Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Spice Club

Finally the night Bailey, Jeni, Steve and I had all been waiting for! Saturday was our long anticipated trip to The Spice Club - Manchester's original supperclub!

Having booked our place at The Spice Club months ago, we were all really excited about going. We had heard only excellent things about their deliciously authentic home-cooked Indian food and knew we were in for a good night. 

On arrival we were warmly welcomed by Monica and Anita and shown to our beautifully laid table where ornamental elephants displayed our name cards. A lovely touch!

We met the other guests on our table and any feelings of shyness soon disappeared as soon as Steve noticed that he recognised one of our fellow diners - Leeds-based foodie and blogger Jini (check out Munchy Medic here) from the previous night's One Show feature on the Clandestine Cake Club! Cue me asking "Are you off the telly?" and the banter began! 

A glance at the menu and everything sounded delicious. We started off our meal with a delicious Homestyle Indian Lemonade - spiced, sweet and fragrant. Monica then came in and gave a really heartfelt introduction, explaining how our lovingly-cooked vegetarian Punjabi meal would consist of traditional family recipes handed down through the generations. Cue even more giddiness and excitement. 

The delicious starter of Pyaaz Pakora was then brought out looking lovely.

These spiced fritters were delicious - perfectly crispy and very moreish - it was hard to pace myself with these delights as I wanted to just hoover them up. The tamarind chutney and mint yogurt drizzled over them was the perfect accompaniment. 

After Jeni and I had gone to have a nosy in the kitchen to see where all the magic happens (amazingly clean and tidy!) our mains were brought out. There was an excellent selection of different dishes in communal serving bowls for us to share out as a table which was really nice as it added to the sociable element of the Spice Club experience.

There was a great selection of mains including Shahi Kofta Massala, Paneer Mattar, Band Gobi Aloo and Pindey Cholay served with Carrot Raita, fresh chapattis, rice and salad. 

The mains were excellent and went beautifully with the perfectly cooked rice, freshly-made chapattis and the refreshing Raita. I absolutely loved every dish but I think the definite favourites around the table were the Shahi Kofta Massala and Paneer Mattar. The crispy Kofta were amazing - pleasing all the meat eaters and veggies alike with their perfect texture and beautifully rich onion and tomato sauce. The homemade paneer was unlike any other paneer I'd tried before - so smooth and soft, and not at all chewy. I also really enjoyed the flavoursome Band Gobi Aloo and Pindey Cholay, although the latter wasn't quite as popular as the other dishes which meant I got to eat loads of it - yay. 

The whole time we were eating our mains, our hosts were so lovely and attentive, checking if we wanted seconds of anything and bringing us what seemed like endless hot chapattis which we gratefully received. 

Next up was a beautifully-presented dessert of Strawberry and Mango Sorbet. Not only did it look great but it tasted fantastic too. The mango sorbet was smooth and fruity and was a great combination with the yogurt and sweet strawberry sorbet. There was a really lovely crunch in there too from some crumbled biscuit, and it was great to see the moment that everyone around the table got to the basil leaf in their dessert as everyone suddenly went "Ooh!" 

Rounding off the meal was a lovely cup of traditional Indian Elaichi Tea with a little Indian biscuit. I was such a greedy idiot for deciding I would "just try a corner" of the biscuit, but it was so crumbly, buttery and delicious I had to finish it off before I got my tea.

Still, the tea was lovely - milky with subtle flavours of cardamom. A really lovely way to end the meal.

So I have to say the evening at The Spice Club did not disappoint! Having heard such great things we had gone with really high expectations and the food really impressed us. However, it wasn't only the food that we loved, the atmosphere created by our hosts was really excellent - we all felt so happy and relaxed that we really just had a lot of fun! I can't remember the last time I had so much fun in a restaurant so if you like eating out, a trip to The Spice Club is a must. We really want to thank Monica and her family for inviting us into her home and showing us such a good time, as Bailey wrote in the guest book, The Spice Club "puts 99% of restaurants to shame" and is a great night out not to be missed!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Kosmos Taverna

The other week we paid a mid week visit to Kosmos Taverna just down the road from us in Fallowfield.  We had passed the place loads of times and were always interested in its old school appearance, we love old school Italian trattorias as the food is always hearty and this looked just like the Greek equivalent.  On top of that some of our buddies had recommended it to us so expectations were high.

When we arrived the place was pretty empty but we still received a warm welcome and were shown to our table and provided with the menu and the list of daily specials.  Jules had already had a good look at the website menu so it didn't take long for her to make her mind up and go for the vegetarian mezethes which was a 3 stage meal made up of Kosmos Spicy dip, Melintzanosalata, Houmous, Tabbouleh, Mixed Salad, Olives, Feta Cheese and Pita Bread,Spanakotyropitakia, Halloumi, Courgette Rissoles, Falafel, Revithia, Stuffed Vegetables,Vegetable Kebab and Cracked Wheat Pilaf.  It wasn't such a quick decision for me but I ended up going for the Chicken Saltimbocca served with a sage and butter sauce and roast vegetables.  I had seen the traditional veal version of this dish cooked on Masterchef Australia last year and thought it looked amazing.  I went for the dependable halloumi for my starter.

When the starters arrived we tucked straight in and we were not disappointed.  Jules' Greek salad looked great to me despite my aversion to salads.  We shared the pitta bread, houmous and tzatziki and I have to say all three elements were the best I had ever tasted.  The pitta bread was crispy on the outside and lovely and doughy in the middle, absolutely perfect.  I simply do not understand how they got so much flavour in the dips and the tzatziki had a really creamy texture to it while the houmous was super smooth.  My halloumi was pretty standard but as it is one of my favourite cheeses it still went down pretty easy.

Next came my main course and Jules' second 'stage'.  Jules' dishes were the courgette fritter, beans, falafel, feta parcels and stuffed tomato.  Everything was pretty tasty and looked really appealing especially the stuffed tomato which was full of flavour with a great crunch to it from the seeds.  The only complaint was that there was nothing really to tie the dishes together so it would have been better served with the first 'stage' with the bread and the dips.

My dish was slightly different.  For starters it was a huge piece of meat, intimidating even to look at! Tucking in to the meat it was really really nice, well cooked, moist and wrapped in a super salty slice of prosciutto ham.  Despite this, due to its size, it got really boring as I waded in to it.  The problem was made worse as both the sauce and the vegetables were really bland.  I didn't manage to finish the plate as it ended up feeling like a chore.

At this point it sort of felt like the meal was over but Jules still had one 'stage' to go which was one plate of roast vegetables and a portion of wheat pilaf.  It arrived just as I was finishing my main course so the timings were definitely a bit off as I just had to sit and watch Jules finish her meal.  These final dishes were also a little disappointing as they were pretty plain, not a great climax to the meal.  In fact the roast veg were exactly the same as the ones served with my main course so essentially it was a plate with two side dishes and no main.  Quite odd!

So all in all it was a real hit and miss affair.  Amazing starters, disappointing main courses and the timings of serving the mezethes were off.  Add on top of this that the restaurant refused to honour a Livingsocial voucher as advertised and it was a bit of a shame as it took the shine off what was a very friendly service.  The fantastic starters won't be enough to get us back through the door I'm afraid.

Kosmos Taverna Ltd. on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 25, 2012


Last weekend Bailey and I were visiting my parents in Sheffield and we had been plotting and looking forward to our Saturday afternoon luncheon outing all week. Having heard that London Road is the new place to eat for its multi-cultural range of top-notch restaurants, we decided to go to my mum's favourite Zeugma.

I have always remembered the delicious ladies' lunch me and Aída once went for just the two of us and have been keen to go back ever since, especially as I knew it would be just Bailey's cup of tea.

Famous around Sheffield for its Turkish cuisine cooked on an open grill right in front of you, Zeugma has become so popular they've had to open a second restaurant just a few doors up on the same road!

We were super impressed when pretty much as soon as we sat down we were brought some tasty olives and pickles and the most amazing freshly baked flat bread which was just slightly crispy on the outside but light and fluffy in the middle - incredibly moreish and definitely one of the highlights of the entire meal for all of us.

I decided to order a Vegetarian Kebab which, described as a "barbecue feast for vegetarians", sounded right up my street. Aída went for the Cop Shish of grilled lamb and Bailey decided on the Zeugma special of chicken and feta in a creamy sauce. We then waited patiently while the food was slowly grilled over the restaurant's indoor barbecue right under our hungry noses. Mmm. What a way to get your appetite going.

The food didn't exactly fly out but it wasn't too long a wait which we didn't mind as we had our bread and bits to nibble on. My Vegetarian Kebab arrived first but was closely followed by the other dishes. It was an absolutely huge plate comprising a massive kebab of tomatoes, aubergines, onions, mushrooms and peppers, a giant chargrilled green chilli, some halloumi, houmous and what I think was bulgar wheat.

I thought my meal was absolutely delicious. Whatever the kebab was marinated in was awesome - quite subtle but just enough to have made the veggies perfectly toasty on the outside and juicy on the inside while still packed with flavour.

The houmous was great and I loved the bulgar wheat which has some sort of rich tomatoey sauce in it. My halloumi, although I was disappointed that I only got one little piece, was lightly toasted and salty. The chilli added a real kick to the whole dish and was really yummy in itself as it had a lovely grilled skin.

As Aída is a bit of a Zeugma connoisseur as she has been quite a few times, she knew exactly what her favourite bits from her kebab were before she tucked in. Like me, she thinks Zeugma's tomatoey bulgar wheat, which also came on her dish, is amazing.

Her lamb was perfectly cooked and tender and she loved the nice bit of bread that had been popped under her meat which was soaking up all the yummy juices.

Bailey's meal was not what any of us had expected at all. It arrived as a huge oven dish of chicken, feta and mushrooms doused with loads of sticky, creamy sauce. Bailey said he hadn't expected there to be quite so much cream on it all and he had expected it to come with all the bits on the side like ours did so at first I think he was a bit disappointed. But after he had ordered another basket of the amazing bread to dip he absolutely loved every bite - super cheesy, peppery and creamy with chunks of beautiful, tender chicken with that lovely freshly grilled taste. Not one for those watching the waistline but very decadent.

We were really happy with our lunch at Zeugma and I have to say it restored my faith in the Sheffield eating scene a little bit. Since moving to Manchester, with its wealth of amazing restaurants from every corner of the globe, I've felt a little bit sorry for Sheffield as there just doesn't seem to be much going on food-wise.

Zeugma proved me wrong and I would say there's no excuse not to eat there if you're passing through the Steel City - even if you're just there for a night out as it would be a great place to line the stomach. Worth visiting for a portion of that bread alone, Zeugma has to be one of the most amazing places to eat in Sheffield and I will certainly be returning there as soon as I can as well as keeping my eyes peeled for other exciting developments in the London Road area.

Zeugma on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 20, 2012

Mushroom and Udon Nabe

Over the half term holidays we had Iain, Dani, Tom and Heather over for a Japanese dinner party. I have really gotten into Japanese food lately and here in Manchester I have loved going out for a good Kyotoya or Samsi, but after my sushi class I really felt like I wanted to have a crack at making some different types of Japanese dishes. Tom and Iain both assured me that they and their respective partners love Japanese food so what better occasion for me to have a good go at making a load of stuff!

We ended up doing three courses: the first consisting of Sushi, Tempura and Gyoza bits to nibble on, the third a Chicken (Quorn for me) Katsu Curry. The second was the one I was most nervous and excited about at the same time was the second course of Nabe that I was planning to make.

Inspired by the amazingly delectable Nabe Tofu I had at Kyotoya, I really wanted to get my own little Nabe pot for making all sorts of Japanese noodle soups in future and to try and come up with a stock that would literally make me go "Ohhhhhhh!" again (this was the noise of pleasure I made when I first tasted my Kyotoya Nabe - a good noise to make I think!)

So my Nabe adventure actually began at Hang Won Hong Oriental Supermarket in Chinatown the day before our dinner party where I picked up a Nabe pot as well as some lovely china little bowls, china soup spoons for slurping, chopsticks and china chopstick holders.

I was really excited about my Nabe pot but also about laying the table with our new stuff - which Bailey ended up doing beautifully. Although our dining table ended up as a weird mix of Chinese crockery and our usual vintage stuff it looked great.

In terms of ingredients I had literally no idea as I really didn't know anything about what it is that makes Japanese food so darned yummy. So I had a really good read of loads of different Japanese cookery sites and learned all about making a soup stock out of Dashi and Sake and the types of ingredients you can use. I decided that as it was my first attempt I would buy some ready made Dashi Soup stock but maybe next time I will try to make my own as it sounds quite easy and fun. I also decided to use some yummy dried Shiitake mushrooms to make it taste more Japanese and also because I thought if I used real mushrooms they might release a lot of liquid and affect the flavour of the stock. I also decided to use Udon Noodles because they are more exciting due to the fact they are mega fat.

Well, the cooking of the Nabe really couldn't have been simpler. I really think I will be whipping Nabes up for quick weekday meals in future as it really was quick and simple. I was a bit worried at first as I really thought the dashi smelled awful but as soon as I'd added a bit of soy and a chicken cube (yes I am the worst pescatarian ever!) it tasted (and smelled) much better.

The end result was a very lovely looking Nabe with lots of flavour and lovely textures - I particularly liked the fat, chewy Udon Noodles. I think I overcooked the Pak Choi a little so have reduced the cooking time in the recipe below. I think our guests enjoyed the Nabe although it was quite difficult to eat and two of our guests were wearing white tops! Although the broth wasn't quite "Ohhhhhhh!" it was quite yummy and I am looking forward to having another play with the recipe. May the gorgeous Nabe pot live a long and prosperous life in our possession!

A handful of dried shiitake mushrooms
20g dashi powder
1 litre water
100ml sake
3 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp mirin
1 stock cube (we used chicken)
1 leek
2 packets udon noodles
3 pak choi

Start by putting the shiitake mushrooms in a bowl and pouring boiling water over the mushrooms until they are submerged. Cover the bowl and allow the mushrooms to soften.

Sprinkle the dashi powder into the nabe cooking pot and add the water and sake. Put the lid on the nabe and bring to the boil.

When the liquid boils, reduce the heat and add the soy sauce, mirin and stock. Separate the shiitake mushrooms from the liquid. Keep the mushrooms to one side and add the liquid to the nabe. Continue to simmer, keeping the lid on the nabe.

Thinly slice the mushrooms and finely chop the leek.

Add them to the nabe and cook over a low heat until softened with the lid on.

Now add the udon noodles to the nabe and cook for around 3 minutes with the lid on or until the noodles are softened.

Add the pak choi to the nabe and cook for 1 minute with the lid on before serving.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Tea Hive

While driving through Chorlton one evening before Christmas I spotted a newly opened lovely little café called the Tea Hive. I loved the name of the shop and how it looked super cosy from the outside and decided there and then that I would pay them a visit sometime.

It was lucky then that only a few days later a Living Social deal popped up for Afternoon Tea for Two at the Tea Hive. Unable to resist the exciting bargain, I immediately snapped it up and we booked ourselves in for the Thursday afternoon of my half term holidays.

I was really excited as I had heard excellent things about the Tea Hive since my first encounter with it and had also read a good review on So...Chorlton blog. Bailey was a little less excited as he was quite poorly bless him, but I knew a good afternoon tea would be sure to sort him out.

We were greeted at the door by the most friendly of staff who led us to our cute little vintage table which was adorned with lovely little flower-filled teapots and the most gorgeous mother of pearl salt and pepper shakers.

The staff came over and told us about the range of teas they had and we were also told by more than one member of staff that if we needed or wanted anything we were only to ask. A really lovely way to be made to feel if you ask me.

While we waited for our tea we marvelled at the décor. I said that if I had designed a tea room myself it definitely would have been similar to the Tea Hive. There were mismatched chairs and tables, fresh flowers, amazing mismatched floral china everywhere you looked and gorgeous knick-knacks on every table. I was enamoured with the whole place.

When a wonderful three-tiered cake stand arrived with cakes, scones and finger sandwiches along with a teapot full of Tea Hive blend tea, I really was in afternoon tea heaven.

To start with the tea, we thought the Tea Hive blend - apparently a mix of African, Indian and Ceylon leaves according to the lovely luggage label attached to the teapot - was really tasty and great with a bit of milk. I loved the wonderful tea pot it came in - I described it as "my dream tea pot" and loved drinking it out of my cute cup and saucer.

We started off with the finger sandwiches - cheese and chutney, cucumber with dill cream cheese and ham. Good fillings but a little bit too thinly cut for my liking because when you bit into them they fell apart. Still the ingredients were yummy and they weren't shy with the butter.

Next we moved onto the scones. On our table were two beautiful little china dishes filled with clotted cream and 'Bellini Jam' made from peaches, raspberries and Champagne, which I smothered my scone in.

This I really, really enjoyed - the scone was big and fluffy and not too sweet, the clotted cream was gooey and smooth and the jam was absolutely incredible - I admit after eating my scone I actually scraped the last bits of jam out of the pot with a teaspoon.

Finally we moved onto the cakes and (in a really geeky fashion) Bailey and I made sure we ate the same cakes at the same time so we could discuss them as we ate.

We started on the Red Velvet Heart which was tasty with yummy icing but a little bit dry. Next we had the Beetroot Cake which was delicious - super moist, perfect consistency and with loads of delicious icing. Next we tasted the Victoria Sponge which was lovely and light - I think it had the Bellini Jam in again but if not it was an equally delicious, rich jam. Finally we had the ginger chocolate cake which was very tasty with a strong hit of ginger but a little bit dense after eating so many other cakes!

After thoroughly enjoying our afternoon tea (we realised afterwards it took us about an hour to eat it all! It felt more like minutes!) one of the lovely waitresses brought us over a little box of cakes and more of the Tea Hive blend tea to take home with us - a really lovely touch I thought.

The Tea Hive has really won me over and I am absolutely smitten with the place. We really did leave feeling super relaxed and full of lovely things. Although there were a few bits and bobs here and there that could be worked on food-wise, I feel we have high standards as we were comparing everything to Gwyn Brock's Secret Tea Party. The food was good, the café itself was an absolute treat and the staff were so genuinely lovely, I really can't wait to go back there for another cuppa, some more of that jam and a lovely bit of food on gorgeous china.

Tea Hive on Urbanspoon


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