For the summer I’ll be working as a food blogger to represent universities in Glasgow for the Co-op. The first instalment of this collaboration was to celebrate the end of university with food, friends and booze. Because we’ve been blessed with such good weather (God, that sounds like it’s straight out of The Handmaid’s Tale), I decided to do this alfresco. Sadly for me, and my fellow postgraduates, our studies technically do not finish until September, with the submission of our monster dissertation. So here’s me pretending to be a graduate again, without a care in the world, laying in the beech in my bikini, sipping beer and munching on Co-op picnic deals. When in reality my predicament aligns a little more with Dustin Hoffman…
I took my two brilliant vegan friends to the beach for the day, to capitalise on the Co-op’s 3-for-2 party food bargains, including a merry amount of hummus and olives. This was the result…
We had smoked tofu, with torn sourdough bread, copious amounts of hummus and all the essential salad bits. I love mixing my salads up a bit by adding fresh, juicy strawberries with basil. Sadly Co-op guccamole is not vegan, and this was only a discovery made after its consumption. Shockingly though, their custard (and jam) donuts are though, and were a rather delicious sweet end to it all…
If there’s one thing I’ll learn from completing my undergraduate degree, it’s to not stock up on so many grains when your landlady’s contract only lasts for 11 months. It’s also to not get cosy in a beautiful kitchen that’s only on loan to you – (we lucked out, and got the most gorgeous house for the Exetah’ student going rate). I’ll never own a kitchen this nice again. Especially with an English literature BA. And now I’m lumped with shit loads of pearl barely, couscous, polenta, and debt.
There’s something really ominous about finishing your degree. The majority of us are currently in limbo until our graduation ceremony: too qualified to work in Tesco’s and too inexperienced to work for Penguin publishing house. It seems that reading all that Barthes and Foucault amounted to nothing. Temporarily. Thankfully, I’m motivated by learning and the thrill of it, and not by money – so I’m due to move to Glasgow this September to study an MLitt (Scottish alternative to MA) in English literature: Modernities. I’m so bloody excited. But I still need to get rid of all these grains.
I can’t come to terms with the fact that I’ll be leaving behind some of the greatest friends I’ve made at university. Consequently, I’ve been inviting friends round for dinner frequently and we’ve been enjoying the meals in the garden. These two salad dishes are sociable, economical and they make your heart happy. Both vegan and served at whatever temperature you fancy. Here’s to good health and to promising futures.
Jaunty post-degree pearl barley salad (serves 4; vegan) (my favourite)
1 ripe aubergine, cut into 1.5cm thick disks
1 sweet potato, cut into 1cm cubes
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp chilli flakes
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 lemon, zest and juice
2 tbsp tahini
200g pearl barley
2 tbsp good olive oil
Half a bag of lettuce of your choice
100g drained olives
Generous handful of dates, pitted and roughly chopped
Generous handful of dried apricots, roughly chopped
Pre-heat the oven to 170°c. Coat the aubergine disks and sweet potato cubes in olive oil, salt, garlic and all the spices. On baking parchment, spread the veg out and cook in the oven for 30 minutes.
While the veg is gently roasting, wash the pearl barley in cold water. Cook on a medium heat on the hob with 200ml water. Once the water is boiled, simmer for 20 minutes.
Zest the lemon and combine with the tahini, 1 tbsp olive oil and lemon juice. Prepare the olives and dried fruits by roughly chopping.
Leave the aubergine and sweet potato to cool, and drain the pearl barely if needed. Combine all prepared ingredients together. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and layer onto a tray of lettuce and sprinkle on the pomegranate seeds to finish.
Lentil tabbouleh (serves 4; vegan) (great with pimms)
What I like about this one is that it requires minimal cooking and so is great to prepare in advance to a BBQ, or just for packed lunches. Is it socially acceptable to bring pimms to work too? Please ignore the Tesco delivery boxes I used for my haphazard student BBQ. I do think they look quite edgy though.
2 sweet potatoes, diced into 1.5cm cubes
1 tin of pre-cooked green lentils, drained
1 red onion, diced
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp garam masala
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 ripe tomatoes
2 big bunches of coriander and mint, chopped
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 tbsp olive oil
Pre-heat oven to 170ºC. Parboil the sweet potato cubes, drain and coat in all the spices. Sprinkle on the garlic, season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil and bake in the oven for 25 minutes.
While this is in the oven, prepare dice the red onion and tomato. In a large bowl, combine the rest of the fresh ingredients and add the sweet potato once cooked!
Mango and Asian mushrooms teriyaki sobavegan; serves 2
don’t be skeptical of the combination of shiitake, enoki and oyster with ripe, juicy mango
300g Asian mushrooms (I’ve used shiitake, enoki, and oyster)
1/2 large fresh mango, chopped into cubes
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame seed oil
1 tbsp curry powder
2 bundles of soba noodles (approximately 180g)
In a frying pan, heat a little vegetable oil on a medium heat and sauté the mushrooms for 2 minutes.
Boil a pan of water and cook the soba noodles.
Whilst the noodles are cooking, combine the dark soy sauce, light soy sauce, sesame seed oil, garlic and curry powder. Pour onto the sautéing mushrooms, and add the chopped mango. Fry for a further minute.
Serve up piping hot, and with sriracha sauce, if an extra kick is needed.
Porridge is a gentrified phenomenon that has become a hipster trend in the past twelve months or so. And I’m so on board with it, because I’ve been fuelling on the gruel since before it was cool. As a child I strangely always associated the grain with cartoon adaptations of Dickensian inmates in Victorian England, as unappealing gruel sloped into bowls, eaten for the sake of energy and calorie intake. It has been a staple food throughout history, typically associated and eaten largely by peasantry; now it has been transformed and consumed at brunch by hipster Londoners in Neals Yard and Brick Lane. There’s something a bit wrong with purchasing a bowl of porridge at £6.50, for the sake of Instagram. I’m guilty here. A 1kg Tesco’s own bag of porridge oats will cost you 99 pence, containing on average 25 servings, as cheap as rice. The packaging even suggests to cook with water, not milk. Firstly, who does this? You shouldn’t. But imagine how inexpensive breakfasts would be if you were to. The packaging advises for a more “indulgent” and “creamy” texture, use milk in replacement. Secondly, take up that suggestion and ALWAYS use milk. Allow yourself that “indulgence”.
Once I taught myself breakfast was brilliant, and the foundation for a positive day (it’s now my favourite meal of the day in fact, because a fresh day promises so much) porridge became an addictive strategic routine. I had an awfully disruptive first year at university, in which I moved halls of residence accommodation twice, living in a total of three different flats across the academic year. During the first few months I had no home, no space to call my own, no actual flat mates, and most importantly, no supply of porridge oats. My appetite and diet went array, and consequently I felt immensely lost due to my askew concentration. I distinctively remember one day when I was physically moving my belongings from my old halls to my new final room, that by the end of the day I had eaten a single yoghurt. This was a clear indication that I was not healthy, caring for myself, or showing myself any self-love. It didn’t get much better when I settled in; I lived off peanut butter and jam on toast for breakfast and dinner, and lunch was just not a plausible nor a convenient thing. From the sight of my food blog, my recipes and my extensive supply of bizarre and unnecessary ingredients such as carob syrup and rose water, you would not imagine that buttering toast used to be an ordeal in itself. Of course, I would not have thought to have document the dreariness of my toast dinners on Instagram – and this is why social media is so lethal: it represents the beatific aspects of existence, censoring and ignoring the unplanned and miserable occurrences in the everyday. I always loved cooking before university, and I’m glad I’ve managed to retain and rekindle that passion. And of course, I am lax with cooking sometimes – I don’t eat like an aspiring food writer everyday – and I always take a detour on my way home from a drunken night out to the kebab shop to get cheesy chips, with its copious amounts of plastic, grated cheese that almost certainly isn’t cheese.
Back to porridge. My most vivid memory of porridge is from first year at university, on a day when I had eaten very little, due to lack of food supplies, and by evening I felt very weak. I went to visit my friend in his flat, who noticed my tiredness and lethargy, and asked me what I eaten that day. When I couldn’t recall, he left me to rest, and returned with a big steaming bowl of porridge, an extremely creamy one – made with whole milk – and generous dollops of strawberry jam. It was the greatest thing I could ever have been given: a cure to my severe unhappiness at eighteen years old. It was a signifier of hope and sustenance, ensuring that the best things were yet to come, and deterring me from giving up on my degree course.
That life-altering meal was made from Everyday Value porridge oats, whole milk and 29p strawberry jam. Don’t tell the chef I told you so but the proportional quantities were terrible, it was stodgy and it was over-microwaved, but it tasted divine because of what it represented.
Stirring porridge always evokes a very personal and meaningful nostalgia within me. The process reminds me I deserve to be nourished and it has since fuelled much happier, more productive and stimulating days. It also reminds me of my Dad. When I lived at home, I would wake up every morning to a scraped out saucepan which was hours earlier filled with rollicking porridge, abandoned on the hob in the kitchen, for the house fairy to clean up (my poor mother). We’ve never owned a microwave due to my dad’s stubborn fear of the machines as unnatural and cancerous, so porridge has always been cooked on the hob – and that’s the way it should be – the texture of the porridge is not the same when cooked in the microwave. My dad would leave at 5.30am every morning to get to work, thankfully on a stomach content from a bowl of slow-releasing porridge. Thank you dad for working hard.
So here’s two porridge recipes I eat rarely due to time and effort but when I do with it gives me great pleasure:
Measure 50g of porridge oats with 250ml milk, and pour into a saucepan, add the frozen blueberries, raisins, and dried lavender. Cook over a medium heat on the hob, stirring continuously for 3 minutes. The frozen blueberries will give the porridge a beautiful lilac colour.
Once a thick and creamy consistency, and heated through, pour into a bowl. Dollop on cold lemon curd, lemon zest and sprinkle on poppy seeds. Eat immediately, but not before taking a photo for Instagram and pretending you have your life entirely together.
Cypriot porridge: figs, carob syrup and cacao nibsvegetarian; serves 1
50g rolled porridge oats
250ml semi-skimmed milk, or a soya alternative
1 fig, quartered
1 tsp carob syrup, to serve
1 tbsp cacao nibs, to serve
Measure 50g porridge oats with 250ml milk, pour into a saucepan and cook over a medium heat on the hob, stirring continuously for 3 minutes.
Once cooked, like above, remove from the heat, pour into a bowl and assemble. Add the sliced fig, drizzle on carob syrup and sprinkle over cacao nibs.
My first impressions of The Oddfellows are from comedy and cocktail nights in the upstairs speakeasy; the vintage interior offers sophisticated quirks and charms that are a luxury for students, and the vast array of spirits and ales are incredibly exciting. The cocktails are an absolute delight – these experimental and delicious concoctions are overshadowed by popular and inexpensive cocktail bars in the city, attracting students from the deep, dark depths of their deadlines. If you’re in need of a cosy space for an uninterrupted first date, then students, leave the sugary, syrupy cocktail pitchers at Firehouse and head across the road to The Oddfellows. If conversation is sparse you can discuss the eccentric decor, like the giant pine cone chairs, or the animal heads hanging from the walls.
Sometimes I just hate breaking the news that I’m vegetarian to the restaurant owners overseeing my reviews, particularly after first-glance at a lavish meat feast of a menu consisting of duck breast, black pudding mousse, chorizo couqettes…the chefs certainly know how to curate a menu according to season. So when my lovely server, Ryan, recommended the last of the venison on today’s specials board I didn’t want to announce “I’m afraid we’re (referring to my lucky reviewee partner and myself) vegetarian”. And that’s made awkward more so by the fact that the only vegetarian main on the menu was a risotto, albeit a luxurious, al dente, creamy risotto. Although, I do prefer it when a menu is composed of a few extensively and passionately designed dishes. Situated on a table with full view of the happenings of the kitchen, the solo chef on this Monday evening knew his way round the elaborate yet tempting menu, juggling the orders for hungry diners.
The dish that deserves the spotlight from this three course is surprisingly a simplistic vegetarian starter, which merely thinking about is making my mouth water. On paper, it’s rather unexciting: Goats cheese mousse, quince purée, and butternut squash. This restaurantcertainly loves its mousses and purées. The goats cheese mousse melted in the mouth – it wasn’t overpowering or too rich like you’d expect it to be but was the perfect, soft accompaniment to the crunchiness of the butternut squash – which there were only three cubes of – a tad ungenerous, if not to emphasise the mousse as centerpiece.
An additional vegetarian starter on the specials board also caught my eye: salad of roasted heart of artichoke, giant caramelized shallots, served with a concentrated spinach and basil dressing, and a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds. This was a wholesome and more filling starter compared to the first. But starters aren’t meant to fill you up, they’re there to whet your appetite for the next courses, and the goats cheese mousse was incredibly exciting, making me anticipate the what would come next.
Up next was unfortunately the only vegetarian main up for grabs: creamy roasted cauliflower risotto with truffle oil. It didn’t disappoint in taste and appearance however; the charred cauliflower with truffle oil against the luxurious base of al dente (cooked to perfection in my books) risotto rice really worked. If you prefer less rich, less creamy risotto then this may not be for you – it’s truly indulgent.
I’ve never had parfait before, so the dessert was an appealing excuse to try it I’m also a sucker for all the components of this dessert: peanut butter, caramelized banana and salted caramel sauce. I thoroughly enjoyed the way this was assembled, rather than merely plated; it was similar to the artistic arrangement of the winning starter.
On average starters and desserts were priced at £5.50, and mains ranging from £13 to £19, so it’s a student treat, or somewhere to take when the parents visit for graduation perhaps. I would definitely go again if the options for vegetarians were increased and more varied, there’s much more scope for experimentation in the non-meat dishes. Otherwise I’ll just have to order three of the goats cheese mousse starter.
The most recent newcomer to have opened in Queen Street is Lebanese cuisine specialists Comptoir Libanais.
The recent £12 million redevelopment of the old Guildhall Shopping area into a stylish restaurant quarter has seen the likes of Turtle Bay, Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Absurd Bird – and if Carribean or generous portions of American comfort food is not your cup of tea – Comptoir Libanais offers healthier mezes designed for messy sharing. I’m particularly happy that such a restaurant has been opened in Exeter; it accommodates many dietary requirements – the vegan, halloumi lover and the avid meat eater won’t be disappointed. I imagine it will become a perfect dining hotspot for hosting student birthday celebrations.
I was over the moon to be invited for a press review to the latest restaurant to open in Queen street. It had been running for two weeks when I arrived, since the 1st October, and I thought it would be interesting to see how the service was coping with its successful demand – every time I’d nipped in to check out the beautiful gifts for sale, the restaurant was bustling and the queue for tables backed through the door and into the street.
Let’s get the awkward part over with and talk about the review allowance. The press pass granted me a meal for two, which included: 1 mezze to share, 2 mains, 2 deserts and 1 bottle of wine/a cocktail each/2 beers each. Okay. So we’re not going to go home hungry – the meze sharing platters could easily suffice as a main between two guests – but as a student eagerly awaiting a January student loan instalment, I’m not one to complain about free food.
We shared a gorgeous showstopper Mezze Platter to start. The generous Middle Eastern spread boasted baba ghanuj, hummus, tabbouleh, falafel, lentil salad, halloumi, alien-coloured pickles and pitta bread. The smokey baba ghanuj topped with pomegranate seeds and drizzled with oil was the clear winner on this plate; sometimes the aubergine can be bitter in baba ghanuj if its over done or not perfectly ripe, but I could eat this version by the shovelful. In my opinion, the halloumi was disappointing for a cuisine famous for this beautiful cheese; it was cold and a little stiff and you could tell that it had been sitting around for awhile. Comptoir Libanais clearly assemble their platters by demand, after having the components cooked and waiting around since opening – luckily this does not affect the delicious and fresh-tasting tabbouleh and lentil salad.
For main I ordered an aubergine tagine which came in a rich tomato and chickpea sauce garnished with a mint yoghurt dip, and served with heaps of couscous. The overall flavour of the dish was tasty, however the aubergine could have been a more of a substantial feature because it had largely disintegrated leaving behind a tomato and chickpea sauce. My reviewee date ordered a “Chef special” halloumi tortilla, which was not truly that special. It was served cold, the halloumi was no where to be seen, and the salad was insubstantial.
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Then the meal was revived by a trio of deserts. We had a plateful of baklava, halva and roasted pistachio ice cream, and mouhalabia. I absolutely adored the mouhalabia – which is a traditional Lebanese milk pudding flavoured with rose syrup and topped with toasted pistachios. It’s a little like a Middle Eastern, vegetarian version of the panna cotta, which is brought alive by rose water. From what I sampled of the cocktail menu, it seems the restaurant have mastered some amazing flavours. I had the Roomana vodka sour, featuring pomegranate juice, vodka, lemon juice and rose syrup. It was all but too easy to drink, and its smoothness wasn’t ruined by the substantial amount of vodka.
Now you Devonshire foodies shouldn’t be fooled – the menu and interior assumes an air of authentic dining experience, but it is sadly another chain addition to Queen Street. Comptoir Libanais has thirteen restaurants currently open, majorly in London, and has plans to expand across the country, particularly the South West. I would go back again, but I hope its current popularity in Exeter will draw attention to the hidden Middle Eastern gems. The New Horizon on Longbrook street may not have the glamorous exterior of Comptoir Libanais, but the dishes the singular owner creates taste sensational. Furthermore, The Dinosaur café’s mezzes and more could take a chain like Comptoir Libanais from under the carpet if only it had more recognition than a family run business.
Baby aubergine, date and tamarind curryvegan; serves 2
I tried a date and tamarind chutney and just could not get the flavours out of my mind, so I tried to capture it in this curry
4 baby aubergines
1 medium brown onion, diced
2 cloves garlic
1 thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, grated
1 tbsp turmeric
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp garam masala
5 bay leaves
1 fresh chilli
2 tbsp tamarind paste
1 tin plum tomatoes
10 medjool dates
100g lentils of your choice (I’ve used green and red)
Handful of fresh coriander, chopped
Pre-heat the oven to 160°C, and pop the baby aubergines onto a baking tray and drizzle a little olive oil over them. Bake them for 30 minutes.
Heat a tbsp of vegetable oil in a saucepan and cook the onion, garlic and ginger for 5 minutes, or until browned. Add the fabulous spices -turmeric, cumin, garam masala and bay leaves – and cook for a further minute.
Stir in the chilli, tamarind paste, plum tomatoes and medjool dates. Add the lentils – and water down if necessary. Add fresh coriander at the last few minutes.
Serve once the lentils are well cooked, and the aubergine soft and juicy all the way through.
No 1 Polsloe café – the clue is in the title and the address – they’re No 1 at delivering high quality food, No 1 for aesthetic, No 1 for value.
They faced me with a challenge: to get through three of their vegetarian breakfasts, one strawberry ice cream milkshake, a flat white and a cappuccino. Suffice to say, I was waddling to my 12pm lecture after.
I had been to this café back in 2014, but since it changed hands in August 2015, the aesthetic and vibe of the dainty space has gone from strength to strength. Decorated in makeshift cacti botanical bowls, fairy lights, plant wall hangings, and giant flowers floating from the ceiling; all I’m thinking about whilst waiting for my breakfast is how I wish I had the creative juices of the café’s trendy yet modest owner, Becky.
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The space also boasts connections with Devonshire artists. Illustrative artist Elise who runs Skelliton illustration, has currently got a table of gorgeously designed goods up for sale there. The menus are designed by artist George Goodwin, who goes by the title ‘Omg I drawed it’ – and I’m looking at his art on the walls thinking Omg I WISH I drew that. But fear not, George’s drawings are available to purchase so you can bring home a little bit of that No 1 Polsloe aesthetic.
After feeling a little jealous of all these creative types, the food arrives, and the pressure is on to do all this beautiful food justice through my little iPhone camera.
Becky’s team have given me a platter featuring: their special smashed avocado and poached eggs on thick-sliced bread, with lime, chilli, and dill; a vegetarian, avocado aficionado version of eggs royale; and, buttermilk pancakes with honey, banana and Greek yoghurt.
Smashed avo & pouched eggs with lime, dill & chilli
Vegetarian eggs royale
The combination of lime, chilli, and dill with avocado tastes sensational. The hollandaise sauce poured over the eggs, avocado slices and warm muffins is absolutely perfect. I used the pancakes, accompanied by the strawberry ice cream milkshake, as my desert to the breakfast trio – they have clearly mastered their pancake batter recipe. After sampling all of these, I cannot help but think I would be over the moon to receive this in a highflying hotel. Yet, a brunch here will only set you back £6 at the most.
It’s all the thoughtful finishing touches which makes this eatery so great. Everyone is considered – from the meat-eaters, to the vegans, to the gluten-free customers. I truly appreciate seeing a restaurant also fully supportive of local businesses, such as using Exe Coffee Roasters to supply its beans, and KB Eats’ spectacular cakes to stock the counter.
No.1 Polsloe does not stop at brunch – it’s open for lunch and into the evening for pizza and cocktails. It’s now available to be hired out for private parties too.
pretzels, bagels, bratwurst, currywurst…and erm, more currywurst
To make my flight €100 cheaper, I stopped off in Berlin for a few days before heading back to London. I found that Berlin had few concrete, fundamental dishes and ingredients that sets it aside from the rest of Europe. The capital certainly has the rest of Germany’s predilection for meat, particularly sausages. But, I was disappointed I couldn’t try the dish most ranted and raved about – that is bratwurst sausage with curry toppings, or ‘currywurst’ – because of dietary requirements. There’s even a museum dedicated to the phenomenon that is ‘currywurst’.
I fell in love with the city; it lives to reflect and learn from its controversial past, with the effect that it now exists as a liberal and lively hub. In the process, it has accumulated a vast array of multicultural cuisines. I ate in authentic Turkish, Italian and Asian restaurants (and many modern vegan eateries that are dispersed throughout the city).
The German bakeries are the city’s redemption. Think pretzels galore. Here’s a ‘streuseltaler’ – a fine yeast dough pastry with a refined butter crumble. It’s essentially an excuse to eat cake for breakfast.
In East Side Berlin, there was a substantial selection of vegan eateries, to match the cool and hip ambience of this side of the city. Just past the East Side gallery, I came across a building hosting Veganz (a supermarket), Goodies (a vegan café dedicated to great coffee), The Bowl (a clean eating restaurant for the best, beautiful bowls of goodness), and a vegan shoe shop.
The Bowl boasts a 100% plant-based kitchen, producing gluten and sugar free bowls for a little over €10. I tried went for the ‘California’ bowl from the menu; this was lemon quinoa, deep fried sweet potato sticks, sesame tamari leaf spinach, raw apple carrot salad, avocado slices, tomato coriander salsa and teriyaki hibiscus sauce. (But I also pinched a spoonful of the ‘Buddha’ bowl too from my travel buddy). The ingredients are simple, but the sauces and dressings bring the ingredients to life.
This restaurant refreshed me from a 3 hour urban art walking tour of the East Side gallery and beyond. And it has given me inspiration for new healthy, filling and vegan recipes.