Beautiful and Creative Food at the Brand New Allotment Vegan Restaurant, Stockport

I’m loving that two fancy restaurants are opening in Stockport.  It makes me very happy that I don’t have to schlep all the way into town to get a lovely dinner.  The Allotment Vegan Restaurant opened mid August and the intriguing Where The Light Gets In is due to open very soon.

The Allotment is in the beautiful old town part of Stockport.  The lovely architecture in the old town is in stark contrast to the 70s blandness that is the Mersey Way shopping centre. And the Allotment fits in with the old town beauty perfectly – it’s appearance is unassuming but quietly stylish both outside and in.

 

We were greeted by a warm friendly waitress who explained the menu to us, opened our BYO wine and made us feel at home. It was full and buzzy with an interesting cross section of people, all enveloped in an enjoyably intimate and calm atmosphere.

I was delighted to experience my first ever amuse bouche of multi-coloured raw beetroot sticks and hummus.  I didn’t realise that raw beetroot crudites were a thing – they are not unlike carrots and I’m very much converted.

Jamie’s starter was soup of the day which was Root Veg and Chimichurri. It was super tasty but I definitely won on the starter front with my Shitake Parfait and Seasonal Berries which was OUT OF THIS WORLD.  It was basically a rich mushroom pate which was taken to another level by the berry sauce. Sounds like an odd combo but it stopped me in my tracks – the sharpness and the sweetness of the berries against the creaminess and earthiness of the mushrooms just worked.  The raw mustard seed crackers were excellent too.

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Amuse Bouche of Beets and Hummus, Root Veg & Chimichurri Soup, Raw Mustard Seed Crackers and Shitake Parfait and Seasonal Berries

My main was  a ‘Mixed Grill’ of roasted buckwheat sausage, grilled portobello with smoked cheese, hot fried cauliflower and confit peppered aubergine steak.  It was divine – the stand out piece being the aubergine which really did compete with a real steak for flavour – smoky and rich.  The deep fried spicy cauliflower was also exceptional.

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‘Mixed Grill’

Jamie’s maincourse was ‘Pineapple and Aubergine’ – the same delicious aubergine steak as my mixed grill served with blackened pineapple, lemon grass and tofu cream and all sorts of other goodies.

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‘Pineapple and Aubergine’

I decided to forgo ordering a separate pudding and just share Jamie’s Chocolate Mudpie and Sweet Potato Custard.  Lucky Jamie getting to share his food with me.  However first there was a ‘pre-pudding’ – what a bonus.  Peaches with a hazelnut, tofu cream.  Yum!

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Pre-Pudding of Peaches and Tofu Hazelnut Cream

And then came the exquisite Mudpie and Sweet Potato Custard.  Sounds like it’s going to be vegetably and worthy, but oh no.  This was an absolute highlight.  A rich moist brownie style mudpie with the sweetest creamiest most un-potatoey custard you can imagine.  And it was a huge portion, so Jamie and I both had plenty, although in hindsight, I could happily have demolished my own.

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Semi Demolished Mudpie and Sweet Potato Custard

Whether you are a vegan, vegetarian or hardcore carnivore you will love the Allotment. And whether you live in Bolton or Liverpool or Stockport – it’s worth the trip – this is exceptional, imaginative food served in a lovely, welcoming and thoughtful atmosphere.

To find out more click here: http://www.theallotment.info/

 

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It’s damn well bloody over! 69-er is COMPLETE.

And it ends with mixed feelings (and an expanded waistline!).  I’m sorry that there’s no longer going to be anything pushing us out of our comfort zone of routine dinners.  That there won’t be anything that motivates me to whip up a cake or some scones after dinner when I normally couldn’t be arsed.  That it may not occur to me any more to sling together a casual salad or soup for a saturday lunch instead of a sandwich.  However I am relieved that I stand a chance now to lose the weight I’ve put on in the last 9 weeks.  And that I can do other things in life other than cook and pick recipes!

So what have been the wins?

Engaging with cookbooks I normally can’t be bothered to open has been a wonderful discovery.  Who’d have thought that cookbooks without photos actually work?  I love a visual demonstration of a dish to inspire me but a number of my cookbooks didn’t help me out with that. And guess what? The food tasted just as good without the photo.

If a cookbook is old it doesn’t stop it from being excellent – Jamie Oliver’s Naked Chef (1999) helped me to make the best beer bread in the world and Nigella’s How To Eat (1998) provided the recipe to an exquisite mushroom ragu.

Even if I don’t particularly like a chef on tv (Rick Stein – I find him very whingey) doesn’t mean that they can’t write an amazing cookery book. I was literally blown away by Rick’s creamy leak cannelloni.

It’s forced me to try different sorts of cooking – I often avoid my Asian/Indian/Chinese cookbooks because the ingredients can be difficult to source.  But we managed and the dishes were a joy.

Conquering bread was a HUGE deal for me.  I’ve talked about making bread for YEARS and with this challenge I made pitta bread, beer bread and potato bread.  My fear of breadmaking has gone.

It’s confirmed to me that some of my favourites will remain favourites.  I refer to them again, but Nigella and Jamie never failed to deliver amazing food throughout the challenge.

And what will I be taking with me going forward?

I’m going to be more curious about my cookery books and not stick to my comfort zone of my three favourite healthy cook books. Different styles of cooking have different merits and it’s fun to mix it up.  I hope to make an attempt to return to as many of those 69 books as possible.

Finally let me talk you through the last eleven recipes of the challenge. They were all pretty lovely – apart from the Basil and Mango Smoothie (Innocent Smoothie Recipe Book) which was a bit bland.  You can look at all the dishes on the collage below, but I’ll pick out my top 3 faves.

  1. Beetroot and Feta and Mint Salad – Fabulous Baker Brothers.  A bit faffy to make as you had to roast the beetroots then de-skin them with rubber gloves.  Messy work I can tell you. But this was a beauty of a dish – fresh and wholesome and deliciously oniony.
  2. Leek Cannelloni – Rick Stein.  This took ages to make and involved four pans on the go at once.  Every element required steeping and simmering and several stages (eg infuse the milk for the cheese sauce for 20 mins with bay leaves, onions & garlic before you even make the cheese sauce!).  And the lasagne sheets we had to boil in a pot ended up stuck together so we had to chuck them out and have a pasta-less cheese bake. However this didn’t matter and the effort was worth it.  It was out of this world.  The tomato sauce was rich, the leeks with ricotta were a great combination and the cheese sauce was so  flavourful and creamy – it was the icing on the cake.
  3. Baked Cheesecake – James Martin.  I went through a phase about six years ago when I’d have people over for dinner and I’d ALWAYS make a cheesecake.  I was obsessed – I must have tried ten different varieties of cheesecake.  So since that overkill, I don’t make cheesecakes, until the challenge that is.  As it turns out I think it’s the best cheesecake I’ve ever made – the lemon zest and whisky soaked sultanas added a subtle and sophisticated twist to a traditional recipe.

So now 69-er is over, what next? Well certainly for the next two weeks before my holiday I’m going to be doing a lot of healthy eating recipes to lose those extra pounds I’ve gained. So expect a post about that.  And for the next challenge – I’m not quite sure yet, but it would be nice to start another juicy challenge in September.  A food waste challenge or mastering a cuisine are appealing ideas.  Do comment and let me know if you have any suggestions for me!

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Posca Supper Club at Trove, Levenshulme

Last Thursday I took Jamie out for a surprise birthday dinner.  I’m amazed I managed to keep up the secret for so long – even insisting that I buy his train ticket out of earshot so he wouldn’t know we were going to Levenshulme.

We arrived bang on time (7.30pm) with our BYO bottle of wine to a completely empty restaurant.  We felt a bit conspicuous as we were shown to our table in the sea of emptiness. However it didn’t take long to fill.

I booked the supper club last month without really knowing anything about it other than it was going to be vegetarian.  I just trusted that if it was happening at Trove it was going to be good AND I love a supper club – so what could go wrong?

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I wasn’t disappointed.  The food was EXCELLENT and really unique.  And Trove is such a nice intimate chilled setting – so the perfect backdrop for this kind of event.

Emma Tillyer is Posca.  She’s a pastry chef by day and wanted an excuse to experiment with cooking techniques like fermenting, pickling, smoking and cheese making. She tries to make everything from scratch and throws in some foraging too. Emma wants people to enjoy her food and have a good time eating it, but she also want to challenge people and give them something different.  Which I think is a great ethos and was beautifully reflected in the interesting food served.

Our first course were Injera breads (Ethiopian fermented flatbreads), tomato stew and tomato salsa. They were like tasty crumpets!  Next up Mozzarella curds, battered and deep fried with poached gooseberries and watercress.  Emma had made the curds with rennet and citric acid, hung them for a few days and mixed them with salt and cream.  And oh yes! They were fine.  Crispy battery delicious cheesiness.

The third course brought us butter poached romaine lettuce, endive, nasturtium leaves, veggie Parmesan and sourdough crisp.  I’ve never had a butter poached lettuce before and I can confirm I REALLY like it.  Never thought I’d say that – but it was a very subtle dish and I liked the contrast of the slippery melty lettuce and the crunch of the sourdough croutons.

Fourth course: Home smoked jersey royals, ricotta gnocchi (with homemade ricotta), spinach and nettle puree, spinach and sunflower seed pesto, rocket and borage flowers. At this point I can honestly say I felt like I was at the French – not only was the dish exquisitely presented (see lower right pic above), with pretty purple borage flowers artfully scattered around the plate, but the flavours were off the scale. The smokiness of the potatoes was to die for and blended brilliantly with the pesto and the lovely squidgy gnocchi.

Finally came the puddings.  There was a bit of a wait for this – I was certainly getting a bit tetchy in anticipation – dessert is an important course for me!  It turns out that Emma had never made vegan ice-cream before and hadn’t anticipated how long it would take to churn a non-dairy ice-cream.  She nearly didn’t serve it due to it’s sludginess.  I’m glad she did: beetroot halwa, sweet beetroot puree, sunflower seed milk ice cream and candied horseradish.  The beetroot halwa was not particularly sweet but had a lovely earthy flavour with nuts and raisins that you discovered as you bit into it.  And the sunflower seed milk ice-cream was a lovely sweet compliment to the halwa.

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And a sweet touch at the end were the petite fours – raw chocolates.  I have to confess that as they looked like rolos I was expecting a sweet hit and they weren’t very sweet at all.  I think I’m too much of a sugar fiend for these pretty little chocolates!

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It really was a fabulous and impressive evening – and what a bargain for £25! Emma’s passion and flair for food was literally dripping off the plates.  And I always love the chilled, minamalist arty vibe in Trove.  Have any of you been to any good supper clubs? Do let me know about them – I’m keen to try more!

 

It all got a bit Willy Wonka at the Vegetarian Supper Club

Eddie Shepherd is a purely vegetarian chef – and he’s VERY experimental! Think Heston Blumenthal meets Simon Rogan meets a magician.  An evening with Eddie is a colourful culinary adventure.  I went to one of Eddie’s supper clubs in November and raved about it so much that I booked an eight seated supper club especially for myself and some friends.

It was advertised as a ten course taster menu, but as we discovered on arrival there appeared to be fourteen courses.  I was unfazed – I had after all easily demolished seventeen courses last week at L’Enclume.

Surprisingly we started with a ‘butterfly’ iced tea, but not any old iced tea – this was purple iced tea with a metal tea bag of dry ice – all made with entirely natural products – not a load of food colouring. And we each had cute mini teapots to pour our own tea. It was sweet and tasty, the dry ice beautifully blending the fragrant flavours.

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Butterfly tea

Next up was my favourite course! Maybe not for flavour, but for true interactive experience. Eddie told us to look behind us and behold, there were eight pretty, decorative baubles hanging from the ceiling in his lounge. We had assumed that it was just decor, but no that was our next course. So far, so Willy Wonka. It was tofu, dandelion and pickled apple served in a perspex bauble with a hole to access the food. The experience was made more enjoyable because all the guests were hanging round the ‘work of art’ gasping and trying to work out what the hell it was.  A great ice-breaker.  The dish itself was a perfect sweet and savoury combo.  And to be a true food wanker – umami is the Japanese word to describe that sweet spot of flavour that rests between sweet and savoury.

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Tofu, dandelion, pickled apple

For course three things got even more Willy Wonka with what looked like a glow stick.  The menu told us it was Chamomile and Raspberry. Basically a raspberry puree with fresh mint that we had to suck it through the stick! Not my most elegant moment, but very delicious.

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Chamomile and raspberry

The remaining eleven courses were equally glorious! Although not quite as Crystal Maze – everything else we just had to shovel down our gobs in a more straight forward manner.  I think once the ice was broken amongst the guests with the first three ‘wonder’ courses, we were free to kick back and enjoy the food a bit more.  A wise move on Eddie’s part, as we were pretty inebriated by the end of the night and Eddie might have a had a few smashed baubles and glow sticks had they occurred at course thirteen and fourteen.

What I loved about the evening was just how tactile and thought-provoking the whole affair was.  Eddie was a delightful host – enthusiastically introducing each course and explaining what it was.  There was not a quiet moment in the entire four and half hours we were there – each dish was a great talking point.

The feta with pineapple sauce was another good ‘umami’ course.  I suppose cheese and pineapple is a classic, but this was a delightful take on it, the saltiness of the feta in rich contrast to the super sweet pineapple. And the onions marinated in blueberry vinegar (obviously) draped on the feta were an attractive and tasty bonus.

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Feta, pineapple

The cured egg, truffle and smoked yoghurt was whacky and awesome.  It tasted smoky and otherworldy and was scoffed in one happy mouthful.

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Cured egg, truffle, smoked yoghurt

A couple of favourites from our November supper club were back on the menu – warm walnut bread with homemade creamy butter was a big hit.  And the deep fried halloumi with potato fondant and a creamy dill sauce – whilst a bit on the conventional side for Eddie – was comfort food at it’s best – and a pleasantly hefty portion after all those little mouthful sized-courses.

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Halloumi, potato, dill

And then there were the puddings!  My boyfriend’s favourite was the fennel pollen, blueberry and lemon candyfloss – which I have to admit was pretty cool.

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Fennel pollen, blueberry and lemon candyfloss

For me, the most intriguing pud was the cherry, coconut and chocolate which was a combination of a mousse and ice-cream.  Eddie theatrically prepared it in front of us on what was called an ‘anti-griddle’ – a contraption that looked like a 1980s photocopier. This piece of equipment can go as cold as minus fifty degrees and exclusively freezes the bottom piece of the food you put on the ‘griddle’.  Which left us with a creamy dessert that was half ice-cream at the bottom and unfrozen mousse at the top.  Eddie Wonka at his best!

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Cherry, coconut, chocolate

And as a massive chocoholic the final pudding was entirely pleasing to me – a bergamont and juniper truffle wrapped up like a present in shiny rainbow cellophane.  A simple fun touch that appealed to the child in all of us.

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Bergamont and juniper truffle

I apologise that I’ve been unable to describe the flavours of the various dishes I ate in detail.  The problem with eating fourteen experimental courses with so many flavours that were new to me, is that it’s difficult to have a clear memory of it all (and the booze may not have helped!). But, every course tasted sensational and was a visual feast!

I had a whale of a time as did all my friends, and for £40 (and it’s BYO) it’s brilliant value for money.  To find out more go to Eddie’s website:

http://www.veggiechef.co.uk/

A chatty night at the Drunken Butcher’s veggie supper club

I arrived before any of the other guests to discover a very invitingly laid table and a waitress.  The Drunken Butcher himself was hidden in the kitchen.  I was getting excited already.  I was a bit nervous as I’d decided to rock up alone.  I’d been wanting to go to a Drunken Butcher supper club for ages and I decided to chance it by myself.

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My nerves did take a bit of a spike when the remaining seven guests arrived.  They ALL knew each other and had in fact been friends for about nine years. Sharp intake of breath.  Perhaps this wasn’t going to be so easy. Thankfully they were all delightfully friendly and interesting, so I got stuck into finding out all about them.

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Beetroot and pickled celeriac salad, with blue cheese and walnuts

The starter was a work of art: beetroot and pickled celeriac salad, with blue cheese and walnuts. And it was exquisite.  My favourite item were the walnuts which tasted like they were honey roasted.  Iain achieved this flavour by roasting them then caramelising them with sugar.

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Homemade gnocchi with sage and tomato

Next course was homemade gnocchi with sage and tomato – delicious, squidgy comforting potatoey dumplings in a tasty tomato sauce. And followed up by a main of vegetable terraine and ‘ratatouille’ and crispy shallots.  The resounding favourite element of this dish was without question the crispy shallots which everyone went wild for.  Iain had treated them in the same way you would batter fish.  Soaking the shallot rings in carbonated water for two hours before dipping in flour and deep frying.  Oh yum!  And there was a nifty accompaniment to our meal – a little shot of spicy tomato vodka.  I examined my glass warily – it looked like tomato stock in a glass – not my thing.  But as it happens it was my thing! Effectively a clear version of bloody mary – made from the liquid of sieved tomatoes mixed with vodka and tobasco. Thank you very much Iain!

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Vegetarian terraine and “ratatouille” and crispy shallots
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Iain’s special bloody mary vodka

 

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Grilled pineapple, sour cream sorbet, blueberry sauce

And then came dessert.  A yummy combo of grilled and caramelised pineapples with Iain’s home sour cream sorbet (great idea!) and blueberry sauce.  And how the evening had flown by! I was so busy chatting to my table neighbours that I hadn’t noticed the time.  They were cheeky, challenging, opinionated and funny and I loved chewing the fat with them.  And to me this is the point of supper club.  What a lovely relaxing environment to meet some new people.

And the final treat of the night, was when the Drunken Butcher (Iain Devine) appeared from the kitchen to have a chinwag with us all.  Iain is charming, witty and he really knows his food.  We got the low down on his cooking techniques and life in the food industry.

It felt like a unique night – the doors being opened to me to Iain’s cuisine and house and to a lovely bunch of friends.  It definitely beat a night in front of the telly.  If you want to find out more about the Drunken Butcher’s supper clubs follow him @drunkenbutcher.

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The Drunken Butcher emerges from the kitchen at the end of the night for a chat