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Tuesday, 31 March 2009

You could be in Madrid...

When I used to work in the city, one of the places I used to go to escape and relax from a day’s employment was the Spanish styled chain restaurant, La Tasca. In Nottingham they have a very nice branch on the corner of Weekday Cross.

The picture above is the bar from the spiral stairs.

Just half an hour at the bar with a cool pint of San Miguel going down nicely and some Spanish music in the background would refresh my soul and take my stresses away. They also do Cruzcampo cervezas – equally nice to drink.

Other times I have enjoyed a meal with friends sharing some tapas from their extensive list, maybe with some sangria, a beer or a glass of red wine. The menu there has the added advantage of giving the English and Spanish names for everything. So, not only do you have the opportunity to pick out a selection of scrummy food items but you can attempt a little Spanish language too. A lot of the young staff are Spanish which really helps create a convivial continental atmosphere. All of a sudden you could be in central Madrid and not Nottingham in a downpour.

My personal favourites from the tapas menu are:

Aceitunas mixtas – marinated green and black Spanish olives.
Pan de Ajo – garlic bread.
Jamón Serrano – the famous Spanish cured Serrano ham.
Selección de Embutidos – selection of cured Spanish meats.
Brocheta de Pollo – skewers of chicken breast and red pepper, marinated in paprika.
Albóndigas a la Jardinera – Spanish style beef meatballs in tomato sauce.
Gambas Pil Pil – six king sized prawns, sizzling in chilli and garlic infused olive oil.
Patatas Bravas – fried potato topped with spicy tomato sauce.
Croquetas de Champińones – mushroom croquettes served with roasted garlic mayonnaise.
Ensalada mixta – leaf salad with tomato, tuna, onion, olives and free range egg with house dressing.
Ensalada de Espinacas y Aquacate – fresh baby spinach with avocado, cucumber and onion with La Tasca house dressing.

If sharing they do various preset selections of tapas – with meat – with fish – chef special and their various paellas are delicious. My favourite from a previous visit with theatre chums was the Paella de Mariscos – seafood paella with prawns, squid, mussels, white fish and tuna.

I’m not a big dessert person but I can be tempted by La Tasca’s Crema Catalana – a traditional Spanish style vanilla custard topped with caramelised sugar.

The Nottingham branch is fairly large and the top floor gets opened of a Friday and Saturday night and if you are planning top go on either of those two nights I would suggest you pre-book as they can get very busy.

Visit their website at for more details.

For other great Spanish style recipes to cook at home I recommend:

Thanks to their manager today for allowing me to take the photos that accompany this blog.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Instantly likeable... mmdeli

From the moment I came into this bright blue, friendly deli at 610 Mansfield Road in Sherwood, Nottingham, I felt at home. I spoke to Janet the owner, who must have the most warm and welcoming smile in Nottingham, about my blog, and asked if I could take a few photos and then I ordered a coffee and sat and watched people going by in the pouring rain. I also amused myself with thoughts of the dog hairdressers across the road. Must get myself a poodle perm sometime.
Looking at their website at the main aim of the shop is to be constantly supplying exciting and quality products to our customers. Apart from that, they insist on providing quality, consistency and quantity in whatever shape or form, be it a sandwich, a cup of coffee, a caramel square or some nice juicy olives. They offer a friendly, efficient service to all customers - business, regulars & first time visitors. They also offer a catering service for businesses & random parties. Everything they stock is ethical and fairly traded.

I loved their clause that 'If a supermarket stocks it then we probably don’t.' and 'If you’re looking for something normal and predictable then you’re in the wrong place, sorry!In other words if it’s abnormal and unusual and weird then we make extra effort to stock it.'

They have an anniversary celebration coming up early April and if you are in the Nottingham area and on Facebook sign yourself up!

Screaming Carrot bakery

On my mission to find interesting food related places in Nottingham and the East Midlands I set out one day last week to the Forest Fields and Sherwood areas of Nottingham to find two or three Veggie/Vegan places I had been recommended to discover. This was in my efforts to be as diverse and helpful as possible in these foodie blog postings.

I walked up Mansfield Road from the city centre and down past the big graveyard cutting across the playing fields towards Gregory Boulevard and as I started up the incline of Foxhall Road the grey clouds above started to threaten rain. My first port of call was The Screaming Carrot bakery on Foxhall Road and I was welcomed by Andrew Mills, one of the owners. The shop smelt lovely and I was tempted by one of their pasties which I enjoyed eating later in the day.

As I stood and chatted with him about my blog and food interests three separate customers arrived and the heavens opened outside. Although we had a short chat I didn’t have a chance to get much information from this friendly man but their great website is a mine of information. Do check it out.

So, to paraphrase their excellent website:

‘The Screaming Carrot is a vegan bakery specialising in egg-free, dairy-free, vegetarian fresh-baked goods that are hand-made by their small Screaming Carrot team. Their aim is to provide tasty, ethical foods at fair prices.

They make and sell vegan pasties, pies and cakes from their bakery in the Forest Fields area of Nottingham. They also sell vegetarian groceries and act as a pick-up point for a local organic seasonal vegetable box scheme.

Screaming Carrot baked goods are suitable for:
vegetarians and vegans;
those with dairy and egg allergies/intolerances;
followers of religious diets that restrict animal products.

They carefully source their ingredients to ensure they do not contain animal by-products. Ingredients are also GMO-free. Their kitchen is completely vegan and is wholly meat, dairy and egg-free, so there is no risk of contamination by utensils and cooking pots.

Many wholefood shops and cafés in Nottingham and the surrounding areas also sell cakes and pies purchased wholesale from their bakery and they welcome enquiries from caterers and other trade purchasers.’

Apparently, one of their best sellers is the tasty carrot cake. I’ll have to try that next time I am in the area.

Leaving Andrew to his business I walked in the slight rain to Sherwood (about half an hour walk) where I found my second venue and coffee stop at mm…deli.

This lovely deli will be covered in the next posting.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

The Quad and Cube in Derby

The same day that I did my recent blog from Bistrot Pierre in Derby I had a morning looking around Derby’s new arts centre, The Quad, on the Market Square. As mentioned before, Derby is my home city and like any city it will be in architectural flux as time passes. That will include its arts and café/restaurant scene too.

The café bar at the currently closed Derby Playhouse was always a place I would haunt when I lived in Derby and went to see everything on their theatrical programme in their main auditorium and studio theatres and the Playhouse was a popular tea stop venue for shoppers in the Eagle Centre. So without this venue to re-explore and write about I made my way across town on a bright but cold morning and had a look around Derby’s latest cultural jewel.

The Quad was showing a photography exhibition of modern masters and I got into a lengthy and interesting chat with the curator and a visiting lecturer about the nature of photography and the fact that Derby has always been a centre of photographic excellence. . They should have seen my holiday snaps circa 1971.They were retro classics. Only kidding.

I had a good look around and checked out their two cinema spaces and of course the café downstairs. Before going down to the café I got inspired to take a few photos of my own of the people criss-crossing the market square with the Assembly rooms in the background.

Now to the Coors Cafe Bar. I just had a coffee as I was eating later but their brochure claims that they are offering the best that Derbyshire has to offer with locally sourced ingredients creating classic Derbyshire cuisine alongside drinks and bar snacks. They were promoting their Hartington Blue pasta and Derbyshire Cobbler and a delicious range of cakes. This café is also a bar and I noticed that they were serving Kastel Cru bottled lager made from Champagne yeast. The price for this drink is pretty high so I don’t know how popular this will be with the arts crowd in Derby. Like the Broadway Cinema in Nottingham they also offer a meal deal where for £11 (currently) you can have any main course and a film viewing. Every Thursday they have live music events, spoken word events and quizzes.

Derby is quite a small city really and easy to get around on foot and I can’t believe that I missed seeing another modern food venue called the Cube café bar. I’m going to have to return soon to check this one out.

They have a website at The Cube is part of another performance space called déda near to Chapel Street Car park. The food on their brochure looks really nice and again they are sourcing the foodstuffs locally from within 20 miles of Derby City Centre and they have many meat/dairy/gluten free choices on their menu available to view online at

It seems that the folk of Derby are really getting a taste for exciting food venues and I noticed that en route to Bistrot Pierre on Friar Gate it was like walking along restaurant mile.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

There is no way that I'm eating that!!!!

Another debating topic that came up on my local radio the other day was foods that people said they would never eat even though they had never actually tried them. This refusal can be from the look of food stuffs, the smell of food stuffs, the knowledge that a friend or family member had eaten them and hated the experience and lots of other interpretations that has led to us saying: 'There is no way that I'm eating that!'

This is not an exclusive list but have a think about the following and let us know what foods (or drinks) has led you to disapprove of something to eat or drink without even trying it.

Octopus, cockles and mussels, squid, cod roe, spinach, chitterlings, stuffed lamb hearts, tripe, pigs trotters, cow heel, brains, very strong cheeses, olives, liver, kidmeys etc.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Children in restuarants?

Do the British have a problem with children in restaurants? Should they be allowed under a certain age?

On the radio the other day there was an incident reported where a couple had gone to a nice restaurant for a romantic meal and on the table next to them was a young family with a very young baby. All was well until the baby decided to have a screaming fit that went on and on. The couple felt that their meal/evening out was totally ruined especially as the child's parents didn't do a great deal to placate the baby and just gave 'oh babies' looks at the restaurant clientele.

It didn't help either that the kid threw a spoon in the air and it landed on the courting couple's table, knocking over their glass of wine.

Do some restaurants go over the top when creating child/ family- friendly environments?
Should there always be a separate children's menu and does this generally mean lower quality food?

Perhaps we in Britain should be more like France, Spain & Italy, where diners and restaurateurs seem more relaxed about kids in restaurants? Can we encourage kids to enjoy the experience? more? What do you think?

Monday, 23 March 2009

Le Bistrot Pierre in Derby

On a trip back to the city of my birth today I went with my old Derby friend Adam to Bistrot Pierre on Friar Gate Derby for a prix fixe lunch. Locally, Bistrot Pierre has branches in Derby, Leicester, Nottingham, Sheffield, Leamington Spa, and Stratford –upon Avon. Of course, I am more familiar with the Nottingham Branch (just refurbished) near to the Victoria Centre in Nottingham.

The Le Bistrot Pierre restaurants are informal, friendly and lively bistros serving provincial French cooking to a high standard, at outstanding value.

They try and source their products responsibly and buy the finest 21 day aged beef from Scottish pastures. Their chickens are free range and corn fed as are their eggs. Their milk comes from organic farms. All of their pork is RSPCA freedom food approved.

Today I went for the Fritôt Camembert as a starter and the Moules Frites as the main course. A bread basket was provided with French butter and I chose a red Merlot wine to accompany my food and to while away the lunch time over convivial chatter with Adam. The restaurant was pretty busy with Derby folk enjoying the Prix Fixe menus. From memory the main courses offered at least half a dozen options, equally so the starters. Adam ordered the Boeuf Bourguignon and seemed to enjoy its richness.

The company also offers a more interesting option to discover more about French cuisine on their periodic Soirées Gastronomiques. Again, they are often great value at £19.90 for a six course set dinner and a good chance to experience something more of French Cuisine. To quote their menu: ‘Our Soirée Gastronomique menus – we hope, to embrace all that is great about dining in France – outstanding value, hearty and robust provincial cooking along with balance and variety.’

The male staff I saw today in the Derby branch all wore tee shirts proclaiming a passion for French cooking. From the service we received I would say that they all genuinely have that passion, work hard and even suffered my attempts to speak French in ordering and Adam’s paying for the meal. Merci Adam.

Just had a look through the 7te Avril options and found Le sticky Anglais – a sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream. I don’t know – Le Weekend, Le Parking, Le Camping and now Le Sticky Anglais! What would the Academie Française have to say about that? Lol. Beaucoup de rire.

Overall, a pleasant lunch in warm and convivial atmosphere. All the staff, male, female and kitchen and management were all excellent. Recommended.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

I never knew that tea could be delivered to your home.

My neighbour Joanne took me aside the other day and showed me this lovely tea caddy produced by Ringtons Tea & Coffee Merchants. They are based in Newcastle upon Tyne and have (according to the info on the caddy) forty-three distribution centres in the UK. The tea caddy was produced for the Millennium.

Jo's partner Mick's Father and Mother used to have tea delivered to their home when they were alive and now my neighbours have teabags delivered to their home every month. In a sense carrying on the tradition. I never knew that you could get tea, coffee and biscuits delivered to your home.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

McDonalds. Lovin' it or Shovin' it?

After seeing this amusing graffiti stencil on a wall in central Nottingham today I thought I would ask you all if you have had good, bad or indifferent service in McDonalds (assuming you like the place) or like the graffiti artist - you wouldn't be seen dead in there.

Personally I don't like the atmosphere or the food but I did go in to take the photos today and bought a cup of tea as an excuse to get the pictures for the blog. The young woman serving never cracked a smile once and called me 'babe'. Do I look like a babe? I think not.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Pray for my dead kettle please

My Wasserkocher has gone to heaven.

Call it a kettle, ein wasserkocher, une bouilloire or en waterkoker, the thing that boiled my water for my morning cuppa is no more. Sunday morning it refused to switch on. I checked all that I could check including an attempt to claw open the plug with a hammer to change the fuse. DIY has never been my forté. It went in the bin after a solemn scattering of tea leaves and a prayer for dead kettles. Not once did I call that kettle black – even though it was. It had lived a good life. It had served me well. Its filament was fulfilled.

For a day I survived with a milk saucepan of hot water but needs must and I ventured out in search of a cheap kettle in order to – as the German language has it – cook my water. And so I went to the bright green hyper market world of...

Now I don’t know if you have noticed but kettles and the like all have names and it seems that the names have to be dynamic and oddly macho. Somebody in those marketing departments have come up with the following:

Metal wrapped –cool touch – mmm stroke it.
The Kenwood Stealth.
The Silver Montana.
Brushed stainless steel Dakota.
Tefal Quick Cup. ( the most expensive)
Illuminating Nevada Kettle
Black Jug Kettle
Diamond Kettle
And the best name today was The Morphy Richards OPERA cordless.

If it hasn’t got a cord how does it connect to the electricity? Apparently, according to the blurb on the box, it whistles as it boils! Wow! Like Opera arias? Pavarotti as you pour? Carmen with me cuppa? And it illuminates! So what? I just want clean hot water for my tea or coffee not the English National Opera’s lighting rig on full blast. And relax…

No wonder there was a strangely out-of-place strip of Nurofen Express headache tablets by the kettle display. Simply choosing a kettle was proving a real headache. So, being cash strapped I went for the ASDA green box Smart Price special at £4.75. A bargain. And you know what - it boils the water. The Tefal Quick Cup also boils water and costs £52.85. I know which I prefer. But then there is the illumination aspect…

PS: I’ve worked out what cordless means too.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Jammin' - jammin' me hope you like jammin' too

Jam café. That's a good name for a café isn't it? Based in the middle of Hockley, Nottingham. 12 Heathcote Street to be precise.

I called in the other day on my way through town. I wasn't quite singing Bob Marley songs to myself. And now I've written the title I can't get the danged thing out of my head. Holy Mount Zion rastaman!

We're jammin' (jammin', jammin', jammin')
And we're jammin' in the name of the Lord;
We're jammin' (jammin', jammin', jammin'),
We're jammin' right straight from Yah. and so on

Tea, tea! Think man. English! Tea! Escape the music! It will trap you forever! Earl Grey. Cold and wet weather. Rain, lots of. God Save Our Gracious Queen. Bohemian Rhapsody. Steak and Kidney Pudding. Jack Russell dogs, Winston. White Cliffs of Dover. Labour Party. The Daily Mirror. Government. Economic Downturn! Doctor Who! Rose Tyler. Terry Wogan. Kate Bush. Litterbugs. I'm BACK!

I'm back to reali-tea now and nearly over-filled the teacup taking this arty photo below. Well really I haven't huge amount to report in culinary terms but this newish place is a chilled out café and apparently they do an open mic session every Wednesday night. Maybe I should get down there and get funky. Does that terminology date me?

When I was enjoying my tea break there were a little group of people tucked away to my left discussing surrealist poetry, Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg, Pop Art and subversive croissant eating and the French version of Breathless (À bout de souffle) was playing silently on a flat screen above them with subtitles for the non- Francophone. The characters in the filme were all smoking cigars in bed and kissing each other in a fog of 1960s acrid cigar smoke! Did they not realise that was bloody dangerous?! Not only to their health but their chic French apartment could have gone up in flames! Zut alors, merde and Holy Mount Zion man!
I finished my tea and left in a monochromatic - Nouvelle Vague - mood. I jumped onto my throbbing lambretta and roared disdainfully down la rue Heathcote, smoke trailing behind. Women on 'la porte des oies' sighed. That's 'goosegate' by the way. The man with the hat and tash on the mural below shouted out that my chili was prêt a porter but already it was tros tard. Fin.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Yay! I've had a letter published and won a prize

I'm always thrilled to get my monthly fix of French life from FRANCE magazine and today I was delighted to see that my blog (turned into a letter) about Nottingham's cafe French Living was published as the star letter in the April edition. Cool. Now what can I spend that £50 on at ?

PS: For anyone who isn't aware I also run a regular blog about my love of French life and in particular the city of Bordeaux. Here is a link for:

Monday, 16 March 2009

No8, the deli that offered me more than 70 varieties of sandwiches

The No8 deli on Gordon Road, West Bridgford is a deli lover’s heaven. Today I called in to rest up after a visit to ASDA to buy a new kettle (there’s a future blog waiting to happen). I just ordered a cappuccino and a flapjack and sat by the window waiting for inspiration to strike me.

Whilst ordering, my eyes and taste buds had greedily devoured all the lovely cheeses, olives and cured meats in the display cabinet that runs the length of the shop and when I got home I had a look at their website (see link above) and was just blown away with the varieties of sandwiches they can make up. At a rough count they can offer over seventy varieties!

Here’s just a few of them:

mature cheddar, full salad, colesalaw
jarlsberg, mayonnaise, avocado
egg mayonnaise, fresh tomato, black pepper
tuna, mixed peppers, mayonnaise
emmental, lettuce, tomato, shredded carrot, walnuts
mature cheddar, branston picke, salad
Bacon, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise
smoked cheese, letuce, cucumber, tomato, red onion
brie, grape or cranberry
hummous, kalamata olives, salad
cheddar cheese, onion
mixed salad leaves, carrot, cucumber, onion, tomato
milano salami, salad

sneaky picture of the deli

Pate & Gherkin
chevre goats cheese, bosci olives, red onion
roast chicken, pesto, pine nuts
Roast chicken, jalapenos, rocket, red onion
Roast chicken mayonnaise, lettuce
Roast chicken, Caesar dressing, croutons, cucumber, parmesan, lettuce
Feta cheese, kalamata olives, sun-dried tomatos, olive oil
Roast beef, red onion, English mustard, tomato
Roasted vegetables, mozzarella, salsa
Brie, bacon, cranberry
Prawn mayonnaise
Green Thai curried prawns, spring onion, mayonnaise
Mozzarella, basil pesto, sun-dried tomatoes
Coronation chicken (grapes, celery, curried mayonnaise)
Pastrami, coleslaw
Honey roast ham, mature cheddar, tomato chutney
Artichokes, Swiss cheese, Napoli salami, lettuce, black pepper
Tuna mayonnaise, anchovy fillets, cucumber, rocket, black pepper
Goats cheese, Milano salami, sun-dried tomatoes
Ham, egg mayo, black pepper
Roast chicken, stuffing, mayonnaise
Roasted peppers, honey roast ham, cucumber, chard, black pepper
Roquefort, tomatoes, black pepper, red chard
Chevre Goats cheese, red onion marmalade, rocket
Chevre goats cheese, walnuts, apple, rocket
Smoked roast turkey, stuffing, cranberry

Tempted? I’m blummin’ ravenous now! Help yourself to an olive or two by the way.

According to their website, their bread options include: baguette, ciabatta, olive ciabatta, sun-dried tomato ciabatta, sliced bread, granary rolls, wholemeal rolls and soft white rolls.
If you fancy a croissant you can choose from croissants, pain au chocolat, almond croissant and pain au raisin. They're all oven baked first thing in the morning to be as fresh as possible. I wonder if their staff get used to the aroma of all these things warming the air first thing. They also offer a large selection of cholla egg loaves, and provide sour dough rye and lots of Italian loaves.

My coffee arrived pretty quickly. I ate my slightly solid flapjack and I got talking to another customer in the window seats after she asked me to pass over the Times newspaper. Her name was Jill and I explained to her all about my blogging adventures and my ambitions in the world of writing.

We had a bit of a discussion about other delis including the previously blogged Delilah in the city centre. (hah, the spellchecker thinks centre is spelt center.) We agreed how nice it was to be there and have the opportunity to read the paper over a coffee or just gaze out of the window or chat to a stranger.

Spring must be coming because there were a few people eating outside on the street tables. Nice to meet you Jill and I hope you enjoy the blog and any others I have written.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Not your cup of tea? Just for fun

When we go and buy our packets of tea bags or loose tea we often make a choice based on our lifestyle or habits or change of heart about a particular product or maybe a marketing trick persuades to buy something different. Just for fun, I would be interested to hear your views on what forms those tea buying decisions.

Would you try or do you like herbal teas?

Do you to buy Fairtrade or similar?

Have you bought a packet just for the free chimp? I have!

Do you like Green tea or White tea?

Whatever you like, enjoy your cuppa.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Show me your cupcakes! Dotty's cafe

Shortly after I started my blog in January this year and went on a self-imposed photographic tour around the city of Nottingham’s cafés I must have encountered the wonderful sight of Dotty’s café at the top end of Mansfield Road. Number 197 to be exact. I certainly archived the image seen here as being a fun and colourful place to visit and vowed to return some day to Dotty's. Today was that day.

I discovered it to be a chill out veggie and vegan café that themes itself in a charming and slightly kitsch 1950’s style. On entering the door the smell of cake baking mixture hit my nostrils and transported me back to my own childhood – 1950s-60s. I don’t normally confess that I’m that old! I had to fight not to ask if I could take a dessert spoon and enjoy the pleasures of eating the raw ingredients in the baking bowl like I did as a child.

I ordered a pot of Earl Grey tea and a lavender cupcake with a glacé cherry on top. Another memory from childhood was when I used to eat glacé cherries like they were going out of fashion. My childhood neighbour used have jars of them and I remember them as cocktail cherries. I took a photo of this cake as my instincts told me it was going to be wondrous. I wasn’t wrong. Anyway, back to 2009.

I tried to explain my blog to Susan at Dotty’s but she was really busy working on her own until the lunchtime staff arrived. From internet references I gather that this unique café offers many great veggie and vegan dishes including; fresh salads, sandwiches, veggie burgers and burritos as well as several varieties of vegan cupcakes, all of which are very good value for money. And they do take away food too.

I wasn’t able to stay too long so I was amused to see this quote from a member of staff on their Facebook site. ‘Come for the vegan cupcakes, stay for the spectacle of us dancing about with tea cosies on our heads...’ Now that would have been fun to see. I noticed that cats were also popular artefacts and wondered if they too danced around with tea cosies on their heads!?

Dotty’s café are based at:

197 Mansfield Road, Mon to Fri 9am to 6pm, Sat 10am to 6pm. Tel: 0115 958 3633

Spread the word!

For more veggie/vegan cafe blogs see my blogs for Crocus Cafe and The Alley Cafe.

French cafe in Sherwood

I called in at the Le Mistral branch in out-of-town Sherwood today (approx ten minutes by bus from Nottingham) and revisited this time for just for a coffee and a sit down after a busy morning.
It was about lunch time and I was taunted by the smell of food that I had last time I visited. That was in June 2008 when I discovered this faux French haven. A friend had recommended it and back then I enjoyed a rare sirloin steak (from locally reared Derbyshire herds), with mixed leaf & parmesan salad, garlic mushrooms & frites. A large glass of red merlot went down well too and set me up for the afternoon.

This time I enjoyed a pleasant coffee and the illusion I was in France. The place was pretty busy and there was a definate hint of garlic in the air. An attractive wild haired brunette was sitting in the corner with her head in a book. This was the sort of place where one could fall in love with a stranger and pretend one was in Paris.