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Apr 13 14

Hearth of the Ram Ramsbottom

by maxineclayman

It’s fair to say that up until recently the food scene in Manchester has been pretty poor. But in the last year couple of years I’ve noticed a vast improvement, with a sleuth of new, and actually pretty decent restaurants popping. Ramsbottom (technically in Bury which is Greater Manchester) home to the annual Ramsbottom Chocolate Festival is becoming a bit of a foodie destination. And the Hearth of the Ram Ramsbottom is one of the latest additions to its burgeoning restaurant culture.

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The last time I was in Ramsbottom took my dad for dinner at the Hideaway restaurant, a Ramsbottom hidden gem. This time we decided to go for Sunday lunch in Ramsbottom. I’d wanted to check out the Eagle and Child, a gastropub in Ramsbottom that won the accolade of Observer Food Monthly Best Sunday Lunch 2013 but of course I’d left it to late to get a table.

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My backup was the Hearth of the Ram Ramsbottom, a gastropub and winner of Food Pub of the Year at the Manchester Food and Drink Festival 2013. Head chef Abdulla ‘Naz’ Nazeem, former head chef of Ramsons (run by the same people who operate the Hideaway restaurant Ramsbtoom) also secured the Hearth of the Ram a Michelin Bib Gourmand. So I was fairly confident we’d be on to a winner with Sunday lunch at the Hearth of the Ram Ramsbottom.

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I did have a giggle as usual on route through Bury as we passed a sign for Bury Market – ‘Bury’s World Famous Market’ and a top UK tourist attraction. It always makes me laugh at the thought of tourists flocking to what is essentially a bog standard market (although it was voted best market in Britain). Located off one of Ramsbottom’s main roads (Ramsbottom was runner up in the Telegraph’s 2013 High Street of the Year Awards) the Hearth of the Ram Ramsbottom is pretty easy to find. After we sat down it took me about 10 seconds to decide what I was going to have. The menu is quite heavily on the meaty side so my choices were somewhat limited. It was the turn of my dad to procrastinate for ages, mainly over whether to go for a starter and a main or a main and a dessert, going in the end for the former after I suggested he could always have dessert as well if he wanted it.

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Given my obsession with beetroot I had to have the double baked cheese soufflé with poached pear, beetroot, beetroot gel and pickled onion. It was sublime. I’m not a huge fan of souffles. Often I find they can be a bit boring. But the depth of the rich cheese flavour with various combinations of the sweetness of the pear and beetroot and the sharp tang of the onion ensured this most certainly wasn’t the case. Each mouthful was a different taste sensation. My dad had chosen a posh prawn cocktail, constructed of different types of prawns. I did think it looked a little uninspiring but my dad said the dish was refreshing and light and the mayonnaise wasn’t too oily.

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For my main I went for fillet of seabass served with gnocci, carrots, cabbage and raisin purée. I think there was an element of shellfish in the dish but I’d asked them to leave it out as I can’t eat it. This didn’t impede the taste in any way, the fish was crisp and salty, perfectly complimenting creamy mash. And as for the gnocchi, which was fried in little squares, it took me a moment to register that they weren’t in fact little mini roast potatoes.

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My dad was equally as impressed with his Sunday lunch at the Hearth of the Ram Ramsbottom. Huge slabs of tender lamb were served on a bed of mash and accompanied with al dente veg and a meaty gravy. Bearing in mind it is a pub the food at the Hearth of the Ram Ramsbottom isn’t cheap, two courses for £20.95 or three courses for £25.95. But I’ve paid considerably more for a lot worse. Given the quality of the food at the Hearth of the Ram Ramsbottom it’s definitely worth paying the extra. Plus portions are deceptively large and filling – we didn’t have room for dessert. I can’t vouch for the Sunday lunch at the Eagle and Child but even if the Hearth of the Ram Ramsbottom is second best this Manchester hidden gem is still a winner in my books.

Apr 6 14

Troost Amsterdam brewery

by maxineclayman

Beer and Amsterdam go hand in hand so when I heard about the opening of Brewery Troost Amsterdam I was keen to check out this hidden gem. For research purposes of course. The Brouwerij Troost Amsterdam is in the trendy neighbourhood of De Pijp. Housed in a former convent this cafe and brewery is just down the road from the Albert Cuyp market and Ferdinand Bolstraat, the main shopping street that runs through De Pijp.

Troost Amsterdam Brewery

Troost Amsterdam, a brewery in a former convent

As I’ve practically given up on finding a decent brunch in Amsterdam aside from Little Collins (both Staring at Jacob and Bakers and Roasters proved disappinting despite garnering rave reviews). In the absence of this I suggested we go for an early lunch at the Brewery Troost Amsterdam as I’d heard their vegetarian options were pretty good. I have to admit I was a little disappointed to find that the interior of the Brouwerij Troost Amsterdam was all new and modern. I’d been expecting it to be old and full of character, with to see the inside of an old covent. Instead it was brand-spanking new, with more of a canteen feel with wooden tables and chairs. Above the bar you can see huge metal casks of Troost’s beer and you can also see the brewery at the back which looks a bit like a science lab.

Troost Amsterdam Brewery

Troost Amsterdam’s tasting room

As you’d expect from a brewery, Brouwerij Troost Amsterdam brews some of its own beers on site and it has a tasting room too. We decided to try the Troost blond beer, they also brew a white beer and an IPA which is more of a bitter. Food wise as you might expect with beer on tap, the mainstay of the menu is burgers as you can see from the menu here, as well as a selection of sandwiches and typical dutch pub snacks including bitterballen.

Brewery Troost Amsterdam vegetarian burger

Brewery Troost Amsterdam serve THE best veggie burgers in De Pijp

I went for the vegetarian burger, made from lentils, quinoa and mushrooms, with truffle mayonnaise, gherkins and lettuce. This came with a generous portion of fries. Sharps had a meat burger (of course) choosing the Troostburger – a burger with pancetta, blue cheese, olives, red onion and aioli and also with fries on the side.

Brewery Troost Amsterdam burger

Meat eaters will be pleased to know the meat versions are just as good

Both burgers were served in a ciabatta bun which made them feel a bit more grown up. And both burgers were delicious. Mine was nutty and flavoursome, the best veggie burger I’ve had in ages. Sharps was equally as impressed with his, I could see the meat juices running out of it when he cut into it.

Brewery Troost Amsterdam bar

Brewery Troost Amsterdam bar

We were in Troost on a Sunday lunchtime and it was relatively quiet, though it did start to fill up a bit as we went to leave. The staff were friendly and helpful and the service was great, which is always a bonus in Amsterdam. One thing it’s worth mentioning is that you can’t pay by cash in Brouwerij Troost Amsterdam, they only accept cards. Troost translates as consolation but you certainly won’t be drowning your sorrows in the Brewery Troost Amsterdam.

Mar 30 14

Best sunset in Kauai – the Beach House

by maxineclayman

It goes without saying I was on a quest to find the best sunset in Kauai while on holiday there. I’d been told that the The Beach House in Kauai is famous for being one of the best spots to watch the sun go down on the Hawaiian island. In fact, pretty much wherever we went people told us a visit to The Beach House restaurant was a must if we wanted to see the best sunset in Kauai.

Best sunset in Kauai at the Beach House

Catch the best sunset in Kauai at the Beach House

Luckily for us, the Beach House is located in Poipu on Kauai’s south shore. It was just a short $10 taxi ride from the gorgeous Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa where we were staying (you can read my review here).

The Beach House restaurant Kauai

The Beach House restaurant Kauai

I could see why The Beach House has also been named as the most romantic restaurant in Kauai, and one of the most romantic restaurants in Hawaii. Its setting is idyllic. The Beach House restaurant is situated right next to the beach. Perfect if you want to spend an afternoon sunbathing as you can then pop over for cocktails at its bar, which overlooks the ocean, and get a prime seat to watch the best sunset in Kauai.

Sundowners at the Beach House Kauai

Sundowners at the Beach House Kauai

Our dinner was booked for 5.30pm (people dine early in Hawaii so you can eat and watch the sunset) and as we arrived a little early were sat in the bar area and ordered a cocktail. It was pretty packed and by 6pm there was a queue to get in. Probably because word’s out that this Hawaiian hidden gem has views of the best sunset in Kauai. We were shown to our outdoor table where we had great views of the sky turning an orange hue, definitely the best sunset in Kauai that we’d seen.

The Beach House restaurant Kauai's tuna poke

The Beach House restaurant Kauai’s tuna poke

Then we turned our attention to the menu which was filled with an array of fresh fish. My starter of slightly seared tuna poke was served in a crispy wanton basket and drizzled in a wasabi sauce. Sharps’ Beach House ceviche – scallops, tiger prawns, fresh island fish, avocado, tomato, cucumber, and cilantro, served with sweet potato crips on the side – was light and limey.

Beach House restaurant Kauai lobster mac and cheese

Sharps couldn’t get enough of the Beach House restaurant’s lobster mac and cheese

Both of us had fish for our main. My opa (moonfish) came in a wasabi butter crust that tasted a bit like cheese. Sharps said his crab crusted island catch of monchong (sea pomfret) was softer than my fish and the mandarin Thai orange glaze with kabayaki reminded him of sweet and sour sauce. But the star dish for Sharps was the lobster mac and cheese. He said the pasta was cheesy and al dente and the addition of the sweet lobster gave more depth to the dish.

Beach House restaurant Kauai dessert

Breakfast is served

Why I ordered dessert is beyond me (actually that’s not true – zero willpower and greed are just two suggestions). But I found it impossible to resist the sound of the Hawaiian carrot cake with macadamia nuts, pineapple and cheese frosting. Though I’m not usually a pudding person this was my favourite of all the courses. It was gigantic and after a mouthful of the soft, moist cake I was ready to burst. Thankfully our waiter had told us that they could always box it up for us to take home with us which is exactly what we did. We ate it for breakfast next day. Sharps on the other hand had no problem demolishing his rich, gooey chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream. If you’re after good food (the Beach House also won the accolade of Kauai best restaurant) and views of the best sunset in Kauai you’ll feel right at home at the Beach House.

Mar 23 14

St Ann’s Hospice Little Hulton

by maxineclayman

Last month my mum passed away at St Ann’s Hospice in Little Hulton, North Manchester. It might seem like a bit of an odd thing for me to feature St Ann’s Hospice Little Hulton on My Hidden Gems. But the purpose of my blog is to uncover all sorts of hidden gems and St Ann’s Hospice Little Hulton is exactly that. For me and my family it was a godsend. I don’t know how my brother and I could have coped without it. This year I won’t be able to give my mum a present for Mother’s Day. So, in memory of my mum, I wanted to share my experiences of St Ann’s Hospice Little Hulton in the hope it will help others and give them strength too.

Before a couple of months ago I didn’t even know of the existence of St Ann’s Hospice Little Hulton. In fact, I didn’t even really know what a hospice is, or does. Then, out of the blue, my mum was diagnosed with being in the final stages of gallbladder cancer. It had already spread to mum’s spine and liver and there was no cure but we were told chemo may be possible to help prolong mum’s life.

St Ann's Hospice Little Hulton Manchester

St Ann’s Hospice Little Hulton Manchester

My mum was admitted to North Manchester General Hospital where she was treated appallingly. At the point where they had allowed my mum to deteriorate so badly the hospital planned to send her home with no care plan in place. I was distraught. I knew I wasn’t in a position to be able to look after my mum and give her the care she needed to hopefully get her well enough to be able to have chemo.

I decided to do some research into alternative care options for people with cancer. Surely there were special homes designed to deal with people in similar situations given the number of people affected by cancer? I was gobsmacked to learn there aren’t. My only real choice would be to admit my mum into a nursing home, where the majority of patients were much older (my mum was 65), and suffering with types of dementia. I wasn’t about to let this happen.

There was the option of home carers, Macmillan nurses coming to my mum’s house. Macmillan Cancer Support do an incredible job. But their visits are during the daytime, which means at night I would have to look after my mum alone. And because my mum was so weak I couldn’t see how this was a workable solution to help get her strength back.

St Ann's Hospice Little Hulton medical staff

Two of St Ann’s Hospice Little Hulton’s medical team

Then I came across hospices. My mum’s best friend told me she knew someone who had been in St Ann’s Hospice Little Hulton, Manchester, and raved about how amazing it was. I’d (incorrectly) assumed that a hospice is somewhere people go to for end of life care. This, I discovered, isn’t the case. A hospice is also a place people with life-limiting illnesses can go to for palliative care. Hospices offer rehabilitation and respite care to try and make people’s lives as comfortable as possible, helping them to manage their condition. It was exactly the type of place we needed for my mum.

There was just one snag. To get into a hospice there is a waiting list list (and you need to be referred by a hospital). I was fortunate we managed to secure my mum a place in St Ann’s Hospice in Little Hulton in North Manchester, not far from Bolton. What’s incredible about St Ann’s Hospice Little Hulton is that it’s not means tested, and it’s free. St Ann’s Hospice works on the premise that everyone is equal and should be treated the same no matter how much, or how little, money you have. This applies to all of the St Ann’s Hospice sites – there are three in total, St Ann’s Hospice Little Hulton, St Ann’s Hospice Heald Green and St Ann’s Hospice Neil Cliffe Centre, Wythenshaw  – and other hospices too.

St Ann's Hospice Little Hulton Manchester

The grounds of St Ann’s Hospice Little Hulton, Manchester

We honestly didn’t know what to expect from St Ann’s Hospice Little Hulton. My mum was in one of the ward rooms in the inpatients unit, each had three beds. Everyone was upbeat, nothing too much trouble. It was a far cry from the sterile atmosphere of the hospital. There were also some private rooms as well as a large, airy lounge with a TV, sofas and dining table, various little sitting rooms and a large reception area with a coffee shop (run by volunteers) and a chapel. On the other side of the building was the area for day patients where people could take part in various activities including arts and crafts.

Apart from the medical staff providing specialised round-the-clock treatment – doctors, nurses, physios, social workers – St Ann’s Hospice is manned by an amazingly selfless team of volunteers. They do everything from take round the drinks trolley (patients are even offered alcoholic drinks) to providing aromatherapy and reflexology treatments. There’s also a hairdresser who comes round to do patient’s hair and meals are freshly prepared by the cook who visits patients to ask them what they fancy to eat that day.

St Ann's Hospice volunteers

Dedicated volunteers at St Ann’s Hospice

It’s not just the patients that St Ann’s Hospice looks after, the welfare of family and carers is also paramount. The staff are on hand to offer both emotional and practical advice and guidance on how to cope, or just give an ear to listen to allowing you the chance to talk about your worries and concerns.

Sadly we thought mum’s stay would be a stepping stone in her treatment. This wasn’t to be the case. But my brother and I are forever grateful that my mum died comfortably, she wasn’t in pain, and had peace of mind. This wouldn’t have been possible without the kindness and compassion of the staff at St Ann’s Hospice Little Hulton. When the time came, one of the nurses even stayed with my mum at the moment she passed away, so she wasn’t alone. They allowed my mum to keep her dignity and for this my family and I can never repay them.

St Ann's Hospice Chris Bisson Emmerdale

Emmerdale (and former Corrie) star Chris Bisson, one of St Ann’s Hospice’s celebrity supporters

I was shocked to learn that to stay open St Ann’s Hospice needs £16,000 a day. The government only funds 30% of the cost for this unbelievable facility. I was also surprised to see that although there is a waiting list the hospice had empty beds, because it can’t afford to fill them. St Ann’s Hospice may be Greater Manchester’s largest hospice but it still relies on much-needed donations for it to be able to keep running. Whether you pop into one of the St Ann’s Hospice charity shops, take part in one of St Ann’s Hospice’s events, make a donation to St Ann’s Hospice, buy a St Ann’s Hospice lottery ticket (you could win the weekly prize of £2,000) or volunteer your time. You never know if unfortunately one day you might be in need of this hidden gem. I hope you never will. But if even one person is helped by knowing about St Ann’s Hospice Little Hulton, and other hospices like it, I’m sure it would make my mum very happy. And that’s the most any daughter could wish for on Mother’s Day.

Mar 16 14

Manamana Amsterdam vegetarian restaurant

by maxineclayman

I’d heard about Manamana Amsterdam, an Israeli vegetarian restaurant in De Pjip, through a Dutch food PR a while ago. She raved about how amazing the food was there. But it wasn’t until a few days ago when I was in Amsterdam and heard that Manamana Amsterdam was only going to be open for a couple more weeks that I thought I’d better check it out.

Manamana Amsterdam vegetarian restaurant aubergine

Babaganush Manamana Amsterdam style

After consulting the Manamana Amsterdam Facebook page I found an address (66 Hemonystraat) and phone number for the restaurant. We managed to book a table for 8pm which was a relief as I’d been told Manamana Amsterdam is quite small. It is. And if you don’t know De Pijp it can be tricky to find as there’s no sign on the door. On arrival we told there had been a slight mix up with the bookings and were shown to the worst table in there, in the path of the waiting staff (the waitress did tred on my foot at one point). But after a couple of glasses of surprisingly decent Israeli wine (I’m used to the sweet kosher variety that tastes more like port) we didn’t mind. plus, it meant we had a prime view of Omri the owner and the chefs cooking up a vegetarian feast in the kitchen.

Manamana Amsterdam vegetarian restaurant sweet potato

No it’s not a pizza it’s sweet potato

Staff were incredibly friendly but the service was pretty haphazard. We were seated for 15 minutes before anyone came over to explain to us that there was no menu. The concept is that for €25 per person you’re brought out a selection of vegetarian dishes to share until you decide you can’t eat any more and then you get dessert. Bargain.

Manamana Amsterdam vegetarian restaurant Israeli tapas

Israeli tapas to kick off the foodfest at Manamana Amsterdam

After a further wait of almost half an hour our first course arrived – a medley of Israeli style tapas. Pickled tomatoes, pickled pak choi and pickled celery (all cold), warm curried carrots, and tahini, accompanied by slices of pita bread. This was followed by a bowl of thick cauliflower and sweet potato soup. Then it was the turn of the star dish – a kind of mushroom stroganoff of chunky, garlicy shitake and oyster mushrooms inside a swirl of creamy mash, topped with slithers of Parmesan and fried beetroot and carrot. Then came a yellow pepper, stuffed with mushroom and courgette rice, which was packed full of flavour, on a bed of tomato sauce. Up next was a baked squash filled with tomato and smothered in cheese, served with glass noodles.

Manamana Amsterdam vegetarian restaurant mushroom dish

The star dish at Manamana Amsterdam a kind of mushroom stroganoff

By now we were starting to feel pretty full but nobody else in Manamana Amsterdam had thrown in the towel yet. So despite feeling like we were in an episode of Man Versus Food we decided to carry on. Then we had a lucky break. It appeared they had forgotten about our table (even though we were seated right by the kitchen). This gave us about half an hour to let our food settle before we were presented with some bread and hummous. Then an exquisitely presented baked aubergine topped with tahini, the Manamana Amsterdam take on babaganush arrived.

Manamana Amsterdam vegetarian restaurant dessert

Finishing off the night with lightly poached mango in beetroot

We were bursting, but I’d seen the table next to us get a colourful plate of what I thought was pizza which I was determined to try as it looked so good. It actually turned out to be sweet potato with cheese, pinenuts and fried beetroot crisps. delicious but I could barely manage a couple of mouthfuls. At breaking point we asked for dessert which was mango, lightly poached in beetroot and mint. The people on the table next to us asked if they could get the same so we offered to share as there was no way we could eat it all.

Manamana Amsterdam vegetarian restaurant stuffed pepper

It’s not just the veg that ends up stuffed at Manaman Amsterdam

It’s a real shame that Manamana Amsterdam is closing its doors as the food at this Amsterdam hidden gem is excellent. I just think where it falls down is the concept. It isn’t quite right. First off, there’s a lot of waiting around. We were there for almost four hours and we were one of the last diners to arrive – once you’re there it’s for the night. This means the turnaround is non-existent.

Manamana Amsterdam vegetarian restaurant stuffed squash

Manamana Amsterdam’s stuffed squash

What also seemed strange is that different tables were given different dishes and understandably people were questioning why. To me it would make more sense to give everyone the same, especially as Manamana Amsterdam is quite cosy so you can easily see what the people next to you are eating.

Manamana Amsterdam vegetarian restaurant soup

Cauliflower and sweet potato soup

It makes sense then that Omri, the owner, told us that Manamana Amsterdam isn’t closing its doors for good. He’s actually changing the concept in a few weeks time. The idea it seems is that 20 people per night will be able to come along and learn to cook some of his Israeli dishes for themselves, then sit down to eat them. Personally I think if they stuck to a more traditional restaurant format Manamana Amsterdam would be on to a real winner. Manamana Amsterdam is certainly popular, it’s booked out every night and the quality of the food is outstanding. We waddled out of the door blissfully content and we weren’t the only ones.

Manamana Amsterdam is only around for a couple more weeks. If you want to try this Amsterdam hidden gem before it closes book now.