Those who have been reading my blog over the past 3 years know that it’s all about sharing my food experiences. I’m not a food critic or even a reviewer. I simply enjoy eating and writing about it! I don’t consider any place beneath me or not good enough for me to set foot in (that would make me a terrible food snob). Besides, I think it’s good to try a variety of places. Chains, independents, cheap eats, posh nosh… I think all of us have a balance, based on needs, budget and preferences. Whilst it’s obvious I definitely have a preference for independents (my father was a restaurateur), I’m not averse to popping into a chain once in a while. Paulo and I travel extensively for our work and sometimes we end up in towns with just chains as options, so I think it’s good for this blog to offer some alternatives, based on my own personal opinion of course.
When I received an email announcing that Nando’s opened its most sustainable restaurant right here in Cambridge, I was curious to see the building. Sustainable construction is of personal and professional interest to us. Appointed as a “Next Generation Nando’s”, the location at Cambridge Retail Park is the first in the world to be powered by 100% renewable electricity and gas. It has 97 solar panels that generate 10% of its overall activity.
The restaurant is complimented with eco-friendly additions such as natural insulation made of Cumbrian sheep’s wool, a living wall of plants and intricate lampshades made from mushrooms.
The timber frame building boasts a green insulated roof which keeps the restaurant warm on the inside. It’s also been cleverly designed to harvest rainwater to keep the plants hydrated. The location is a good one too, with plenty of free parking (making it easier for families to get there) and great chilli pepper-shaped bike racks for the cyclists.
The chilli pepper theme continues upon entering the restaurant, with fresh chilli peppers growing in abundance in the lobby (I was tempted to pick some).
I have to admit that I haven’t set foot in a Nando’s since 2004. When I lived in Chiswick, my tiny overheated kitchen located above a dry cleaner didn’t inspire me to cook much so I regularly succumbed to a cheeky Nando’s. I was also on a very tight budget then so this place was the ideal balance between a fast food joint and a restaurant. It still is. An overload of Nando’s and the increased ability to try new places put Nando’s to the wayside.
I was delighted when I discovered Sweet Vaasa on my trip to Vaasa, Finland. Just a short distance from the market square, it’s a real gem of a place! Contrary to what the name might suggest, Sweet Vaasa doesn’t only make cakes and bakes. They offer a variety of savoury items too… sandwiches, wraps, massive salads (from the menu or buffet) and their Meal of the Day (such as warm salads, risotto and grilled chicken). They offer a vegetarian, vegan, gluten free and lactose free menu too.
Sweet Vaasa bake all of their cakes and treats from scratch and I was impressed at the variety on display. It was so hard to choose, every single creation looked absolutely phenomenal. More than just little works of art, they tasted fresh and delicious. I could tell that Sweet Vaasa hold true to their ethos of using natural ingredients and avoiding additives and preservatives. Even their salad dressings are freshly made and thereby free of any unnecessary E numbers.
There’s a welcome addition to Mill Road in Cambridge and that’s Lagona, a new Lebanese restaurant offering good, reasonably priced food. The location used to house Jaffa Net Café but now it’s a bright, cheerful restaurant that includes a separate shisha area at the back, if that’s your sort of thing. A little something for everyone… to me, that’s what Mill Road is all about.
Lagona opened fairly recently, in July 2016, and judging from the steady stream of customers, word has already gotten out that this is a must-visit. They don’t have a website [update: they do now] and have very little social media presence so their custom is basically all word of mouth. That’s a good thing! I recommend this place for a casual, relaxed lunch or dinner. The portions are generous and service is friendly and helpful.
We did encounter some minor problems but not anything that would deter us from returning. I believe the issues stemmed from being rushed in the kitchen, perhaps due to it being busy that evening. I have to say that the staff were excellent in dealing with our complaint and quickly rectified the issue. More on that later.
I love the speed and ease of cooking with a wok. My recipe for Chicken Cashew Stir-fry with Noodles is a breeze to prepare. Once all the ingredients are chopped, they go straight into the wok and everything cooks rather quickly. The sweet hoisin sauce and toasted sesame oil give this dish its distinct oriental flavour while the cashews provide a contrasting texture. Add the convenience of ready noodles and you’ve got some seriously good comfort food. So wok this way!
Bim’s Kitchen have a range of African inspired sauces and condiments, including a few curry sauces. I have been collaborating with Bim’s Kitchen to develop recipes for their website but never tried any of their curry sauces. I love cashews so I couldn’t wait to start cooking with their African Tomato & Cashew Curry Sauce.
It wasn’t too difficult to create this recipe as the main feature is Bim’s Kitchen delicious ready-made curry sauce. It’s already packed with a variety of flavourful ingredients so there’s no need spend time looking for all of the little extras that go into making a tasty curry. The sauce includes all of the following mouth-watering ingredients: tomatoes, roasted cashew nuts, onion, lemon juice, tamari gluten-free soy sauce, alligator pepper, paprika, leaf coriander, fenugreek leaves, birdseye chillies, cubeb, coriander seeds and celery seeds.
I thought about what foods would complement the curry sauce and came up with curry staples chicken, onions, potatoes and peas. Bim’s Kitchen African Tomato & Cashew Curry Sauce is labelled “medium chilli heat”. I didn’t find it too spicy, just fragrant and succulent. I didn’t do it on this occasion, but I would recommend serving the curry with some rice. This would offset some of the spiciness but also marry well with the curry sauce. The sauce is so delicious, you need something to mop it up with, if not rice then bread. Yes, it’s that good. In fact, we found ourselves saying “yum” louder and more forcefully after every bite… if only just to remind ourselves that we weren’t dreaming!
It’s summer and that means it’s time to fire up the BBQ! Here’s a great recipe that makes a change from burgers and steaks. Chicken thighs are dark meat so they are slightly fattier than chicken breast but this cut of meat lends itself well to grilling and stays nice and moist.
Cachaça, Brazil’s national spirit, is made from sugar cane and apart from being crucial to cocktails such as the caipirinha, it makes a great marinade for meat or fish. You may have heard of cachaça when the World Cup in Brazil was all the rage. Since then, it has been easy to find in the shops. I got my bottle at Cambridge Wine Merchants but cachaça is readily available in various supermarkets too.
The key to the flavours in this Chicken Cachaça recipe is the marinade. It’s easy to make! Here’s what you need.
Since I’ve been asked to collaborate with Bim’s Kitchen to develop recipes for their website, I started thinking of other ways I could use their tasty African Chilli Coconut Relish with other ingredients besides prawns. Chicken seemed like a great idea and works well in a stir-fry.
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may have noticed that I have an obsession a preference for pasta with cream sauces. This is another one of those dishes! The chorizo and chicken in this dish go really well together. The creamy tomato pesto sauce tames the spiciness of the chorizo and red chillis. The result is a tasty dish with a velvety texture. I used Unearthed’s Chorizo de León, which is a Spanish oak-smoked cured pork sausage with a spicy kick. I find farfalle (bow tie) pasta suits this dish best but any short, sturdy pasta will do.