Time to go back to Oxford for some Thai

Sasi’s Thai Food

As time passes I realise that many of the places I have written about in this blog have disappeared or have changed beyond recognition. Covid-19 has exacerbated and accelerated this process. I sometimes don’t want to search up for somewhere just in case they have closed. So one of my favourite places to eat Thai food was Sasi’s Thai in the covered market in Oxford. I now rarely get the chance to eat there, having stopped working in Oxford in 2015. I did manage a return visit there in 2019 and it was just as tasty as I remembered it. I had hoped to visit again, but with covid-19 and lockdown, those plans were scuppered. So on a recent quick visit to Oxford I decided I would grab lunch again at Sais’s Thai. I wasn’t actually sure if it would still be there, as with lockdown has resulted in many places closing (and walking through the covered market, many stalls and shops had closed). However I was pleased to see that it had survived and was open.

They had a really wide choice of dishes and it was difficult to decide what to have. In the end, despite wanting to try new stuff, I went with the familiar and had rice with two selections, choosing the crispy pork and the spicy squid.

I really like the crispy pork dish, so much so that I often try and recreate it at home. The combination of crispy flavoured pork, a variety of vegetables and a nice spicy sauce is delicious. Eating it I was reminded that though I enjoy my version, it still isn’t the same as the original. It was delicious.

I’ve always liked the squid dish from Sasi’s Thai and this time enjoyed it just as much as I did on my regular visits in 2014 and 2015. The squid was tender and the sauce was spicy but full of flavour.

Despite eating both dishes and feeling full, I was so tempted to order some more food, as it was so good.

I really enjoyed that lunch, it was a real blast from the past and it was nice to see they had maintained their quality and range of dishes. It was a little more expensive than I remember, but okay it was over six years ago when I went on a regular basis, so I can live with that.

Time to go back and visit Wagamama

The last place we went out to eat before the lockdown in March 2020 was Wagamama at Cribbs Causeway.

We had thought that places might close or be restricted, so took a final opportunity to go out and eat.

Though we have eaten out since that visit, wanting to go out and eat for Father’s Day my children decided that we would go to Wagamama. The fact that we couldn’t book a table didn’t seem to deter them…

We drove up to the Mall, and like on our recent visit a few days earlier the M5 was rather busy.

However we did mange to get their okay. We had decided to eat at 2pm, so we could miss the lunchtime rush. Despite that when we got into the Mall there was quite a long queue for Wagamama. Though I prefer not to queue, this time I knew there were very few alternatives around and my children had their heart set on going there, so we decided to wait. The queue actually moved quite fast and we took the time while we were waiting to peruse the menu.

I was really torn about what I was going to have. I did think about having the cod mokutan soba which I had back in 2019 and despite the initial dish being burnt the returned dish was much better. Interestingly back then I said

It was the kind of dish I enjoyed, but probably wouldn’t have it again on another visit.

I did quite like the idea of having it again this time, shows what do I know about what I like!

Another dish which caught my eye was the grilled duck donburi. 

tender, shredded duck in a spicy teriyaki sauce. mixed with carrots, mangetout, sweet potato and red onion on a bed of sticky white rice and topped with a crispy fried egg, cucumber and spring onions. served with a side of kimchee

Or the teriyaki sirloin steak soba.

grilled sirloin steak with soba noodles cooked in curry oil with mangetout, bok choi, red and spring onions, chilli and beansprouts in a teriyaki sauce. garnished with coriander and sesame seeds

In the end after much consideration and flip flopping I went with the  shirodashi ramen

slow-cooked, seasoned pork belly on top of noodles in a rich chicken broth with dashi and miso, topped with pea shoots, menma, spring onions, wakame and half a tea-stained egg

The rest of the family went with their choices, yaki soba, chicken raisukaree, gluten free chicken ramen and chicken and rice noodles.

As is typical at Wagamama for me, everyone else’s dish arrived well before mine, and I was waiting for while for my food. The others trying to be polite wanted to wait, but I didn’t want their food to go cold. Anyhow I can eat quite fast, so was okay with them eating.

This serving as food as soon as it is ready, does mean that you get your food fresh, reality is that unless you don’t mind eating your dish whilst others have none, it strikes me more as lazy planning than “serving food as soon as it’s ready”.

Finally my food arrived and though not quite as good as the pictures on the website it did look nice.

shirodashi ramen  slow-cooked, seasoned pork belly on top of noodles in a rich chicken broth with dashi and miso, topped with pea shoots, menma, spring onions, wakame and half a tea-stained egg

I had anticipated the slow cooked pork belly to be tender and soft, but actually was crispy, which I wasn’t expecting.

I did enjoy the ramen and it was very tasty and delicious.

I did think about having a beer with my ramen, but in the end went with a  jasmine flowering tea – flowering lily and jasmine green tea.

asmine flowering tea - flowering lily and jasmine green tea

It looked great and tasted nice, it reminded me of the flowering tea I had at Tea Monkey in Bath back in 2012.

I wasn’t going to have desert, but was persuaded to by everyone at the table, and it was Father’s Day. Though I did think about cheesecake, I went with the smoked chocolate caramel cake.

For some reason I wasn’t expecting to get a slice of cake! But I did, the cake was layers of smoked chocolate mousse, salted caramel crushed biscuits, chocolate fudge brownie and chocolate ganache, served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

smoked chocolate caramel cake

Not as rich as it sounds and the ice cream added freshness and balance.

Overall we all enjoyed the meal, and the service was excellent.

Nice to be back.

Barbecued Salt and Pepper Pork Belly

With the unusual lovely hot weather, my barbecue has been used a lot, and the barbecued meat served with a selection of salads.

One new recipe I have been doing has been going down well and involves using pork belly strips.

Barbecued Salt and Pepper Pork Belly

Take the pork belly and season with salt and pepper, I then sprinkle the pork with chopped fresh coriander, though I have also used dried coriander, along with some lemongrass. Add a little olive oil and leave to marinade. I either buy pork belly without rind, or if no choice remove the rind before marinading and cooking.

I find pork belly general works best with long slow cooking, but I also like it on the barbecue as well. So you could cook the pork slowly in a warm oven, or throw caution to the wind and grill it on the barbecue.

I try and cook it on the barbecue so that it takes it’s time, but doesn’t dry out. One method I have used with a whole chicken also works with the pork belly.

Though you can cook directly on the barbecue, it can be quite challenging to ensure that the pork is tender and cooked properly. A challenge is that it is difficult to control the temperature of the barbecue unlike a normal grill. The key process I use is to recreate some aspects of a “normal” oven as opposed to the usual way of using a barbecue as a grill. After the coals have reached cooking temperature, move them to the sides of the barbecue, so that when the pork belly is placed on the grill, it is not over direct heat. This needs to be done with caution as the charcoal will be really hot and I use a tool with a long handle to do this. The pork, after placing on the grill, was then covered, I used a wok lid, but this is where a kettle barbecue comes into its own. This works well with larger pork belly joints as well.

Homecooked Thai style stir fry

Thai Stir Fry

This is a recipe I cook quite often, it was inspired by visits to Sais’ Thai in the Oxford Covered Market. Though it has similarities to the dish I had at Sais’ Thai, it’s not quite the same, actually it’s quite different, but I don’t usually use the ingredients they do.

I cook some cubed pork belly in the oven, for about twenty minutes I then remove from the oven and stir fry in a wok with some soy sauce and fish sauce, along with finely chopped garlic and ginger. You could add chilli as well, if you like a bit of heat in your stir fry. I then take a range of vegetables, including but not always limited to: ribbons of carrot, pak choi, red cabbage, courgette, mushrooms (shitake and brown), baby corn, and onions. These are added to the wok. And cooked for a couple of minutes. I then add spinach and basil. I would prefer to use Thai Basil, but I have had trouble either finding it locally or growing it in the garden.

The dish is then served with a sprinkling of cashew nuts. It works well with rice, but I have also served it with noodles as well.

Time for something different

Hastings East Hill Lift

So we were on holiday in Sussex and wanting somewhere to eat that a) accepted Tesco vouchers and b) had a decent gluten-free menu, we ended up in Eastbourne, with the choice of Pizza Express, Prezzo and Zizzi. Out of the three I personally prefer Zizzi, we had recently eaten at Prezzo we headed towards the Zizzi branch in Eastbourne. We had spent the day in Hastings so it was a thirty minute drive and the Apple navigation app took us as far as a roundabout close to the restaurant, but there was plenty of post 6pm free parking available.

I would say the outside of the restaurant was very uninviting, for a second or so I actually thought it might have closed down. We had a little trouble finding the door, but once we were in, it was a totally different experience. The inside was bright, fresh and welcoming and then the welcome from the member of staff (think he might have been the manager) was just as fresh and welcoming.

We were sat down and perused the menu. Lots of choices, the last time I went to Zizzi I had pizza, so really wanted something different. For a start I did consider the calamari, as It is a personal favourite, but as my son was going to have this, I decided to go with something different.

For my starter in the end I went with the Bruschetta. Speciality tomatoes, red onion and roasted garlic, in extra virgin olive oil, on toasted bread. With super green pesto, fresh basil & riserva cheese. I added some creamy bufala mozzarella as well.

Bruschetta. Speciality tomatoes, red onion and roasted garlic, in extra virgin olive oil, on toasted bread. With super green pesto, fresh basil & riserva cheese.

Apart from not getting the fresh basil, I really enjoyed this dish. It wasn’t quite what I expected, but that is something I quite like now and again.

For my main I had a new dish on the menu, the Pork Belly Arrosto. Oven-roasted pork belly with creamy riserva cheese mash, crispy crackling shards, garlic kale & broccoli & a Chianti & rosemary sauce.

Pork Belly Arrosto. Oven-roasted pork belly with creamy riserva cheese mash, crispy crackling shards, garlic kale & broccoli & a Chianti & rosemary sauce.

The pork was slow cooked and then finished off in their pizza oven. The mash was smooth and creamy, but not as cheesy as I was expecting. The shards could have been lighter and crispier, they were a little chewy. The kale and broccoli were really nice too. The sauce was tasty, I could have done with more though. Overall a really tasty dish and something very different to the pizza (or pasta) I usual have at Zizzi.

Using Tesco Vouchers meant that this was also a cheap meal and great value for money. If we were ever in Eastbourne again, I think we would visit again.

Time for a Thai blast from the past

When I was working in Oxford, five years ago, one of my favourite places for lunch was Sasi’s Thai in the wonderful covered market. Back in 2014 I wrote about one of my lunches there. Since I left Oxford, I’ve not really had the chance to go back, or certainly no time for lunch. So it was with a little trepidation and anticipation that with time for lunch I found myself venturing into the covered market to see, if firstly Sasi’s Thai was still there and if there was room for me for lunch.

Sais’s Thai

It was still there and though just before midday, it was quite crowded, but there was room for me. I could see it was still a popular place.

The menu was as interesting and tempting as I remembered, and I was particularly pleased to see two of my favourite dishes were available that day. So I went with the two dishes and rice. You queue up at the counter, expect to be shouted at a little, and you place your order, which is then plated in front of you. There are some extras, and you can also get a range of drinks. There are also bottles of chilled water (probably tap water) and glasses to have if you don’t want to buy a drink. It’s then a matter of finding a free place to sit, prepare to share your table with others.

The crispy belly pork takes deep fried pork and combines with a range of stir fried vegetables in quite a spicy sauce and Thai Basil. This is quite a hot and spicy dish, but was just as good as I remembered it.

Crispy Pork Belly

I really like this dish, so much so that I often try and recreate it at home. The combination of crispy flavoured pork, a variety of vegetables and a nice spicy sauce is delicious.

I was also pleased to see that they had a squid dish, this was a special and it was stir fried squid with vegetables in a spicy sauce.

Spicy Squid

I was really impressed with the squid, it was so tender, almost melt in the mouth. Squid in a lot of places is overcooked, so is tough and rubbery, this squid though was really soft and tasty. Full of flavour as well.

I really enjoyed my lunch, it was a real blast from the past and it was nice to see they had maintained their quality and range of dishes. It was a little more expensive than I remember, but okay I can live with that.

It’s so tempting and it’s my favourite

I am not in Bristol on many Friday’s so I often miss the Finzel’s Reach Market. At their first birthday though I was lucky enough to be in Bristol and went to the market. There is usually a wide choice of stalls to choose from.

In the end I splurged at Lisa’s SheSellsSushi stall. I know I could have chosen something new or different, but SheSellsSushi is really delicious, very tempting and certainly a favourite of mine. So though I try not to have what I have had before, this time I went with what I had before.

I took a bento box with the Beef Donburi, which is slow cooked beef rib in a teriyaki sauce with a hirata bun.

This time there was a choice of two hirata buns, pork belly with kimchi and a chicken tempura. Both served in a charcoal steamed bun.

It was hard making a choice, so in the end I went greedy and had both.

The Donburi beef was as usual delicious, the flavour is great, it was well balanced and so tasty. Served with rice and spring onions, great rice with some really tasty savoury tender beef.

slow cooked beef rib in a teriyaki sauce donburi

I really enjoyed the tempura chicken hirata bun, the chicken was flavoursome, as well as being nice and crispy. I did enjoy the charcoal steamed bun it came in.

hirata bun with tempura chicken

The pork belly one was nice too, but it wasn’t as good as the ones I have had previously.

hirata bun with pork belly and kimchi

Overall it was really nice, delicious food and I will probably have it again.

Finzel Friday

So there I was in Bristol on a Friday, well that means I can visit the Finzel Reach Market down at, well you guessed it, Finzel Reach! The market has grown slightly since I last went. It use to be just one row of stalls, now there are stalls facing each other. This is good news, it shows that the market is working and is popular with punters. As usual there was a wide choice of street food stalls including some of my favourites. I was tempted by the Crispy Squid from the South Kitchen, likewise the barbecued meats from Low N Slow was also looking very tasty. In the end I went with SheSellsSushi and a bento box with Teriyaki Beef Donburi and a Hirata Bun.

I have had these before, slightly breaking my own rule of trying new and different things, but last time I really enjoyed the Donburi and the Hirata Bun, so this time decided to repeat the experience.

Donburi Beef

The Doburi was slow cooked beef rib in a teriyaki sauce, served on rice with garnishes. The beef was tender, tasty and scrummy.

This was a charcoal bun (not what I initially thought was a squid ink bun) with delicious tender pork belly, sorting onions and tasty sauce.

The Hirata Bun was a black charcoal bun with delicious tender pork belly, spring onions and tasty sauce.The bun was light and fluffy, the pork tender and delicious.

Again a lovely eating experience.

She doesn’t just sell sushi!

One of the regular stalls at the St Nicks market in Bristol on Friday is SheSellsSushi and it is one of my favourite, even if I have never actually had the sushi from there…. yet!

My usual lunch order with the stall is the bento box containing a choice of two dishes from the menu. I usually go for the Donburi, which is slow cooked beef rib in a teriyaki sauce combined with some octopus (or duck) balls (takoyaki).

Donburi Beef

However Lisa, on the stall has been recently selling steamed Hirata bun, so in my bento box this time, I once more had the Donburi, but this time I went with the Hirata bun.

This was a charcoal bun (not what I initially thought was a squid ink bun) with delicious tender pork belly, sorting onions and tasty sauce.

This was a charcoal bun (not what I initially thought was a squid ink bun) with delicious tender pork belly, spring onions and tasty sauce.

The bun was light and fluffy, the pork tender, all in all great flavour. I really wanted another one. I do like the takoyaki I usually go for, but now, I will always go with the Hirata bun.

The Donburi beef was as usual delicious, the flavour is perfect, you can sometimes overdo the teriyaki, but this was well balanced and so tasty. Served with rice and spring onions.

I have spoken to others who really recommend the sushi, so I think I will have to try that next time (with a Hirata bun).

Asian inspired

It’s being a while since I did any stir frying so last night I was inspired to get the wok out and cook some Asian inspired dishes. My first was Thai style stir fried pork with pal choi and cashew nuts.

Thai style stir fry

This dish was my take on a meal I use to eat a lot when I worked in Oxford. In the covered market in Oxford there was a lovely little eatery called Sasi’s Thai that cooked and served delicious Thai dishes. One of my favourite was the stir fried pork with pak choi, Thai basil, vegetables and cashew nuts. I have tried many times to recreate it and have got a reasonable facsimile of the dish now.

I took some pork belly and cut it into chunks before roasting it off in a hot oven. A long slow cooking might be better, but even with just twenty odd minutes in a hot oven, it still managed to render the fatty pieces of pork belly down into tasty chunks. This is set aside. I don’t mind preparing my own vegetables, however I did have a pack of rainbow stir fried vegetables from M&S that I had bought, which had been reduced, and included carrots ribbons, red cabbage, spring onions, baby sweetcorn and pak choi. I added some red pepper and mushrooms to the mix. I started by heating up a little oil in the wok on a high heat. To this I added the vegetables and tossed them around. I then added some soy sauce, fish sauce and a little vinegar. Turning the vegetables once more I then added the cooked pork. The dish was done, once the pak choi was limp. In the past I would add some spinach leaves and basis leaves, alas I had none in the fridge. I have tried to grow Thai Basil in the garden, but have not had much joy there. It’s quite challenging to find it in my local stores.

Alongside the pork stir fry I also made sweet and sour pork balls. For this I first cooked chunks of pork belly in the oven. These were done in a covered roasting pan, they were covered with foil. What I was trying to so was actually slow cook them, but this was challenging as I was short on time, but also the oven was quite hot, as at the same time I was roasting the other chunks of pork belly for the stir fry dish. This was cooked for about twenty minutes, the pork should look cooked, but not caramelised as if it had been roasted. The result is soft tender pork. This was cooled. I meant to coat the pork in flour, but didn’t, so they went straight into a batter mix of self-raising flour (I actually used gluten-free flour), egg and milk. The key is less about the quantities but getting the consistency right. It should coat the back of a spoon, if the batter is too thin then the pork doesn’t get coated enough, too thick and you get thick stodgy battered balls of pork. The pork was deep fried in small batches in hot sunflower oil. I was really pleased with the results, the batter was crunchy and crisp, with the pork tender and full of flavour. The pork balls were served with a homemade sweet and sour sauce which included baby sweetcorn and red pepper.

With those two dishes (and as I did have hot oil on the go) I served some crispy rice noodles, deep frying dried rice noodles, along with regular cooked rice noodles.

Overall the meal went down well and everything was eaten.