Tag Archives: Food

Saturday Night Food Fight

1 Dec

Saturday night. Only one of ’em a week. So then how does a girl choose how to spend it, when the temptation is between two food events across the city – Guerrilla Eats and a FoodFight, both starting and finishing at the same time… Time travel? Roller skates? Coin flips? Coin flippage I had to go with, as I can in no way be likened to a version of Dr. Who with perfect roller balance (if only).  The Coin God spoke – I was to go to The Great Northern Warehouse, I was to plumb the delicious depths and satiate my greedy appetite wholeheartedly. Challenge accepted, oh God of Flippage.

All of my adventures to seek out food seem to start with me exploring for a while the surrounding area (wandering around, hopelessly lost) and this was no exception. As always, I was not deterred. Nothing could stand in my way -not even Google bloody Maps.

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Up some steps we went and, instantly confronted by cartoon food, this was surely the right place. I particularly like that carrot on the left…

The aim of the game with the Food Fight is that you swap your money for tokens and pay with those – hit midnight, whichever street food stand that has the most tokens, wins. It’s great. It is great.

First up we chose Cameroon Curried Goat – I can never resist – from Nkono with a dab of homemade hot chilli sauce. I mean, they did underline hot on their menu… This stuff did precisely what it said on the tin (/misleadingly adorable and innocent glass jar). I was coming down with a cold before I arrived at the Food Fight, and I hold Nkono at least partly responsible for the swift clearing of my sinuses. Amazing. While I think I would have liked another spoonful of the rich sauce to cover my rice, the goat itself absolutely fell from the bone – I didn’t even need to prod it with a fork, the magic happened before my eyes. Wish I’d bought some of that hot sauce though…

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After Nkono we traveled further in to the depths of the food hall and clicking our tokens between our fingers, we sized up the competition. Unfortunately for any one else’s chances, I spied Yakumama and their Latin America inspired selection – when enticed inwards with phrases like, ‘free range chorizo, chimichurri, organic guacamole, pickled onion, Barbakan bread’, I really have no control. I get tunnel vision. I cannot be blamed for my actions. Ten minutes wait, you say? More than fine, 100% not-a-problem – I’m happy to stand here and salivate over what’s on your grill. Without a doubt worth it.

Everything was beautiful. The strong chorizo sausage matched perfectly with the flavour of all of the other extras; the chunky guacamole, the sweet, sharp pickled onion slices, even the bread was something to write home about. I actually sat and had a think about life and how great it was at one point. That good.

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Stalking ’round again for a last savoury bite, I found myself looking at Yakumama’s offerings once more. I warned you, the tunnel vision happened. Before I knew it I was buying ‘Ginger beer and pineapple pulled pork tacos: Yakumama spiced free range pork, Mexican slaw, pineapple sweet chili, lime sour cream, coriander salsa, crackling’. Think you could have resisted?

I can’t even describe these properly without getting ridiculously hyperbolic. I just can’t. All I can say, in all honesty, is that each mouthful made me want to dance around, made me want to — can I just say, ‘lalalallaaalalaa’ and leave it at that? Or say, bestthingIthinkI’veeverputinmymouth? The lovely man who cooked up this taco of pure happiness even gave us extra crackling (maybe because I was eyeing it all up. Me? Crackling? Share? Pah.). Just, the, GREATEST. I will now leave it there; I nearly cried.

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I was enormously full by this point but I was persuaded to finish with some of Penelope’s ice cream. Opting for the Apple Crumble (with extra chunks) and Triple Chocolate flavours to share, we were not disappointed. I think the Tooth Fairy must have nicked my sweet tooth at some point in my life but I very willingly helped polish off these goodies.

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Before leaving, I ran over to Yakumama to say thank you for the most amazing feed I’ve had in ages. I realise how bonkers I must of looked (I was wearing a squirrel hat*), near enough leaping over the counter… I imagine I had tears of joy in my eyes as well. Sorry if I alarmed you, Yakumama.

Without a doubt be heading to more Food Fights. Hurray!

Yours,

Joss

*I was told by a rather sloshed man that my hat was not squirrel-worthy. More like a squashed fox. Oh. I was so proud of it.

Yuzu, Manchester

16 Sep

As a Manchester Food and Drink Festival 2013 ‘Restaurant of the Year’ nominee, Yuzu will be pitting itself against five other Manchester restaurants (63 Degrees, Michael Caines Restaurant, Cicchetti, Damson, The French at The Midland); the winner being revealed at a Gala Dinner on the 7th of October. As the vote is up to us – the public – all of those involved should be ‘upping the ante’ in terms of quality and service in the attempt to secure themselves that winning spot.

So, my thoughts…? I like Yuzu. I like it a lot. (Saying this, I have yet to find a Japanese restaurant that I don’t like.) It is clean and elegant in its simplicity. Yuzu was brought about because, according to the owners, there were no ‘real’ Japanese eateries to be found in Manchester; so with Yuzu now being an established restaurant in Chinatown, we went in the hope of finding some authenticity…

Unfortunately it took us a while to find. We managed, somehow, to walk around twice without seeing a thing (and of course, Google Maps was once again of zero help). What finally pulled my eye to the large ‘YUZU’ sign had something to do with the tattoo parlour to the left… Inside, the walls are all pleasant shades of paneled beige – caramel, tan, oatmeal – with a darkly tiled floor on which stand the tables and Yuzu’s characteristically low benches.

Yuzu, Manchester

Yuzu, Manchester

I felt slightly bitter that, in a Japanese restaurant, there were no sushi options on the menu. However, I found out this was because (in the words of Yuzu themselves), “We do not sell sushi, as sushi has to be made by a properly trained sushi master, which we are not.” Fine with me. I’ve recently gained a seriously deep amount of respect for sushi masters after watching Jiro Dreams Of Sushi; stunning – find it and be in awe.

The drinks we ordered were simple; it was a wee too early for sake drinking (Yuzu’s selection is extensive) so I chose the refillable Barley Tea. I had this over the Green Tea, as it was new to me – I chose well! My friend had the Kirin Ichiban, and guzzled it down with relish (I’m assuming this was positive…).

Yuzu, Manchester

Yuzu, Manchester

I’ll be frank – when it comes to food, I truly am a glutton. I wasn’t fully enlightened to this fact until I began to realise that normal people are able to choose their meals delicately, deliberately, precisely; I instead just order all that firmly takes my fancy, in case I miss out the ‘star of the show’. This method of attack does often work out well for me; instead of sticking to known favourites, I am able to branch out into the world of the unknown. A prime example being the daikon and wakame salad. I’d heard it was delicious (holy cow)  but would I have chosen it over the chicken kara-age if I’d been forced to side with one? I dare not answer. Don’t miss this one out guys, here uncomplicated does not equate to mundane. It was quite possibly the highlight of my meal.

Daikon and Wakame Salad; Yuzu, Manchester

Daikon and Wakame Salad; Yuzu, Manchester

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Chicken Kara-age; Yuzu, Manchester

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Chicken Kara-age & Agedashi Tofu; Yuzu, Manchester

After the light salad came out starters: Jay Rayner said that Yuzu’s chicken kara-age “makes all other fried chicken look like a first draft”. I can, hands down and without guilt, admit to being an all-round fried chicken enthusiast, but this… I probably did let out an audible squeal of delight to the surrounding diners as I popped the kara-age into my mouth. The sweet and citrusy ponzu dipping sauce helped keep the dish from becoming too much of a savoury overload. I enjoyed the agedashi tofu very much; tofu is the creamy carrier for many strong flavours, and it held up against the ginger-infused broth. Yum!

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House Prawn Gyoza; Yuzu, Manchester

The house prawn gyoza came served with a bowl of rice and miso (with lots of spring onion, wakame and tofu…). The gyoza themselves were impeccable – soft yet crisp, with large pieces of chopped prawn. The ravings from other reviews lived up in this one.

Scallop, tuna, organic salmon sashimi; Yuzu, Manchester

Scallop, tuna, organic salmon sashimi; Yuzu, Manchester

Lastly, we shared a platter of the sashimi. Sadly, the sweet prawns were missing off of the dish but we assumed that, because all of the fish was so fresh, the prawns simply could not be obtained that day. Never shy with silky and sumptuous raw fish, it was devoured in seconds of lip-smacking triumph.

What a fantastic evening!  Will be looking forwards to seeing how they fare in the Manchester Food and Drink Festival…

Yours,

Joss

P.S. Having been to Yuzu (and tried my best to peer over those sake bottles into the kitchen –  alas, I am a shorty and cannot stretch high enough), I found this youtube video of behind that sake-wall very interesting… if a tad slow. It also made me giggle a bit.

Yuzu on Urbanspoon

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

Le Petit Rouge, Leicester

4 Jul

Last May I discovered the little gem that is Le Petit Rouge, above her better-known Italian sister restaurant. On returning to Leicester for the summer, I have lived up to my vow to relive the experience.

The first time ’round the crimson carpets on the stairs leading up to the French-style brasserie were immaculate as Le Petit Rouge had only been open a few days; this time, with the (hopefully) hundreds of patrons that had been treading on them, they seemed a tad disheveled. Maybe the lights were dimmed but the walk up to our seats did not strike me as dramatically as it had previously done – if anything, it was the scuff marks that caught my eye. Alas, untouched perfection cannot last.

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Inside however, is another story – simple, spacious and elegant. I loved the addition of the sax in the window and the tasteful red, blue and white theme.

We were seated in the same booth as we had been before, resulting in a pleasant pang of nostalgia. Our – fantastic – waiter took our order and we sat back, listening in to the jazzy music until the oysters arrived (I had ordered the chicken liver parfait but it was not available on the day and I, happily, swapped).

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Huîtres; Le Petit Rouge, Leicester

On our first visit, my choice had been the crème brûlée au foie gras as I had never tasted foie gras – it was delicious, but no longer on the menu*, yet I was glad for a lighter start to the meal with the sea-filled, divine ‘huîtres’.

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Crème brûlée au foie gras; Le Petit Rouge, Leicester

After the oysters came asparagus in a black truffle cream on toasted brioche. This was my least favourite of the little dishes – the toasted brioche underneath the asparagus was too sweet and confused the flavours. It felt like a pudding with truffle on top… Separately, the sauce was creamy, peppery and earthy – this would have worked for me had they toasted something savoury!

Scallop and lobster thermidor came third. The play on a classic worked well, with the brandy coming through in the bisque. Lots of lobster and a ridiculously succulent scallop in the middle. Yum! Our waiter at this point began to tell us about his home (I believe it was a small port town in Sicily) and the seafood that was available there – as fresh from the sea as is possible. It was lovely to listen to somebody who was obviously so enthusiastic about their food!

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Scallop and lobster thermidor; Le Petit Rouge, Leicester

All in one arrived the confit de canard, the pommes salardaise and the rocket and Parmesan salad. They worked wonderfully together – I revelled in mopping up the last of the port and fig reduction with the garlicky potatoes. The confit had worked its wonders with the duck; outstandingly soft meat concealed inside the crisp, well-seasoned skin… Need I say more?

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Selection of treats; Le Petit Rouge, Leicester

We were asked about puddings but we could not, by this time, fit anything else in**. Our waiter came over for another chat – no forceful conversation in search of tips – and again it was good to hear him speak about the food he loves. I remember him saying that he would be leaving the Le Petit Rouge soon which is such a shame as he and his knowledge truly made our meal far more enjoyable.

All of this for £6.50 a head… The San Carlo group have something magical here.

Yours,

Joss

*I’m not sure however, if I could have chosen this again without knowing whether or not the owners of those livers had been treated humanely. Thankfully, I did not have to quiz our waiter as the choice was taken away from me.

** This is also sad because the saumon fumé (smoked salmon blinis) and the tartelette au chèvre (goat’s cheese tart) were scrummy…

Kosmos Taverna, Greece (…Fallowfield)

14 Jun

Tonight we ventured from our home to the highly acclaimed Kosmos Taverna. Outwardly, this was a minor feat as the Taverna is practically next door to us, ‘though with the immense amount of food we inadvertently ordered it became a blessing. If extracting only one thing from this recommendation let it be this; do not make the mistake we did – remember that at this traditional Greek restaurant the portions are, errr… traditionally hearty (and if you do forget, nor is it a good idea to – however scrumptious the meal – attempt to ‘squeeze it in’). Do not follow our example. 

We arrived with the intention to make the most of the early doors menu, however I spotted that the a la carte looked far more exciting! My eating partner did opt for the former but I made the decision to delve into the larger menu… 

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Mini Meze; Kosmos, Fallowfield

For our first course, we unearthed the wonders of the mini meze; the dolmathes, the falafel and the tabbouleh salad (cracked wheat with feta, olives, pepper, Greek oregano and olive oil) were stunning and far surpassed my expectations. For me, I would have preferred a stronger feta in the spanakotiropita (feta and spinach parcels) but this is a trivial criticism. Everything else, down the the fresh, warm pitta, was fantastic. 

With the mini meze, we also chose a side of whitebait. These little fish were fried to perfection in a crisp batter before being served alongside homemade tzatziki. The last time I was able to get my eager paws on these was on holiday in Crete, in a small cafe next to the sea; I was worried I would be disappointed but I am happy to say that Kosmos Taverna brought back acute memories of being on that island, basking in the sun. 

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Rosto; Kosmos, Fallowfield

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Rosto; Kosmos, Fallowfield

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other bloggers have reported that, after the starters, the meal began to go slightly downhill. For us, over a year later, this was not the case! My main, called Rosto, was a winner – lamb shoulder which fell from the bone, cloaked in a decadent red wine and cinnamon reduction. With it came cracked wheat and vermicelli which in hindsight I would change for a salad, as the luxuriousness of the thick sauce meant a lighter accompaniment was needed. 

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Mixed Kebab; Kosmos, Fallowfield

Beside me, a mixed kebab arrived and I had a serious moment of food envy. Our waiter, a curmudgeonly chap, informed us that the kebab was served with a barbecue sauce – this would have discouraged me as I detest synthetic ‘BBQ’ sauce but my companion persevered and thank God because it was a little boat of sweet, spicy, tangy goodness. *insert lip smacking noises*

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Baklava; Kosmos, Fallowfield

At this point I was fuller than full, but with the promise of baklava (crammed with pistachio) tempting my ‘pudding compartment’, who can resist (evidently not us, as I tucked in before remembering to snap up a picture)? We decided to share this final course and it was – again – a success, however I do wish that there had been more honey syrup on the baklava as the pastry was a little dry, even with the ice cream… 

Our slightly surly waiter arrived with another small morsel to end the meal (a complimentary bite of samali – semolina cake – and a boiled ‘sweetie’) and I very much felt like the eventually exploding Mr. Creosote in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life who is offered one more, single thin mint*. 

After a lovely evening, I knew it was time to waddle home. 

 

Yours,

Joss.

 

*I am sincerely hoping however, that our waiter didn’t find us quite so dreadful a customer.

 

Kosmos on Urbanspoon

Seoul Kimchi and why to go off the beaten track.

3 Jun

About a year ago, and after an offer to study at university, I came to Manchester to suss it out. My first thoughts of this mother city were, uninspiringly, that it was big. Bigger than the little Leicester that I had come from. We arrived at night and the sprawl of lights spread into the distance, surrounded by dark hills. If anything, I felt claustrophobic – away from the comfort of familiarity. 

The morning dawned in Salford Quays and we drove our way around the city, passing the conspicuous Seoul Kimchi along the way. These were not roads known to me and I suffered to remember the place we had passed. 

A year later and a taxi ride along that same route in which I recognised the back end of the Manchester Royal Infirmary, I’ve found it. By now the persistent feeling of being alien has disappeared and the investigation into the whereabouts of this restaurant has been solved. Welcome to Seoul Kimchi. 

When we visited, it was a miserable day. The fact that it was so desolate (grey, drizzle, icy wind) must be remembered because when we left Seoul Kimchi, we were skipping out of the door. Nothing improves my mood more than a good feed (and nothing worsens my disposition more than hunger). I was satisfied. 

The interior was tight, only four separate tables and two long counters. Somehow, we arrived at the right moment to be shown to the seats with a fascinating view of the kitchen (always interested). It took us a while to order as the menu had many traditional Korean dishes that I had never come across; curiosity is forever making me slow with decisions. Eventually, we did decide on a few (an awful lot) of our favourites and one exciting extra. 

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Seoul Kimchi, Manchester

First to arrive were the accompaniments. We had homemade cucumber pickles with sesame, wickedly hot kimchi and –  when I asked – a type of bean curd in a mildly flavoured chilli oil. The latter I had never tried before… It was delicate and smooth, though I have yet to find out precisely what is it. 

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Beef and kimchi gyoza; Seoul Kimchi, Manchester

Soon after came our beef and kimchi gyoza. Without a doubt, gyoza – no matter the filling – are a favourite of mine; I cannot help but be thrilled when I spy them on a menu. These particular gyoza perfectly alterated between crisp and succulent. 

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Sushi; Seoul Kimchi, Manchester

With the sushi, the tamago was the only disappointment – I didn’t find it quite as gratifying as I usually do. Apart from that, I have no complaints! The standout pieces were the tobiko – it was sublime, the ‘pop’ not too strong – and the unagi, which from my first taste at Umami I have fallen in love with – it lived up to all of my expectations.

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Seafood Stew; Seoul Kimchi, Manchester

Lastly came the bowl of seafood stew and rice. Packed with baby octopus, clams, mussels, fish, shrimp, it bubbling away at us until it cooled enough to eat (believe me, I tried tackling it as it was still boiling and funnily enough, burnt my tongue). The half-moon shaped daikon added a curious, yet much needed, crunch to the dish. It was lovely, the amount of chilli just what we needed to warm our cockles and send us off into the cold outside air once more. 

 

Yours, 

Joss

Seoul Kimchi on Urbanspoon

Too cool to give a sh*t – Almost Famous

14 May

In Dianne Jacob’s intensely informative book, Will Write For Food, she argues that – while book publishing takes months and months – the blog is a far more instantaneous method for writing about food. She also taps into the fact that a blogger may, with exhilaration, say ‘whatever they want, unfettered by editors’ and thus, unfettered by trends. With my liberty to go against a seemingly overwhelming grain of adoration in Manchester (and specks of worship being thrown slightly further afield) for this lot, I’m putting it out there. I really, really, really don’t like the vibe I get from Almost Famous.

Don’t get me wrong guys – your burgers are nice; not something I’d eat every day (it wouldn’t exactly be positive on the waistline) but… they’re good. I’ve been twice, both with friends, but I would not go back a third time – and that’s the lucky one, right? Apparently the ‘staff couldn’t be lovelier‘, but how this impression has been gauged by other reviewers I fail to understand as both times I’ve been we were subjected to the same member of staff and she was utterly foul. My hackles began to rise after we asked whether they took card and our waitress, without a hint of pleasantness turned on us to say – and I quote – ‘Duh, this is the twenty-first century…darling’ (forgive me for judging you by your bare interior, Almost, I’m just a noob on the block who knows nothing of your ultra-cool, hipster fabbo status) accompanied with a sneer and a raised eye-brow. Silly me.

That small, snide comment stunted any development of rapport and went totally against their promise of ‘specialising in giving people a good time’ (written in capitals on their website). My time spent at Almost Famous would have been better if I didn’t feel like everyone around me was attempting to mould themselves in with the strange theme of ‘ITS ALL VERY ALICE IN WONDERLAND SECRET HANDSHAKE STYLE AND YOU’LL LOVE IT’ (I didn’t love it); and obviously they were doing it the best, and anyone else was inferior. It’s this cooler than you (and they probably are) attitude that grinds – do they have to go on (and on and on…) about how witheringly trend-setting they are? I mean, at the end of the day, after all the pomp – it’s just burgers?! Christ Almighty, you serve your burgers pink, you say? My God! You ARE the best – why has no one thought of this before? Oh, wait… Ah yes, I remember now, pink cow is not quite original.

Why does it say ‘NO PRESS NO PHOTOGRAPHY NO BLOGGERS NO BLAGGERS NO KETCHUP’? Almost Famous – you have people in there every day who are taking pictures, blogging about it, talking about it… It’s all hype! What, exactly, is a blagger!? And personally, a bit of ketchup would be fantastic.

But it was none of this that has peaked my irritation. It’s the constant use of images like this of the ‘face of Almost Famous’, their own ‘dumb blonde’, captioned with ‘you want it in and around your face’…

And about their own waitresses, ‘Who wants dirty burgers? Served by 3 sluts in leather’. We all know sex sells, and it doesn’t differ in the food world, but is it okay to casually drop crap- and it is crap – like this in? It’s the constant use of ‘cheap’, ‘dirty’, ‘whore’, ‘slut’ all over their website, menu, twitter – even their facebook page calls itself a ‘meat whore’ – that I can’t stand. The Skinny, in Lauren Strain’s article ‘No Ketchup, Just Tits’ picked them up on it – asking whether we should have to bear comments like, ‘Oh baby fuckin’ fill me up with… oozing meaty pizza and sauce and and cheese make me squeal like I’m getting slammed in a car door’ plastered to even more pictures of the ‘dumb blonde’ or that their ‘trailer trash’ fries differ from normal fries because they have been ‘fingered by gypsies for half an hour’. I don’t think we should have to bear it.

It seems that it has become acceptable to sell deprecating and sexually provocative ideas in a casual and explicit manner, all in the name of a brand. And why? Why is it that scores of people buy into this imagery – imagery that is, without a doubt, overtly derogative and in my mind, sickening. This is the impression that Almost Famous have built up and they will carry on being ‘too cool for it to be discriminatory’; or is it too successful – in other words too rich, too ‘almost famous’ – to have to give a damn about the wider impact of degrading and malignant representation.

The more I delve into their philosophy, the more I dislike them. Almost Famous, it’s not your burgers but your attitude that stinks.

Yours,

Joss.

Almost Famous on Urbanspoon

Birthday Breakfast

5 May

Just a short piece on Matt’s handiwork from first light on my birthday; I must put this in because it is a memory to treasure. I – thankfully – was able to ease into wakefulness (admittedly slightly pieced by an impatient stomach) with a cup of tea, while he scampered around the kitchen in a mild agitation at the mission ahead of him. 

I watched this slightly chaotic spectacle for a while, intent solely upon being an observer (it was my birthday) until I surrendered with a smile. It was better this way – we ended up kicking ‘eggs royale’ ass. 

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Eggs Royale; Birthday Breakfast.

Hollandaise – it’s not impossible; be patient with it… Don’t rush the yolks turning to spaghetti-like ribbons by putting them over too high a heat – it will scramble. Whisk constantly, gently, lovingly…! Do not re-heat and make sure you add some lemon and black pepper in at the end. Saying this, I made the hollandaise because Matt’s prior attempts had been, in his own words, ‘disasterous’, so as the egg poaching king he concentrated on creating spheres of golden-yolked goodness. 

Swapping the smoked salmon for gravlax was definitely a winner – its sweet sharpness and dill curing wreathed through, cutting through the buttery hollandaise (hence why you need the lemon for a little more lift) without jeopardising the silken unity of the ingredients together.   

Serve with ciabatta and asparagus, and fall in love. 

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. 

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