Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Koyama - Fresh ingredients at this little mountain.

August has seen Edinburgh buzzing with people from all over the world; attending the Foodies Festival, The Book Festival and of course, The Fringe.
August is also a very busy month for me so it has been hard to fit The Fringe in with my schedule but I did it! Right at the end but I don't mind because the act that I really wanted to go and see were doing their last Fringe show on the day I planned on going. 
I decided to get my sister-in-law to join me as she had never been to see a show at The Fringe in all the years she has been in Scotland. Since she is a food lover too we decided to go and try out a Japanese restaurant near the venue after the show.

Koyama - in Japanese, means "little mountain" and is also the name of the restaurant we visited.
The restaurant is situated near the University, Museum and Greyfriar's so I can see why it would attract students and tourists. 
Not a big restaurant but they have done their best in providing as much seats in quite a small space, without people feeling like a tin of sardines when sat next to other tables. Very impressed.

Date Visited: 25th August 2014

When we arrived, there were not that many diners in and they had tables put together for what looked like a couple of larger parties later on. All the booth seats had been taken so we were given a small stand alone table at the back of the restaurant. We were given menus right away and our orders were taken as soon as we were ready to order. From what I could see, there were only 2 waiters working that evening and both of them were very polite and always had a smile when serving us.

We ordered the following: Age-dashi Tofu, BBQ Pork Ramen, Dragon Roll and for dessert, Green Tea Ice Cream Mochi.

Age-dashi tofu:
When is came, the portion looked very small and I could instantly see that the coating they had put on the tofu had started to come away. However, flavours were good and the minced daikon with sliced spring onions added a good textural element to the dish. The tofu wasn't as silky as the ones I have had before but it wasn't the worst I have tried.

BBQ Pork  Chicken Katsu Ramen:
Yes, we ordered BBQ Pork but after the waiter went away to pass the docket to the kitchen, he came right back to let us know that they had ran out. He had brought a menu over for us to choose something else, which was very thoughtful, but we already decided that the chicken katsu would be our 2nd option. The chicken was over done so it ended up being a bit hard and the panko hadn't quite covered all of the chicken. The sweet sauce and mayo drizzled on top was pretty good and was what saved the chicken from tasting like cardboard. The ramen had the good "bouncy" texture we look for in noodles and the soup base had that lovely silky smoothness, with a slight sweetness that reminded us of soup stock made by simmering pork bones in the stock for hours to create that beautiful richness. They may have been a tad heavy on the sesame oil but that's okay with me as I LOVE sesame oil, others may find that with the sesame oil, their initial taste of the ramen reminds them of east asian instant noodles we make at home. 
We had ordered this to share but I may not have made it clear enough to the waiter so had to ask for a couple of empty rice bowls for us, which the waiter was more than happy to get for us.

Dragon Roll:
Crispy tempura king prawns and finely sliced cucumber, wrapped in seaweed, surrounded with perfectly cooked rice, topped with freshly sliced ripe avocado and topped with crab roe. YUM! 
My only gripe was that the pieces were very big. I don't have a huge mouth but even someone with a big gob would have had difficulty eating it. Initally I tried dividing it in to two with my chopsticks but failed miserably because the seaweed inside became very tough to tear after coming in contact with the moisture in the rest of the sushi roll. I then used my fingers to tear it apart and ended up with squashed rice all over my fingers. With my 2nd piece I tried to take a bite out of it but the same issue with the seaweed happened again and I was sitting there trying to look graceful with sushi hanging out of my mouth while I tried gnawing that seaweed apart - this time I got squashed rice on my face rather than on my fingers and I pray no one saw me eating that as I know it wasn't a pretty sight! So in the end I ate my remaining pieces by dissecting them in to their individual components and then pairing them how I liked. Each component was done well and if the roll pieces were slightly smaller then it would have been such a great taste sensation in the mouth.

Full House!
During the course of our meal, the restaurant started to get very busy and at one point was completely full, with customers leaving because they didn't want to wait. 
We were just finishing our main course when we asked for a top up of our tea, the waiter went away with our pot, came back to clear our plates away and then asked us if we would like the bill! We looked at him with a slight awkwardness - told him we hadn't even got the pot of tea back yet and we wanted dessert. He was very apologetic. It was probably a genuine mistake and not intentionally trying to rush us out of there. I hope.
All was definitely forgiven when we got our pot of tea back and dessert.

Beautiful crockery from Japan

The dessert! Now this, for us, was the star of the whole meal. 
The last time I had ice cream mochi was in Hong Kong back in 2009. I remember it was a taro flavoured ice cream mochi that we bought in the supermarket and it was just amazing! Ice cream encased in a beautiful mochi skin, not too sweet and so
Anyway, the green tea ice cream mochis were split in half and on each half, it was topped with azuki beans. I am not a fan of azuki beans most of the time because some places prepare them too sweet for my tastes but not this time. The mochi needed the sweetness of the azuki to counteract the slight bitterness of green tea so for me, this was perfect! I have to admit though, it is a little pricey for just 2 ice cream mochis but for me this was worth it because it is not every day you get to have ice cream mochi!

Mochi Mochi Mochi! Oh yummy mochi!

Would I return? Yes - purely for the green tea ice cream mochi. Only kidding. Kind of. 
The ingredients they use are fresh, can't deny that so it would be nice to try out their other dishes the next time I go and hopefully will have a positive update on this post in future.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Italian Grill - Delizioso!

I already have a favourite Italian restaurant in Dundee - Don Michele, Perth Road. The thing is, whenever I visit Dundee now, I rarely venture up that way and I mostly meet people in the centre. I was told of the Italian Grill that had opened its doors in June and from what I can gather it has had some very positive reviews.

Italian Grill belongs to the same people who own Henry's Coffee House and The Meathouse. 
Yes, I have tried them both - in fact, I really enjoyed Henry's up until I discovered The Burgh Coffee House. The Meathouse does amazingly good burgers (they did when I was last there anyway), so it was a no-brainer when I had to decide on a place to lunch with mother, who is a bit of a fussy eater.

The restaurant occupies what was the the Dundee Box Office and is right next to Henry's Coffee House on the City Square. 
The last time I ventured in to the Square, it was a bit of grey space, dotted with a couple of benches that look like they had been nicked from a local park. There were 2 fountains and gum everywhere. I remember visiting the Square as a little girl and there were loads of pigeons there waiting for people to feed them. Now, it is a much cleaner, brighter area and they have even put some greenery to liven up the place. The fountains have been cleaned out and it seems like a much more pleasant place to have a spot of lunch or a coffee, whatever tickles your fancy.

Italian Grill boast of having a Josper Grill and wood stone oven, now I don't know about you but when I hear that a restaurant has that kind of equipment, I naturally want to go there just to try out their pizza or steak!

The restaurant is quite spacious, with a contemporary feel. The full length windows allow for a great view of the square and allows plenty of light in to the restaurant. Very European and fast becoming a popular feature to many new restaurants in the UK. Having plenty of natural light in a restaurant makes it feel a lot less claustraphobic and hopefully in turn will create happier customers.

The waitress showed us to a lovely table that had a view of the open kitchen with its wood stone oven, although it wasn't next to a window, we still had a very nice view of the Square. She handed us the menus and told us she would be back with bread and water. That never came. 
Now I would like to just point out that I couldn't care less if I got bread at the start of a meal as it can ruin your appetite before you even start but when a waiter tells me they will bring it over before taking our drinks, I kind of expect it to actually happen. Otherwise I would feel like we have been left out of the experience while others that came in after us enjoyed it.
Another waitress took our drinks order and only after that did we get the bread. The bread looks just like their pizza base, but cut in to strips - crisp with a slight chew. They provided an olive oil and balsamic dip for the bread; now I love that combo for dipping bread, but in my opinion when it's difficult for the bread to pick up any balsamic the result is just an oily bit of bread, but that is just purely personal taste.

They provide a simple lunch menu but I was in the mood for something from the a la carte menu with a bit more variety.
Myself and mum decided to share our starter and main because she is a very light eater. We decided to go for a Fritto Misto to start and a Spinach, Rocket and Ricotta cheese pizza for our main. M went for Carrot and Coriander soup to start and the Chicken Marsala Florentine for main.
The Fritto Misto has 2 sizes, one for individuals and one for sharing; I asked the waitress if the larger sharing platter was quite big and she said it would be better for the 2 of us because the smaller one is really designed for 1 person. Worried that the smaller one would be too small, we went with the bigger one. Big mistake!
The portion was big enough for 4 people to share as a starter!

The seafood was very fresh and there was a good selection of squid, king prawns, whitebait and baby octopus served with a very creamy aioli. The salad in the centre was seasoned really well, with a nice sweetness coming from the cabbage and onions - I probably would have eaten it all if there wasn't so much seafood to chow through. The plating is slightly on the rough side, which I think was what they wanted to go for but I think it would have looked slightly more appealing if it was plated better and not just chucked on. The crispy coating on the seafood was again seasoned really well and complimented the dish as a whole but I couldn't help but notice that the coating wasn't completely crisp and in fact was slightly soggy in places. It was also quite greasy so my guess is that the oil may not have been hot enough when frying the fritto misto so the batter couldn't crisp up properly and left quite a bit of grease on the plate. Not denying it though, the seafood was nice, just a shame about the frying process.
M's Carrot and Coriander soup was sweet and had a nice kick to it. He told me it was one of the best carrot soups he has had in a restaurant.

We didn't have to wait long for main courses to arrive after our starters and as the large pizza was put down, mother did notice the crust was quite well fired. In past experiences with well fired crusts, the thin pizzas were usually overdone and quite hard but as I went to put the cutter down in to the crust, it gave way nicely and cut very well. Although it was slightly darker in colour than the other pizzas I had seen being served around me, it was still a very good pizza. Fresh green spinach and rocket was piled on the top along with parmesan shavings, briefly hiding the ricotta and mozzarella cheese that had been placed very evenly on the beautifully thin base. Mother liked having the ricotta as it wasn't heavy and since she had picked the parmesan shavings off hers and on to my slices, she wasn't overloaded with cheese. The flavour of the Parmesan provides a salty element to the pizza hence adding depth, otherwise the pizza may have been slightly bland.
Thanks to the humungous starter, I only managed to eat a few slices while mother managed 2. Yes, 2 slices! 
Needless to say, I asked the waitress to box up the rest for me to take home.

M's Chicken Marsala looked very tasty and I was very impressed that they even cooked it with the skin left on the chicken in order to keep the meat moist. It came with a very tasty garlic mash that M thoroughly enjoyed but he couldn't finish his chicken as he found it a bit too salty. He hadn't told me this until we got home because he is annoying that way so I was unable to notify the waitress when she had asked if the meal was okay.

None of us were able to have desserts this time around but I will definitely make sure I have room to try it out on my next visit. It shouldn't be too long a wait for that as my brother would like to give this place a try with his kids very soon.

Yes, the food I had at Italian Grill could do with some minor improvements but all in all, it was a decent meal in a lovely central location and it is definitely a place people should consider trying out instead of going to other sub par eateries in the centre (not dropping names but most people who work and live in dundee will know which ones I mean). 
Italian Grill obviously care about the food they serve and the staff are all friendly and very polite.

They have had such a success with Henry's and The Meathouse that I have very high hopes for the future of Italian Grill - I wish the team all the very best with their beautiful restaurant. 

Monday, 18 August 2014

Comfort Food to Binge Eating.

This post is very personal and it is not going to be very upbeat I'm afraid but after hearing the death of one of my favourite actors, Robin Williams, I feel the need to finish writing this post.
I had put this off for so long and had even deleted it because I felt that this was not the platform to express my battle with the food demons. Also because I feel so drained from being in that zone, that typing it actually exhausted me.


A word that many pretend not to hear or a word that many think is used to describe someone who is weak.
Fighting every day to find something positive in your life is not weak.

Jack is my favourite film that stars Robin Williams.

Robin Williams battled with depression for a long time but even when he was probably at his lowest, he didn't show this to the world. Instead he was making sure everyone else was happy, was laughing and smiling. 
He was addicted to alcohol and drugs at certain points in his life. Could this have been his way of dealing with his depression? His way of numbing the pain and keeping up with the fight?
We might never know.
Everyone has their opinions and views on this issue with his death but no one will ever know how he was feeling. Not even those who have been through it.
For those who have been naming him a coward, words can not describe how stupid and naive you are.

We all deal with depression in different ways and we all have something we turn to: Alcohol, Exercise, Drugs, Music, Family, Books, Self-harm, Sex...the list goes on.

Mine, is food.

I love good food but when I go through my lows I turn to junk. Lots of it.

Mum said that I had loved food since I was a baby and that to stop me crying, all they had to do was give me food. Yup, my unhealthy relationship with food started VERY early.
Growing up, mum always commented on how fat I was getting and how I needed to lose weight but I think she felt bad for saying those things because the very next day she would be buying or cooking my favourite foods for me. 
I don't blame mum. 
She was working 6 days a week and instead of her getting us ready for school in the mornings, we got ourselves ready on our own from as early as I can remember - can you imagine the 7 year old me working a gas grill to make toast?! 
The only time she spent with us was on her day off because by the time we got home, her and dad were at work and by the time they got home, we were in bed.
My parents started me on dieting at about 10 years old. The only problem was, no one was there to support me or help me through it. It didn't help that I was working at the take-away, helping myself to a chip here or there and stuffing my face while no one was looking.
That became a norm for me - eating when someone's back is turned and then still eat full meals in front of them. Sometimes I ate so much I felt sick. 

With my family on holiday in Florida

If I wasn't at the take-away I was mostly at home doing house work on my own while my brother helped out at the take-away. I wasn't allowed to play with the neighbourhood kids so I stayed in and ate whatever I could find. Food kept me company when I had nothing to do. 

At around this time, I was also forced to attend a private school.
I loved the school I was originally attending - Everyone was a friend. I was the only chinese girl in the school but I was never bullied there, in fact I was friends with almost every pupil I knew in that place.  
I was made to take an entrance exam, which I wasn't very sure why, I just went along with the crowd. Maybe being oblivious to it all was what made me do extremely well and in turn got me accepted in to that school - it wasn't until after the exam I realised what it was for.
I was dreading the last day at my old school. 
I remember crying. 
I remember feeling angry. 
So angry.
The parents kept saying it was for my own good, blah blah blah. For a child, this means nothing. They don't know what is supposed to be good for them!

My new school was my hell. Teachers couldn't care less what the kids were feeling. None of them had the time for you. I spent many of my early days in that school trying to make excuses to go to the nurse's office (where I always got a fucking Tum Tum). 
My grades started to slip.
The classes were divided up so the clever ones stayed in one class and the not so clever people were in another. They started me off in the 2nd top class but by the end of my 1st year there I was in the bottom class. In my old school I was in the top group for almost everything (bar english).
The pupils had their own groups of friends and this was the first time I was confronted with the "In" crowd, the bullies, the "geeks", the "loners" and whatever bloody groups you can think of. 
I had changed friends so many times in that place and eventually I ended up with a group that made me laugh, made me realise that there were good people in that hell hole. But by then it was too late, my binge eating was already happening and there was no sign of stopping. 
Did I get bullied? Yes.
I didn't want to admit that I was a victim of bullying and I still don't but it's a fact that I must face. 
It was my time at this school that got me snacking on chocolate bars and crisps constantly. Before school, after school, on the bus, on the way home from the bus stop, in my bedroom - any time I was on my own. 
Learning dance moves and dancing in the middle of my living room helped prevent my body reaching morbidly obese levels but I was still fat.

My comforter.

At home I was asked to record football for dad but when I forgot, I got hell. Dad never hit me, but he would shout down the phone, yell and go berserk. 
It didn't scare me but it did upset me that he was giving me grief for not remembering to record a football game when he forgets my birthdays. 
Mum would shout at me in the mornings  if she woke up in a bad mood. Anything would set her off. It got so bad at one point that every saturday morning I woke up, sat in front of the telly and braced myself for the wrath that was coming my way (I only found out later on in life that mum was battling with her own demons). I was brought up to never talk back to my elders so I always kept my mouth shut.
After each incident, food was my comforter. I ended up hiding food in my bedroom and stashed wrappers under the bed. If my mum found them she just thought I was greedy. 

The chinese community would always call me the chubby girl. My cousin even asked me, "Why are you so fat?" 
Did it hurt?
Of course it did but rather than lose the weight or tell them where to go, I ate more. Food blocked the bad memories. Temporarily.

17 years old - Someone who smiles does not necessarily mean they're happy.

When I finished repeating my second year of Uni I decided to drop out. After so many years of doing everything I could to please everyone, I broke. I wasn't happy, and at this stage I was starting to self harm. I was prescribed anti-depressants by my doctor but it only made me feel worse so I stopped.
I couldn't bear the thought of failing my 3rd year then getting hell from my parents for failing again. 
Naturally, my parents went nuts. Dad especially. I was crying and trying to explain to them my "problem" but they didn't understand and they refused to acknowledge that I suffered from depression. 
Can you imagine that feeling? 
When the people you are supposed to lean on in times of trouble, when the people who are supposed to give you a simple hug...just laughs at you when you finally tell them that you have depression. 
What would you do?
I left home. It was that or I killed myself. 
I left a note. I posted my keys through the letter box. I packed the essentials and left in the early hours of the morning.

I spent 2 years living in Bristol with my then boyfriend. The relationship was terrible, he was abusive emotionally and made me feel like he was the only person I was allowed to talk to. He got insanely jealous of any guys I became friends with in work. Towards the end, it got physical. A push here, a shove there...
I spent most of my time at work where I ate constantly. I was never hungry because of the large amount of bread and cheese I was consuming on a daily basis - but my stomach never felt full either. I remembering devouring half a loaf of bread during one lunch break!
I got in to debt because I wasn't managing my money properly - pretty hard when the other half wasn't working much and had put everything in my name. I couldn't tell the family as I didn't want to seem like a failure.
I was in such a state that I couldn't bear it much longer. One afternoon, I swallowed a pack of painkillers...about 20. Instantly though, I knew I couldn't go through with it. 
What about the people in work who depend on you to be on time for your shift? 
What about your family in Scotland? 

There is light in the darkness but not all of us can see it.

My relationship with my family are much better since returning from Bristol. They have realised that I had a limit to how much I could be pushed. It doesn't mean it has all been fantastic - we still have our arguments but what family is perfect? 

I have seen a counsellor/mental health nurse before about my issues. 
Did it help? 
It helped to talk but when she mentioned doing certain things to help lift my mood - that's where I got stuck. 
It's hard to convince someone who is working in a restaurant 6 days a week and 11 hour days (and very depressed) to get up early and do exercises. Yes, I am probably making excuses for myself but unless you have been there, you will never know how it feels to try and get out of bed every morning, feeling like there is a constant pressure all over your body.
I told her I had used an app on my phone to track my calorie intake for a while and had lost 2 stones in a month. She was shocked and said that it was very drastic. 
However, for me, I felt like I had control. 
I then lost the control because I ended up seeking food as a reward and comforter after going through another rough spell. That's why I was there. She told me not to use that app as it wasn't being realistic with weight management.
At the next session, she told me of an app that I could use to control and keep track of the foods I was consuming and that I should give it a go. It was the app I told her about!
I never went back after that session.

I am still battling through it and maybe I will see a doctor again one day but right now I have so much going on I don't have the time to stop. 

Why do I get depressed? I don't know why.
Maybe it's because I feel trapped. Maybe it's because whenever I see the News, there is always bad news. Maybe it's because there are too many evil people in the world. Maybe it's because wars are going on constantly around the world. Maybe maybe maybe!

Not everyone will know why and asking them will not give you the answers when they themselves are asking that same question every minute of the day.
Do I still wish I wasn't alive? Yes.
Do I still have thoughts of killing myself? I can't. 
My nieces mean so much to me that I could never leave my family to tell them that their Aunt hated herself and the world so much that she had to commit suicide in order to be free.

These two little monsters mean so much to me.

I know the foods I should be eating and the foods to avoid. I know what I should be doing to stop myself from feeling low. I know things that can help relieve stresses. I know all that! Does it mean I put it in to practice? No. 
Because when a person wakes up in the morning feeling gutted that they are still alive, it is very hard to get that person to do those things that are supposed to "brighten" them up.
Telling them to snap out of it doesn't help. 
When someone asks me if I'm okay, I feel exhausted just saying, "yeah, doing alright."
I am trying my best to have a better relationship with food and I feel Blogging has helped slightly. This blog has helped me to see things in a more positive light and is something I look forward to. I still do the odd bingeing when I feel crap but it is nowhere near as bad as it was. 

When I found out Robin Williams had died, something inside me took a big hit. Knowing he had given up his battle with depression made me feel genuinely sad. Anyone losing their fight with that darkness inside them gets me going to that dark place too. 

Exactly how I feel most of the time.

Do we want to feel this way? Hell no! Why on earth would anyone want to feel this way?

The next time you see someone who is not as svelte as you, don't instantly jump to the conclusion that they are a lazy, greedy bum. 
The next time you see someone who may not be as cheery as you, don't just assume that they are rude. 
The next time you see someone with cut scars on their arms, don't think that they are just an attention seeking emo.
Everyone has their own story and until you have felt what they have felt and been through what they have been through, you will never truly understand how they are feeling. So NEVER say, "I know how you feel."
Believe me. You do not know how they feel.

Be supportive when you can. You don't need to do anything big, sometimes just sitting next to them is enough. 
Be ready to listen - because you never know, you may save someone's life by just lending an ear.

To those of you who have suffered from depression before, you know what it is like and hopefully you will be able to educate those who are maybe not so sympathetic towards sufferers. 
To those of you who are still fighting, I can't say it will get better because that would be false hope but please know that you are not alone in this. Take comfort in knowing that there are people out there who will listen and try to help, if you let them. Be strong.

This post will be the toughest one I publish as I have not spoken much about my past issues to my family and friends. 
Thank you to anyone who has taken their time out to read this. It means a lot to me.
I would also like to take the opportunity to thank those who have been there for me during the difficult times.

I will leave you with my favourite quotes from "Jack":

Lawrence Woodruff: You were a shooting star amongst ordinary stars. Have you ever seen a shooting star, Jack?
Jack: No.
Lawrence Woodruff: It's wonderful. It passes quickly, but while it's here it just lights up the whole sky - it's the most beautiful thing you'd ever want to see. So beautiful that the other stars stop and watch. You almost never see one.
Jack: Why not?
Lawrence Woodruff: Beacuse they're very rare. Quite rare. But I saw one. I did.
Jack: I just want to be a regular star.
Lawrence Woodruff: Jack, you'll never be regular. You're spectacular.

Please, don't worry so much. Because in the end, none of us have very long on this Earth. Life is fleeting. And if you're ever distressed, cast your eyes to the summer sky when the stars are strung across the velvety night. And when a shooting star streaks through the blackness, turning night into day... make a wish and think of me. Make your life spectacular.

Note: Every individual suffering from depression are different and all the views I have on the subject are my own opinions. They certainly don't reflect on how every person with depression feels. Everyone has a story. This is a snippet of mine.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Liebster Nomination!

Having only been blogging for a couple of months, to be nominated for a Liebster Award is very exciting stuff indeed!

When my good friend Genna, over at Blethering Boys, first nominated me for this, I really wasn't sure what it was all about but after some reading and some searching I realised that it is an awesome thing!
Genna was the one who encouraged me to start a blog and was the one who taught me how to get started in the first place so for that, I can't thank her enough.

So what is the Liebster Award?
It's a gift from fellow bloggers to small blogs (like mine) that have less than 200 followers. It was created to recognise and/or discover new bloggers and welcome them to the blogosphere.
Starting my blog has given me something to look forward to and keeps me from hating my job so much so to know that there are people even liking anything I am blogging about is a great boost to my confidence.

The rules for accepting this award are

  • List 11 random facts about myself
  • Answer 11 questions from the blogger who nominated me
  • Nominate 11 blogs who have less than 200 followers and let them know they have been nominated
  • Post 11 questions for these new nominees to answer (if they choose to accept the award - it's completely optional)

So here goes...

11 random facts about me:
  1. I was born in a small fishing town called Arbroath in Scotland.
  2. I dropped out of uni and ran away from home, ended up in Bristol for 2 years and had one of the best jobs ever. 
  3. A huge My Neighbour Totoro fan. Been watching it since I was a kid and still love it.
  4. Held 4 part-time jobs while in 2nd year of uni. I failed that year, by one god damn module!
  5. I work 6 days a week, 10-11hrs a day.
  6. Almost all my clothes are black.
  7. The movie P.S. I Love You, makes me cry every time.
  8. I love photographs - so many memories with a click of a button.
  9. I dream to one day, have a beautiful house/cottage by a lake or the seaside.
  10. I HATE people who throw their rubbish on the ground rather than using a bin.
  11. I have my own crystal ball and Tarot Cards.

The answers to the questions Blethering Boys asked me:

1. What is your favourite smell in the whole world and why?
The smell of a Hong Kong bakery - such an amazing mixture of smells that range from sweet to savoury. It reminds me of when I was very young and was taken to a Hong Kong bakery where they had the prettiest cakes I had ever seen. 

2. Do you have any filthy habits?
What do you mean by filthy? ha ha! I would say not cleaning my car enough is a bit of a filthy habit.

3. What is the one thing you need to do before you can go to sleep at night?
Turn my phone to silent.

4. What has your biggest blogging success been so far?
Being nominated for this award!

5. What's your favourite book?
Lovely Bones

6. What is the main goal you have with your blog?
To share my experiences with testing recipes and trying out restaurants.

7. Best day of your life?
The day I spent a whole afternoon in the hotel pool with a boy while our parents were scuba diving at sea. We talked, we swam, he taught me how to bomb dive the pool. Simple childhood times were the best.

8. Anyone you want to big up or link to?  I'm a huge fan of Paper Clouds Apparel, so i'mma using this to shout out! 
The Bakery Dunbar - community bakery with great pastries and bread!

9. Do you always iron your clothes or are you free and easy with the creases?
Depends on what the clothes are for.

10. Dogs or Cats?
Dogs! Every time.

11.  Random secret from your teenage years?
I was a huge Hanson fan! There. I said it.

The Bloggers I would like to nominate are:

2. Corinna @ The German Wanderer
3. Jaiza @ Thunderchick
4. Dhara @ Dhara's Kitchen
5. Stephni @ Hello Stephni
6. Kizi @ Bouffista
7. Tapashi @ Food Lovers Zone
9.  Winse @ Winse's Wee Wok
10. Magee @ Magee's Kitchen

My Questions for the Nominees:

1. What got you Blogging in the first place?

2. What is your favourite TV show?

3. Who is your biggest celebrity crush?

4. If you could be granted ONE wish, what would it be?

5. What has been the proudest moment of your life?

6. How do you like your eggs?

7. Flora or Fauna?

8.  What is your all time favourite food?

9. What would be your ideal holiday destination?

10. Do you like to watch movies at the cinema or wait until it is out on DVD?

11. Who/What inspires you?

Nominees who accept the award - please put a link to your post in the comments box below.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Ashiana - Birthday Meal

There are quite a lot of Indian/Asian restaurants/takeaways in Scotland. 


This doesn't mean they are all good though. In fact, I would say 8 out of 10 Indian takeaways I have tried have been pretty rubbish (a few pieces of overcooked meat floating around in brightly coloured and bland sauce is not my thing) so this is why I would prefer dining at an Indian restaurant rather than get a takeout. Most takeouts are never that good once it has been put in to a plastic box anyway.
The Indian restaurants I have visited in Dundee have never given me a horrible experience but they have never excited me or made me feel the need to go back so when one of my besties wanted to go to a recently opened, Asian restaurant for his birthday meal I was already thinking that it will just be another one of your average, run of the mill, Indian restaurant. 
Firstly, I would like to state that Ashiana is not an Indian restaurant, they are an Asian fusion restaurant. From what I gather when reading their menu, is that they specialise in Indian and Bangladeshi Cuisine. 
If the first thought that comes to your head is, "Isn't that just the same thing?" That's like someone saying Scotland and England are the same or America and Canada are the same. 
They are not the same. 
Bangladesh have their own flag, they established independence from Pakistan in 1971. Bangladeshi food is more centred towards fish curries and they use more coconut milk and root vegetables in their dishes. Indian curries tend to have more spices.

A little map for those who may not be sure where Bangladesh is.

As we walked up to the entrance a gentleman, who looked very much like the owner of the place, greeted us very quietly and politely, he led us through a very well lit entrance hall that had a very pretty crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling and LED spotlights dotted around the place.
The music was instrumental soundtracks from old movies which wouldn't have been too bad if each one hadn't sounded like some heartbreaking lovesick song. It reminded me of my grandfather's first ever restaurant in Arbroath back in the 80's where the music in every Chinese restaurant was instrumental love ballads and every table had a small vase of carnations. 

Our table view

The building that is now occupied by Ashiana (and the newly opened Japanese restaurant in the basement) had belonged to the University of Dundee for many years and so the building itself is quite old with stairs that are not suitable for wheelchair users. 

This is just to show how clean the tables were.

The restaurant area itself is quite spacious and there is plenty of natural light that comes through the large windows. The decor is very modern, but the beautiful (and very comfortable) wooden chairs and the lovely table runners, certainly add an element of traditional sophistication to the place. 
If you are vertically challenged, like me, it may take a a few minutes for you to get comfortably seated as the chairs have quite a lot of padding in it - not a bad thing mind, but it did mean my feet couldn't touch the ground when I sat properly on the chair!

You can stop laughing now!

We were given 3 menus: Food Menu, Chef's Special Menu and Drinks Menu.

A little sneak peek of the Chef's Special Menu.

Food menu is extensive - so extensive we had to ask the waitress to give us a few more minutes to look through the menu. The ordinary menu along with the Chef's special menu may confuse many people who have never dined in an Asian restaurant before. Saying that though, the staff there are very friendly and I am sure they would be happy to help you with anything you are unfamiliar with.
Drinks menu is also extensive and what surprised me the most is the wide variety of wines they have on offer. I don't drink alcohol much but I know people who do and have always heard them say that most restaurants are very boring with their wine list so I am sure they would be very happy with Ashiana's list.
The restaurant was very clean and staff were dressed smart but not pretentious looking. 
Vegetarians will be delighted to know that Ashiana have a very good selection of meat free dishes to offer you, with different spice levels to suit all palates. 

Vegetable Ala Bomb

If you are not vegetarian, then you will want to try one of their fish dishes.
No, I never had a fish dish, this is because I had a huge craving for king prawns but looking back I really should have went for a fish curry. 

We ordered poppadoms as an appetiser; the poppadoms came with an onion chutney and mango chutney. 
I usually give the onion chutney a miss and just have the mango, but when this came the onions were much finer than the usual onion chutneys I have come across in the past so decided to give this a go. 
No regrets! I was blown away by how little of the raw onions I could actually taste but instead had a burst of sweet/sharp relish with hints of fresh coriander mixed in. Just thinking about it now has got my mouth

Crispy and bubbly, yum!

For starters we ordered: Lamb Tikka, Chicken Pakora, Mixed Pakora, and Beguni (aubergine bhaji).
My lamb tikka was well cooked, although it was ever so slightly overdone, there was still a good amount of flavour and the sauce they had as an accompaniment had a slight tang with a hint of spice which went well with every starter. 

Lamb Tikka Starter - I love coriander!

The Beguni were slices of aubergine coated in a seasoned batter and deep fried. Aubergine can sometimes turn out to be a sloppy mess if overdone but the chef cooked the Beguni perfectly so that the aubergines were soft but still had a slight firmness to them and held their shapes. 

Beguni - I personally think they could have done without the carrot stick.

I had one little niggle with the garnish on the plates though. The carrot stick that was placed along with the salads. If they were just using the carrot as a garnish, then maybe slicing little flowers would look slightly prettier than a carrot stick that looks like it's been kept in a zip-lock bag for snack-time.

Main courses: Vegetable Ala Bomb, King Prawn Biryani, Special Biryani and Chicken and Lamb Biryani, and a Railway Lamb Curry.
All of us had enjoyed our main course just as much as we had enjoyed the starters. 
Beautiful presentation (although the salads on the side could do with looking a bit more elegant). 
The spices used in the Biryani was what made this dish so tasty and the light heat was enough to get that sensation but not enough to burn my tongue off. They didn't skimp on the prawns either but I did find the prawns a tad over cooked and the fried onions on top of the rice had me slightly sceptical at first but they really completed the dish by adding a different texture and a slight sweetness to the dish.

My King Prawn Biryani.

They provided a vegetable curry to accompany the Biryani - now this is where Ashiana shone for me.
Most vegetable curries I have had in the past have mostly been bits of vegetables (usually boiled to death) swimming in curry sauce, if I was lucky there would be some pureed lentils too. Ashiana's veg curry was packed full of vegetables and there was just enough lentils and sauce to keep it moist. Great flavours and great for picking up with the Naan bread.

Speaking of Naan bread, we ordered two garlic and one cheese - I was going to just order one garlic and one cheese, but then someone asked,
"mm...will that really be enough?"
I don't need much convincing when it comes to Naan, so another one it is then!
When the bread came we were given plain instead of garlic. 
When we notified the waitress of the mistake, she was very apologetic and let us keep the plain Naan while she went to put in an order for the garlic Naan. We ended up with a Naan each!  Needless to say, we never managed to finish all the breads but Heather, the slimmest one out of us all, took her unfinished veg bombe and the rest of the Naans home with her to enjoy the day after.
Better that than see perfectly good food go to waste.

I don't remember seeing a dessert menu but we didn't really need it due to the huge birthday cake that Heather had made.

That was some chocolaty goodness!

The yummy cake.

The waitress and the owner were very attentive, making sure everything was okay throughout the evening. The restaurant was fairly quiet (unsurprising as it was a Monday night), with only 2 other tables there. 

Everything had been alright but my one major criticism would be the journey to the toilets. 

I know I know, the toilet issue again. 

I asked the waitress where the toilets were and she led me to this door next to the main entrance. As we entered said door, she turned the lights on to this very dark corridor with stairs leading up to the toilets. It is a little bit of a hike, but when you are in an old style building it's impossible to have everything on the same level. She took me all the way up the stairs and showed me to the toilets. The toilets were clean but because the corridor and stairs were very bare, it felt slightly eerie. 
At the bottom of the stairs, just before I went back through the doors to the well lit restaurant, there was a broken wooden door, some empty cardboard boxes and an abandoned vending machine. I understand that not everyone uses toilets in a restaurant, but those that do would probably not want the illusion of a perfectly lovely looking restaurant to be shattered by some abandoned furniture.

All in all, I had a lovely meal with my lovely friends and apart from the little weird journey to and back from the ladies' room I wouldn't hesitate to return to try out the other different types of dishes they have to offer. Here's hoping the next time I go, the back stairs and corridor is cleared of the small clutter.

Would I recommend Ashiana to visitors to Dundee? YES.
Their food is great, the staff are pleasant, the place is clean; what more could you ask for?