Tag Archives: mediterranean

La Casa Vieja – St Helens

“A little bit of Spain, in St Helens!”

It was a cold winters night. The Cooktwit and The Flame had bagged a spot in a party of ten at ‘La Casa Vieja’, a spanish restaurant in the heart of St Helen’s arty George’s Quarter. We were guests of St Helens ‘digital print magnate’ Keith Hughes. After a momentous Cooktwit paella cooked on a spade while camping in summer, Keith ‘the signage entrepreneur’ had declared that I need to get to La Casa Vieja to sample theirs. The time had come.

The courtyard, the castle gates, red/yellow signage
The courtyard, the castle gates, red/yellow signage

I entered the complex via the imposing castle gates, each decoratively regaled with a smart red and yellow sign (done by Keith!). I swept through into a quaint courtyard of jasmine and pergolas. Once more the red and yellow signage leapt into frame. One can imagine in summer this would be a thriving little spanish village. As it was deep December even the smokers had stayed away.

The Spanish Interior
The Spanish Interior

Once inside the Spanish theme is maintained. Guitars, hams, donkeys, lutes and various maps And paintings litter the walls and ceiling. It’s all rather quaint. A small half of ‘Alhambra’ lager was ordered as I waited for the rest of the gang. As we were the first in, the waitress handied us a couple of menus to peruse. I could be being a little churlish here, but in the subdued light the obligatory shiny, red, yellow, laminated menus were difficult to read and understand. Dishes flashed all over the place. And there was some large sums involved with some of them. Written with a felt tipped pen, a casual glance suggested this would not be a cheap night out. £6.75 for a dessert! This needed to be good. The menu format had an air of ‘English bar in Spain’ for me, but as I say I could be being churlish. Clear black on crisp white always works best for me.

The menu
The menu

Then the entourage assembled. Head visual guru Keith suggested we scrap the menu, go upstairs and see head chef and owner Manolo and see what’s in. Great call, I headed up and sure enough amongst the flurry of flames, steam and wonderful smells, a burly, rosy cheeked, Mediterranean chap, burst into song. We flung our favourites at him, liver, fish, seafood, steak, anything. He laughed and roared that everything is fresh and he has everything. “how many of you?”, “ten” we shouted. “Leave it to me, I will keep sending down the food”. It all seemed fair enough to me. I rushed down excited.

The start of the show, Manolo himself
The start of the show, Manolo himself

Sure enough the food started to arrive, olives, prosciutto, bread to start, then came meat balls, liver, beef in red wine, chicken in cream, chicken with chorizo and a glorious fruity salad, all gleefully imbibed by the waiting party. But the best was to come. After a short delay, in came an enormous silver platter drenched in food of the sea. Sadly my photos don’t do it justice. We drew our collective breath and dived in. Huge prawns dominated, closely followed by belly loads of squid, mussels, clams before moving down to flanks of salmon, sea bass, dorado all slicked in garlic, herbs and a light, seafood broth. It was divine. Despite ten of us piling in there was plenty to go round. We all got a bit of everything. Truly superb.

The fish platter, various dishes, salad and the specials
The fish platter, various dishes, salad and the specials

Toward the end Manolo himself came down to see how things were going. The thumbs were all well up. After asking whether the desserts were fresh and homemade and receiving a clip round the ear! He recommended the ‘Torija de vino’ fried marinated bread pudding in red wine, which sounded a bit dubious to me, but he was right. It was the best of the bunch. A caramelised egg flan and a chocolate mousse was up there too.

Marinated bread pudding, egg flan, chocolate mousse
Marinated bread pudding, egg flan, chocolate mousse

Having quaffed red wine as well as the food. The bill tipped in at a reasonable £40 per head (with tip). We had a great time. I would definitely try it again, it is always gratifying to see at first hand, top raw materials being cooked fresh on the premises by a passionate chef. Service by most of Manolo’s family is top notch as well. St Helens has a little gem here. It’s very own morsel of Spain.

La Casa Vieja
6-12 Bickerstaffe Street,
Saint Helens WA10 1DH
01744 454613
http://www.lacasavieja.co.uk

Katsouris Deli – Manchester

“Fast, great food, but don’t get in the wrong queue!”

Friday lunchtime is down as a big treat for The Cooktwit. In order to maintain the racing snake hips and the thunderous six pack (pack it in – Ed) Monday to Thursday are days of rest in the food dept. These days are spent either fasting (see my take on fasting here) or munching on grass. Weather permitting I search out some decent streetfood, (though since the loss of “MummaSchnitzel” that’s becoming a little tough) after that invariably I end up at Katsouris Deli. It’s housed in a grand old building on the corner of Deansgate and John Dalton Street. It’s an offshoot of the original Greek deli that marks the entrance to the famous Bury market.

A fine exterior
A fine exterior

Entering at either entrance you invariably meet a lengthy queue. Don’t despair! If its hot food you want simply hang in there and walk at a steady pace. You will soon hear the shriek, like a ‘banchee’ with an ingrowing toenail, “NEXT!”

The lengthy queues subside quickly - honest!
The lengthy queues subside quickly – honest!

Be ready though, woe betide that you get close to the hot counter without knowing what you want! Ive seen grown men weep and skulk sheepishly out into the street with little more than a bag of crisps! Such is the rabid efficiency of a lunchtime service ‘tyrekickers’ are quickly shown the door.

But, once you’ve done your homework, the rewards are bountiful. A flavoursome feast for little over a fiver is there for the taking. The decor and furniture is functional. A periphery of vinyl banquette, supplemented with central round tables and bistro chairs provides a good deal of standard seating. I prefer to sit on the high stools which hedge up to the touch down bench which runs all down one side. From here one can gaze into the bustle of the busy street outside. The fun is boundless watching people getting run over at the busy crossroads, dodging the green lights and cyclists running the red lights. That said if you really want action there is some payment seats outside where you get the sound as well!

Signage, Pork and greenery
Signage, Pork and greenery

Basic high level signage gives you the combo’s available. The hot carvery section below lets you see what you’re getting. Spicy paella rice (no seafood though), salad, jacket potatoes or various ‘bunnage’ are the ‘carby’ accompaniments to your meat.

My usual is the salad which you serve yourself from the catering bins that run down one side. I pick the protein from the carvery, sliced pork, gammon, lamb, pulled pork, ham, chicken piri piri, big frankfurters its all top stuff. They all come with their own trimmings, apple sauce, barbecue sauce, onions, stuffing. The salad offer is also top draw. Big chillies, boiled eggs, humus, potato salad, bags of greenery, mainly rocket with sun-dried tomatoes, parmesan, chick peas, olives all with a mediterranean bias.

The salad bins, roast pork and bags of greenery!
The salad bins, roast pork and bags of greenery!

If I’m short of funds you can’t beat the soups. there are normally two on offer, homemade, tasty and £2 a pop whether served in a big paper cup or in a big dish, and it comes with a few swabs of bread to mop up.

So there you have it, a quick Cook Twit recommendation on how to get yourself a decent feed on a busy lunchtime in down town Manchester. There are obviously lots more to go at, but so far this is as good as it gets for me. Give it a go.

Katsouris Deli
113 Deansgate
Manchester
M3 2BQ

0161 937 0010

http://www.katsourisdeli.co.uk