Cheesy

grilled cheese toastie

Near to my office are various eating places, I often drink coffee at the Exchange and have heard good thing about many of the places on Old Market, but apart from buying bread from the Assembly Bakery I’ve not actually eaten at many of the establishments.

So it was with some hopeful anticipation that I went for lunch at 25A Old Market. From what I was told they usually offer a range of (posh) sausage rolls and cheese toasties. On the day we went only the toasties were on the menu.

The welcome was warm and friendly and after placing our orders we went downstairs into the basement and our food was brought down to us.

There was a choice of two toasties a five cheese one and a meat one. I went with the meat one.

It arrived hot and toasty with a really nice side salad. They use the sourdough from the Assembly Bakery and it was really tasty, good strong flavoured cheese and great bread. I think I would have been perfectly happy with the cheese variant, not sure how much extra the salami added to the toastie.

I am not usually a toasty or panini fan, but this was a really nice toasty.

Another visit….

the view from Waterloo Bridge

Back in London for a meeting and needing a bit for lunch, I did consider where I should go for lunch, and if I should go somewhere new, but did like the idea of Wahaca again. It wasn’t that long since I had been, but I had really enjoyed that meal. So off I went, over Waterloo Bridge to the South Bank to partake in some Mexican street food. So once more I went to the Street Food section of the menu to make some choices.

I hadn’t had quesadillas before so chose one from the menu. These are large toasted tortilla oozing with melting mozzarella, chorizo and potato. This is British chorizo, made to a special recipe, with diced sauteéd potatoes and fresh thyme.

Quesadillas Large toasted tortilla oozing with melting mozzarella and classic Mexican ingredients.  British chorizo, made to our own special recipe, with diced sauteéd potatoes and fresh thyme.

The large tortilla is folded and then cut into two. I did initially think that I had been given the wrong dish, as I didn’t think there was much potato or chorizo in the dish. There was more in the second though. I did enjoy the quesadilla it was nice and spicy.

My other dish was the smoky tomato fideus. These were east coast Mexican angel hair noodles in a chipotle tomato sauce, with sliced fresh avocado, capers & crumbled Lancashire cheese and topped with a touch of hand picked white Devon crab meat.

Smoky tomato fideus East coast Mexican angel hair noodles in a chipotle tomato sauce, with sliced fresh avocado, capers & crumbled Lancashire cheese, topped with a touch of hand picked white Devon crab meat. #wahaca

This was a much larger dish than I thought it was going to be. When Wahaca recommend 2-3 dishes, I usually go with three, but if this is one of them, then I think you can get away with just two, even if you are hungry.

This is very much thin noodles in a tasty spicy tomato sauce. I liked the avocado and cheese. There was a nice topping of crab, which to my surprise was chilled and hadn’t had a chance to warm up. I did like this dish and it was full of flavour, and something I wouldn’t expect in an Mexican eatery.

For my third dish, I did order a dish I had before, and went once more with the tacos, three toasted soft corn tortillas with flash grilled skirt steak with chipotle salsa. They also came with raw diced onion and some guacamole.

Tacos flash grilled skirt steak with chipotle salsa with crisp grilled cheese

These were very generous filled with steak, more than I have had when I had these tacos before. These were delicious, I really enjoyed the chargrilled steak and the different textures and flavours.

The service was excellent, friendly, efficient and lots of smiles.

So what’s close by?

I have really enjoyed my previous visits to Wahaca, visiting central London and looking for somewhere to eat, I did wonder if there was a Wahaca close by, a quick search and 0.2 miles away on Charlotte Street.

This is a very different establishment to the one on the South Bank, more traditional in appearance from the outside. Inside it felt more like the one on the South Bank, the furniture was very similar. The staff were friendly and welcoming. Inside there were the similar tables and chairs, but as the place isn’t made from shipping containers, the walls were brick and the ceilings high.

Looking over the menu, I decided to go with one of the specials as they were different from those at my last visit. There was a choice of two, so I went with the lamb taquito, this was slow-braised lamb shoulder marinated in ancho chilli and orange rolled in a crispy fried tortilla.

slow-braised lamb shoulder marinated in ancho chilli and orange rolled in a crispy fried tortilla

Unlike my previous experience with taquitos, these were very tasty, strong flavours. The fried tortilla was nice and crip and I enjoyed the accompanying slaw.

I also went with the Tostadas, two crispy corn tortillas topped with fresh, light layers of Mexican flavour, served chilled.

Tostadas, two crispy corn tortillas topped with fresh, light layers of Mexican flavour, served chilled.

These were smoky chargrilled chicken, avocado, guacamole, chipotle mayo and fresh slaw. This was delicious and refreshing. A wonderful combination of tastes and textures.

I did also order a dish I had before, and went with the tacos, three toasted soft corn tortillas with flash grilled skirt steak with chipotle salsa.

three toasted soft corn tortillas with flash grilled skirt steak with chipotle salsa

They also came with raw diced onion and some guacamole. As before they were delicious. I was asked if I wanted grilled cheese with them, I said no, but they arrived with the grilled cheese. I felt this added very little to the dish and wasn’t really needed, pleased that I wasn’t charged for this extra.

Another enjoyable visit to Wahaca and some great food.

Grilled Halloumi

halloumi

One staple of many of the salads I have been making over the recent weeks has been grilled halloumi. I don’t recall the first time I had this Greek cheese, but I have over the years found it a tasty addition to salads. Halloumi is a Cypriot semi-hard, unripened brined cheese made from a mixture of goat’s and sheep’s milk.

I usually slice mine into 5mm slices and then fry (so not grilling) in a hot frying pan with a little olive oil. They only take a few minutes to cook on each side. The end result is a crispy outer and a soft salty inside, that complements the greenness and freshness of a salad.

Some people like to add a little rock salt to their halloumi, but I find it salty enough.

One thing I have not tried yet is cooking it on the barbeque.

Grilled Halloumi

Grilled Halloumi Salad #photo365 #fb

This is a quick and easy addition to any salad or as a starter.

Halloumi s a Cypriot semi-hard, unripened brined cheese made from a mixture of goat’s and sheep’s milk. I slice the cheese into 5mm slices and these are then placed under a hot grill, cooked on both sides until browned.

For speed though I have been taking a large frying pan, using some a little olive oil and then frying the slices until browned on each side. You need to take care, as it can be easy to overcook the slices.

Homemade Quiche

Quiche

I haven’t made quiche for a while now, but over the weekend decided to throw one together.

I made some shortcrust pastry and baked it blind in the oven in a flan tin. Everytime I do that I always think I should be using some baking beans, but I don’t have any, so I lined the top of the pastry with baking parchment and used another pan on top to keep the pastry flat. One tip I picked up from the television was to fold the pastry over the edge of the flan tin and once cooked this is carved off, and creates a level pie base.

I filled the base first with some fresh spinach and the cooked onions, peppers, mushrooms and pancetta. I then added some grated mature cheddar cheese. There are lots of choices when it comes to quiche fillings,

I placed the flan in the oven and then filled it, covering the rest of the filling with an egg and milk mixture.

The quiche is then baked in the oven until the egg has set and the top of the quiche has started to brown.

Delicious warm, it can also be served cold with salad.

Pie with all the trimmings

I mentioned in a previous post how much I had enjoyed pie and mash at Pie Minister. The Pie Minister in the Oxford Covered Market on a Tuesday has a special offer, basically any pie with all the trimming for just £5, the usual price is £7.95 so quite a good saving.

Normally I can’t get in on a Tuesday as, you might well expect, the queues are quite long. I generally don’t have a lot of time for lunch, but also I don’t like queueing! However on a recent Tuesday I was lucky to get in quite quickly. The place was busy though. 

I went with the traditional steak and kidney or as they call it Kate and Sidney. This was served with mash, gravy, a side order of mushy peas and topped with cheese and crispy onions.

Pie with all the trimmings

It certainly looked the part. I did enjoy the pie which was full of a rich delicious filling, big chunks of steak and kidney combined with a nice crunchy pastry shell. The mash was smooth and well seasoned, the mushy peas were also very nice. However I am not sure if the cheese added anything, there was something rather disconcerting about biting into a portion of hot pie with cold cheese, in some ways it was a little unpleasant. If I go again, though I will go with the mushy peas, I will avoid the cheese!

Breads and Cheeses

Sometimes you find really nice places in the most unobivous of locations.

I don’t go to Cabot Circus in Bristol that often, but when I do I am somewhat surprised by how busy the restaurant places are. There are loads of people queuing to eat at Nandos, Bella Italia always looks packed, as does Yo Sushi.

Though I have to say I was somewhat surprised to find out the other day that La Tasca at Cabot Circus had closed (and will be replaced by a Wagamama). I went to La Tasca last July and said back then:

It wasn’t awful, it was just okay, nothing special and I do think that the restaurant could have done a lot better.

I finished off by saying:

I think it might be a while before I go to La Tasca again…

I wonder if my experience was similar, as a result there was a lack of repeat custom and if you are losing sales, it makes sense to close.

It might be more that people have fallen out of favour with tapas and have moved onto other things… Nandos judging by the queues if you were to ask me.

We went to La Tasca back then, as we didn’t want to eat at the restaurant in Harvey Nichols, as my wife put it “she didn’t want to have a celebrationary dinner in an upmarket BHS or Primark!” So it was somewhat strange that on our most recent visit to Cabot Circus we did end up in the bar at Harvey Nichols.

This was a really peaceful haven from the hustle and bustle of the shopping quarter and it was nice to just sit down, relax and be waited upon.

We weren’t there for a meal, just a glass of wine and a snack. The wine list was comprehensive and interesting, and I thought very reasonable, a lot cheaper than I was expecting and anticipated. It was also very nice wine.

In terms of snacks we ordered the rustic homemade bread with Harvey Nichols olive oil and balsamic vinegar was a nice bar snack at just £3.50.

 rustic homemade bread with Harvey Nichols olive oil and balsamic vinegar

We also splashed out and went with the cheese board, artisan cheeses, served with Harvey Nichols chutney and homemade bread, which was a little more pricey at £8.00.

 cheese board, artisan cheeses, served with Harvey Nichols chutney and homemade bread

The breads were really nice and interesting. There were ciabatta style breadsticks, focaccia, and some very unusual gingerbread style bread (not quite gingerbread, but similar). The cheeses were really nice, there was a farmhouse cheddar, a type of brie and a hard Spanish cheese. The chutney was nice, not too strong, but still full of flavours. Alongside came some celery and apple. Both snacks were really tasty and complemented the wines we had chosen.

Now they do that thing, which I don’t really like “a discretionary 10% service charge will be added to all bills” and to be honest I don’t understand. Either include the “service” in the prices or let the customer make the choice about rewarding good service. Using a term like “discretionary” implies that it is a choice, but unless you had really terrible service, you wouldn’t likely say that you were going to not pay it. I also think it stops people tipping more!

Just as an aside really, what I did notice was that (even with the discretionary 10% service charge) many of the prices were quite reasonable. The different coffees available were cheaper than those you would find in a high street chain nearby, and unlike those where you would have to wait at the counter for your coffee, here you would have a waiter deliver the coffee to your table. Much more civilised, wouldn’t you say?

Overall this was a peaceful respite from the hustle and bustle that is Cabot Circus and recommended for a quiet drink, whether that be wine or coffee.

Oxfordian French

I was recently invited for a meal out in, of all places, Oxford. The choice was Pierre Victoire, an independent family run French style restaurant. This is no way a regular haunt so was interested to see what the food was going to be like. What surprised me the most was how crowded the place was for a Wednesday evening. True there were a couple of big groups in, but it appeared to me that every table was taken. I don’t think I was the only one that was surprised, I got the feeling the staff were surprised too. They took our orders and then forty minutes later took them again as the original order had gone “missing”. Later on the desert choices went missing too! In the end we were in the restaurant for four hours, in reality I think it could have been much shorter. I did note though that other people weren’t getting forgotten as we were.

I really liked the atmosphere and the design of the place, it felt rustic French to me, no pretentions, this was going to be good solid French cooking, no messing. There were no fancy tablecloths for example. I don’t go to France much these days (okay the last time was nearly twenty years ago) but my memories of the restaurants I use to eat at, were family run affairs with great food. They weren’t chains with system cooking, these places cooked their food from fresh and used good local ingredients.

The house wine was a rough and ready red wine that wasn’t unpleasant, but did lack finesse, however that didn’t really matter as this was rustic restaurant and the wine suited this environment just fine.

The menu wasn’t too short, but also wasn’t excessively long either. I always worry about huge menus, how on earth do they manage to keep the ingredients fresh for such a range of choices. If you have a huge kitchen with lots of chefs and lots of covers then fine, I understand, but a small place with not too many covers you sometimes think how? Well actually I know how, the places use tins and jars. I remember going to an Italian restaurant in London and they had one of these huge menus, I distinctly recall the tomato sauce I had on my pasta was from a jar, it certainly wasn’t fresh. So looking over the menu at Pierre Victoire I wasn’t disappointed with the number of choices I was inspired and looking forward to ordering and eating.

For my starter my immediate reaction was to go with the pigeon breast, roasted pink and served with sweet potato, a red wine jus and parsnip chips. Upon reflection I did quite like the idea of the Moules or the Crab Salad. However in the end I went with my first choice of the pigeon.

pigeon breast, roasted pink and served with sweet potato, a red wine jus and parsnip chips

This was beautifully cooked, pink, tender and lots of flavour. The red win jus was just right and had the potential to be salty, but was seasoned perfectly. I did enjoy the parsnip chips and the sweet potato, but did think that there was slightly too much of the sweet potato. As a result for a starter it was quite a substantial dish. Having said that, it was beautifully cooked and I really enjoyed it.

For my main course I was torn between a range of dishes. I did like the sound of the chicken, Suprême de Volaille, a chicken breast roasted with a baby spinach & wild mushroom farce and served with gratin dauphinoise and a red wine reduction. However I always seem to be cooking chicken at home, so really wanted something other than chicken (but it did sound nice).

The steak and frites (chips) would have been the “boring” choice, so that was another item on the menu eliminated.

I really did quite like the idea of the roasted duck magret and confi’d duck leg served on a leek and potato rosti with a blackberry and ginger sauce, but as I had had the pigeon for a starter,I felt it would have been too similar a dish.

In the end I went with Moules~Frites, the fresh Cornish mussels served marinières à la crème.

Moules~Frites, the fresh Cornish mussels served marinières à la crème

The mussels were lovely and fresh, there was a good sized portion and they were delicious. Slight criticism was that the diced onion in the sauce was undercooked, but apart from that it was a dish full of flavour and very satisfying. I also really enjoyed the pommes frites that were the right size and texture.

I did like that the restaurant also served bread and unsalted President butter along with the meal, perfect as an appetiser and to mop up juices and sauce.

Desert for me was a no brainer, it was going to the cheese. Well so I thought, I did for a second or two consider the hazelnut desert however the thought of plate of cheese won out. Someone else did order the hazelnut dish and I didn’t think that much of it. I was expecting more of a pave, a slab of sweet terrine (or pate), but what they had was very different.

The cheese and accompaniments arrived on a wooden chopping board. Alongside the three portions of cheese consisting of Saint Albray, Roquefort and Camembert Artisan, was bread, biscuits, celery, grapes and chutney.

Saint Albray, Roquefort and Camembert Artisan

Didn’t eat the celery, don’t like celery, never liked it. Cheese was good, even the strong Roquefort was nice with the chutney.

Overall a delicious meal and some great company too. I finished my meal off with a single espresso which was perfect.

We chose from the “Party Menu” which was £21 for three courses.

French Style

Last year when visiting Nottingham for an event, myself and David Sugden, had a meal at French Living, as you might expect a French themed restaurant.

Not knowing a city means that you are either dependent on recommendations from friends there, going to a chain (with the usual potential of disappointment) or taking a chance (with an equal chance of disappointment).

Usually what I would do in these situations is roam the streets for a while looking at various places and seeing what was available. Sometimes this is successful, and sometimes it is downright a nightmare. I did this once in Preston and had a really nice meal, did it in London and had an Italian nightmare of a meal!

So I did something that I hadn’t done before (which surprised even me) and searched the internet for restaurants. I have used the internet to find restaurants (that I know of, or people recommended) but this was the first time I searched for suitable restaurants. I arrived at a selection, and I read and checked the reviews to see what other people thought.

I am slightly wary of reviews (and to be honest personal recommendations) as people’s perceptions of what makes a good restaurant vary so much. Some people will recommend (or not) a place on the quality of the food, others on the quantity of food, some on the ambiance, some even on the availability of car parking or a child’s play area! I remember someone recommending a place, purely on the basis that they gave you so much food you couldn’t eat it all, fair enough if you’re very hungry and don’t worry that much about what you eat I guess. A lot depends I guess on why you go out to eat. The context is also quite important, a quiet dinner for two is one thing, a group of you eating ramen and noodles at Wagamamas is something else. So as you might expect I was slightly sceptical of anything I read.

Having read a fair few reviews, I compiled a list on which French Living was one of a few choices. Why did we end up in French Living, well the main reason was that it was the first place on my list we found…

I think I have a good sense of direction and spatial awareness, so know where I am and where to find places. The reality is in fact very different, and if I choose not to accept that, then that is not just a problem for me, but also for people who believe me when I say that I do know where I am and where I am going. Arriving in Nottingham City Centre, I thought I knew where to go and park, it’s not as though I hadn’t been before, but in the end had no idea really where the centre was, where best to park and what was it with all those buses and taxis? In the end I did end up in a car park, no idea where it was and if I would be able to get back in again to collect my car.

So of we walked to find a place to eat, and as it happens the first place we found on my list was French Living. For future reference it’s at 27 King St, Nottingham, NG1 2AY. It certainly looked the part and reminded me of many of the (real) French places I had eaten at when I was younger.

Looking over the menu, there was quite a wide choice, though for me there were some good choices on the fixed price Menu Gastronomique so I went with that. With four choices per course, you might have thought it was limited, well even on the main menu there were only ten choices of main courses in all.

For my starter I chose Moules au Vin Blanc.

Moules au Vin Blanc

This was a bowl of whole fresh mussels steamed in shallot, garlic, parsley and cream broth. I do like moule, but rarely have them when I go out to eat as more often than not, they are pre-cooked and then reheated in the microwave, you know the kind that are easily purchased in the supermarket. It’s not as I don’t like that, to be honest I do have them now and again from the supermarket, it’s much more if I am going out to eat then I want freshly cooked food, not reheated food. Too often I find these days many places are just reheating food from a central supplier, rather than cooking it fresh themselves. These did taste as though they were freshly cooked, and from the look of the shells, they looked like it too. The broth was nice and I did enjoy dunking the bread in. As with any seafood broth it was quite salty, but not excessively so.

For my main course I had considered the Cassoulet de Castelnaudary, but wasn’t sure, so in the end I went with Chevreuil aux Myrtilles, medallions of wild Scottish venison cooked rare with red wine and blueberry sauce – gratin dauphinois and vegetable garnish.

Chevreuil aux Myrtilles

Well this was a wonderful dish, full of different flavours, the sauce contrasting well with the full flavour of the venison. I was pleased with the venison which, though having lots of flavour, wasn’t overstrong or overpowering. It was very tender and there was a good sized portion too. I did enjoy the gratin dauphinois which makes a nice difference to chips or pomme frites. Overall a really nice dish.

If you know me, or have read the blog, you will realise, given the choice instead of choosing a sweet desert I much prefer cheese. So it was no surprise for my “desert” I went with Assiette de Fromages, a selection of three unpasteurised French cheeses served with bread and mixed salad leaves.

Assiette de Fromages

I was less impressed with this course, I felt a little short changed on the cheese and would have liked to have a little more. Having said that it was very nice cheese.

Overall it was a really good meal, and the reviews I had read online were reasonably accurate and authentic. If I ever found myself in Nottingham again and I could find it, I would certainly go again.