Thursday, December 28, 2006

Prinz Myshkin, Munich, Germany

Prinz Myshkin
Munich, Germany

I reviewed Prinz Myshkin before on my last visit to Munich, a couple of years ago. I went back to the Christmas markets again this year, flying with Lufthansa who had no vegetarian option for their mid flight snack other than a chocolate bar, to meet my wife, who works in Munich, for the the weekend.

Over the weekend, we went to the restaurant three times - twice for lunch, and once for an evening meal - and every time the food was great.

Initially, I was slightly disappointed that the menu is still exactly the same, however, I suppose that if something is as good as this then the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" edict could apply. Still, it would have been nice to see that they varied their food occasionally.

On the first visit we shared a plate of antipasti to start. This consisted of mushrooms, artichokes, peppers and other tasty morsels all of which tasted lovely. I do enjoy vegetable antipasti ever since my wife introduced me to it in, of all places, Australia.

To follow I had a plate of vegetable sushi. Wow! When the plate arrived it was a spash of colour, with twelve pieces of sushi, two dipping sauces and piles of ginger, wasabi and shredded beetroot. As well as looking spectacular, it tasted superb. Each piece of sushi roll had different fillings, or was rolled in different seeds. I was really magnificent and very filling.

After that, I was too full to eat more, but we decided to return for dinner the next evening.
To start I had the beetroot, coconut and ginger soup. It was a fantastic colour and tasted great, the flavours were very well balanced and none of them overwhelmed the others. I was recommended the Ayurveda Special for the main course, which is an Indian inspired dish consisting of Bori (deep fried mungo bean dumplings with tomato chutney) Samosa, Aubergine Pakora, Vegetable Sabji (a mixed vegetable curry with paneer) Rice with vegetables and cashews, Papadam and Halawa (sweet semolina). The Bori was great, and very "meaty". The rest of the dishes were extremely tasty, without being too spicy.

Once again, I was too full for any dessert.

Finally, we popped in again for lunch on our last day in Munich. This time I had the Tagliatelle Tartufata, which was tagliatelle in a sauce of truffels, mascarpone cheese, and cream. It was very nice and there was loads of it. To be honest, they could easily get away with half the amount, but I'm not complaining.

If you are in Munich, then a visit (or two) to Prinz Myshkin is a must. The prices are a little on the pricey side, but the food is excellent.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Queen of Tarts, Dublin

Dame Street,
Temple Bar,
Dublin 2

Queen of Tarts is a small cafe/cake shop on the outskirts of the Temple Bar part of Dublin. It is situated on Dame Street opposite the entrance to Dublin Castle.

Lonely Planet says that the Queen of Tarts is the mother of all cake shops, and they're not wrong.

The cafe itself is quite small, only eight or so tables, but if it's full when you get there it's well worth waiting. The counter is absolutely packed with one of the most amazing array of cakes and pastries that I have seen. They also do snacks and light meals, including what sounds like a great veggie breakfast.

We went there twice and I had soup and cakes both times. The first time I had a carrot and fennel soup followed by a chocolate and pear tart. The second time was lentil and vegetable soup followed by apple crumble. Both soups were nice and thick and beautifully tasty and were accompanied by home made bread. The desserts were sublime, expecially the apple crumble which was served in a tart case making it a perfect single serving dessert. Apparently the blackberry and apple crumble and the victoria sponge were delicious too.

If you're in Dublin, then the Queen of Tarts is a must see - it should be on everyone's list of places to go.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Cordon Vert Diploma Finals

Last week was the culmination of my Vegetarian Society Cordon Vert cookery course that I have been doing over the last couple of years. The Diploma Finals consist of two days of cookery exams, firstly you have to cook a three course meal for four people, the second you have to cook a two course lunch for four.

The three course dinner menu is decided by the student, taking into consideration certain skills and techniques learned during the various courses. The menu has to be nutritionally balanced, taste good and look good. It also has to be served on time and the kitchen has to be kept relatively clean and tidy while you're cooking.

The second exam has much the same criteria, save for the various techniques which weren't being tested. Instead, it was the creative side of the repetoire that was under scrutiny as we were given our ingredients only an hour and a half before we started cooking.

I've been practicing and revising my dinner party menu for the last few months on friends and family and I was reasonably happy with it. After initially having timing problems, I'd managed to just about get everything served on time in the last couple of meals I'd done.

After a morning spent making our lunch, it was time to begin the first of the exams. We had some time to check our ingredients and gather equipment and then we were off. Four and a half hours to cook the best three course meal we could.

My menu was Fried Rissotto Balls with Roasted Pepper Sauce followed by Carrot and Chestnut Ravioli with Watercress Cream Sauce. This was accompanied by a Warm Sweet Potato Salad. The dessert was Poached Pears In Red Wine Galette with Iced Ricotta Parfait.

I started by making the parfait, as this had to go into the freezer. Then I worked my way through the rest of the menu, having a few problems with the pasta, but as the serving time of 7.30pm approached, I was pretty much on time.

I plated up my first course and served it to the invited guests, and gave one plate for the tutors, who would be marking the dishes. I then began getting the main course ready to plate. Once I'd served the main course, it was time to do dessert. There wasn't much, if any, time in my schedule to rest. However, the timings that I'd worked out and practiced were pretty much spot on and my dessert was ready and delivered on time. I finished my clearing up and that was it - it was all over. Or at least half of it was.

There were four of us taking the finals, and once we'd all finished clearing up, we sat and had some soup and dips and chatted about our experience. We were all shattered, it had been a really stressful day. The tutors paid us a visit but weren't giving anything away, they just warned us not to have too late a night as we still had the creative exam to do.

The next morning at 9am we were given the list of ingredients that we could use for the creative exam. We then had an hour and a half to work out what we were going to cook. I had taken about half a dozen or so of my favourite cookbooks with me to help me decide what to cook, and after having read through the ingredient list and flicked through the books I decided to do an Indian Thali followed by grilled banana pancakes.

So, at 10.30am we all began the second exam, with two and a half hours to create a two course menu to be served buffet style.

I'd decided to make a creamy coconut pepper and mushroom curry, Bombay potatoes, spinach with chilli and garlic and basmati rice cooked with onions and a selection of spices. This was then to be followed by the aforementioned banana pancakes.

Getting it all ready in the two and a half hours was pretty tough, but I just about managed to do it. I wasn't at all happy with what I'd produced, as I thought much of it was overcooked and didn't taste as good as I'd hoped.

We all served our dishes to the tutors so they could do their marking and we sat down to eat the rest of what we had cooked. I still wasn't that impressed with my morning's work and was worried that I'd thrown my diploma away.

After we'd finished eating, we cleared up and then went to see the tutors to get some feedback and results of the exams.

And the result? I passed! The sense of relief was enormous, I don't think I've ever had quite a stressful couple of days. I'm looking forward to receiving my certificate and detailed feedback on my meals.

And the future? I'm still keen to learn and to do something in catering, so watch this space...

Monday, October 09, 2006

Cordon Vert Fungus Foray

This is a course that I've been trying to get on for a couple of years but it's always been booked up. This year I booked it really early and have been looking forward to it since around May time.

I love mushrooms, so the thought of going out searching, picking and then cooking our finds was quite exciting. And, I'm pleased to say, the weekend did not disappoint.

The weekend was held at the Vegetarian Society's Cordon Vert School in Altrincham, near Manchester. It all started on Friday night with a slide show about the various different types of fungi presented by Dr Patrick Harding, who was to be our guide and expert for the weekend.

Patrick Harding has written a lot of books on plants and fungi as well as regularly presenting lectures and other weekends such as this one across the country.

Patrick is quite a character, reminding me of a cross between Stanley Unwin and Gandalf. He's a great bloke, and regular enthusiastic whoops and cries accompanied the various finds during our forays over the next couple of days which was quite amazing considering he's been doing this for years.

Saturday morning started with a more in depth slide show detailing how to categorise fungi and a look at the kind of stuff we might find. We then went to Dunham Massey, a local National Trust property, where we began our foray.

It wasn't long before a shout went up and we had discovered our first fungus, a blusher. Patrick showed us how to identify it and quizzed us as to which group of fungi it fitted into. After the initial find, things were a bit sparse for the first hour or so with just the odd patch of sulpher tuft and a few 'little brown jobs' as Patrick dismissively called them.

Just as we were about to take a break for a picnic lunch things started getting interesting with hen of the woods, a parasol and a host of ink caps. No too much edible stuff yet, but it was interesting to see the diversity of different species.

The afternoon proved to be really good and we collected a host of fungi, both edible and not including some bay boletes, beefsteak and a single cep. Some of the fungi such as the amethyst deceivers and some of the waxtops were amazing colours.

Around 3pm we made our way back to the Cordon Vert school and, once there, Patrick challenged us to categorise all our finds. We didn't do too bad, only a handful of them were wrong. Patrick calculated that we had collected 62 different species during the day. I never realised that there were so many!

Before the evening meal we had a slide show about edible funghi and, after dinner, we had a presentation about the folklore of fungus, including some interesting theories about the origin of Santa Claus.

On Sunday morning we went for an hour and a half's foray over the local golf course. We returned with another dozen new species, including a couple that Patrick hadn't seen before and took with him to check.

After we returned it was time to cook some recipes using the edible fungi that we had found. Some of them, such as the beefsteak are a bit of an aquired taste but others were very nice.

The weekend was great fun and very, very interesting. I'm interested to get out and see what fungi the local woods and paths have to offer. Whether I'll be brave enough to eat anything I find, I don't know. If you see Patrick Harding doing any presentations around your way, I urge you to go and see him - you won't regret it.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Chutney Mary, London

Chutney Mary
535 Kings Road,
Chelsea, London SW10 0SZ

Chutney Mary is an Indian restaurant that is part of the same chain that comprises Veeraswamy, Amaya and the Masala Zone restaurants.

Chutney Mary is on the Kings Road, Chelsea about a 10 minute walk or so from Fulham Broadway tube. The restaurant itself is in the basement of the building, but although it isn't brightly lit, it doesn't feel enclosed at all.

There were nine of us at the meal, a mixture of veggies and non-veggies.

The menu has plenty of choices for those of us who don't eat meat and it isn't your normal "korma, madras, vindaloo" Indian restaurant menu either as you'll see.

Before the starters were delivered we were treated to an amuse bouche of tomato soup. This was served in a small cup and saucer and was very nice.

For the first course, I had something that was labeled as three vegetarian kebabs. When it turned up it was three patties, one of pea and fig, one of sago and one comprising of spiced yam. They were presented nicely on a lotus leaf and accompanied by an avocado cream and a fruit chutney. They were all really nice, especially the yam one. I wasn't too keen on the avocado, but then I'm not a huge fan of guacamole either. One of the most popular starters on our table was the potato basket which was a 'basket' made of fried potatoes that was filled with various street foods and yoghurts. For a starter it looked very big and quite filling. Judging by the empty plates, it was very tasty too.

The main course choice for vegetarians at Chutney Mary is pretty good with two platters comprising various vegetable delights. We had a mixture of the two delivered to our table so I'll endeavour to remember the various dishes that they comprised.

I had the Punjab Vegetable Platter which had a selection of black lentil dhal, aloo gobi, spinach and cheese, okra, tomato and waterchestnut curry and spicy rice. This was served in small dishes on a great moon shaped tray that fitted perfectly around the plate. To accompany this I had a cheese and chilli naan.

The dhal was spicy and incredibly creamy, possibly one of the nicest I have ever had. I'm not a big okra lover, usually finding it stringy and/or slimy. But this okra had none of that, it was tender and very nice. I tried a couple of the options that were on the Vegetarian Platter, the other veggie dish on the main menu. These were tandoori broccoli, which was just-cooked and really crunchy laced with a spicy sauce. I also tries some peppers stuffed with smoked aubergine. The aubergine had a superb smokey flavour - it was gorgeous.

The dessert menu had what was described as a Garam Masala and Cardamom Brulee, so the choice was made for me. The brulee was served in the middle of a large plate, without a ramekin, topped with coconut ice cream and mint leaves. This was the first time I had ever had a brulee that wasn't in a dish of some sort. The texture of the brulee was just about perfect, firm and silky. I couldn't taste any garam masala, but the cardamom flavour was definitely there, but not overwhelming. On Gaz's Brulee scale this was a good eight and a half.

The service was great, there was always someone there when you needed them, and despite our awkward and disorganised ordering, the dishes were always correct and delivered to the right people. The waitress was also more than happy to take a photo of the group. It was a birthday celebration for a couple of the group and the restaurant supplied a cake and candles to celebrate.

A service charge was added to the bill, I'm not sure if this is standard for every one or whether it was because we were a large group and they happily split the bill over several credit cards.

A great night out and highly recommended if you fancy an Indian meal with a difference.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Conservatory at the Lanesborough, London

The Lanesborough,
Hyde Park Corner, London SW1X 7TA

While on holiday in Australia earlier this year, I came across a cookbook called Pure Vegetarian by Paul Gaylor. The recipes are amazing and I'm using one of them in my Cordon Vert Diploma finals. Upon further investigation, I discovered that Paul Gaylor is the executive chef at the Lanesborough Hotel in London, and so a visit there sometime was arranged.

The Lanesborough hotel is easy to find, towering, as it does over exit four of Hyde Park Corner tube station. We had arrived early, so after checking our reservation time, we went to the Library Bar where my wife had a G&T and I had a rather splendid port-finished Glenmorangie. We tucked into the nuts, crisps and little snacks that were served to us while we drank - including a splendid little snack of two pieces of penne stuck together with cheese with a tomato paste on the top. This was served in one of those Chinese soup spoons thingies. Sounds simple, it is, and tasted really nice.

Once we'd finished the drinks, we made our way to the Conservatory restaurant. The setting is lovely. A lovely high vaulted glass ceiling, wall fountains and greenery everywhere. Upon a small stage was set a piano, double bass and jazz drum set. We were led to the centre table, just off the dance floor (oh yeah, the Lanesborough does tea and dinner dances) while soft music played in the background.

The menus had a fine choice for all tastes. What was nice was that the menu was mixed so the dishes that were suitable for veggies were only highlighted by a small "v" not tucked away in a section at the back or on a separate menu. There were about three "v's" in both the starters and main sections.

For starters I chose something marked "Artichoke" This was, apparently a combination of soft, crispy and creamy artichokes. Sounds interesting, I thought, and I like artichokes.

Then we were presented with a choice of breads (and a choice of salted or unsalted butter) and an accompanying tomato tapanade.

Then the waiter turned up with two tiny mugs. An amuse bouche, we were told, from the chef, of Cauliflower Veloutte and Pecorino sticks. T'was lovely. To describe it as a cauliflower soup would be doing it an injustice, it was really nice.

So, then the starters arrived. Both were beautifully presented and the scallops and squid, which my wife had chosen, were excellent, I was told. "Artichoke" was a small, artichoke-sized mound in the centre of the plate topped with some salad leaves. Upon futher investigation, the mound was constructed thus. The base was the base of an artichoke, probably boiled (soft). It was the sliced into quarters and re-assembled. Into this base was placed grated, or very finely sliced, artichoke mixed with mayonnaise (creamy) On top of this was balance two pieces of a tempura of the softer artichoke "petals" (crispy). On top of this structure were the aforementioned salad leaved. Tastewise and texturewise it was excellent. And what a brilliant idea for doing something interesting with a single ingredient!

Sometime around now, three elderly gentlemen made their way onto the stage and took their places at the instruments. After a brief intro they began playing songs by Cole Porter, George Gershwin and the like. A few of the older diners got up and danced. We considered it, but weren't quite brave enough and were quite content to listen. Now, I realise that this kind of thing wouldn't be to everyone's taste, but it seemed to fit the place perfectly and it wasn't intrusive or over load at all.

So, onto the main course. The choice for me was between a portobello mushroom dish, an aubergine dish or Thai green vegetable curry, all of which sounded great. Now, I'm a sucker for mushies, and I always have them on the menu, so I decided for once, no to. I wasn't really in a curry mood so I opted for the dish labeled simply "Aubergine".

"Aubergine" was aubergine croquettes served with sherry-glazed vegetables and garlic aioli. Once again both dishes were presented beautifully. Upon dissection, the croquettes were very thin slices of aubergine coated with what appeared to be a pepper and tomato sauce and mozzarella. These were then wrapped up in deep fried in breadcrumbs. Very, very tasty, especially with the aioli.

Unfortunately my wife, who is a great lover of fresh fish, found the John Dory rubbery. Now, this may be because it's supposed to be like that, or that it was cooked wrong - I've no idea. The Head Waiter enquired as to why she hadn't eaten it and took it away. A moment or two later the waiter appeared again and said that desserts and coffees would be on the house! No protestations that it was cooked fine or anything - just a great "The customer is always right - keep them happy" attitude that means that a dodgy dish (either by choosing the wrong dish for your taste, being badly cooked or whatever) didn't spoil the rest of the meal.

And now, the desserts - which were of course, free. I was praying that there wouldn't be a brulee on the menu, as nice as I'm sure it would've been, I wanted to try something a little more interesting. Luckily, there wasn't. The menu was split into two sections - "Fruit" and "Chocolate". My wife chose a dish from "Fruit". It was a lemon parfait served with lemon mousse and various citrus fruits. When it came (again beautifully presented) she said it was really interesting as there was nothing "sweet" about it. I tried the lemon mousse and it was very light and refreshing. The lemon parfait was a bit too lemony for me.

I chose from "Chocolate" and had a peanut parfait with chocolate mousse. It was as nice as it sounds.

My only reservation about the place is some tiny print at the bottom of the menu that says "service charge included". When you get the bill, you just feel compelled to leave a tip (which we did) as the service was superb throughout, which effectively means that we did end up paying for dessert anyway. Apart from that little niggle, it was brilliant - I'd recommend it, and would love to go back. I'll just have to start saving those pennies...

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Vegetarian in South Africa

One of the guys I was travelling with was proudly boasting that he had eaten around 14 different species on his last visit to Cape Town, so I wasn't really expecting much more than salads and maybe the odd pasta dish during the two weeks I was visiting.

I'd like to say that I was wrong, but with only a couple of exceptions, I wasn't.

South Africe, well Cape Town at least, is very very meat and fish oriented. As a veggie, it was quite difficult to find anything in restaurants other than those usual resorts of vegetarians, Italian, Indian and Mexican. The only exception to this was the Wild Fig which was superb, both in quality of food and choice.

I did get a Halloumi Cheese stir fry cooked for me in Ocean Basket, a fish restaurant that the group visited, and although it was quite tasty, it wasn't that exciting. Other than that, I had the usual round of salads and vegetable lasagnes. I had a vegetable pattie in one restaurant (it was either that or another salad) and room service at the Cullinan hotel consisted of an amazingly tasteless vegetable lasagne or pasta arrabiatta.

At the Courtyard Hotel they had a delivery service called Mr Delivery which consisted of a book of around a dozen menus. You cose your dishes, rang a central number and Mr Delivery would then go around the various outlets and collect and deliver your order. There were quite a few veggie options in this list, however, they were mostly Italian or Indian.

All in all, Cape Town isn't the place to go if you're after a vegetarian culinary extravaganza.

Hildebrand - Cape Town, South Africa

Pierhead, V&A Waterfront,
Cape Town, South Africa

The Hildebrand is an Italian restaurant at the V&A Waterfront complex in Cape Town, South Africa. Italian restaurants are usually a good oasis for vegetarians, and this was no exception. I visited it twice during the week I was there.

The first visit was at lunch time and I had the Tagliatelle Alfredo, which was tagliatelle with mushrooms in a creamy sauce. It was very nice, the pasta was cooked well and the sauce was very tasty. There was also plenty of it to fill me up.

The second visit was an evening affair, so I had the full starters, main and dessert. For starters I had garlic stuffed mushrooms and boy were they garlicky! Very nice though. These I followed with Ravioli Di Magro. This was your standard ricotta and spinach ravioli with a choice of Sage Cream or Napoli sauce. I chose the Sage Cream sauce. It was really nice, and set off the relative blandness of the ravioli nicely. The dessert menu had a creme brulee so, of course, I had to try it. It was pretty low on the scale, barely scraping a 6 as the custard was very grainy. Apart from that, the meal was very enjoyable.

Wild Fig - Cape Town, South Africa

Wild Fig
Liesbeek Avenue, Valkenberg Estate,
Mowbray, Cape Town, South Africa

The Wild Fig is situated next door to the Courtyard Hotel just outside Cape Town. For a vegetarian in South Africa, a restaurant with a single vegetarian option on its menu is a blessing, to find one with three options is not far off a miracle.

Because the hotel was a little way out of the town it gave me the chance to try a couple of the menu options as we visited the restaurant on a couple of occasions.

For starters I had the Deep Fried Camembert one evening and the Butternut Squash and Coconut soup on another. The Camembert was fied in a light beer batter with fig jelly and melba toast, and was very nice. The fig jelly was a nice change from the usual cranberry that you tend to get. The soup was just the right side of spicy and managed to walk the fine line of not being too bland due to the squash and being overly coconutty. It was a very nice start to the meal.

For the main course I had, on one evening, the Vegetarian Dolmades which consisted of braised cabbage leaves stuffed with sauteéd aubergine, mushroom & basmatic rice, served with basil mayonnaise. It was presented realy nicely, and tasted great. It was also quite filling, although it still left room for the wonderful roast potatoes that accompanied every meal we had here.

On another evening I had the Thai Green Vegetable Curry. This was coconut milk infused with chilli, fried onions& poached with broccoli, baby corn & carrots and was divine. It wasn't too spicy and had was serverd in a large bowl with the accompanying rice on a separate plate. The ever present roasties were ideal for mopping up the last of the coconut sauce.

The dessert menu had a Creme Brulee on it, which was around a 7.5 on the scale. However, one of the desserts that we had recommended was Roasted Chilli Honey Nut Ice Cream Sandwich with chocolate sauce. This was almost worth the trip to SA itself. Chilli nuts sandwiched between two slabs of creamy ice-cream, just as it says. Wow! The chillies had a nice kick that was then cooled by the icecream and chocolate sauce. A fine dessert.

All of the dishes were well presented and the service was good. In fact, onone night the service was superb, with the waiter keeping the bar open late so we could sample some of their list of over 40 single malt scotches.

In short, if you're in Cape Town I recommend the Wild Fig.

Friday, August 18, 2006

La Cucina Caldesi, London

La Cucina Caldesi
118 Marylebone Lane
London W1U 2QF

La Cucina Caldesi is an Italian cookery school attached to Caffe Caldesi restaurant. You may have seen Giancarlo and Katie Caldesi on the BBC series "Return to Tuscany" which showed them setting up their cookery school in Italy.

Their cookery school in London runs a host of courses many with well known chefs and cookery writers such as Gennaro Contaldo and Ursula Ferrigno.

I picked to do the Italian Vegetarian course run by Giancarlo and Katie. However, when I turned up I found it was being run by Stefano Borella, the pastry chef rather than Giancarlo Caldesi himself. I was a little disappointed, as I wanted to ask Giancarlo about the suitability of the Tuscan cookery school course for vegetarians.

However, Stefano was a good tutor so my disappointment didn't last long.

There were around a dozen of us on the course, so it was reasonably crowded. Luckily, there were plenty of dishes we had to cook, so there were plenty to go around.

The course started with Stefano showing us all how to make foccacia bread and we then volunteered to cook the various dishes.

On the menu was Focaccia Bread, Melanzana Parmigiana, Roasted Vegetables, Balsamic Onions, Sformato of Carrots, Saffron Risotto and Stuffed Tomatoes.

I volunteered to do the sformato of carrots which is a carrot puree mixed with bechamel sauce, whipped egg whites and then baked. I was quite chuffed as Stefano complimented my bechamel sauce. Mind you, I've been making it fairly regularly over the last couple of weeks as I practise for my CV diploma so I'd be in trouble if it wasn't at least half decent.

Stefano himself demonstrated the risotto, using a fresh stock made from the carrot peelings and other leftovers from the morning's cooking. Once he had finished we sat down and had the risotto for starters before tucking into the rest of the food .

The food was really nice, especially the melanzana parmigiana and the roasted peppers and courgettes which we had with mozarella sandwiched in the focaccia. The sformato was pretty good too.

I enjoyed the course, its a shame that there were so many on it and that we couldn't have done a bit more hands on stuff, but we came away with the recipes so I can try them at home sometime.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Curryleaf East, London

Curryleaf East
20, City road,
London EC1Y 2AJ

Having spent the day expecting to go to Anakana having read the great reviews on London-Eating, my two companions and myself were slightly disappointed to find it shut due to some electrical fault or other.

Not sure what to do next, we took the "any port in a storm" option and headed into the next Indian restaurant that we saw. This happened to be the Curryleaf East on City Road. The menu looked promising, so we decided to try it.

The interior is very smart, with dark wood decoration and high backed chairs that somehow gives an Indian feel to the place without it screaming at you or having any resemblance to the flock wallpaper we all know and love.

Indian food, like Italian food, is usually pretty good for vegetarians. Even if there are no main dishes on the menu, the selection of side dishes usually provide a tasty, varied meal.

And so it is with Curryleaf East. The only veggie option on the main menu is Navratan (vegetable) Biryani, but there are loads of vegetable starters and side dishes.

To start we ordered a selection from the vegetable starters list. The Aloo Tiki Pithi Wala (crispy fried mashed potatoes shuffed with lentils and topped with yoghurt) were very tasty as were the Mysore Bonda (fried ginger and coriander potato balls) but my fave were the Bharwan Khumb (stuffed mushrooms).

For the main course I had Baigan Mirch Ka Salan which consisted of beautifully cooked baby aubergines in a peanut yoghurt sauce. Along side this I had Matar Paneer, Miloni Khurchan (mixed vegetables with pomegranite) and mushroom pilau rice. The combination worked well and nothing overwhelmed the other by being too hot or too bland.

The Curryleaf East was a pleasant surprise after the disappointment of finding the Anakan shut. the service was good - attentive, but not too attentive, the setting was very pleasant and, above all, the food was good.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Old Lodge, Limpsfield

The Old Lodge
High Street, Limpsfield, Surrey
Tel: 01883 714365

We've driven past the Old Lodge many times, and eventually decided to try them out for a meal last Saturday night. After phoning to check that they had a vegetarian option on the menu (which they did) we booked a table.

We were shown into the bar area and shown the menus. The bar area was very comfortable, and it was nice to be able to peruse the menu and wine list. The main menu had about three meat free selections on the starter menu, but none on the mains. However, there was a note at the top of the menu saying to ask for today's vegetarian selection. So I did.

I was pleasantly surprised, that there were three main menu options that I could choose from. All the options sounded nice. I chose what was described as Caramelised Onion, Pear and Fig Cheese Cake. For starters I chose Pasta with asparagus and horseradish in a creamy sauce.

The pasta was fusili and the sauce was very nice. It had a slight taragony flavour too and, despite it being a fairly large portion, the taste was good enough that the dish never got boring.

Between the courses, a complimentory apple and blackcurrent sorbet turned up, which was an unexpected, but extremely pleasant surprise.

The 'cheesecake' was next. I'd been wondering what this would be like, as the description sounded more like a dessert rather than a main course.

Very shortly, the wait was over and a small tart turned up on the table, accompanied by onions along with the mushrooms and saute potatoes I'd ordered from the side orders menu. The tart was like a cheesy quiche, with pears and figs layered through it with caramelised onions on the top. It had a sort of sweet and sour taste as the pear and onion took turns at assaulting the taste buds. It was an unusual sensation, but a very pleasant one.

The dessert trolley contained a plethora of cakes and tarts from which I chose a rather nice pear and chocolate cake.

The service was very good, save for the fact that we had to top our own wine up - but thats a minor complaint. The staff were also interested in my opinions of the vegetarian dish, and said that they always have three or four dishes on the menu suitable for vegetarians, which is good to know.

All in all, it was a good night out - as for the price, it worked out to around the same price as our meal at Terre a Terre earlier this week. What really matters is that the food was nice, the service good and the setting very pleasant indeed.

Terre a Terre, Brighton

Terre a Terre
71 East Street, Brighton, East Sussex BN1 1HQ
Tel: 01273 729051

So, Terre a Terre - another mungbean and lentil hippy café in the veggie capital of England, Brighton you say? Well, you couldn't be more wrong. Terre a Terre will blow away any preconceptions you may have of vegetarian cuisine being lentil and nut based - this is veggie fine dining of the like I've not had since Il Margutto in Rome.

The restaurant itself is easy to find, being up one of the roads that leads directly from the seafront. From the outside it looks pretty small and unassuming, but it stretches back quite a way, and also has a small garden area.

We arrived early but seating us was no issue (there was an England game on, so it was fairly quiet) and we were presented with the menu and wine list.

Before the starters arrived, we decided on having some Wasabi Cashews to nibble. Wow! You have to try these, if you visit. They taste much as they sound - and they sound great.

The menu is very wordy, and this makes it a little confusing as, unless you've eaten here before give you little idea of what you're going to get. To give you an idea, I have stated below what the menu stated, followed by my report of the dish. I tried a mouthful of everything my wife had and I've included her comments on the food too.

For starters we had Truly Truffly Risotto - served with set cep consomme and fresh chestnut parmesan milk foam, with virgin oil and organic aged balsamic green tops, toasted barley and scrunched fried sage and Miso Pretty - Sweet ginger sushi reverse roll in Szechwan chilli flakes, served with roast yellow pepper and white miso dressing, soused Enoki mushrooms, lime and tamari ketchup, cashew and coriander salad gaspacho, served with hot and sour soup and dry miso powder.

The risotto on its own was lovely, nice lemony tang and a spinkle of truffle shavings but when combined with the cep consomme and foam (served in a small 'shot glass') it was great. The balsamic green tops were nice, but my fave was the risotto.
I tried a little bit of the Miso Pretty and it was very tasty. My wife said it was really delicious.

Next up was the main course. I had Ravioli Butter Cookie Crumble and White Asparagus Milk Shake - Fava and pea farci ravioli crammed with tarragon, flat leaf parsley and lemon thyme, topped with butter cookie crumble, served with parmesan ice, fresh ricotta wild garlic pressé and just-cut pea shoot tangle, with wet garlic and salt lemon confit pastry shards. My wife chose Wotzyuzu Ithai Gnocchi - Potato gnocchi poached in Asian citrus liquor and wokked with bok choy, choi sum and star shitaki, doused with mushroom ketchup, served with smudges of soy pea miso sake blitz and roast cashew satay, tempura Sechuan spice cress and ginger hair, accompanied by a green tea and thai basil shooter with wotzyuzu dressed micro leaves.

The presentation was amazing. The ravioli (looking like a pie made of pasta) was perched on top of half a dozen asparagus spears. On top of the ravioli was the butter cookie crumble - rather like a very thin biscuit. The rest of the plate consisted of some pea puree in which was placed the parmesan ice (more of that later) a small jug of what I can only describe as pea soup (which was to pour over the ravioli), a small green pyramid of the ricotta and garlic presse and the garlic confit pastry shards. So, what about the taste? On first taste, I immediately thought of mushy peas, but there were a lot of more subtle flavours , the more I ate. The parmesan ice was like an inch high ice cream cone with a small round frozen sorbet on the top - very surpising, but refreshing. The garlic confit and the ricotta presse were both very nice, but seemed to be more for decoration, as they didn't add that much to the dish as a whole.

As for my wife's dish, she overlooked the tempura part of this, which unfortunately doesn't agree with her, but she said it was nice, but not as nice as the starter. Presentation was 'stack-style' - again, very impressive.

We also ordered a portion of Smokey Scrunch Chips loaded with bang bang salt served with chilli spiked avocado mayonnaise to share which were nice, but we didn't finish them, as the mains were quite filling.

The pudding menu looked amazing. Luckily Terre a Terre do a dish that contains a selection of the sweets on the menu which they call Tapas Sweety? - pudding miniatures - for two. This consisted of small portions of the following sweets: Peachy Cheeks - Roasted Amaretto peaches with set 'Calabrian' cream, orange and thyme shortbread, blood orange and Campari granita and an Amaretto syrup. I'm gonna have a full portion of his next time I go. The 'Calabrian' cream is basically a crème brulee tipped out of its pot. Apart from being a bit runnier than I like - it was perfect. A definite 9! The peaches were gorgeous too. Coconut Cupcake Crumble - crammed with banana curd and topped with sweet toasted coconut crumb, served with maple citrus syrup, palm cream, banana ice and sugar snap. Yum! The banana ice was superb! Jasmine Nashi - Warm Nashi pear poached with plum and mirin liqueur, sitting in Asian apricot citrus puree, served with scented sushi and poached apricot, liquorice nori roll and deep-fried pureed anise rice pattie served with sweet jasmine tea. The pear was beautiful, the 'sushi' was apricot wrapped in rice pudding then wrapped in licorice - amazing. Chocolate Brownie in Chocolate sauce. Poor chocolate brownie - it was never gonna compete with the others, nice though it was.

The service was great - the waiters were very knowledgable about the ingredients of each dish.
The overall impression was of excellent food imaginatively (if sometimes a little over-ostentatiously) presented and excellent service.

Will I go back? You bet.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Taste of London

Regents Park

Taste of London was an event held in Regents Park where forty of the capitol's top restaurants set up their stalls allowing you ti sample some of their top dishes. In addition to the restaurants there were plenty of other stalls, demo's by celebrity chefs, cookery lessons and much more.

To sample the food you had to have the event currency, crowns, which you could either buy at the event or order in advance with your tickets.

I worked out that to eat all of the menu items that were suitable for me, as a vegetarian, would cost me around 235 crowns. I had thirty-six, so I had to choose carefully. Most of the choices however, were desserts, there weren't an awful of meat-free main courses so that made it slightly easier.

To start with, I headed towards the Fifteen tent to sample the "creamy risotto of smashed peas, broad beans, mint and ricotta salata." It was a popular dish, which meant about a ten minute wait while they cooked up a couple of batches. It was very nice though - and creamy, as the description said. From there I made my way to Imli, an Indian resturant that offers a modern take on the standard Indian restaurant fayre. They were offering a couple of dishes that were marked suitable for vegetarians (the only ones that I saw marked thus in the whole show - well done Imli.) I selected the "medley of puffed rice, cucmbers and roasted peanuts tossed with assorted tangy chutneys." It was very spicy, and quite tasty. I couldn't have eaten a lot of it, but the portion served was just about right.

So, what next? I fancied something sweet and the "vanilla mille feuille with roasted peaches" from Angela Hartnett at The Connaught fitted the bill perfectly and tasted great.

Passing the Cinnamon Club I noticed that they had a "mango and cardamon brulee" which I just had to try, given my love of brulees. This was certainly different, but very nice reaching a good 8 on the scale.

Finally, I spent the last of my crowns on the "avocado and goats cheese soup" from the Notting Grill tent. As I was slurping it down, Anthony Worrall Thompson walked past. I said hello as he passed and he returned the greeting. The soup wasn't bad - it was a cold soup and I feel it would actually be nicer if it was hot, but it was tasty none the less.

So, that used up all my crowns. During the visit, we also sampled loads of cheeses, dips and sauces, ate an ice cream or two and tried the odd sample of wine. We came away with a few jars of pasta sauce (some of which were given away free) and plenty of leaflets for online shops, cookery courses etc - some of which I may try in the future, so watch this space.

All in all, it was an enjoyable night, the weather was perfect and even British Rail deemed to be on time for that particular night, so getting to and from the event was nice and easy too. Hopefully Taste of London will be repeated next year, so look out for it.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Cordon Vert Cookery School

Cordon Vert Cookery School
Vegetarian Society

Last weekend I attended the Far Eastern cookery course at the Vegetarian Society's Cordon Vert cookery school near Manchester. This course marks the halfway point of the diploma course that I'm doing.

It's a two and a bit day course. The first evening the tutor, Chico - who runs a couple of cookery schools of his own and is also chef to the ex-royal family of Germany - gave us a brief introduction followed by a meal that highlighted the kind of dishes that we would be cooking over the next couple of days. During the meal I got to know the other nine students that were taking the course.

The next morning, we all gathered in the kitchen for a demo of what we would be cooking and Chico regailed us with various hints and tips gleaned from his travels. The course is based around the 'real' food of the far east (Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailad etc) rather than around fancy restaurant quality dishes.

After the intro talk we began cooking for our lunch, which included a spicy soup with peppers, lime leaves and coconut, stir fry salad and a dessert made with sweet potato. We also made sushi and a dipping sauce from vinegar, sugar and chilli.

After lunch it was back into the kitchen for more demos. My job this afternoon was to make chinese leaves stuffed with tempeh, ginger, garlic, shoyu, beansprouts and beanshoots. The other groups made various spicy dishes including curries and stirfries and the table was bowing under the weight of the food when we sat down for dinner. After eating everyone sat around chatting until almost midnight.

Sunday morning started with a chat about different oils and vinegars and then continued with a demonstration of different presentation techniques. After a quick demo of some of the dishes we were to cook everyone was split into teams again to cook lunch. I cooked some vegetable fritters and did the melon balls for dessert. Lunch consisted of the fritters, tofu sesame toasts, black bean and yellow rice, kebabs and wonton soup.

The course was great fun, the people that were on the course were nice, and easy to get along with and I can't wait for my next one in a few weeks time.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Melbourne, Australia

As a vegetarian, you are never going to go hungry in Melbourne. As I strolled along I checked the menus of many of the restaurants in the city to see if they had a choice that would be suitable for vegetarians. With the exception of one pie shop, everywhere had at least one meat free option on the menu.

Breakfast is never a problem as most places do a pick and mix and most are happy if you want to substitute one item with another, but some do specific veggie breakfasts. For lunch or dinner you are literally spoiled for choice from the many cafes and restaurants that inhabit the city or the specialised areas, such as Lygon Street that offers a whole host of Italian restaurants.

One place we ate at was a restaurant called O'Connells in South Melbourne ( at which I had a fabulous linguini with fennel and goats cheese. There wasn't a huge choice for veggies on their menu, but it does go to show that even places that are away from the centre of the city can still produce some really tasty dishes.

Further afield, on the Mornington Peninsula, the Portsea Hotel ( served a rather tasty Asparagus and Rocket Risotto with truffle oil and they had two or three other meat free dishes on there menu.

The markets are fantastic. I don't think I've seen so many fresh vegetable, fruits and spices in one place before. Queen Victoria Market's ( food hall is magnificent. There are stalls selling a myriad of different versions of cheese, anti pasti and more different versions of tofu that you can shake a stick at! They also do specialised food nights which are well worth a visit. South Melbourne Market ( is smaller, but still has a huge selection of fresh produce. Organic and gluten free produce seems to be quite big over there at the moment so these add to the already large choice.

I also popped into one of the many Asian supermarkets that are in the city and was pleasantly surprised to find that they stocked most of the mock-meat products that you can get here plus many other kinds of tufu and sauces suitable for vegetarians.

The only things that I could not find in my travels were vegetable suet (which no-one seemed to have heard of), vegetable haggis and Quorn. I contacted Quorn and they told me that they have no plans at present to market their product in Australia which is a real shame, but with all of the other ingredients and produce that are available, I daresay one could live without it.

Soul Mama, Melbourne, Australia

Soul Mama Global Vegetarian Cafe
St Kilda Baths

Soul Mama is set on the beachfront in St Kilda. The restaurant has large tables and offers great views over the bay. On the way in there is an area with a lovely log fire that has cushions strewn around it that would make for a very interesting eating experience I imagine. However, we went for the standard option and sat around a table.

The concept of ordering the food at Soul Mama is very simple. You pay for the size of bowl you would like and then fill it with rice and either four or five other dishes from their buffet depending on the size of the bowl you order.

I decided to start with a courgette, leek and tomato soup which was very nice - not too tomatoey, which (for me) is good. It was actually quite filling and I was wondering how much of the buffet I would actually be able to eat. No matter - I would give it a good try anyway.

The buffet was fairly extensive with a range of hot dishes and cold salads. However, a lot of it was fairly standard veggie fare and tended towards the curry side of world cuisine. Aside from the curries, there were a couple of other veggie staples - pasta and tomato sauce and moussaka.

Now, don't get me wrong, just because I think the menu was fairly standard doesn't mean that it wasn't good. For my part I had saffron rice, vegetable satay, spicy lentils, noodle salad, potato and rice balls and pepper and tomato chutney. With the exception of the lentils, which I found were a bit floury and dry the rest was pretty good. The potato balls were very nice as was the satay - which was quite spicy. The noodle salad didn't have a huge amount of taste, but provided a good antidote to the spicyness of the satay, so I was glad it was there. The portions were ample and you had the choice of having it all served in a single bowl or in a prison/school dinner--style compartmentalised tray.

I didn't have room for a pudding, but they all looked rather tempting.

The staff were very good and had no problem with us waiting for a good half hour or so for another of our number to turn up, despite the fact that we were taking up one of their large tables. The prices are reasonable too. There are plenty of restaurants serving veggie food in St Kilda and Soul Mama is the only purely vegetarian restaurant I tried during my time there so I can't recommend it over anything else, but its definitely worth a go.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Blue Train Cafe - Melbourne, Australia

Blue Train Cafe,
Southgate Landing,
Southbank, Melbourne.

We popped in here for a quick bite to eat at lunchtime. Its worth a mention as there are always a few veggie options on the menu and it's very reasonable on the purse.

I had potato and vegetable samosas with rice, cucumber raita and mango chutney, and my wife had vegetable spring rolls with chilli dipping sauce. Both were very nice and fresh tasting.

Mention must also be made of the service at the Blue Train. Upon complaining about a foul-tasting wine that we were given, they happily opened another bottle (which tasted the same incidentally) and then exchanged it for another wine without any fuss. We were just charged for the one wine. Also, enquiries about the ingredients of the dishes were happily answered. They also put a bottle of water on your table, which isn't charged for. Okay, it may only be tap water, but its a nice gesture and one that doesn't happen at many places.

Bokchoy Tang - Melbourne, Australia

Bokchoy Tang
Federation Square
Melbourne, Australia

Bokchoy Tang is a Chinese restaurant on the top floor of Federation Square in Melbourne. It seats just over 200 and, depending on where you sit, looks out over the central plaza of Federation Square.

It describes its food as "contemporary Chinese cuisine."

Chinese restaurants don't usually offer that much choice for vegetarians, so it was a pleasant surprise to see a good half dozen veggie (or veggo as the say over here) dishes on the menu.

I started with Jiao Zi which were dumplings served with a salad of julienne potato & red vinegar dipping sauce on-the-side. The menu offers both a meat and a vegetarian version of the dumplings and the veggie version had what appeared to be cabbage or seaweed and shredded egg in them. It was very nice. The julienne potato was very interesting. It looked like some kind of noodle, but appeared to have been made from a single piece of potato. Again, it was very tasty.

For main course I had North Chinese Country-Style Tofu Box which constisted of three 'boxes' made from tofu filled with mushrooms, fresh soy beans, carrots & bamboo shoots. This was served with soy sauce, bokchoy and steamed rice. The little tofu boxes were quite strange, to say the least and it was shortly after trying to eat one and squirting soy-sauce down my front, that I gave up trying to eat them with chopsticks and requested a spoon. Whatever the method of eating them, however, they tasted great.

My wife chose the Spicy Szechwan Chicken and has asked me to warn anyone that reads this that they really mean it when they say spicy as she had about 30 chillies in her portion!

We were too full for dessert, as the entree and main meal portions were quite sizable and the bill (including a glass of wine each) came to around A$90 for the two of us which works out at less than £20 each, which isn't at all bad for food this good.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Morrisons Winery, Moama, Australia

Morrisons Riverview Winery & Restaurant
2 Merool Lane
Moama, NSW, Australia

Morrison's is a winery on the New South Wales bank of the River Murray. Its setting is gorgeous and the restaurant itself looks over the river. It is only open at lunchtimes for meals and winetastings.

We started with a winetasting, working our way through around eight or so wines from a selection of whites, reds, dessert and after dinner wines.

From there we were shown to our table. The restaurant had been informed in advance that I was a vegetarian and had said that it would be no problem, they would adapt their menu accordingly. The menu itself had one main dish that was meat-free, which was stuffed vine leaves. However, once I had sat down, the waiter came over and enquired as to what restrictions I had to my diet, and said that it would be no problem to tailor any of the dishes, or to mix and match dishes to my requirements. If I wanted a risotto, he told me he would enquire as to whether a meat or vegetable stock was used and whether it could be changed if possible. What more could you ask for?

We started by ordering a couple of plates of bread and dips for the whole table. One dish was sourdough bread accompanied by olive oil and a mix of hazelnut and sesame seeds, the other was bread accompanied by three dips, one of spicy lentil, one of roasted beetroot and the other of hummus. All were lovely, the spicy lentil dip especially so. It was not unlike a dhal, but it was blended to and extremely smooth texture.

For main course, I chose the spaghetti dish that was on the menu. It came with prawns, baby spinach, chilli, and zuccini. I asked if I could have it without the prawns and could they put a few mushrooms in it if possible. No problem at all, I was told and indeed it wasn't. When the dish arrived, it was a mushroom feast. It had shitake mushrooms, field mushroom and oyster mushrooms as well as all of the other ingredients and was superb. The chilli was 'just about there' which meant it left a slight burning after-taste but didn't overwhelm the rest of the dish.

For dessert, I had a warm toffee pudding with caramel sauce, cream and ice cream. It tasted as good as it sounds and then we ordered a cheese board to share across the table. This consisted of three Aussie cheeses from King Island, a cheddar, a blue and a brie and all were as tasty as their European counterparts.

All in all, it was a great meal and the service was spot on. If you're down this part of the world I recommend you put aside a lunchtime to visit Morrison's Winery.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Echuca - Moama

I've now been in the Echuca-Moama region of Australia for around a week now and I'm pleased to report that it is very veggie-friendly. I've been checking menus as I've been making my way around and just about all have some kind of veggie option available. Even in the small villages, like Maldon, the cafes will have vegetable pies, or samosas available.

Ordering off-menu hasn't been a problem and everywhere that I've been have been more than happy to switch ingredients around to accomodate my diet. I'll be posting a review shortly of a meal I had at Morrisons Winery which was, quite frankly amazing. The waiter took time to go through the menu explaining which dishes could be altered and which ingredients could be substituted etc.

The shops have plenty of veggie stuff, mostly soya and vegetable based, but nothing quite on the scale that we have with Quorn and Linda McCartney back in the UK. The best thing though, is the abundance of fresh ingredients and having had the facilities to be able to cook for the last week, its been great.

Tomorrow, we're off to Melbourne for the remainder of our holiday, and I'm hoping to visit some good restaurants there, so expect some more reviews to be posted over the next few days.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Border Inn Hotel - Moama, Australia

Border Inn Hotel

The Border Inn Hotel advertises its food services as a cafe bar, but I think it underestimates itself. In the UK it would be proudly promoting itself as a gastropub or something of similar quality. The “cafe bar” occupies one half of the Border Inn Hotel in Moama on the New South Wales-Victoria border and it is neat, tidy and well laid out with polished wooden tables. It has an extensive menu including meat, pasta and fish dishes. There are a couple of options on the menu which are marked as vegetarian, which is nice to see. There was also a mushroom and red wine risotto which is made with vegetable stock and is vegetarian, despite not being marked as so, which with the salads gives a reasonable veggie selection.

We started with cheese and chive foccacia bread. This turned out to be a huge slab of foccacia, which was extremely light, soaked through with butter and then seasoned with chives. Sound good? It was, and it would be easy to munch your way through loads of it and not leave any room for a main course. However I resisted this and left room for a main course.

For the main course, I had home made pumpkin gnocci with spinach and pine nuts. It was good to have my faith in gnocci restored after the last couple of examples I've had. This was firm, fairly light and served in a cheesy sauce. I'm pleased to say that the amount of spinach in the dish didn't overwhelm it – for me at least, as I'm not a huge spinach lover – and the toasted pine nuts gave the dish the occasional crunchy interlude.

I was pretty full, but forced myself to have the golden syrup pudding. The top part was really syrupy and sweet (just the way I like it) where the golden syrup had soaked through but the bottom was a bit dry. The dish was served with ice cream and this helped to counteract it.

All the dishes were presented very nicely, the sort of presentation I would expect to see in a top UK restaurant, the service very friendly and the prices (especially when compared to the UK) are very reasonable. You ordered your own drinks at the bar, on which was a jug of iced water for you to help yourself – which I think is a great idea and one that should be universally adopted.

We made a second visit to the Border Inn a few days later. It was good to see that a vegetarian dish had made it onto the specials board, although this may well have been because I knew the chef. This time I had pumpkin, pesto, pinenut and blue cheese lasagne. It was very tasty, and the pumpkin was very sweet. The blue cheese was not overly prevalent, which was nice as it was a pleasant surprise when you came across it.

The other diners said their food was just as tasty. The only downside on this occasion was the service. After a promising start, we ended up having to clear the plates ourselves from the table and had to get up to order our desserts and find our own cutlery. At one point we even had to summon a waitress for a couple on an adjoining table who had yet to have their order taken! However, I am assured by regular visitors to this establishment that this is the exception rather than the rule and that the normal service in this restaurant is usually very good.

Emirates Airline


Flying to Australia is definitely where long haul lives up to its name. Previously I've flown with QANTAS and the food has been variable to say the least. In fact QANTAS holds the award for the worst tofu meal I have ever eaten – it was like eating a block of soap.

This time we flew with Emirates, and after seeing the large range of diets that they had available for their in-flight meals, I was eager to see what their vegetarian meals would be like.

On the first leg, from London to Dubai, I was presented with a vegan meal of tofu, rice and a mixture of peas and carrots. Accompanying this were a roll, a pack of cheese biscuits and two salads, one consisting of chick peas in a spicy dressing, the other a mixture of various lettuce leaves and a tomato. For dessert there was mixed fruit. It was okay. In fact, considering it was airline food, it wasn't bad. The tofu was marinaded in something, which gave it a bit of flavour and the salads were nice.

The main meal on the leg from Dubai to Singapore was a breakfast of mushrooms, a small jacket potato with the insides scooped out and replaced with baked beans, tomato and spinach. The mushrooms and potato were pretty much as you would expect them, and as I'm not a huge tomato or spinach fan (at least not when they are served on their own) I didn't eat them.

For the last leg of the journey, from Singapore to Melbourne, I was given spaghetti in a tomato sauce. I have to say that this was really nice. And, despite the fact it was only a small portion, it was quite filling. Accompanying this was a salad, that included a vegetarian sushi and a roll with cream cheese. Dessert was a toffee sponge with jam sauce. Again, this was quite pleasant.

There were other snacks served (a completely uninspiring asparagus roll springs to mind) throughout the journey and overall I thought the food was as good as any other airline I have been on.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

TexMex - Viva Las Vegas Reunion

Last weekend, the gang that went to Las Vegas got together to reminisce about the holiday and share their photos.

I had volunteered (or been volunteered - I can't remember which) to cook, so the question was - what to have to eat?

We decided that a Mexican meal would bring back memories of the meal we had in Las Vegas.

To start with I cooked a Corn and Red Chilli Chowder which was accompanied with Soda Bread (memories of San Francisco there.) The chowder consisted of a puree of creamed corn, onions and tomatoes to which was added corn kernals, red peppers, chillies, potatoes and stock. Once cooked a swirl of cream and some chopped parsley completed the dish. It must've been nice as I was asked for the recipe.

Soda Bread is fun to make and, I've found, quite messy. It's quick, as you don't need to wait for the bread to prove and very tasty.

For the main course we did a selection of dishes. My wife did a couple of salads and made some guacamole. I'm not a huge fan of guacamole, but homemade stuff is always much nicer that the shop bought version, and this was no exception. It was very spicy and made a perfect accompaniment to the quorn fajitas. We also made chicken fajitas for the non-veggies that were there.

Also on the table were peppers stuffed with beans and cheese; rice with tomato, carrots and green beans; flautas - tortilla wraps filled with feta cheese, peppers and seeds; chilli potato cakes and a couple of salsas. All rather nice, even if I do say so myself. One of the salsas was made with chipotles en adobe, and I highly recommend using this as, as well as being very spicy, it has a fantastic smoky flavour.

We had a great idea for dessert. We found a company that would create edible photos ( You email them a photo and they then sent you a version of the photo created in edible ink. The turnaround was really quick and the quality of the picture was excellent.

Initially we we going to get a cake for and ice it with the photo of the gang at the Stratosphere Tower. We eventually decided that we would make an iced trifle. It was different, but worked really well and every one ate their own heads, which must have some psychological meaning, I'm sure...

The meal was accompanied by several different kinds of margheritas (including strawberry and mango and peach if my memory serves me correctly) which were rather nice. All in all it was a great evening. Thanks to all those who helped out in the kitchen with the food and the drinks.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Fifteen Trattoria, London

Westland Place,
London N1 7LP

Last night I made another trip to Fifteen, the restaurant run by Jamie Oliver. This time however I was to be eating in the trattoria rather than the downstairs restaurant.

I met my friend in the bar and we were shown to our table. We both had antipasti to start, which was delivered to the table on a wooden board. We had explained to the waiter that I was vegetarian, and he made sure that the meat for the antipasti was brought on a side-plate. The antipasti included olives, squash, beetroot, chard, caramelised onion, mozzarella, baby carrots and other stuff that I forget. It was all very nice, but I have to make special mention of the squash that had an amazing flavour and was cooked to perfection, including its skin.

We decided that we would do the whole primi, secondi thing so, as there were no veggie options on the secondi menu, after a brief chat with the waiter, I decided that I would have two dishes from the primi menu.

First off I chose the four-cheese tortellini with a sage butter sauce. The pasta was cooked just right, the filling was very tasty and the sage butter divine. All in all, a perfect primi, I couldn’t fault it at all.

Next up I had gnocchi with treviso (if I remember correctly). I have to say that this was very disappointing indeed. When it arrived, the dish looked good, but upon further inspection the gnocchi itself appeared to me not much more than mashed potato. To be honest, I can’t imagine how it would hold together if it was dropped into boiling water. The sauce was okay and would’ve been fine with a more robust gnocchi, but what I effectively ended up with was mashed potato in a cheesy sauce.

Fortunately, the dessert rescued the situation. I had a pannacotta with grappa which was lovely.

The trattoria experience is different to the restaurant experience that I described in an earlier blog. It’s more of a ‘standard’ restaurant (if there is such a thing) and appears to be a lot busier – not necessarily in numbers of people, more in the atmosphere of the place - but the service was up to the same standard as the restaurant. Next to our table was a blackboard that listed the breakfast menu. It all sounds very nice, so I think a morning visit will have to be arranged sometime.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

San Bas, Westerham

San Bas,
1 Market Square,

San Bas is the new name for San Basilio, an Italian restaurant in Westerham, so the menu informed us. The restaurant itself is on the main road through Westerham on the A25 and is very well presented both inside and out.

Lats night we visited for our wedding anniversary. The front part of the restaurant was taken up with a rather good jazz trio who kept us entertained throughout the evening with a nice selection of songs from the likes of Nina Simone.

I started with a goats cheese crottin served with various bits of salad and a honey dressing. It was quite nice, however there wasn't quite enough dressing to take the dry edge off of the cheese, so by the end of the dish it was quite difficult to finish - it reminded me of one of those cream-cracker eating competitions where your mouth completely dries up leaving you unable to swallow. In contrast my wife had a twice-baked applewood cheese souffle with tomato compote that was stunning. I only had a mouthful, but I really wish I'd ordered that. The souffle was lovely and the compote had a gourgeous smoky flavour that complemented the applewood perfectly.

For the main course I ordered a cep gnocchi with shaved truffle. I say 'ordered' because the gnocci dish that turned up didn't appear to have any ceps in it whatsoever, but did have rather a lot of artichokes. I was a bit miffed about the lack of ceps - those of you who have read other reviews here will know of my love of funghi - but the dish was very tasty (and I do like artichokes) so I decided not to make a fuss.

The dish it was served in was like a square dessert bowl, and it was full to the brim with the gnocchi. I managed to make my way through about two thirds of the dish before giving up, mostly through being full but partly through boredom. That's not really being unkind it's just that I felt the dish would have better if it had been served on a flat plate with half the amount. My wife had a chicken dish which, she said, was very nice indeed.

The dessert menu had a creme brulee on so, following Gaz's Dessert Rules, there was only the one choice. And it started so well. The top was a nice colour, crispy and not too thick and the custard was smooth, and very tasty. No vanilla seeds, which was a shame - I always prefer it when vanilla pods are used. However, after a couple of spoonfuls I notice a hard substance at the bottom of the ramekin. I'm not sure what it was - it had a very strong taste of vanilla, so maybe something had separated out of the custard somehow during cooking. Whatever, it prevents this particular brulee from rising above a six on the scale, whereas it could've been on for somewhere around an eight.

Still, even with these reservations, it was an enjoyable evening; the service was great, the food tasty and the jazz band really created a nice atmosphere.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Saturday Morning at Leiths

Leiths School of Food and Wine
21 St Alban’s Grove
LondonW8 5BP

Tel: 020 7229 0177

Leiths is the cookery school where they teach many of the chefs for world class restaurants. They run professional diploma courses as well as courses for enthusiastic amateurs.

Among the latter are their Saturday morning courses where you get to cook a three course meal in one of their kitchens and then eat it for lunch. A couple of times a year the course has a meat-free menu and I attended one of these last Saturday.

The day started in a demo room where we were introduced to the course and told the various safety procedures. Everyone was then divided into groups and told which kitchens we would be working in. There were sixteen people to a kitchen and three (I think) kitchens, so you can see that these courses are pretty popular.

Each kitchen had two tutors and somebody to wash up the mess we made during the day, which was good. Leiths recognise that a lot of people are given these courses as presents or go along because they enjoy cooking and they make sure that it's as enjoyable as possible.

The menu for the day was Parmesan and pear rarebit with hot buttered radishes to start, followed by Open ravioli with warm lemon and rocket pesto and roast vine tomatoes. For dessert we were to make cappucino brulee.

We were talked through the recipes and then paired up to cook the meal. I was interested to see if any of the techniques that would be taught were any different to those I had learnt at Cordon Vert, but they were the same, which was comforting.

Everything went pretty smoothly, except for a brief moment when I accidently (and spectacularly) 'flambeed' the radishes. I'd never even considered cooking radishes before, but trust me, they taste really good having been sauteed in butter and lemon juice.

The main course was quite tasty. I've made a fair bit of pasta and pesto before, but not with rocket, and it was rather nice.

The brulee was devine. It could've been set slightly more, but time constraints meant that it was in the fridge for less time than it should've been. Had it been served to me in a restaurant, it would've been around a seven on Gaz's creme brulee scale - so not bad for my first effort.

It was a really enjoyable morning, topped off with great food. I picked up a few ideas and it was great to cook in a 'professional' kitchen. The staff were helpful and patient. I'd recommend it if you fancy trying something different or you know someone who loves cooking and want to get them a different kind of present for a birthday or similar.

They also do other, midweek, courses where they concentrate on a single skill, pastry or sauces for example. I'm keeping my eye out for convenient dates, as I'm always keen to brush up my skills.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Little Bay, Croydon

Little Bay
32 Selsdon Rd
South Croydon CR2 6PB

A little while back I reviewed my visit to Little Bay in Farringdon. Despite the restricted choices for veggies, the food was so good and the price so reasonable that I decided to visit another of their branches, this time in Croydon.

From the outside, Croydon's Little Bay looks like a Swiss chalet, and the wooden beams and decor inside the front part of the restaurant continues that theme. The rear of the restaurant has the red and gold decoration (including the "big head") that those who have visited the Farringdon branch will be familiar with.

The food in this branch is as well presented and tasty as the Farringdon restaurant - I recommend the Feta Terrine for starters - and the service was great. We arrived for our meal around 6pm and took advantage of the lower pre-7 prices. For two starters, two mains, a side of chips, two desserts, bread and drinks it cost us a total of £24 plus tip. That's amazing for the quality of the food we had. As well as the terrine mentioned earlier that we had for starters, I had Goats Cheese tortilla with artichokes & peppers for main which was very tasty and my wife had pork medallions with coriander & chilli mash. For dessert we both had the apple cake with custard and ice cream - yumm.

Little Bay in Croydon is now on our list of restaurants to visit again, as it's not too far from where we live and, if there's a Little Bay near you, I recommend you to do the same.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Food For Thought, Covent Garden

Food For Thought
31 Neal Street
Covent Garden
London WC2

Lunchtime in Covent Garden offers a few choices for vegetarians, and one of the most popular is Food for Thought in Neal Street.

When we arrived, the doors were only just opening and there was a queue of half a dozen or so people outside. We joined the queue and very soon more people were behind us.

Food for Thought has a sit down restaurant downstairs and a takeaway section upstairs. From the menu boards, they both seem to sell the same stuff.

To say that the downstairs restaurant is cosy is an understatement. However, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, as I can imagine that all sorts of converstations are struck up by people forced to share tables. It isn't really the place to sit and enjoy a long, leisurely meal, its more the kind of place that you pop in, fill up and then leave, so even if its full, it probably wouldn't take too long for a space to become available.

You select your food from a counter, pay and then take your seat. I had butternut squash and apricot soup with coriander pesto and Jamaican Blackbean Hotpot. My wife had a moussaka and a salad. The soup was quite nice, the apricot gave it a slight sweet taste. The hotpot was tasty, but on tasting a bit of the moussaka, I noticed that the tastes of both were very similar. Still, it was filling, and just the kind of thing that would warm you up on a cold day. The salad was lovely. Best of all, are the prices. For the two of us, it cost us around fifteen pounds. Not bad at all for a hot filling meal in the West End.

Overall, I wouldn't choose this restaurant for a 'meal out'. But if I just needed a quick, hot meal at a reasonable price then I certainly wouldn't overlook Food for Thought.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Carnevale, London

135 Whitecross Street
London EC1Y 8JL
Tel: 020 7250 3452

Last night I made a return visit to Carnevale, near Moorgate. This time, I've the opportunity to do a better review and mention some of the dishes that we ate. I was accompanied by an actor friend of mine, who was over the moon because he had just been complimented on his art by what he described as 'proper actors.'

Carnevale is very cosy and has, at most, a dozen tables. There is a covered 'yard' out the back where there are a couple of tables which the staff quaintly refer to as 'the garden' and we were seated there.

The menu was better than the last time I was there, with a couple of extra dishes in each section. However, my first choice of starter (potato gnocci in a cep sauce) was unavailable so I started with a brioche with spinach, wild mushrooms and a soft poached egg. The brioche was very nice, the bread was a bit soggy by the end, but I'm not sure you can do much about that, spinach does tend to hold vast amounts of liquid. The egg was just right for me, not too runny, but not too hard so the yolk stayed on the bread rather than trying to explore the whole plate.

My friend enjoyed his starter of fried halloumi and salad. Apparently, according to other diners, the butternut squash soup was very good too.

For main course we both plumped for Breaded Aubergine stuffed with Smoked Mozzarella and Ricotta. This was served with Romesco Sauce and Green Beans. I'm always interested to see what different chefs can do with aubergine and this was really good. The aubergine was so tender, that you probably wouldn't have known it was there. However, this did mean that it's taste (such as it is) was somewhat overwhelmed by the cheese and the sauce, but I think it was there to provide a base and hold everything together - which it did.The sauce went well with the other ingredients and was tomatoey and spicy without being overpowering. On the side of the dish was a green salad. All very good and my friend was very impressed.

The dessert menu had a rasberry crème brulee, so I had to have it - real vanilla, topping suitably crispy, served chilled but not too chilled - about 8/10 on the creme brulee scale. My friend had a vegan white chocolate pudding with summer fruits (which were primarily strawberries.) He was surprised that it tasted so good, and I think, was tempted to lick the bowl clean. All this plus coffees and drinks for £25 each plus a few quid for a tip.

The food is of a high standard, and has none of the 'hippy health food' connotations that many people seem to think that vegetarian restaurants have, this was almost fine dining - the food was presented really well and I don't remember a single lentil on the menu. The service was friendly and prompt and the atmosphere is pretty good although, because of the closeness of the tables, when it gets busy it's difficult to hold a private conversation, but nice and easy to listen in to other peoples! Overall, I think the menu has improved since my last visit and it was pretty good back then.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Tony Tobin @ The Dining Room, Reigate

Tony Tobin @ The Dining Room
59 High Street

Tel: 01737 226 650

It's nice when you ring up a top restaurant to ask if they have a vegetarian option on their menu to be told that they have a vegetarian menu. And so it was with Tony Tobin @ The Dining Room.

Tony Tobin is probably known to most people from his appearances on Ready Steady Cook and he took over this particular restaurant in 2001.

The restaurant itself is above the shops and were shown to a window table that looked out over Reigate High Street.

The veggie menu isn't bad, and there are three choices for both starter and main courses. I chose Rich Cepes Risotto for starters and Roasted Root Vegetable Kromseki with Garlic Mash and Braised Puy Lentils.

While waiting, we were presented with a choice of breads including cheese, sundried tomato and herb.

The starters arrived. Unfortunately, there had been a mix up and I was presented with the risotto from the set menu, on which was sitting a lump of fois gras. Not the best dish to set before a vegetarian. Still, the error was sorted out quickly without fuss and the vegetarian risotto arrived with apologies, so no harm done.

The risotto was well presented, suitably gloopy and the cepes had a nice smoky flavour.

The main course consisted of roasted parsnips, roast carrots, wild mushrooms, spinach and puy lentils inside a ring of garlic mashed potato. On top of this was a ball of potato, tomato and thyme (I think) that had been cooked to give it a crispy coating. The vegetables and lentils were really tasty and something in the mix gave it a bit of a kick. The garlic mash was incredibly smooth, creamy and had a wonderful flavour. The potato ball on that sat on the top of the vegetables had its own flavour and finished the dish off nicely.

For dessert I had a dish which I think was described as a Banana Tatin (or similar). What arrived on the plate wasn't far off a work of art. The banana had been halved lengthwise and was placed on a banana shaped pastry and then caramelised. This was served with ice cream, a biscuit and drizzled with caramel and chocolate sauce. Wow! It tasted lovely. I was terrified that the biscuit was going to explode everywhere while I was trying to break off bits with my spoon, but luckily it was not to be.

The service was very good, the waiting staff very attentive and they dealt very well with the little glitch at the start of the meal. The restaurant itself is very well dressed and tidy, much as you would expect a restaurant of this calibre to be. If you've a special occasion coming up (or even if you haven't) Tony Tobin @ The Dining Room is worth a visit.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Fifteen, London

Westland Place,
London N1 7LP

To celebrate my sister's 40th birthday, she decided that she'd like to dine at the loveable mockney cheeky chops, Jamie Oliver's restaurant, Fifteen. So, last Saturday evening, having booked many moons ago, we made our way to Clerkenwell to sample the fayre.

The restaurant has a tasting menu which consists of six courses plus nibbles and coffee. They have a meat and a vegetarian version of the menu. You can also have your wine matched to each course of the menu if you wish.

I, of course, chose the vegetarian menu, but I shall let you know what the others in my party thought of the various meat dishes.

We arrived at the restaurant and the door was held open for us and our coats were taken. We had arrived early, so we sat in the bar for a while watching with interest the open kitchen in the Trattoria part of Fifteen and marvelling at the piles of anti-pasta on display.

Very shortly we were led downstairs to the restaurant and seated in one of the 'booths' against the wall. The restaurant has a 'seventies' feel to it in contrast to the modern European look of the Trattoria upstairs.

Very shortly our waiter arrived with the menus and the meal began.

First off we all had some olives with rosemary bread and oil for a few nibbles while we chose between the various options on the tasting menu. Shortly after that the sommelier arrived with some champagne (Louis Reoderer Brut Premier, NV if you're interested) and explained where it came from (Reims in France) and how it compared to the Verve Cliqout we had been drinking earlier in Kettners before arriving at Fifteen.

The olives were of the big sweet ones I mentioned in the review of The Neal Street Restaurant and were just as tasty. The accompanying bread was lovely.

The starters were served in spoons and were barely a mouthful. However, a wise man once said something about quality and quantity and the the quality was superb. For my part I was served Pickled Treviso and Roasted Beetroot with Marjoram and Horseradish. The Treivso was much as you'd expect pickled lettuce to taste, but the beetroot was something else. As someone who is more used to pickled beetroot this was somewhat of a revelation. The small square of beetroot had an amazing explosive taste brought about, I assume, by the addition of marjoram and horseradish. The others had Pork Loin with Salsa Rossa Piante and Scallop with Cauliflower and Marjoram Salmoriglio. Both were pronounced as really nice, especially by those who had not had scallops before.

Once the starters were finished, we were presented with Jamie's Fantastic Salad, a salad of buffalo mozzarella, comice pears, honey toasted almonds and a wild herb salad drizzled with Selvapiana olive oil. The only difference between the vegetarian and normal menu was the addition of prosciutto. To accompany the salad was a beautifully peachy Basa Blanco which complimented the salad perfectly.

Next up was a choice of meal. For myself I had the choice of a Mezze Lune of Squash and Chestnuts with a sage butter sauce or Gnocci with Gorgonzola, Watercress and Crushed Hazelnuts. I chose the Mezza Lune. It was divine. Even the smallest amount had huge amounts of flavour and the sage butter was gorgeous. To accompany this I was served Michelot Meursault 2002 which was, quite simply, the best Chardonnay I have ever had. The others had Papardelle with a venison ragu (pronounced “Orgasmic” by my brother in law) and Gnocchi with crab and mussels.

Now, I have to mention, that through all this the waiter and sommelier were incredibly knowledgeable and helpful and, despite the restaurant filling up, we were still made to feel like we were the most important customers there. They described each dish and wine and why the two complimented each other.
Before the next course, the waiter appeared with a mouth refresher of a Rhubarb and port sorbet. Yumm!

For the next course I had the choice of a Tartlet of Wild Mushrooms, Tuscan eggs, spinach, pecorino and truffle oil or Buffalo Ricotta Fritters. I chose the tartlet. It was okay, but a bit 'eggy' for my taste. That's not to say it wasn't nice, but it wasn't as nice as the other courses on the menu.

The choice for the others was between a slow-roasted leg of pork and Sea Bass with saffron and anchovy potatoes, lemon aioli and wood sorrel. Both apparently were extremely tasty.

The next course was the cheese course. I had a Hereford Finn and the others had Lincolnshire Poacher. Both were served on a wooden board along with a sticky date and an apricot chutney. Accompanying this was a Quinta de la Rosa Port, which matched the cheese perfectly.

For dessert we were all served Tiramisu with cappuccino ice cream, blood orange and biscotti. It was divine and when all eaten together with a leaf of the accompanying mint the combination of flavours was quite amazing. An MR Moscatel was the wine of choice here and it was lovely.

We finished the evening with a coffee, paid the bill, collected our coats and left.

We all agreed that the evening was perfect. The food was some of the best that we had ever eaten and the service was impeccable. I mentioned once, at the beginning of the meal that I would be having the vegetarian menu and I never had to remind the waiter when the food was delivered. The wine selection for the veggie menu was different to the meat one and, once again, I never once had to tell the sommelier that it was me that was the vegetarian. Even when we picked our coats up at the end of the meal, we didn't have to mention who we were or what table we were at – the correct coats were handed to us. Now, Fifteen isn't cheap, but we all agreed that the whole experience was superb and well worth the money. And that's what it was. It was more than a meal, it was an experience, and an experience that none of us could stop talking about on the way home, and one that we are all keen to repeat sometime.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Treble Tile, Colchester

This is an update to my earlier post.

I went here again at the weekend. The owner has moved on to pastures new and taken his chef with him. The menu is similar, but more expensive and there aren't as many veggie options as there were on previous visits. The food was okay, and the creme brullee was still amongst the best I've had. It remains to be seen whether it can keep the reputation that it has built over the years. One change is that you can now reserve tables. If you go there, let me know what its like.

Little Bay, Farringdon

Little Bay
171 Farringdon Rd
London EC1R 3AL

I met up with a friend of mine in the Jerusalem Tavern near the Farringdon tube station. The pub sits unassumingly on Britton Street in Clerkenwell and one could easily walk past it. It is straight out of Victorian London and on a foggy night, you wouldn't be a bit surprised to see Sherlock Holmes or Bill Sykes coming out of the premises.

Inside, the pub does not disappoint with its wooden floors, odd nooks and crannies, balconies and a small bar serving excellent stout and grapefruit beer. I recommend it (both the pub and the beer.)

From there we wandered up the road, past the Guardian building and on to the Little Bay restaurant. My friend described it as looking like MacDonald's gone Greek, but that's probably a bit unkind. The interior is fairly cosy, with the tables fairly close and the decoration is mostly red and gold with many Mediterranean motives (including a huge golden Zeus head) around the walls and ceiling.

Now, onto the important stuff – the food.

There isn't a lot of veggie stuff on the menu – a couple of starters and one main, but what there was, was very nice. As for the prices, we'll come to that later.

For starters I had flat mushrooms, stuffed with spinach & blue cheese. They tasted fine – much like you'd expect really. It was presented really nicely on the centre of a large plate and the surrounded by a drizzle of oil and balsamic vinegar.

For main course I had baked aubergine with grilled vegetables, chick peas and goat's cheese. Again, this was presented really nicely. A long slice of aubergine was laid along the centre of the plate, the grilled vegetables were laid on top along with the chick peas and finally a couple of rounds of goat's cheese were laid on top. It tasted great, the vegetables were cooked just about perfectly and the cheese topped it off nicely.

For dessert I had spiced pears in red wine with vanilla pannacotta which was lovely. The pears were nicely flavoured and the pannacotta was very smooth with a 'melt in your mouth' texture. My friend had the apple cake which I had a taste of and it was divine. I shall have a full portion on my next visit.

So, what would you expect to pay for beautifully presented really tasty food like this? At Little Bay it depends what time you get there. Before 7pm, at the time of writing, starters and desserts are £1.95 and mains are £5.95. After 7pm, the starters and desserts are a pound dearer at £2.95 and the mains are £7.95. My friend and I had three courses plus drinks and coffee for around £20 each. For a London restaurant as good as this, that's amazing!

Little Bay has several restaurants around London in addition to Farringdon, in Battersea, Kilburn, Fulham and Croydon. Looking at the website, the menus in each are subtly different, but the prices are the same. I'm quite keen to give one of the others a go.

Friday, January 27, 2006

A Very Veggie Burns

People always give me funny looks whenever I mention veggie haggis, but I usually find that after they've tried it they really like it, especially when they've turned their nose up at the thought of 'real' haggis.

We've held veggie Burns Suppers for a few years now and they're really good fun. I've no Scottish connections other than having been bought a “Laird title” as a birthday present, but my wife is of Scots descent on her mother's side so we've a bit of a reason to be able to celebrate.

This year we had a few friends round for the evening of the 25th - the anniversary of Robert Burns birth - to have our own version of a Burns Supper.

After a short speech and the Selkirk Grace given in my best Scots accent we began with leek & potato soup, which I like to call pot-a-leekie soup. This was just potatoes and leeks boiled up in a stock with salt, pepper and a couple of bay leaves thrown in.

This makes a fairly chunky soup, reasonably tasty soup that started the Supper off perfectly.

This was then followed by the Address to the Haggis – including the traditional stabbing – followed by the haggis itself served with tatties and neep patties. The patties were made by mashing the potatoes and swede together and then frying them. The haggis was primarily Macsweens, which is my favourite of the veggie haggises available, with a glass of whisky poured over it just before serving. Try it – it makes a huge difference. We also had a Stahly haggis – this comes in a tin, and is a devil to get out – and is also prone to exploding when you cut the skin, so be careful. The Stahly haggis is a lot more sloshy than the Macsweens and doesn't have such a spicy flavour as the Macsweens.

For dessert, we had Tipsy Laird which is essentially a sherry trifle made with sponge soaked in sherry and brandy and then covered in raspberry jam. This was then covered by layers of raspberries, bananas, custard, cream and finally topped with toasted almonds.

The meal was finished off with a cheeseboard that comprised, amongst others Highland Blue and Mull of Kintyre cheddar cheeses with pears and oatcakes.

Once the cheese was polished off we broke out the Scotch and began reading selections of Burns' poems and songs with each reader having to wear a tam-o-shanter that was passed around. The evening finally finished with a rousing version of Auld Lang Syne. Much food was eaten, much wine and Scotch was drunk and a good time was had by all.