Tuesday, 26 February 2013


A spate of engagements (all food and drink related naturally!) has recently meant a brief hiatus from blog posting.

When I say engagements I mean hangovers. After the Liquorists Ceylon Arrack trail and The Drunken Butcher's supper club (posts to follow), I could have taken a good shot at sousing herrings in my own stomach. Ergo, writing was not at the top of my priority list

The first was one of many visits to Gorilla and this time we'd set our phasers to 'review'. That's the first and last attempt at referencing Star Trek.

Nothing before had given me the impression that they would disappoint and indeed Gorilla is up there with Kosmonaut as one of our favourite new bars.

To find out more about what we thought take a look at our review over at Social & Cocktail.

Though the review here focuses on their drinks selection, I can heartily also recommend the burger, sticky chicken wings & halloumi (the latter two an absolute steal!).

54-58 Whitworth Street, Manchester
M1 5WW
0161 407 0301

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Fire & Salt BBQ, North Carolina Supper Club

Mal: a man passionate about everything barbecue
Despite having talked incessantly about supper clubs, and enviously looked on at the multitude of their occurrences in - to quote Stephen Lee - that there London, it was only on the 8th February that Jamie and I eventually got round to dining in a stranger's home for the first time. I say stranger, but I had already heard and knew lots about Mal and his obsession for barbecue, after chowing down on his amazing riblets at IMBC last autumn. Listening to Mal's passionate history lesson on this age-old cooking technique almost left me digging up my own back garden to build a pit. Alas, I'm not yet on the property ladder and didn't fancy being sued by my kind landlords.

The evening began somewhat nervously, as Jamie and I sat down at a table occupied by two others, and several empty seats. I initially worried we'd actually been booked in for some sort of double dating reality T.V. programme (think Wife Swap meets Come Dine With Me). Fortunately, several minutes later a group of five showed up and the quiet calm of the dining room soon turned into a clattering hubub of introductions. We were generously welcomed with a shot of bourbon, infused with cocoa nibs and vanilla, finished with a spring of mint, a delicious chocolate Sazerac-like aperitif, wonderfully created by Mal's girlfriend, Laura**.

The mini jam jar bourbon shot
First up came the opportunity to try a variety of the barbecued pork: naked; with a vinegar style sauce; and with a more BBQ-esque version - with or without tomatoes (apparently barbecue chefs have nearly killed each other over the tomato debate*). Without wanting to reveal too much about my personality, naked turned out to be my preference. The flavours in the meat were pretty incredible, though I did my best to resist eating too much as I already feared the amount of food on offer might have been too much for my newly 5:2 shaped stomach.

To start, came the Brunswick stew, and I'm not sure I can sum it up much better than their very own description - 'this stew is what happens when small mammals carrying ears of corn fall into BBQ pits'. I have to say, that didn't sound particularly appetising but this was a little bowl of comfort. Next time I'm ill, Mal, if you could drop me some of this round, that would be great! I can't remember what exactly was in it, but I'm sure one of the aforementioned small mammals was a rabbit...

Brunswick stew
Up came mains, with the pulled pork taking centre stage, and the sides staggered to ensure our plates kept filling. Barbecue joint black-eyed beans were my favourite of the lot, as apparently there wasn't enough protein in the several million kilos of piggy on my plate, but deep-fried okra came a close second. Okra, that vegetable so feared by small children due to its pseudonym, was beautifully textured with its cornmeal crust. The hush puppies weren't for me, I'm afraid, though not suggesting that's anything to do with Mal's cooking as I've never had them before so I can't possibly compare!

With an event such as this, I fully expected the real showstopper to be the barbecued meat. In no way do I mean this as any discredit to that slow-cooked little piggy, but the winner of the night - and possibly the food that has most made me question my existence (pure sugar delirium, it was) - was the Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding. That's right, goddamn American donuts cooked with eggs and sugar and butter and all things evil. There's a lie on the Fire & Salt BBQ website though: it says it was served with ice cream. It wasn't - this buttery heart attack inducing dessert was served with MORE BUTTER. Bourbon butter to be exact. Nobody on the table could be tempted with 'ice cream'. Why, came the cries, would I want anything less than a fully saturated fat on my dessert which probably already contains my daily allowance of calories?! Oh Mal, you predicted us all so well.

The artery-busting Krispy Kreme pudding
The night was a success, the food left us full, the bourbon cabinet envious, and the concept filled with glee at the prospect of things to come. I couldn't help but think: perhaps if James Hitchen (Southern 11) had an ounce of the passion that Mal has, his one million pound restaurant might be nearly as good as the food served up by this fella, out of his terraced house in Chorlton.

*This might be a slight exaggeration, but I hear it's pretty fierce.
**Special mention also goes to Laura for managing to successfully co-host the supper club, despite requiring a nurse to pop round and bandage up her finger mid-proceedings.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

In Defence of Ernst Van Zyl

Last week several food bloggers took to the comment pages of Manchester Confidential to defend the cooking of Ernst Van Zyl, head chef at Etrop Grange, in response to Mark Garner's disparaging review of the 'Chef's Menu'. It is a testament to Ernst's ambition and disposition, more so maybe than the quality of his cooking, that he received so many supportive comments.

Herein lies the crux of my argument. Gordo writes: 'Constructive criticism is good'. This is true - I've eaten at Etrop and I was not unanimously complimentary about the food. There is certainly room for improvement and I believe Ernst knows this better than anyone. However, I don't believe the review fits into the canon of constructive criticism. How can you write: 'the disaster that came before'; 'smelled of fart'; 'it actually disturbed us'; and term it 'constructive'.

I can't refute that the meal did go 'spectacularly wrong' or that a broccoli jelly 'smelled of fart' (which it very well might have). I know many who've had excellent experiences at Etrop but I'm more than willing to accept that the current menu has some major flaws. What I'm not willing to accept is the heavy-handed manner in which the criticism was delivered. I’m admittedly a neophyte in the food-writing game but one review and one meal should not be the basis for damaging a chef's reputation so. If Gordo has 'high hopes' for Ernst cooking then you'd have to read between the lines with an electron microscope to find them. 

What bothers me more about the review is that Ernst is one of the few chefs trying to do something innovative in Manchester, a city that has seemingly devolved into buffets, burger joints, and brasseries. I'm not remotely suggesting this precludes him from criticism but anything positive about the meal was brushed over: in the mallard dish (7/10) 'the ingredients worked well'; the desserts were 'fine' despite the lemon tart scoring 8/10. The whole preamble about The Fat Duck was there to illustrate how far, in Gordo's opinion, Ernst has fallen from that particular tree. The whole piece was so far balanced towards the low points that it will discourage so many from ever trying Ernst's cooking.

So, my question to Mark Garner is this: How is Ernst ever going to ‘get it’ if one of the most influential food critics in Manchester recommends that everyone 'stick to the steak and chips'? That would render all Ernst's efforts useless. Surely, more 'constructive' advice would be to recommend trying the 'Chef's Menu' - for how indeed is Ernst going to improve on and adjust his cooking style if the customers don't exist to give him feedback?

I understand that Mark Garner and Manchester Confidential do not want to endorse a meal, especially one with a high price-tag, that might end up disappointing a large section of their readers. However, sometimes I wonder if the motives are less than altruistic.‘Gordo will return in the next three months. He sincerely hopes Ernst takes the criticism in the right way.’ Read: ‘Gordo sincerely hopes Ernst starts cooking exactly the kind of food Gordo wants to eat or Gordo will write another scathing review'. 

The most irksome comment was not in the review itself but from a user called Big Ears who, to paraphrase, wrote that we don’t want or need Ernst's type of cooking in Manchester. It is the most galling thing when someone proclaims to speak for Mancunians in this matter - there are those, myself included, who certainly do want this kind of thing! 

Without encouragement the fine-dining scene in Manchester will never grow and we'll always have to go further afield to find a meal that will challenge our expectations or a chef who will inspire us with his creativity. 

Thus I implore you to visit Etrop Grange and try Ernst's more adventurous dishes; and I hope Mark Garner will take this piece not as a personal attack but in the spirit of 'constructive' criticism. 

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Food For Thought

We are hosting the second of our monthly ‘Food For Thought’ quiz on 18 February at 7.30pm in the back room of the Gas Lamp.

If you’re a self-confessed food geek, it’s a great chance to test your food knowledge while enjoying craft beers from around the world and home-made bar snacks provided by us.

First place will take home a delicious foodie hamper - treats last time ranged from artisan cheese to a Cadbury’s Yule Log!

Entry is £1 and team sizes are preferably of three or more (but we won’t be too strict on that!).

Follow us on twitter (@mcrfoodies) for updates on the next quiz.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Épernay Champagne bar

Despite having worked within hospitality in Manchester for a combined total of nigh on 14 years, both Jamie and I have - somehow - managed to totally bypass Épernay. I think this is in part due to my false belief that it was associated with a Birmingham bar of the same name, where I once had the er, pleasure of having an interview with the most socially awkward manager I've ever met. Fortunately, our wrongs have now been righted, and we visited last Thursday for a lovely evening of champagne & cocktails.

To find out more about what we thought take a look at our review over at Social & Cocktail.

Épernay Champagne bar

Unit 1A, The Great Northern Towers
Watson Street, Manchester, M3 4EE
0161 834 8802