Friday, May 30, 2008

Raj Mahal, Tiptree

Station Road
Tiptree, CO5 0AZ Map

The Raj Mahal was my local Indian restaurant when I lived in Essex. It's been through a few names over the years - "Tiptree Tandoori" and "Balti Raj" are a couple that I remember. At the moment it's calling itself the Raj Mahal. Every so often, when I visit friends and family over that way I pop in for a take-away or a meal.

They do a great Vegetarian Set menu that includes Aloo Puri, Vegetable Balti, Vegetable Mossala, Vegetable Samosas, Bombay Aloo, Pilau Rice and a Naan. This is a meal for two, but there is so much there, that with an extra rice it is easily enough for three or even four if you're not overly hungry. It all tastes great, especially the balti and the mossala and at about £20, it's a bargain!

Dedham Art & Craft Centre, Dedham

The Dedham Art and Craft Centre is a converted church in the middle of Constable country. It has three floors of furniture, crafts and pictures and tucked away in the corner of the ground floor is the tearoom.

It claims to be totally vegetarian, however when we popped in for lunch the blackboard advertised a dish with tuna in it. Aside from that however, the rest of the menu was meat and fish free.

I started with a broccoli and stilton soup which was very nice. Not too strong, it had a nice cheesy taste. It was served with a couple of slices of sliced bread and would've been much nicer with a fresh roll, or a chunk of unsliced bread.

Following the soup, I chose one of the quiches that was on the menu. There were quite a few of them and I had one with Brie and Cranberry. I'm not a big fan of quiche, but this one was really nice. It came with the choice of salad or jacket potato, and I had the potato.

I was there with my parents and they had a vegetable and herb crumble which I tried a mouthful or two of. Again, it was very nice. Oh, and the portions are very good.

The service was very friendly and the prices are reasonable. If you're in Essex and want a tasty, filling lunch then pop along to the Dedham Craft Centre.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Brasserie Blanc, Tunbridge Wells

Five Ways,
Lime Hill Road,
Tunbridge Wells TN1 1LJ map

I'm quite a big fan of Raymond Blanc, having eaten and cooked at Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, and received a signed copy of Blanc Vite, which has some great veggie recipes in it, for my birthday.

I'd heard and read some very mixed reviews of Blanc Brasserie, but I was keen to try it out for myself so, on a bright and sunny Saturday lunchtime, we popped along to give it a go. As it was such a nice day we decided to sit outside on the shaded patio.

They offer a set lunch menu called "Dine with Wine" which I decided to try. This offers two courses for £11.50 or three courses for £14 each with a glass of wine. My wife decided that she didn't fancy anything from there and decided to order from the a la carte.

For the first course I had Smoked Potato Croquettes with Cranberry Dip. The croquettes were very nice and had a deep smoky flavour. They didn't, however, go with the dip at all. My wife had Maman Blanc’s Miscellany of Salads which was a selection of different salads dotted around a plate.

It looked really pretty and some of the salads were very tasty, especially the tomato one, which had a dressing that was made to be soaked up with the remaining bread on the table.

For my main course I had a Goats' Cheese and Almond Risotto. It tasted fine, but the rice was overcooked giving it a "rice pudding" texture rather than the al-dente crunch that risotto should have. It also appeared that the chef had left the skin on the goats' cheese as I found two strips of something that I hope was the cheese skin. I dread to think what else it might have been. I pointed it out to the waiter and he looked as mystified as me, but I heard nothing more about it.

My wife had Salmon Fillet and Chips which she said was really nice.

The service was friendly, but a bit slow between the courses. After about a fifteen minute wait after the starters we had to enquire as to the whereabouts of our mains, but apart from that it was fine.

Overall, the lunchtime offer was reasonably good value for money, even with the overcooked risotto. The a la carte is a bit on the pricy side - starters are around £6 and mains average out around £13 -£15, although the only vegetarian main was a bargain at £7.50!

Brasserie Blanc wasn't as bad as some of the reviews I've read have suggested, but it could be better. If the a la carte menu was more reasonable, we might be tempted to go back one evening, but as it is, the quality of the menu, in my opinion, just doesn't justify the cost.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Palio, Tunbridge Wells

84 - 86 Grosvenor Road,
Tunbridge Wells, TN1 2AS map

We walk past Palio just about every time we go into Tunbridge Wells, yet it's taken us about a year to actually walk through the door.

The restaurant itself is very bright and airy and we got a friendly welcome as we entered and were shown to a table.

The menu is pretty good, with quite a few veggie options on the starters and pasta menus. They also have a pizza menu available at certain times. For starters, I had Vegetali al Forno, described as oven roasted vegetables drizzled with mint flavoured extra virgin olive oil. The dish consisted of peppers, fennel, courgette, globe artichoke, aubergine and provolone cheese. It was very nice. The artichokes, especially, had a lovely flavour and, for me, an antipasti like this is a perfect start to an Italian meal.

My wife chose a starter of Melanzane Parmagiana of which I had a taste. Now, this is one of my favourite dishes - the best I've had was at Trattoria Bagutta in Milan, so I'm a bit fussy when it comes to this dish. Palio's version was okay, but nothing special. It was obviously cut from a larger dish and tasted a bit bland.

For main course my wife had Pollo Alla Griglia, which was grilled chicken breast served on a large musgroom. The menu noted that the chicken was free-range, which was good to see. My wife said that, again, it was okay. The sauteed potatoes that were served with the chicken were very nice, tasting quite strongly of garlic.

My main course was Crespolini, spinach, ricotta and parmesan pancakes in a tomato and bechamel sauce. It arrived a the table impossibly hot, but once it cooled down, it was a quite pleasant dish, and the aforementioned potatoes did a very good job of mopping up the last of the sauce.

The portions at Palio are very generous - the vegetables I had to start could easily serve two wih some accompanying bread - and the prices are fairly reasonable. The service we had was very friendly and professional, which made a fairly regular meal that little bit better. We were discussing on the way home how much difference good or bad service can make to a meal, and we both agreed that the service at Palio made the difference for us to add it to our "one to go back to" list.

National Vegetarian Week - Friday

Today is the last day of my Vegetarian Week at work. With apologies to Carol Blymire, this is Gaz Cooks Keller as I decided to do a dish from the French Laundry Cookbook - Parmesan Crisps with Goats' Cheese Mousse.

It's a fairly easy dish to do, just a bit time consuming as you can't do too many crisps at a time or they will go crispy before you get time to shape them. The mousse is straightforward as well and is very tasty.

I also took in some Mango and Chilli Sorbet that I had made a while back. The chilli in it gives a really good "kick" after the sorbet has melted in your mouth, and it was quite fun watching the surprise and delight on my colleagues' faces when they tried it.

It's been a fun week. I've enjoyed cooking the dishes and my workmates seemed to have enjoyed eating them. If nothing else hopefully it's shown that veggie food can be tasty and exciting and is not just lentils, tofu and salad!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

National Vegetarian Week - Thursday

Last week I got a new cook book, The Vegeterranean, and I thought I'd try something new for today's offering.

The book calls it Torri di Zucchine Ripiene con Crema di Piselli, which translates to Courgette Towers Stuffed with Pea Cream.

There's a fair bit of prep with this, preparing the courgettes and making the puree, but once it's put together, it looks great and tastes pretty good too. The almonds that finish the dish off are toasted and then have icing sugar sprinkled over them. Their sweetness really goes well with the pea cream and offsets the slight bitterness of the courgette.

The courgettes and the cream both benefitted from spending some time in the 'fridge and they were well received in the office.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

National Vegetarian Week - Wednesday

Vegetable Sushi is something I did for the first time during my Cordon Vert Foundation course. Since then, I've made it several times and it always goes down well. And today was no different. In fact, it disappeared the quickest of all the food this week.

I made two sets of Nori rolls, each with different fillings. The first had carrot, red and yellow peppers, umboshi paste and wasabi, and the other had shitake mushrooms marinated in sherry and roasted red pepper. I served them with a dipping sauce made from shoyu, ginger juice and sesame oil.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

National Vegetarian Week - Tuesday

Today is an East-Meets-West dish. It's something I came across in Rose Elliot's Veggie Chic and it sounded really interesting. As it's asparagus season the dish, Sesame Roasted Asparagus with Wasabi Vinaigrette, seemed the perfect thing to try.

It's fairly quick to do. You toss the asparagus in toasted sesame oil, sprinkle with salt and pop into the oven. Then you make the vinaigrette, which is a combination of wasabi, rice vinegar and sesame oil. The book says that the sauce is better if made up to a day in advance.

I made the sauce yesterday evening and roasted the asparagus this morning before going into work. After a quick taste, I decided that sesame oil and wasabi goes extremely well with asparagus.

When I arrived at the office, there were only a half-dozen or so people in and I wondered if I'd made too much as I put out the two plates with a pile of asparagus on each.

I needn't have worried. By lunchtime, there were only a few stalks left and everyone said how much they enjoyed it.

Monday, May 19, 2008

National Vegetarian Week - Monday

National Vegetarian Week is organised by the Vegetarian Society to raise the profile of vegetarianism. This year, I decided to make a different dish every day to take into work, to show them the variety of veggie food that I eat, as I'm sure some of them think I survive on salads.

It's difficult to create a dish that would be suitable for an office and be practical for me to create, so I decided to stick to buffet-type food.

For today's dish, I decided to do something that was a bit of a favourite on the Creative Cookery Cordon Vert course that I did as part of my diploma, Leek and Courgette Mini Muffins.

The recipe is fairly easy - you finely slice some leeks and saute them with some garlic, grate some courgettes and add them to the pan, then mix all of that with some flour, curry power, paprika, onion seeds, eggs, milk and olive oil. Once it's all mixed you pop it into a mini-muffin tray and stick it in the oven for 25 minutes.

I only have a single mini-muffin tray and it only has twelve holes. As the recipe I have makes about 40 it took me a while before all forty were cooked.

Although they are quite tasty on their own, they're best eaten with a filling of cream cheese, guacamole or some kind of "dip" and I took some cheese into work to serve them with.

They seemed go down pretty well, and although there weren't tha many people in the office today, there were only two left on the plate by the end of the day, which yours truly finished off.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Tuscan Reunion

About a year ago I went to Italy to do a course at Organic Tuscany. It was great fun and we've all kept in touch since. This weekend we all met up for a meal at which I volunteered to cook.

I decided to start with a mixed antipasti, followed by an asparagus risotto for main course and finally a tiramisu for dessert.

The antipasti I based on the veggie antipasti that they do at Carluccio's. It consists roasted peppers with pesto - I used a selection of green, sundried tomato and aubergine pesto, green beans with mint and garlic, mozzarella and caponata. The caponata recipe is in Antonio Carluccio's Vegetables if you want to try it. It's the best caponata recipe I've tried, and everyone seems to enjoy it whenever I make it. If you make it, then make it the day before, as it tastes much better after the flavours have had a chance to mingle. Also, make a lot of it, as it is great stirred into pasta, as well as part of an antipasti plate.

For the main course, I did an asparagus risotto. This was one of the dishes that we made in Tuscany and, as asparagus is in season at the moment, it seemed the perfect choice. I like to drizzle a little lemon-infused olive oil around the outside of the risotto after it is plated, just to give it a little extra "something".

Finally, it was time for the tiramisu. This was a favourite on the course and this was the first time that I had got around to making it. I've always been put off of tiramisu as I always feel that it had that '70's "Abigail's Party" kind of feel to it, but I have to admit that it is a really nice dessert. I decided to go a bit "posh" and serve it in a cocktail glass, which worked quite well.

It was a great afternoon, and I hope that everyone enjoyed the food. The plates were all empty at the end of each course, so I guess that means that they did!

Friday, May 16, 2008

A Dessert to Delight!

Last week I made another trip to Benares, on yet another TopTable deal. The food and service was as good as my last visit, but I have to make a special mention of the dessert as it was something else.

The picture doesn't do it justice at all, I'm afraid.

It was described as Tandoori Banana Crumble and the plate consisted of a baked banana, topped with nuts and various crumbs accompanied by chocolate amaretti biscuits and, what I can only describe as a "pistachio milkshake," complete with straw.

On its own, the banana would have made quite a pleasant pud. However, when a scoop of the banana was eaten along with a slurp of the bright green "milkshake" the flavour was superb!

Well done to Atul Kotcher for making one of the very best desserts I have ever had.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Tunbridge Wells Bar and Grill, Tunbridge Wells

84 High Street,
Tunbridge Wells TN1 1YB Map

I've never been tempted to visit the Bar and Grill, always suspecting it to be a steak and burger joint that would give you "chips with everything".

When a colleague of mine recommended it, my wife and I decided to pop along one sunny Sunday evening.

From the moment we entered and were greeted by one of the waiters and shown to our table, I knew that my previous impression was completely wrong.

As it was a nice evening, we decided to sit in the courtyard at the back. The tables are nicely spaced to allow a good amount of privacy and the area is covered by shades making it an extremely pleasant place to eat.

There isn't an extensive menu for vegetarians, but compared to a lot of other places, it's not bad. There was a risotto, a lasagne and a Thai green curry. There are also a couple of suitable salads, and a selection on the starters menu.

We started by sharing a mezze selection that included falafels, hummus, tzatziki, pitta bread, baba ganoush, olives and filo samosas stuffed with spinach and cheese. The portion was a nice size for the two of us and it was extremely tasty, especially the samosas.

My wife had the fish and chips, with mushy peas for her main. It was all presented separately with the fish on the main plate and the chips and peas in side bowls, which gave me the chance to have a taste of them. The chips were great, although the peas were a little on the runny side for my liking.

For my main course, I chose the vegetable Thai Green Curry. It was pretty good, well presented, with sweet potato, peppers, mangetout and bok choi in a bright green, spicy sauce. It wasn't too spicy, although it did have a slight bitter taste to it and the vegetables were nice and crispy.

And so to dessert. The dessert menu had a vanilla creme brulee, however the specials menu was boasting a passionfruit version, so I had to try it.

Oh dear, oh dear... I'm not sure how they did it, but the whole dish appeared to be covered in a thin oily film and the caramelised topping was like a thin, sticky, rubber layer over the top of the custard. The custard itself tasted okay, but it was thick and gloopy rather than the nice firm custard that I like. So, I'm afraid that it only managed to scrape a two on the chart.

Apart from the creme brulee, it was great. The service was really good, from start to finish and I'm certain we'll go back. When we do, I'll try the brulee from the main dessert menu and see if they can redeem themselves.

If you decide to go, and I recommend you do, then I've been old to avoid the tables right at the back of the restaurant as they are quite dark, making it quite hard to see what you are eating.