Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Review: Allergen Free Bread & Cakes

I probably take bread and its inner fluffy pillowness and crusty exterior for granted, based on the fact I could eat it by the barrow load and not have any side effects.   

Sadly for some, just a slither of bread can set off a whole catalogue of allergies spiralling into varying levels of general unwellness.

Having had first-hand experience of this are the owners of The Incredible Bakery Company who made it their mission to create a range of bread products that would suit their family members who have allergies.

Their award winning range of breads and pastries are:  free from gluten, dairy, eggs and soya and don’t possess any of the top 14 common food allergen types.

Although as I say, I’m fortunate not to have to worry about allergens, but I too have family members that have to be mindful of certain things they eat so I was keen to sample some allergen free bread to put myself in their shoes and to see what they thought of the range too.

The Incredible Bakery Company sent me a mixture of different bread types including paninis, with flavours that are very en vogue right now such as buckwheat, oat and red quinoa.
Oat Loaf

They don’t look any different to freshly baked loaves that you would buy from an artisan bakery although when you cut into them, they do have a slightly richer colour (compared to white bread). 

Taste-wise (sharing it around my family), we felt it definitely differed from ‘normal’ bread, perhaps a little drier, but nevertheless all in all pleasant enough and enhanced when coupled with a spread or topping.  Mum commented she didn't feel as bloated after eating it which is a positive.

I probably wouldn’t buy the range for myself as I can eat traditional bread comfortably, but I would buy it for any family or friends that I had visiting that would benefit from allergen-free goods.  
Ginger & Date Buns
They are a good, realistic bread alternative and definitely offer a life-line to those who want to have their cake and eat it…..
Disclosure:    This post has been written following receipt of samples from The Incredible Bakery Company.  This review was conducted honestly without bias and I was not required to produce a positive review.  For further details of my PR policy, please see the Press, PR & Food Writing page of this website.  





Monday, 18 July 2016

Review: Spanish Feasting at Amantia

Noting that a number of my Facebook comrades show a lot of love towards Amantia in Birmingham, I was pleased when an opportunity came my way to see for myself what it is that draws them back there time after time.
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

So arriving at 12pm on the dot one Saturday afternoon recently, we were the only diners at Amantia.  Having the restaurant all to ourselves with Hispanic melodies piped through the speakers as our only  companion, it did leave me missing that typical restaurant buzz you get, but as the lunchtime period wore on, it became fuller and fuller – atmosphere enhanced and I felt “this is more like it”.  Clearly, not everyone is gagging for lunch at 12pm pronto like me.
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways
Nestling into the purple chairs which matches their purple d├ęcor throughout, I noted a few ornamental Spanish gestures on the walls and on display shelves, but nothing overwhelming, it was just enough. 
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Although I had had a cheeky glance at the menu before visiting, I was pleased to see a confirmed number of veggie dishes on there and a good variety outside of the usual remit of paella.
Photos:  Word In Veg Ways

Mum and I decided to go tapas style for our starters and we chose wholly vegetarian dishes to maximise sampling opportunities for us both.

Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Over a glass of Erlal wine and for me their rose version, we had:

Ensalada de Legumbres (Butterbean, chickpea, lentils, tomato, onion and coriander salad)
This was a good mix of lentils and beans in a light oily dressing with a little kick from the coriander.
Pimientos & Lentils
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Pimientos Piquillo Rellenos Red Peppers (Piquillo red peppers filled with cream cheese and a garlic herb mix).  These were very pleasant and sweet, the cream cheese broke up the pepper and the garlic gave it a bit of a ‘hit’.
Aubergine & Honey
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Bernjenas Con Miel - Aubergine & Honey
These were lightly fried battered aubergine wedges drizzled with honey.  A good combination of aubergine + honey together, however, I would’ve preferred them without the batter and just griddled/fried with honey on top.
San Francisco Mocktail
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

More wine for Mother and a San Francisco mocktail (sweet yet refreshing) for me whilst we waited for our mains.
Gratinado de Verduras
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

I opted for the Gratinado de Verduras  - Aubergine, Potato and mushroom stew/gratin.  I really cannot get enough of aubergines – can you tell?  But this was a good mix of vegetables, gratin style with melted cheese on top although I would’ve liked to have had a little more seasoning within to give it more edge.
Sea Bass
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Mum had the Lubina Con Salsa Verde  - Sea Bass on a Mediterranean herb sauce.  It was a hearty portion and well cooked, she really enjoyed it.
Side Orders
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Our side dishes of Sauteed Potatoes and Salad were equally well seasoned and well dressed.
Chocolate & Almond Ganache
Photo:  Word In VegWays

We did our usual trick of ordering two different desserts and sharing/tasting each other’s.  Mum went for the Chocolate & Almond Ganache – very chocolately, rich, dense with a mousse base.

Spanish Almond Cake
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

I went for the more delicate sounding Tarta de Santiago - Spanish Almond Cake and the almonds came through quite heavily (as opposed to just a hint of), so this is definitely one for nut lovers (of which I am one) but yet it was light.  This is a good option if you want to round your meal off with a dessert with nothing too heavy.

Overall, there is a good quota of vegetarian dishes across the menu, which is a plus as tapas/Spanish food doesn’t always have a vegetarian bias and certainly not in Spain, so I was pleased to see a good level of choice on there.
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Whilst it has a good lunchtime trade, I imagine it would be more atmospheric in the evenings but nevertheless, Amantia is a wonderful addition to the ever expanding eatery/boozer destination of Bennetts Hill/Colmore Row in Birmingham. 

The Spanish G&T was recommended to me before I went and I forgot to ask for it, so that’s a good enough excuse to engineer a second visit in my view!   
Disclosure:    This post has been written following a kind invitation from Amantia to sample their menu.  This review was conducted honestly without bias and I was not required to produce a positive review.  For further details of my PR policy, please see the Press, PR & Food Writing page of this website.      

Monday, 27 June 2016

Vegetarian Parmesan Style Cheese - Gran Kinara from Vorrei

Not all parmesan cheese is vegetarian friendly.   A lot of people are under the impression that all cheese = vegetarian – but sadly not.  It’s all in the rennet and for some who don’t eat meat, having animal derived rennet in cheese isn’t an issue, but for others it is.

Parmesan is one of those cheeses that features heavily on menus as a ‘dressing cheese’ – dishes such as ravioli, gnocchi, pasta etc are garnished with parmesan as a finale.  As a veggie when dining out, I always ask if the parmesan is vegetarian and if not, I ask for it to be omitted.

To find a good parmesan alternative is easier than it was, although still a little tricky, especially if you’re looking for the real deal from Italy.

Set up by husband & wife team Luca & Nicola Pagliaro, online Italian food and wine company, Vorrei, have a range of goods (many of which are suitable for vegetarians and vegans) which boast to have no additives or preservatives.  Equally, they’re not industrially produced and are often hard to find in the UK.  One of their range is a vegetarian friendly parmesan style cheese called Gran Kinara.

Gran Kinara is the world’s first aged cheese produced with vegetable rennet made from a type of thistle which is suitable for those that observe vegetarian, lactose free and halal diets.  The maturing of the cheese for 12 months combined with the use of vegetable rennet, ensures that the lactose turns into lactic acid (which doesn’t cause issues for lactose intolerant individuals)* much faster than in cheeses made with traditional animal rennet.  (* = The science bit courtesy of Vorrei).

The only ingredients present in the cheese are: partially skimmed cow’s milk, salt and vegetable rennet.

The producer of the cheese is Le Fattorie Fiandino.  The Fiandino family have been mountain shepherds since the 1700’s where they used to use thistle flowers as a cheaper alternative to animal rennet.  This process was revived only two years ago and they currently have a herd of 250 Bruna Alpina cows which graze freely and produce limited quantities of quality milk and this goes into the making of the parmesan style cheese.
Gran Kinara on Spaghetti
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Although it can be eaten on its own (with sparkling wine as Vorrei suggest), I grated it on a plate of vegetarian faux meatballs with spaghetti in my own homemade tomato & garlic sauce.  I was quite impressed by it, it resembles parmesan in looks + taste and grated well.  It does come in at a top end price-point of £6.50 per 250g, but if you are a frequent user of parmesan then it is worth the investment.

Disclosure:    This post has been written following kind receipt of a sample of Gran Kinara from Vorrei.  This review was conducted honestly without bias and I was not required to produce a positive review.  For further details of my PR policy, please see the Press, PR & Food Writing page of this website.  

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Review: Japanese Food at Rofuto

Auckinlech House in Five Ways Birmingham was a prime example of 1960’s architecture.  Underneath and within was Five Ways Shopping Centre, a mish-mash of Boots the Chemist, baguette shops and varying nightclubs (which I found myself in many a time in the ‘90’s).  But as the years wore on, a tad neglected, they all stopped trading and a facelift began, resulting in Park Regis Hotel being unveiled this year.  A high end hotel with a suitability high end restaurant on the 16th floor.

That restaurant is Rofuto.
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Owned by Des McDonald, former Head Chef of the screamingly famous The Ivy Restaurant in London, he has brought his zeal for the good life to Birmingham and is promoting Rofuto as the place to be and as a go-to place for Japanese food.

Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Since Japanese restaurants have recognised that us vegetarians also want the whole sushi experience (but without the fish obviously), things have changed, they have improved and on the back of this, I’ve been more keen to explore Japanese food and its flexibility for us veggies.

Photo:  Word In Veg Ways
Keen to promote this mantra was our waiter for the evening Alex.  Very enthusiastically, he explained how the courses worked and made various suggestions as we perused the menu.  Starting as one should, with the cocktail menu.

A good number of cocktails available, Alex explained that they could all be converted into ‘virgin’ cocktails (mocktails – alcohol free).  Perfect for those who are designated drivers.
Yuzito Cocktail
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Dining with my mother, she opted for the Yuzito Cocktail which contained:  pamper Blanco rum, yuzu, lime, passion fruit, kaffir lime leaves.  Refreshing, not too much alcohol, quite ice-heavy.
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

I had the Ka-Pow Punch Cocktail:  a mixture of raspberry, guava, lemon with extra added yuzu giving it a more powerful citrus hit.

Yuzu I found out is a Japanese fruit from the citrus family which is a cross between lemon and lime.  This features heavily across the food and drink menu at Rofuto, but as I’ve not seen it anywhere else, I was keen to get my quota of it in!

Midnight Geisha Cocktails
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

We also had the Midnight Geisha as a virgin/mocktail.  This was again a fruity number, similar to the Ka-Pow Punch with chambord, guava, raspberry, lime and lemongrass.

Salmon Avocado Sushi
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Onto the Sushi menu.  One of the reasons my mother accompanied me is because she has been desperate to try sushi for ages so this was the part she was waiting for.  A flexitarian/pescatarian, Mum opted for the: Salmon Avocado Sushi Roll which she described as fresh, mild and amazing tasty using a tiny touch of wasabi on each roll she said it really lifted it for her.
Vegetarian Futomaki
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

I had the Vegetarian Futomaki which were fat sushi style rolls with compressed vegetables and a little dried fruit which offered a sweetness against the sticky rice, delicious when dipped into soy sauce. 
Cucumber & Roasted Sesame Hosomaki
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Same for the Cucumber & Roasted Sesame Hosomaki I had, which were slightly more dainty and were more ‘cleaner’ tasting than the fukomaki but both good in their own way.
Sake Wines
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Given some sake wines to try in authentic little ceramic pots, we had the Hakurakusesi Junmai Ginjo which was quite dry bearing similarities to western wines.  However, our favourite one was the Tenzan Yuzushu.  In appearance and in taste it was like cloudy lemonade (alcopop Hooch without the fizz).  It is flavoured with the yuzu fruit and acts as a palette cleanser.  I could’ve easily carried on drinking it all night if I’m honest.

Alex gave us a little anecdote about the ritual of sake drinking.  As a rule it should be served cold.  However, when brewed, a secondary batch was always made and created for workers in the coldest part of Japan where they used to heat it up and serve it hot in teapots.
Table Setting
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Choosing from the Robata Grill menu next, we shared:
Aubergine Kushiyaki
Photo:  Word in Veg Ways

Aubergine Kushiyaki, Nasu Dengaku which were little skewers of aubergine cubes that had been grilled softly and drizzled in a peanut satay sauce.  These had been recommended to me by someone who had dined at Rofuto previously and true to their word, this was a perfect choice and an excellent vegetarian option.
Sesame Spinach Cassava Crisps
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways 
Sesame Spinach, Cassava Crisps came with a grey looking seasoning which was mild but with a slight kick.  Definitely one to have with something else and not on its own.
Asian Slaw
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Asian Slaw was a take on coleslaw but it was without any dressing and tasted fresh, zesty, topped with edible flowers and mango.  A good accompaniment to the aubergine.

Wakame Seaweed Salad – we didn’t have that due to its chilli content, although I really wanted it (as I am fan of fresh seaweed).  But it was suggested that if I had rang through in advance I could have ordered a chilli-less version to be prepared for me.  Something to remember for next time for sure.

From the Main Course menu we chose:
Saffron Miso Black Cod
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Saffron Miso Black Cod, Razor Clams, Pancetta – this isn’t on every Japanese menu so Mum wanted to try it and was not disappointed, she exclaimed it was the best fish she’d ever tasted.  Tender, tasteful and packed with flavour.
Miso Shiitake Ramen
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Miso Shiitake Mushroom & Truffle Ramen.  This came as a hybrid from another dish on the menu so my portion also had spring onions, tenderstem broccoli and yakisoba.  It consisted of a reduced mushroom broth, with duck egg (would be a vegan dish without it) and candied beetroot.  The broth made the dish very earthy, intensely flavoured and with a little bit of everything combined, this is a good veggie (or vegan) choice to have.
Matcha Green Tea Tiramisu
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Just about having room for dessert, we decided to choose differently and share. I had the Matcha Green Tea Tiramisu.  A take on the Italian classic but flavoured with (trendy) Japanese whiskey and matcha green tea which has also become an en-vogue must-have for foodies lately.  Both the green tea and especially the whiskey came through and it was incredibly delectable.  A really good spin on a menu favourite which I’ve not heard of elsewhere.
Yuzu & Lemon Tart
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Mum favoured the: Yuzu & Lemon Tart with Cream and Lemon Balm Microherbs.
The lemon balm when cut through with the cream adds sharp hit and then when coupled with the tart – wow!  Tart on its own good, but enhanced when adding the cream to it coupled with an extra touch of crunch from the brulee topping. 

Interior of Rofuto
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways
Rofuto is definitely a place to go when you want a bit of glitz, a bit of rooftop chic and floor to ceiling panoramic views of Birmingham (and you still see plenty even in the pouring rain like it was the night we went).  It’s stylish and dependent on what you choose, it can be affordable.   
With contemporary lighting/seating/ambience/unique hand painted murals, it can lend itself well equally as a lunchtime venue and will easily convert to a night-time haunt.

Photo:  c/o Rofuto

All the food we had we enjoyed and we felt we’d chosen well throughout.  With more vegetarian options in the pipeline and the menu in the process of being revised to become even easier to identify veggie-friendly options, it opens up a new arena of Japanese food outside of ‘just raw fish’ which people seem to think is all it consists of.  And even if your knowledge of Japanese food isn’t good, with staff like Alex (whom my mother became very endeared with I have to say) they can guide you through it as if they were natives of Tokyo rather than Birmingham. 

Nobu – me thinks you’ve got yourselves a rival…………
Disclosure:    This post has been written following a kind invitation from Rofuto to sample their menu.  This review was conducted honestly without bias and I was not required to produce a positive review.  For further details of my PR policy, please see the Press, PR & Food Writing page of this website.  

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Father's Day Menu at Chaophraya

Photo: Word In Veg Ways
When I was telling people that I was going to Thai Restaurant Chaophraya in the Bullring, they weren’t sure where I meant, until I said “it’s the one covered with grass by the church”“ah yes!” they’d exclaim.  Clearly known for the grass rather than the name.
Photo: Word In Veg Ways

But saying that, upon arrival and during the course of my visit, it was busy, packed with people inside and out, so whether known for its grass or its name, it seems a popular haunt.
Photo: Word In Veg Ways

Welcomed with a true Thai greeting by two ladies in Thai national dress, I liked the fact that a little Thai spirit could be found in central Birmingham.
Photo: Word In Veg Ways

Taken upstairs to their private area, it was all prepped for sampling their Father’s Day menu coupled with tasters of their cookery school and cocktail making lesson offerings, something myself and a few fellow bloggers were invited to.
Photo: Word In Veg Ways

Photo: Word In Veg Ways

To get the party started we had the opportunity to make cocktails under the tuition of the restaurant’s mixologist.  We were all tasked with making a Strawberry Mojito using rum, gomme, strawberry syrup and mint garnishes.   I was awash with instant reminders of the 80’s classic Slush Puppy as the syrup met the crushed ice, but of course this was a more sophisticated and grown-up version especially with the rum flowing liberally! J  With numerous bottles to work with and industrial looking stirrers, it was fun to have a go albeit I was personally a little heavy handed with the strawberry syrup!
Photo: Word In Veg Ways
Photo: Word In Veg Ways

With bottles of Chang and Singha beer gracing the table, we were all given the first of the starters to try from the Father’s Day menu -  Tom-Kha Soup.  Whilst the others had the chicken version, I had a tofu one.  With a note to chefs in advance, they also catered for my chilli allergy and adjusted the recipe accordingly which (as always), I really welcomed.

Photo: Word In Veg Ways

A tofu, coconut based soup infused with galangal, lemongrass, kafir lime leaves and straw mushrooms.  It was creamy yet delicate with multiple flavours coming through.  Very enjoyable.

Photo: Word In Veg Ways

Photo: Word In Veg Ways

Photo: Word In Veg Ways

Secondly from the Starter menu we had Vegetable Spring Rolls which we had to make in the cookery school area under the supervision of the chef.  Pairing up with Alev from the blog Bella & Robot, we took it in turns to finely shred the carrot and cabbage and wok fry it with glass noodles and spices.  The rolling up in the spring roll wrappers procedure somewhat differed between Alev and I.  She made dainty cigar shaped rolls (very professional looking), whilst I focused on the volume of filling (I never deny myself filling) and so mine took on a kind of rotund, portly appearance.  However, never judge a spring roll by its cover - once we’d deep fried them they both tasted really nice with a good mix of textures with every bite.    Never having made my own spring rolls before, I was rather proud of my first achievement, however, I’ll be aiming for them to look like Alev’s next time………. #springrollenvy.

Photo: Word In Veg Ways
Photo: Word In Veg Ways

So after a little of the Masterchefing, we moved onto Main Course tasting which were made for us in advance so it was back to the dining table to have those.  Again, highlighting my chilli allergy, the team at Chaophraya made me a Tofu & Tamarind Curry with Jasmine Rice.  This wasn’t quite on the Father’s Day menu, but was created in lieu of what was and something that can be done if visitors provide sufficient notice ahead of dining.  There was a good flavour tanginess from the tamarind which was absorbed by the tofu pieces and the rice.  Although there was no chilli present, I did have an allergic reaction to another little spice present which prevented me from being able to finish it (despite it being delicious what I had).  Not the fault of Chaophraya at all, as they weren’t to know and I couldn’t pin point it.  They kindly wanted to get me a substitute dish, but I declined as I had eaten quite a lot during the course of the evening anyway so I was fine.
Photo: Word In Veg Ways

Their eagerness to make sure I was catered for both before and during the event was an appreciated trait.  If you’re in the same boat as me, always worth ringing ahead to see what they can do for you.
Photo: Word In Veg Ways

Thinking about the Cocktail Making and Cookery School samplers, they were good fun and informal – an ideal activity for those of all culinary abilities and I guess perfect for teambuilding or hen parties and the like.
Photo: Word In Veg Ways

The Father’s Day Menu features a number of vegetarian and meat dishes (plus some meat options can be converted into vegetarian ones).  Considering the usually inflated prices for occasions such as Father’s Day, their menu comes in at fantastic value of £14.95 per person for 2 courses and a bottle of Singha or Chang beer. 
Photo: Word In Veg Ways

Well worth a visit to ‘the place covered in grass’ whether it be for Father’s Day, Graduation celebrations or just because you fancy some good old Thai food or for a bit of a culinary class.  Plus central Birmingham is easier to get to than Bangkok!

For more information visit:

Disclosure:    This post has been written following an invitation from Chaophraya to sample their Father's Day menu.  This review was conducted honestly without bias and I was not required to produce a positive review.  For further details of my PR policy, please see the Press, PR & Food Writing page of this website.