The Lifestyle Post #30: Indulgent Indian at Ithiaas

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If there is one thing the Birmingham food scene is renowned for, it’s Indian cuisine, with big players like Lasan and the world famous Balti Triangle coming together to make The Midlands the place to be for any Indian fan. One venue, I have never paid a visit to however is Itihaas and a few weeks ago I was invited down to try out their new menu.

Like the more high-end venues such as Lassan and Pushkas, Itihaas offers a taste of India in a more contemporary, sophisticated setting than your average curry house. The most recent menu demonstrates how the attitude of curry lovers has changed. Raj Rana, Head Chef Exec at Itihaas explained how when they first arrived in the city, customers would come in asking for a vindaloo or a madras, but now things are different. Customers are longing for authenticity and dishes they have never tried or heard of, which has allowed the Itihaas team to present their most extravagant and experimental menu to date.

The décor:
No expense has been spared in this 2 million pound restaurant, where slate finished walls and plated glass create a sophisticated interior that is sure to impress. This is complimented however by the inclusion of 18th and 19th century Indian artifacts, such as carved stone elephants and 300 year old doors, which give the place an ambience that doesn’t sacrifice tradition for style.

What’s cooking:
Inspired by the Mughal era, the food at Itihaas is unapologetically indulgent, taken largely from the North of India, with influences from Kenya and Mumbai. Their latest menu sees newly created dishes such as the scallop and prawn masala and banana leaf salmon join much loved favourites like the butter chicken served in a smoky tomato sauce to create a sizzling collection of rich and tasty dishes which capture the decadence of indian fine dining. 

What’s not to miss:
The lobster Panchporan, which is simmered with five spices in a creamed mustard paste is definitely the stand out dish, as fresh and you like and packed full with flavour, proving why seafood dishes are a specialty here. At £29.00, although not one of the cheapest dishes it is also one of the better value options on the menu.
Although I’m not usually a huge lamb fan, the Nalli Ghost served off the bone was also one of my favourites. The tender meat is stewed in a thick and spicy masala gravy to offer a rich and decadent flavour.
When it comes to dessert, no indian dish has ever seriously impressed and Itihaas was no exception. Best of the bunch was the Chai Masala Mousse. Light and fluffy it is a fairly non-offensive way to satisfy any sweet cravings after your main but if I were you I would skip saving room for anything sweet and go for that extra half a naan bread!

The booze:
During the evening we also got to sample some of Itihaas’ specialty Torunska cocktails. Known as Poland’s best kept secret, Torunska has a velvety clean taste that would make any vodka aficionado fall in love. After discovering the brand on a Polish business trip, Itihaas have used it to create their own selection of signature cocktails, including ‘beautiful moment’ which pairs it with german elderflower liqueur, lemon juice, sugar syrup and hibiscus essence, which was far too drinkable for a school night!

The verdict:  
In a city that is accustomed to madras or masala, it is difficult to offer something to make you stand out from the crowd, but Itihaas does just that. The variety of exotic dishes and flavours combine with décor that is dripping with luxury to give you the feeling of dining in an Indian palace on the streets of Birmingham. The menu doesn’t come cheap but for a special occasion, this should be at the top of any Indian lovers list.
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The Lifestyle Post #29: Scandi cooking with Västerbottensost

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Two of my favourite things in the world are cheese and getaways, so when Swedish cheese company Västerbottensost got in touch to see if I wanted to try out some of their summertime recipes I couldn't diss-a-brie (that's the only pun I's also not technically a brie).
I am actually heading to Sweden for the first time in a couple of months on a city break to Gothenburg, so this was the perfect excuse to get in the kitchen and try out some of the local grub!

Västerbotten, known as the king of Swedish cheeses is similar to mature, sharp tasting cheddar and Västerbottensost have teamed up with Swedish celebrity chef Filip Fasten to create a series of recipes which allow you to create a scandi summer spread at home. With everything from a cheesy potato gratin to a crisp herring flatbread, there are a range of dishes to choose from. After a trip to Oslo earlier in the year, I fell in love with Scandianavian pastry, so I decided to try out the cheese pie.

Västerbottensost cheese pie with fried onions

For the pastry:

125 grams of butter
300g of flour 
2 tablespoons of water 

Heat the oven to 200°c. 
Mix together the butter, flour and water and roll it out to a thin dough. Put it in a pie dish with a detachable bottom, then let it cool in the fridge for about 30 minutes. Notch it with a fork and pre-bake it for 10 minutes. Let it cool off. While it cools, fry off your onions until soft. 

For the filling:

4oog of grated Västerbottensost cheese
200ml of cream
100ml milk 
200ml of fried onions
A grating of nutmeg
Pinch of salt

Put the onions on the bottom of the pie. Mix the remaining ingredients together and pour it in the pie dish. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 25-30 minutes until firm. Top it off with some wild herbs if you fancy and enjoy!

Wild herbs that could be used:
Wood sorrel

I have to admit I cheated and used ready made pastry, but other than that the pie was super easy to make, taking roughly an hour on a lazy Sunday afternoon with a glass of red on the go. The tangy taste of the cheese worked like a dream with the nutmeg and it was delicious served up warm and equally as tasty for my lunch the next day. I side stepped the herbs and instead teamed it with a generous helping of my favourite chutney.

Have you ever tried any Scandi cooking? What's your favourite Swedish treat?

Charlotte x

*I was sent Västerbottensost for review purposes, however all opinions are my own.
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The Travel Post #19: 5 Apps for Travel Lovers

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Whether it’s snapping that dreamy sunset on Instagram, or keeping your friends up to date with your latest trips, today’s savvy traveller will never be far away from their iPhone. I’ve rounded up 5 of the best apps I’ve come across that will make your next adventure a breeze.

I love an itinerary, so I’ll always have a rough plan of things I want to see and do whenever I travel somewhere. Websites like tripadvisor are great for finding tourist favourites, but it’s nice to mix up your trip with some local hotspots too. Stay is the perfect app for this, with local guides to a whole load of cities detailing the best places to eat, drink and shop, to name a few. They also have bespoke guides such as ‘how to do cities on a budget’, ‘where to find the best cocktails’ or ‘the top romantic spots to head to’.
But the best thing about this app, is you can download whole cities to use offline and it will still track your location meaning you can access all the tips and find the best picks that are closest to you even when you don’t have Wi-Fi.

Up until recently, I had always been a bit of a traditionalist when it came to getting currency and just took all of my money out in cash before I left, but then it occurred to me, that there was probably a more sensible option than carrying hundreds of pounds on me whilst I’m away.
Then I found Revolut, a prepaid mastercard, which can be topped up via an app wherever you are. All you have to do is load the card with an amount in pounds and it will then transfer the money into the currency of wherever you are using it, with perfect interbank rates (the rates banks give each other, which will be much better than bureaux de change!).
This is great if you are planning a trip with multiple currencies and it also means you don’t end up with left over currency you won’t use as you can just top up the app with money as and when you need it as long as you have access to the internet. Anything you don’t use can be spent as pounds back in the UK.
What’s more, you can also use the card to withdraw up to £500 a month from ATMs abroad without fees, meaning if you do need to get hold of some cash you can do so without worrying about any sneaky fees!

One of my more recent discoveries, for the ultimate flight companion, I wouldn’t be without App in the Air. Super slick to use it is the flight-tracking app with the best coverage of airlines and airports I’ve come across. It also has a number of useful extras, such as the ability to break down your flight schedule into 4 stages; check in, boarding, take off and landing – notifying you of any delays or gate changes along the way.
If that wasn’t enough it has tips from other travellers for each airport, such as where to get the best snacks, which Wi-Fi is free and directions to the nearest phone charging point.

One of the hardest things to know when you get to a new city is the best way to get around. In some places public transport is the best bet, with lots of well-connected and regular options, for others a lot of it can be walkable. City Mapper is a dream at solving this problem as it combines all of the available options into one handy app – helping to choose the quickest and cheapest route. It has real time departure and disruption updates and even supports uber integration, meaning it will let you know when that’s the best option too.  It’s currently available in 30 cities worldwide and has the majority of the typical city break countries covered. No doubt it will be rolled out in plenty more within no time, so if your next weekend break isn’t available on there just need, don’t get too worried. 

Any travel lover likes to keep track of places that they have visited and there are plenty of apps out there to help you do it. One of my favourites is Been, which visualizes your ‘travelled to’ list into a map, showing you the percentage of the world you have ticked off so far. You can also see it in a globe view and can easily share your progress on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram via the app. The one downfall with this is it doesn’t tell you how many countries you have visited – that part you will have to keep track of yourself!

Have you ever used any of these apps? What would be in your top 5?

Charlotte x

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The Travel Post #18: Eating Europe's East End Food Tour

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Like many, one of my favourite parts of London is the East End so when I was invited by Eating Europe to try out their East End Food Tour, I couldn’t say yes fast enough!

Eating Europe has a small selection of food tours in cities across Europe including London, Rome, Amsterdam, Prague and their recently launched Florence tour. The idea is to show you around the area by visiting some of the culinary hotspots, which give you a taste of not only the local cuisine but the local culture too. Anyone that knows me will know that exploring a new place whilst sampling some local grub is pretty much my dream combination so I was super excited to give one of their London tours a go.

After being given a brief introduction by our tour guide Hannah, we headed down to our first stop for London’s best bacon sandwich at St John’s Bread and Wine. Quite a claim, but it was, for sure, the best I have ever tasted. Smoked Gloucester old spot bacon teamed with butter soaked bread and homemade ketchup it is bacon butty perfection and should definitely be your morning pit stop if you are ever suffering with a Shoreditch hangover.

The next stop was a trip to The EnglishRestaurant to try a British favourite; bread and butter pudding, which believe it or not, I had never actually tried. However, made with brioche bread and vanilla and rum custard, one taste of this one and I was sold.

Then it was onto Androuet for a taste of some British cheeses namely Ogleshield, a smoky offering from Somerset, Westcomb Cheddar which is aged for 18 months to give it a soft texture and Sharp Tang a pungent but creamy stilton from Nottingham. I'm not going to lie - you'd be hard pressed to find a cheese I didn't like but all three of these got a yes from me. 

The cheese loving was followed by a stop off at Poppies for fish and chips in typical English style…outside in the rain! This wasn't my favourite part of the tour and I didn't think they were the best I've ever tasted but you can't beat eating fish and chips from a newspaper and I think this stop will be a big hit for tourists who are looking for an authentic British experience (perhaps minus the sea!). 

Following that was one of my favourite parts of the tour, trying one of Brick Lane’s renowned curry houses, and Aladin, one of the oldest and widely regarded as one of the best was the destination of choice. We tried out a selection of three different dishes all of which were amazing, in particular the lamb pathia which is a must have if you are a fan of Indian food.

Now it was time for a pitstop in Pride of Spitalfields, a typical British boozer where we washed down the curries with some of their best house ales and cider from Cornish Orchards, which has been awarded the title of best in Britain more than once! (I’m definitely more of a cider girl.) Then it was on to the Jewish quarter to Beigel Bake one of the only two places in London you can get your hands on an authentic salt beef bagel. Juicy and tender finished off with gherkin slices and a generous helping of English mustard it was in-credible!

To finish the tour we headed to Pizza East, one of Shoreditch’s more modern favourites to sample their salted caramel tart and a London food tour wouldn’t be complete without a cuppa right?! Sickeningly sweet but undeniably delicious it was the perfect finish teamed with an english brew.

As the first food tour I’ve been on, Eating Europe seriously impressed. Hannah was fun, informative and did a great job of creating a good atmosphere between the group – something which isn’t easy with a bunch of strangers. As for the food, every stop was delicious and was teamed with an interesting part of the east end’s culinary history. Whether you are a first time visitor to the capital or have lived here your whole life this tour should definitely be on your London bucket list.

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