Monday, 1 September 2014

Quick Review - Las Iguanas, West Nile Street, Glasgow

Last Tuesday evening myself and Nicola had a night at the SSE Hydro, Scotland's newest entertainment venue, to see Ant & Dec's Takeaway on Tour. Before we made our way to the show, we met in the city centre for a bite to eat. We had originally planned on going to All Bar One for their great value Tapas Tuesday offer but Nicola had received a birthday email from Las Iguanas offering her a main course of her choice if we had dinner there instead. We both love the menu at Las Iguanas, and as we were on the countdown to Nicola's birthday then it seemed only fair that she should decide on our dinner destination.
Never one to turn down a free meal, we were soon walking though the doors of the Glasgow branch of Las Iguanas. The restaurant was fairly busy for a Tuesday evening, this could have been as a result those lovable boys from Newcastle, or it could be down to that fact that Las Iguanas have some very enticing food offers on their extended lunch menu that runs daily until 6:30pm.
If you order before 6:30pm there are a number of the regular menu items at reduced prices, and if you order from the lunch menu you can add on a glass of house wine or bottle of Brahma beer for just £2. As I was the designated driver on the night, I settled for a small glass of red wine whilst Nicola started her birthday celebrations with an orange & ginger caiperinha from the cocktail menu.

From the moment that Nicola decided that we were going to be having dinner at Las Iguanas, I knew that I would be ordering the burger off of the lunch menu. I've had the burger before and loved it so it was a fairly easy decision to have the burger again. The Classic Burger is a lightly spiced and seasoned patty served in a toasted bun with little gem lettuce, tomato, fried onion and a zingy gherkin mayo, all served with a choice of fries, curly fries or sweet potato fries and a pile of jalapeño slaw. I always get the sweet potato fries which are amazing and a perfect match to the smoky chargrilled burger. For just £7.20, I'm not sure there's a better value burger in town.

The birthday offer allowed Nicola to order any main course from the a la carte menu and after much deliberation she opted for the Camarão a la Criolla, one of the recent additions on the Las Iguanas menu. Plenty of plump prawns were encased within a rich sauce of peppers, tomatoes, parsley, coriander, cumin, garlic, paprika, lime and coconut milk, served on fluffy spring onion & garlic rice and soft chilli & garlic corn tortillas. I immediately had 'food envy' as the aroma of Nicola's dinner hit my nostrils but I did manage to grab a sneaky forkful or two and it's a safe bet to assume that the next time we return to Las Iguanas that I'll be ordering the Camarão a la Criolla for myself.
As we were finishing off our meal, Nicola was received another present from Las Iguanas as she was presented with a cheeky wee caiperinha topped off with a birthday candle stuck into one of the lime segments. Not a bad way to end the first of Nicola's birthday meals!
Lots of restaurants encourage you to sign up to their email list and then do very little with the valuable information that they have captured. However, Las Iguanas make sure that if they have any offers running (locally or nationally) that they keep you up to date, of course being given a free birthday meal with a caiperinha to wash it down, is reason enough to sign up to the Las Iguanas newsletter.
Keep up to date with Las Iguanas Glasgow on Facebook and Twitter.

Written by Gerry HaughianWritten by Gerry Haughian

Friday, 29 August 2014

5 Questions - Mash Direct

Earlier on this Summer, I was invited along to The Royal Highland Show 2014 which was held in Edinburgh back in June. Whilst there, myself and Nicola had a great time meeting various food and drink producers from all over the UK and Ireland, as well as tasting some of the fantastic products that they had brought to sample and sell. One of the stands that caught our attention was from the people behind Mash Direct, potato farmers cum ready meal producers. Mash Direct is a family run business, based in County Down Northern Ireland, that provide a range of potato and vegetable based products packed with the taste and texture of home cooking. The products are all cooked on the very same farm where the vegetables grow and aim to supply their customers with their five a day the easy way, from field to fork.
Here's the Mash Direct story;
How Did You Get Started?
At a dinner party in 2003, whilst savouring a glass of Irish whiskey with his host and friend, Tony Reid, Martin Hamilton had an idea. He dreamed of setting up a production facility on his farm to produce Champ, the traditional Ulster dish. After much discussion, determination and hard work, that dream became a reality. A small factory was built and Mash Direct was born.
Martin and his wife Tracy had been successfully growing and selling vegetables for over 25 years, Martin himself being a fifth generation son of the soil. They decided to return to the traditional tastes their mothers and grandmothers used to know, now almost lost. Using vegetable varieties grown for taste - not appearance - they developed a small plant on the farm to recreate a traditional cooking style. A number of pieces of equipment were specially built by Tony, including a unique masher and a steam cooker and Mash Direct was ready to begin. The only thing that was left were the potatoes. Martin and his two sons, Lance and Jack, went out to the fields and harvested the first Mash Direct crop.
Ten years later they have grown from our humble beginnings supplying Champ to local butchers and St. George’s Market in Belfast to now supplying over thirty different products across the UK and Ireland and as far as New York and Dubai. They now not only mash but dice, slice, chop, shred, steam and fry to make their multi-award winning range.
What is the Best Piece of Business Advice That You Can Give?
Never stop innovating.
Where Would You Like to See Your Business in 5 Years Time?
Our markets in the UK and Ireland are growing from strength to strength and we believe that the vegetables that we have in this part of the world are amongst the best out there. We already export to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and New York and we believe that we will continue to grow strongly in the next five years both at home and abroad.
If you could only cook one of your own products/recipes, what would it be & why?
We introduced our Vegetable Burgers during the celebration of our 10 Year Anniversary earlier this year and since then I have basically been living on them so it would be hard to look past the Vegetable Burgers.
You can invite one person (living or dead) to your last meal – Who would it be and why? …and what’s on the menu?
Antoine-Augustin Parmentier - a true champion of potatoes.
On the menu would be a steaming hot bowl of champ with a good helping of butter.
I'm normally not a big fan of precook end food, especially something as easy as vegetable dishes but I have to say that I was pleasantly suprised when I tasted the potato, carrot and parsnip croquettes that were Mash Direct had available to sample. In fact with three of the product range recently being awarded Great Taste Awards from The Guild of Fine Food, it's clear that I'm not the only one impressed by the quality of food coming out of the farm.
The products are stocked at various branches of Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's, Booths, Budgens, Mace, and Dunnes Stores so the next time you're out shopping, if you happen to see Mash Direct in the chiller isle, grab yourself a treat and let me know how you get on.
Keep up to date with Mash Direct on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

 Written by Gerry HaughianWritten by Gerry Haughian

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Quick Review - All Bar One, Exchange Plaza, Edinburgh

Every year myself and Nicola try to make a trip through to Edinburgh to take in a show at The Edinburgh Festival Fringe. This year was no different and last weekend we took the train through to the capital, looking forward to having dinner at Angels With Bagpipes before seeing the comedian Mark Watson at The Pleasance Theatre.
We got off the train at Haymarket before making our way to to visit the Boxsmall craft market, a new seasonal market operating inside innovative architecturally designed cubic shaped stalls within Festival Square just off Lothian Road. However when we reached the square we found that most of the stalls were not open for business. A quick chat from the guys at the Nairn's Oatcake stall informed us that due to the lower footfall around the square on the weekends, the majority of the exhibitors had taken the decision to take the weekend off.
Dissappointed that Boxsmall was a bit of a let down, we decided that it was time for our first drinks break of the day and made our way through the doors of the nearby All Bar One in Edinburgh's Exchange Plaza. We had only planned on having a quick drink before getting back in festival mode but as it was approaching lunchtime, we decided to grab a bite to eat before hitting the streets again.
The menu at All Bar One offers a great balance of sandwiches and light bites through to larger plated meals, plus they also serve up a wide selection of smaller sharing tapas plates. The tapas menu has a wide range of world inspired dishes to choose from with prices ranging from £4.50 - £6.00 per plate, although their are some great offers when buying bundles of 3, 5 or 7 dishes. Our dinner later in the day was booked for 6pm so we were only looking for a quick snack for lunch so decided to ordered just three tapas dishes to share.
I was quite happy to let Nicola order for us, we both like the same things and I knew tthat I could trust her to pick three tasty dishes. First up was a platter of Spianata Romana cured meat with Roquito chilli pepper pearls and crystal bread. Spianata Romana is a spiced salami made from finely ground pork, and this was a wonderful example of spicy and peppery cured meat. The Roquito chili peppers were cute little teardrop shaped peppers bursting with sweet red pepper flavour packed with chilli heat.
The second dish that Nicola ordered was garlic, chill and lemon king prawns. Fifteen plump and juicy prawns were cooked with lemon zest, chili and garlic, served with more toasted bread. As I tried my first prawn my mind was immediately transported to thought of my up and coming holiday in Lanzarote, the fresh flavours conjuring up great memories of our favourite bodega where we enjoy gambas pil-pil on a far too regular basis. This was a great value dish and at only 308 calories, it would make the perfect healthy lunchtime snack.
The final dish of our trio of taps was chicken satay skewers served on a bed of cucumber and sweet chili salsa before being smothered in a spicy peanut satay sauce. The three chunky strips of skewered chicken breast were fantastic. Perfectly cooked, moist chicken was balanced with a rich lightly spiced satay sauce, with the cucumber salsa offering the perfect foil to the dish. Surprisingly, this dish only contained 351 calories!
We couldn't fault any of the dishes. Everything tasted fresh and full of flavour whilst we both loved the presentation of each tapas being served on their own slate plate. The portions sizes were generous too and we were thankful that we had only ordered three dishes instead of the original five that we were thinking about or we could have ruined our appetite for later.
All Bar One are a well known chain of bar/restaurants owned by pub group Mitchells & Butlers, however the service that we received in the Exchange Plaza branch was personal and made us feel very welcome as guests, whilst the quality of food that we were served was definitely far higher than what we would ordinarily have expected from a pub chain.
So would we go back for food in the future? Definitely - there are plenty more dishes on the tapas menu that we want to get our teeth into and if they are as tasty as the plates that we tasted in Edinburgh, I'm sure that we won't be disappointed.
To make returning for tapas an easier choice in the future, All Bar One run a special Tapas Tuesday event with each branch offering great deals on tapas bundles with a bottle of wine thrown in at tremendous value. For instance, my local Glasgow branch have four tapas dishes with a bottle of wine for just £20! You can check the website to see what Tapas Tuesday offers are running at your local All Bar One.
Keep up to date with All Bar One, Exchange Plaza on Facebook and Twitter.

Written by Gerry HaughianWritten by Gerry Haughian

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Glasgow Dominates The Secret Ingredient Cook Off To Reveal Scotland's Favourite Ingredient

Organisers at brand new food and drink event of the Autumn, Eat Drink Discover Scotland, which is being held at the Royal Highland Centre, Ingliston from 12th-14th September, have announced the six finalists in their competition to discover the hidden gems located in Scottish pantries – with three coming from Glasgow!

Joyce Brady, a fudge maker at the Wee Fudge Company who entered Hebridean Sea Salt as her secret ingredient; Graeme Taylor, a food blogger, who entered Squat Lobster from Glasgow’s Fish Co as his secret ingredient; and Scotland’s very own broadcaster Viv Lumsden, who entered courgette flowers from Ardross Farm Shop in Fife, have all been chosen to come along to the event in September and compete in a ‘cook off’ where they will battle it out against each other and a further three finalists. They will have thirty minutes to prepare the dish they entered to the competition that uses their secret ingredient.

Award winning chef Mark Greenaway, who has spearheaded the search to unearth the ingredients Scottish cooks simply cannot do without. The public were invited to reveal their favourite Scottish - the criteria ranged from herbs to condiments, alcohol to meats and even vegetables - provided they were either grown or produced in Scotland. Eat Drink Discover Scotland visited and spoke to local suppliers to find out what customers bought, and why, whilst Mark Greenaway kept a weekly food for thought blog, discussing Scottish regional ingredients he uses in particular dishes

The winner of the cook off gets to award the supplier of their ‘secret ingredient’ with a free stand at next year’s Eat Drink Discover Scotland event.

Shortlisted Viv Lumsden said: "I live in Glasgow and travel to Ardross Farm Shop in Fife to buy my courgette flowers - they can be filled with any flavoursome, gooey ingredients but a favourite is with ricotta, garlic, basil, parmesan and a spoonful of grated ciabatta. I am looking forward to sharing the recipe for these wonderful treats at Eat Drink Discover Scotland".

Joyce Brady, owner of The Wee Fudge Company, said: "I am absolutely delighted to be shortlisted. Using Scottish products in our fudges is a massive part of what we are about and Hebridean Sea Salt has proven to be one of our best finds yet. Our Hebridean Sea Salt and Caramel fudge helped us win a finalist place in the Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Awards 2014 and has just won a gold star in the Guild of Fine Food Great Taste Awards. I'm very much looking forward now not only to exhibiting at Eat, Drink, Discover Scotland but to sharing our favourite ingredient and how we use it in the cook off."

Graeme Taylor, who runs Scottish food blog ‘Scotslarder, said: "I feel delighted to be shortlisted as I really feel squats are the best seafood found in Scotland, yet are so little known and understood and can be hard to find. I am really looking forward to Eat Drink Discover Scotland and the opportunity to bring the flavours of Scotland, such as squat lobster, to a wider audience at home."

Eat Drink Discover Scotland, which is taking place at the Royal Highland Centre between 12th and 14th September, will bring to life the rich diversity of Scotland’s brimming larder by featuring exhibitors from the length and breadth of the country. One for the foodies, it will be offering something for every palate, plate and price range and, with a regional focus, it will be providing opportunities for smaller rural food producers to share centre stage with more established brands. The weekend will also include demonstrations and master classes such as chocolate workshops, cocktail making, game butchery and craft bakery.

To read Mark Greenaway’s eleven blogs from around Scotland please visit www.markgreenaway.com/news

For more information on Eat Drink Discover Scotland, please visit www.eatdrinkdiscoverscotland.co.uk

 

 

Thursday, 21 August 2014

5 Questions - Pizza Pilgrims

Shortlist Magazine is a free weekly men's lifestyle magazine packed with news and features including movies, music, fashion, gaming, mens grooming, food and drink, as well as hard hitting news articles. As I read through my copy of two weeks ago, I became engrossed in a story about two brothers who turned their backs on their regular jobs to become the Pizza Pilgrims.
James and Thom Elliot set up their street food business selling authentic Neapolitan pizza at the Berwick Steet Market in Soho from the back of their imported Piaggio Ape van. Following the success of their approach to street food, it wasn't long before the brothers had the keys to their first pizzeria, adding to the many great eating places in Soho by opening up shop on the corner of Dean Street and Carlisle Street.
The pizzeria keep things simple by offering freshly cooked sourdough pizzas, using the finest ingredients imported from Italy, for both eat-in and takeaway diners.
I loved the story of how two boys followed their dream and felt that their story was perfect for '5 Questions' so after a couple of tweets between myself and Thom, I had everything I needed to get to work.

Here's the Pizza Pilgrims story;

How did you get started?
The idea for Pizza Pilgrims was really born in the pub. We both worked "normal jobs" but really wanted to get into food. Myself and my brother were discussing our options over a pint one evening (maybe a few) and came up with the idea of street food as a good way to get into food without a budget. We quickly settled on pizza - just because no one seemed to be doing it in street food - and the rest just snowballed from there. The idea for the pilgrimage to Italy was born out of it being cheaper to collect the van from there, rather than have it delivered. It turned into an amazing voyage of discovery and the reason for the name of the business! We learned so much on that trip that we had no idea about before!

What’s the best piece of business advice you could give?
Hmm - I really am not sure we are really qualified to be giving advice! But I do think in catering the most important thing is to stay positive at all times. You have to remember that people are really visiting you to have a good time - so you have got to be having a good time! Things will go wrong for sure - but positivity will get you through (most of the time!)
Where would you like to see your business in 5 years time?
I really wouldn’t want to change that much (although maybe a Caribbean outpost could work out…). We just want to serve great pizzas, in fun places - and make sure everyone is enjoying the ride.
If you could only cook one of your own products/recipes, what would it be & why?
I personally think a top Neapolitan Margherita is hard to beat. It is the definition of simplicity - and as a result really highlights the difference using quality ingredients makes. It is the measure of any pizzeria - so it is an important one to keep making, improving (and eating!)
You can invite one person (living or dead) to your last meal – Who would it be and why? …and what’s on the menu?
Easy. Bruce Springsteen.
I have a mild obsession (he is just the best live performer ever, but lets not get started). I feel like he is more of a burger man (just ask Burgers and Bruce - the blog) - but he had Italian heritage. I did see him perform in Naples last year - and he has family from there. I think it would need to be something homely and hearty for that reason - maybe a Aubergine Parmagiana!

James and Thom haven't rested on their laurels and over the last couple of years they have released their first book - Pizza Pilgrims : Recipes from the Backstreets of Italy, which shows you how to make the best pizza. The book focuses on the key ingredients and techniques that will make your pizza stand out from the crowd as well as showcasing other cherished Italian recipes from the brothers. You can buy your own copy of Pizza Pilgrims from Amazon.
As if they weren't busy enough, the boys have also managed to find time to produce their own branded liqueur, Sohocello. With the help of Chase Distillery, Pizza Pilgrims use the most fragrant Amalfi lemons to create their own take on the classic Italian digestivo.

The progression from street food to restauranteurs to distillers and writers has been moving at a crazy pace but there seems to be no stopping the busy brothers as they have recently opened their second pizzeria, this time in Kingly Court off Carnaby Street.
Myself and Nicola love the cool vibe in Kingly Court and we hope to return to London before the year when we will be sure to drop in on the Pizza Pilgrims to see what all the fuss is about.
Keep up to date with the Pizza Pilgrims on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can find out more about Sohocello on Facebook and Twitter.
Some photography supplied courtesy of Myles New.