Saturday, 26 March 2016

Culinary Captures - March 2016

The end of March is upon us and it’s also Easter weekend!  I hope you are all enjoying having some time off with lots of Easter treats to boot!

As always with my Culinary Captures round-up, I bring you some foodie ideas that have come my way which I hope you will find of interest and that you may wish to explore over the weekend break and into April.


Vegetables in cakes aren’t a new thing as carrots, beetroot and courgette have already been in the mix in the baking world for many years. 

However as something new (to me), I recently spotted  Chocolate Torte with Aubergine via cake purveyors Blackberry Cottage  and thought how wonderful to combine two of my favourite things together as I’ve never seen aubergine cake before!
Chocolate & Aubergine Torte
Photo:  c/o Blackberry Cottage
Available to purchase, it is described as rich, dark, dense and ideal as a dinner dessert, it contains ground almonds, dark chocolate and aubergine and topped with a few raspberries and a dollop of crème fraiche. 

I’m yet to try it, so let me know what you think if you get chance to do so before me!

For more details, check out their link here.


My last blog post was about a great lunch I had recently at Chi Kitchen in Birmingham.  Expanding on this, they are launching a revised new breakfast menu with special offers which I know Brummies heading into the city centre each morning will be keen to hear more about.
Photo:  c/o Chi Kitchen

The restaurant, which is situated inside the Bullring’s Debenhams store, recently announced its partnership with the 2014 MasterChef winner, Ping Coombes. 

Following a month long trip to Malaysia, Ping Coombes said, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for all cultures. I gained so much food inspiration from my trip which has influenced my additions to the Chi Kitchen breakfast menu. I’m excited to find out what people think! As always, the food will be packed full of flavour and colour and I really hope to add that ‘wow’ factor to breakfast.”

An Asian–inspired breakfast item would be for example: Dorayaki (Japanese pancakes with matcha green tea powder).

One special offer is that Chi Kitchen are introducing an 88p breakfast! This is an ongoing offer throughout April starting on the 1st for the first 20 customers every morning that choose to dine at the restaurant.
Exotic Fruit Salad - Chi Kitchen
Photo:  c/o Chi Kitchen

The ‘lucky’ 88p breakfast stems from 88 being a highly auspicious number in Chinese tradition which brings with it the power to generate great luck and good fortune- so hence customers can enjoy a lucky start to their day via an 88p breakfast at Chi Kitchen.

And if you feel that luck really is on your side then you could also win 88p breakfasts for an entire year at the city-centre eatery! To win, all you have to do is tweet at @ChiKitchenFood using the hashtags #ChiMoment #88pbreakfast and tell them the luckiest thing that’s ever happened to you.

Breakfast is served from 9.30am until 12pm Monday-Saturday, and from 10.30am to 12pm on Sundays. The full breakfast menu can be viewed  at :

Enjoy and good luck!


I really wanted to try the drinks from  NIX&KIX when I came across them recently, but as their products contain cayenne chilli (which I am allergic to) I haven’t been able to sadly. 

However, I wanted to bring them to your attention as I’m sure there are plenty of readers out there that handle the heat and will really enjoy trying their products out.
Photo:  c/o Nix&Kix

NIX&KIX is range of soft drinks with a unique ingredient – cayenne chilli.  Labelled as a grown-up soft drink, the cayenne chilli promises to gives a ‘kick’ when consumed which provides enough of a unique taste factor without having to resort to using refined sugar for flavour enhancement. 
Nix&Kix Drinks
Photo:  c/o Nix&Kix

Equally, it has no fizz or anything artificial present and comes in flavours such as Rich Mango & Zingy Ginger, Cool Cucumber & Fresh Mint and Succulent Peach & Smooth Vanilla.

For more information including local stockists, visit:


Note:  All items/services featured have been personally selected and I have not received any incentive or compensation to feature them. 

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Review: Chi Kitchen

If I said to you, “think of an eatery at Debenhams department store” – you’d probably think of a traditional style cake & coffee café.  And yes, you’d be right.  But if you’re looking for somewhere different to chill out in between shopping sprees, then head to the 3rd floor of Debenhams’ Birmingham store where you’ll find Chi Kitchen.
Photo: Word In Veg Ways

Chi Kitchen is fairly new to Birmingham’s restaurant roster although it has been going strong in Debenhams’ store on Oxford Street in London for a lot longer.  Described as ‘pan Asian’ its menu has drawn influence from Malaysia, China, Thailand, Japan, Vietnam and Korea, it offers a variety of dishes in a fine dining yet casual setting.
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

As you walk into Chi Kitchen, you’ll see a corridor of ambient lighting with light wooden fittings that run parallel to azure blue seated booths which then open up into a floor-to-ceiling windowed natural daylight area with different sized tables within.  And for those wanting an up-close-and-personal experience, can jump up onto the bar stools and watch the chefs at work.
Chef at Work
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways
As the relaxing Bert Bacharach tunes crooned away in the background, My Carnivorous Husband (MCH) and I opted for a booth (I like the fact I can spread out in those kind of spaces).  But the tables in the open area were also of merit, with views of the surrounding buildings on Smallbrook Queensway all the way down to Pagoda Island (as I call it) boosted by natural daylight.
Seating Area
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways
Perusing the menus over a glass of champagne, Farhan (the Assistant Manager), suggested we have a few starters and appetisers in order to get a broad overview of the menu offerings.

Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Taking into consideration two factors – 1) that I’m vegetarian and 2) I have a terribly inconvenient chilli allergy, Farhan was very keen to ensure I found dishes (especially a main course) that would pacify these factors.  He kindly consulted the chef and came back with a few options and suggested I could have certain dishes with a few changes that would fit the bill.

So we had:
Spring Rolls & Grilled Mushrooms
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Vegetarian Spring Rolls – nicely presented, compact rolls with plenty of filling, pretty standard as spring rolls go, but a good crowd-pleasing appetiser.

Grilled King Oyster Mushrooms – this possibly was one of our favourite starters.  The thickly sliced mushrooms were tasty, ‘meaty’ in texture and when dipped in the teriyaki sauce glaze that they were presented in, it made them even nicer.  I could’ve eaten a whole plate of those to myself in all honesty!
Sweet Potato Fries
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways
 Sweet Potato Fries – normally served with spicy truffle mayonnaise, sadly I couldn’t have this due to the ‘spicy’ element within the mayonnaise so I was given some dipping oil instead.  I normally devour sweet potato fries however, these weren’t as enjoyable as I had hoped.  They were very, very thin and were battered, with more batter present than actual sweet potato.  I would’ve preferred them non-battered personally and perhaps if the menu had a ‘with or without batter’ choice, that would give the dish more flexibility.

Grilled Asparagus
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Grilled Asparagus with Teriyaki Sauce – both MCH and I adore asparagus and this suited us right to the ground.  The teriyaki sauce gave it extra flavour and it was a nice to try the spears dressed in that as opposed to traditional asparagus sauces.
Seaweed Salad
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Seaweed Salad of wakame seaweed, sesame seeds (minus the chilli).  Farhan organised for our portion to be chilli-less and as with all seaweed dishes, I love the way it makes for a light starter yet you feel like you have had plenty as it is so chewy yet it has a little touch of crunch to boot.  It was beautifully presented, I guess an acquired taste, but I do love seaweed so that was perfect for me.  The vitamin/mineral content of seaweed is so good for vegetarians and note to self, I should eat more of it when I can. 
Baby Squid
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Salt & Pepper Baby Squid – deep fried, dusted in sea salt and cracked pepper served with sweet chilli.  MCH had this portion all to himself (obvious reasons).  As with the sweet potatoes, he felt he would’ve enjoyed it more had the squid been thicker and the batter lighter, but otherwise a nice enough starter.
Vegetarian Pad Thai
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Our mains arrived (or Large Plates as the menu denotes).  I decided to go for the:  Pad Thai with Tofu – Chinese chives, crushed peanuts, bean curd, bean sprouts, homemade tamarind sauce with Thai rice noodles.  A good sized portion, a nice fusion of flavours and textures and very much true to form of standard Pad Thai.
Asian Fish & Chips
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Intrigued by the title, MCH opted for Asian Fish & Chips – battered sea bass with potato and sweet potato chips with chilli mayonnaise.  The Asian twist to this British classic was the batter on the fish which was lightly done which MCH commented was just right and the fish was perfectly flakey when cut into.    Both style of chip had been steamed then fried which is a little different and MCH said they certainly tasted more fresh and fluffy.

As well as offering savoury courses, Chi Kitchen also offers breakfast.  The breakfast menu has a number Asian inspired items giving British favourites a twist.  For instance, meat eaters can sample a full English Breakfast but substituted with Vietnamese sausage or you can try an Exotic Asian Fruit Salad made up of watermelon, lychee, star fruit, mango, pineapple or even Japanese Pancakes with Matcha Tea Powder.

Farhan and the team really took the time to understand my dietary requirements, for which, as mentioned above, I am gratefully appreciative of.  This service, although is denoted very discreetly on the menu, I feel should be highlighted a little more as it is definitely positive – especially the fact that dishes can be made vegetarian style upon request.  Having this clearly on the menu will make it all the more attractive for vegetarians who may otherwise take the menu on face value and may dismiss it and ultimately miss out.

Overall, it is a contemporary, stylish venue with its USP being based within a department store, albeit one downside that it is only open during the store’s trading hours, meaning a typical closure time of 8pm, so it would only be an eatery you could visit during the day or very early evening time so you’d have to plan your visit around that.

Chi Kitchen is a nice addition to Birmingham’s foodie scene and a great pit stop when you’re all shopped out and in need of lunch.  Or fancy swapping your usual latte for a cup of jasmine tea or to hell with it – go for a glass of champagne!

Disclosure:    This post has been written following a kind invitation from Chi Kitchen to sample their 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. 





















Monday, 14 March 2016

Birch Water

Silver Birch Trees
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Silver birch trees have been depicted in Ukrainian/Polish/Slavic artwork for centuries.  Synonymous with that region of Europe (as well as Scandinavia), countryside landscapes and forests are dominated by these white barked trees which is one of the reasons why they have been so strongly valued throughout history.

As aesthetically pleasing as they are, their advantage exceeds their beauty as they contain a goodness for human consumption which although is old news in the east, it is just coming to the forefront here in the west.

As regular readers of my blog will know, my family heritage is from the Ukraine and Poland and growing up, I would hear of stories of how these trees would be used and the respect people had for them for what they offered.

My parents, as children, would insert a little tube into the tree and place a cup underneath. When left for a few days, the tree’s sap/syrup would drip into the cup and once full, this would be drank.  Visually, it was described as an off-white colour, the taste was unique it was neither sweet nor sour, was extremely refreshing and as it came straight from the tree, it had a certain coolness about it.

However, this process is only feasible around March time on the cusp of when winter turns into spring and the tree has revitalised itself for the year ahead.  Such is its significance, the Ukrainian word for (the month of) March is   Березень (Berezen) which comes from the Ukrainian word береза, meaning Birch. 

Incidentally, the Polish word for Birch is Brzoza (B-zh-oza).

Now making strides on the UK foodie scene is Birch Water.

Well, I literally squealed with delight when I was given the opportunity of reviewing TreeVitalise’s Birch Water range.  I felt this is the closest I would get to the sap my parents so speak so fondly of.

So how do TreeVitalise obtain birch water?  Firstly, they use the trees from forests in the Ukrainian Carpathian mountains. 

The ‘living’ water within the tree acts as a catalyst that wakes up the tree from its winter sleep/hibernation and as mentioned above, this happens now in March time.  The water has been filtered through the roots of the birch tree and enriched with nutrients from the tree itself and the soil it came from. Because of that the water is not only refreshing but also very healthy.

TreeVitalise only take a small share of the sap water from each tree during this timeframe so that it has plenty of water for its own needs and therefore the tree isn’t harmed, remains healthy and via wild harvesting methods, it makes it a sustainable procedure. 

**For the reasons of conservation, sap extraction is only done by professionals and those trained to do it and I therefore don’t advocate doing this to silver birches thus avoiding damage to the tree and to yourself.**

TreeVitalise don’t use any artificial flavourings  in their drinks and as well as the Original flavour, for their Mint version, they only use organic mint leaves and only use lemon peel for the lemon one.
TreeVitalise Package
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

The birch water then mirrors what nature provides and it becomes an organic, undiluted and unsweetened drink with only 10kcals per bottle (4kcals per 100ml) – like the original sap.  With it being sugar-free (although natural sugars eg: fructose are present), organic, vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free it is an attractive option for those with allergies or certain lifestyle choices.

Its goodness is proven by the birch water being manganese rich plus combined with the unique micro-nutrients within, these are claimed to stimulate the body’s purifying and cleansing systems as well as lowering sugar levels, encouraging a faster metabolism and promoting quicker absorption of vitamins. 

This is why my parents and my ancestors before them were so applauding of the sap itself as the benefits of it were well known as a ‘health boost’ and my father even described it “medicine”.
TreeVitalise Original Flavour
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Recommended by TreeVitalise to be served chilled, I agree the birch water’s flavour is definitely enhanced when kept in the fridge for a good period of time to get cold - don’t drink it tepid or warm.  To really maximise the flavour and taking the chill factor one step further, I added a good 5 ice cubes to my glass and it really made a difference. 
Glass of TreeVitalise Original
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

It has a ‘clean’ taste with a tiny hint of a sweet/syrupy aftertaste, but only a touch making it very pleasant.  The Mint and Lemon flavours are also nice, but I have to say my favourite is the Original one.

Available at selected healthfood stores (contact TreeVitalise for local stockists), it comes in at a premium price level of approx. £2.75 per 250ml bottle, so although may not be viable as an everyday purchase, it is certainly worth trying if you’re looking for something different yet healthy that contains a wealth of added benefits. 

In fact, when packed with ice, it would make for an excellent summer’s day drink with a few fruit slices added for colour/decoration or perhaps even as a posh ingredient for a mocktail.  In my case by having it, as well as gaining all the goodness it bears, it makes me feel a little closer to my family roots and enhances my parents’ stories of days gone by……..

Disclosure:    This post has been written following complementary samples of Birch Water from TreeVitalise.  The nutritional information stated for birch water has been provided by TreeVitalise and any queries regarding this must be relayed directly to them.  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, 5 March 2016

Review: The Star & Garter Leamington Spa

Photo:  c/o The Star & Garter

Lunch with my Mother is always a lovely way to spend a Saturday afternoon and that is exactly what we did recently at The Star & Garter in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire.
Photo:  c/o The Star & Garter

Nestled on the verge of Leamington Spa’s town centre hub, it is within a short walking distance of main shopping thoroughfare The Parade and offers a convenient spot for a bite to eat away from the hustle of the High Street.
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Having already reviewed two of its sister pubs (The Highfield in Edgbaston and The Rose & Crown in Warwick), if it was going to be true to form, I anticipated a quality menu in equally a relaxing setting.
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Upon arrival, we were warmly welcomed by Manager Colin and the team.  Walking past a large bar on one side and a row of dining tables and booths on the other, we opted for a spacious booth to sit in underneath the window giving us some natural daylight.
Photo:  c/o The Star & Garter

Looking around, it was very open, casual with low lighting and lots of quirky things to look at – my favourite being a table made out of a large musical drum!  I could imagine it would be quite atmospheric at night.
Photo:  c/o The Star & Garter

To kick-start events off, we perused the extensive drinks menu and opted for a couple of mocktails – the Peach Melba and the Cranberry Mojito.  They came presented in fancy glasses with wonderful sprigs of mint draped over the rims.  Both very refreshing and they were glamourous alternatives to the standard range of soft drinks.
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

With a number of starters suitable for vegetarians, I was in a bit of a quandary what to pick, so Colin suggested we have a mezze style Sharing Board with a couple of extras dishes added on to get a full measure of what was on offer, plus he procured a small pot of duck salad for Mum to try.
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Dorset Smoked Duck Orange & Almond Salad which Mum had to herself was very well received.  She commented it was tasty with the hints of orange and almond coming through which gave the salad a lift.
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Superfood Salad Quinoa, Sweet Potato, Broccoli & Pomegranate was visually vivid and when eaten, it  was crunchy with multiple textures and bore a sweet/savoury taste -  with the added bonus of being good for you thrown in!  A good choice if you want something light and less calorific.

Beetroot, Goats Cheese & Hazelnuts – a classic mix with the goat’s cheese being curd based which gave it a softer texture.  Rated as my Mum’s favourite out of all the starters.

Wookey Hole Cheddar & Parsnip Cakes with Tomato Jam. Fluffy and coated with toasted breadcrumbs these were very filling although I couldn’t detect much cheese.  But contrasted well when combined with the tomato jam.

Baked Golden Cenarth Cheese & Truffle Honey with Sourdough Bread plus extra Toasted Pittas.  Quite a moreish cheese with a soupcon of truffle honey on top giving it a little sweetness.  Enjoyable, although whilst it worked well as part of a sharing board as there were other flavours to consume alongside it, as a standalone starter it would be too much cheese in one go for my preference, especially if having more cheese further on within the meal.
Photo:  c/o The Star & Garter

Awaiting our mains, Mum had the vodka based favourite of a Cosmopolitan cocktail which she thoroughly enjoyed and I had an Apple Mojito which was very zesty – again, dressed in fringe of minty foliage.
Photo: Word In Veg Ways

Mum opted for the Roast Half Free Range Chicken, Confit Garlic Mash & Gravy.    The chicken she commented was very tender and the garlic mash she found very pleasing with just enough garlic to be flavoursome without being overpowering.
Roast Squash Wellington
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

I had the Roast Squash, Spinach & Barley Wellington with Vegetarian Gravy.    The wellington came in a soft, crumbly pastry casing, parcelled in a dome shape and you could see it had been nicely glazed and browned in the oven.  The vegetable mixture within was well blended and seasoned.  The dish came with kale which was gently steamed and contrasted by the third element of potatoes roasted in skins which were done to the right level of crispiness (for me).
Maple Roasted Vegetables

We both shared a portion of Maple Syrup Coated Roast Root Vegetables which worked well for both dishes and oozed that sticky lovely sweetness from the maple syrup used.

A dessert each we felt was a little too much for us at this point, so we went for the Sharing Board of Desserts which contained 3 mini items from the main dessert menu.
Sharing Board of Desserts

Our board consisted of: Warm Valrhona Chocolate Brownie, St Clements Cheesecake and Coffee & Amaretto Parfait.

The brownie came with salted caramel ice cream instead of vanilla as the kitchen had run out of it, which I think upon reflection worked better than vanilla would.  As a trio, the desserts each had their own merits so via this sharing method, it was a good way to try them all without committing to a single dessert. 

My visit to The Star & Garter came just as they are revising their menus and they have quite a few new dishes lined up for spring.  Vegetarian dishes coming through include: Stuffed Artichoke Hearts, Baby Leaves & Pesto Mayo and Spring Vegetable & Puy Lentil Pie with Quicke’s Mature Cheddar Cheese Mash + Vegetarian Gravy.

Overall, the venue offers a relaxed setting with wholesome dishes woven with uplifting gastro twists to suit all palettes.  With a number of vegetarian options present, the team are flexible if you want to change or fuse some of the choices together, which is always welcomed, however a suggestion would be to have less cheese focused options on the starters section and to utilise more ingredients/combinations.
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Aside from the dining, The Star & Garter also have regular events centred around their food and beverage offerings.  Everything ranging from specials for Easter weekend to wine tasting to even dancing for those that like to let their hair down. 
As a venue it really does endeavour to appeal to the masses and can morph its way to accommodating those that just want a coffee to those that want a full evening of food and entertainment.   It can be whatever you want it to be.

Other Connected Reviews:
The Highfield
The Rose & Crown



Disclosure:    This post has been written following a kind invitation from The Star & Garter to sample their 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.