Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Restaurant Riad

On our holiday to Morocco it didn't take us long to realise that a little money could go a long way when it came to eating delicious food in "opulent" locations. So when we arrived in Meknes and read about Restaurant Riad at Maison d'Hôtes Riad - a posh guesthouse that was open for dinner in the evenings with a bargain menu, we decided there and then to hunt the place out. It took a bit of finding as it was hidden away down a winding alleyway and we did have to get some locals to take us there (and also had to pay a teenager to get us back out actually) but couldn't believe our eyes when we got inside.

Obviously one of the appeals of dining at a riad was that it meant we got to go and have a good neb at a posher riad than any riads we had stayed in. It was amazing! The first thing we saw was a really fancy swimming pool with a really random elevated seating area - how opulent!

The whole dining area was based around a courtyard with a beautiful garden with lots of exotic plants and fountains with calming Moroccan music to set the ambience. At one point during our meal we were joined by a lizard, which is always a bonus.

We also loved the quirky wall of radios and the wall of clocks - some ideas we will definitely be stealing for our own house.

For such a lovely place, the set menu prices were really reasonable - ranging from 100 to 160 Dirhams (£8 - £13). This was excellent value, especially considering that including the mezze it was pretty much four courses and we stayed there for a good two and a half hours and were eating the whole time... no wonder I was uncomfortably full at the end!

The food was really great - simple traditional Moroccan scran, done very well and served by very friendly staff.

We started our meals off with a great range of mezze plates including lentils, beans, carrots and olives which all tasted really nice, particularly the flavoursome carrots which were lovely and cuminy. All this was accompanied by delicious bread - it was here that we realised that Moroccan bread up north in places like Meknes and Fez is different to the bread down south and it's actually loads nicer. This was the first time we'd tried it and we loved it.

For my starter I had the salad selection which included Moroccan tomato salad, cucumber, olives, lovely citrusy rice, potato salad and a really delicious Zaalouk - which is now probably my all time favourite Moroccan food - a rich aubergine dip. Everything tasted really lovely and fresh and I really enjoyed it.

Bailey ordered the soup which was a really tasty chickpea number which he really liked even though he dislikes chickpeas. The only complaint here wasn't quite piping hot enough.

For main course, I chose the only available veggie option which was the vegetable cous cous. I was getting pretty bored of cous cous by now so would have appreciated another veggie option but when it arrived it was really tasty with yummy veg and what I think was a nice bit of cactus fruit in there!

Bailey went for a chicken tajine which he said was delightfully rich with a buttery sauce. He was a little worried about the chicken as it looked a little dark but then once he tucked in he saw that it was delicious, succulent and soft, falling off the bone. He felt the sauce was very different to the tajine he had at Porte du Monde but very tasty, and even though he doesn't like olives, they gave the sauce a really lovely flavour. This was also great for me as I got to have his yummy, warm tajine-infused olives.

The food was all so lovely and light that you felt you could just eat away and didn't notice yourself getting full. By the end of the main course I kept moaning to Bailey that I was "TTT" (a phrase popularised by my nan Gwen Morris meaning "Tummy Touching Table").

Still, we pressed on and ordered deserts. The menu options were Seasonal Fruit or Mint Tea with Moroccan Pastries. I plumped for the fruit while Bailey ordered the tea and cakes. I also asked for an extra tea as I absolutely love Moroccan mint tea - green tea made with fresh mint and plenty of sugar (I actually became quite obsessed with it- fortunately I bought myself a Moroccan mint tea pot in the souqs and since arriving home have been enjoying a refreshing pot of the stuff but that's another story). I also thought the tea might help soothe my bursting stomach!

The fruit I got was honeydew melon which is one of my all-time faves and also it was so yummy and juicy so despite being super full I chowed it all down. Bailey's cakes were absolutely amazing, they were sort of like yummy little meringue nest / biscuit type things, one that was made of nuts that tasted a lot like this argan oil peanut butter-esque dip we'd tried at a Berber village we'd visited. It was chewy and soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside, like a good meringue. They were my favourite and I ate two of them - sorry Bailey! There were also some coconutty ones that Bailey said were the "best thing he'd ever tasted" as they were so light and fresh. We polished off the whole lot which made us even more full and fat.

We loved our dinner and loved the location and would recommend a visit to Restaurant Riad to anyone visiting Meknes. It was a meal we won't ever forget and also the people who owned it were so lovely, I wish we could have afforded to sleep there!

It was really cheap for what we got - the whole meal including drinks (and they didn't charge me for my mint tea!) set us back 240 Dirhams which is about £19. Absolute bargain.

The only thing I would have to say is that it has a bit of a silly name. I think a splendid place like Restaurant Riad deserves a bit more of an imaginative name and it should be regarded as a restaurant in its own right, rather than just an attachment of a riad where you can eat. Anyway, still a fab holiday option!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

La Porte du Monde

We have just come back from a super exciting holiday in Morocco - a trip full of surprises and unexpected twists and turns... One thing we could never have expected was just how touristy Marrakech - the city we started our holiday off in - was going to be! We actually found navigating the place to be quite stressful due to eager busy bodies telling us we were walking the wrong way, trying to sell us something or take us somewhere they thought we would in completely the opposite direction.

So after a ridiculously relaxing afternoon spent sipping mint tea by the most perfect river on a day trip out of the city to the Cascades d'Ouzoud we needed to find a quiet and peaceful late-lunch spot to continue our relaxation.

Bailey remembered having spotted a lovely terrace restaurant called La Porte du Monde down a relatively calm street near the Bahia Palace.

We had a quick browse of the menu before going inside and the food options and prices seemed good and the place seemed very well put together.

Inside we were taken by our waiter through the tastefully decorated restaurant to a lovely roof terrace which was filled with colourful furniture and nice pot plants - the perfect place to enjoy the late-afternoon sun. As it was really late for lunch but too early for dinner the terrace was super quiet and by the end of our meal we had the place to ourselves!

We were impressed first of all by the friendly service which was a pleasant surprise at this point in our holiday in which we had experienced some pretty shoddy service. Our waiter was an absolutely lovely man - very attentive yet relaxed. He was super quick bringing us our drinks and some yummy bread and olives.

The food was also really delicious. I ordered a vegetable cous cous which was really light and fluffy with tasty vegetables and a really yummy oniony relish / marmalade on top which added some lovely sweetness and great flavour to the dish. The cous cous was really filling too which is great for a holiday when you're not too sure where your next meal is coming from.

My only regret: I wish I had tried out on of the many amazing sounding veggie pastillas they had on the menu. At the time I wasn't really sure what pastillas were, but after seeing the pastilla pastry being handmade in the markets - spread super thin over a hot plate (or hot ball as was the case in a Fez market) then layered with fillings I know they would have been delicious and I didn't see a veggie pastilla on a menu again for the rest of the holiday.

Bailey ordered the chicken and preserved lemon tajine which he was completely enamoured with. After his first bite he said "That is one of the best sauces I've ever had" - rich, salty, savoury with a lemon tang and a slight sweetness. He also said "This sauce tastes like a posh chicken pot noodle. In a good way." His only complaint was that there wasn't much chicken on the bone but we had been warned about "scrawny chickens" by our guide book. As we had been greedy and already eaten all our bread before our dinner even arrived, I gave Bailey some of my cous cous to finish off his sauce with and that was an amazing combo.

So we would definitely recommend La Porte du Monde to anyone razzing by Marrakech. We thought it was ace that the staff were nice to us and we really felt like this was the first meal we'd been that wasn't a tourist trap.

It was also a great budget option as our lunch including bread, olives and drinks cost us 150 Dirhams which is about £12. On our way out we noticed that they had a second café type place of the same name about two doors up the road that did a set menu for 60 Dirhams which is one of the cheapest menus we saw in the whole of Morocco. Great stuff.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bramley Apple Cake

The recipe for this moist apple cake was given to be by my parents last year when they came to visit, my mum proclaiming: "This is my very favourite cake!!"

Well, it's taken me until now to get round to making it and I've actually been going on about making it for months but it's been worth the wait.

It is a rather delicious cake - moist, flavoursome, sticky with crisp apples running through it. Also it was really filling, when Hannah and Gray came over for tea I had one slice for pudding with a cuppa and couldn't have managed another mouthful.

It was also a fun cake to make and not too difficult or time consuming. Not much beating of ingredients to be done and once it's all been bunged into the oven there's no icing to do so easy peasy!

The only bit I found a tad difficult was trying to arrange the apple slices at the bottom of the tin (that end up being the top of the cake) in concentric circles and it all ended up looking a bit higgledy piggledy. I think I sliced my apples too thick.

Unfortunately this meant that my cake didn't have the pretty caramelised apple decoration on top of the cake as it should have done as the cake mix seeped down under the apples before cooking. So what we ended up with instead was a layer of sticky, caramelised cake on top which was also quite nice.

Anyway, the cake only lasted two days in our house. Yesterday we picked my mum and dad up from the airport and went back to ours for tea and cake. Roy had forgotten that he'd even given me the recipe and even said "You must write the recipe down for me!" ... Lol. Oh well, at least he enjoyed it!


600g Bramley Apples
The juice of 1/2 a lemon
200g light brown sugar
4 eggs
75g margarine, melted
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
150g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
75g ground almonds

Start by preheating the oven to 180 degrees C and preparing a cake tin by greasing it and lining with greaseproof paper. This seems a little complicated but is actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it.

Peel the apples, cut the cores out and slice them into slices about half a centimetre thick. As you can see I think I did mine a little too thick.

Place the apple slices in a bowl and sprinkle with the lemon juice and 37g of the sugar. Give them a bit of a jiggle so they all get a bit of a coating.

Sprinkle the bottom of the greased tin with another 37g of the sugar. This is what will help make the apples at the top of the cake all lovely and caramelised so make sure you have a nice even covering.

Now the tricky part! Arrange the apple slices around the bottom of the tin, overlapping them slightly in concentric circles. Make sure you don't get yourself muddled up like I did - one end of the new apple slice you put in should always be sort of pointing to the middle. Oh and you don't need to use all of the apples here, you probably won't even use half.

In a new bowl, mix the eggs, melted butter, the rest of the sugar, the pinch of salt and vanilla together. Sift in the flour and baking powder followed by the ground almonds.

Stir until you have a lovely golden batter. Now take the rest of the apples and whatever liquid has formed in the bowl and add them to the cake batter before folding together.

Pour the cake batter into the tin that is lined with apples.

The cake is now ready to be put into the oven to bake for 50 minutes.

Once the cake has risen and is beautifully golden brown, take it out of the oven and allow to cool in its tin for a little while.

Turn the cake out onto a board by putting the springform tin upside-down, removing the tin and peeling away the greaseproof paper. You will then have a lovely moist cake with a to-die-for caramelised appley topping. Nom. Serve the cake warm or cold. Warm is best with a nice scoop of vanilla ice cream!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Multi Vegetable Paella

Last night the lovely Hannah and Gray came over to ours for their dinner. As we had the Padrón Peppers we'd ordered from South Devon Chilli Farm and were itching to try them, we decided to do a bit of Spanish food and tapas.

The Padrón Peppers roulette game we inevitably ended up playing was pretty fun as obviously you don't know if you're going to get a spicy one or not, and the spicy ones are usually few and far between. As it turns out it was pretty crazy as I was the first person to eat one and the pepper just so happened to be a hot one. After that no one got a hot one again! What a shame, but I guess most of the fun was the anticipation of getting a hot one and it was funny watching each other across the table and shaking our heads to signal we'd just had a normal one. I'll definitely be putting in another order for our next tapas session.

Other than the Padróns, we made some of our usual tapas favourites: Patatas Bravas, Tortilla de Patatas and roast veggies as well as a Multi-Vegetable Paella.

This Paella is one of Yotam Ottolenghi's little numbers and is another recipe of his that I have fallen for. It's so quick to make with such simple flavours. It contains a few choice spices which are cleverly matched to bring out the best in the ingredients. This is also the first time I've made it when I've actually had some Saffron threads to use as well so that was exciting although I'm obviously a pleb as I didn't really notice much difference in flavour.

The flavours in the paella worked very nicely with the other tapas dishes we made and looked lovely and colourful on the plate. It's also packed full of veg so a really healthy meal.

The only issue I had this time was that Asda was out of stock of Paella Rice. I therefore thought it would be OK to swap it out for arborio rice. Obviously the difference between risotto and paella is that you don't stir paella (Roy Morris lost all respect for Gordon Ramsay when he saw him stir a paella on the telly) and I think for this reason my paella turned out a little on the al dente side. Will make sure I get some proper rice next time!

1 small onion, finely chopped
1 red pepper and 1 green pepper, sliced
1 small fennel bulb, sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
150g Paella Rice
100ml sherry
1 teaspoon saffron threads
500ml boiling veg stock
500ml veggie stock
12 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
Half a tin of broad beans
Lemon wedges

When Roy Morris makes his epic paellas at the Morris house, he always has his veggies all chopped up and ready before he starts cooking so I thought I'd do that this time.

Fry the onion for five minutes, before adding the peppers and fennel and frying for a further 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.

Now add the bay leaves, turmeric, paprika and cayenne.

Can I just say... at this point I stopped cooking and left the veg in the pan for a good few hours as I wanted to have everything prepped ready so that when Hannah texted to say she had finished work, I could just add the rice and get everything going again. I think this allowed the veggies to start absorbing the flavours of the spices but obviously normally you wouldn't have to do that. But anyway, that's the reason the first photos were taken in the light and the last photos were in the dark!!

Add the rice and stir in for a couple of minutes to allow the spices to coat the rice nicely.

Add the sherry and saffron, stir well and boil off for a few minutes then add the stock and a bit of salt. Cook over a low heat for 20 minutes until most of the stock has been absorbed by the rice.

Scatter the top of the paella with the tomatoes and broad beans.

Cover tightly with foil and leave to rest for 10 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges for squeezing!

Sunday, August 14, 2011


Myself and Jules were recently in the Hull area to celebrate the wedding of some good buddies. We had a spare Friday night before the big day and so after a quick google search for vegetarian restaurants we found Hitchcocks Restaurant. This is a restaurant that needs a little bit of explaining. It is an eat as much as you like vegetarian buffet which only opens if they receive enough bookings but the cuisine of the night is picked by the first person to book a table for that night. Apparently they like a challenge and are open to any suggestions! On our night the cuisine was Italian which is lucky because we had no idea what we would have picked if we had been the first person to book.

The restaurant itself is tucked away in the cobbled streets of Hull, Hull itself was much much nicer than people had let us to believe. As we walked down the street, from around 400 metres away we got the first waft of a garlic pong in the air, a good start. The restaurant itself is a sight to behold. You have to ring a door bell and a waitress promptly appears at the door and leads you through a couple of stairways and corridors before you emerge in to an expansive upper floor multi roomed restaurant which is cluttered (in a positive way!) to say the least. We were then seated at a lovely table for two and the waitress explained the concept of the night and the schedule for food serving. First of all, and this is a big win for Hitchcocks, 100% of the service was brilliant. The staff were courteous, professional and absolutely hit the nail on the head when it comes to striking the right balance between ensuring we were okay and leaving us in peace.

The first item of food to appear was the starter which was delivered straight to our table a few minutes after we arrived. It was a bruschetta and may well have been the source of the long distance garlic smell. It was a great example of why you should not be shy with flavours. A brilliant combination of tasty bread, super fresh tomato and lashings of salt, garlic and oil. My expectations were set high for the rest of the meal. We had time for a couple of cheap drinks (50p for a glass of coke!) before it was announced that the main course was being served on to the hot plates.

We were the first to the buffet. As always.

As several plates were consumed it would be easier to split it by plate.

Bailey plate 1

My first plate was split evenly between vegetable lasagne and pizza. The first thing to say is that the food served at Hitchcocks is not restaurant style, everything has a definite 'home cook' style to it. The lasagne was really nice and again benefited from the chef not being shy with the cheese giving its lots of flavour. The pizza was a mixed bag. While the toppings were generous and tasty the base was a little bit dry and chewy. This was good food cooked well but a step down from the amazing bruschetta.

Jules plate 1

Jules' first plate was a large salad plate including peppers, cauliflower, olives, cous cous, a leafy salad and tomato/harisa style relish. She loved it with the only complaint being that there was just a little bit of an excessive amount of parsley in there that overpowered the rest of the meal a bit.

Bailey plate 2

My second plate was a sizeable plate of spaghetti with a spinach/pesto sauce. This was not great. The spaghetti was a little undercooked and the sauce didn't really taste of everything. The drawback of the buffet setup was that I felt I needed to eat everything before I went back to get any more. So I had to put away quite a lot of tasteless pasta before I could try anything else.

Jules plate 2

Jules' second plate included the same pasta I had, corn on the cob and an aubergine/vegetable pasta dish. Jules felt the same as me on the pesto spaghetti but raved about the other pasta. There were lots of really chunky aubergine pieces in the pasta that gave it a really strong flavour. The corn on the cob was an odd dish to have on an Italian night but it did the job.

Bailey plate 3

My final savoury plate of food included spaghetti bolognese (quorn based), chips and roasted carrots. This last plate was a real winner. Super tasty bolognese sauce with plenty of seasoning, crispy fries and the roasted carrots was a really good combination. It was a good way to end but halfway through I was absolutely stuffed but again I would have felt bad if I had left lots of food on the plate so I struggled through as much as I could leaving myself uncomfortably full

Jules plate 3

Jules liked the aubergine pasta so much she got a second plate plus a slice of pizza which was all enjoyed.

Bailey plate 4

I was fit to burst. Then they opened the dessert bar. I managed a single slice of chocolate fudge cake with ice cream. I wish I could have managed more as there was a bewildering range of options. During the night we had noticed that some people had very little in the way of food, that was until the dessert bar opened up. It was clear that for some people that was the moment they were waiting for.

Jules plate 4

Jules went for the sensible option of a fruit salad, a nice way to finish what was a predictably heavy going meal!

It was a mammoth meal and because there were so much going on it is hard to summarise. The food is good homecooked fare and with the breadth of dishes being served and no set regular cuisine for the restaurant there are, understandably, always going to be one or two plates that don't quite hit the mark. One thing that will never disappoint though is the brilliant service and the great atmosphere of the restaurant full of interesting and unique decor, my favourite being the monkeys and moose wielding Devo power domes.

Would definitely recommend!


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