5 articles Articles posted in Eating Out

Become a Mini Ninja at YO! Sushi (review)

If there are two things that my kids love it’s cooking and sushi, but unless you’ve got some serious skills, the two passions rarely meet – until now! Recently, the people at YO! Sushi got in touch to tell us about their in-store cooking classes, Sushi Ninja for adults and Mini Ninja for kids, and we knew we had to go along and try them. Our nearest YO! Sushi is in Lakeside and we’ve actually never eaten there before, despite our love of Japanese food, so it was a first for us all.

We arrived at the the restaurant at 11am, before they start opening up for the day, and the kids were sat down with their bamboo mats in front of them, all cling-filmed up and ready for use, before being taught all about the importance of proper hand hygiene, especially when making food with raw fish. They were given hair covers and gloves to wear and I think I counted at least three glove changes throughout the class, which was impressive to say the least.

The class was run by Marcell, the manager of Lakeside YO!, and she clearly knew her stuff. She was excellent with the kids and taught the whole class without once talking down to the kids or making things too complicated. She was happy to help Burrito Baby, whose hands were probably still a little bit on the small side of sushi rolling, and both of the girls thought she was a fab teacher.

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The Mini Sushi Ninja classes cost £15 per child, last one hour and include all of the ingredients, the bamboo mat which the kids get to take away with them, and a goody bag containing the recipe cards, chops sticks and the bag itself. The girls made three types of sushi during the class, a cucumber roll, a salmon nigiri, and a California hand roll, which then gets put into a takeaway box for the kids to eat once they’re done. Husband and I sampled the sushi and were really impressed with how well both girls did. The whole class was such an awesome and different way to spend a morning and the girls actually said that it was their favourite activity of the whole summer.

We were also lucky enough to stay at YO! Sushi for lunch, and although we’re regular sushi eaters, we wanted to try some new stuff too – Marcell kindly offered to choose a few dishes for us so that we got a variety of flavours and MY GOODNESS did she choose well! I’m not usually a fan of squid, but I liked their spicy pepper squid so much that I ate a whole plate of it by myself! The beef teriyaki was also basically one of the nicest things we’ve ever tasted; we were back in Lakeside the next day for a different event and were seriously considering just going back to YO! for about five plates of beef teriyaki!

Although this was our first experience of YO! Sushi, it most definitely won’t be our last. The class was excellent, the food was genuinely lovely and the whole experience was hugely positive for all of us. The classes were so fun to observe that Husband and I are thinking about trying the adult classes too! Head over to the YO! Sushi website for more info about the classes, store locations and the menus.

Thanks so much to Marcell and the team at YO! Sushi Lakeside for giving us such a lovely experience.

The Night I Learned to Make a Big Mac at McDonald’s

My Personalised McDonald's apron!Last night, I had a pretty unusual experience. I was asked along to a local branch of McDonald’s to get a behind-the-scenes look at how a busy store operates and to learn how to make my very own Big Mac – not something you get to do everyday, so of course I agreed! I won’t lie, I went there with a few preconceptions of how I’d find the whole thing but I’m delighted to say that I was pleasantly surprised from beginning to end.

McDonald’s is obviously famous for its fast food but what I was surprised to find out is that everything is actually made to order – long gone are the days of burgers sitting in a heater, ready to be shoved in a bag. As soon as your order is put in, either by giving it to someone at the counter or drive-thru window, or by using McDonald’s swanky new technology which allows you to use a touch-screen to make your order and have it brought to you by a server, it’s put through to someone in the kitchen who builds it all for you from scratch.

Self-Service screens at McDonald's

If I’m honest, the whole experience was quite overwhelming; a veritable information overload if you will! Here’s a quick overview of some of the things I learned:

  • McDonald’s are not only moving towards sending ZERO waste to landfill, but they also recycle their cooking oil for use in their fleet of delivery lorries, which also operate a “never empty” policy to minimise the carbon footprint of their logistics.
  • MCDonald’s offer degrees! Employees who wish to progress are able to apply to take a degree in business management, although education is actually implemented at ALL levels throughout an employees career with them (and one guy we met last night had been working there for 36 years!)
  • Ingredients are delivered three times a week to busy stores and their quick-cook grills which can actually detect which type of patty they’re cooking, can cook a burger in just 40 seconds!
  • The bun for a Big Mac comes in three parts, each of which has a name – the top is the “crown”, the middle is the “club” and the bottom is the “heel”! They also have a special toaster for toasting the buns which took about ten seconds!
  • It’s possible to choose carrot sticks or salad as a side to an adult sized meal – I always thought that was for kids only!

In terms of what I actually observed whilst looking around the restaurant and kitchens, the thing which was most impressive was just how spotlessly clean everything is. Employees are require to stop working every thirty minutes without fail to wash their hands at an amazing sink which you operate with your knee and the whole time we were there, if something wasn’t in use, it was being cleaned.

Obviously, making a Big Mac was VERY exciting for myself and the two other bloggers who attended and the young man who took us through the process was really knowledgeable and patient (good job really, he took a matter of SECONDS to make a burger while we took waaaay longer!). Although I was sad to not come away with the recipe for McDonald’s famous burger sauce, I was pretty tickled to see that it comes in a special gun which dispenses five perfectly even dots of sauce. The whole process was actually pretty intricate (did you know that the gherkins in their burgers are even specifically placed for optimum flavour distribution?!) and I feel like the whole experience gave me a new appreciation of how hard those guys work and how much effort is actually put into the making of the food.

Me and my Big Mac!

Although we’re fans of McDonald’s in the Mum’s the Word house, Husband and I have always viewed it as a guilty pleasure which was only to be enjoyed on rare occasions but after learning about the origins of the produce that McDonald’s uses, as well as seeing how fresh it all is, I definitely won’t be feeling bad about eating it or giving it to the girls in the future.

Another focus of the evening was the new technology which is being installed throughout the stores. As I mentioned above, McDonald’s now have self-ordering screens, which allow you to browse the whole menu and even customise your food before ordering. You’re then given a choice of ‘zones’ in which to sit before a server brings you your meal. Burrito Baby and I actually used this service before and I cannot even begin to tell you how much easier it makes things when you don’t have to carry a fully-laden tray to your table whilst wrangling a toddler. It also makes things easier for disabled customers and the screen even shrinks so that wheelchair users can still reach it all.

I was a little concerned that this level of automation meant that McDonalds had cut down their workforce but I was really happy to hear that this store in particular had actually employed MORE people to cover the kitchens and table service. There was also FAR less congestion on the shop floor – instead of queuing for ages and waiting for food, people were ordering and taking a seat which meant that there were minimal queues, despite the restaurant being full of diners, and that it was actually MUCH quieter.

The store we visited also had a family seating area which had iPads installed for kids and their parents to use and literally every single one was in use while we were there, so they’re obviously popular. Much of this new technology has been installed in response to feedback from customers about what they’d like to see in stores and is all part of the plan for the McDonald’s of the future, and I have to say, it’s so nice to see such a big chain listening to its customers and actually acting on what they learn.

Between the recycling, the reduction of carbon footprint, the quality of the food, the new tech and the beautifully redesigned restaurants, I feel like my preconceptions of what McDonald’s really is were absolutely smashed. This is clearly a company who cares about both its employees AND its customers, as well as the environment and the local community, which is a breath of fresh air. McDonald’s have really impressed me and I hope that they share their achievements with the general public so that they can have their minds changed to.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering…I make a MEAN Big Mac!

(as a weird side-note – I had my hair done yesterday morning and kept thinking “Oh no, I’m going to stink of chip fat by this evening!”. The kitchens at McDonald’s have this special type of air conditioning which not only kept the whole place really cool, but means that you don’t come out of there stinking either. In fact all of us remarked that the prevailing smell throughout the whole place was of fresh bread.)

Thanks to McDonalds for a fun evening.

(Although this is a sponsored post, all opinions are my own and reflect my sincere thoughts and feelings of the experience)

Our Family Lunch at Giraffe (review)

GiraffeThis summer holiday has been a bit of a culinary eye-opener for us in the Mum’s the Word house as we’ve been reviewing different restaurants each week and this week’s meal was at Giraffe. Giraffe’s strapline is “Freshly cooked food for everyone served to the sound of great music. Guaranteed to make you feel good!” so we took the girls and MIL with us again to get a good overview of how well they cater for all ages.

Technically, Lakeside is our closest Giraffe but we opted for Chelmsford for a bit of a change of scenery and I’m glad we did. It’s right in the middle of the high street and super easy to find, plus it’s right by the river which was lovely on a sunny day. In fact, it would be a really nice location for an early evening drink and dinner, so next time we go I think I’ll leave the kids at home and just go with Husband.

On the way there, Sausage (who’s recently got her first mobile phone and uses ANY opportunity for a good Google-up!) decided to read the menu to MIL to give her an idea of what she could choose and I think it made MIL a little wary, given that she prefers slightly plainer food and Giraffe’s menu is full of things with exotic sounding ingredients. However, once we got there and she had a chance to read the menu for herself, I think she realised that there were plenty of things she liked.

The kids menu doesn’t have starters but the adults ordered starters and we all ended up sharing, which is something we do anyway as we’re a bit like a wolf-pack, letting each other tuck into our grub. MIL had a garlic flatbread, Husband the chicken gyoza with sweet chilli dipping sauce and I had the Tuscan lamb meatballs.

Starters

Giraffe - Starters

The girls took a great liking to MILs flatbread; luckily it was HUGE so we all had a bit and there was still some left at the end! It was really nice, soft in places, crunchy in places, just garlicky enough without being overpowering. My meatballs were truly delicious, lightly spiced lamb (which you’d expect to be fatty but really wasn’t) in a rich tomato sauce which was almost like a stew. Serving it with a warm tortilla was perfect as it allowed me to mop up all the sauce afterwards! Husband’s gyoza were the real star of the starters though; the dumplings were lightly fried, so they were just crispy but still soft in the middle and the nouc cham sweet chilli sauce was flavourful and sticky, just how it should be. Husband and I didn’t find it spicy but MIL found it a little hot for her taste, so if you’re not a fan of any sort of heat they might be one to avoid.

For our mains, the girls chose from the kids menu with Sausage opting for a cheese and tomato quesadilla while BB went for a chicken wrap. Husband had the jerk ribs and sweet potato fries, MIL had the chicken Milanese and I had a chilli beef burrito.

MainsGiraffe - Mains

One thing I liked about the kids menu is that it actually offered some really diverse dishes. Sure, there are burgers and fish fingers on offer but there are also noodle bowls, grilled salmon and salads. I think we’re long past the era where kids are served bland, uninteresting food while the adults tuck into a culinary delight so it was refreshing to see some nice options for kids. Sausage really enjoyed her quesadilla (she’s a huge fan of all things Mexican) and BB loved her wrap (which I had a nibble of, for science, and found really fresh and tasty), although she couldn’t eat it all.

Husband’s jerk ribs were a hit; the meat itself was deeply seasoned although both Husband and I commented that they could have stood to be a lot spicier as there was none of the heat that we usually associate with jerk, however they were still very pleasant. I’m not a fan of sweet potato but his fries were a hit with everyone else! MIL actually really enjoyed her main after being worried about not finding a dish she’d like and said that the potatoes were especially nice.

If I’m being completely honest, I wasn’t a fan of my burrito. There was nothing wrong with it, per se, and it was exactly how you’d expect a burrito to be, but it just wasn’t to my taste. The sour cream was a nice addition but the mince beef mixture inside was overwhelmingly smoky and I really didn’t like the pink onions which seemed halfway between raw and cooked, but not one or the other.

Dessert was what I was REALLY looking forward to. I’ve never tried churros before but spend enough time on hipster food websites to know how trendy they are and I’ve been wanting to have them for AGES…let me tell you, I wasn’t disappointed! Sausage and I both had the churros, her from the kids menu and me from the adults and we both seriously enjoyed them. The chocolate dipping sauce was really rich and almost bitter but the perfect accompaniment to the sweet, crispy dough; a very indulgent end to our meals.

Desserts

Giraffe - Dessert

MIL had ice cream (take a look at Jane’s Kitchen Miracles for the best ice cream makers) and chose one scoop each of vanilla, chocolate and cherry which was an inspired choice. The cherry ice cream tasted like actual cherries! BB had a kids brownie which came with ice cream (beware, the brownie is HOT! and will burn little mouths if eaten without caution) and polished off as much as she could manage. I think Husband was the winner again with dessert choices; not usually one for mega sweet food, he pushed the boat out and chose a banana waffle split. I cannot emphasise enough how delicious it was. The waffle was chewy and the butterscotch sauce was like a liquid Werthers Original on the plate! Husband’s one minor complaint was that the banana could have stood to be cooked just a little more.

I also need to give an honourable mention to the drinks: Sausage had decided on a “Hippy Hippy Shake” smoothie (pineapple, passion fruit, mango, banana, pomegranate juice) before we even got there and BB followed suit, both of which got polished off in about three seconds. Husband had a strawberry smash which was literally some smashed up strawberries in a glass, topped with soda and mint, and it was SO refreshing! I went for the Orchard Pig Sparkling Apple and Elderflower and enjoyed it so much that I immediately started Googling to see where I could buy more! All a really nice alternative to the usual soft drink offerings.

Aside from a couple of very minor glitches, I think our Giraffe experience was really positive. The staff were incredibly polite and helpful (activity sheets and crayons for the kids are ALWAYS a winner) and the actual setting of the restaurant was really pleasant. We enjoyed the food and all commented that it’s definitely somewhere we’d eat again. Thanks so much to Giraffe for being the place that I finally lost my churro virginity. I’ll remember it forever…

Strada – A Date Night Gem

It’s not often that Husband and I go out for dinner, just the two of us…in fact, I’m struggling to think of a single time it’s happened since Sausage was born, so when Strada asked if the two of us would like to come along for dinner, I got very excited! Our nearest Strada is at Lakeside Shopping Centre in Thurrock and it’s right next to the lake, so it was the perfect setting for a relaxed evening meal.

We were given the choice of where to sit and although it was the hottest day of the year so far, we chose to sit inside – the outside area was already filling up when we arrived a few minutes before 6pm and by the time we left it was absolutely heaving, whilst inside was almost empty, so we definitely chose well. We got situated and were brought our drinks plus a jug of water for the table, which was much appreciated in the heat.

I wasn’t drinking alcohol because a) I was driving and b) I’m on strong antibiotics for the hideous tooth situation so I opted for a San Pellegrino Limonata, which is basically the most refreshing thing on the planet. Husband had a glass of Primitivo, a full-bodied red (which I said smelled like Christmas in a glass!) and although it was on the pricey side, Husband was impressed enough to be looking it up on the internet on the way home to see where he could get a full bottle for me to try when I’m able again.

So, onto the food!

Because Strada is Italian, I wanted to go for things which I felt were quintessentially Italian, so for starter I opted for the bresaola while Husband went for the antipasti, both of which were incredible. The beef carpacchio part of my bresaola was so, so tender and flavourful and the combination of parmesan, rocket and balsamic reduction were to die for. Husband’s antipasti (which I may have sampled…!) was just perfect; little nibbles of different flavour and textures, cured meats combined with the freshest pesto and mozzarella – I almost wish I’d opted for the same.

Strada - Starters

For our mains, we both decided that we were in the mood for seafood after such a meat-based starter so Husband had the sea bass while I had the seafood risotto. I’m going to make a confession here; I’ve never actually tried sea bass before…until now. The fish was served with thyme roasted fennel and herby potatoes and was a perfect choice for a hot evening as it was light and summery but full of flavour. The bass was served ‘canoed’, which meant that it’s gutted but left on the head, so there were still a lot of bones in it, which made it a little bit of a faff to eat, but Husband didn’t mind; it’s just worth bearing in mind if you aren’t a fan of bones.

Strada - Mains

Seafood risotto is one of my favourite dishes and it’s not something I’ve ever been brave enough to cook myself so it’s always a treat when I have it in a restaurant, but it does mean I’m quite fussy about it. Strada’s seafood risotto was really top notch. The risotto itself was creamy and absolutely packed with tiger prawns, mussels and squid and had the slightest kick from a hint of chilli, a very welcome element to cut through the creaminess a little. The seafood was all very well cooked (I’m often a bit wary of squid as it can be rubbery, but this wasn’t rubbery in the slightest) and the fresh parmesan which was grated over the top at the table added a lovely edge to the overall flavour.

Strada - Dessert

Dessert was an absolute delight. I opted for the tiramisu because I’m a bit of a fan of anything coffee flavoured while Husband opted for the golden polenta cake. My tiramisu was exactly as you’d expect it to be; sweet and soft with a strong coffee flavour, the perfect end to the meal for me. Husband’s polenta cake was probably the exact opposite of my dessert in many ways; grainy and textured rather than soft and creamy, zesty and spiced opposite my rich and velvety, however we both agreed that it was one of the nicest desserts we’ve ever tasted, and promptly came home to find a recipe so that we can try making it at home!

In terms of the bill, by my calculations it would have come to £67.60, which included three courses each, Husband’s large glass of wine, my two soft drinks and a bowl of marinated olives for the table, which I really don’t think is too bad at all. There is also a “Classics” menu which offers 2 courses for £10.95 or three courses for £13.95 every single day between 12pm and 7pm, which means that you could effectively have a three course meal for two for under £30.

The thing I liked about Strada is that their menu isn’t ridiculously massive, but each dish they do, they seem to do VERY well. I also like the fact that they have dishes which are very traditionally Italian, but they also do dishes like burgers and plainer pizzas, so dining with a fussy eater needn’t be a worry. The one and only area where I would mark them down SLIGHTLY was the cost of drinks – Husband’s glass of wine was £8.15, which is a little steep in my opinion, but we often find the alcohol to be higher priced in chain restaurants, so I guess it’s to be expected. Other than this minor thing, we had a really lovely evening; the staff were incredibly polite and friendly, stopping by to offer their suggestions while we were perusing the menu, the setting was really pleasant and the food was enough to make Husband say “we’re definitely coming back here again!”.

Thanks to Strada for having us – we’ll be back soon!

Our First Wagamama Experience

WagamamaOne thing that we love to do as a family is eat out, especially at places we’ve never tried before, so when Wagamama offered us the chance to go along and try their menu, we were really excited. Despite the fact that we’re all Japanophiles, with a shared love of their food and culture, we’ve never been to Wagamama before so yesterday was a whole new experience for us.

As soon as we walked in, the thing which struck me was the actual style of dining; the tables were set up into long rows of benches, rather than isolated little islands in the dining area which is the usual English way. It was different in a “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto” kinda way, but something which I really loved.

We’d checked out the menu online before visiting and the girls knew what they wanted, but Husband and I ummed and ahhed for a while because everything on the menu looked so tasty. We were given plenty of time to decide and Husband ordered a rather exotic looking juice in the meantime. (Kale, apple, lime and pear, in case you’re wondering and it just tasted so GREEN!).

In the end, the girls chose a mini chicken yaki soba and a mini chicken cha han, both of which were really tasty. One of the things I really liked was that each dish was made of super fresh ingredients and were bought out to us as soon as they were ready, meaning no-ones meal was left to sit under lights while we waited for the rest. I also loved the kids chopsticks that we were given which kind of slot together and made it loads easier for the girls to use.

Husband and I ended up opting for the shirodashi ramen (him) which was slow-cooked pork belly, marinated in bulgogi sauce in a noodle and reduced chicken broth with dashi and miso, topped with pea shoots, menma, spring onions, wakame and half a tea-stained egg while I went for the Wagamama ramen which was grilled chicken, barbecued pork, prawns, chikuwa and mussels in a miso, ginger and chicken noodle soup. topped with half a tea-stained egg, menma and spring onions.

I’m not going to lie; I think mine was genuinely one of the nicest things I’ve ever eaten. The noodles were tender and the broth was fairly simple but the pork belly was unbelievably tasty and the mussels were like little bombs of flavour throughout the dish. I’ve never had wakame before and actually thought it was squid while I was eating it, but it’s kind of like a Japanese equivalent of a crabstick, but formed around bamboo…apparently! Husband really enjoyed his too; his broth was spicier than mine with a really rich, warming flavour and the slow-cooked pork was, again, super tender and flavourful.

I think the thing that we liked the most about our Wagamama experience, although it’s hard to narrow down because it was a delight from beginning to end, was just the fact that it was something different. Don’t get me wrong, we love a burger and all of the “usual” choices in family-oriented restaurants, but it was SO nice to consider different flavours, textures and ingredients, especially for exposing the girls to new things. It was also a lot healthier than your average restaurant lunch; my Wagamama ramen totalled about 700 calories for the whole bowl, and given how full I was I thought that was pretty reasonable. In fact, we were all too stuffed for dessert but next time we go to Wagamama (and there WILL be a next time!), that banana katsu is MINE!

Our bill, for 2 adult mains, 2 kids meals, 1 adult fresh juice, 2 kids fresh apple juices (and I’m not exaggerating when I say this – it was the freshest apple juice I’ve ever tasted…it was literally like someone had crushed an apple into a glass) and a Coke Zero for me came to £37, which I have to say is really reasonable. I certainly don’t begrudge a lunch bill like that when it’s being spent on huge portions of fresh, super nutritious food which is cooked to order.

I think I could quite comfortably say that Wagamama is now a favourite eatery for all of us in the Mum’s the Word house and somewhere which will definitely be on our must-visit list for our next shopping trip. Thanks to Wagamama for having us and for converting us to their way of eating.