Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Pink Giraffe, Oxford

43b St Clements Street
Oxford OX4 1AG Map

If you've got an aversion to "mock" meat products then the Pink Giraffe is probably not the place for you. As well as the "vegetarian" chicken, beef, pork, ham and duck it has bean curd and vegetable dishes on the menu. It is the most extensive vegetarian menu I have ever see at a Chinese restaurant.

They offer several set menus, including ones for meat, vegetarian and vegan.

We chose to have one of the vegetarian ones and started with a very spicy vegetarian Tom Yum soup, that was absolutely packed with vegetables. This was followed by salt and peppered bean curd and "vegetarian chicken" satay.

Once we'd finished this, "vegetarian beef" in black bean sauce, "vegetarian chicken" in wine and hot garlic sauce, bean curd in yellow bean sauce and rice were delivered to the table. It was all quite tasty, but there was probably a little to much of the mock meat for me, I would've preferred a few more vegetable dishes mixed in.

Given that it is now around fifteen years since I gave up meat, my memory of what it tastes and feels like is probably pretty bad. However, the textures brought back a few memories and the "beef" was scarily real. However you feel about meat substitutes. if you look at it just as an ingredient to add texture and taste to a meal, then it works quite well in these dishes.

The portions were a good size, and I was too full for any dessert. With drinks and a tip, the meal was about £20 per head, which I think was a bargain.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Mooli, Tunbridge Wells

57 - 59 Calverley Road,
Tunbridge Wells TN1 2UY Map

One of our favourite restaurants when I lived near Edenbridge was the Gurkha Kitchen in Oxted. When Atul Kochhar, of Benares mentioned in an Observer interview that it was in his top five Indian restaurants in the UK, we were really pleased for them.

When I heard that they were opening a sister restaurant in Tunbridge Wells, called Mooli, it was immediately put on our list of places to visit.

We popped in on Saturday evening shortly after they opened on the off-chance that they might be able to fit us in. They said that we could have a table until 8pm, which suited us fine.

While we were perusing the menu, we were presented with spicy poppadums and pickles. Personally, I would have preferred plain poppadums as the spices detracted from the taste of the pickles, a couple of which were very good.

The menu is very similar to the Gurkha Kitchen, and I started with Dayalu, potato cakes made with lentils, spinach and fresh herbs, served with sesame pickle. They were very tasty. My wife had prawns, which she said were lovely and went extremely well with the mint puree that they were served with.

For the main course, we both chose dishes that were favourites in Oxted. I had Chayu which was mushrooms filled with lightly spiced cheese, peppers, tomatoes and onions, served on a sizzling platter. They had a sweet spicy flavour and were just as good as I remember. My wife had a lamb dish, which she said was really good. To accompany the main courses we had beans and cabbage in soy sauce, and potatoes and courgettes in a spice and herb sauce. The beans were great and went really well with the mushrooms, providing a nice counterpoint for the spicy/sweet filling of the mushrooms. The potatoes, were nothing to write home about, next time we're there I shall try something else. We also tried out the Patina Patre, an unleavened bread with mint, which made a pleasant change to a plain naan.

It took a while for the dessert to arrive, but when it did, we found out why. My wife chose a fruit platter, which was huge! It had banana, red and green grapes, apple, pineapple, orange and kiwifruit, all of which were sliced and presented nicely - the pineapple especially. This is really a dish to share.

I had heard good things about the Holy Sweet -grated carrots cooked in milk, honey and nuts and served with vanilla ice cream. I always like to try something a little different if its on the menu. The aubergine dessert I had at Tas is still something I still talk about and I have to say, Holy Sweet is probably going to be the same. It was gorgeous, tasting similar to a sticky toffee pudding. It was also nice to see little dots of real vanilla seeds in the ice cream.

The food was great and presented nicely and the service was good. An apology for the delayed dessert came without prompting and a dropped spoon was retrieved and replaced almost without me noticing.

So, what was the damage? For the food, a couple of white wines and a cobra (well you have to, don't you?) and service, it came to about sixty quid. Not bad at all and we're both keen to go back.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Return to Thackerays

Last weekend, my wife and I had the chance to return to Thackerays along with an ex-collegue of mine and her husband. We had decided beforehand that we would go for the tasting menu and I gave them a call during the week before to ask if they would do a vegetarian tasting menu for me. I was told that it would be no problem and I spent the next few days in anticipation of what I would get.

The only table we could book was fairly early and when we arrived they were still getting the restaurant ready, so we sat in the bar with a drink while we chose which options we would have from the menu. Thackeray's have a vegetarian menu, and for the tasting menu I had one of the starters as an appetiser and the other as a starter. I then had a choice from the mains section of the menu, and would then join the others for a choice of desserts.

Very shortly, we were shown to our table, and once we were comfortable, a truffled mushroom veloute amuse bouche arrived. It was served in an espresso cup, which was lucky as it was deliciously rich and it would have been very difficult to have a lot of it.

Next came the appetiser. I had chosen to have a butternut squash risotto which was lovely and this was followed by a starter of goats cheese and beetroot parfait, which I had had on my last visit.

This was followed by a lemongrass granita which was extremely refreshing and left my pallette cleansed ready for the next course.

For the main course I had an open ravioli of mixed vegetables which had a really interesting mix of sweet and sour flavours. It was very enjoyable.

For dessert I had Chocolate, Hazelnut and Banana Torte which was very nice, and I also had a taste of the Apple Tarte Tatin which was really delicious.

We decided to have the accompanying wines that were matched to the food, and they worked very well. One surprise was a Pinot Noir that accompanied the monkfish that my wife had, but she said it worked.

The food was really good - there is nothing to match it in Tunbridge Wells - however, the service this time was slightly lacking. None of the wine glasses were removed from the table, meaning that by the end of the night we each had half a dozen of them sitting in front of each of us. There was a long wait for coffee and then a longer wait for the petit fours, which really should have arrived with the coffee. Thackeray's used to have a Michelin star, and this is something they'll have to brush up on if they are to get it back.

Apart from that, it was a truly enjoyable night, there was no pressure to leave which meant that we all had plenty of time to catch up on the latest gossip over some good food and wine.