Wow, just wow. I actually don’t know the best way to start this blog post. I have so many thoughts running around my head about the ‘Dine around the Dome’ event I was very grateful to be invited to attend last Thursday evening. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I certainly didn’t expect the culinary taste teasing tour that we were treated to.
We were told to meet at 6:30pm at the Circle 360 champagne bar on the upper level of The Orient area in the Trafford Centre. Anyone who knows me personally will know how often I frequent the Trafford Centre. It’s almost my second home. I love the place. As a family we spend quite a lot of time there because living in the Manchester area we aren’t blessed with the best weather so the convenience of having a covered area which has everything you need in one place and free parking is the perfect solution. I love that it has entertainment, Odeon cinema, ten pin bowling, adventure golf, Legoland and Sealife to name but a few. As well a massive variety of shopping and so much choice when it comes to food. No matter what your taste they’ll always be something to suit you there.
Before the boys came along and it was just the two of us we would head to the Trafford Centre on date nights to try new restaurants, any special occasion would be marked with a meal and a few drinks. We’ve had many great nights there and worked our way around many of the eateries. So when thinking about dining around the dome I wasn’t sure how many new things I’d discover.
A little before we were due to meet up at the Circle bar I met with my good friend and blogging inspiration Jenny from Lets Talk Mommy. I haven’t seen her in a while so it was great to have a quick catch up together. We headed up to the bar and signed in. I love meeting new people and chatting but I felt a little nervous at this event as I knew it would be a small gathering and thought that perhaps everyone would already know each other. Over the course of the evening I got to know quite a few people and everyone was so lovely. I certainly have quite a few new blogs to add to the list to read now!
At the bar we were given an Elderflower martini which as the description said was dressed dirty with a twist of lemon. As I was driving I was very careful to just take a little sip to sample the flavour. It was at that point I instantly regretted not being able to drink the whole thing. Wow, what a start to the evening, it was beautiful! I could have sat there and sipped the whole thing, if the evening had ended there I would have been a happy lady. I haven’t stopped to have a drink at the bar before. It always looks like a fab venue. Having young children it’s never been possible to just take time out to sip on a champagne but next time we have some couple time there together I am adding it to the must do list! I often walk past and see couples or friends sipping and chatting there, taking a break from shopping. The bar staff were lovely and I can’t wait to return and sample some more of the menu!
Jenny and I sampling the Elderflower Martini at Circle 360 Champagne Bar
After a few introductions we were off to our first stop on the tour Cafe Rouge. Now although I have eaten in Cafe Rouge a couple of times I’ve never considered it to be one of my top choices of food venues. I’m not sure why, maybe I’ve just not had a dish there that has wowed me. Everything changed last night. It was our first stop on our tour but they certainly set the bar high for the rest of the evening. We were served ‘Ceviche de Saumon’ which although originally from Peru consisted of Atlantic salmon slices cured in lime marinated with chilli, red onion and spring onion served on a bed of crisp baby gem lettuce. It was drizzled with Valles des Baux EV olive oil and finished with fresh coriander. It was delicious!
I love sea food more than I love meat so this was my idea of a great starter. I loved the way the sharpness of the lime worked with the heat of the chilli. The salmon itself had a lovely light flavour and the crunch of the lettuce made sure that it wasn’t a heavy carb laden starter which ensured we had lots of room to carry on with the rest of the tour. I do love bread but if I start with it when I’m already hungry I tend to eat too much then there’s no room for the fabulous main course.
The food was paired with a white wine called ‘Saint Etalon Sauvignon’ again I just had a sip but it was crisp and tangy and I thought it was in my own description quite sharp. Cafe Rouge said that it was a perfect accompaniment to a lime marinated fish. I’d defiantly agree with that. I enjoyed a lovely chat with my new-found dinner mates and all too soon it was time to move on.
So from France we headed to Italy in what was probably the quickest hop from country to country ever! So within minutes we’d hoped over the border and were seated in Carluccio’s which is located on the ground floor of The Great Hall at the back of The Orient in the Trafford Centre.
This time as most of the food was to be served cold the table was already laid with the dishes and was a fabulous sight it was to behold! Beautiful wood serving boards decorated with thinly sliced Italian meats from Carluccio’s own deli. Palma ham, Mialno salami, Napoli salami and herb roasted ham were amongst the selections decorated with olives, caperberries and home backed focaccia.
I love a pick and mix style meal so I was in my element with all the different things to try. By far the hit of the table was the Caponata.
Caponata as I found out was a traditional Sicilian dish of aubergine sweet and sour stew, served cold with toasted sliced focaccia for dipping. This dish took me by surprise. Looking at it you expect it to be a warm dish. It was chilled to perfection and it really works. It was so juicy and flavourful. This is something that I wouldn’t hesitate to order in future. I’m hoping that the recipe can be found in one of Antonio Carluccio’s cook books though as I really think the boys and hubby would enjoy the dish. It seemed to be a hit with everyone!
Shortly after we were seated the warm dish of the evening Pepolata Arancini was served to out table. Pepolata Arancini is a crispy fried pepolata and mozzarella rice balls served with a pepper mayonnaise for dipping. They were delicious, when you cut into them the outside was crispy and the inside a melted gooey mixture of the cheese and rice. I could defiantly see myself returning here for more of these little bites of heaven!
This beautiful dishes were accompanied by an Aperol Spritz which I had never heard of. As I learned on the evening Aperol Spritz is a classic Venetian aperitif of Prosecco, Aperol and soda. It is a drink that was invented in 1919, it apparently took off like wildfire outside of Italy in 2014 but I must have missed this being in the new baby haze of life. It is set to be a must-sip drink of summer 2015. I for one can see myself getting on board with this! Although again I only had a sip it was really refreshing. I can see myself ordering a glass of this next time I head to Carluccios’s which I imagine will be soon after the wonderful taste tingly samples I had on the evening!
From Italy we headed much much further west to latin America, Las Iguanas to be precise (which is only 30 seconds walk away!). Las Iguanas is one of my ‘go to’ restaurants when we are at the Trafford Centre. I love the flavours there. I thought I knew the food pretty well but as I discovered on the evening I haven’t branched out enough with the menu and was excited to be sampling dishes I haven’t had before.
On the menu was a fantastic selection of foods. Adorning the table as we arrived were some Totopos which are Mexican spice-dusted corn chips with tomato salsa, served with Peruvian olives.
Olives are like Marmite in that I think you either love them or you hate them. I used to hate them but after many years of trying them over and over again I now love them. The olives served at Las Iguanas were particularly nice! If you’re a lover of olives I’d recommend sampling those. Along side the corn chips and olives there was also a salad. It was a Mango and Pecan salad with avocado.
This was the only sample of a salad on the evening, it’s a good job though that it was as this one would have won hands down! The soft sweet mango was perfectly complimented by the crunchy candied pecan nuts, the baby spinach was lovely and fresh as were the peppery rocket and piquant peppers. This was the sort of salad that I wouldn’t necessarily choose normally but having tasted this one I would certainly look out for something similar in the future. As far as I could tell this was a hit up and down the table. I also loved the way it looked, very pleasing on the eye it made a great visual dish.
The cooked food selection was soon with us and we were once again in for a treat. At Las Iguanas we were served Churrasco Skewers which are mixed marinated and flame-grilled skewers of honey glazed chicken and halloumi, served with Manioc root cassava fries with home-made tomato salsa. I tried the fries first. I hadn’t pre-read the menu so I assumed they were normal potato fries. I was in for a pleasant surprise. I’ve not had cassava before so I was keen to look it up and discovered it is the third largest source of food carbohydrates in the tropics, after rice and maize. It was really nice, quite sweet not dissimilar to sweet potato. The salsa was a lovely accompaniment to the fries too.
I’m a big cheese fan and halloumi is up there as one of my favourites, especially when its been flame grilled so I was looking forward to the skewers and they didn’t disappoint. I only tried a small bite or two as I wanted to make sure I had room for all of the other delights of the evening. I can tell you thought that’s it defiantly a dish I’d add to the list of foods I’d like to go back and have again.
The last item to be added to the table was Empanadas which are crispy “street-style” pastries served as either brie and mango or tender lamb and mint varieties. Where I was sitting we were served the brie and mango ones so I didn’t get to try the lamb and mint although I heard the others talking about how nice they were. I cut into my empanadas which was steaming hot and looked lovely, I tried some expecting a sweet type of dessert taste given that it was brie and mango but it wasn’t that sweet at all. The brie complemented the mango perfectly. I’m not sure I’ve ever had warm mango that I can remember but it was really tasty. I almost wish I could have eaten the whole thing but given that we still had a couple of stops on the tour I didn’t want to fill up too soon.
The food at Las Iguanas was accompanied by a Mango Collins drink. Mango Collins is a cocktail I’ve had before at Las Iguanas so I already knew that I loved it. For anyone that hasn’t tried it it is a refreshing cocktail of Absolute Mango vodka, triple sec blended with orange and mango juices topped with lemonade which gives it a gently sparking taste on the tongue. It was a great pairing with the summary foods we’d been served and if I wasn’t driving I’d have indulged in a glass!
All too soon it was time once again to switch countries this time we were headed back east to Japan and Korean. The restaurant we were going to is called Wokooshi. Out of all our stops this one was new to me. Wokooshii can be found at level 1 of the Orient in the Trafford centre. It was founded by Gerry Yeung who is also the founder of Manchester’s famous Yang Sing Chinese restaurant. We were delighted to be served by Gerry himself who explained all about the family ethics of the restaurant. He is passionate about bringing the Japanese and Korean flavours to the diners.
Wokooshii has been open since early 2012 and the word Wokooshii, amalgamates the words wok and oishii, which means ‘delicious food’ in Japanese and the description couldn’t fit the food any better. I love how involved Gerry is with running the restaurant he explained all about the sourcing of ingredients for the menu and how everything is made in-house from scratch. Nothing is bought in pre-made at all so you can be assured all the flavours are authentic.
On the table as we arrived was a cup-shaped lettuce leaf for each person, we joked that we’d eaten so much so far that we really could only mange a leaf. Thankfully though the staff of Wokooshii had other ideas and within moments they had brought out Beef Bulgogi to our table. This was beef marinated in Korean soy sauce, sugar and black pepper to enhance its tenderness. It is traditionally served with a side of lettuce which is used to wrap the cooked meat to add crunchiness. We all picked our pieces of beef, added a hot sauce and tucked in. I have to admit beef isn’t my favourite meat so I was very pleasantly surprised when I found myself finishing the whole leaf wrap. Gerry explained that Bulgogi means ‘fire meat’ in Korean. The dish is listed 23rd in the ‘Worlds 50 Most Delicious Foods’ poll. The meat was historically grilled on gridirons over a brazier, but now it is also popular to pan-cook the meat. Wokooshii Bulgogi is cooked on a sizzler or hot plate.
We didn’t have to wait long to taste the flavours ourselves. We were first served a Japanese dish of Salmon Teppanyaki which was a succulent salon fillet cooked on a teppan (hot plate) with butter, garlic, sake and Japanese soya sauce accompanied by mild peppered teppanyaki vegetables and rice. The dish was accompanied with sizzling seafood udon noodles with scallops, king prawns and squid. The noodles were served on a sizzler with a lively Japanese soya sauce.
The salmon was perfect, so moist with lovely flavours of the sauce, the vegetables were crunchy and matched the salmon well, I didn’t try the rice as I wanted to leave room for a sample of the noodles as udon noodles are my favourite and I wasn’t disappointed! I couldn’t just try the noodles thought without trying the seafood too. I’m pretty much in love with any foods from the ocean, I much prefer them to meat so I went in and helped myself to a king prawn and some scallop. I always think scallops can be a dangerous choice when eating out, it only takes a little over cooking to make them rubbery and not nice to eat. Wokooshii scallops however were as near perfect as I’ve ever had, a delight to eat and perfect with the king prawns, squid and udon noodles. I was sure to only have a small sample though as I knew we were going to be also lucky to try the Korean food.
The Korean taster was something I’ve not heard of before Spicy Chicken Bibimbap which is a signature Korean family dish made up of steamed rice served in a hot stone bowl topped with chicken, carrots, kimchi, black wood mushrooms, bean sprouts, seasonal greens and topped with an egg. This dish is mixed at the table with chilli fermented soya bean paste.
I particularly loved the way this dish was presented, Gerry himself mixed it for us after adding the sauce while explaining the elements of the dish.
The dish was accompanied by Sho Chiku Bai Nigori Sake which is one of the oldest style sakes. It is coarsely filtered and milky white in colour, which gives it a full pleasantly sweet complex flavour which is best served chilled.
I have sampled Sake before and yet again this had surpassed my expectations, it was something I will be going back to enjoy some time soon in the future it was a great companion to the Japanese and Korean food. We were also given a sample of Asahi Premium Japanese Black Lager. I am not a regular lager drinking I much prefer a wine or spirit based drink so I wasn’t sure I was going to like this one. As it was poured due to its dark colour I expected to be tasting something similar to a stout based drink which I’m not keen on but was very pleasantly surprised when I tried a sip. I’m glad I did as it was much much lighter to drink than its appearance made out.
As the saying goes don’t judge a book by its cover and this is very true in the case of this lager! It was very smooth. Asahi means rising sun and it is made using only the purest water along with the finest hops.
One of the things I loved most about the Wokooshii restaurant was the seating layout. There are so many different sized tables available, whether you are having a romantic evening out or dining as a large group there’s sure to be the right size table for your party. As we were a large group we spread out over two large round tables which made for great conversation and the meeting of new friends.
The last treat in Wokooshii was the sampling of a particularly nice sparkling sake, this was not something I’d had or even heard of before but is now on my must have again list. The bottle is came in is particularly beautiful.
I can see myself having to revisit Wokooshi quite a bit just to repeat all the fabulous flavours! Sadly before long it was time to move on to our 6th and final stop of the night, the dessert surprise!
We had been told that dessert would be a lucky dip, we’d be given and number and then asked to sample the dessert that corresponded to that number. In reality we all sampled each others, which was fab! The desserts were provided by a section of restaurants from around the Trafford Centre. There were far too many to be able to list them all. I’m a dessert lover so this was my idea of heaven! This was the sight that greeted us as we entered The Captains Table room looking out over the orient open eating area.
My number corresponded to a delicious lemon cheese cake, I was so busy sharing it around I didn’t even get to find out where it was from. I did however find out that the fabulous chocolate dip accompanied churros were from La Tasca. They have also been added to my list of places to dine for those beautiful treats alone!
The desserts were accompanied by Espresso Martinis provided by the 360 Champagne Bar, it was as though we had come 360 degrees ourselves, finishing off with drinks from the place we started! This was the drink that I wished I could have finished the most out of all the sips I’d had that evening. As a coffee lover this was an amazing find.
Coffee to accompany dessert was also served by Nespresso who were showcasing their new special edition coffee Peru Secreto an intensity 8 with an intense sweet round espresso flavour. As with all the special editions they won’t be around long so if it’s something you are interested in then get it while you can!
Before long it was time to say farewell to all my dining companions and new-found friends. Just before we all left we gathered for a group photo.
What an evening we’d been treated to, from far east to far west via France. So many wonderful flavours to tingle the taste buds. So many new finds to add to the list of places to visit. I can’t say that one dish stood out above the others because it didn’t, they were all so fabulous. I can’t compare country to country, like for like it wouldn’t be fair. I can say though that there wasn’t a dish I tried that I didn’t like, no actually love!
We can often be found at the Trafford Centre as a family and from now on I can see that we’ll be working our way around the restaurants too. The only problem we’ll have is agreeing which one to go to!
If you’re still with me at the end of that epic blog post then thank you for reading and I hope you’re not feeling to hungry now!
Picture credit for some of the images to Jason Lock Photography of Carousel PR
Thanks to the Trafford Centre for organising the ‘Dine around the Dome’ event. I was not paid for this blog post but all the food and drinks were complimentary on the evening.