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.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Jaipur Palace

Some of you may recall our visit to Indian veggie/vegan hotspot Sanskruti - pretty tasty but with the definite highlight being the entertainment provided by the manager Pepi. My friend who lives down in Withington and has the fortune to be able to call Sanskruti her local, has gotten to know this character quite well over the months. On one of her visits Pepi told her that he was about to open a new gaff in the Lansdowne Hotel - an item of news I was pretty excited to hear.

It wasn't too long until I noticed one of my Twitter friends talking about a delicious meal they'd had at @jaipurpalace1, which looked very much like the restaurant in question to me. Call me Inspector Morse but there can't be that many Indian veggie/vegan place in the same location as the Lansdowne Hotel, surely? I asked them "Are you the same people as Sanskruti?", to which they responded "We are in no way affiliated with Sanskruti." Too much confusion for my poor brain!!

Turns out Jaipur Palace couldn't keep their secret under wraps for much longer as my friend went in the following weekend and was greeted at the door by Pepi himself. Pepi you sly old dog, you. She said the food was really good anyway so I couldn't wait to drag Bailey along for my birthday tea. 

Despite knowing we were going to be eating masses of food, we couldn't resist checking out the poppadoms and thought the accompanying sauces were good - particularly the sweet onions. Truth is we needed something to keep us going while wading through that menu, it's that massive. We eventually decided to pick a couple of starters, get one of each of the two Thalis and have a big old share fest. ROMANCE... Oh no wait, I mean, FOOD COMA...

Starters were Aubergine Panner and a Masala Dosa. Bailey wasn't a huge fan of the actual paneer itself but we both loved the melt-in-the-mouth aubergine chunks. The dosa was also fantastic, although at this point I thought it was impossible to make a bad dosa (this theory was recently disproved during a visit to Kukkoos by Zouk so well done Jaipur).

The Thalis were beautifully presented, varied and delicious. It's hard to say which one of the two we preferred as both had nice little touches. We really enjoyed the Sarso Da Saag (mustard leaves), Matar Paneer (paneer and peas) and the Roti from the Punjabi Thali and the Bateta Nu Shaak (potatoes) and Ringna No Oro (beautifully smoky aubergine - our favourite dish of the night) from the Gujarati Thali. Both a bargain at £8.99.

On our second visit, which was just a few days later we were with our vegan friends and advised them to get stuck into some Thali fun (the Thalis can be made vegan on request - boom!) but we decided to be adventurous for our second visit and order off the main menu. I really liked the Surti Sev - steamed light-as-air Chana Dal topped with crispy noodles. 

The Thalis come with gorgeous little desserts included and on our second visit we got free Gaja Ka Halwa because Pepi was happy about the results of the Indian election. We loved all of these these - I really don't know why I don't make more of an effort to hunt more of these Indian sweeties out more often and think someone needs to open a little Indian tea and sweets café. Also I can confirm Jaipur's soya cream Masala Chai Tea is a delightful way to end the meal.

So, calling all veggies and vegans out there: I wholeheartedly recommend Jaipur Palace and definitely think, for a first visit at least, it's best to get yourself down there on a week night (this does include Fridays, woohoo!) so you can try the Thalis, as they make for a more interesting dining experience. Do be warned, it IS a lot of food (see pictured below the amount we took home in a doggy bag on the first night!) - and if you get full easily I don't recommend the Rotla option on the Gujarati Thali (seems to be the weight of an entire loaf of bread condensed into one flatbread!). Service is spot on and Pepi is on top form, he will no doubt ensure you enjoy your evening!

We made a new Thali with our leftovers
So, the burning question... how does it compared to Sanskruti - with whom they are in "no way affiliated"? We prefer Jaipur Palace :)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Samuel Fox Country Inn

Recently Bailey and I were in sunny Sheff Vegas over the weekend to celebrate jointly the birthdays of both me and my dad. My mum loves going out for countryside drives so we decided to hit up a country pub for our lunch. In the interest of trying out somewhere new (both in terms of eatery and 'little Peak District town'), we chose The Samuel Fox Country Inn in the Hope Valley mining village of Bradwell, which we had found on @FeastAndGlory's extremely useful "Sheffield favourites" page. Lovely stuff!

Not too shabby a view from the top of the hill leading to Bradwell
We rolled up on a quiet Sunday lunchtime and decided to take advantage of their two courses for £26 or three courses for £32 lunch offer. Not alarmingly expensive but enough for expectations of the food to be high (not forgetting also that chef proprietor James Duckett has worked under allsorts of food honchos including that absolute badass Marcus Wareing).

No better way to start a meal in a country pub with a pint of good quality local ale, and the Bradfield Brewery Farmer's Blonde more than did the job. What really impressed us however was the fresh bread. Now there have been a few debates about bread lately and we've always made it clear that we're firmly in the "if a restaurant gives a shit, it will make sure its bread is good" camp. Well Sam Fox certainly gives a shit. Those crackers - MM! So good we ordered more.

Onto the starters and the majority of us around the table were on the Fennel and Blood Orange Cured Sea Trout - fancy pants presentation or what? It tasted great too - perfectly balanced and a delicate and dainty starter. A big hit.

Bailey's Chicken Liver Parfait with Picked Rhubarb & Toast was also pretty dreamboat, the sweet toast some of the butteriest we've tasted.

Main courses were just as much of a hit. My dad was on the Beer Battered Cod with Chunky Chips featuring a beautifully light batter, thrice cooked chips Heston would be proud of and an insane tartare sauce. My mum described her Roast Chicken with Spring Vegetables & Jersey Royals as "to die for". Happy parents!

Bailey's Mixed Grill of Derbyshire Lamb & Beef had a lot of finesse considering it was basically a massive plate of delicious meat featuring some unusual little twists like the mini shepherd's pie. This was great as it had all the merits of an ordinary Sunday lunch but was a bit more exciting.

My Risotto of Spring Vegetables was a fantastic veggie option and was a delight to eat as I kept finding all sorts of unusual mushrooms and unexpected greens. 

Feeling giddy after the fantastic food we'd eaten up to this point, three of the four of us decided to get involved in some dessert. I should say that although the desserts were really good, we felt they were the least exciting dishes of the day and I think from what we saw on our visit I'd say the Sam Fox's strength is the savoury stuff. That said I enjoyed my Coconut Pannacotta with Raspberries very much. I didn't love it as much as other courses I'd had but was very nice and creamy and the coconut flavour was quite subtle making way for a nice whack of vanilla, which I liked. A nice springtime dessert.

Bailey was a bit disappointed with his Sticky Toffee Pudding with Stout Ice Cream as it wasn't very sticky or um, toffee-y. We liked the way the dish tasted very "Northern" and had a sort of bitterness to it like Bonfire Toffee but thought they could have stouted up the ice cream a notch.

My dad's Hot Chocolate Pudding with White Chocolate Ice Cream was definitely the desert of the day...

I can't actually remember what my dad said about it but I remember that he loved it and I guess this picture probably says it all:

A delightful meal at Sam Fox Inn and there were other things we really liked about it including the picturesque location, the relaxed atmosphere and most of all the very friendly and down to earth service. Our waitress was so nice and once my dad got talking to her about which is the best well dressing (what's a well dressing? That's what I said - see the Wiki entry on it) in Derbyshire I thought they'd never stop. The décor of the place was fine but apparently just a few days after we were there they refurbished, so a bit of a shame we didn't get to see the new look pub. Oh well, an excuse to return! If you're passing through the Peak District or don't mind a bit of a drive out of Manchester or MAYBE if you can't resist checking out the WELL DRESSINGS (Bradwell's is August 3rd. Apparently the Sam Fox's rooms get booked up really far in advance - you've been warned), you should pay them a little visit!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Integrity and Manchester Confidential

Yesterday, Mark Garner, aka Gordo, asked me to write an objective summary of the perceived issues we have been aiming to highlight in recent weeks surrounding the advertising policy of Manchester Confidential. He promised that if I were to present an "honest, fair and not insulting" viewpoint, he would publish this on his website, and also respond. I decided against submitting this directly to Gordo for publishing, but hope that he will still respond to what I have to say. 

Anyone who takes any interest in Manchester's food and drink scene can't possibly have failed to notice the current feeling of mistrust and general dissatisfaction of some people towards the city's food writers and bloggers. You may have seen us vocally supporting blogging in general as we do think a lot of the perceived problems are not as great as is often made out. However, that is not to say that we do not think there is any truth in some of the criticisms or that every individual is acting with integrity.

One topic I see discussed often is the perceived lack of integrity surrounding Manchester Confidential's use of advertising, and I have seen this discussed both on Twitter and in the website's own comments sections. There appears to be a perception that ManCon gives positive reviews to businesses who choose to advertise with them but criticise or ignore those who don't. I have recently seen examples of the clients themselves getting some of the stick as a result of the negative feeling this perception causes. In addition, there have even been suggestions that the company uses high-pressure sales techniques in order to encourage businesses to pay them for advertising. It is this perception that I wish to discuss, and not whether any of these rumours surrounding ManCon's practices are factually accurate or not, especially given that I have no concrete evidence either way.

One of the practices that may be leading people to hold this perception is the paid reviews (or "advertorials") that appear on the site. These advertorials do not include any labelling indicating the fact that the reviewee is a client of ManCon, although with a bit of digging around the rest of the site it would usually become apparent to the reader that these restaurants are clients of ManCon's due to the weight of advertising. However, at first glance they could easily be mistaken for an independent review as the only difference in presentation is a lack of the usual 'score' and comments section.

These advertorials first came to our attention last weekend, when we visited Kukoos for a quick bite to eat which had very recently been featured in the ManCon Food & Drink section (see here). The restaurant was disappointing, and later discussing our experience with other Kukoos visitors on Twitter, the overwhelming consensus was that many people had had very similar experiences. We went back to look at the Kukoos review and realised it was in fact a paid review/advertorial, as confirmed by the restaurant (see below). We felt that we (and potentially many others) had been misled.

This is the core issue that we wished to discuss with Manchester Confidential: people feeling misled by these paid reviews could lead to a suspicion surrounding the rest of the site's content, hence the aforementioned perception of a lack of integrity.

Bailey did attempt to raise this issue with Gordo himself over Twitter. As per Gordo's request of presenting an "honest, fair and not insulting" point of view, I will not comment on this conversation and would prefer you to read the conversation here and draw your own conclusions (see here).

As a follow up, due to feeling generally dissatisfied with Gordo's answers, Bailey asked All Star Lanes to comment on another recent paid review (see here). We were not only interested in their answer, but were also keen to highlight to the restaurant that being reviewed in advertorials presented in this way can reflect badly on the business in question.

Skip forward a few days and we receive a visit from Gordo himself to our street food stall ¡Arepa! ¡Arepa! ¡Arepa!. For various reasons we have endeavoured to keep our business and blog separate but it isn't always possible and the majority of our customers are aware of our 'alter-ego'. I couldn't possibly transcribe the conversation we had with Gordo word-for-word, but the crux of it was that Gordo told us in no uncertain terms that if we should continue to interact with him and his clients, there would be negative repercussions involving him making it widely known that we were selling an "inferior product". Bailey asked for clarification as to whether or not he was threatening our business, to which he replied "Son, you mark my words: it's a promise".

This was quite a distressing exchange and with Gordo making it difficult to get a word in edgeways, Bailey did resort to telling Gordo to "F. off". This was regrettable and not behaviour that we would condone. At this point I stepped in to explain our concerns to Gordo - that we and many others feel that the way in which ManCon is run comes across as dishonest. Gordo challenged me to find any evidence of this dishonesty, and pledged to donate £1000 to a charity of my choosing should I manage to do so. For me, this would be an impossible task (how on earth could you prove how good or bad an experience a reviewer had on a single day?) but more importantly I feel Gordo is missing the point that some of ManCon's advertising policy and public conduct is toxic to the perception of all his site's content. He did accept my point of view however, and told me that if I presented my thoughts to him in writing, he would happily respond also in writing.

There's not really much else to say; as Gordo requested I have presented the facts, and to summarise: we asked a question regarding Manchester Confidential's advertorial policy and this resulted in quite an unpleasant threat being made to our business, although I'm sure Gordo could argue that there had been a threat made to his. So we await his response. I do have to say though, we don't intend to allow ourselves to be intimidated by Gordo's threats: should our business suffer any of the promised retaliations then we would be happy that this had been as a result of us standing by our strong belief that Manchester's food scene should be a fair, honest and independent level playing field.

EDIT 26/05/14: Since posting this article yesterday we've realised some of ManCon's clients could feel like we are criticising them by implication. We would like to clarify that we are not criticising them, in fact this post is not a criticism at all, it remains a simple recounting of facts. We would like to think that everybody understands that independent businesses need to advertise with major publishers like ManCon and they may not always have an option as to how those advertisements are presented.

EDIT 27/05/14:  ManCon have today updated their review guidance which can be found by clicking here. It is difficult to establish what they have updated on this 2012 post but it definitely now does include the line "we'll put from 27 May 2014: 'This article was produced in association with...'" when posting paid content. This can now be seen at the bottom of the aforementioned Kukoos advertorial.

As always with posts of this nature we'd appreciate it if you could leave a comment below with your thoughts as the inclusion of different outlooks really adds to the value of the post.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Channa Curry

The only curry recipe I've ever used to turn out not too bad is Ottolenghi's Two Potato Vindaloo. Seeing as I know absolutely nothing about Indian cooking (I'm desperate to learn! Please teach me!), I'm no good at coming up with new ideas so always tend to just stick to this trusty recipe and adapt as necessary.

This time I was having a huge chickpea craving and was dying to make a massive pot of healthy stuff I could snack on for the following few days. I'm not saying this was some fancy gourmet curry but it fed me for just under a week and was pretty tasty, so here it is!!

8 cardamom pods
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp cloves
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 large onions
1 dsp brown mustard seeds
1 dsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp ground ginger
3 large red chillis
2 dried chillis
1kg vine tomatoes
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 large red pepper
3 tins chickpeas
3 large bunches of whatever greens are in season

Start by toasting off the cardamom pods, cumin and coriander seeds and the cloves in a hot frying pan until they become fragrant and browned, then transfer them to a pestle and mortar before grinding them up and removing the shells of the cardamom pods. Mix in the paprika and cinnamon to make a spice mix and put to one side.

Next chop the onions, add to a large pan and soften for around 10 minutes before stirring in the mustard seeds, the fenugreek seeds and ginger. Continue to cook for another 3 or so minutes.

Meanwhile, you can be chopping the tomatoes and red chillis ready to add to the pan. At this stage also add the whole dried chillis, the vinegar as well as some seasoning.

Simmer for around 5 minutes before adding the red pepper and chickpeas.

Now cook this down until the sauce is thickening up and the chickpeas are softening. This could take quite a while - to be honest I lost track but it was bubbling away for at least an hour while I was pottering about the kitchen doing other things.

When the sauce has thickened up, chop up a load of greens.

Add said greens to the pan with the rest of the curry and cook down until they're nicely wilted.

Serve up the curry with lovely steamed rice and sprinkle the plate liberally with coriander and chopped fresh red chillis. Healthy or what?!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Recent Tea Adventures

Being a Yorkshire girl I've always loved tea - a milky cup of builder's and I'm in heaven. However I think there are occasions when it's good to be a bit more adventurous with your leafy consumption, especially with so many places in Manchester to go and get a cuppa. With the help of self-confessed tea-snob Hungry Hoss (who has kindly given me loads of good advice - and tea!), I've been making the effort lately to try some new things. So here is a round-up of some recent tea adventures.

Sweet Octopus Tea Tasting
Hoss first brought my attention to Tako Horton's Sweet Octopus mail order tea website during a Twitter conversation about where to get the best Matcha Tea.

Even more exciting than being able to get well-priced, good-quality green tea from a lovingly-run local company is the fact that you can actually book Tako to come over to your gaff, make the place look pretty then serve you and your mates fancy green teas, traditional Japanese cakes and even a glass of booze! I couldn't wait to get booked on and was joined by Hoss himself as well as other tea-loving folk from Twitter.

Delicious Japanese cakes
The tea tasting was loads of fun, not only did Tako's teas taste great, she is also so lovely and easy to talk to, not to mention knowledgeable - I actually learnt quite a lot about teas in a short space of time. I learnt how to make Matcha tea, what happens when tea is grown in different lights, that I should never buy crappy supermarket green tea again and that my new favourite tea is Genmaicha (sometimes know as 'popcorn tea' because of the popcorn-esque flavour of the roasted rice in it) which I will be ordering at every future opportunity. Oh and by the way to avoid future embarrassment when ordering said Genmaicha, I made sure Tako taught me exactly how to pronounce the name of it...

Our tasting with Tako was honestly one of the most fun, relaxing and educational Sunday afternoons I've had in a long time and I would wholeheartedly recommend the experience. It's also a bargain when considering the quality of the teas and very affordable for birthdays and celebrations.

Proper Tea
Still feeling the tea love, I arranged to meet my friend Hayley just a few days later at the pleasantly located Proper Tea on one of the most beautiful spring days of the year. The Cathedral was a sight to behold bathed in glorious sunshine.

The tearoom itself is a stunningly done out place. Beuatiful tiled floors, unusual little touches in the décor and splashes of colour make these the perfect environs for a natter and a cuppa.

However I have to admit this is where my enamourment with the place ended as everything else I found a little bit annoying. The teas were fine but at £4.20 plus per pot I was left wondering what exactly was so special about these leaves when at the aforementioned Sweet Octopus tea-tasting I'd paid £7.50 for 10 tea samples, a glass of plum wine, cakes and the pleasure of Tako's company!

Also, I know a lot of people love the fact that you're given a timer with your tea and yes I know it's important to steep your cuppa so it tastes right (especially when you've paid knocking on for a fiver for it!) but it felt a bit gimmicky and "Look, look how much we know about tea!!"


The service left a lot to be desired too - on asking the waiter if they could whip me up a vegan sandwich made of the various dairy-free ingredients I'd seen on the menu on the other sarnies (avocado, salad etc), he looked at me as if I was a leper but said he would go and find out if this was possible... and then never bothered getting back to me. Harumph. I also felt quite patronised when I brought out my best Genmaicha pronunciation (as per Tako's adept instructions) and he replied "Oh, you mean the Jeeeeeeen my ssssshhhhhaaaaa...?" Um... no.

Finally, the slice of lemon drizzle cake Hayley ordered, although tasty, had gone dry in a way cake drizzled in copious amounts of lemon juice never should. A cake tragedy.

Having said that it was a pleasant afternoon and I wouldn't let my grumpiness put you off going and making up your own mind as it is in a really nice spot.

Fig & Sparrow
My dad and fellow tea lover always says that a hot cuppa on a hot day can help regulate your body temperature and cool you down. Not sure if that's an old wives' tale but I was happy yesterday to use it as an excuse to pop into my favourite Northern Quarter coffee shop Fig & Sparrow despite it being the most scorching day of the year.

I've always enjoyed the cuppas I've had in here; this time I decided to go for a Samovar Orange Spice tea, priced much more reasonably at £2.60 (also I didn't mind that they just told me to leave the tea to steep for 3 minutes without giving me any sort of timing device). This was the probably most fragrant cup of tea I've ever had - getting your nose in the pot was like sniffing in all the pong particles of a flowering orange grove. For those not sold on the old 'hot tea vs hot day' theory, Fig & Sparrow were doing all their coffees iced and Bailey thoroughly enjoyed his sweet Iced Mocha.

Service at Fig & Sparrow was, as always, nothing short of delightful, proving once again that you don't need to be an indifferent hipster poser to run a good café in the Northern Quarter.

So there are my recent tea adventures. I'm only sorry there weren't more to report! If you have any more good top tea tips for me, feel free to hit me up on Twitter or drop me a comment below!


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