Saturday, 31 August 2013

On the Virtues of Fried Chicken

To get things underway we have an excerpt from Fried Chicken by the American rapper Nas:

Don’t know what part of you I love best
Your legs or your breast
Mrs. Fried Chicken, you gonna be a nigga death
Created by southern black women to serve massa’ guest

Well put, Nasir. In less than 140 characters he ruminates on which part of the beloved bird is the tastiest, the implications of fried chicken consumption for the health of Black Americans, and makes a barely disguised reference to slavery. Take that, Twitter generation!

The song is part pop at America’s dietary habits and part farcical metaphor for a lustful relationship with a woman (“You in your hot tub I’m looking at you salivatin’/Dry you off I got your paper towel waitin’”). I implore you to give it a listen, if only to hear Busta Rhyme’s hilarious closing lines on the dangers of ham hocks: “Who cares if the swine is mixed with rat, cat and dog combined/Yes, I’m a eat the shit to death.”

As is plain to see, fricken is important enough to write a song about. And Nas’ ode is probably the best example of a food-inspired song (if you discount Funkadelic’s Fish, Chips and Sweat). But what’s so great about fried chicken? I’m a self-confessed addict, but I often find, as with many things in life, the expected high turns out to be guilt-ridden disappointment, like a greasy one-night-stand. Guilt-ridden because my moral sensibilities tell me it’s not okay to keep stuffing myself with poultry that’s lived a life only marginally better than a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay. Disappointment because my ‘freshly’ fried chicken has inevitably been sitting on a warming rack for hours and thus taken on the consistency of the fused tentacles of a very dry mop.

So, what advice can a Manchester fricken junkie give? Well, I’m inclined to agree with Will Self when he says, in a clever inversion of the old rat story, “you’re never more than a few feet away from some disjointed portion of poultry carcass.” That is to say, there are plenty of options in this here city. What follows are some tips/recommendations that may or may not (especially if you don’t eat chicken) come in handy:
  •       Avoid anywhere near Piccadilly or Portland St. And the Dixy Chicken at Shudehill. The one on Deansgate is acceptable. Beware of a greater than usual vibe of “I don’t give a fuck” on employees’ faces. That is, if you are in any fit state to be so aware.
  •             In theory, I’d question the kitchen practices of all chicken shops but I can’t bear to look at their Food Hygiene Ratings and suggest blocking it from your mind, preferably with alcohol.
  •           The best chicken wings are in my opinion to be found at Chunky Chicken and Chicken Cottage in Rusholme and Finger Lickin’ Chicken in Withington. They’re a (un)healthy size with the right amount of spice and a slightly less crisp coating (which I prefer for wings). If you like ‘em spicy, Finger’s the default. If you like shards of batter, then stick to KFC.
  •           I now only rarely order my old fave, the 2-piece combo, as I find that wherever I go the quality of chicken borders on the foul (bum-dum-tsh!). Unless we’re talking Southern Eleven’s chicken dinner, although I think they take the colour of the batter a little too far. More brown than golden. Stick to wings and burgers where poor quality is less evident.
  •           When you enter a joint, ascertain the quantities of chicken pieces, wings, and burgers on the warming racks. If they’re low on a certain thing you might be able to get some freshly made if you order enough. Failing that, just ask for it to be made fresh as we’ve established the price of eating stale fricken.

A word on KFC . If you like your service efficient and your options plentiful then it’s definitely worth seeking one out. As much as I try to avoid the global fast-food chains, I can’t fault their turnover of customers, their marketed-to-death specials, and the internal temperature of the food served. Sometimes when I enter any one of the number of ‘fake KFCs’ I often wonder (a) whether the my bowels are going to hate me for this in the morning (sorry!) and (b) why the most incompetent member of staff is serving and the other four are collectively managing to make one mini-fillet burger and a portion of chips. I think there should be a joke along the lines of: “How many Dixy Chicken employees does it take to make a bargain bucket? Five, plus the manager, and the delivery guy, and some guy they roped in off the street. And it still took two hours.” Yeah, I’ll grant you, it’s not very funny. And another thing:  why do KFC still refuse to salt their chips? Surely one salt shaker is cheaper than hundreds of individual sachets. Is it a way of limiting customers’ salt intake? If so, I don’t think it’s working.

Right, I’ll stop myself before I get too much into rant territory. Thanks for taking a foray into the crazy, mixed-up world of a fried chicken addict. It’s great to finally open up about my vice. But writing about it, far from helping in some cathartic way, has just made me want to get hold of a bargain bucket. Dammit!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Juke Joint Bars at Black Jack Brewtap

Do you like beer? Do you like your mind to be blown by the sheer choice of beer on offer? And for your mind to continue to be blown when you see the quality of beer and the mad handmade set up Juke Joint bars have got going on? If you answered yes to these three questions, then read on (make sure you put a helmet on, in case your mind actually blows - the helmet will ensure it is held in place).

Seating area accompanied by excellent DJs
You've heard of pop-up restaurants, right? (I'm sure Dr Oetker's explained them to you). Now, here's the um, next phenomena: pop-up bars. Not quite the same premise as the pop-up restaurant, but the clever boys over at Juke Joint Bar have created transportable craft beer on tap. Generally appearing at events such as Levenshulme Food & Drink market, Trove Foods and um, Brighton (that's the kind of city that's an event in itself, right?), the rentable bar is making a move to central Manchester for a few special weekends. The Juke Joint Bar, run by Jon and Joe - once of the Gas Lamp/Wahlbar and the Beagle - revolves around transportable Jockey Boxes (devised by the fellas themselves), and are always filled with an awesome selection of beer when curated by these guys. They recently took over Black Jack brewery (where their office is based) for a weekend of Brew Tap fun, accompanied by food from the Moocher. We didn't actually try any of the food but their salt beef was apparently good enough even for vegan Jon - that's got to be saying something, surely?!

Now, for the beer. There was quite a selection, and that's not an understatement. No really, look >>>

Apologies for the blur - I may have had my second shot of 'tea vodka' by then.

In the interests of fairness, we tried as many beers as our livers could handle. If you enjoyed feeling sophisticated at IMBC, drinking beer in thirds, you can do this here too, meaning you get to sample a much greater variety than you would in your local boozer. As a less experienced beer drinker than Jamie, it was also a good opportunity for me to delve further into the craft beer world. I'm not particularly knowledgeable about brewing, but I am a keen craft beer drinker. I generally go for porters or stouts if I can handle something heavy, or a
decent malty pale ale when I'm drinking er, heavily. Amongst others, ones that stand out from the night include the Black Jack Alumni, Redchurch's Hackney Gold, Weird Beard's Black Perle and the Shoreditch Triangle. It's not all about the beer here though: there's also a carefully-chosen selection of spirits and um, apple juice. I really wanted to try some of the latter but given the already exemplary selection of beers on offer, it was difficult to turn one of them down in exchange for something non-alcoholic.

Unfortunately Jamie and I can't make Juke Joint's next event at Black Jack, but I whole-heartedly recommend it to those who are still searching for bank holiday weekend plans. Open Friday from 5pm, more or less all the way through to Sunday (I say more or less, those boys do need to sleep!), is there anything better than to sit on a seat (made by Jon and Joe themselves), drinking an excellent selection of craft beers listening to tunes that make you want to move your feet? I THINK NOT. Do it. (OH and if you like craft beer, watch out for an upcoming article in the Skinny Northwest by Jamie. It's interesting. Really. He didn't pay me to say that. And vote in their food and drink survey please. He did pay me to say that. Not really.)

Friday 22nd - Sunday 24th August
Black Jack Brewery (in the yard!)
36 Gould Street, Manchester
M4 4RN

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Chobani dinner, at Room Restaurant

It's easy to be a bad PR person: send e-mails addressed to the wrong name; write press releases littered with spelling errors; jokingly nudge and wink whilst saying "give us a good review" (this actually happened. I'll name no names, but I will say they were not written about after that). There are so many ways to do PR badly, so when - as a blogger - you come into contact with a lovely PR person who takes a genuine (or appears to, anyway!) interest in you, it's a refreshing change.

We were lucky to be invited to a dinner by those who fell into the latter category last week. Perhaps it's something to do with working client-side (as opposed to in a PR farm aka 'agency'), or the fact that both were food bloggers themselves: the representatives of Chobani - Amy and Christine - were glowing examples of how to do PR well. 

So, you might read on and think "oh but they were schmoozed, that's why they're writing about this brand", so I'll be honest: I bought in to the brand. Buying into brands - despite working in marketing - practically defies my entire value system. But I did it: I bought it. Read this story and tell me you haven't bought into it a little bit too. 

Chocolate Marquise, Hazelnut, Yoghurt Puree
I was also impressed by the way Chobani chose to market their yoghurt to us (if you didn't click through to the above link, that's what Chobani is by the way, a yoghurt company): instead of sending us a few free samples, which might have warranted a tweet at the most, they worked with Room restaurant to create a dinner using their range of yoghurts. 

To begin, we were treated to yoghurt cocktails. Slight problem for me as - unless it's a White Russian - I'm not a 'creamy' cocktail kind of gal. The option I chose used their apple yoghurt, almond milk and honey vodka, and slipped down pretty easily. I even had another. I couldn't see a whole night spent on these, but it was much better than expected.

Now, I've said it before and I'll say it again: Room's prawn cocktail starter is pretty much my favourite starter in the history of Manchester. They tweak it ever so slightly with each menu change, but the use of tomato jelly, tempura prawns, spiced crab and an apple crisp always makes its appearance in there somewhere. It's SO GOOD. I would sincerely recommend visiting Room just for this dish.... and to give it a 'Chobani' theme, they created guacamole with the brand's yoghurt. There was literally just a dot of this so I can't really comment further on how the yoghurt worked here. There's no picture so go see it for yourself!

Please could I have some more watercress?
The yoghurt played a much bigger role in the next dish however, as the Bearnaise sauce to accompany the Sirloin steak had been made with Chobani instead of butter, I assume. I rarely eat Bearnaise sauce as I find it far too rich, so making it with yoghurt really worked for me; for the exact same reason, it didn't work for Jamie. I think it's safe to say that Chobani will take a lot of sales from those who want a lower calorie option (this ain't J!). 

For pud, I definitely had food envy: Jamie's treacle tart with Chobani yoghurt parfait was delicious, and the best use of the yoghurt in the menu. My 'Chocolate & Milk' (marquise, hazelnut, Chobani puree and ice cream) was indulgent and most definitely enjoyable, but I don't think ice cream works with chocolate ganache-style desserts. For me, ice cream should melt into a soft base: the two textures working together - but with something like a marquise, I find that when combined with ice cream the textures end up battling against each other. Not unpleasant, but not the best pairing.

Treacle Tart (so-so) with yoghurt parfait (AWESOME)
So, the lucky ladies at Chobani are continuing their brand activation with a series of these dinners across the UK, simultaneously rolling out the brand to supermarkets, er, near you. It's a tough market for the company here - when Hamdi Ulukaya began Chobani back in 2007, there wasn't a lot in the way of competition - but the same can't be said here. Judging by his status as Ernst & Young's World Entrepreneur of the year, I can't see him (and his passionate colleagues) letting that stand in their way.

P.S. Anyone else think that yoghurt is a weird word? I've got that thing when you write a word too many times and it just starts to long misspelled however many times the OED tells you otherwise.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Gincident 2013, by The Liquorists

Awesome photograph taken by the talented  Pete Sheppard of Tone Photographer

The notion of a 'booze cruise' first entered my consciousness at the tender age of thirteen, on a family holiday in the Greek islands. Having previously developed a taste for melon flavoured 20/20, it probably would have been right up my street, had my parents been reckless enough to allow me out of their sight long enough to get cast away. Fortunately the days of teenage holidays with parents are long gone, my penchant for alcopops has developed into a full-blown love affair with good quality spirits, and the concept of a 'booze cruise' has a brand new meaning, thanks to the Liquorists 'Gincident'...
Messa-GIN a bottle. CHORTLE.

By no means seasoned Liquorist trailers, we did once before experience the delights of copious amounts of educational booze on the Ceylon Arrack trail. Though a fun-filled evening, the hopping from bar to bar left us feeling older than our years, and so the idea of a nice long sit down accompanied by gin delights left us experiencing sheer delight that we could both booze and wear slippers.

As soon as we stepped on board the good ship Liquorists, a very fine G&T was thrust into our hands. The boozy tour guides impressed upon us the importance of the Fever Tree tonic. None of that Schweppes shit here, ladies and gents, only the finest on one of these ol' trails. It is actually pretty damn good, and when I'm feeling a little flush I splash out on the good stuff. If it's good enough for Ferran Adria, it's good enough for me. Oh and the G in that tree was Martin Miller's. He does hotels too. Gin and hotels? OF COURSE.

Cured salmon and cucumber. Saved me from a hangover.
We were eased in gently to a night of gin, ensuring we had a good ol' feed. All of the food was served 'sharing style', which was surprisingly tidy considering we were on a floating vehicle, and was also bloody delicious. The best dish of the night was a juniper-cured salmon, served with a delectable cucumber and dill salad. It was so good, the braver-than-I Good Gobble stole a portion from the next table for me. Thanks guys! We also devoured posh chicken wings and a couscous dish served with ham hock, which universally appeared to be the best couscous dish anyone around our table had ever eaten.Whilst it's certainly not about the food on a Liquorists trail, it's good to know it's a whole lot more than an afterthought, and we were ready for our boozing completely sated.

For the uninitiated, the Gincident cruise takes place on a barge, meandering around Manchester's canals. Floating on the water, the cocktails - ya know, the reason why we were here! - are a tasty accompaniment or distraction to the weather out there, so it's worth a trip come rain or shine. We were lucky to be on board on one of the nicest days of the year. OH YEAH, THE COCKTAILS...

Hogarth's Fizz
First up was Hogarth's Fizz. IT WERE REET GOOD. Sorry, that must have been the um, Northern sailor in me. (No, no, not Alan). Something akin to a gin fizz, using Plymouth gin, it was given the Liquorists treatment with an addition of camomile syrup. Now I'm more used to drinking the earth apple (I totally didn't find out that's its other name from Wikipedia. Nope. Not me) before beddy-bos, so I wasn't sure how it was going to slip down in a gin cocktail. The taste, however, was reasonably subtle, and this fella proved to be one of my favourites of the night.

Next up was the um, wittily named Message G-In A Bottle. These guys, they don't just know booze ya know, they know WORDS TOO. And are obvz massive Police fans. Winning all round really. They'd gone to a fair amount of effort with this one, making me feel like the poshest hobo there ever was, drinking out of my specially branded paper bag. It didn't even taste like White Lightning - extra points! Sincerely, it tasted pretty awesome - they'd gone to great lengths to create their own ginger beer, if my memory serves me correctly, mixed with more of the hotelier's gin and a little taste of the Orient with a whisper of Jasmine tea. They don't do things by halves, these boys.

La Floraison D'Etre
Other very drinkable delights came in the form of a Sitting in an English Garden - essentially a better version of here's-one-we-made-earlier using Bloom Gin, with added strawberry liqueur. They'd also got their hands on an even better version of Fever Tree's tonic - this one with elderflower. Basically my favourite edible flower, so I drank this in double quick time...... leaving me not quite so forthcoming when it came to the Blossom Will Be. A pretty little number, using G'Vine gin - but perhaps the addition of white wine didn't sit so well in my delicate-as-a-flower tummy. That was fine though as my table partners happily indulged in extras.

The last cocktail of the night, and the one I'd most been looking forward to, having heard that Jamie Jones - one of the Liquorists moonlighters - had pretty much been crowned the KING OF GIN for was La Floraison D'Etre. G'Vine Floraison - as opposed to their Nouaison used in their earlier cocktail - is mixed with egg white, lemon, olive oil and pink peppercorns. The G'Vine products are a French-style gin; they are therefore made with grape spirit and each of the two have distinctly different flavours. The one in question here offering a more 'floral' and, I suppose, wine-like quality to it, marrying beautifully with the spice from the pepper and the unctuous oil. I expect the cocktail we were served up on the night wasn't quite the same recipe as that which won Jamie Jones the gin crown, but it was a well-balanced drink that was worth the wait.

We were invited on the trail and thus drank for free. Gin can't buy my love though it can buy Jamie's (that's my other half not the gin king), so in the interests of fairness I was tasked with writing up this booze cruise. At £55, it might not sound 'cheap', but I reckon it's bloody good value: five expertly mixed cocktails, a G&T (or two!), food to line the tummy and a tour of the world-renowned (ahem) Manchester canals. Thank God I never did embark upon one of those Ouzo-filled boat trips as a naive teen: good things do come to those who wait...

Go on, book on...who could say no to that jacket? Clearly not the gin king.
The Liquorists have got loads more of these Gincident trips planned. You can book on here!

All photos provided by Tone Photographer (he's alright innee?!).

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Hemingway Bar, Prague

Manhattan at Hemingway Bar
I love booze. There, I've said it - that's the first step, right? Jamie loves it too. We're probably doing to die eating cat food because we've spent all our money on Gin Mare and Rip Van Winkle bourbon. Not a bad way to go, I suppose, as long as Heston comes up with a pet food range for Waitrose in the next thirty years. So, we've frequented the majority of Manchester's cocktail bars and now we're moving on to the Continent.

In our experience, upmarket cocktails bars in Europe differ from bars here. There's few places which offer table service, although Proof and Epernay are exceptions, though neither of those are quite as intimate as the places we've visited when abroad. There's nowhere quite like the hostess-seated, Green Door in Berlin, the ring-for-entry art deco space where Miles Davis once played, L'Archiduc in Brussels, or the too-cool-for-menus, El Gimlet in Barcelona. Fortunately, Berry and Rye - a stone's throw away over in Liverpool - is more akin to our favourite holiday haunts.

Maybe it's just the holiday feeling that adds a certain je ne sais quois to the aforementioned bars, and I certainly mean no insult to the places that are serving some damn good drinks here in Manchester. Maybe I just go all pretentious as soon as I'm drinking in another country and want table service ALL THE TIME, certainly no standing and a bartender who looks like he's walked off a 1930s film set. God, I'm demanding, aren't I?

Courtesy of the Hemingway Bar website (it actually looks better than his in real life)

One of the places we found on holiday in Prague which ticked all the boxes was Hemingway Bar. We loved it so much, we managed to squeeze in three trips in our four night stay, and certainly worked our way through a hefty portion of the menu. I knew I'd love it as soon as I read the 'bar rules' on the menu online; some way find them a little arrogant, but having worked as a bartender for a number of years, they're exactly what I like to see when I walk into a place - I'm just not sure if others take as much notice of them.

Pistachio & Blackcurrant Cosmo - with pistachio foam!
From the attentive and friendly service - we had the same waiter on two of the three nights who was lovely, and had recently started working there after his old place of work flooded! - to the attention to detail in the drinks, we found the place hard to fault. Hardened booze-hound Jamie found some of the drinks too 'watered down' for his English palate, but on the most part they were a delight, even the cocktail which included English mustard!

As I say, we tried a few cocktails over the three days, and learnt they mixed a mean Manhattan and even did justice to some more typically 'girlie' drinks, such as their Pistachio & Blackcurrant Cosmopolitan. If you enjoy proper cocktails, a spot of table service and even a good ol' shake at your table, Hemingway Bar is worth a trip (or three!) if you're visiting Prague.

Hemingway Bar Praha
Karolíny Světlé 26
Praha 1