Sunday, 22 January 2012

Albaik, Newcastle, Restaurant Review

Sometimes I can be a horrible snob.

Yes that sounds as bad written down as it does in my head. I mean this is in the sense that I can be very particular about what and where I eat; I turn my nose up at the idea of fast food, take aways and 'restaurants' that laminate their menus and include pictures on them. So the idea of spending my Friday night in a restaurant which also sells its food on Just Eat and is located next to a KFC and the Byker Wall may perhaps seem a little strange.

But i'd actually been wanting to try Albaik for ages, after regularly walking past it to the Free Trade or Tyne i've peered curiously in at the windows and wondered what Lebanese food was like. Amusingly I'd been on the phone to O2 before we went out, when I told her I was going for a Lebanese she replied that she thought that was a type of triangle. I wasn't really sure how to reply to that.

Albaik, 98 Byker Bank

This is one of those strange locations which was a Chinese one day and a Mediterranean cafe the next but Albaik was certainly doing well on the night we went.
I've never seen a restaurant so rammed full of people, massive tables so close together you could barely move, and you could definitely see a bit too much of the 45 year old woman in a leather dress at the next table. She would have been enough to put you off your food, if the food hadn't been so bloody good.

It was good and it had laminated menus. My snobby little mind almost imploded with the concept.

Menu, Albaik Newcastle

Between us we tried a lot of the menu, there were various charcoal cooked kebab skewers of different types of lamb or chicken. I opted for the Lahem Meshwi which were big chunks of succulent lamb, beautifully marinated and served on a sizzling hot platter with onions and parsley.
Lahem Meshwi, £7.50
Other dishes included a moussaka, very rich sauce, chicken skewers, a Fattoush salad, lovely crispy little falafel bits and tons of different dips - no idea what most of them were but all very good. 

Moussaka, £7.00
Fattoush Salad, £3.00
Strips of Lamb & Chicken, Chips Onion Salad, £7.50
Falafel, £3.50

This was one of those nights where I leave somewhere feeling very uncomfortably full, I just crammed my mouth with all the deliciousness in front of me then realised I got full half an hour earlier. 

We got all the things above, sides, bread (which was 50p a basket for massive freshly cooked flatbreads!) and chips and it came to £10 head with change. I couldn't believe how little we paid for so much good food. O and its BYOB making it the perfect meal for any broke students out there.

The service had been polite but the food did take along time to come with some dishes arriving slightly after - i'd snobbishly put this down to it not really being a 'proper restaurant' where they bother with service. But no, to apologise for our delays and forgotten orders they gave us a huge free dessert to share, something kind of like a panna cotta, with mango sauce and coconut shavings.

So yes, try Albaik out, its cheap & cheery and you'll be so full you won't be able to move. Which is why although it was a fun meal out, I think I may have just discovered the best thing to order in. 

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Prawn Gyoza Dim Sum Recipe

home made prawn dim sum
This was a fantastic idea, even if I do say so myself. I have been wanting to try out making dim sum for an age and finally got round to it this week, and turns out its really simple. Even my chubby uncoordinated fingers managed to make a few little parcels of goodness. it's great because it makes you feel much more competent than you actually are because they look dead impressive.

Dim sum is a pretty wide reaching title meaning small, bite sized portions of food, normally cooked or served in a steamer but here I am referring to these tasty little dumplings which to be more precise are a type of gyoza, sometimes known as a potsticker.

However I learnt all of this after the trip to the chinese supermarket, where unsurprisingly everything was labelled in chinese and I spent along time trying to find the right thing. I also learnt that asian supermarkets are amazing, why has no one ever told me how great they are. Anyway back to the dim sum lesson, a gyoza shouldn't be confused with a wonton (what i almost bought) as a gyoza has a thicker, slightly chewier shell and is more commonly served with a dipping sauce rather than in a broth. You also get a ton of the wrappers for about a pound so I'm having them again next week. 

I am being so informative in this post, normally it's just meat this, meat that, o i stuck a burger in my gob the other day. 

Anyway, if you steam these like you are meant to they make for a super healthy dinner. We had some steamed, some fried then steamed, and some just fried. Sadly because they were so tasty I don't have any pictures of the finished product as I gobbled them up to quickly. 

We made ours with prawns and half a left over bag of value stir fry veg (i'm probably not meant to admit to things like that on the internet) and it works really well, it just had to chopped up really fine. When I do it again, i'm going to use a prawn and pork mix and have less cabbage etc in there as it did make it a bit of a padded out poor mans potsticker. 

Prawn Dim Sum/ Potsticker/ Gyoza 

Makes about 30

gyoza wrappers
200g prawns
shredded white cabbage, onions, carrot
1 tsp ginger
1 tbsp sesame oil 
1 tbsp rice wine
1/2 tsp white pepper
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp salt

Dipping Sauce

1 red chilli
2 cloves garlic
3 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp sugar

1. Finely chop your vegetables and prawns so the prawns become almost paste like, put into a bowl and add the seasonings and finely shredded ginger. Mix together well. 

2. Take a wrapper, a place a small portion, about half a dessert spoon of mixture onto the middle of the wrapper. Don't overfill as it means the wrappers will tear and no one wants a gaping dumpling do they. Wet the edges of of the gyoza and lift the edges into a semi circle shape and pinch the edges together. Continue till all the mixture is used. 

3. If you have a steamer thats swell for you, you smug git, I didn't so I got a sieve and put it over a pan of boiling water and it worked just fine. Steam them for about 4/5 minutes with a lid over the sieve. 

If you want them fried them put them in a pan with a small amount of oil for about 4 minutes or until the edges are crispy. 

The prawns we used were from the reduced section so I was generous with the cooking time because no one wants to get the voms from dodgy prawns. 

Even with reduced prawns, 100% tasty, maybe I am starting to live up to my non existent asian heritage. 

Saturday, 7 January 2012

The Rise Of The Good Pub

When did pubs get so good?

I know this reversion to classic British cooking has been going on a while but I felt like I was spoilt for good pub food over the Christmas period and have a few to mention from around the country. Being of the pint of ale and pie persuasion this was a great way to spend my sacred days off.

All three were slightly different, there was the modern gastro pub type affair, a dabble in old traditional and nose to tail eating and a classic British through and through joint which is my regular when at home. As Christmas is all about visiting friends and family, I got to enjoy the delights of Harrogate - where I am from, and Chester, the other halves sort of home town.

I've only been to Chester once before, the other half lives in some remote spot of the country near by, and we chanced upon The Brewery Tap but unfortunately it was absolutely packed. This time when we ventured in to go sales shopping we had it in mind for a spot of lunch. It is an incredible old tudor style building called Gamul Hall with a high vaulted dining hall and original exposed beams. It  gives a wonderfully old fashioned atmosphere and the menu certainly played up to this - mutton, ox heart, lambs tongue and breast.
The Brewery Tap, Chester
The Brewery Tap, Menu, a range of traditional fare

The pub is run by the people behind the Spitting Feathers brewery which was established in 2005, so there are plenty of their own ales as well as guest ales from other local brewers. Major plus points for a lazy afternoon.
In retrospect I wish I had been a little more adventurous and gone for the lambs tongue as I have wanted to try tongue for a long time, however I played it safe with fish and chips and wasn't disappointed, light and crisp batter and particularly good tartare. Our friend Matt got a beef and ale pie, good marks again but the real winning meal was the Lambs Breast with Swede mash and mint sauce. Lambs breast isn't a cut I am particularly familiar with but was similar to pork belly and had been slow cooked for 4 hours - very tender with a light and creamy mash.
The Brewery Tap, Beef and Old Wavertonian Pie, £11.50
The Brewery Tap, Lambs Breast £8.50
The Brewery Tap, Fish and Chips, £9.95

All in all it made for a very nice afternoon and was a laid back affair. Our next Chester destination was slightly more up market - The Sandstone is a countryside gastro style pub which a traditional rustic meets contemporary modern interior. It isn't the sort of pub that you wouldn't pop to just for a drink (mainly because you have to drive there), it is definitely more on the restaurant end of the pub spectrum but still manages to retain a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.

And this focus on the food is definitely why it is thriving when other pubs in the area are struggling. The countryside is full of pubs - it isn't necessarily full of good food. The Sandstone has got it nailed. Previous mentioned boyfriends middle of the nowhere house means that to get a decent meal out you might have to drive for about half an hour to Chester or another large town, but The Sandstone is 5 minutes up the road and means whenever we go to visit his family a superb meal is guaranteed. I have been there each time we have been down to Chester and every time has been as good. 

One other good thing about The Sandstone, the portions are on the generous side of large. Certainly meaty, everyone at the table either got the duck or the venison, it just feels like so much more of a treat than chicken or lamb. The duck came with beautiful and creamy dauphinoise, my current favourite thing, and a rich sage and red wine sauce. Starters included a game terrine with black truffle and tarragon dressing, baked brie and rosemary bread and five spiced duck confit. All of this was cooked and presented with care and attention - it really feels like they want to give you an amazing meal. 

The Sandstone, Baked Brie, Apple and Celery Salad and Rosemary Bread
The Sandstone, Duck Breast & Potato Dauphinoise 
The Sandstone, Venison with potato fondant
We didn't have puddings (you've seen the size of the portions) but I can vouch from previous trips the chocolate brownie with forest fruits ice cream is gorgeous. 

Back in Harrogate, I have a million beautiful words of praise to bestow on my favourite place for a drink The Old Bell. Even though neither me, nor any of my friends live that close to it it has certainly taken the place of our local when we convene at Christmas or during the summer months in breaks from university. It is full of wood, good ale and has to be one of the most popular places to drink in Harrogate - we tried to go on Boxing day but as it was so full ended up in a pub round the corner full of very dubious taxidermy. My brother thinks of The Old Bell as the sort of pub that only old men drink in, but every time i've been in recently its drinkers reflect the popularity of real ale with all sorts of ages. 

I popped in for a porkpie and mushy peas one afternoon and felt like a proper Yorkshire man. My mother told me how after a night out in Bradford (see proper Yorkshire) she would have a pork pie and mushy peas on the way home, why can't take aways be like this these days? In a weird coincidence the pork pie was made by the woman who used to be my boss when I worked for the NHS but thats by the by. It was delicious either way, Voakes pork pies - definitely recommended. 

The Old Bell, Harrogate - Pork Pie and Mushy Peas, £4.50
So, in conclusion, what you can learn from this is that there are many good pubs doing some very good British food.

You can also draw the conclusion that over Christmas and the New Year I ate a lot of food.