bents winter food market

 

I moved to the UK back in 1999 and boy were things different here. Well compared to what I was used to anyway. Streets were different, houses were different, days out were different. One of the strangest things I remember the first year of our return, was learning that a trip to the garden centre in England, was not actually just a trip to a garden centre… it was a day out??

Does this happen anywhere else in the world? Or is it just a UK thing I wonder?

Honestly, I came to realise that nothing is more exciting than stumbling across a new garden centre and I’m not even any good at gardening. Garden centres to me usually mean… a nice hearty lunch, lots of beautiful plant life, great gift sections and home and garden ware that’s ready to be the envy of all your friends and family.

Sorry… wait, I take it back. There is something more exciting than stumbling across a new on. And that is, taking a trip back to an old one!

The best ‘old’ one of the lot? Bents.

Ahh Bents.

Many, many years ago my dad took my mum to Bents garden centre and ever since my mum has taken countless friends and of course her family to experience the joy of a day out in Bents. A few weeks ago I was invited to the launch of their new Winter Food market, a brand new venture they had decided to embark on after many years of contemplating.

For me, no trip to Bents is complete without taking mother in tow, so Mo was left at home that evening and instead Mum and I scheduled some quality time together. It had been a long time since my last visit, thinking back it must have been at least 6 years (at least). When we pulled up into the car park I was literally gobsmacked by the sheer size of it.

 

 

Was it always this big? Or perhaps the addition of hundreds and thousands of tiny fairy lights made it seem so much grander. We drove into the vast car park and found ourselves walking through the food market entrance. Yes the food market. The last time I visited Bents the food section was quite small. A few counters, few shelves… but now there were fresh patisserie counters, a whole freezer section, fresh fruit and vegetables… and of course no area of Bents is complete without fantastic displays interspersed amongst it all.

 

 

It was so hard not to spend all our time shopping for groceries, but we wanted to visit the market first before spending time looking around (I had just come straight from work and food was very much required).

Heading out into the outdoor garden section, there in the corner sits the new Winter Food Market, a collection of mini huts, picnic tables, outdoor heaters and of course lots of Bents decorating touches. We walked into the evenings private event and took a stroll around the food stalls on offer. When the Christmas Markets come to Manchester, a year can not go by where I don’t indulge in a fresh crepe on a cold evening. So I was glad to hear this market revolved around food.

But not just any food, food for everyone. Yes to my pleasant surprise I have finally found a market where I can queue up and order a HOT DOG. You have no idea how good that feels. And yes ok it’s a vegan hot dog, but you know what, it tasted damn good! If vegan hot dog doesn’t take your fancy, there is an incredible pulled mushroom roll you need to buy and try. Truth be told I do not like mushrooms. And yet, here was a sandwich full of them and it was the most delicious thing I’d eaten in a very, very long time! There was a sweets stall with fresh waffles – and crepes and of course one dedicated to drinks. Again, even the hot drink section, instead of just brewing mulled wine like every Christmas market does, there was also a non-alcoholic apple toddy, infused with ginger and cinammon. Oh but you have to try the hot white chocolate – up there with my favourite Slatterys one, thick and creamy but not overly sweet.

 

 

It was pretty busy that night, tables were full but we spotted a couple of picnic table end seats available and the family on the other side of it invited us to perch and enjoy our meal sat down. We happily accepted, my mum completely drawn in by their beautiful baby girl. As it turned out, they were members of the Bents family. In all my years of coming to Bents, I had no idea this was a homegrown family business. In fact, Bents are celebrating their 80th year and we learned that family is an important part of everything they do. If Mum and I didn’t love Bents before, we certainly have an extra soft spot for it now. The hospitality and friendliness demonstrated not only by the famous family but also the staff on the night really blew us away.

 

 

There was entertainment playing on the stage in the corner, the lights twinkled, we were surrounded by flowers and plants, there was a lovely atmosphere. The Open Skies Glass House at Bents has one of those magical roof systems, where the panels can open to let in the fresh air, the cool crisp chill of winter. But unlike the markets in town – as soon as the rain decides to fall those panels can close right back up keeping you safe and dry and allow you to crack on with your evening.

 

 

Before we knew it, closing time was upon us. What we thought would be a quick visit to the markets turned into a whole evening out. Time had flown and it wasn’t long (a week later to be precise) before we were back to properly explore the store and purchase the odds and sods we needed. Return visits are so important, I’ve mentioned before people are always quick to point out to me that I must only receive good service when people know I’m a blogger. Well you know what, if people want to be rude, blogger or not they will be rude. I’m a firm believer that so long as you treat people with respect they will return the favour. And anyway, I can’t ever remember anything BUT good service at Bents, so the fact that we are still receiving it should be of no surprise.

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the happenings of the city, I feel so guilty having neglected places like Bents over the last few years. The opening of the food court is a real game changer, Mo and I recently bought some frozen pastries to cook for guests we had staying over and they were fantastic! Although my top food court tip – Honey dew pomelo fruit is absolutely AMAZING. You will not find a pomelo this beautifully sweet in a normal supermarket, if you find it at all!

All in all, I’m so glad Bents decided to follow their dreams and finally open this Winter Food Market experience, I think it’s a great addition to the centre and gives us just another reason to return.

Who am I kidding, like we ever needed another reason 😉

 

Fan of Garden centres? Do you treat it as a day trip too? Have you been to Bents? 

 

Few details:
The Winter Food Market is open now until 22nd December.
Mon – Tues 12-5pm
Weds – Frid 12-8pm
Sat 12-5pm
Sun 12-4pm

 

*** Thank you to Bents for inviting my mother and I to taste the goods at the Winter Food Market. The hospitality we were shown was exceptional. Of course all opinions and photos are my own ***

 

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a-health-inspired-indian-menu-has-hit-the-streets-2

 

After a week of indulgence in Spain, I was very much looking forward to getting back into ‘clean’ food, so Scene’s latest event invitation could not have come at a better time.

On the 27th September, Spinningfields’ only Indian restaurant had planned a press launch to showcase their new menu, with a special focus on healthy choices and super-foods.

I decided to drag along my personal diet and lifestyle guru (aka baby sister) to join me as my plus one for the evening and we headed over after work and settled down in the ever so familiar surroundings. As we waited for the tables to fill up, we tucked straight into our pappadoms and dips and excitedly looked over tonight’s menu.

 

scene-manchester-new-menu-launch-spinningfields-10

 

The evening kicked-off with the lovely Emaan, Scene’s Marketing Director, talking us through their inspiration for this new venture. For those who haven’t visited before, the whole concept of Scene is based on street food. With a lot of hard work from a team of experts, the new menu has been developed to be heavily ‘taste’ focused and pulls in the use of flavours from all over India.

During the night, we also heard from Executive Chef, Sudesh Singh and popular Celebrity Nutritionist, Jeannette Jackson, who both explained how they planned to lead the way in healthy eating, by upping the use of protein combined with low carb, nutrient rich sides.

Mo and I often argue about the benefits of Indian food. Indian food does get a bad rep – oily, greasy, full of fat and cream – all things you hear regularly when curry comes up. Indian spices themselves have incredible medicinal and well-being properties but most restaurants and takeaways combine them with such unhealthy ingredients and cooking methods which completely negate any benefit. So, to finally have somewhere that recognises the need to create wholesome meals, with the impactful flavours of India, was refreshing (and about time really).

First course, I’m going to go all out and say what I was thinking – it was a bad idea… A really bad, bad idea. Why? Because it was DELICIOUS. It really set the bar high for the rest on the night. When you read carrot and coriander soup, I know in my head that doesn’t set off any exciting ‘can’t wait to eat it’ alarm bells. But you will not find a soup with this kind of spice kick and quality, believe me.

 

 

It was closely followed by a whole table full of treats: Chicken 65, Lucknowi chicken wings, chicken pakora, paneer pakora and potato and mint chaat. The pakora were distinct in taste and I loved the chilli sauce drizzled on top. The pastry was also nice and light, although I’m not a massive fan of paneer (personal preference). Chaat has always been one of my favourite indian dishes and with the inclusion of potato and pomegranate, I could easily have had that as my main.

After devouring nearly everything that had landed, it dawned on us that these were the starters. At which point we both realised that we had not strategically planned stomach space to fit all the dishes in and somewhere in between mouthfuls of chaat, I started to feel really full.

In moments like this, us bloggers and tasting folk, well we just have to suck it up and power through.

Onto the mains.

 

 

Spiced grill chicken, lime infused quinoa with cranberries and pomegranate, kale and beetroot with spiced orange salad, rada chicken and lamb, daal Punjabi and finally chicken biryani. The salad and in some cases fruit accompaniments complimented each dish perfectly, balancing sweet and savoury tastes in an original way. With each dish we enjoyed picking out the distinct notes, the bursts of spice, some of which reminded us once again of home.

Just as we got to the point where I was going to have to be rolled home (I obviously didn’t get the portion control memo when trying to eat healthy), our saviour G, joined us to enjoy the last few parts of the meal and made sure none of this good food went to waste.

All in all we had a wonderful evening. I got to spend some time with my favourite people, at one of my favourite restaurants and most importantly, enjoyed a tasty guilt-free meal. What more could a blogger ask for?

 

Thank you to Scene for inviting us to taste the new menu, which is now up and running so be sure to check it out! As always all opinions and foodie thoughts are my own.

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chaophraya-new-menu-launch-7-copy

 

It’s been a long time since I last enjoyed a good Thai meal. New menu launch at Chaophraya in Manchester? Oh, yes please.

Mo and I visited Chaophraya several times, shortly after we first got married. Thai food was always something I WANTED to enjoy, but some of the flavours were just never really my cup of tea. Over the years, I started to appreciate the cuisine as I grew more adventurous, but I didn’t feel the need to return to Chaophraya. I never avoided the restaurant, it was just never top of my agenda to go and visit. Let’s just say it never blew me away.

But all of that changed last week….

Mo arrived back from work in Yorkshire last Thursday evening and I had a table booked for 8, I picked a time slot that ensured I wouldn’t have to deal with any pre-meal hangriness (from his side rather than mine). I picked him up from the train station and we headed straight to the restaurant, where we were greeted with the traditional Thai, ‘sawadika’ by a lovely lady called Fon.

The Manchester venue is a pretty good looking place to eat. I literally can’t fault the design. If you need a place to impress a date, loved one, friend, party – this should be top on your list. This centrally located restaurant oozes seriously good style.

 

(FYI – most of these images I requested from Chaphraya – I wanted you to see how amazing it looks but I hadn’t had the time to snap my own shots whilst we were there)

 

Fon found us the perfect table for an intimate evening meal, brought over the brand new menus  and took the time to explain exactly how the range of food on offer, had changed. The previous menu contained food of a traditional Bangkok style, the flavours and spices used were all of one type and every dish kind of blended into one.

As we perused the options whilst sipping on our Mai Mao mocktails, we listened intently as Fon explained what this launch set out to achieve, the taste of Thai cuisine from the various different regions of Thailand. And so off the Chaophraya team went, to Thailand on a ‘working holiday’ (lucky sods!) to see what they could bring back to our shores. They cut the menu size down, practically in half, and really concentrated on providing the British consumer with dishes you probably won’t have encountered at many other Thai restaurants. The menu clearly emphasises their journey across the country, using various spices and cooking techniques specific to its region. It was clear that each dish had been developed to be part of a taste-driven menu. Don’t worry though, they’ve held onto firm favourites such as pad thai.

Fon, our host that evening, was lovely, very vivacious, she spoke of how she had started as a waitress before getting a job in the marketing department after graduating. When it came to discussing the Chaophraya brand, she really knew what she was talking about and it was obvious from her genuine passion that this wasn’t just spin.

She was also responsible for delivering possibly the best news of the evening before we began: the chicken, lamb and beef are all halal here.

Well, this evening just got SO much more interesting.

My meat-eating husband breathed the hugest sigh of relief as we started pressing Fon for her recommendations, most of which we ended up going with. For starters, we chose the squid tempura and chicken tacos. On receiving the tempura I instantly regretted not choosing Fon’s recommendation, the soft-shell crab salad. There was nothing actually wrong with the tempura, but the minute I saw it I remembered that anything fried just doesn’t sit well with me at the moment. What I will say is the accompanying sauce was delicious – and not your usual dipping sauce – and the portion was a really generous size.

 

 

Now the tacos, well they were absolutely delightful, bursting with flavour. My taste-buds were literally dancing. Already, this was NOT the Chaophraya I remember.

Then came the mains, the super impressive mains. I ordered the chilli glazed spatchcock poussin (baby chicken) which came on a bed beautifully presented mango salad.

Mo ordered the sirloin steak which came with it’s own baked brick of Himalayan salt on which to cook the meat. We had come across a similar concept as a restaurant in Stockholm which served a hot brick to cook tuna, but had never seen it here in the UK, or done with a salt brick (I couldn’t resist checking and my taste test can confirm it most definitely was salt). The beef was served with Thai vegetables. The tenderest slices of spicy peppered beef which melted in the mouth. Mo was in heaven.

 

 

We also ordered a side portion of the crab fried rice on Fon’s recommendation which was absolutely delicious, sweetened naturally by the gorgeous crab meat. Thinking about it now, I just want to go back and have it all over again.

With each course came a warning – leave room for dessert.

After polishing off every morsel of food from our main courses, we were presented with dessert menus. Everything sounded incredible. Mo – a chocolate connoisseur, was seriously DYING to try the chocolate bombe, but it came only with Thai whiskey ice-cream (we have suggested a non-alcoholic option as we suspect this is going to be a hugely popular choice).

Instead, he opted for the coconut panna cotta instead. I ordered the white chocolate box and we finished the night with a couple of herbal teas – Moroccan mint for me, and ginger and lemongrass for the hubby.

 

 

The desserts were stunning (really should have listened to the advice given and left more room). The white chocolate box simply melted in my mouth. It wasn’t a cheesecake, nor was it a mousse, it was somewhere in between. Not too rich, not too sweet, with a perfect biscuit base. I should also point out, that choosing a dessert here was ridiculously hard. I am usually a real fuss pot when it comes to this part of the meal and I am known for bypassing this course purely as I’m so specific with what I like, however there is no problem of that here, my main issue was deciding what not to have. A dilemma I welcomed.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get better for Mo after he inhaled his steak, well the best, evidently, was yet to come. He took one bite of his lime sorbet which came with the coconut panna cotta and literally shouted ‘THIS IS THAILAND’. With every bite he took he said it again and again and again and again. It was cute at first, but then I felt myself rolling my eyes at his constant gushing, putting it down to him having a nice evening. I decided to nick a taste to see what all the fuss was about, and I totally got it. The instant that sorbet settled on my tongue, I could see how it catapulted him straight back to Thailand. I couldn’t quite describe it either but I could see exactly what he meant. For Mo, this was a really new food experience for him, he has never had the luxury of finding a dish that could take him right back to a specific place, specific memories. I’d say that’s a pretty good way to end a meal.

All in all how did we find the new food concept?

The new menu was a firm 10 out of 10 from our side. For flavour, for presentation, for experience. Needless to say that I was quite taken aback by how great the new Chaophraya menu actually was, after not expecting much to have changed. Mo and I are definitely looking forward to testing out the other creations on the menu, I’ve certainly got my eye on a number of the thai curries.

The food here is not Thai street food, nor is it high dining. It is a perfect amalgamation of the two and knowing now that this was their goal, I can safely say that they achieved the balance perfectly.

Aside from exploring the other menu options, we are most looking forward to taking our friends and family there to share the wonderful taste journey we experienced that evening.

So… who’s up for thai tacos?!?

 

 

*** Thank you to Chaophraya for inviting us to taste a selection of dishes from the new menu. Of course all opinions on this post are completely my own. Thank you to the team at Manchester (and Leeds) for a wonderful evening ***

 

Have you been to Chaophraya? What do you think??? Have you ever had a food take you back to a special memory??

Chaophraya Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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september travel linkup

 

Just a few days ago, I was sat in the office kitchen at lunch time and my colleagues and I were discussing all the weird and wonderful things we’ve eaten during our travels. There was talk of terrapin feet, brain, intestines, lamb testicles…. the list was pretty impressive. No sooner were we discussing the weird, did we then swiftly move onto the wonderful. And food, good food, is most definitely one of my all time favourite things to talk about!

I have always loved food (let’s be honest, who doesn’t?!). I love looking at it. Smelling it. Eating it. Watching people cooking it… anything that involves something that is to be ingested interests me. But I have to say my taste palette has become a lot more varied since being married, as Mo has introduced me to all types of new cuisines, and given me the confidence to really experiment and not be afraid of unusual flavours or funny smelling dishes.

So rather then natter on endlessly about all the amazing foodie experiences I’ve had over the years I thought I’d share my top 5:

 

1. The first time I enjoyed sushi at Sushi Samba

I didn’t get the whole ‘sushi’ thing at first. I had tried it a few times and just not enjoyed it at all. But I’m a complete sucker for interiors and when I spotted Sushi Samba in a copy of Elle Decoration, I had to book Mo and I in the next time we were in London. I’m so glad I did too, the sushi served here was so different to ones I had tried before (mainly ones from supermarkets and takeaways).

Mo, a big fan of sushi, ordered for us and I absolutely loved every thing we had, I even braved ceviche which was totally new to me. I ended up falling head over heels in love with sushi, sashimi, the whole collection of raw fish and it is now something I crave on a regular basis. I think enjoying one really good sushi meal has even made me less fussy, as I often have to settle for the off the shelf products just to please my belly when we can’t get to a restaurant.

 

 

2. Conquering my first pot of Moules in the South of France

Again, I had never really thought of mussels as an enjoyable dish. I just assumed it was something people threw into a seafood pasta once in a while to make it look diferent. But of course, as Mo and I wandered the streets of Grasse in the South of France, Moules Frites dominated the specials board and I was determined to give it a go.

A bit daunting when you have a giant pot full of them placed in front of you, but with a few helpful tips from Mo, I was soon working my way through and loving the combination of lightly spiced tender mussels with the perfectly cooked crispy French fries.

 

 

3. Indulging in an 8 course meal in Bangkok

We knew it was going to be a magical evening when we decided to book the Apsara Twilight New Years Eve cruise along the Chaophraya in Bangkok. We didn’t realise how spoilt we would get when it came to the menu. We were treated to 8 courses with halal options, it was sensational!

 

 

4. Eating tapas everyday in Barcelona

I just couldn’t get enough of it. I loved it all. I couldn’t pick one dish that was better than the other when we were in Barcelona. I find myself constantly wishing we were back just to eat the food. Bacalao, cod fritters, empanadas, patatas bravas…. even enjoyed octopus for once. Surprisingly, a lot of people I speak to aren’t that impressed by the food over there, but I think the fact that you don’t have to settle on just the one dish, is the best idea ever. In less than two weeks Mo and I are headed back to Spain so I’m looking forward to new foodie finds!

 

 

5. Snacking on the best cheesy-pancake-bread at a street market in Brussels

Now, this wonderfully light-airy-cheese-filled-slightly-greasy-but-not flatbread that we came across in the Gare Du Midi market in Brussels, was the main topic of conversation when we were discussing food at work. We were trying to find ways to get in touch with people in Brussels who may know what this wonderful creation made by this angel of a woman was called. Here it is:

 

 

By some miracle my dear friend Ash actually managed to find out that it is a type of Moroccan pancake – m’smmen (or mesemen). Now all I need is for somebody to tell me where I can source it here in Manchester!

 

What are your most memorable foodie experiences??

 

 *** September Travel Linkup ***

This month we’re getting greedy. We would LOVE to share in your most interesting or the most meaningful food experience.
How to link up your post

Just pop your post up over the first week of the month (the 1st – 7th September), add it to the link up widget – found on either Angie’s, Jessi’s, Emma’s or on our lovely co-host Tanja at Red Phone Box Travels – from the 1st of the month.

There are no rules – basically all we ask is that you check out some of the other cool bloggers that are involved in that months travel link up; make a few comments here and there and tweet a few of the posts out that you think they will love. It’s a great way to meet some new travel bloggers and share some blogging joy!

The Travel Link Up is open to all bloggers as long as the post is relevant.

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best chocolate in Barcelona, spain

 

“I just fancy something chocolate-y!” Mo kept saying to me as we strolled down the Passeig de Gracia.

It was our last afternoon in Barcelona and after five days of non stop exploring (predominantly on foot), I was not in the mood to go on a hunt for chocolate.

We were both tired – really tired! However, almost as though the City had heard his call, did we find ourselves on the block of discord, Illa de la Discordia, right outside Casa Amatller – a stunning modernist building that blended neatly onto a road surrounded by the majesty of Gaudi architecture.

Recalling what we had learnt from our Gaudi tour, the financiers (usually wealthy families) of these incredible structures loved to weave the stories of their careers and how they made their money, into the buildings they commissioned. Mr Amatller was considered the foremost chocolatier of Spain so surely the bright café sign inside would be inspired by his legacy and fulfil Mo’s chocolate craving at the same time.

 

 

The building was designed by the architect Joseph Puig i Cadafalch and is considered one the most important architectural masterpieces of the MANY that dominate Barcelona. The large open doorway led to a cavernous entrance hall and Cafe Foborit occupies the back of the house.

 

 

It was busy, even though it wasn’t a peak time of the day, there was a real hustle and bustle of people wandering from the cafe to shop and back. We walked through to the small courtyard at the back and found a lovely spot by the large planted wall. The hustle and bustle was no more and instead we were sat in a serene oasis, the odd Gaudi elements still in view.

No sooner had I settled myself down than Mo had disappeared?! He emerged explaining in excited wonderment, what he had just seen: THICK. HOT. CHOCOLATE. ON. TAP. He said it was like a dream. His eyes were the biggest I’d ever seen them go!

10 minutes had passed and the waitresses came and went. No sign of our hot chocolates or cake. Now I’m not usually a fan of chocolate (crazy, I know), but when Mo explained that literally everyone was ordering it and that it looked amazing, even I was anxious to see what the hype was about. 15 minutes came and went and there was still no order.

My husband is not known for his patience and by this point was getting a bit agitated. He went in to find out what had happened and it turns out a waitress had actually emerged with our order even before Mo had returned from paying. They were very apologetic about it and a fresh order was produced minutes later (Thank God, as it could easily have been murder on the chocolatier’s floor!).

 

 

What can I say, as a non-chocolate fan, even I enjoyed this cup of unctuous, molten cocoa. Neither too sweet, nor too bitter, it coated my palate with the smoothest hot chocolate I had ever had. Simply delicious. Although I was a bit taken aback when I saw there was a piece of crusty bread on my saucer. I looked at Mo in utter confusion, what was I supposed to do with this?! he assured me it was to dip in the chocolate. Always one for giving new things a try (even though it seemed a bit wrong) and lo and behold it was actually quite nice, dusted with a sprinkling of icing sugar it was very addictive.

This was a perfect break to all of the walking we had been doing. We didn’t want to leave!

Post hot chocolates and cake, and with our legs by now well-rested, we headed in to the gift shop. BAD idea – as after that little cup of paradise, all Mo wanted to do was buy everything! There goes his diet. To have left without our own slabs of solid cocoa from which to make the famed hot chocolate would have been criminal. So we bought some – maybe even more than some…

Souvenirs in hand, we went back out into the stunning hallway. We were both dying to explore this incredible building but it was closed to the public for while. A real shame as couldn’t help but wonder what the rest of the interiors would look like.

The most wonderful thing about this building is that it still stands as a monument to what is was built for – the finest purveyor of chocolate that Spain has ever seen. And with that one cup, we got to savour just a little bit of it’s history.

For chocolate-lovers and lovers of architecture alike, no trip to Barcelona should be complete without a visit to Casa Amatller.

Trust me, you won’t regret it 🙂

 

Have you visited the block of discord? Tried the chocolate at Café Faborit? Or have you found anywhere better we should check out next time?

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