Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Phetpailin, Chinatown

Pla Chu Chee - creamy, spicy richness with crispy lime leaves.

We've banged on about Phetpailin a fair bit since writing this blog - we featured it in our 'Top Ten Cheap Eats' back in January and mentioned it as the 'place to keep going back to' on Wow 247. We even had the pleasant surprise of recommending it to someone on Twitter and later realising they were sat at the table next to us when we last visited!

I'll start by warning you the photos don't do this place justice, and it doesn't help that the lighting's bad and they were all taken on my iPhone. Also important to note is that this joint is BYOB. Yes, that's right ladies and gents: it's free reign to get as pissed as you like for under a tenner. Or, as sometimes occurs, when we're feeling a little more flash, it's an opportunity to splash out on a fancy bottle from a decent wine shop like Reserve - as we did on this occasion - for the same price you'd usually spend on a bottle of the house in a licensed restaurant.

It's easy to spot: you'll see Long Legs on George street, a huddle of bouncers and dodgy looking fellas outside, sometimes even sitting on the steps to the entrance of Phetpailin - so squeeze past them and slip into this little gem of a Thai restaurant.

Knowing that I was going to be treating Jamie for some seriously good pan-Asian cuisine in Prague in the form of Sansho, I wanted to give him a little taster of things to come on his actually birthday and so booked us a table at 8pm on a Wednesday night. It was surprisingly busy, and there was just one waitress to manage the whole place - whilst service wasn't speedy per se, considering she was on her own, it was perfectly efficient and well, just generally inoffensive.

Tod Mun Pla (Thai Fishcakes)
I won't beat about the bush with this one: the food is decent, reasonably priced, and as already mentioned, it's bladdy bring yer own innit guv?!

Having previously sampled the deep fried platter of Thai starters - a bargain at £5.95 p/p - we weren't sure we could face it this time, so just opted for the Thai fish cakes. With a completely rubbish carrot salad on the side, the fishcakes themselves are fragrant, spicy little bites of um, fish. And other bits. According to their website, there's green beans in them but I didn't notice any. Though rubbery to touch, they're almost as light as marshmallows, but with a slightly crisp coating. Essentially, I'm telling you that for £5.50 they're worth a try. The accompanying sweet chilli sauce is fair too, less gloopy than the stuff out of a bottle and I assume it's made on site.

Mains were pretty much predetermined. We managed to sample a good majority of the menu when our mates had a leaving do there (they left us for Australia, sob!) and discovered our faves: Tamarind Duck and Pla Chu Chee. The duck dish is a slightly sweet and sour one due to the inclusion of tamarind (also found in HP and Worcestershire sauce, don'tcha know?). We loved the use of cashew nuts to vary the texture, and there were plenty of veg. It would be great if they'd cook the duck pink, though perhaps if you specified they would. Regardless of the colour of the meat, it's still perfectly tasty. We tried to recreate this at home later - we got the duck bang on but couldn't quite recreate that lovely sticky glaze. The Pla Chu Chee is in another league, although I can't work out if my palate is hardening to spice or they've cooled it down a bit over the years, as I definitely remember not being able to manage more than a mouthful a few years ago due to the chilli heat. This time I was more than capable, hurrah! They use tilapia, a cheap white fish, though it doesn't really matter that it's nothing posher here as the rich red curry paste sauce, mixed with coconut milk and deep fried lime leaves is an unctuous delight alone.

Our bill came to just over £25, we'd drunk a bottle of wine we'd probably have paid in excess of £40 if bought in a restaurant, and left stuffed. This place isn't going to win any awards for fine dining or innovative cuisine, but I've never had a bad meal here, and it's a great place to visit, whether you're a couple or group of mates. I'd advised booking, particularly on the weekend - and they even have a fancy website you can do it on!

46 George Street, Chinatown
Manchester, M1 4HF
0161 228 6500

Phetpailin on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Sansho, Prague

Soft-shell crab slider with wasabi mayo

Halfway through our meal at Sansho the owner, Paul Day, passes by our table and asks us how we're enjoying the food. Anna promptly replies, “It’s really good.” I've just had a mouthful of some seriously tasty Beef Rendang and blurt out, “It's amazing!” Without a second thought, Day says, with genuine sincerity, “It's not amazing.” And with that he carries on his way.

Maybe it's modesty. Maybe it’s the high standards he expects of himself after working in Michelin-starred establishments. Maybe, just maybe, the Thai food he creates cannot, in his eyes, come close to the ‘real deal’. Whatever the case - for us - the whole experience was unexpected. Thai food in Prague? And good Thai food at that.

It’s not as strange as it sounds, we later found out. The Czech Republic has a huge Vietnamese population, over 10,000 of whom live in Prague according to the 2011 census. They are the country's largest immigrant community; so it stands to reason that Pan-Asian cuisine is something Prague-dwellers are familiar with. However, it's perhaps not at the level of sophistication that Day brings: soft-shell crab sliders, pork and watermelon salad, and that 12-hour Beef Rendang.

Pork and watermelon salad
Opened in 2011, Sansho is Day’s first restaurant; and judging by the turnout on a Tuesday evening, it's not doing too badly. Admittedly, it is high tourist season - we're flanked by a large group of Australians on one side and an American couple on the other - but the buzz about the place seems to have stayed strong. It's sparsely decorated and staffed with easy-going, somewhat Bohemian Czech twenty-somethings.

Paul Day was senior sous-chef at Nobu and worked under legendary David Thompson at Nahm, the world's first Thai restaurant to gain a Michelin star - so, despite what he says, the food is very good. He offered to choose our courses for us, presumably to showcase the best of Sansho, although judging by the other dishes we saw flying past us, I'm not sure there'd be any dud courses in this place.

Beef Rendang

The meat dishes are the real treat. Given Day's background, it's no real surprise. Raised in Stafford, he was working in a butcher's shop at the age of 13; a shop which he ended up owning then selling when he was 18. With the proceeds he moved to London and started as a butcher in Chinatown, working in various restaurants as well. It's a passion he has brought to the restaurant and the city: he's started his own butcher's shop called the Real Meat Society (superbly branded, by the way) which provides all the meat used in our dishes. He's also committed to improving local farming practices and confessed in a radio interview his interest in "changing the Czech palate." You can see what he means: the pork belly is cooked five different ways in a three-day process and the rendang contains 21 different ingredients. The beef salad featured some incredibly tender steak and a complex array of non-native herbs.

The seafood was surprisingly good, considering the Czech love of meat (in particular pork). The Soft-shell Crab Slider is sensational: the delicate bun giving way to deep-fried crustacean with a hint of a heat from the wasabi mayo. They're deceptively simple and so good you immediately want another. The slider, along with the clams in an aromatic broth and salmon sashimi, were fine examples of less Thai-inflected cuisine that Sansho is capable of. 

Sansho - Interior. Like some hip New York gallery.

The only letdown was the desserts. Sticky toffee pudding and baked cheesecake could be staples of Thai kitchens for all I know; but I seriously doubt it. It's not that they were bad necessarily, it's just that on a sweltering summer's evening, we craved something with coconut, mango, and lime. Thankfully, they'd mixed some refreshing cocktails, a cucumber collins and a watermelon cooler, that did a good job of staving off the heat.

Even with the benefit of hindsight, I can say that rarely have I ever been as satisfied with a meal as I was with the tasting menu at Sansho. This may be down to my 'sunny' holiday disposition but I'd like to think that my critical faculties were still intact. Don't trust me? Then, there's only one way to find out.

Petrska 1170/25
110 00 Praha (Prague)

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Proof's 'Liquid Brunch'

Oysters: hangover-cure in a half-shell

Brunch. While there's some debate as to the origins of this portmanteau, there can be no debate that it's one of the most overlooked of mealtimes. Originally, brunch was a cure for 'Saturday night carousers'; something not as heavy as a full-on a Sunday roast for the hungover hordes. Though there was no shortage of boozehounds back then, there's just plain more of us now, waking up at the weekend with throbbing heads and rumbling stomachs, looking for the ideal brunch spot. But, where to go? Well, if you live in Chorlton or its environs (hell, even further afield - it's worth the journey) then Proof have stepped up to plate with their Liquid Brunch.

Beet 'n' Bloody
A drawback of most places that offer brunch is the lack of decent liquid refreshment. Sure, you've got your coffee and your fruit juices (maybe, a Bloody Mary at a push and a side of scowl from the bartender) but for those who like to treat their hangovers with more of the devil drink, the options are few and far between. But not at Proof. Thanks to the crack cocktail team, you can get back on the wagon in style with a selection of no less than six brunch-inspired concoctions. From the Margarita-based Holy Guacamole and a twist on the classic Bloody Mary, Best 'n' Bloody, there's something for all manner of ailment. So you don't have to listen to me prattle on about the merits of each one and list their ingredients, I've kindly added a copy of the menu below. Suffice it to say, that Proof have been mixing some of the best drinks in Manchester for years now, and their Liquid Brunch doesn't disappoint.

And it's not all liquid. They serve up three different bagels that will please meat-eaters, pescatarians and vegetarians alike. If you're brave enough, they also do a platter of oysters with all the trimmings. They're keeping it local too with bagels coming from the ever-popular Barbikan and oysters coming from the guys at Out of the Blue. If that doesn't tempt you, the price most certainly will. With a cocktail and a bagel costing just a tenner, or two cocktails for 12 quid, you won't feel to guilty about loosening those purse strings again after a heavy night.

We were guests of Proof and between each member of the group we managed to sip and scoff our way through the entire menu. Pairing a bacon and roasted tomato bagel with a souped-up Bloody Mary is a must; the Holy Guacamole with, you guessed it, homemade guacamole was a surprise hit; and if you like something less savoury the Brunch Martini is a sophisticated alternative. 

Liquid Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday from 12-4pm.

30a Manchester Road
M21 9PH

The menu: get browsing

Monday, 8 July 2013

Recipe: our English Garden Martini

We'd just booked a holiday and the next pay day seemed like a lifetime away. Sainsbury's sent an e-mail asking whether anyone would like a free bottle of gin to write about their 'perfect serve'. As supermarket spirits increasingly overtake well-known industry producers in the International Spirits Challenge awards, it seemed like now was a good time to sell-out and accept a product freebie...

Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Blackfriars Gin  recently won 'gold' in the aforementioned awards, flying past renowned brand names such as Hendrick's, BLOOM, Bombay Sapphire, and even Gin Mare (Jamie's personal fave). Whilst we're yet to try it in a classic Martini, which I suppose is one of the best tests of taste, the cocktail I did make it in was bloody delicious. So here's my 'perfect serve', ideal for the spate of super sunny weather we're currently having...

Whilst the gin was perfectly quaffable in a standard G&T, I wanted to do something a bit different with it, and so decided to create a cold infusion with cucumber. Using the same quantities of cucumber and gin (I used 200g and 200ml - any amount will work, but as this was the first time I was to make it, I wanted to check that it was drinkable first!). Next time, I'm likely to use a full bottle...

Firstly, you'll want to peel your cucumber and chop the hell out of the slippery green thing. Add the same amount of liquid and get whizzing with a hand blender: you'll want a vessel with high sides so you don't give yourself a surprise face mask. Once blended, you'll refrigerate this mixture for a number of hours - the longer the better. (Heston suggests 16).

We were being a bit fancy pants though and popped ours in one of our vacuum seal tubs - which meant that after just a couple of hours, the cucumber flavour had really penetrated the gin. Once the gin has infused for the proposed amount of time, it will need to be fine-strained to remove the cucumber mush! (I reckon someone cleverer than I could turn this mush into some sort of gin-infused cucumber granita...)

This is a little bit time-consuming, but unless you want a cucumber smoothie, totally necessary! I then decided to use this cucumber-infused gin in a taken on the modern-classic 'English Garden Martini'. I cannot reiterate how refreshing this cucumber gin is - it's actually dangerously drinkable... I would thoroughly recommend making a huge vat of this for barbecues this summer. This is most definitely my 'perfect serve' and the gin-aficionado that is Jamie even said that it was one of the best gin martinis he's ever had. High praise indeed! We loved this one so much that we're considering serving it at our next supper club...

English Garden Martini

50ml     Taste the Difference Blackfriar's Gin infused with cucumber
75ml     Cloudy apple juice
12.5ml  Lime juice
7ml       Elderflower cordial
7 - 10   Mint leaves

1. Gently bruise mint leaves with muddler (or rolling pin)
2. Squeeze lime juice into glass part of cocktail shaker
3. Add remaining ingredients and fill glass with ice
3. Ensure top part of cocktail shaker is tightly fitted and SHAKE! 
4. Double strain (with hawthorne and double mesh strainer)
5. Garnish with mint leaf and enjoy!

This post used a complimentary bottle of gin, as provided by Sainsbury's. We were honestly pleased with the quality of the product and as the gin usually retails at £16.50 for a 70cl bottle, think it's a bit of a bargain too!