Saturday, November 15, 2008

10. Thailand: The River Thai Restaurant

The River Thai Restaurant
45 the Broadway,
Haywards Heath,
West Sussex
RH16 3AS
01444 412731

Badgerman and I were in the Haywards Heath area on a family errand and Christmas shopping on a Saturday when lunchtime arrived and on recommendations from work colleagues, we found ourselves looking for the River Thai on The Broadway. We were greeted and seated politely and quickly. The interior is strikingly decorated; it’s an elegant mix of modern stylish patterning and traditional opulence.

The £6.50, two-course lunch menu available from 12:00- 3:00, Monday through Saturday brought us in. From the seven, varied starters we both chose Tom Yam Gui: hot chicken soup. It arrived quickly steaming hot, spicy, packed full of delicious chicken breast pieces, slivers of lemon grass, mushrooms and the best, the very best soup stock I have ever tasted! We shared our mains, choosing Gai Muang: chicken with cashews and dry chilli and Nam Man Hoi: stir fried beef in oyster sauce, from the nine mains offered. With the exception of the Pad Thai noodles, each main comes with your choice of noodles or rice. We chose noodles with the chicken and rice with the beef. Both dishes were just delicious. The cashews in the Gai Muang were toasted, complimenting the flavour of the perfectly cooked chicken and vegetables. The chilli beef also had plenty of veg. with it and was yummy, but the jasmine rice was a real treat. It was very small, fine grained, perfectly cooked with a delicate flavour not usually found in plain, accompanying rice.

Perusing the dessert menu, (£3.50 to £4.25) with tempting items such as passion fruit and mango sorbet, coconut ice-cream served in its shell and Thai pancakes; we were pleased that we had both left room. We both chose the caramel parfait (£3.50), caramel ice-cream covered in milk chocolate that was prettily presented with chocolate sauce and whipped cream. For a ‘brought in’ dessert it was really good, and had Badgerman and I unceremoniously scraping our plates to get all the last melty smears.

We drank pots of attentively replenished Jasmin tea, very crisp sparking water served with lime slices and I chose a refreshing glass of medium, white Monsoon Valley Wine (£2.80 for 175ml). The Wine list has an interesting array of New and Old World wines, some served by the glass and ranging from £10.90 –£22.50 a bottle. There are also Champagnes on offer if your tastes and pocket run that way.

We looked at the interesting Christmas menu priced at £30.00 a head for starters, soup, mains, noodles or rice, dessert and tea of coffee and thought that this would be an excellent place for a works do or for a gang of friends to visit. They also have a function room for larger parties and what are the cleanest restaurant loos I have seen for a while.

Our bill for three courses and drinks came to £28.75 excluding tip.

Ambience: 3
Food Presentation: 3
Food Quality: 4
Service: 4
Value for money: 3

Thursday, November 13, 2008

9. Italy, southern: Buon Appetito

Buon Appetito
171 London Road,
Burgess Hill
West Sussex,
RH15 8LH
01444 246889

Some of the best things in life are things you just stumble upon by mistake. One such happy surprise was our visit to Buon Appetito. The Blim was away so Badgerman and I decided to meet in Burgess Hill for dinner and add to our Sussex Ethnic Eats finds. We arrived at Buon Appetito about 7:15; there were already two parties of two in this small (about 40 covers) restaurant. The décor is smart and understated and the welcome was very hospitable and friendly.

We ordered drinks: a glass of house red for Badgerman and sparkling water for me that turned out to be the excellent San Beniditto brand. We perused the superbly varied menu, with over 80 main course choices priced from £6.95 for pasta and pizza dishes to £15.95 for rack of lamb, and were flummoxed so we asked for advice. We were directed to the interesting looking specials, Badgerman chose the Patate e Anatra Croccante- baked potatoes and duck with olive oil garlic and butter (£6.95) and I opted for the Avocado Biancaneve- baked avocado and prawns with béchamel sauce and parmesan (£5.95). There is a very good range of vegatarian and non-vegetarian starters priced from £1.95 for the house garlic bread to £7.25 for Gamberoni Al Limone: king prawns cooked with white wine and lemon sauce. For our mains Badgerman selected Penne alla Siciliana- Penne with pepperoni, mixed roasted peppers chilli and tomato sauce (£6.95) and I chose Tagliatelle Allo Scoglio: Pasta cooked with a fresh selection of seafood, cherry tomatoes and tomato sauce (£7.95). Our drinks arrived promptly and I tucked into the package of very thin, crispy breadsticks and watched all the wonderfully presented dishes go by to the two other tables. Our starters arrived and we were very pleased with both our selections. My avocado dish, pictured above, was just delicious. The avocado was perfectly ripe and the prawns very flavoursome. The plentiful béchamel sauce was smooth and delicate with just a hint of nutmeg. I sent my compliments to the chef. I think that it takes real confidence to present such a simple dish knowing that it could stand alongside dishes with more complicated flavours and construction. Badgerman’s duck (right)was artfully presented and looked far more elegant that the plain, honest menu description. He really enjoyed all elements especially the succulent duck slices.

Around 8:00 p.m. the restaurant was filling up with four more tables arriving, one of them a larger party. There were also a couple of take away orders and a Christmas booking; this seemed quite busy for a Wednesday in early November. All customers, some of whom were greeted by name, received the same great service and attention as we did. After our starter we were actually asked to let the house know when we wanted our main course!

When our main courses arrived they did not disappoint. Our respective pastas were cooked al dente with enough but not too much sauce. Badgerman’s penne was spicy hot and tasty with the heat not obliterating the other flavours. My tagliatelle was delicious- every mouthful was great. I often order seafood pasta and am usually disappointed by the quality and quantity of the seafood that is included- but not this time. There were plenty of clams, mussels, prawns and squid to last until the final twirl of the very fine pasta. Both dishes were very well presented in chic, slanted bowls. I also ordered a mixed salad that was dressed for me at the table. It was very fresh and crunchy, though had just a little too much onion for my tastes.

We were too full to partake in desserts all around £4.50, but the ones being served to other customers looked home-made and quite yummy! Our de-caff coffee arrived with a little biscotti, was very good and really hot.

We congratulated ourselves on finding this gem of a restaurant and happily paid our bill for £44.50 excluding tip.

Ambiance: 3
Service: 4
Food Presentation: 4
Food Quality: 4
Value for money: 2

There is also a sister Buon Appetito restaurant at: 81 Western Road, Hove, East Sussex, BN3 2JQ 01273 204444.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

8. India, Punjabi: Shanaz

83 High Street,
East Sussex

01273 488028

I was very glad to have the excuse of reviewing the Shanaz in Lewes High Street for my S.E.E. blog. We have been patrons for 15 or more years. I’ve visited all the Indian restaurants in and around Lewes, but I keep returning the Shanaz as I like it the best of the Punjabi restaurants. I have tried many of the dishes over the years; obviously some have been more to my taste than others, but I have always found the food in the Shanaz to be consistently well-seasoned and well-prepared. Recently the menu has had a revamp and many dishes are grouped by the sauce base rather than by the meat base. I find this a better way to lead customers’ tastes. I know what sauce bases I like: which are too hot or too sweet for me, so I choose a sauce base and then decide if I feel like chicken, lamb, prawns etc… There are also many stand-alone dishes and excellent chef’s specials.

We started with popadums(two each) and the chutney tray pictured. The popadums are always crispy and light. Included in the chutney tray are mild onion slices, sweet mango chutney, seasoned yoghurt and our favourite- a sweet coconut-based spread. From the extensive list of starters priced around £3.00-£5.00, Badgerman and I chose our favourites: Onion bhajies (£2.95) and Dahl Soup (£2.95) with lemon, respectively. As Blim was having the Non-Vegetarian Thali, he skipped the starter on the waiter’s advice. My soup came with the extra lemon I ordered and was it’s usual tasty, warm self. I had a bite of Bagerman’s bhajies and was surprised to find how non-greasy and light they were and that there was other vegetables with the onions in the bhaji; they came with a small salad and lemon wedge.

Our main courses arrived soon after our starter plates were cleared. Blim’s Mixed Thali was a veritible platter of small portions of Chicken Bhuna, Lamb Bhuna, Chicken Tikka, Sag Aloo, Peshwari Nan and Special Rice for £13.95. He is a relatively big eater and he found this to be plenty of food and was glad he had not had a starter. Blim particularly enjoy the sag aloo (potatoes and spinach) dish, as it was well seasoned and “interesting”. The meat dishes had different textures, were well flavoured and were not too hot. He was able to substitute a fruity Peshwari Naan for the plain naan, which also added to the dish’s interest and range of tastes. Badgerman’s chicken jalfrezzi (£7.95) arrived sizzling in a cast iron dish on a wooden platter pictured right. The combination of the bell peppers, onions, herbs, thick spicy sauce and the succulent chicken make this a really enjoyable dish- watch out for the small green chillies though- some are just a bit hot but others are scorching! My Chicken Peshwar (£9.95)was cooked in a rich sauce with sour cream, coconut, fresh cream, flaked almonds and green chillies, was very well presented and just delicious. The sauce had been cooked down beautifully with the flavours of the cream and coconut intensified and clung to every side of each chicken piece. The green chillies cut through the sweetness of the sauce and the chicken was superbly cooked. I would have liked more coriander than just a garnish though as I thought that this would have moved a very good dish to outstanding.

We resisted the desserts, as we were quite full- though, in the past, I have had many a delicious ice-cream bombe, pistachio or mango kulfi and lemon or mango sorbet.

The service was very attentive, though it was a fairly quiet, post Bonfire Night Thursday, early evening. Service at the Shanaz is always good with a reasonable number of staff on to cope with customers and the brisk take-away trade. As is their custom, we were brought hot towels after our main course and a complimentary Irish cream liqueur and mint chocolate with our bill.

The room, and even the loos, are decorated with a huge array of artificial flowers, leaves and fruit so you get the feeling of being somewhere exotic and warm like a jungle floor, rather than in the basement of a large building on Lewes High street.

Blim and I had pineapple juice each and Badgerman had a Bangla Beer; our bill came to £57.15, excluding tip.


Ambiance: 3
Service: 3
Food Presentation: 3
Food Quality: 4
Value for Money: 2

Saturday, November 1, 2008

7. India: Mother Bhumi

Mother Bhumi's
Cliffe High Street Precinct
East Sussex
First Saturday of the Month

Now Mother Bhumi's Pakora and Bhajia caravan does not strictly adhere to the Sussex Ethnic Eats criteria as it does not have a sit-in area, but hey- it's my blog so I can break my own rules! : )
I have included this tiny purveyor of delicious fare because I find their wares and ethos to be a delight. The ingredients are organic, serving platters are made from recycled paper pulp and what can be recycled is; they even accept the Lewes Pound.

I have seen (and smelt) this caravan of culinary delights in many a farmer's market and festival in Sussex, but mostly I look for them at the Lewes Farmers' Market, held on the first Saturday of each month. You'll find Mother Bhumi's by its enticing aroma and by looking for the long queue of salivating customers. They are in place for the early opening of the market and stay late into the afternoon, long after the other stalls have gone home.

On offer is a range of expertly cooked organic veg. such as: aubergine (eggplant), sweet potato, carrots, parsnips, spinach, kale, and of course onions that are made into Badgerman’s favourite bhajias. The batter is garam (chickpea) flour based so is very healthy and has a low glycaemic loading. The freshly made pakoras are crunchy on the outside with the batter a little cakey on the inside and the vegetables are always perfectly cooked. As the advertising says: "This is real food with love in it." Badgerman, Blim, Little Will and I have had hundreds of pakoras and bhajias over the years and every one has been good. We have enjoyed Mother Bhumi’s for breakfast, lunch and tea- not on the same day of course, but it shows how we love them. My children have been bribed to do many a household chore with the promise of a take-home bag (£3.00) from the ‘Pakora Lady’ on my return.

A large order with two dips is £5.00 and a small with one dip is £3.00. There are many dips to choose from; some are firey, some are mild and others are sweet.

Ambience: not applicable
Service: not applicable but the staff are always friendly
Food Presentation: 2
Food Quality: 4
Value for Money: 3