Saturday, 30 March 2013

Review - Mama San @ Saint Jude's, Bath St, Glasgow

Easter has come early this year and after the long slog from Christmas, I was looking forward to enjoying the long weekend with my gorgeous wife, Nicola. We had booked tickets to see Irish comedian, Neil Delamere, who was playing The Stand Comedy Club as part of the Glasgow Comedy Festival, so we needed to find somewhere close to my work where we could grab a quick dinner before the show.
After a quick look on restaurant booking website, we booked a table at Mama San on Bath Street. We had eaten at Mama San a couple of years ago when it was situated at a different address on Bath Street and really enjoyed their twist on Asian cooking, I'm not exactly sure what happened but the previous venue closed before reopening within the boutique hotel, St Jude's.
The deal that we had booked included two courses from the pre-theatre menu plus a drink for £12.95, and after a little confusion upon our arrival (apparently they had no record of our - this isn't the 1st time that this has happened), we were shown to our table and given a choice of wine, lager or a cocktail as our included drink. Nicola decided to start her night with a cheeky wee Cosmopolitan which was fresh & fruity with a sharp citrusy finish, I chose to match my imminent spicy food with a pint of ice cold Cobra.
Pad Thai Spring Rolls
Sweet Potato,  butternut squash & chilli tikis
The pre-theatre menu had a good selection of both starters and mains, in the end we chose two dishes that we could share between us. The Pad-Thai spring rolls were fantastic! Crisp filo pastry filled with rice noodles, shredded vegetables with lime, coriander and peanuts, served with a fresh salad of spring onion, beansprouts and red chillies. The fresh flavours on the plate were complimented perfectly by a wonderfully rich teriyaki dipping sauce.
Our other sharing starter was Sweet Potato, Butternut Squash & Green Chili Tikis. I'm not sure what I was expecting from the 'tikis', but what arrived was a twist on good old fashioned pakora! The tikis were crispy on the outside, soft on the inside with a huge spicy kick. Thankfully, the fierceness of the heat from the tikis was balanced with a cooling cucumber and mint raita.
Basil Chilli Chicken
Beef Rendang
With our taste buds tingling after our starters, we were both looking forward to the main meals arriving. Nicola had ordered Basil Chilli Chicken, which was a mix of wok fried Asian veg, slices of Green Tea poached chicken breast, snow peas and egg noodles in a chilli Thai basil sauce. The bowl was full to the brim with soft egg noodles and veg in a very sweet yet surreptitiously spicy sauce (seriously, the sauce had a wickedly spicy kick to it). Although Nicola enjoyed her meal, she felt that the sauce was too sweet and she would have preferred more stirfried veg. That may be down to personal preference but it's enough for her to wish that she had ordered the Singapore Noodles instead.
For my own main, I ordered the classic Indonesian dish, Beef Rendang. This was a fantastic mix of slow braised beef and new potatoes in a rich tamarind, chilli & tomato gravy served with sticky jasmine rice. The beef was plentiful and so tender that it practically fell apart upon contact with the fork. The curry sauce was super spicy and flavoured wonderfully with the distinctive flavour of kaffir lime leaves and coconut milk. This was a devilishly good dish and something that I would have no hesitations in reordering or recommending.
The only thing that I would perhaps mark down was that we weren't offered water when we ordered our drinks. Our waiter was only assisting in the restaurant (telling us that he normally works the bar), so perhaps had we been served by one of the regular restaurant staff then water way have been offered as standard?
For the most part, our meal ticked all the boxes. All of the food was well presented when it was delivered to the table and at £12.95 for two courses and a drink, it would be difficult to find better value for authentic tasting Asian food.
Knowing that the quality at Mama San is as good now as it was when we ate there last, we made our way into the night and on to what was a very funny comedy show, knowing that this wasn't the last we'd be seeing of Mama San.
You can keep up to date with Mama San on Facebook and Twitter.


Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Chocolate Easter Eggs

So Easter is upon us and today I spent my lunchtime trying to find chocolate Easter eggs for my nephew and nieces. With so many different types of novelty gifts on the market now, I started to wonder how this Easter tradition developed from the simple type wrapped in paper to the beribboned variety wrapped in bright foil and packed in a box or basket.
The first chocolate Easter eggs were made in Europe in the early 19th Century with France and Germany taking the lead in this new artistic confectionery. A type of eating chocolate had been invented a few years earlier but it could not be successfully moulded. Some early eggs were solid while the production of the first hollow chocolate eggs must have been rather painstaking as the moulds were lined with paste chocolate one at a time!
John Cadbury made his first 'French eating Chocolate' in 1842 but it was not until 1875 that the first Cadbury Easter Eggs were made. This may have been because he was not sufficiently impressed with continental eggs to wish to compete with them or because he was too busy with other aspects of his growing business. In fact, progress in the chocolate Easter egg market was very slow until a method was found of making the chocolate flow into the moulds.
The modern chocolate Easter egg with its smoothness, shape and flavour owes its progression to the two greatest developments in the history of chocolate - the invention of a press for separating cocoa butter from the cocoa bean by the Dutch inventor Van Houten in 1828 and the introduction of a pure cocoa by Cadbury Brothers in 1866. The Cadbury process made large quantities of cocoa butter available and this was the secret of making moulded chocolate or indeed, any fine eating chocolate.
The earliest Cadbury chocolate eggs were made of 'dark' chocolate with a plain smooth surface and were filled with dragees. The earliest 'decorated eggs' were plain shells enhanced by chocolate piping and marzipan flowers.
Decorative skill and variety soon followed and by 1893 there were no less than 19 different lines on the Cadbury Brothers Easter list in the UK. Richard Cadbury's artistic skill undoubtedly played an important part in the development of the Easter range. Many of his designs were based on French, Dutch and German originals adapted to Victorian tastes. From Germany came the 'crocodile' finish which by breaking up the smooth surface, disguised minor imperfections; still used today by some manufacturers, this was the forerunner to the many distinctive finishes now available.
The launch in 1905 of the famous Cadbury's Dairy Milk Chocolate made a tremendous contribution to the Easter egg market. The popularity of this new kind of chocolate vastly increased sales of Easter eggs and did much to establish them as seasonal best sellers.
The rest they say is history....


Sunday, 24 March 2013

5 Questions - La Cantina, Teguise, Lanzarote

Myself and my gorgeous wife have been visiting Lanzarote for many years now, enjoying the wonderful food that is produced on the island or the other neighbouring Canary Islands. When we were on holiday last year we made a point of catching up with some of the expats who were living on the island, including Tracy Brown who runs Brown Deli in Costa Teguise, Sarah English who runs English Cakes Lanzarote, and Mike & Julie Cliffe-Jones who run the Lanzarote Information website. It was great to meet people who live and breathe the island, especially when we were able to ask for recommendations on places to eat.
Although they each had different suggestions of where we could eat, there was a running theme in their recommendations in that they all spoke highly of La Cantina, run by expat couple Benn Atkinson and Zoe Buchanan, in the old capital Teguise. Having visited Teguise for the regular Sunday market, we were familiar with La Cantina as we had to walk past the familiar building on the walk from the car park, however we had never ventured in to the typical Spanish bar/restaurant. Based on the recommendations that we had been given, we made a point of driving through to Teguise before we returned from our holiday.
Before we made our way to the airport for our early evening flight back to the UK, we drove through to Teguise to see what all the fuss was about. La Cantina, housed in a building that dates back back to the 17th century, originally served as a local shop selling hardware and household goods to the villagers. Over the years the building hasn't changed much with simple wooden tables & chairs laid out inside the whitewashed walls.
Both Benn and Zoe were on duty when we arrived and after a quick chat at the bar, we were seated at a table in the cool stone restaurant and Zoe talked us through the extensive wine list (they claim to have the largest selection of Lanzarote wines on the island), and recommended that we try the Tabla Canaria in order to get a real taste of Lanzarote before we left for the airport.

Tabla Canaria

Here's their story;

How did you get started?
Out of frustration with lack of local eating options and also a need to change direction, a family friend had a restaurant in an amazing historic building and was retiring, our passion has always been entertaining house guests, honest cooking and sharing a bottle of wine so it felt right to put our energies into something we loved.

What’s the best piece of business advice you could give?
Try it… Have a tiny budget and give it your maximum energy, all your failings are lessons too so take the plunge, just make sure the financial risk is an amount you are willing to lose.

Where would you like to see your business in 5 years time?
We would like to see Cantina as a brand through which we can operate specialist outlets, we are currently opening the Cantina Deli but it would be great to offer a healthy salad & juice bar, a coffee shop, chocolate factory or maybe a fish restaurant overlooking the ocean.

If you could only have one of your own products, what would it be & why?
Hard to choose… The Tabla Canaria is our most popular item and its rewarding introducing local cuisine like gofio or potatoes with herb mojo but there is nothing like watching someone mouthgasm over our chocolate brownies with salt caramel so i guess that would be the one…

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 know people love to knock a winner but we find Jamie Oliver inspirational, his whole approach to food, sourcing and knowledge sharing has drastically changed the way Britons see food. Menu would be simple, social and honest either Asturian beef chops on a bbq or a fresh local fish baked in a salt crust. Followed by Zoe's brownies of course.

Parfait de limon

Having never experienced Zoe's mouthgasmic chocolate brownie and therefore having no picture I have instead posted a picture of the wonderful homemade Parfait de limon that Zoe was serving to the table next to us when we were in. If it weren't for the fact that we were stuffed after our wonderful Tabla Canaria, we would have order one for ourselves too.
Benn and Zoe both have a huge passion for food, especially in the promotion of locally produced meat, cheese and wine. This coupled with the planned launch of Cantina Deli, regular events like the recent wine tasting evening, and live music by local up and coming musicians, means that I also need to join Tracy, Sarah, Mike & Julie in their recommendation of La Cantina.
Keep up to date with La Cantina on Facebook.


Sunday, 17 March 2013

5 Questions - AleselA Real Ales & Craft Beers

After a long and exhausting week at work, I like to unwind with a nice chilled glass of wine or bottle of beer. In the past I would have been happy to pop open a bottle or two of Peroni, San Miguel or Kronenbourg, although in recent times I have been doing my bit to sample some of the wonderful craft beers that are brewed across the UK.
According to SIBA - The Society of Independent Brewers, there are hundreds of independent microbrewers producing a wide range of bottled and cask ales, beers and lagers.
AleselA, run by HairyMonster Stuart Regan, are an online real ale and craft beer retail store, offering a comprehensive range of the high quality bottled ales produced by numerous microbreweries in Scotland, as well as a selection of American and European bottled beers.
In addition to the online side if their business, AleselA are members of Lanarkshire Farmer Markets and I have been lucky enough to meet them at my local market in Clarkston where I have sampled a number of great beers.
Here's their story;
How did you get started?
After being made redundant after 17 years in the computer manufacturing industry I was encouraged to consider starting my own business. Everyone expected me to start a computing company but being a fan of real ale, I decided to take the opportunity to start a business which would let me combine work and pleasure. Surely this must be everyone's dream?
What’s the best piece of business advice you could give?
There are plenty of organisations out there who can give advice to small businesses. They are there to help so make sure you use them!
Where would you like to see your business in 5 years time?
It would be great to finally get a premise in Glasgow to allow us to sell direct to the public. With more space we could also start shipping quality Scottish craft beers to the US and the rest of the world.
If you could only have one of your own products, what would it be & why?
Cromarty Brewing Co's Red Rocker combines the best of traditional Scottish brewing with new world hoppy beers. The best of both worlds.

You can invite one person (living or dead) to your last meal – Who would it be and why? …and what’s on the menu?
The better half obviously, we can put the world to rights as usual and she can amuse me with her terrible jokes :-)
On the menu, i'll be keeping it simple and will be tucking into my favourites - lentil soup, chilli con carne, Thorntonhall Farmhouse Alba ice cream
Thanks to AleselA, I have been able to try lots of different craft beers from across scotland, some of them are brewed within just a 30 mile radius of home. Cairnpapple IPA by Alechemy Brewing in Livingston, California Common by Knops Beer Company in Edinburgh, and West Highland Way by Loch Lomond Brewery in Alexandria are three of my favourite but I know that over time that this list will grow with more recommendations from The HairyMonster.
With hundreds of craft and microbreweries across the UK, there are so may different styles and flavours out there waiting to be tasted. Next time you're in the mood for a cold beer, check out your local off licence for independent craft beers instead of plumping for the usual suspects. Each week when I do my own shopping, I buy two or three individual bottles of beer, it's a great way of trying new things and you never know when you'll find a new favourite.

In the words of acclaimed author, the late Hunter S. Thompson, "Good people drink good beer" What are you going to be drinking next?
Keep up to date with Alesela on Facebook and Twitter.


Sunday, 10 March 2013

Review - One Ten Bar & Grill, 110 Bath Street, Glasgow

This weekend I had taken a couple of days holiday that I had to use up or I would lose them. I had planned on using the time to get the garden tidied up but the rain and snow put paid to that idea. Nicola had also taken the time off as she wanted to spend time with her fantastic husband, although that may have been a cover story as she had also made plans to carry out an errand on behalf of LittleGems Jewellery.
After dropping off a donation with Face Of Glasgow, Siobhan Scott, for the Girlz Glitz & Glamour charity day in aid of The Beatson Oncology Unit in Glasgow, we had a wander around the shops before heading for some lunch. We had booked lunch at One Ten Bar & Grill using Scotland's leading online restaurant booking site which is a great site to use to book lunch or dinner, usually with a free glass of wine thrown in for good measure.
One Ten Bar & Grill is the bar/restaurant connected to the four star boutique Marks Hotel on Bath Street. We arrived just before one o'clock and were glad to get out of the icy cold weather and into the warm bar where we were quickly seated by our efficient waitress.
The 5pm deal was either fish'n'chips or burger and chips with a glass of wine or half pint of lager for £7.95. I've previously written about the fact that Nicola is a bit of a fish'n'chips connoisseur so she was looking forward to trying out the half portion of haddock and chips that was on the menu. With the recent press coverage about horse meat still fresh in my mind, I asked if the burgers were homemade by the chef but was told that whilst the restaurant do have homemade burgers on the main restaurant menu, the burgers on the bar menu are bought in from a supplier. This made my lunch decision easy as I joined Nicola by ordering fish'n'chips too.
As we sat waiting on lunch being served we noticed that with the exception of ourselves and a group of young foreign tourists, the rest of the diners were in their fifties or older. This might be down to the fact that the menu is very reasonably priced with a wide range of sandwiches, salads and classic lunch dishes, or it could be that One Ten Bar & Grill is just 100 yards from the pensioners shopping paradise that is Watt Brothers. Don't let that put you off, if everything that comes out of the kitchen is as good as the fish'n'chips that arrived at our table, then we'll be back soon.
Our lunch was described on the menu as 'Half Portion of Haddock & Chips', and as I sat staring at the huge piece of beer battered fish on the plate, the words of Captain Ahab came to mind - "From hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee. Ye damned whale."
Seriously though, the haddock was huge, almost 12" in length and deliciously flaky inside a wonderfully crisp beer batter coating. The fish was accompanied by a cluster of hand cut chips, and a dressed side salad, with the obligatory lemon and tartare sauce.
We both tried our best to to work our way from head to tail but neither of us could finish everything on our plate. The menu price for the fish'n'chips was £7.95 and we felt that the portion size was fantastic for the price. I would have been happy to pay full price for lunch, the fact that our 5pm booking had a glass of wine included made this an even better deal.
My in-house fish'n'chips expert was hugely impressed giving a score of 9/10, commenting that the overbearing size of the fish was what causes her to deduct a point. Apparently size isn't everything! Otherwise, we had a great lunch at One Ten Bar & Grill and will definitely be back in the future. Remember to check on for any available deals, don't worry if you can't find any offers as you'll still get great value from the well priced lunch menu.
Keep up to date with One Ten Bar & Grill and Marks Hotel on Facebook and Twitter.


Friday, 8 March 2013

Review - The Mall in Mearns, Ayr Road, Newton Mearns, Glasgow

A couple of weeks ago, myself and Nicola made a visit to The Mall in Mearns to check out a new craft fair. Initially I had thought that The Mall was a new bar restaurant but after looking for directions online, I realised that The Mall was a rebranded version of the old Malletsheugh Inn. From it's coaching house origins in the 1800's through until modern times, the Malletsheugh Inn has been feeding and watering both two and four legged travellers. In fact for many years the inn was the scene of the first change of horses on the stage coaches that ran from Glasgow to Kilmarnock on the old road.
LittleGems Jewellery is now booked onto the next craft fair at The Mall so we had to make a return visit to sort out the necessary fees for the fair, so decided that me would grab some lunch whilst we were there. The Mall is now owned by local businessman Drew Paterson who has brought a modern twist to the old coach house pub. Inside the traditional farmhouse there is a Spanish styled bar, which is flanked on one side by a huge lounge/dining area, and a raised restaurant area on the other.
When we had visited the first time, the car park was packed and the restaurant and bar were both very busy, when we returned last weekend The Mall was considerably quieter. Admittedly, we were maybe a little earlier than our previous visit but I think the craft event might have done a great job in pulling customers through the door, which is good new for LittleGems next day out.
Estrella Damm on draught
We were shown through to the bar and seated at a huge booth with external views over the rolling hills of East Renfrewshire, and internal views of two huge screens broadcasting live football. Knowing that we were having Indian takeaway for dinner later, we didn't want a heavy lunch, so with this in mind we decided to order from the extensive tapas menu.
Tapas sharing platter
The tapas menu is full of traditional Spanish favourites from the classic croquetas de pollo (chicken croquettes) to albongidas de cordero (lamb meatballs). After many minutes of deliberation, we ordered the plato combinado, a sharing platter of Serrano ham, chorizo, salami, olives, crusty bread and Manchego cheese. The platter was well presented with a great balance of tasty meats and cheese and olives, served with a little dresses salad on the side. The portion size was excellent and there was plenty on the slate board to happily feed us both.

To accompany our platter, we also ordered pollo con morcilla which was pieces of chicken cooked with black pudding in a rich port sauce. This was a very tasty tapas dish, the chicken was tender, black pudding was spicy, and the sauce was great for dipping with the crusty bread. I love the fact that black pudding is used as much by the Spanish as it is here.

With draught Estrella Damm, chilled vino blanco and delicious tapas, we could be forgiven for thinking that we were in our favourite Spanish bodega. However that thought was soon taken from us by the blaring noise from the two big screens showing the live football. With a Spanish themed seating area, and a regular restaurant area, then why serve up authentic and tasty tapas elsewhere?
Will this little indiscretion stop us going back? No way!! We need to go back and work our way through the huge tapas menu.

Keep up to date with The Mall In Mearns on Facebook and Twitter.
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