Zilli Green

Another month and another vegetarian outing. Our last outing brought us to Zilli Green, the vegetarian outpost of Italian chef, Aldo Zilli. Located really centrally in Soho, it’s a great spot for all of us to meet at because it’s pretty much surrounded by all sorts of transport.

When I walked in, one of my dining companions already had been seated. The first dining area isn’t very large – in fact, it’s no larger than a small hallway and I thought it was going to be a much larger place. Maybe there’s some seats downstairs.

They went to quite a lot of effort to cram in plenty of tables. In fact, I noticed this clearly when sitting down and found my legs almost barely squeezing in between the two table legs and the chair. No space for them to sit outside. Hmph.

Anyway, on to the food. Zilli Green’s menu covers a broad range of dishes. It wasn’t quite as Italian-centric as I anticipated with dishes inspired by Asian classics, British favourites and the touch of Tex Mex. Each menu option lists some useful symbols to help choose if you happen to be vegan, nut or gluten allergy-friendly dishes. Helpful!

Quite a few of us went for the Squash, Corn & Feta Quesadillas with Guacamole & Sour Cream (£7.90). I’d hoped for a bit more kick than we got, and though the flavours tasted strong and well prepared, seemed a bit overpriced for a starter.

I admit I’m obsessed by truffle flavours at the moment. Their umaminess and richness add so much depth to the dishes, it’s my winter comfort food. I was struck when on the menu, two dishes included this magnificent ingredient. In the end I picked the Tagliatelle, Porcini Mushrooms & White Truffle Oil (£13.90). I think it was the extra dash of oil and the porcini mushrooms that did me in. Perfectly al dente pasta and each mouthful a flavour sensation, I was certainly pleased by it.

Fortunately someone else went for the Mushroom & Fresh Truffle Risotto, Grilled Asparagus & Mascarpone (£11.90). I had a small taste and the truffle flavour seemed a bit more sublime, it carried on the palette slightly longer probably due to the creamy mascarpone.

Another person ordered the Cous Cous & Soya Burger with Pickled Cucumber, Avocado, Mustard Dressed Mixed Leaves, Homemade Mayo & Ketchup, Thin Chips (£10.90) though wasn’t particularly impressed by it. They reported it not bad, but not the best vegetarian burger they’d ever had.

We had better reports from the handful of people ordering the Thai Green Curry with Sweet Potato & Thai Vegetables served with Quinoa (£11.90). Strong flavours and a very reasonable serve though slightly out of place in what I’d consider an Italian restaurant.

On all reports, it’s worth avoiding the Tofu Sausage with Spring Onion Mash, Mushroom Gravy & Mushy Peas (£11.90). Perhaps it’s just me, but I think it’s always a bit dangerous trying to replicate a dish typically relying on the quality of the meat to make it that good.

I wasn’t close enough to capture the picture but one other diner recommended avoiding the Beetroot Gnocchi filled with Blue Cheese in a Red Pesto, Potato & French Bean Sauce (£10.90) where the giant sized (and few) gnocchi ended up being very chewy pillows with, as they described it, ” what tasted like splashes of bottled pesto”.

Zilli Green isn’t going to win any Michelin stars for service any time soon, although we do have to acknowledge one of the waiters who, when pressed for vegan-friendly ice cream, went next door to sister restaurant Zilli Bar to report on what gelato and ice-creams they had. Apparently vegan-friendly ice cream wasn’t favoured by this group of vegetarians. Upon making our waiter go next door, my dining companion couldn’t help but feel compelled to order a scoop.

Their slightly different twist on the classic, Apple, Currant & Clove Crumble with Cream or Ice Cream (£5.50) had be tempted yet was completely full from the rest of the meal.

Name: Zilli Green (currently moving or closed)
Found at: 41 Dean St, London, W1D 4PY

Michael Caines at Manchester Abode

Manchester isn’t exactly well known for its strong foodie cuisine with none of its restaurants yet gaining a Michelin star. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t great places to get some nice grub – it’s just that you need to dig a bit deeper and do a bit more background research to do so.

One such find is Michael Caines’ restaurant at the Manchster Abode Hotel. Conveniently located as you walk into the centre of town from Piccadilly station, I was surprised to find such a nice restaurant located where everything seems to be a chain offering.

Their restaurant does a fantastic deal with three courses for only £13 or £22 with matching wine. Why wouldn’t you?

The bread basket arrives at the table, steaming from being freshly heated, making it easier to melt the creamy butter. The variety below includes a sourdough, a tomato bread and a mini french style bread. A delicious start and a great way to warm up from the cold outside.

First up was a pumpkin soup topped with some melted cheese and a toasted crouton. It smelt amazing and you could smell it from quite some distance as they brought it to the table. It wasn’t a very big cup but it was so packed with flavour it didn’t really matter.

Next up with a venison dish, served with brussel sprouts and some caramelised onions.

Finally I had the creamy mango pannacotta accompanied by vanilla pineapple (wicked combination!) and a scoop of coconut ice cream.

I’m pleased that I managed to grab a table – it’s particularly busy on weekends and definitely worth booking ahead. Service was prompt and courteous and the entire meal a very enjoyable experience.

Name: Michael Caines
Found at: Abode Manchester Hostel, 107 Piccadilly, Manchester, M1 2DB
Website: http://www.michaelcaines.com/restaurants/manchester

Hand and Flowers

What’s better after a five hour country walk than to sit down for a nice long pub lunch? That’s what we thought too and after the long Henley to Marlow walk, what better pub lunch than the Michelin-starred Hand and Flowers that I remember being so good (and popular) when I worked in Marlow.

Making a reservation is definitely recommended for any weekend visit and I counted ourselves lucky for getting a table outside. The dark and storm weather threatened to cause further trouble to our dining experience although nothing multiple golf-sized umbrellas and our waterproof jackets couldn’t handle. Our walking gear prepared us better than the outdoor table of four nearby, whose shrieks indicated ineffective umbrella coverage.

After ordering, the waitresses brought out warm bread from the oven and some of the largest white bait fish I’ve ever seen. My favourite was the warm soda bread with its super crisp crunch and delicious crumb the perfect start to our meal.

The umbrellas above helped keep us dry (when we expanded them of course).

The special dish for the day was prepared for the Great British Menu and represented a take on the classic Scotch Egg though made with much finer ingredients including a quails egg and then surrounded by crayfish meat instead of standard sausage meat.

We definitely needed rehydrating after our long walk, and there’s nothing that Pimms can’t fix on a “summer” day like this.

Here’s the beautifully presented Crayfish Scotch Egg on a bed of, what I think was, watercress made to look like a golf ball lost on a golf course. They served the egg with a tiny bucket filled with mayonnaise.

Above is the picture of the interior to the scotch egg.

I ordered the fish as my main, and served with a brown butter sauce was delicious, if not a little bit heavily seasoned.

Fortunately the amazingly green pea soup helped add some warmth and vibrancy to the entire meal.

Name: Hand and Flowers
Found at: 126 West Street, Marlow, SL7 2BP
Website: http://www.thehandandflowers.co.uk/

Tom Aikens

I managed to get a really great deal which effectively meant paying almost half price for dining at Tom Aikens well respected restaurant.

Located in South Kensington down a quiet street, the interior is stark and modern. Unlike many other places in London, tables aren’t jam-packed together and perhaps that’s really in anticipation of the enjoyable meal to come.

The bread serving was quite impressive with a selection of six or seven different types – not that we tried all of them. I particularly enjoyed the olive bread although they had a polenta bread, buttermilk bread, sesame bread, and sundried tomato. I think they came around two or three times to offer us the wonderous little rolls.

The amuse was a trio of different things including a little cheese croquette, shot of basil and tomato soup and a gel filled with something I cannot remember.

The starter, effectively a ceviche, yet labelled as Marinated Scallops, lemon oil, lardo crudo was lovely. All very thin delicate wisps of food, and despite not being a fan of lardo, its creaminess really worked well with the delicate scallop flavours.

Next up, Cured Foie Gras, pickled mushrooms, foie gras mousse, Sauternes jelly was a wonderous combination of many earthy flavours. I particularly liked the mushroom jelly that was so small yet really strong flavoured.

The next course, John Dory Fillet, roast cauliflower purée, brown butter, smoked eel came impeccably cooked. The fish flaking lightly as a just-cooked fish should be and, me, always a sucker for smoked eel enjoying every single last bite.

My sister enjoyed the Sea Bass poached in black olive oil, pickled fennel and artichoke, black olive crumb although I don’t think it was impressive as it could have been.

My main, Loin of Rhug Estate Lamb marinated in ewes cheese, aligot potato, dried green olive was perfect. Nicely cooked, pink and tender with a really enjoyable plate of food.

Although offered a cheese course, we started noticing how full we were from the richness of the food. So we moved on to dessert, the first being Fresh Coconut, coconut crème, watermelon, mint syrup. It was a refreshing dish, with a subtle coconut flavour and summery flavours and textures.

The final dessert, a Passion Fruit Jelly, vanilla pannacotta, passion fruit granité was definitely my favourite. Creamy panna cotta, tangy passionfruit flavours and a final refreshing granité.

It’s definitely worthwhile enjoying their petite fours. As you can see there were so many different pastries and combinations to enjoy.

They were just as decadent with their chocolate selection as well. I was surprised at how empty the restaurant was for a Tuesday evening but our meal and accompanying service made us not even take notice.

Name: Tom Aikens
Found at: 43 Elystan Street, London SW3 3NT
Website: http://www.tomaikens.co.uk/


When Wes and Stacey came down from Aberdeen they wanted to go to a place that did a really good steak and Hawksmoor was my immediate answer to their request. We had a booking for 7pm and they warmly greeted us at the door, taking us to our table.

I’ll admit we took our time ordering although party of that was because our waitress didn’t seem to be around by the time that we’d decided. I ordered the smoked eel as a starter which went really well with the greens. The piece of fish was also a really decent size and slightly warmed enhancing its smoked flesh.

Although easily tempted by the fame of their burger, we were here for steak. I didn’t want to go too large, so avoided the gigantic proportions offered on their chalk board and ended up ordering 400g fillet. This still ended up being a really large piece of meat and given all the delicious sides, made me not want to have desserts.

I didn’t think service was really that great throughout the night. I ordered an apertif and it didn’t arrive until half way into my appetiser. Kristy also ordered some ginger beer, and there ended up two ants floating in it (who knows why). They did make this up by giving us a free dessert – their deliciously sweet cornflake ice cream.

Name: The Hawksmoor
Found at: 157 Commercial Street E1 6BJ, United Kingdom
Website: http://www.thehawksmoor.co.uk/

The James Monro

I’d read about the The Monro being a very popular gastro pub although I saw that they also ran the James Monro located on the other side of town. I ended up in this part of town after deciding to walk back from the Liverpool Football Club tour, a pleasant but uneventful walk back into town.

At first glance, it certainly looked like a gastropub but I was concerned it wasn’t the gastro pub I’d read about. The interior looked really appealing and even though it had just opened, I could imagine it getting busier as the afternoon rolled on. After looking at the menu, it was definitely going to be fine with me.

Strangely didn’t serve any local beers (Cains being the local Liverpool brewery) instead offered a Hobgoblin beer made by a brewery in Oxfordshire (nowhere near Liverpool). Still the waiter offered me a taste for free and it was a reasonable ale.

I started with a rabbit and bacon risotto, definitely needing a bit of warming up after the cold and windy walk back into town. As you can see from the picture above, the serving was a very decent size and the flavour rich and delicious. There was plenty of rabbit throughout and the small side salad was a nice complement to texture and flavour.

Next up was the 8 oz steak served with huge chunky chips and a small side salad. Topped with a peppercorn sauce, the steak was perfectly cooked and the chips perfect. The steak was surprisingly filling as well and I just didn’t have space for dessert.

It wasn’t until now, writing this up, did I find out this place is also a member of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society otherwise I would have picked a scotch for dessert. I’m a little disappointed a gastro pub like this couldn’t celebrate more local brews, but the food was definitely worth visiting this place. I’d also be interested to see how it differs from their other place.

Name: The James Monro
Found at: 69 Tithebarn Street, Liverpool, L2 2EN
Website: http://www.thejamesmonro.com/

60 Hope Street

Being touted as one of the best places to dine in Liverpool left me no choice but to visit 60 Hope Street. Hope Street has a local reputation of being a street providing many gourmand choices, and 60 Hope Street owns a number of them, delighting people with their wares.

I arrived on a bleak, wet day where the Northern rains battered me from all directions. Stepping into 60 Hope Street, I noticed the bright and airy surrounds and the number of tables at 1:30pm still fairly well occupied. Admittedly most of them occupied by people I guessed well into their retirement. I was offered a selection from four types of bread (olive, sesame, white and brown) which went with the lovingly pressed butter (see the picture below).

Stopping in for lunch, I looked through the menu and it seemed such a shame not to try their great valued £19.95 for a three course meal with a bottle of wine between two. Although I dined by myself, the waitress still offered me the bottle of wine. I figured it would go to waste and asked if they had a half bottle when another solo diner, offered me a glass from their bottle, also observing that a full bottle would be too much. Still I think it’s very nice for them to still offer the bottle, suggesting that you can take it with you if you don’t finish it as well.

Despite being tempted by a number of the appetisers, when I saw the Pimm’s sorbet offered I had to choose that one. I think all the soups, salads and other things on the menu other places offered and I’d been thinking of making a Pimm’s flavoured ice cream. The temptation to compare what it was like was too great. As you can see from the picture, it was very well presented – a single scoop in a glass cone, nestled atop another glass filled with ice and garnished with mint. The brilliance of this meant the sorbet kept cold without being diluted. As refreshing as a palette cleansing dish, I didn’t pick up as much of the Pimm’s flavoured I’d imagined. Still the sorbet was smooth unlike the granita it could have been like.

My next dish was a fish with home made fries. The fish, a decent serving of haddock ended up encrusted in what tasted like polenta although I couldn’t taste the “herbs” the crust was meant to contain. The “salsa” was interestingly constructed with the elements of the salsa semi-stuffed into the bed of small tomatoes the fish sat atop. The chips were slightly more disappointing lacking any sort of crunch I would have expected.

Unexpectedly the last time turned out to the be the best, as I went for the Apricot Bakewell tart served with a vanilla creme fraiche. I’m surprised it took a while for this dish to come, but it seemed like they’d spent some time heating it up, but it was just the right warming temperature to finish off the meal. Sweet without being too sweet and very well made.

Service was amicable with tap water being topped up consistently throughout the meal. Slightly disappointed by a the execution of the first two dishes, but still great value. I would give it another go.

Name: 60 Hope Street
Found at: 60 Hope Street, Liverpool, L1 9BZ, United Kingdom
Website: http://www.60hopestreet.com/

The Maritime Dining Rooms

I read about the Maritime Dining Rooms before heading to Liverpool and it had some very good reviews. Although open during the day for lunch and afternoon tea, its location atop the Maritime Museum gives it perfect waterfront views of the surrounding areas.

I ended up perched next to one window looking down at the majestic Albert Docks.

When I went on the Saturday for a very late lunch, it definitely didn’t feel very busy although they had at least ten or so different tables served. Service, attended by some very young-looking folk, ended up fairly reasonably – prompt and casual although I didn’t really expect too much. Considering the space of the dining room, it felt very empty although and cold although I could imagine it being filled up for a reception or good for an event hire.

The menu offered quite a lot of choice – many British dishes. I opted for a chicken and mushroom soup since sitting outside on the Mersey ferry ride left me slightly chilled to the bone. I followed this up with an asparagus spring risotto.

It wasn’t too long before the soup arrived, and as you can see in the picture above, it came served with a small sliced (fairly chewy and unmemorable) baguette although outsized by the enormity of the soup bowl. I immediately regretted ordering a heavy main meal when I saw what I would need to tackle before getting to it. Admittedly it didn’t look like the most appetising bowl of soup I’ve ever eaten, although the deep earthy aromas whifted up with each small movement of air. It was rich, creamy and full of flavour including some fairly large chunks of chicken. This alone made my lunch time completely worth the trip.

The risotto arrived a little bit after they took the soup. As you can see, the risotto came with a creamy asparagus ring and topped with more freshly cooked asparagus. The risotto was perfectly cooked and the chefs seasoned the dish perfectly for my palette (none too salty). Despite being almost defeated by the soup, the fresh flavours of this warranted all of this dish be consumed. So I did. Delicious.

The offered me dessert, but given I had eaten so much food, I didn’t attempt to look at the menu. The Maritime Dining Room is a real find, and despite lacking that buzzing atmosphere you might care for, the food alone is worth trying. Add in a Lancashire sarsaparilla drink and a tip and all of this was a bargain for £17.

Name: The Maritime Dining Rooms
Found at: Top Floor of the Merseyside Maritime Museum, Albert Dock, Liverpool L3 4AQ
Website: http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/maritime/visit/shop_eat/dining/index.aspx

Sunday Dinners at Hix

Mark Hix is an extremely successful chef with, what seems like, an ever-growing restaurant empire around the British capital. Fortunately I happen to live right nearby one of the earliest around the country, Hix Oyster and Chop House. I’ve eaten here several times before and although it’s packed out to the rafters during the week, thought it best to still book ahead for an early Sunday evening dinner. Located down the very end of a tiny street backing onto Fabric’s back-door step, I’m constantly amazed at the number of people who still manage to find this place.

On to the food… As soon as you’re seated, they always bring out a crusty warm loaf of bread with accompanying butter. This stuff is utterly delicious and I’m forced to stop myself from gorging myself on it in order to enjoy the rest of the menu to come. They seem to have different sizes for different tables, but it’s very nice to have to the bread presented on a tiny little bread board of its own.

I start with the Pea and Lovage Soup, and despite the warm day, end up having it served hot. I’m not one to voluntarily have a cold soup if I can help it. Cold soup seems as wrong as warm beer. As you can see, the soup has its intense greenness preserved and with whole peas scattered throughout, provides a great contrast in flavour. Pea-essence fills my mouth with every spoonful and I enjoy every last drop, although it tastes slightly over-salted as I find myself reaching for the water continuously afterwards. I have no idea what the Lovage is, but it doesn’t seem to have a strong or offensives flavour.

I order the River Severn sea trout and wild herb salad with a soft boiled hen’s egg though I pictured it more as a trout dish with the salad on the side, rather than a completely full salad dish. Nevertheless, an impressively fresh dish with light flavours and plenty of greens helping me feel healthy after eating it. I feel slightly less guilty about ordering their lucious Fried Onions in Scrumpy batter. I don’t think it totally makes up for it, but I guess it’s start.

The picture is simply proof about the perfect poaching of the egg. Loving the oozing and the rich orange yolk minus any awkwardly clear white hanging around the middle.

To finish off the meal, I end up with the two scoops of the Credit Crunch Ice Cream. I think the greed got the better of me, and had I known they were so big (or the dish so rich) I definitely would have just gone the single scoop. This ice cream is something they whipped up during the credit crunch late last year, and understandably a decadent crowd pleasure. Not only are there chunks of chocolate throughout the ice cream, mixed with honeycomb pieces all served with a hot chocolate sauce that, literally, looks like melted chocolate. Decadence and much running needed after this meal.

Service was affable, though started to be lose out as the restaurant filled up. Nice enough for a Sunday meal. Total damage for two people excluding wine and a couple of soft drinks: £82.

Name: Hix Oyster and Chop House
Found at: 36-37 Greenhill Rents, London EC1M 6BN (Off Cowcross Street between the Eat and the Nicholas
Website: http://www.hixoysterandchophouse.co.uk/

Bowaters at The Compleat Angler

Although I had many breakfasts staying at the Compleat Angler in Marlow, I never ate their for dinner. When I returned to Marlow, this was our destination of choice. Bowaters has two different rooms, one closer to the weir/lock where you have a continuous flow of water, and the other, slightly open-aired dining room overlooking the river to the church. With the great warm and sunny weather we enjoyed the open-aired dining room (pictured below).

Their menus is best described as modern European, the modern being the take of some slightly interesting ingredients and cooking techniques. They obviously haven’t made it past the novelty of foam just yet. Everything was perfectly executed as well, including a constant top up of four types of bread (sesame, brown, white and tomato) throughout the evening.

For starters I debated getting the goats cheese panna cotta and beetroot salad though opted out after hearing about how rich it might end up with. Someone else decided to order it (shown below) so at least I got to see how well presented it was.

Instead I opted for the clear chicken soup that arrived in a tiny serving bowl yet packed full of flavour. This was, hands down, one of the best bowls of chicken soup I’d had for some time. Served with leeks and potatoes, it was actually a pretty filling starter at that.

Next up were the mains. Picture below is the pancetta wrapped turbot, watercress salad and the dastardly foam. Reportedly well cooked and tasty.

I ordered the pork done two ways (belly and medallion) and although the belly could have been softer, was definitely well seasoned and tasty. On top sits an apple mixture and then served with a potato stack on the right. Mmm…

Who were we to resist dessert as well? Half the table when with the molten chocolate dessert served with ice cream and beautifully presented with cocoa and chocolate drops.

The other side of the table decided for the tequila burnt cream (creme brulee) accompanied with ginger shortbread. Although wonderfully executed, the tequila flavour wasn’t strong enough to shine through the crisp sugary topping and the shortbread only had the slightest of ginger flavours. I still definitely enjoyed this dessert.

We didn’t seem to have a dedicated attendant throughout dinner, and as a result we seemed to have mixed service. If it was the sommelier, he didn’t do anything to help us pick the wine and we found ourselves pouring for ourselves on empty glasses only to find the sommelier returning to our freshly poured glasses. One waiter and waitress did provide exceptional service with friendly attitudes and the best kind of service – the sort you tend not to notice throughout the evening.

Name: Bowaters at the Compleat Angler
Found at: Macdonald Compleat Angler, Marlow, Buckinghamshire, SL7 1RG GB
Website: http://www.macdonaldhotels.co.uk/compleatangler/foodanddrink/index.htm#bowaters