Tag Archives: take-aways

Style over substance: Bristol’s best restaurants?

10 Oct

As a relative newcomer to Bristol, and a massive food-lover just about finding my feet financially, I was pleased to find a Google alert titled Top 10 restaurants in Bristol pinging into my inbox a few days ago.

I didn’t expect revelations from the Bristol Evening Post piece. However, soon after noticing that the article was actually subtitled ‘Top 10 places to dine in style’ I realised I was going to get very little in the way of enlightenment.

Pointing out at that some of a city’s restaurants occupy amazing buildings is a good idea, but what purpose does it serve if discussion of the actual food served goes no further than “has won numerous awards” or “offers a seafood menu”?

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been lured into eating somewhere because of its location, interior or menu – only to be hugely disappointed by what arrives on my plate.

I love interesting architecture and good design, but somewhere selling food should stand or fall on that basis – everything else is secondary.

The place I’ve eaten more than anywhere else in my adult life is Zeugma in Sheffield. The key visual treat of a trip to this nondescript shopfront is watching a middle-aged bloke turning skewers with an expression of Zen-like calm on his face (seemingly weathered by a working life lived within centimetres of a glowing charcoal grill).

All filler, all killer: Sheffield's Zeugma consistently delivers the goods (photo courtesy of Nigel Barker).


All this is neither here nor there because the food has been consistently excellent since Zeugma opened over five years ago – so much so that the owners had to fit out a second branch a few metres down the road because the original was too busy.

Anyway, I digress – if anyone would like to offer suggestions as to where the best actual food in Bristol can be found, comment below, drop me an email or tweet at me. Might even give me some other things to rant about, down the line.

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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

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.

New York Deli, High Street Arcade: a heartwarming tale

20 Mar

So I meet a friend, Tom, who’s unexpectedly been in town for the Six Nations, in Cardiff city centre. It’s Sunday afternoon, he’s been for a run and wants to go get a cheap bite before catching the train back to Sheffield.

Despite claiming to writing a blog about exploring the city for its best budget eats, I’m too hungry and scatty to think of anywhere good as there are just too many food outlets all around us, most of which will probably be overpriced and disappointing.

At that moment, my mate Sian approaches and helpfully points us in the direction of the New York Deli in High Street Arcade, which is a fairly standard take-out joint inside but has some nice old benches where you can sit out front. Both Tom and I are salt beef lovers, and are overjoyed to find this place sells the stuff by the yard.

I order a pretty damn gorgeous bagel also containing cream cheese, horseradish and gherkins. He opts for a massive hoagie that is too heavy to pick up with one hand. I spend £3.70; Tom drops about a pound more than that. We go our separate ways stuffed and super happy.

The End.

 

Cardiff Devils hoagie: far larger & tastier than an iPhone

Yes, more salt beef

Travelling 171 miles to the chippy

16 Mar

Last week I hitchhiked from Cardiff to the North Wales coast for a feature I’m writing, a piece loosely inspired by recent reports from the Guardian, Telegraph and others about the pros and cons of installing high-speed rail links to Manchester and Leeds.

As Wales has neither motorway nor railway joining the north and south, I reckoned it’d be interesting to see how the supposedly dying art of thumbing a free lift stacked up against the train (four to six hours via England, £70 walk-on price).

Some things I learned:

  • Hitching out of urban centres is a total nightmare. Getting to Merthyr Tydfil took three hours; another three and I was in Snowdonia.
  • Making a decent sign, having a shave, making eye contact with and smiling at drivers will get you a long way.
  • Standing by the side of the A470 in the Taff Valley with trucks pounding past is a bit scary.
  • There’s no particular type of person who picks up hitchers. But all my drivers combined kind motives with boredom and the desire for a bit of lively company.
  • Taking a hearty pack-up helps give you the stamina to provide your chauffeurs with the banter they crave. Keep up your end of the conversation and they’ll spill all kinds of interesting dirt.

It took me seven hours from breaking out my sign at Gabalfa, north Cardiff to hitting the Menai Straits at Caernarfon. The fish and chips I had there weren’t really seaside quality, but they still tasted pretty sweet.

Food miles: the most well-earned fish and chips ever