Restaurant Review 3: San Marino’s in Mapperley, Nottingham.

For lovers off authentic Italian recipes, generously sized portions and a warm welcome, may I suggest San Marino’s Restaurant in Mapperley.

This small, independently run business in a suburb of Nottingham creates mouth watering food guaranteed to delight.

Their pasta dishes will bring a smile to your face. Whether you go for the decadent and silky smooth creamy dishes or fresh and fragrant tomato based dishes, there is something for everyone.

Every meal is made fresh to order and if you have special dietary requirements, staff are happy to accommodate.

Their chef is a person of great imagination. Even when faced with a long list of ‘banned ingredients’, the food that is produced is exquisite.

The seafood fettuccine was incredible. Expertly made, the pasta was coated in just the right amount of light, vibrant sauce and generously laiden with fresh seafood.

In the UK, it is rare to find pasta that is as jam packed with delicious fruits of the sea. Especially rare in a restaurant that is such good value.

It’s not just seafood that pleases. Chicken, steak, fish or vegetarian dishes. Pasta, risotto or sauté potatoes. Their menu is straightforward and packed full of dishes crying out to be eaten.

Advertisements
Posted in Restaurant Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Restaurant Review 2: Players’ Restaurant, Gala Casino – Birmingham.

This recently refurbished 24 seat restaurant has undergone a somewhat remarkable transformation. In a matter of months, the look of the dining room, the development of an upscale menu and even the location of the restaurant has changed for the better.

Well padded, semi circular cream sofa benches, black tables and black chairs take up one side of the small but chic dining room.

Staff are hospitable.

The Entertainments Manager is a man with a chef-fing background and an infectious passion for good food. Proudly, he tells me that all their steaks are sourced in Scotland and hung for atleast 28 days. Food provenance is given much credence here.

Even when cooked ‘blue’, the New York Strip Steak is soft and flavourful – served with Rustic Chips and a pleasingly potent Pepper Sauce.

Try the Baked Box Camembert. If you love cheese, you’ll love this. Rich and gooey, it melts in the mouth, paired with a sweet cranberry jelly.

The Greek Salad is refreshing and the Creamy Peppered Stilton Mushroom, sinful.

The slow roasted Lamb Shank falls off the bone and comes with a fantastic home-made minted meat gravy. Served with a fluffy mash and parsnip crisps, you’ll enjoy this dish.

Finish with a rich Raspberry and Chocolate Cheesecake. Or indulge in Death by Chocolate. Enjoy with fresh ice cream, generously flecked with Italian Vanilla.

Posted in Restaurant Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Restaurant Review 1: Banks Bistro – Wolverhampton.

Crisp white linen, soft lighting and a soothing ambience.

Customer service at Banks is impeccable. Staff are attentive and knowledgeable.

Fresh flowers adorn each table in this intimate 60 seater restaurant. The menu is seasonal, easy to navigate and fills the diner with much anticipation.

Dishes display a commitment to quality and creativity in the kitchen.

Starters to recommend include the Grilled Goats Cheese. Delicious with roasted beetroot, caramelised walnuts and fresh watercress. In the mouth, this sophisticated first course is sweet, sharp, soft and crunchy.

Try the Braised Blade of Beef served with chive mash, red onion jam and a red wine reduction. It has a melt in the mouth texture and a warm and satisfyingly sweet, fruit sauce – perfect eating for those wintery nights.

Baked Raspberry Cheesecake is moist and rich whilst the intriguing Chocolate Hazelnut and Sultana Bread and Butter Pudding works well alongside a heady serving of clotted cream.

Posted in Restaurant Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Become a local super hero. Spend £5.

Freelance Copywriter Babu Basu lends his voice to the ‘Totally Locally Campaign,’ encouraging people to spend just £5 locally, each week.

The Background.

Surprise, surprise. Bad financial news is threatening to engulf us all.

Again.

But despite an overwhelming wave of fiscal fatalities and endless economic drudgery, I’m happy to report that there are still those of us who are prepared to fight the good financial fight.

Woe is me. Woe is you.

The last three years has seen the decimation of many a business – locally and globally.

Major economies seem set to disappear down precarious pecuniary precipices and many customers and traders have simply lost their way (if not their livelihoods).

Panic, panic! The end of the world is nigh.

Prices are rising, consumer confidence is falling and wages have been frozen or cut. In response to this, many of us are buying less.

According to Stephen Robertson, Director General of the British Retail Consortium,

“In July, all types of shopping locations saw reduced footfall year-on-year and that was before the effect of this month’s disturbances in England.”

In the UK, average footfall was down 1%. And in selected pockets of the UK, the picture was much worse. Robertson estimated that in Welsh towns and cities, there was shortfall of 9.2%.

The Local Data Company visited every town in England, Scotland and Wales between  January and June this year, examining trading patterns in our local communities. In the six most severely affected towns,

“…between and a quarter and a third of all high streets lay empty.”

Happily, overall vacancy rates (shop units left empty) have fallen slightly from 14.5% to 14.3%.

However, according to Hopkinson, “This means that over one in eight shops across England, Scotland and Wales still lies empty.’

So we’re ready to give up then? No, not quite.

Amidst the monetary meltdown there is still hope. And it’s something that we, the economically ordinary can do something about.

The Totally Locally Campaign was started in Yorkshire in response to the rapidly diminishing number of local, independently run shops.

Totally Locally ask us to celebrate the “hidden jewels” embracing the quality and diversity of business in their areas we live in.

So how can we help?

Drum roll please…

Just spend £5 a week in local, independently run businesses and you help to plough significant amounts of money back into your neighbourhood.

That’s it? A fiver?

Yup. That’s it.

West Bridgford (south of Nottingham City Centre) has a population close to 36,000. If each resident invested the equivalent of £5 locally a week, this would equate to a cash injection of more than £9.3 million annually!

And for somewhere smaller, like Mapperley, with a smaller population of about 7,000, that’s still an impressive spend of £1,820,000.

So how does this help me?

A valid question.

Well, a better local economy will mean a wider selection of local products and businesses available to you. For foodstuffs or plants, this may mean better quality items that are grown in season and use minimal transportation.

Local food markets, or farmers’ markets are a fantastic morning out. Not only do you get to see fresh and intriguing goods you just wouldn’t see in the supermarkets, but you also get to gorge on the most delicious produce. Foodie heaven.

In the case of services, local businesses can offer a more personalised level of service based upon a greater degree of local knowledge and greater flexibility.

And the good news doesn’t stop there.

Increased local affluence will mean lower crime rates, more employment, increased quality of life, better schools and better educational attainment.

So save your community. Spend £5.

Posted in The economy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Love Indian Food. Hate Curry.

Ferocious Foodie and Freelance Copywriter Babu Basu, begs us all to stop using the offensive ‘C’ Word.

The offensive ‘C’ Word.

Curry, curry, curry. There, I have said it. Forgive me Madhur Jaffrey for I have sinned.

The awful C word has been bandied about for decades by the great and the not so good.

The word is lazy, inaccurate, misleading and sends a shudder down my culinary spine whenever I hear it.

As Indian food has become ever more popular, so has use of the awful C word. I’m not sure who to blame or how it came about, but here’s a few theories for you. (Forgive my temporary and wanton use of the C word).

How the bad language started.

If you do your research online (always a dangerous thing), some articles suggest that ‘Curries’, are so called because

1) They all have curry powder in them. They don’t. Only a few Indian dishes do.

Most recipes are be based upon a type of ‘Garam Masala’ – a blend of roasted and ground spices used to make a dish  aromatic and flavoursome.

2) Some people have suggested that ‘Curries’ are made with Curry Leaves. Not usually.

3) I have even heard it suggested that Curry comes from the word ‘Korai’ a two handled bowl-shaped cast iron pan in which the food is cooked. Oh dear me no.

However the term was started, it was probably helpful for the Brits who at the time, were occupying India. India was (and is) a land of immense diversity. Bewildered Brits needed a way to simplify life in an unruly India. Bringing law and order was more important than learning about the local food.

Brits of today no longer rule India, but they are a lot savvier about Indian food. They’ve embraced the cuisine of the sub continent in most impressive way. Pubs, restaurants and even supermarkets are offering a range of dishes – from the sublime and authentic right down to the silly and unpleasant.

When is Curry not a bad word?

In the Far East, the term ‘curry’ has its place. If for example I saw on the menu, ‘Thai Red Curry’, or “Thai Green Curry’ I would know what was being offered and the type of taste it would provide. Curry can be descriptive in the right context. But to use it to describe an entire cuisine is unhelpful.

C is for Changeable.

India is a vast country. Her people are as diverse as the dishes they produce. No one word can do justice to the variety of food on offer.

Traditionally, where you lived affected the type of dish you cooked. Generally, the further down south you travelled, the hotter the food got.

The availability of local ingredients also had a big impact on the type of food you produced.For example, coastal areas developed fish and seafood dishes, whilst regions with coconut trees would feature coconut in much of their cooking. Religion would also influence what people could eat. In predominantly Hindu areas, it was much harder to find beef dishes, whilst in predominantly Muslim areas you wouldn’t find pork.

Some branches of Hinduism and Buddhism discouraged their followers to eat meat or fish altogether. One sect even went as far as banning the use of root vegetables, lest any insects be harmed whilst digging.

As in any other country, recipes in India can vary from family to family. Differing blends of Masala, differing ingredients and different techniques create food that is sometimes subtle and  sophisticated. Sometimes it’s powerful and pungent. And sometimes it’s sweet and smooth.

Indian food is often accused of being too hot. Without doubt, some of it is. But it doesn’t have to be. The word ‘spicy’ is misused when describing food with ‘heat’. It is not the spice that packs the punch – well not usually. It’s the chilli.

I recently visited Goa, on the west coast of India. When asking for dishes that were described as ‘not hot’ I was served food that had my eyes running and my head burning. A trip to Domino’s Pizza (yes they have them there too) revealed a whole host of pizza ingredients including an officially not so hot (read hot) mincemeat and a volcanic tandoori chicken as hot as the tandoor oven from whence it cam.

Bengali food (originating from the province of West Bengal in India and from what is now Bangladesh) is, on the whole a more subtle affair. Their flavours tend to be well balanced, often making great use of their fantastically fresh seafood. Bengalis also eat a lot of lamb and chicken, whilst their ‘Mishti’, (a selection of handmade desserts) can break the will of even the most disciplined dieter.

Cooked in many parts of India, Moglai food is an even more lavish affair. Based upon the cooking that came from the court of the Moghuls. The Moghuls, a hugely wealthy and influential dynasty who amongst other things, were responsible for building the Taj Mahal required food that reflected their status. Moglai food is the food of celebration and excess. Their rich, heady dishes are the Indian equivalent of classical French cuisine.

Nowadays, Indians live in  a whirling mass of religious, linguistic and cultural diversity. Economic migration, Partition and the real term fall in the price of travelling has meant that all kinds of ingredients are found in all manner of places. Because of farming practices, widely used ingredients in India like chicken and fish, are often better tasting then equivalent products in the UK.

The quality of beef and pork however, (not traditionally consumed in most of India) still has a long way go.

Bad food, bad language. Who else is responsible?

Bad Indian takeaways. based in the UK (often guilty of using the C word), have done Indian food a huge disservice. Because of their second rate output, UK residents were introduced to food that was greasy, flat tasting  and often vividly coloured. Many of Indian takeaways were also guilty of misusing the C word.

Such venues would be better served (and patroned) if they took the time to describe their dishes with more meaningful words. A well written menu should be educational as well as a vehicle to stimulate the senses and motivate expenditure.

Secondly, they should only produce a quality of food that they themselves would be happy to eat. At present, some restaurants create fare that is not fit for consumption.

Whether you are cooking for one or one hundred, Indian should not be inch deep in oil and grease. And when I see bland Indian food with unidentifiable ingredients, it makes me mad. Indian food is many things but bland it ain’t.

Just to make it clear, I am not criticizing all restaurants and takeaways. Some restaurants do their utmost to promote fantastic Indian food. Award winning venues like Saffron in Birmingham and Bombay Brasserie and Tamarind in London are constantly pushing boundaries and changing opinions.

But it’s not just the big places that are courtiers of quality. Small places like Babu’s in Southall (nothing to do with me I am afraid), or Prashad of Bradford are packed with Asian punters eager to eat. If you see a restaurant where most of the diners are the same ethnicity as the food being produced, you’re generally onto a good thing.

C is for Cantankerous

You may accept what I’ve said. You may even agree with me. But for those of you who like to label things, you probably won’t me to ‘take away’  the C word. What word could you use instead?

Well I’m going to be brave. I’m not going to give you an alternative. You don’t need one.

When talking about English food, not everything is referred to as  ‘stew’ and not every dish in Spain is Paella. We also have to stop being as ill informed about Japanese food. Not everything is sushi. Infact even the term sushi is often misused when people really mean Sashimi – raw fish.

So go out there, enjoy your Indian Food. Enjoy your Japanese food. Hell, enjoy it all. I only ask two things of you.

1) You eat in restaurants that care about the food they produce

and

2) You use the C word with care.

Happy dining.

Going for an English – Classic skit by Goodness Gracious Me

Posted in Food & Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Great Escape?

Whilst the UK shivers and shudders in the autumn weather, freelance copywriter Babu Basu recalls hotter, headier times in foreign climes and asks, why do sane people travel?

Late autumn in the UK is not a pleasant time. Icy winds, short grey days and forlorn vegetation overtake our once green and pleasant land. As the leaves leave and temperatures plummet, thoughts turn to escape.

Wish you weren’t here

Dive into the elegant travel posters from the 1920s and 30s and you immerse yourself in a sophisticated, exotic world full of mystery and intrigue. It is a passionate place where anything can happen and where you are better than you ever could be.

Sound like your holiday? Nope, not mine either.

Effective travel adverts (as with any form of able advertising) is there to make you spend money. And it does.

The heady mixture of better weather, better food and an unknown planet filled with glamour and intrigue causes us to overpack, overspend and overstretch our commonsense.

Nowadays, the relative cost of travelling has plunged and technology and media make our planet much smaller and more accessible. We are better educated in the ways of the world. We know more, so we go more.

But, at the end of the day, travel is dangerous, expensive and exhausting.                                                  So why do it?

The Myth

Travel is glamorous. That’s what the posters tell us. They draw us in with their rich colours and promise of better times, headier times.

But really.

There is nothing glamorous about the realities of travel in the 21st Century. Aside from a wealthy few who travel in space and comfort, travel and in particular, air travel is a less than salubrious affair.

Space. Germs and DVT.

Farmers will tell you, laws protecting animals in transit abound in Europe. Legislation is rightly in place to provide a degree of comfort to animals on the move. Humans however, aren’t quite so fortunate.

If you’re around the 6 foot mark, do not expect to sit with ease. We’ve all got to fit a certain, small cubic capacity, and if we don’t, too bad. Travelling 7,000 miles is tough. Travelling 7,000 miles in cramped conditions is lunacy.

The sudden changes in temperature and being shut up in a small environment with over 300 people (many of whom have questionable hygiene and / or questionable manners), means that you are in a fantastic breeding ground for all manner of germs.

Oh. And let’s not forget about the D.V.T. or deep vein thrombosis. Being holded up at height, with variable amounts of oxygen in a tiny space with no room to move can lead to clots and manner of nasties in our blood.

Variable amounts of oxygen?

Yes, the amount and quality of air we breath on a plane is chosen by the pilot. Cash strapped airlines have been cutting corners and saving money and fuel by reducing the level of oxygen we get.

Let’s not forget the marvel that is insomnia, motion sickness or being dug in the ribs by your fellow passengers.

Mystery and Intrigue.

They say travel expands the mind, it does. And, if the food’s good, it expands the waistline too.

Travel increases our ability to contract strange and mysterious diseases and heightens our ability to lose important items in strange places.

I am still at a loss as to where all my travel adaptors go.

Every year I buy new travel adaptors and every year those adaptors disappear somewhere between my destination and my home. Where they go to, I can’t say, but I suspect it is in the same place that scarves, sunglasses, suitcase padlocks emigrate to.

Sleep tight? You might.

When we get to the hotel and the bed isn’t right, or in some cases, isn’t even there.

We’re bound to get Delhi Belly (whether you’re in Delhi or not) and drinking the water always makes us a tad nervous.

The flies are perverse and persistent and no doubt sent from Satan to torment and trouble. And the mosquitoes? The mosquitoes have been programmed to feast on your blood and your blood alone.

Ahh the glamour of it all.

So, if like me you’re stuck in a cold and icy land, cheer up! Atleast you don’t have to travel.

Posted in Food & Travel | Tagged | 1 Comment

Sizzling CVs

With our economy in a state of flux, the CV has become ever more important. Freelance Copywriter and MBA graduate, Babu Basu shares some trade secrets to make your CV sizzle.

Our reality

Widespread redundancies, shrinking budgets and unstable markets mean that many of us are looking for new jobs. However, with more candidates going for fewer posts, we need a specialist piece of equipment to get us to interview. We need – a great CV.

The truth, the whole truth and nothing but

The truth? No one likes writing CVs for themselves.

It’s an onerous task whether you’re a young school leaver at the start of your career, or a high flying MBA graduate looking for the right role.

So what’s the problem?

It’s hard to summarise your expertise, your ability and your life’s work into a two page document.

In the UK we are very poor at singing our own praises – which is unfortunate if you need to write a CV.

The MBA problem

Creating CVs for MBA graduates is a complex task. We are a diverse bunch.

We come from different sectors. We’re all at various stages of our careers and we’re usually chasing positions that are highly desirable, highly paid and immensely difficult to attain. That is, immensely difficult if your CV isn’t up to scratch.

If you’re prepared to be brave, creative, selective and honest (yes honest), then your CV can help you reach interview stage.

Things to consider

Before you grab a pen and launch into CV writing mode, here are a few factors to mull over:

1.  Motivation – who are you writing the CV for?

For yourself surely? Well actually, no. You should be writing it for your potential employer.

Your CV needs to address the central question – are you right for the role?

Too many of us write CVs that are simply a list of everything we’ve ever done. Suitability to the role is never addressed.

Writing a good CV is similar to selling a house – you need to make things clear to the one you’re selling to. Don’t expect the hirers to ‘use their imagination’ or go hunting for the best bits, they simply won’t.

2.  Length – is bigger always better?

In the UK, the standard length of a professional CV is 2 pages.

Only exceed this length if the industry norm is for longer CVs.

The reality is, most employers have about 30 seconds to look over your CV. If you’ve not caught their attention quickly, the CV goes straight in the recycle bin.

3.  Layout and white space – a help or a hindrance?

If a CV is easy to read and is pleasing to the eye, it will get read. A CV that is harder to read, may not get read at all.

The layout of a CV is no longer considered as window dressing. Nowadays, greater competition for fewer jobs means that anything you do to improve your CV can have a huge impact. Or, as Tesco’s says, “Every little helps”.

Text should not be too small, nor should it be densely set out. Make sure there is plenty of ‘white space’.

Professional copywriters use the blank space on the paper to motivate us to keep on reading. White space allows the eye to rest and then draws it down the page.

4.  Use sub headings to catch the eye.

Using a second font helps as does using another colour. Be warned though. Some colours cannot be seen by everybody. People who are colour blind may have trouble reading anything written in red, green or brown. And avoid using fonts or effects that are hard to take in quickly.

5.  Be brave – be conventional when you must and innovative when you can

Certain industries or certain employers may have a set CV layout or convention that you need to follow.

If your industry tends to be conservative in nature (eg Law or Finance) keep your CV smart but conservative. If however, you are looking for a job in the creative industries (eg advertising, design or copywriting) I’d recommend a CV that looks innovative and engaging.

One of the most beautiful looking CVs I have seen was for a graphic designer. It was great for her, but would look very wrong for an accountant.

6.  Never lie – but don’t be too honest

Never ever lie on a CV. You will be found out.

Recently a man lied about his experience to get a job as an NHS Hospital Chief Executive. Once hired, it soon became clear he’d lied. He was very publicly shamed, fired and sent to prison.

But whilst I implore you never to lie, I beg you not to be overly truthful.

I have seen CVs where candidates have actually listed which roles they have been fired from, why they were fired and what they actually thought about their previous employer.

Your CV is an edited version of you. As they say in Big Brother, “Here are your best bits”.

7.  Junk the jargon – keep the language simple

Unless you are going for a specialist job and you know only other specialists will read it, avoid jargon.

Nowadays, your CV is likely to pass through many hands before it reaches the hirer and firer. With this in mind, keep language clear and unfussy.

Never use words that you cannot explain in the interview. It will simply ruin your credibility and erode your confidence. And never make a claim in your covering letter or CV if you can’t show evidence in your work history.

And finally, use action words like ‘managed’, ‘ran’, ‘oversaw’. They suggest that you were good in previous roles and will be great in the job you’re about to get.

Good luck everyone!

Posted in The company Porsche. | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments