Thursday, May 31, 2007

Quick Round Up

Thurs 31 May 2007

A quick note that Threshers are yet again offering money off - this time 30% off all bubblies! I think their normal deal is 20% off any 3 bottles of sparkling wine, so this represents a saving all round. As usual, fill out the voucher and take it in ...

I feel like I've hardly been in Leeds the last few weeks, although I do feel compelled to note that, as I was wandering down Boar Lane at about half past 5 on a Wednesday morning, I noticed that there was a Greggs van pulled up outside Baked. I've had a quick scout around the internet but haven't found anything to confirm or deny they're part of the same group ... does anyone know for sure?

I've also had my first experience of Nando's since 2001. I was ... underwhelmed.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Emergency Pasta

Mon 28 May 2007

We spent the long weekend up in the Lakes so dinner last night had to be quick and made from things we could grab from Marks & Spencers at 5 to 5!

I recently received a copy of Global Grub and, since the recipes are all prep to table in under 30 minutes, it seemed like as good a place as any to look for inspiration. Because I love carbohydrates so much I chose the tagliatelle with pesto, bacon and olives.

Although I didn't quite follow the recipe, it was very simple.

Heat some olive oil in a pan and add 4 sliced rashers of bacon and some black pepper. As the bacon starts to brown, add 2 cloves of garlic, crushed and minced and then some black olives (stoned, sliced in half). Add a pot of pesto, reduce the heat and mix in a generous couple of tablespoons of soured cream. Finally, mix in a couple of tablespoons of parmesan cheese.

Obviously, you've been cooking your pasta in the meantime ... when everything's ready, mix the sauce in with the pasta, serve in hot bowls and dress with black pepper and plenty more parmesan cheese.

This took about 15 minutes from start to finish, and was deemed a tasty success. OK, there's nothing ground breaking here (although the kalamata olives from M&S were pretty good!), but for a quick and dirty cupboard supper it did the trick!

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Losing Some Credibility

Wed 23 May 2007

I'm away from Leeds this week on training so this post is coming to you from Reading. Yes - that's the same Reading where Oscar Wilde wrote the Ballad of Reading Gaol while incarcerated (so I'm not entirely sure why I was surprised when I passed HMP Reading this afternoon).

You may know that I'm a bit (or a lot, depending on your point of view) picky about beer so the next sentence will come as a shock. I'm posting this from Varsity in Reading - and, you know what, it's actually more than OK!

Let's get this straight - there's no real ale on offer, but there IS well kept (maybe they get through a bit!), cold Kronenbourg, a large non smoking area, and free wi-fi (which is why I went in in the first place - my cheap skate hotel wanted to charge me £4.99 an hour!). It's ... civilised.

Varsity bars offer a loyalty card for £2 and you get 25% off your drinks. Given that a Kronenbourg is £2.75 you'll make your money back pretty quickly.

I'm still in shock.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

French Food

Sat 13 May 2007

Yes, it's been a very long time since my last post: far too much work, gastronomy and holiday excitement. Well, the only real excitement was the holiday ...

Andy and I tottered off for 5 days in Paris: catching up with a university friend for me and a first time visit for Andy. I had started making lists and lists of food and wine related places to go, things to do, things to see and most of this went out the window when we arrived.

And this is about our first meal in Paris - but with a difference. I'm not going to tell you the name or location of the restaurant. This is because it's a very small restaurant in a very touristy area (near Place Saint-Michel) but it's not a very touristy restaurant. It also doesn't really need any extra business that (I flatter myself!) may come its way through this review. If you really really want to know, email me and I'll pass on the details!

We were a group of four and we crowded into the restaurant. The menu is all in French and is a set €19 for three courses. The menu is brief and some dishes do require you to pay a supplement (for example, an addition €3 for the foie gras de canard). While munching on the great bread (such a change from some of the truly rubbish bread you get in restaurants in the UK) we made our selection. Three of us started with the foie gras de canard, and one opted for the terrine de raie (that's just ray or skate in English). The dishes all looked quite small, which is very deceptive with rich food, and presentation was very simple. The foie gras was delicious (even if we were slumming it with only duck and not goose) and served with toast, some lettuce and tomato.

For main course I opted for the beef because I think that the French cook the best steak ever. The best steak I've ever eaten was in Reims and this was, again, very close to the mark. I don't know why English restaurants and pubs, as a rule, can't get cooking a steak right. The meat was a big, rough chunk, hot all the way through, jelly like and wobbly in the middle, tasty and tender. Sigh. It was served with the most delicious saute potatoes and a simple salad with the most delicious vinaigrette. Three of us had the steak, and one person opted for the duck confit, which I am assured was also delicious.

Finally ... on to pudding. One île flottante, two sublime chocolat and one cheese platter. Again - very very simple presentation, but by golly the sublime chocolat was good. It was a single slice of half way between chocolate mousse and solid chocolate chocolatey goodness. By this stage we'd finished our bottle of very good 1999 bordeaux (outrageously priced at just €18!) and were on to coffees.

The whole experience was fantastic. The staff were friendly (if rather brisk!) and the restaurant is clearly a favourite with locals, as there was not much English at all being spoken. That shouldn't put you off: the staff switched between French and English for us quite happily. We didn (of course) make an effort to speak French and we didn't need a lot of translation help on the menu.

A lovely start to five days away.


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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Olive Tree

Sun 29 April 2007

After some indecision we decided to try out the Olive Tree in Chapel Allerton. I'd actually already visited the original branch in Rodley a couple of times and been a little underwhelmed, but I was prepared to give it another go.

Last minute decision that it was, we did actually book a table. It was around 5pm when Andy made the reservation for quarter past 7. We arrived a little early and the restaurant was very busy. We were ushered to the 'lounge' upstairs and told that someone would be with us to take a drinks order. We waited and waited, and so did another (rather loud) group who arrived shortly after us: their patience was exceeded before ours and one of their party managed to drag a waiter upstairs.

Eventually, we were shown to our table. It was squashed into a corner and we had, literally, about 20 cms between us and the couple next to us. I had to move glassware in order to squeeze past to get to my seat! Nonetheless, beers in one hand, menus in the other, we snacked on the olives and pitta bread. At this stage, service was looking a little slow but there was no undue panic on the horizon.

I decided to start with the mixed dips (served with warm pitta bread) and Andy opted for the chicken pastries. Again, a bit of a wait, but the food arrived and Andy's pastries were not too shabby at all: cubes of chicken in a light sauce, wrapped in cigar like parcels and surrounded by salad. For £5.25 I thought my serving of dips was a little mean: tsatsiki (cucumber and yoghurt), melintzanosalata (aubergine) and taramosalata (cod roe). Of the three, I liked the tsatsiki best, but I don't know I would start raving about any of them. When the starters arrived I ordered another beer and when this came to the table, I asked about my pitta bread. The waitress took this in, disappeared and ... never reappeared. Now, while the dips were nice, they weren't exactly good enough to sit and eat with a spoon. We had only a couple of small pieces of pitta bread left from our original basket, and these went quickly. I think I probably ate less than half that which was on my plate.

We finished our starters. And then we waited and waited for our table to be cleared. Andy thinks it was a good 20 minutes. When the waiter (now on our third one for the evening) took our plates away, he didn't ask why there my starter was barely touched. A cursory 'was everything alright?' and that was that.

And then we waited.

Andy finished his beer.

I finished my beer.

We waited.

The restaurant was compelled to sing happy birthday to someone. Andy commented that perhaps they might like to put as much effort into getting our dinner to the table.

We waited some more.

Andy complained he was hungry and thirsty.

The lady at the table next to us (who had ordered around the same time, and were sitting so close to us we didn't need to eavesdrop) was worried that there was no food coming out of the kitchen at all.

And then, probably a good 40 minutes after we had finished our starters: the straw that broke the camel's back. Two people who had entered the restaurant after our plates had been cleared received their main courses.

I squeezed past the people next to us and explained to the staff that, while we were happy to pay for what we'd had, we simply weren't waiting around any more. There was a bit of confusion, and our original waiter gave us a bill for £9.90, "with service, £10.80". They were at least kind enough to knock off our drinks, and Andy suggested they might like to accept a £10 note.

As Housemate pointed out, they probably shouldn't have charged us at all.

After that, do I really need to give a verdict?

1. The Olive Tree, 188-190 Harrogate Road, Chapel Allerton, LS7 4NZ, phone: 0113 269 8488

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