Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Jim's crusade!

A little while back I mentioned that I was working on a little side project with a friend to tackle the appalling disabled access in our area.

Click here!

One of my best friends is currently on a crusade fighting for better wheelchair access around Cambridge. It would mean a lot to him (and me) if you could check out his blog and support him in his fight!
 I think its a fantastic piece of work and he has been working damn hard on it over the past few months. It is great for highlighting the every day struggle of being in a wheel chair and really makes you appreciate how we take being able bodies for granted every day. 

The blog really highlights how simple things like going for a meal or for a coffee can actually be a real challenge in some of our biggest high street names. He has done it in a way which really makes you see what it can be like through his own eyes. I personally feel poor wheelchair access should be ancient history in this day and age and I am sure after reading this you will agree!

Thank you.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Indian Summer - Brighton

Woo! Back in Brighton on an absolutely stunning and sunny bank holiday! Naturally the first thing we do is head straight indoors for an Indian!

Though we were heading out of the sunlight, I thought we might at least try and keep in the theme of the summer fun and head for a very popular restaurant called "Indian Summer", a multi award winning restaurant with a fantastic reputation all over the city. It is also one of only two Brighton restaurants which were named in the 2014 Best In Britain Restaurant Awards (BIBA)

Appearing quite small from the outside, it is easily missed in the very busy central area of Brighton, not too far from the famous Lanes and the sea side. Once you walk inside however the place opens up to a very modern and atmospheric restaurant with plenty of seating. 

We were greeted by two very friendly and energetic young people called Tim and Asta who gave us a choice of seating. We decided to sit in the back so we could get a good look at the restaurant while we walked through. We immediately appreciated how different this place felt from most other places we have been before. It strikes us as incredibly modern and trendy and a place which wants to do things its own way. 

From the moment we sat down we noticed that it was not just the lay out of the interior which makes this place seem different, but also the way they present themselves as an entity. This is not just a place of sophistication but also a place of warmth and openness with real values on customer service. When you look at the menu's, you see they are made in a black leather case which has personal information on every single waiter, manager and chef in the restaurant, which was not only interesting but reassuring, as it explains a bit about them, who they are, and why they are here. 
The descriptions were clearly accurate too, as from the moment we walked in the staff were overly helpful, energetic, friendly and chatty. This was not a gimmick or just something written on the menu please customers but it actually felt like a code or a way of life for them, and I honestly believe that.

Upon further reading we saw that this was not the usual British Indian cuisine but more traditional Indian food. No such things as your usual vindaloo or onion bhajji's will be found here I am afraid. That being said there was a very rich selection of food from lamb racks, masala dosa's and Thali, so you will be hard to find someone who will leave disappointed.  

The menu is done in a two tier system. 2 courses are priced at £23.95 and 3 courses at £27.95. You are given a selection of starters, mains and desserts to chose from but you are only allowed to pick one for each course. This immediately strikes me as more expensive than the  usual Indian restaurants we are all used too, but this places also strikes me as a place not looking to be usual!

We ordered some drinks and were a little disappointed to learn there was no beer on tap, nor was there any Indian beer at all. They did have a selection of Freedom beer, a fantastic organic English beer which made up for it as it is as good as any Indian beer on the market, but I would have liked to have seen them keep to a theme. I do not like drinking from bottles myself as they tend to be about the same price as a full pint on tap, but you only get 330ml. My beer was finished before mains had even arrived. 

For starters I decided on going for the "Dum Prawns Hariyall" which is Tandoori king prawns with "Dum" Spinach and mint sauce. My girlfriend ended up having the Paneer Tikka, which are spicy cubes of paneer with onions coriander and chutney. 

For mains I ordered the Lamb Rack. This comes with roast cumin potato cake, pea puree and a spiced pistachio crust. My girlfriend ordered "Pork Ulathiyathu", which apparently is a family recipe from south India which quite simply is stir fried pork with spices and rice.  

While we waited we soon realised that we were not limited to the two dishes on the set menu we ordered but had little appetisers introduced to us between courses to keep us amused while we waited for our food. I liked this as it opened us up to things we might not have ordered on our own and helped us learn more about Indian cuisine and culture. We were given a spicy tomato soup served in a smaller coffee cup, it was certainly the kind of thing I enjoy and went down a treat! A nice touch from the team at Indian Summer!

Once I devoured that, the starters came out. The dishes were presented excellently as you would expect from any other high end restaurant. I was presented with my four prawns, each one large, succulent and full of flavour. The mint sauce was sublime in itself too. Incredibly thick and not too bold, which let the king prawns stand out.

I tried a bit of Megans Paneer Tikka, something I have little experience with myself, but it seemed to work well. It was bold, full of flavour and with a nice texture. She seemed very keen. I could not imagine myself ordering this but I could easily see this being popular with vegetarians as you could tell it was prepared well.

Once we were done the waiter took away our dishes and we were given another mid course appetiser. This time we were given a lemon and basil sorbet presented in a small jar. It was nice enough and kept us amused while we waited. It was certainly refreshing and is something I would like to see served in more places, ideally after a hot curry. 

Once we were done, our mains came out. My ribs looked sublime from the moment I set eyes on it. Sadly my low res camera does it no justice but in person I was itching to get stuck in. The spicy pistachio crust was on top, followed by the lamb and then the roast potato cake on the bottom. Each one giving a different layer of texture which worked so well in the mouth. The pistachio crust especially just make the whole dish so exciting. 

The lamb was fantastically done and was very well cooked, the meat came apart incredibly well and there was little fat. I wish it came with an extra rib or two as once I was finished I was still left feeling a little hungry. There was no doubt from me that I had just eaten some excellently prepared traditional Indian cuisine it just felt a little stingy. For someone with a small appetite though there was absolutely nothing to fault.

My girlfriends stir fried spicy pork worked well too. It came with roast coconut sauce, apple clove chutney and basmati rice. I could tell she really enjoyed it, and after trying a bit myself I had to agree. She mentioned it had a good balance of spice and flavour and was also glad I hadn't taken her to another place which would blow her head off with spice. This is certainly coming across as a good place to take the Mrs, girlfriend or date, for a nice romantic meal as it seems to be not only modern but much more of a delicacy than your usual Indian.

Though I did take a photo of this dish, the restaurant was dark and the photo does no justice to the dish on my low res camera phone and putting it up on here would only offend us both. Sorry guys! New camera coming soon, promise! 

Once we were done they took our plates away. We had a nice chat and took in the atmosphere for a while. Eventually we decided to order the bill. They came over with some chocolates (sadly no hot towels! Though in a place like this is probably isn't needed). 
The bill came to about double what I would normally spend in a traditional Indian restaurant, which was something I was expecting judging by the over all experience. 

What bothered me most was that I didn't really feel like I had a fulfilling meal. There was no doubt in my mind that the food I had was divine, but I was still left feeling a wee bit hungry after. Keeping in mind I am 6'4 and do have quite an appetite on me, especially when it comes to Indian food...I just know I will not be alone in thinking this. 

Conclusion: The dining experience in itself was unparalleled and so unique to anything I have experienced in Brighton before.  The customer service was bold, friendly and energetic, just what you want before a good night out. The food was all unique, traditional and fantastically prepared. The establishment itself had a great atmosphere, modern interior and traditional values all wrapped up in to one. There really was nothing to fault.
For me, this place blows "The Chilli Pickle" out the water after my lacklustre experience there several years ago. I would highly recommend this place to anyone wanting to try something more up market than the usual "spicy slop in a bucket" that we all know and love. This would be a fantastic place to take that special someone in your life, or for someone wanting to try something different, or perhaps just someone who enjoys the finer things in life without the slightest bit of pretension which often comes with it. 

Just make sure you get the 3 courses otherwise you will be coming out hungry. 

Thanks for reading!


Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Basmati - Ely

We decided to take a break from the usual traditions of the Easter weekend and have a curry instead of another boring roast dinner. So my dad, Jack and I headed to a place which was well over due for a visit - The Basmati in Ely. 

I always order my take away's from the Basmati as they are incredibly punctual and quite consistent with their food. Not only that but they are on Just Eat and during the week have 20% off orders over £18, so there are some good bargains and set menu deals to be had too, what's not to like? 
Yet for some reason I have never managed to actually visit the place despite cycling or driving past it numerous times during my shenanigans around Ely, so I was really looking forward to this!

From the outside the restaurant is hardly a sight to behold and can be easily missed on the busy street outside. Upon entering you hardly get blown away by its interior decorating either, but overall the place has nothing offensive about it. Its just a very basic and all round Indian restaurant, which is a theme which I soon find out becomes a constant during my experience here.

 That being said, they had some nice ornaments in here which looked quite nice. This is just your text book, basic and all round Indian restaurant, and that is no bad thing!


 We were warmly greeted by a gentleman who was in plain street clothing. I always find this strange as waiters in Indian restaurants are always so formally presented. He was incredibly chatty and friendly though! 

We had our pick of the tables as the place was empty. We were sat next to the window which overlooked the street on to the park near the river, which was quite nice. 

We were served incredibly quickly so we ordered some poppadoms while we looked at the menu. We found the food to be very competitive and reasonably priced.  There was a respectable selection of cuisine on the menu too.

Once we were done we decided to go for our usual dishes. I had the chicken tikka vindaloo with rice and a peshwari naan. My father had the lamb biriyani and my son had the aloo chaat with rice. The gentleman took our orders and left us to our poppadoms. 

The poppadoms were presented in a basket with 5 side sauces, yes 5! 
We were given lime pickle, mango chutney, yoghurt, onion salad and orange pepper. All decent enough in their own right, though nothing blew us away. The portions were small but there was still enough to serve us through the 4 poppadoms, so no real complaints all around really. 

Once we were finished we made an incredible mess, though I like to try and pin the blame on my 4 year old son! 


It didn't take long for our main meals to be brought out after our poppadoms were collected. The rice was served in a metal bowl with a lid on it. The rest was all on white plates and bowls. 

My chicken tikka vindaloo was fantastic. The meat was above average and tikka'd well. It was also the vindaloo equivalent of molten lava - Just how it should be! 
By the time I had finished my mouth was on fire and I had even gotten the hiccups.  Too many places make a tame vindaloo because too many people order them and send them back for being too hot! (crazy, huh?). I am glad The Basmati does things right here and doesn't ruin peoples dishes because of others!

Chicken tikka vindaloo.

The peshwari naan was quite good. It was served on a plate and cut in to four quarters. There was an average amount of peshwari inside which suited us fine. Jack especially enjoyed it, though again, nothing blew us away.

 Peshwari Naan

My father really enjoyed his lamb biriyani. He said the meat was very good especially and I could see just by looking at it that the texture and flavour was all there. It was presented with a salad consisting of cucumber, tomato and lettuce. High marks all around with this dish!

 Rice for the Biriyani 

Jack had the aloo chaat. A tomato sauce based potato dish. Something I was not only convinced he would like, though within seconds of getting it on his plate he had woofed it down. So it looks like there were no complaints from him. I tried a bit myself as the dish was excellent. The potatoes were cooked in the sauce completely through and it had a very bold flavour and an excellent texture. Its not something I would order myself but is certainly something I would recommend to vegetarians or for people who do not like things too hot and spicy.

Jacks Aloo Chaat.

So, over all everyone enjoyed their meal. There was no complaints all around and The Basmati seemed to get everything right. We asked for our bill and we paid. It was not my turn to pay so I didn't get to see the bill, but by looking at the menu you could tell the place was reasonably priced. 

When they brought out our bill we were given a glass plate with numerous sweeties. Mints, sucky sweets and some jelly beans. Naturally we demolished the lot, though I was quite sad to notice we were not given any hot towels, which was particularly annoying as my vindaloo was blinding hot!

Conclusion: The Basmati seems to do everything well. You will not get the style and glamour of Le Spice and you wont get the little extras like hot towls and chocolates like at Montaz, but you get a good all round experience here.  They do a good meal, for a good price, and with a friendly service. As long as you do not mind being in a place which looks fairly dated, which in my experience, most people don't.
I am a big fan of their take away services here as they always tend to get to my house within 30-45 minutes of ordering on Just Eat and have some sensational deals during the week. I can see why this place is very popular with the locals and its winning me over too!


Thanks for reading!