Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The Magic Mushroom

The Magic Mushroom is a restaurant that serves contemporary European food in Billericay, Essex. 

From what I had heard, it has a reputation for providing decent food at reasonable prices and several of my family members had been several times before. So naturally I was eager to try it out for myself for the first time. 

Soft shell crab.
If soft shell crab is on the menu, then I am almost certain to order it - and this is exactly what I did. Presented with a wedge of lemon, mixed salad leaves and tartare sauce, this was the perfect start to a meal. The crab was crispy yet soft and moist - and I wouldn't have minded having another.

I opted for a rare steak for my mains. I had no complaints about the steak - it certainly was rare when I cut into it and the meat was soft and tender enough.

I was really looking forward to my dessert - the bavarois, or 'Bavarian cream'. This was because - quite frankly - I had no idea what it was and I quite like trying new foods. It's a like a thickened cream - much thicker than meets the eye.  Served with a dollop of vanilla ice cream, strawberries and sauce, it was a fresh yet very filling dessert. I definitely didn't need more food afterwards.

Bavarois - standard edition.

And best of all, the kind +Magic Mushroom Restaurant staff made a special birthday edition for our table, as we were out celebrating a birthday that night. It came complete with edible chocolate balloons and writing - lovely!

Bavarois - birthday edition.
I had a decent evening at Magic Mushroom and would go back again. The restaurant was packed even on a week night (always a good sign) so it is probably a good idea to call ahead if you decide to go.

Square Meal

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Mien Tay Shoreditch: tasty, fresh and friendly

Spring rolls (Chả giò).
Vietnamese food is wonderful, and a good place to find this cuisine in the UK is Kingsland Road in Shoreditch, London, where Vietnamese restaurants dominate the street.  (If you're unsure, check out my 'picture special' post from Vietnam for lots of tasty food photos ^_^).

Traditional Crispy Pancake with Tofu, Onions & Beansprout (Bánh xèo chay).
With so much competition, it can be a little overwhelming to pick the right restaurant.  I followed my instinct and went for a busy one - Mien Tay - and busy it certainly was!  With very simple décor, the diners were certainly not there for the views, but clearly the food - always the right way round in my opinion.

Char-grilled minced beef in wild betel leaves (Bò lá lốt).  

The restaurant specialises in food from the south west of Vietnam.  From looking at the menu, they are keen to show their 'home-style' nature by introducing owners Mr Su Tran and Mrs My Le along with a picture (presumably them), as well as proudly displaying their many positive reviews from +Time Out London , +ViewLondon , +Metro , +London Evening Standard , +The Times and The Sunday Times and Cheese and Biscuits Blog.
Rice Vermicelli with Spring Roll & Grilled Pork (Bún chả giò thịt nướng). 
I can certainly see why the restaurant has its fans.  The food felt fresh, my friends and I enjoyed our dishes, staff are courteous with a smile and the atmosphere is busy yet friendly and relaxed.  All in all, it felt like a great place for friends to meet up over a tasty and good-value meal.

Stir-fried rice noodles with beef.
So if you're around Kingsland Road and looking for some Vietnamese food, put Mien Tay on your consideration list.

Nearest Overground: Hoxton

Square Meal Mien Tay on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Birds Eye's brilliant pay-by-picture pop-up restaurant

Birds Eye has created a unique and rather brilliant online campaign to promote its Inspirations food range.

Over the past couple of days, Birds Eye has set up a 'Picture House' pop-up restaurant along Grape Street, London.  The unusual thing is that diners pay for their meals not with cash or credit but with pictures of their food posted on social media with the hashtag #BirdsEyeInspirations.  Diners gets a free meal, while Birds Eye get real-time and user-generated promotion and feedback - a win-win situation.  I was lucky enough to get on the guest list and visited the pop-up for lunch today.

With each diner presented with an iPad, I had a choice of three dishes:

  1. 'Chicken Inspirations' - with garlic and herb sauce, crushed peas, olive oil poached asparagus and romano pepper gremolata.
  2. 'Fish Chargrills' - with sunblushed tomato, basil and oregano, roasted potatoes, wilted spinach and buttered brown shrimp. 
  3. 'Rice Fusions' - with smoked aubergine, goats cheese and soft herb fritters.

Fish Chargrills.
Being a seafood lover, I naturally opted for the Fish Chargrills, prepared in the open kitchen.  Flaky, moist, well-seasoned and neatly presented, the dish could fit well on the menu of a more well-established restaurant.

Side shot of Fish Chargrills.

Open kitchen.
To my delight, dessert was available too.  Vanilla ice cream, crumble, strawberries and passion fruit - there was literally nothing not to like with this and it rounded off a fantastic midweek lunch.  

Sadly, the pop-up restaurant will now be moving away from London and will be setting up in Manchester and Leeds in June.  If they're set up as well as the London one, then I'm sure diners will have a great time.  Let's hope more food companies promote their products this way in the future!

Inside the restaurant.

Bibimbap (Charlotte St): Why this is the place to go if you're after a tasty, quick and good value meal in London

Bibimbap restaurant in Charlotte Street, London, is a fantastic little Korean eatery specialising in - you guessed it - bibimbap.

What is bibimbap?

It means 'mixed rice' in Korean and is a popular dish in the Asian country.  It's best to visualise this, so this is how my fillet beef bibimbap (with optional egg) at +Bibimbap Charlotte St looked like:

Fillet beef bibimbap with rice and vegetables inside a hot stone bowl, plus an optional egg.  

Their menu features a decent choice of different bibimbaps (10 in total), each one full of delicious rice and toppings inside a very hot stone bowl.  Vegetarian bibimbaps are available, as well as ones with chicken and pork.  Other Korean side dishes are on the menu too, including favourites such as seafood pancake and kimchi.

To eat it is simple: as soon as it arrives, begin mixing all the ingredients together inside the hot bowl.  The trick is to regularly mix everything, otherwise the rice can become dry and overcooked at the bottom.  (And in case you're wondering,  only the fillet beef bibimbap has raw meat, the others are pre-cooked).

How my bibimbap looked after I gave it a good stir.

Bibimbap is wonderfully tasty, quick, healthy and affordable - most dishes are under £10.  If that floats your boat - and it should - give the Bibimbap chain a go - there's one in Soho too ( +Bibimbap Soho ).

The interior in Bibimbap is relaxed, informal and cosy.  Korean popular culture is very apparent with many posters from films and musicians on the walls.  

Bibimbap Charlotte Street on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Where to dine near Bassenthwaite Lake (Lake District): The Pheasant

During a recent trip to the Lake District, the owner of our guest house suggested that the girlfriend and I try The Pheasant - a hotel and restaurant near Bassenthwaite Lake.

The restaurant is actually made up of two separate rooms - The Fell Restaurant and The Bistro.  Both share the same menu, but the former includes a 'cover charge' of £2.50 for 'relaxed ambiance', views and home-made bread.  We opted for The Bistro.

The scotch eggs were a great start, with a lovely soft yolk and a crispy outside.  The ketchup was home-made and had a bit of mustard in it to give it a bit of a kick - something a bit different.

Scotch egg.
My chicken and vegetable pie was piping hot.  The pastry top was crisp, while the filling was full of moist chicken.  However the accompanying vegetables - green beans and broccoli - were quite bland and unseasoned.  The mashed potatoes were fine though.

Chicken and vegetable pie.
The girlfriend's lamb was soft, juicy and had a nice pink colour.  The gravy worked well with the lamb, while the mint sauce had both mint and onion flavours in abundance - perhaps too much.

Medium-rare lamb.

While there were a few things we would have preferred differently, we nonetheless had a positive experience at The Pheasant.  Its modern feel (despite it being in a very old building), attentive and friendly staff, and proximity to Bassenthwaite Lake will appeal to the many visitors around there.

Dimple glass.

Square Meal Pheasant Inn on Urbanspoon