Monday, 27 October 2014

VIP Night at Marco's Stratford

A cocktail and canapé evening provided the perfect introduction to Stratford Upon Avon’s latest gastro haunt, marking the arrival of Marco Pierre White’s restaurant – Marco’s New York Italian.
Alive with entertainers, mixologists, DJs and a glittery covered outdoor area, the launch evening was bursting with the energy and created an exciting atmosphere to taste the Italian inspired cocktails available on the menu which included:  Italian Mojito, Negroni and Espresso Martini.
As a treat for all foodie fans, Marco was in residence himself that evening, personally endorsing the restaurant and hosting the opportunity to talk with him and have autographs/photographs.
The restaurant has a contemporary feel yet set in a Tudor building (as is synonymous with Stratford), and provides an intimate and welcoming ambience.  Borne from Marco’s love for the American food scene and influenced by his Italian heritage, the restaurant fuses both elements together to bring  you the New York Italian concept.  Some of the vegetarian dishes on offer include:  Goat’s Cheese Arancini Risotto Fritters Tomato & Basil Salsa,  Penne Pomodoro and Gorgonzola, Chicory & Pear Salad Walnut Dressing.
Seeing as a trip to neither New York or Italy are on the cards right now, I’m looking forward to the opportunity to sampling both in quintessentially English Stratford Upon Avon in the near future.  With one of those divine cocktails – of course!
Disclosure:    This post has been written following a kind invitation from Marco's Stratford.  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. 

Monday, 20 October 2014

Introducing 'Food Roots'

I hope you all enjoyed reading my exclusive interview with Romina Chiappa (from The Chiappa Sisters) for World Vegetarian Day as much as I enjoyed putting it together.
Coupling Romina’s comments about her Italian ancestry and bearing in mind my own Eastern European heritage, it got me thinking about other people, their family roots and how they have been influenced by them when either cooking on a daily basis or preparing for feasting occasions such as Christmas and Easter.
So this has led me to launching a new feature on my blog called ‘Food Roots’ where I will be inviting culinary personalities to share with me a little insight into their heritage and how it plays a part in their cooking repertoire.
I would love to receive some nominations or suggestions, so please do get in touch via my email: if you have any ideas and in the meantime to give you a feel of how it would look,  do take a moment to read my interview with Romina Chiappa here.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Thai Menu Tasting at Tiger Bills


I was recently invited with my husband to try the new Thai main courses from the revised menu at Tiger Bills Birmingham.   Their location is based in the Five Ways entertainment complex at the top of the popular nightspot stretch of Broad Street.  Its base makes it ideal for those wishing to eat after a family afternoon at the cinema/bowling or for those wanting an early supper before enjoying a night out.

Tigers Bills Birmingham is part of a restaurant group that have been operating around the country in different cities and whose concept bears similarity to that of the many ‘world buffet’ outlets
that have become popular in recent years.  Rather than including elements of the world’s major cuisine types as others do, Tiger Bills concentrate on two areas – Thai and Grill (American flavours).  Rather than an all inclusive price, it mirrors usual restaurant fashion where you pay for each dish you order.
Visiting early on a Saturday night,  I noted that the atmosphere was quite buzzy, enhanced by low-lighting, middle-of-the-road background music and a cross-mix of diners.  Clientele ranged from a hen party, to couples to a large family gathering  - it demonstrated a wide mass appeal.
The décor focused heavily on picture-postcard images of Thai beaches and markets with even an actual tuk-tuk bike above the kitchen station.  In contrast, a few nods to America were existent by way of pictures on the wall of Rodeo Drive and the like.

Taking a look at the Thai main courses, I was pleased to see a good range of options available for vegetarians, comprising of the standard Thai fayre of stir-fries, noodles, curries and soups and varying in spice strength. 

Vegetarian Pad Thai

I opted for the Pad Thai Noodles which came with vegetables, bean sprouts, carrots, egg, spring onions and crushed peanuts.  As someone who is unable to tolerate spices, I asked the kitchen to bring me a spice-free portion.  I was delighted to see that my request was honoured and I had a portion to my specification.  My worry is with some chain outlets is that there is often very little room for bespoke requests, but on this occasion I was pleased that my meal was served as I had wished.  The vegetables and noodles were cooked well and there was a nice nutty aftertaste from the sauce.
Sweet & Sour Fish
My (carnivorous) husband, opted for the Sweet & Sour Fish which was a fried fish fillet of Basa (catfish) and served with rice, stir fried vegetables in a sweet & sour sauce.  Overall, he commented the dish was enjoyable, the sauce a little more sweet than sour but still nice and although the rice was a little plain,  when mixed with the sauce, it gave it a new level of  flavour. 

We decided to round off the meal with dessert.  The dessert listing was quite limited and leaned towards the ‘Grill/American’ side of the restaurant’s offering and echoed the kind of dessert menu you may find at a family pub – Chocolate Fudge Cake, Banoffee Cheesecake, Ice Cream etc.  I opted for Lumpy Bumpy - a chocolate cake topped with chocolate truffle and a layer of vanilla cheesecake coated with chocolate glaze.  My husband had the Deep Dish Apple Pie – which was a deep filled warm apple pie served with vanilla ice Cream.  Both were nice, although the apple pie would have benefited from being served a little warmer.
All in all, the Thai main courses provided the best and widest choice for vegetarians.  I would’ve liked to have seen more vegetarian options on the Grill side of the menu and also perhaps some Thai influence in the dessert offerings along with more contemporary desserts choices too.
Tiger Bills Interior
Having a wide appeal for all demographics,  I feel Tiger Bills makes for an ideal place to eat before/after a cinema visit, great for large works parties and even hen do’s before a night of revelry.  Definitely a family-friendly place to dine, with something for everyone and with more branches set to open in the UK soon and even abroad in India and Tunisia, there will be plenty of opportunities to try the Tiger Bill’s concept somewhere near to you.
Disclosure:    This post has been written following a kind invitation from Tiger Bills Birmingham to sample their Thai main courses.  All other courses and drinks were paid for ourselves.  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. 

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Review of Birmingham Independent Food Fair 2014

As one of the 1500+ that flocked to Birmingham’s Millennium Point on 13 September, I bore witness to the popularity of new event on the block – Birmingham Independent Food Fair.  Opened by Michelin Star Chef Richard Turner (from Turner’s in Harborne),  it was an incarnation of its pilot event last year, #FutureFoodies.  It provided a platform for the city’s independent food businesses to  showcase their wares to existing and also new audiences.

Inside Millennium Point
This year saw the introduction of ticket purchases with accompanying ‘tastecards’ which, depending on the level of ticket purchased, entitled you to a certain amount taster samples from the 40 traders present.  The inside of Millennium Point saw pop-up restaurants and artisan producers, whilst outside hosted a street food alley ambience with mobile traders selling refreshments ranging from pizzas to Polish cuisine.

Street Food Traders
As a Birmingham blogger and being acquainted with quite a few traders already, it was nice to catch up with those I knew and also have the chance to meet some new people as well.

The Le Truc Team
I love the guys at Le Truc, they are such ambassadors of vegetarian food and are always keen to accommodate us veggies, even, if asked, making things not on the menu, just so the customer is always satisfied.  Offering samples of their signature Goat’s Cheese BonBons for those with tastecards, they were also promoting their Christmas menu which has lots nice choices for veggies – but do remember, they can always do a little something bespoke if required!

All Greek Delicatessen

Saying ‘hi’ to the All Greek Delicatessen team, they had a selection of goods which they typically sell at their Stephenson Street shop, which included various cheeses and spreads including a rather divine olive one.

FoodCycle Birmingham
I also spent some time talking to Poppy and Claire from FoodCycle Birmingham.  A voluntary organisation that provide a 3 course meal once a week for homeless or vulnerable people in Birmingham.  The meal is vegetarian based and is funded by donations as well as supplies given by Birmingham Food markets.  They are always looking for volunteers on all levels so if it is something you wish to know more about, visit their site for more information.

Henley Chocolates
Meeting Sally from Henley Chocolates, she told me about her exciting business venture which has recently boomed and working from her premises in Henley In Arden, she is now supplying many outlets in Warwickshire.  Plus, I can vouch her chocolate is amazing!

Pierogi from Barek O Scarek
A pit-stop for lunch,  honouring my Polish roots, I gravitated towards Barek O Scarek outside who were selling a sample of foods from their Handsworth based restaurant.  Knowing the effort needed to make pierogi (ravioli style stuffed dough parcels), I loved buying them as I don’t always have time to make them at home, so I purchased a portion of their cheese & potato version which were hearty and filling – as they should be.

Soul Tree Wine


I acquainted myself with Alok Mather whom I follow on Twitter and who runs Soul Tree Wine.  I was fascinated to hear how the 100% vegetarian wine he sells is made with grapes from vineyards in India, how this helps Indian communities there and how he hopes in time it will become a recognised wine region alongside existing market players of New Zealand, France, Italy and so on.  The climate in India lends itself perfectly for vineyard farming/wine making and Soul Tree are promoting this through their brand.  I sampled an excellent Sauvigon Blanc from the range and bought a bottle for myself to have later on that weekend (it didn’t last long I have to say). 

Bread from Peel & Stone
I enjoyed some time for a rest and a glass of Prosecco with some rather moreish macaroons courtesy of Hotel La Tour's Aalto Restaurant who were providing hospitality for the VIP area.  Having a moment to chat with Jane Riley, Hotel La Tour’s General Manager, she told me about an exciting new collaboration where they are working with visionary social enterprise Edible Eastside who provide vegetables from their urban garden growing space in central Birmingham for the hotel and provide seasonal vegetables for their restaurant.  This is a superb venture which not only supports the benefits of seasonal eating but also sustainability of eating local produce and supports a fellow local enterprise.  New menus are out for Christmas with lots for vegetarians but they will always discuss a vegetarian’s requirements beforehand if required to ensure everyone is a happy customer!

Richard Turner, chef patron of the Michelin-starred Turner’s in Harborne, was the fair’s ambassador. He commented:

“The fair really brought Birmingham’s independent food and drink vendors to the fore, and it proved that we are real heavyweights when it comes to top-class ingredients and great artisan produce.”

Organiser Ahmed Ahmed, editor of local food guide Dine Birmingham, added:

“The response to the food fair has been amazing, and so many people have said they didn’t realise Birmingham and the West Midlands had all this to offer. It’s both the quality and the variety of food and drink here that make the city special.”
A wonderful event which I hope will become a regular on the food calendar not only for us foodies to look forward to, but as a great stage for traders and a true plaudit for the city of Birmingham itself.

Disclosure: This post was written following the  kind receipt of a VIP  ticket for Birmingham Independent Food Fair.  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. 











Wednesday, 1 October 2014

World Vegetarian Day Special: Interview with The Chiappas

With the global marking of ‘World Vegetarian Day’ on 1st October, I took this occasion to explore a little deeper into one of my favourite cuisines – Italian.  The knee-jerk reaction is to assume that Italian food either composes of pasta and/or pizza, but outside of those elements, Italian cooking is so much more and indeed lends itself perfectly for vegetarianism. 
I recently had the wonderful opportunity of interviewing Romina Chiappa, who along with her sisters Michela and Emanuela, form the cooking trio ‘The Chiappas’.  Their book ‘Simply Italian’ has become a world-wide success and accompanied their 2012 Channel 4 TV series of the same name. 
The Chiappas - Romina, Michela and Emanuela
‘Simply Italian’ is a fabulous book which captures The Chiappas’ passion for food and family and offers an engaging introduction into Italian cooking.  I for one loved making their fresh pasta from scratch and was totally amazed at how easy it actually was as well as how satisfying it felt knowing I’d done it myself!  (Read all about it in a previous blogpost of mine).  The book is perfect for those wanting to get acquainted with Italian cuisine and how to create a true taste of Italy at home.  With Christmas on the horizon, the book offers lots of recipes ideas as well as making it a wonderful gift for a foodie.  (Details about the book are at end of article).
Aside from the ‘Simply Italian’ series and book, The Chiappas are currently working on various culinary projects including a weekly recipe upload on the girls' youtube channel and they have also recently launched their new column in Grazia magazine called ‘Dish Dilemmas’ where readers can seek food and cooking related advice.
Being of Eastern European parentage myself, I feel I have some synergy with The Chiappas and their Italian roots.  I understand the desire to continue with family customs, making sure traditions are not lost, especially expressing this via the medium of food.  In the interview below, Romina discusses the importance of championing her Italian heritage, replicating an Italian kitchen here in the UK as well suggesting some lovely recipe ideas perfect for World Vegetarian Day and beyond.
How would you describe Italian food and the importance of food to Italians and Italian communities world-wide?
We can't really speak on all Italians' behalf, but we can certainly speak on our Italian upbringing regarding the importance of food.  For us food is everything, along with family that is, in fact the opening sentence to our book Simply Italian is “Wales and Italy, family and food, these four things are inextricably linked an at the root of our upbringing”. Even when we go on holiday, we don't do what probably most people do and plan their city visit by tourist attractions, but we plan by where are we eating for breakfast, lunch and dinner and then the sites fit in around this. 
Food is what brings Italian families together. In all social occasions food is the most important. Most tend to congregate in the kitchen around the table, eating, drinking and chatting and catching up for hours on end.  Both Miki and I worked in Italy, and they still all stop for a good two hours for lunch everyday. 
If you were catering for vegetarians for a dinner party, what would you make for them that would differ from pizza/pasta?  How does Italian food lends itself to vegetarians?
Ooooh, the thing about Italian food is that everyone thinks it is often meat heavy, when in fact a lot of Italian dishes are made from vegetables.  If you told my Dad or most Italians for that fact, that Italian food was vegetarian heavy, they would probably call you stupid, but in fact when it comes down to it, a lot of traditional dishes are vegetarian based. Melanzane alla Parmigiana (also found in our book) is an aubergine and mozarella bake and one of our Dad's favourites.  Even though made from vegetables, it's got a great meaty texture when cooked.  Risottos are another great versatile dish.  Nothing quite beats a fresh porcini mushroom risotto, you can be really creative, Mum's asparagus risotto is to die for!  We've also got some great vegetable sides, sweet Italian peppers (Peperonata), or our Juicy Peas in a Rich Tomato Sauce (Piselli in Umido) are just two recipes that cook vegetables in a different way. 
Another great dish for a dinner party is our stuffed pancakes (Panzarotti), super simple, and the best thing is, you can get this ready the night before and then just pop it in the oven the day of the dinner party and avoid yourself standing over the stove while your guests are around. 
The other great thing about Italian food, especially in Italy, is that it's all seasonal.  All the restaurants by our home in Italy change their menu regularly to fit with the vegetable and fruit produce in season.  One of the best times to go is September/October time when the fresh porcini mushrooms are just in season. 
It has been said that Italian food made outside of Italy differs to that of authentic Italian food in Italy.  Is that true and how can people buck that trend by making Italian food at home?
Now this is quite a difficult one for us to answer, as all our food that we cook at home are the majority of our Grandmother’s recipes which are all traditional Italian recipes and one of the main reasons why we wrote the book, was we didn't want these recipes to be lost forever.  I reckon, the reason people feel it's different is because the food produce is just so much tastier in Italy, and mainly because they've got the weather to ripen those veggies to perfection.  As for making authentic Italian food outside of the UK - just buy our book and give it a go, the best thing about Italian food, is that it's not complicated, or difficult, it's just basic ingredients which you most probably have at home and just cooking them in a way you may not have thought of before. 
What would be the 'must-have' pantry items to replicate an Italian kitchen?
Here are ones we would probably all agree on:
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Parmesan (vegetarian parmesan available widely)
- Fresh Tomatoes
- Mushroom Stock cubes
Notes & My Thanks: 
I would like to thank Romina Chiappa for her time in participating in the interview.
For more information about The Chiappas, please see and visit their YouTube Channel for weekly recipe uploads.
Simply Italian – The Book

Extracted from 
The very best of Italian cooking with Michela, Romina and Emanuela Chiappa.

'Wales and Italy, family and food: for us, these four things are inextricably linked and at the root of our upbringing. Whether at the family home in Wales or when we spend holidays in the small hilltop village we are from in northern Italy, we have always heard Dad say that 'la tavola' (the table) is the central focus of our lives. It's where we cook, eat and socialise as a family.'

Michela, Emanuela and Romina Chiappa grew up in Wales in the heart of a close-knit Italian community where food was always at the centre of family and social gatherings. Whether searching for porcini in the hills near their parents' home, or making pasta for Christmas Eve with the whole family, to sharing food at the annual Welsh-Italian summer picnic, the three sisters have been immersed in the Italian way of cooking all their lives.
In their first cookbook they share their cherished family recipes, including all the pasta dishes recently seen in their Channel 4 series Simply Italian. From snacks, soups and salads, to mains, side dishes and desserts, Simply Italian brings you good, simple, fresh Italian food.

Michela works as an agent in a sports management company, as well running a coffee and pizza café in Cardiff with her husband. Of the sisters, she's the risotto expert and also loves to make pasta sauces.

Romina works for a luxury fashion brand is London, and loves to bake for friends and family.

Emanuela runs an online business selling bespoke homemade gifts for children, and works as a nanny. She loves to cook time-consuming meals and entertain large groups.

The book is available from all major book retailers as well as online.  Click here for book details.