Thursday, 13 October 2016

Event: Henry Wong Harborne Gluten Free Menu Launch

Eating out Cantonese style is notoriously difficult as a gluten free diner. Sauces, batter and seasoning all make it a minefield for anyone who is avoiding wheat and gluten.

If you're looking for gluten free Chinese food in Birmingham however, your prayers have been answered. Henry Wong Harborne is one of the very few Chinese restaurants in the UK where gluten free diners can eat with ease, and I was invited to a blogger dinner to try it out.

Located on the high street in plush Harborne, we were greeted with a cocktail reception at the bar before making our way to the table. I'll apologise now in advance that it was pretty dark at our table, but hopefully you'll be able to get an idea of what we tried out.

As always, the hospitality was first class, everyone was asked if they wanted a drink and coats were swiftly removed from the table.

Onto the menu, these were specially created for our dinner, but everything we ate is always available, which means no phoning in advance, as each dish is cooked to order.

There were plenty of starters to try, including Chicken and Shittake Mushroom Yuk Sung with Pine Nuts, Asparagus and Soft Shell Crab.

Yuk Sung is always a crowd pleaser, and this was no exception. The pine nuts made for a very welcome addition to the dish and enhanced an already great dish. We were even offered gluten free soy sauce!

The Asparagus was exactly as I like it, fresh, crisp, and seasoned with salt and some chilli, just enough to liven it up.

Onto the Soft Shell Crab, this was the real knockout. Served on an almighty platter that was enough for a large group of ten, I had to try this. Even though I love seafood, I have always disliked crab. I'm happy to report though that I couldn't get enough of this dish of crunchy, lightly battered crab. I would highly recommend this starter in particular to anyone.

For our main course options, we sampled Sweet and Sour Chicken, Sizzling Beef in Black Pepper Sauce, Pak Choi in Garlic Sauce, Honey Pepper King Prawns and Steamed Sea Bass with Ginger and Spring Onion.

The absolute star of this course was the Honey Pepper King Prawn. Sweet, crispy, and huge, this is another dish I would highly recommend to anyone.

Seeing Sweet and Sour Chicken on the menu was a huge surprise, and I happily devoured these as I haven't eaten this dish since going gluten free years ago.

Finally, onto dessert. As a gluten free diner, dessert is something that I would normally pass on. I'm not a huge fan of ice-cream or any other creamy dessert to be honest, and I'd rather sacrifice a dessert and eat a start and a main course usually, as gluten free options are so limited.

At Henry Wong, I couldn't believe the amount of choice available. As well as an enormous fresh fruit platter, there was also Alabama Fudge Cake and Strawberry Cheesecake.

The only problem here was that I had overindulged and by this point, it was too late to turn back. The owner was keen to explain he had searched high and low for the best gluten free desserts, and I too am confident that they've done well to find these two particular cakes. The chocolate cake was soft, spongy and although rich, not too sickly. The cheesecake was also sweet but fresh and again, delicious. Neither of these cakes tasted like a gluten free substitute, and I'm sure anyone would be hard pressed to know the difference.

In amongst all this delicious food, there was also plenty of wine on offer which I'm afraid I didn't try. However, I was also made a very special variation on the Pornstar Martini with a Raspberry twist, which was also very well executed and not too sweet.

Everything from service, to portion sizes, quality of ingredients, taste and variety was exceptionally good at Henry Wong. Star dishes such as the Honey Pepper King Prawns and Soft Shell Crab are worth making a special trip for, and it's incredible to see dishes that have been created to be gluten free without compromising on taste. These are dishes that any guest would be delighted to eat, and not just an afterthought. Henry Wong is clearly a trailblazer in the field of gluten free Cantonese food, and I would go so far as to say it is probably one of the best restaurants for gluten free Cantonese food in the country.

I would definitely dine here again, and in fact, will be back in November to celebrate a family birthday; I'll just have to try and get the others to keep their hands off my gluten free dishes!

*With thanks to Henry Wong Harborne for the meal.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Food Review: Zen Metro Gluten Free Menu

Whilst we are usually spoiled for choice when it comes to curry in Birmingham, it can be somewhat harder to find a great spot for Thai and Pan Asian food in the city.

Recently opened on Cornwall Street in the Colmore Business District, Zen Metro has been newly refurbished and transformed into a stylish Zen space.

Open for lunch and dinner, by evening this has fast become a favourite for after work drinks amongst the stylish Colmore set serving delicious cocktails and more from the long bar.

However, I was invited to try out the menu and as always, was on the lookout to see how gluten free friendly the restaurant is.

Round the corner and past the bar lies a beautiful restaurant space, and at it's centre, a stunning cherry blossom tree. Behind here, in the glass walled private dining space, we sat down to enjoy our thai dinner.

Starting off with the obligatory crackers, we took a look at the dinner menu and I was helpfully given my very own gluten free menu; we were off to a good start.

I noticed the set menu for £24.95 (minimum four guests) which seemed great value for two pre-starters, four starters, four mains and a choice of dessert, especially since it includes many favourites including Tom Yum, Chicken Satay, Green Curry and Massaman Curry. 

There was a huge amount of choice on the gluten free menu and I was glad to see my favourites were on there, including a whole host of Thai curries.

I opted for the Chargrilled Jumbo Prawn (£8.95). Usually served on fried noodles with a garlic and chilli dressing, my dish was altered slightly to exclude the noodles and instead come with a sweet chilli sauce.

The prawns were absolutely huge, meaty and tender topped off with a sweet chilli sauce. They were that good, I could have eaten them plain and they would have still been delicious.

I quickly polished these off before our mains arrived. I opted for Green Curry, with coconut milk, bamboo shoots, green beans and basil leaves (£13.95) with steamed jasmine rice (£3.25).

As well as coming out at a very generous portion size, my Thai Green Curry was everything you expect from the dish. Smooth, creamy, with large pieces of soft chicken, this was perfect with the plain rice. Besides a few spicy peas which made this spicier than normal, the dish itself is creamy and mild.

Although we could have stopped here, we couldn't help but take a peek at the dessert menu. Although there were a few gluten free options including ice cream, creme brulee and creme caramel, I decided instead for a glass of dessert wine which was a delicious sweet way to end the meal. 

Throughout the evening, the service was fantastic, with the waiters topping up our water glasses and very well versed in the gluten content on the meals.

I thoroughly enjoyed my meal at ZEN Metro. From the stylish, luxurious and comfortable surrounds to the quality and taste of the food, as well as the portion sizes, I wouldn't hesitate to come back here again for a fabulous Thai meal.

*Thank you to the team at ZEN Metro for the meal and for looking after us.  

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Event: itihaas Birmingham Blogger Dinner

I'm a big fan of curry. Despite never having really enjoyed a curry until I discovered Brick Lane at uni, I've since made up for lost time.

I was invited to dine at Itihaas in Birmingham along with a host of bloggers a few weeks back. With an offer to taste the new menu and provide some feedback, I couldn't say no to the chance to try out a restaurant that I've walked past many times.

Itihaas is located in the Jewellery Quarter on the corner of Fleet Street and is one of the city's more established Indian restaurants. Promising "award winning cuisine inspired by the Mughul era, when dining was imperial and extravagant", there are lavish touches such as the 300 year old doors and 18th and 19th Century antiques.

Walking into the relaxing reception area, we made our way downstairs to the Maharaja Suite for a private dinner away from the main restaurant. Being downstairs, it was quite dark so I apologise for the photos in advance.

The room was pretty packed with bloggers and there were plenty of canapes making their way around, from smoked salmon and goats cheese samosas to tempura cod in paprika butter, lamb kofta, delhi paapri chaat and chicken tikka wraps.

Spiced mini potato cakes deconstructed and served with curried chickpeas, yoghurt and a mint tamarind chutney

Sliced Chicken Tikka served in a buttery naan bread wrap with a spicy mayonnaise sauce and a fresh green salad

Scottish smoked salmon enveloped with creamy goats cheese in a filo pastry casing

Tempura Cod in a Spiced Paprika Batter served with a Tomato Chilli Relish

The only gluten free option for me was the lamb meatballs but I enjoyed these, especially for the sweet flavour on the outside which worked well with the fresh coriander and earthy sesame seeds.

Spiced Minced Lamb Meatballs roasted with fresh mint and coriander, presented with toasted sesame seeds

Following a welcome from Raj and Tara, as well as an introduction to Torunksa Polish Vodka which we were able to try at the end, we sat down to a veritable feast.

The great thing about Indian food for me, is the fact that flour is rarely used in sauces. Granted, I usually have to sit the starters out, but for mains I am usually spoilt for choice.

We were treated to a total of eight dishes, sides and sauces which were:

Lobster Panchporan £29
Nalli Ghost off the Bone £18
Scallop and Prawn Masala £18
Roasted Salmon in a Banana Leaf £15
Butter Chicken on the Bone
Vegetable Pakistani Pulao
Garlic and Coriander Naans £3
Pomegranate Raita £4

These were presented in the middle of the table and we were able to help ourselves to the dishes.

The highlights for me were the lamb and chicken dishes. Both of these were full of flavour, not too spicy and perfectly cooked.

As for desserts, we were again spoilt for choice.

Chai Masala Mousse £8

Apple and Cinnamon Samosa  £6

Sambuca Flamed Gulab Jamun £4

Pomegranate and Pistachio Rasmalai £4.50

I tried a little of most of the desserts, with the exception of the Gulab Jamun and Rasmalai as these are not gluten free.

                                                                          Garam Gajar Halwa Tart £6

The team were even kind enough to bring out a Gajar Halwa for me as I was limited to just one gluten free dessert, the Chai Masala Mousse. I adore Gajar Halwa and the itihaas nutty interpretation of this dish was fabulous.

I also tried a little of the Torunska Vodka, which was exceptionally smooth!

The service we received on the night was exceptionally good. We never once wanted for a drink as we were constantly attended to and the team were all helpful and friendly.

In terms of asking about gluten free options, the waiter I spoke to was very helpful and knowledgeable about which dishes I could and couldn't eat.

The food was all tasty and well cooked, with plenty of sauce so definitely order sides such as rice and naan breads to accompany your dishes.

Some of the mains and desserts were a touch pricy, but if I were to come back then I would probably order some less extravagant options. It's always a pleasure to be given the opportunity to try some of the more high end options on the menu at blogger dinners.

A big thank you to itihaas and the team for inviting me!

*I was invited to dine as a guest of the restaurant.