Friday, April 18, 2014

My favourite vegan dishes of Manchester

So Lent, and therefore my stint as a vegan, is coming to an end and I would be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to tucking in to a big fat salmon steak with gorgeous crispy skin... However, I would also be lying if I said it had been as terrible and torturous as everyone expected - I haven't had to survive on tasteless leaves and berries, put it that way. In fact, I've been surprised at just how many places there are right here in Manchester serving up really tasty vegan food and also at just how accommodating people are when you ask them to adapt a dish for you. In the whole 40 days I've only been to one place where I couldn't find anything to eat. To show you just how many tasty treats I've managed to tuck into during Lent I thought I'd share with you my favourite dishes of the 40 days, and all consumed right here in sunny Manchester!

Vegetables Simple at Coriander
Chorlton's favourite Indian restaurant Coriander is a vegan-friendly haven, having dedicated a whole section of the food menu to dishes for dairy dodgers as well as boasting a decent selection of organic, eco-friendly wines. I thoroughly enjoyed my Vegetables Simple which was a clean, flavoursome curry featuring one of my all-time favourite vegetables, plantain. Teamed with a lovely, thick Dhal Tarka and a hot and crunchy village salad, this was a very memorable meal.

Vegan BBQ Plate from Fire & Salt BBQ 
The last place I'd go looking for a decent vegan feed would be a canal boat captained by The Liquorists during a bourbon 'n' BBQ event entitled "The Mississippi Booze Cruise", which is what made tucking into a fantastic Vegan BBQ Plate, created by the lovely Fire & Salt BBQ, such a pleasant surprise. The beans were so good that they prompted me to suggest to Bailey, in some seriousness, that we kidnap Mal and handcuff him to a bean lab, like Jessie in Breaking Bad. Oh and vegans, if you don't know what a jackfruit is, look it up. Look it up now.

Mushroom Pizza from Honest Crust
'Cheeseless pizza' sounds like one of the most joyless phrases in the English language, and it probably would be ordinarily. However, with Honest Crust's amazing, puffy sourdough bases and fresh, locally-sourced toppings, they actually pull it off. I've eaten one of these bad boys at every opportunity since Lent began (find them at BeatStreet, Vintage Village, Altrincham Market, etc) and, while I'm quite looking forward to going back for a cheesy one after Easter, this has always been just spot on with a simple drizzle of chilli oil and grind of black pepper.

Dal Makhani at Indian Tiffin Room
DO believe the hype surrounding Cheadle's not-so-hidden gem Indian Tiffin Room - it's brilliant. However, it's teeny-tinier than you could ever imagine and very popular so make sure you book a table to avoid disappointment. The brilliant staff are really helpful with the menu and told me that they could make pretty much anything vegan on request. The Dal Makhani was a tasty and robust no-nonsense affair and it's worth mentioning that the Idli were the lovliest and most perfectly formed I've had to date.

Kimchee Casserole at Koreana
We were very impressed with our first visit to Koreana thanks not only to the food but the enthusiastically friendly service also. As indicated by the menu, many of the dishes are easily veggiefied, providing a decent number of vegan options. I personally am always going to lean towards anything on a menu that involves two carbs, and the spicy Kimchee Casserole of tofu and transparent noodles served with rice was an excellent choice.

Vegetarian Chicken with Fresh Chillies and Garlic Sauce from The Miramar

My favourite Heaton Chapel Chinese takeaway The Miramar have a big bit on their menu stating that their "chefs are able to diversify ingredients to cater for your needs" and were excellent over the phone when I rang to ask about the vegan-friendliness of their food. Turns out all of their mock meats are made from soya and the Vegetarian Chicken and Sweetcorn Soup I always order from them is always cooked fresh to order and can be made without egg. Hurrah!

Tao Hoo Pad Kra Praw at Phetpailin
Phetpailin's menu describes its veggie dishes as "the nicest in town" and I would be inclined to agree. Then again, you're pretty much guaranteed to have your socks blown off by anything you order in this place, where they DO NOT mess about when it comes to flavour and spice. I adored every bite of this dish, especially the crispy basil leaves, spongy tofu and perfect sticky rice; it also had the additional advantage of relieving me of my flu symptoms for the duration of the meal, winner.

Sichuan Style Spicy Steamed Aubergine at Red N Hot
Anna from @mcrfoodies described the Sichuan Style Spicy Steamed Aubergine dish at Red N Hot as "the best thing I've ever eaten", before amending it to "the best vegetarian thing I've ever eaten in a Chinese restaurant". Tall praise either way but this melt-in-the-mouth aubergine TREAT is fully deserving. Top tip: don't waste a single drop of the oil it comes in - drizzle it onto your rice for flavour-tastic times.

So there you go! And as you can see not a single one of these was a specific vegan or veggie place, although V Revolution is still high on my hit-list. I'm certain there are loads of other great dishes vegan dishes out there just waiting to be tried in some of the places you'd least expect them.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Nasi Lemak at Frienship Inn

For indecisive diners with a huge hit-list like me and Bailey, deciding where to eat out is already difficult enough as it is without throwing "must be showing the football" onto the list of criteria - a position we found ourselves in last Sunday when meeting up with our friends Kate and Chris for a lunch/footie-based catch up. 'Good food and football' sounded like an oxymoron to me, but we eventually whittled the suggestions down to Fallowfield's Friendship Inn - pretty much equidistant to us and our mates.

The good news for football lovers is that Friendship Inn is a really good pub for watching football in (so I'm told, I wouldn't know as I never do this). The good news for food lovers is that Nasi Lemak are in charge of serving up Malaysian "street cuisine" which comes recommended by the excellent Bobby's Bangers family who know a thing or two when it comes to tasty scran.

I have to say Nasi Lemak's website isn't the most professional I've ever seen, with large chunks of randomly placed Lorem Ipsum appearing on the mobile site. Also, what the dickens is a YouTube Rendang?! According to the menu description "everyone's cooking it these days", yet I was stumped by a simple Google search...

First impressions of the pub itself on arrival were good - friendly atmosphere pre-match with Manchester City and Liverpool fans coexisting harmoniously and a nice buzz in the air. First impressions of the menu were less good - why would you have an extensive list of delicious authentic Malaysian cuisine then also offer crap pub classics on the reverse side? One look around the pub at the tables and tables of people tucking into burgers and chips answered my question immediately, and that was before two members of our party also ordered from this side of the menu.

Kate, who was keeping it Malaysian with me, ordered the Satay Ayam chicken and Ikan Bakar cod which were both delicious and not shy with the spice. These were visually so appealing that they attracted a great deal of attention from a neighbouring table of football fans who then also ordered some.

I was delighted that many of the dishes on the menu could be converted to a vegetarian alternative of mock chicken - my favourite vegetarian chicken no less, also used by my most beloved Heaton Chapel takeaway The Miramar. I went for the Devil's Chicken Curry which had a really tasty sauce and the perfect level of heat. The fake chicken was nice but I would have liked a bit of veg in the curry or on the plate - something for a bit of colour and crunch. The Jasmine Rice I chose to go on the side was great.

Bailey and Chris both seemed happy enough with their burgers...

...but what really impressed them were the mammoth portions of Salt & Pepper Chips they ordered on the side. The chips themselves were OK with a good crunch-to-fluff ratio but it was the sweet and fragrant five spice coating and the addition of veg strips that we loved. 

Turns out I was also pleasantly surprised to quite enjoy the football, although this could be due to the fact that our sofa was facing the rest of the pub so watching the faces of the fans was enough to provide me and Kate with 90 minutes of entertainment in itself. While I'm not suggesting you need to rush to the Friendship Inn immediately, you could do a lot worse than ordering yourself a Nasi Lemak takeaway and rocking up there to eat Salt & Pepper Chips while watching the match.

Oh... and I tweeted Nasi Lemak to find out what a YouTube Rendang is... Turns out it's like ordinary Rendang, but they wanted people to YouTube the name (like an instruction?!) and also wanted to 'cheekily' suggest that they might have gotten the recipe off YouTube... I'm still fairly confused but intrigued so will probably order the mock chicken version of it next time...
NasiLemak on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 11, 2014


Since I went on that Twitter saying that Phetpailin is ace and that it blows Chaophraya out of the water, I've had quite a few people ask me about what makes it so great. Firstly I'd like to point out that I can't take credit for discovering this little gem; like most good things it was those Manchester Foodies who sniffed it out years ago, and I am so pleased that they did because I LOVE IT. Anyway, without further ado I'm going to share five reasons why I love a visit to Phetpailin and why I think you will too...

Reason 1: There's no messing when it comes to flavour
No, whatever you have to say about the food at Phetpailin, you will never be served anything that could be described as 'bland'. During our visits so far we've had our tongues most tantalised by the Tom Yam soups, both tilapia dishes off the seafood menu (I'm drooling thinking about them) and a red curry so packed with flavour and spice you find yourself exclaiming "Hoochie Mama!" in the middle of a crowded restaurant. The coconut rice is also coconutty enough to blow your entire head clean off.

Reason 2: It's BYOB
People love a good BYOB and in my experience are often willing to put up with slightly more sub-par food if it means being able to bring a bottle. Well, Phetpailin's food is amazing AND you can bring your own which makes it doubly brilliant.

Reason 3: It's a bargain
When compared to overpriced purveyors of "Thai Fine Dining" Chaophraya, the food at Phetpailin is an absolute steal. Yes, in Chaophraya you're paying to eat in considerably more elegant environs, but I'd much sooner go for substance over style, i.e. THE FOOD IS LOADS BETTER. You'll also save a fortune by bringing your own bottle.

Not as swanky as Chaophraya... who cares?
Reason 4: The staff are badass
The staff at Phetpailin are very good. Some of the most helpful and efficient staff I've ever come across in fact - they're great at helping you choose your dishes and have a rare talent of knowing what you want before you even ask for it. However, be warned, they don't take any shit: they were having none of it when my teetotal friend tried to bring her own Tetra Pak of juice in and they had no qualms about kicking us out when we tried to stay past closing time. Strangely, I quite liked them for it...

Reason 5: It's lots of fun
The fact that it's BYOB obviously helps. They've got the atmosphere spot on though - Phetpailin is perfect for a rip-roaring night out or a quiet meal with family.

You can see the giddiness in their eyes
So there you go, my five reasons I think Phetpailin is ace and blows Chaophraya out of the water. The crux of what I'm saying here is that if you haven't already, you really should go and eat at Phetpailin - I'm sure you will love it just as much as I do!

Phetpailin on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Rama's Bridge Restaurant

Ahhh Mother's Day. For most families, this seems to mean eating a crappy set menu always featuring prawn cocktails and a dry roast dinner in an overcrowded country pub. Can't think of anything worse. Fortunately for me, one of the many advantages of having a Colombian mum is that we generally don't do what other families do on occasions like this, I can't even remember the last time I saw my mum tuck into a roast anyway. As it was up to her to choose the venue for her day out, she went for her new favourite restaurant - Rama's Bridge in Crookes.

South Indian food appears to be growing in popularity over on this side of the Pennines and according to 
local blogger @FeastandGlory, this is also the case in sunny Sheffield. My parents are delighted about this seeing as they've been dosa-mad since that time we showed them the wonders of Sindhoor.

Predictably, me and mum couldn't resist starting our meal with some portions of Idli and what was unrealistically referred to by the menu as a "Mini" Masala Dosa to share. The dosa was tasty, although there was nothing mini about it. The Idli were just light and moist enough to get away with not being soaked in a bowl of sambar but not soggy either. Bailey's Chicken Samosas were crispy and generous on the filling, although he wasn't too keen on the chilli sauce and preferred dipping them into our lovely chutnies.

This would be a good time to mention how genuine and friendly the service was throughout the meal. One example of this was that, when I couldn't decide between the Dal & Spinach Curry and the Channa Massala, the waiter said that because they were both so delicious he would give me two side portions of each and only charge me for one. How brilliant. Even better when they arrived and both appeared to be the exact same size as everyone else's curries, AND they were too delicious to leave, resulting in me almost having to be carried out of the restaurant due to a carb/legume induced coma.

We were also impressed that when Steve's Kumrakom Fish Curry was a few moments late in arriving, the lady actually RAN out of the kitchen to deliver it to him. Oh and this was also delicious. In fact, everyone's was delicious, suffice to say we were collectively very impressed with the fresh, hearty food we were served at Rama's Bridge.

I do have to say that this was a particularly joyous Mother's Day as it was the first one in yonks where we've all been together as a family - my brother is recently back from his travels and I get the impression that mums are at their happiest when they've got all their wandering children back in one place. Truth is I hadn't even really thought about the food and we were going to have a great time whatever was put in front of us so this is what made it such a lovely surprise when everything was so tasty and the service was so spot on.

While I have to admit to knowing very little about the South Yorkshire dining scene, it would appear to me that Rama's Bridge is an excellent addition to Crookes' high street and Sheffield's repertoire of restaurants. Definitely worth bobbing into if you're round that way.

Rama's Bridge on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Black Soya Milk Rice Pudding

Like most of my vegan cooking adventures, this story begins with yet another visit to the mystical world of WH Lung.

On this occasion I was looking out for a little something to satisfy a Sunday afternoon sweet tooth, especially seeing as being a Lenten vegan I've been quite short of options when it comes to desserts. I spotted some exciting looking pudding rice but it was the even more intriguing BLACK soya milk that really caught my eye.

Despite the aforementioned intrigue, I was also a bit scared. I started imagining some kind of terrifying squid ink-esque beverage that tasted really weird... In reality, it wasn't squid ink-esque. It wasn't even black, it looked like normal soya milk and was gorgeous and sweet, one of the nicest soya milks I've ever had!

The rice pudding it produced was delicious. And so easy to make - mix it up, bung in the oven, go off and watch film then eat! I did in fact eat almost the whole dish of it then regretted it the next day when I fancied some more. I'll definitely make it again!

250g pudding rice
1 litre of black soya milk
10g stevia
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat the oven to gas mark 2. Combine all the ingredients in an oven tray and stir well.

Cover the tray with a lid or foil and bake in the oven for around 2 hours (stirring once or twice during this time) until the pudding is starting to look creamy but still fairly milky - it does seem to thicken up as soon as it comes out of the oven.

Serve with fruit or jam - a sweet vegan treat!

Monday, March 24, 2014


Chorlton! The land of the dog lover! The kingdom of good boozers! The realm of the overpaid BBC executive!  We do like Chorlton!  We get over as often as we can for a good pub crawl but it's not very often it ends up being our dining destination.  For whatever reason it seems to have a high proportion of great pubs compared to great restaurants with the exception of the fantastic Coriander, The Beagle's various food incarnations and Manchester's best kebab shop Panicos there isn't really anything remarkable.  Don't get me wrong there aren't any bad places either and there are some perfectly reasonable places to get scran from but it seems that Chorlton is jut a little short changed on the sit down eatery front.  The one place we'd heard lots and lots of great things about but never had a chance to try was Arian.  That isn't the real Arian website I just linked to by the way but it is the one shown on their Trip Advisor page and I like the music so I thought I'd roll with it.

Trying to book gave us our first taste of how popular it must be, we called and asked for a table at 8pm but were told they had no space until 9pm.  No worries we thought, we'd still have time to eat and get down the pub for last orders to meet up with some chums.

Arian is located just south of the 'Four Banks' in Chorlton and as it's a BYOB affair (plus cool points) it was an easy option to stroll down to Carringtons to pick up a bottle.  As we cruised on past Arian at 8pm we noticed that half the tables were empty.  Bit weird.  Carringtons supplied an excellent bottle as always, we even had a good chat with the fella in there who said he'd eaten everything on the Arian menu.  Expectations were rising!  Bottle secured we trotted across the road to Morley Cheek's to grab a pint and bide our time before our table was ready.

We arrived at bang on 9pm to find that two of the tables which were free at 8pm were still sat unmade, hmmmmmmmmm not sure why we couldn't have had those earlier but maybe there had been a few cancellations, either way we ended up being seated at the moment that a table of 16 were having their order taken.  The table we were given was right by the front door which was a bit of a bummer as there was a continuous stream of smokers from the party table going in and out of the front door.

I wasn't really a massive fan of the interior of the restaurant I have to say.  The panelled ceiling reminded me of a poorly maintained office, a lot of the decor looked pretty cheap and there was a mystery substance liberally splashed across the wall we were seated against.  The whole restaurant needed a little bit of a spring clean and a lick of paint.  Oh yeah they should probably take their Christmas decorations down now as well.

Arian deal in Persian cuisine and the menu looks top notch, plenty of varied choice especially for the veggies amongst us.  It felt a little bit pricey at first glance but we had been reliably informed that the portions were designed for The Incredible Hulk and the flavours exquisite so we didn't mind one bit.  It took about 20 minutes for our order to be taken while the party were attended to but when the lovely waitress arrived pen in hand I went for Falafel for starters while Jules plumped for the Mirza (a dish of aubergine, egg and tomato).  We popped the cork on our wine and Jules ordered a Persian tea to accompany her starters.

The waitress disappeared from the front of house and we then didn't see her again for twenty minutes at which point the big party's starters started to arrive.  In that twenty minutes a table of four elderly people desperately peered around to try and obtain a bill whilst a young lady from the party table stood waiting at the bar seeking a wine glass for so long that she gave up, went behind the bar and grabbed one herself.  When the starters did begin to flow out to the party they also began to flow back in to the kitchen as there were quite a few problems with missing items and cold food.

Because of this general mayhem it was nearly 40 minutes before our starters appeared and the tea was still nowhere to be seen.  I asked if we could have our tea to which the flustered waitress snapped "No!" before quickly regaining her composure and asking if we would like it with our main course.  I asked if we could have it with our starters and it did indeed arrive shortly after.

The best part of any Middle Eastern meal for me is the super hot and tasty fresh bread, something that Olive & Thyme just down the road from Arian completely understands.  As soon as I clapped eyes on Arians effort at bread I was incredibly disappointed, it was flat and pale with just a few little chars.  I'm not sure how it had been prepared or how long it had been sat waiting to be brought out to our table but it was cold and didn't taste of anything, that isn't an exaggeration, when I put it in my mouth and chewed my way through it my brain was confused as if all the taste buds had been extracted from my tongue, it was a flavour black hole.  After it had been sat on our table for a few minutes I went back to try another bite but it had become so stale that it had taken on the shape of the basket, it now had the appearance of a giant chewy pringle.  The falafel wasn't much better, it was cold and tasteless accompanied by sauce which both looked and tasted like it had come out of one of those giant kebab shop sauce bottles, super sweet and nothing else it had that gloopy emulsified texture to it.  The fresh salsa that sat unassumingly on the side was fresh at least.  Jules' Mirza was just as flawed, although it was tasty with a good hit of smoky flavour it was also very oily and only just luke warm.  I have no problem waiting for good food in a busy restaurant but I do have a problem waiting for bad food in a chaotic restaurant.

Again there was hardly anybody out front (maybe two appearances) for over thirty minutes so we certainly didn't get a check back or even any eye contact to tell the lovely waitress that we were unhappy. The table of incredibly patient elderly couples carried on attempting to pay and when they did pin the waitress down they tried to tell her how it was nice to come back to their local restaurant, she walked off mid conversation, they looked perplexed and left.

As a side note something else happened at this point which was obviously not the fault of the restaurant but didn't help the situation.  A gang of youths had congregated at the restaurant window (which I was sat right in front of) and had proceeded to practice their roundhouse kicks, striking the glass a couple of times. I suppose kids should have interests and hobbies even if they are improvising martial arts moves in front of Persian restaurants.  Intimidating and hilarious at the same time.

Have you seen the film Precinct 13?
At this point we realised things were not going to get any better and who knows how long it was going to take for the mains to come out and we really wanted to get down The Beagle to catch up with some friends therefore we took the decision that we would pay up and politely leave. I did attempt to get the waitress' attention for some time but I was blatantly ignored, another ten minutes passed before she arrived to clear our plates which she did with a smile but didn't ask how the food was, forcing me to politely suggest that it was not very good, I picked up the bread to provide a demonstration of its new basket shape.  She apologised, and I asked if it was okay if we just pay up for what we had already had and go?  She said she had to ask the boss, no problem I said.  It was now 2 hours after we had been seated.

She came back a few minutes later and simply said "Your main course is going to be ready in 5 minutes" with her customary smile, this was a polite way of saying 'nope you're going to stay and pay for your main course, I don't care that your food was shit'.  I was a little bit miffed by this but still politely asked "I understand that but do you mind if we just pay for what we've had and go because it really hasn't been very good and we don't have time now to finish our meal?" The waitress had obviously been sent back by the boss to insist we pay and wasn't very comfortable at all, she had my sympathies but also she wasn't dealing with this very well.  She disappeared without answering my question and returned 5 minutes later with our main courses in hand and started to place them on the table.  I was now very miffed and said "I'm sorry but we don't want these, as I asked before we just want to pay and leave is that okay?" She carried on smiling, putting the plates down and saying "if you don't like them then don't pay for them" sensing that wouldn't be an option later on and increasingly getting more miffed I asked her to take the plates back. She relented and took them away leaving us waiting for another five minutes with no idea what was going on.

Then the boss came out.  He didn't look happy.  He didn't look happy at all.  As soon as he appeared at the bar I could tell he was pissed off, he put his head down and came straight over, he did not have a happy face, his face was distinctly unhappy.  When he arrived at the table he stood there angrily with his arms closed but didn't start the conversation, I began to explain the situation "I'm really sorry but we'd like to pay up and leave, the starters took 30 minutes to come out and..." he cut me off and angrily pointed at the table of 16  before saying "You booked in at 9pm!".  The man was correct, I had booked in at 9pm because that's the time he had insisted we book in... I felt like I had to defend myself a bit now so I said "yeah but surely you'd send a two top before a big party, anyway that's not the biggest problem, I understand things can be late, we tried to book earlier but you said 9pm was your only slot" he jumped on to the food without any suggestion from me "I've sent out seven other falafels tonight!" was his defence.  I'm not sure if the other seven poor souls who had consumed that falafel had accepted their fate or perhaps they had fallen in to a coma due to the bland flavours and were incapable of complaining. "I'm sorry but it was't nice, it was cold and it didn't taste of anything" (for some reason I attempted to mime the cold reshaped bread with an exaggerated cupping gesture).  I could see he was getting angrier and I wasn't a big fan of being spoken to like this in front of a busy restaurant so I tried to bring it to a close by saying I was happy to pay for what we'd eaten despite it not being very good "No you don't pay for anything" he shouted and he pointed at the door and stormed off muttering something under his breath.  How embarassing.  We nervously laughed, grabbed our jackets and walked out down the street to Jasmine where, even though it was very late, they sorted us out very quickly with a lovely mezze with beautiful fresh bread in a serene atmosphere with lovely service.

NOT the food of Arian, this was the lovely mezze down the road at Jasmine
Now I'm sure Arian were just having an off night when it comes to the service and the food, it was clear that they were running the restaurant on two people, I have a feeling the boss was also the chef and so the party had clearly caused an issue.  Loads of people love this place so the food must be OK the majority of the time.  Everybody makes mistakes like that, that's not the problem.  The problem is when the owner doesn't care about the bad service and the bad food which was clearly the case here, the problem is when guests aren't given the opportunity to let the restaurant know they are unhappy through the simplest of feedback routes "the look", the problem here is that when guests complain politely they shouldn't be ignored, their concerns should be addressed and an owner/manager shouldn't come storming out of the kitchen looking for a confrontation.

A lot of people argue that it's not OK to complain about a restaurant afterwards, that they  deserve to be given feedback on the day if there is an issue, people don't have a right to complain after the event without giving the restaurant an opportunity to fix what went wrong, I've always argued that this is not the RIGHT of the restaurant and the customer takes a risk when complaining in a restaurant that things will not be put right and their complaint may not be listened to and their experience on the night which they are paying for might be ruined further.  This is a perfect example of that, I complained politely and was treated like absolute shit which ruined my evening. Thirty minutes afterwards we were really laughing about it (the laughing in the restaurant was nervous laughter) but at the time it was incredibly intimidating and a very unpleasant experience.  I can't recommend that anybody ever goes to Arian because of this chance that the food and service might not be up to scratch and should that happen you might end up having to deal with the angriest man in Chorlton.
Arian on Urbanspoon


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