Review: Vapiano Manchester

Since the dark days of uni when I was packed off each term with a 10kg sack of fusilli pasta I have shied away from ordering pasta in restaurants. I have a hard and fast rule, pasta must only be ordered in proper Italian restaurants, so when I visited proper Italian restaurant Vapiano in Manchester I knew I’d be ordering pasta.

Vapiano opened in the recently revamped Corn Exchange in Manchester in November last year. It has two light and airy floors, the first floor being the more popular and bustling space, as that’s where the kitchens are located.

Vapiano Manchester

Vapiano has a slightly different way of operating, there is no table service, you are given a card to use each time you order food or drink. You order directly from the chefs and watch them cook your meal in front of you, this takes minutes and it allows you to tailor your dish to your own tastes. Want more chilli? Ask for it. Less cheese? You got it.

Choosing a comfortable table next to the balcony, we ordered a couple of glasses of a red wine from their wine list, while we checked out their extensive menu.

For someone so picky about pasta I do have very simple tastes. I opted for the Pesto Rosso – cherry tomatoes, tomato pesto, pine nuts with ricotta cheese. I chose the freshly made Campanelle pasta. I went over to the kitchen and put my order in with the chef, I swiped my card on the counter and within minutes my pasta dish was being whipped up in front of me. They use fresh pasta made every day on site, so it only takes a few minutes to cook.

Once cooked I took my Pesto Rosso back to the table, the pasta was perfectly al dente and the sauce was rich with a little hint of background heat. The pine nuts were plentiful, the grated ricotta was generous. It was superb, I enjoyed every forkful and couldn’t fault it.

Vapiano Manchester

On the side, I ordered garlic bread with cheese. As pizza takes a little longer to cook they operate a pager system. You order at the pizza kitchen, swipe your card and get a pager which goes off when your pizza is ready, you return to the kitchen and pick up your pizza.  It seems a very efficient system.

The garlic bread was oozing with cheese and a generous amount of fresh garlic. It was delicious but I think it could have done with another minute or two in the oven for me, so the crust was a little darker. The dough, again made that morning, was light and crispy and everything I want in a pizza dough.

My companion opted for the strawberry and spinach salad – a salad of fresh spinach, strawberries, goats cheese, red onion and pine nuts with a raspberry and maple dressing. It was a light, colourful salad with well balanced flavours which was consumed with much approval.

They then moved on to the pasta course, choosing a salmon carbonara which contained smoked salmon, onions, egg and cream. The dish contained lots of lovely chunky pieces of salmon, which did look delicious and made for a more interesting alternative to the traditional carbonara.

We barely had room for pudding, but we persisted. I chose my favourite, Tiramisu whilst my friend opted for the Bacio, a chocolate and hazelnut mousse on a biscuit base topped with chopped hazelnuts. I adore Tiramisu and I’ve eaten a fair few in my time, the sponge was light and the cream and mascarpone had been whipped so it was airy, it was excellent, a little light on the coffee flavour for me, but I do like it strong.

Vapiano Manchester

The Bacio was as pretty as a picture, presented in a jar it was a little like a cheesecake but with a mousse layer. I had a little taste and I was pleased that the chocolate wasn’t too overpowering, I liked the generous sprinkle of hazelnuts on top and the biscuit base added some extra texture.

Although the card system probably isn’t for everyone,I think it’s probably useful for large groups who might haggle over splitting the bill, or for those watching their pennies. I did enjoy watching my food being cooked in front of me and I loved that it was so fresh and hadn’t been sat around waiting for a waiter to bring it to my table.

Between us the bill came to around £70 which for three courses, wine, soft drinks and coffee was very respectable. The meal was delicious and probably the best pasta dish I’ve eaten in years. The menu is extensive and there will be something on there for everyone, whatever dietary requirements you may have I’m sure most dishes could be tailored to accommodate even the pickiest eater (me). I now know why Vapiano is considered one of the best Italian restaurants in Manchester.

Vapiano is now firmly on my ladies who lunch rota, we’ll be back, and we’ll be back again soon!

Vapiano is located in the Corn Exchange in Manchester, for more information and to view their menu visit their website.

We were invited guests of Vapiano and were not asked to pay for our food or drinks. All images and opinions are our own.

Kitchen Basics: Versatile Tomato Sauce

One of the staple dishes in our kitchen is a really simple tomato sauce. I make a batch almost fortnightly and it’s used in a few different ways, from spaghetti and meatballs, in lasagne, with baked vegetable dishes and topping pizzas, it’s so simple to do and the basis of so many meals it is one of the first things I’ll be teaching the boy to cook. Using some of good quality tinned tomatoes, I knocked up a batch of sauce for a quick and simple meal this week.

Versatile Tomato Sauce

1 large onion (or two small ones) finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 bottle of passata
1 pod of tomato purée
1 teaspoon of oregano or mixed herbs
1 teaspoon of pesto, tomato pesto if you have it (optional)
Olive oil
Salt & pepper

1. In a frying pan heat up a splosh of olive oil (about a tablespoon) and gently soften your finely chopped onion. Stir frequently until soft and then add your crushed garlic and warm through for a few minutes, don’t let it burn or it’ll go bitter.
2. Once your onion is soft, add the passata and warm through. While it’s bubbling away gently, add the tomato purée, herbs, pesto (optional) and salt and pepper. To balance out any bitterness from the tomato add a good pinch of sugar to taste.
3. Leave to simmer gently for ten minutes or so, stirring frequently.

To serve as I have done, toss through some cooked spaghetti and serve with meatballs and a sprinkle of cheese. Alternatively layer into your lasagne, or cook for longer until it thickens a bit more and use as a pizza topping.

tomato sauce

This tomato sauce is incredibly versatile and I know that even if I serve it just with some plain pasta it will be a meal the small boy will devour in one sitting. As it’s made from tomatoes it is one of his five a day and is probably healthier than what I could buy in a jar.

tomato sauce

I like to use good quality passata and purée where I can, you can tell by the colour, texture and flavour of the raw ingredient that anything you make with them will be tasty.

Healthy Lunch: Spinach & Goats Cheese Pesto Pasta

As the only veggie in the house, I am rubbish at feeding myself, the boys eat healthy, nutritious meaty meals and I might have some cereal, or toast. I’ve tried to avoid pasta because I thought that it wasn’t that great for you, that was until I read this article which contains actual science and shows that if you re-heat your pasta, it digests as a fibre rather than a carbohydrate. Which is brilliant because that means it releases energy differently and it is healthy, or pretty healthy. Whichever, it means it’s back on my menu at last.

Because pasta is now healthy when it’s cold, or better still, re-heated, it makes a pretty perfect lunch box staple. So for my lunches this week I made a big batch of spinach and goats cheese pesto pasta. I can take it out and about with me, it can be eaten cold, or if I’m near a microwave I can quickly reheat it. It’s incredibly simple to make, healthy-ish to eat and just delicious.

Healthy Lunch: Spinach & Goats Cheese Pesto Pasta

Spinach & Goats Cheese Pesto Pasta

One bag of fresh baby spinach, ready washed
One garlic clove, crushed
100g of toasted pine nuts
Olive oil
Salt & Pepper
Zest of one lemon
Juice of half a lemon
1 and a half teaspoons of honey
200g goats cheese (grated if you can be bothered, cut into pieces if you can’t
Roasted tomatoes
Pasta – I used twirls

Set up your blender and tip in your fresh spinach, blend for a minute or so until it’s all starting to turn into a paste. Add the garlic, toasted pine nuts, lemon zest, lemon juice, honey and generous amounts of salt & pepper. Blend until it’s all combined and it’s looking like a paste.
Add your goats cheese and then add olive oil until it is the pesto type consistency you need, you’re probably looking at maybe around 100ml of olive oil. Blend until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning if need be.
Bring a large pot of water to the boil and tip in your pasta, when it’s cooked (instructions should be on the packet), drain and stir the pesto through. You probably won’t need to use all the pesto which can be stored in the fridge for another day.

I topped mine with some thyme roasted tomatoes which are one of my favourite things in the world. It’s a delicious lunch (or evening meal) for all the family, contains at least one of your five a day, it’s easy to make and a great healthy lunch box for when you’re on the go.

What do you pack in your lunch box?

The Truth about Pasta with Pesto

If you have a small child you may already be familiar with the exotic thrill of a plate of pesto pasta for a small child. One plate is rarely enough for my own small boy. In light of his excessive fusilli with pesto stirred through it obsession I did some extensive research and found these 8 entirely true facts about Pesto Pasta!

1. Pesto is more expensive than gold. Even “value” pesto is equal in price to solid silver. Probably.
2. If you’re under the age of ten, pasta with pesto has the same addictive qualities as crack cocaine.
3. Pesto pasta is equally delicious served hot or cold. Other serving suggestions include fresh from the kitchen floor and from down the side of the sofa cushion with extra fluff, all equally delicious.
4. Pasta with pesto makes an ideal breakfast, dinner, tea, supper or midnight snack.
5. It is physically impossible to eat too much pesto pasta. I know, I’ve seen it happen.
6. Pasta with pesto is the secret to world peace. Maybe. If it can keep a four year old happy and in quite a pleasant mood, just imagine its impact on the Middle East.
7. You can spend the day lovingly creating the most nutritionally balanced, organic, free range, delicious meal in the world. But pasta with pesto will always be better.
8. Pasta with pesto does not count towards your five a day. Dammit. Why is that? It’s green, it totally should!

This post is NOT sponsored by the pesto marketing board.

Pasta with pesto

Tagliatelle with Goats Cheese & Courgettes

Yesterday, we received a lovely hamper from St Helen’s Farm. A lovely goaty hamper, which I will blog about properly at a later date. Right now we’ve got a fridge full of goats cheese, milk, butter and yoghurt and largely empty cupboards. The boys were due home and I had to think quickly about what to feed them. So I made this, tagliatelle with goats cheese sauce, courgettes and roasted cherry tomatoes. It took no more than 30 minutes to throw together and everyone cleaned their plates.

St Helen's Farm

I’m a bit rubbish at weighing and measuring, I’m a dollop of this and a dash of that kind of girl, so I’ve tried my best to recreate the recipe for goaty goodness below.

Ingredients: (feeds around four people)

Tagliatelle – I use two nests of tagliatelle per person
One medium courgette per person
One punnet of cherry tomatoes
2 teaspoons of St Helen’s Farm Goats butter
Seasoning – salt, pepper & dried chilli flakes

For the sauce
40g St Helen’s Farm Goats butter
20g plain flour
425ml St Helen’s Farm Goats milk (I used skimmed)
120g St Helen’s Farm Mature Goats Cheese, grated
Seasoning – salt, pepper & dried chilli flakes

Slice the courgettes, melt the butter in a frying pan and sauté until they start to go soft. Meanwhile halve the tomatoes and place on an oven tray and season a little, roast for 15 minutes (check regularly) at 220c. Once the courgettes have taken on some colour and are starting to soften, transfer to an oven proof dish and put in the oven, but keep an eye on them.

While the courgettes and tomatoes are cooking, cook the pasta as per instructions on the packet.

In another pan melt the butter and add the flour, stir vigorously, then start to slowly add the milk, adding a little at a time and beating to ensure the sauce is smooth. Once all the milk has been added, season to taste and add the grated goats cheese and stir until melted.

Drain the pasta and combine with the sauce, add in most of the courgettes and stir. Serve on warmed plates, garnish with the remaining courgette slices and a pile of the unctuous roasted tomatoes.

Simple and delicious. This is going to be a family favourite this summer I think.

I didn’t quite have enough pasta in the cupboard so my picture looks a little on the saucy side.

Disclaimer: I was sent a free hamper of goaty goodies by St Helen’s Farm to try and see what I thought, that review will follow, but the clean plates mean my family genuinely loved it.

Meal Planning Monday w/c 2nd December 2013

I’ve long thought meal planning was the secret to making a little money go a bit further It also makes life infinitely easier for the person who stares puzzled into the fridge every evening trying to figure out what to feed the starving hordes. This week I’m taking part in Meal Planning Monday.

Our meal plans are slightly complicated by the fact I’m a vegetarian and the boys love meat, really love it. Often we’ll eat veggie food so we can eat the same thing as a family, but they quite often have meat which I really don’t mind cooking. Sometimes I just can’t be bothered, so they’ll have a lovely meat and two veg meal and I’ll have a bowl of cereal. I do like cereal.

We meal plan every week and have done for years, but here’s our Meal Planning Monday plan for the week…

Hodge has a work meeting quite late, so I’ll need to rustle up something which will happily sit and be re-heated when he gets in. I’m thinking (Nigel Slater’s) beef in beer stew, mash and kale from the garden.

It’s been ages since I made a risotto, so I’m fancying making an aubergine risotto. This is a huge favourite, so flavoursome and hearty, perfect for these cold winter nights.

I’m meeting a friend in town to have a mulled wine at the Christmas markets so the boys will have to fend for themselves. Tonight just screams spaghetti bolognaise. We batch cook things like this, so it’s just a case of grabbing a portion from the freezer and leaving them to it.

Thursday is traditionally a busy day in the HPD house so I’ll likely assess what the leftovers situation is and we’ll take our pick from that. If that falls short, then we’ve always got eggs so it’ll be our old favourite scrambled eggs on toast or something along those lines.

Curry night! I’m going to knock up a quick and tasty pea and paneer curry. I serve it with fluffy boiled rice and toasted pita bread. Yum.

We’re off out for dinner with some friends but young Splodge will still need feeding. Our quick & easy tea for him which is a guaranteed plate cleaner is pesto pasta, so that’s what he’ll have.

We don’t often have a roast dinner; it’s not really worth it for just the three of us, but we picked up a cheap chicken from the whoopsie shelf a little while ago. It’s taking up valuable pre-Christmas freezer space. So we’ll be having a roast chicken dinner.

Meal Planning Monday w/c 2nd December 2013

So, that’s us for the week. It’s made me quite hungry writing it down properly and not on the back of an envelope for a change. What’re you having?