Summer Solstice, where are you?

Well the clocks changed here this weekend, the nights are drawing in and today I left the office in the dark. As someone who loves daylight and the sunshine more than most (I think I was born in the wrong country!) this is something that I find really hard to adjust to and I find the lack of sunlight really quite hard to deal with it at times. How can you not feel a bit down when you leave your house in the dark in the morning and leave the office in the dark on the way home? No more walks, runs, bike rides or games of tennis in the park after work now for the next few months! I think the fact that my office is located in the lower ground floor of the building doesn’t really help either! Anyway, now we suddenly have gloomy darkness an hour earlier than we’re used to, it made me cast my mind back to the start of the summer to the longest day – the summer solstice. I always think that the summer solstice feels a little magical – so much promise in the air, the thought of people celebrating this day around the world from ancient times, to pagan times, to today. The feeling of awe and admiration for the power of the sun. Tonight the dark evening made me cast my mind back to this year’s longest day. Here in Chorlton local pub the Horse & Jockey tends to hold a celebration to mark the occasion and this year the night included some highly impressive fire dancers, in the spirit of remembering the (somewhat limited!) warmth and light we enjoyed just a few months ago, I thought I’d share a few pictures here.

Bistro West, I love you

Last weekend my mum and dad came down to Manchester for a visit. Much as I love living here, I do miss Scotland and wish that I could see my family and friends that live north of the border more often. So a visit from the parents is always a treat, even the more so as it’s also usually an excuse for some indulgent food treats! (plus my mum always brings down some of her unbeatable homemade chicken and rice soup and some of the delicious granary bread from the local baker that you can’t get down here)

We decided to treat ourselves to a really nice meal out and I knew just the place to take them – Bistro West 156 in West Didsbury. This is a small, perfectly formed bistro where you are always guaranteed a warm welcome and an outstanding meal. The other half and I have been delighting over the famous fish pie, the black pudding salads and desert trios here for many years, in fact he used to live just a two minute walk away, so the temptation was all the more! Anyway, for all these reasons, plus the fact that this is usually our restaurant of choice for celebrating special occasions, the Bistro holds a special place in my heart.

The meal last weekend didn’t disappoint (aside from the fact we still weren’t quite in season for the winter fish pie! ūüėČ )

I wasn’t quick enough to get a photo in before my dining companions began demolishing the starters, but we shared some incredibly moreish fried salt & pepper squid with chillis, spring onions and a sweet chilli dressing as well as a lovely rustic ham hock.

We then moved on to the mains and I ordered salmon baked in filo pastry with sundried tomatoes, basil and cream cheese, on a bed of creamy crushed potatoes, peas, leeks and little gem – I’ve never really put salmon with tomato before, but the flavours worked really well and the filo pastry was beautifully flaky and crispy.

My mum and dad both picked the mixed fish grill which consisted of seabass, salmon and beer battered haddock. This batter was definitely a contender for the best batter any of us had ever tasted – batter perfection! This came with chunky chips, peas and tartare sauce, yummy!

Rob had an amazing Moroccan-spiced slow roast lamb shank with sweet potato couscous, crispy onions (ohmigod these were insanely good!) and lemon and corriander yoghurt.

This dish was a beast, but sadly he didn’t need as much help as we anticipated!

Having eaten all this delicious food, washed down with equally delicious wine, we were all feeling really rather full. The deserts in Bistro West are however, in my opinion, legendary, so there was no way we were missing out! After a little rest we were ready to peruse the desert menu. I’m not going to lie readers, this was a stressful situation for me – how the hell am I supposed to choose between plum and almond frangipani tart with CRUMBLED AMARETTO BISCUIT ICE CREAM, a trio of creme brule with sticky ginger cake and STEM GINGER ICE CREAM or a melting chocolate and orange pudding with, get this, COINTREAU AND ORANGE ICE CREAM!!? (excuse the ice cream excitement, but oh my god, how amazing do they aaalll sound?!) I had already discounted the sticky toffee pudding with god damn honeycomb ice cream as I knew there was absolutely no way I could squeeze in a sticky toffee pud. I agonised over the other three for a while and eventually after much soul searching plumped for the tart – I adore both frangipani and amaretto so this swung it in the end!

Here’s the creme brule trio

And the melting chocolate and orange pudding (which you’ll see I didn’t get a chance to photograph before it was half demolished! You get the oozy chocolatey picture though…)

All in all, I think you’ll agree, a truly scrumptious feast and the perfect place to spend some time with my parents. Everytime I go, I just love the Bistro more!

A weekend in Bronte country

It’s official – Autumn has well and truly taken hold. And, for once, we lot in Manchester have been blessed with some truly beautiful cold, crisp, sunny days with lots of crunchy golden leaves to kick and a¬†kaleidoscope¬†of colours on the trees as more leaves turn – just as bloody well after the wettest summer on record!

This turn of weather good fortune really has been just as well, as the weekend before last we headed off to Haworth in Yorkshire, affectionately known as Bronte Country and the delightful cold bright autumnal weather meant we could enjoy our wanderings down the steep streets and across the wild open moors far more than if it had been wet and miserable. (In which case I’ll admit I’d probably have been a bit grumpy!)

I’ve not really seen a lot of Yorkshire (being a Scot who’s lived in England only relatively recently, there’s still an awful lot of the English countryside I’d really like to see) and was straight away taken with the charm of Haworth itself. With its steep cobbled high street high lined with quaint and quirky shops and pubs, you could really imagine yourself stepping back in time, as if nothing much had changed for 100 years or more. This sense of history was all the more keenly felt for trips on the Keighly & Worth Valley steam trains

and the almost-tangible presence of the famous Bronte family, particularly after a trip to the Parsonage. As the steam from a passing train billowed in your face, briefly distorting the people and sights immediately around you, you could feel yourself transported to another time. The feeling of the past was further compounded for me by the fact that we were staying in the Haworth YHA Рwhich just so happened to be a converted Victorian mansion, complete with resplendent plasterwork, stained glass and impressive doorways. Being the massive history geek I am, I straight away pictured myself swanning around the house as if I were in Downton Abbey!

While not in the village itself, we continued to be blessed with beautiful weather as we lolloped our way up the Pennine Way and across heathery open moors, continuing to spot Bronte-related sights such as Top Withins farmhouse and Penistone Crag.

Of course all these activities in the bracing country air meant we worked up quite an appetite which meant lots of yummy food! Somehow, I managed to fail to take any food photos apart from of some cake (more on that later!) (I know, I’m a terrible food blogger!)

I do just have to describe the fantastic meal we ate on the Saturday night however, even if I don’t have a photo, as it was the most delicious chicken I have ever eaten in my entire life! Firstly, I would never usually order chicken when out for a meal, tending to plump for more indulgent choices or things we don’t often cook at home. Something about the description of this dish on the menu called out to me however and I am so glad I ordered it! The pan roasted chicken was glazed in maple syrup and wholegrain mustard (two of my favourite things – this reeled me in first!) and was served with a roasted butternut squash puree (oohh, another of my favourite things, I might just have to order the chicken!), apple reduction and cornbread and sage stuffing. The skin of the chicken was practically indescribably tasty – sticky and crispy and sweet and savoury all at the same time…. mmmm… the roasted butternut squash puree was so sweet and flavoursome, and the stuffing was a fantastic coarse texture and also bursting with taste. As I write this, I think I am definitely going to have to try and re-create this at home! So, a lesson for me, don’t always discount the chicken as the ‘boring option’! The other half also made an excellent choice with his hake, with a perfectly crispy skin, nestled on a bed of delicious tomato, ¬†kidney bean and chorizo stew.

Of course no weekend in Haworth would be complete without at least one trip to a tea room for some restorative cake.

I even managed to earn an extra gold star by finding a tea room serving local ale! Sticky apple cake and a pot of earl grey tea for me, twice baked vanilla cheese cake and a pint of Blacksheep for the boy ¬†– everyone’s a winner! And just look at this adorable milk jug!

Sunshine and Minarets

So I’ve been feeling a bit guilty about my lack of blogging recently but am still spending a large portion of my waking hours running around like a headless chicken so time is somewhat in short supply. So, as a bit of a quick cheat’s blog post, I thought I’d share some of my favourite non-food pictures from our trip to Istanbul earlier this year, which I wrote about in rather great lip-smacking detail in my¬†first ever blog post!¬†I’ve been thinking about Istanbul quite a lot these last few weeks, probably as I watch autumn creep in and wonder where our non-existent summer ever went… I’d give rather a lot to be meandering around the warm streets enjoying the hustle and bustle, sights and smells of this amazing city so full of culture and history right now… Sigh…


































































(Yes, I really need to learn how to display photos properly on here… Did I mention I was short of time?! That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!)

Le Relais de Venise L’Entrec√īte – Steak frites, twice!

It was my lovely other half’s birthday recently and to celebrate we decided to try out a restaurant which had recently opened in Manchester. To be honest, there are so man great places to eat at on our doorstep in Chorlton, it’s difficult to find the motivation to go into the city centre much these days, but this restaurant held a certain allure.

Le Relais de Venise L’Entrec√īte is based on its Parisian original and serves just one thing – steak frites! Great I hear you say, I love steak frites! Well, we certainly do. Even better however is you get it twice! Well, technically you get half your steak and half your portion of frites, then as you finish that, the clever waitresses brings you the other half so that it doesn’t get cold and remains at optimum¬†temperature¬†the whole time you’re eating – this sounded genius to us so we thought we’d better schelp ourselves along to the tram for a wee trip into town to test it out for ourselves.

I liked the fact that there was no big menu to peruse over, for a Friday night after a very long and busy week, coupled with my usual menu indecisiveness (I must admit I usually need the pressure of the waiter/waitress standing over me to make a decision Рit all just sounds so good! ) this was very welcome. We started with some very nice red wine

The set menu included a walnut salad with mustard vinaigrette served with crusty baguette for starters. Simple yet delicious.

The steak came with the restaurant’s own special ‘secret recipe’ sauce. To be honest, the sauce was nice enough but I didn’t find it massively flavoursome… maybe I’m just too much of a stickler for a full-strength peppercorn sauce! Here comes the first portion… pretty generous size huh? Remember this is only the first half!

The frites were just as good frites should be – perfectly crispy, golden and crunchy on the outside, soft and warm on the inside. The steak was good. But, I’m sorry to say, not amazing. And I can’t help but think that if all you’re going to serve is steak frites, your steak should kinda be amazing… (it wasn’t a patch on Gaucho’s for example, but that’s another story…) Still, it was steak frites, and how could that not make you happy?

There was a small selection of deserts to choose from, true to form I spent some time deliberating between the tartelettes au citron and the creme brulee. (This just gives extra time for the steak to go down and leave more ample space for desert!) Creme brulee is probably my all-time favourite desert in the world. Ever. But I find it’s dangerous to order outside of France – too often disappointing. Therefore I swung toward the tart with the proviso that the birthday boy would order the creme brulee and that we would have tastes. In the end I was glad I had chosen the tartelettes au citron – the lemon was really tart and zingy and the pastry was absolutely perfect – no soggy bottoms here! The creme brulee on the other hand was tasty but a little¬†anaemic¬†in my opinion… not a thick enough layer of caramelised sugar on top for my liking – it failed the spoon tap test – nor was the rest of it set enough.

All in all, this was a nice meal and I’d say Le Relais de Venise is a good place to go if you fancy something a little different. Seeing as we were in town, we decided it would be rude not to finish the evening with some birthday cocktails!


Some Portuguese sights and eats

Well I have actually been back from Portugal for a few weeks now but have been rather stuck in a black hole of stressy hecticness ’til now so haven’t gotten around to posting. The sunshine definitely faded far away to a dark corner of my mind pretty much as soon as we got back as the rain in Manchester poured and poured. And poured. And continued to pour some more. This weekend however, we’ve finally been blessed with some crisp sunny autumnal days. Which is just as well as I was about to leave the country.

Due to ¬†a last¬†minute¬†change of plans, we had just 24 hours in Lisbon (so of course our flight was delayed, and we had a suitcase which failed to turn up on the luggage belt…) so I sadly didn’t have time to sample much food in the city. On arriving on Saturday night, after trying and failing to locate our awol bag, we headed out for some food. I ordered cod as ¬†I knew this was a¬†Portuguese¬†speciality, being located on the Atlantic coast as they are. Also, the Portuguese for cod,¬†bacalhau, was one of the few words I could pick out from the menu, and so I pounced on it! The cod came served with new potatoes and vegetables.¬†Unfortunately¬†it was very oily and didn’t seem to taste of much else to me…

I was disappointed as I really wanted to have an amazing meal on our our only night in Lisbon. Still, the beers were a-flowing and the courtyard had pretty twinkly fairylights!
In the morning we awoke and spent a happy hour or two wandering the intricate winding streets of the Alfama.

Soon it was time for a coffee and sugar hit and I knew exactly what was in order – a pastel de nata or two! Pastel de natas are Portuguese custard tarts, we ate these all throughout our time in Portugal, not just Lisbon, and soon discovered that every cafe makes theirs slightly differently. Some were served hot, some cold, some dusted with icing sugar, some with cinammon, some slightly charred on top, some with almonds.¬†All were crispy, flaky, creamy, sweet and satisfying! I could have eaten them ’til the cows came home… Rumour has it these delicious delicacies, along with so many other tasty things, were first created by monks. Clever chaps.

One of the things I liked most about Lisbon was all the beautiful ceramic tiles covering the buildings. Called azulejos, these are used to cover the walls, sometimes floors and even ceilings of buildings all over Portugal, but we saw particularly a lot in Lisbon. As far as I know, these come from the Moorish influence on the country and are used as a way to protect buildings and control temperature.

Other sights during our time in Portugal included charming streets bursting with colourful flowers, their white washed houses lending a distinctively Mediterranean feel in Obidos

fields and vineyards growing tasty local produce on our walks near my aunt’s house

We also saw fish drying in the sun

And some stunning coastlines and beaches, whilst at the beach we got addicted to Cafe Zeros – a sort of cross between iced coffee and coffee ice cream – what’s not to like?!

One of the things we missed out on during our short time in Lisbon was experiencing ginjinha bars Рginjinha is a Portuguese speciality liquor made from  cherries. I was very happy therefore when we discovered street side shops in Obidos selling ginjinha in chocolate cups Рtouristy, yes, but frankly, when it involves alcohol and chocolate who cares?!

It was soon time for some r&r in a lovely villa in the heart of rural Alentejo. Our only neighbours were a local shepherd and the goats and cows he herded from field to field each day. I loved listening to the chime and clang of their bells in the morning and watching the shepherd go about his day, thinking about a simpler way of life, away from all the hurly burly of modern working life in the UK…

As we were in the middle of nowhere, there wasn’t much opportunity to eat out¬†so we mainly contented ourselves with tasty barbecues. We ate delicious barbecued meaty herby sausages, juicy pork ribs, succulent chicken, flavoursome salmon and chargrilled courgette all served with lots of big salads and tomatoes covered in sea salt and balsamic vinegar…mmmm…. A 20 minute drive did take us to one eatery however, one side was a road-side cafe, the other done out as a¬†restaurant… It was a little strange to say the least but the food was good!

I ate some incredibly juicy flavoursome garlicy chicken with a massive tomato salad

The others ate juicy steak in¬†Roquefort¬† sauce, ‘speciality¬†Portuguese steak’ which was steak surrounded by crispy potatoes in an almost gravy-like sauce, and sirloin steak cooked on a hot stone at the table

We also ate lunch at a beachside cafe where everything was barbecued just a few feet away, tantalsising our tastebuds as we smelt it cooking. Cue a massive pile of tasty marinated chicken, made all the yummier for the tang of salt in the air from the waves crashing in just a few hundred metres from the table. Perfection.