Saturday, 30 June 2018

My Vegan Dining Adventures Part Four New York

New York was the first port of call, on a US and Canada cruise we did back in 2011 with friends and I did lots of research before the trip, as I wanted somewhere different to dine.   Shojin, the foundation of Japanese cuisine, grabbed my attention, as it is a kind of vegetarian cooking, originating in Zen Buddhism, still prepared in Buddhist temples today.   Shojin by its nature is totally vegan and so I contacted Kajitsu, a Shojin restaurant holding two Michelin stars at the time and booked a table.

Kajitsu means fine day or day of celebration in Japanese, so they want all guests to experience a special occasion when they visit.

I was unable to take photos, as mobile phones were not allowed to be used in the dining room, understandable as I have never dined anywhere so calm and serene, it was an oasis of tranquillity, in the hustle bustle of the city.

I have included their current tasting menu known as Kaiseki meaning multi course and as my post continues, it will explain why the menu I kept to bring home, was left in the taxi on the way back to the ship.

Shojin is a delicate style of cooking, respecting each vegetable, prepared and executed with precision in an open kitchen.   The food was like nothing I have experienced before or since, very clean light flavours, beautifully presented, showing the care and attention taken by the chef.

During the evening the weather turned and started bucketing down, the rain bouncing on the pavement, as we were at basement level and could watch through the window.   In New York you grab a yellow cab, as we had from the cruise terminal on the way there, but we did not fancy venturing out to an area we were unfamiliar with to hail a cab, so we asked the Manager if they could book us a taxi.  The Manager was reluctant to do so, as he said it was not their normal practice, but we persisted and he agreed to.

A large black people carrier arrived, with blacked out windows, not your every day taxi for sure, but we piled in to get out the rain.   We said we wanted to go to Manhattan cruise terminal pier 88 and the driver, a giant of a man said no problem and set off for what was the most scary and terrifying experience of my life.

The driver seemed to have no idea of the area or even the simple rules of driving, he went through a couple of traffic lights on red and by sheer luck, was heading towards Manhattan cruise terminal but drove right past.   We all shouted as we could see our ship, you could not miss her, she was ninety thousand tons, but he carried on down the road.

We nearly ended up driving down a road the wrong way, avoiding a collision, as he headed towards New Jersey turnpike, the opposite direction to our destination.  Our friend in the front seat with a birds eye view of events, swore blind the driver kept saying its show time, but had no idea what he meant.   You can imagine the thoughts going through our heads, were we being kidnapped or robbed or something worse.

We went past the cruise terminal a second time and he drove past again, so along with worrying about his ulterior motives, the price of the journey was also an issue, we had been in the car an hour, how many dollars would that be.

Eventually by some miracle, we arrived at Manhattan cruise terminal pier 88 and waited to hear the damage, but amazingly he only charged us thirty dollars, so we paid up and nearly fell out the car we were in such a panic.

We have never been so glad to board a ship, it was large brandies all round to celebrate making it back in one piece, it could so easily have been a different story.

Monday, 25 June 2018

My Vegan Dining Experiences Part Three Claridges Hotel

I do not often visit London, but in 2001 we were invited by a friend, a wine sommelier and contestant in Young Waiter of the Year contest in London, as his guests to attend as moral support.

The contest was hosted by Carol Smillie, in Claridge's Hotel in Mayfair, with a champagne reception, prior to the results being announced.   Unfortunately our friend did not win or even come in the top three, so wanting to drown his sorrows (what a place to choose, you need a deep wallet), suggested we went to Claridge's restaurant for dinner.   When I visit a restaurant, I never just turn up and expect to be catered for and certainly not at nine o'clock at night and slightly tipsy to boot.  However my friend knew Head Chef John Williams, so went off to have a word and the response was, of course we can cater for your vegan friend.

I have never experienced anything like it since, plates were covered with a huge silver cloch, which the waiters removed with exuberance and choreographed, so everyone's cloch was removed at the same time.   I am afraid I am a little hazy on the actual menu I was offered (if only I had a mobile phone back then), although I do remember a beautiful ratatouille stuffed tomato, couscous with vegetable skewers and satay sauce.   The food was fabulous and very tasty, particularly as chef was put on the spot at the last minute and I even had pudding of fruit and sorbet and petit fours with my coffee.

Claridge's was very formal, old fashioned and a little pretentious for me, so when our friend removed his jacket, he was told to put it back on, so you can imagine my embarrassment at what happened next.

My friend and his extremely drunk girlfriend fell out over something and the more upset she became the worse the floods of tears and the more she drank.   I accompanied her to the ladies several times throughout the evening, propping her up as she was wobbly on her feet, to freshen her up as best I could.   She rather resembled a female Alice Cooper, with black mascara running down her face, what the staff thought is anyone's guess.

Our friend decided to take her back to their hotel, prior to dessert, so we were left on our own, the last men standing, with no other diners to be seen, but company policy dictated all staff remained until all diners left.   The most embarrassing part and what appeared to us to be a 'walk of shame' was leaving, whilst endeavouring to appear totally sober.   The Maitre 'D and staff stood to attention in two lines, creating a walkway for us to walk between and although I am sure they had seen worse antics, due to their professionalism they did not bat an eye.   To cap the evening off, we got into what appeared to be a taxi (not a black cab),who was obviously moonlighting, with no street knowledge, so kept stopping to look at a map, what a dodgy situation, thankfully we got back to our hotel.   I vowed to only use black cabs in future, so why did I not take my own advice, wait till you hear about our taxi ride in New York!

To be continued.....

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

One Sixty St James Street Burnley 20th June 2018

One Sixty is a vegetarian and vegan cafe, previously known as The Red Triangle, now under new ownership and is an oasis in the middle of Burnley, not renowned for being vegan friendly.

I love the interior with its chilled atmosphere and I bet its even cosier in winter, with the wood burning stove lit.

The menu is short and concise, with a daily specials board, which I like as I am always wary of places with a huge menu.

I chose falafel wrap with triple cooked chips and Steven ordered vegan mushroom and ale pie, with Earl Grey and peppermint teas.

The photos say it all, absolutely fabulous dishes, packed with flavour, well seasoned, good sized portions and very reasonably priced, if I lived round the corner I would never be away.

I was rather full by this time, but vegan Oreo cupcakes and scones were on offer, so I chose cupcake, as the scone is served warm with jam and coconut cream and I wanted takeaway.

The cupcake was amazing, moist, light and scrumptious, whoever made them can be proud, a gorgeous treat later on in the afternoon with a cup of tea.

One Sixty open till eight o'clock on Thursday and Friday evenings, with live music events and are aiming to open the second floor, to make a cosy chill out space.   They are licensed to serve vegan wine and beers too and I fancy one of their amazing looking pizzas, recently posted on Facebook, so I can see we will be back sooner rather than later.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Pollen Bakery Cotton Field Wharf Manchester 14th June 2018

Pollen Bakery recently moved to their new home at New Islington, an up and coming area of Manchester, which overlooks the canal.   The premises now include a cafe area, as well as the bakery and I had been meaning to visit for ages.  Pollen Bakery are renowned for their sourdough, trust me it is the best I have ever eaten, perfect crust, lovely open texture and as for the aroma.

The inside is light, bright and airy, with lots of wood, communal tables and the fabulous smell of fresh baked bread.

We found a table in the window and one thing I immediately liked was a jug of fresh water and glasses on the table, so no wasteful plastic bottles.   Another big plus for me as a vegan, was Bio D hand wash in the toilet, I always take my own hand wash with me when out and about, no need to use it this time.

I ordered chargrilled aubergine, pepper, salad and radish on sourdough, with a pot of peppermint tea.   The sandwich was huge, probably because it is difficult to thinly slice sourdough, with loads of filling, the aubergine was perfect.   The juices from the vegetables had soaked into the bread and I could have eaten it, till it came out my ears it was that scrumptious.

I was full afterwards, otherwise I would have grabbed a slice of the fabulous looking chocolate olive oil cake, clearly labelled on the counter.

I really liked Pollen Bakery and it is fantastic that places like it are offering vegan options, certainly one to visit for a relaxing coffee and something to eat.

My Vegan Dining Adventures Part Two Making Friends

In 1996 a local magazine dropped through my letterbox, with an article about a Dutch chef called Henk, who ran a restaurant nearby with his wife Frances and catered for dietary requirements, so I rang him.   He was very accommodating and so positive I booked a table for dinner.   I regularly walked past his restaurant, thinking I would never dine there, as it seemed rather posh and they probably would not cater for me, how wrong was I, never judge a book by its cover.

Our first visit was fantastic, my memory fails me as to the menu, though the main course was a delicious spicy vegetable and bean dish called gypsy stew (Henk told me how the dish derived its name, but I have forgotten what he told me).   Steven and I became regular customers, yet Henk rarely repeated dishes, we would have five course gourmet menus and he made a vegan dish for each course.   I had risottos, pasta, filo parcels, salads, tempura, soups, he made desserts too, the list is endless.  You see tofish and chips on loads of menus these days and everyone raves about it, well Henk beat everyone to it, he served it me all those years ago, so scrumptious it was one dish I had several times.   He used silken tofu, chocolate and Cointreau to make a fabulous take on a Terry's chocolate orange mousse, even today so many places still only offer sorbet.   Henk was ahead of his time with his vegan creations.

Henk was always thinking on his feet, a good job when one night I arrived with Steven and two friends, thinking I booked a table and had got my wires crossed, but he did not bat an eyelid and produced a fabulous meal on the spot.   All those places I have visited, that say sorry we need plenty notice (and still get it wrong) could learn a thing or too. 

We became very good friends with Henk and Frances and we had many a fantastic night out.  I would ask them round for dinner and he appreciated it, as being a chef people were reluctant to invite him round for meals.   Sadly Frances is no longer with us, but we remain good friends with Henk to this day more than twenty years later and he still cooks up a vegan storm for me.

I have been digging round in the loft for photos, which are few and far between as I am so fussy as to photos of me I like, but these are from 2001 for my fortieth birthday.   Happy memories.

Fortieth Birthday 

Henk & Frances

Sunday, 10 June 2018

My Vegan Dining Adventures Part One Heathcotes

I have always loved food and Domestic Science at school, as it was known back in the day, was my best subject.   I was rubbish at anything else, except English Language, but once I put my school apron on, with its wonky green edging (keep me away from a sewing machine) and got cooking I was in my element.   Food is a huge part of my life.

My Vegan Dining Adventures is an overview of my experiences over the years, some that will remain with me for ever and some I would like to forget.   I also hope it inspires people that you can dine out anywhere and that veganism does not have to hold you back.   I hope my persistence years ago, made it easier for the next vegan walking through the door of the restaurants I visited.  

In 1986 dining out was a rarity or for special occasions and options were usually salad, followed by salad, or a jacket potato and beans if I was lucky.   As time went on dining out became more of a social affair, meeting with friends and chilling, so not wanting to be left out, I started writing to chefs asking what they could make me.

I visited a wine shop near where we lived at the time, where I flicked through a local magazine and read an article about Heathcotes, a Michelin Star restaurant in Longridge, so I wrote to chef Paul Heathcote, not really expecting a reply.   I received a phone call from the Restaurant Manager to say it would no problem and so I booked to go with Steven to celebrate our wedding anniversary.

I was blown away by the experience, the Restaurant Manager assured me whatever menu combinations Steven chose, a vegan version could be prepared for me, hence I experienced my first tasting menu and it was amazing.   The dish that stays in my mind on that first visit, was a delicate courgette flower filled with ratatouille, it was such an elegant dish and a far cry from anything I had ever eaten.

I became a regular customer at Heathcotes, which must have been a pain for the chefs, but fair play they never made me the same thing twice, even when I had the ten course Signature menu.   I remember one visit someone had hot footed it down to the local health food shop, so they could offer me a vegan cheese board.   As anyone reading this will know, we have fabulous vegan cheeses these days, back then they were pretty dire, so not one for being rude, I managed to wrap most of it in a tissue in my handbag.   I was quick to point out that I preferred desserts to cheese and was never offered it again, mainly because the chefs had tried them and thought the cheeses were gruesome.

My visits to Heathcotes culminated in me offering to make dessert, at a monthly supper club they hosted, for their regular customers.   Steven thought I was crazy, but I wanted to show that vegans could eat more than just fruit salad.   You can imagine how nerve wracking it was, however fourteen chocolate cakes layered with vanilla and chocolate buttercream, black cherry compote, served with black cherry coulis went down a treat and proved my point.

Heathcotes is sadly no more, but it whetted my appetite for Michelin dining and hence my mission to improve the stigma around vegan food and dining out and it became a challenge to write to more high profile chefs.   Boy have I had fun and many disasters.... All will be revealed.....To be continued.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Yakumama At The Old Co-Op Rochdale Road Todmorden 1st June 2018

Yakumama is a Latin American street food vendor, run by Hannah and Marcelo, who trade at markets and festivals and regularly host at Grub.   Yakumama caught my eye with their fabulous vegan and vegetarian menu at a pop up at The Old Co-Op in Todmorden, so I booked two tickets.   The name Yakumama means Mother Water, a mythical water goddess portrayed as a snake, believed to inhabit the Amazon river.

The Co-Op is a lovely open, high ceiling building and used to be a vegetarian cafe and shop, which sadly closed and is now used as a pop up space.

The menu had loads of vegan options and when I enquired about drinks, was told all the beers and wines were vegan friendly too, so we ordered a bottle of Gran Cerdo white Rioja (not sure of the significance of a pigs head on the label though).

We kicked off with starters of guacamole and corn arepas, very much like thick pancakes and coconut ceviche tostadas.

The starters were delicious, light and fluffy arepas were perfect for scooping the guacamole and crispy tostadas loaded with mango, coconut and refreshing lime juice, we could not fault either dish.

Mains were Brazilian sweet potato and coconut curry, tamales with charred red pepper sauce and cassava fries with aioli and hot sauce.

The mains did not disappoint either, they were packed with flavour and I loved the addition of cashew cream, pickled sweetcorn, micro herbs and sauces, adding different tastes and textures, satisfying spot on dishes.

Dessert was spiced cherry empanada with chocolate coconut ice cream, impossible to resist, although we had to share one, as we were quite full at this point.

This dish was fantastic too, with a mega chocolatey ice cream, pairing so well with the spiced cherries, a perfect end to the meal.

I was impressed with the whole experience, the food was excellent, service was really friendly and the place is a fabulous venue.   I could see Hannah and Marcelo preparing the food at the open counter and it was a calm operation running like a fine tuned Swiss watch.

I will be looking out for future pop ups Yakumama host, with a return visit to The Co-Op on the 13th and 14th July, what a shame I am otherwise engaged.   Highly recommended.