Saturday, 24 January 2015

Gluten Free Lunch at Frais Living

As a vegetarian I know the hardship of not always being able to find things to eat when you dine out (or the limitations of that) and so I extend my empathy to those with additional allergies and the difficulties they must face when they eat out at restaurants.

One such allergy is gluten.  I met with Ken recently who on the back of having to observe a gluten-free diet described the difficulties of finding good places to eat that would accommodate his requirements yet be able to demonstrate a full understanding of the condition.  Based on the back of these issues, he decided to set up his own establishment which concentrates on providing a full gluten free offering coupled with healthy food – somewhere where allergy sufferers can dine with confidence.
His first healthy food restaurant (more in the pipeline) is Frais Living based in the new Parkgate development in the heart of Shirley town centre, just outside of Solihull.   Upon arrival, the smiley team introduce the restaurant’s concept and the menu boards describe all the different foods and options within that you can select from.  Breakfasts, Juices (Keep It Simple/Juice Mixes/Super Juices), Shots, Bulletproof Coffee & Chia Seeds plus the usual hot beverage range and much more.  In addition, Ken’s vision is to ensure that Frais’s produce is sourced locally from nearby farms and companies.  So any egg suppliers, vegetable purveyors and the like from the Solihull area, do contact Ken!
Cartwheel Ceiling Light

Sitting down with Ken, I commented on the eclectic decoration and he talked me through what he chose and why.  Upon entry, you sense the wooden, forest hut/rustic kitchen feel which immediately oozes cosiness and is welcoming.  Supporting this ambiance are the object d’art items dotted around the restaurant.  These have been selected from an antique fair in Ross on Wye and the showpiece is the cartwheel ceiling light which is stunning!  Ken described how when dusk arrives, the cartwheel really comes into its own.  Intrigue is key behind the d├ęcor theme and Ken wants people to remain fascinated and make a point to look out for new things visit after visit.
Interior Lights
Antique Object d'Art
Interior Design
Moving onto the menu content, being independent, it allows Ken  the freedom to change and update the menus upon reaction to customer feedback.  For instance, after starting out selling Caesar Salads he decided to change tack after gaining some commentary and he now sells unique versions of mixed bean salad/green pesto/avocado and cucumber salads which his customer base enjoy.
Food for Sale
Food for Sale
When building each offering (smoothies, salads etc), as well as always considering the nutritional side of things, Ken has mindfully kept the ingredients to a key group of three.  He feels that this encourages customers to know what to expect and helps to avoid confusion.
Cooked Mung Bean 'Pasta'
Dried Gluten Free 'Pasta'
Dried Gluten Free 'Pasta'

Some of the salads that he sells contain gluten-free mock-pasta which is also vegan.  This is truly amazing!  Manufactured by the company ‘Explore Asian Authentic Cuisine’, the pasta style shapes are made from beans (eg: mung and soy) and water and are then pressed into a pasta formation.  High in protein, it makes for a fabulous alternative for those wanting to cut the carbs, eat gluten free and be vegan.  At Frais, you can either buy it ready cooked as part of a meal or you can buy it over the counter in a dried format for cooking.  Ken kindly gave me some samples to try at home.  Making the Organic Edamame & Mung Bean Fettuccine version for myself I thought it was definitely the next best thing to pasta.   I cooked them for about 6 minutes in salted water and ate them as they are just to try them au natural and I did enjoy them, more than I thought and I know they would be enhanced with a sauce or added vegetables.  I’m particularly looking forward to trying the Organic Black Bean version as it looks like the black spaghetti you can buy which is normally black as it has been cooked with squid ink which isn’t vegetarian.  By having this as an alternative, I can replicate and make vegetarian versions of some of the ‘black spaghetti’ recipes I’ve seen.  Plus, by using them, I’ll be boosting my protein intake and I’ll be cutting my carbs so win-win-win!
Dragon's Fury

Enjoying a little lunch, I started with a Dragon’s Fury Juice Mix which contained tomato, beetroot and apple.  A real myriad of taste, combining sweet, vegetable and fruit elements, it worked really well and was quite refreshing.
Goat's Cheese Sandwich

I then enjoyed a Goat’s cheese, mango chutney, grilled carrots, mange tout and prune toasted sandwich on gluten free bread (Genous brand).  This came with a side salad and was dressed with a standard Frais designed mix of olive oil, pepper and chia seed.  A complementary mix of tart cheese with sweet fruits and vegetables it was very tasty.  Part way through eating, I had to remind myself that I was eating gluten free bread as it was surprising nice!
Fresh Fruit for sale
Apart from sandwiches, as a lunchtime option, other choices include salad boxes and there is a Soup, Roll & Side Salad package can be purchased for £2.25.
Wheatgrass Shot

A little Wheatgrass shot followed, promoted as being packed with goodness.  Encouraged to ‘down it in one’, the taste was a smidgen bitter but then when I digested it, the aftertaste was quite pleasant.  A little cube of fresh pineapple was welcomed to cleanse the palette afterwards.  Definitely a good boost for the beginning of the day and to have in lieu of the traditional yoghurt drinks I think.
Bulletproof Coffee
Bulletproof Coffee
Coffee Grinder

Ken then presented the Bulletproof Coffee concept to me.   Bulletproof Coffee when purchased is done so almost as a meal replacement.  It is labelled as a ‘super coffee’ typically containing 400 calories.  It boasts properties that energise you and wake you up, Ken said he mainly has it for breakfast.  It has good fatty acids (medium chain triglyrecides) and coconut oil.  Given a little sample, I was a bit apprehensive to try it, me still being a newbie to coffee drinking and still finding my feet with it.  But nevertheless I sipped my sample which contained a double espresso shot, chia seeds, unsalted butter, coconut oil and water.   With each sip, I got more and more used to it and climatised to the taste and surprising didn’t miss the sugar element that I would normally have with coffee.  It was a bit heavy and a bit fatty but if thought of as a meal replacement (like Ken described it), then it works.  If you need a bulk up on calories, this could be a good, healthier way of obtaining them.
Power Ball - Protein Ball

As my visit to Frais drew to an end, Ken gave me 2 Protein Balls to try at home.  Ideal for those with a sweet tooth, resembling a macaroon shape, they come in 3 types -  Power Ball (featuring Chocolate & Peanuts), Energizer Ball (Seeds & Nuts) and Recovery Ball (Berries & Nuts).  They are packed with good fats and have enough goodness for the whole day, releasing energy gradually,they make for a great snack.  I found them really tasty, especially the Power Ball which still had the chocolate hit which is important for me.

Interior Decor


Whilst Ken continues to evolve Frais’s offering including organising nutritionally focused event seminars, his mission remains the same, to provide customers with quality, gluten free, healthy food in a relaxing, contemporary environment which I’m pleased to say is on my doorstep.
Notes:  Free Seminar regarding General Nutrition & Affects of Gluten on the Body on 28th January 2015 at Frais Living.  See for contact details.
Disclosure:    This post has been written following a kind invitation to sample lunch and other products at Frais Living.  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, 18 January 2015

Food Roots Interview - Norman Musa

Norman Musa

On the last series of Tom Kerridge’s BBC 2 programme Best Ever Dishes, Tom met with Malaysian chef Norman Musa and they filmed a piece walking round an oriental supermarket, discussing different Malaysian ingredients and how they can be used, which was absolutely fascinating.  So, I was keen to find out a little about Norman and his work. 

Norman Musa is a Malaysian-born, London-based chef & restaurateur and award-winning passionate ambassador of Malaysian food.   Owning the restaurant Ning Manchester (with Ning London coming soon), Norman also hosts regular supper clubs and cookery school sessions (on occasions guesting at Leiths in London).  His 8 years of experience as a self-taught chef coupled with his high public profile and extensive practical experience, has led him to actively promote the wonders of Malaysian cuisine around Europe.
Promoted as Europe's leading Malaysian chef, appearing at many UK food festivals, he has also increasingly  been seen at international food events across the continent. Featured at the world's largest Eurasian festival, the Tong Tong Fair in The Hague Netherlands, Norman has an invitation to return in 2015 due to his popularity.
His sell-out book, Malaysian Food, is now in its 3rd edition having sold 7,500 copies worldwide.  He has extensively been on UK and Malaysian TV including BBC World, BBC2, Channel 4 including Sunday Brunch, Channel News Asia, TV3 and MasterChef Malaysia.


He regularly returns to Kuala Lumpur throughout the year,  where he now has a culinary studio in Banting near KLIA.  He has just been appointed Food Ambassador for Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, by the city's mayor, with a view to promoting its cuisine and food culture to (especially) European visitors.   With this in mind, Norman recently hosted his first ever Culinary Tour of Malaysia with many guests from the UK participating.  Norman recently launched a free Food Trails map for Malaysia (produced in association with Time Out) which can be obtained by emailing:


I was delighted to recently conduct an interview with Norman for the Food Roots section of my website where he discussed the nuances of Malaysian cuisine, the increased popularity of vegetarian food in Malaysia, how food is the focus of celebrations and hospitality in Malaysian culture and the importance of that to him.




How would you describe Malaysian food and the importance of food to Malaysian people and Malaysian communities world-wide?

Malaysian food is very diverse because our cuisine shares heritage with our neighbours - Indonesia and Thailand especially, but also through migration from China and India. It's a melting pot and one of a kind in the world.  It means that there is so much amazing variety and you will never be far from delicious food in Malaysia.  We eat frequently throughout the day and often stalls and restaurants are open 24/7.  Food brings us together especially at festival times.  We celebrate all the main festivals of all the major religions represented in Malaysia.  We are very hospitable and the first thing we say when friends and family visit our homes is not “how are you?”  but “have you eaten?”

How has your Malaysian heritage influenced the way you cook in the UK?

I like to be true to the authenticity of Malaysian food, maintaining the best methods even if I have to change the ingredients slightly because of what is and what's not available in the UK.  I can be quite a perfectionist!

Do you celebrate any of the calendared Malaysian feasts and what would you typically make for them?

Two of the biggest events of the year are Eid, at the end of Ramadan, when I love cooking traditional beef rendang and 'lemang' (special glutinous rice), plus Chinese New Year, when I love soup noodles and also dumplings.   We run specials in my restaurant, Ning, too.

What Malaysian food would you recommend for vegetarians?

To be honest, Malaysians love their meat and seafood, but increasingly the more health conscious in the cities are trying out new vegetarian and vegan dishes.  The Hindu and Buddhist communities in Malaysia eat a lot of vegetarian food, sometimes exclusively and so you can find such dishes in places like Little India (Brickfields) in Kuala Lumpur.   I especially like a good dahl (lentil) curry cooked with young mango, green chillies and aubergine topped with fried caramelised onions and curry leaves.

What would be the 'must-have' pantry items to replicate a Malaysian kitchen?

Dried chillies, tamarind, rice, coconut milk, spices, shrimp paste - aside from key herbs such as ginger, garlic and onion, these products are definitely worth having lying around for authentic Malaysian cuisine!

Notes & My Thanks: 

I would like to thank Norman Musa for his time in participating in the interview.

Chef Norman Musa - Europe's leading Malaysian chef
Asian & Oriental Chef of the Year runner-up 2013
Young Asian & Oriental Chef of the Year 2012
Hospitality Guild Young Hall of Fame 2012
Malaysia National Achievement Awards finalist 2011
One of Malaysia's Top 40 Under 40 2010
Race Chef to Lotus Racing F1 Team 2010
Manchester Chef of the Year finalist 2009

More information about Norman and his forthcoming classes, supper clubs and restaurants can be found via:

Free Food Trails map for Malaysia (produced in association with Time Out) can be obtained by emailing:

His own range of gourmet food products are available from his restaurant's online shop at























Saturday, 10 January 2015

Parsnip Soup & Chestnut Pesto

Not in a smug way, but one thing I pride myself on is not having much food waste at the end of the week.  I endeavour to pause before I put items in my shopping trolley and think through the mantra "will I use it, will I eat it, what can I make with it?" 

Inevitably, by the end of the week, there occasionally is a little something that is skirting on the edge of freshness and so I make it my mission to turn it into a gastro victory of some sort thus saving it from the waste bin and saving me from not wasting money.

I was pleased to see that Central England Co-operative are in partnership with WRAP for their 2014-2016 Love Food Hate Waste Campaign which nominates 10 cities around the UK (Birmingham being one of them), to focus on fighting food waste.  The campaign's aim is to help people to 'do one thing differently' - change kitchen habits and prevent food from being wasted and promote how easy it is to create dishes with leftovers in the fridge.

So here are a couple of ideas which I regularly practice, albeit using different ingredients each time.  I hope it will give some inspiration to minimise the food waste from your weekly shopping trip.



Those rocket salad leaves (or spinach) that don't quite make the salad bowl, before they get all watery in the bottom of the bag they come in, I rescue them and give them pesto overhaul.  Pairing the leaves up with cheese and nuts, add a little oil and you have an instant pesto sauce.  Perfect for smothering pasta or potatoes with. 

My recipe is a little vague in terms of ingredient quantities because it is all about what you have leftover and what you can put together.  But the key pesto building blocks are:  leaves/nuts/oil/cheese - so get what you can of these and experiment with different flavours, ingredients and quantity levels to suit you. 

Pesto Ingredients

Here is what worked for me and helped me to use up some Christmas roasted chestnuts.

Chestnut Pesto

Chestnut Pesto
Handful of Rocket Leaves (or Spinach)
Handful of Chestnuts
Rapeseed Oil
A Few Chunks of Cheese (I used Applewood Cheddar)

*Place all items into a food processor and blend until a paste. 
*Add more oil and re-blend if the pesto is too thick.


I buy a bag of parsnips to make a roast dinner with but never use them up entirely.  So if I don't get chance to use them up before they 'turn', I make them into a soup as it is easy to do and makes for a quick supper which could also be a lovely starter if you're having a dinner party.  It could even work as a starter for Burn's Night to cover off the obligatory 'Neep' factor if you're celebrating.

Parsnip Soup

500g (4-5) Parsnips
1 Onion (Chopped)
Oil for frying
550ml Hot Vegetable Stock
½ Nutmeg (Grated) or 1 tsp Ground Nutmeg
1 Star Anise
Salt & Pepper (season to taste)
50-100ml Double Cream (Dependent on preference for cream)
Optional: A spoonful of pesto (see recipe above for inspiration)

Nutmeg for Grating
Parsnips & Onion Ready to Use
Ingredients ready to be Cooked

*Fry the onion in oil in a saucepan until golden brown.
*Peel and chop the parsnips into 2cm chunks.
*Add the parsnip chunks  to the saucepan.
*Add the salt & pepper, nutmeg and the star anise.
*Add the vegetable stock and heat gently.
*Cook for about 15 minutes until the parsnip chunks are soft.
*Using a blender stick, blend all ingredients until smooth.
*Add the amount of cream required.
*Swirl the pesto in (if using).
*Serve with warm bread.

To find out more about the campaign, see: 

I was re-imbursed by Central England Co-operative to cover my expenses to complete the additional ingredient listing for the recipes.  This post was written honestly without bias and I was not required to produce a positive review of the products purchased.  For further details of my PR policy, please see the Press, PR & Food Writing page of this website. 


Thursday, 1 January 2015

Taking Time Out at Cafe Viola

Well, Happy 2015 to you all!  I hope you have all enjoyed the Christmas break and the joys of indulging in family time, catching up with friends, perhaps a little retail therapy and of course, some good food!

For many, like me, the return to work starts on Monday, so I for one am planning to make the most of the next few days before 'normality' and routine commence once again.

So as I potter round and do those last minute things, I plan to factor in some time for a coffee break.


One place that fits the bill is Cafe Viola in Knowle on the outskirts of Solihull.  I met fellow blogger Lisa for a catch up at Cafe Viola a couple of months ago as it had been on my agenda to visit for a while and both Lisa and I support independent businesses so it made for a perfect destination.

Lisa writes a blog called Glamour In The County which is an inspirational lifestyle guide including posts on travel, fashion and of course food.  Lisa has already written a post covering our time at Cafe Viola and has said it all beautifully, so wanting not only to promote Cafe Viola's offering, I also wanted to share Lisa's post with you so you can read all about our visit and hopefully decide to go for yourself.

Hope you all enjoy the last few days of the Christmas break with a lovely coffee at
Cafe Viola or somewhere equally as fabulous!