Tag Archives: salad

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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What’s Mexican slang for someone looking for fun in the bright lights of Mexico?

Chilango: 27 Upper Street, Islington, London N1 0PN

There’s lots of Mexican places in London, from the trendy burrito shacks to the market stalls and from the slap-up chains to the more costly dine-in restaurants. Well, many there may be, but there’s a reason that Chilango was voted No 1. Mexican restaurant in 2011 and 2012. And you know, these surveys aren’t always right.

Squashed into Upper Street in Islington, amidst Starbucks’, H&Ms and even a Jack Wills, Chilango offers a spot of colour where others are going for the professional commercial boredom. That’s not to say that Chilango’s isn’t professional. It’s just different, you’ll see.

The restaurant, if you would call it that, more of a paint-splattered, endearing shed, is narrow but two-storey with plenty of seats up and downstairs. Go along to the end and you’ll be faced with the simple menu of salads, burritos, tacos etc with pork, chicken, beef and all the beans, guacamole and peppers you should want in a Mexican.

The staff are efficient but by no means hurried and, as a minimum, walk along the rows of food opposite you following your directions of whatever you want on your burrito or choice of base. As if that wasn’t enough, all the food is freshly prepared adjacent to the service area so even if the menu isn’t quite convincing enough, the smells certainly will be. I wasn’t so enticed by the bagged nachos, though they had been bagged in-store as opposed to say, Tesco’s nachos, and I suppose to some extent it stops the chips from drying out. Otherwise, there are no starters/desserts or hot drinks though cold ones are available. The interior is awash with colour, one wall plastered head-to-toe with old record covers, while seats are available as bar stools, cosy benches or more intimate booths. It’s laid-back, funky and really welcoming.

The special Pirito Chicken Burrito came stuffed with coriander rice, fried peppers and onions, mild salsa, sour cream, cheese and guacamole. The tortilla was huge and light, supple enough for our waitress to masterfully fold everything inside to form a handy wrap-type meal in foil! The pirito chicken was succulent, not too spicy, and, while some may find the mix of hot and cold a little odd, the components of the dish blend wonderfully. The coriander rice wasn’t particularly prominent, but a nice filler.

Chicken Salad is a great choice for smaller bellies, those watching the calories or even for someone who wants to taste a little more as sometimes the ingredients shine out a little better. The grilled chicken was chargrilled and juicy, freshly cubed, while the salad was bright and fresh. The mild salsa was thick and chunky and added just enough heat. Sour cream and guacamole were both fantastically thick, the sour cream smooth and moreish, while the guacamole was a little grainier, as it should be, but rich and fatty. Fried peppers and onions were recognisable, so not overdone, and the black beans were fat little spheres of goodness.

Chilango may look like just another burrito bar, or even like someone’s home improvement project in a lean-to, but I can guarantee that you won’t be needing to go to Mexico for fun and adventure.

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A Rare Thing: Value in Val D’Isere

Bar L’Ouillette: Piste Madeleine, Val D’Isere, France

Situated above the fashionable and now-expensive ski resort of Val D’Isere and linked to the sister resort Tignes, Bar L’Ouillette is one of many mountain restaurants which not only compete with each other but with the more established restaurants in the resorts themselves. With a wider range of clientele restaurants are having to up their game and we’re seeing more mountain brasseries, outdoor discos, self-service zoos and sometimes, just sometimes, a traditional environment that does it all.

My first journey to Bar L’Ouillette was on a blisteringly cold morning when the then wooden shack offered a shaft of warmth and light in the freezing conditions. Then, the building was stuffed with sturdy oak tables, dim lamps and shuffling bodies stamping their feet to try and stimulate circulation. The drinks were hot, the cakes divine and the service homely and professional. So we decided to drop back four years later, for lunch.

Now, at Easter, the terrace is crammed with deck chairs and tassel-covered parasols and a barbecue sizzles away under a white-painted hut, offering marinated chicken, steaks and sausages. However, if -3 degrees Celsius, even with the blue skies and sunshine, isn’t quite your idea of sunbathing then you can head inside.

The dark tables remain though there are fewer of them and the food is now bar service and pay at the till straight away, a little like self-service except the food is prepared and stacked behind the wooden counter and the staff pass it to you to place on your tray, all heated appropriately, of course. There are no crowds armed with trays, wielding forks and plates of anaemic steak hache and frites. The menu is extensive so there’ll be something for everyone, from the blizzard days to the lazy sunnier afternoons one can have with Easter skiing. Hot dishes include the traditional (quiche, tartiflette), the expected (salads, fresh sandwiches) and the additional (the barbecue) but the range of each of these is staggering ranging from vegetarian, quiche lorraine, chicken, salmon and beef.

Curried pumpkin soup with cheese was fantastic; thick and warming with a full depth of taste, often unexpected in soups. The baguette was fresh and soft and was given to us for the soup and salad without asking. Chicken salad, though slightly unappetising when stacked in the refrigerated cabinet, was well worth the money. Thick slices of grilled chicken abed salad leaves, cornered by varying ingredients. In one corner, herbed couscous neighbouring cherry tomatoes on the vine while opposite there was homemade coleslaw. Finally, slices of cucumber and two slabs of pineapple for a tropical and sunny taste. Wholesome and filling! Quiche Lorraine was gorgeous; super fluffy and light and full of flavour. The pastry was wafer-like and it came served with a fresh side salad, though a bigger slice would have been appreciated.

Desserts, again self-service, come in all shapes, sizes, textures and flavours. This is really where Bar L’Ouillette specialises. From trifles to tortes and meringues to mille-feuilles, you can’t leave this mountain restaurant without trying one! An apple tartlet was a thick, buttery circle of pastry that melted in your mouth, topped with hunks of apple gently caramalised. Shreds of apple had also been twisted on top for decoration. Flaky and fruity and just right for one! A slice of the baked apple tart was done with a strudel-style topping, infused with cinnamon. The pastry bottom was light with a textured, tasty crust, the inside stuffed with whole pieces of apple (no sugary puree here!) and finished with a light dusting of sugar. It held together beautifully and the flavour was balanced.

The service behind the counter was slick, the queue simply a sign of this restaurant’s popularity. The staff are happy to take reservations and are smiles all round. You could never call a mountain restaurant good value but as far as a mountain restaurant in Val D’Isere goes you could pay a lot more for a lot worse. The outside terrace is a fantastic addition, especially in good weather: complete with music and a colourful, beachy atmoshpere, it’s perfect for drinks with friends (from beer to hot chocolate) or for a spot of altitude sunbathing. Inside is a different atmosphere, more traditional and homely (and much quieter!) though there is limited seating. Next time I’m here, you can count on me bagging one.

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a night-club with a surprisingly slick kitchen

Mendoza: 30 High St, Town Centre, Aylesbury HP20 1SF

 

Mendoza is a cafe/bar located on Aylesbury’s high street. The single waiter was welcoming, if slightly fawning and, at times, inept, but apart from a couple sharing drinks, our party of two was the only one in. The decor is modern and trendy, as you might expect for a social bar and night club. Blacks, creams, fake marble and wide-planked wood: it catches the eye at first but once you take a closer look, there are cracks between the tiles and the materials are cheap. However, the thought and effort is there and it makes for a pleasant atmosphere.

The menu is one of spectacular value. Covering burgers, pizzas, pastas and sharer plates, as well as a fabulous selection of hot and cold salads, Mendoza covers every person from the after-school comers with hungry children, groups of friends wanting quick cheap eats to try and share around to couples wanting something slightly more special but at a low price and with a relaxed mood.

Potato skins was a great sharer plate with four different toppings, each one with four skins each. The skins were actually potato wedges glistening in oil and leaving a nice dipping portion of it swirling on the plate too, just in case you fancy licking up a little more. The chilli topping was a richly-flavoured beef and bean mix that was great partner to the sour cream topping. This was a little overpowering when slathered over the wedges but had a great kick from added chives. The bacon and cheese topping was unnecessarily oily again and the cheese quickly became rubbery and bland. The bacon, however, was cooked well. The final topping of roast vegetables was less of a success; the vegetables were soggy and bland with no seasoning.

The mains come in generous portions, though don’t think you’ll be offered a knife and fork. It’s Aylesbury – you must get those yourself! That aside, the food was good. The blue burger was a beast of a bun with an equally sized thick patty, perfectly cooked medium-rare. Topped with a flat mushroom and blue cheese, the flavour packed a punch and the cheese oozed out as my partner dug in, all fingers and teeth. The salad was fresh, colourful and plentiful but the chips let the side down. We were glad to see they were hand-cut but they were also soggy and slightly over-done.

The Mendoza Salad comes with “everything a salad can have!” Hot chicken and bacon scattered amongst fresh salad leaves, peppers, sweetcorn and onion. There’s a selection of dressings but my lemon vinegar choice was a little oily. The salad was out of a bag but fresh and bright and the chicken and bacon was a great addition.

You get what you pay for here, if not a little more. The bill came to roughly £25, including 2 diet cokes and a tea. Portions are ample and sharers are fun, even if the quality fluctuates from dish to dish. I can’t promise you what happens when the night club takes over but at least you won’t go hungry! A friendly, filling destination for casual lunches and dinners – a pleasant surprise.

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way to jerk!: Mama’s Jerk Station, Camden

We’re back in Camden Market, this time scouring the West Yard of the Lock Market for something tasty for lunch.

Enter: Mama’s Jerk Station. This family run company specialises in Carribean street food and does it damn well. The short but spicy menu consists of dumpling soup, jerk salad boxes or wraps, all of which are available in a vegetarian variety using jerk bean cakes. Fried plantain is a great side addition and if you’re a real meat-eater then try the sumptuous jerk pork sausage too!

Typical of the Carribean-style jerk spice, Mama’s make fantastic use of hot peppers (scotch bonnet variety), both in the spice-rub on their chicken but also in a fiery hot pepper sauce. If the jerk spices are enough then you can always opt for a dollop of the tropical mayo; an exotic and refreshing drizzle is just what you need to put the fire in your belly out. The chicken is also grilled traditionally, with the added smoky flavour that Carribean jerk food is known for compared to the Jamaican variety, by using charcoal in the grilling drum. The marinade itself is primarily pimento (or allspice) and Scotch Bonnet Peppers but also includes garlic, thyme, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, scallions and salt.

I opted for a jerk chicken salad box. Crisp iceberg lettuce was piled into my polystyrene box, followed by hearty scoops of diced tomato and cucumber; this was surprisingly fresh and with a great bite. Next came grated carrot in Mama’s own coleslaw; light, laid-back on the mayonnaise/cream and with a really defined texture. Finally, the star of the show. Slabs of chicken were pulled off the grill for me and hacked up with a cleaver’s knife. Chunks were then tossed into my box with a drizzle of the hot pepper sauce. The chicken was juicy, mouth-wateringly so, and the spices caught in the back of my throat before raging down my insides. Delicious! The whole box had a freshness and vibrancy that is so often missing from street food. My servers were both friendly, determined to get passers-by to try their food, and wonderfully efficient.

Imagine all the above mentioned stuffed into a pillowy tortilla and you have a fat, saucy wrap bursting with a dose of the Carribean.

Mama’s jerk recipe has passed through the generations, first created in Jamaica as an offshoot of the country’s classic marinade. You can find Mama’s Jerk Station at:

  • West Yard, Camden Lock Market, Camden
  • Vibe Bar, Old Truman Brewery, Brick Lane
  • Portobello Road Market, Portobello Road (Saturdays only)

Get jerkin!

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