I have long been an admirer of Nigel Haworth’s Clog and Billycock and have had the pleasure a fair few times. Nigel is Chef Proprietor of Northcote, the Michelin starred restaurant, hotel and cookery school in Lancashire. The Northcote Group also own Ribble Valley Inns (RVI) a small group of high quality rural pubs which focus on good food made using carefully sourced local ingredients.
RVI menus aim to capture the essence of a region through its traditional food and drink. Lancashire favourites such as lamb hotpot, Morecambe Bay Shrimps, black peas, Lancashire cheese, proper piccalilli and pork scratchings have all been brought back to basics to taste like they’re supposed to, when they were made in family homes and not mass produced in factories.
Now I’m pleased to discover that RVI have finally arrived in Cheshire with The Nag’s Head at Haughton – although they’ve picked an area so rural it’s the kind of place you’d head for when you fancy a drive out into the country or are en route further down south.
Building a menu around local seasonal ingredients is not a new thing in Cheshire. My work with Taste Cheshire has given me the opportunity to discover some fabulous local pubs doing just that; David Mooney at all his New Moon Pub Co venues, George & Dragon in Holmes Chapel andRing o Bells in the rural part of Chester to name but a few. Even the multi award winning Yew Tree in Bunbury, only a mere 10 minute stumble away from The Nag’s Head, is able to point to the very field their vegetables came from that morning.
However, I’m a fan of RVI , so have been keen to find out what Nigel Haworth makes of Cheshire’s food heritage. It’s been lovely over the past few months to follow tweets from local cheese makers, honey producers, breweries and The Cheshire Smokehouse excited by a visit from Nigel and his team sourcing ingredients for the menu. ‘Locally sourced’ is not a buzz phrase for the big man, it’s a fundamental part of his work.
We were invited to have a bit of Sunday lunch the weekend before The Nag’s Head officially opened on June 9th. It’s had a complete refurbishment, exposing genuine oak beams and stone brick walls which they’ve cosied up with subtly equine themed furniture. As in the other RVI venues, framed images of local producers are dotted about on various walls and on place mats.
Lunch was complimentary but we were asked to pay for drinks. I couldn’t resist their house cocktail ‘Bloomin Nag’ a Bloom Gin based concoction with strawberry liqueur. It was nicely balanced with a smooth taste like Vimto and an assassins grip so stealthy I didn’t realise it had got to me until I asked my husband if I could try some of his ‘Mone Barrow’ with my bread.
We’d scoured the menu before we got there but they’d made the sensible ‘opening weekend’ decision to offer a limited Sunday menu rather than the whole shaboodle so we’ll have to return for dishes such as ‘buttermilk turnips with smokehouse pork loin’ and ‘Slow cooked venison shoulder with smoked almond crumb’.
There’s usually a devoted children’s menu, but this time our kids were offered smaller versions of the main menu, ours were thrilled to be offered their first ever prawn cocktail. I love the free RVI kiddies puzzle pack (The Ribble Rabble) which includes things like Nigel’s recipe for biscuits and word searches based around healthy vegetables and local specialities.
Husband started with ‘Angus Beef Tartare with Cauliflower and Horseradish, Roast
Mone Barrow Marrowbone and Sourdough toast’(£7.50) The cauliflower was served as both a puree and pickled shavings. I rarely get flummoxed by culinary processes but to successfully shave a cauliflower is no mean feat. There must have been some kind of blanching and brining which show Northcote influences. The tartare was topped with a quail yolk in the shell which caused me to obsess a bit over what they did with all the quail egg whites.
My starter of ‘Burts Cheese Eggy Bread with Heirloom Tomatoes, Sweetheart Cabbage and Split Lemon Dressing’ (£6.50) also showed highbrow technical influences. The shredded cabbage was lightly pickled whilst several varieties of tomato were served roasted, pickled or dried and preserved. The slab of eggy bread was light and fluffy and I was glad they’d not mucked about too much with Claire Burt’s excellent semi-soft blue cheese which droopily sat above the rest like a mottled high court judge on a warm day.
As he’d opted for beef to start and didn’t fancy battered hake or poached chicken, husband chose Lancashire Hotpot and pickled red cabbage (£13) It looks like you can take the chef out of Lancashire… but this, of course, was as good as it gets. If aliens came down and demanded that humans nominated someone to show them the best example of a Lancashire Hotpot, we’d pretty much nominate Nigel’s - although I suspect my husband would have preferred a portion twice as big.
Traditional Roast Beef brought some of the nicest beef I have ever tasted. When I told my husband that Nigel had chosen to keep to his Morecambe butcher rather than source Cheshire beef, he adopted his smugface. He likes to spend many a long winter night telling me that Lancashire vegetables and beef are better than anything produced in Cheshire because of the perfect growing conditions and alluvium soil (zzzz) It seems Nigel agrees. Whilst the beef was remarkable, the rest was only ok; potatoes a bit pallid, Yorkshire pudding a bit soggy and cauliflower cheese. If it wasn’t for the mange tout the dish might have been more beige than a Gregg’s shop window.
I decided to forgo pudding but my daughter tucked into strawberry sundae with tiny perfect meringues (made with quail egg whites perhaps?), chocolate brownie and strawberry ice cream from Manchester based Ginger’s Comfort Emporium. I am a fan of theirs but my 6yr old boy found his Pure Origin Chocolate ice cream a bit too serious and dense for his childlike preference.
Husband had the cheese board which represented the best of Cheshire (Chorlton Cheshire, Bourne’s Smoked Cheshire and Burt’s Drunken Blue) which left him mumbling slightly about Lancashire again. I suggest they also introduce some of Anne Connelly’s Federia an Alpine style cheese made near Malpas.
The Nag’s Head have an outside seating area in a pretty garden.
What with The Hollies Farm Shop and Blakemere shopping village nearby, I’d recommend a drive over that way for the day, stopping at The Nag for lunch or dinner but if you try the ‘Bloomin Nag’, you’ll have to order a cab.
The Nag’s Head, Long Lane, Haughton Moss, Near Tarporley, Cheshire, CW6 9RN
(All photographs used in this blog are mine apart from the interior and bar shots which were supplied by the PR)
I’d wanted to go on a family bowling trip for ages but my 6yr old son hasn’t quite learnt the art of losing graciously, so has a tendency to go nuclear within seconds. This can be swiftly dealt with by a sharp index finger to the off button and a ‘go to your room’ with Wii bowling at home, but was it time to risk going public?
Also, how do competitive grown-ups share a lane with children? When I last went bowling, children were given cumbersome foam tubes to stop bowling balls veering into the gutter, but that’s far too restrictive for the style of play we adults like to call ‘humiliation and risk of divorce by bowling ball’.
Fortunately, I was gifted an opportunity to find out how it all worked with a timely invitation to try the new menu at Dog Bowl on Whitworth Street, Manchester. As it happens, the wonders of modern technology have rendered foam bumpers a thing of the past and they’ve been replaced by a mechanical guard that rises for the kids and lowers again when adults want to bowl properly. Dog Bowl also provides lighter weight bowling balls and an easily moveable frame so families can share a lane yet no-one’s game is compromised.
We were all convinced we could answer their ‘Penny Lane Challenge’ where 3 strikes in a row gets you your next game for only 1p, but after 2 consecutive strikes, the pressure became unbearable.
Let’s just skim over the details of our particular game, but my son behaved beautifully whilst his older sister lost her mojo when I suggested she was better using a regular underarm technique rather than hurling it towards the ceiling. My husband and I both got a Strike on the first bowl before my luck went downhill, seeping away with each subsequently pathetic shot until I was sorry I hadn’t taken advantage of the electric bumpers myself.
Still, for over 18’s there’s always consolation by cocktail and halfway through my Blood Heart (Bacardi Oakheart, Chambord, basil, fresh strawberries and lime) I realised I didn’t care so much after all.
I’m probably shooting myself in the foot by telling you this, but if you are bowling, go early. We got there when it opened at 12pm on a Saturday and had the place to ourselves for a glorious half hour before the other 4 lanes started filling up with teenagers swinging their hair and their ‘tude’s all over their place.
So, lunch. As you’d expect, the menu is based mostly around Tex-Mex Americana; chips and dips, wings and burgers and smoky, sticky finger licking deep fried things. Dog Bowl carefully source ingredients locally and everything is prepared from fresh in their own kitchens which, for a bowling alley that serves USA style food, is refreshing.
The children’s menu (under 12 yrs) offers 3 courses for £6.50. Our kids bypassed starters and both opted for a tortilla pizza which was covered in enough gooey melted cheese to keep them happy, and absolutely no green vegetable matter at all – which was fine by them.
They followed this with a chocolate brownie, vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce which, as you can see in the photo got a 6 yr old’s finger in it quicker than your average camera’s shutter speed.
I know most bloggers go crazy for all that on trend Deep Southern food, but it can leave me feeling heavy, like I’ve swallowed a bowling ball. Afternoons spent slumped in carbohydrate induced sedation are not ideal when you have kids, so I was keen to find a lighter alternative.
Dog Bowl have a range of ‘little plates’ if you don’t want to commit to a full meal; bar snacks such as nachos, quesadillas and pork crackling designed to eat so you can still keep one hand on your ball.
BBQ Shrimp Skewers with Cajun Spices and BBQ butter (£5.50) were a good opener but greasy with the bread underneath soaking up the bbq butter like a sponge.
We ordered smoked chicken wings which are available in numbers between 6 and 20 to share or not. They come slathered in one of 5 home-made sauces ranging from sweet to very hot. We picked the one in the middle, ‘Chipotle’ which was full of both tang and spice as described on the menu. These wings came from chickens who had been working out, with big bulging birdy biceps so a portion of 6 was actually plenty to share, despite me obviously wanting to initially go for 20 – for myself.
Main courses as you’d expect, feature hearty hamburgers and meaty sandwiches with a couple of vegetarian options. My husband ordered chicken fajitas with 4 tortillas, guacamole, salsa and sour cream. There’s something so satisfyingly child-like about constructing your own fajita and these were pretty good, although another tortilla wouldn’t have gone amiss with the generous amount of chicken.
One of the two salads on offer ‘Smoked chicken and bacon’ was full of interesting bits and filled me up enough to keep me in an upright position for the rest of the afternoon but not over stuffed.
We were too full for desserts, so I can’t tell you much about them.
I recommend you book yourselves into Dog Bowl for a Saturday morning family bowling challenge with lunch once in a while. This bowling alley is owned by the people behind Black Dog Ballroom and you can choose to do any combination of bowling/not bowling/eating/not eating and drinking there.
Despite The Black Dog traditionally being a symbolic representation of depression cited by luminaries such as the great Winston Churchill and the maudlin but sweet voiced singer Nick Drake, in this case it was actually the opposite.
Dog Bowl, 57 Whitworth Street West, Manchester, M1 5WW Tel: 0161 228 2888
Ooh, a blog about a London restaurant, the world is really short of those.
Pipe down cynical self, because I actually haven’t written any yet. I’d also never been to a Michelin starred Indian restaurant before, so was curious as to whether it was going to be all crushed poppadom dust and lentil caviar.
Obviously I’d tried to get into Gymkhana, but since Fay Maschler gave it a 5 star review in the Evening Standard, that’s now harder to get into than a wet pair of size 0 skinny jeans. I called to book a couple of weeks before our visit but they could only squeeze us in at 5.30pm. As I’m only just wiping the grease off my chin from lunch around that time of day, we decided instead to dine with its older sister Trishna in Marylebone Village.
Trishna’s website describes the ‘informal and sociable atmosphere… with a focus on convivial dining’ and mentioned it was ‘not your average curry night’ which helped to sell it to the husband and minimalise any eye rolling in regard to him ‘doing one of my food things.’
The double fronted restaurant is divided into several wood panelled dining rooms all enhanced by the most wonderful smells; aromatic spices so fragrant they would make the Bisto Kids change religion. We decided to choose from the a la carte menu but there are also various multi course ‘Taste of Trishna’ set menus with or without matching wine flights.
Poppadoms ‘Trishna style’ arrived whilst we were narrowing down our menu choices. A basket filled with different textured shards complete with mango chutney and a tomato and shrimp chutney so intense it was more like umami’s mammy.
Restricting ourselves to only one starter each was almost painful, so we narrowed it down to three between two of us.
‘Haldi Chiperones’ - crispy fried baby squid coated in a lightly spiced batter of turmeric and fennel seed, topped with crunchy fresh samphire (£8.50)
‘Quail pepper fry’ with Keralan spices, lots of black pepper and Indian onion (£9.00)
And from the Tandoor selection ‘Gilafi Duck Seekh Kebab’ with green chilli and spiced pineapple chutney (£10.00) which I’d wanted after reading the menu online.
They’d listed the green chilli first as a dominant component, then warned us that it was spicy hot both when we’d ordered and when it was served. Let me assure you, I can hold my own when it comes to chilli and my husband laughs in the face of the Scoville scale, but turning up the heat dial to 13 didn’t do it that many favours. The heavy green chilli overpowered the meat like a pumped up Godzilla on a duck shoot and rendered the meat almost unidentifiable, which was a shame as it had great texture.
Trishna specialises in the coastal cuisine of south-west India and seafood is carefully sourced from the best, sustainable suppliers on the Cornish, Dorset, and Scottish coasts which is why Dorset Brown Crab with butter, pepper and wild garlic is a great example of a typical Trishna dish.
At £22.50 it’s the most expensive main course but we found it reasonably good value for money. The crab meat had been removed from the shell but there was lots of it, so I assume one portion came from more than one crab. The white and dark crab meat mixed with butter and subtle spices rendered it richer than a Russian oligarch whose numbers have just come up on the lottery.
‘Andhra Lamb Masala’ with curry leaves and coastal spices (£20.00) was an excellent home style curry where the thick, rich sauce had been reduced right down until it clung to the tender pieces of boneless slow cooked lamb.
As well as perfectly cooked basmati rice, we’d ordered the Duck Keema Naan with cucumber raita (£6.00) because it’s such an original sounding dish, but the filling was the same as that in the Seek Kebab so I’d recommend you choose one or the other.
Much as we were tempted by desserts, which included delights such as ‘Chocolate pista-cashew chikki cake with peanut jaggery ice cream’, we were done in. I thought the After Dinner Cocktail list was inspired and reluctantly dragged myself away vowing to return for every single one of them.
Service was that perfect balance between relaxed and formal with obvious in-depth knowledge of the dishes. At times though, I did feel victim to the ‘up sell’ with our waiter keenly pushing tasting menus, wine flights, bottled water and desserts. I saw a little light go out in his eyes every time I chose not to have something he tried to sell us.
What with Trishna’s pivotal location amongst the much moneyed of Marylebone whose Indian takeaways would be incomplete without gold leaf, I don’t think they need to depend too much on my occasional Northern tourist cash.
It’s the start of a long and happy process for me to compare Trishna with the likes of Tamarind, Benares or Gymkhana and to understand what qualifies one excellent Indian restaurant over another in the eyes of the Michelin guide. However, I do know from having judged awards myself, that with such a rich palette of flavour combinations that actually stimulate feelings of pleasure in the brain, Indian restaurants are usually the ones to beat.
15 -17 Blandford Street
London W1U 3DG
T | +44 (0)20 7935 5624
E | firstname.lastname@example.org
Three years ago Chef David Mooney (pictured above) and restaurateur Paul Newman began their New Moon Pub Co brand by renovating ‘The Lord Binning' in Kelsall, Cheshire. Their simple aim was to breath life back into an old village pub making it a welcoming hub for the local community, whilst serving great food people wanted to eat, using locally sourced ingredients.
Since then, they’ve opened 3 more Cheshire pubs; The Old Sessions House, Knutsford, The Hanging Gate, Weaverham, and The Montgomery on The Wirral.
It’s going well, the formula works, but the plan was always to open in Manchester.
When David went up to receive his ‘Outstanding Contribution to the Industry’ award at last year’s ‘Chester Food, Drink and Lifestyle' Awards, they introduced him by saying that if you cut him in half he'd have Cheshire running through his centre, but that’s not actually true. Although he has lived and worked in Cheshire for decades and uses a lot of local Cheshire produce on his menus, he’s a Manc through and through, so this opening on home turf means a lot to him.
I don’t want to go into details (because I don’t know them) but I suspect watching his former business partner Tim Bacon hoover up the Manchester restaurant scene recently is also providing plenty of motivation for Paul Newman to succeed in the city centre.
Paul is one of those people who really understands how to work social media and you’ll find him all over various virtual platforms. He’s even created an app so people can access discounts and special offers for all New Moon Co pubs via their smartphone.
So here it is, Manchester’s Beef & Pudding, officially open to the public on Friday 4th April after a week-long soft launch. Again they’ve chosen a previously unloved, sticky carpeted pub ‘The Crown’, and injected a bit of New Moon Co love into it. A total refurb has given this perfectly situated but neglected pub an urban edge softened by a lot of wood and that fashionable ‘all things to all people’ seating including banquettes, regular tables and high bar stools.
My day job with Taste Cheshire is to promote local producers and Cheshire’s better dining establishments and David Mooney is a fellow champion. So I’m overjoyed to see he’s included a lot of the good stuff on the Manchester menu; water from Peckforton Hills, Tatton Brewery ale, bread and desserts from Williamson’s of Castle bakery, Hunter’s Gin and locally sourced meat.
The menu is Cheshire first, Northern second, and Best of British third.
The Beef & Pudding kitchen is headed by Nic Duncan who previously lead the team that won the Observer Food Magazine’s best Sunday lunch at The Parlour in Chorlton.
Cocktails are a big feature here, as is the carefully chosen wine list and Tattinger Champagne, so they’re aiming to attract city centre drinkers as much as diners with a decent appetite.
To start, I chose Dublin Bay Prawn Thermidore with organic spinach and garlic toast £9.95 - 5 juicy prawns bound in a light mornay sauce which reflects David’s classical culinary influences (Raymond Blanc, Marco PW) The whole thing is covered with scorched Gruyère and served in a scallop shell.
'Nearly A Pig's Ear!' £7.25 features an earthy round of Lancashire black pudding, pig cheek, and a curry scented lentil and Tatton ale gravy - a proper iron-rich stomach liner.
Although mainly what you’d describe as ‘hearty’, the menu also features a range of sharing planks (made for New Moon Co by Cheshire’s brilliant Bark and Burr) as well as salads, pasta dishes and steaks.
For my main, I chose Poussin Curry £13.95. It’s not really on to judge a new menu practised at a soft launch but it’s likely someone in the kitchen got the hair dryer treatment from Nic once I told her about my poussin’s ‘supermodel’ proportions - all legs no breasts. I’d also ordered a side of vinegared black peas which worked as perfectly as pulses do with curry.
My husband used to work for the architect that designed Manchester’s Beetham Tower and remembers it when it was just a rough sketch on the back of a beer mat so he had to choose the namesake burger.
In a town becoming saturated with burgers ‘you’ve never seen before’, ‘The Beef’Ham Tower Burger” £15.95 is doing its best to hold its own. From the ground floor upwards it’s a house made burger, sweet chilli brisket, horseradish, suet pudding with mushy peas served with chip shop gravy, onion rings and salad. It might be a nice touch to top it with an olive in a nod to the chap that owns the top floor triplex complete with it’s own high rise olive grove - I kid you not.
This towering treat is sandwiched between a brioche bun and served with dripping chips and a squeezy pipette of ‘howling at the moon’ sauce. Their own recipe chilli sauce is made with scorchingly hot Scotch Bonnet peppers and, although we’re no wimps when it comes to heat, it still needs refining to take the sharp edges off a bit.
The desserts are much the same as they are across all New Moon Pub Co sites; mainly Northern classics such as Bakewell tart, sticky toffee pudding and Eccles cake with cheese, all prepared at David’s stepson’s Cheshire bakery. They also serve Mrs Dowson’s excellent Ribble Valley ice Cream but I’d have been happy just pouring that jug of proper crème anglais all over myself.
Children’s menu available - No McRubbish.
If you want to make someone happy, gift vouchers are available.
Beef and Pudding
37 Booth Street off Fountain Street
0161 237 3733
I got an email the other day inviting me to some new BBQ thing in Manchester.
Originally based in Leeds , Red’s True Barbecue have given the old Livebait site off Albert Square a £1.1 million makeover to create a 185 cover restaurant devoted to authentic ‘low n’ slow’ cooking. The last noteworthy thing Leeds got before Manchester was Eric Cantona, which brings me nicely to the point that anyone putting the word ‘Red’ in a Mancunian restaurant name is immediately at risk of pissing off the blue half of the city.
“…we would love you to come down before the public opening so we can give you an exclusive peek at how we do things. Our pit masters will give you a masterclass in our kitchens including tasting various cuts of meats, rubbing and trimming some cuts.”
When a Yorkshire ‘pit master’ offers to give you a masterclass, you’d expect to have to don a hardhat, grab a canary and get down a mine.
Well I now laugh in the face of me laughing in the face of such an opportunity and I see the light - £20 grand’s-worth of neon lights actually. 2 of the 3 owners I met were not bandwagon-jumping Yorkshiremen but meat-worshipping South Africans.
These men have researched authentic barbecue and smoking techniques so thoroughly that what they don’t know can be written on the back of a stamp with a thick marker. A lot of animals have sacrificed their lives for Red’s to have developed what they see as the perfect recipe rubs, optimum smoking times and temperatures for barbecuing specific cuts of meat. This is not some woolly Anglo-attempt at Americana; this is the true science of carnivorous combustion.
Co-owner Scott Munro met us at the bar for a cocktail and a bag of home-made jerky before giving us a tour of the restaurant which is a bit like walking round TGI Friday’s on a bad acid trip whilst wearing shades.
Red’s has been decked out in an urban industrial style with the restaurant’s intestines on display for all to see; distressed walls, exposed piping, fenced off open storage, purposefully cracked tiles, girders, wood, brick, bare bulbs, metal.
There’s a main dining area and bar out front, with satellite offshoots of smaller dining rooms and ‘the rub room’ - a private area for slaw munching ‘slebs overlooking the kitchen. VIP diners sit in a booth around a metal slab that has a sluice drain in the middle of it, like Jeffry Dahmer’s dining table.
In the back kitchens Scott and his fabulously named co-owner/chef Clint Britz showed us 3 huge smokers with a total capacity for rotating 1300 lbs of meat every day, amounting to 20-25 tons per month. Nothing is pre-prepared and held in a fridge.
In a mind-blowing level of detail, they have identified which are the perfect woods to create the ideal type of smoke, optimum breeds of cattle and best butchery techniques. They even went to see Melissa Cookston for advice - three-time World Champion BBQ Pitmaster and the only female to have won the prestigious Memphis in May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest.
They let me have a go at cutting their St. Louis ‘square’ pork ribs whilst dazzling us with information about their 20 hr ‘Dalmatian’ rub (salt & pepper based), the ‘circle of truth’ smoky ring around their slow cooked brisket, and how varying proportions of sugar and fat break down during long cooking. Red’s also make their own beef jerky, pork scratchings, Texas style smoked sausages and smoked peppered bacon.
It’s not just the meat they micro-manage. They have obsessed over burger buns for the perfect sweet/savoury ratio which they lightly toast to get the correct absorption of juices without it falling apart. The ‘dirty sauce’ they squeeze onto their burgers has been developed with a range of spices including aromatic fennel seeds whilst their ‘Tangy Deep South Slaw’ is made with vinaigrette, not mayo. At the tables customers can choose to add various homemade BBQ and chilli sauces.
You can’t just show a rabbit to a greyhound without it going into a mental frenzy and so it is with food bloggers. After a dizzying hour being aurally tantalised with descriptions of juices, rubs and marinades, we needed feeding. Scott perched us at a table with a bird’s eye view of the kitchen and ordered a couple of burgers. Burgers are almost a side thought here, so I’m keen to go back and try slow cooked dishes like Texas beef brisket and the long beef ribs with a ‘divine side’ of 12hr BBQ pit beans.
‘The Pit Burger’ (£15.95) includes two flame-grilled over hickory steak patties topped with sliced brisket, pulled pork, bacon, cheese, pickle, tomato, lettuce, dirty sauce, American mustard and BBQ sauce stacked on a glazed brioche bun. All full flavoured if a little on the salty side – it took a couple of cocktails to wash it all down, but that might just be me.
They’ve also introduced Manchester to 'The Donut Burger' (£12.95) - two house-made 100% steak burgers, melted cheese, smoked peppered bacon, dirty sauce and deep fried crispy onions, between two glazed donuts. Apparently Melissa Cookston’s restaurant only uses one split donut – the lightweights. At 2000 calories, it’s a bit gimmicky for me but the photo I uploaded of it on social media got such a huge response immediately, it’s working as a hook to get Red’s noticed.
So far, Red’s True Barbecue have taken no short cuts – the fit out, the research, the recipes, the suppliers, the menu, the website, the marketing. They open in Manchester on February 13th and plan to open another two Red’s this year (including Nottingham) aiming to have around 15 to 18 restaurants in total over the next five years.
They have thrown down the heat proof oven mitt, does Manchester need another edgy restaurant selling burgers and pulled pork, or has it developed a taste for True Barbecue?
Red’s True Barbecue, 22 Lloyd Street, Albert Square, M2 5WA
Tel: 0161 820 9140 e: email@example.com
Mon-Wed 12pm - 12am
Thur, Fri & Sat 12pm - 2am
Sun 12pm - 10pm
A friend who is a proper food critic, writing proper reviews for proper publications invited me to go to Manchester House, which is so prohibitively expensive for someone like me with
kids a limited disposable income, I grabbed the opportunity.
The bar on the 12th floor offers wraparound views of Manchester, which is ok if you enjoy noseying into office blocks, but for me, a great view is more Tuscany than Trafford. The cocktail menu weighs the same as a small dog and lists the name of every barman that invented every cocktail for the last hundred years.
Diners are served canapés in the bar with pre-dinner drinks. Ours included spoonfuls of crab with lemongrass, beetroot and foie gras macaron and a wafer thin film of red pepper.
Down in the 2nd floor restaurant, bread was served as a course in itself; light Onion and Bacon Brioche with a quenelle of whipped sweet onion butter. Thanks to modern kitchen gadgetry, the accompanying broth tasted like packet onion soup which was nostalgically comforting, though extraneous.
The kitchen knew my friend was there to review so sent out a few courses before providing what we’d ordered. These are offered generally as an ‘extended a la carte’ option at £15 to bridge the £95, 12 course tasting menu and a standard three course choice.
Maintaining a conversation was impossible. When waiting staff weren’t serving or reciting the involved technicalities of each course, they were pouring water or popping back throughout the meal to keenly require our opinion of each dish whilst we were still forming one.
First we were served a pretty bowl of (out of season) Chilled Broad Bean Soup with goats cheese.
Next was Razor clam, Squid and Pepper. Yellow pepper puree on a razor clam shell, tiny deep fried tentacles and steamed clam, eye-catching squares of black squid ink jelly with nasturtium leaves and flowers.
We especially enjoyed the next course of Braised Snails, Potato and Parsley. Slow cooking rendered the snails rich, dark and soft, under a layer of bright green parsley and a topping of lightly whipped, perfectly seasoned potato puree, and a potato crisp.
The mainly monochromatic Frog’s Leg Kiev is visually impressive and I paused to give a mental note of thanks to the chef who must spend hours French trimming and coating hundreds of them. I could have done without the dehydrated parsley fairy carpet tiles and the frog-gristle but this well thought out and stunning interpretation of classic components illustrates why parsley, frog’s legs and garlic are such BFFs.
Truffle-poached chicken with baby artichokes was lightly poached chicken breast under a dramatic swathe of crouton topped with potatoes paysanne and micro herbs. The well dressed globe artichoke stood to the side waiting our attention like a gawky teenager at a church dance. A squat ball of frozen goat’s cheese lurked, waiting to play a trick on us. Its acidity cut through well and the powdered truffle coating added depth to the whole dish, but its iciness contributed nothing.
Turbot cooked in fermented cabbage with Morteaux sausage was a less successful melange of various culinary influences. The delicate fish is topped with light oriental flavours, nori seaweed and samphire which clashed with the lower half of the dish. The thinly sliced sausage, red wine sauce and abundant sauerkraut jarred like an over-enthusiastic German gate crashing a Zen garden.
Fire-roasted lamb, pine stock and sheep’s cheese was another dish of two halves. Our waitress whipped off a conical lid to reveal two thick, juicy lamb cutlets and a smoking piece of hot coal which she deftly removed with tongs – I’d hate to be there when that manoeuvre goes wrong. The perfectly cooked lamb was the nicest I’ve eaten in this country and the delicate smoky infusion made me wonder when the Danish are going to start mass producing lamb bacon (baaa-con?)
In a separate bowl was a messy looking soup of regurgitated pine nuts, lamb faggots and sheep cheese gnocci.
The desserts sound pretty ambiguous so choosing is pot luck. Our waitress put on a bit of a show for my friend but my view of Peach, pistachio and milk chocolate was obscured by her elbow so I can only imagine that what was taking an interminably long time was her pouring something into the middle of the chocolate. The milk chocolate mousse was heavenly and the peach sauce was like nectar but together? Not so much. Pistachio came in the form of a deep fried coated wodge of infused crème patisserie and was so horrid it made us both do a simultaneous gurn, the likes of which you’d never recover from if you were there on a first date.
Milk and Honey is a dessert with bling. We dived into the frozen milk bubbles first. Underneath was a gelatine rich vanilla shard and gilded honey like spilled Barry M nail varnish. I was saving the caramel cube until last, imagining the rich dulce de leche wonders within, but it actually just tasted a bit mass produced and aerated as if the caramel and lemon flavours were having a battle of politeness in order to not outshine each other.
To finish, we were presented with a box of multi-coloured, slightly mis-shaped macarons. Their idea of a lasting impression of our meal was to offer something that’s readily available at any farmer’s market. Perhaps the gadgetry used to make the red pepper wafer canapé could be used to make a range of flavoured fruit papers to finish instead?
Backer Tim Bacon and head chef Aiden Byrne have made no secret of wanting to bring a Michelin Star back to Manchester but to do that they’d have to consistently lead and not just regurgitate ideas. This was a meal of highs and lows. To reach the level they desire, they’d need to originate and simplify.
Aiden Byrne does not want to have reached the pinnacle of his career at 22 when he was the youngest chef to win a Michelin star. He wants that to be when he won his first star. He’s clearly pulling out all the stops and giving it everything, but I can’t help thinking he’s been given a faulty brief.
I‘m just not sure who Manchester House has been pitched at. The young moneyed crowd generally aren’t all that bothered about fancy shmancy food and the rest of us can find better ways to get value out of £95 excluding drinks.
Tower 12 ,
18-22 Bridge Street,
0161 835 2557
Twitter - @McrHouse
What with its relative dominance in matters of football and music, contributions towards the industrial revolution and things like ‘inventing computers’, we Mancs seem to have collectively adopted the attitude that things should automatically be ours by right. That’s why we’ve been increasingly narked by the fact that we’ve not yet been showered with hospitality accolades for our cuisine. There have been some big attempts to change this recently; God has thrown a gigantious wad of cash at Aiden Byrne to open Manchester House and Simon Rogan has turned his 2* attentions towards The Midland Hotel. Rogan’s generally well received reworking of The French opened to the public in March but that wasn’t how the story started.
Someone at Q Hotels saw the need to re-invigorate the dining options at The Midland so charged General Manager Michael Magrane with the job of sorting it out. It was the larger 160-seater ‘Colony’ restaurant at the front of the hotel that was the initial focus for change. Mike told me he’d tentatively approached a few ‘named’ chefs but all seemed happy to have their name in lights, pocket the cash and just drop by every so often (I’m paraphrasing as he was much more diplomatic).
A visit to L’Enclume and a chat with Simon Rogan, who was already considering an outpost in Manchester at the time, convinced Mike that he’d finally found a man who understood his vision - he just had to agree to throw in The French to seal the deal.
Simon Rogan told me that, despite his love of English heritage dishes and the purity of foraged and home grown ingredients, this larger restaurant gave him an opportunity to create more internationally inspired dishes. The name ‘Mr Cooper’s House and Garden’ reflects his back to basics starting point approach. Before becoming the location for this giant terracotta clad landmark, the site of The Midland was previously owned and occupied by a local industrialist named Mr Cooper.
The interior designers have run amok with the brief by dividing the space into areas which represent different rooms, each with its own atmosphere. Mums would probably enjoy sitting in the garden twiddling an imaginary parasol whilst dads would perhaps be more comfortable in the study discussing the abolition of slavery and the new fangled penny farthing.
Initially we were seated in ‘the garden’ area complete with painted wooden gazebo and tree, but someone who likes having ideas more than they like eating had taken the garden theme too far by running an overpowering rose scent through the air conditioning system. It was like being slowly suffocated in the perfumed bosom of an over-enthusiastic auntie, so we had to ask to be moved to the study hoping that didn’t reek of pipe smoke and old books.
They’ve already addressed a few initial teething problems such as the menus which have been lovingly designed to be seasonal collectors’ items. Unfortunately in shiny light, the shiny words on shiny paper can’t actually be read by the human eye so they’re being re-thought.
There was no issue with the menu contents which contain lots of things that I wanted to eat at a reasonable price; starters range between £4 - £8.50 and rib steak is the top end main course at £19. I’d already seen a few early blogs featuring the pretty ‘smoked eel torte, lovage and pork belly’, so we decided to share ‘chicken wings in pomegranate molasses, chives and sepia noodles’ (£6.50) and ‘Nick’s meatballs with hyssop, baked apricots and tzatziki’ (£6). Apparently Nick was Rogan’s first boss in his native Southampton and I’m sure he’s flattered to hear that his balls have been held in such high esteem by Rogan for all these years.
For our mains we chose the uncompromisingly meaty Cumbrian rib steak, truffle pudding and purple potato latkes as the sample canapé version we tried at the launch party left us wanting more. I ordered halibut baked in cabbage leaf with broad beans and vin blanc (£16) as I’m a fan of the humble cabbage; it’s versatile and would keep you alive in the event of a global food shortage.
The first few mouthfuls were very pleasant; however, I think everyone in the kitchen had thrown some salt in the mash just in case no-one else had seasoned it. As a result, the potatoes turned out to be saltier than the sea. Usually when dishes are a bit salty I describe them politely as ‘highly seasoned’, but if I’d have lain out in the sun after eating it, I’d have turned into a kipper.
I’d have been happy to order anything from the dessert menu but was very pleased with the caramel tart with mascarpone ice cream (£6) which had the perfect sweetness, gloss and wobble of a true 50’s Hollywood starlet. The white chocolate cake with pineapple-cardamom compote (£6.50) was less successful as the white chocolate and cardamom were a bit shy. The cake was more like a sophisticated school dinner pudding and you could tell they’d gone to great lengths to push a fresh pineapple through modern kitchen gadgetry so it’d come out tasting just like a tinned version.
Service was a perfect balance between attentive, formal and relaxed.
I’m rooting for The Midland Hotel and look forward to spreading the word about the gastro weekend offers General Manager Mike is planning. His idea is to incorporate a stay in the hotel and the opportunity to dine at both The French and Mr Coopers with time to go into Manchester for lunch or dinner and discover we have indeed come a long way from whippet pies and Vimto.
Mr Cooper’s House and Garden
THE MIDLAND HOTEL, PETER STREET
MANCHESTER, M60 2DS
0161 932 4128
My husband is very suspicious of restaurants that are fawned upon by bloggers and likes to pontificate that ‘wherever people see beauty, there is already ugliness.’ I’m not so hardcore and once the restaurant in question has gone though my ‘bullshit filter’, I end up with a small list of places I must make an effort to visit.
Yuzu, the authentic Japanese restaurant on Faulkner Street, in China Town, Manchester, has been at the top of my ‘must try’ list for a while, but I was apprehensive. When you set yourself up as an authority on food, you don’t want to expose any culinary weakness, but *hands up* I don’t know that much about genuine Japanese cuisine.
Sure, I can eat peas with chopsticks and can tell my katsu from my daikon. I even know what a Yuzu is, but having never been to Japan, I couldn’t tell you whether it’s as authentic as they claim to be.
Yuzu very purposely doesn’t serve sushi as proper sushi apparently has to be hand crafted by a master sushi maker after years of careful training rather than rolled up by a recent art school graduate and shoved on a conveyor belt. What they do do is sashimi using thin slices of the freshest of fresh fish, wasabi and rice. Sushi in kit form.
They also serve dishes I am familiar with such as yakitori and goyza and everything is made on the premises by hand with no short cuts. Yuzu with its light, fresh cuisine is the absolute polar opposite of the ‘burger-under-a-hot-dog-wrapped-in-a-chilli-filled-tortilla-with cheese-and-deep-fried’ restaurants in the Northern Quarter.
Yuzu is a small wooden restaurant with a Zen-like atmosphere as you’d imagine a Japanese Pixie Hollow. It has about 3 or 4 tables, and an L-shaped breakfast bar screening off the kitchen - pity as I would have loved to watch their master sashimi Chef work his magic. We turned up just after it opened around 5.30pm but any later than that I advise you book.
Obviously, I also worried about leaving hungry. Japanese women in general are willowy and delicate and yet I have the appetite of a Sumo wrestler on a fast day. We considered the menu over sparkling mineral water and an Asahi Black lager (£3.60) whilst picking over a bowl of salted edamame beans (£2.20) for a nutritional punch. We shared a portion of 3 Gyoza (£3.90) which are lightly fried dumplings packed with juicy prawns, garlic, ginger and cabbage. The dumpling pastry was clearly hand made by someone who knows what they’re doing as it didn’t have the faux silkiness you find from mass produced wrapping cases.
For main I chose Kaisen Don (£14.50) in a large donburi bowl. Have you ever heard of a more macho sounding dish? I chose it for its butchness. No-one’s going to leave hungry after eating a Kaisen Don are they? I mean if you got a visit from Kaisen Don and Don Buri you’d feel lucky to be leaving at all, especially with all your limbs.
This Kaisen Don turned out to be a substantial portion of fresh scallops, tuna, organic salmon and sweet prawn sashimi served over sushi rice and garnished with shredded seaweed. Having been a chef I can work out how most things have been made and can identify layers of flavour but my melon has been well and truly twisted by the scallops. I know sashimi is raw but I know that scallops, even fresh ones, are high risk, so what I don’t know is how they were prepared. They were especially silky but were they raw or cooked? In fact all the fresh fish was smooth and silky on the tongue, but those lovely scallops were silkier than a silk worm washed in Sunsilk.
My husband had a portion of assorted tempura (£7.50) which is to deep frying what ballet is to twerking. The light tempura batter coated a couple of fat prawns and vegetables such as green beans and aubergine accompanied by a bowl of miso. Again, I suspect an example of a good miso soup would take some serious research but this one had a bit of depth. We even suspected that it had something fermented in it – in a good way.
I think I need to go to Yuzu more often to learn about authentic Japanese cuisine and be a bit braver each time I go. It won’t be cheap, but it’ll be a lot cheaper that a ticket for JAL to go and visit my Tokyo based friends and family.
Yuzu offer a special sake menu that they’re particularly proud of. I am not familiar with sake at all and wasn’t up for risking £8, going in blind and making a judgement on their national drink. In my experience, I tend to prefer my alcoholic beverages to be fruit rather than grain based. I did ask whether they’d be prepared to put on a sake tasting for beginners and they suggested we watch this space on Twitter and Facebook.
All in all, my trip to Yuzu and my giant bowl of delicious protein, foliates and minerals left me feeling quite purified, like I’d just taken my tummy for a miniature spa break.
39 Faulkner Street,
Telephone: 0161 236 4159
What do you like to do on your birthday?
Well I’m so old now I’m lucky to even have birthdays.
Ok, perhaps I exaggerate, but birthdays still make me want to curl up into a ball lamenting the fact that my 18th birthday Glasto ticket only cost £25 and footballers really are getting younger these days…
During this period of annual existential angst, there’s only one option; eat my own weight in cake and wash it down with a high volume of cocktails – guilt is for the other 364 days of the year.
We thought we’d farm the children out for a sleepover at grandma’s and go into Manchester for the day – let’s call this ‘birthday blog part one.’
First stop was Room at the top of King Street. Trips down memory lane happen so regularly now, I’ve got myself a bus pass, but I used to go to Room, A LOT, when it was The Reform Club, back in the 90’s when footballers were older than me (I knew this because many of them were there too.) It was the first place I ever went that had a lady working in the toilets and to this day I don’t get why I have to tip someone for handing me a towel to wipe my hands - I’m too afraid to ask what else she’s supposed to wipe whilst she’s there.
Although on very close inspection Room is a little worn around the edges (I know. Pot, kettle, black) this magnificent grade II listed building still impresses with ornate high ceilings, huge stone fireplaces working well with giant modern light fittings and a backlit well-stocked bar.
I sat at the bar and ordered a ‘sherbet dib-dab’ from their Iconic retro cocktail menu: Luxardo Limoncello & bitter orange liqueur, lemon juice, vanilla sugar, sherbet. It was a taste-bud sensation, sweet, sour and gone too quickly.
Room had only just launched their summer menu and promised ‘classics reworked in a theatrical manner’ – which is a bit like me once I’ve got my face on.
At first glance it seemed a little too globally ‘people pleasing’ with duck a l’orange being only a finger hop away from North African spiced lamb, Monkfish bhaji and BBQ pork but a look around the room told me I was being daft. The restaurant was filling up with all manner of types such as families, ladies who lunch, folk dining alone with a newspaper and even a smallish wedding party. Every single one would find something they really wanted to eat on that menu.
Patrick ordered the Prawn and Crab cocktail – their best selling starter apparently. The quenelles of crab had a proper spicy kick to them and the hot battered prawns offered the perfect contrast in terms of texture and temperature.
My Moroccan Quail with quinoa, black pudding, apricots & pistachios was more delicate than I expected – I thought I was going to have to do a Henry VIII on a whole bird. Each component was nicely done and I could tell by the turmeric glow of the lightly spiced black pudding that they’d made it themselves.
My main course of Monkfish bhaji was a slightly more proteinous take on a much loved classic, but don’t order this dish if you think having the fish option makes for a lighter choice. 3 supersized deep fried bhajis on a pile of coconut creamed green lentils and a side of sag aloo made it hearty fayre. It also came with a tray of home-made accompaniments including chutneys, raitas, pappadums and a sublime lime pickle.
I was left a little confused by the small glass of ‘honey lassi dressing’ on the side. It tasted like a delicious drink rather than a dressing and the small glass made it impossible to dip anything into it, whilst pouring it would have made my bhajis soggy – one accompaniment too many? or just take the word ‘dressing’ off the menu.
Pat was happy to stay in the 1970’s after his prawn cocktail, so ordered Beef Wellington which came somewhat deconstructed with a beer bottle of gravy on the side. Although it was apparently delicious and had all the right components, Pat said he felt slightly cheated. The rare fillet of beef had been placed on top of the dish whilst the separate pastry element housed a rich mixture of slow cooked shin with mushrooms. “That makes it easier for the kitchen in terms of consistently getting it right” I explained, “Exactly” said Patrick.
Whilst I was locked in a post-main battle of carb-guilt versus birthday decadence, the waitress took the decision out of my hands by announcing that the chef was sending out a special dessert. It looked like hiring the red arrows to announce my birthday to the whole of Manchester that morning had been money well spent. I inwardly bounced up and down on my chair as almost the entire dessert menu was delivered in the form of a two-tiered double deck of pudding-cakery.
The top deck housed carrot ice cream (it works, it really does) a tall, dense treacle tart, pistachio ice cream (like proper marzipan) and a slice of ‘strawberries and cream’ which is a layered terrine of vanilla panna cotta and strawberry gel.
The bottom layer contained miniature versions of carrot cake, chocolate and milk marquise and a toasted marshmallow with mango, coconut, passion fruit and carrot crème patissiere. If the lights went off at that point, I’d totally be able to see in the dark.
I washed the first two courses down with a French Gewurztraminer and the pudding with a sticky Concha y Toro Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc (£3.95) – the only dessert wine they offer by the glass.
All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our lunch which did exactly what it promised and matched the environment perfectly: much loved classics, cooked from scratch with influences of modern boldness and a theatrical flourish. Looks like the old girl still has a few impressively high kicks in her.
Room, 81 King Street, Manchester, M2 4AH | Tel +44(0)161 839 2005
After a half year break, during which the organiser went travelling to far off places where rice and noodles are the main carbohydrate, the award winning monthly social dining event known as Gastroclub is back.
Like many ideas, this began after a heated debate in a pub. Katie Brunt and her mates were discussing why there were no social dining events in Manchester and what the most unusual thing they’d ever seen on the menu in a local restaurant was. Katie combined these ideas and GastroClub was born. She threw out a few tentative tweets to gage interest and before long a group of social media savvy Mancunian fine food lovers were hungry for more.
The first event was held in August 2010 at The Mark Addy. Always one to rise to an unusual culinary challenge, Chef Robert Owen Brown quickly grasped the concept of providing an ambitious one-off menu for hearty gourmet appetites. Since then, Gastroclub events have introduced Manchester’s more adventurous diners to the wider range of food available in restaurants across town. Over the months, they’ve gorged their way through silver ear fungus and jellyfish, Ethiopian flat breads, grey squirrel pie, frog’s legs, monkfish liver and pan fried ostrich satay.
The most recent event was held back at The Mark Addy, the place that many long-standing members agree is the spiritual home of GastroClub. 80 guests were booked in to sample some more unusual dishes from Robert Owen Brown’s imagination. On arrival we were given a glass of Aperol Spritz - a classic cocktail from the Veneto region of Italy made with a bitter orange liqueur, prosecco and club soda. Sipping this on a balmy June evening on the Addy terrace overlooking the Irwell, whilst squinting, one could almost imagine they were in (a dingy back alley of) Venice.
After a game of ‘guess the Twitter person’ (would you believe it, the gobbiest ones are the most shy in real life) Chef came out to give us all a bit of an honest overview of the menu (his comments are in brackets). For £36, diners were offered a multi-course feast of delights.
To start, there was wild salmon carpaccio style, (“there’s bound to be one of you who complains that it’s raw - it’s bloody meant to be”) perfectly fresh, thinly sliced salmon with lemon oil and chives.
Next was hollandaise glazed truffled pheasant egg (“if I’d have realised I was going to have to perfectly poach 80 bloody pheasant eggs, I might have put summat else on the menu”) This dish caused an audible dent in general hubbub as a roomful of diners collectively marvelled at the gastronomic harmony made by these simple ingredients.
'Shank of sea robin with Yorkshire chorizo and heritage tomato' was the course that everyone was most mystified about. Sea robin turned out to be a more elegant name for gurnard - which have large pectoral fins that open and close like a bird's wings in flight when they swim. The flesh of this soft white fish was presented rolled and wrapped in a thin spring roll pastry on a stew of intensely flavoured chorizo and tomato.
The main event was a ‘rare breed roast within a roast’ - 12-hour straw pit roasted goat kid, piglet, rose veal calf and salt marsh lamb. ROB loves wrapping things within other things so much that present giving on Christmas day must take a whole week at his house. He explained the logistical difficulties in packing together animal carcasses of such a similar size and in the end he had to swap them around a bit like a meaty puzzle to fit. The finished multi-beast was paraded through the restaurant to rapturous applause on a purpose built litter like a well fed and bronzed Roman emperor. It was then brought to a table where bloggers crowded round like eager paparazzi for an opportunity to get a photograph. It got more snaps than a trapped septuagenarian soap star after a sex scandal.
There was so much meat some people even got doggie/piggy/goaty bags to take away. Although all of the meat was delicious and meltingly tender, you had to really concentrate to work out which of the beasts was on your fork at any time. Accompaniments were kept sensibly simple in the form of gravy, boiled and buttered new potatoes and perfectly turned carrots and courgettes. There was also a communal side salad for each table of seasonal greens grown nearby at Glebelands City Growers in Sale.
So many people were stuffed to the gills and suffering badly from the meat sweats at this point, that even a ‘waffer theen mint’ would have finished them off, but was still time for dessert.The kitchen team had come up with an assiette of puddings called ‘Pop memories: A selection of five desserts all with fizzy pop at the roots’. Most young whippersnapper bloggers stared blankly at ROB as he waxed lyrically about the ‘pop man’ coming round to deliver brightly coloured Corona from the back of his van in the 70’s. We got Vimto jelly, Dr Pepper cheesecake with StarDust, Rubicon ice lolly, cream soda mousse and a coke float.
GastroClub events are held at a different venue each month. Click here to join the mailing list or follow them on Twitter for info on the next event.