Friday, 9 March 2018

Brew Toon Microbrewery & Cafe Bar

With just 3 weeks to go til the Final Fling, prep for #NorthHopAbz is well underway. I wrote about what I'll be drinking at the festival, and just the other week I had the chance to pop down & check out the Brew Toon brewery ahead of their North Hop debut. 

Brew Toon launched their range of craft beers just last year, from my hometown Peterhead (also known as the "Blue Toon", get it?) I love that you can see into the working brewery when you nip into the bar for a pint, but it was even better to get behind the scenes & learn a little about the brewing & bottling process. Each beer is brewed, bottled, capped and labelled by hand on site!

I'm a bit of a regular at the microbrewery & café bar - it's dog friendly and within walking distance of my house!

Brew Toon's café space is fresh and modern, with copper tables and stylish pendant lights, it's bringing Peterhead up to date and offering something unique in the town. A diverse drinks menu features their full range of beers, with beer flights available, as well as wines, spirits, soft drinks, Eteaket teas and their own unique blend coffee.

Food is served throughout the day (the nachos are epic!) and events are proving to be popular with the locals with everything from Untapped live music to pop up street food collabs. We're big fans of the Sunday night pub quiz!  

On the day of our brewery visit, new up and coming street food vendors Smoke & Soul were in town and cooking up a storm. Slow smoked meats are Smoke & Soul's speciality and we devoured brioche buns packed with delicious pulled pork, slaw and South Carolina BBQ sauce from the Sauce Shop. A few beers later and the brisket topped mac & cheese was exactly what we needed!

L-R: Weekend Hooker, Raspberry Carronade, Northern Sinner

While I'm not a huge fan of traditional beers, Brew Toon has something for everyone. My personal favourite is the fruity Raspberry Carronade, followed by the newly launched tropical IPA known as M'ango Unchained. Gordon prefers the Northern Sinner black IPA, while my Dad enjoys a Weekend Hooker - that's a lager, guys! 

If you can't make it to the MicroBrewery & Café Bar in Peterhead you'll be pleased to hear that Brew Toon will be at this month's North Hop festival in Aberdeen! You'll have the chance to meet the brewers and sample the full line up of these awesome beers at the AECC from Friday 30th - Saturday 31st March.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Thailand | Mukandaman Phi Phi Islands Tour

For a lot of people, the first thing that springs to mind when you think of Thailand, is The Beach - as in Leo DiCaprio, secluded secret island and that soundtrack. The movie was filmed on Koh Phi Phi, a group of Thai islands, and naturally everybody hopes to visit The Beach when they're travelling in the area. Myself included.

After Koh Lanta, we headed back to the mainland by ferry - to Ao Nang, in the Krabi district. Here we checked out a few travel agents and ended up booking the Mukandaman Phi Phi Islands Tour - we didn't have time to stay on Phi Phi so had to pack it all into one day. There isn't much to do on Maya Bay (the beach) itself, so the day trip includes various stops around the Phi Phi islands, with snorkeling opportunities, drinking water, snacks and a buffet lunch. Pick up and drop off at our hotel was included too. I actually can't remember what we paid but I want to say about 1500THB each?  

We were collected from our hotel in the morning and driven to the pier. There was a bit of waiting around while they got everyone together and prepared the speed boat. Of course there's lots of different companies organising various day trips at the same time so you can imagine this takes a while! Somehow we bagged a space out on the deck and could soak up the rays and admire the views while we sped across the choppy water. 

Our first stop was Bamboo island. To be honest, we didn't take the time to appreciate this stop. We did admire the beautiful beach and dip our toes in the water but my bladder and my rumbling stomach had other priorities! By the time we'd found the toilets and grabbed some chicken fried rice from a little beach hut, there wasn't time for much else.

Up next was my favourite stop of the trip - the lagoon! We sailed in between these huge limestone cliffs towering above us on the turquouise water. It was picture perfect, and our guide made the most of it, volunteering to snap photos of us all individually with this incredible background.

Again the lagoon was busy - there's just so many tours - but we moored up and had the chance to jump off the boat and swim! Honestly this was just such a surreal experience, I loved every minute.

Back on board, we sailed towards Maya Bay, passing a Viking cave along the way! Our guide was really upbeat and fun, making sure to tell us all about the history and culture of the islands.

Just to give a bit of background, Maya Bay is not what you'd expect. It's part of a national park which charges 400THB for entry to help maintain it's fragile eco system. The Beach resulted in an influx of mass tourism to the small bay, and the amount of speed boats mooring up in the area has damaged the coral, not to mention the rubbish left behind by thoughtless visitors.

I'd read up on it before we left for Thailand so I knew what to expect. You won't find that peaceful paradise portrayed in the movie, what you'll find is chaos. People everywhere fighting to get the best selfie or capture the limestone cliffs, crystal blue sea and an empty beach. No mean feat when the beach is literally swarming with people!

Nobody is really doing anything other than take photos. We found a little bench and sat back and people watched for quite a while. Then suddenly, a few speedboats left taking a good chunk of the visiting population with them... We got lucky and managed to get a couple of the shots all those people had been aiming for!

You can see why they picked the location for filming! I've heard if you hire a longtail boat early in the morning, or later on when most of the tours have moved on, you'll have a much better chance of having The Beach to yourself.

Our final destination (via a snorkelling stop where I discovered I'm hopeless at breathing underwater!) was the more built up and commercialised part of Phi Phi Leh. We had lunch at a "restaurant" and some free time, so enjoyed a stroll along the pier and ate some Thai pancakes with banana and Nutella. After a quick pit stop at Monkey Bay we were whisked back to Ao Nang in time for tea. It was an incredible day of island hopping and an experience I'll never forget.

My only negative from this tour was the food. It was served in this huge buffet hall which was clearly used by a lot of boat tours. We'd had amazing buffet lunches on trips in Chiang Mai but this one was poor. It's the only meal of our entire trip that I didn't enjoy. That night we got seriously sick and while I can't say for sure that the buffet was the cause, I'd definitely advise you find somewhere else to eat!

While there are better ways to explore the islands, if you're short on time I'd highly recommend the Mukandaman Phi Phi Islands tour, just skip the included lunch!

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Aberdeen Restaurant Week | Where we ate

Aberdeen plays host to a surprising number of festivals throughout the year. My personal favourite has always been the light festival, but there's a new one arrived to steal Spectra's crown - say hello to Aberdeen Restaurant Week! Running from 1st - 8th February, the inaugural ARW went down a storm with local foodies and who can blame us? At just £10 for a two course lunch or £20.18 for a three course dinner, it was the perfect excuse to try out some different eateries for the first time.
So, where did we eat?

Moonfish Café

Moonfish has been on my radar for a while now (ever since head chef Brian McLeish was a Masterchef professionals finalist in 2014!) but I've never had an excuse to splash out on dining here. Considering 3 courses would usually cost £36, the Restaurant Week menu was a steal. There was the option to add wine pairings too but I indulged in a Harris G&T instead.

I was slightly worried about the portion sizes for Gordon so we added on the snacks - Beef Tendon, Mackerel, Potato and Pork Cheek Salsa Verde, Manchego £2.50 each - which turned out to be our favourite dishes of the evening! The citrus cured haddock starter was a delight too.

The main course - Skate, Celeriac, Apple, Horseradish - was tasty but I did find the fish bones a bit off putting. That's just me being fussy though! We ordered a side of crispy polenta roast potatoes which I absolutely adored. Dessert was my favourite of the three courses - a unique take on pecan pie with sweet potato and foie gras shavings!

I'd definitely go back to Moonfish but I'd save it for a special occasion and probably choose meat dishes rather than fish. All in all, good value for money and a great night out!

Café Andaluz

I would have liked to check out some of the lunch menus throughout the week but as I don't live or work in the city it just wasn't possible. We managed to squeeze in another dinner though, and combined our visit with the opening night of Spectra. There were over 30 restaurants involved in Aberdeen Restaurant Week so it was tough to pick, but something about Café Andaluz' tapas menu hooked me in. Maybe it's the fact we're planning a roadtrip round Andalucia soon?!

A set starter of Spanish olives and a basket full of the softest bread, dipped in olive oil with balsamic vinegar, was followed by a main course of three tapas dishes each. It didn't sound like much but a mountain of food arrived swiftly at our table, along with a big glass of sangria! When in Spain...

He chose the honey and mustard chicken fillets, black pudding with an apple and onion chutney and calamari served with a paprika mayonnaise. Pork and beef meatballs in tomato sauce, patatas bravas and paella tapa were my picks. I'd say choose one or the other of the last two as they were both quite carby and filling, and delicious! We shared of course but even between the two of us we couldn't finish everything.

Gordon's praline and salted caramel cheesecake was delicious, but a little too sweet for me. However, my crema catalana was perfect with a lovely, thick caramel glaze to smash through to the dreamy custard. Dessert was a struggle but we battled through!

We got a lot of food for £20.18 at Café Andaluz. You could argue it was better value for money than Moonfish but that would be unfair. The two restaurants have completely different dining styles and that's what I like about the ARW concept - there's something to suit all tastebuds and appetites!

Did you try anywhere new during Aberdeen Restaurant Week? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, 12 February 2018

Recipe | Pandan Pancake Rolls

I've had these on my mind ever since I first tasted pandan in crepes at a street market on our first night in Chiang Mai!

Pandan is a type of leaf used in Asian cooking. It has a coconut-y vanilla taste so it's used mainly as flavouring in sweets and desserts and gives everything this unusual bright green colour. In Thailand it's fairly common to see cakes and treats this colour - if it's not pandan, it's probably matcha green tea flavour!

Sipping iced green tea in Bangkok

After that first taste at the market, I jumped at the chance to eat anything green! Imagine how chuffed I was when the kind folk at Flight of the Gibbon brought out a bright green pandan birthday cake for Gordon!

We've been scouring the Asian supermarket for pandan treats since we got home so I'm now well stocked up with instant green custard! I picked up a little bottle of pandan extract last time which I've used to recreate these pandan filled pancakes at home.

Just in time for pancake day!

This is basically an adaptation of a general pancake mix, filled with pandan custard. You could also use it to make Malaysian Kuih Dadar, which is the same idea but with a sugary, coconut filling instead. For the pandan extract and custard you'll probably need to visit an Asian food store - I got both in Matthews Foods, next to the Manchurian in Aberdeen.

250g flour
350ml coconut milk
4 eggs
1 tsp pandan extract
1 packet instant pandan custard
  • Mix the flour, coconut milk, eggs and pandan extract together in one big bowl until you get a smooth (green!) batter. If you have an electric mixer, use it!
  • Spoon a ladleful of the mixture into a hot frying pan, spread it thinly and allow to cook on one side. I didn't bother flipping to the other side as they seemed to lose some flexibility and you need to be able to roll them up.
  • Allow the pancakes to cool, and make up the pandan custard according to the packet instructions. (It's easy!)
  • Add a spoonful of the custard to the middle of each pancake, roll them up like a burrito and enjoy!

What will you be eating this pancake day?
Send me some pictures if you make these Pandan Pancake Rolls!

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