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.
Disclosure: 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.
Disclosure:   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!