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.
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.
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…
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:
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.
I think you’ve probably all heard of lassis – a delicious yoghurty milkshake. We had some crackers out there.
I became obsessed with juices in Sri Lanka. Every day was an opportunity to sample a new variety, favourites included:
watermelon, mint and ginger
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Crispy aubergines like crispy onions
I would go back to Sri Lanka just to have this meal again. It was such a unique and tasty experience.
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?
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!
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.
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.
I’d heard so many amazing things about Umezushi, I just thought it would be nice to pop in and have a light lunch on a Saturday. However, Jamie got giddy and decided we should get the tasting menu. I wasn’t going to argue.
This was the tasting menu:
Served with Japanese wine or sake.
We passed a lovely couple of hours munching our way through this lot. I had the Japanese white wine, which was light and appley and very nice. And all the sashimi and nigiri was sublime, really fresh and beautifully presented. The grilled fish was mackerel and again was just exquisite. And our final savoury dish was the ‘steamed fish’ which was another soup, this time with sea snail in! Very delicious. Pudding was sake infused pineapple with a dollop of ice-cream.
The whole thing was a really relaxing, intriguing experience. And I really liked the vibe in Umezushi – a tiny wooden interior that seats about 20 people, under a railway arch near Victoria – it felt quirky and cool. And I loved that the toilet has a Japanese cityscape wallpapered all over the walls. Oh yes, and the staff were very attentive and sweet too.
I do love a glass of wine, but I’ve definitely fallen out of love with Malbec and Sauvignon Blanc, my go to supermarket picks. I know there’s more to wine than this. Surely I could be giving my tastebuds a bit more of an adventure?
Who better to assist me in broadening my wine horizons, than Janet Harrison who runs Cracking Wine? And here she is with a load of great suggestions, I can’t wait to tuck in:
So, a refreshing change to be asked if I’d tried any good wines recently. You see my friend Katya is in what I call a wine buying rut. Like most people she’s a bit tired of Sauvignon Blanc (you’ll get there eventually) and so overwhelmed with the amount of ‘easy drinking reds’ on offer, she tends to keep buying the same ones.
The up side of having such great supermarket ranges and independent wine stores is that we all have a huge choice, but as anyone who shops in the massive M&S in Manchester will tell you, it is easier to pick the nearest thing and make a bolt for it – and who buys all those cardigans?
Anyway, I digress.
I only need to flick through the recent pictures on my smartphone to see what I’ve been slurping recently – not that I NEED to photograph to remember (ahem).
You see my glass is always full – well, that’s until it’s empty of course.
Here are my current top picks if, like Katya, you are stuck in a wine buying rut. There are versions of all these wines at supermarkets, independent stores and in restaurants, it all depends on your budget and whether you are splurging at the weekend or just celebrating #WineWednesday.
White for easy drinking/light meals:
Albariño: A good news story from the Galicia region of Spain and gorgeous wine too (think of Al Pacino if you can’t remember the name). The one I bought that is pictured below is from Define Food and Wine. It’s an absolutely gorgeous wine shop, deli and cafe near Nantwich.
White wine for more substantial meals or cheese:
Montagny: This is a white wine from Burgundy – enough said. If you are an ABC (anything but Chardonnay) I challenge you to try, but do so with some cheese or light meat dishes which have a creamy sauce. This is a fabulous one from Waitrose, and Aldi will be bringing out a corking version in November.
Warning….splurge alert! I’m not a massive fan of Australian Shiraz – I find it a bit overpowering sometimes, but this Vinteloper Shiraz from the Adelaide Hills is certainly worth the cash. Imported by the fabulously quirky Red Squirrel Wines, they seek out rare and special wines made with love.
It is delicious!
You’re very welcome.
Janet Harrison runs Cracking Wine, providing fun and informal wine tasting events in the North. She also runs the only wine festival dedicated to Champagne and Sparkling wine in the UK, it’s called the Fizz Festival and it’s coming up in November at Altrincham Town Hall.
Sounds exotic doesn’t it? Well as it happens, it was a pretty extraordinairy and colourful night, so it lived up to it’s name.
Last night (Friday 15th September), Jamie and I ventured into town to attend this Filipino style food pop up.
Having been invited by a friend, I’ll be honest, I didn’t really know what I’d signed up to, apart from some good Filipino food (which was enough of an incentive for me).
What I hadn’t expected was the awesomeness that is 101 North Western Street, it’s a superb craft beer bar, bottle shop and event space which is in a huge, warehousey type building under a railway arch. It’s near Manchester Piccadilly station. This place has attitude. And even better there was a DJ playing excellent music and the whole venue had been decked out with Filipino style decorations. It all felt very tropical (despite it actually being quite nippy).
I decided to start the night by sampling a Belgian beer from the bar. I opted for a 8.5 % Delirium, which was utterly delicious, but made me very excitable very quickly. There was quite a party atmosphere so being a bit merry helped! We were sharing a table with a young couple who happened to be friends of Mama Z (the chef), and while we were waiting for our food to be served we got chatting to the lovely Stefan and Tuesday.
The glorious Filipino menu we were served consisted of:
Nibbles: ‘pulutan’ (fried pork puffs)
Starter: fried lumpia (or fried spring rolls) and dipping sauces
Main: ‘ulam’ (or chicken adobo) and ‘gulay’ vegetables (butternut squash with coconut and lemongrass) served with rice
Dessert: gorgeous fried plantain spring rolls with caramel sauce and crushed peanuts
Each freshly prepared dish arrived with a craft beer that had been hand picked by Mama Z to match the flavours of the food.
The food was great, my favourite being the gulay vegetables and the plantain spring rolls. I do have photos of the food, but they are so blurry and dark you won’t be able to make any sense of them! Check Mama Z out on Instagram for a better idea.
A revelation for me was how much I enjoyed the beers. I’m not a big beer drinker, but I loved every single one – even the stout (Wild Beer Millioniaire). And the beer drinking definitely helped with the whole disco vibe as we were chatting and laughing all night with Stefan and Tuesday.
So all in all, an absolutely buzzing, brilliant and tasty night. Make sure you get down to the next Filipino Disco.
Thanks to Skiddle for inviting us as guests. All opinions and words are my own.
Last night I enjoyed the second meal of my life at a michelin starred restaurant. It was at Fraiche in a gorgeous little village called Oxon, on the Wirral.
We had a really lovely night, and the food (well 80% of it!) was excellent.
I would recommend it, because it was exciting, interesting and we felt very spoilt and well looked after, and actually it was relatively inexpensive (for a michelin starred restaurant).
However, would I go back there again? No, I don’t think so, not unless they radically rebranded, no.
Firstly, I wasn’t a fan of the decor. It just felt like something between a living room and a nightclub, with no natural light whatsoever.
There were blinds at the front of the restaurant, but they were shut and the rest of the restaurant was low lit and candlelit, and in honesty, it felt a bit too dark (hence the lack of any photos!). And I think I can best describe the interior as confused. Video footage of flowers and rollercoasters were projected onto the walls to create atmosphere, and a lot of the ‘slanty’ trendy furniture felt a bit tacky. It’s not that anything was individually bad as such, it just didn’t add up to create a overall alligned effect.
And this theme of disjointedness flowed into the food. It was very delicious, but it felt like it was being interesting for the sake of being modern and whacky. It seemed like ingredients frozen with liquid nitrogen kept appearing in dishes, but it didn’t necessarily improve the flavour, it felt like it was for show. For example, at the beginning of the night we had an entree of a parmesan frozen lollipop. A cool idea, but it didn’t taste of anything.
I must stress again that we did have a delightful evening, we really did. The staff were so attentive and knowledgeable – we couldn’t have felt more special, which played a huge part in us having such a great night.
There really were some stunning dishes on the menu. The wild sea bass with fennel and butter milk with a smoky squid ink crisp was awesome and beautifully plated. And the blackberry, apple and verbana mousse ‘thing’, was sweet and tart in all the right ways, it was quite something. I wish I could describe it better to you, but I’d had quite a bit of Sancerre by the 11th course, so my memory is a bit blurred.
The cheeseboard was super impressive. We got to choose five cheeses from a trolley packed with about 30 intriguing looking cheeses. Our waiter absolutely came into his own at this stage, he really knew his cheeses and was incredibly passionate. We got five gorgeous slabs with cute little accompaniments, such as quince jelly and dried blueberries, especially chosen to go with each cheese. It was good stuff.
I’m really glad I went to Fraiche, but I just feel like someone needs to sit down with the owner and get him to strip back and decide, is he running a michelin starred restaurant or a nightclub? I’d be far more interested in authentic food that’s part of a more cohesive menu served in a simple setting, as opposed to the slightly jarring food and decor we experienced.
Please note the image used is not from Fraiche restaurant, it’s a stock photo.
Last Monday night PLY restaurant invited myself and Jamie and some other Manchester Instagrammers to try out their new menu. We had had a delicious sourdough pizza at PLY earlier in the year so we were more than happy to go back for more.
What I hadn’t quite anticipated was the volume of food and cocktails what would keep on coming all evening (although that definitely wasn’t a problem).
It started with mouthwatering charcuterie and beetroot carpaccio for starters, along with a fennel salad that was a bit too watery for my liking. The starters were followed by I kid you not, six different pizzas. We were very happy! All were very tasty but my definite favourites were the chorizo and squash and the pear and blue cheese pizzas.
And the cocktails. Definitely a terrible (yet brilliant) idea on a Monday night to be downing a load of tasty cocktails. There were too many to mention, but I loved the Pantone Two Eleven – gin, rhubarb, strawberry and prosecco – fresh and fruity with a lovely tang from the rhubarb. I wasn’t quite as keen on the Americano Float cocktail which was made from vermouth, coconut gelato and prosecco. I found it a bit sour and it had an odd aftertaste – but perhaps I’m just a philistine as I do have a very sweet tooth!
Apart from the good food, it’s a stunning and atmospheric venue, it has an arty/industrial feel and it wouldn’t be out of place in New York. And even though it was a Monday night it was really busy and buzzy. So alround, it was a rather excellent night.
I wasn’t convinced that Poynton Horiticultural Show would be for me. It sounded a bit old fashioned and I didn’t really understand what it was. However Dave, our local Riverford Veg Box Franchise owner was going to be there with a stall and he spoke highly of it, so we decided to give it a whirl.
Poynton is just two miles from our house, so we had a gloriously sunny cycle there this morning, which got the day off to a good start. The show was being held in Poynton Park, which is a really tranquil, pretty park with a lake (I will be using that as a running location from now on!).
We arrived absurdly early (8.30am!!), so not everything was up and running, but it was a nice opportunity to stroll round and chat to stall owners while it was peaceful. We started with the Cheshire Cheese Company stall, where we tucked into a second breakfast of various samples of cheese, including gin and lemon and caramelised onion and rioja. It was tasty stuff so we bought a few ‘truckles’ of cheese to make flatbreads pizza with for lunch. We then sauntered over to the ‘small livestock’ tent where I was delighted to discover a variety of unusual breeds of hen, guinea pigs and rabbits. I was like a kid in a sweet shop – they were so cute! Next it was time to say hello to the large livestock outside in pens. Various breeds of bulls, shire horses, donkeys, sheep – it was glorious! My favourite moment was befriending a bull called Minnie who loved having his head rubbed.
After we’d got our fill of animals we trotted off to the craft tent, where we went met Paul a local honey producer from Happy Valley Honey. We had a fun ten minutes bombarding him with questions about the honey making process and where he keeps his bees (at various farms around Cheshire if you’re interested). We also obviously tasted and then bought some as well, and were particularly enamoured with the soft set honey which was lovely and creamy!
And final stop was at the vegetable tent, where leeks and carrots the size of baseball bats and cabbages as big as sheep were on display – all competing to win prizes. It was rather fascinating, and gave us some inspiration to up our game with our own garden.
We left the Poynton Show having had a surprising buzzy morning and with a bag full of local produce! What an excellent day out.
PS the flatbread pizzas made with fennel, walnuts and the Cheshire Cheese Company ‘Black Bob’ extra mature cheddar were delicious.