Barnsley Chop

I was staying up in Manchester. I was staying at the Macdonald Manchester Hotel. I had stayed at the hotel before in 2015, though back then I didn’t have dinner in the hotel. This time having arrived late into Manchester, I decided to eat in the hotel restaurant.

It was a Monday evening, so I didn’t expect the place to be that busy. There were quite a few people eating in the bar, so I did think that there might be some people eating in the restaurant. When I arrived the restaurant was empty, but it was late, and I was hungry.

The restaurant is called The Scottish Steakhouse and if you go to the hotel website it says:

True to our Scottish heritage, the beef we serve comes from fully accredited Scottish farms and supplied to us by Scotbeef, suppliers to the highest quality retailers in the country. The beef is then traditionally aged for a minimum of 21 days on the bone and hand cut by highly skilled butchers using time-honoured techniques, delivering the perfect Scottish dining experience. 

However the menu actually says:

All our steaks are from the North West England! Straight from Dukesmoor Farm who have a range of superior and traditionally reared British cattle.

So, which is correct? Well who knows, I suspect the menu is now right.

Looking over the menu, I decided that I would have something from the grill. I do quite like a nice lamb chop, so went with the Barnsley Chop, which the menu said was served with grilled mushrooms and roast cherry vine tomatoes.

I did ask if the dish came with chips, I was told it came with fries, but did I want chips, I said I was happy with fries. I thought they might be extra. Well when I got the bill they were an extra, I didn’t mind as I wanted some fries, but didn’t appreciate the confusion.

My meal arrived promptly and looked very nice.

Overall it was a nice plate of food. The chips was nice, as were the mushrooms and tomatoes. The lamb was cooked well, was tender and tasty. I think the lamb could have been better seasoned, but that was a minor comment.

Thought the initial service left a lot to be desired, the service after the meal was friendly and excellent.

Breakfast Time in Wimbledon

I was staying in Wimbledon at the Hotel du Vin and staying overnight I had breakfast a couple of times.

Unlike a lot of hotel chains, there wasn’t a full buffet breakfast. You helped yourself to toast, croissant, fruit, and so on. However for hot food though you ordered off the menu. It was a similar story with hot drinks.

I did like the fact that I could order a “proper” coffee of my choice with my breakfast, so I went with a double espresso. This was much nicer than the filtered coffee you usually have at hotel breakfasts.

There was a fair few choices on the menu, Eggs Benedict, Avocado on Toast, Grilled Kipper. In the end though I went with the Classic Full Cooked Breakfast. This was Cumberland sausage, sweet cured bacon, black pudding, grilled tomato, mushroom and eggs (cooked to your liking). I went with poached eggs.

Having taken my order the breakfast was cooked to order. The kitchen was in the Orangery at the hotel, so I could (if I was closer) see my breakfast being cooked. My breakfast then arrived on the table.

Classic Full Cooked Breakfast

I have to say I was a little disappointed. The bacon didn’t look that appetising. However it was nice and fresh, and did taste delicious. I enjoyed the tomato and mushroom, the sausage and black pudding were good, and the eggs were cooked well.

On the second day I was there, I went with the same classic breakfast and this was much better.

Classic Full Cooked Breakfast

The bacon this time looked a lot nicer, but otherwise it was much the same as the day before (consistency is a good thing).

Overall, despite my initial (minor) disappointment, this was a nice breakfast. The continental selection was good, nice choice of jams  and butter. Excellent coffee as well.

What should I have?

I enjoyed my last visit to Bills on Baker Street in July. So it was with some anticipation we headed there for dinner on a visit to London. Bills has an interesting dining environment, the different branches seem familiar, but different at the same time. The Baker Street branch appears to be smaller than other Bills I have been to.

Upon entering we were given a warm welcome, we had booked, and were shown to our table. One of the things I have found with Bills is that the menu changes quite often, so even though you may think, well I have that next time I visit, sometimes those very things disappear. So it does make, making a choice that little bit harder.

I was expecting to see the set menu we had in July, but it had changed already. It had gone up by two pounds and had lost the steak and chicken dishes we had had back then. So after reviewing what was on the set menu, we looked at the main menu.

While the rest of the table went with steak and chips, I wanted something different.

I was tempted by the chargrilled lamb rump. However having had an outstanding lamb rump in 2018 from the (now sadly closed) Cattle & Co in Euston, I knew I would have high expectations. The menu description of marinated lamb rump steaks I knew I might be disappointed. The sound of the Black & Gold Burger was quite tempting.

Chargrilled beef patty topped with cheese & truffle fondue, 24 carat gold flakes & grated black truffle. Served with rosemary salted fries.

As was the description of the Triple Truffle Shuffle Burger from the specials menu.

Topped with truffle mac & cheese, white truffle oil & dusted with freshly grated truffle. Served with rosemary fries

However I didn’t really fancy a burger, having only had one the other day in Harwell.

In the end I went with a dish I had been tempted to before on previous visits to Bills, which was the Lobster & Seafood Linguine.

Lobster & Seafood Linguine

Lobster, king prawn & squid in a rich tomato & chilli cream sauce with lemon oil.

The dish was nicely presented.

There was a nice lot of seafood in the pasta dish, which meant as you ate the dish you kept finding prawns, squid and lobster on your fork. Some places I have eaten this kind of dish, you get a meagre amount of seafood. I wasn’t overly impressed with the lobster, which either lacked flavour or was overpowered by the sauce. If it wasn’t there I don’t think I would have missed it, which was a pity.

I did enjoy the dish, I liked the cherry tomatoes with the pasta. Though I think it wouldn’t be something I would order again, if it was still on the menu. It didn’t blow me away. 

As for the rest of the table, well they all went with chargrilled 8oz sirloin steak with rosemary fries.

chargrilled 8oz sirloin steak with rosemary fries

They all enjoyed their dishes, but they did say I cooked a better steak.

Service was excellent, efficient and friendly. 

Overall we had a really nice meal.

Savoury Rice

Back in the 1980s I do remember seeing packs of yellow savoury rice, often branded Golden Vegetable or similar. I also remember never having it and never buying it.

Over the last few years (or is that decades) I have been cooking Spanish inspired rice dishes (which I have been known to call paella), and a range of risotto dishes. When cooking paella and risotto I always use a specialist rice to ensure that it cooks right.

Well there I was cooking dinner and we decided on a rice dish, however I had no paella or risotto rice in the cupboard. I did however have some long grain rice. So reviewing a few recipes I came up with the following recipe.

1 onion
1 small red pepper
3 or 4 mushrooms
Pack of diced smoked pancetta
200g long grain rice
600ml boiling water
Knorr Chicken Stock Pot
1 teaspoon of Morrisons Chicken Seasoning
Tomatoes
Fresh parsley

Dice the onion, red pepper and mushrooms.

In a large frying pan, heat some olive oil.

Cook off the pancetta.

Add the onions and pepper and cook until softened.

Add the diced mushrooms and cook for another minute.

Stir in the rice.

Stir the stock pot into the boiling water and add to the rice mixture. Add the chicken seasoning.

Simmer for fifteen minutes until the rice is cooked.

Garnish the rice with chopped fresh tomato and chopped parsley.

We had our rice dish with some fish and salad.

Chilli con carne

tomatoes and chilli
Image by Kai Reschke from Pixabay

This is not an authentic recipe for chilli con carne, but a dish I cook that has lots of flavour, is spicy, contains, beef, tomatoes, beans and chilli.

This dish serves 4-5

500g steak mince the 5% fat kind. You can use cheaper mince, but I find I often need to drain the excess fat after cooking off the mince.

Tin of tomatoes. We did for a while use cheap tins of tomatoes, but found that they lacked flavour so generally now use a quality brand. I use a blender to break down the tomatoes into a passata style base. If I had a carton or bottle of passata in the cupboard I may just use that instead of the tin.

Tin of kidney beans. For this dish I find the budget range fine.

Tomato puree. Like the tin of tomatoes, I have found budget brands of tomato puree okay for some dishes, but this I want that real hit of tomato, so got for a better quality version.

Two onions, diced. Sometimes I use brown onions, other times I use red onions, depends what’s in the fridge.

Red pepper, diced.

One carrot, diced. This is about “hiding” some more veg in the chilli, as well as adding texture and a little sweetness.

Cajun spicing (optional)

Chilli powder

Garlic powder, though you could use fresh.

A beef stock cube

A splash of Balsamic vinegar.

To cook the chilli I do the following steps.

Heat a large pot (or pan) and then add a little sunflower oil.

Cook off the mince in the pan, ensuring that it is evenly cooked through. If you have used a mince with 10% or higher fat content then drain off the excess fat.

Add the onions, pepper and carrot and stir into the mince.

Cook for five minutes, stirring every so often.

Add the Cajun spicing, chilli powder and garlic powder, stir into the mince. I generally use half a teaspoon of each. If you like your chilli spicier then add more Cajun spicing, if you like it hotter than add more chilli.

I might try using fresh chilli in a future version, this I would chop (and deseed) and add with the onions and pepper.

Cook for another minute.

Stir in the tomatoes and tomato puree. Sprinkle in the beef stock cube and the splash of Balsamic vinegar.

Stir, put on a lid and cook on a low heat for thirty minutes.

Add the tin of kidney beans and cook for five more minutes.

Serve.

I serve it either with rice or tortilla chips. Sometimes I use the chilli to fill soft (gluten free) corn tortillas, which I cover with cheese and then bake in the oven.

Tasty Tacos and Steak

I has driven to Ealing to get something to eat, I really didn’t know what I wanted, so walked around a fair bit. I did think about going to Cote or Bills. When I walked past Pizza Express I thought that looked familiar, then I remembered we had eaten there as a family in August 2018.

However in the end I went back to Pasta Remoli. I did ask if they had a table outside, the response was they needed to talk to the manager. It was very warm inside the restaurant, uncomfortably warm. Having waited a while and with a couple behind me (who had booked a table) I realised there probably wasn’t going to be a table free. So I left. I did think again about Bills, but realised I wasn’t hungry enough for two courses. I think a combination of the heat of the day, eating a few snacks when I got back and curbed my appetite somewhat. So, I headed back to my car and drove back to the apartment, and I had bread, cheese and salami.

The following day, after work I headed out to Ealing to get something to eat. This time I was hungry and had decided I would probably go to Bills. I did want to check out the tapas place I had seen on Google maps. La Rueda looked interesting and I liked the idea of the menu. However I think to have a good meal I would need to spend a fair amount of money, so decided no. Maybe the next time I was in Ealing.

I headed to Bills which had plenty of free tables outside, which I could choose from. I was a little concerned that there might be some rain (there was a 90% chance of rain according to my weather app) however it was still lovely and warm. I sat down and looked at the menus. I had pretty much made my choice earlier, however I did look again. They had a set menu and I did think the  chestnut mushroom, spinach and truFFle risotto, topped with a poached egg, pumpkin seeds and pea shoots sounded very nice. I guess my hesitation was that this wasn’t likely to be cooked to order, but maybe merely be a heated up prepared dish. Though I with the choice of calamari for a starter it was a possibility. 

In the end I went with the main menu. What had struck me from the list of starters were the tuna tacos. So decided to have those and the Dinner Special, an 8oz sirloin steak.

I placed my order and asked for some tap water along with the food.

The tuna tacos arrived very quickly and it was an interesting looking dish. 

It was seared raw tuna, avocado & spicy cherry tomatoes on crunchy blue corn tortillas, with crème fraîche, coriander & toasted sesame seeds.

I don’t know why, but I was expecting tacos, rather than the serving of tuna, avocado and tomatoes on crunchy blue corn tortillas. However I did like the presentation. The tuna was excellent, and liked the taste and texture. The avocado and tomato was nice as well. The tortilla were a little too crunchy for me, I think some soft blue corn tortillas might have been a better choice. The crème fraîche added some nice coolness and freshness to the dish, though I do think there was a little too much red chilli for me.

Having finished my starter and the table was cleared, I had to ask again for some tap water, which hadn’t arrived. I waited for my main course. I went for the dinner special, the 8oz sirloin steak served with rosemary salted fries, a green leaf & mixed seed salad and garlic butter.

This arrived promptly. This was an excellent steak, nice fries and the salad was a nice touch. This was so much a better dish than the steak I had at Cote a few weeks back. It had flavour, was well seasoned and cooked expertly.

I really enjoyed the steak and it was a really nice meal. I enjoyed sitting outside and the weather was perfect that reminded me of eating out in Greece and Spain, but this was Ealing in London in September.

As I was finishing up and paying my bill, the table next me were served with their order of calamari, I was quite pleased I hadn’t ordered it, and had gone with the tuna tacos, as it wasn’t what I had imagined. I thought it might be like the squid you get at Wagamama or Yo! Sushi, but they looked like breaded calamari rings. Something I won’t order next time I go to Bills.

The service was efficient, but I think it a little cold as a result. Having said that I did think overall, good service, excellent food and a nice atmosphere. I will go again, but thinking that the weather will change will mean I will be eating inside.

Time for some French food

I do quite like French food, probably an echo of eating out on French holidays back in the 1970s and 1980s. Over the years I have had some really nice meals, some excellent meals, and some not so good.

I was in London for a few days working. One evening, for dinner, I decided to head out to Ealing. I parked in the shopping centre and had a look around. I saw the Amazon Fresh shop, the one where you walk in pick things up and walk out and everything is charged to your Amazon account. I didn’t go in.

I had a look around for somewhere to eat. I did consider getting some cheese and bread from M&S. I saw they did a smaller version of the French cheese platter I have had in Weston. However there was no bread left. I did think about Wagamama, but it looked very busy. In the end after some procrastination and a bit more exploring and walking around, I went to Côte Brasserie, a chain of French style restaurants.

They had some tables free and I was given a choice of where I could sit, so I had a nice small table by the window. It was a decent environment, comfortable, inviting.

I had checked out the menu earlier online, so was pretty much convinced about what I was going to have. I went with the fixed price menu.

There was a nice choice of starters, but I decided that I would go for the Tomates ‘Breton’. Brittany heritage tomatoes topped with pistou on toasted pain de campagne.

Brittany heritage tomatoes topped with pistou on toasted pain de campagne.

It looked amazing, I was really impressed with the presentation of the dish.

I wasn’t sure what pistou was so checked up on Wikipedia later.

Pistou, or pistou sauce, is a Provençal cold sauce made from cloves of garlic, fresh basil, and olive oil. It is somewhat similar to the Ligurian sauce pesto, although it lacks pine nuts.

It was a lovely plate of food, the bread was nice, the tomatoes were well seasoned and the pistou added a nice touch.

For my main course I had the steak frites – chargrilled steak with frites and garlic butter. I upgraded to the ribeye.

steak and frites

The dish came with some additional watercress, which was a nice touch.

The steak wasn’t fantastic, it lacked seasoning and wasn’t as tender as I thought it was going to be. Upon reflection I probably shouldn’t have upgraded.

Alongside I had a Meteor beer, which was fresh and smooth.

The service was excellent, warm, friendly and efficient.

This was my first experience of Côte Brasserie and I enjoyed the experience and the food.

Winter Salad

Though usually salad is synonymous with summer, every now and then I quite like a salad even when it is cold and frosty outside.

I recently made a winter salad which consisted of mixed leaves, to which I added sliced heritage tomatoes, chunks of cucumber, slices of sweet pepper, spring onions, sweetcorn, roasted butternut squash, thin green beans and some cashew nuts.

I added my homemade French dressing. 

Delicious.

Butternut Squash Salad

Butternut Squash Salad

I do quite like making salads using a range of ingredients. Even as it gets colder I do like a salad either as a meal in itself or as an accompaniment to something else.

This was a recent tasty salad that I made using butternut squash. I cut up the butternut squash into chunks and roasted in the oven with some olive oil.

Once this was cooked I constructed the salad. I started off with a bed of mixed leaves. I quite like butterhead lettuce you can get from various supermarkets, or the rosa verde salad bag from M&S.

To this I add cubes of cucumber, sliced tomato, slices of red pepper, sweetcorn, pomegranate seeds, mozzarella, thinly sliced radish and Serrano ham. I also used a nut and seed mix from Aldi to add some crunch.

You can dress the salad with a dressing, sometimes I do a simple French dressing, sometimes I let the natural flavours work their magic.

Time for a Caesar Salad

I did quite fancy a Caesar salad for lunch, but I don’t buy the kits, partly as I prefer making my own, partly, as I like more than croutons and parmesan, and mainly as I need to have gluten free croutons.

For my Caesar salad I took some Romaine Lettuce and cut in half and set them across the plate. To this I added some white anchovies, quartered small tomatoes and peelings of parmesan.

For the croutons, I took the crusts of a Schär white loaf and sliced it into cubes. In a hot pan I added some olive oil and some butter, to which I added the cubes of bread and some dried Italian herbs. Once the croutons are browned I took them out of the pan and drained them on some kitchen paper.

These were then added to the salad, followed with some freshly ground black pepper.

I have variations, sometimes I prefer sun-dried tomatoes, but then I do like fresh, it’s a preference. 

I do sometimes add Caesar salad dressing, but usually have it on the side.