Tag Archives: Cheese

Beckworth Emporium, Northamptonshire

4 Aug

We travelled to Beckworth Emporium, in the heart of Northamptonshire, on an exceptionally hot day (in an exceptionally hot car). Gasping for air, we entered the Food Hall on a Tuesday afternoon to find the place teeming with excited shoppers – all, like me, soaking in the array of wonderful, original and fresh products.

As we were told the queue for a table would be around half an hour (a norm), my friend steeled herself within the waiting line so that I could have a wander around… Talk about a child in a sweet shop! I discovered some fantastic cheese, wasabi mayonnaise, locally produced gin and hibiscus flowers in syrup, just waiting to be dropped into a glass of bubbly.

I had to be dragged away.

We were seated in the Glasshouse; a gigantic sun-catcher of a room, and we basked in its heat. Friendly and efficient waiting staff took our order and drinks (thankfully as, with the sun, dehydration was kicking in!) arrived. Both my friend and I chose Luscombe drinks – a Raspberry Crush and a Strawberry Lemonade. Refreshing and delicious!Image

Together, we ploughed our way through the starter of a selection of breads and oils. In particular, the black olive bread (smeared with the sun-dried tomato and lemon fusion) was my favourite, ‘though dipping pitta into olive oil and balsamic will always be (in this case, yummy-) fun for me – I’ve not quite grown out of loving to play with food. And the olives! Thinking about them may lead me to begin another expedition out to this haven in the sticks…

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Bread & Oils; Beckworth Emporium, Nothamptonshire

Our first main was the Smoked Salmon and Crayfish Salad – a parcel of Scottish smoked salmon which, when pierced, out cascaded a plethora of crayfish tails. Hidden underneath this was a potato salad, with poppy seeds, carrot and a light, zingy, dill crème fraiche. The colours were magnificent!

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Smoked salmon and crayfish salad; Beckworth Emporium, Northamptonshire

My own main was the Deli Platter for One, which was perfect as, when confronted with a mass of delectable edibles, I am forever indecisive. A platter, with all of its ‘bits and bobs’, solves this problem… Diving into the smoked mackerel pâté, I knew my choice had pulled off – the platter, ‘though for one, was enormous and packed with morsels of scrumptious-ness. Blue cheese and I are best friends, so with my first little bite of it, I danced along in bliss through the rest (Milano salami, chutney, gherkins, more of that fabulous homemade bread… mmmm).

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Deli Platter; Beckworth Emporium, Northamptonshire

Just to tempt our bodies even more into exploding, we undid our belts and – between us – devoured the sweet (though not too sweet!) and gooey Maple and Pecan Slice.

With cream.

Clotted cream. (Which is, to me, the highest of all heavenly things.)

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Maple and Pecan Slice; Beckworth Emporium, Northamptonshire

Someone take me back.

Yours,

Joss

Jack Spratt (and a night of Cats)

4 May

Jack Sprat could eat no fat,

His wife could eat no lean

And so betwixt the two of them

They licked the platter clean.

Reaching a final decision on a restaurant for my birthday entailed a relentless, two week long rummage through Manchester’s enormous store of eating houses. This I reveled in. My more-than-small infatuation with exploring has been known to irritate when, after the eleventeenth possibility for the night has culminated with (another) vow of, ‘this is perfect!’ only to be followed with a discovery of the next potential, I regularly hear an explosion of, ‘PLEASE, just choose!’. But I cannot, I can’t ‘just pick’. I am compelled to cavort around in glee.

Jack Spratt however, has been winking at me from the horizon for some time. After being subdued by the norovirus in January, our maiden visit was – regrettably – forced to be postponed. The winsome connection with the nursery rhyme goes back to their days as sellers of solely lunchtime food to the conscientious customer (everything being nutritionally valued). Owned by two brothers and their friends, Jack Spratt drew us in with their unexpectedly wonderful evening menu and promises of first-rate dining without all of the ‘fuss’. It seemed then, that at the end of my two week stint of imagining birthday meals, Jack Spratt was meant to be. My significant other and I agreed instantly and in an unaccountable burst of organisation, our seats were booked. As it was my birthday, my comrade had procured two tickets to see Cats at the Manchester Opera House later that night so we arranged for an early dinner. We had also heard it could get busy.

After all of the legwork and research I still  was under the impression that Jack Spratt lay in the Northern Quarter; I believe I am discovering that my sense of direction is not simply underdeveloped, but nonexistent.  Just to note – it isn’t. It resides on John Dalton Street, just north of Albert Square. Please do not wander into the Northern Quarter, you will miss a beautiful night. 

After we had materialised and found our way within, we were seated at a table next to the window which looked out on the bustling inner-city streets of central Manchester. This, although I do delight in people-watching, would normally have made me feel uncomfortable – not only could we see out, but everyone can see in! I’m not sure I appreciate the feeling of being on show as I’m tucking in to my dinner. At Jack Spratt, this was not a problem; the windows were adorned with flowers and graceful paintings which camouflaged us from any exterior, prying eyes. It was all very country, very feminine. Another wonder, as I’d been expecting a far darker, more virile interior from a restaurant owned by two twenty-something lads. Nevertheless, it was radiant.

We weren’t drinking (I would more than likely fall asleep in Cats if I had a glass of wine), so while waiting for the starters I sipped on a cranberry juice that was made exciting with the freshly squeezed lime within – a nice touch. Our starters arrived in the nick of time as my stomach was trying to digest itself… I blame the smells wafting out from the kitchen.

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Rabbit terrine; Jack Spratt, Manchester.

Having not eaten much rabbit in my life, I had fixed upon the rabbit terrine with apple and grape chutney and a fabulously garlicky crostini. It was delicate and light, free from heavy binders that so often clog up spring dishes such as this. I’ll even get over my fear of rocket (and strange, peppery leaves like watercress) for this one…

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Goat’s cheesecake; Jack Spratt, Manchester.

Matt chose the goat’s cheesecake with a red onion and balsamic marmalade. Jealousy is a terrible thing, I know… I know that as he nipped to the toilet I should not have been stealing pieces of it, but it’s a confession on here – right? I couldn’t have eaten a whole portion to myself as it was a generous slice, but as a lover of all things cheese I can tell you that that goat’s cheesecake should be sanctified.

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Fish special of the day; Jack Spratt, Manchester.

For our mains, Matt was the wholesome Jack Spratt spirit incarnate – he chose the fish special of the day; lemon sole stuffed with anchovy on top of new potatoes. This uncomplicated choice was packed with sea flavour, cut by the baked lemon and  the mild artichoke. Initially, after stalking the menu with me prior to the night, Matt’s choice would have been the Mexican molé (described as ’48 hour slow cooked lamb in a chocolate infused Mexican chilli sauce served with desiccated coconut & almond red rice & a tortilla, with chunks of avocado and radish shavings’) but to our despair, there was no molé that night! While the special was enjoyable, it was not as sturdy a meal as we would have liked and if we do return, it will be for that evasive punch-packing Mexican lamb…

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16oz Cote de Boeuf; Jack Spratt, Manchester.

I, on the other hand, am forever overcome by the pull of more indulgent fare and today, it was the promise of (my interpretation of heaven on earth) potato dauphinoise alongside the 16oz côte de boeuf. The marbling in a rib eye has always earned it top place on the steaks list and this is no exception. Ordering my côte de boeuf rare, the meat closest to the bone (no surprise) was blue – not something that I object to… The meat itself slowly became saturated with the melting café de Paris butter which was heavy on the paprika and garlic. Devastatingly delicious! I would have preferred the dauphinoise with a wee bit more colour to the oven-exposed potato so as to ‘crisp them up’, especially with such a large piece of tender meat.

For a birthday meal, we both agreed that Jack Spratt was charming. It toed the line between relaxation and formality flawlessly, offering stunning plates of food (some almost art) in an environment catered to being able to unwind. If we could have fit anything in our bellied from the dessert menu, we most definitely would have tried. I think a big fat, ‘thank you!’ is in order for our evening…

Yours,

Joss.

P.S. We did feel a bit silly being ‘all dressed up’ for the Theatre in there, but they breezed over it..

Jack Spratt Cafe Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Quest for the BEST cheese on toast #1

8 Apr

Cheese on toast: Quintessentially English, a favourite of the nation… Why then, do we constantly make it so carelessly? Bunging together back-of-the-fridge ingredients to create a ‘meal’ that has had all satisfaction erased. I love cheese on toast (as a student, it’s a student staple), but I know that fulfillment comes with attention. This month, on the 27th, England will celebrate National Cheese on Toast Day and I think that this simple snack should be getting more of the respect it deserves.

So then, a quest to find what makes the best cheese on toast: Everyone has an opinion to contend with and there’s an infinite supply of bread and cheese combinations to ensure than inspiration cannot fall short. A hard task, but someone has to attempt it…

On a recent visit to Leicester, we found ourselves retracing well-worn steps to the Christopher James Deli who are celebrating their 30th year with the motto, “Do you eat to live, or live to eat?“. At the deli, we invested in some Italian salamis, a hunk of taleggio (a soft cow’s milk cheese from the Val Taleggio region in Italy), an ‘Italian Job’ salad box and a pot of Patum Peperium Angler’s Relish (a sister, in the form of smoked mackerel, to the fabulously pungent anchovy flavoured Gentleman’s Relish). We asked within the deli whether or not the taleggio would be suitable for cheese on toast and their answer (coupled with a wink) was that it would be ‘filthy’. Perfect.

The bread we chose was a spelt loaf from Paul’s Bakery – a little bit of an accident that we chanced across one of their stockists that day but so glad we did. Since taleggio has been around since the times of the Romans, we thought that the ancient spelt (or its more dainty name, which I prefer, the dinkel wheat) – being revived by health foodies for the first time since the Dark Ages – would be ideal. Spelt as a health food is being exploited; we spotted a weeny, and I mean weeny, loaf in Waitrose the other day for a painful £4. It doesn’t have to be expensive though – buying online from bakeries or (unsurprisingly!) making your own is far better.

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I don’t like overcooked food – steak, eggs, toast, whatever it is, don’t serve me char; I would far rather it be raw. So then, only a light grilling of the thinly sliced bread (it felt crisp to the touch but without colouring) before the other ingredients were added. On went the ribbons of torn salami and blobs of taleggio to fill in the gaps; taleggio is mild enough for cheese on toast but too much and it becomes heady – don’t use slices like you would a cheddar. Under the grill a second time and snatched out as soon as the taleggio had melted fully. Voilà!

The result was a far more wholesome experience than I had anticipated. The taleggio, known for its mild but tangy flavour, held up well against the robust umami of the spelt – so much so that a week has passed and my tastebuds are still craving a repeat performance of the first notch in the cheese-on-toast-test bedpost. On our plate, we added fresh anchovies for a bite of salt. Phenomenal!

One thing I feel obliged to add is that, beware! The smell of the taleggio grilling is potent… 

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Taleggio and spelt #1

Yours,

Joss. 

Who says students eat badly? Steak and Lobster @ ALTO.

12 Feb

Okay – so we had a bit of a reason to celebrate and after discovering this gorgeous place, who could resist? Nestled in the heart of Manchester’s Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel, we struggled to find our way inside. After lapping the hotel once – with neither hide nor hair of Alto to be found – we considered the possibility that into the exclusive Blu Hotel we must delve and so with trembling boots (oh-so-glad I had cleaned them before setting out), we launched through the high glass doors.

Apparently these were the wrong ones as there was a doorman who came running up to us to hold it open, looking greatly irritated. Having never come across a doorman before, I held the door open for him out of politeness which soon mingled with slight embarrassment when I realised that I was, as it were, ‘cramping his style’.

Onward through the immaculately polished atrium (think pale marble and sofas with perfectly plumped cushions on which no body dares to sit) and head-first into the Alto. Finally we had found it, and we were late. One look at our French Waiter and the other suited clientele told me I should really have worn heels. We were shown to our table and once again I realised too late that in a well-practiced flourish a chair was being pulled out for me (accompanied with traditional smooth smile of proficiency), as I proceeded onto faux pas number two in what seemed to be my debut in offending etiquette – walking straight passed said chair and plonking down elsewhere. Another disgruntled face from the French Waiter.

Alto offers only two choices on its select menu – that of a 10oz rib eye steak and a whole lobster. For the life of me I could not pick between them so (thank goodness) we decided to share. There was the usual – How would you like your steak, sir? Rare – until I was asked, And Miss, how would you like your lobster? A slight silence followed this as in my head I was getting a million, what does he mean how? Does lobster come rare?? The waiter came to my rescue and with intense relief I was prompted with the options of grilled or steamed. Grilled then, jolly good.

Drink choices afterwards and horrified by the nine-hundred pound bottle of champagne (with a white wine coming close second at over eight-hundred) I squeaked that I would pleasejusthavetheSauvignonBlancthankyou, which calmed me down a bit. Able to look around, there was some magnificently crimson art on the walls and we found ourselves giggling over the revolving yet static chairs.

Food arrived quickly, looking fabulous. The lobster on my plate seemed to be accompanied by a pair of fancy pliers which we finally discerned were for the claws (it would have taken us far less time if we have dared ask our amused French Waiter). Being a lobster-virgin, I believe I was overly excited. Diving in, it was buttery and sweet and covered in a garlic and chive butter and it was disappearing within seconds, so I concentrated my energies on tackling the salad. Overjoyed to find this was just as delicious (Parmesan, leaves, onion, pine nuts) I began to slow down and took to the cracking open of the claws, which was great fun, if a bit messy to this inexperienced lobster-eater. Once again I was redeemed by our attentive Waiter who produced two small tablets on a saucer, poured over hot water and before my eyes they billowed into marshmallow-like hand cloths. Magic.

21 month 08.02.2013 1

10oz rib eye; Alto, Manchester

Moving on to try the steak – all I can say, it this was the best steak I have eaten. This is a grand claim, as I have eaten rather a few. The flames had given it the most divine flavour and it was perfectly, perfectly cooked. As it was rare, the fact that it had been well hung came through in the wonderfully tender meat. I have never been more tempted to order another.

21 month 08.02.2013 2

Banoffee pie; Alto, Manchester

For desert (which was included in the price) we opted for the banoffee pie and the English cheese board. The only minor downfall to the evening was this banoffe pie – we asked, how fresh was it? However, having complete conviction in the restaurant’s standards, we agreed that it was just not to our taste. The great chunks of banana were luscious yet the strawberries were hard and under ripe, sour even. The pastry left much to be desired and the cream/meringue mixture on the top was beyond strange.

21 month 08.02.2013 3

English Cheese Board; Alto, Manchester.

My choice was the cheese board… Oh, how pleased I was when three were served up with a gooseberry (a berry incredibly close to my fondest childhood memories) compote. One cheese stood out from the rest and, harassing our Waiter, I discovered that it was none other that a Burt’s Blue cheese. This is, my reader, the absolute King of Cheese. Melting on the board with ripeness, mature enough to make my eyes water (with sheer elation), this creamy blue was like no cheese before. It was staggering indulgence, it was sublime; it has spoiled me for all other cheese. Researching this Cheese King as soon as arriving home, I found it was locally produced and easy enough for me to get my hands on… Cheese lovers, please please try.

With our bill, our French Waiter turned out not to be French but instead a Mr. Dybikowski who, even though we were evidently floundering grandeur, was marvelous. I bid farewell to the doorman on exit and offered a silent apology for my sillies.

I could not have had a better time.

At fifteen pounds a head including a free desert, free refills of chips and that heavenly salad it was superb. I would once again succumb to feeling completely and inevitably bewildered in that pristine, refined environment if only I were not a student who would be panicking at the aftermath in my bank balance. However if in the perfect life I was to return, I would most definitely, most certainly, without fail dress up.

Yours,

Joss

21 month 08.02.2013 4

Llama! in the atrium

Steak and Lobster at Alto on Urbanspoon

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