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Wednesday, 19 July 2017

5 Questions - Vivek Singh, Executive Chef of Cinnamon Club, Cinnamon Kitchen & Cinnamon Soho

Earlier this year I had to spend a week in London on a training course for my new employer. I had made plans to catch up with Masterchef 2016 winner Jane Devonshire and 2015 runner-up Tony Rodd for drinks but in the end we struggled to get our diaries to line up and we had to cancel. As a result, this left me with a free night to try out one of the many restaurants in the capital but after a recommendation from Jane to check out the latest offering from Vivek Singh, Cinnamon Bazaar, I decided to head to the Covent Garden restaurant for my last meal in London before heading home.
Chef Vivek Singh is one of the most successful and respected modern Indian chefs in the UK with four renowned restaurants in London including the Cinnamon Club which boasts a Michelin Star, Cinnamon Kitchen, Cinnamon Soho and the recently opened Cinnamon Bazaar.
Based on the Irani cafes of modern 19th century India, Cinnamon Bazaar has a more relaxed feel to it than the other restaurants in the group but still offers the same high standards when it comes to quality produce and bold flavours. I thoroughly enjoyed my dinner that evening and on the back of my visit, contacted Chef Vivek to let him know how impressed I was with the food and service I had received.
In the end, myself exchanged a number of messages across social media and before I knew it, I was asking him if he would like to answer 5 Questions.
Here's Chef Vivek's story;

How did you get started?

I grew up in a coal mining community in Bengal. Like most boys in my generation, I had very little exposure and involvement in the kitchen. It wasn’t until I had completed hotel school and began an intense chef course and being exposed to a wide variety of cuisines and cooking styles, where I realised a whole world of possibilities and the journeys cooking could bring. When I was offered a sought after place as a Kitchen Executive Trainee for Oberoi Hotels (India’s top hotel chain), I knew I was going to be a chef.

What’s the best piece of advice you could give anyone wanting to start working within the hospitality industry?

If you’re looking to make a quick buck, or have a meteoric career, look elsewhere because this is not the place to make that happen. However if you’re looking for instant gratification, and if you’re looking to see the fruits of your labour and you enjoy interacting and mixing with people, then this is exactly the place to be. In short, get your head down and get on with it!
Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years time?

No idea, and never will! Nonetheless, I have always felt the strong urge to push the boundaries and constantly evolve and embrace change.

With my cooking, I have always maintained the belief, no matter how successful or popular, as with any other art form, that it needs to evolve in order to reflect the changing lifestyles and tastes. Standing still isn’t an option, and therefore, looking beyond authenticity, is the only way forward.

If you could only cook one of your own recipes, what would it be & why?

Old-Delhi style butter chicken – it has sugar and spice, kick and texture, creamy unctuousness and bite, all at the same time.

You can invite one person (living or dead) to your last meal – Who would it be and why? …and what’s on the menu?

My wife Archana, of course! I will cook cauliflower parathas for her and she will make me a masala omelette in a brioche bun.

I would like to thank Chef Vivek for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer 5 Questions and wish him every success in the future.

If you aren't able to get to London for lunch or dinner at any of the Cinnamon Collection restaurants, you can recreate some of Vivek's recipes at home by checking out his website or if you're like me and prefer to work with a cookbook, you can order any of Vivek's cookbooks, including the recently published Indian Festival Feasts, online here.


Sun Shines On Halloumi For Best UK Restaurant

Halloumi Announced on Shortlist For Best Restaurant at The UK Restaurant and Design Awards

Glasgow’s go-to Greek restaurant, Halloumi, has been shortlisted for the coveted title of best restaurant in the UK’s biggest industry awards.

Specialising in Modern Greek cuisine, the restaurant that opened on Hope Street last August is the only Scottish finalist in the standalone UK restaurant category against seven finalists including Uli in Notting Hill and Tom’s Kitchens led by founded by award-winning chef Tom Aikens in Birmingham.

Now in its ninth year, the Restaurant & Bar Design Awards have a huge global following and are recognised as the foremost competition dedicated to the design of food and beverage spaces. Entries from over 70 countries cover every imaginable hospitality space; From ships to airports, museums to burger vans, from revered Michelin-starred establishments to the fleeting dynamism of pop-ups.

Recognising inspirational and creative spaces, Zaza Hadid - the international architect who reimagined the spectacular wave and structure of the Riverside Museum, was a previous judge. Restaurateur Michael Caine and Christopher Cowdray of the Dorchester Collection feature on this year’s judging panel who will scrutinise the creative concept and delivery of each restaurant design.

The winners of the 2017 Restaurant & Bar Design Awards will be announced during a ceremony at London’s King’s Cross on the 5th October. Three Restaurant & Bar designers (SHH, Design Command and Haptic Architects) will each create a cutting edge space inspired from ‘Sound’, with the spaces theatrically revealed on the night of the Awards.

UK Standalone Restaurant Finalists

· Clerkenwell Grind (London, UK) / Biasol Design Studio

· Ensemble (Wells, Somerset, UK) / Phoenix Wharf Design

· Halloumi (Glasgow, UK) / CM Design

· Mamie’s (Covent Garden, London, UK) / A-nrd

· Menagerie (Manchester, UK) / Joel Barker

· Smokehouse & Cellar (Manchester, UK) / Oracle Industries

· Tom’s Kitchen (Birmingham, UK) / B3 Designers

· Uli (Notting Hill, London, UK) / Jonathan Clarke Architects

Past judges from hospitality, design and lifestyle media include Tony Chambers (Editor in Chief of Wallpaper*), Alberto Alessi, Marcus Wareing and Thomas Heatherwick.

Halloumi was designed by CM Design Consultants and the 70-seater restaurant boasts a warm, light interior, with stripped-back décor, white and blue washed walls, and an open plan kitchen, all of which give a real authentic Mediterranean-feel to the space.

Speaking of the shortlist announcement, Kevin Campbell co-founder of The Rotunda Group said: “We set out with the vision to create a space that our family would be proud to eat in outside of Greece and to be recognised by leading awards is both humbling and really rewarding. To be the only Glasgow restaurant in the category is an achievement and we can’t wait for the awards later this year.”

Toni Carbajosa, co-founder of The Rotunda Group continues: “Halloumi is a slice of sunshine on Hope Street. We opened in August and the reception from Glasgow has been fantastic; welcoming our healthy sun-drenched dishes and embracing our Mediterranean heritage. We really feel that you could be in Athens when you walk through our doors.”

Halloumi is an independent restaurant owned and operated by The Rotunda Group in the heart of Glasgow. Co-owned and operated by Kevin Campbell and Toni Carbajosa.

For more information please visit:

Twitter @halloumiGlasgow

Instagram @halloumiGlasgow


Open seven days from 12 noon until 11pm, Halloumi is situated at 161 Hope St, Glasgow, G2 2QU, and serves sun-drenched dishes from lunch right through to supper.

Bookings can be made on 0141 204 1616, or alternatively online at


Tuesday, 18 July 2017

MasterChef Gary Maclean supports Meals & More Summer Holiday Clubs as Brakes pledges £500,000

MasterChef: The Professionals winner and father-of-five, Gary Maclean, was sharing his skills today at Dalmarnock Primary School where he worked with families to improve their culinary knowledge and skills and enable them to prepare simple, healthy and nutritious meals at home on a tight budget.
Brakes has committed £500,000 across five years to fund their Meals & More programme, providing holiday clubs in schools across the country during the school holidays. The number of clubs has grown considerably from two in Scotland last year to 26 this year. Dalmarnock Primary School is one of the schools facilitating a holiday club, which include a nutritious meal for each participant, with upwards of 100 attendees.

The Meals & More holiday clubs not only provide children and their families with nutritious meals but also education on healthy eating, recipes, activities and day trips.

Jabou Conteh, mother of Isafou, 5, Fafou, 9 and Sheriff, 9, (pictured) and an 11-year-old son at high school and a baby on the way, commented: "The lunch clubs are so important. The kids love coming here and I also enjoy it as I'm learning new recipes and discovering new ingredients every day. It's great as I can then try the recipes at home during the weekends."

Brakes recently announced a new partnership with Gary Maclean and the company is keen to utilise his skills as a chef and father of five in supporting the holiday club programme.

Gary Maclean, commented: “It’s great to come along to the school to meet with families who are eager to improve their understanding of nutrition and skills in the kitchen.

“I have five children so I know preparing healthy meals can be a struggle, and expensive – but it doesn’t have to be. My goal here today is to demonstrate that nutritious meals can be simple, affordable to make and delicious for all the family to enjoy.”

John McLintock, Director of Operations, Brakes Scotland, added: “Meals & More is a fantastic community programme that we’re extremely proud of and will continue to fund to help children and their families get great tasting, healthy meals during the school holidays. It’s not just about providing meals, it’s also about sharing skills and knowledge so families can replicate these practices at home in a simple and affordable way.”

The Dalmarnock Primary School holiday club is part of the Food, Families, Futures Partnership, delivered by Children in Scotland in partnership with local groups. Jackie Brock, Chief Executive of Children in Scotland, said: “Holiday camps like these demonstrate how bringing together fantastic community assets can create experiences that are fun and hugely beneficial for children and their families. Having someone like Gary here to impart his knowledge, as well as the other community chefs who have been working with the families, is priceless.
“We believe keeping more schools open, free of charge, during the holidays could play a key role in tackling Scotland’s inequality challenge and be at the forefront of measures to reduce the attainment gap.”
Families who attended today’s holiday club at Dalmarnock Primary School got involved with preparing lunch, which consisted of carrot and coriander soup and shepherd’s pie. Attendees received a goody bag containing a recipe and ingredients to take home.
Councillor Chris Cunningham, Glasgow City Council’s City Convener for Education, Skills & Early Years, said: “I’m sure everyone at the Dalmarnock Primary club was inspired by Gary’s tips on cooking healthy meals on a budget. Summer activities at the school are proving exceptionally popular with children as well as parents who are getting involved and lending a hand with preparing the meals for participants.
"School holidays are a joy for children but can increase pressure on families experiencing food poverty. This worthy project is helping, in some small way, to reduce some of that stress for Glasgow families as well as boosting parents’ confidence in the kitchen. I’m sure that learning from a Masterchef celebrity and sampling his dishes made it all the more enjoyable!”
Scottish foodservice provider, Brakes Scotland, announced their partnership with Gary in March. Gary supports the company’s unwavering commitment to sourcing local products, promoting the very best in Scottish produce and innovation. The partnership follows the launch of Brakes Scotland in 2016, part of Brakes’ UK operation, and further cements the company’s increased commitment to Scotland and its Scottish offering.


Quick Hotel Review - Hilton London Bankside, Great Suffolk St, London

I'm currently sitting in Heathrow Airport's huge Terminal 5 waiting on a flight back to Glasgow after a work event in the capital. Myself and Nicola come to London quite often and usually stay in hotels in and around Fitzrovia but as my work event was south of the river, my employer had booked me a room at Hilton London Bankside. In fairness, it was a bit of a whistle stop but I thought I'd write up a quick review of my B&B experience.
Despite being away from the main tourist areas, the hotel is just a ten minute walk from Southwark and London Bridge tube stations so getting to and from most places is actually very easy. Boasting an indoor pool, a restaurant, a fitness centre and a cocktail bar, the Hilton London Bankside also has free WiFi access throughout. When I arrived yesterday afternoon, the hotel was brightly decorated with floral arrangements commemorating the recent tennis Grand Slam event down at SW19.
There are plenty of restaurants dotted around the south bank area but with OXBO Bankside restaurant literally on your doorstep, there's no need to go too far if you fancy a slap up meal. After dinner, The Distillery bar has a huge range of premium spirits, craft beers and wine by the glass to keep most drinkers happy.
I didn't see much of my room last night as I was either sitting in a conference room during the day or eating and drinking at the afterparty but I can't complain about the air conditioned room that I had to come back to.
The rooms at Hilton London Bankside are decorated in a fairly modern and maybe slightly masculine fashion. For those who want to use the room a home office, there was a decent size writing desk with plenty of plugs and even a couple of ethernet sockets too. A huge kingsize bed dominated the floor space while a sofa cum chaise longue gives you somewhere to relax and watch the 32" flatscreen TV.
The bathroom is very much to my styling and it actually looked like the same ceramic wall tiles that I have at home. The monsoon style shower delivered a welcome blast of power this morning to help wash off the cobwebs of last night's festivities.
Despite the fact that there was an event downstairs with almost 700 people celebrating, three floors up you would never know and I managed to enjoy a peaceful (if not slightly drunken sleep).
With a midday flight to catch back to Glasgow, it was an early rise for breakfast but I'm glad that I made the effort. I've stayed in a few hotels recently and often feel that breakfast is a meal that hotels do because they have to, not because they want to. That didn't seem the case at Hilton London Bankside with an endless supply of meats, cheeses, breads, cereals, yogurts, juices, pastries and not forgetting the good old English breakfast items with eggs cooked to order, I managed to suitably feed my hangover before checking out and making my way to Heathrow. Special mention must go to the wonderfully creamy Loseley yogurts which were some of the best that I've had in a long time.
I enjoyed my short stay at Hilton London Bankside and would happily recommend to anyone looking for a good quality hotel with handy transport links and only a short walk from Borough Market, The Tate Modern and St.Paul's Cathedral.
To find out more about Hilton London Bankside here.


Monday, 17 July 2017

5 Questions - Jeff Weinstein, CEO of The Counter

I love a good burger but sometimes feel that short of adding a slice of cheese or a few rashers of bacon, there isn't often a massive amount of choice of toppings available at most standard burger joints. Well, that was until I heard about The Counter and their boast that from their extensive list of topping, cheeses and sauce, you can create over one million different burgers.
The Counter is the brainchild of Jeff Weinstein, who opened his first burger restaurant on Los Angeles back in 2003 with the promise that they had the perfect burger for everyone. Fast forward 14 years and The Counter is serving bespoke burgers to customers all over the world.
On hearing that Glasgow was next in line to get The Counter treatment, I managed to catch up with CEO Jeff to find out what all the fuss was about.
Here's Jeff's story;

How did you get started?

I got started because I was tired of going to all of the old school burger restaurants and wanted to do something new and fresh. I've been cooking all my life and this concept of creating your own burger with quality, premium ingredients, seem to be the right thing at the right time.

What’s the best piece of business advice you could give?

Number one, make sure your product or service is fulfilling a need. Like we did with customization and modernizing the burger joint so it wasn't in a time warp with boring burgers. After that, get the right people and get the right location to execute on the first point.

Where would you like to see your business in 5 year’s time?

Continuing to grow and becoming the go to place for a great burger experience.

If you could only have one of your own built to order burgers, what would it be & why?

The red eye with the addition of jalapeños and fried onion strings. Why not? What doesn't sound delicious about that?

You can invite one person (living or dead) to your last meal – Who would it be and why? …and what’s on the menu?

I think it would be Mick Jagger. The reason being I probably don't even have to explain but I will try...his life has been insanely interesting. His ability along with the Stones to stay relevant across generations is incredibly inspiring. The endless energy that allows him to be doing what he does all these years later must mean that he absolutely loves and his passionate about his work and craft. And lastly, the stories of life on the road must be amazingly entertaining. We would eat burgers, obviously.

I've had a busy schedule over the last few weeks but I'm hoping to get along to try out The Counter in the coming weeks.
I would like to thanks Jeff for taking the time out to answer 5 Questions and wish him and the team at the Glasgow branch of The Counter every success for the future.
The Counter is open at Springfield Quay Sunday – Thursday 11am -10pm and Friday and Saturday 11am – 11pm so if you think you know what makes the ideal combination to create the perfect burger topping, why not head along and check them out. If burgers aren't your thing, don't worry because there's a massive choice of salads, sandwiches, craft beers and creamy indulgent milkshakes too.
Keep up to date with news and offers from The Counter on Facebook and Instagram.


Thursday, 13 July 2017

Lunch Review - Alston Bar & Beef, Central Station, Gordon St, Glasgow

After changing jobs a couple of times in the last three years, I'm back working in the city centre of Glasgow. One of the things that I missed most about working in the city centre was heading out for a stroll at lunchtime and trying some of the great value lunch deals that the city centre restaurants have to offer. Of course, with so many restaurants in and around the city centre it can be very difficult to to keep on top of what's good, so when I was invited in to try the new lunch menu at Alston Bar & Beef I jumped at the chance to try out one of Glasgow's hidden gems.
Alston Bar & Beef might have been open for just over three years but it's still unknown to a large number of Glasgow's diners. The restaurant is actually is located under the main concourse of Glasgow Central train station. Alston Street was the main street of the old village of Grahamston, but the village was absorbed by the construction of Glasgow Central station by The Caledonian Railway Company in the late 1800's. The use of the 'Alston' name is a fitting tribute, by owners Glendola Leisure, to Glasgow's little known but rich history.
As it turned out, we couldn't make it along at 'lunchtime' so the management kindly allowed us to have a late lunch and we made our way along on at 5pm on a Friday afternoon. I might have mentioned earlier that lots of people aren't aware of the location of Alston Bar & Beef but that doesn't mean that lots of people aren't on on the secret either and when we arrived, the bar was already very busy with people starting the weekend in style.
The bar at Alston has a great selection of premium spirits but has always focussed on serving high quality gin - in fact, Alston Bar & Beef was probably one of the first bars in Glasgow who seen the tidal wave of gin that was heading our way and set out to serve some of the most perfect 'Perfect Serves' in town.
We grabbed a much needed drink to shake of the stresses of a busy work week with Nicola kicking back with a Dingle Gin & tonic while I relaxed with a cool pint of Yardbird IPA by Greene King. We had recently met the brand ambassador for Dingle Gin and I have no hesitation in recommending this fine gin from County Kerry.
The new lunch menu at Alston offers one course for £10, two courses for £13 and three courses for £16. We both loved the choices on the menu and could even with just a few items to choose from, we still struggled to decide. In the end, Nicola went for the Seared Scottish Trout with Bak Choi, Sesame & Chilli dressing which was a
My own starter of crispy goats cheese, pickled beetroot, heritage tomatoes and salsa verde was a vivid picture of colour and textures. The goats cheese had been coated in breadcrumbs then deep-fried as little bonbons and served atop the beetroot. The saltiness from the cheese was balanced well by the earthiness of the dark beetroot and acidity from the yellow tomoatoes while the salsa verde packed a punchy coriander and parsley flavour.
The main menu currently has a choice of chicken, sea bream or pasta but Alston Bar & Beef is all about the meat and the lunch menu also offers Tweed Valley Steak Frites with a choice of 227g cut of Bavette or diners can upgrade to a 227g cut of D-Rump steak for a £3 supplement.
We both chose steak with Nicola having the Bavette whilst I upgraded to the D-Rump. I'll start now by saying that both steaks were delicious although in retrospect, I preferred the Bavette over my own steak. D-rump is a cut of meat that is being found on more and more menus and although the name suggests it is your typical rump steak, this cut of meat is also known as top sirloin or picanha steak, which is a succulent and tender cut from the rump which is cut across the grain and best served grilled.
The meat at Alston is cooked in the Josper grill, a hybrid of a charcoal barbecue and industrial oven, giving the steaks a smoky chargrilled finish whilst keeping the meat juicy and tender. My D-rump was very nice, cooked to a medium finish and served with a garlic butter. I had also ordered a side of peppercorn sauce that probably wasn't needed as the garlic butter worked perfectly with my steak - no problem though as I used the peppercorn sauce fro dipping my chips.
Bavette is the French name for flank steak and is a highly flavoured cut which has been largely forgotten as supermarkets took over from traditional butchers. Like onglet, sometimes known as 'the butcher's cut' as it is said that butchers reserved it for their own pleasure.
Nicola's steak was cooked medium-rare and was fantastic. Cooked at a high heat for a short time then rested, the Bavette was full of flavour and again, the garlic butter sauce was a perfect foil to the smoky tender meat.
In an attempt at being healthy, we also ordered a side of greens to accompany our steak frites. I not usually one for ordering sides as I feel that the value for money isn't great but the copper pan filled with buttered brocolli, sugar snap peas and mangetout was a reasonable sized portion and certainly enough to share comfortably between the two of us.
So two courses down, pretty good value for money for £13 but if you're ever eating at Alston (and I mean ever ever), you cannot leave without trying what I think is the best dessert on Glasgow and for an extra £3, you'll be glad that you dug a little deeper into your pocket.
I mean that! The poached conference pear, toasted Scottish oat crumb, pear gel and vanilla ice cream is a deconstructed take o pear crumble and an outstanding way to end a meal. The pear was soft, juicy and well flavoured with spice from the poaching liquor while the toasted oats added a crunchy texture and the creamy vanilla ice cream brought enough sweet press to balance the pud. (This pudding has been on the Alston menu since they opened and is served with Crème Anglais on the main menu. I was very kindly given a small pot of the Crème Anglais on the side)
By the time we had finished our late lunch, it was 8pm on a busy Friday evening and the bar was jam but our waitress was able to find us a table so that we could enjoy one last G&T before heading home.
With such a wide range of gins on the bar menu, we were both able to try a gin that we hadn't tasted before - Nicola tried Leopold's, a small batch gin from America which packed a citrussy punch thanks to the addition of hand-zested pummelo's (similar to a grapefruit) in the distillation process. For my own final drink, I opted for Hernö, a wonderful Swedish gin made from a homemade wheat spirit and full of the flavours of lemon, pepper and coriander.
So to sum up - for £13 for two course or £16 for three, we felt that the range of choice and quality of the food certainly makes Alston Bar & Beef somewhere worth considering for a great value lunch in Glasgow city centre. If you want to upgrade to the D-rump steak for an extra £3 then the option is there but I honestly think that the Bavette is a far tastier piece of meat for the money.
We dined as guests at the restaurant but the review above is an honest account of our experience on the night.
I would like to thank the staff and management at Alston for their hospitality and generosity and wish them every success in the future.
Keep up to date with news and offers from Alston Bar & Beef on Facebook and Twitter.


Tuesday, 11 July 2017

A Silkie Success for Loch Lomond Brewery

Loch Lomond Brewery wins top prize on the opening day of The CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) Scottish Real Ale Festival 2017 in Edinburgh.

The brewery’s most decorated beer and winner of a number of SIBA and CAMRA awards, Silkie Stout is a 5% rich and indulgent chocolate, coffee and orange stout named after the creature of mythical Scottish folklore. The Silkies or Selkies were said to be seal-people who shed their skins to walk on land.

After winning champion Stout of Scotland in 2016, Loch Lomond returned to the Scottish Real Ale Festival to be crowned Champion Beer of Scotland Award 2017.

The competition is held on the opening day of the three day festival running from the 6th to the 8th July at the Corn Exchange in Edinburgh.

Sarah Bellis, CAMRA's Director for Scotland and Northern Ireland says: "Congratulations to Loch Lomond brewery for winning the Champion Beer of Scotland award for its Silkie Stout, which is one of the highest beer accolades in Scotland. The judges were particularly impressed with the balanced flavours of chocolate and coffee and its drinkability. It truly is a beer for any occasion!"

Fiona Maceachern, Managing Director at Loch Lomond brewery says: “We are over the moon to win the Champion Beer of Scotland award! The Silkie Stout is one of our originals and has been a great beer for us; it has just gone from strength to strength and consistently does us proud in competition throughout the UK”.

Loch Lomond Brewery, founded in 2011 by Fiona and Euan MacEachern takes inspiration from the iconic and spectacular beauty that is Loch Lomond, the UK's largest expanse of fresh water.

Utilising the highest quality of malts and a diverse range of hops from across the world then combining this with exceptional water, fresh from Glen Finlas in the foothills of the western shores of Loch Lomond, we create the award winning beers that you know and love.

In just six years the brewery has went from strength to strength, from signing big trade deals with the likes of Marks & Spencer to exporting products throughout Europe to winning Champion Cask Beer of Britain in 2016 for Southern Summit. This is yet another great achievement in Loch Lomond Brewery’s journey and long may the success continue! With massive plans being put into place over the next few years, Loch Lomond will be a brewery to watch for new and innovative recipes, new styles and even more great beer!