Monday, 22 September 2014

Indian Fine Dining at Itihaas

Photo:  c/o Itihaas
Already in possession of a good reputation for purveying Indian fine dining, I was recently invited with a number of other bloggers to sample a bespoke menu showcasing what Birmingham restaurant Itihaas has to offer – especially for vegetarians.
Itihaas Reception Area
Cocktails and canapés were awaiting our arrival and we were able to enjoy them in the welcoming reception area which, with its wooden furniture and artwork, has echoes of old India.  The vegetarian canapé on offer was Paapri Chaat which was a pastry parcel filled with chickpeas and potatoes with yoghurt and tamarind chutney.  Extremely more-ish, and in such cute bite size pieces, I had to be mindful not to get carried away and to save myself for dinner!
Martini Cocktail
Walking through the restaurant, the main seating area upstairs has a colonial feel with large plants, wooden Indian object d’art and vivid red walls. 
Photo: c/o Itihaas
Downstairs, beautiful traditional Indian murals adorn the walls with cosy, defined dining areas, ideal for couples or small parties. 
Wall Murals
Our dinner was served in a private room which is available for hire and is extremely popular for family celebrations and a lot of customers use it for pre-wedding get-togethers.  The room, featuring  dark panels and opulent chandeliers creates a sense of grandeur and occasion.
Private Dining Room.  Photo: c/o Itihaas
The evening for us was to introduce the breadth of Itihaas and demonstrate its versatility.   The word Itihaas itself translated means ‘history’ and the restaurant depicts that in terms of the dishes it serves and its surroundings.  So mixing versatility and history, the set menu for the evening showcased what the restaurant can do.  Our menu, was very meat orientated, however, there were a few vegetarian items for me to try.  (NB: The full a la carte menu has more vegetarian options available).
Unfortunately, with my allergy to spices (an absolute burden for a food blogger like me and a total inconvenience in general), meant that some of the food was too spicy for me.  Not a reflection on the restaurant or its standards, just a personal issue which meant I couldn’t enjoy it as I had hoped.  However, the staff were very understanding and accommodating towards my situation and brought out several options for me to try  until I found something suitable.  This is something I really welcomed as so many places prepare seasoning on  their food in advance and aren’t able to adjust it to a customer’s request, so this ability to do so, signals a quality establishment for me.  In the end, I had the: Karahi Paneer – marinated paneer cheese in a mild masala gravy served with mixed naan breads and Jeera rice, infused with cumin, which had the right spice level for me and a dish I enjoyed very much.  The only thing I would comment on is that  I would have liked to have had some other vegetables in there just to have something to alternate the paneer with.
Karahi Paneer & Naan Breads

The desserts were beautifully presented and we were all given different ones as a way of demonstraing the full menu.  I had the Chocolate Samosa & Pistachio Kulfi Ice Cream.  I’d never really thought of samosas being adaptable for desserts, but of course, why couldn’t they be?  A great way to incorporate a chocolate dessert, Indian style, with the cooling
home-made kulfi ice cream also bearing Indian flavours.
Chocolate Samosa & Kulfi

Indian food establishments form a large quota of the Birmingham dining scene, with places varying in price, quality and overall experience.  Itihaas has carved its way into the fine dining end of the scale where it offers a distinguished menu, with emphasis on food flavours and eclectic combinations.  After mentioning my visit to an Indian friend of mine, she said that the restaurant has a great reputation amongst the Indian community as an excellent venue and she was full of plaudits – a comment I felt that endorsed Itihaas’s mission to replicate Indian authenticity. 
Photo:  c/o Itihaas
In addition, the restaurant have many themed evenings throughout the year with special menus and entertainment which would add to the experience.  Their bar area is not only available for diners, but for guests wishing to stop by for cocktails & canapés enabling you to enjoy the ambience of Itihaas in smaller measure. 
Overall, a destination for when you are looking for fine dining with Indian influence and most definitely for celebratory occasions.  Vegetarians well catered for, with those with fussy preferences (like me) looked after well, ensuring that our dining experience is just as perfect as everyone else’s.
Sponsored Post: This post was written following Itihaas' kind invitation to dine at their restaurant.  This review was conducted honestly without bias and I was not required to produce a positive review.  For further details of my PR policy, please see the Press, PR & Food Writing page of this website.  Where photographs have been provided by Itihaas, these have been credited accordingly.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Autumn Foraging (Express & Star)

The clement, mild weather this summer has produced the best apple harvest in 2 years, as well as a bounty of berry fruit on hedgerows - ideal for foraging.

Here is my article for Midlands publication Express & Star discussing harvesting and foraging locally.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Wine Tasting with Waitrose Vegetarian Wine Cellar Selection

What are Bank Holiday weekends for if not to catch up with friends?  So gathering some chums together over the extended weekend, we decided to have a little wine tasting party following the kind receipt of Waitrose’s Vegetarian Wine Cellar selection.


Waitrose Vegetarian Wine Cellar Selection (Image: courtesy of Waitrose)
Waitrose Vegetarian Wine Cellar Selection at Home

Waitrose have introduced a new addition to their wine collection which features wines that are 100% vegetarian which is ideal for those observing a strict vegetarian diet/lifestyle.  The selection comprises of 6 wines – (3 white, 3 red) varying in type, strength and country of origin. 
As a group of 8 friends, trying them together, here are the overall comments we made about each one:
Waitrose Cederberg Chenin Blanc (2013) – White
It is sweet, clean with a slight acidic (but nice) aftertaste. A slightly fruity wine with hints of lemon, pleasantly fragrant, flavoursome, sharp and very palatable.
Cave de Turckheim Gewurztraminer 2012 - White
Very syrupy, perfumed and overly sweet, this was an acquired taste and perhaps the least liked from the selection.
Chateau Roquefort Roquefortissime 2012 - White
Very sharp, dry, crisp with a peachy bouquet, slightly fizzy yet flavoursome.  Easy to drink with fruity/elderflower tones, a smooth wine.
Araldica Corsini Barbaresco 2010/2011 - Red
Sweet yet bitter with a harsher aftertaste.  Not unpleasant but not as strong as is expected in a red wine, as was commented by those in the group that are regular red wine drinkers.
Stonier Pinot Noir 2011 - Red
Mixed commentary - possessed a light, smooth, fruity aroma for some, with the others commenting it was a little harsh.
Norton Winemaker’s Reserve Malbec Jujan de Cuyo 2011 - Red
A smooth, nice aroma with a strong, full bodied, fruity, warming, velvety taste.  Blackcurranty tones, voted the best red wine of the selection.  Would go well with a hearty meal such as a vegetarian moussaka.
The wines are also accompanied by a booklet which has been collated in conjunction with the team at the Waitrose Cookery School.  The booklet showcases each wine and alongside it, it has a suggested recipe for a vegetarian canapé or a dish that complements the components of the wine.  Although I didn’t make all the recipes, but to go alongside the obligatory wine party cheeseboard I had prepared,  I did make smaller versions (with the addition of some red peppers), of the Artichoke & Green Olive Puff Pastry Pies.  These worked really well with its nominated wine and everyone commented on it that it made for an excellent wine tasting canapé.  Also, they were very easy to make and would lend themselves well for other occasions  such as picnics. 
Other recipes include:  Sri Lankan Nut Curry, Spanakopitas, Endive Salad with Roquefort Pear & Sweet Mustard Dressing, Wild Mushroom Risotto, Spiced Aubergine Ragout with Herb Yoghurt & Panisse.   The booklet really helps to acquaint you with the wines and gives you ideas how to maximise your enjoyment of them.
Wines with the Artichoke & Green Olive Puff Pastry Pies
We agreed that the tasting gave a focal point to us meeting up and we enjoyed the recreational change.  Also, it gave us all a chance to try wines we may not have ordinarily done so and it has encouraged us all to be more open to new wines as it is so easy to  stay in one's comfort zone and favour those we are familiar with.
Cheese Board to accompany the Wines

The Waitrose Vegetarian Wine Cellar Selection is fabulous for hosting a party with as it contains something for all palettes and provides a totally vegetarian offering which is suitable for all guests.  I would like to see an option for the Wine Cellar Selection where you can select the wines yourself (one by one to create a 6 pack) once you have found ones that you wish to purchase again, with a recipe postcard for each wine, as is similar to the booklet.
The selection would make an ideal gift for a wine lover or would work well for a party scenario such as for Christmas.  Offering strict vegetarians a chance to enjoy a variety of quality wines , it emphasises Waitrose’s continued commitment to ensuring their vegetarian customers are catered for with the same zeal as is for other demographics.
Sponsored Post:   This post was written following kind receipt of wine samples from Waitrose.  It has been confirmed that their products are 100% vegetarian. This review was conducted honestly without bias and I was not required to produce a positive review. For further details of my PR policy, please see the Press, PR & Food Writing page of this website.  As with all alcoholic products, please drink responsibly and observe alcohol/age laws.  To view Waitrose's policy for alcohol awareness see:

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons


I like birthdays.  Especially when they involve treats you don’t normally get to have.  A particular recent treat was my visit to Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons for lunch.  A girly affair, my mum and I arrived (on a rather glorious sunny day) at the restaurant’s Oxfordshire abode and we were excited for what lay ahead that afternoon.
Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons - Gardens
The sincerest of welcomes upon arrival made us feel instantly at home and with good weather that day, we enjoyed refreshing elderflower presse drinks and canapes in the garden before being invited into the restaurant to dine.
Canapes in the Garden
We decided to opt for the 5 course luncheon tasting menu – my mum having the meat version and myself having the vegetarian option.    Each course was introduced and described to us by our table waiter before being brought out and with each course, we were offered rolls from the bread basket.  The bread basket alone was worth going for, a range of home-made rolls were available -  from ciabattas to more elaborate creations such as the rather addictive beer & potato buns.  Indeed, my mother continues to talk about the tomato bread to this day.
Honouring my request for a totally vegetarian menu and my own vegetarian specifications, my menu consisted of: 

·           Chilled Tomato Gazpacho, Olive & Basil.

·           Terrine of Garden Beetroot, Horseradish Sorbet

·           Agnolotti of Goat's Cheese, Honey, Artichokes, Olives

·           Risotto of Summer Vegetables, tomato, Chervil cream

·           Blackcurrant and Tahiti Vanilla Soft Meringue
The menu was well crafted, using seasonal goods from the Le Manoir garden.  It offered a variety of flavours and combinations and I felt that vegetarians were very much catered for and the menu not compromised or compiled with minimal effort just to pacify a vegetarian audience.  It was truly excellent.
Being the Birthday Girl (admittedly advising them of that beforehand), I had a gorgeous little petit four platter brought out to me with a ‘Happy Birthday’ message on it and a little candle which was an adorable touch and much appreciated.  In fact, talking to other diners afterwards, so many were also celebrating birthdays and just like me, ‘big’ birthdays!  Clearly, an endorsement that it is a popular place for celebration and I can understand why.
One lovely gesture that I received at the end of my meal was an autographed menu from Monsieur Blanc himself and which was literally a joy to receive and gave me a wonderful keep-sake of my afternoon.
Lavender in the Garden

Post-lunch, taking a map from Reception and changing in our comfy shoes, Mum and I took a walk around the grounds and to the gardens that accompany the Manoir.  Extremely well-tended to, a team of gardeners are in-situ, working on ensuring everything is impeccable.  The walking route takes in the herb garden and fruit/vegetable plots, the produce from which is used in the kitchens for meals.  Some of the other attractions are the lavender walkways and Japanese garden which was inspired by Raymond’s time in Japan a few years ago.
Stoneware in the Garden

Overall, the attention to detail was immaculate, staff were totally accommodating and went the extra mile ensuring our comfort and enjoyment were of paramount importance.   The atmosphere was elegant with the right level of formality but was not pretentious or uncomfortable.
Le Manoir Garden
Especially for celebratory occasions, I would wholeheartedly recommend Le Manoir.  We both came away with fond memories feeling we had experienced something special.  I would relish the chance to return again, perhaps to stay over this time - now that really would be a treat!














Monday, 18 August 2014

Spasa - Ukrainian Fruit Harvest

As summer’s finale begins in the latter half of August, so does an extremely important set of three religious dates in the Ukrainian calendar which are known collectively as ‘Spas or Spasa’.  These are also referred to as ‘Saviour Days’ and respectively celebrate the harvesting of honey, apples and nuts.
The most important festival of the trinity is the Second Spas, religiously known as the ‘Feast of Transfiguration of Christ’ or is commonly known as ‘Apple Spas’ and is celebrated on 19 August marking the year’s apple/fruit harvest.
In the Ukraine and in Ukrainian communities worldwide, baskets of apples are taken to church and are blessed in a special mass and then afterwards, are eaten and/or cooked as part of the festivities.
As with every festival, in the Ukraine, each region, village or family would celebrate it in their respective way and I have often been told of my family’s memories of spasa.  In the region of Zboriw, Spasa was celebrated with extreme enthusiasm and my father as a young boy would eagerly anticipate the arrival of the funfair carousel that was enjoyed during the Spasa season and which was one of the area’s annual highlights.  Equally, my maternal Grandmother observed a ritual whereby she wouldn’t eat any of her apple harvest until it had been blessed and only then would she enjoy her crop.
As Apple Spasa approaches, it creates the perfect opportunity to enjoy the harvest yield and perhaps make a Ukrainian apple cake classic such as Yabluchnyk - an ideal accompaniment with coffee or as dessert for a late summer picnic.

Yabluchnyk (Ukrainian Apple Cake)
Recipe Acknowledgement - Adapted from:


210g plain flour, sifted
50g sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
100g butter, diced
1 egg
60ml evaporated milk
4 apples




* Pre-heat the oven to 190°C or Gas mark 4/5.
* Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder into a bowl then stir in the sugar to combine.
* Add the diced butter and rub in with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. * Separately, beat together the egg and the evaporated milk.
* Add this to the flour mix a little at a time, until the mixture comes together a firm dough.
* Transfer the dough into a greased baking tray (suggested size: 25 x 20 cm) and pat into the base and sides.
* Peel and core the apples then cut into thin slices.
* Cover the pastry base with the apple slices.
* Combine the topping ingredients of sugar and cinnamon in a separate bowl and scatter this mixture over the layer of apples.
* Dot a little butter at various points across the apples to help with the baking process.
* When ready, transfer the cake onto the middle shelf of the oven and bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and the apples are cooked.
* Serve hot with sour cream.
Note: This article and recipe have also been published in the Ukrainian Thought newspaper, printed in London for Ukrainians and those of Ukrainian descent in the UK.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The Latest Gastro Superstar in Soho - The Palomar

The Palomar's Kitchen Team

Seeing the buzz on Twitter for Soho’s latest addition to the restaurant scene – The Palomar, I felt I have been let in on a new gastro secret which is on the verge of being turned into a phenomenon.  So what better way of getting in on the action than treating my husband for his birthday and having the opportunity for us to experience the hype first hand.

The Palomar's Kitchen
Yes, you can risk it by walking in speculatively, but taking no chances I rang a few days prior to make my reservation.  First thing I noticed during the conversation was how enthusiastic Amy the reservations lady was about my booking and as it was for a birthday, she wanted to make sure everything was right.  She said we’d have to be seated at the kitchen bar as opposed to the main tabled area which was full, but she assured me it would be more personal and fun, so whilst I was a bit tentative about it at first, I soon warmed to her suggestion.
At our booking time on the day, we walked in and we were greeted with such warmth, almost like we were old friends and you instantly knew you were going to have a nice time.  Seated on the kitchen bar we were face-to-face with the chef’s team who introduced themselves, offered us some sweet potato crisps as an amuse bouche and then guided us through the menu with suggestions, especially great for myself being vegetarian (and there were plenty of veggie choices).  One excellent suggestion was having their ‘Daily 6’ as a starter between the two of us.
Yemeni Bread

The ‘Daily 6’ are 6 mezze dishes (which rotate regularly) and on our visit consisted of:  baked aubergine, labenah cheese, lemon pearl barley to name a few and all vegetarian.  We decided to have some Kubaneh (Yemeni pot baked bread which came with two ramekins of tahini and spiced grated tomato) to accompany it.  The Kubaneh bread was soft and fluffy and is made freshly on site.  The Daily 6 is a fabulous way to enjoy different dishes, almost a snapshot taster of the menu which grabs elements of Middle Eastern/North African/Jewish/Levant cuisine throughout, which incidently is how the restaurant market themselves -  as a cultural, contemporary mix of food from modern day Jerusalem. 
Onglet Steak
My husband had the Onglet Steak with latkes, spring onions and fried Clarence Court egg for his main which he exclaimed as “beyond delicious” and I had the Labenah Tortellini with a butternut squash cream, tomatoes, confit garlic and mange tout.  The pasta for the tortellini was freshly made and the labenah cheese (which is an Israeli cheese made from goat’s yoghurt) is also made on site using the traditional muslin technique.  A great opportunity to consume this cheese, as it isn’t widely available, and made into tortellini parcels was a nice way to present it as a main course dish.
Labenah Tortellini
Tahini Ice Cream
The dessert menu, was again influenced by Middle Eastern flavours.  I opted for the Tahini Ice Cream (cardamom crème Anglaise, brulee figs, filo delight & honey).  You can taste the grainy extracts of fig within the tahini ice cream, complemented by the filo crunchy square wafer which is similar to the pastry base of a baklava.  It was sweet yet refreshing.  As a huge chocolate fan, my husband chose the Chocolate Cremeux (puffed rich crunch, pomegranate coulis, cocoa tuile & almond streusel) and simply said it was “divine”.  It did look it, I have to say.
Chocolate Cremeux
By way of a petit four, we were offered the opportunity to sample some homemade Earl Grey chocolate truffles which were rich and moreish and a perfect way to end the meal.
A wide variety of drinks were available, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic but one thing I was impressed with was there was a cover charge of £1 per head for water and your glass was replenished frequently – a big plus point for me.
The camaraderie between the chef’s team was contagious and they involved you with their banter which was great fun.  Equally, they weren’t intrusive if you were having a private conversation and were very intuitive towards those that didn’t want to join in which demonstrated great respect.
Just as we were greeted, we were bid farewell with the same gusto and the team genuinely thanked us for taking the time to visit and for our custom which we appreciated.  I have to thank Amy for her recommendation of being seated at the kitchen bar.  It really added value and complemented an amazing (veggie friendly) menu.   Already that has stood us in good stead to return again. 
As the plaudits continue to roll in for The Palomar, I predict this little gem will soon be introducing a waiting list to dine, so I would recommend you go there as soon as you can and jump up on the stools by the bar and have an eclectic meal experience – it is worth it.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Halloumi & Strawberry Salad

Salad can get quite samey this time of year so it is nice to have an incentive to jazz things up.  I was invited by Florette to create a salad from their product range with my own spin.

I perused through a lovely recipe book called ‘A Salad for All Seasons’ by Harry  Eastwood (from Channel 4’s ‘Cook Yourself Thin’ series).  There are so many salad variations in there, beautiful photography to help depict each recipe complete with specific notes for vegetarians and which have a focus on different ingredients thus steering away from predictable salad bar options - great inspiration.  In addition, I was inspired by a salad I had seen on the menu at The Jockey Club restaurant in Ibiza earlier this summer - for Goat’s Cheese & Strawberry Salad and had made a note to try that some time.  But twisting that idea again, I ended up making Halloumi & Strawberry Salad.
I decided to make it pretty rather than just functional, (for speed, functional is how I make salads to have with my evening meal).  The salad was to accompany my mini barbeque for my husband and I  it was nice to have some salad greenery to balance out the other goodies from the grill.
I grilled my pieces of halloumi on the barbeque, although you can of course cook them on a griddle pan.  Then placing them on a bed of mixed soft/crispy leaves (I used the Florette Classic Crispy leaves), I added sliced beef tomatoes and wafer thin sliced cucumber.  The saltiness from the cheese with the sweetness of the strawberry contrasted well, combined with a balsamic glaze (that is renown to work with both elements), it provided the tastebuds with a medley of flavours and textures.
Certain fruits work well with salad and this is definitely the case with strawberries. 
Taking the salad to a further glamourous level, I added some edible flowers, which in this case were multi-coloured violas purchased from Waitrose.  Away from my barbeque dinner, this would make for a nice dinner party salad or a pretty side dish for a girly lunch.
Florette do have a nice range of salad bags that contain varying leaves according to preference – traditional leaf mixtures through to more unusual leaves (such as lollo rosso) and for those that like a fiery salad, there are peppered versions too.
Currently, Florette are running different salad recipes to give consumers ideas of how to vary salad intake – which is great either for your lunchbox, barbeque (as I did) or to give the wow factor at dinner parties.  Just take a look at the website:
In the meantime, here is my Florette salad recipe which I hope you will enjoy too!

Halloumi & Strawberry Salad
Halloumi Cheese & Strawberry Salad
Serves 2
100g Halloumi Cheese (cut into strips)4  Strawberries (thinly sliced)100g of Florette Classic Crispy Salad
Drizzle of Balsamic GlazeDrizzle of Extra Virgin Olive oilGrinding of Pink Himalayan salt¼ of a Cucumber (thinly sliced)½ Beef Tomato (cut into cubes)
Scattering of Edible Flowers
*  Barbeque or fry the halloumi strips in a griddle pan until golden brown.  Set aside.
Place the Florette leaves into a bowl.
Add the tomato, cucumber and strawberries.
Season with pink Himalayan salt.
Place the halloumi strips on top.
Drizzle the whole salad with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic glaze.
Scatter the edible flowers over the top.
Salad is ready to serve.
Sponsored Post:  I was re-imbursed by Florette to cover my expenses for the Florette salad and was sent a complimentary copy of  'A Salad for all Seasons' book.  This post was written honestly without bias and I was not required to produce a positive review of the product purchased.  For further details of my PR policy, please see the Press, PR & Food Writing page of this website.