Category Archives: Food Article

New Zealand – A Tour

February 2017 will go down in the anals for The CookTwit. Coupled with The Flame and her sister Laura and hub John, the four of us trooped round New Zealand’s South and North Islands, culminating in a final flourish in Sydney Australia. This is the story of what happened and what we ate!

Its was a marathon thirty hour flight via Dubai (and 8 episodes of Family Guy) before we arrived in Christchurch, the capital of New Zealand’s south island. Sadly Christchurch has suffered terribly from the 2010 earthquake, devastation still reigns. The once magnificent cathedral is now propped up by steel girders, awaiting the go-ahead and the cash to repair it. Despite this it still boasts a vintage tramway, a botanic garden and lots of building work.

Trams, waffles, IPA, burgers, poor old cathedral. The OGB bar

We struggled to find anywhere to eat, but finally decided on the Old Government Building or OBG for short. A lively bar with full hipster bar staff, it offered a brief menu of great burgers, both chicken and beef along with awesome chips and hand pulled craft ale. The ‘Three Boys IPA’ was a winner. Not bad for £10 a pint!!

Hermitage Hotel at Mount Cook, The seafood buffet, Lake Pukaki, The Hooker Valley, Mount Cook at dusk and from the hotel window,  on a walk and our chalet

Day 2 sent us via coach to Mount Cook, the highest, (and consequently snow capped) mountain in New Zealand. We travelled through the Canterbury plains via wonderful one horse towns like Geraldine, Ashburton, and Fairlee as well as the spectacular blue lakes of Tekapo and Pukaki. Most towns are single story, colonial and impeccably kept.

Our chalet (part of The Hermitage Hotel complex) featured a clever, sloped snow cheating roof. The view from our room was quite good! (see featured image on the title bar!) Here we enjoyed a fabulous buffet of seafood including the ubiquitous green lipped mussels. The Old Mountaineer restaurant nearby provided warm muffins and coffee for a less formal dining experience. Walking is what you do here. There is a Sir Edmond Hilary centre here after all. A hike across The Hooker Valley and a climb to the Red Tarns just two tracks we ventured on.

View from Rippon Winery, Pork belly rosti from Edgewater, Wanaka from our hotel, breakfast at Alchemy, Wanaka front, rack of lamb, gurnard, transport museum

From here we moved to the stunning lakeside town of Wanaka. Our room at The Moorings offered a sensational view of the mountain backed lake. First night grub was a rack of lamb at The Speights Alehouse. We learned that these are our equivalent of Wetherspoons! There is one in every town in the South! From here we walked round the lake to the Rippon vineyard and enjoyed spectacular views over the vines and the lake. A corking pork belly roti at the ‘Edgewater’ complex helped us through. ‘Alchemy’ and ‘Relishes Cafe’ served up wonderful breakfasts and a gurnard with cauliflower puree dinner! Both these smart, antipodean eateries are recommended. Suprisingly, Wanaka houses the southern hemispheres largest Transport and Toy museum. Well worth a visit. As an aside the toy museum also houses the Jabberwocky microbrewery! Why not?

Jones fruit stall, Queenstown promendae, more green lipped mussels, sheep on Mt Nicholas, Osso Bucco, view from Stratosfour, granola from Halo, another view, Monteiths summers ale

Next it was on to Queenstown, another lakeside town via Cromwell and ‘Jones Fruit Stall’. Queenstown is larger and brasher than Wanaka but no less beautiful. We arrived late and bagged a decent pizza from ‘Winnies’. ‘Halo’ provided the breakfasts, mountains of muesli, porridge and eggs. ‘Public’ a lively bar fed me Osso Bucco and a huge trifle for tea. We often relaxed at ‘The Bath House’ on the front. A Monteith’s summer ale was always welcome. A recommended boat trip is the hop across to Mount Nicolas Farm. A relaxing retreat amongst the hills and 29000 sheep.

Shots around Queenstown – stunning

A trip up the Skyline cable car to the mountain topped Stratosfour restaurant was another feature. Stunning views and another buffet of seafood and pavlova. A deserved mention for ‘Bespoke Kitchen’ and their tremendous smoothies.

From here we headed back to Christchurch. Another burger in OBG and a waffle at the rather wonderful street food gathering in Cathedral Square. Our magnificent train journey was cancelled due to a massive bush fire. So another equally magnificent coach to Greymouth on the West coast. Truly stunning landscapes, many featured in ‘The Lord of The Rings’ were enjoyed before a quick stop at Arthurs Pass and The Wobbly Kea Cafe. From here we headed to Nelson in the North via the incredible ‘Pancake Rocks’ and the spectacular Tasman coastal drive. Arriving late we dined in our surprisingly good motel restaurant ‘Flames On 40’. A very decent seafood chowder and a chicken schnitzel on the menu.

Christchurch to Greymouth via Arthurs Pass and Pancake Rocks

Next day we took a cruise up the Abel Tasman coast to Medlands Beach on Barks Bay. It was our very own desert island. We took a picnic of bread, ham and cheese, courtesy of the ubiquitous ‘Countdown’ supermarket chain. A deserted Nelson at night left us venturing to the New St Steakhouse, a non descript sports bar. However, it served up some oysters and a truly top ribeye with bernaise sauce. Peer pressure meant I had to renege on an apple and berry crumble.

Split Apple Rock – Abel Tasman, the best steak, our desert island, seafood chowder, onto Wellington with some heuvos rancheros.

Next day we coached up to Picton to get the ferry to Wellington, thus ending our tour of the South Island and heralding the start of our time in the North Island. Windy Wellington lived up to its name. It was sunny though. The promenade is very well done. Dinner was at the bustling ‘The Crab Shack’ down on the harbour front. Mussel fritters with jelapenos was a highlight. Crab and clam fettucine was my main. A very decent bottle of ‘Little Creatures’ IPA at £7! was well received.

Wellington via The Crab Shack, Fidels, Cuba Street and the cable car

For breakfast we ventured (on a tip) to Cuba Street and had a fabulous bacon butty at Fidel’s. Could have come straight out of Manchester’s Northern Quarter. A super place. More smoothies, up a cable car and a fabulous walk down the hill via Wellingtons botanic gardens and the haunting Bolton St Cemetery.

After our Maori taxi driver Linda had picked us up from our high rised hotel. It was a short flight to Auckland. Here we picked up our aged Toyota Camry and met our hosts for the next few days George and Carol. After a decent chicken Harissa at the ‘Zsimpla Gastropub’ right by Auckland airport it was a three hour late night dash to Opoutere and George and Carols incredible, self built beach villa on ‘The Coromandel’.

Our villa in Opoutere, Cathedral Rocks, Pipis

After a morning dip in the crashing waves of The Pacific on our deserted beach and a hearty, healthy breakfast, cooked by Carol, we set off on a day trip to Cathedral Rock and Hot Water Beach. Both key tourist must do’s on The Coromandel’. At night we picked the ‘Pipis’ for Georges Pipi fritters (see recipe here). We cooked them the next day. It rained all day here, the only rain on the three week jaunt.

We then sped across the north of the island back to Auckland to George and Carols bayside apartment in Takapuna which harbours stunning views across to Auckland City. It was here I was introduced to Stoke Brewery IPA, wonderful stuff. It was also here that I had a Chinese massage. My back is in poor condition apparently. We enjoyed more healthy home cooked food during our time here. Carol introduced me to Thai cooking and the abomination that is sugar! Lessons learned.

Views of Auckland, Stoke’s IPA, lamd at Regatta, Rangitoto

Nearby Devonport provides a regular 15 minute ferry to Auckland City. A deep fried snack at ‘O Hagans’ on the harbour ensued. A gentle stroll through the harbour via ‘The Auckland Seafood School’  a particular highlight.  At night a big sharing plate at Francs before finishing off with a lamb dish at Regatta on Takapuna’s seafront.

Next day it was another cruise to ‘Rangitoto’, a volcano. It takes one and half hours of torture to get up there and not much easier back down. It rained up there too. Our standard ham and cheese picnic served us well. More milkshakes at ‘Sienna’s ‘ in Devonport to quench a thirst.

After a wonderful walk down the rugged coast of Takapuna and another welcome shake at the Takapuna Beach Cafe it was a car return to the Jetpark Hotel by Auckland airport. Another burger at Zsimpla!!

Up at 4.15am and a three hour hop across to Sydney. A $60 Taxi to our high rise Meriton Apartment on Pitt Street. A great location in the heart of the city.

We set about getting our bearings and ended up in Darling Harbour. A modern harbour featuring the maritime museum and a host of tourist eateries, mainly owned by Nick! A lunchtime pulled pork baguette at ‘Olive’ was backed up later at ‘Cyren’ witn a pretty decent seafood risotto and a Baileys Brûlée. Darling Harbour is endearingly wonderful at night as all the high rised banking headquarters light up and overlook the water bowl.

Sydney – Westfield hotel, Seafood risotto – Cyren, Marble Arch bar, Queen Victoria buildings, Darling Harbour, Spag Bol & meringue ‘Rocks Cafe’, Sydney harbour

Next day we ventured on what turned out to be huge walk around the city. We started at Darling Harbour walking up through Bangaroo to Circular Quay. Not before seeing Sydney Harbour Bridge for the first time, walking beneath and seeing The Sydney Opera House. Both iconic. Circular Quay is the bustling epicentre where all the cruise ships land and all the ferries bob in and out of. It is lined with chain bars and restaurants. Walking through it and round you venture up close to the Opera House and then into the spectacular botanic gardens. Here you can get superb views of the two icons. We walked back at night down wonderful George Street via the Queen Victoria building to ‘The Rocks’, a small hub of shops and restaurants to one side of the quay. A high quality spaghetti bolognese and a huge lemon meringue was enjoyed at ‘The Rocks Cafe,’ a traditional, old world restaurant, very pleasant.

Endeavour Tap rooms, Manly beach, eggs at Two Good Eggs Cafe, Opera House at night

Next day we ferried ourselves to Manly Beach, a scorching day. Egg mayo butties from the 711 provided the day time sustenance! Arguably the best pint of the holiday was enjoyed at ‘The Endeavour Tap Rooms’. Based in ‘The Rocks’ area it boasted its own microbrewery. I opted for an Imperial pale ale and watched the world go by. Another £10 pint mind!

At night we made our first mistake, dinner at ‘The Hard Rock Cafe’. A display of Motley Crue’s farewell tour kex didn’t compensate for the cardboard burger and poor beer. My lamb cutlets weren’t bad but weren’t great either. Our final meal down under was breakfast at ‘Two Good Eggs Cafe’. A lovely walk via Hyde park and Oxford street led us to this off the beaten track delight. A proper eggs Benedict complete with avo was enjoyed by all. Best coffee americano too.

Our final meal at ‘Two Good Eggs Cafe’

And that was it! Uber back to the airport and thirty hours back to Blighty. Qantas scrambled egg, flatbreads and pizza helped us home.

A truly life changing experience. One for all to try. Please go if you can.


Top Dishes of 2016

Its that time of year when all the old repeats come on the telly. All that airtime to fill, the TV bosses know its easy to just throw a few extra editions of ‘Morecambe and Wise’ (or some Peter Kay!) on and its job done. Well it’s the same with any self respecting food blogger, this is the time we can scan the laptop and dust off a few food pics and get another post in before the end of the year without leaving the house!

2016 from a food perspective has been another decent one for me. Plenty of new places opening, particularly in my adopted city of Manchester. That said, quite a few shut down too. Proving it’s still a tough gig keeping us fed. Competition, food trends and urban redevelopment just some of the bullets an honest restauranteur needs to dodge to keep afloat.

The images and references below are just a brief round up of what was great this year for me. Ive probably missed out loads, but, in no particular order, here goes…..

The Granddaughter wanted a swanky Indian to celebrate her 21st. Tattu in Manchester worked a treat. Had my first (of now quite a few) skate wings. Poor image but it is dark in there!


We went to Florida for our hols early on in the year. On Key West I had my best meal over there ,’Stoned’ Crab claws at The Stoned Crab! with seafood and a broth. Historic. A special mention to Key Lime Pie. I had one every night for 14 days!!


Had a memorable night alone in Newcastle. Social media led me to The Broad Chare by the Tyne. Super little ‘gastropub,’ had a simple but utterly gratifying ‘bubble and squeak’ with homemade brown sauce.


A definite highlight the magnificent ‘mariscada’ (festival of seafood) by Ramsbottom’s very own slice of Spain ‘Baratxuri’.


As you may know, I like a sunday roast. I’ve had some belters this year. A toss up between The White Swan at Fence with their dexter beef and The Church Green’s version (with Aiden Byrne back on the tools the day we were there). Both absolutely sensational, but I should mention totally honourable efforts by The Star Inn the City, The Yew Tree and Burnt Truffle all mere specks of beef fat behind.

TL White Swan, TR Star Inn The City, BL Church Green, Middle R The Yew Tree, BR Burnt Truffle

Loved the short rib and peas dish at Andrew Nutters latest The Bird at Birtle.


Our one foray into Michelin star territory this year brought us to Alimentum in Cambridge. Possibly the single best dish of the year for me the cannon of venison, stunning.


Special mention to my streetfood heroes of the year. Working in Spinningfields, Manchester, for the first half of the year, I often frequented the streetfood pop up sensation ‘The Kitchens’. Particular favourites the chicken kharti rolls from ‘Chaat Cart,’ the pork belly bao rolls from ‘Dim Sum Su’ and the stupendous steak wraps from ‘Well Hung’ (now Beastro).

Pulled pork bun, Well Hung wrap, Kati Roll

Having now moved further east in the city, brunch with eggs by Federal Cafe, deserve a mention. I think I’ve been through the card now. Halloumi and shrooms a particular favourite.


If pizza’s your thing, Ive had a couple of very decent ones now at The Sand Bar, Manchester.  Last but not least you have to love and use your local restaurant. Ours is Ariete in Newton le Willows. It’s a smart Italian, and I love normally to try all the specials, but one day this year I had the basic spaghetti bolognese. Ive never looked back. Had it about five times since! You cant beat the classics…..


The Fast Diet – Intermittent Fasting – 13 week update

“A week in Sicily eating pasta kills the early gains, but The Cook Twit bounces back”

Ah well seven weeks in to the Fast diet and it’s bad news I’m afraid. You may recall the first six weeks had yielded an impressive six pound loss from the Cooktwit frame. However, The wife has slipped a weeks hiatus in. I’ve had to endure a week in Sicily and have lived on a diet of granola, cream, scrambled eggs, pastries, gassy beer, cheese, ham, shed loads of pasta and tiramisu. Allied to a week slumped on a sunbed the whole excercise has meant that the six pounds of visceral lard that had found a home elsewhere has now clamped itself back on to the Cooktwits shambolic frame. In short I am back where I started.

Porridge and fruit for breakfast
Porridge and fruit for breakfast

Undeterred I have marched back to the front, strapped on the gauntlet of hope, the helmet of shame, the trousers of 36″ waist, the coat of…. Well you get the message, I’ve started again. It goes to show this idea of eating what you want on the other five days is a little bit of a misnomer. You still have to be careful. ‘Normal’ is not a weeks orgy of pasta, beer and sweet treats!
After a further six weeks of fasting two days a week though, I have lost eight pounds so I’m getting well back on track. I even went away on business one early morning and maintained discipline though I’m still to determine whether the porridge at Carluccis is under 300 calories, I’m not sure the caramelised apples, honey and berries are allowed!

Lunch! An apple
Lunch! An apple

I’ve even fasted on a day when I had a gig at night. My usual couple of pints and a burger was effortlessly swapped for a black coffee and a Mexican salad. I reckon I am starting to find it much easier to do now.
I have fasted a couple of times now on a Thursday when I do circuit training after work. I have got through it without any problems at all, in fact I reckon it helps to have fasted and drank plenty of water through the day. Even my trainer reckons the fast diet is good and heartily recommends it on a training day.

Hearty salad with mackerel
Hearty salad with mackerel

So all in all it’s still working out well. The only thing I am missing is my cooking. Missing two days a week means the opportunity to experiment and create something new and tasty starts to lose its appeal. My diet on a fast day has tended to become a bit similar. I have porridge with a pear for breakfast, an apple for lunch and a big, leafy salad with maybe a piece of chicken or fish. Some fruit and a dash of creme fraiche being the sweet treat.

Fruit and creme fraiche (not my pic)
Fruit and creme fraiche (not my pic)

In summary I still recommend. Perhaps I’ll measure my waist soon! I’ll keep you posted.


The Fast Diet – Intermittent Fasting to Lose Weight

As any followers will know food for The Cooktwit is a way of life. Depending on which paper you read or which government you listen to there is always news of a new find in the food world that helps or hinders the standard human to achieve weight equilibrium.
After years of combining the balanced diet with some fairly hefty exercise, a sedentary workload has left the Cooktwit drifting upwards in the poundage stakes. After months of steady drift steps were taken.

Anecdotes from close family and friends were spouting the virtues of the fast diet or 5:2 diet. In conjunction with the TV teachings of Dr Michael Mosely the evidence was compelling enough for the Cooktwit to give this scheme a crack. I armed myself with the books ‘Fast Diet’ and ‘Fast Cook’, (a modest £13 for the pair). Doc Mosely heads up the male half of the story whilst Mimi Spencer, a journalist, provides the feline take. Mimi seems to be the one who conjures up some of the recipe ideas, whilst the Doc clips in with the technical bits. The books are a good in investment and set the scene well.

The fast cook book and the Fast Diet book
The fast cook book and the Fast Diet book

The premise of this diet is that you fast for two days a week (or more accurately consume a max of 600 cals), eating normally for the remaining five days. A more accurate tag is ‘intermittent fasting’. Losing a modest one pound a week in weight is predicted using this practice.
Whilst at first you first may think that it is a obvious you would lose weight if you simply starve yourself for two days a week, the added bonus quoted, is that this idea of fasting provides a health benefit. The benefit latches on to the adage that as former cavemen we are not built to eat as regularly and as substantially as we do and that by fasting we give our system and in particular the pancreas a much needed rest.

Whilst by no means ‘morbidly obese’, the Cooktwit nonetheless started this binge with a bmi of 27.2 which is in the ‘overweight’ section of the dreaded chart. Another pointer often quoted by the weight Gestapo is that the male species should start to look over their shoulder at the grim reaper if the waist girth creeps north of 38″. The cook twits’ was gingerly noted at 41″. The fast diet seemed like a scheme worth considering. Whilst starving was not something I would naturally embrace I was intrigued to see if the associated ‘health benefits’ would manifest themselves. I’ve always fancied a healthy pancreas!

The BMI chart
The BMI chart

I have started this system choosing two work days as the dreaded fasting days. Monday and Wednesday seemed to be the days most favoured for the torture. For the first fasting day rather than my usual cereal with semi skimmed milk, I took a small sachet of ‘oats so simple’ porridge and a pear. Working in an office we have a small kitchenette equipped with all the mod cons associated with warming up some porridge and cutting a pear up! I ate that at 8.30am and from then on I was on my own. Water, black coffee, fruit tea was then consumed at regular intervals to stave off the hunger pains when they came. To be fair the ‘hunger pains’ are not that bad. The discomfort seems to heighten to a certain point but then stops. The most displeasure I felt was the lack of taste in the mouth and an above average thirst, but nothing that a hardy will can’t overcome.

Salad & sardines 220 cals,  Asparagus, haddock & egg,  Chilli on cauliflower. Rice, Veggie stew with cod
Salad & sardines 220 cals, Asparagus, haddock & egg, Chilli on cauliflower. Rice, Veggie stew with cod

As the weeks moved on the desire and ease at which the fast day approaches comes as quite a surprise. Whilst I can’t honestly say I look forward to a fast day, it does nonetheless come around with less dread. As a passionate amateur cook I have found the hunt for tasty, low calorie meals a source of interest and have managed in the first few weeks to create some fairly decent meals. The trick really is to use plenty of herbs and spices to give meals a kick. Dressings and chilli based flavourings being a fast dieters friend.
Ive created a few dishes over the weeks. Cauliflower Rice has been a staple carb replacer (see link). I’ve used it as an accompaniment with a light chilli and various veggie stews. Another good option is smoked haddock. Low calories, but high on flavour. Eggs score well, they’re packed with protein, low calorie and filling.

As I write I’m six weeks in and indeed it does appear to do what it says on the tin. Six weeks equals a weight loss of six pounds. I’m happy with that! Reading the book there are anecdotes suggesting that the fast day is something you start to look forward to. I can’t say I’ve got to that yet! I will admit to some mild euphoria at the end of the second day, when you realise you can crack on and eat what you want into the weekend though!

I think part of the reason it works is that you don’t actually eat what you want when you get the chance. I think moderation still plays its part as you don’t want to ruin the sacrifice you have made. Nonetheless it does the job. I’m off on holiday next week. I’m undecided what I will do, will I keep it going while I’m away? I’ll let you know in a few weeks. But in the meantime if anyone out there needs to shed a few pounds or indeed a few stones I would recommend this method. I will reblog in a few more weeks to see if I can validate the health benefits. So far so good.