Village Hotel Whiston, Liverpool 10-2020

After being put up at this hotel for a course, their attached restaurant for breakfast and I ended up going for lunch too (due to time and convenience) was the Verve Grill.

English breakfast was simple and substantial, with all the necessary bits although clearly not the highest in terms of quality. But it was included in the room so I won't complain.

Lunch was mainly a burger or wings menu. I opted for the more substantial Go Spicy burger which was a thick beef patty, Hot Pepper Jack cheese, jalapenos, salsa, guacamole. Overall it was very tasty and the thick patty better than I expected given the breakfast. Best of all was the lattice fries (it came with both lattice and normal fries too, but I asked not to have the normal ones) which were like crunchy hash browns in every fried bite.

Even more to my pleasant surprise was that they still had Eat Out To Help Out and so my £14 meal became £7.

I wouldn't go back there specifically, but if staying there again I'll eat those fries again.

Spice Village Whiston, Liverpool 10-2020

Although probably not quite in Liverpool (I'm not sure where Liverpool technically ends), I found myself staying close to Whiston. After a sunset walk through Stadt Moers park, the little shopping area of Whiston with its Tesco local became my dinner haunt. The praising reviews of Spice Village were matched by the constant flow of people picking up takeaway.

There were so many things I wanted to try, but for just one person with no refrigerator, I settled on jale jule. I asked if the naga heat for this dish was as potent as the naga I had in India (, and he reassured me not.

Their description is "A popular dish of sylhet for hot lovers. Fresh chicken tikka or lamb, mixed with onion, naga chilli, garlic, ginger, peppers, dhanya and cooked in medium dry sauce with cumin, mustard and a touch of mace. Garnished with naga and chillies." My lamb option was a tomato base with a fiery heat that started slowly then built up and left a long burn. A few times I had to stop eating to wipe my tears and let my tongue settle down, but it was delicious along with the small amount of yoghurt that I had to ask them for. Peshwari rice £2.1 had a bit of sweet flavour to it with some coconut flavour although I expected to see some dried fruit or nuts and there weren't any.

Oh well. I'll eat here again if stationed near Whiston again.

Kurdish Restaurant Real Taste, Liverpool 10-2020

After attending a course, it was time to take the train back to London. I wanted to get takeaway from YourThai but I didn't have time to stop there before departure. My other option was Mowgli street food but they wouldn't take a phone order, only if I downloaded their app which I definitely couldn't be bothered doing. Looking around the station on Google maps, I found this place and thought Kurdish is something I haven't really tried before.

The restaurant doesn't look like much from the outside - with construction poles outside and a name like Real Taste, if the reviews hadn't been so good (4.6 on Google maps) I would never have been here.

Lamb qouzi £8 came as simply flavoured lamb on the bone which was delicious, salted nicely and so very tender. It sat on top of an ample amount of ghee-flavoured rice (biryani) as well as a soft folded naan bread, salad and a large container of okra soup rich in savoury tomato broth.

Even more impressive was that the place is cash only and I only had £6.60 on me. I asked to downgrade my order but the server said not to worry and placed my full order anyway. What incredible and unexpected service in these difficult times. I will look forward to coming back here if ever in Liverpool again.

Akoko, London 10-2020

I've relatively recently discovered African food (other than Ethiopian which I've known for a little while now) and am doing my best to try it more. There's been Nigerian, Ghanaian, and Eritrean (similar to Ethiopian). Some of the latest London places have the or more generic West African, and Ikoyi has been on my very expensive list for a while now but not sure if I'll ever get there. Otherwise Chuku's, Chishuru, Sweet Hands and African Kitchen Gallery are all still waiting too.

Akoko was a new arrival, opening up in the shoulder period between lockdowns. The soft opening offered 50% off the full set menu price of £59, a bargain definitely. It did however come with several service mishaps - but I suppose you have to expect that. Our dining colleagues wanted the meal to start at 8pm instead of 7pm (which the restaurant was happy to change), and they turned up around 8.15pm. It gave limited time for the mandatory 10pm shutdown, but the restaurant thought it would be ok.

However in starting later, they suggested we order the normal or vegetarian menu so it could be commenced for their arrival. Unfortunately communication between the staff was non-existent and whereas one suggested that, another we told and look confused, then another came and asked, and another then came after our colleagues arrived to officially take the menu. Drinks (cocktails were not yet served which was disappointing but acceptable) were then asked about 8 times by 4 different people (without exaggeration) in 10 minutes. Of these requests, about 4 of them came AFTER the drinks were already ordered within a 2 minute period. And despite all that, they didn't bring out my friend's drink until being reminded later. Hmmm.

The food:

- Isu, truffles - yam topped with truffles cream and shavings. Nice;
- Boli & epa - plantain crisp with peanuts. Not that sweet for plantains (more starchy than sweet) and heavy peanut coating overpowered any other flavours;
- Veal cheeks bofrot - veal cheek meat in a fried casing. They said there were vegetables inside too but couldn't really tell. It was served on top of some kind of inedible black pulse;
- Miyan taushe, crab - pumpkin soup with little crab bits at the bottom was quite good. Guinness bread was very spongy with a rind crust and really excellent. Butter very soft could have used a little seasoning. The shoehorn device to spread the butter was fun too; 
- Smoked jollof rice & goat - I was very much looking forward to this dish and the very nicely seasoned goat was tender and slightly spicy. Jollof looked good but not seasoned and overall a bit disappointing. Garlic flowers and leaves topped the dish and were full of flavour. I suppose maybe the rice blandness was to balance the other ingredients, but I hoped for more.
- BBQ quail yassa - a tender half quail and ridiculously tasty and flavoursome. Possibly the best I've had (my only comparison being Chinese or Vietnamese restaurants). My only gripe was the quails were different sizes for each serve (and I got the smallest one!);
- Burnt uda cream, Ghanaian cocoa butter, goat milk icecream - mild goat milk icecream was very nice. It sat in a sweet boat of cream. I expected some tartness (not entirely sure why) but there was none.

If I assume that the service improves to standard professional level, I don't think I would go back for the full priced menu. I did like some of the dishes, but others seemed to lack. Maybe I need to try the others first to compare. Or alternatively if they offered a la carte, then I could pick the dishes that worked for me.

Uncle Lim's, London 10-2020

There's not much reason to go down to Croydon other than the most available and not silly expensive (thanks corporations) visa centre in London. For this reason I've ventured once per year. The first time was a quick (other than the visa process) in and out job. The second found me eating at the new Boxpark eating area next to East Croydon station. The third time was brunch at The Breakfast Club in the same area. And this most recent one was a very early dinner at Uncle Lim's at the Whitgift shopping centre.

The shopping centre doesn't look all that flash in itself, and Covid times certainly haven't helped. But Uncle Lim's was the first place we tried after lockdown opened up in June, and so coming for a second time was an easy choice.

The Malaysian auntie is lovely and the seats are only available in the corridor part of the shopping centre outside the restaurant entrance. I suppose it technically counts as takeaway? In any case the first time was on a Sunday when they would normally be closed, but since it was their first day back and re-creating all their pastes, they were only too happy to serve us.

On that occasion, the laksa and char kway teow and teh tarik were the choices. This time laksa £7.5 and har mee £7.9 were chosen. The soups were all rich and spicy and flavoursome with a good amount of chilli, and the colour of soupy dreams. Laksa uses rice noodles (would prefer mix of egg and rice) and har mee uses egg noodles. A dessert of bobo chacha was nice and sweet, although less thick than the version I'm used to from my mum.

I'd happily come back for those noodles again, probably har mee over laksa if I had to pick one as it is much harder to find in London.

Uncle Lims Kitchen Menu Reviews Photos Location and Info - Zomato

The Pig, Windermere 07-2020

For a final lunch before leaving the Lake District, Bowness was very busy and so we looked at Windermere proper instead. There are definitely less options up that end but we chanced across The Pig which happened to have some available tables and also a varied menu to cater for the pasty-desirer (myself) and some vegetarians in the party. You wouldn't think a place dedicated to The Pig would be overly vegetarian, but there you go.

Service was very friendly and with a big smile from the main guy (seemed like a manager or owner) who happily reported it was the first day of the place re-opening and serving their full (minus 2 items) menu.

- Boon Doggle Beef, Smoked Bacon, Potato and Thyme Pasty £10.95 - a beautiful pasty with a thick charred and twisted top housing what seemed like an excellent Irish-type beef stew inside. Served with very thick soft and mostly crisp exterior chips that were outstanding. A large meal indeed;
- In-house Cured Maple Bacon Chops (with double hens egg, spiced corn on the cob, chips and a pot of English mustard) £14.95 - the same wonderful fries this time with 2 large pork chops grilled with a mild maple liquid. The edges had been charred and acquired a sweet salty flavour and a reasonably (although not very) tender core. The parts away from the edges had less flavour and charm but were still nice.

I also sampled the outstanding zucchini fries and witnessed the enormous girth of the halloumi burger complete with 2x 1-2cm thick slabs of halloumi. These guys don't mess around. They serve large portions of extremely delicious food.

The Little Ice Cream Shop, Windermere 07-2020

This little ice cream shop only does very large servings of gelato. At the excellent price of £3.8 for a waffle cone with double scoop, large amounts of gelato was stuffed into the cone and overflowing across the sides of the cone. No wonder there was a queue here on this warm Sunday afternoon.

I am usually a pistachio person everywhere, which acts as my benchmark, but they didn't have it this day. There was a strawberry/pistachio combination but I didn't go for it. Instead I opted for the local flavour of Hawkshead gingerbread (a mildly gingerbread flavour with chunks in it) and Bounty vegan (a mild coconut sorbet with chocolate chunks). I liked the gingerbread although hoped the bounty vegan would be a lot more coconut-ty (expecting coconut pieces, coconut mild).

Nonetheless they are quality items and servings even if the flavours weren't my favourite. I would definitely come back (if in the area).

I also noted that the Kendal mintcake was a similar green colour to the one they served me at Macdonald Old England Hotel.

Sun Inn, Pooley Bridge 07-2020

After the reasonably pretty Ullswater Steamer journey from Glenriddig, and a less than impressive walk around Pooley Bridge (the 3h time there isn't enough if someone wants to have a sitdown lunch), we settled here. There's nothing particularly noteworthy about this pub over the others. The food isn't advertised as especially local either. But it's an option.

- Wholetail scampi (Whitby breaded scampi served with chunky chips, salad garnish, chargrilled lemon & homemade tartare sauce) £12.95 - simple dish as described. Chunky chips could have been a bit more crisp but still good;
- Sun Inn Creamy Fish Pie with a Lemon Herb and Parmesan Crust (flaky white fish, prawns, smoked haddock, salmon, fresh parsley, sliced boiled egg cooked in a rich creamy white wine and parsley sauce crowned with mashed potato topped with grilled cheese) £13.95 - a piping hot mix of all those ingredients which was nice and maybe could have used a bit more seasoning. The grilled cheese topping was also surprisingly mild. Good overall though.

The fish 'n' chips looked and smelled wonderful as it passed by our table. I'd certainly order that over the scampi and possibly over the fish pie next time. But I doubt I'll ever be back in Pooley Bridge in this lifetime.

Macdonald Old England Hotel, Windermere 07-2020

For a 4 star hotel overlooking Lake Windermere with the accompanying views, setting and old-world charm, £34.5 for 3 courses or £26 for 2 courses doesn't sound like a bad option. I mean you can eat in Windermere for about £10 and be remarkably full. But for those extra things that you are paying more for, it's not too bad. With a generous 50% NHS discount, 2 nights including breakfast and dinner was £313. Not so bad if you say that the 2 dinners for 2 alone are £138.

Service is smooth and effective and efficient, as expected in a slightly luxury hotel with Covid precautions. Over 2 nights, I sampled a few dinner items:

- Hot smoked salmon, fennel salad, horseradish, balsamic - excellent entree with the smoked fish, fennel slices and seeds contrasting with the spicy horseradish. Balsamic was fine too although left a sticky ring on the plate suggesting it had been plates a while earlier...;
- Beetroot, honey roast walnuts, parmesan souffle, red onion - simple combination of textures and flavours. Not bad;
- Braised Scottish beef, potato tart, carrot, wild mushroom & shallot jus - beef was not that tender and quite stringy. Each element was much too salty unfortuantely;
- Sea bream fillet, crushed dill potatoes, samphire, tomato & caper dressing - an excellent dish of grilled fillet with this and the potatoes both having elements of crisp and soft. Samphire and capers added salinity and the everything came together perfectly;
- Sticky toffee doughnut, toffee sauce, vanilla ice cream - a slice of almost bread-like doughnut with a very sweet sticky sauce. The 1st night vanilla icecream wasn't impressive. Requested the Kendal mint chocolate ice cream the 2nd night and received a green thing with chocolate pieces. An improvement from my point of view;
- Mint chocolate delice, caramelised chocolate, Kendal mint chocolate ice cream (not pictured) - soft chocolate chunks (almost like ganache) with the other items. Oddly this Kendal mint chocolate ice cream was white with little chocolate speckles but also had a mint flavour in it. Strange...;
- Selection of artisan cheese, Scottish oatcakes, fruit chutney, grapes - mild blue, a lot of soft brie, and too weak of a cheddar.

Overall the food was good. If I was paying, I'd get the 2 course salmon and bream. Although I might find myself eating elsewhere without the views and setting.

Breakfast included a Full Macdonald with some soft black pudding, an egg (overcooked poached), some average bacon, and a nice potato hash. A selection of cereals, yoghurt, berries or fresh fruit was also available. Some marmalade, nutella and jam also accompanied my brown bread and tiny croissants.

Nardulli, London 05-2020

Lockdown has been ongoing for about 7 weeks or so. One of the common questions asked is "what will you do/eat once lockdown is lifted?" There are many possibilities, but I stuck to a simple one - gelato outside.

With the weather warming up (although I accept gelato on a cold day when rugged up warm is probably better overall), a cool afternoon of 12C and the surprise discovery of the local gelateria being open meant serendipity. Apparently they had just opened over the weekend (this was a Monday) and the queues went all the way to the tube station in 2m intervals.

Unfortunately they were out of pistachio, a light green (maybe a little more green than I usually like) so will have to try that next time. Instead there was hazelnut and a yoghurt/cherry. The hazelnut was very mild in flavour, much more so than the true Italian nocciolas. The yoghurt/cherry was alright with the cherry being glaced but not like those horrid sweet bright versions. The textures were good and no ice crystals.

I'll be back to try the pistachio and to support the local business and my own gelato tendencies. Although I think I may need to get some Grom/Remeo/Waitrose pistachio for home anyway.

Nardulli Menu Reviews Photos Location and Info - Zomato