Archive | September, 2011

Mission Burrito, Bath

18 Sep

I lined up with my colleagues in the middle of a downpour a couple of weeks ago, as the new branch of small ‘Cal-Mex’ chain Mission Burrito was opening in Bath – and they were giving away burritos for free.


Despite loving Mexican food, I must admit my giddy excitement was tinged with a degree of cynicism about Mission Burrito, mainly because the spiel on their website rather bangs on about offering an ‘authentic experience’ – something that inevitably carries a slight tang of BS about it.

To recap, the Mission District in San Francisco (ironically somewhere that has fought a battle against being commodified and gentrified over the past 15 years) was the birthplace of a different breed of burrito. It’s a flavour of the area’s taquerias that Mission Burrito UK, also with branches in Reading, Bristol and Oxford, claims to offer.

The presence of a mariachi band, looking bemused in the pissing rain, failed to convince me that I was in urban California, but did keep people in the hour-long queue amused (or annoyed). The process of getting served is identical to other Mex fast-food outlets such as Manchester’s excellent, benchmark-setting Barburrito, ie you choose from fillings Subway-style, but with the promise of better food at the end. Credit to Mission’s staff for turning out hundreds of the damn things like clockwork.

So was it worth the wait? Well, my carnitas (shredded slow-roasted pork) burrito could have contained a tad more meat, but what was in there was delicious. So too was the smoky chipotle salsa (the menu offers four sauces to choose from, from the lily-livered Pico de Gallo to the mouth-threatening Habanero). The tortilla encasing it wasn’t a soggy specimen such as Bristol Culture encountered on a previous free burrito day. And – bonus – I felt like I’d actually eaten something decent and solid, and was still full three hours later. As were most of my workmates.

Obviously for zero cash, Mission was unlikely to disappoint, but I’d be happy to recommend shelling out the fiver that a burrito will set you back under normal circumstances. The chain needn’t try so hard to be the real this or that; they can stand on the strength of their food.

Mission Burrito is at 4 New Street, Bath BA1 2AF

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On the pulse, part three: megadarra

14 Sep

Megadarra: basically rice, lentils and onions, but far more than the sum of its parts


My writing of this conveniently ties in with an article about British and American meat addiction by Felicity Lawrence in last Saturday’s Guardian (surely the lentil-eater’s publication of choice).

The benefits of consuming less meat are many and have been repeated at length by millions. So I’m not going to parrot them here. However, it was interesting to read a persuasive argument against the myth that veggie diets are automatically second best in terms of taking on board protein.

So with immaculate timing, here’s another pulse-based winner, megadarra (aka mejadarra, mujadarra or moujadara, depending on where in the Middle East you’re eating it).

As its main ingredients are just rice, lentils and onions, it costs virtually nowt and fills you up like a bellyful of warm cement. But it’s being included here because it tastes unbelievably good, provided you like onions: sweet and caramelised and spicy and comforting all at the same time – and it’s equally good cold the next day.

You will need:

  • Approx 125g green or brown lentils.
  • Approx 125g long grain rice (standard stuff is fine as basmati can be a bit too delicate).
  • Three medium-sized onions.
  • Approx 3/4tsp each of coriander, cumin and paprika. You could also try adding allspice.
  • 6tbsp olive oil.
  • Salt and pepper.
  • Natural yoghurt, to serve.

To prepare:

  • Put your rice in a bowl of cold water to soak.
  • Rinse the lentils and boil them hard for 10 minutes in a good-sized pan of water, then drain.
  • Meanwhile, finely chop one of the onions and fry in 2tbsp of oil until softened and slightly coloured. Slice the other two thinly and set aside for now.
  • Add the spices and stir for a minute or so before seasoning and adding the drained lentils.
  • Add about 600ml of water, bring to the boil and continue cooking for 10 minutes or so.
  • Drain and rinse the rice and add to the lentils. Boil for another five minutes or a bit longer – most of the liquid in the pan should have disappeared.
  • Now turn the heat down as low as possible, cover and leave undisturbed.
  • Meanwhile heat the rest of the oil in a large frying pan until very hot. Fry your remaining two onions, stirring often, until they are brown and crispy, about 15 minutes. It’s very easy for them to go over and turn black, so keep a close eye on things.
  • When the onions are done, tip the lentil mixture into a serving bowl and pour the onions and their oil over the top. Leave to rest for a few minutes so the flavours soak through.
  • Serve with the yogurt spooned on top, and maybe some salad if you’ve got some.

[Serves two]

Eating a path across Glasgow

6 Sep

I recently spent two days in Glasgow, one of my favourite cities, but one in which I’d always reckoned it necessary to be flush with cash to enjoy. Not so, as the following proved:

  1. The Banana Leaf: I’d heard good things about this South Indian canteen on the fringes of the West End. Walk there down St Vincent Street and Argyle Street from town for a snapshot of why Glasgow can look more exciting than any other UK city.

    Century-old mini-skyscrapers (the reason film shoots such as the one for World War Z, the upcoming, Brad Pitt starring zombie thriller, use Glasgow as a stand-in for US cities) give way to vast slab blocks looming over a motorway canyon gouged into the earth, and finally to a landscape of genteel-looking tenements, where the tiny Banana Leaf can be found.

    A shared starter of Kozhi Varuval (marinated spiced chunks aka ‘Chicken 65‘), a giant, crisp masala dosa and a portion of rich curry came in at under £15. Worth a trek for even if you couldn’t care less about the surroundings.

  2. Black Sheep Bistro: finding this place was as simple as taking a punt on the number one Glasgow restaurant, according to TripAdvisor. A risky strategy maybe, but one that paid off (literally) in massive platefuls.

    Kitted out in a knick-knack strewn style that feels as if you’ve rocked up at someone’s home, and boasting an impressive disregard for food presentation, Black Sheep is not a place to go for trendy dining. But if the idea of tanning a solid, delicious portion of haggis, neeps & tatties before you’ve even moved onto a gloriously throwback main of beef olives fills you with greedy glee, then you should head here without delay. With a dirt-cheap wine list also part of the fun, Black Sheep Bistro gets a king-sized thumbs up.
  3. Where The Monkey Sleeps: in search of somewhere to get a sandwich in the city centre the next day, a list published in the Guardian last year provided the goods. Budgetary constraints meant that I only got a tuna butty from here, but packed with dill and dijon, and eaten sat in the sunshine at the top of the Necropolis, it was a proper treat.