Naturally Chinese, Surbiton 

Ahhh, the food I grew up surrounded by, I’m not sure if Chinese food is my out and out favourite, but it’s definitely up there! The idea of feasting on dim sum all day long, grazing on steamed dumplings and fried stuff fills me with joy, literally!! But for my husband that would probably sound like one his worst nightmares, he enjoys the food but as Chinese restaurant menus go, let’s face it they’re usually laden with gluten which he has an intolerance too. 

A couple of months ago we were scouting out the Kingston and Surbiton areas, basically trying to get our bearings as possible places to set up home. On our way round we drove passed Naturally Chinese, within seconds I got onto the web for a spot of research. Brilliant, a restaurant producing authentic dishes without a hint of MSG, with its own gluten free menu, and not the kind with just a few items to make it look like an afterthought. 

The idea was mentioned and a table for lunch booked after my husband was pleasantly surprised at the variety on the GF menu! A gorgeous Saturday it was yesterday and we hopped onto the train from the flat into Surbiton, spending a little time to have a wander around the town. The restaurant is between 5-10 minutes from the train station, depending how speedy a walker you are and located on the corner of Brighton Road. Benefitting from large windows on two sides it’s a light and airy place, with a more intimate dining area to the side. 

A pot of green tea was quickly ordered, something I’d never have drunk by choice as a child, in fact I would wait to the last minute to drink it at the end of yum cha with my family, just so it wouldn’t be refilled!!   

  

The dim sum menu had all the usual classics on it, so I was in my element and picked four dishes, selecting them on a tick sheet. The other half had plenty of choice on the GF menu and even I was a bit jealous when he went for sliced belly pork!

I couldn’t fault the dim sum, I could’ve told myself off though as I wish I’d ordered more!! All made and cooked to perfection, especially the handmade dumplings which were on point! The cheung fun rolls were delicate and much thinner and less heavy than some I’ve had recently, I find that sometimes char siu pork can be overly sweet, but this had been made with a far more delicate touch.  

Deep fried taro and minced pork croquettes (wu gok)
Char siu pork rice noodle rolls (cheung fun)

Steamed prawn dumplings (ha gau)
Shanghai pork dumplings – minced pork, ginger and spring onions in superior soup (XLB)

The other half had ordered some cuttlefish and coriander cakes which looked awesome and I’ve been informed tasted equally as good. Golden and crisp on the outside, whilst being juicy and meaty on the inside making it a fantastic starter before the star of the show that was the pork belly!! Enough for two really, in our family it would normally be amongst a whole manor of sharing dishes, where you just help yourself; fill a bowl with rice and top it with the things you want. I managed to snaffle a couple of pieces and was impressed! The meat was juicy and its skin crisp, but not only that it wasn’t too salty, even my parents who know a thing or two about cooking belly pork would approve I reckon.

Cuttlefish and coriander cakes  
Crispy skin pork belly with egg fried rice

Service was quick, dishes came out in good time, in particular the dim sum. Lots of menu choice and more importantly for us no more worries when it comes to gluten intolerances. Naturally Chinese is a definite winner, I’m looking forward to my next visit!!

Naturally Chinese

59-63 Brighton Road

Surbiton

Surrey

KT6 5LR

Tel. 020 8399 5533

http://www.naturallychineserestaurant.co.uk

Naturally Chinese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thali:Thali, Woking

Friday was spent driving down south to spend the weekend with my husband, the drive was plain sailing until the usual M25 sluggishness, the best thing it afforded was a perfect view of planes coming in to land at Heathrow, as we were directly under the flight path. I’m no plane spotter by any means, but if I’d been a passenger rather than the driver I’d have taken a picture for sure! 

We both fancied dinner out and my first thought was to revisit Soya, the spot where I’d tried my first bibimbap recently, but they were fully booked so we left in search for other options. Not knowing the area that well, we knew we could get some insider knowledge from my brother in-law; he works in the area and recommended Thali:Thali on Chertsey Road, in the heart of Woking’s town centre. 

The place is stylish and modern in its interior, with tables and leather seating lining one wall, then more intimate booths on the other; certainly very different to a more traditional curry house. 

Now being a frustratingly slow reader it took me an age to decide, the menu was extensive and seemed to celebrate dishes from different regions, including as their name would suggest a thali. All the while my husband was helping himself to poppadoms and the pickle tray, as you do! Talking of pickle trays – something I liked was the decent portion of red onion chutney to go along with the trio of sauces, usually you only get a piddly amount and it’s one I always want more of. 

    

When we arrived it was around 7:30pm, just three other tables were occupied so it was fairly quiet. By the end of our meal it was at least three-quarters full with a steady stream of customers and had a good atmosphere. The background music was clearly audible, but it was easy enough to have a conversation with the person opposite. 

To start we were brought dishes called multani jheenga and a Kakori kebab. The menu had stated the Kakori kebab, a regional dish was made by mincing lamb seven times, so we expected an ultra smooth texture. Combined with fried onions, smoked green cardamom, saffron and nutmeg – the final product was certainly smooth, with spice that built gradually and worked well with the raita to temper the heat a touch. My king prawn starter was lovely, the prawns were large and meaty, encrusted in fennel seeds and barbecued giving them a delicate smokey/aniseed taste which allowed the sweetness to come through. As they didn’t have a sauce, the pickle tray came handy again here too. Only three prawns, as big and meaty as they were, I would’ve loved more as it wasn’t the most generous of portions. 

Kakori kebab

Multani Jheenga

For the main course, the other half had ordered a Thali combo with lamb and chicken, whilst I ordered the Murg biryani, a bit of a departure for me, as normally I’m prawns all the way when I have a curry, and also I’m dead boring and go for prawn bhuna with garlic naan every time!! But at Thali:Thali, the menu’s full of regional offerings and there was no hint of a bhuna, vindaloo or the more predictable curries you may see on a menu. The thali had lots of elements and was definitely a bit of a feast, as this was the case it would’ve helped if the waiting staff had given the heads up to what was in each bowl. To me it wasn’t really that obvious, for some of it anyway. On taste he said it was very good, working his way through three quarters until it got a little rich and was too full to finish it off. I helped myself to the naan bread for my biryani which was excellent!!

Combo thali
Combo thali

I’d gone for a Murg biryani – cooked and served in a Handi was chicken and basmati rice, the chicken was incredibly moist and the rice perfectly cooked. Again the subtleness of spicing was a pleasant surprise and a definite departure from those over-spiced curries I’ve had in the past.

Murg biryani with raita

Overall I thought it was an evening well spent. The food was great, waiting times weren’t particularly long and we enjoyed lovely service throughout.

Thali Thali

33 Chertsey Road

Woking

Surrey 

GU21 5AJ

http://www.thali-thali.co.uk/main/index.php

 Thali:Thali on Urbanspoon

PREVIEW: Gorse: A Dinner Experience for Curious Gastronomes

Leeds Indie Food Festival is about to start in a matter of weeks, I can’t believe it’s coming round so quickly, it’s really exciting! Recently I posted about which events were on my must go to list, if time and money were no object, one of those was Gorse: A Dinner Experience for Curious Gastronomes. Who are Gorse? Well, they are a two-man team – Geoffroy and Richard, a French/Scottish duo who have conjured up a six course tasting menu based around vegetables. Now even though I’m a full on meat-loving carnivore, as regular readers may’ve cottoned onto, the last few years I’ve grown more of a fondness of meat-free food and was more than intrigued when one of the events during the festival was solely based around vegetables. What particularly caught my eye was that the whole experience was to showcase produce from around Yorkshire and collaboration, both being at the heart of the festival’s ethos. 

Hosted by Mrs Atha’s, we were treated to the dishes as a preview to their 10 night pop-up in May.

Here are some photos of the evening:

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Homemade sourdough
Homemade sourdough

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Snacks - Taco revisited with Harissa and cottage cheese, Avocado parfait & sesame, Yorkshire cheese on a sable biscuit with Wensleydale and pickled rhubarb
Snacks – Taco revisited with Harissa and cottage cheese, Avocado parfait & sesame, Yorkshire cheese on a sable biscuit with Wensleydale and pickled rhubarb

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Celeriac & egg - celeriac puree with a bantam poached egg and celeriac pasta
Celeriac & egg – celeriac puree with a bantam poached egg and celeriac pasta

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Asparagus with peas, spinach & rapeseed mayonnaise
Asparagus with peas, spinach & rapeseed mayonnaise

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Onion, orzo and beer - orzo with onion caramelised in beer, pine nut emulsion and parsnip
Onion, orzo and beer – orzo with onion caramelised in beer, pine nut emulsion and parsnip

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Mango, carrot, basil oil and creme fraiche
Mango, carrot, basil oil and creme fraiche

Panna cotta with roasted oat meal and crystallised Gorse
Panna cotta with roasted oat meal and crystallised Gorse (extra course for LIF passport holders)!

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Espresso tart
Espresso tart

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Piccolo using Maude Coffee
Piccolo using Mrs Atha’s Maude Coffee

I won’t describe each one in detail as I’d rather you find out for yourselves, but what I will say is that it was delicious, combining lots of interesting tastes and textures flowing through the savoury and the sweet. As mentioned earlier, Gorse is one of the events in the Leeds Indie Food festival, I’d recommend going, even for the most hardened carnivore it’s well worth it!! If you want anymore information on getting tickets click on the link here!!

Mrs Atha’s

Central Road

Leeds

LS1 6DE

https://www.leedsindiefood.co.uk

Saltaire Canteen

One of my favourite things to do is to go on little jaunts, I love hopping in the car and drive to anywhere that takes my fancy. Whether it’s an impromptu day trip to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park or a bit further afield, once I phoned my husband up at 9am, he asked me where I was because he could hear traffic, I replied the Angel of the North! I remember that being a lovely day out, a nosey around the Baltic Museum and a gorgeous lunch in their rooftop restaurant, then on the way back down a stop at Fountains Abbey.

Yesterday I thought I’d spend a few hours in Saltaire, wander around Salts Mill, Roberts Park and visit Saltaire Canteen, the latter somewhere I’ve been meaning to visit for a while. Monday was a lovely day for the most part, apart from there being a slight gust of wind it was fairly pleasant on the whole. Salts Mill ticks a lot of boxes for me, it’s a grand piece of architecture with lots of history attached to it, an obvious draw is David Hockney’s works and I just find it a dead relaxing place where I can flick through all the really tempting books on photography and art.

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Located just up on the road from Salts Mill, is Saltaire Canteen, a pay as you feel cafe, just opposite on Victoria Road were some lunch options with busy queues I’d tried in the past, so I stepped into Saltaire Canteen for a change. Their focus is to use food that’s been intercepted before going to landfill, it’s a fantastic way of using up food that would’ve ended up being completely wasted. The space itself isn’t massive, but has enough room for some large tables and has extra space upstairs too. Being on the corner of the street, the place benefits from light coming in from large window on two sides, and it was also decorated in neutral tones.

The only things on the menu which are priced are drinks, being a pay as you feel cafe the price paid for food is completely up to the diner. It’s done in a very discreet way; they give you a little brown envelope to pop your money in at the end of your meal. Nice and simple! 

The menu all depends on the produce they have in, as this changes regularly I can imagine their chefs have to be versatile and inventive to make the most of their ingredients. I wouldn’t be surprised if the menu changes daily. 

From the menu I went for the bacon and onion quiche with pasta salad, with it being brought over not long after. Any stigma which may’ve been attached to my lunch, the fact it was made from food past its best before date did cross my mind just before I started to eat it, I have to admit, but after the first mouthful that quickly disappeared because it tasted lovely! A nice fresh pasta salad with loads of grated carrot and raisins, the quiche was light, with plenty of bacon and cheese. I enjoyed it.

After lunch I couldn’t leave without a stroll around Roberts Park, all in all a lovely few hours were spent. 

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Saltaire Canteen

79 Victoria Road

Saltaire

Bradford
Saltaire Canteen on Urbanspoon

Changes – leaving Leeds for pastures new!

Early last year the other half and I contemplated moving south for work, and at the time any ideas of upping sticks was put on the indefinite back burner. September arrived and I settled into working part-time, then late 2015 the opportunity to relocate came again, but this time the decision to take the leap and move after 15 years of residence was taken. It seems odd to be moving down south as most of my closest friends are in and around the city, but also to leave when Leeds is showing the rest of the UK what it’s really made of and has some very exciting times ahead. 

So at present, the house is on the market and with a spot of good fortune I’ll be on my way to pastures new, sooner rather than later. To stay up-to-date I’ll need to keep an eye on the usual social media channels. Since starting the blog over two years ago, the number of bloggers has grown massively and there are loads of brilliant local blogs around, with far better writing and photography that you should be reading if you aren’t already!! Here’s a pick of the ones I read to keep informed, on many you won’t just find food reviews, but also recipes, posts on lifestyle, fashion and culture if that takes your fancy too.

Breadsticklers

Whip Until Fluffy

Cheery Little Thing

Amy Elizabeth

Digital Diva

Awkward Magazine

Also for those of you who love the aesthetics of food, Leeds has many an Instagram feed to get those taste buds tingling, and may give you some culinary inspiration. Here are a few of my favourites!

Food &

Noisette Bakehouse

Cous Cous Bang Bang

Whip Until Fluffy

Amy Elizabeth

So even though I haven’t left yet, I know I’m going to really miss living in Leeds, but I’ll be back to catch up with friends and family, hopefully on a regular basis. The need to refamiliarise myself with old favourites and become newly acquainted with others on the scene will be great, and I’ll be watching eagerly to see how Leeds’ independent food and drink culture continues to flourish and build on what’s been an amazing few years! Anyway, thanks to those who’ve always been really lovely and allowed me to chat and take photos whenever I’ve asked, it’s always been very much appreciated! You’ll be able to rest easy soon, as I won’t be about with a camera in hand or snapping away in your face.

As far as this blog goes, I’ll still be posting every now and again, the search for great independents and its effect on an areas culture will continue.

I have updated my review policy, after taking on board relevant comments that I’d accepted the odd free invitation over the last few months (e.g. Black Swan and Rola Wala). This is something that I’d stopped doing and still feel is very important not to accept free invitations just for the sake of it. At the time, friends had said I shouldn’t have taken such a hard line on not doing any freebies, but that’s the course that was chosen at the time. However, I still want to talk about changes in the food and drink scene, where independents are concerned, including collaboration and how food and drink is impacting on the changing face of an area. An aspect I don’t particularly feel was being covered well on the blog before, not to say i’m doing any better at it now either! So yes, I can understand why this may annoy/piss people off, I don’t always get things right as you can see, so I thought it best to make it known and say ‘sorry’. I am far from perfect and it’s not the first time I’ve apologised, you should see me in the classroom teaching science to 30+ 16 year olds! It will be made very clear from now on that if it is free, it will be stated at the top of the post.

As far as moving goes – have you got any advice on moving 100’s of miles away after many years in one city, do you have any coping strategies or any thoughts on how you dealt with it?

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JACK MONROE: COOK, CAMPAIGNER, GUARDIAN COLUMNIST, MOTHER, AUTHOR, ETC.

Winner of the... Women of the Year Enterprise award. Observer Food Monthly Award for Best Food Blog. Marie Claire Woman At The Top award. Fortnum & Mason Food And Drink Award. YMCA Courage & Inspiration Award. Red Magazine's Red Hot Women Award. #17 Independent On Sundays Pink List 2013. And the 100m race when I was about, seven...

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