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.
Last time I had to write about Simon Rogan at l’Enclume, I was worried.
I worried that it would be a case of Emperor’s new clothes, I wouldn’t ‘get it’, we’d be served course after course of micro-herb flavoured air and that we would have to stop at a service station on the way back for some actual food that required chewing. Most of all, I worried about sounding like a pretentious arse in my write up.
Unless you have been living on the moon for the past few months, you’ll be aware that award winning Chef Rogan, holder of 2 Michelin Stars and a 10/10 Good Food Guide rating, has joined forces with the iconic Midland Hotel in Manchester to give its outdated destination restaurant (and the city) a much needed culinary kick up the jacksie.
There are also imminent plans for him to oversee the larger 160-seater former ‘Colony’ restaurant in the hotel where the menu will feature more international dishes at a lower price point.
The Midland Hotel is a Grade 2 listed building, so the interior designer had to work around it’s original features. They were obviously keen to keep a neutral palette to match Rogan’s natural style but it’s been a little over-beiged.
Over the course of the evening, we were presented with a series of dishes displaying a riot of natural colour such as purple hued viola leaves, vibrant orange butternut puree and gloriously rosy pink rhubarb. Rainbows of colour flashed randomly as the huge and impressive spherical chandeliers caught the light, but touches of colour in the decor wouldn’t have gone amiss. Also, the huge 60’s style wooden tables made it look a bit utilitarian, like when they had to turn glorious country houses into code breaking offices during the war.
Let me just cut to the chase and try and give you a general idea of what to expect from a Simon Rogan meal. If you want to read a fuller description, here’s my write up of L’Enclume for Great British Chefs.
The tasting menu evolves dish by dish within days so I’m not really spoiling things for you by showing you what I ate on the preview a few days before it officially opened on March 12th 2013.
Don’t expect to be able to choose your 3 course option from a menu. Diners can expect a set 3 (£29), 6 (£55) or 10 course (£79) culinary adventure with a comparative vegetarian option and the option to include a matching wine flight. If you’re really adverse to particular ingredients, mention it when booking, they’re pretty accommodating.
Above - razor role reversal: Eggs, dill, celeriac and sea herbs
Ox in coal oil, pumpkin seed, kohlrabi and sunflower seeds
Fresh crab and caramelised cabbage, horseradish, chicken skin with crow garlic
Self styled ‘Google farmer’ Simon Rogan is fascinated by plant groups, botany and heritage dishes using ancient edible herbs and grains. He doesn’t hide behind modern molecular gastronomic techniques, but uses them as a tool to enhance the natural (and sometimes forgotten) purity of flavours. He’s not afraid to make something as simple as cabbage or turnip the central focus of a dish, often only using the protein element to enhance it.
Early spring offerings, vegetables, herbs and flowers, lovage salt
Sole fillet with onions, smoked scallops, parsley, leeks
If you counted it all up, over the course of the evening, we probably experienced well over 100 different ingredients and flavours in many different forms. Compare it to say, instruments in an orchestra. If the conductor doesn’t know what he’s doing, the sound can be the stuff of nightmares. In the hands of an expert, you can witness a harmonious experience that’ll stay with you forever.
Many ingredients come from the North West. Rogan now has 25 acres on 4 dedicated farms at his disposal to grow vegetables, herbs and lesser known leaves. There is also a garden on the roof of the Midland where the chefs intend to grow their own in season.
Yew Tree Farm Herdwick hogget, sweetbread, sheep’s milk and ramsons
Studded Cumbrian Rose veal, blewitts, split peas, sorrel and beetroot
Sweet cheese, with rhubarb, toasted oats, mulled cider - This turned out to be one of the highest highs in a series of highlights for me. A perfect collection of complimentary flavours and textures. If I had to have this for breakfast every day for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t put up a fight.
Pear, meadowsweet and rye, buttermilk, linseeds - Despite it’s slightly muculent texture, I imagine this would be the type of pudding Elizabeth I would have gladly tucked into. Apparently she was a big fan of meadowsweet and all the other ingredients would have been available during her reign.
Sass ‘n’ soda - A shot of home brewed herbal sasparilla was poured into the cup at the table whilst the thin meringue sandwiched a thicker paste and a little ice cream. It smelled a little like play-dough and I wouldn’t be surprised if further research lead me to a good plant based reason why.
I’m hardly going to be awarded the ‘Sherlock Holmes Award for stating the bleedin’ obvious’ in saying that Simon and his team will be the ones to finally bring the highly coveted Michelin star back to Manchester and The Midland Hotel in October, but I think that is merely the start of the journey.
As someone who spends much time pondering on the definition of success, I leave you with this thought. Obviously the reservation book is now full of bookings from eager bloggers and food enthusiasts, but this is a long term project and Manchester, as a destination for serious food enthusiasts, is being judged. He has built it, will they come?
The Midland French Peter Street, Manchester, M60 2DS
Tel: +44 (0)161 236 3333 Email: email@example.com
Open Tues-Sat 12-2pm Dinner 6.30-9.30pm
You think it’s easy being invited to eat at restaurants for free in return for a review? Well it’s not, not at all. It’s fraught with a tangled web of unspoken rules and imagined obligations. ‘What happens if I decide not to write about it, despite having stuffed my face at their expense?’, ‘What if I had a terrible experience? Shall I tell the truth or should I lie because they have paid for my opinion with a cocktail and that extra side-order?
However, the one issue that most bloggers really lose sleep over is – ‘Can we order the lobster?’ In short, does ordering from the top end of a menu constitute as ‘taking the piss?’ This question fills your average, polite, British blogger with absolute fear. Don’t take my word for it, pick any 3 freebie blogs at random and you’ll see various versions of ‘Mr Bloggycake wanted the foie gras but we settled for some lettuce and water as it would clearly be wrong to infringe on complimentary hospitality.’
I’m as guilty of this etiquette merry-go-round as anyone. My husband and I have had the ‘can I have one more free beer?’ argument more times than I’ve had hot dinners. (Oh, ok, well maybe not as many as that, but lots of times.)
Livebait in Manchester has new owners and is no longer part of a chain. It’s now proudly independent and wants to start afresh, dispelling memories of any previous, unrelated experiences. Through Manchester Confidential, they invited a gaggle of local bloggers to dine and offer their opinion on the new menu, which brings me back to my culinary quagmire.
The menu lists a range of simple, well priced fish dishes with a couple of veggie and meat options thrown in. Starters average around £7 and include several ways with oysters, and simple classics like fried whitebait, smoked salmon and prawn cocktail. Mains average around £16 and include fried haddock & chips, plaice with lemon & capers, cod with risotto, the obligatory sea bass and a fish curry.
Fish and shellfish are delivered fresh every day, so what interests me the most, is the section entitled ‘Shells’; Seared King Scallops in the half shell, Thai scented Scottish Mussels, Lobster and chips (Thermidore or garlic buttered) and….. the Shellfish Platter for Two.
I can make most of those mains myself at home, but what I can’t make is one of those magnificent, glorious, abundant cascades of assorted fresh seafood on crushed ice. I searched my soul wondering whether it would be cheeky to order one but after reading other recent Livebait blogs I became absolutely determined to bloody well order it. Surely the point of these reviews is to showcase what a restaurant does well.
A fresh seafood platter is a thing of beauty, it makes a good fish restaurant stand out and that is the main reason I would ever go to Livebait. As it turns out, it’s the thing that would make me return.
Our waitress brought us a platter of fresh bread with Spanish extra virgin olive oil and the chef’s own dukkah. I’ve never been that keen on the idea of dipping bread into a load of whole spices but I was wrong, this is a really good idea. Lightly roasted coriander, fennel and cumin seeds, flaked salt, sesame and poppy seeds with toasted slithers of hazelnuts really got the taste buds going.
The wine list is reasonably priced and matched mostly for fish, seafood and light dishes as expected. I abandoned my usual Chenin or Sauvingon Blanc and decided to go for a previously untried Albarino, available in small/large glass, carafe or bottle. It was delicious– light, apricot fruitiness gave way to a drier, crisp, refreshing drink.
After the bread, we shared a portion of whitebait which I’ve now decided would make a perfect cinema snack. Wouldn’t you rather dive into a bucket of tiny, hot, crispy, salt and pepper dusted whitebait rather than popcorn? *dials local Odeon*
What’s exciting about ordering the shellfish platter (if that’s your sort of thing) is the theatre that pre-empts it. Our waitress arrived with a stream of deliveries, building up the anticipation – fingerbowls, claw crackers, tweezers, empty bowl for shells, extra napkins, Tabasco and the metal stand. Other diners turned to watch as our waitress struggled to keep her composure under the weight of the abundant and glorious collection of fresh seafood she was carrying.
It was a thing of beauty; a pyramid of crushed ice upon which was laid a perfect towering medley of rosy-hued crustacean treasure; fresh oysters, shell on prawns, mussels, clams, a whole crab and a lobster, divided neatly into two equal sides for harmonious sharing. Ramekins of diced vinegared shallots, aioli, cucumber pickle and fresh lemon were provided, but the seafood needed nothing else to accompany it.
At £70 for two, it is not cheap but it is absolute value. We spent the next finger-licking hour happily cracking and poking, teasing morsels of seafood out of the shell and knocking back fresh oysters decadently like ancient Romans. I wouldn’t recommend this for a first date, but it’s a great way to spend the afternoon or evening getting away from it all with someone you’re comfortable with, and is much cheaper than a spa hotel in Cheshire or 2 tickets on Eurostar.
We decided to round things off with homemade dessert (well, we’d come this far…) Livebait offers a tasting plate but Pat fancied the apple crumble with warm custard and I wanted the slab of Chocolate Délice with salted caramel and hazelnut ice cream. Carrying on with my Spanish themed drinking, I ordered a cheeky shot of smooth, dark Pedro Ximenez. If you’ve never had it, I recommend you order it when you see it; it’s like delicious alcoholic prune syrup or liquid Christmas pudding.
So there we are, our afternoon ‘away’. A chat with assistant manager Gareth began with me babbling effusively, trying to justify my decision to order the shellfish platter. As it turns out I needn’t have worried, he confirmed it IS the best thing they do and he was in fact curious as to why more of those polite bloggers hadn’t ordered one too…
Click here to visit the Livebait website.
22 Lloyd Street (off Albert Sq), Manchester, M2 5WA
Tel: 0161 817 4110
Right, get your coats because I’m taking you out. In fact, grab your snorkel, a medical kit and some spare undies too because we’re going on a culinary adventure. Some parts you’ll enjoy more than others but I warn you, we’ll be making pit stops in Weird-ville and Crazytown on the way.
South African born Ernst Van Zyl has recently brought molecular gastronomy to Etrop Grange near Manchester airport using culinary techniques he’s learnt from stages spent cooking at The Fat Duck and Noma, the top restaurants in the world. Next year, he’s off again to absorb some of the genius behind the 2 Michelin starred Franzén Lindeberg in Sweden, before heading off to work a few weeks at L’Enclume. He’s like a sponge-carrying magpie, flitting off and soaking up knowledge before bringing it back to the Etrop’s kitchens.
He wasn’t going to be cooking from the a la carte menu during busy December but had announced an ambitious collaboration with ‘DineInOut’ a new private dining club based in South Manchester and Cheshire. This was hosted by number one Etrop fan and Ernst ‘fanzilla’ Tania Harvey, who had requested a special menu inspired by ‘The 12 days of Christmas’. Never one to shirk a challenge, Ernst had agreed to cook this 12 course extravaganza for 12 diners.
Each course wasn’t going to be presented in chronological order, so we were all asked to guess which dish alluded to which verse. I’ll tell you what each one was here and thanks to Joby’s lovely photographs, I shan’t add too much lavish description. However, some dishes inspired rather more commentary than others.
As we had 12 courses to get through, the first few dishes were understandably designed to be small and light. First up ‘Eight Maids a Milking’ - a goat’s milk marshmallow with quince purée and fennel seed granola.
The milk marshmallow was pretty much like straight up egg white but livened up with the hit of tangy goat’s cheese dotted underneath and the textural work out provided by the savoury granola.
Course two turned out to be ‘Four Calling Birds’. Duck leg confit bonbons, one coated in an orange glaze, and one encased in white chocolate and hazelnuts.
Now, I’m aware that these progressive chefs like to break down the neural networks usually associated with certain flavour combinations - duck with orange, yes, very good, but white chocolate? I closed my eyes and tried to enter a transcendental state in order to introduce these previously unconnected flavours to each other, but by the time I’d opened them again the white chocolate had put knuckle dusters on and beaten the shit out of the poor duck which was cowering on the opposite side of my tastebuds. Put it this way, Magnum won’t be putting out a special duck confit edition any time soon.
Next, Eleven Piper’s Piping. Hay Espuma with toasted wild rice and celeriac. A light nutty cream which had been piped onto a cling-wrapped, smoke-filled glass bowl.
It all got a bit playful at this point as the room filled up with the heady smell of smoke associated with a roaring winter fire and we were all soon tapping the tops to see who could get the best smoke rings.
Course 4, Turtle Doves. Tender roast breast of pigeon with thin slivers of salsify, almond and a cranberry wafer.
All together now, ‘Five Go-old Rings’ - this course most reflected Ernst’s Michelin starred work experience. Rings of golden beetroot in two forms; one juiced and set into pliable rings with gelling agent, and the other thinly pared, crunchy and pickled.
The golden theme was continued in the form of crumbled Blackstick’s blue cheese, passionfruit and edible gold dust. All quite simple until you work out the staggering number of processes that has gone into this dish.
Six Geese-A-Laying was Foie Gras ice cream on a bed of apple puree with Granny Smith granita and salted peanut brittle.
I’ve got to be honest, this was pretty tough to get down. Goose liver doesn’t release it’s creamy, unctuous density in frozen form. I won’t be raiding the freezer section of my local Saino’s to chew on their pate range in the near future. Perhaps if Ernst discovered a way to incorporate the salted peanut brittle without losing the crunch, it might work better - but keeping it above 0c would definitely work better.
The arrival of course 7 was pre-fixed by a mysterious Alice in Wonderland like syringe labelled ‘Squirt Me’.
'Three French Hens' inspired a well flavoured chicken consomme with mushroom and leek. The syringe contained cauliflower puree which, once released from the syringe, became cauliflower 'noodles'. It was very immature of 'someone' to try and pipe the word 'bum' into their soup bowl with their syringe, so sorry about that *avoids eye contact*.
The soup was accompanied by Ernst’s delicious, warm sourdough bread.
Nine Ladies Dancing came along for course 8 in the form of warm ‘Queen’ scallops with pumpkin, chorizo and buttermilk. Just saying it out loud has a touch of the fairytale about it.
Now, here we are, at what turned out to be the most challenging course both for Chef and diner. Seven Swans-A-Swimming was bound to cause a little difficulty what as swans are the official property of HRH and absolutely illegal to kill or eat. Ernst decided to concentrate on the ‘swimming’ part and presented salmon which had been slowly cooked in a water bath at 42c with grapefruit and tiny enoki mushrooms.
The waiter had surreptitiously been spraying the room with some kind of grapefruit diffusion beforehand to add to the atmosphere and this course was like a snapshot of Edwardian opulence. I have to admit though, if I never have to eat salmon encased in softly toasted Italian meringue on a blue seaweed jelly lake again, I won’t be too sorry. However, there is a good idea in here somewhere. Sweet-cured salmon is delicious, and I once successfully experimented with a poppyseed macaron filled with smoked salmon and cream cheese for a canape. This however, I’m sure Ernst himself would agree, needs
throwing away a little more work.
Course 10 turned out to be one of the highlights and again, contained flavour combinations I’d never have matched before, but this time, with more harmonious results.
Lords-A-Leaping, Tatton park venison tartare, oyster emulsion with parsley, grape and black olive. Highlighting this dish like a lurid yellowy green marker, was pine resin or Christmas Tree jelly. Now, what with Ernst’s Scandinavian culinary influences and it being the appropriate season, I guessed this would make an appearance somewhere and, as I’ve never had the urge to knock back the toilet duck, I was worried.
Well, I needn’t have been. I’m not saying this should be mass marketed and spread lavishly on crispbread, but it worked well with the black olive puree to add a bitter sweetness, a little like pickled lemons or limes, to cut through the mass of raw venison. After the meal I asked Ernst how this was made and he proceeded to explain a hugely complicated sounding process involving ‘Vitamix’, ‘warmth which acts as an extractor’, ‘muslin bag overnight’.
I was getting a bit concerned as we’d reached course 11 and I wasn’t sure I’d be left satiated without some hot proteinous main event. So here it came, the one bit of the song that we all remember, A Partridge in a Pear Tree.
Pan Fried breast of partridge with roast pears, Jerusalem artichokes (hallelujah, I love these under-rated roots) and tiny pine infused preserved pear drops. All of which was served on a vibrant purple smear of red cabbage puree (the secret to keeping the colour is in the addition of ascorbic acid #geekfact)
Course 12, pudding time. Over the course of the evening, we’d all been trying to guess which dish correlated to which verse with varying degrees of success. I was still wrongly waiting for dancing ladies, yet what arrived was 12 Drummers Drumming.
Ernst had set a thin, translucent shard of sugar over a dish which we were to bang on like a drum revealing…..well, nothing really. Oh no, hang on, further peering into the dish revealed tiny Lilliputian sized cubes of gingerbread and a Pontipine sized orange jelly. We were given a jug of bitter chocolate sauce to pour over it. Call me greedy, call me a Northerner, but even after 12 courses, I still prefer my puddings to have a higher carb to air ratio.
Fortunately, along came a gorgeous looking bonus platter of petit fours. Blood orange pastilles, pink peppercorn Madeleines (another successful unusual flavour combo) and dark chocolate and popping candy truffles.
So, an epic write up of an epic feast. Some of the dishes were more successful than others but hats off to Chef Ernst who was brave enough to take up such a culinary gauntlet thrown down in the middle of the silly season. Each of his dishes contained touches of Winter fairy tale magic in the forms of gingerbread, pine, pumpkins and wood smoke. I think there is a risk in getting carried away with the infinite possibilities when trying to create new flavour combinations, but I for one will always support a talented creative that gives it a good go.
To keep up to date with DineInOut events, follow Tania on Twitter or ‘like’ their Facebook page. Chef Ernst van Zyl tweets under the name @ErnieChef.
Etrop Grange Hotel
Tel 0161 499 0500
I recently popped into the offices of Manchester Confidential with some parkin – well they hardly ever eat in there, the poor dears…*rolls eyes*. They suggested I book a table on the new all-weather terrace of The Restaurant Bar and Grill. The PR of Individual Restaurants had been in touch and wanted a wide range of reviews as part of a blogger outreach campaign. What happens is Manchester Confidential invite local food bloggers to go for a free meal and the idea is that they are so thankful and flattered they write a positive piece, often splattered liberally with words like ‘lovely’ and ‘tasty’.
However, it takes more than a 35-day aged steak and a free cocktail to buy positive feedback from me (although, throw in the dessert trolley and we’ll talk.) My opinion gauge is firmly set at default position truth and if the venue actually knows I’m coming, it leaves pretty much zero room for error.
I haven’t been to the Restaurant Bar and Grill for about 10 years, for no particular reason, so I thought we’d go late on a Saturday afternoon for a spontaneous date. It first opened in 2001 and even though they are planning a refurb in February 2013, we conceded that the travertine stone bar designed by architect Roger Stephenson had aged far better than we had over the last decade. In a dubiously contrived nod towards Christmas spirit, I ordered a ‘Pear Tree’ cocktail and drifted up the impressive super-lightweight staircase to the restaurant.
Let’s cut to the chase here, the terrace is bloody brilliant. I’m always suspicious when anyone waxes lyrically about ‘views of Manchester’ but it is a pretty impressive spot to sit and watch the city go by. It runs the whole length of the restaurant, there’s a bar up there, plump cushioned sofas, glass topped rattan tables and a bank of heaters which turned the nippy November air into a tropical heat wave complete with mild sea breeze. They also provide extra blankets for those who like to be warm and cosy but realise that wearing a onesie to a fashionable bar is inappropriate (me).
Walking your fingers over the menu gets them a free trip round the world at the same time. Leading global dishes sit next to each other like an edible G8 summit. ‘Mezze’ sits next to ‘Asian Plate’, French onion soup sits in between Thai fish cakes and Iberico ham etc., but to be so crowd pleasing isn’t such a crime if you can do it properly. We’ve all been out with a group of people who have varying tastes, and to be honest, anywhere that has a Tandoor clay oven gets my vote.
What is a bit naughty are the simply untrue generic sound bites that food-naive PR’s like to splash all over menus. They proudly mention ‘seasonally inspired cooking’ several times on their website, and I’m sure they mean Britain, so why offer asparagus, avocados, raspberries and heirloom tomatoes in November? You can’t have both those dishes and those words on the same menu all year.
But that’s it, a tiny, easily redeemable blip in what was such a truly enjoyable Saturday afternoon, we were still talking about it the following Tuesday. Ok, my Thai spiced fishcakes (£8) were a little light on the chilli and heavy on the potato, but the accompanying coconut and lime leaf sauce was so good, I knocked it back like a shot when nobody was looking. Husband treated himself to a plate full of testosterone and zinc (6 Irish oysters £9.95) *feigns headache*
Man wants meat after oyster, so he had the 35 day dry aged bone in prime rib (£27.50) cooked rare. The steaks are excellent here and they are quite justifiably proud of them. The lunch menu features detailed information about the farmer, the farm, the breed, the feed, the ageing and the method of butchering. It only narrowly falls short of naming the actual cows. All steaks are served with hand cut chips and a choice of classic sauce or flavoured butters.
I had 7 fat king prawns marinated in tikka spices and cooked in the tandoor clay oven (£18.95) No corners cut here, the delicate aromatic flavour of toasted spices came through well. No lemon rice for me but a side of broccoli with cashews, chilli and garlic (£3.95) and a salad that included more 3 dimensional ingredients such as fennel and chicory.
One more slug of light Beaujolais and I was off to where you’ll always find me at parties. Head chef Kevin Wigglesworth seemed completely unfazed by the slightly drunken 40 year old woman leaning over the pass throwing questions at him. So unassuming and modest is he, he only casually mentions that he used to work at ‘Blanc’s place in Oxfordshire.’ By the time he’d dropped in the small detail of working for Albert Roux (only the father of all modern British cuisine) at le Gavroche for 3 years, I was sober, straight backed and open mouthed. He’s been with Individual Restaurant group since 2005 and loves it because they look after their staff, never rest on their laurels and invest in excellent equipment from the Robert Welch cutlery to the £18,000 Josper grill that’s on its way. His simple aim is to make The Restaurant Bar and Grill the best restaurant in Manchester.
Everything is made on the premises including bread, ketchup, ice cream and desserts which are wheeled to the table in a huge Perspex topped trolley. If stewards on budget airlines wheeled those down the aisle, there’d be a lot less complaints. We decided to share the classic glossy Gateau Opera with edible gold leaf (£6.50) which tasted like something straight from the 1950’s (in a good way) washing it down with a chocolate martini with chocolate caviar (little balls of cocoa suspended in sodium alginate, the molecular mixologists BFF.)
The best way to recommend a restaurant that plies you with free booze and food is to decide if you’d return again as a paying customer. This time I won’t be leaving it another 10 years for my next visit, I booked a table of 4 for next month on my way out.
You’d be pushing it to accuse me of being the kind of person who ‘turned up to the opening of an envelope’. In fact, thanks to my two small children, nowadays you can barely describe me as someone who ‘turned up to the opening of a door.’
Sometimes though, new and interesting things come up and I feel compelled to visit, eat, drink, catch up with the munching Manchester massive and have a jolly good nosey. This is how I ended up at the new Albert Square Chop House. I say new, but this was so freshly minted they were still tacking the red carpet onto the front steps and adding pictures to the wall when we turned up.
Owned by the team behind Manchester’s two other chophouses (Sam’s and Mr Thomas’s) Albert’s chophouse is in a grade II listed building, on the corner of Albert Square, between the Town Hall and the registry office. They have spent an eye popping amount of money on restoring it - ripping out the sticky carpets, fruit machines and smoke stained walls of what used to be the imaginatively named ‘Square Albert’ pub.
The 80 cover restaurant is downstairs, the public bar is on ground level and upstairs visitors will be able to hire ‘The Memorial Hall’ a 100-seat function room, or next to that a 20-seat boardroom with state-of-the-art communication and presentation facilities. Plans are also apparently afoot for a boutique hotel upstairs.
The name ‘Chophouse’ brings to mind the kind of place I’d expect to find busty mop capped barmaids serving tankards of gin and ‘a bowl o’ brown’ to Mrs Miggins with nothing to wipe her mouth on but the back of her hand. Maybe I do tend to let my imagination run away with me, but the very English idea of a ‘Chophouse’ conjures up images of Victorian music hall bawdiness. With this is mind I found the recent makeover a little too stripped back, but it must be hard trying to keep the essence of the building whilst avoiding it looking like Sweeny Todd the musical.
This is an important civic building on the corner of Manchester’s main civic square and it has the backing of the city who recognise it as part of a regeneration project to celebrate the grandeur of Manchester’s rich industrial heritage. Paintings and photographs of local cultural icons fill every wall space of each floor. Made me reet proud to be a Manc.
So this is more of a public service announcement than a review. An interesting new city centre restaurant opened, we were invited, the lovely Joby photographed it all (except the interior shot which was sent by the PR.) We ate everything on the menu and I turned up at the school gates mildly drunk, again. Now it’s up to you if you want to visit and decide if they do have all the flavours of Manchester.
The Albert Square Chop House,
The Memorial Hall,
Tel: 01625 834 1866
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