Sunday, March 6, 2016

Fischer's Baslow Hall

Bailey and I are very lucky to have the most wonderful brother/ brother-in-law-to-be/ sister-in-law-to-be/ amazing friends in the form of Steven and Lisa. This generous twosome were so excited by our recent (now not so recent) engagement that they only went and snapped us up a voucher for us to go stuffing our faces at a blimming MICHELIN STARRED RESTAURANT! Obviously a slap up meal is the best gift anyone could ever give us but this went down particularly well given that we've had neither the time, nor the the money, nor the inclination to eat out anywhere near as much as we used to (as anyone who has cared to take note of the near death of this blog will know).

Fischer's in all of its splendour
The restaurant in question was Fischer's Baslow Hall, a place I had heard about previously through our pal Hungry Hoss' review. Excitement levels rose even further when he tweeted us to say he thought we were really going to like it. The table was booked, a room at the local inn was reserved and we were in business for a drizzly Saturday lunchtime during February half term!

Now then, some of you will know that I'm now rocking over two months of veganism and counting. While we all know that some chefs and restaurateurs have some quite strong opinions on vegans, the staff at Fischer's were nothing short of brilliant when dealing with the matter before and during the meal. Firstly, I think the whole ethos of Fischer's cooking lends itself well to veggie food anyway - the website boasts a menu in which "Rupert Rowley creates a more luxurious menu based on seasonal produce... inspired by home-grown vegetables, herbs and fruits from the extensive Baslow Hall gardens." Secondly, I felt really chuffed when I was given my very own personal vegan menu plus you could tell all of the staff were very well briefed about it. It really was very much appreciated, thanks Fischer's!

Anyway given that we were celebrating we started the meal off with a nice G&T (Robin of Locksley gin, made in our home town of Sheff Vegas, YES) and a glass of fizz plus some lovely little snacks. Olives for me, super rich and buttery parmesan biscuits for Bailey and the most intensely parsnippy parsnip crisps I've ever had. They were great, mega crispy but not in the slightest bit greasy.

Next up we were delivered the "Chef's surprise" which for me was artichoke with tiny cubes of fresh zingy pickled veggies and for Bailey was a delightfully creamy cauliflower soup with crispy spirals of onion bhaji suspended above it. One of the best surprises in recent memory really.


I'm not going to get started on the old bread argument but suffice to say Bailey and I are most definitely in the "if you're a good restaurant your bread should be good" camp. So we loved the most excellent Stout & Treacle / Raisin & Hazelnut breads we were presented with. I absolutely loved the chunky nuts in the latter. Bailey was super impressed with the butter too.

Onto the starters and I was on the Grilled Broccoli with ponzu dressing and "monk's beard". I previously literally no idea what monk's beard was (I now know it is a tasty Mediterranean plant with "rich mineral notes") but the whole dish was as delicious as it was beautiful and the dressing/sauce was to die for.

Bailey is a sucker for both duck and rhubarb so was stoked to see them on the menu together. He was a bit worried that the duck would be too rich but this was not the case and it was a thoroughly enjoyable starter.

My main course of Aubergine Tempura was not only hands down the best thing I've eaten since turning vegan but the best thing I've eaten in ages. It wasn't really what I expected at all - the batter wasn't the light, airy affair you'd normally associate with the moniker 'tempura' but rather a mega crunchy flavoursome, almost pastry-like treat. The aubergine filling was so tasty and it was all perfect with the pretty, colourful and delicately prepared vegetables. Bailey's Ox Cheek main was also a triumph described as "sticky, bang on and the only perfectly cooked ox cheek I've ever had".


Dessert time and I'm not sure if it's because I'm from the north but it feels like I've eaten quite a few forced rhubarb desserts in my time. What I liked about this one was the fact that they were not in any way shy with the lovely big bits of rhubarb and the crunchy toasted granola was a really nice texture. I think I could have had a few extra of those herbs though. Bailey opted for the Banana Tart which he enjoyed. We both commented that we thought the desserts weren't overly sweet which was nice.


Our brilliant visit to Fischer's ended with a bottle of wine in front of a nice warm fire - who could ask for more really on a chilly rainy afternoon? We'd had such a nice time eating amazing food and being looked after by the friendly staff in lovely surroundings, we didn't really think anything could top it off. But then came the icing on the cake of Fischer's aceness. When they called us a cab up to take us down the road back to our hotel and their usual guy was busy, they got a member of staff to drive us in her own car! HOW NICE IS THAT... She was lovely as well. She told us that she loves working at Fischer's because everyone gets on so well it's like a big happy family. I just loved that and it explained why everyone was so nice, it made me love Fischer's even more.

So what I want to say really is that you MUST get yourself over there and pay them a visit. The food is great, it's a beautiful location (go in summer!) and they will really look after you. I also have to say that the meal we had represented excellent value for money - we actually struggled to spend our voucher and it did result in us drinking probably a bit too much wine, oops! Plus, as Hungry Hoss points out in his review, it's our nearest Michelin Starred place - about an hour's drive - so get your bums over there!

Cliché but obligatory ring shot

Monday, August 3, 2015

Astrid & Gastón

So this is a little odd - we haven't written a single blog post for the last year and we said we'd decided to knock the blogging lark on the head, but here I am writing up a meal we went for during last year's summer holiday! Why am I bothering then? Well, one of my biggest culinary regrets of all time is that I failed to follow the advice of several Peruvians who told me not to leave the country before treating myself to a meal at Astrid & Gastón, the flagship restaurant of celebrity chef, joker and all-round nice guy Gastón Acurio. While we were still in Peru I thoroughly enjoyed laughing at his cheesy TV appearances/adverts and have since loved reading his recipes and general musings on Facebook.

Astrid & Gastón... where they look at your trainers
Last August we did a 24 hour whistle-stop tour of Bogotá on our way to visit the family in Colombia and to make up for the aforementioned misdemeanour nothing was going to stop us paying Gastón's Colombian branch a lunchtime visit. And, it may have taken me a year to get round to it, but I have always intended to make sure I wrote about this one. Fortunately it was quite a memorable meal. (Plus we made some pretty detailed notes...)

What I immediately liked about the place on arrival was that they'd managed to find pretty much the only building in the whole of Bogotá (that we came across anyway) that looked exactly like one of the colonial houses you see in the Miraflores / Barranco district that the original Astrid & Gastón is located in. It feels like a very secluded, calm little place especially when stepping in off the bustling streets of the city.

We were greeted by some pretty keen and personalityless staff and it didn't take us long to realise that the service was going to be quite a lot more nebby and formal than we are used to here in the UK. Firstly we realised that we had made something of a faux pas not dressing up more for the occasion... for example the fact that I was wearing a pair of Converse attracted two double takes from two different staff members and Bailey swears he saw one waiter peer round a corner to get a good eyeful of them... We got away with it as the idiot gringos we were but note to self, don't wear Converse to Colombian fine-dining restaurants next time.

First port of call was always going to be a nice big glass of Pisco Sour which was just as citrusy and delicious as any I had in Peru. We were also delivered a very good looking slate of bread. I absolutely loved the concept behind these, each one paying homage to a favourite Peruvian ingredient or dish in bread form. There was a bread made from papa amarilla yellow potatoes, another using ají amarillo yellow chillis and cheese as a nod to my favourite Huancaína sauce, a maíz morado purple corn bread and sweet potato and quinoa bread sticks all served with lovely creamy butter. It all tasted nice enough but the only problem... the texture of all of them bar the quinoa sticks was actually pretty crap (our notes simply read "Bread not good"). I suppose we are spoilt in Europe when it comes to bread. Bailey's conclusion: "Oh well, I guess they're not doing too badly for a country that doesn't have wheat."

Starters next and I'd decided to go with a Tres Cebiches trio. These were simple, delicate and delicious, much like the ceviche you'd receive in Peru but with some fancier touches and presentation. I liked the fact that our waiter came over and told me to stop using a fork and get in there with a spoon so I could enjoy all the juices.

Bailey's starter was an absolute beast of a plate of Cangrejo Azul AKA a main course sized portion of black fettucini with crab, some kind of fishy foam and "sweet algae". An amazing dish, loved so much by Bailey that he sneakily retrieved a piece of crab he dropped into his cocktail, which was witnessed by one of those beaky waiters during one of their routine gawps at us.

Onto the mains and by far the dish of the day for me was Saltado de Invierno. This dish was super interesting and consisted of lots of Peruvian favourite flavours all rolled into one tasty fish boat. It was served on a bed of white bean Tacu Tacu (a Peruvian type of bubble & squeak esque bean and rice patty, there may have been some sweet potato in there too?), topped with loads of beautiful seafood and lovely crispy fried fish. The sauce, described by the menu as "chifa juice" did exactly what it said on the tin, "Chifa" is the adopted name of the hugely popular Peruvian-Chinese fusion food available all over Lima, which always tastes amazing in a salty, sugary, fried, hangover-curing kind of way. This sauce tasted like an intense reduction of every delightful plate of chifa I ate while in Lima and I LOVED it!! Honestly one of the most fun and tasty things I've ever eaten.

Bailey once again had won the portion lottery with his choice of Cordero Andino - an almost intimidating lamb shank served with a yuca "froth", some delightful little croquettes and a traditional Incan herb jus. While very tasty, it was with great sadness that Bailey had to leave some of this. For him, there was just far too much meat and not enough veg or sides to go with it.

Is it a bird, is it a plane, no it's a huge fuck-off bit of meat.
Before dessert we decided to get another round of cocktails in, a Lulo Sour for me and an 'El Capitán' Pisco Martini for Bailey. Both seriously good.

Desserts were pretty much some of the most old skool presentation ever, my Merenguitos Rellenos were tasty little orbs of meringue filled with purple corn sorbet served on chopped fruit and topped with a pinch of cinnamon, a clever take on the popular Chicha Morada Peruvian purple corn drink (which is always served with chopped pineapple and a good shake of cinnamon).

Bailey's bizarrely named Plátanos Enjaulados Dulcemente was a coconutty, chocolatey plantain affair served with a goat's cheese ice cream. It was really nice except that the caramel "cage" was nigh on impossible to eat without investing in some expensive dental treatement.

So this had already been a thoroughly enjoyable meal, even if the beaky service up to this point had been pretty weird. I'm not exaggerating when I say that several times we had noticed waiters awkwardly craning their necks to peep round doors to see how we were getting on. There was nothing natural or relaxed about it. The announcement of each dish was delivered in a bizarre robotic, trance-like fashion. It hadn't spoiled the meal in any way, just made us crack up laughing mostly. But it did make it extra nice at the end of the meal when we managed to properly start chatting to the staff over the petits fours (coffee macarons, truffles and passion fruit marshmallows - YUM) and they realised we didn't mind seeing them behave like normal humans in front of us... what can only be described as 'TOP BANTZ' ensued. They even came to the front door of the colonial house and waved us off. Lovely.

So, did it live up to expectations and was it worth the wait? Well even a year on from our meal at Astrid & Gastón I still look back at the afternoon very fondly, and probably only partly because I was so giddy with excitement. I'm not too sure if Bailey and I would have loved it so much had we not known about the Peruvian flavours and foods that inspired the dishes we had (sounds knobby I know...), but I also think that the Peruvian tendency (and I'm talking about the whole country here, not just Gastón Acurio's) to pinch ideas from other cuisines and do their own take on things is undoubtedly what made their country's cuisine so ace in the first place. Certainly more than can be said of Colombian food anyway! So if you're ever in Peru (and you should go, really really really) or Colombia (you should also go here), make sure you don't make the same mistake I did - pay Astrid & Gastón a visit, you won't regret it!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Antalya Café

The Curry Mile is somewhere we ought to be proud of in Manchester. There aren't many other destinations in the city which boast over 70 different eateries across so many different cuisines; a great example of Manchester's boiling pot of cultures. We love the Curry Mile mainly because it's home to one of our favourite restaurants, the mighty Mughli, but we're also fully aware that there are loads of other independent businesses serving great food that we need to try. We're no experts, but Haz @mughli is a huge advocate of the Mile and happy to give recommendations. We're also lucky that our friends @mcrfoodies also know all the good spots and on this occasion took us out for a slap-up tea at Antalya Café, a Turkish grill that also doubles up as a shisha bar, if you're into that kind of thing.

Sweet mint tea was a great start to the meal and the best I've had in the UK since realising I bloody loved it our holiday in Morocco a couple of years ago. Bailey's Mars Bar Milkshake was a perfect Sunday afternoon post-hangover treat.

Antalya's food menu is reassuringly simple - clearly sticking to what they do best with great results. The main reason we were there was to sample the grilled fish, and this did not disappoint - beautifully crisp skin with tender flesh inside, a basket containing way more Turkish bread than we could eat and a tasty sumac-sprinkled salad.

The chicken kebab could be whiffed long before it was seen, the smell of charcoal cooked meat wafting over as the plate was brought to the table. The meat itself was spot-on with fragrant spices, flavoursome enough to compete with the copious amounts of houmous Bailey liberally applied to it.

Antalya's food may not be fancy but it certainly tastes good. The portions are mammoth and we loved sloshing the sauces all over everything; just the sort of meal where you stuff yourself silly and don't even care when someone points out you've got a load of food down your front (and I was wearing a white dress).

Service from a 'naturally' brilliant waitress who endearingly called me and Anna "honey" throughout the meal was also excellent and do you know the best thing, the bill for four of us came to under £40. Bargain. Considering I've seen a couple of comments made recently suggesting the Curry Mile's increasing number of shisha bars is a problem, we loved our shisha bar tea and will be back soon! In conclusion, we love the Curry Mile and want to support the hardworking businesses that make the place what it is so if you find a great place to eat there, do tell us as we want to know about it!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Crispy Lemon Sherbert Cake

I recently decided it was time to make my old favourite Crispy Lemon Cake as per my lovely late nan Gwen's recipe. However, me and my cake-mad friend Hayley had been discussing ideas for sexy 80's party cakes (Bake-O-Rama meets Club Tropicana, coooooo-ooooool) in a rather worrying amount of detail. We'd set each other a challenge to bake up a storm and send each other pictures so I decided to go with the 'If it ain't broke, fill it with lemon curd and cover it in buttercream icing and 4 tonnes of sweeties plus glitter' approach and give Gwen's cake the ultimate makeover!

As with many things, some of the best and most inexpensive sweeties can be found in the Arndale Lower Food Court's Pick N Mix stand, and I was delighted to purchase loads of lemony sherberty sweeties for just a couple of quid.

The cake looked pretty good even if I say so myself and it tasted crazy/delicious, although I'm pretty sure one bite was enough to send me into a debilitating sugar coma for the evening. The beauty of Gwen's original recipe is that it's very moist and super lemony. My dad was the cake's biggest fan, declaring "I could eat this until I was sick". Thanks Dad...


For the cake:
Follow the recipe for Gwen's Crispy Lemon Cake. Only difference is you need to divide the cake mix between two tins. Then when baked, carefully cut the sponge into four rounds before adding the crispy lemon drizzle mix to all four layers.

For the Lemon Curd:
Make up a batch of BBC Food's Lemon Curd. Easy peasy.

For the Lemon Buttercream Icing:
I used Primrose Bakery's recipe and bunged the following into my electric mixer and whizzed away until smooth...

220g butter
4 tbsp lemon juice
Zest 4 lemons
1kg icing sugar
Couple of drops yellow food colouring

For the topping:
Lots of sweeties from the Pick N Mix including crushed up sherbert lemons, flying saucers and lemon bonbons. Oh and 'edible' glitter.

Make the cake as per the instructions above before filling each of the layers with lemon curd.

Ice the cake with a layer of lemon buttercream and leave to set before adding another layer. Pipe the remaining icing on top to your desired pattern. I did some big circles to hold my sweeties in place.

Top with as many sweeties as is humanly possible.

Marvel at the craziness then serve. You will need some serious pots of tea on the go for this one as it is siiiiiiiiick-ly!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Street Food Reccy to Leeds

There's been an awful lot of talk about street food lately. And it's fair to say Manchester has been getting a bit of a kicking for being "lightyears" behind the likes of London and Bristol. While I'd be on the front lines supporting anyone who wanted to start any sort of street food revolutions around here, for now it would be counterproductive for me to sit here crying into my veggie lasagna about the fact that we'll never have it as good as Portland Oregon and that our events can't compare to London's Kerb or Street Feast... Instead I'd like to talk to you about a city we visited recently that proves that Manchester is fully capable of  having a street food scene that does not compromise on quality, originality or atmosphere... Let's talk about Leeds.

A while back we were trading at Belgrave Music Hall's monthly Street Feast. This event had everything I personally would hope for out of a street food event. The atmosphere was spot on but this was down to so much more than the fact the place was packed to the rafters (ALL day!). This wasn't just about "hipsters", this was about food lovers of all ages, families, dogs, good times... The feeling of friendliness and inclusiveness was palpable in the air.

I'll tell you what else this event wasn't about - "cashing in" on a trend. Everything was what I'd consider to be reasonably priced from both the venue itself's bar and the traders (and let's not forget this is only possible when traders haven't been charged an extortionate pitch fee).

Belgrave is also an amazing city centre venue - a converted Riley's pool hall filled with odd-shaped rooms boasting a sun-terrace and more personality than you can shake a stick at. Oh and here's a video about Street Feast where you can see Bailey at 1 minute 44 talking about how great the event is...

It's plain to see that the focus for Belgrave has been creating a high-quality event that works for them but is great for the punter, great for the trader, supports the "little guy", offers unique products, supports the local food scene and is sustainable in the long term. This is the kind of event that warms my cockles and that, if I lived in Leeds I would be coming back and supporting month in, month out.

The only disadvantage of trading at such a successful event is that you barely get time to get out from behind your grill and try a single scrap of food from any of the other traders, so Bailey and I decided to jump on a train a few days later and see what we'd missed out on.

We were reliably informed by the local bloggers that the best breakfast in Leeds can be found at the unassuming yet hugely charming Greedy Pig. While we didn't get to see them in full street food action cooking up their nose-to-tail delights, they certainly know how to put together a great full English and veggie sausage sanger on brioche bun.

Next up we hit the place where all the magic happens, Belgrave itself. Although it obviously had a totally different 'vibe' when not full to the brim with street food fans, it was still a great place to sit and eat a snack or two (or three). Patty Smith's made Bailey one of the best burgers he'd had in yonks - simple, tasty and not over-topped. When I asked him for his one-sentence review, the first word he used was "squidgy" and he SWEARS he hadn't read Marina O'Loughlin using the exact same word to describe them just yesterday, so now we can now declare it scientifically proven that Patty Smith Burgers are squidgy...

Fu Shnikens' steamed Taiwanese gua bao buns were one of my favourite street food dishes of all time and Bailey could barely believe his luck at being asked to pay a mere pound (his cries of "A FUCKING POUND!" could be heard all around Leeds city centre) for a generously topped, tasty slice from Dough Boys.

Our final pitt stop was the well-known Trinity Kitchen which I guess is something like what you'd get if someone spent shitloads of money making the Arndale Food Market uber trendy and putting in a champagne bar. Like at the Arndale there's an eclectic mix of permanent eateries but we were there to see the guest traders - shipped in especially from up and down the UK to ensure Leeds gets access to an ever-changing selection of high quality street food. Another complaint we hear a lot here in Manchester is that you always see the same traders at events, therefore this Trinity setup seems very clever to me and the people of Leeds are clearly on board with it as the place was packed on a weekday lunchtime.

We sampled an unexpectedly spicy Tava Roll from Rola Wala and a huge portion of very tasty sushi from Happy Maki (both trade in THAT LONDON, both doing well here up north). We wanted to carry on eating as there were several other things we wanted to try, but we were unhappily reaching that 'beyond uncomfortably full' stage and therefore returned to Manchester.


So as our train pulled out of Leeds it got us thinking that while we probably won't ever be Portland Oregon and maybe we won't be like That London, we can certainly be like our Northern brothers across the hills in Leeds where they're hitting the right notes when it comes to street food events. We've certainly got the high-quality traders and the punters who want to fill their bellies so it's only a matter of time before someone finds the right set-up and Manchester takes that next big street food leap.


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