REVIEW: Mange Tout, Brighton

The design company I work at have recently moved studio which not only brings me a nice big, gleaming white desk, it also brings new lunchtime venues that I'm looking forward to exploring!



First on the list is Mange Tout, a very cool French cafe with a lovely interior. The friendly French owners have been very keen on details and it has been designed beautifully.

The menu is difficult to choose from only because everything calls to you; steak frites, moules, tartines, chacuterie platters, a whole section on eggs; omelettes, poached... and a plats du jour board with hearty beef bourguignon or lighter salads. They also have a nice drinks menu with organic fruit juices and pretty coffees.



However service, unfortunately, was sloooooooow. We waited an agonising 40 minutes for our food, so with the average hour-long lunch break in mind, it doesn't give you long to er, mange tout. Which was a particular shame as my practically raw steak tartine (£9.95) was the chewiest piece of meat I have had in a long time. I would have needed a generous hour to chop through this and about three months to digest.



As the steak was more suited to feeding time at the zoo, I picked it off and left it sadly uneaten. The caramelised onions and the horseradish sauce were very tasty and had the meat been any good, then it would have made for a winning sandwich.



The sourdough open tartines were a popular choice on our table and to be fair, the other ones looked much better than mine. The ForestiƩre tartine was a chicken in a cream open sandwich with a wine and shallot sauce and sauteed mushrooms. The omelette got a thumbs up and the salad was devoured. The table opposite us ordered eggs Benedict, with lots of glossy hollandaise which I feel the need to return for, possibly at the weekend when I have more time.

Mange Tout
81 Trafalgar St
Brighton BN1 4EB
01273 607 270

Chocri.co.uk - Raising the bar on online user-creation sites



A few bloggers no doubt will have been asked to try this product, but this being The Graphic Foodie, I'm putting a different slant on it. Yes, the product is fun, good quality, delicious and worth the wonga, but the whole experience of Chocri needs highlighting because that is exactly what it is - an experience and an online one to be more specific. Chocri is way more than the end product.

With the increasing popularity of user-creation product sites, I think this idea can have infinite possibilities within the food industry, particularly food gifting, recipe/meal planning and takeaway. Yet so many online companies seemingly go out of their way to create horrendous-scream-into-pillow-kill-me user experiences; hiding baskets, preventing easy amendments or even having microscopic low-quality images of the products they are trying (and failing) to entice us with. So what is it about Chocri that gets it so right?



The gist of Chocri is that you create your own bespoke bar of chocolate from 4 base chocolate varieties and then you can go snooker loopy with your toppings: bacon, gold leaf, goji berries, candied rose petals...the list goes on. With all that variety you are going to make some seriously questionable choices, and Chocri enables you to quickly flick from your creation back to the ingredients, add, or more likely, take away toppings and this is so quick and easy to do - the site has been built brilliantly. You can think twice about your bacon and gummy bear bar in your basket and easily delete or amend it to something more sane and palatable.

And it doesn't stop there. Here are the rest of my highlights:





Detail The topping ingredient thumbnails pictures change depending on which base you pick so you can have a clear idea of what the topping looks like on a white, milk or dark bar.



More detail Each ingredient had been described really well and with some brilliant copywriting for a bit of fun. Ingredients are also clearly listed.



Clear accumulating price. Each ingredient is clearly priced, ranging from 20p to £1.40 so what you pick will really make the difference to your overall cost. A bar can be as cheap as a couple of quid or you could easily rack it up to £7 or so.



Naming You can name your bar, which comes printed on the packaging. This is particularly fun for gifts and occasions.



Mega clear basket You must have noticed how many companies get this wrong. Here you can clearly see what you have ordered and easily make any amendments.



Unique code If you have created a taste sensation marvel, you can reorder exactly the same bar easily with the code printed on the back of your packaging.



Recommended creations This may be missing the point but you can order some pretty good pre-made bar combinations if you experience a mental choco-block, or just use it for a bit of inspiration to get you going.



Copy writing I loved these little surprise messages which were revealed once the bar had been wolfed down. Great brand personality.



The only thing that I was a little disappointed with was the packaging. I mean, it's ok and very on-brand but I would have liked a choice of sleeve (this is all about the customisation after all) and needs to be a little more premium in look and feel. I would suggest a black to make the product shine and maybe a little foil blocked lettering wouldn't go amiss, especially for gifts. The shipping box was also mahoosive and could have been stickered or something as well as being reduced a bit.

Anyway, so what did I create?



This one I called Treasure Island and included dried Orange and Pineapple pieces, Orange Pepper, Golden Pearls and Toffee Pieces on a milk and white duo chocolate base. I really liked it, especially the little heat from the orange pepper that kicks in after the sweetness of the candied tropical fruit subsides. Code 08m2ja if you fancy trying it!

The one in the picture at the top is called Spicy Squirrel mainly because I have a bizarre (bordering on insane) fascination with the little critters. Despite the silly name, this was a little more glamorous bar including dried Sour Cherries, Goji Berries, Ground Chilli, Toasted Hazelnuts and 23 carat Real Gold Flakes. What's not to like? It looked the part too. Sour cherries and chilli are my two favourite chocolate bar ingredients, combining them was heaven for me. Code dqiuv7.

I must admit, this was great fun to do and I was really happy with the end product. So what you waiting for? Go try it out at www.chocri.co.uk

REVIEW: Franco Manca, Brixton



It may seem silly to go out for a pizza that costs half the price of the Brighton to London train fare that got you there, but Franco Manca is worth travelling for. I still struggle with the fact that good pizza the UK is as rare as an ice cube in the Sahara and am planning on building a pizza oven in my back garden in sheer exasperation. Still, pizza is a passion for me and until my oven is built, search I shall continue.

Tucked away in Brixton Market, next to a fish stall, you wait patiently in a long line for a few sacred tables, being unceremoniously ushered, hollered at and ordered to move, stay still or sit. Woof! You avoid oncoming pedestrians, market deliveries and an unhinged man shouting something indecipherable at the top of his voice. Heck, you may as well be in Naples! And then you are finally rewarded with a seat, a very fine drink (Samuel Smith's Organic larger as I hear the vino isn't up to much) and a plate of circular heaven.



The 20 hour minimum, slowly risen sourdough base is thin and terrifically aerated and chewy. The wood burning oven used to quickly zap the pizzas is smokily evident, adding to the flavour. I went for a classic margarita as I really wanted to taste the base which is softer than you would expect but folds and eats beautifully. I really liked the way the grassy olive oil pooled into the centre and the sauce was perfect in taste and quantity.

As we were a group of six, sharing enabled us to try pretty much everything on the brief menu. Tomato, two types of chorizo (dried and semi-dried) and mozzarella:



Tomato, garlic, oregano, capers, olives, mozzarella and about the best anchovies I have ever tried:



One of the specials that was too far down the table for me to nab a bit. I do love a sprinkling of peppery rocket on top of pizza!



All of which summoned up high praise, oohs and ahhs. Pizzas cost from £4.50 to £6.95, so all in you'd be hard pushed to spend £15 in all. The only thing I would like to see is some Italian beer and possibly San Pellegrino soft drinks, including the hard to come by Chino.

We left satisfied, kissed on both cheeks by a sweet little piece of Italy.



Franco Manca
4 Market Row
Electric Lane
Brixton
London SW9 8LD
http://www.francomanca.co.uk/

Street party and three easy buffet dishes



The other weekend our street decided to have a party which was very lovely indeed. Neighbours shuffled past my window carrying tables, chairs and armfuls of homemade goodies. Even the 40 meters of bunting I painstakingly made for my wedding got another airing. We had a teddy bear's picnic for the kids, got dance lessons from a very cool 50s couple, treasure hunted, raffled (didn't win the Bill's hamper *sob*) and kept up with the Joneses. A local estate agent even sponsored us a hog roast, proving that estate agents are in fact rather useful for something* ;-)



As my plans were scuppered by a later than anticipated return from London (friends, wine, laughter - it happens) I streamlined my offerings with three easy-peasy, retro inspired entertaining dishes. These take no time at all and will be brilliant for pre-dinner canapes or part of a buffet. I noticed that my dishes disappeared really quickly which made me feel proper smug but there were some fantastic things to eat that people had brought. The person who presented a whole box of hot jacket potatoes was nothing short of a genius and the cakes were to die for.



Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Croustads

This recipe is adapted from the brilliant Meals in Heels cookbook. It uses cheap supermarket sliced bread to make the cases but you would never guess it! Next dinner party I'm having I shall be serving these up with a glass of Prosecco for a pre-dinner treat.



Makes 20

10 Thin slices of supermarket white bread
125ml Olive oil
15g Chives
200g Cream Cheese
1 Tablespoon baby capers, chopped finely
1 Unwaxed lemon
100g Smoked salmon - trimmings are fine

Preheat the oven to 180C. Using a pastry cutter, cut two 6cm rounds from each slice of bread. Using a rolling pin, flatten each side and brush with olive oil. Press the rounds into a mini-muffin tin. I found using the end of the rolling pin to squash it right in helped keep the shape. Season with salt and pepper and bake for 5 minutes until golden.

Using kitchen scissors, snip the chives into the cream cheese, also adding the capers and grated rind of the lemon and half the juice. Combine thoroughly. Place 1 teaspoon into each croustade case and top with a piece of smoked salmon.

Sun-dried Tomato, Olive and Cheese Pin Wheels



Makes 20

500g Pack of puff pastry (cheat!!)
3 Tbs sun-dried tomato paste
150g Cream cheese
Handful of finely chopped basil
A handful of black olives, pitted and chopped
100g Grated Gruyere cheese
Seasoning

Roll out your puff pastry into a large square until it is about 3mm thick. Spread the sun-dried tomato paste on top. Combine the herbs and cream cheese and spread this on top of the sun-dried tomato. Scatter over the olives and the Gruyere, season and roll the pastry up. Cover with cling film and chill for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 200C

Line a baking tray with baking paper. Take the pastry roll from the fridge, remove the clingfilm and slice into 1cm slices, placing on the lined baking tray.

Bake for 7 -10minutes or until golden. Remove onto a cooling rack so they don't go soggy on the base.



Custard and Nutmeg Yo-Yos

I was lent a copy of Marcus Wareing's Nutmeg and Custard cookbook and inadvertently chose this recipe. It's a fantastic book and contains lots of other recipes that don't involve er, nutmeg or custard. These butter-rich beauties were light, crunchy and very moorish.



Makes 12 sandwiched biscuits

150g unsalted butter softened
40g icing sugar sieved
2 tbsp custard powder
165g plain flour
1 nutmeg

Filling
80g unsalted butter softened
75g icing sugar sieved
2 tbsp custard powder

Cream the butter and icing sugar together until light and fluffy. Sieve the custard powder and flour together, then mix into the creamed butter. Roll the dough into a sausage shape, approximately 4cm in diameter, and wrap it tightly in clingfilm. (I was really worried that the pastry was far too soft but the recipe worked out great.) Refrigerate for 30 minutes until firm.

Preheat the oven to 170C/150C fan.

Slice into 24 slices and lay on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Grate the nutmeg over the top of the biscuits, then bake for 15-20 minutes until pale golden. Leave to cool on the baking tray.

For the filling, cream all the ingredients together until light and fluffy. When the biscuits are cold, sandwich them together with the filling and leave to set for 30 minutes.



*Only joking of course. Thank you Mishon Mackay, you are in no way the same box as the blood sucking, devil agents we used for our house purchase.

EVENT: Moshi Moshi for a vegetarian sushi night



This was an excellent evening I attended at the ever stylish Moshi Moshi for two reasons. One, it was brilliant seeing some of Brighton's best restaurants competing in an unfamiliar kitchen and food genre to create the best vegetarian maki and second, to experiment with vegetarian version of sushi, because the way we over fishing, there isn't going to be too much fish based sushi or sashimi on the menu in the future. Quite rightly, the owner of Moshi Moshi is seeing this experiment not only as a bit of fun but as a nod to a "five year plan".

So what were the results of chefs who are more used to creating French, Indian and Fish cuisine fare? Winner as voted by diners in the evening will see their creation added to the new Moshi Moshi menu.

I'll give you my top 3 and then show you images of the rest as I realise my posts lately have been a bit epic, so I am quitting my jibber-jabber.
_

In at number 1 was the Maki Forestier by French restaurant L'Eglise. Amazingly chef Jean-Christophe Martin had never made sushi before. The flavour of the wild mushrooms was incredible and the beetroot soaked courgette with mushroom consomme worked really well. Loved it.



2. This was a deep fried maki by Coriander Restaurant and Deli. I don't know how authentic or how right this is but the texture of the fried maki was lovely and chewy and the freshness and lightness of the second one really complemented it.



3. Miso Pretty by Terre a Terre. Reverse rolled ginger maki in Szechuan dust with miso dressing. The star of the dish was the little onion, coriander and cucumber micro salad with the most delicious Enoki mushrooms marinated in rice wine. I thought his was the most considered dish overall and just beautiful.



And the rest....

Nepalese Vegetable Chiola by The Chilli Pickle. Stir-fried vegetables with tempered spices. Served with Sambal chilli sauce and tamarind chutney. The most interesting as it was so Indian but so outrageously spicy.



Fried tofu, cucumber, red onion and mizuna. Think there was a bit of sun-dried tomato in there for good measure by Moshi Moshi.



Goat's cheese and cooked beetroot with chargrilled peppers rolled in hazelnuts by Sam's of Brighton.



Pistachio and Milk Rice with sauteed local Victoria plum and a Banyuls and peach reduction by L'Eglise.



Yuzu rice and mango by Moshi Moshi.



And there was a No Rice Tofu Maki also that I realise I have no photo for!

Great stuff - can't wait to hear who the winner was! **UPDATE: Winner was Coriander with their Tempura maki, my second favourite! Well done chaps!**

REVIEW: Aloka raw restaurant, Brighton

UPDATE: Aloka has now closed its doors. Review for historical purposes. For vegan food in Brighton try Terre a Terre, Infinity Cafe, Lydea or The George Pub (Trafalgar Street).



Raw food, botanical gastronomy, or whatever name you put on it, is something I'm not going to tell you much about because frankly, I don't know much about it.

I'm on the eat-delicious-things-and-have-a-lot-of-fun diet so raw, cooked, pickled, dried or smoked, if it looks good - I'll happily give it a go. I do enjoy eating healthily as healthy food is delicious, but I have been a little wary of the concept of "raw" food mainly as it has been moanily preached to me in the past by rather dull people in the corner of some depressing party or other. Snooze.

So an invite to try a tasting menu by the new chef at Aloka, a "Quality of Life" centre, intrigued me but I wasn't expecting the surprise, beauty and deliciousness that it actually delivered.

Let's get straight to the food as it opened my eyes wide and then we'll have a little chat further down as Aloka does have a little issue that requires discussing!

After a nice introduction by Aloka's new chef Felix, the amuse arrived as a trio of beautiful beetroot beauties (pictured at the top). One being a shot of fresh and flavoursome gazpacho, one a silky beetroot hummus and the one in the centre was a "surprise" that diners had to work out. As the room wrongly focused on the filling to uncover its secret, it turned out to be made entirely of beetroot dyed celeriac and not beetroot at all! Fantastic. I was already won over!



Next up was a fresh, light Romanesco & Pistachio Dolmas dish. Hang on, how did they cook the rice filling? Well it turned out to be cauliflower! This was an absolutely stunning success and I had no idea I liked dill so much.



The Baby Spinach Salad with marinated Cashew Feta, Pears, Dates, Pecans and a Pomegranate dressing was also good but the "feta" was too soft and nutty to pretend to be real feta. Even so, it was a delicious addition to the salad whatever it should be called with the sweetness of the dressing being balanced with crisp pears and spinach.



Remembering that we are not just eating in a really nice restaurant, but a Quality of Life centre, you may be wondering what the stick in the water carafe is. Turns out it is a hand blown Austrian glass stick with coloured liquid, part of the Aura-Soma colour system. Each table had a different colour with each symbolising a different energy that transferred to the water. Make of that what you will, but our purple/red colour was the "Florence Nightingale" energy which may have helped me nurse my hangover the following day – but I guessing that isn't the point.



Main course was a Squash "Lasagne" Terrine with layers of courgette, spinach pesto, olive walnut tapenade, with sun dried tomatoes and a rocket salad. With the layers being raw, they each kept their own taste and texture, which would have merged had it been cooked. I particularly liked the punchy olive walnut tapenade that turned the flavour up a few notches on the tastebud dial.



This little beauty was the pre-dessert amuse. A lovely crunchy (dehydrated?) base and firm layers of lemon, almond and coconut cut through with a raspberry puree.



The Milk Chocolate Mousse Cake dessert was probably the only let down of the whole meal, its consistent texture being too one dimensional and far too nutty and heavy. Raw chocolate is far more subtle than the chocolate I am used to, so that may be why I couldn't taste it as much as I would have expected to. Saying that, I wonder how much this disappointment was due to the fact that we had so far been spoilt rotten.

Sitting back with a satisfied full belly, I had not expected to enjoy this meal anywhere near as much as I did and didn't feel I was missing out on anything at all, so in terms of catering for all diets, it is a winning success.



The white restaurant space reminded me a little of Blanch House, which some find cold and clinical but I find rather slick and stylish. I appreciated the beautiful jewel colours on the large canvases (personally painted by the founder of the brand I think) which softened the space.

With such a winning formula in the kitchen, the only true challenge Aloka face is the location of the restaurant. It is hidden on the top floor of a building with a crystal centre, treatment rooms, yoga room, holistic product shop and self service cafe on the floors below it. In fact, when I said I was visiting Aloka one person said "oh, is that the place that I don't know what it is" which sums up completely.

As a branding designer, solving the Aloka brief would be a head scratching nightmare, as multi use businesses often confuse rather than embrace consumers. My solution would be to keep the treatments, shop and even the daytime cafe where they are and to find a new venue for the restaurant, making it accessible and intriguing to everyone, whilst also catching the all important passing trade.



Seeing as colour therapy, crystals and the like is a niche market (yes, even in hippy-dippy Brighton) it could possibly repel people who are not into this concept even more so than those who are wary of raw food. By distancing the restaurant away from the "big issue", and bringing the restaurant to street level it will encourage people to try it as Aloka's raw food, pure and simple, is delicious, beautiful, surprising and memorable whatever your dietry preference.

I really think the food and space deserves to be a stand alone venture, where it could possibly (and I don't say this lightly) become one of the top restaurants in the city.

The new restaurant menu has now been launched with some of the items above appearing but to give you a rough idea of price, the Dolmas are £6.60, the Squash Terrine £12.90, Baby Spinach salad £7.90 and Chocolate dessert £5.90 which isn't too bad at all for the quality and presentation.

The menu will change again with the equinox. I don't know what this means.

UPDATE: Aloka has now closed its doors. Review for historical purposes. For vegan food in Brighton try Terre a Terre, Infinity Cafe, Lydea or The George Pub (Trafalgar Street).

Aloka
14 East Street
Brighton BN1 1HP
Tel: 01273 823 178
Website

I was kindly invited to dine at Aloka as a guest. Interior and exterior shot of Aloka via www.aloka.aura-soma.net