Tag Archives: review

Restaurant review: Saffron

Standard

Photo 26-07-2016, 13 09 59

Clifton Village is the trendy place to be in Bristol, and isn’t short of cute places to eat or to lounge around for coffee. Saffron proved to be a great find to recover from retail therapy and to gather energy for the next round.

The menu has a distinctly Mediterranean feel to it, although the all-day brekkies looked pretty impressive. But given we’d had a thwarted trip that day to Bristol Lido (park in Weston-super-Mare and walk the rest), we wanted tapas.

And we inhaled it, accompanied by moans and whimpers of appreciation. If you’re veggie, there’s plenty of choice – I can recommend the halloumi in honey with a tomato sauce very highly. The stuffed vine leaves (dolmades) filled with mushrooms, rice and squash were lightly seasoned and came with a cool and creamy tzatziki sauce. The only slight disappointment was a rather bland baba ganoush, which could have been smokier.

I sneaked a taste of the Mediterranean lentils (seasoned with cumin for sure), spinach pie (think it’s called Spanakopita) filled with leek, feta and spinach, and the hummus. I must have looked plaintive and under-fed, as I got to scrape up the last traces of the latter. I can confirm I’d order all three like a shot next time.

Three plates and warm flatbread came in at well under a tenner (£7.95), with very friendly service. And you’ve got to love places that offer you iced water without being asked. Bargain.

Saffron: 4a Boyce’s Avenue, Clifton Village, Bristol BS8 4AA. Tel: 0117 329 4204.

Restaurant Review: Adulis, SW9

Standard

I think most of us have a restaurant they have heard about and think would be good to visit, but never actually end up going there. For my friend, Jaz and I it was the Eritrean restaurant at the end of her road. We’ve been talking about going to it for years without ever even trying to make a date, but recently the stars aligned and we finally made it there.

There being Adulis on Brixton Rd, near The Oval tube station. It was worth the wait and anticipation.

The first I want to know as a veg*n diner is what the veggie selection is like. Adulis has a great vegetarian selection at starter, main and set meal sections of the menu.

We skipped starters and went for the set platter – the Naitsom Special – a selection of vegetarian dishes served on a large, round platter lined with injera, the half-pancake, half-bread staple of Eritrea. This was a wise choice in terms of how much food we could eat, but it did mean we had quite a wait before the food arrived.

 photo IMG_0080_zps2lweeg9e.jpg

The food arrived arranged into little piles on a platter of injera with a basket of injera to accompany it. You don’t use cutlery, you tear off a piece of injera and use it to pick up morsels of food. This is not a place for the carb-phobic, you end up eating a lot of injera this way, which is probably why my friend and I got nowhere near finishing it all. The selection of dishes is a good mix of hot and cold in temperature and spice level. Some a pure vegetable and some a mixture of pulses. Standout dishes for me were the yellow split pea stew, the okra (and I don’t normally like okra) and the lentils. There wasn’t a taste or texture I disliked there.

We finished with the coffee ceremony, where coffee is brought to your table in a traditional ceramic pot and served alongside popcorn and frankincense burning on a little brazier. And stuff freshly ground coffee, these beans are freshly roasted in a corner of the restaurant so everyone gets to enjoy the smell.

 photo IMG_0084_zpsyq0uuzia.jpg

The food was great and so was the atmosphere. This was a mid-week evening and the restaurant was full, so I recommend that you book ahead. The service was on the leisurely side, but came with a genuine friendliness and care for the diner that is all too rare and completely charmed me. The price for the two of us, including drinks, came to £52. I am pleased to have found another veggie-friendly restaurant and cuisine. I will be going back and I won’t be waiting years to do it.

Adulis
44-46 Brixton Rd
London
SW9 6BT
Tel: 020 7587 0055

Price for 2 including drinks £52

Review: The Wilson Cafe

Standard

I make the worst cheese sauce on the planet. No, scrub that – I would make the worst cheese sauce on the planet if only I bothered! I rarely have flour or milk in the house, and I can’t get past the fact that soya, rice or almond milk just doesn’t seem to make very good sauces. The only time this culinary black spot bothers me is when I want macaroni cheese.

My mother made the best macaroni cheese on the planet – a tasty, cheesy sauce with a dash of mustard in that was thick enough to coat the pasta properly and to stay on the fork, and crunchy breadcrumbs coating the top. It was her full-proof method of bribing me to do something: “I’ll make you macaroni cheese on Wednesday night if you give me a lift to a meeting afterwards.” Shazza Cabs was always there like a flash!

There are some fairly decent supermarket ready meals available, but macaroni cheese isn’t one of them – the sauce is always tasteless and too thin. So I end up going without and periodically resolving to have a go at making cheese sauce.

So you’ll excuse my excitement when I spotted ‘Mac ‘n’ cheese’ on the menu at the Wilson Café in Cheltenham. I’m even going to forgive them that glaring Americanism, as it was the best macaroni cheese ever. I dragged a friend there several days later so I could make sure the first time hadn’t been a fluke. It hadn’t. The sauce was perfect, the topping crispy and it came with a stack of bread lightly brushed with garlic. I think I took the glaze off the dish making sure I hadn’t missed a trace of sauce!

2014-12-31 12.39.18

The Wilson Café is a good little find – it’s part of the revamped museum and art gallery in town. The previous café was up lots of stairs and was full once four people were in there. The new one is on the ground floor at the front of the building and has a couple of tables outside. There’s not a huge menu, but what there is seems to be decent quality, and there are always a couple of veggie choices there (even if they’re heavy on eggs, particularly for the breakfast choices). Vegans will struggle, though. The coffee and cakes are yummy as well, and the staff seem friendly. A few people have moaned to me about the slow service there; it’s been fine on the four or five I’ve visited, although the place doesn’t look over-burdened with staff.

I have a nasty feeling the café changes its menu periodically. So I could be OD’ing on macaroni cheese for a while!

The Wilson Café

Clarence Street

Cheltenham

GL50 3JT

Book Review: Made in India Cooked In Britain

Standard

An Indian kitchen can be anywhere in the world. Mine just happens to be in London.

I had decided that I wasn’t going to buy any more recipe books that included meat recipes. I was sick of having to skip over so many pages that I couldn’t use. I was going to stick to buying only vegetarian recipe books. And then I was listening to the Woman’s Hour Cook the Perfect podcast on the way to work one morning. I listened to Meera Sodha cook her Daily Dal recipe and talk about cooking Indian family food in Britain.

Meera’s family (originally from Gujarat in India) had been expelled from Uganda in 1972 and had ended up Lincolnshire. Meera’s mother had continued to cook Gujarati food but with British ingredients. This cookbook is based around those recipes.

It’s a lovely warm hug of a book. It’s full of fresh flavours and recipes that encourage rather than intimidate. There are some specialist ingredients, but most of these recipes only need a trip to the average supermarket, not an hour spent online tracking down obscure spices.

The book is divided into:
Starters and snacks
Vegetables
Meat
Fish
Eggs
Pulses and grains
Sides
Breads
Chutneys and pickles
Puddings
Drinks
Housekeeping: Make your own and Leftovers

There’s a Menu Ideas section with menus for 2, 4, 6 and 8 vegetarians. There’s an Alternative Contents section with ideas for 1st Timer Recipes, Midweek Meals, Get the Kids Involved, Gluten Free and other options.

The recipes are clear, one to a page with plenty of full page colour photographs. While there are meat recipes there, they are restricted to two chapters and make up less than a quarter of the book. The tone of the book is chatty and cheerful, mixed in with a few family stories, like a good conversation between foodie friends.

I have tried the Daily Dal and it is excellent. There is also a recipe for 100 Garlic-Clove Curry. I might have to give that one a try sometime soon!

Title: Made in India Cooked in Britain: Recipes from an Indian Family Kitchen
Author: Meera Sodha
Publisher: Penguin Fig Tree
Year: 2014
Pages: 319
Recipes: 133 (including 47 vegetarian and 49 vegan)
Price: £20 hardback
ISBN: 9780241146330

Runner Beans with Mustard Seeds and Ginger

Beans with ginger and mustard seed photo DSCN1690_zpsf24d0372.jpg

The recipe in the book calls for French beans, but with runner beans being in season I decided to use them.

This is a lovely, gently spiced dish. It’s not hot, but warming from the ginger. It can be served as a side dish safe in the knowledge that it won’t overpower whatever it’s served with.

Ingredients
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp sesame seeds
250g runner beans, topped, tailed and sliced into cm lengths
2 cm ginger, peeled and grated
2 tsp tomato puree
1/4 tsp turmeric

Add a little oil to a large frying pan on a medium heat.
Add the mustard seeds and sesame seeds.
When they start to pop add the beans and stir fry for a couple of minutes.
Add the ginger and stir for another two minutes.
Add the tomato puree, turmeric and a splash of water.
Cover with a lid, turn the heat down and simmer for a couple of minutes.
When the beans are tender, season with salt and pepper and serve.

Serves 2 as a side dish

Book Review: Curry Easy Vegetarian by Madhur Jaffrey

Standard

For a long time in the UK, if you wanted a book to show you how to cook Indian food, Madhur Jaffrey was the only choice. So it’s just as well that she knows what she’s talking about and can communicate successfully to a wide range of people.

This year I have bought three Indian cookery books, all of a high quality. Curry Easy Vegetarian is the third one of the three and I’m reviewing it first, because it is the best.

As a home cook, I tend to like books written by cooks rather than chefs. It may be the tone is friendlier, it may be the knowledge of what is achievable in a home kitchen, it may be because it’s written by someone who has to do their own washing up. I don’t what it is, but give me a book written by someone who doesn’t have a test kitchen. There are some unfamiliar recipes and techniques here, but Madhur Jaffrey has the tone of someone who is encouraging you to have a go, rather than someone setting a test.

The recipes are divided into eight chapters:
Soups, Appetizers and Snacks
Vegetables
Dals: Dried Beans and Legumes
Grains: Rice, Semolina and Quinoa
Grains: Breads, Pancakes, Savouries and Noodles
Eggs and Dairy
Chutneys, Relishes and Salads
Drinks, Sweets and Desserts

The recipes are well laid out, attractively photographed and carefully explained. When I was first going through it, I found so many recipes I wanted to try that I ran out of bookmarks. The vegetable section has one recipe more enticing than another. There are poriyals – stir-fries with indian flavours that I can’t wait to try and dals that make me glad cold weather is coming so I can curl up on a wet day with them. And there are unexpected flavours too – rice with dill and peas, fresh peach salad, cucumber salad.

In terms of ingredients most of them should be familiar and available in most supermarkets (for which Madhur Jaffrey should take a good deal of the credit). She explains the more unfamiliar ones. My only warning is that several of the recipes require fresh curry leaves which may not be that easy to get hold of.

I really like this book and I’ve been recommending it to friends. It has a recipe for turnip – what’s not to like?

Title: Curry Easy Vegetarian
Author: Madhur Jaffrey
Publisher: Ebury Press
Year: 2014
Pages: 352
Recipes: 194 all vegetarian (including 132 vegan)
Price: £26 (hardback)
ISBN 9780091949471

In the introduction Madhur talks about how a lot of the recipes are from homes throughout India and won’t have appeared on restaurant menus. One of those she mentions is Kodava Mushroom Curry. I decided to give it a try. I stuck to the recipe, apart from using low-fat coconut milk, so I omitted the stage of letting it settle as it would have had no effect. I don’t know if that made a huge difference, this was hot, creamy and delicious anyway.

Kodava Mushroom Curry with Coconut

kodava mushroom curry photo DSCN1728_zps0b5995b4.jpg

Ingredients
1 400ml tin coconut milk left undisturbed for 24 hours to allow the cream to rise to the top
450g button mushrooms, halved
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp turmeric
4tbsp vegetable oil
6 tbsp shallots, finely chopped
2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp chilli powder
2-3 fresh chillies, chopped
1 tbsp lime juice

Open the tin of coconut milk and spoon the thick cream at the top into a bowl. Leave the thinner milk in the tin.
Put the mushrooms in another bowl, sprinkle over the salt and turmeric and stir until all the mushrooms are coated.
Set aside for 10 minutes.
Put the oil in a medium hot frying pan or wok.
Add the shallots and fry until they are just starting to turn brown.
Remove from the heat and stir in the coriander and chilli powder.
Return to the heat and add the chillies, and then the mushrooms and their accumulated liquid.
Stir and cook for about 2 minutes.
Add the thin coconut milk and simmer, uncovered for about 10 minutes.
Add the coconut cream and simmer on a very low heat for a minute.
Add the lime juice and serve

Serves 4

Review: The Garden Cafe

Standard

Please welcome a very good friend of mine and Anth’s – Angharad Brewer Gillham. She might not be fat, 40 or a vegetarian, but she knows a good veggie restaurant when she visits one, even if it is a tad lacking on vegan food. OK, over to our intrepid correspondent …

Gentle reader, I have a confession to make: I am not actually a vegetarian. But even a hardened omnivore can appreciate a vegetarian meal occasionally, and I think that those of us who eat meat should probably eat less of it, so I try to eat vegetarian meals as often as possible. This is a resolve that usually falls over when I’m out to eat, because there don’t tend to be a lot of vegetarian options on restaurant menus. So I was interested to discover The Garden Café, which is in the Garden Museum, right next to Lambeth Palace. It serves only vegetarian meals. Disappointed carnivores will have to turn around and go and find a Pret on the other side of the river.

I and my parents are not disappointed carnivores, so we ordered lunch instead. The Garden Café serves a smaller weekend menu, with just three choices of main meal: when we turned up, these were a carrot soup with crème fraiche and chilli garnish, a butternut squash and feta tart, and red peppers stuffed with bulgur wheat, Gruyère and olives. The peppers and tarts were accompanied by a trio of salads, one plain green, one coleslaw, and one chickpeas, feta, and several different varieties of tomato with a lemony dressing. The soup came with fresh bread.

I had the stuffed peppers; my parents both went for the tarts. The stuffed pepper was delicious, tender and vivid, and the stuffing was perfect, fluffy and full of flavour. The green salad was crisp and fresh and the chickpea salad excellent, sharp, peppery and lemony. I can’t stand coleslaw, so didn’t touch mine, but my parents reviewed it highly. Similarly, the butternut and feta tarts came in for high praise.

The Garden Café offers more options in terms of dessert, probably because it mostly sells people coffee and cake. There’s a nice selection of the usual sweet things – brownies and frangipane featured when we were there – but also a couple of cakes with more interesting flavours. We chose a slice of courgette, lime and ginger cake. It was delicious: imagine a carrot cake, with all the moistness and lightness of a really well-made carrot cake, but with a less obtrusive vegetable flavour lending depth to the mild spice of lime and ginger. I nearly went in and asked for the recipe.

The whole cost about £10 a head; I’d allow £13 if you wanted cake with your lunch, just to be on the safe side. This is still good value for a tasty, freshly-cooked meal in central London, and it’s in a gorgeous setting; you can sit inside the museum, which is a former chapel, de-consecrated, re-purposed, and full of light, but if it’s a nice day you’re much better off outside in the lovely garden. If there’s one criticism I’d make, it’s that this is not a guaranteed meal for vegans, which is a curious choice when you’re a small veggies-only restaurant. The website says that their recipes are often vegan, and that they change daily depending on seasonal produce and what’s coming out of the vegetable garden. This is laudable, but if I were a vegan turning up to the Garden Café on spec only to discover that everything contains animal products – including two out of three salads – I would be seriously annoyed. (And hungry.)

That said, this is a pretty restaurant that serves tasty vegetarian food for reasonable prices in central London. It’s got a lot going for it, and we’ll definitely be going back. Maybe this time I’ll remember to ask for the courgette cake recipe.

The Garden Café

Lambeth Palace Rd

London SE1 7LB

Tel: 020 7401 8865

http://www.gardenmuseum.org.uk/page/cafe

Book Review: Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi

Standard

This is the second ‘vegetables first’ cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi. For those of us who have his first book, Plenty, this is more of the same. It is a lushly photographed celebration of vegetables, fruits, funghi, grains and pulses. You cannot read this book without realising that this is a man who loves vegetables and knows how to put them together to make a multi-flavoured, multi-textured dish. Ottolenghi gets accused of using a lot of ingredients, most of them difficult to get hold of. The last one isn’t that true – you can get most of the ingredients in one of the big, main supermarkets. As for a lot of ingredients, well, you can’t get layers of flavour and texture without them. This is not a book to reach for when you want to throw something together after a long day at work, but if you have the time to spare this book will give you something special to eat at the end of the process.

It does have its eccentricities, though. It is divided into sections by cooking method, so you get Tossed, Steamed, Blanched, Simmered, Braised, Grilled, Roasted, Fried, Mashed, Cracked, Baked and Sweetened as chapters. Now, it might just be me, but I don’t normally wander into the kitchen when I’m hungry and think ‘Hmm, I fancy something blanched today!’ There is an index, but no glossary of ingredients. Sometimes Ottolenghi explains the more unusual ingredients at the start of the recipe or in the ingredients list, but sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he suggests alternatives, but sometimes not. If you don’t know what za’atar, shiso and freekeh are, this book isn’t going to tell you.

I think the Tossed chapter is the most successful. Yes, there are lots of ingredients, but they mostly just need putting in the salad bowl or mixing in the dressing. And there are really interesting dressings that would go well on several different dishes.

My least favourite sections are the Cracked and Baked ones. Mr Ottolenghi says in the introduction that he is not a vegetarian and does not want to be pigeon-holed as a vegetarian writer (the horror!). It really shows in this section, not just because there’s a lot of cheese in these recipes, but because there appears to be no attempt to choose vegetarian cheeses. Parmesan is used a lot, gorgonzola appears, so does roquefort. There’s no help for it, you cannot use any named cheese in this book unless you first check that it’s vegetarian. I spotted 22 recipes using non-vegetarian cheese, there may be others.

This is a bit of mixed bag of a book. It is in turns inspirational, aspirational and infuriating for this vegetarian home cook. Having said that, if more chefs took recipes from this book and put them on menus as the veggie option, I would be a much happier woman.

Title: Plenty More
Author: Yotam Ottolenghi
Publisher: Ebury Press
Year: 2014
Pages: 351
Recipes: 154 (including 49 vegan and 22 non-vegetarian)
Price: £27 (hardback)
ISBN 9780092957155

I was thinking of doing one of the Tossed salads for my recipe tryout, but then I found Ottolenghi had done a recipe for Fava, the greek version of pease pudding. That decided it for this Durham lass! Besides, as in a lot of the traditional recipes in the book, they haven’t been complicated.

fava photo DSCN1711_zps62422255.jpg

Ingredients
3 large onions
300g yellow split peas
2 bay leaves
1/4 tsp turmeric
100ml olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsp lemon juice
35g capers, roughly chopped
10g chives, finely chopped
salt and white pepper

Chop one of the onions into rough chunks. Add to the split peas, bay leaves and turmeric in a large saucepan.
Add enough water to cover twice the amount of peas.
Bring to the simmer, skim off any scum, cover and let simmer for 60 minutes or until the peas are soft.
Keep an eye on them and add more water if necessary, they should be loose and sloppy like thick porridge at the end.
While the peas are cooking, slice the remaining onions finely and fry in a tablespoon of the oil until they are golden brown. Set aside.
When the peas are cooked, remove the bay leaves, blend the peas with the olive oil, garlic cloves and lemon juice until you have a smooth paste. Add water if the mixture is too stiff.
Season generously with salt and pepper.
Stir in half the fried onion.
Serve in a bowl with the rest of the fried onion, capers, chives and add a drizzle of olive oil.

Serves 4 to 6