Thursday, 29 September 2016

Review: Tapas Revolution Birmingham

Walking into to a huge ‘Buenos Tardes’ greeting as we set foot into Tapas Revolution, was just what we needed to wipe away the traffic jam drama we’d encountered en route.  Such a big welcome made us feel instantly relaxed and we liked it.
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways
The all-Spanish team chit-chatted away with us as they settled us into our seats with My Carnivorous Husband (MCH) wanting to look out onto Grand Central’s concourse for a bit of people watching and I wanted a view of the restaurant (same reasons).  All bases covered. 
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

The restaurant is open plan and informal which falls into the set-up of Grand Central’s overall food outlet offering, it has splashes of Moorish décor with a few little hints of España dotted around (such as the olive oil cutlery tins).  Interestingly, no salt & pepper condiments are present on the tables – it encourages you to taste the food as it is I guess.
Appetisers & Drinks
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

For Appetisers, we had:  Almendras de Mallorca (slow roasted almonds) which you could tell the roasting process had brought out their flavour – we really enjoyed those.  Aceitunas Manzanilla – (green marinated Andalusian olives), which were pleasant enough although would have preferred them de-stoned.  Pan con Tomate (toasted bread topped with tomato, garlic and olive oil) which was crusty, although more tomato based than garlic, it worked well with the other appetisers.  This little combo as it was would be nice with a beer or cocktail if you just fancy a few nibbles.
Patatas Bravas & Tomato Salad
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

The rest of the meal followed the usual tapas format of ‘little dishes’ and I had:  Gazpacho de Sandía (chilled tomato soup with a watermelon twist).   Served in a small glass, a slightly more fizzy version of traditional gazpacho and more fruity, but nevertheless surprisingly filling.  Keeping the tomato theme going, I had Ensalada de Tomate on Queso de Cabra which consisted of a number of different types of tomato (and colour) with goat’s cheese, olives and red onion – quite a basic arrangement but the different tomato types made it quite sweet tasting.  It worked well with the Patatas Bravas I had which I ordered without the spicy tomato sauce (as I’m allergic to certain spices) which the chef was happy to do.
Pork Belly
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

MCH had the Torreznos con mojo dulce which was pork belly and he commented how light, crispy, quite sweet and tender it was.  It was his overall favourite dish.  He had Pulpo a la Gallega which was steamed octopus with potatoes and pimento paprika which was again, tender and a different type of seafood offering than is normally available which he enjoyed trying, plus a Patatas Bravas portion for himself, with the spicy tomato sauce which he said nice and fiery.
Patatas Bravas/Octopus/Empanadillas
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

He also had the Empanadillas (spinach and goat’s cheese parcels served with onion and saffron marmalade) from the specials board.  The cheese was gorgeously melty and worked well with the savoury style marmalade.  I too would have had these but the cheese was cooked in animal fat making it non-vegetarian so I didn’t.  A real shame as it sounded perfect – so perhaps Omar and team - could veggie versions be made?
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Desserts were of course inevitable and whilst perusing, I wasn’t sure if the desserts were veggie friendly so my Camerero (waiter) kindly checked by going through Omar’s latest cookbook Spanish Made Simple which contains dishes as featured on the menu – so a very handy reference point.  All good and so I had:  Crema Catalana (a traditional Spanish custard made with vanilla, cinnamon and lemon) which was very much like a brulee, thick with subtle flavours coming through and I liked the fact it was typically Spanish as I try to have authentic dishes where possible.  MCH who naturally gravitates towards chocolate chose:  Cremoso de Chocolate (chocolate fondant made with olive oil and baked to order).  He said it wasn’t too rich (which he welcomed) yet it was smooth perhaps due to the olive oil content.

Café Leche y Leche
Photo: Word In Veg Ways

Coffees caught our eye and we opted for the very Spanish sounding:  Café Leche y Leche (which is bombón coffee with steamed milk).  Never having seen it before, we were keen to see what it was like.  Now, when I drink coffee (which is only once a week max), I tend to sugar it massively to make it palatable for me, but this didn’t need even a grain of sugar.  The condensed steamed milk used made it more than sweet enough, it was lush and so different.  Really enjoyed it.

So as our meal experience came to an end, we spent more time with the waiters who couldn’t do enough and I saw that was the same for other diners, not just us.  Having met Tapas Revolution’s owner Omar at the Birmingham Food Drink & Hospitality Awards earlier in the summer (he won his category of Best Spanish Restaurant by the way) and seeing how friendly and warm he actually was, I can see how this mantra has been cascaded down to the troops within the restaurant.  The staff, really are a credit to Omar & co, they love to talk and so do we.  We enjoyed hearing about where they were from in Spain and we discussed one of my favourite TV shows right now – Vis a Vis (called Locked Up in the UK) which has Spanish subtitles and can be viewed on Channel 4 on Demand (if you’re interested….)  In return, they were polite when I tried to babble away in my broken Spanish and I was even more astonished when they understood what I was trying to say – see, GCSE Spanish never leaves you!  All in all, lovely and even though we dined as their guests, we left a tip as we were so impressed with the service we had.

Great place for carnivores and good place for vegetarians.  Some of the dishes could be converted into vegetarian options and if that was to happen, then it would really enhance their veggie offering and I’d be all for that.

Whilst it is Adios for now, I’ll back soon with my Mother for, at the very least, a Café Leche y Leche and we’ll make sure we get her a good people-watching seat as she likes to do that as much as we do.


Disclosure:    This post has been written following a kind invitation from Tapas Revolution 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, 19 September 2016

Warm Vegetable Salad

Following the food demos by The Vegetable Butcher at selected stores this summer, Sainsbury’s are really flying the flag for vegetables right now, with so many new products on the shelves like black garlic and spiralised boodles, there are new things to try outside of the usual remit of carrots and potatoes.

I was asked by Sainsbury’s to put a vegetable salad idea together and using a bit of inspiration from a cook book I recently read – Nourishing Noodles, I decided to go down the spiralising route as I’m finding it quite an addictive cooking process!

Here’s my warm vegetable salad which I served with pasta to make it a fuller meal.  The photo here doesn’t do it as much justice as I had wanted it to, but hopefully its vivid, colourful appearance will entice you into trying this (or adapting it to your own preferences). 

It’s a nice dish that bears a few hallmarks of summer and offers an opportunity to enjoy delicious beetroots which are very much in season.


Warm Vegetable Salad

1 Courgette 
1 Beetroot
1 Sweet Ramino Pepper (thinly sliced)
100g of Spinach
1 tablespoon Milled Flaxseed
2 tablespoons of Anti-Pasti Vegetables (from Sainbury’s deli counter)
3-4 Artichoke chunks (jarred)
1 tomato (chopped into chunks)
A little oil for frying
Salt for seasoning


Peel the beetroot and spiralise it (or cut it into very thin strips) and put to one side.
Heat the oil in a frying pan, spiralise the courgette and place it in the frying pan.

Add the beetroot to the pan and stir-fry through until soft.
Add the pepper, anti-pasti, artichokes and spinach and stir-fry until soft.
Add the salt (and any other seasoning you wish).
In a separate pan, heat the tomato gently in a little oil until it breaks down and resembles a sauce.

Serve up the vegetables, pour the tomato sauce on top and sprinkle the milled flaxseed all over.



Disclosure:    I was reimbursed my expenses by Sainsbury's to create this dish. 
This post was written 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, 7 September 2016

Review: The Almanack - Kenilworth

A bit clichéd I know, but I have to say whenever I go to a Peach Pub I feel  it is like putting on a pair of fluffy slippers with diamantes – comfortable but with a hint of glitz.  I feel I always know what I’ll get and it will served up with a Peachy smile.
The Almanack
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways
‘Tis the case with The Almanack in Kenilworth, Warwickshire.  Part of the Peach Pub chain, it sits at the top of the High Street by the Holiday Inn Hotel not far from Elizabethan Kenilworth Castle.  With a little pay & display car park at the back, it’s all quite easy logistically and makes organising your visit smooth.  Personally, I love the drive from Solihull to Kenilworth, especially on a summer’s evening, sun-dappled fields with hay bales on view – makes you feel relaxed ahead of your meal.
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

But anyway, enough romancing, back to The Almanack.  The welcome was as expected, very warm and we were shown into the main dining area.  Looking around, it was quite busy for a Thursday evening, but more so in the bar rather than the dining section.  The décor is comfortable, very contemporary and there was a funky reclaimed wood mosaic style mural behind us, which is very ‘now’.
Mural - Photo:  Word In Veg Ways
Looking through the main menu and specials, there was quite a lot to choose from with good options for vegetarians.
English Garden
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Starting with a pint of Peroni beer for My Carnivorous Husband (MCH) and an English Garden cocktail for me, (vodka in lieu of gin, cloudy apple juice, elderflower cordial, cucumber and ice), we had a good perusal over the menu.  Although I have to say, as I’m not keen on gin, I asked if the gin could be replaced by vodka and the team gladly did that, with the caveat that the cocktail is supposed to be led by gin so the taste will change, but I love the other components so I was happy to take the risk and as it happened, it was very nice and refreshing – and best of all, I was pleased to see they were accommodating adaptations upon request.
Summer Vegetable Risotto
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways
For our Starters, I had the Summer Vegetable Risotto.  It had the typical sticky consistency of risotto rice, made sweet with the peas and sweetcorn.  It was pleasant although not overwhelming.
Ham Cheddar Croquette
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways
MCH opted for the Ham Cheddar Croquette.  It was crispy, packed with melted cheese which when dipped into its tomato relish drizzle, gave it a sweet edge. 

Aubergine Escalope
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Enjoying an English Rose mocktail (cloudy lemonade, elderflower & cranberry) as the mains arrived, I awaited my adapted Pan-fried Aubergine & Feta Escalope, Heritage Tomato Salad & Baby Leaves.  Adapted because it was confirmed that the dish (the feta element of it in fact) had chillis in it which I am allergic to so upon asking if they could amend it, they said all portions were pre-made but they had a way round it.  They went to the local shop, bought some feta cheese and made me a bespoke version.  I was really impressed with that as well as their stance of going the ‘extra mile’, I was very grateful.  The aubergine was covered in breadcrumbs, it was a good ‘escalope’ style creation and quite filling but I had a side order of new potatoes to go with it which worked well as I felt it needed something additional to go alongside it.

Market Fish
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

MCH chose the Market Fish main from the specials board.  Consisting of mackerel, haddock, king prawns and squid and accompanied by fries, some samphire, salad and a lemon-water finger bowl to refresh your fingers with.  MCH said all the fish was cooked well and it was a nice opportunity to have a number of different fishes and seafood to sample rather than just a larger portion of one type.
Strawberry Cheesecake
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

There is always room for dessert so MCH went for the Strawberry Cheesecake with Raspberry Coulis from the specials board.  It was very fluffy and light making it a little different from a usual type of cheesecake.
Chocolate Brownie
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

I pretty much always lean towards Chocolate Brownies on menus so true to form, I did the same here.  The advertised accompanying banana ice cream was substituted with vanilla as it had ran out, but no problem.  A little more cakey than googey in texture, I would’ve preferred more of the latter if I’m honest, but still a lovely way to end the meal with and the chocolate itself came through as good and dense.
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Overall, The Almanack is another gleaming gem in the Peach Pub crown, the staff are exceptionally friendly and knowledgeable (about everything including the ingredients on the menu) and are willing to go the extra mile (especially great when you’re a veggie with allergies like me)!
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Definitely worth a visiting if you’re looking for somewhere to eat after a day out at Kenilworth Castle or just want somewhere to dine in an area that’s got a quiet village feel about it but yet has a good gastro offering.  
Disclosure:    This post has been written following a kind invitation from The Almanack 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, 5 September 2016

Food Roots Interview: Sumayya Usmani

Sumayya Usmani
Photo:  Joanna Yee
Back in springtime, I reviewed a book called Summers Under theTamarind Tree which focused on Pakistani food and the culinary memoirs of author Sumayya Usmani.

Swapping the world of law for writing, Sumayya’s career now focuses on promoting her love for food.  As well as being a being a freelance food writer/broadcaster she also hosts supper clubs and cookery classes (including at Sophie Grigson’s school). 

Appearing in: The Guardian, New York Times, International Herald Tribune, The Irish Times, Delicious, Good Food, Crumbs, Good Housekeeping, Vegetarian Living, Kitchen Goddess, The Foodie Bugle, Foodista, British Curry Club’s CHAAT! Magazine, BBC Asian Network and Asian publications HELLO! Pakistan and Express Tribune, she also has a column with Dalda Magazine, blogs regularly for Great British Chefs and is a member of the Guild of Food Writers.

Such is her reputation, in 2014, BBC Good Food named Pakistani cuisine one of the top to watch and flagged Sumayya Usmani as the UK’s go-to expert in this field.  She has been featured in The Spice Scribe’s ‘Foodie to Watch’  hotlist and has appeared on London Live and other broadcast outlets to discuss Pakistani cooking including Madhur Jaffrey’s Good Food Channel programme ‘Curry Nation’, with her recipes featuring in the book of the same name.  

Sumayya also produces the award-winning spice range Masala Monsoon available to purchase from her website. 

Having loved reading Summers Under The Tamarind Tree, I’m fascinated with Sumayya’s story and she kindly agreed to participate in my Food Roots interview to tell me a little more about being born and raised in Pakistan and her passion for exploring and promoting her rich food heritage.




Living in the UK, how important is it for you to keep your Pakistani roots alive?  How much of that is expressed through food?

My belief is that when you move abroad you embrace the culture you adopt, but that doesn’t mean you forget your heritage. Your roots are what make you an individual and offer a sense of belonging. For me the greatest expression of my culture has been through the flavours, aromas and food memories of growing up in Pakistan, so this is why more than any other manifestation of my culture, the flavour of Pakistan is what keeps my memories alive in a new home.

How nostalgic (if at all) does it make you feel eating Pakistani food at home?

Hugely – I can smell my childhood the minute spices hit the pan, I can taste my grandmother’s treats as I cook them and I can sense home as I see a dining table of dishes I grew up eating. Food takes you to a place of comfort, sweet memories and nothing connects you to nostalgia as much as the aroma of home cooking.

How important is food in Pakistani culture and do you celebrate calendared Pakistani/religious festivals with any particular kind of feasting?

The most important Pakistani festival is Eid (I love the one after Ramazan, there are two), and I always celebrate this no matter where I am. It is all about a day of thankfulness for what we receive, after a month of abstinence of food, one gets to value the role of meals and contemplate the lives of people with less than us. Eid is day of feasting – large spiced roast legs of mutton, rich fragrant goat biryani, decadent saffron bread puddings and sweet vermicelli dessert grace the occasion. We spend the day eating, feeding and centring the whole day around food, sharing with  family and friends.

What vegetarian dishes could you recommend when dining at a Pakistani feast and/or restaurant?

Though Pakistani food culture is heavily meat based, most people do eat a lot of local seasonal vegetables, as meat is expensive. Not all authentic recipes are found in restaurants here. Pakistan’s vegetarian recipes are simple and very much based of seasonal vegetables, in Punjab, sarson ka saag (mustard greens) is eaten, in Sindh, lotus root curry or karri (potato and chickpea flour turmeric stew), in the north they eat mishi – (black eyed peas and walnut dip), the list is endless.  So if you are lucky enough to eat at a Pakistani feast, depending on where your guests are from in the country, ask them to make you a local vegetarian recipe and be prepared to be surprised with something quite original!

What would be your 'must have' pantry items to replicate a Pakistani kitchen?

I would say certain that there are certain utensils that can’t do without:

* A tawa: flat pan for making flatbreads

* Tempering pan: small round deep pan with long handle for making tarkas/baghar

* Spice grinder and mortar and pestle

I love to have 2 boxes of spices, one with whole spices (I like to dry roast and freshly grind my spices) and another with dry ground spices I would not be able to buy whole.

A box of spices: star anise, coriander, cumin, black cardamom, dried red chilli and cinnamon are my favourites.

I also love amchoor (dried raw mango powder) and anardana (dried pomegranate seeds) and of course, tamarind, I love these are they add a little sourness to balance the basic sweetness of tomatoes and red onions.

Other store cupboard essentials for me are I walnuts, pistachios and the best quality long grain Pakistani basmati rice.



Notes & My Thanks

I would like to thank Sumayya Usmani for her time in participating in the interview.

Summers Under The Tamarind Tree: Recipes & Memories from Pakistan by Sumayya Usmani, photography by Joanna Yee, is published by FrancesLincoln (£20). 

“This book is a treasure. Charm, information and what Sumayya calls ‘the flavour of my Pakistani heritage’ permeates every single recipe.”
- Madhur Jaffrey
 “My favourite sort of cookbook: personal, beautiful and full of things I want to eat”
- Meera Sodha (Made in India)

 “It’s wonderful to discover the world of Pakistani food and adaza (sensory cooking) in this perfect cookbook”
- Olia Hercules (Mamushka)


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