Italian Food Adventure with Inntravel

Italy is undoubtedly one of Europe’s most famous foodie countries, and the jewel in the crown is the Emilia Romagna region. It’s where some of Italy’s most famous foods are produced. Parma ham, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and the sweet tangy balsamico di Modena… do I have your mouth watering yet?

ItalianFoodHamper

Slow travel holiday company Inntravel have recently launched their new walking, cycling and laid back holiday package to the Emilia Romagna region, covering cities like Parma, Bologna, and Modena (with an optional last night in Venice). You can check out their Italian Food Adventure holidays on their website, but in the meantime they’ve sent me a big hamper of tasty regional products to review – and one for one lucky reader! Fancy your chances of winning (and want to hear about the yummy flavours of Emilia Romagna?) Read on…

Continue reading “Italian Food Adventure with Inntravel”

I Cooked With Poo and I Liked it!

Hey everyone! Long time no write. So I’m in Chiang Mai just now, doing a wee six month trip around Southeast Asia. It’s pretty exciting, I know. When James and I started planning our trip, food was high on the agenda: as I’m sure you can imagine. As well as having a wish-list of restaurants to visit, we also decided to do a cooking course in every country.

After a bit of research I stumbled upon the excellently named Cooking With Poo, in Bangkok. After seeing a photo of Jamie Oliver wearing an apron saying “I Cooked With Poo and I Liked it!” it was settled. Come hell or high water, we’d be cooking with Poo too.

The day before we were booked in to cook with Poo I came down with the worst cold I can remember having. I was floored. My sinuses were stuffed, I could barely think. I looked (and felt) so ill that James took me by the shoulders, led me away from the laptop, and told me to go to bed. He even went to the 7-11 and bought me snacks and medicine. He’s usually very much in the “man up, it’s not that bad” school of thought, so I guess I must have looked pretty bad. I took the day off work, which I never do because I’m freelancer and sick-pay doesn’t exist for me.

The next day I still felt very rough, but I managed to drag myself out of bed at 8am. Luckily the meeting point was just two stops away from us on the SkyTrain. We hung around outside the hotel with the other intrepid cooks until our coach arrived: driven by Poo’s hubby. We got on board and were given a safety leaflet telling us how to behave in the Wet Market. The bus came to a halt and we were greeted by Poo herself. We got split into three groups, and James were lucky enough to be in Poo’s group. She led us round the market and talked us through some of the weirder delicacies. As soon as we walked in there were cages of live chickens and ducks: James remarked to me on the smell (“it stinks!”) but luckily my cold meant I couldn’t smell anything.

MarketI was a bit too mesmerised to take pictures, but oh the things I’ve seen. There were live frogs with legs bound, piles of crunchy water-beetles (thankfully dead) and a guy burning hair off a pig leg with a flame-thrower. There was a woman making wrappers for spring rolls, another stirring up big pots of sticky rice.  We even saw big vats of Thai “whiskey”: sadly we didn’t get to sample any, although we did see a guy stopping for a dram which was ladled out of a big plastic barrel into a shot glass. Every so often we’d have to jump to the side as a motorbike rattled through the thin lanes of the market.

As we waited for the bus to come back around, Poo said her goodbyes and told us she’d see us at the school. With creaking bags of mangoes and Thai basil in hand, she hailed down a passing motorbike and jumped on the back. For us it was the coach, and onwards to the Klong Toey Slum. This area of town was so colourful and full of character, it reminded me a bit of Lisbon’s Bairro Alto. Poo told us a bit about the slum’s history, and how she used to cook for her neighbours. One day a friend suggested she should start teaching foreigners how to cook Thai food, and the rest is history. Instead of letting fame go to her head, Poo still lives in the slum and remains a pillar of the community. She invests a lot of her money back into the area and helps those in need, creating jobs within the area. While we were waiting outside people were bringing their babies over to say hello to her. She often runs cooking classes for the local kids on weekends.

KlhongToey1There’s a set menu for every day of the week. We visited on a Thursday, so the first thing we made was a beef salad. This was wonderfully zingy and spicy. I put slightly less lemongrass in mine than I was supposed to because I’m not a fan. Thankfully no-one noticed/cared. Now here’s where it becomes obvious that my brain no-worky when I have a cold. Poo told us to chop the tiny birds eye chilies into big chunks if we like our food mild, and to slice it thin if we like it spicy. For some inexplicable reason I thought this was some kind of revelation and that larger chunks of chilli wouldn’t be as hot. Yep. As I was fanning my mouth after munching a 1cm lump of chilli, James explained to me that big pieces are milder as they’re easier to move to the side and eat around. Duhr.

Beef SaladAfter munching our salad we threw together a pad Thai, which was absolutely delicious and probably the best pad Thai that we’ve had in Thailand so far. It does help that we cooked it ourselves, natch. The secret is soaking your rice noodles before chucking them in the frying pan. It only took a few minutes to make, perfect for lunch time if you work from home like us. My only criticism was that the prawns were a bit overcooked for my taste (Poo’s assistants were telling us when to take our food off the heat) but I suppose it’s better to be safe than sorry in such a mixed group.

PadThaiFinally, we made a green curry soup. We all took turns at the mortar and pestle pounding the ingredients for the paste. Poo put a small teaspoon of paste in each frying pan  (“I’d have five times this much!” she explained “but I learned that foreigners don’t like it so spicy!”) I couldn’t smell anything so sadly missed out on the aroma of the spice paste frying, but I did get the full coughing and sneezing effect from the chilli. I took a bit of extra coconut milk in mine but it was still pretty powerful. Sadly, because I had the cold, I couldn’t taste the nuanced flavours of the dishes. James said the green curry was amazing and hasn’t stopped banging on about it since, so I’m glad we were given recipe cards to take home as I’ll need to make it again.

GreenCurryAfterwards we sampled a selection of Thai fruits and the country’s favourite dessert,mango with sticky rice. We browsed the gift shop (I obviously bought an ‘I Cooked With Poo and I Liked it’ apron) and then went to a handicraft shop across the way which is run by Poo’s friend. The shop sells jewellery, greeting cards, and accessories made by girls from the area. I bought a gorgeous laptop bag made from old clothing. Normally I’m not an impulse buyer but it was for a good cause, I needed a laptop bag, and it was a one-off piece. Plus it was 350 baht (about £6.80) so I’d be mad not to!

BagOnce we got back to our condo I collapsed into bed. Despite my illness I had a fantastic time, and I’m just a bit upset that I missed out on a lot of the experience by being a bit out-of-it and not being able to smell/taste anything. It’s something I would love to do again if I’m ever back in Bangkok, and something I’d recommend if you’re going there on your holidays.

This is NOT a sponsored post, and neither Poo nor anyone else on the tour were aware that I’m a blogger.

REVIEW: Ghillie Dhu Ceilidh Night

Friday night in Edinburgh. What are the options? You can go to the pub. You can go out for dinner. I suppose you could even go to the cinema. OR! You can get dolled up, mosey on down to the Ghillie Dhu, and get your ceilidh on.  This is exactly what my pal Sam and I did last Friday. We popped along to the Rabbie Burns Supper Club to see what it’s all about.

Let’s talk about the space, first. As soon as you hop out the taxi you’re confronted by how impressive the building is. The Ghillie Dhu is inside what used to be the St Thomas Episcopal Church, so it is absolutely gorgeous and totally atmospheric. Winding stone staircases, high vaulted ceilings lit by chandeliers, and huge arched windows: it’s the aesthetic that gothic themed bars like Frankenstein are aiming for but can’t quite achieve.The beauty of the dining and ceilidh room (which is upstairs) really made an impact on me as soon as we walked in.

The evening starts at 6:30pm, but you can book a table later if you like. We decided to pop along at 7:30pm, and some groups arrived closer to 8pm. Our friendly waitress sat us down at a large round table and offered us a welcome drink: whisky or prosecco. We both went for the fizz  because, well, Friday!

The meal consists of a seasonal three course menu. We had a choice of three starters, four mains, and three desserts. It all seemed like very hearty Scottish cuisine, although surprisingly there was not a hint of haggis to be seen. As much as I love haggis, this was quite refreshing. We ordered all three dishes up front to give the kitchen a head start, and kicked back sipping our bubbles and putting the world to rights.

GD food
Clockwise from top: mushrooms, plaice, mousse, rioja

I decided to start with the sauteed forest mushrooms cooked in a light garlic and parsley sauce with toasted ciabatta. The waitress seemed pleased with my decision, saying this is her very favourite thing on the menu. The starter had a lot to live up to, but it did so admirably. I’m a sucker for garlicky mushrooms and these bad boys hit the spot. The ciabatta soaked up the sauce without becoming soggy, while the mushrooms themselves were cooked and seasoned to perfection.

For the main course I had the rolled fillet of plaice stuffed with prawn mousse and served with a crayfish sauce. This was a very flavoursome dish, and I could really taste the crayfish. The plaice was tender, while the prawn mousse made for a lovely light accompaniment. There was also some mashed potato on the plate, which was creamy and rich and simply divine. I love a bit of mash, me.

Finally, we finished our meal with the rich dark chocolate mousse with white chocolate shavings and shortbread. I absolutely love mousse so I was diving in with gusto when Sam said “the bowl almost looks like it’s made out of chocolate too!”. Well guys, let me tell you: it was. We spent a few seconds trying to work out  an elegant, ladylike way to eat a dark chocolate cup but in the end went for bashing it with our spoons then picking up the fragments with our fingers. Good grief!

GD ceilidh

After dinner the tables were cleared away, and we had a little while to relax and enjoy a blether and a drink while the ceilidh was set up. The band kicked off at 10pm with a Gay Gordons. The most important person at a ceilidh is the caller: have a bad caller, you’ll have a bad time. Luckily this guy really knew what he was doing and was perfect at demonstrating and explaining the steps. Soon the dance-floor was crowded (Sam gallantly volunteered to be my man) and we were all twirling around bumping into each other and giggling. It’s a bit of a work-out, let me tell you!

The next dance was my favourite: The Dashing White Sergeant. Unfortunately you need three people for this one. We were just a gruesome twosome and although we spent some time wandering around saying “I need a man!” we couldn’t find one. Where’s Tinder when you need it, eh? Still, it was fun to watch everyone paddy ba-ing away! By the time the reel came around we ended up with a group of, ahem, rather merry students. They were having a great time, and so were we. We ended up dancing the night away until the disco started: at which point we realised it was probably time to head home.

All in all, the Ghillie Dhu ceilidh night is great fun. We knew we’d definitely be coming back, and that we’d be dragging even more pals along next time. The prices are reasonable, too. The Rabbie Burns Supper Club is just £30 a head for three courses and a hoolie, while the ceilidh on it’s on is just a fiver to attend. A fiver!

Seriously dudes, grab your pals and head along next Friday. You’ll love it! Just remember to wear flat shoes.

I was invited along to visit the Ghillie Dhu. All opinions are my own, as always.

7 Most Disappointing Foodie Experiences

When you dine out as much as I do it’s only natural to expect a few disappointments. While getting a crap kebab or a bog standard burger can be a bit saddening, the worst is when you have seriously high hopes for a place only to have them dashed on the rocks of poor customer service. I’ve had quite a few sad foodie experiences in the past wee while, so I thought I’d share them with you lovely people.

The Time We Had To Wait Two Hours for Brunch

Cabslam

We popped into Cabslam for brunch one day because we’d heard awesome things. We sat down at 11am, ordered our brekkie, and we waited. Service was a bit slow, but after an hour I started to notice people who had arrived after us happily tucking into their food: in some cases the same food we’d ordered. Hmmm. I called over our waiter: he couldn’t even remember serving us. Then it turned out he’d lost our order. Cue another hour of waiting. Our food didn’t get bumped up the queue, and we weren’t offered free coffees to make up for the fact that we’d finished our drinks ages ago. The worst part is, to use their free Wi-Fi you have to like them on Facebook. So now I have to drool over their food knowing that I can never go back there because the service was so bad and I have principles. Sob.

The Time the Waitress Ate My Lunch

While we were in the Algarve we visited a restaurant known for its mixed grill. This formidable plate is enough for four people to share, or for two to stuff themselves full and still have some for lunch the next day. Thinking the leftovers would be handy for sandwiches the next day, I ordered it and shared with my dad. We asked for a doggy bag but it never came. As we were leaving my dad asked the owner if we could have our leftovers. She looked embarrassed and said “we must have thrown it out.” BUT! Just after our food was taken away we noticed the staff settling down for dinner. Suspicious! I’m not saying they ate my lunch, but they totally ate my lunch.

The Time We Had to Share a Table with Three French Men

The first sign something was off was that it was ‘Fresh Fish Friday’ but the menu was solely comprised of shellfish. The food was pretty average, but we were looking forward to dessert. Just before we could order it the waiter came over and asked us to budge over as he wanted to squeeze three more customers round our wee table. Didn’t really fancy eating my pudding when the guys sitting beside us were tucking into their garlicky starters, but sadly the waiter didn’t fancy bringing us the bill either. Awkward all round.

The Time We Got Served Raw Chicken

Lizarran is one of my favourite Spanish chains, so imagine my shock when I went into one of their restaurants in Madrid and got served this:

Lizarran Chicken

No apologies from the staff, nothing taken off our bill, nada. When I got in touch with Lizarran head office (via Twitter and email) I was also ignored! Moral of the story is, always cut your pintxo in half. Speaking of pintxos…

The Time We Went for Pintxos in Edinburgh

The arrival of an “authentic” Spanish tapas bar in Leith cheered me no end. But after visiting the place in question I realised this was 100% Edinburgh, 0% Sevilla. We ordered some bread and alioli and got about 3 teardrops of garlic mayo and six wee slices of bread for our £3.20. All the dishes were saucy, so we kept having to order more £3 bread baskets to mop up the juices. When my dad complained about the tiny portions and extortionate pricing he ended up in a Facebook slanging match with the owner. So I won’t be going back.

The Time We Went to a Fado Show

Fado

We had an amazing weekend in Lisbon just before Christmas. We ate so much good food, but sadly the weekend ended on a low note with a trip to a fado dinner show. The food was basically disgusting: my duck was overcooked and my rice was inedible. It was one of the most expensive meals we had all weekend. I spent the next couple of days suffering with food poisoning. Whether that’s the fado show’s fault or the Irish sausages my mum fed me when I got back to the Algarve is up for debate.

The Time We Got Invited on The Restaurant Inspector

Shortly after starting this blog, I paid a visit to Iggs. The food was nice but the service was awful. I complained on TripAdvisor and as a result got invited onto an episode of The Restaurant Inspector. Somehow they’d managed to make the restaurant even worse. We were left sitting for an hour waiting to pay for our drinks while the owner schmoozed with the TV crew. Eventually we just walked out, leaving our address in case they wanted to follow up for payment. They’ve closed down now, which is kind of a shame I suppose?

So, although not the worst meals I’ve ever eaten, these were definitely the most upsetting. What are your worst restaurant experiences?

REVIEW: Mumbai Mansion

250 Morrison Street, Edinburgh, EH3 8DT, 0131 229 7173

The 2015 Edinburgh Festival is in full swing, and everywhere you go this month you’ll find plenty of pop-up restaurants and street food shacks. But what if you don’t want to fight off seagulls while tucking into your curry? What if you want a real sit down experience: one with friendly waiters and well presented scran? Well my friend, Mumbai Mansion is the place for you.

Mumbai Starters
L-R: cucumber and chicken salad, lamb shami kebab, chargrilled prawn

 

Its Morrison Street location may seem a little out of the way, but really it’s only 20 minutes walk from George Square (where we saw the absolutely fantastic play Little Thing, Big Thing: catch it if you can). There’s a really nice gin bar next door, The Jolly Botanist, where I can definitely recommend grabbing an aperitif.

Everything on the menu looked tempting so it was quite difficult to decide what to order. I decided that the best way to get a feel for the restaurant was to order the tasting menu (minimum 2 people, £32.95 per head). This included an array of their best starters and some of their showcase mains. We ordered a bottle of prosecco (£18.95) to go with our meal because sparkling wines complement Indian food fantastically, non? The fizz price was on par with many of the other wines on the menu, so we would have been mad not to.

The first dish to appear from the kitchen was the chicken and cucumber salad: little chunks of marinated cold chicken bound with coleslaw and wrapped up in a cucumber ribbon. I’ll be honest here: this didn’t exactly set my world on fire. The fresh apple strips were a nice touch, and the cucumber was nice and light, but the chicken itself was a bit disappointing. Thankfully it was the only weak point in a fantastic meal and otherwise impressive tasting menu.

Mumbai Starters 2
L-R: corn and pea kebab, scallops and mussels, chicken tikka

 

Next to appear was the chicken tikka. The plate consisted of two chunks of chicken marinated in English mustard and yoghurt, with a lovely nutty sauce on the side. The chicken was tender and juicy, and packed with flavour. The spice was subtle and the accompanying sauce really gave it a lift. The sweetcorn and pea kebab, our next dish, was also rather delicious. These little patties had a fantastic texture and were packed with fresh, warm flavours.

The real standout of the evening were the scallops and mussels served with the herby and coconutty Nilghiri sauce. Oh my word, I could eat this dish all day every day. The waiter was already amused by how fast we were inhaling the food he brought out, but I think the speed at which we devoured this particular plate surprised him even more. But can you blame us? The scallops were cooked on the grill first and were done to absolute perfection. The sauce was tossed on afterwards. The result was tender and juicy scallops, complemented by the sauce and not smothered by it.

The chargrilled skewered prawns were brought next, and although they were very tasty our minds were still very much with the mussels and scallops. Sorry prawns! Our odyssey of starters came to a close with the lamb shami kebab. Minced lamb stuffed with ricotta and tarragon, it was a delightful little dish and probably a close second to the scallops in terms of our favourite thing on the menu.

Mumbai Misc

We had a little break between our starters and our main course, at which point we were brought some mint and lime flavour sorbet in a little basket of sesame seed brittle. This was an absolutely wonderful palate cleanser and had us ready to tackle our showstopping main: the grilled Scottish lobster served with Alappy style moilee sauce!

Mumbai Mains
L-R: butter chicken, rice, seasonal veggies, and the grilled lobster at the bottom.

 

The lobster was curried and presented in its shell. How impressive! At this point I thought this tasting menu would definitely impress the ladies on date night (as long she doesn’t have an aversion to seafood or shellfish with its head still on). There were some nice generous chunks of lobster in there, again cooked to perfection, with a slow heat that crept up on me after swallowing a few bites.

The butter chicken was slightly spicier than the versions I’m used to, although it still had a wonderful creaminess that counteracted the heat of the lobster. The seasonal vegetables, naan and rice made lovely little accompaniments to the main dishes.

As if that wasn’t enough, we were brought some dessert: Sticky Toffee Pudding! The plate included a warm cake lavished with hot toffee sauce with some vanilla ice cream on the side. The ice cream was topped with a fennel crisp and some orange crumble. It was exactly the sort of hearty dish you need to warm your cockles on a chilly August evening in the ‘burgh.

Mumbai dessert

Mumbai Mansion straddles the line between fine dining and standard Indian restaurant perfectly. With everyone and his dog currently extolling the virtues of street food it’s so refreshing to visit a restaurant that’s chosen to glam up instead of dress down. If you’re looking for an Indian meal in Edinburgh, but want to take it to the next level, I reckon you should get yourself down to Morrison Street and check it out.

I was invited along to Mumbai Mansion by their PR company. Despite this all thoughts, as always, are my own.

REVIEW: Cookies Cream

If I said “vegetarian fine dining” you would probably raise an eyebrow. When I tell you it’s a vegetarian fine dining restaurant hidden down a back alley in Berlin, I’d imagine that eyebrow would raise a lot further. Unless you live in Berlin. Then you’re probably like “so far so typical”, right?

Cookies Cream is tucked away, out of sight, behind the Westin Hotel in Mitte. It’s just a few steps from some of the poshest shops in the city, and a five minute walk from the beautiful Gendarmenmarkt with its twin cathedrals. And when I say “behind the Westin Hotel” I mean “behind the Westin Hotel.”

Chandelier

To reach the restaurant you have to walk down the hotel’s service alley (yep, the place where they keep all the bins). Keep walking until you see a chandelier suspended in the alleyway and the romantic lights of a trendy bar. There’s a door, with a piece of paper on it with the restaurant name. Once you get there you know you’ve arrived.

Once you walk inside the sound of air conditioning vents is replaced by the ambient music and buzz of a trendy cocktail bar. We relaxed with a glass of riesling on one of the plush sofas until ourtable was ready. The bar is decorated in quite a quirky style, with lamps shaped like peacocks. There was a sign up saying “no photographs.” What is this, Berghain?

James is learning German, and as we climbed the stairs to the restaurant I noticed the word Ficken written behind the bar. I was already a bit tipsy (we’d had a cocktail in Newton, a champagne bar near Gendarmenmarkt) so I asked him what it meant. I know what it means, but he just deadpanned back “to fuck.” Alright captain serious!

Our friendly American waitress sat us down and handed us the menu, although I’d already studied it extensively online. I had a cosy booth seat while James had a chair that wouldn’t look out of place in a 1970’s office. The cocktails here looked amazing but as I was already half cut I decided against another aperitif. We went for a bottle of Grauburgunder wine instead. While we made up our minds we were given some lovely bread, served in a piece of steel guttering, with a lovely pesto and cottage cheese dip.

Cookies Cream have a very reasonable tasting menu with four pre-selected courses for €48 , but we decided to go for the regular menu (three courses for €39) so we could try a bit of everything. Unfortunately we couldn’t have a bit of everything, as there were a few options for every course on the menu. Still, we chose the things that sounded nicest, a few of which were included in the set menu.

L-R: Quail's egg on brioche, Seaweed caviar with ricotta
L-R: Quail’s egg on brioche, Seaweed caviar with ricotta

The two starters we chose were the quails egg in brioche, and the seaweed caviar with ricotta cheese. The first was rich and comforting, while the second was fresh and zingy. The brioche was soft and fresh, and the quail’s egg was done to  perfection. The seaweed caviar was lovely, the way it popped in the mouth, and the tangy herby sauce that accompanied it was also delicious.

Main courses: Top left potato lasagne, bottom left bread with pesto, right side parmesan dumplings
Main courses: Top left potato lasagne, bottom left bread with pesto, right side parmesan dumplings

The real winners were our main courses. I had the parmesan dumplings with crème of artichokes first and was quick to announce that they were the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth. They came with a tandoori tomato sauce which added an interesting kick. We swapped plates and the dumplings were immediately usurped: the crunchy potato lasagne with fried asparagus was bloody delicious. There were mushrooms, swish cheese truffle, and radish dotted about the plate but I just couldn’t get over the genius of using crispy potato strips in place of lasagne sheets.

L-R: Almond pastry, White Chocolate
L-R: Almond pastry, White Chocolate

James thought the desserts were the best part of the meal. I had the almond pastry with frozen yoghurt, he had the white bubble chocolate and pistachio. My pastry had some interesting salted lemon and liquorice on the side, which definitely added a bit of character, while James’s chocolate was accompanied by home-made cassis ice cream and marscarpone. The ice cream was deliciously vibrant, both in colour and flavour.

Our waitress took our plates away and then stamped the digestif menu onto our table cloth, presumably with vegetable dye. We decided to finish our meal with a home-made infused brandy: williams pear for me, rhubarb for him. Although both ended up being for me as James decided he’d reached his boozy limit for the day.

Cookies Cream Digestif

In total we spent €140 (£90), which is very reasonable. Considering the quality of the food, the wine, and the overall experience, Cookies Cream is a must if you’re looking for a unique fine dining experience in Berlin.

REVIEW: La Petite Mort

La Petite Mort, 32 Valleyfield Street, Tollcross, Edinburgh EH3 9L, 0131 229 3693

I know this great little place in Edinburgh. Tucked along an unremarkable side-street near Bruntsfield Links, a few steps from the hustle and bustle of Tollcross, in a perfectly convenient location if you’re catching a show at the King’s. This cosy little bistro is decorated with mismatched chairs, with low lighting and low laughter. Welcome to La Petite Mort.

La Petite Mort

The menu is small but perfectly formed. There are three starters, five mains, and three desserts to choose  from. Everything sounded absolutely delicious so it took a lot of humming and hawwing before we eventually settled on what we wanted to order. The staff really know their stuff and our waitress was happy to make recommendations and talk us through her favourite dishes on the menu.

This goes double for the drinks. As well as a nicely curated wine list, La Petite Mort also offers a nice range of cocktails. We didn’t partake but I did steal a few jealous glances at the group of hipsters chilling out at another table sipping their expertly mixed whisky sours.

We stuck to wine, and after some serious deliberation chose the white pinot grigio (£18.95) to accompany our meal. It was a lovely bottle, light and crisp and bursting with fruity flavours. Perfect for a summer’s evening. As we waited for our starters to arrive we sipped our wine and nibbled at some freshly baked tarragon and cumin bread. It had a lovely peppery kick, and got me excited for what was coming next.

Freshly baked tarragon and cumin bread.
Freshly baked tarragon and cumin bread.

I started with the black pudding and goats cheese bon bons on fennel seeded confit courgette ribbons (£5.95). I’m a sucker for a good haggis ball, and this was a unique yet similar take on an old classic. The batter was nice and crisp, the rich black pudding and creamy goats cheese complemented each other delightfully, while the tangy sauce and fresh courgette cut straight through the richness.

Black pudding and goats cheese bon bons
Black pudding and goats cheese bon bons

James began with the pan seared scallops on home smoked halloumi with sauce vierge (£7.95). Sounds weird, eh? This was the definite winner of the night and, although it’s the most expensive starter on the menu, it’s definitely worth the extra pennies. Who knew scallops and cheese would make such great bedfellows? The saltiness of the halloumi was the perfect foil to the creamy scallops (which were cooked to perfection, btw).

Scallops with home-smoked halloumi: definitely the star of the show
Scallops with home-smoked halloumi: definitely the star of the show

All of the mains sounded fantastic. Usually I go for the lamb (rump in this case), but tonight I threw a curve ball and chose the trio of pork: roasted loin, braised cheek and a pulled pork sausage roll (£13.95). This was a lovely little plate, with plenty of different flavours and things going on. If you’ve got dinner-time ADHD and always find yourself nicking nibbles from your pal’s plates this dish will keep your fork faithful. The pork cheek sat on some buttery spinach while the loin perched precariously on some creamy fondant potatoes. The poor loin was upstaged by the pulled pork and the pork cheek, but it was still very tasty (especially when smeared with red wine jus).

The Trio of Pork! L-R: pulled pork sausage roll, braised cheek, and pork loin with fondant potatoes
The Trio of Pork! L-R: pulled pork sausage roll, braised cheek, and pork loin with fondant potatoes

James had the pan fried fillet of seabass on celeriac and apple puree with buttered spinach and honey tempura aubergine (£12.95). The skin was crisp, the fish was tender, and the aubergine was divine. I did catch him throwing a few jealous glances at my pork cheek, though.

Sea bass with tempura aubergines
Sea bass with tempura aubergines

We really should have said no to dessert, but when you’ve had a meal as good as this one it’s hard to stop! James went for the earl grey dark chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream while I went for the marvellous white russian set cheesecake with black russian jelly (both £4.95). Both desserts were yummy, and we unashamedly stole bites from each others plates. We both agreed that the cheesecake was the best of the two, with the cubes of cola and coffee jelly adding a lovely after-dinner boost.

Earl Grey fondant cake on the left, White Russian cheesecake on the right
Earl Grey fondant cake on the left, White Russian cheesecake on the right

For me La Petite Mort is the perfect little date night spot. It’s cosy and atmospheric, the staff are friendly and welcoming, and the prices are totally reasonable. It’s a fantastic addition to the Tollcross area and somewhere I will certainly be returning to.

I was invited by La Petite Mort to sample their spring menu. I was under no obligation to write a positive review, but I have anyway because the food was super tasty and the space was super lovely. All opinions are my own, apart from where I’ve included James’s thoughts.

Click to add a blog post for La Petite Mort on Zomato

 

Mango Madness

Forget the nightlife, the arts scene, the diverse culture and the huge number of networking opportunities for freelancers like me. One of the things I really missed during my six month absence from Berlin was the Turkish Market. This takes place every Tuesday and Friday on Maybachufer, beside the Landwehrkanal, and is basically the BEST place to buy fruit and veg.

Each week I come home with bags and bags of fresh herbs,cheap spices, and loads of ripe fruit and vegetables. Some weeks are better than others: a couple of weeks ago I picked up 4 kilos of limes for €3 (about £2.15). This week I grabbed 10 ripe and juicy mangoes for just €2 (£1.43): a steal, even when you take into account that they’re slightly beyond their best.

So what’s a girl to do with 10 mangoes that probably won’t last ’til tomorrow? Well, here’s what I did. All of these recipes are small batch, because only two of us live in this house and there’s only so much we can eat. Who needs 5 jars of chutney and a massive great cake? Not us. You can scale these recipes up if you fancy it.

Spicy Mango Chutney

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Makes one 400g jar

1 tbsp grated ginger
2 cloves of garlic
250ml vinegar
125g sugar
2 x ripe mangoes, chopped
1 x medium onion, diced
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp brown mustard seeds
1/2 tsp onion seeds

Put about an inch of water in the bottom of your pan. Add the sugar and the vinegar, and heat until the sugar is dissolved. Chuck everything else in and give it a good stir. Simmer for about 45 minutes. Keep an eye on it, stirring frequently. If it starts to dry out add another splash of water. You’ll know when it’s done, cos it will look like chutney! Spoon into a sterilised jar.

You can serve it with samosas, poppadoms, or on the side with your next roast chicken.

Mini Mango Loaf Cakes

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Makes 5 wee loafs

125g flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 tsp cinnamon
75g sugar
50ml oil
1x egg
1 tsp lime juice
1 x ripe mango
Half a handful of raisins (optional)
Half a handful of mixed nuts, chopped (optional)

Pre-heat the oven to 175C, and mix all of the dry ingredients together in a big bowl. Chop your mango and blast it through the food processor until it’s turned to pulp. Beat the eggs with the oil and add it to the dry mixture, along with the mango. Mix it into a batter: if it’s a bit dry, add a splash of water until you get a nice battery consistency. Throw in your nuts and raisins. Pour the mixture into your lined loaf tins. Bake them for about half an hour-forty minutes, until a wooden toothpick comes out clean.

These bad boys are moist and delicious. They’re also about 284 calories each, so save them for cheat day if you’re on a low cal diet. If not, fire them in your gob! 🙂

Mango Unchained!

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Makes about 1l of sauce

My boyfriend suggested the name for this mango and jalapeno hot sauce and I thought it was funny so I rolled with it. I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here: I adapted this recipe from Food For My Family. I just used jalapenos instead of habaneros because that’s what I had in the fridge: that’s basically the only substitution. I used the seeds from two of them, because I like to live dangerously. I also didn’t bother squeezing it through muslin cos I like my sauce a bit chunky: I just went through it with a hand blender. If you find the sauce is a bit thick at the end (mine was more like soup) just top your bottle up with boiling water and give it a good shake until you reach the consistency you desire.

This sauce is absolutely fantastic: it’s tangy, light, and basically tastes like summer in a bottle. I can’t wait to drizzle it over grilled meats, add it to burgers, and pep up my salsas with it.

As for the rest of them…

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You may have noticed that only accounts for six mangoes. As for the other four… one was just too far gone so had to go in the bin. The other three, I froze. I’ll probably blitz them up with a dash of pineapple juice or coconut water for a quick sorbet.

If you want to freeze chunks of mango (or any other fruit), lie them flat on a baking sheet making sure they’re not touching. Stick the whole shebang in the freezer. Once they’re frozen solid, you can take them off the sheet and move them to a freezer bag. This stops the juice on the cut-side of the fruit from freezing together, and means you have nice manageable chunks of fruit instead of a brick.

Another Road Trip: Algarve to Berlin

Driving around Europe sounds sort of romantic, doesn’t it? When we bought our left hand drive car in the summer of 2012 we certainly thought so. Countless hours on French, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Italian, Dutch, Polish and Czech roads later and we’re kind of over it. Still, travelling with a car has its plus points. It makes moving house a lot easier, for one. For two, it also means you get to visit a lot of interesting places on your way from here to there.

Road trip lagos

Our latest road trip took us from Lagos in The Algarve (Portugal), to Neukoelln in Berlin (Germany).

The road trip before that (Berlin to Valencia) took three weeks, but that was far too long. This time we settled on seven days. That seemed just right. Seven days, seven stops. We tried to keep each day’s driving down to about five hours, any longer than that and we get serious road fatigue.

I’ve summed up the highlights of our trip, although to be honest we didn’t  get a chance to see or do too much as we were mostly driving, listening to podcasts, and trying to avoid the temptation of junk food.

Lagos to Granada (via Silves and Sesmarias): about 6 hours

Granada

Our first day on the road started later than we intended. Both sets of parents are based in the Algarve (mine for six months, James’ permanently) and it would be rude to leave without saying goodbye. Two pit stops and countless cups of tea later, we were on our way. We didn’t reach Granada until 9:30pm, where we encountered a bit of grid-lock on the by-pass. Thankfully our hotel was near the motorway exit, and was also a short stroll from some excellent tapas bars. Dinner time doesn’t start until 10pm in Andalusia so we had plenty of time to freshen up.

Granada to Valencia: 5 hours

Drive to Valencia

Living in Valencia didn’t work out for us, but we’ll never regret our time there because we got to meet Mike and Juergen from For 91 Days. It would be rude of us to drive across Spain without popping in to say hi, so we had a pit-stop in Valencia (and quite a few glasses of vino tinto). We still really need to give Valencia a proper second chance, as one night on the way to Berlin (and one month living by the beach) wasn’t enough.

Valencia to Girona: technically, 4.5 hours. Really, 8.5.

Girona

We were all set to hit Girona by lunch time when disaster struck. That’s for another longwinded blog post, : all I’m going to say is that if you’re going to break down in Spain, don’t do it on a Sunday. Once we arrived in Girona it was too late to walk into town, but we did wander up in the morning and oh my lord what a wonderful little city. It’s so beautiful, and the Catalan flags hanging from every window reminded me a bit of Leith last September, with the saltires hanging from almost every window.

Girona to Beaune: 7 hours

Beaune

When we were planning our route I suggested Beaune. For some reason I thought my favourite cheese, epoisses, came from there but I was wrong. It is, however, the wine capital of Burgundy. Guys, you should have seen the supermarket here. There was a GINORMOUS epoisses that I sadly wasn’t allowed to buy because Mr Sensible pointed out that it would make our car smell of dog farts. I was allowed to buy a magnum of cremant de bourgogne, however, and a few bottles of champagne and white burgundy.

Beaune to Strasbourg: 4 hours

Strasbourg

This is when we saw snow for the first time all winter and wondered why we were driving north anyway. Are we mad? After wandering around the city for ages looking for somewhere to eat we eventually stumbled upon Académie de la Bière: two people were just leaving a table and we managed to grab it. The beer was fantastic, as was the flammkuchen. Good music, great atmosphere, and exactly what we needed after a few long days on the road. I’d definitely recommend popping in.

Strasbourg to the Czech Republic: 5.5 hours

Cheb

We decided to mix things up a bit by driving straight across Germany to stay in a hotel just inside the Czech Republic, a short drive from a town called Cheb (heh heh heh). The hotel, called Seeberg, was just… wow. The views were fantastic, the decor was quaint, and we had a huge two person bath tub in our room! The breakfast was really good, too. The only down side was dinner: it got to 7:30pm and we decided to check out the restaurant across the way. It was closed, and it was the only place nearby. The hotel owner seemed confused that we wanted dinner, and said she could give us some cold meat or something. We decided to drive into town but it was the same story, nothing open.  I was gutted as I was really looking forward to trying some hearty Czech cuisine.

Czech Republic to Berlin: 4.5 hours

Berlin

Our last day of driving and the weather made us suffer. It started raining, but as soon as the rain hit our windscreen it froze. Our windscreen fluid had also frozen, and our wipers were needing replaced, so we pulled into a service station to grab some anti-freeze. While we were cleaning our windscreen a guy came over to us: at first I thought he was some kind of scammer but he was just looking for help. His car’s battery had drained and he needed someone to give him a jump start.

His story was quite interesting. He was checking out a flat in Leipzig for his Scottish flatmate, who he lives with in Wales, and only had 8 hours to make it to Denmark to get a ferry to Newcastle: where he’d be driving to Aberdeen to pick up his mate, then back down to Wales. He was deaf, and I felt a bit guilty that I can’t sign. We gave him a boost and he went on his way: if you’re out there dude, I hope you made it!

All in all I felt like this seven day drive was a bit of a whirlwind, and it made me realise that two nights in a place is better if you really want to see it. Stupidly I didn’t take time off to travel, so I was trying to squeeze in a few hours of work around driving and exploring.

Christmassy Weekend in Lisbon

Xmassy Lisbon

Lisbon is one of my very favourite cities. Although I only lived there for six months, whenever I see photos of it I’m filled with home-sickness. When James and I decided to spend two months in the Algarve, I knew a romantic weekend in Lisbon was on the cards. We decided to kill two birds with one stone and combine our holiday with a Christmas shopping trip.

I booked us into a hotel that I’d always wanted to stay in, he sorted out the train tickets, and we were all set! I’ve written about the perfect weekend in Lisbon before, but some things have changed since then. Our Christmas weekend was damn near bang on perfect, so I thought I’d write a new post instead of updating the old one.

Friday night

LX Boutique Hotel Collage
The LX Boutique Hotel

We stayed at the LX Boutique Hotel in Cais do Sodre. We were greeted with a big plate of pasteis de nata and a bottle of port, which we could help ourselves to after checking in. We were  offered a free room upgrade: the catch was that the lift was broken and we’d have to walk up the stairs to the top floor. Fine by us! Our room had amazing views out towards the Tagus River, where we could watch the cruise ships rolling by.

After freshening up we decided to head for our absolute favourite restaurant: A Taberna da Rua das Flores. You can’t book a table, so show up early! I think we arrived about 7:45pm and if we’d been a minute later we’d have missed out on a table. The restaurant has a kind of tapas style to it, so you pick a few dishes and share. The menu changes regularly and it’s always a little bit unique, often it’s Portuguese cooking with an Asian twist. Our meal was fantastic: especially the desserts. Mine, fresh cheese with honey and toasted almonds, was unbelievable.

Our delicious dinner in Taberna
Dinner in one of Lisbon’s most romantic little restaurants

After dinner we did what any self respecting Lisboeta would do: we went up the Bairro Alto and settled ourselves into a seat at our favourite mezcal bar. A few cocktails later we decided to head to another bar, where they were doing shots of mulled wine and playing heavy metal. On the way back to our hotel we stumbled into a very trendy bar that reminded us of somewhere in Kreuzberg, then stood at the window enjoying the warm evening breeze. Yes, in December!

Lisbon's nightlife is fantastic

Saturday

We started the day at the Mercado de Ribeira, which is a new addition to the city and a heaven for foodies. It was fairly quiet in the morning, but we did drop in to Aloma to sample the best pasteis de nata the city has to offer (sorry Belem!). Afterwards we wandered to our favourite travel book shop in Santos, and then  up to Principe Real and generally all over the place taking in the street art, statues, and gorgeous buildings. We ended up having lunch in a little hole in the wall curry place: it actually looked like a regular Portuguese cafe from the outside.

Saturday

As you can probably tell from my photos It was a bit rainy and minging so we retreated to the hotel for a bit where we lounged around in bathrobes and watched gems like ‘Storage Wars’ and ‘Catfish’. We don’t have a TV at home so this was a right treat.

As part of our hotel package we were entitled to a platter of free ‘welcome’ sushi in the bar, so we decided to go enjoy it before deciding on a restaurant for dinner.

The bar area is very opulently decorated and, luckily for us, is home to the best sushi restaurant in Lisbon. We grabbed a window seat and asked for our freebie (shy bairns get nae sweeties) and watched the pouring rain splashing off the pink street below us. The sushi btw? OMG. Phenomenal. So good that we asked for the menu when the waitress came to clear our plates. Same again after our second round: this time we decided to be brave and try the salmon and camembert (!) roll. I’m glad we took the risk. I’ve never tasted anything like it.

The rain let up a little, and we decided the perfect end to the night would be walking back down to the Mercado and having some bubbly and oysters. We also had a seared scallop with mango salsa and little pastries with mussels in them.

Scallops and oysters from Sea Me at the Time Out marketplace
Scallops and oysters from Sea Me at the Time Out marketplace

We moved to another stall and had a biiiig slice of cake, and another stall for a madrona and passion fruit cocktail.The market has a great buzz at night, and is a dangerous place to be if you’re on a budget or a diet. You can flit around from stall to stall sampling the wares until you get bored. Everything we had was high quality and tasted phenomenal.

Sunday

LX Factory

We took the tram out to our old stomping ground of Alcantara to visit one of our favourite little corners of Lisbon, the LX Factory. Once an industrial factory area by the river, the old warehouses are now home to trendy cafes, vintage clothes shops, quirky homeware stores, art galleries, start-ups, and one of the world’s most beautiful book-shops. On Sundays there’s a flea market, and as we were in Lisbon for Christmas shopping we decided to have a browse. Afterwards we decided to go for lunch: our first choice was our absolute favourite gem, Aquele Lugar em Alcantara, but it was closed so we ended up in our favourite pizza place, A Mesa, instead. We munched on a bacalhau pizza and sipped on Super Bock.

The fadista was good, but unfortunately the food wasn't
The fadista was good, but unfortunately the food wasn’t

On Sunday night we decided to go and see some fado. For some reason we acted like a couple of idiot tourists and went to a fado and dinner show. DON’T DO THIS. It was the most expensive meal we ate on the trip, the food was disgusting and the wine was overpriced. And I spent most of the next day suffering from food poisoning so there’s that. If you want to see fado, grab dinner somewhere else then head up to Alfama. Most of the cosy bars up there have fado singers performing, and you won’t get burned for €100+.

On Monday morning we got up and took the train back to the Algarve. Aside from the sad fado blip, and the fact that we barely got any shopping done, our weekend in Lisbon was all I could have asked for.