hannah selected another lamb dish, this time with spinach puree – the Palak Goshat Lamb cooked in fresh tomatoes and onion sauce (£8.95).
I’ve never had Handi before but was impressed with the amount of meat (which came on the bone) that was nestled in the sauce, which was somewhere between a dopiaza and rogan josh in taste and consistency. I was given the choice of hot or medium spice and chose hot, though the spice temperature was a little lower than my usual madras.
Palak Gosht (sorry about the flash!)
Hannah’s chosen dish seemed to have a greater depth of flavour than my own, though thanks to someone leaving the flash on (sorry, should have warned you about that, Han!) it looks a little plastic and shiny in the photo. It really wasn’t. Though the dish was described as medium spice it had more of a slow-burning kick after it, with quite a strong gingery taste (which I love). The lamb in both dishes was nicely tender. To mop up the sauce we ordered a roasted fennel seed and cottage cheese naan (£3.25) and a garlic and coriander rice (around £3). The naan was perfect in every way other than being a bit sparse on fennel seeds – the roasted seed flavour didn’t really carry through here, though the naan was delightfully ungreasy and just the right size for two. The rice was a good amount of garlicky, about the level where you can’t stand too near anyone who hasn’t just been to dinner with you.
Feeling rather full but not wanting to fail on sampling something from each course, we requested a glass of water each to wash down our two courses and make room for a third. This is a backwards type of logic that usually only serves to make me feel fuller, but in this instance I think it actually worked. In case of serious struggling with the final course, we ordered soft, melty looking desserts that could be eased down gently. Myself – Rassmalai – a creamy soaked paneer and milky blancmange of almonds and pistachios (£2.95) and Hannah – Galab Jarman (little warm donuts in syrup) served with ice cream (£3.95).
Rassmalai – well worth the dairy hit!
I’ve discovered a love for almonds and pistachios this year having previously been a nut-free zone and this dessert added fuel to my new nutty passion. Of course, it was far too milky for someone who isn’t supposed to have milk and I did feel a little poorly later as a result, but it was worth it.
Warm syrupy donuts with fruity ice cream
My dessert was delicious but the smell of Hannah’s fresh donuts again caused a little food envy to stir. We really had no room left for coffee so thanked our hosts and left. As we departed the waitress remarked that she was surprised we’d opted for the Indian desserts, which confirmed my earlier suspicion that the restaurant is attempting to cater to all and while this usually upsets me (don’t get me started on what I think about takeaway pizza places that also sell Chinese food), I think in this instance, it is probably a strength.
During our meal there was a real mix of diners – from single hotel guests through to a large private party of Asian diners. We were also intrigued to spot Shisha on the menu. We really enjoyed our meal – particularly our desserts. With it’s spacious dining area, friendly staff and a menu to please all I’d say Luigikhan’s is an ideal spot for a family meal or an outing with colleagues and I hope to bring my own family back to sample the cuisine in the near future.
* I was invited to taste test Luigikhan’s menu free of charge but have endeavoured to give a fair representation in this review and observed diners at other tables in order to compare their experience with my own.
A review of Lulu’s Chinese cookery class, Newcastle
I’ve been dying to write up my review of this Newcastle cookery class since I went along a few weeks ago because the evening was simply too good to keep to myself. It was the perfect Friday evening – there was food, new friends, laughs and a real belly-bloating serving of seriously sensational carbs.
This is no exaggeration: every single day since I went to the Xi’an noodle making class held by the very lovely Lulu at her home in Newcastle, I have found myself drifting off and dreaming of these noodles. Several times I have found myself salivating at the wheel on my drive home from work as I replay the eating of these noodles in my mind - they tasted that good!
The handmade noodle class is just one of the events Lulu, originally from the Xi’an region, holds at her home. It’s a cross between a supperclub and a cookery class and you can find out about other classes/events she has coming up on her website here. You’ll also find lots of easy to follow recipes on her blog and details of her appearances at regional food events with her authentic street food.
My friend and I paid £36 each to attend the Friday night class, for which we received an extraordinarily warm welcome into Lulu’s home, a hefty starter, several hours of extremely hands-on cookery tuition, a shed load of giggles, some new friends, a superior supper and a take home goody bag too! As with my previous review of Maunika Gowhardan’s Indian cookery class at Blackfriar’s – I won’t be sharing all the secrets of Lulu’s class here as it’s very much in your best interests to head along and experience it for yourself, but I will be touching on some of the simple things I learnt and sharing some snaps I took on the night. it’s also worth noting that the recipe we cooked didn’t require lots of hard to find ingredients and Lulu gave insiders tips on where to buy items we might need in the future.
A truly lip smacking starter
The evening started with a pile of ribs and a truly lipsmacking cucumber salad, which Lulu prepared before our eyes. Cucumber as the feature of a dish is a strange concept, but we couldn’t stop eating it, despite it being seriously difficult to pick up with chopsticks. The secret was the garlic, chilli and oil Lulu poured on the dish to flavour it. The chilli, which came from Xi’an had a heat that made your lips tingle and tickle but wasn’t so hot that it overwhelmed everything else, it did make you pout a lot though. The ribs were soft and sticky and I stopped eating them only because I was afraid I wouldn’t have room for my noodles.
Lulu adds her meat to the sauce
Lulu started the cookery demonstration by showing us how to make the sauce that would accompany our handmade noodles. The dish itself was a little like a Chinese bolognese and she explained there was some shared ancestry for the dish. Rather than cooking the meat first (pork mince and shredded chicken) she added it directly to the sauce base, which is a tip I’ll be using to keep my meat sauces more moist – Chinese or otherwise.
The very laborious task of kneading the noodle dough for the class was performed by Lulu in advance of our arrival, though she did demonstrate it for us – armed with a chair to allow her to put all of the weight of her petite self behind it while working on her wooden work surfaces (which I eyed enviously).
Perfectly prepped noodle dough
The main task of the evening – which somehow locked both my shoulders and had us all in fits of giggles – was the noodle slapping. The process of stretching Chinese noodles is all in the wrist action and involves tapping (or more slapping for me and my fellow pupils) the dough off the bench. Here’s my friend Danielle making it look easy:
Danielle shows us how to slap 'em
I’m not sure how long I was slapping my noodles for but it felt like hours and I certainly worked up an appetite doing it. Whether it was my poor technique or just my general arm weakness – by the end of this activity I felt a bit like I’d taken part in the Oxford-Cambridge boat race. However, my efforts were rewarded when Lulu served up my bowlful of noodles topped with sauce and a generous helping of the lip-smacking chilli that transformed that cucumber. This topping with the hot oil dripped through it added a whole other level of flavour to a dish that had been slow cooked with Chinese spices.
I just can't get you out of my head, noodles
My noodles came in a proper deep bowl, as noodles should and though I did eat them with chopsticks at first I was soon shovelling them in with a fork. They were moist, almost sweet and with that slight tingle from the chilli. As a real greedy guts I managed to finish my plentiful portion but some of the other pupils took leftovers home in boxes Lulu thoughtfully had on hand.
For those looking for authentic Chinese food or a different dining experience, Lulu Cooks Chinese will really hit the spot. It’s a bonus that you can take along your own booze to make the evening even cheaper and the teaching group is so small (6-8) that you get a lot of individual attention and very generous servings of food. I’m watching Lulu’s website closely (in a friendly non-stalker fashion) to see where she’s appearing next in an effort to get my hands on some of her street food. Meanwhile, I’m once again daydreaming about these noodles.
“My favourite type of diet is seafood, I see food and I eat it!” It’s a proper dad joke but it’s also pretty true – I do love seafood and there’s nothing in life I like more than a good buffet. Forget fine dining, if I ever get married there’s going to be a buffet of dreams at the reception. In fact, forget the wedding – let’s just have a buffet.
I was recently invited to try out the Brunch menu at the Hotel du Vin on Newcastle’s Quayside. I’m quite a fan of brunch and I’m glad it seems to becoming a more established meal time on these shores – as far as I’m concerned it’s express permission to have your breakfast really late and eat more to make up for it. When I found out one of the four courses of the £19.95 Hotel di Vin Sunday Brunch was a seafood buffet course I said I would be there with bells on – though what actually happened was I got lost en route and turned up so late I missed drinks in the beautiful bar and the soup course.
The very pretty bar I didn't get to spend time in (photo:Hotel du Vin)
I was offered belated soup (vegetable) but decided to save space for the other three courses. My meat-free month lingers on in my memory and the opportunity to graze on plentiful seafood and meats from the French-inspired market table made me apply common sense and sidestep the liquid course. I also opted for wine instead of a cocktail, though I did steal some very pleasing sips of my dining partner’s Kir Royale – It was good.
Kir Royale £7.50
I paid two gluttony-fuelled visits (one meat, one seafood) to the market table and spoke with the very knowledgeable chef about the impressive spread.
A peek at the market table (photo:Hotel du Vin)
The sheer volume of quality meat, fish, prawns, mussels and oysters on offer would easily be worththe £19.95 fee alone and this was without the breads, pastries and condiments to accompany them.
A very fish plate
On hand during the meal was Hotel du Vin’s sommelier in residence who recommended the perfect fresh, crisp, white for me to wash my salmon down with before embarking on my main course. I’m happy to admit that I’m just as likely to visit a cafe with a BYO policy as a bistro with a sommelier, but on this and during previous visits to Hotel du Vin bistros the sommelier has always been approachable, helpful and never hit a bum grape note. I was so impressed on this occasion that I asked if the hotel ran any wine-focused events (they do, see their site).
Unlike the majority of my fellow diners I decided to plump for a juicy burger rather than a roast for main course. This was in part because Ma Berg has been generously feeding me a roast every single week since my repatriation (I’m getting roast-tund). The roasts looked great, but when my burger arrived complete with a pot of very French Fries any Yorkshire pud envy I may have had disappeared. The burger was nicely pink in the middle and came oozing with gruyere and topped with crispy bacon.
A belly-filling bistro burger
After failing to finish my fries I was a little edgy about making room for dessert but it turns out there’s always room for ice cream, and profiteroles. I always tend to order starter instead of desserts in restaurants, which is a habit I formed after being fed too many pre-packaged, sub-par desserts. However, the profiteroles at Hotel Du Vin were freshly made and came filled with not-too-sweet and creamy vanilla ice cream, along with a good ladleful of milk chocolate sauce.
I’m always very particular about giving a fair representation of all the places I review – whether I’ve paid for my feed or not and on this occasion I’m happy to give Hotel Du Vin and their brunch a bloated thumbs up. At £19.95 this four course brunch really is a bonanza and a great choice for a special family gathering or catch up with friends and I’ve already recommended it to several people looking for somewhere to eat over the weekend.
Of course, Hotel Du Vin are not the only ones pushing brunch at the moment and having happily adopted this extra meal of the day into my eating routine I’ve been trying out brunches far and wide since dining there to see how they compare. My efforts have been concentrated out of town so far but I’m hoping to try out the American-inspired fare at the nearby Mal shortly, which is also offering a £19.95 Sunday Brunch Menu. All other brunch venue recommendations are gratefully received (and brunch buddies)!
Confession: Why I’m now Newcastle cookery class mad
I like to pack as many things into my life as I can and a lot of these things (as my expanded waistline pays tribute to) are food based. I hate feeling like I’m not being productive in some way and though I love socialising – more often than not I’ll try and tie in testing out a new restaurant or a new bar if I’m meeting with friends and as I edge out of twenties (ouch) I find myself looking for options other than gannin oot on the lash at the weekend. Recently I’ve translated my geekery/food love and fear of hangovers into a hunt for food-based learning fun and first on the list was a cookery class with the exceptionally talented Maunika Gowhardan.
I headed along to one of Indian chef and food writer Maunika’s classes held in the workshops at Blackfriars on a cold evening at the end of last month and it was money exceedingly well spent. Not only did I get to eat some fantastic food, which was much appreciated during the month of bland dairy-carb overload, but I also picked up some tips and advice I know I will be able to use whenever I cook with Indian flavours from now on. The class itself was extremely good value at £40 for three hours tuition, a three course meal, wine, recipe car and a goody bag to take home and instead of picking up a nasty hangover I caught the cookery class bug (can anyone recommend any in the area?).
I won’t be revealing all of the secrets Maunika shared during the course of the evening – it would probably take me a week to write a post long enough. The class itself was very relaxed and interactive and Maunika covered everything from tackling people’s personal indian cookery issues right through to recommending her favourite Indian restaurants across the country and she did it all with infectious enthusiasm. I might be gushing a bit as I think I have a bit of a girl crush on Ms Maunika, but not only was she incredibly helpful and friendly but she was a cooking neat freak!
Maunika is a neat cook
As a bit of a newcastle newb I was slightly late to the class, but when I did get there I was greeted by some fabulous indian pancakes and chutneys including a mint pickle, which was almost like a pesto and so very different to the raita usually served in restaurants.
On the menu at the Maunika Gowardhan class
- Bengali Murgir
- Mattar Paneer
- Spiced Cabbage Thoran
Maunika guided us through the preparation and cooking of each dish, answering questions along the way – even covering where to buy ingredients or possible alternatives to use. One of the best bits of advice I picked up was concerning the addition of heat to a curry. For too long I’ve been adding extra chilli powder or spice near the end of cooking, which is a big no-no that results in a powdery taste and I’m thankful to Maunika on shining some common sense on this by pointing out that powdered spices need to be cooked through.
Maunika at work
When the various curry dishes were cooked we were quickly served up a generous portion and I was sorry to be missing out on the delicious smelling Bengali Murgir with it’s tender looking chicken, until I tucked into my paneer along with some roti, cabbage thoran, rice and chutney.
Creamy mattar paneer
I did brave a lot of dairy in this particular dish but it was worth it – the full fat yoghurt gave the sauce a creamy taste without feeling too heavy and though I’d never had paneer not in a light batter (and it is soooo good in a light batter) I’m a complete convert and will be eating it in batter-free guises from now on.
Dessert came in the form of a kulfi and spiced barfi, which slipped down effortlessly despite the hefty amount of food that came before. I’d never had barfi before and found it delicious – somewhere between a sweet and a cookie and thoroughly moreish.
Pistachio ice cream and barfi
And there were even some essentials from the class to take home to help us recreate the evening in our own kitchens.
Take home treats
If you fancy a fun, tasty and hangover free activity or are looking for an original gift – I’d strongly urge you to give the class a go. I’ve got a fair few Indian cook books but the insight Maunika gave into why you need to do a particular process at a particular time or why a specific ingredient is used was very helpful – as were her restaurant recommendations, which I’ll be signing friends up to try out as soon as possible. I’ve now well and truly caught the cookey class bug and went along to another class Lulu cooks Chinese this weekend and i’ll be posting my review on that soon!
A few weeks ago I was invited along to test the menu and learn the art of sangria making at La Vina on Grey Street in Newcastle. I consider myself to be a bit of a sangria expert on account of spending several breaks in Barcelona supping two euro Sangria from the local Spa. I also ‘invented’ mulled Sangria a couple of Januarys ago after becoming really obsessed with mulled wine. In addition, I have extensive experience of eating tapas in as many places I can find it – including authentic tapas bars that are not anywhere near La Ramblas (go Gothic, there’s some beauts). You could almost term me a tapas buff.
La Vina: The review
As a recent repatriate of the Toon I was not aware of the background of La Vina on Grey Street, which was formerly La Tasca and has recently reverted back to La Vina – it’s previous identity. La Vina is of course a chain restaurant and I know plenty of people who frown upon food bloggers who step foot in chains but the truth is, though I dine at them infrequently, they do come in ruddy useful when I’m dining with picky types – which is a lot since I have a vegetarian boyfriend, a mate who won’t eat any form of mince and several friends who won’t chow down on anything slightly spicier than an ice-cool korma – (sorry, love you all really).
From a good chain I expect: affordable prices, a pleasant and clean dining room, plenty of menu choices for all, cracking service and consistently good standard of food. I might not expect to be blown away by originality or authenticity of a menu but I want to have a good meal with friends and not to worry that any of the basics will let me down and it’s this criteria that I judged La Vina against.
A maritime them and twinkling lights always wins me over
I was marching towards the end of my Meatfree month on the night in question and did find the menu a little carb and dairy heavy as a vegetarian wannabe, though the staff went out of their way to make me feel welcome and catered for, even bringing over some potatas bravas to munch on when the meat eaters in my group were otherwise engaged. The venue itself was a tad cold, but that’s maybe something to do with it being big and old and underground. There were plenty of diners in aside from us meed-ja types and most seemed to be happily scoffing or engaging in chat.
Bonus patatas bravas
Also on my vegetarian menu for the evening was a Spanish cheese board or seleccion de quesos, which went down really rather well. Predictably, I was a big fan of the blue cheese and goat’s cheese, which was served with some traditional Manchego, quince paste and a sweet crunchy torta. It’s the kind of thing I’d order with friends during Friday wine time, though I can’t really judge the value as the prices aren’t on the La Vina website (I hate it when that happens, it means I can’t mentally choose my menu choices before I arrive).
Lots of lovely cheese, grapes and sugar-sprinkled bread
One item worth a mention was the croquetas de espinacas – a crumbed croquette filled with gooey goat’s cheese, spinach and bechamel and I suspect – a good whack of garlic. These were pretty tasty but in combination with the other vegetarian choices rather heavy, though after my visit to La bodega last month I’m starting to think this carb+cheese is an inevitable menu domination if you are seeking out vegetarian tapas choices. Less tasty were the grilled aubergine rolls, stuffed with tomatoes, sweet peppers and goat’s cheese, which were a little chewy for me (as aubergine can be).
And thus we come on to my particular area of expertise – the sangria. Although an actual sangria masterclass didn’t take place, the friendly bar lady did talk us through the sangria menu and its ingredients, which I sampled EXTENSIVELY (read: I got quite squiffy). On a side note, we asked the assistant manager if there was some kind of policy of only hiring brunettes at la vina so that it looked more authentically Spanish – he confirmed that there is no such semi-racist policy in place.
'Sangria' in all shades
I have to admit I was quite a fan of the sangria – or more accurately the sangria-based cocktails. I could have questioned the authenticity of the Kir Royale Sangria but it was really rather refreshing and far more suppable than my mulled monstrosity. Again, I’m not sure of the prices, but I can imagine this cocktail-sangria and the sangria blanco in particular going down rather nicely during some afterwork drinks and I’m going to have a bash at making my own when BBQ season finally comes round.
All in all my La Vina trip was none-too-shabby. The setting and ambience was perfect for trips with tipsy friends, though I’m not sure I’d ever take anyone on a date there and the food I sampled on the whole was of a good standard – though as you probably would have guessed it’s not anything to rival some of the fantastic tapas I’ve had in Spain. The sangria cocktails are worth a punt for a change from Friday wine time and the service was fast, warm and friendly. One thing I’m sorry to have missed testing was the paella, though I’ll be back in Barcelona in just eight weeks and hopefully chomping on some seafood and meat packed bowlfuls while I’m there.
The paella I couldn't eat
My meatfree month is well and truly behind me and over the passed week I’ve been happily munching on meat and fish of all kinds. I did eat some fabulous foods that aren’t all forgotten though and since I don’t have time to blog about each and every new vegetarian recipe I discovered, or the golden oldies I called upon to pull me through, I decided I’d do a photo roundup. Here are just a few of the tasty meatfree meals I tucked into during March. if there are any you would particularly like the recipe for please just leave me a comment and I’ll try and do a post for it or at least email you the recipe. Many of these snaps were taken on my phone so apologies that the quality isn’t fantastic!
Lovely lentil daal
I tucked into this lovely lentil daal with some damson chutney and a garlic and coriander naan one tea time. Quick, easy, filling.
Proving you don't need meat for a tasty brunch
This drool-worthy Sunday brunch was full of colour and the Cauldron vegetarian sausages really hit the spot.
Porcini mushroom risotto with asparagus spears and a smear of cheese
Porcini mushroom stock cubes and dried mushrooms made sure there was plenty of risotto in this tea time risotto.
Veggie toad in the hole
Ma Berg kindly prepared me my own vegetarian toad in the hole, complete with vegetarian onion gravy.
Gooey goat's cheese on toast with tomato chutney
This simple snack was one of the best things I ate all month and made use of the homemade chutney sent to me by my foodie penpal last month along with some probably too generous chunks of goat’s cheese.
Red thai curry with mango and sweet potato
I usually make this colourful curry with butternut squash and pineapple but swapped in sweet potato and mango and chillies from my dad’s allotment.
Along with a few extra pounds in weight I gained through the extra consumption of dairy and carbs while attempting to be vegetarian, I picked up a few other things last month. Thanks to the Meatfree March Recipe swap I also accumulated a few new friends and some fantastic vegan and vegetarian recipe ideas. The swap saw bloggers and non-bloggers alike swap meat-free recipes and a few ingredients and then dive into the kitchen for a cook and blog off.
To make this extra interesting, up for grabs for the best blog post about the recipe swap was a month of veg boxes from Abel and Cole and a meal for two at Handmade Burger Company. The original plan was to present these prizes to one overall winner, but after much salivating and deliberating, Becs and I decided to award the prizes separately to two swappers who were actually partners. So, drum roll, please…..!
In first place, and the worthy recipient of the Abel and Cole prize, is Susie. We found her post over at susiestummytales informative and engaging. She made it very easy for anyone wanting to recreate the recipe she was sent to do so and got extra brownie points for linking to the buttery biscuit base video. These points are awarded for 1)innovative use of multimedia and 2)because Becs has a not-so-secret thing for Greg Wallace. Here’s a photo of the drool-inducing lime and coconut cheesecake she made.
Photo courtesy of Susiestummytales
This fantastic concoction was sent to Susie courtesy of Sharon, who is our second prize winner and will receive a free meal for two at Handmade Burger Company (there’s one in the metro centre so you can pop in on your next shopping trip and there are lots of vegetarian choices that can be made vegan). We decided to award Sharon this prize because of the massive effort she went to in order to put her post up – it was the first ever post on her blog Virtually Vegan and featured the chilli recipe Susie sent her, along with an extra side of guacamole, which as an avocado addict, I couldn’t resist!
Photo courtesy of Virtually Vegan
Not only is it a cracking post, but we were super impressed that the recipe swap had inspired Sharon to make her leap into the world of blogging and we can’t wait to read more posts from her. The ladies will now need to contact Becs with their details to arrange prize delivery.
I really enjoyed reading all of the posts and have transferred many a recipe over to my to-make list as a result of reading about them. Some of them were visually stunning (like Amy Liz’s post on spinach and filo pie here). Some of them were witty like Ewan’s efforts with quinoa over at tonights-menu, some demonstrated how good cooks innovate in the face of adversity like Rebeca’s version of vegetarian Sloppy Joe’s at bigspoonmylittlespoon. Then there was Hannah’s double whammy of recipe swap fun (Warm pumpkin and chickpea salad and squash and puy lentil salad with flatbreads) at girleatsvegan here and here, which takes the reader on a heart-warming and chuckle-inducing journey to the supermarket, through Hannah’s mind and finely articulates the experience of her tastebuds. The cornbread complete with chilli drizzle sauce made by Rebecca looked Really Nice, which is unsurprising considering her blog name and the other fabulous things on there.
And of course, there’s Bec’s post over at Bitsandbobsbecs, which gets just a little sidetracked by the accompanying mini eggs that wouldn’t look out of place alongside orange segments amongst your cheese and chocolate raisins, but is actually about Amy Liz’s rather tasty-looking penne alla vodka recipe.
Apologies to anyone I have missed off the list, please do leave a link on the bottom and I’ll add them in. Congratulations again to Susie and Sharon, I hope you enjoy your prizes – perhaps we’ll get to read a post or two about them? Becs and I have a few foodie ideas in the pipeline, so do stay in touch and hopefully we can all have some more kitchen adventures together!
I’ve been following a vegetarian diet for almost a full month now, but thanks to a bout of food poisoning at the start of my quest followed by a non-commital cold, which I presume snuck in when my immune system was low and now won’t fully depart – I’m sad to report I’ve really not been feeling any benefits so far. The illness has bred laziness and though I’ve prepared lots of exciting lunches, I’ve been a little lazy on the tenacious tea front. Even worse, on the occasions where I’d ventured out to eat with friends, I found a lot of places interpret vegetarian as ‘dairy plus carbs’. I love dairy, dairy does not love me. I love carbs, I love them so much I can feel myself expanding right now as I write, bloated by their comforting starch molecules, which I have consumed far too wantonly in the past month. I’d started to feel a little cheesed off with myself for ever setting the Meatfree March challenge and decided to pick myself up with a trip to the Sky Apple Cafe with some blogger friends Hannah (myfirsthome) and Katherine (itsaboobyfullife).
Sky Apple has been on the top of my to-do list since mid-January and I’ve actually tried to go once before but was scuppered by the fact the place isn’t open on Monday and Tuesday evenings – take note. This bright and cozy cafe was a little cold when the three of us entered on a weary Wednesday evening but the lights, decor and waitress were very welcoming. We’d come straight from work, I’d got lost en route and two of us had germs threatening to turn into full blown colds. This meant we were hungry, cold and perhaps harder to please than the average customer. However, we were soon put at ease when the waitress heard us debating over herbal tea choices and came over to help us choose. Yes, I know it’s traditional to have alcohol when you eat out and Sky Apple allows you to BYO and has it’s own licence, but in case you didn’t know, it’s snowing up here and has been for about three months. I chose some calming chamomile.
Under the guidance of owner Andy, Sky Apple opens as a cafe during the day and restaurant evenings wed-sat menu is very much a fusion of different cultures and shows a lot of imagination. The evening menu also changes every six weeks to keep things fresh and give you plenty of reasons to go back. There were cheesy and carby options as choices but these were as part of an actual meal and the range of flavours in just a small menu compared to choices I’d been facing in other establishments had me a little overwhelemd. It was great to have so much choice and I felt all special, which is not how I have been feeling dining out recently. The three of us had decided to eat a main couse and dessert as I’ve developed a terrible sweet tooth since quitting meat (no meat=love of sweet) but we couldn’t resist trying the mini fish and chips starter (£4.70) and I’m glad we did. The halloumi sandwiched between aubergine in a crisp, light batter was a texture and taste delight and really did resemble fish and chips. I tend to eat fish a lot when I go out so this was a nice comforting choice and it came with three whole condiments – homemade ketchup, mint puree and homemade tartare, which is out of shot. I double dipped all my chips to up my condiment quota.
Mini 'fish' and chips and dips
On to the main courses, which arrived in a reasonable time after the starters, Hungry Hannah chose a rather phallic-looking strombolli (£8.70). It looked a bit like a calzone or massive pasty but with the addition of reassuringly healthy looking seeds and was oozing with mozzarella intertwined with lots of tasty seasonal veg.
Stromboli and salad
Full-time vegetarian Katherine made the culinary coup of the evening by choosing the Cambodian Curry £8.90, which came with banana fritters. I’ve never eaten Cambodian food before but was impressed by the layers of flavour in the thick sauce, which had the balance of coconut just right.
Cambodian curry, banana fritters and rice
My main was Moussake filo (£8.90) which featured layers of sweet potato, aubergine and bechamel sauce inside some crisp filo pastry, alongside a very generous Greek salad. what I found most pleasing about the dish was the fact the layers had been retained – I was afraid I’d be eating moussaka veg mush – but I was very wrong, it was tiered and tasty.
Moussaka filo and Greek salad
After the generous main course portions, Katherine was flagging and said she couldn’t fit in a dessert but Hannah and I were keen to get the full Sky Apple experience and I was super keen to try out the vegan ice cream, which wouldn’t hurt my stupidly sensitive stomach. The ice cream was made with lots of cinnamon and ginger and I’m pretty sure it had medicinal benefit – it was very strongly scented and soothed my sore throat. The plum crumble £4.80) that accompanied it was lovely, you could tell it wasn’t packed with butter – but this is not a criticism and it in no way lacked taste or crunch, it just felt a little healthier than usual.
Plum crumble with throat soothing cinnamon and ginger ice cream
Hannah chose lemon possett and this came with some dippable shortbread biscuits.
Lemon posset and shortbread legs
I really enjoyed my meal at Sky Apple Cafe and came away reassured that there are people out there catering for vegetarians and doing it well. Refreshed and nourished I threw myself back into my final week and a half of Meatfree March and I’ll certainly be swinging by Sky Apple again once the month is over – the meal was affordable, delicious and I cant stop thinking about the ice cream. Whether you are vegetarian or not, it’s a great place to meet and eat with friends.
When I lived in Leeds Ma Berg used to pop down for a visit on Mother’s Day and I’d take her out for dinner. There’d be no need for flowers, cards or other frivolities, oh no. In true Berg family style, each year I show my mother I love her by presenting her with food. I should probably also mention that on these occasions – more often than not – mum opts to eat steak (we went to Blackhouse last year, it was divine). As I’m not eating meat this month, heading to a steakhouse or even for a Sunday Roast seemed like a step too far, but I didn’t want the not-that-old dear to go without, particularly as she’s been feeding me and ironing all of my clothes lately (clothes that have never seen an iron before).
Thus concludes the background to Ma Berg and me settling down to tapas in Morpeth on a cold Sunday afternoon in March. When I moved back up here I started to carry a list of places I want to eat; I keep it folded up in my diary in case I get hungry and want to find somewhere nearby that’s on the list. Yes that is geeky and anal; I’m comfortable with that. There are about 30 places on the list (which I will blog at some point) and La Bodega was one of them. The restaurant is inside an old pub building but feels rather trendy, which Ma and me hoped would mean there would not be too many screaming children knocking about. God forbid any children should be taking out their mother on this special day of the year and disturb us, that would never do. Anyway, my hunch was right – when we arrived at about 1pm few screaming children were in attendance, unfortunately however the central heating was also absent.
I didn’t get a snap of the inside of the restaurant/bar, which is a shame as it’s really quite nice in there – all wood and ambient lighting and boards with enticing (and well-priced) cocktails scribbled on them. We chose to sit in the far back corner under some fairly lights because it looked cosy and I’m a sucker for the twinkle, twinkle. This was a bad move – we’d plopped ourselves right next to a door that leads out to the courtyard, which I imagine is very lovely in summer. We probably should have been alerted to the chill factor when we noticed there was a colourful array of blankets in a box near our table – you don’t often see blankets in tapas bars. That said, if I had my way you’d get a personal blanket handed to you every time you enter a restaurant: it stops the slops, you can concentrate on eating when you are all cosy and there’s not many social situations that can’t be improved by the comforting addition of a blanket.
I’m not quite sure how to report on the service at La Bodega – the staff were very friendly but I strongly suspect our very young waitress was new to the game; she took our drinks orders, brought our drinks and then waited a little while before giving us the food menu. We Bergs were ravenous and the cute cup of popcorn we were given with our drinks did not touch the sides. When someone did arrive to take our order we made the classic mistake of ordering masses of food because of intense hunger pangs. We ordered some potatas bravas, a Bodega platter and nachos to share, to which I added an order of garlic and thyme mushrooms and then Ma looked sympathetically at me before ordering chorizo and scallops and belly pork with crackling, ginger and cider. Aaargh, smoked, spicy pig and crunchy pig are my two favourite types of pig. I ordered my second pineapple juice and reassured myself I would not be one of those vegetarians that is broken by the smell of cooked pig. I was right, of course – I stayed strong.
The nachos arrived first and though the dips weren’t out of this world (the refried beans in particular had nothing on Neon Cactus), the portions were generous.
La Bodega Platter
The platter came next – chunks of bread, thick slices of manchego, marinated olives, alioli, quince jelly and tomato topping. Again, the portions were plentiful and the olives in particular were good so we merrily munched on.
Garlic and thyme mushrooms
I noticed fairly soon that my carb-heavy choices were filling me quite quickly, which is when the potatoes and mushrooms arrived. I’ve made a conscious effort not to fill my diet full of carbs during my meat-free month, but have to admit that dining out has posed a bit of a problem in this respect as often are were few choices that aren’t either 1)straight vegetables or 2)just carbs of somekind. I’ve also consumed well more dairy than I should have, which has made my stomach angry and negated any benefits of eating vegetarian. Again, this is something I feel has been inflicted by narrow menu and supermarket choices at times.
Out of the food that I ate the platter and potatoes shone through, with the mushrooms performing well on flavour but being a little unimaginative in terms of texture. It would have been nice to see a few diferent types of mushroom in there.Ma was feeling a tad guilty for munching through all my goodies but then her food came out and it looked fantastic.
Scallops and chorizo
Ma’s scallops were big and juicy, her chorizo came in big, dark, chunks and her crackling made all the right noises when she nibbled on it complete with some of the little apple compete it came with.
Belly pork and crackling,
In the end the feast defeated us and we politely asked if we could take our leftovers home for Pa Berg (who was a little grumpy at being left at home even though he was asked to join). I can sometimes be a little nervous about asking to take a doggie bag but the waiter was more than happy to pack it up for us and delivered our leftovers back to us very promptly in neat little plastic containers.
Dessert was offered – but we weren’t so fussed about the British puds on the menu - some kind of crumble and chocolate brownies. Instead, still feeling the chill we opted for some hot drinks – a Tia Maria coffee for mum and a Brandy Hot Chocolate for me (after all, I’d just eaten a whole heap of cheese and was still recovering from food poisoning, why wouldn’t a dairy drink be my first choice?). In the haste to warm my mitts I forgot to photograph these but they looked very pretty and tasted even better. My hot chocolate had a perfect ‘frol to froth ratio, which leads me to believe the enticing cocktails on the boards might be rather good at La Bodega too.
The bill came to just over £45, which was good considering the meal essentially served three and came with a few rounds of soft drinks. As I paid, a lady who I assumed was the owner came in and declared she’d turned the heating on when she came in as it felt cold. We felt a little robbed by this news but reassured that there was actually central heating onsite.
When the weather warms up a little I think we’ll head over to sample cocktails in the courtyard. Meanwhile, I’ll be conducting a temperature check at all establishments before ordering from now on.
Since I moved back Northwards I’ve been pretty overwhelmed with how much is going on for food loving folk like me. I’m not sure whether I ought to put the seven pounds I’ve gained down to the fact my mother seems to think everything should come with a man-size serving of carbs or explain it away by saying that I’ve barely stopped to breathe while exploring all the new exciting things on offer what I can shove in my mouth. One thing I’d been particularly looking forward to was the Street Spice Festival that took place at the Centre for Life this weekend. The event combined two things we Geordies love: a bit of a party and lots of spicy food and it was held in aid of the good cause Brain Tumour UK. I was so excited about the event and all of the other stuff I’ve discovered going on up here that I wrote a little piece for the Guardian about all the fabulous food happenings and festivals going on in the North East at the mo, which you can read here, if you want to stay one step ahead before things book up.
As the Street Spice Festival drew close I began to think giving up meat for a whole month along with Bitsandbobsbecs was one of my whackier ideas, particularly when I found out the The Rib Man was in town for the three day bonanza. The day before I headed along with Mummy Berg, people began tweeting me tempting pictures of meaty goodness barbecused by local meat enthusiasts The Pit Club (wekeeponburning) and I knew my meatfree mettle was truly up for a test. That said, if there’s one food that’s the new veggie’s friend it is spicy food that’s full of flavour, as I learnt during a trip to Leed’s Hansas, so I was confident I would find something to salivate over that was dead-animal free and I was right.
Here are a few of my snaps of meat-free and meat-filled spicy delights that were packed into a music-filled marquee parked outside the Centre for Life.
A vendor serves up something nice and spicy at the Centre for Life
I’m definitely going to be looking out for other events where the burning boys below are in attendance, their stall smelled particularly delicious.
Local barbecue specialists wekeeponburning get the ribs ready
Pots of colourful curries
As an experienced food festivaller I knew not to commit to purchase anything until I’d done a full circuit of the joint – too oft have I hurried food into my mouth at stall numero uno only to regret the fullness of my belly two stalls down the line. I waited until my mum purchased and started to wolf down a rib sandwich from the Rib Man before I made my first selection. No, of course I’m not including a photograph of her sandwich here, do you people not think this day was not already hard enough for me – lover of barbecue? I did buy some Holy Fuck sauce from Mr Rib Man though, which was a comical thing to ask to buy in front of the mothership and was made more funny when my dad told me at tea tonight that he had enjoyed a bit of Holy Fuck on his gammon. OH, SO WRONG!
Anyway, I digress, this is the beautiful veggie treat I picked up at David Kennedy’s stall for a mere few pounds; artichokes toasted in some kind of delicious batter, cous cous mixed with nuts, seeds and a bit of spice, tamarind sauce and coriander and (if I’m right) just a touch of mint. It confirmed the need for the River Cafe and Food Social to be firmly in the top 20 of places I need to eat this year (which i must remember to post on here, actually).
My tasty lunch from David Kennedy's stall
As I’d just had a little bite I thought it would be OK to sample a little something else in the form of a uttapam with a little chilli and coriander and coconut chutney from the organisers Sachins stall. Neither of my choices were particularly hot but I did enjoy the range of flavours in each dish and felt particularly inspired to do a bit more with my cous cous than throw some stock, lemon juice or harissa in it. Watch this space for cous cous creativity!
My uttapam being prepared
I was sad to spot on the news today that a number of people who attended the festival had fallen ill and I must confess I was actually off work at the start of the week with what I presumed was a nasty tummy bug. It’s not yet known if this was connected to a particular stall or even any of the food at the event and I do hope it doesn’t impact negatively on this or similar events happening in the future. There was a real buzz inside the marquee with some belting music being played and cocktails (courtesy of Popolos) cooling chilli-heated mouths and though I really wasn’t a fan of spending Monday and Tuesday incapacitated I was a real fan of the festival and the community concept behind it and I really hope it returns next year.