Thursday, March 29, 2012

Recipe: Chicken and Leek Pie

Hey everyone! Another fabulous Lovethegarden recipe competition comes up, and here is another great recipe entry! This month, the featured ingredient is the wonderful sweet veggie that is the humble leek. It is one of my favourite vegetables, gorgeaus when just simply sauteed slowly for half an hour in uggins of butter, and a pinch of salt pepper and sugar, until caramelised. However, one of my other favourite ways of having leeks is in a pie- and this is a very simple recipe that really brings out the flavour of the leeks, and also keeps the chicken tender and moist within the pie. If any of you guys fancy entering the lovethegarden Spring a Leek! competition, enter your favourite leek recipe on your blog by the 8th of April for your chance to win £200 at a restaurant of your choice, or a runners up prize of a cookbook by author (and judge of the competition) Kerstin Rogers.

Chicken and Leek Pie (serves 2) £2 per serving with veg and instant gravy.

50g butter
2 large leeks, diced
1 large chicken breast, diced
Pinch salt sugar and pepper
100ml semi-skimmed milk
1 chicken stock cube
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 sheet ready rolled puff pastry
Beaten egg or milk (for glazed)

1. Sautee the leeks and chicken in the butter, covered, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes. Add the milk and stock cube and cook for a further 10 minutes, stirring often, until the pie mix has thickened and there is almost no liquid left. Season to taste, and set aside to cool.
2. Preheat the oven to 180C. Lay the pastry sheet out onto a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper, and cut it in half. Pour the pie filling onto one of the halves, and top with the other half of pastry. Trim around the edges to look pretty, make a little pastry decoration if you like, cut a couple air holes in the top, and brush with beaten egg or milk. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, then serve!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Recipe: Pearl Barley and Green Vegetable “Barlotto”

Not sure whether Barlotto is something that I invented but I think it's a funky name so i'll use it anyway! It's basically a risotto made with barley instead of rice- just like risottos made with spelt (which we used to make all the time when i worked at River Cottage) are called "Spelottos". This is really tasty, and i would say it is one of my "signature dishes", as are any type of risottos in general. Basically, a lot of people think it's hard to make a risotto- it isn't, it's just hard to make a PERFECT risotto. I have entered this into Food For Friends "Signature Recipe" competition- and i reckon with this dish being this tasty, i've got a darn good chance!! If any of you guys fancy entering the competition too, get your skates on (entries ends 31st March!) and register with these guys, and send a lovely recipe in! The link for it is below:

Pearl Barley and Green Vegetable “Barlotto” (serves 3)

2 tbsp olive oil
Knob of butter
1 white onion, diced finely
1 celery stick, diced finely
½ tsp dried thyme
Splash of sherry
200g pearl barley
1.4 litres stock (chicken, vegetable, or a mixture of both is fine)
1 bay leaf
150g frozen peas
200g boursin garlic and herb flavour

Olive oil
Salt and pepper
9 asparagus spears (3 per person)

1. In a deep frying pan fry the onion, celery and thyme in the butter and olive oil for 10 minutes, stirring often. Add a splash of sherry and cook for 2 minutes (to burn off the alcohol).
2. Add the pearl barley and stir in to coat the grains. Add the bay leaf, and over the next 30 minutes, cook on a medium heat, gradually add stock (enough to fully cover the barley) and keep stirring. Add the peas and boursin, put onto a high heat, and keep stirring until the peas are cooked and the resired “risotto” consistency is achieved!
3. Near to when the risotto is ready, heat a griddle pan onto high with about 3 tbsp olive oil. Season the asparagus spears with salt and pepper, coat with a little oil, and chuck onto the griddle pan. Turn these occasionally for about 3 minutes, until well griddled- but not over cooked.
4. Serve the barlotto with 3 griddled asparagus spears per person, and plenty of cracked black pepper.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Recipe: Tropical Smoothie

This is a really nice smoothie I made yesterday with some fruit that was becoming a bit too ripe in the fruit bowl- smoothies are just great for that purpose. Nick laughed at me when i said as part of my unviersity degree we had to make smoothies in groups- he was like, hah, how easy is University these days- Whatever!! It's a bit more complicated than blending fruit in our degree, we had to trail loads of different types and then test it for ph, and wait until we had created a smoothie that had a suitable ph level as well as good flavour, and then we had to pasteurise it, and then over the next three weeks after that we had to do bacterial analysis on petri dishes, and now we have to write a 2000 word lab report on it. Not just a smoothie now hey?? Haha! Shall have to put my "Lab Smoothie" recipe up here as well at some point too, it actually tasted awesome.

Tropical Smoothie (makes 24 ounces- about 650ml)
1 banana, peeled and diced
50g peeled diced cantaloupe melon
1 x 125g Activia Kiwi Yoghurt
150ml orange juice
150ml apple juice
Lime slices for garnish (optional)

1. Add all the ingredients to a blender, and blend until smooth. Pour out into glasses, and serve chilled with slices of lime to garnish!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Review: The Bengal Brasserie

I know I mentioned these guys on a takeaway review about a couple of weeks ago, but I went for a meal there tonight so I thought I would you guys a more “in depth” review of this place- definitely my favourite Indian restaurant. We were going to celebrate my brother passing his driving theory test, although with our family to be honest there can be any excuse for going for a curry! When we booked they made sure they got us our favourite seat- this booth in the corner (haha, the Booths in the booth, lol!) which is great, because for some reason whenever me and my family go for a meal there, we always end up in absolute hysterics at least a couple of times during the night. Don’t know what It is about the place, but it’s just a really nice relaxed atmosphere.

We had a few poppadums with all the relished whilst we were choosing the rest of our meal- the onion salad they do here is actually REALLY nice, normally I never touch the stuff in most Indian restaurants, but the salad here is delicious. I ordered the vegetable puri for starter, and this was of course fantastic- they do the best veggie puri in the entire world, if you go here you must try this as your starter. Although we did have an issue with the service at this point. My dad ordered the vegetable thali, which is usually a big platter, which also includes 1 onion bhaji and samosa as well, but because he wanted to have his starters with the rest of us, he asked them to serve them as a separate starter. They completely forgot about this and took a while once dad mentioned about it to bring his stuff. And to be honest Michael couldn’t start eating his starter for a while because they had forgotten to bring the yoghurt dip that comes with it. This was the only issue with service the whole night really.

Starters went and the mains came really quickly. I had ordered chicken bhuna, “special rice” (which is just like vegetable rice basically), tarka dahl and a peshwari naan. The chicken bhuna was delicious, as was the rice, but I had a couple of issues with the other dishes. Their tarka dahl could have done with a bit more salt, and in my opinion (although mum thought it was all right) the peshwari naan was over cooked. Didn’t like the naan at all actually, didn’t have nearly enough coconut in it. I mean it was kinda crap compared to the naan I had had in The Mint Room, but then again it was definitely the nicest naan bread I ever had in that restaurant, it would be hard to compete with that. I didn’t finish my main course, probably only ate about ½ of it- and got the rest in a takeaway (to have as tomorrows breakfast, I’m just such a slob, lol!), but the portions there are incredibly generous, and also I wanted to save some room for dessert. I know most Indian restaurants have the same frozen desserts as all the other ones (just like a lot of Italian places have same ones too) but I really like the puddings at The Bengal Brasserie. I had a pistachio kulfi, which tasted mostly of rosewater, but it was very nice and refreshing. The bill came to £84 including tip, which is very reasonable, considering we all had a three course meal with a couple of drinks and loads of side dishes, and there were four of us. It would have been about £8/£9 extra for normal people but me and my brother got student discount off on it (in fact we reckon they discounted a little too much by accident- oops! Lol!). Overall basically if you go for a curry in Bath, or want to take some mates out that are visiting you in Bath, take them to the Bengal Brasserie, it’s a great atmosphere and its fantastic reasonably priced food. I would mark the service at an 8/10, and the food an 8/10 as well (although if it wasn’t for the naan in this occasion, it would be a 9 or 10 for food).

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Recipe: Butternut Squash, Feta and Walnut Croustades

You'll be seeing a few more canape recipes from me in the next couple of weeks I reckon. I am doing 150 canapes professionally for a friend's birthday (first paid canape job! Very nervous!) so i've been needing to practice them before the big day. Will be doing 7 varieties- These croustades, goats cheese and red onion crostinis, cheddar and piccalili crostinis, curried chicken skewers with yoghurt dip, Gazpacho shots, chilli smoked salmon and coriander yoghurt on blinis and sundried tomato fritatas. You'll find croustades in that sorta "world" section in the supermarkets, where you get miso paste and other things like that. Within about 1/2 an hour the croustades start to soften instead of being crunchy, but theyre quite nice like that as well actually.

Butternut Squash, feta and walnut croustades (makes 24)

1 small-ish butternut squash
Olive oil, salt, sugar and pepper
honey (optional)
50g feta
20g walnuts
1 pack of 24 croustades

1. Roast the butternut squash in the oven until completely soft- 1 hour under foil, ½ an hour without, at 200C. Mash, season to taste (add honey if not sweet enough) and allow to cool.
2. Fill the croustades with the mashed butternut squash, add a small bit of feta and a chunk of walnut, and plate.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Recipe: Mushroom and Leek Soup

This is one of the nicest soups I have made in ages- really flavorful, thick and smooth. We had some mushrooms to use in the fridge and I just chucked various other vegetables we had in the cupboards. I tend to use a mixture of chestnut and closed cup mushrooms for this recipe- although most mushrooms will work I reckon. This recipe is also fantastic used as a sauce for steak or chicken, or even used as a base for a chicken and mushroom pie!

Mushroom and Leek Soup (makes 2 large bowls) £1.45 per person with bread and butter

40g butter
1 large white onion, diced
1 leek, diced
1 celery stick, diced
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
210g mixed mushrooms
1 tsp thyme
½ tsp celery salt
1 potato, peeled and diced
250ml chicken stock
250ml semi-skimmed milk (plus maybe a little extra later)
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Sautee the onion, leek, celery and garlic in butter in a large pan, covered for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the mushrooms and cook for a further 5 minutes.
2. Add all the other ingredients, and cook on a high heat, covered, for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat, blend, and season to taste.
3. Check consistency, and add a little milk if the soup needs to be a bit thinner. Return to the pan and heat until piping hot and serve!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Feature: The Best Takeaways in Bath

Hey guys. As you all know, I do love food, and I do love cooking- but i also love eating in restaurants, and every so often getting a sneaky takeaway! Bath is full of great take aways/ normal restaurants that do take-out, so i thought i would tell you some of my favourites.

First of all there is the chinese category, in which there is just no contest- it's got to be Yummy House. It's situated in Nelson Place East, near Walcot, which is quite far from my place, but that doesnt matter because they deliver for free (if you order over £10 of stuff, which of course I always do!). I've been getting deliveries from there literally since i was eight, and the woman that runs it is really friendly (she always calls me "Miss Boots" on the phone it's adorable). They have a massive menu, including chinese thai and malaysian cuisine, and so much on there is delicious- on the starters the vegetarian spring rolls, chicken noodle soup, and the Yuk Sungs are very good. My favourite main dishes they do are their chicken chow mein, chicken thai green curry and chicken with green peppers in black bean sauce. Their egg fried rice is absolutely delicious too- it sounds basic, but a tasty egg fried rice is important to the whole meal, theres a chinese restaurant on my street that does takeouts as well, but their egg fried rice is rubbish, so i don't really go there as much. When you have a Yummy House meal, i also reccomend that you order a portion of satay sauce. It's not on the actual menu, but i just have to order a large pot of it with my meal because it's sooooo damn good. I'm really worried that they might close one day suddenly, because i just have to get their satay sauce recipe before that ever happened! Their prices are super cheap as well, their number is 01225 463975, and you can have a look at their menu online here:

Next type of takeaway we get to is the mighty indian- awesome curries and melt-in-the-mouth naans, rices and side dishes. My two favourite Indian takeaways in Bath are The Bengal Brasserie (on milsom street) and The Shaad- both of which places are actually my favourite indian restaurants in town also. The bengal brasserie is a bit more convenient if you live in Bath, as it's in the centre of town, and the Shaad is slightly out of town in Weston,but i used to get curries from there a lot because i used to live in Weston and very close to it. Now i've been going to The Bengal Brasserie for years, over a decade at least, and it's always been really good. Some of the delicious items on the menu include THE BEST Vegetetable puri ON EARTH, haha, according to my brother the best chicken pakoras around as well, a really great Vegetarian Thali (that includes starters, mains and side dishes for the very reasonable price of £10.25), great Dhansaks, a good traditional Korma, and the Chicken or lamb saags are great too. Their baltis are particularly delicious also- and they do a big range of them with all sorts of different ingredients. They are very compromising too, always making you whatever you want- you want a dish extra spicy? you want a dish with added mushrooms? You got it! Also what's pretty awesome too is that they do student discount, which is always a plus (: You can check out their menu at and their number is 01225 428773.

The Shaad is also a great takeaway, with a few particular specialities that make me go back there again and again. First of all i reckon they make the best samosas in Bath- their meat ones anyway. Their shami kebab on the starter menu is also GAWJUS. For mains I usually go for a dhansak- although recently their chefs have been making them a bit too spicy for me, so i've been going for either a chicken passanda, or a chicken bhuna- both definitely reccomended. Side dish-wise, i wouldnt go for their parathas, because i don't think theyre all that good, but their naans are great, and vegetable side dish-wise their saag dahl is delicious, as is their sag aloo. I think my boyfriend and some of my family prefer The Bengal Brasserie to the Shaad, because apparently their spicy dishes are very good and VERY HOT, which is the kinda curry they like (not my cuppa tea so i couldn't judge). Their menu is available at and you can order a takeaway on 01225 444940.

To be fair, a chinese or an indian are the usual takeaways I tend to frequent, but i thought i would give a shout out to a few of the other "genres" of takeaways cuisine. I reckon the best burger (and particularly veggie burger) can be found at Schwartz Bros' Gourmet takeaway. Theres two in Bath- one in Walcot street and one in Sawclose, and they are both great, i usually get a veggie-cheese burger and some onion rings and both are really good quality. I'm not a huge fan of their milkshakes, but their fries are good too though. They also have a couple of places in Bristol as well i think?

As far as i'm concerned- there are two main kebab houses in town- Marmaris, on newmarket row, and then theres another one (not sure what it's even called?) up near where Wagamamas is- anyway, who cares about that one, Marmaris is definitely the place to go. It's run by turkish people, and actually has a seat-in restaurant too serving traditional turkish food as well as kebabs (although i've never eaten in the restaurant, i've always just got a takeout kebab). Their Donner is great, but i had i think it was called a "Shwarma" kebab or something (it was lamb i think?) last time i went therw and this was delicious too. Always ask for hummus in your kebab, or on the side, because their hummus is THE BOSS. Gotta tell you though, dont bother getting chips with your kebabs, their chips were soggy and terrible! I guess chinese has already been covered- but Thai hasn't yet- i have got a takeaway from Mai Thai (which i have reviewed on this blog) a few times now, and they have been absolutely great, when you go in there they are really friendly, and they get your takeaway made SO QUICKLY, literally i'll order a few things and they get it done in 5 minutes, even if there are still people in the restaurant, it's great service. A bit more price-y than chinese/indian takeaways but still very nice.

The last typical takeaway (that i can think of anyway!) is pizza- i must admit i rarely get pizza delivered/ go out and get pizza. My boyfriend gets Dominoes Pizza every so often, and they are allright i guess, they'll do, y'know? If i get a Dominoes I usually get a thin base, extra mozzarella, ham, pineapple and mushroom pizza, yum! But even though some of the restaurants around offer pizza takeaway services (I know Pizza Express, Strada and Bottelinos do I think) I wouldn't normally get one, because you know by the time you got it home that it would have gotten really cold! Although actually theres a new pizza delivery service that's opened up REALLY near me and it looks like it might be nice actually, called Avelino's, the menu sounds great. So watch this space i suppose!

Hope this guide was useful, that if any of you stay with mates in the Bath area, you'll know where to go when you all fancy getting a takeaway and a having few beers at home!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Feature: The Bath Comedy Festival

Hey guys, I thought I would tell you all about a big festival going on in my town in a couple of weeks, that if you live in Bath/near Bath you should really check out! This is the Bath Comedy Festival, which is in it's fourth year now, and is doing really well. My boyfriend is the director, and he's used all his great comedy connections both in the south west, as well as Edinburgh and overseas to bring some great comedians to this city at Easter!

Not only are there dozens of great comedy acts, there are also some ones involving scrummy food, so i thought i would mention them here for you foodies! First of all on the 30th March there is the "Up The Pump Room Charity Ball", which is held in the beautiful historic Roman Baths and Pump Rooms. Right Roman revels and torch lit reception by the historic baths, followed by sultry jazz and Searcys' sumptuous bowl canapes (these are great, big generous sized canapes in bowls- comforting dishes such as roast pork with bubble and squeak, fish and chips, and wild mushroom risotto. Then enjoy the wonderfully nostalgic sounds of the fabulous Stuttgarter Saloniker Orchestra, specially flown in for your delight and delectation. These highly accomplished musicians have over a hundred numbers in their repertoire, from tangos to Tchaikovsky, so prepare to dance the night away.Theres then a raffle with fabulous prizes, for example a magnum of chateau Sainte Marguerite Rosé.

On sunday the 1st of April is another fabulous show being held in The Widcombe Social Club- "Sunday Lunch with Bill Smarme and the Bizness". You get a gert two course sunday lunch (completely scrummy!) and a great show, from Bill Smarme: international entertainer, love guru, connoisseur of fine marmalades and building contractor - sends up most styles of music!! (Haha!) The band bring you songs of love, pork pies, binder twine and Twerton - all in the best possible taste. I have seen these guys before and they are absolutely HILARIOUS, this "dinner and a show" event is really good value as well at £18.50!

Another show i'd like to mention is "Arthur Smith's Great Easter Egg Hunt", which has two shows on Saturday 7th of April, and is sure to be a hoot- especially for all of you that love wine, chocolate, and laughing uncontrolably (hopefully not all at the same time, haha!). Famously grumpy old man Arthur Smith is back and combining comedy forces with, amongst others, Natural Theatre, New Old Friends, Toby Longworth, Seymour Mace and Women on the Make stalwart Hilary Strong to bring you a chocolaty, feathery egg-on-your face mystery walking tour.Expect laughs, traffic hold-ups, shocked passers-by, prizes and possibly the odd glass of wine on the way.

There are loads more events during the Bath Comedy Festival, 30th March- 9th April, and some events have already sold out- so i would get your skates on, get your ticketsget down to Bath, and come and have a chuckle!! Heres the site where you can order the tickets:

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Recipe: Roast Vegetable, Spinach and Pesto Tart

This is a lovely dish i cooked tonight as a mother's day treat for my mum and family. She loves pastry, roast veg and pesto, so i thought this would be the ideal dinner to try out on her. I also bought her some chocolate too- i know it's traditional (infact all the way back from Roman times) to buy/go out and pick flowers for mothers day, but I know my mum much prefers chocolate! I know it's saturday, but i'll be working all day tommorow so i figured i'd treat her tonight. Hope my brother does something nice for her tommorow, he's such a numpty, he's probably forgotten! This tart turned out very nicely, and as my dad pointed out I reckon it would also be very nice using 50g parmesan + 50g pine nuts instead of the lancashire too as a different variation on it.

Roast Vegetable and Pesto Tart (serves 4) £2 per serving with new potatoes and salad.

4 tbsp olive oil
1 orange pepper, seeded and diced
1 medium courgette, diced
120g chestnut mushrooms, quartered
1 red onion, diced
120ml double cream
25g pesto
250g spinach
100g finely grated/crumbled Lancashire cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Butter (to grease the dish)
1 circle of ready rolled short crust pastry

1. Preheat the oven to 200C. Add the diced pepper, courgette, mushrooms, red onion, and olive oil to a roasting tin. Add a bit of salt and pepper, toss the vegetables to coat in the oil, and put in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove and set aside.
2. Put the double cream, pesto and spinach in a saucepan on a medium heat, stirring often, for about 10 minutes- or until all the spinach has wilted. Mix in the roasted vegetables, season to taste and set aside.
3. Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease a pie/flan dish with butter, and put the pastry into the dish, trimming around the edges. Prick the middle with a fork a few times, and bake blind for 6 minutes.
4. Pour the vegetable mix into the pie case. Top with the grated cheese, and bake in the oven at 180C for 25 minutes.
5. Place the tart underneath a hot grill for about five minutes, in order to brown the cheese a little bit, and serve!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Recipe: Lemony Garlic Chicken

Basically, if your'e not a lemon fan, turn right around now! This chicken dish is covered in an intense, tangy, garlicky sauce- which will really knock your socks off! When i made it last night, i added the juice of a whole lemon, because i'm a nutter and love it, haha, but i reccomend in this recipe to add as much lemon as your tastebuds can handle, a little squeeze will do sometimes. Its always good to serve this with a very neutral tasting side dish- like plain rice or plain mashed potatoes, because the flavours are so strong here you dont really need any other flavours to try and clash with it.

Lemony Garlic Chicken (serves 2)

2 tbsp olive oil
6-8 mini chicken fillets (depending on size)
40g butter
2 chunky cloves of garlic, finely diced
200ml white wine (sweet if possible)
Zest of 1 lemon, and a squeeze of the juice
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 chicken stock cube
Sugar to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat a non-stick frying pan on high heat, and add the oil. Season the mini fillets with a little salt and pepper and fry for two minutes on each side, to brown- set them aside.
2. In the same pan, lower the heat, and add the butter and garlic. Fry for a couple of minutes to soften the garlic, and then add the white wine, lemon, rosemary and stock cube. Increase heat back to high and cook for 2 minutes.
3. Add the mini fillets back in and cook, stirring often to avoiding sticking, for about 10 minutes- or until the sauce has thickened. Put the chicken fillets on a plate, season the sauce to taste, and pour the sauce over the chicken. Serve this with mash, or with rice, in order to soak up the tangy powerful sauce.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Recipe: Homemade Pork Burgers with Relish

These burgers were some of the most flavourful and moist burgers I have ever had- the texture is just divine! I've never actually cooked with pork mince but it seemed to work quite well as burgers. The relish is really nice as well- very simple, but it ends up tasting just like the relish you get in burger bars, which is kinda what i wanted tonight! I'm in a bit of a tizz at the moment actually, as our oven has just broke! Don't know who on earth to call- who fixes ovens?? Looks like you might be getting cold/ salad recipes on here for the next couple of months, haha!

Homemade Pork Burgers, with cucumber and tomato relish (makes 4 burgers, so serves 2-4)

1 tbsp olive oil (plus more for when you griddle the burgers)
1 red onion, finely diced
450g lean minced pork
Handful fresh basil, finely chopped
6 sundried tomatoes, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
4 burger baps (white and with sesame seeds is my preference)
Salad as garnish (optional)

The relish
½ medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely diced
150g tomatoes, seeded and diced
100g ketchup
1 level tsp Barts hot chilli paste in sunflower oil
Bit of black pepper

1. First of all, fry the red onions in 1 tbsp of olive oil for about 5 minutes, or until softened, and set aside. Mix the minced pork, basil, sundried tomato, cooked red onions and plenty of seasoning in a mixing bowl (this is best to do with your hands!). Do this until everything is well mixed and is coming together a bit better.
2. Shape the mince into 4 burgers, place gently on a plate, and put in the fridge for 30 minutes (this helps them keep their shape whilst cooking). Now mix all the relish ingredients in a bowl, season to taste, and set aside.
3. Preheat the oven onto 220C, and put a griddle pan onto high heat. Pour a little oil onto the griddle pan, and fry each burger 2 minutes each side (depending on size of pan, you may want to do it 1 or 2 at a time- each time you put a new burger on, add a little more oil to prevent sticking). Place these burgers onto a baking tray, and put in the oven for 10 minutes.
4. Serve the burger in the baps with a couple of tablespoons of relish, and some salad on the side.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Review: The Mint Room

This weekend I really decided I wanted to treat my family and my boyfriend, because they are all so lovely to me, but mainly because I have come into a bit of money recently so can afford it (lol) ! I decided to take them to The Mint Room, which is this new-ish gourmet Indian restaurant that they all love. My boyfriend has been there a few times actually, as he even went to the opening night and raved about the food there (he got his food free of course on the opening night, the cheeky mare!), my family have been there a couple of times before, and I went for a birthday meal there back in November. It isn’t somewhere we all go often though, because when it comes to curry-houses, this place is very upmarket- much more expensive than our usual haunts (The Bengal Brassiere and The Shaad, both of which are lovely). I tried booking the table for 8 o clock, but the guy over the phone said it would be better to make it 8:30pm, due to the fact they were doing “sittings”. I thought, eh, all right then, we usually don’t eat that late but I didn’t mind too much.

When we all got there, we could see it was very busy, but also noticed that there seemed to be many people at different stages of their meal (starters/ mains/ puddings/ getting ready to leave). I thought this was rather confusing, because if they really had done “sittings” then everyone would generally be at the point of leaving by now. So basically I reckon they either lied over the phone to make it easier for them, or perhaps they had late or annoying customers, I dunno. When we got in, we were asked to sit down and wait 5 minutes for our table. We ended up waiting 20 minutes for our table, whilst steadily getting a bit annoyed and thinking of going to another place.
So eventually they sat us at our table, and gave us the drinks menus. I say “us”, for some reason they only gave us 2 drinks menus (and there were 5 of us), which I thought was a bit weird. We then waited another 20 minutes before someone came over to take our drinks order, but then we were left at our table for ages without even having looked at the food menu yet! We managed to grab one of the passing waiters to ask for some menus, who tried giving us the same 2 drinks menus again! I just thought how ridiculous this was, because I had read in a local magazine recently that the manager of this place said they wanted to aim for a Michelin star. My only response to that is ‘ARE YOU ACTUALLY TAKING THE PISS??’They obviously do not know anything about The Michelin industry otherwise they would not have said anything this stupid. Not even the Royal Crescent, or The Priory (anymore, it lost its star a couple of years ago) in Bath is Michelin. With service like this, they wouldn’t even get close to a rosette.

Anyway, we finally got the food menus and got served little mini poppadums (well, actually, they were obviously just broken up normal sized ones) with two homemade chutneys. We got through them really quickly, as they were only little, so we asked the waiter whether we could order some normal sized ones. He said this was impossible. I think the mini poppadum thing is a mistake- I mean, they are trying to be gourmet and everything, which I understand, but big poppadums with all the relishes and accompaniments are part of the Indian meal culture in this country- either you go completely against the norm and DON’T serve poppadums, or you serve them properly I think. As I mentioned earlier, I had visited The Mint Room once before. Strangely enough last time we hadn’t had any problems with the service, but I had a fair few issues with the food (despite everyone else at the table LOVING it). First of all, my starter last time I felt was quite bland- the Aloo Tikki (which was fried spiced mash potato cakes stuffed with brie), and then my main course, both the Murgh Palak Paneer (Chicken breast stuffed with spinach and Paneer, served with an Indian tomato sauce) and the vegetable curry side dish were waaay too spicy for me. I wanted to like it, because I knew it was flavourful, and the meat was very tender, but it was just blown away with chilli. I know I’m quite sensitive to chilli, but basically last time I was at this restaurant I ended up disappointed by how spicy the food was. This time however, I ordered some really nice dishes, and was very happy with what I chose. Often, I will give certain restaurants a second chance, because I am aware that sometimes it is not the food there that was bad, it’s just that I happened to have ordered something off the menu that unluckily I didn’t really like. Theres a difference between having bad food at a restaurant, and knowing that you should have chosen something else off the menu. Definitely.

I ordered the “Paneer Pepper Fry” for starter, a Chicken Rogan Josh for main (The Mint Room does “normal” or “classic” style curries, as well as their “signature dishes” which are a bit more alternative) and a peshwari naan and an aloo Gobi on the side. Whilst we ordered our food, we got this waiter that basically scowled at us the whole time we were ordering, which was slightly disconcerting, and then once we’d all ordered (in traditional Booth, and I now realise, Steel style, we had ordered quite a lot) he then repeated all of our choices back to us REALLY SLOWLY, and in broken English, which if I’m quite honest, was PAINFUL! Honestly, you don’t get that in restaurants!! The only place I ever have that is when I order a Chinese delivery on the phone, which I can kinda understand because if they screw up a delivery order it’s much harder to fix. But yeah, honestly, that guy did not have to repeat this, it was just really annoying, time consuming, and awkward.

However, this is the point where all the negatives end, and where all of the positives begin. I find it very hard to fault their food. Our starters were delicious- mum and dad had the shared vegetarian platter, my brother had the chicken pakora (which is a starter he has in pretty much every Indian restaurant we go to- and he said these were very good) and me and Nick had to “Paneer Pepper Fry”. It was like a tasty paneer and pepper dry curry that had been shaped into a circle, garnished with a raw salad of beetroot, carrot and mooli, and served with a mild yoghurt mint dip on the side. This was very tasty, and just the right portion size for a starter. Then the main courses came and my god they were so flavourful! Everything tasted really fresh, without losing the signature Indian depth of spices and curried flavours- my Rogan josh was great, with very tender chicken, my peshwari naan was fluffy and had plenty of coconut filling, and my aloo gobi was the nicest aloo gobi I’ve ever had actually (I reckon because they had used fresh cauliflower instead of frozen like a lot of restaurants do). Me and Nick shared a pilau rice too- and it wasn’t all fake coloured like you get from takeaways, it was fluffy, and garnished with crispy fried onions. I also had a taste of my mum’s vegetable bhuna, and I can vouch from tasting this that their vegetarian options certainly weren’t lacking flavour either. Was absolutely stuffed from the main course, I ate much more than I normally would in other Indian restaurants. Although don’t worry about the posh-ness of the place- if you can’t finish your dinner, it’s completely fine to ask them to give you a doggy bag, because they also run as a takeaway (although I’m really not sure who would get a takeaway from this place with those prices!).

Normally I would have ordered dessert, but just down to my personal preferences I just didn’t really like anything on the dessert menu. They had about 6 options on the menu, including some sort of halva cake thing, gulab jamun, poached spiced pear, mango or lime sorbet- but I didn’t really fancy any of it. I would have ordered- and I really reckon they should put something like this on the menu, as it’s their sort of style- some Kheer, or “Indian rice pudding”. It’s definitely one of the nicest Indian desserts- that and proper kulfi. They could go for a bit more effort on the puddings to better their menu I think.

So I had some jasmine tea instead, and we got the bill sorted, and it all came to £142. I gave them £150 (I certainly wasn’t going to tip above 10% with the service we had had tonight) and thought actually, this wasn’t too expensive, compared to the price of a lot of meals out I have. I mean, often when we go to a Chinese restaurant with my buddies, the bill usually ends up at £25, although I realised the difference here was that we hadn’t really drank much at The Mint Room. Usually when I go out with my friends, we have at least 3 beers each, but only Nick and my dad had had two beers each, and mum had one vodka and coke, and me and mike stuck to soft drinks. I figure that actually, considering how much food we got, £30 each is a very reasonable price. I mean, honestly (I have the receipt in front of me to check, lol) altogether we had: 4 starters, 4 mains, 5 alcoholic drinks, 3 non-alcoholic drinks, 11 side dishes (!), 2 desserts and one pot of tea. That’s not frickin bad for thirty ey?

It was at the end of the meal where they started improving their service, strangely enough. I remember there was one guy, who seems to be the manager perhaps (although he’s very young with an east London accent, lol?) that was really nice the last time we were there, and again was really really nice this time as well- apologising for the wait, and making sure our main course came out fast after all the previous mistakes. He then got talking to us all after the meal, shaking hands, asking names, asking whether me and Michael were at University etc. He also offered to do Nick’s canapés for free on his Comedy Festival Opening Night as well (because the restaurant wants to get involved in local events, for publicity, which is a good proactive thing to do as a restaurant I think)! Gawd, Nick goes out for a free meal and then gets another amazing thing free- he’s so jammy! Overall, despite the niceness of the main manager guy, I still can’t help but rate this place’s service preeety badly. If you’re going on a night out, for a big celebration, and you know you will be paying more than normal for something, you expect good service- and we just didn’t get that last night. I will rate the service a 5/10 (and this would be 3 if it wasn’t for previous experience and the nice manager too!) but the food, which is outstanding, a 9/10- giving a score of 7/10. I hope this place does well for itself, which it seems to be doing considering how busy it was yesterday, but it’s got a hell of a long way if it’s reaching for the stars (The Michelin ones anyway, Haha!!)

Friday, March 9, 2012

Review: The Central Bar

Since I moved out of home, I’m kinda slightly embarrassed to admit how much I miss my mother! Haha! To be fair I am in the very fortunate position to only be living 25 minutes away from her, so basically a free bus ride away, but still- we’re very close and I talk to her at least every day on the phone. Anyway, now that I consider myself a bit more free and independent, I thought I would start regularly treating my mum to lunch when I could afford it, considering how many “free lunches” I have received from her in the past! I still had my Tastecard, which free trial ended on Friday, so I thought I would take her to one of the restaurants on their promotional list. “The Central Bar” was on that list, I checked out the menu online and I thought it looked like a good place for lunch, so decided to take her there.

The place is quite small, and I feel that if I went there on a night out for cocktails, I would start to get annoyed very quickly if it got busy- because the bit in front of the bar is really really narrow- so I’d be having to squeeze past people all the time. Not the best designed place I guess. However, me and mum checked out the menu, and I noticed it was different to their one advertised online (maybe this is because it’s seasonal, or special based, I’m not sure). I realised that compared to the online version, there were less vegetarian choices, which wasn’t the best for my mum, but since it was only lunchtime, she was happy having one of the “lunchy options”- which included omelettes, jacket potatoes, and baguettes with various fillings. There was only two other veggie options besides that, which if I remember right was an oyster mushroom filled filo parcel (mum likes mushrooms, but not oyster mushrooms- she finds Chinese mushrooms a bit slimy) and “goats cheese lollipops” (one of my mums biggest challenges recently as a vegetarian is that it is definitely in “food vogue” that any vegetarian option on a menu must include goats cheese somehow, and she hates it, haha). She decided on having a mushroom and cheese omelette, and I was swamped with all the meaty options, but decided to go for the homemade pork and beef meatballs, served with spaghetti in a tomato and red pepper sauce.

Now when I ordered this, underneath on the menu it said you could order a small portion (in brackets it said “3”, with the price of £4.95) or a large portion (“5” for £7.95). I of course, figuring the £4.95 option was like a starter portion (like you get in some Italian restaurants actually), ordered the large, and when it arrived, I realised they really meant LARGE! 5 Mahoosive meatballs, on a big tower of pasta- I’ve got to say that you all know how skewed my portion sizes are, considering some of my recipes, but this plateful even defeated me! Mum’s omelette was massive too, with loads of French fries and a good fresh looking salad garnish. The meatballs were delicious, really flavourful, and very moist- I think using a combination of pork and beef when making meatballs is always a winner, because the pork keeps the meatballs from being dry, and the beef adds flavour and stops the meatballs from tasting too “piggy”, if you know what I mean. The spaghetti was cooked properly, and the sauce had been seasoned well, with a tasty sauce, if there would be one criticism it would be that the sauce was a little too sweet. I think perhaps a tsp less sugar in that sauce and they would be on to a winner! One point that I noticed, and I always think attention to detail is important in a restaurant, is that the side of my plate was quite badly chipped, which didn’t look all that good, but to be honest I couldn’t be bothered to complain- I was so hungry!

The service there was quite attentive too, considering by the time we got our lunches, the place was filling up very quickly, and there was only one man waiting all these tables (a very cute French man in fact, haha), I was quite impressed. Service was quick, and once we finished our lunches we both got a couple of coffees. When the coffees arrived, the cups were actually too hot to touch! I think perhaps it was the design of the cups and the fact they had been resting on top of the coffee machine, but this was slightly impractical, as we had to wait for a while before we could actually pick up our coffees to drink them! Although they sell Illy coffees, which is always a good sign- a lot of people rate Lavazza as the best type of coffee, but I rate Illy much better, I personally think theres nothing better on the market.

The bill came, although this took a while I guess, as the waiter was so busy, and he had to write the bill twice because the first time he forgot about my Tastecard and I thought it was a very reasonable price. We had ordered 2 cokes, 2 main meals and 2 coffees and the bill came to £22, which of course I got £7 off, because of my Tastecard, so it ended up being £15. I think considering the sheer size of the portions in this place, and the good quality ingredients, this was a very fair price. My main criticism of this place is that despite me really liking the style of the menu (lots of homemade comfort lunchy foods like pasta, curries, fish and chips, pies, ploughman’s etc.) there was not enough vegetarian choice on the menu. With that improvement made, I think me and my mum will definitely go back there again at some point. I think I would rate the food a 7/10 (marks down for chipped plate, overly sweet pasta and not enough veggie choices) , and the service an 8/10 (just points down to the wait for the bill really). Overall 7.5/10.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Recipe: Penne with Sundried Tomato Pesto

30 Followers! Wahey! Brilliant news. Doing rather well in the WWF recipe competition (close second place now) so thanks to anyone on here that voted for me, that's great. Went back home and cooked this for mum and dad and they loved it! Mum's never tried rocket cooked into a dish before, and thinks thats a really good idea, so she liked it a lot. It is quite rich i suppose, and does not really need any extra salt added to it- the sundried tomatoes are enough! But the sundried tomato and walnut pesto is so much nicer than the shop bought sundried tomato pesto's you get in the supermarkets, i'm completely hooked! Tempted to see how long it would last in jars, so i could give it as a gift perhaps!

Penne with Sundried tomato and walnut pesto (serves 3) £1.61 per serving

1 x 280g jar (undrained weight) sundried tomatoes in oil
75g walnuts
40g grated parmesan
1 garlic clove

2 tbsp Olive oil
1 red onion, sliced
Pinch of sugar
50g rocket (plus about 10g/ large handful for garnish)
350g dried penne
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Blitz the sundried tomatoes (and all the oil from the jar as well), walnuts, parmesan and garlic in a food processor until smooth. If it is too thick for pesto, add a couple more tbsp of olive oil to loosen it up.
2. Fry the red onion with a pinch of sugar, in the olive oil and butter, for 10 minutes, until soft, and caramelised. Add the rocket and cook for a minute or until it begins to wilt.
3. Meanwhile, bring a large pan of water to the boil and cook the pasta according to the packet instructions. Drain, reserving a little of the starchy pasta water. Add the drained pasta, pasta water, and pesto to the onions and rocket, stir until all the ingredients are well combined and the sauce is thick. Season to taste, and serve with some extra fresh rocket on top!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Competition: WWF's Earth Hour Recipe Competition

Hey guys. So i've got a recipe competition on the go at the moment, and i'd love it if you guys could vote for it. There are four entries, mine is the Butternut Squash and Goats Cheese Salad Recipe- and i'm lagging last in the votes at the moment! 1st place gets a large riverford box, bottle of prosecco and loads of cookbooks, and 2nd place gets a medium riverford box. There is a certain amount of eagerness to win this too, because i think it is absolutely inappropriate that there is a fish recipe up for votes in this comp (which is currently winning atm). It is held by the WWF, who are an animal rights group, and it supposed to be a competition promoting ecological conservation- How can they allow an unsustainable fish recipe, when over-fishinbg of our oceans is one of the most biggest ecological concerns going right now??

And also, this lazy guy, with the plaice recipe, also submitted THE EXACT same recipe into another competition, which i expect he will win because he's got the voting power behind him. It's lazy and disgusting. So, anyway, rant over, promise, lol! Go to this link, and vote for my Butternut Squash and Goats cheese salad recipe, that would be FAB!