Saturday, 19 March 2011

Restaurant Review: Horoscope Chinese Harrogate

Name: Horoscope
Cuisine: Cantonese, Szechuan & Peking
Location: Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Ever since my first bite of a Thai dish, Chinese food descended down the ranks of my favourite cuisine. It was like eating Chinese food with bells on, lots more bells... and whistles. I’m not going to proclaim that Horoscope changed these views, but it has gone a long way in restoring my faith in what this vast country has to offer.

After a string of disappointing experiences with gloopy sauces and wilted vegetables, I gave up ordering Chinese takeaways and begun cooking them at home. This works great and I am proud to have that ability. However, sometimes you just want someone else to cook for you. Someone you can trust. Enter Horoscope.

I have eaten in here and ordered take-away. I have tried the char siu barbecued pork in scezchuan sauce, the chicken satay (hong kong style), the spring rolls, the kung po, the crispy duck and a few others. Every time, I have been impressed. There seems to be a good stock at the base of their sauces, mother’s marinade at the healm of their meats. It is these extra touches that make you want to pay the extra. A carnivores choice at the local Chinese might set you back £6-7 with today’s fuel prices, but Horoscope charge more like £9-11. This begs the question; ‘Do I want to eat inferior meat and old veg in a melange of monosodium glutamate and cornstarch thickened salt water? Or do I want to be able to taste the variety of ingredients that I read on the menu, which enticed me in the first place?’ Well when you word it like that...

Like a lot of good quality Chinese restaurants, this has a deceptive appearance. A dodgy name, dated decor and fortune cookies. All of that falls away when you sit in and see families of people enjoying the super efficient, friendly service and the extremely tasty food. Some people think that the efficiency these restaurants show is backed by a desire to get you in and out as quickly as possible. I don’t agree. These guys watch without being intrusive and are there when you need them, because they know that if a desire is felt by the customer, but not met, they have failed themselves and the client.

The duck from here is superb. A bone-in piece is taken to the table and shredded for the customer (very quickly by someone who clearly has years of experience) and served with the usual accompaniments. When I asked how it was cooked, he was happy to answer that it was slowly boiled with flavours such as anise and peppercorns, then deep fried to order (giving the crisp). I never realised this is how it was made. When we thought we were done, another waitress came over and offered to remove the last bits of meat from the bone, giving us one more round of wraps.

The spring rolls were light, tasty, well filled, not greasy and a good size. The main of chicken satay was done hong kong style. Which basically means it is fried in a sauce with veg as opposed to the satay you might know as being barbecued on sticks with a dip. Clean flavours with a smokyness and a good level of heat.

Whenever I have eaten out here, I am always given prawn crackers, even if the order is small. We are always given 1 or 2 more fortune cookies than we need, just in case we are feeding more than it may seem by checking the order. Little touches.

Tasty food and good service = returning customers. Horoscope understands the formula for a successful catering business and I have somewhere to get good Chinese food from on a Friday night. Hallelujah, or should I say 哈利路

2 courses for two excl. drinks £30-35

4.5 Stars NB. All ratings are given with respect to the cuisine and the price range. e.g. a review for 5 stars in £30-40 price range, will not be equivalent in quality to a 5 star restaurant costing £100+

Sunday, 6 March 2011

An 'Old Fashioned' made with Maker's Mark

This drink is well over 100 years old and is a simple, classic recipe.

I would also like to start out by saying that I have had this drink before and thought it was enjoyable enough (mainly because it comprises almost solely of whiskey). However, the Hotel Du Vin in Harrogate recently opened my eyes to the possibilities. The gentleman at the bar painstakingly added the whiskey to the orange peel, bit by bit, muddling, bruising and stirring. Extracting that aroma and making sure that every ml of Whiskey was sweetly infused with lipsmacking and aromatic zest tangs. I told him that any ‘Old Fashioned’ I ordered from here on in, would most likely be an underwhelming experience. He informed me that was “the point”. Attention to detail meant I didn’t regret the £7 fee. However, I knew I could make it home for a lot less.

Most people think Bourbon isn’t much of a sipping whiskey and I suppose you could argue that you’re not exactly having it straight here. But, it is close enough and is the perfect choice for this drink given its oaky sweetness. Pick it up for around £25 at most supermarkets.

On with the show...

½ tsp fudgey brown sugar
A few dashes of angostura bitters
½ orange (zest only – peeled away in one long thin winding strip)
½ small lemon (zest only – peeled away in one long thin winding strip)
3 large ice cubes
50ml Makers Mark Bourbon Whiskey
3 Maraschino Cherries


A long ball ended skewer or cocktail stick
1 Tumbler Glass
Plastic cocktail skewer for the Cherries

Place the sugar and bitters into the tumbler glass and stir into a paste with the cocktail stick. Add the orange and lemon peels and bruise them with the rounded end of the cocktail stick or skewer. Add 2 of the ice cubes and then 10ml of the whiskey, keep stirring, bruising and infusing the zest into the whiskey, 10ml at a time. Once all the whiskey is in the glass at the final ice cube and give it another stir. Garnish with the cherries on a skewer and some decorative winds of thin peel. Sip into heaven.

Devilled Lamb's Kidneys on Toast, with a poached egg

I know this won’t be everyone’s cuppa tea but give it a go if you can. It hasn’t got a massive offal flavour as the strong seasoning helps to balance it with more familiar tastes. This is a British classic which is nutritional, cheap to make and very satisfying.

For the dressing...

2 Tbsp Tomato Puree
1 tsp English Mustard
2 tsp Lemon Juice
A few of dashes of tobasco
1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
Salt & Pepper


1 tsp Vegetable Oil
1 tbsp butter
3 Medium sized lamb’s kidneys (sliced into inch strips)

And finally...

1 Free Range Egg


Combine all the dressing ingredients in a bowl and stir thoroughly.

Put your egg on to poach (about 3-4 minutes for a nice runny yolk). I use these great silicon egg poachers.

Heat the oil in a small frying pan and then add the butter. When it is fully melted, add the kidneys over a medium high heat and fry for 1-2 minutes until nearly cooked. Throw in the dressing and simmer for another 30 seconds to 1 minute until the kidneys are cooked through. Too little cooking and they could taste of raw offal, too much cooking and they’re tough. Be Careful.

Serve the kidneys with the pan juices over 2 slices of thick granary bread, generously buttered. The poached egg sits on top. In the image below I have tossed in a few halved cherry tomatoes with the sauce, but only because I had them lying around.