The New Spring Menu at Iberica

I was very lucky to get invited to an exclusive dinner at Ibérica Manchester showcasing their new spring menu.  And even better Nacho Manzano, Executive Chef for the all the Ibérica restaurants would be cooking!

Iberica The man himself - Nacho Manzano (in the middle)
The man himself – Nacho Manzano (in the middle)

Clearly I didn’t read the invitation properly, I thought it would be a couple of hours of standing at a buffet nibbling on lovely tapas.

Nope, nope, nope. It was four hours long and a proper posh sit down dinner of five courses.  Maybe the clue was in the description ‘exclusive dinner’?! Well, I certainly wasn’t complaining.

Dish after delicious dish came out accompanied with exquisite wine.  Each offering colourful and curious and obviously, tasty.  In total I counted that we’d been served 14 dishes and we also got involved when the pescatarian on our table got fish dishes instead of meat.

Iberica cod brandada
Cod brandada
Iberica Warm lentil salad
Warm lentil salad
Iberica A nice waiter gamely posing for a photo
A nice waiter gamely posing for a photo
Ibercia GR 174 Red Wine
GR 174 Red Wine

Ibérica is a beautiful, classy and colourful venue – the staff were energetic, helpful and fun – and there was a buzz to the whole evening.

My favourite dish unexpectedy was a pear and spinach salad with feta, pine nuts and pesto.  INCREDIBLE.  My other top dish was the chargrilled octopus brought out for the pescatarian (he didn’t get much of a look in as we all piled in to try it).  It tasted like a juicy steak.

iberica pear and spinach salad
Pear and spinach salad

If you get the chance do go and eat at Ibérica – it’s a glamourous fun night out and the food is awesome.  And make sure you check out the ladies toilets – they are apparently the most Instagrammable in Manchester I’m still kicking myself for not taking my phone to the loo…

Ibercia the menu

 

From a Squabble to a Redecorating Overhaul

I am particular about how our house looks, I like to keep things minimalist and decluttered and it’s not a good idea to cross me on that. 

About a month ago my boyfriend Jamie went out on plant shopping spree. I love the botanical look, so I was delighted until I realised that all of the plants were so huge and unwieldy that they made the house look messy.

I’d had a glass wine and I just couldn’t hold back on my irritation: ‘Jamie, the house doesn’t look streamlined anymore and I don’t like it – we need to do something about those plants’.

Jamie, not best pleased that his generous plant contribution was being attacked retorted with: ‘I find it ironic that someone as messy as you is so bothered about the house being streamlined’. This admittedly was a valid point.

However the tension of  ‘plant-gate’ did lead to better things.  It got us thinking about how we could declutter the house so the plants wouldn’t look so overwhelming.

It started with a fancy ‘string’ shelving system and a dumping of an unnecessary chest of drawers in our bedroom, which immediately lifted the room.

We loved the changes so much that we started to get high on our new interior success.  What could we do next? The minimalist (and rather expensive) shelves did highlight how cheap everything else in the room looked, so an Ikea, John Lewis and garden centre trip later we had some new chic shelving blocks, a dusty pink throw and even more plants than before.

plants the new improved bedroomThe new improved bedroom

And the decorating frenzy didn’t stop there, we took our fervour into the guest bedroom – giving it the botanical feature wall treatment we’d planned since we bought the wallpaper nine months ago.  And then of course, we need a new bright blue lampshade to ‘pull the room together’.
plants botancial feature wall
Botanical feature wall

And it’s definitely not over yet – I’ve been eyeing up macrame plant hangers in the Northern Quarter’s Form Lifestyle Store, and all of our sudden our front door looks very tatty, not to mention the mouldy wall in our living room.  I’ll keep you posted!

What to Eat in Sri Lanka

It took me a while to reach my food peak in Sri Lanka.  And to be honest our first week of eating (apart from in the capital, Colombo) I was pretty non-plussed.  In that first week we were in the hill country (Kandy and Ella) and then on safari in Udawale (which is in the middle of nowhere) – and for whatever reason, they were feeding tourists pretty basic stuff in these places. Or maybe I didn’t look hard enough.

However, as soon as we hit the coastal resorts of Tangalle, Mirissa and Galle – our food experiences rocketed, and we ate an awesome array of interesting curries (including banana flower and tamarind root) and great rotis and hoppers (more on what they are below), and I came away excited for more Sri Lankan food experiences.

I’m going to talk you through the different dishes we had, starting with the hoppers:

Hoppers

They are a kind of crater shaped pancake made with rice flour and coconut milk.  Fillings vary from savoury to sweet, but the most popular are cheese, egg and curries or if you’re going sweet there’s nutella, ice-cream of fruit fillings.

sri lanka An egg hopper, a cheese hopper and a roti wrap
An egg hopper, a cheese hopper and a roti wrap

Lassis

I think you’ve probably all heard of lassis – a delicious yoghurty milkshake.  We had some crackers out there.

Banana lassi

Fruit Juices

I became obsessed with juices in Sri Lanka. Every day was an opportunity to sample a new variety, favourites included:

  • passion fruit
  • mango
  • papaya
  • watermelon, mint and ginger
Passion fruit juice

Fruit Platters

I decided to go on a bit of a health kick in Sri Lanka.  This still involved booze every night, but other than that I stuck to a light breakfast, and a modest lunch and dinner, with no snacks (unheard of for me).  Fortunately the astonishing fruit we would have for breakfast every morning made ‘light breakfasts’ a breeze – I never felt I was missing out.

Enough fruit for two?

Kottu

Kottu is a bit like egg fried rice, but instead of rice, there’s chopped up roti (flatbread) thrown in instead.  You could have pretty much any variety of kottu – whether that was egg, cheese, fish, chicken, veg. I don’t think it was the most healthy thing we ate on our trip, but it was brilliant comfort food – full of spice and heat and flavour – and it was the meal that no matter how poor the options were in a restaurant, we knew it would be tasty.  In fact, if you need another comparison, it was a bit like a Sri Lankan take on bubble and squek.

Chicken kottu

Rotis

Rotis are basically flatbread, but we ate them in so many different versions including the kottu which I just described.  I personally was a big fan of just a plain coconut roti, maybe with a spicy sauce to dip it in.  Another options was a samosa type roti filled with potato curry – a cold version of this was sold at pretty much every corner shop in Sri Lanka and rightly so – it was a tasty 20p snack! Another clever adaption was a roti wrap – whatever filling you desire wrapped in a roti and fried on a griddle pan – I tried a prawn, egg and tomato number which was a winner.

Unusual Curries

We certainly had some nice curries on our travels – veg curries, seafood curries, but until we got to the colonial town of Galle, we hadn’t had anything that seemed that unusual or particular to Sri Lanka. But in Galle we had two magnificent and very local curry experiences.

First there was Coconut Sambal – a dinky little place that only seated about 10 people. They offered an all you can eat buffet of curries all served in 6 clay pots (for about £5 a head).  We were given an little basket tray with a plastic sheet to put our food on and off we went.  The curries were: chicken, ‘meat’, mango, dal, banana and aubergine and there was coconut sambal for sprinkling (a spicy grated coconut mix). It was a delicious meal and I loved that it was a tiny little authentic set up – it felt cosy and fun. And the mango was curry was a revelation – I’ve had mango chutney – but this was a hot juicy curry – it was beautiful and really complimented the other dishes.

Sri Lanka Coconut Sambal
Coconut Sambal
Sri Lanka Curry in a basket at Coconut Sambal
Curry in a basket at Coconut Sambal

The second destination was not as interactive and fun as Coconut Sambal – but Lucky Fort Restaurant served the most extraordinary food. We paid £15 between us and received ten curries to share (with rice).  It was an unusual line up and I’d struggle to choose the most delicious, but I think their stewed mango may have won again.  These were the curries:

  1. Chicken
  2. Stewed mango
  3. Banana flower
  4. Tamarind root
  5. Green beans
  6. Pumpkin
  7. Sweet potatoes
  8. Crispy aubergines like crispy onions
  9. Dal
  10. Okra

I would go back to Sri Lanka just to have this meal again. It was such a unique and tasty experience.

Sri Lanka The ten curry bonanza at Lucky Fort
The ten curry bonanza at Lucky Fort

Bad Food Experiences

The stuff I was less wowed by – any food that was ‘devilled’ – menus always offered devilled chicken or beef or prawns – basically a lame version of sweet and sour.

Anything involving packaged white bread (which was quite a lot).  Sri Lankans eat roti not this pap, but I guess tourists often want home comforts.

Any attempts at salad were pretty hilarious, usually involved a few tomatoes, lettuce and some rubbery meat. I mean I should have known better really – Sri Lankans don’t eat salads themselves, so why would they be good at salads?

Inspiration

I was very inspired by the Sri Lankan food so we will be attempting to create some of these lovely dishes by trying recipes from the brilliant Weligama cookbook by Emily Dobbs.  Watch this space as I may even blog about our attempts!

Sri Lanka Weligama Cookbook
Weligama Cookbook

Sri Lanka Awesomeness

I certainly thought Sri Lanka would be a nice holiday, but it was so much more than that.  Sri Lanka is lush and green and teaming with life – the people are colourful and you can’t avoid the wildlife (in a good way!) – especially the monkeys and the lizards.  We were there for just two weeks, and boy, did we have an adventure.

Colombo

We arrived on Sunday evening in Colombo, the huge capital city.  The owner of our guesthouse Dolce Casa was a super helpful and clever Italian lady called Florence.  She gave us loads of practical advice on Sri Lanka and Colombo.  Thanks to Florence’s ultra efficiency, along with the chilled vibes we instantly felt in Sri Lanka, I was feeling very much at home already.

The next day we were due to travel to Kandy at 3pm, and by following Florence’s very exact itinerary on the best local sights in Colombo, we fitted quite a bit into our day:

  1. A quick visit to the Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple, which was kind of interesting, but if I’m honest was a bit too much of a tourist joint for me.
  2. A papaya juice at the decadent Galle Face colonial hotel.
  3. A ridiculously rushed (but tasty) lunch at the Ministry of Crab.

This hectic approach may not be the ideal way to experience Colombo – but we quite enjoyed it.  And being able to get tuk tuks for £1 a journey certainly helped.

Next up was our train to Kandy – which was just 2.5 hours and a rather nice experience.  By paying a bit more (all of £10) we ended up in the observation carriage which is air conditionned and reserved just for tourists.

Sri Lanka Crab time, at Ministry of Crab
Crab time, at Ministry of Crab

Kandy

Kandy is in Sri Lanka’s hill country – I wasn’t wowed by it but we still had a nice time there.  I found it an intense, slightly overwhelming city. But our guesthouse up on the hill had pretty views.

What was good about Kandy was that it was a great base to go to Sigiriya Rock – which is about a 2 hour drive away.

sri lanka The stunning (if slightly misty!) view from our B&B in Kandy
The stunning (if slightly misty!) view from our B&B in Kandy

Sigiriya Rock

Is an ancient rock fortress dating back to the 5th century.  Sometimes I’m not very interested in historical ‘stuff’, but this place is magical.  It’s quite a sweaty climb (it takes about an hour), but when you get to the top, you feel like you’ve entered a mystical land.

Sri Lanka Sigiriya Rock
Sigiriya Rock

Kandy to Ella by Train

Our next destination was Ella, but this was a 7 hour train journey away, it is apparently one of the world’s most epic train journeys.  Ok, we travelled through some stunning tea plantation scenery on the train, which was quite something, but if I’m honest it didn’t live up to the hype for me.  7 hours on a train is still 7 hours on a train – a bit too long.

Sri Lanka
The famous Kandy to Ella train journey

Ella 

Initially I fell in love with hill country town Ella – it seemed hippy and chilled and the surrounding hills are jaw droppingly picturesque.  However my feelings soured quickly when I realised this tiny town was a backpacking mecca. Everywhere I turned there was some traveller boasting about their escapades – it was a little suffocating.

However what was spectacular about Ella, was our walk up to Ella Rock, which was a special and tingly experience. We met with our local guide at 6am (while it was still dark) and started our two hour journey up to this glorious peak.  We walked along a railway line, past waterfalls and up a really steep climb at the end.  And, best of all we were the only tourists up there because it was so early.  The views, and the atmosphere were breathtaking.  And our local guide Abi, was the sweetest guy – he really made the trip for me too.

Sri Lanka Our trusty guide, Abi, at the top of Ella Rock
Our trusty guide, Abi, at the top of Ella Rock

Udawale Safari

Having identified that I don’t like long journeys on public transport, we opted for an air conditioned taxi to our next destination, Udawale, which was 2 hours way.  It was gloriously easy.  On arrival we booked ourselves onto a safari jeep and headed off to the wildlife park. I was trying to keep my expectations in check, as I wasn’t sure if we’d see much.  But we were in luck, we must have seen about 30 elephants (and quite a few babies) and most were in spitting distance of the car.  They were so graceful and elegant to watch. We also saw eagles, pretty bright green bee-eater birds, water buffallos, alligators and peacocks. Brilliant.

Sri Lanka Beautiful Elephants
Beautiful Elephants

Tangalle Beach

A quick 1.5 hours in a taxi and we were in Tangalle. When the taxi driver dumped us by a lake with a pulley boat to get accross to our guesthouse, I started to get nervous about how remote this place was. As it happens, it was pretty remote, but that didn’t matter, because the beach was like paradise, and the guesthouse served exceptional food, so we didn’t need anything else for two days.  It was a lovely bit of time for relaxation and reading after all the hecticness of the previous week.

Sri Lanka Beach idiotics at Tangalle
Beach idiotics at Tangalle

Mirissa Beach

We downgraded to a tuk tuk to get to our next destination – which took a couple of hours and was a lot of fun.  However when we arrived in Mirissa I was slightly horrified, it appeared we’d arrived in Sri Lanka’s version of Benidorm – the beach was rammed with burnt tourists. We were both really turned off.  But, as we settled in, we started to adjust to being in a busy environment (the beach at Tangalle had been empty and vast), and actually started to totally fall in the love with the surfy, yogic hippy vibe of Mirissa.

Sri Lanka Chilled Mirissa
Chilled Mirissa

Galle

Galle was our final destination and what a beautiful one to end at.  It’s a Unesco World Heritage Site and an old trading port full of imposing Dutch-colonial buildings, ancient mosques and churches, grand mansions and museums.  Apparently it’s had a lot of money pumped into it since the 2004 tsunamai because a lot of charities based themselves in Galle. It was definitely our poshest stop off. I really enjoyed walking round the ancient city walls and looking at all the glamourous colonial buildings. And we had the BEST meal of our holiday at Lucky Galle Fort restaurant where we shared 10 curries for just £7.50.  These curries were exquisite – including banana flower, crispy fried aubergine, tamarind root, mango curry (basically stewed mango) and pumpkin curry.  Every mouthful was a taste sensation.

Sri Lanka Galle
Lanka Galle

I felt sadder leaving Sri Lanka than I normally do at the end of a holiday – I was treated to a slice of paradise on this island – the scenery, the gentle people, the crazy monkeys and lizards, the tasty curries and rotis – and there was always so much colour and life going on around us. I’m glad I’ve got a lovely load of cherished memories and photos to hang on to.

More Sri Lanka Blog Posts

I will be writing some more blog posts on my Sri Lanka trip if you’re interested where I’ll be going into more details on the destinations we went to.  I’ll also write one on our Sri Lanka food experiences.

Cost

And for those thinkng about going to Sri Lanka you might be interested to know how much we spent in 2 weeks:

Our flights with Emirates cost about £500 each from Manchester (with a stop off in Dubai) – and our journey time in total was 14 hours.

Our accommodation in total was about £600, and each place ranged from £25 a night to £75 a night, but we mainly paid about £35 a night.  And you really get a lot for your money for that. We weren’t staying in particularly posh places, but they were all clean and really nice and we were treated like royalty by the staff.

And while we were out there we spent between us about £800, so £400 each – and that included several long distance taxis, a safari, entrance to Sigiriya Rock and lots of lovely meals and cocktails! If you’re thinking of going on a budget  you could easily do it cheaper and have a nice time.

Total Spend

Was about £2400, so £1200 each.

Sunday Afternoon Quickie: Wreckfish, Liverpool

Wreckfish in Liverpool opened a few weeks ago.  I was already a fan of Gary Usher’s other three restaurants Hispi, Burnt Truffle and Sticky Walnut, so I made sure to book in quick at Wreckfish.

What these restaurants do well is high end, interesting food at really affordable prices in simple, attractive contemporary venues.

Wreckfish is in a lovely old building in the centre of Liverpool, inside there’s lots of exposed brick and it has a cool industrial feel.  It’s really classy.

I went for crispy lamb’s tongue with pear puree and roasted peanuts for starter, and I attempted to balance out my meat consumption by having a vegetarian main of roasted turnip cakes and I finished with a dark chocolate and blackberry mousse for pudding.

The crispy lamb’s tongue was spot on, deliciously cooked and I loved the peanuts and puree that went with it.

I was less keen on the turnip cakes.  It was a bit of a non dish, nothing wrong with it, but it was just a bit bland and more like a side dish.  To the restaurant’s credit, they were very eager to hear our thoughts on the food and relayed back to the chef that I was disappointed with my main.

Jamie’s main, which was a roast beef dinner, was absolutely glorious though (see feature photo).  I got very involved in helping him eat his dinner having lost interest in mine.  I can honestly say it’s one of the best roasts I’ve ever eaten.

And I ended on a high as I was very pleased with my dark chocolate and blackberry mousse – just a very fresh and tasty pud!

All in all, I think it’s a brilliant restaurant, the staff were lovely, and the food (bar the turnip cake) was exceptional and great value for money.

wreckfish Crispy lambs tongue 
Crispy lambs tongue
wreckfish Turnip cake
Turnip cake
wreckfish Dark chocolate and blackberry mousse
Dark chocolate and blackberry mousse

An Evening of Vegan Treats With Jackie Kearney

Last night I got to stuff my face with the most delightful vegan street food treats at Jackie Kearney’s book launch.

For those who haven’t heard of Jackie, she was one of the Masterchef finalists in 2011 and is a committed vegetarian.

Her latest book is called My Vegan Travels.  Jackie has travelled a lot in South East Asia and picked up a ton of great ideas for cooking vegetarian and vegan food.  Her previous book Vegan Street Food was along a similar theme, but her new book is focussed on super simple, comfort food recipes.

I got to munch my way through: shitake mushroom croquettes, bombay veg sandwiches, beetroot and watercress samosas and artichoke torta.  All rather lovely.  But the icing on the cake for me as a greedy sugar fiend, were the chai doughnuts with raspberry jam and soft pecan cookie ice-cream sandwiches (with a vegan malted coconut and blueberry ice-cream). Scrumptious.

The book looks absolutely superb, so if you want to buy an original Christmas gift for a cooking enthusiast, My Vegan Travels is a great shout.

All the photos were taken by the talented Paul Wolfgang Webster.

Jackie Kearney shitake mushroom croquettes
Shitake mushroom croquettes
Jackie Kearney bombay veg sandwiches
Bombay veg sandwiches
jackie kearney beetroot and watercress samosas
Beetroot and watercress samosas

Northern Quarter Restaurant and Bar Express Menu

It was Saturday, and we were heading into town to watch a 6pm film at Home, and fancied a light dinner out beforehand.

After a bit of a sniff about on Tripadvisor, we decided on the Northern Quarter Restaurant and Bar. Partly because we’ve both been before and loved it, but also because they have a brilliant Express Menu – 2 courses for £14.95 or 3 courses for £18.95.

4.15pm is an early dinner, but it meant that it was quite a calm, quiet time in the restaurant, which is always rather nice on a busy Saturday in town.

We only went for two courses.  Much as I would have liked a pudding, I was fixated on having a tub of ice-cream at the cinema, so held off.

Jamie had a pale ale rarebit with Goosnargh duck egg and I chose Brixham crab cakes.  Both were delicious and the presentation was lovely too.

Pale ale rarebit with Goosnargh duck egg
Brixham crab cakes

And for mains, I decided to go carb-less with a flat iron steak and a salad and Jamie chose Goan chicken, Asian slaw and chips.  I’m not a massive red meat eater, but the steak was a triumph – very melty and tasty.  Obviously I had to test Jamie’s chicken too, which was succulent and full of flavour.

Flat iron steak
Goan chicken

All in all it was great value for money and a lovely way to spend a wet and windy Saturday afternoon.  The venue is really chilled, unpretentious and classy and I love the large glass windows which look onto the old Smithfield fish markets. I don’t go back to many restaurants, because I always like to be finding new spots to write about, but this place is worth breaking that rule for.