Tag Archives: Manchester

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.

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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

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

Breakfast at Cicchetti

6 Apr

For me, San Carlo is immensely sentimental. I have spent some fantastic evenings at the San Carlo in Leicester and all are cemented in the memory bank; my Dad’s fiftieth birthday for one. The discovery of Le Petit Rouge (another branch of the group) just above my dearly loved Leicester San Carlo, had me obsessing over their foie gras creme brulee and oysters until I was finally able to get my hands on them. Small and prefectly balanced Parisian food. Of course, it was beautiful.

In one of our first weeks in Manchester, I remember – completely unaware of where I was – walking along what I later found to be Deansgate and seeing Cicchetti, nestled away on a little right-hand street. I was drawn in by the array of antipasti platters (the anchovies!) tempting me from behind a glass counter but, in a rush, I couldn’t stop to buy.

Maybe it was predestined then, or maybe by chance, that when my ‘bestest’ of friends, Sophie, came up to visit me in Manchester we happened upon Cicchetti again – a place that is for me, steeped in San Carlo sentiments. It was around ten in the morning on a Tuesday and it was fairly busy which I took as a good sign, so we opted for ‘The Great Cicchetti Breakfast’ (a name I hoped desperately it would live up to) which consisted of two eggs – mine were poached while Soph’s were scrambled, streaky bacon, pork and leek sausages, mushrooms, a hash brown, tomato and black pudding and of course, tea or coffee. Not very Italian!

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The Great Cicchetti Breakfast; Cicchetti, Manchester

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Sophie is very pleased! Cicchetti, Manchester.

It came out and we were thrilled. Soph’s scrambled eggs were an intense orange from the yolks, so nice to see when pale yellow, unhappy yolks are so common. Soph tried and disliked the black pudding so I swapped it for one of my sausages – the greedy one in me almost wished I hadn’t because, when finally getting round to try them, the sausages were of such a high quality. However! Black pudding is too delicious to let go to waste. The hash brown was interesting, heavily flavoured with thyme and more powdery than I’m used to, but it mixed excellently with the mushrooms sauteed in onion.

I want to try Cicchetti’s main menu; their carpaccio of angus beef and fresh tuna tartare look divine, but I will go back for the breakfast if I find myself hungry in the morning in central Manchester. Yes Cicchetti, your breakfast was ‘Great’.

Yours,

Joss. 

P.S. We also went for dinner at Alto later in the evening – I’m delighted I went back, it’s just. so. good…

San Carlo Cicchetti on Urbanspoon

Levenshulme’s New Market

24 Mar

First check-in to topnotfodder in a while, namely because of cruel beast that is the norovirus (that link will explain, graphically, I’m sure) knocking us for six… Food was suddenly scary! A danger! This was a phenomenon that left me flustered; previously, I would have been able to assure you that my appetite is wonderfully resilient – the last land to be conquered – but not this time. For a few weeks I was left wondering whether I would find the same enjoyment from food that had formerly been developing.

However, they do say good things come to those who wait, and I’m pleased to have waited this long to report on the Levenshulme Market. After the noro, relighting a passion for food had been slow progress (slower, as I am not the most patient individual out there) – but yesterday it was kicked back into action with some serious gusto.

I would like to say that the Levy Market is not just food – it had some non-edible gems for sale as well, I was eyeing up the homemade soaps and musical goodness – but I was drawn  out from the warmth of my homely woodwork by the promise of foodstuffs. It shows our commitment, I think, to say we walked the full 1.8 miles in the bitter cold (not quite snowing yet, but the air was like ice), wrapped in layers, to an unknown place, purely to sample some treats – I only wish I had worn thermals.

We did get lost. We had found Levenshulme but within it, we had been cast adrift by the maps on our phones… And while we were wandering (a good half an hour) the blizzard started up. We sought refuge in the town’s ASDA and luckily for us, a friendly security guard pointed out the way to the train station – of course it was the exact opposite to the way we had been headed. At last! With numb hands and frozen faces, we arrived at the market.

The first we bought were some intensely fabulous pork scratchings from The Moocher, along with their stunning wild garlic paste (which I sampled properly this morning with a black pudding sausage omelette) – a fresh, foraged ingredient designed to be combined in sauces. I loved their selection of potted game, especially the hare! I’m severely regretting not buying the scotch bonnet chilli sauce, so I may have to rectify this mistake in the future…

Next we moved on to the BBQ beauty of Fire and Salt – something I’ve been dying to get my chops round for a while. The brisket cob in their own smokin’ sauce was calling my name and, not one to refuse a challenge (it was a healthy portion), I complied. WOWSAH. We had to sit down to truly appreciate this magic – how we managed to find a seat is a marvel in itself, but having done so, the meaty goodness bathed us in its heavenly waves of joy.

Lastly on the food front was the BarnHouse Bistro. We’ve already learned today that good things come to those who wait and this, readers, is absolutely no exception. The burger the BarnHouse was serving up was beef and coriander ground down and served medium, topped with a lime mayonnaise and jalapenos. What the magic was that was being wielded in those flavours is beyond me but I have been once and for all converted to a ‘burger lover’ – even if it is just the BarnHouse’s burgers – it eclipsed any I’ve had previously, and without a doubt the best eat of the day.

To top off the enchantment of my tastebuds, we warmed up with a chilli hot chocolate (served with cream, marshmallows and cinnamon) from the sensational Margo and Rita – Mexican street food at its best.

A stunning selection! The Levy Market surpassed my expectations from the first bite. Manchester, I love you…

 *The market’s on the fourth Saturday of every month guys – the next on the 27th of April – get down!*

Yours,

Joss. 

Manchester Foodie Quiz @ the Gaslamp.

19 Feb

Last night we had our first crack at a foodie quiz. Having never been to that part of Deansgate (it wasn’t Deansgate Locks, as I thought, not knowing the difference) our taxi-man took it upon himself – as is his job, though not all in Manchester seem to realise this – to get us to the Gaslamp just in the nick of time for the quiz to start. After discovering the Manchester Foodies on twitter, I’d been excited about this all weekend as Monday nights are habitually lifeless… As it was only their second time, we thought we’d give the young, sprouting night a go.

The Gaslamp, for years a kitchen that served food for homeless children, has been converted into a quirky, underground pub serving interesting ales and some unfamiliar drinks (in the fridge, I spotted a couple of bottles of De Molen beer – ‘Engels’ and ‘Hamer and Sikkel’, oooh).  Two pints of Dishy Debbie – a light, zingy beer which even I enjoyed drinking – and two gin and tonics between us, we were ready to take on the rest of the quiz-players.

Ushered into the  back room, we were seated on leather chintz chairs and turning to face the other players, I felt we were in for a chance – I had, in my mind, last months prize of artisan cheese… a golden halo around it…

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Homemade snacks; Foodie Quiz at the Gaslamp, Manchester

Our hosts walked in, introduced themselves as the Quiz Masters and offered round bowls of homemade snacks. We tried the (delicious) root vegetable crisps and the spiced, sweet popcorn. Apart from a mischievousness popcorn kernel that attacked my left molar, both were a huge success.

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Quiz at the Gaslamp, Manchester

Being dreadful at on-the-spot-puns/witty names, our team for the night was called ‘Red Leicester’ because well… we are from Leicester. I absolutely adored how the quiz was set out in a menu format, complete with courses and thick parchment paper. After devouring our snacks, the quiz commenced.

Having lured us in to a false sense of security, we were ambushed by questions which surpassed our (evidently minute) knowledge of the food world. Scoring a mere two in each round, we were baffled by chefs, places, facts and, in the end, our own lacking awareness! Our enlightenment was flawed! Tail between legs, we persevered.

Pork scratchings; Gaslamp, Manchester.

Pork scratchings; Gaslamp, Manchester.

Half time brought us perfectly prepared pork scratchings that had been rustled  by the hosts themselves. Who was to devour the last one almost descended into a fight to the death; gladiator-style. Societal constraints eventually overcame appetite as the quiz began once more.

All I will say is this (and I needn’t go any further), for us, the second half was worse than the first. Yes, it was possible.

The outcome of this ego-shattering experience is that we came joint last (which was third; a bronze medal, I’ll have you know) with a crushing all-round score of 12.5 out of around 40. I think it’s safe to say we’ll need to get in some serious foodie revision before attempting the next one.

And perhaps I’ll retire from writing about food – they do say the good die young.

What a wonderful night, and just a pound each! Seeing as we are still bitter about missing out on any-place-but-last, we will most definitely be returning to reclaim our dignity.  (In Matt’s words, “high-five for taking part!”)

Yours,

Joss

Sakura’s Sushi for Valentine’s (let’s try not to get soppy).

16 Feb

Without sounding like a sickening romantic, waking up to a cherry tree just starting to blossom is pretty special – especially when a pair of sparrows of just starting to nest… Valentine’s Day for me, more than any idea of a commercial money-making scheme (though I will add this – people have been giving gifts since the fourteen hundreds, so it can’t all be fo’ the dollar), marks the end of winter and the start of spring. Milder weather and longer days have just become noticeable – it shouts, almost there guys! Almost there! And – dare I say it – I really, really, really enjoy Valentine’s day. It’s like Christmas, and only extra-cynical, extra-grumpy people don’t like that.

The night before we had spent (literally) hours and hours trying to choose somewhere that a) wasn’t booked up, b) wasn’t painfully formal, c) wasn’t restricted to a Valentine’s menu (don’t even get me started on those things) and d) wasn’t going to cost us an arm and a leg, twice over. We found Sakura, a relaxed Japanese-style cocktail lounge (or so we thought) offering 50% off of the menu for students. Get in.

So, at 5.30pm on Valentine’s, after abandoning the cat to her cackling ‘birdiebirdiebiridie’ (she was intently watching the sparrows) on the windowsill, we went forth to indulge in another love of my life: Sushi. Lots and lots of sushi.

Heading into Manchester and wandering on down by the Cornerhouse, we made our way into Deansgate Locks. Even though a student I wouldn’t exactly say I was well acquainted with Deansgate as an alcohol haven, so when our ‘quiet night out grabbing a bite to eat’ turned out to reside inside one of the biggest clubs on the main strip, I was dubious to say the least. However, I was quickly reassured as our lovely waitress – a Ms. Jenna – let us know that the downstairs partay area wouldn’t be making a squeak of noise until gone nine.

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Sakura, Manchester.

First impressions from inside was that it was gorgeous, if in a slightly glaring way. Though not harsh, the red statement pieces were obviously not meant to be delicate. Being sat down to our rose-petalled table, we were each brought a complimentary shot of ‘love heart’ sake. A worthy gesture and never one to say no to free alcohol, I immediately realised that (my god) sake is not for me. A few nights before I had sat at the back of a bus (I am a student), with me and my partner-in-crime attempting to swig away, and inevitably cringing to, lychee flavoured rice wine that tasted disturbingly similar to the ‘love heart’ sake. On the bus night we had pinpointed the taste to that of saccharine caper vinegar. Mmmmm.  Perhaps it is something my palate will just have to grow accustomed to.

Nevermind, because a Lychee Mojito and a Tokyo Collins (which, my dear reader, were also half price) were well on their way to the table and they soon served to quell the shudders. They were, in fact, altogether yummy. Our waitress took our rather extensive order yet returned to let us know that the tomago nigiri was not available. Offering us any other nigiri free of charge, I couldn’t halp but feel gratified. After a little wait – I’m always suspicious if food arrives too quickly – it arrived.

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Selection; Sakura, Manchester.

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Selection; Sakura, Manchester.

Showmanship was evident in the presentation and although it was neat, I’m not sure the effect was as much of a success as Umami’s (a much smaller establishment on Oxford Road). Such things as the wasabi being moulded into a stiff shape rather than having the fresh, natural texture it originally should have showed that elegance and refinement had been sacrificed for drama. Of course, in a place such as Sakura, effect is ultimately crucial.

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Selection; Sakura, Manchester.

The chicken katsu uramaki and the prawn tempora hosomaki could not be faulted, and the beef nigiri was also exquisite. Our replacement for the tomago – a salmon, fresh dill and wasabi nigiri was a highlight on the plate. I would add that possibly the grade of the sesame salmon sashimi was lower than that at Umami, also that of the tuna hosomaki. This said, the salmon teriyaki had us both fighting over the remaining pieces! Another drink (Midori Slipper and Tokyo Ice Tea) and we decided that just under two hours was enough to spend at Sakura.

Sakura, in determining, was good but it wasn’t great; its saving grace was our waitress who was wonderful all round. I enjoyed being able to see into the kitchen from an over-looking balcony on the second floor but, like the splashes of crimson, everything was about melodrama rather than content. The food was nice enough (note the non-enthusiastic vocabulary) but the drinks were better; it’s good value for students eating sushi but it is no where near the best. If you need somewhere to eat before congregating downstairs for loud music and copious alcohol, it’s a decent place to pick.

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.

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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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