Sunday, 10 September 2017

Friday night @ Australasia

Friday was "date night" (can't express how much I cringe at that term), which was made significantly better as Australasia had invited me down to review their updated menu. Some people who read my blog (shout out to my dad) might remember when I was last invited to Australasia to review their Sunday menu, or when I took my mum (years ago) for afternoon tea to celebrate Mother's Day. We had a lush meal last time and I was really excited to go on a Friday night when everyone there would be celebrating the arrival of the weekend. 

This had the potential to be a lovely pic had I not been impatient to get to the table haha
When we arrived it was buzzing, really 'chatty' and upbeat, with lots of people looking ready to have a good night. I've said it before and I'll say it again, but the lighting in that place never fails to amaze me. I always forget that I'm underground thanks to the soft, golden glow and white wash walls. They'd also added mirrors since I'd last been, which helped bounce more light around. 

We started off with cocktails: a smokey old fashioned for James and the Australasian porn star martini for me. 

James always gets the smokey old fashioned and I really like it too so it was win win. My martini was gorge - Grey Goose, lychee liqueur, lemon, mango, vanilla, fresh passion fruit and a shot of sparkling Chardonnay (any Belinda Blinked fans out there will know how much excitement that brings!).

We opted to choose from the 'local' menu - (choosing small dishes to share) and our waiter recommended 3-4 dishes each - which is right up my street. I dislike it when you go for the sharing plates option and a waiter recommends a silly number like 2 each. 

So, safe in the knowledge that we had around 6 to 8 dishes to choose from, we got stuck in. 

Salmon sashimi (x6 pieces) was first on the list, it's got to be done. 

We also chose prawn nigiri (x4 pieces) and the Avocado, mango and broccoli Californian rolls (x4 pieces). 

Edamame beans with lashings of lime and salt accompanied this and made up the first part of the meal. 

I love wasabi, and even more so in Australasia when the waiter grates the fresh stuff right in front of you. Please note: I found it so much stronger than usual wasabi, and that's coming from someone who loves spice. There were a good couple of coughing / eye watering fits during this, much to my embarrassment. 

The way the salmon is served is pretty cool, and I was a big fan of the avocado Californian rolls - the floral detailing stamped on the rice made it look really pretty.

We'd also ordered a bottle of sauvignon blanc to go with the meal, and our waiter gave us some good advice on which bottle to have (this didn't feel pushy, it was the same price), but the flavours would compliment our choices better. Or something. Either way, it was lovely.

For our next round of small plates, we chose:

Prawn tempura (a classic), Yakatori chicken skewers and the best named dish... 'ANGRY PRAWNS'  (both from the Robata grill menu). We chose the latter on the name alone, although I did ask what they were, and they're in fact tiger prawns. We also almost ordered scallops sashimi but very quickly changed our minds when we remembered that they would be raw, so opted for the 'hand-dived scallops, cauliflower, carrot and ginger'. 

Let me start with the Angry Prawns. Oh my gosh. If you could only have one dish, make sure it's this one. I feel bad in saying that as all the plates we got were delicious, but these prawns were absolutely insane. Meaty, almost creamy, with a rich sauce, we could've eaten this dish three times over (it's £13.50 for three prawns so make every bite worth it). 

Next up, the chicken skewers. These were right up my street and the portion size was massive. To me, the marinade was almost like a satay, with a spicy but sweet dipping sauce. I really really enjoyed this dish and was pleasantly surprised with how big the skewers were. 

The scallops were lovely too. I have to be in the mood for scallops, and it's one of those food items that I can't really think about what I'm eating when I'm chewing it (anyone else?!), but the texture of these was lovely, not slimy or tough, but had a melt-like quality I've not experienced. The cauli / carrot / ginger puree was a really nice addition too.

We were stuffed. Which naturally meant one thing: dessert menu. 

James was really keen for the Chocolate Dome (it's amazing), and we'd had it last time so you know, needed to try it again, just to be sure we liked it. It comes with molten caramel sauce that they pour over a chocolate dome, it melts and reveals salted caramel icecream and peanuts. YEP. It's actually divine. We demolished it, and also ordered another scoop of icecream to go with it. 

Our serving staff were so friendly, offering helpful advice on what to get and generally looking after us to make sure we were having a good time. Looking around as well, the staff are all so busy but calm, there's a real emphasis on making sure people have a relaxed, amazing experience. 

We never once felt rushed or that the waiters were hurrying us up, and so after we'd been chilling out in a dome coma and they asked if we wanted anything else, espresso martinis seemed like a great idea. 

Going on a Friday night was the perfect way to start the weekend (we ended up 'out out' so Saturday morning was a struggle), and I really couldn't recommend it any more if you're looking for a Friday night treat. Also, the playlist was fab - so many Jessie Ware remixes and just generally 'my type' of chilled music.

It's really funny reading this alongside my last review - I'm clearly still a huge fan!

Naturally, I'm reviewing this place and so wouldn't be posting unless I'd had a good time - I'd like to say though that not many of the staff knew we were reviewing and they were so polite and friendly. 

Australasia remains to be a classic favourite of mine on the 'Manchester scene', and I'm so glad that eighteen months on I'm able to give it as glowing a review as I did then. I've been back in between the two reviews for drinks etc and will no doubt be drinking espresso martinis there again soon... 

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Lentil & Blackbean curry with a nutty butternut squash mash

This weird and wonderful concoction occurred earlier this week when James and I had come home from a long weekend away and there was "nothing in the cupboards" (apart from 9782 tins of beans and tomatoes). I couldn't be bothered to go out so decided to get frugal and creative and voila, this little beauty was born!

It's definitely comfort food at its finest. And 100% not traditional, as I wouldn't usually put the two together, so you could just make the curry on its own...

It's a good job it tastes so nice because it's really hard to make what's essentially a plate of brown vegetables look nice, even with a filter (I took these pics at about 9.30 when this was ready and wasn't expecting to do a blog post from it, so excuse the shoddy photos).

It really is delicious though, so give it a go.

Serves 4:

For the curry you'll need:

  • 1 tin green lentils
  • 1 tin black beans 
  • 100g chesnut mushrooms (any mushrooms will do)
  • 1 tin chopped tinned tomatoes 
  • 1 good squeeze of tomato puree (I love it so always use about half a tube)
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tablespoons garam masala 
  • 1 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • Salt to season

Chop your onion and fry in a pan with the garlic. Add the garam masala and stir, coating the onion. After a few minutes, add your mushrooms and do the same. Then, add your lentils and black beans and stir again. Add the paprika and chilli powder and mix. If things are looking a bit dry, add some water (I think I added about a cup of water). Then add your chopped toms and puree, and let things simmer for about 20 mins. Add a sprinkle of salt and you're done!

For the butternut squash mash you'll need:

  • Around 300g butternut squash (I used pre-diced frozen stuff)
  • 1 tablespoon tahini
  • 1 tablespoon paprika (or a teaspoon if you don't like spice)
  • Pinch of salt
Boil or steam the butternut squash until it's soft and mashable. Drain and give it a mash in the pan, adding in the tahini and paprika and salt. Mix it up well (tahini has a tendency to stick together). 

Serve :)

So there you go. A really quick and easy recipe to make when you've got next to nothing in the cupboards. 


Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Why I love: Walking

I used to really dislike walking as a form of exercise. In fact, I never used to consider it 'exercise' at all, thinking it was 'just' a scaled down version of running, and something you did on hangover free weekends with friends and family (or something your parents would force you to do each Sunday until the day you left home!).

Now though, I'm a total convert. I'm not pretending I've taken up hiking holidays or anything like that, but I've started walking my commute. I know, groundbreaking. It's not a fresh mountain view hike or anything remotely half as beautiful as the picture above would suggest, but it's become a morning ritual (and evening, some days) for me now and I love it.

It takes the same time to walk as it does to get public transport (give or take 5 minutes), and by walking I've found I can reap a whole host of benefits.

Here's why I'm loving walking to work:

1 'Me time' 

I'm absolutely loving having 45 minutes in the morning to walk and wake up, mull over my thoughts, stresses and to-do lists.

I feel like I gain a lot of clarity on my walk, I have time to really think things through and it feels amazing.

I've been trying to walk 'handsfree' as I'd noticed I was glued to my phone and carrying it *all* the time, and every time I've done this I've been amazed at what it feels like to have two hands swinging by my side, rather than one wrapped around my phone, slave to my headphones wrapping themselves around it. It makes me realise how addicted I am to just holding my phone.

I also looveeee listening to podcasts on the way in. Educational, health, funny, smutty, murder / crime thrillers - you name it, I've probably subscribed. Current faves include:

- My Dad Wrote A Porno ( I've never laughed out loud so uncontrollably in public before).
- The Inquiry (really good 20 min podcasts on news and current affair topics, it has four opinions on one subject)
- Don't Salt My Game (Laura Thomas is a Registered Nutritionist and is calling bullshit on the diet industry / fake wellness era we live in)

I'm planning on doing a podcast post, so will leave this here for now..!

It also means I have 45 mins to chat to my family & best friends who don't live near me. This is especially good in the evening when you've got a load of dirty goss to catch up on and couldn't possibly do this on the train with everyone listening. Bliss.

Headspace is a massive plus to walking in, too. In a world where we're bombarded with so much information (see addicted to phone point above), it's nice to have this time to myself.

When I get to work, I'm not annoyed at having been squished on a tram carriage with loads of other people or sat stuck in traffic, I've had 45 minutes to do my own thing, let my mind play out scenarios, plan the day ahead, workout my priorities and just get 'ready' for the day. I've found I come in to work alert, motivated and really refreshed - not groggy or half asleep.

2 Exercise / Fitness

I wear a Fitbit and immediately I noticed the impact walking to (and most days, from) work had on my step count and calorie burn. This really isn't about calories burnt or steps taken, but it's definitely had an impact. The walk is around 5km and I burn around 300/350kcals (obvs this will be totally different for everyone according to distance, body weight, heart rate etc etc etc). I'm also, for the majority of the walk, in the 'fat burning zone', which is different from my usual running / HIIT / strength /  circuits based workouts I do, so a great addition to add to my workouts for the week.

It's great because if I know I'm going to have a busy week and will struggle to maintain my usual workout plan I know I'm still getting 45 minutes (90 if I walk home) of activity in my day.

3 General health

There are a load of other health benefits to walking - including reducing the risk of chronic illnesses (like heart disease, asthma), improving physical health, helping mental health, improving joint and back pain. You can find them all listed on the NHS website here and Bupa here.

4 Getting outdoors

I spend the majority of my time inside. I work in an office. I go to the gym. I cook in the kitchen and chill in my living room most evenings. I go out for dinner (and sit inside) and bars and shops and go to events with friends and dates and most of the time, it's all inside.

On weekends I try and spend as much time outside as possible and during the week, when we're lucky enough to get 'ok' weather, I do really try and make a real effort to get out as much as I can, but living in the UK means this isn't always achievable.

So, walking to work in all weather is another way to make sure I spend some time outside (bear in mind I'm writing this in August and might be telling a different story in November ha).

Lucy Mountain aka @thefashionfitnessfoodie has said so many times on her Instagram that she walks anywhere that takes an hour or less, and that's something that's stuck with me for the past few months. It's very typical in London to walk 45 / 60 minutes as a standard way of getting around and not think about it, but in Manchester / Bristol / other places it's a lot less typical. So I'm trying my best to make it the norm!

I do also have some top tips on how to stick at it, too.

Firstly, don't like I did, try and walk to work in brand new, rigid, heel-skin ripping, blister inducing shoes. Stick to your good old trusty trainers. Yes, you might look like a bit of a knob in a dress and Nike free runs, but such is life.

Secondly, upgrade your dress-meets-trainer look and walk to work in gym kit. I've started doing it and get changed as soon as I'm at work. I found when walking in normal clothes I'd get in the office and the heat of the walk would finally catch up with me and I'd end up half-drenched making lift small talk (gross).

Also, get a raincoat. Seriously. Pride, style and fashion sense must go out the window. One day I think I'll invest in a lush, sleek looking waterproof that will make me look like something out of the Lululemon brochure but for now I'm wearing a massive old Berghaus raincoat that was James's about fifteen years ago (school label in it and everything).

I do have a lush Sweaty Betty rucksack though which is amazing as it fits clothes, shoes, towel, lunch, breakfast, shower stuff, makeup, purse etc etc in it... It's the All Sport rucksack here.

I want to inspire you to walk a little bit more to see the benefits. I'm really really enjoying it, and think you will too. Other people that post a lot about walking and the benefits include my pal Spamella, and Twins in Trainers (these two girls did a really good post here about walking and its benefits).

Long live #LISS.


Sunday, 16 July 2017

Butternut Squash Squares

Oh my gosh, this recipe was a complete accident. One of those total accidental foods that you don't expect to amount to anything but the way it turned out means this will be a weekly thing for me now.

I had a butternut squash to use up (does anyone else hate cutting them?! The skin is so tough..), and decided to roast it so I could chuck it in the oven and forget about it, and have it with something for tea that evening.

Now, I'm trying to go more plant based / veggie 80% of the time (more on this later, I'm sure), so I knew I wanted to try and spice this up a bit more to make it more of a 'main event' in a meal.

The flavours, the texture - this is a winner, and I think you'll love it.

You'll need:

  • 1 large butternut squash, de-skinned and chopped into cubes
  • 3 or 4 tablespoons of tahini (I used Meridian)
  • 3 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • Olive oil to drizzle
  • Sea salt 

This makes about four portions, so alter if you want to make more.

Chop your butternut squash into cubes, removing all of the skin. It's a bit of a chore to chop, and be careful as it can be a bit slippy sometimes with a knife (or you could buy the pre-chopped stuff). I really hate the stringy bits (they literally freak me out so much), but don't let me stop you adding these if you want to.

Place on a baking tray, and drizzle with olive oil, mixing the cubes until they're covered. Then add your paprika - I love a bit of spice so went for three generous tablespoons but you can adapt to your preferences... also I used smoked paprika because I like the taste but normal paprika is fine.

Next, sprinkle sea salt over the cubes and mix everything so that all your cubes are covered. Then, drizzle 3 or 4 tablespoons of tahini over and mix again, ensuring all of the squares are coated.

Roast in the oven for 40/45 mins at 180 degrees until they're crisp, golden and fluffy inside.


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