Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Foodie Abroad: Van Zeller, Harrogate

As part of a general week of indolence and indulgence, we took ourselves over to Harrogate for lunch.  Van Zeller's is a restaurant situated in the Montpelier Quarter which is exceptionally pretty, although as we discovered, not particularly great for attracting passing trade.  We had been once before in the evening and D had subsequently received emails from them offering us a special lunchtime offer  of a seven course set menu for £35. This by any stretch of the imagination is incredible value but when it is food of this quality it becomes almost unbelievable.

I often complain about the fact that London (and Londoners) get the best deal when it comes to dining out.  The range and quality of restaurants in the capital just isn't comparable to what one finds elsewhere (and if there is any corner of the country that I've maligned by that comment then I'm sorry, but please do let me know so I can come and eat there).  But then you get a place like Van Zeller's that, apart from us, was stood empty for the entire lunchtime service and you begin to understand that perhaps there just isn't a market for it.  Which is incredibly sad, but there you go.  J Baker's couldn't survive in York, Anthony Flinn didn't make it work in Leeds; I would guess that there is money in all of these places but clearly not an appetite.  Quite literally.

If you find yourself in Harrogate and fancy a fine dining experience then I would definitely commend Van Zeller's to your attention.  There is something Roganish (that's a thing now) about his food in terms of both style and content and it comes as no surprise to discover that Tom van Zeller lists L'Enclume as one of his favourite restaurants.

It's very clever food too.  There were a couple of dishes where the component parts didn't quite work on their own but put it all together and BOOM - perfectly balanced fireworks.

Our particular favourite was the lamb with lettuce, artichoke, mint and ricotta:...


...where the sourness of the artichoke and slightly bitter char on the lettuce were utterly lifted by the sweetness of the other ingredients.  The only problem was that we could have eaten the plate twice over.

I was also extremely struck on the quail with tomatoes, jersey royals and hazelnuts - again such a magical touch with unlikely combinations, and so good to get a tomato that actually tastes of tomato:...


And honourable mention to the doughnut dessert - another brilliant balancing act with sour blackcurrants tangoing with fennel, lemongrass and marscapone, and kudos to anyone who will actually serve up doughnuts for pudding.  There are not enough doughnuts in the world for my liking:...


Standard lunch is £35 for three courses and dinner is £50 for three, although that will include a couple of amuses and little bits thrown in.  D and I have resolved to try and go there as regularly as we can - as I honestly don't think there's anywhere local doing anything quite so lovely at the moment, at least at those prices.  And if that alone is not enough to tempt you to make the trip to Harrogate, remember that you can always have a cup of tea at Betty's when you're finished...

Van Zeller
8 Montpelier Street
01423 508762

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Foodie Abroad: Simon Rogan at The French, Manchester

I think that Simon Rogan might be my favourite chef which I am sure that he is delighted about.  Clearly, if I am the type of overwhelmingly pretentious person who thinks that having a favourite chef is an actual thing, I am a fan worth having.

If you’ve ever eaten at his restaurants though, you’ll know what I mean when I say that he is someone whose every dish is a paean to the particular qualities of its component parts.  Sorry, that is an appallingly written sentence in praise of food that is anything but.  It sounds like it should be obvious that ingredients are the focal point of any plate but too often, especially in very modern restaurants, technique seems to have supplanted them as king, and the foams and gels and spheres and whatnots just end up adding layers of obfuscation that gets in the way of the natural flavours and texture.  Simon Rogan can do all the whatnots, but never at the expense of the wonderful ingredients he is using, many of which comes from his own dedicated farm in Cartmel.  And while The French, situated as it is in a busy central Manchester hotel, does not have a farm of its own, the hostess did tell us that they have put poly tunnels up on the roof to grow herbs and vegetables to supply to the kitchen.  Commendable stuff.

The choice for dinner is simple - six or ten courses.  OBVIOUSLY we opted for ten because we are greedy and covetous.  There was some definite loosening of belts around the halfway point and we did not so much walk as roll out of there but nearly every mouthful was worth the discomfort.

I say nearly because, in an unusual turn of events, D took violently against one of the dishes, to the extent that he just refused to eat it.  This was the final dessert course - the "Lancashire coals" (or toasted liquorice cake) with fennel.  It was very, very heavy on the aniseed and although I didn't hate it, it is not something I would be in a terrible hurry to eat again. 

The offending "Lancashire coals"
Elsewhere though, the meal was a treasure trove.  We loved the little selection of nibbles brought over at the start - especially the dainty rye toasts with cream cheese and the cheesy baked potatoes with a liquid centre that I, of course, managed to squirt everywhere by not popping it all in at once.  And from then on it was one spectacular dish after another - although particular highlights for me were the quail eggs with leek, kale and mustard:...

Egg, veg and mustard!
...and the roasted hake with cauliflower and mussels:...

Hake, cauliflower, mussels!
...the latter of which I am minded to try and recreate at home.  The swede dumplings in duck yolk sauce were amazing as well with a remarkable texture, achieved by using a Japanese starch called Kuzu (yes, we are the annoying customers who ask questions about every single dish).      

So, digestive problems and unappealing pudding aside, another fabulous dinner at the hands of Mr Rogan - or, since he is probably quite busy elsewhere at the moment, one of his trusty lieutenants.  I am so pleased that he will be getting a permanent home in London because it will bring his extraordinary food to a wider audience and perhaps get L'Enclume the third star it so richly deserves.  In the meantime, he has a devoted fan girl in me - which, as we know, is almost as good.

The Midland Hotel
Peter Street
M60 2DS 
0161 236 3333 

Monday, 28 April 2014

MPM: 28th April 2014 (aka Back to Reality)

Ugh, back to work.  And do you know what makes it worse?  Remember when I had to go and deliver courses at a remote training facility in the wilds of Lincolnshire?  Well, for three days this week I have to go and be on the receiving end of a course at a remote training facility in the wilds of Lincolnshire.  I am not happy about this.  For one thing, I am being trained in something that I already know how to do, for a second thing I have to be away from my cat husband and for a third, I will be subjected to what can only be described as school dinners for the duration.

Things will pick up at the weekend though, since we're off to dinner at Masterchef finalist Sara Danesin Medio's York dining club.  Tasty Italian food and maybe some insider gossip about Toad and Egg - I can't wait.

So, a shortish week in terms of meal planning - D will be freezer diving while I'm away (or getting chips from the end of the road) and we'll have soup one night.  The remaining nights will consist of:

Corned beef hash

Cauliflower and macaroni cheese with a bacon and rosemary crumb topping (a Jamie O 30 minute meal that we first cooked a few weeks ago and were impressed enough to a) buy the book and b) get it back on the menu asap)

Chicken and new season asparagus (hurrah for British asparagus season!)

More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Scales (and blogging) amnesty

Happy belated Easter everyone. I hope you had a wonderful time and much chocolate was consumed.

D and I have both just had a week off work - our first break since Christmas - and have been gloriously, indulgently lazy. A fabulous lunch on Wednesday, a pootle around Whitby yesterday, lots of stroking the cat...bliss. I have not been pointing or tracking, nor have I been weighing in, and it's been great. I've got past the stage of thinking that Weight Watchers - or, at the very least some sort of lower case weight watching - is something I'll ever be able to completely stop and, most days, planning and tracking is just part of my routine. Still, a few days "off" is very pleasant. I'm learning to not go completely off the rails and have got better (although I'm not quite there yet) at listening to hunger signals and not eating for the sake of it.

I have got lots of posts that I want to put up - some meals out, some recipes, perhaps even some cute feline pictures (yes, I am still besotted) so will get to it tomorrow.

And in the meantime, lots of love and leftover Creme Eggs to all. xxx

Friday, 18 April 2014

Blog Party!

Weeks 1-28: -47.25lbs
Week 29: -2.75lbs
Total loss: 50lbs


Monday, 14 April 2014

Pre Easter meal planning

It's my equivalent of the last week of term.  Next week I am off work and plan to do extremely little - there will be reading, there will be sleeping, maybe some walking if the sun decides to make an appearance, there will be LOTS of cuddles with my new cat and probably not all that much by way of counting points.  Hurrah.  Easter weekend looks set to be the perfect start to the holibobs - D and I will have the traditional Good Friday fish and chips (is this just a Catholic thing or do all families do it?) then on Saturday we are cooking dinner for a friend and on Sunday we are seeing my parents.  Good food, friends and family, sounds like the perfect bank holiday.  So meal planning just relates to the early part of the week.
Some really lovely, classic dishes this week which would be nice to blog at some point (makes mental note to add blogging to the holiday to do list).
Toad in the hole with onion and mushroom gravy, carrot and swede mash, creamed Cavolo Nero (bumped from last week)
Soup night
Spaghetti carbonara
More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Smitten kitten takes to the scales

This week we welcomed a new member to our little household.  This is Minx, whom we brought home from our local Cats Protection rescue centre.  She was taken in when her owner got a new partner with an allergic son; I say, ditch the small child and keep the beautiful cat, and that is precisely why I am currently more suited to being a pet owner than a parent.

I won’t bore you too much by talking about my cat – poor old D already has to put up with my constant stream of chat about her food intake (good) , toilet habits (also good) and behaviour (skittish but affectionate).  Suffice to say that I am utterly besotted.
But what of the scales....?
Weeks 1-27: -48.25lbs
This week: +1lb
Total loss: 47.25lbs
It is also fair to say that I have experienced a little case of Can’tBeArsedness with regards WW this week and I have used poor old Minx as an excuse for a couple of bad habits creeping back in – specifically the midweek drinkiepoos and a lack of organisation with regards meals.  I didn’t think, especially after such an indulgent weekend, that the scales would look kindly on my transgressions (I’m pleasantly surprised at the relative smallness of the gain) and I’m having to dig really deep at the moment to get back on track this week knowing full well that the following week I will be off work and, again, out of routine. 
I suppose (writing this down is actually helping to clarify the problem) I am just feeling a bit disheartened at the moment because I’m not getting a proper run at the thing.  You know, a good two or three week period where I can just knuckle down and make what feels like real progress.  I keep banging on about not being prepared to give up my weekends away and meals out – which is fine, WW should fit around life not the other way around - but then keep being unreasonably disappointed at the seesawing scales.  I’ve been coming up to 50 pounds lost and, shortly after that, the halfway point for what feels like ages and their elusiveness is annoying me.  And, as history tells us, negative emotions are not good for my weight loss.
This week I need to get back to basics with regards really looking at what I’m eating and planning regular meals and snacks to ensure that my blood sugar stays on an even keel – if I’m hungry I get grumpy and distracted and more inclined to stray.  I have seven days with nothing planned, which means I have a full compliment of weekly points at my disposal and I shall make sure I’m using some of them to bolster my daily allowance rather than saving them all for “treats”.  I also think that seven days without any alcohol would be a good thing, especially since I plan to indulge over the Easter weekend. 
This week, as well, I need to be process focused rather than results focused – if that makes sense and doesn’t sound too management speak-ey?  So I’m going to temporarily ditch the daily weigh ins to ensure that I’m not being lulled into a false sense of security by a downwards movement or frustrated by an upwards one.  I still think, ultimately, daily weigh ins are an important part of the puzzle for me – but for now I need to get the diet right and just trust that the losses will follow.
Onwards and downwards, comrades!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Brewdog - beer for punks and Dirty Americana

I'm finally beginning to see the point of real ale and the game changer for me was Punk IPA by Brewdog.  An independent Scottish brewery, in business since 2007, Brewdog not only produce interesting, complex beers but they open bars that people like us (definitely not punks but with a slightly anarchic streak well concealed by our middle class jumpers and sensible shoes) really love to drink in.  It's a crying shame that the Leeds branch is so blooming small - it's very, very hard to get a table.  We've been drinking our way around the others though and can reveal that Birmingham might be the best one.  Or possible Shepherd's Bush.  Or Camden.  Or Glasgow.
Our local bar has had a Brewdog tasting which was exceptionally reasonably priced and a great introduction to the different products so it's worth keeping an eye out to see if somewhere near you is running something similar.  Punk IPA remains my favourite but I did enjoy tasting some of the others.  Like wine, these sorts of beers can have quite complex flavour profiles.  Brewdog are also slightly notorious for producing the some of the world's strongest ever beer; my brother actually shared a bottle of Sink the Bismark (41%) with us a couple of years back and it is really interesting stuff - much more akin to a whisky than a beer and definitely not one for downing by the pint.
The other thing that I have really enjoyed about the Brewdog bars is the food - for a well priced, tasty lunch they've proved a pretty safe bet.  We recently had pulled pork and cheesy fries in Shepherd's Bush:
And, just last weekend, beer battered Cajun chicken and a mushroom and halloumi burger in Manchester with seriously good sweet potato fries (apologies for the yellowness - I had a weird filter on.  The burgers were just the right amount of yellow in real life):
The menu appears to vary slightly from venue to venue but is all in the style that D called "Dirty Americana" - barbecue, lots of meat, judicious hits of spice, really scrummy stuff.
Whether you're a beer fan or more of a beer semi-virgin like me (although can one be a semi-virgin?  It's probably a bit of an all or nothing state of being) this is definitely a chain to check out. 
(NB:  On reading this back it came across a little bit like a sponsored post - and I almost wish that I could say that this was because then I would probably have a load of bottles of Punk in the fridge, but it isn't.  I just really, really like Brewdog and want to spread the love.)

Monday, 7 April 2014

MPM: 7th April 2014

Why, look boys and girls, it's...

This comes to you from a rainswept railway platform in Manchester. I spent yesterday cheering on a friend who was running the marathon and I am exhausted; admittedly, not quite as exhausted as her but still...

A quiet week for meal planning which is no bad thing at all. I'm expecting a gain on Friday but will spend the next four days doing my best to mitigate it. The meal plan contains a bump from last week and remains fairly wintry looking but I see no sign of spring springing yet in anything but name.

Toad in the hole, onion and mushroom gravy (a repeat from last week rather than a bump - my Yorkshire remained embarrassingly flat and I need a second attempt! Plus, it's yummy).

Cauliflower macaroni blue cheese


Haggis pizza (do NOT judge until you've tried it)

Fried whitebait with homemade mayo

Jungle curry - vaguely based on a recent John Torode recipe on Masterchef but using leftover roast chicken rather than guinea fowl

Oxtail ragu, mash, crispy parsnips, sautéed mushrooms

More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Scales on Saturday

Weeks 1-26 -46.75lbs
This week: -1.5lbs
Total loss: 48.25lbs

Bah, the big 50 remains elusive. I was almost, almost disappointed this week hoping for a better result. But a pound and a half is pretty good going and I should take my own advice and celebrate anything that takes me closer to my ultimate goal.

Which begs the question - what is my ultimate goal? As Gabby pointed out on last week's post, I've never actually said, and I think this is partly to do with the fact that people I know (whisper it) in real life are aware of this blog and I've wanted to remain evasive for them. And, as well, I'm not really sure. I originally had a figure in mind which would have meant losing (look away now if you'd rather not know) 120lbs - just over 8 and a half stone (I'm saying it quickly to try and gloss over the horrific reality of those figures.) I've since revised this to 112lbs or 8 stone (again, the horror) with a view to seeing how I feel when I get there. I recently met up with an old school friend who had lost weight for her wedding and was struck by how much older she looked - and I would rather carry a little bit more heft and get the occasional request for ID when buying wine. So by that reckoning I am nearly halfway through.

I'm bound to gain this week though - off to Manchester tonight to eat at Simon Rogan at The French. I'm too excited at the prospect of the food to get very upset by the currently distant chidings of the scales.