UK


I was up in Manchester at the beginning of this month for work. There were two nights, a presentation, and walks here and there throughout the city as I made my way from the conference venue to my Travelodge room. Here were the highlights for me.

There was lunch the Thai supermarket Siam Smiles (48A George Street, Manchester M1 4HF), where I had a large plate of khao kha moo (the sweet and salty stewed pork knuckle with rice) for £9.50. There was hot and sweet Thai milk tea too.

Hello, Manchester! My khao kha moo at Siam Smiles (I read the @marinagpoloughlin article on the place!).

A visit to the John Rylands Library was a necessity as I have a passion for libraries and I was not disappointed!

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The Victorian building was utterly gorgeous and I only wished I’d had more time in there. If you do stop by, make time to have a peek at the working original loos in the basement!

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The Christmas markets woven through the city streets were exceptionally charming, lending a festive air to the quiet city. There were plenty of stalls from the European continent as well as more local treats. I wished I had more space to sample the boreks I saw at one stall.

I'm loving Manchester's Christmas markets!

The Mancunian specialty I wanted to try was rice and three and I chose to have it at Kabana (52 Back Turner Street, Manchester M4 1FP). For £6, I could choose from the curries of the day; my choices were lamb, keema and potatoes, and channa. The food isn’t highly spiced but is very comforting with lots of fresh ginger and coriander. You won’t leave hungry!

Rice and three at Kabana

From a tip from a kind man at the John Rylands, I made my way to Chetham’s Library for a free tour just prior to catching my train back to London. This library is the oldest public reference library in the English speaking world and is part of Chetham’s School (specialising in music). The library dates from the 17th century but is housed in a building dating from the 15th century.

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There was first a glimpse at the freezing cold but impressive medieval hall with its humongous fireplace.

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The library itself is upstairs and looks like something out of a certain fictional wizarding school. It’s such an important bit of history and I’m so glad to have seen it.

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And that’s the very short report of how Manchester fed me and charmed me this festive season!

We both happened to have the Valentine’s weekend free and thought we’d have that weekend away for a bit of a mini-break. We chose the town of Arundel with its magnificent castle though our timing was entirely wrong – the castle doesn’t open to the public before Easter! Still, there was plenty of walking through Arundel Park (bordering the South Downs), various antique shops to browse, and many excellent cafes to while away the time.

There was also one excellent dinner at The Parsons Table, run by a very experienced couple who spent time in London and Canada before returning to the UK to start their own restaurant.

I loved the space, which was apparently the former stables of the castle. The restaurant has only been open for a couple of months, tucked away between little boutique shops, and it’s larger than its exterior suggests, with tables spaced generously apart. Do book ahead; all the tables were taken that Saturday evening, which wasn’t a surprise given the occasion. I had chosen this restaurant based not only on reviews but also that they didn’t force a Valentine’s set menu on everybody that weekend. The only concession to Valentine’s seemed to be a big vase of red roses and a small selection of extra dishes only available that weekend. We mixed and matched selections from their regular menu and this Valentine’s one.

Warm bread and butter was set down after we ordered. Slices of sourdough and a rosemary bread were brilliant. Good start.

Bread and Butter

Pulled Ham Hock Croquetes, TPT Piccalilli were beautiful. These perfect spheres were chock full of shredded ham with the tangy pickles perfectly matching the croquetes’ richness.

Pulled Ham Hock Croquetes, TPT Piccalilli

Quail Ravioli with Mushroom Juswas off the Valentine’s menu. These fat parcels were clearly homemade and were served with a good amount of wild fungi.

Quail Ravioli with Mushroom Jus

Slow Cooked Beef Cheek (Bourguignon) was a special that day that had nothing to do with Valentine’s day…. They just happened to have some nice beef cheeks in, I guess! And I’m glad we ordered this as that beef check was just melting away and its gravy was perfect with the pureed potatoes and vegetables. A couple of lardons and mushrooms were the nod towards the Bourguignon style.

Slow Cooked Beef Cheek (Bourguignon)

Pan Roasted Loin of Sussex Coast Cod, Saffron and Cured Tomato Risotto, Padano Cheese was from the regular menu. The combination sounded like perhaps an odd mixture – I don’t think I’ve ever had fish with risotto or risotto with tomato. But it worked as the tomatoes provided the acidity for the fish.

Pan Roasted Loin of Sussex Coast Cod, Saffron and Cured Tomato Risotto, Padano Cheese

Again from the Valentine’s specials was the Assiette of Desserts, a selection to share for two. There was a chocolate ganache tart, a slice of lemon tart, a white chocolate cannolo on poached rhubarb, and a scoop of rum and raisin ice cream. Everything was excellent but of particular note was the cannolo with rhubarb. I’ve only just recently learned to appreciate rhubarb and these tender pieces were superb.

Assiette of Desserts

With Blai’s post-meal tea also came a couple of perfectly crumbly buttery biscuits. I think I may have scoffed them both!

Biscuits

The bill for all the food (but not service) came to a very reasonable (approximate) £60. I’m not sure what I expected from Arundel but they’re lucky to have such a fabulous place on their doorsteps.

I definitely hope to return … perhaps later in the year to see the castle too!

The Parsons Table
2 & 8 Castle Mews
Tarrant Street
Arundel, West Sussex
BN18 9DG

I spent a couple nights for work in Glasgow last week and took myself out for a nice dinner for my first evening. A recommendation from Rachel was Crabshakk and rather conveniently, it just so happened to be located very close to my hotel. I had made a booking for my lone self and that turned out to be a good idea even on a Tuesday night; the restaurant was packed the entire evening with both reservations and walk-ins. It’s a small space with bar seating and a few tables on the ground floor and a few more tables upstairs. I think I went there expecting a rustic looking place (I mean, shakk!) but the place is surprisingly modern with a few vintage touches here and there.

I discussed the menu with the very friendly waiter and went with a mix of his recommendations and my absolute must-haves. We both agreed that instead of the usual starter-main meal configuration, I’d go with a selection of starters. The Tempura squid with soy and coriander dipping sauce (£8.25) was indeed excellent but I could have swapped this for something a little different. The portion was generous for a starter and many other tables were sharing one order.

Tempura squid with soy and coriander dipping sauce

Off the specials blackboard were my must try: Queenies with garlic butter (£8.50). These little scallops were cooked on a hot plate with all that butter and arrived bubbling furiously. I leaned back to avoid getting butter all over me! When the noise settled, I tucked in carefully – these were some beautifully tender little scallops. And what a bargain they were – there were plenty in that dish!

Queenies with garlic butter

Bread and butter (£2.25) was ordered to mop up the butter (just the bread without the extra butter spread on, of course).

Bread and butter

An order of 3 Crab cakes (£8.35) turned out to be these petite things. But oh, what crab cakes!

Three crab cakes

Look inside! These were just chock full of crab and there was barely any discernible binding ingredients. These were some of the most impressive crab cakes I’d ever had.

Inside a crab cake

And thank goodness too for that bit of salad on the side that helped refresh my palate a little. Maybe I overdid it with the bread and garlic butter.

I needed a bit of tea at the end of my dinner to wash down all that richness. My green tea came with a little bit of tablet which is not exactly ‘light’ itself! Whatever – it all went down the hatch as I adore the sweet grainy texture of tablet.

Green tea with tablet

Everyone was very friendly, not just in Crabshakk but in Glasgow overall! It’s a great city with lots of good eating (I had a good meal the next evening as well – but that was a work related one) and I’m keen to go back soon to see and eat more of it!

Crabshakk
1114 Argyle Street
Finnieston
Glasgow G3 8TD

I went to visit my brother in Leigh-on-Sea a couple weekends ago and was utterly charmed by the little town, yes, by the sea. I loved the old fishing village of Old Leigh and I loved the independent shops and restaurants along the Broadway. And I loved all the food I ate while there. Dinner was at Agostinho’s, a Portuguese restaurant I’d identified as promising and we made a booking for the Saturday night.

Agostinho is the head chef in the kitchen and his very chatty and friendly wife leads the front of house team. Agostinho is from Madeira, which as a fact by itself isn’t odd but what is odd is that the other Portuguese restaurants in the Leigh/Southend area (there are three in total, I think) are all run by Madeirans. The only things I knew about this Portuguese island were the basket rides down the hills and the fortified wine. According to Wikipedia, a particularly Madeiran speciality is fish with fried bananas….. ok, I’d see what else Madeira has to offer then!

Do make sure to book a table – the place was packed when we got there at 9am. The menu is full of lots of tempting things but we decided to share just the one starter when we saw the size of the main courses. To start, one order of their homemade Pasteis De Bacalhau (£5.95). These fried morsels sure beat any of the manufactured frozen pasteis many Portuguese cafes use – these were light and fluffy and full of fish (and boneless!).

Pasteis De Bacalhau

We shared two of the mains. A Portuguese Caldeira De Peixe E Mariscos (£16.95) was a huge warming bowl of a tomato based seafood stew. Various fishes, mussels, and squid were found swimming inside along with chunks of potato and slices of peppers. The dish is perfect for any seafood lover and the broth was fantastic. We had rice on the side to soak up that broth.

Caldeira De Peixe E Mariscos

Rice

We also split an Espetada a Moda da Madeira (£14.75), a grilled skewer of sirloin and bay leaves in a wine sauce with lots of garlic. If this is Madeiran food, then Madeiran food is insanely delicious. The meat was perfectly tender (medium-rare at our request) and I was mopping up that fabulously winey sauce with the equally perfectly sauteed potatoes.

Espetada a Moda da Madeira

I was feeling guilty about the lack of vegetables and ordered a side of Runner Beans (£4.00 for two servings) for us. Simple (well, simple and butter-tossed) and just what we needed on the side.

Runner Beans

Dinner

Despite the both of us feeling pretty bloated, I insisted on squeezing in a dessert, especially when I saw (from a neighbouring table) that they had a homemade Portuguese Molotofe Pudding (Caramel Soufflé), Roasted Almonds (£5.25). This light and truly very airy dessert is like a regular caramel flan but with the texture and density of clouds. I mean, c’mon, it’s mostly air! I don’t think any of the whipped cream was necessary – if it’s just me and the Molotofe, I’ll be happy.

Portuguese Molotofe Pudding (Caramel Soufflé), Roasted Almonds

It was no surprise then that this restaurant was packed that Saturday night. Service was friendly, the food was excellent, the room was warm and cosy. It’s almost the opposite of many of the newer, louder wine bars in the area but I like it very much for that reason!

Agostinho’s
157 Leigh Road
Leigh-on-Sea, Essex
SS9 1JF

You know that feeling when you desperately need to get out of the big city? Yeah, that was us a few weeks ago and we organised a trip out to Lymington by the sea (it’s just on the edge of the New Forest) for the last long weekend. It was more about the fresh air (ok, and the full English breakfasts at our B&B) than the food but we still managed to eat well without really trying.

Upon arrival at Lymington (we took trains, changing at Brockenhurst), I dragged us both first to The Buttery for lunch where we split an order of scampi and chips and then the finest Bakewell tart we’d ever had.

Scampi and Chips

Bakewell Tart

The Buttery
19-20 High St
Lymington, Hampshire
SO41 9AD

Here was the reason we went to Lymington – wide open spaces, forest trails, long walks by the sea…

To the Sea

…that lead to pubs by marinas (this was The Mayflower) where they served things like a Cumberland sausage sizzler with perfect chips and delicious Caesar salads topped with salmon fishcakes.

Cumberland Sausage Sizzler

Chips

Salmon Fishcakes Caesar Salad

The Mayflower
King’s Saltern Road
Lymington, Hampshire
SO41 3QD

On the Sunday, after a morning stomping about the Buckland Rings, we headed for The Walhampton Arms for a massive Sunday carvery lunch … well, hehe, for me as Blai went for a lighter roast trout option.

Carvery Lunch

Grilled Trout

Carvery for me ask the way! To go with my choice of roast beef there were at least four types of vegetable, stuffing balls, sausages, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, and plenty of gravy. And homemade horseradish sauce!

The Walhampton Arms
Walhampton Hill
Lymington, Hampshire
SO41 5RE

Soon afterwards, we happened upon a pick-your-own strawberry farm. Can you believe that Goodall’s Strawberries has been growing strong (ha!) for over 100 years?

PYO Strawberry Stand

Strawberry Plants

I think we did pretty well! We gorged on those big sweet strawberries for two days.

Our Strawberries

If you’re planning on going to Goodall’s for strawberries, hustle on down as their season ends in early July, I believe.

Goodall’s Strawberries
South Baddesley Rd
Lymington, Hampshire
SO41 5SH

But on our last day, we returned once again to our favourite place in Lymington, The Buttery. One round of generously filled fresh crab and shrimp sandwiches and a slice of delectable coffee sponge and we were sorted for lunch.

Crab and Shrimp Sandwiches

Coffee Sponge

We also brought home a whole boxful of their goodies – their lemon drizzle is highly recommended.

All in all, it’s a pretty pleasant place to spend a long weekend. Oh, I almost forgot! Get some locally made New Forest Ice Cream. That top scoop was Millionaires Shortbread…shortbread, caramel and chocolate swirled through!

New Forest Ice Cream

It was a much needed trip and thank goodness the weather was good! We didn’t have time for it this trip (we were too busy exploring all the local public footpaths) but crabbing seems to be the thing to do at the old quay.

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All my photos from this trip can be seen in this Flickr photoset.

We’re obviously very dedicated to the Christmas market. Last weekend saw my friend and I take a train to Birmingham to check out their Frankfurt Christmas Market. We arrived at about 1pm and left by a 7pm train (times are approximate!). It was quite easy to find – it’s all located at the centre of the city, just outside the Bullring. We encountered stall upon stall upon stall of German food, drink, and Christmas gifts and decorations.

Giant Christmas Pyramid

The eating started as soon as we saw a stand selling freshly fried potato pancakes. We opted for a dollop of oniony sour cream on the side and munch away we did. I was surprised by the addition of some kind of grain to the potato base but it added a good crunch to the fried fritter.

Potato Pancake

As soon as the last bite went down, we queued for bratwursts – one white and one red, both to share. I love both – the milder white and the punchier smoked red.

Bratwursts

Gluhwein for Roxanne and hot chocolate for me. And yes, we kept our mugs as souvenirs (you pay a deposit for it).

Hot Chocolate

There was room for a shared pretzel…

Pretzels

…and two kinds of fried doughnuts too. The quarkbällchen was made with quark, the German fresh cheese, and a paper cone of schmalzkuchen was freshly fried and dusted with lots of powdered sugar.

Quarkbällchen

Frying

They all went down much too easily.

Schmalzkuchen with Powdered Sugar

Schokokuss (chocolate kisses) were purchased to take home. While everyone was queuing to buy packs of 10 or 12, I’m glad I showed restraint and only purchased a couple (they’re filled with marshmallow inside…soft, sticky, intensely sweet marshmallow).

Schokokuss

It was with a little difficulty that we put down our final savoury bites for the day – they had to be frankfurters! That photo below shows mine – I swear there’s a frankfurter underneath all those pickles and crispy fried onions.

Frankfurter

Overall, a most successful eating day!

At Night

Other edibles to look out for are the 1/2 metre long bratwursts, the cheese skewers that are battered and fried, hot chocolate spoons, roast pork shanks, huge roasting hams, cream cakes, and a huge variety of Haribo.

It’s a long journey on a slow train on a Sunday and is probably more manageable on a weekday or Saturday. If you’re utterly in love with Christmas markets, then it’s possibly worth the travel but otherwise I’d recommend visiting if you’re in the region!

All my photos from the day can be found in this Flickr photoset.

It must be pretty obvious now that the best stuff to eat in Leicester is South Asian food. There was a lot of immigration to the city in the last century and the majority of the immigrants were of South Asian origin and thus, there are now a lot of Asian restaurants from which to pick. Many of these are situated along Belgrave Road. My brother took us to one much further down Belgrave Road, where it changes to Melton Road. Here was a stand-alone building housing Feast India, a very popular buffet restaurant.

Feast India

I had no idea what to expect of Feast India but it wasn’t this! The place was big with lots of different counters (each given a cheesy name) and it was absolutely packed with diners made up of families and friends and work groups. Behind each of the counters was a man (or a small army of men) preparing fresh food. There was such variety but you still may not see what I got to try that night – my brother told me that a lot of the curries are under rotation.

Let’s have a look around at the food on offer! A tuk tuk greets you at the entrance. Apart from looking the part, it served double duty as a salad counter.

Tuk Tuk Salad Counter

In the middle was a big open kitchen with counters all around it – ‘Masala 360°‘, they called it. Here was a large selection of veggie and meat curries, freshly made flatbreads, rice and biryanis and fried starters. At one corner one could find all Indian-Chinese dishes – chicken and sweetcorn soup, chilli paneer, salt and pepper squid and more.

Masala 360

The Southern Indian foods and pizza stands are next to each other. The latter (‘Pizza Hatti‘) was offered slices of freshly made pizza with Indian toppings; while this was popular with children, I avoided it. I stuck to the ‘Balu’s Southern Bhavan‘ side of things with the dosa man making fresh dosas to order. From what I gathered, plain dosas, masala dosas and cheese dosas were definitely available. You could also order an uttapam or help yourself to idlis.

The Dosa Man

A variety of street snacks could be found at the ‘Bombay Chaat Waat‘. People were crowding around the man who prepared the pani puri, dipping stuffed puri bites in spiced water before depositing them onto your plate; they were all popping them right there and then.

Bombay Chaat Waat

At the ‘Great Kebab Factory‘, fresh kebabs and chicken and paneer tikkas were being grilled right under our noses.

The Great Kebab Factory

There was quite a selection of desserts too. These little cups caught my eye, all filled with jellies and yogurts and kheers. In addition, there was a selection of eggless cakes, some traditional Indian sweets and a whole ice cream display freezer full of kulfis and sorbets.

Desserts

I attempted to sample as much as possible that night. To see what everything on my plates was, please do click through on the photos to see where I’ve labelled everything on Flickr.

First, A Masala Dosa

My First Plate

My Second Plate

My Third Plate

My Dessert Plate

My Last Plate

I didn’t manage to try everything but I was utterly stuffed! The masala dosa was excellent, all thin and crispy, as were the sambhar and chutneys. The pani puri were also very good and I joined the group around the chaat man to munch on freshly prepared ones; leave them too long and they’ll be soggy. Biryanis and freshly made naans were fantastic. The vegetables and vegetable curries were all excellent and so too were most of the meat ones (the lamb curries could have been cooked to further tenderness though). The fish dishes, in particular, were brilliant – there was an excellent southern Indian fish curry and brilliant lime fish pakoras.

Skip the aloo tikki, which was hard to the point of inedible; I also found the kebabs a bit dry but perhaps I chose pieces that were too small as they were all going fast.

Desserts were fine though from my sampling of ice cream, go with the kulfi rather than the sorbet. The Indian sweets were all lovely – gulab jamun and a thick yogurt dessert were excellent.

The cost for dinner is currently £14.95 per person (£11.50 for Sunday lunch and less also for children). I’m definitely a fan! With the variety and quality on offer, it’s closer to the high-end buffets you find in Asia rather than here in the UK and gosh darn it, it’s fun. It’s a great place for large groups too but do book in advance.

Feast India
411 Melton Road
Leicester LE4 7PA

Feast India on Urbanspoon

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