Friday, 25 January 2019

Review: Natural Bar & Kitchen

It is very liberating eating alone sometimes.  Pleasing yourself when and how much you eat and none of that bill splitting nonsense to contend with.  Saying that, not everywhere lends itself to this type of character-building freedom and can make you feel quite intimidated if you dine solo.  However, I found that Natural Bar & Kitchen in Birmingham is very much the opposite.  

Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Its casual ambience, contemporary canteen style environment makes it easy to slip into "table for one please" mode and no one bats an eyelid if you're there unaccompanied or if you're part of a large table ensemble.  Praise be for that.

Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

On a particular Saturday lunchtime end of last year, I decided to pay them a visit.  With matinee tickets for the musical 'Rock of Ages' at The Alexandra Theatre for my friend and I, I assumed they'd offer a pretty much instant service which would be welcomed so I wouldn't be late.


Photo:  Word In Veg Ways


So coat off, table secured, I was shown how it works.  Very much like Tibits in London (if you've been there), you pay for the weight of your food rather than what you have and you choose your food from a hot and cold buffet.  A little bit carvery-esque on the day I visited, but good wholesome food nevertheless, with some thought around the flavour combinations and interesting twists on vegetable dishes such as Brussel sprouts which were served with Miso.  Everything is vegan, so no additional questioning or verifying is needed.  In the end, (like I did), you could have a plate of randomly put together food as you tend want to try a little of everything.  But no bad thing and reminiscent of a typical homely Boxing Day platter, however, you can be uber-sensible and stick to things that are meant to go together.


Photo:  Word In Veg Ways


Once you've finished plating up the goods, you take it to the till, the waiter/ess assesses which plate size you've had and weighs a sample version, noting down the weight and this is then minused off your bill so you're not paying for the extra weight of your plate.  Then your actual food + plate is weighed, calculations amended and that's what you pay for.  The price is per 100g of food and an average medium plate with a mixture of light and heavier items could cost in the region of £10-£12.  Obviously, the heavier the food, the higher you pay, so if money is an object, then be mindful as you go round the selection.


Photo:  Word In Veg Ways


Amongst other things, I had Rainbow Chard with Plum & Juniper Berries, Miso Chestnut Sprouts, Cranberry & Kale Salad and Balsamic Mushrooms.


Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

You can opt for lighter bites of sandwiches in varying guises and which come as a standard offering at a set price.  Cakes and desserts are separate and include the usual crowd pleasing arrangements of traybakes, cupcakes etc, some of which have a little ingredient add-on igniting curiosity and which makes it hard to bypass them.  I had a Honeycomb Brownie and Green & Gunpowder Tea blend.


Photo:  Word In Veg Ways


A nice selection of teas, coffees and alcohol are on the menu which you can enjoy on the comfy sofas as opposed to on the tables, with old school board games available if you have time to squeeze in a little Kerplunk with your cappuccino.


Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

All in all it is a good, solid offering of a place which I would visit again, more so as a functional lunch venue rather than somewhere for a special occasion, but with it's sole focus on vegan food it's a pleasant go-to diner for those that are meat-free and/or embracing Veganuary.  And of course for those that may wish to dine alone.   

And if you're wondering,  Rock of Ages was fantastic and I recommend that too.


~~
Note:  I paid for my own food and drink and the venue did not know I was attending.


















 

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Epicurean Mementos Interview: Daniel Acevedo


Like many vegetarians in the UK, I’ve taken the pilgrimage to Mildred’s in Soho many a time and experienced their delicious, wholesome food as well as their vibrant, busy restaurant environment which has people queuing out of the door begging for a table.  Part of their success is down to the team in kitchen which includes Australian born Daniel Acevedo.

Daniel Acevedo

Daniel started professional cookery in 1997, specialising in Italian, Greek and pan-Asian cuisines, although his Australian, British and Chilean background has contributed to his wide range of culinary tastes.

In 2005 he moved to London and began working at Mildred’s restaurant, where he climbed the ropes quickly taking over as Sous Chef, then as Head Chef.

In October 2010, Daniel and fellow chef SarahWasserman started a food blog for Mildred’s which led them to co-write Mildred’s Vegetarian and Mildred’s Vegan cookbooks.

Their recipes have featured in various publications including: The Sunday Times, The Independent and magazines such as: Red, Good Food, Homes & Gardens, Delicious, Vegan Life and Olive.

Recently, Daniel has been working alongside Ian Meek, Head Chef at The Highfield in Edgbaston, Birmingham helping to create more vegetarian menu choices and co-hosting a special version of The Highfield’s weekly vegetarian/vegan ‘Live Live On The Veg’ event which was a roaring success.

With the festive season soon upon us, Daniel has been working towards the launch of Mildred’s special Christmas menu which is scheduled for the third week of December and which will run alongside their regular a la carte selection.  In addition, he’s also involved with expansion plans for Mildred’s in the new year.

Aside from all this activity, Daniel has kindly taken time out to share some of his favourite culinary items and memories in my Epicurean Mementos interview to give us an insight into his world and his kitchen.




Cookery The Australian Way
An Aussie classic with its easy to follow, fool proof recipes.  I remember from the age of about 7, grabbing my Mum's copy of Cookery The Australian Way from the kitchen pantry after school and baking yo-yos, Anzac biscuits and scones.






Kilner Jars
I love preserving and pickling and have a nice collection of jars to get me through a large pickling session.  More recently I have really enjoyed pickling Polish style gherkins Ogorki Kiszone.  They are pickled in a salt brine, I do this towards the end of summer, preserving enough to last the winter.  This pickling recipe and method along with a few other Polish classic dishes have been handed down to me by my Polish mother-in-law.  This type of learning, knowledge of recipes and cooking methods handed down by family are so important to me and I feel is invaluable to preserving family tradition and to becoming a great cook.

I remember always hanging around the kitchen at family gatherings when I was young and pestering my Aunties with questions about what they were cooking and how they were doing it, offering to help with any job I could get.



Herbs and Spices
This has to be the best and most exciting part of cooking for me.  The different flavour combinations you can create using fresh and dry herbs and spices is simply amazing.  You can travel the world and create your own experiments with a nicely stocked spice cabinet.



Chilean Clay Pottery
I have various Chilean clay dishes and pots at home, my two essential ones holding sugar and salt.  In addition to storage, the smaller size dishes can be used for serving a pebre (Chilean salsa) or a dip whilst the larger clay pots can be used to bake pies or casseroles.  These dishes are found in every Chilean home and kitchen, I have grown up using and eating from them at every single family gathering (that happened every other weekend) in my hometown of Melbourne.

~~
My thanks to Daniel for his time with regard to compiling this interview.  All photos provided are courtesy of Daniel Acevedo.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Review: Live Life On The Veg with Daniel Acevedo

Last month, the weekly Live Life On The Veg event at The Highfield took on a deluxe twist when Mildred's chef Daniel Acevedo hosted a special tasting menu evening with Head Chef Ian Meek.


As you will have seen in one of my previous posts
 The Highfield have been working very closely with Daniel to fine tune their vegetarian offerings and to glean some of his knowledge to make The Highfield even more so of a go-to place for veggies.

Photo:  The Highfield Studio c/o The Highfield

The event took place in The Highfield Studio, next door to the main The Highfield restaurant to add a little exclusivity around it.  Former Norskje Bar, The Highfield Studio itself is an echo of the restaurant's decor and style and ideal for hiring out.

Photo:  The Highfield Studio c/o The Highfield

My Carnivorous Husband (MCH) accompanied me, who seems to be increasing his meat free mealtimes a little more these days I've noticed and with his love for Mildred's as much as mine, he was looking forward to seeing what was on offer.  

Carrot Mimosa
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Our welcome drink came by way of a Carrot Mimosa, a vegetable twist on the classic drink.  An interesting idea and although fine drinks in their own right (carrot juice and prosecco), we didn't enjoy it as much as we had hoped, for us it was a tad too savoury with the fizz.

What I liked about the structure of the evening was that all diners ate together and each course was served at the same time so we all had the same experience in unison.

In almost a celebrity fashion, Ian and Daniel came out of the kitchen, giving us a face to the food and welcomed us to the evening, both very modest and humble when applauded by all.  Before each course, they came out to introduce it and to give us all a little more information and insight into the preparation and ingredients used.


Tom Khaa Het
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

The first cab off the ranks was - Tom Khaa Het - Thai Mushroom Soup.  More of a broth rather than, say, a creamy soup, it contained herbs and diced chestnut mushrooms and enokitake (long, thin, pinhead, white mushrooms).  Hints of ginger came through and it straddled from sweet to sour in flavouring which made it more dimensional.  My portion was made without chilli, as per my request due to my allergy which I was totally grateful for.  MCH had chilli in his and he enjoyed how it dominated the dish but didn't spoil the other flavours coming through.  He's a man who enjoys a little heat.


Tempura Vegetables
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways


Tempura Vegetables & Mango, Black Rice Noodle Salad was next.  Having had tempura at other places, I was anticipating a thick, crusty batter on the vegetables, but delightfully not, it was light and sparing so that you could get to the heart of the vegetable, yet still have a coating without each bite ending in thick batter flakes cascading around you.  The dipping sauce to accompany it was delicious, Japanese in style and made up of mirin, rice wine and tamari (a Japanese version of a less salty soy sauce).  


Bao Buns
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways


Bao Buns, Crispy Mock Duck, Coriander, Mint & Chilli were presented as our third course.  These soft, Asian steamed buns were filled with marinated gluten in soy and garlic with peanuts.  It was one of our favourite dishes of the evening, the marinade was sticky and flavoursome - the power of garlic with the textural crunch of the peanuts and it very much was a case of lick of your lips between each bite.  No easy or graceful way of eating these, hold it with both hands and in Daniel's words - "Get stuck in".


Urab Salad
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways


Urab Salad, Spiced Coconut & Papaya was a welcomed palette cleanser of sorts after the Bao Buns.  The salad's Balinese style 'slaw' was broken up by sweet papaya with mint coming through as an aftertaste although neither of us got the taste of coconut.  Very refreshing and spicy (for MCH), I of course didn't have spice, but I still found it very enjoyable.  This is a recipe that has been taken from the new Mildred's Vegan Cookbook


Katsu Curry
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways


Katsu Curry, Mock Chicken, Wild Rice & Edamame Bean Salad was our penultimate course and again, probably came in as our joint favourite along with the Bao Buns.  The curry sauce (minus chilli for me) was also garnished with a little watermelon salad and pea shoots offering that contrast.  Placed on top was a small block of soya protein, coated in panko crumbs and a slither of wasabi dressing on top, the wasabi was very mild thankfully.  MCH said it was like eating real chicken, very authentic and I found the whole combination totally moreish. I always worry about curries and how they'll affect me, but I relished it knowing with confidence that I'd be fine.

 
Chocolate & Coconut Pot
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways


Dessert came by way of Chocolate and Coconut Pot, Coconut Ice Cream & Stem Ginger.  The dense, chocolate mousse-style was very rich with hints of ginger slashing through it and cooled down with the coconut cream ice cream.  A very nice dessert which made you make a combo on your spoon of chocolate and ice cream for each mouthful.  This is the kind of dessert I tend to always opt for when dining out so it was most welcomed when I saw brought out.

Concluding the evening, Daniel and Ian came out for their final speech genuinely delighted at the response they received from diners.  Daniel came over to see me ("you're the girl with no chillis, right?") to check if the dishes I was served were enjoyable as it was hard to avoid chilli usage in Asian cuisine.  I assured him he did a grand job and that I was grateful for the extra effort that went into my portions.  It was great to get to know him a little more, we spoke about Mildred's (the Polish burger isn't on the menu there any more!!! *Horrified*!), his Chilean heritage and his Polish wife, it was great to see the man behind that little restaurant in Soho.

We walked away feeling very content having had this glorious feast as the focus of our date night and MCH declaring he didn't miss not having meat at all.  

Again, I love this journey that The Highfield are embarking on, really taking the time to explore vegetarianism/veganism as the demands for which increase, whilst handling bizarre dietary challenges that people like I throw at them.  Hopefully, they will run a similar night to this again in the future and in the meantime, we have the regular Tuesday night 'Live Life On The Veg' events to keep us going.

~~~
Disclosure:    This post has been written following a complementary invitation to dine from the Life Live On The Veg menu .  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.   

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Pea Panna Cotta - The Bell at Alderminster

I'm kinda loving the autumn vibe.  Continuing with my Couch to 5km running routines in the orange hued leaf-fall confetti on the streets and my new Hunter wellies have made their debut on a muddy walk, it's all good.

However, as much as I pacify myself with all this autumnal cosiness (don't worry, I won't use the word Hygge), there is a part of me that pines for summer and the joys of al fresco dining.

Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

A specific summer al fresco memory would be when I made my first visit to The Bell at Alderminster this July just outside of Stratford Upon Avon in Warwickshire.  It's beautiful gardens and hay baled fields made it a glorious location for a lazy Sunday.  And whilst the restaurant and grounds were all very pleasing, I have to do a special shout-out for their vegetarian main course.  

Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

When glancing at their menu, I saw Pea Panna Cotta, Warm Summer Salad & Beetroot versus Risotto as the veggie choices.  Nonplussed with predictable risotto option, the Pea Panna Cotta was suggested to me.  Concerned that it would be too much like a dessert panna cotta, all wobbly and gelatinous looking, I was put off.  Charmingly, I was persuaded by the waiter that I simply had to try it with reassurances that it didn't have a quivery disposition and it was the best thing on the menu.  

Pea Panna Cotta
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Relieved when it arrived that although soft and vividly green, it was packed with flavour and complemented the warm salad and beetroot really well.  No wibbles, no wobbles - phew!

I was thrilled to have been nudged into choosing this dish and it was great to have something that was outside of the usual remit of veggie offerings and also something I would never make at home.  A massive pat on the back to the chef.  And a note to self, to not to be so dismissive upon first glance in the future.

Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

The Bell have a super team who as well as being fabulous menu guides, made a lovely fuss of us and we had a joyful afternoon feeling like we were away from it all.  Plans to go back are definitely on the cards and hopefully the Pea Panna Cotta will still be on the menu.

***

Where have you been recently and found something you've really enjoyed?

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Mildreds & The High Field Join Forces


Photo:  c/o The Highfield

Did you see my recent post about The High Field's Tuesday night veggie bonanza 'Live Life On The Veg'?  Hope you've had the chance to pop down and check out what they're up to each week.  But if you haven't, don't worry, the ultimate chance is coming up.

For one night only, Tuesday 23rd October, at The High Field Studio, executive chef and author Daniel Acevedo from London's Mildreds will be teaming up with The High Field head chef Ian Meek to create a fabulous vegan tasting menu.

Mildreds is synonymous with quality vegetarian/vegan food in London, its popularity has people queuing out of the door, having to have take-aways instead of sit-down meals (that's happened to me by the way).  I've stood outside their Soho branch kicking my heels until my name has been called and my Polish Burger declared ready for collection.  It's a beaut of a burger I have to say.  I can't be the only one to think that way as there are 3 other venues now around London in addition to Soho.  Speaks volumes.


Photo:  c/o The Highfield

This is why it is exciting that Mildreds collaboration with The High Field is happening.  Between Daniel from Mildreds and The High Field's head chef Ian Meek, their meat-free menu will take on an Asian twist to include dishes such as: Tempura Vegetables, Mango & Black Rice Noodle Salad, Bao Buns, Mock Chicken Katsu Curry and Black Coconut Ice Cream, as well as a few surprises on the night.


Tickets for Live Life on the Veg with Daniel Acevedo from Mildreds and Ian Meek from The High Field cost £40 a head and can be booked by calling 0121 227 7068. 

The High Field Studio
Photo:  c/o The Highfield

The evening starts at 7pm on Tuesday 23rd October 2018 and takes place at The High Field Studio in Edgbaston.   The High Field Studio is next door to The High Field, at 21 Highfield Road, Edgbaston, B15 3DP.

More details are on https://www.highfieldedgbaston.co.uk/edgbaston-events/ or www.thehighfieldstudio.co.uk 

And if you can't make it, do try and pop over on another Tuesday to experience Live Life On The Veg and should Warwickshire be a bit nearer for you, The Star & Garter in Leamington Spa  and The Rose & Crown in Warwick also hold weekly veggie nights!