Author Archives: scotchpancakes

Halal: An Issue to Chew Over

So what if our meat is halal?

That’s what thousands of people in the UK are currently asking themselves after the recent statements by the likes of Pizza Express and Tesco use and sell halal meat without telling customers or correct labelling. It is understandable why the issue has surfaced. Britain’s Muslim population stood at 5% in 2011 and is estimated to reach 8.2% by 2030. There is, therefore, a significant demand for halal meat in both supermarkets and restaurants.

Regarding sheep, cattle and poulty, a 2012 Food Standards Agency report stated that over 90% of animals are stunned before being killed by halal methods, making the animals insensible to pain. So, disregarding the pain involved to animals (as this has been thoroughly debated elsewhere), what is the cultural debate raging over the issue?

It is perfectly within a restaurant or supermarket’s rights to sell halal meat and it is even more acceptable for customers, Muslim or not, to expect this diversity of choice when eating out or buying groceries. However, the meat should be correctly labelled. Halal meat cannot be eaten by Sikhs, who are prohibited from eating any meat killed in a ritualistic manner. Many Hindus are also opposed to this type of killing. Where do Pizza Express’s and Tesco’s recent statements leave them? Customers have the right to feel betrayed by their supermarkets and providers. The debate is not a racist one; it is not an immigration issue. In many ways it is an economic and cultural issue.

Non-halal meat should not have to be labelled as such. With the majority of UK consumers buying non-halal meat (knowingly) and British tradition not including ritualistic tradition, halal meat should be in the minority in terms of production and selling. Supermarkets will oppose this, however, because it will put the price up, discourging their halal customers. On a final note, who wants to think about how their meat was killed when they’re buying it anyway? Personally, it puts me off my food. Just like vegans, people who buy gluten-free, or people who buy organic, people who want halal meat should have to look for a label, not the other way around. It is a choice, one that should be respected, but not one that should overturn the majority. How would the UK react, for example, if you had to sort through Tesco to find cheaper, non-organic produce because some 5% of the population usually buys organic? What if restaurants only served dairy-free alternatives to cheese and milk dishes but didn’t tell anyone about the compromise on taste or cost? These issues are the same, the inclusion of religion in the halal debate should not matter.

This debate needs to be yet another step towards better labelling, increased transparency between businesses and consumers and, most importantly, making the diversity of Britain more acceptable and more tolerable.



Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

How good does the food have to be to feel back at school? Better than this.

The Eighth Day Co-operative Ltd: 111 Oxford Road, Manchester, M1 7DU

The Eighth Day Co-operative is a vegetarian shop and café that sells an impressive range of raw, vegan and special diet products on Manchester’s busy Oxford Road. More importantly, downstairs they serve you food instead of just selling it.

The café is canteen style which makes it good for a relaxed working lunch but it’s a bit dimly lit and, atmosphere wise, you won’t take much away with you unfortunately. They do manage, however, to squeeze in plenty of customers.

The self-serve salad bar wasn’t particularly adventurous with pesto pasta, assorted leaves and the like but all the dishes were fresh and the box sizes good value. The menu has different daily specials (all vegetarian) ranging from currys to stews and soups to casseroles.

The chana dal was ladled out generously, served thick with lentils and peas. The colouring could have been better with some use of brighter spices as it looked rather unappetising. It also lacked a little kick of flavour. With brown rice though, it was good value and you definitely feel like you’ve had a nutritious meal.

Bean enchiladas were served with a spicy tomato sauce. The sauce was too thin, more like cup-o-soup style, but the enchiladas themselves were bursting with three different types of beans, a cheesy exterior and a little chilli too. On its own, this was filling enough!

A variety of smoothies, juices and shakes are available along with the usual coffees, teas and iced drinks. The ‘Sunshine’ smoothie (banana, strawberries and pineapple) was a pretty pale pink and not too sweet, despite the strawberries though the pineapple didn’t really come through. A chocolate and banana shake was thick without being gloopy and delivered a delicious punch of flavour.

On the whole, the café is quick to serve hot food and has a wide range of vegetarian dishes, all of which can be made vegan. They have many regulars and the staff service is friendly and unobtrusive. The food wasn’t of the best quality and it was all a bit school-cafeteria to warrant a second visit but I’ll definitely be back to the shop upstairs.


Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Cultural Heart of Manchester delivers with Classy Combinations

The Cornerhouse: 70 Oxford Street, Manchester, M1 5NH

The Cornerhouse is home to some of Manchester’s most interesting art exhibitions, lectures and some brilliant small-release films. Upstairs, however, there’s a place to unwind, chat and eat some casual but very refined and classic dishes.

Service was a little bit slow but it was peak lunch time on a Monday and there were only two floor staff; both were friendly and helpful however, and the polished wood surroundings are pleasant enough to wait in. Despite being busy, the restaurant was fairly quiet and easy to talk and hear in, unlike some places even when they are only half full.

The menu is made up of pizzas, some sandwiches, salads and precious little small plates that you can share with friends or have with some side dishes. There is also an excellent value Worker’s Lunch that includes a meal (a BLT with chips for example, or mushrooms on toast) as well as a drink for £7.50.

The superfood salad wit chicken was beautifully presented and stuffed full with cucumber, broccoli, peas and avocado. The grains were soft but retained their chewy texture and the chicken was tender and added a nice kick with the Cajun spice. Mackerel pate looked pretty in a glass jar and the hunks of toasted granary bread made a big difference than if it had been sliced bread. The mushrooms on toast came with wilted spinach and goat’s cheese, drizzled over a slab of bread in a creamy sauce. The cayenne pepper could have been stronger but it was creamy, chewy and nutty all in one. Finally, there was the wild mushroom macaroni cheese, served well again in a miniature glass dish. The topping was crunchy which added good variety to the softer texture underneath. A portion of chips were well-cooked and coloured but the fingertip lengths were a little too small. The portion sizes may be a little small in places but the prices do not ask for much more anyway.

The Cornerhouse has a great art décor atmosphere and is a lovely place for a casual or quick lunch with friends. They also do deals on films, pizzas and drinks on certain nights. Do not be put off by the sleek and simple exterior; the food here is warming, filling and makes you smile!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Moose: Where quantity outstrips quality

Moose Coffee: 20 York Street, Manchester, M2 3BB:

This cosy, neutral-coloured diner is a perfect relaxed setting for a weekday brunch or coffee. Situated near Piccadilly Gardens, the exterior is quiet and clean, without the price tags of the Northern Quarter or the many competitors of other areas in the City Centre.The décor makes it almost train carriage-like with wall-mounted wire shelves and steel wall lamps. Dark strips of polished wood finish it off and you’ve got to love the chandelier of antlers and the picture of knights in shining armour with, oh wait, moose heads instead of human ones. The American influences shine through in the diner-style seating but the cream and dark colour scheme ensures nothing is too overbearing.

The menu is American-Canadian inspired with a vast array of breakfasts with potato hash waffles, eggs in every variety, bacon smothered in maple syrup and stacks of fluffy American pancakes. Some of the pairings sound a little strange, like the burger in a sugared doughnut, but Moose assures us they work.

The staff were friendly and quick to serve, though there were a couple of memory mistakes which sometimes made our breakfast a little pained and service took longer than it could have done. A bounty shake hadn’t been mixed properly, leaving the chocolatey coconut mix to be slurped out at the bottom of the glass once you’d washed down the thinner, milkier mixture at the top. The mocha was average but the cream topped it off.

A bowl of homemade granola was overpoweringly sweet, not helped by the side portion of honey. However, the texture was crunchy, the oats well-cooked and the inclusion of different nuts gave it a good diversity. The fact that the waitress served hot milk when it said it came with ‘fresh cold milk’ was another little blip in our dining experience. Presentation was also good in thick lipped bowls with little ramekins for the natural yogurt and honey.

The Vegi Mighty Moose was a whopping potato hash that took up half the plate, served with 2 poached eggs over a griddled tomato and 2 slices of thick brown bread. Flavours of Dijon mustard and garlic pushed through the potato, adding a nice kick, and the egg yolks came oozing out over the white fluffy mountains when pricked with a fork. A well-cooked breakfast but there was nothing to blow us away.

Overall, Moose can offer some wonderfully different dishes, especially for brunch or if you enjoy sweet-savoury mixes, as well as a large range of milkshakes and sandwiches. However, the style is in the chunky portion sizes and American décor so a great place for a bit of fun when you’re very hungry!



Tagged , , , , , , , ,

The Boot: needs polishing?

The Boot: Chinnor Road, High Wycombe, Bucks, HP14 4AW

Nestled on the hillside of the Chilterns in the quiet village of Bledlow Ridge, The Boot is new for 2013 and already a popular pub with the locals as well as a modern eating house. Inside, cow skins and wine-glass chandeliers build a warm and rustic atmosphere, kept up-to-date with chic chairs and chunky wooden tables. The bar stretches across the room, allowing drinkers to dwell with the diners in the high-ceilinged dining room that enables excellent acoustics.

Unfortunately the cosy environment wasn’t reciprocated in the welcome. Three staff managed to ignore us waiting in front of them and even the owner walked past without uttering more than “Hi.” Finally we were pointed, not shown, over to our table where another waitress then proceeded to ask if a fourth person would be joining us, even though the table had been booked and laid for three.

We got stuck into the menu, an array of classic pub dishes and some more refined meals too. The starters took a long time to arrive so we asked for some bread – thick chunks of granary served with soft butter – and it turned out to be excellent. Garlic Wild Mushrooms on Toasted Brioche tasted nothing of garlic but included a tasty selection of meaty and earthy mushrooms on a slice of brioche. Scallops with black pudding and bacon were rather small and overcooked, even burnt, served on a bed of salad. As we were eating, we noticed we had also not been given the specials menu or offered a drinks menu or wine list. At least the food was so far consistent with the service…

Mains average around £15 and are served on fashionable wooden boards. The Boot Burger is made from local fillet and sirloin though looks minute in the vast (and cheap) seeded bap it’s served on. For not many more pennies a homemade bread roll would have made a much better impact. The burger itself was OK, perhaps not worthy of bearing the pub’s name on its shoulders. The hand-cut chips were fat, fluffy and crunchy though. Posh chicken and chips was tender and generous though overpowered by the overly rich jus and the apricot and sage stuffing came in an unappetising slice as opposed to in the chicken. Chips, again, perfect.

Puddings varied: a crème brulee with chocolate shortbread was grainy, the “shortbread” powdery and dry while a lemon tart tested the meaning of the phrase “subtle flavouring” though the accompanying mixed berry compote was fine. A sticky toffee pudding was more successful and worth the £5 but the sponge was too dry and the ice cream tasted cheap – thin and sugary.

The food here isn’t bad but some little improvements could really make a big difference. However, it’s fairly good value and a quiet, peaceful atmosphere in which to eat. Service needs brushing up on, especially the welcome and goodbye, and there was little coherency between our serving staff. Not one to rush back to but management attention could pay some big dividends.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

A Fyne Chance of improvement


We did it. After our awful experience in Henley-on-Thames, we reluctantly dragged ourselves back to Loch Fyne, this time in Wokingham, to see if anywhere else did it any better.

 tasty, if very small, with a thick and sticky chilli jam. The charcuterie board had a good selection of meats including peppered boar and salami, served with some fresh granary bread. Finally potted mackerel was good, though it hadn’t been left out of the fridge for long enough and therefore was a little too cold and congealed. All-round though, not bad.

Service then suddenly got horrifically slow. Customers had actually left so there was less to do but our drinks orders were frequently forgotten and our waiter would disappear for long periods of time before forgetting us altogether. After a long wait for a our mains, including time added where we had to ask for extra dishes that had been forgotten, everything eventually was on the table. The char-grilled burger was tiny in comparison to its brioche bun and the taste was not of the premium standard you might expect from Aberdeen Angus beef; it didn’t taste fresh or char-grilled. Equally, the rest of the contents, including bacon and cheese, was all a little soggy. The twice-cooked chips were much better, though had a tendency to be crispy on the outside with very little fluffy filling and just faded away in your mouth. The other main, king prawn tagliatelle Provençale, was served luke-warm instead of hot and the prawns were considerably more baby-sized than king. The squid was tasty but the fresh coriander and parsley were hard to taste. The side dish of seasonal mixed veg consisted of peas, carrots and soggy broccoli, all swimming in a little dish of water, and all tasting as if they’d been defrosted in the microwave. In conjunction with the service we’d received, it was not up to the standard we thought appropriate.

Dessert was a special of raspberry crème brulee where the raspberry did not fit but the crème brulee was successfully made. The shortbread was buttery but still too sticky and soft to be authentic shortbread rather than just biscuit. Raspberry sorbet was delicious – though it’s unknown whether it’s made on site or not.

The manager did admit that there was “no excuse for slow service, no excuse at all,” but unfortunately his professionalism at the end did not take away the bad taste left after two bad visits to this chain. The food is mediocre at best and it seems the staff are generally (there are exceptions of course) not well trained and inefficient. Whereas after my last visit I had a reason to return, now I have a reason to never go again.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Pizza Express puts the High in High Wycombe

Pizza Express: 40 Oxford Street, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, HP11 2DJ

Chain restaurants like Pizza Express can often overlook customer service or the food can become so manufactured and similar that you might as well have unpacked it and microwaved it yourself. However, the High Wycombe branch showed how to keep it fresh, keep customers satisfied, and have a full set of covers on a Wednesday night.

Though we had to wait for a table for ten minutes, the manager was engaging, apologetic and had us seated as quickly and effortlessly as possible. The service was slick and friendly without being overbearing. Fat Marcona almonds were creamy and salty while rustica tomatoes were flavoured with herbs and oozing with juice. However, at £2.95 and £2.45 respectively, as “nibbles” the portions were too small.

Starters consisted of freshly baked garlic bread steeped in garlic butter while the dough was puffy, fluffy and just slightly salted. A very sophisticated and elegant garlic bread. Mozzarella and tomato salad was plain but tasty with fat slices of the cheese and tomato neatly layered together. Lastly, risotto d’Oro was a appropriately-sized portion of creamy rice mixed with butternut squash, gorgonzola and rocket and infused with garlic oil. A great start.

Mains came swiftly: the superfood salad with chicken was a mass of fresh leaves with chunks of butternut squash and slices of tender chicken. Flavour powered through from balsamic vinegar and pine kernels. Hunks of beetroot, avocado and mozzarella also added to the variety and texture of the salad. Generous and filling! If you’re into pasta, the cannelloni was rich with béchamel, though there was a little too much tomato sauce. A side of peppery dough sticks was useful to mop it up though it did overpower the flavour a little. The pasta though was well-cooked. Finally, a pizza! The romana da morire was topped with gorgonzola, pancetta, leeks, artichoke, mozzarella, rosemary and chilli oil. The thin base was vast and deliciously crispy while the chilli oil added a ribbon of spice and heat. The artichoke, leeks and pancetta gave some great texture.

Desserts came in the form of toffee fudge glory: a passable ice-cream sundae with tasty vanilla gelato but very hard pieces of fudge and a sickly toffee sauce. Not a fantastic finish but unfortunately the dessert menu isn’t hugely appetising overall anyway. From the “Dolcetti” menu, the semi freddo reale was particularly good; a cube of gelato topped with nougat, praline and flavoured with marsala wine. The crunchy texture on top was great and the portion was just big enough to enjoy and just small enough for when there’s not much room left!

Pizza Express will never be your fine dining destination but it’s not meant to be – it’s meant to be fun, friendly and affordable, while serving hearty, tasty food with pleasant presentation. In High Wycombe, that’s exactly what they’re doing.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

A Pub To Make Your Local, if only for the pudding: The Woolpack

The Woolpack: Risborough Road, Stoke Mandeville, Aylesbury, HP22 5UP

The Woolpack is a large pub, locally known as “The Woolly” and it is certainly a favourite in the area. It can be both intimate or casual, perfect for relaxed drinks outside on the terrace, in the chic bar or great for meals with friends or loved ones at the rustic tables and sofa benches. The staff are friendly without fussing and the menu is traditional pub fare with Mediterranean twists and interesting specials. Nestled on the outskirts of Stoke Mandeville, The Woolpack is like a large slice of the fresh and the summery, despite sitting by a busy road.

To start, we nibbled on smoky chilli nuts served in a quaint box jar and rustic bread with a side of pomodoro sauce and a whole roasted garlic, the sound of the cars dead to us out on the back terrace. Both were satisfying, authentically presented and great for sharing while we poured over the extensive menu. On one hand, the mix of pizzas, pastas and salads is a little off-putting as it seems like “The Woolly” can do anything and everything, but there are some more intricate and interesting dishes also.

The starter special was black sea scallops with potato salad – there were three scallops nestled against a monstrous potato salad lathered in mayonnaise. The mayonnaise was too overpowering for the delicate salad though the scallops were cooked perfectly.  Not worth £9.95 but I must commend the manager who, before we’d had time to complain, offered to take the starters of the bill because of a lengthy wait for them. The excellent service took away the sour taste immediately though later mistakes, such as wrong drinks and forgetting orders, were sometimes a little irritating. The second starter of arancini risotto balls was delicious: the crispy balls stuffed with mozarella on a bed of blended sweet red peppers (a full-flavoured, thick sauce; delicious!) and a green chilli mayonnaise which had an intense chilli flavour but, like the scallops, was let down by the generous use of mayonnaise. The risotto itself was creamy, mixing well with the mozarella, though the cheese’s flavour failed to come through.

Moving onto the mains, we had the special of marinated half of quail though the marinade was tasteless. The quail itself was well-cooked but the sauteed potatoes were ever so slightly overdone. The accompanying trio of salads consisted of a thick and gloopy coleslaw, a colourful and fresh Asian slaw and a bright, well-dressed house salad. Tasty and satisfying overall. The spit-roast half chicken came with a thick garlic aioli, perfectly offsetting the charcoal flavour of the chicken which was, in true spit-style, left on the bone. The fries were great: thin-cut but with the skin left-on and super-crunchy with fluffy insides. The Asian slaw dressed with soy sauce brought a splash of colour and crunchy texture, rounding out this rustic, summer dish well. A hit!

The pudding menu is certainly worth looking over: there’s crumble, gelato, sticky toffee pudding and more, all served in generous portions as you might expect in a pub. A white chocolate brulee was a let-down however; the topping was beautifully caramelised, breaking with a snap, but underneath there was no taste of white chocolate and it seemed more like a pot of bland custard. The sticky toffee pudding was the star of the show: a brick-like portion drenched in a thick, sweet toffee sauce and finished with a dollop of creamy vanilla gelato on top. Hints of maple and date came through the light sponge and the textures of airy sponge,  gooey sauce and silky gelato melted wonderfully.

The evening was consistently relaxed and good-natured, with nothing too much trouble for any of the staff. The drinks are fairly expensive but the food is generally well-priced, with a few exceptions, but the portions are generous and the atmosphere infallible. Meeting “The Woolly” mightn’t be a bad idea this summer.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Le Comptoir – a restaurant to count on

Le Comptoir: 65 Wigmore Street, London, W1U 1JT

Le Comptoir is a pastry-wrapped pocket of Lebanon serving up punches of flavour in five locations across London. The Wigmore Street restaurant is fresh and funky: wide wooden planks on the floor and rough, rustic tables keep the place feeling relaxed and casual, while the exotic tea-pots and gemstone braided bags (which you can buy!) provide both a talking point as well as showing you more of Lebanon than their food can.

Their food shows a lot, however. To start, a platter of hommos and pitta bread baked on the premises. Served traditionally with a pool of oil and whole chickepeas surrounded by the mashed form of the peas. The lemon and garlic came through lightly in a beautifully thick blend and, unlike many supermarket forms, there was no sweet, sticky aftertaste.

Next up, a warm chicken taouk wrap. Authentic again, served with a garlic paste, pickles and a fresh salad in a warm toasted wrap. The chicken was tender, with a slight spice while the whole wrap was bursting with a juicy yogurt and tomato sauce. There is no better feeling than scooping up the leftovers with that sweet, spicy sauce dribbling down your chin. There’s a choice of dips available: the garlic sauce packs such a punch it tastes like pure blended garlic cloves but with a sweetness that makes you want to dip everything in it. The harissa sauce is a warming chilli sauce, much thinner than the garlic sauce, but beware the hot kick as you swallow: it’s surprising and powerful!

To finish, there are many tasty treats to choose from, from yogurt with traditional Lebanese toppings to the well-known Baklawas. A selection of five baklawas varied from sweet flaky pastry stuffed with date semolina to a triangular layered pastry neatly filled with ground mixed nuts. While the taste didn’t vary widely between the walnut-filled, cashew-flavoured and other sweet delicacies, it was a great authentic touch and delicious all-round. The Comptoir frozen yogurt was very soft and unsweetened but this was lifted by a topping of halva and roasted pistachios. Halva is a nougat-type sweet made from flour or nut-butter. This one was very sweet and quite sticky but also crumbly and worked wonderfully with the pistachios both texturally and on taste.

The service was very helpful, swift and friendly and a takeaway service is also available. You can see some of the food been prepared behind the counter and lots is laid out around the restaurant, if only to make you hungrier while you wait! A definite must-visit for a chilled out sharing-meal with friends or an intimate meal to try something new. Le Comptoir is definitely “the counter” with something worth serving.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Fully Roasted

the bitter aftertaste of popping out for a cuppa

Sunday afternoons are surprisingly busy in Costa, even as closing time looms. One family appear to have turned it into a proper outing, hunched around a table with a tablet of some form. Two teenage boys, about 14 and 16, call out film names excitedly, jabbering away on the technicalities of whether Qui-Gon Jinn could beat Darth Maul. I think we established that in 1999. There’s something about video games that I don’t understand, I mean, people know they’re not real, right?

The parents take over the tablet; no, not take it away, but take over the game. The older boy can almost not contain himself at his desire to help them. How can they be so useless? How can they not know who the protagonist of Tron is, or where Star Trek: Nemesis was set? The older boy begins to quiver. Their younger son cups his cappuccino in two hands and proceeds to down the entire cup in a gulping, slurping cacophony. I’ll be  honest, it was hard not to stare. Coffee finished (it’s not as if that’s what you come for after all) he lurches across the table, fighting his brother-jedi at the table for supremacy. Their mother stabs uselessly at the tablet. Please don’t get it wrong, I don’t think I’ll be able to hold my laughter in much longer. Their dad frowns at the paper.

Further along, a father sits on the settee with his son and daughter. The father’s friend, think Flanders from the Simpsons, nods earnestly in conversation. Upright, rigidly wooden in movement, he makes every effort to show his interest in his friend’s conversation. We all know what that kind of conscious effort really means.

Hold up though, it’s a big question at the other table. “The Holy Grail! The Holy Grail!” The younger boy is on his feet, fingers flapping, almost hyperventilating. A sigh of disappointment. What a defeat. C’mon, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? Even I knew that one.

Flanders is giving life advice to the little girl beside him. She nods seriously. Well, for a moment. The marshmallows in her hot chocolate are far more exciting and who can blame her? Flanders laughs nervously and robotically adjusts, hiding his rejection. No, we know you weren’t really talking to her.

Flanders gets up to leave just as the next table erupts into ecstasy at the winning answer of “Wolverine!” from the jedi apprentice. His master looks on, beaming. Ah well, if you didn’t get all the answers there’s always next Sunday eh? Can’t promise I’ll be there. As Flanders moves out, I realise I have seen him before, several times in fact, at gigs in London. Well, always time to re-evaluate my music taste I suppose.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,