Tag Archives: Lunch

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.

 

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Fully Roasted

the bitter aftertaste of popping out for a cuppa

It could only be Caffe Nero in Henley-on-Thames, the microcosmic world of the Henley Regatta, the highlight of the year for the upper-middle Englanders of the Home Counties. Don’t think the coffee shops are any different. As lunchtime creeps closer, the lycra-clad middle-aged women finish sipping their cappuccinos and head out to another yoga class, or for the weekly Waitrose shop more likely. Instead, the queue consists of the students who get more than £5 lunch money for the week (those ones head across the road to Dominoes or the fried Chicken Shop off the high street), a few high-flyer business types with the briefcases, sharp suits and (yes, they still exist) blackberries and finally a few elderly customers spending their retirement in style.

It’s fairly quiet, the music a willowy piano piece that seems to be stuck on a loop while the single table and seat by the window, nestled between two others of course, calls out to you. You seat yourself; the look goes up: “what? You wish to sit between these two tables? With someone sitting either side? Have you no regard for personal space?” Actually, I have every regard but getting a table is hard enough and the metre of space either side is entirely reasonable for my comrades to continue sipping their teas and reading their papers. They sternly look away and grudgingly oblige. Victory.

The task is not over yet, however. You may have secured a table but you have to hold it until your panini arrives. Don’t be thinking that because you’ve bought a diet coke, and even asked for a glass, that you qualify to sit at that table with no coffee and no food. Not to the upper-echelons that are surveying you from the queue. They glance around and shake their heads at the lack of tables. Then they look back at you. You pour the coke into the glass, spread your papers around the table, take up more room than necessary. Still they look. Banging the food marker doesn’t seem to do much good either. You begin to sweat, despite the ice-cold coke: will they actually ask me to move? Will they sit beside me, ask to share my table? (I can assure you, it happens.) Ah at last! The panini arrives! The scaly, cream-clad women look away, moving towards the armchairs. One waves her arm at the waitress to bring the coffees over. Wow, I didn’t know they did table service in Nero.

But just then, when you’ve finally settled down, you hear the shrill pitch, elongated-vowel sounds and a tone coated with condescension that marks the arrival of somebody overly superior to your lowly status. And that of everyone else around you.

“Oh, let’s sit in the armchairs, more roooooom, no?” the mother coos. Good, they won’t sit next to you. Her waif-like daughter drifts over too her before gliding to the sugar stand.

“Would you like some water? I’m getting some.” The mother shakes her head but raises her coffee, as if in toast.

“Cheers!” The talk turns to dresses for some occasion, probably the regatta, of course. “What about your white ooone, with the laaace?”

“Think I could get away with this colour?” The girl ripples her willowy fingers, peach-coloured nails swanning through the air.

“Oh that colour, yest, I think you could get away with most colours. They look gorgeous. You look gorgeous!” Did you get that at the back? This woman’s daughter is goooorgeeous! The mother proceeds to knit: a dark, muddy-green item, while the girl gets out a book. Because who doesn’t read and talk?

“We’ve got nice teas for Daddy haven’t we?”

“He loves cherry maderia cake, and victoria sandwich.” Of course he doesn.

“Gosh, I get my exam results soon. I must get Daddy to do my student finance. He hasn’t done it yet. Then I can choose my modules.”

Enough said.

 

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Fully Roasted

the bitter aftertaste of popping out for a cuppa

There’s nothing worse than overly loud people. Except maybe overly loud, obnoxious people. These ones weren’t obnoxious, but the ignorant kind of loud. The “we don’t care loud” paired with the makes-you-want-to-eat-stones idiosyncracy. The two older women twitter and cackle as they wait for their male companion. No, sorry, person-with-tray trying to squeeze through the gap in the chairs to get to your own table, you are irrelevant. Another round of cackles. Another chair is pulled out as their own drinks arrive to much cooing and unnecessary rearranging of drinks, receipts and bags. The tray-battler behind manages to dash through a temporary gap, sacrificing the foam of her latte and someone’s milk. Ah well, emergency situations call for drastic measures.

A small boy leaps to his feet as an even smaller girl walks in. They nervously make their way to the counter together. Could this be what it looks like? No, surely. It could be, he’s paying for her. Disaster! He’s discovered he doesn’t have enough money and sheepishly has to pick something else for himself. Bless, she’s already taking advantage of a free drink. I wish I’d had that skill at 9.

I go to look out of the window, not forgetting to give a bone-chilling glare as my eyes pass over the crows’ nest next to me. It’s as if they arrange that no two people drink at the same time, ensuring an incessant squabbling of voices in my right ear. Looking out the window, it’s strange to see two women have picked a table right on the other side of the glass. Looking at all the empty chairs and tables around them I realise they must have picked it because it was the only one free. It feels strange, as if there’s no glass there really. I almost want to make fish lips. But I don’t. They seem immune to this intense claustrophobia I am feeling and continue their conversation. I feel privy to it though can’t hear any of it. Fear enters me: how do I look out of the window without looking as though I’m looking at them? Fortunately a man wanders under the far end of the canopy so I can look over there instead. He sits down on a chair and lights a cigarette. Oh, it’s funny, I thought these chairs were sat under the Costa canopy but his must be outside the rope. Oh no, it is inside the rope.

Back inside, the first-date sits at a table far away from everyone, overlooked by a sleepy potted plant. Sorry kids, it’s behind the table so no shelter there. They suck on straws cautiously, talking very quietly. At least it makes a change to next door where the tittering voices crescendo before bursting into laughter. Beautiful. Time to leave, I think.

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a welcome time out

Time Out: 12 High Street, Thame, Oxfordshire

Time Out is a small two-floor cafe on the periphery of Thame High Street run as a family business. Thame is an old market town, renowned for its variety of boutique shops including delis, antique shops and ones specialising in local produce. Not only does the pleasant layout attract cyclists, tourists and walkers, but there’s also a large Waitrose, Boots, Sainsburys, Prezzo and a number of pubs and gift shops, making it a great destination for day outs, shoppers and somewhere to do your errands! The Coffee-House near the centre of Thame has long been a favourite with locals and visitors alike as well as Rumsey’s tea rooms, specialising in chocolates and light lunches. However, for something a little fresher, for something a little further from a polished BLT with a stick through the middle, and for something more adventurous than your average salad, maybe it’s time to head a little further down the high street. And yes, I mean past Costa.

There aren’t many seats but they are snapped up quickly for morning coffees, quick bites and lunches and even for afternoon treats and milkshakes. The atmosphere is fun and relaxed: there are sofas upstairs, books and magazines to read and it’s very much a family run business. It doesn’t look modern or clinically clean which may put some people off but it’s already very popular, despite being a fairly hidden gem.

On offer is a selection of toasties and sandwiches in the fridge, though I have to say that these don’t look particularly appetising. No, what’s best here, are the fresh specials that change daily. There’s salads, a chicken-of-the-day, homemade cakes and bakes and light main meals too. Blackboards and baskets give a homely, rustic feel.

We tried the Mexican chicken pitta and the quiche-of-the-day. The pitta was lightly toasted and crammed full of chicken in a light, spicy marinade using the likes of chilli, ginger and tarragon. On the side came a fresh salad and a pot of sour cream to drizzle inside the pitta. Perfect! The feta quiche was a neat triangle of homemade pastry brimming with feta cheese and spinach. Golden brown and just crispy, there were no soggy bottoms here!

The service could have been a little quicker if we had to pick but the meals are freshly made so they’re worth waiting for. Next time you want a time out, come here instead!

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