Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The French by Simon Rogan - Opening Night

Ox tartare, coal oil, pumpkin seeds, kohlrabi

Bowing my head to the plate and inhaling the aromas of raw ox and coal oil, I immediately break into a smile and think, “Simon Rogan, you’re a bloody genius!” 

On the back of our menu Rogan is quoted as saying “The city is definitely ready for it”. From many people's point of view this couldn't be more of an understatement. I and countless others have decried the lack of fine-dining options in Manchester for some time; but, no longer. 2013 is shaping up to be a game-changing year and Simon Rogan is spearheading the move to put Manchester back on the culinary map.

Upon entering The French, the first thing to note is that this is not a restaurant, it is a dining room. The kind of dining room people of my generation have rarely, more likely never, eaten in. Decor, though, is the least of my concerns, suffice it to say that I quite like it - the colour scheme and comfortable furniture do a good job of mitigating the opulence of the otherwise formal setting.

However, we were here for the food and it was a foregone conclusion to choose the 10-course tasting menu at £79 (there was also a 6-course option (£55), and 3 courses (£29) will be offered, I imagine at lunchtime). £79 will seem excessive to many; but it is interesting to note that five years ago Jay Rayner was paying £70 a head at The French for what he termed a 'gruesomely expensive' and at times 'authentically bad' meal. 

Under the guidance of Rogan and Adam Reid, there will be no such worries. This is unequivocally the best meal I've had in Manchester; full of subtleties, surprises, and damn good cooking. I can't think of a single ingredient that wasn't perfectly prepared, bar the couple of fragments of shell in the crab dish. So, I'd rather not bore people with gushing descriptions of each of the 10 courses and, furthermore, I don’t want to spoil the surprise; but I will dip into some of the highlights reel.

The amuse bouche of onion cracker with eel and onion ash was a delicious assault of smoke and umami, once you got over the fact that it looks like someone's stubbed a fag out on it. 

I never thought I'd see the day come when I spooned black pudding mousse into my mouth with a seaweed twig. You'd feel like you were being secretly mocked if it wasn't so good. 

The ox tartare with coal oil might well become a 'signature' dish. The oil is infused with burning coals so that the aroma of barbecue hits you as you lift the tender rib-eye meat to your mouth, the blackened pumpkin seeds add texture and more charred notes, the kohlrabi spheres and sunflower shoots refresh and mellow it all. Multisensory heaven. It's worth going for this alone.

Early spring offerings
Early spring offerings was a salad of incredible depth. I had seen Simon Rogan make this salad at the NRB show last week and he used more than 30 ingredients if my memory serves me well. The range of textures and flavours is extraordinary, from the charred leaves to the silky purees, to the flower petals and crisp turnip. A compositional tour de force.

The larded veal with split peas and beetroot jus was an exceptional main. The lean veal is studded with fat so it appears moister, richer, and altogether more flavourful. The ingredients were in rich, earthy symphony.

Larded veal with split peas and beetroot jus
I'll stop...there was overall very little to dislike. The homemade cola at the end was a little to sweet and the razor clam and scrambled egg dish a bit too rich. But that's being picky and only my personal preference. The wine list was reasonably priced for a hotel restaurant, with some definite bargains in the Pinot Noir and the Tasmanian Sauvignon.

I imagine Simon Rogan will now set the trend and others will follow, not so hot on his heels, for it will take a supreme effort to usurp The French even on first impressions. The menu was pitched perfectly, the cooking near faultless and the service was smooth for the most part, except one waiter who was prone to saying “thank you very much” with the alarming frequency of an erstwhile Elvis impersonator.

It was disheartening, as Rogan pointed out on Twitter, to see two no-shows, especially on opening night. It highlights the fact that it may not be plain sailing and it will take some time to win Mancunians over to the style of food and distract them from the price-tag, even with the big name attached. We've been without this kind of thing for so long that it'll perhaps be re-embraced slowly. I for one, to parody Greg Wallace, am giving it a great big hug!  

The French by Simon Rogan on Urbanspoon

Monday, 11 March 2013

The Liquorists: Ceylon Arrack Trail

My experience of a Liquorists trail can be summed up in the following three bullet points:
  1. I haven't drunk like this since university 
  2. 25 minutes to drink a Sazerac and a glass of punch is not enough
  3. Capping off the night with a rum Old Fashioned and a Martini is just plain stupid
The last is my own bittersweet fault and I only partly blame The Liquorists. Nobody had a gun to my head, forcing me to drink the copious amounts of booze but it seemed in the 'spirit' of things, if you'll pardon the pun. (Five bars) x (a cocktail and a shot of punch) = this quote by Ernest Hemingway: “Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.”

Now, before you think - "Hold On! He's not selling this very well!" - I did have a great time. I'd simply advise booking the following day (NB: read week) off work unless you're blessed with an immunity to hangovers. Of course, as an advocate of responsible drinking, I know there is no need to drink everything that is put in front of you but it doesn't seem financially sound not to (although I should mention that this perhaps isn't a logical argument in this case, as we were guests of the kind folks at the Liquorists).

For those who haven't heard of The Liquorists, they are Tom Sneesby and Jody Monteith, a pair of vastly experienced bartenders turned consultants who run among other things the Manchester Spirit and Cocktail Trails. They take a spirit and teach you about it in the best way possible: drinking it in various concoctions. It's an upmarket, informative pub-crawl if you will, which they run from their headquarters/bar/venue/studio at 22 Redbank in the Green Quarter. Imagine a kind of boozy Bat-cave.

The bartenders' Bat-cave.
For this particular trail we had the company of Jody and the spirit in question was Ceylon Arrack. Now, I'd like to qualify that I too am a bartender albeit it one with much less experience but a great deal of curiosity; and I can't remember the last time I tried a spirit that was completely new to me. And I'm guessing that, with the exception of the 'trailblazers' and a select few, not many of you will have ever heard of this mysterious drink.

Ceylon Arrack has a great story behind it and Jody, being a great teacher and a passionate orator, conveyed its heritage to us over the course of the night. It is a spirit distilled from the sap of the coconut flower and comes from Sri Lanka where the 'toddy tappers' climb coconut trees, make holes in them and collect the milky sap which is also used to make palm sugar and coconut syrup. We were shown pictures of these daredevils 'tight-roping' between the enormous palms. The distillate of the fermented sap is then aged for a short period in Sri Lankan 'Hamilla' wood to mellow it.

Ceylon Arrack takes a little bit of flavour from the wood and bears a slight resemblance to a bourbon or cognac on the nose. It also has the floral, green qualities from the sap but its finish is predominantly sweet, almost caramelized, coconut. Thus it sits well with other flavours that like coconut, especially lime, pineapple, and ginger. These flavour combinations made up a lot of the shots of punch if I'm not mistaken.

The Sazerrack at Hula
It is beyond the scope of this post (and my hazy memory) to describe all the cocktails we had, suffice to say that you can mix it with ginger beer, a dash of bitters and a slice of orange as Jody did; or treat it more like a bourbon and make a Sazerac out of it like the guys at Hula with their Sazerrack (see what they did there?). We were also treated to cocktails at Northern Quarter stalwart Apotheca and newcomer The Whiskey Jar, ending up in Epernay. Transport was provided where necessary and we were given a nice Sri Lankan curry before embarking on the crawl as well as snacks at each bar, most noteworthy of which was Epernay's cheese and meat selection.

Um, something with beer in it at the Whiskey Jar. No idea what it was called.
I reckon with The Liquorists at the helm you're always going to be guaranteed a drink-fuelled night with the right balance of education, entertainment and socialising. Put a group of strangers together and there's always an element of awkwardness at the start which quickly dissipates after several drinks. This being organized fun after all, the only qualm I have is that the night could have started a little earlier to allow a bit more time in each bar as there were times went things felt a little rushed. I do nonetheless acknowledge the restrictions on time and the difficulty of herding a load of tipsy sheep from pen to pen!

After all this talk of booze, I feel I should leave you with a sobering thought. A cursory glance at an article on the Sri Lankan 'toddy tappers' will tell you that their art is dwindling one. The younger generation are put off by the risk, the hard labour and the poor wages (750 rupees/£3.80 for 100 litres of sap). Many of the ageing toddy tapper population have no one to follow in their footsteps. So it remains to be seen whether the manufacture of Ceylon Arrack will become an industrialized process and lose most of its heritage in the process. Let's hope not.

In the interests of transparency, I'll mention again that we were guests of the Liquorists, but like drinking those last cocktails, no-one has forced us into writing anything nice.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner

Lovely Beagle branded glasswear sporting Buxton's Dark Nights and the Kernel's London Sour

Never have truer words been spoken than the title of this post. Spotting The Beagle's Chicken In A Basket night - chicken served three ways - our pulses raced as it was confirmed that fried would indeed be one of the ways it would be cooked. Then I stupidly decided to give up fried chicken for Lent (yes, it has got that bad). Cue moral dilemmas. Being agnostic I'm not really that strict on the whole Lenten abstinence, and decided, for the sake of democracy - as Jamie's analysis of fried chicken is only going to end in one answer: "good!" - to go and eat everything anyway.

I will ashamedly admit that we had never before visited the Beagle. Though it had most definitely been on our to-do list since I picked up a mysterious flyer promising a beer house with dining room (bastards! I shouted, they've stolen my concept!) at IMBC, we had failed to make the lengthy two bus-rides journey over. Whilst we have an array of chicken eateries on our doorstep, this journey proved we will travel far and wide for our land-burdened feathered friend. On entrance, the bar made me feel a little like I was in a very sophisticated German beerhouse - and even reminded me a little of Die Henne in Berlin (chicken on the brain or what?!) - though on moving into the restaurant area, it felt a little more like I was in a super stylish granny's living room.

Though we would be provided with beer as part of the deal, we opted for something different as an aperitif, and Jamie wisely selected us a half of the Kernel London Sour (at 2.3% perhaps one of the lowest ABVs I've seen on something actually drinkable!), and another of the Buxton's Dark Nights (4.6%) - an American style Porter. Having acquainted my palette with a rather less sophisticated Irish porter in an attempt to enjoy beer as a young girl, I ended up becoming rather good friends with it, and so the Dark Nights was right up my street. Whilst I could appreciate the er, aperitif style of the Kernel (it certainly got one's mouth watering!) the barman's description of it tasting like salt & vinegar crisps couldn't get out of my head, and I passed this on to Jamie. Good news all round as he's loving the Cantillon brewery at the moment, whose Geuze beer isn't altogether dissimilar to the Kernel's offering. I should also take this opportunity to award Jamie with a small round of applause for managing to refrain from any puns on its name given what we were here to eat...

The most perfect scotch egg in the world. 

We were given a couple of morsels to begin: a perfectly cooked scotch egg (look at that yolk!), and something lovely and buttery on brown bread. I had to ask the waiter what it was who replied "just potted cheddar". Now to he who works there, and probably is lucky enough to pinch a bit every day of his working life (late at night, when going for a 'fag break' but secretly going on a fridge scour - that's what I used to do), it may just be potted cheddar, but to me, it was one of the most delicious things I had ever eaten on bread before EVER. Even with the chicken still to come, this decided it: the Beagle was my new favourite restaurant.

Now, I can't say I'm altogether taken with this new fad of serving things in a basket (think burger bars), but I was going to let this slide for tonight, and was more than pleased when I spotted that the Beagle had carefully sourced lovely stylish baskets for the evening. Despite that, chicken in a basket ain't ever gonna look pretty so there's no photo, but you do get to hear my comprehensive description! First of all, my guilt re: Jesus' death subsided as the fried chicken was 'popcorn' style, and therefore not even what a fricken aficionado would term fried chicken due to its lack of grease. The coating was light and tasty and easily popped! into the mouth. The spicy Buffalo wings were seriously spicy (though I'm only one step up from a Korma kind of gal) though didn't set my mouth on fire as much as the ones we tried at the Bird in Berlin (more of what they're about here). Fortunately, the sides offered blue cheese dip which made them easily manageable for someone as wimpish as me. We were also given a purple cabbage slaw and crudités of carrots and celery (the chef's Mum had clearly taught them that you must always get at least one of your five-a-day in your evening meal!).

BBQ Beanz & blue cheez dip
Back to the chicken, as we still had a breast and a leg of chicken each to get through... My guess is that they might have been cooked sous-vide and then finished off in a pan as they were so wonderfully tender. Or they're just really good at cooking their poultry to perfection too! We were also given the best chips ever: perfectly seasoned with what I can only imagine was crack-salt as I am still craving more of them now, a whole week later. There was so much food we had to ask for a doggy bag to bring half of the chicken home, which I thoroughly enjoyed in a club sandwich the next day.

We were, of course, also given matched beers with the chicken with a choice of either Quantum's American Amber Ale (5.3%) which I really enjoyed; not overly hoppy and therefore a great choice for me. We were also served Magic Rock High Wire (5.5%), which - to be honest - I don't remember at all, but beer ratings websites seem to score very highly so it's probably not bad!

This would have small children crying with tears of joy
Dessert was still to come and took the form of a retro ice cream sundae. The ice creams were phenomenal - the strawberry even better than a Mini Milk (what high praise!), and I would hazaard a guess that the other was a dark chocolate sorbet. All served up with strawberries, bits of brownie and honeycomb, and topped - slightly too high, for my liking - with whipped cream (the proper stuff) - we manage to get through most of it, as we were worried it might not transport so well in our doggy bag.

All in all, a highly successful evening! I think that's evident from the number of seemingly superfluous statements I've made in this entry, but it's all true. My only criticism would be that when I heard 'matched beers' I thought there would be set beers provided to compliment each of the courses and had dreams of some sort of treacly dark beer to go with the dessert. Nevertheless, booze was enjoyed, food was demolished and even better, it was a bargain! £20 per person for a pint, a nibble, pracitcally an entire chicken, sides and dessert. I hear other great themed nights are on the cards, so please Beagle, reserve us a spot now, because I can't wait to see what you'll do with a prawn cocktail...


The Beagle
456-458 Barlow Moor Road, Chorlton
Manchester, M21 0BQ
0161 881 8596

The Beagle on Urbanspoon

Friday, 1 March 2013

Berry & Rye, Liverpool


1920s America: terrible racism, organized crime, and a brief post-war recession aside, I sometimes like to think I’d have enjoyed living in the USA during the Prohibition era. Imagine a time when the humdrum activity of going to a bar was charged with the excitement of illegality; a time when the mere act of raising a pint to your lips was tantamount to ‘sticking it to the man’; a time when bars were secretive, underground and un-signposted.

Nostalgia can of course be a terrible thing. Let’s make one thing clear - the booze would have been dire, knocked up by your neighbour in the same bathtub in which he washed his dog or, worse still, the poisonous “canned heat” made from roughly filtering Sterno, a type of jellied alcohol-based fuel. I very much doubt a good Manhattan would have been easy to come by.

So we come to Berry and Rye, a bar which casts its eye back to the speakeasies of the Roaring Twenties for its aesthetic; but has living, breathing 21st century bartenders with a plentiful supply of excellent spirits and formidable cocktail knowledge. No need to worry about the rising membership of the Ku Klux Clan or why all the good writers are emigrating to Europe, just sit back and enjoy the atmosphere

If this weren't such a great bar, I’d be loath to recommend it, lest its obscurity be compromised in the least of ways. But it is that good: a breath of fresh air, the kind of bar I own in my dreams, the kind of bar you can normally visit only after buying a ticket to Berlin or Barcelona.

So, it’s a Thursday night in Liverpool, Anna and I, braced against the biting wind, wander down Berry Street past the legion of Chinese takeaways and fried-chicken shops looking for a number. We approach an unassuming black doorway behind which we can faintly hear some sign of life. Is this it? I open the door, breast-stroke through the heavy black curtain, and feel like I've stepped back in time. Well, except for the fashion.

Anna goes to the bar to ask for menu only to find out there isn't one: surely, a good omen. So we take a seat in an intimate booth, the waiter brings over some water, perches beside us and asks us what we’d like to drink. Anna is in the mood for whiskey and I for gin, so after some querying and several suggestions we settle one a Volstead Act and a Martinez.

The former, named after the piece of legislation that established prohibition, is a blend of bourbon, sweet vermouth, white cacao, and bitters. The latter is a classic cocktail of gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino and, usually, orange bitters; if you like a Negroni then the omission of the bitter Campari for the nutty, floral, cherry notes of maraschino. Both were smooth and expertly mixed.

With drinks ordered, we could soak up the sights and sounds: the place is moodily lit by exposed-filament bulbs, rail-road lanterns and candles which give the place an old-timey feel, as do the antique photographs and the tunes playing over the speakers. Then the piano keys begin to tinkle a jazz standard and we both sense that our dinner plans have just been cancelled. Not that we particularly want to stave off hunger, but the prospect of going outside, back to reality, has immediately become abhorrent.

So we order another round with the able assistance of our waiter. I fancy a dirty Martini and am nudged in the direction of Chase gin, a British gin made exclusively from apples which are fermented into cider then distilled into vodka. The usual flavourings of juniper and coriander are apparent with some more unique characteristics of hops and bramley apples. It’s a full-bodied crisp gin which stands up well to the salty olive brine. Anna chooses a Sazerac, a drink guaranteed to intoxicate the most hardened booze-hound. Rinse and coat a glass with Absinthe, then stir bitters, cognac and bourbon over ice, then strain into aforementioned glass. Needless to say, we took our time over these.

Forgive me if I slip into 1920s parlance for a brief moment. On accounts of being ‘spifflicated’ as we were, we were all ‘goofy’ and there was no chance we’d be ‘getting our wiggle on’ soon so we decided to order some more of that ‘giggle water’. To cap off the night, Anna ordered another Volstead Act and I went for what I think the waiter called a Holland, being that it was made from Dutch gin or Jenever. I didn't have the wherewithal to ask which Jenever and am struggling to recall the ingredients; however, it tasted in my mind like a gin old-fashioned, with the Jenever imparting a malty, creamy mouth-feel. I’m sure I will find out more on my next visit.

This place is low-profile on the Liverpool bar scene so I can only imagine how well-known it is in Manchester. Now the secret's out.

Berry & Rye
48 Berry Street
Liverpool
L1 4JQ

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Gorilla

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!).



Gorilla
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

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The perfect slice

The best homemade pizza?

Pizza is one of those foodstuffs that elicit obsessive behaviour. Fanatics will  go to painstaking lengths to recreate the 'perfect' slice. Heston Blumenthal devoted an entire programme to it for his 'In Search of Perfection' series; and I have been guilty of indulging in such fanaticism! Having already put many recipes on trial, it was time to have a stab at the recipe from 'Modernist Cuisine at Home'.

The resting dough
I'd like to say by way of preamble that I won’t advocate trying to mimic a wood-burning pizza oven chez vous. The result might be rewarding but the expense and time detract from what should be a very simple, cheap meal. Buying a thin sheet of metal cut to fit your oven doesn't prove to be that expensive (and might be an investment if you often eat pizza) but what if you've not had the foresight to order one and want pizza pronto? What if you don’t fancy preheating your oven for an hour in this age of astronomical energy costs?  Above all, I felt compelled to master pizza cookery at home purely because the mark-up in restaurants is so high – a Margherita at Pizza Express costs £7.90 and I can imagine it costs well under £1 to make.

Pizza dough formed into balls

I find that placing a baking tray upside down in an oven preheated to its highest temperature will suffice. No, your pizza won’t cook in under 2 minutes per the ridiculous criteria set for authentic Naples pizza but, frankly, do you care? If you really want an authentic pizza you’re probably going to have to bite the bullet and pay for one. The high heat of a wood-burning clay oven will cook the base evenly and give it colour (undoubtedly the biggest challenge) and give you those lovely charred bubbles of dough. I often find that the slightly thicker crust is underdone by the time the topping has cooked.

The rolled and topped pizza

Rolling the pizza base very thinly is the best way to ensure a speedy cooking time and toppings that aren't cremated. The best way to learn how to hand-make a pizza is to watch a video then practice; it's deceptively hard work and tearing the dough while stretching it out is easy to do. Use a rolling pin if you're having trouble and try to ignore the sound of the purists jeering. The making of the dough itself will be that much easier if you own a mixer with a dough hook; though the dough can be easily kneaded by hand as it is not particularly wet.

Purified gluten

Now comes the time to admit that I've been a little disingenuous. The Modernist Cuisine recipe for Neapolitan pizza dough does require a specialist ingredient: Vital Wheat Gluten (Bob's Red Mill brand available on Amazon). Yeast-leavened doughs - like pizza dough - benefit from the addition of extra gluten in its purified form. It gives, in my mind, the right amount of chewiness to the crust and yields a dough that requires less kneading. A brief rest during the kneading process and then a 1 hour period at room temperature and you're ready to go. I'm sure you can forego this ingredient (given it costs £8/500g) as a decent kneading will develop the gluten networks sufficiently.

So, introduction over, now to the recipe:

MODERNIST CUISINE'S NEAPOLITAN PIZZA DOUGH

INGREDIENTS

500g '00' Flour (or '0' Pasta Flour)
310g  Water (cold)
10g     Honey or Agave syrup
10g     Salt
2.5g    Vital Wheat Gluten
2.5g     Active dry yeast


  1. Mix the flour, water, salt, gluten and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attached until the dough comes together.
  2. Mix on medium speed for 5 minutes.
  3. Let the dough rest for 10 mins (still in the bowl and attached to the dough hook) and them mix for another 5 minutes.
  4. Transfer the dough to a floured surface, divide into four chunks of roughly 200g each.
  5. Stretch and roll the dough into smooth balls to develop a network of gluten.
  6. Rub the balls with olive oil, cover with clingfilm and leave to rise at room temperature for 1 hour before using.
To make your pizza, preheat your oven to its highest setting (ours reaches 250 degrees) with an upturned metal baking sheet in it. Roll out your dough on a well-floured smooth board - I use the cheap, flexible plastic chopping boards as a makeshift pizza peel. As you can see from my attempt, there's no need to worry too much about getting a uniform circle! Make sure you add enough flour to the board so the dough will slide off easily onto your preheated tray. Cover with store-bought or homemade tomato sauce and your favourite toppings. At the given temperature, they tend to take 6-7 minutes to cook. 


Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Livebait, Manchester

I bought Jamie a copy of Giles Coren's How To Eat Out before I really knew who he was (Coren that is, not my other half), and - rather naughtily - ended up reading it before Jamie knew he'd been bought it. It is anecdotal with snippets of advice littered throughout, and despite agreeing with Ramsay's comment on the cover, I rather annoyingly enjoyed it. The best - and I suppose most obvious - piece of advice he gives is: "Always order the fish". A delicate specimen, best eaten on day of purchase, it makes sense to let restaurants do the hard work - filleting, scaling, pinboning, and, of course, cooking. I therefore felt very content to accept the invitation of Livebait via Manchester Confidential to dine at their restaurant as a guest, and do nothing other than order the fish. Apologies for photo quality - we couldn't find our camera charger so had to make do with the iPad!

Jamie and I had actually eaten at Livebait not that long ago, and it holds the special place of being the first Manchester restaurant we reviewed on our blog. Whilst we had a thoroughly enjoyable time before, we were disappointed at how empty it was. We returned on another Wednesday to a slightly busier restaurant - though this might have something to do with its 50% off deal during January - and were acknowledged as soon as we entered, despite the manageress being on the phone.

We were offered an aperitif and the manageress knowledgeably recommended Tanqueray 10 with grapefruit juice (I remembered from my earlier years as a bartender in a posh hotel that this premium gin is supposed to have notes of the citrus fruit in it; I say supposed as all I get is GINGINGIN, but that's my unrefined palette for you). This proved to be a great aperitif as the bitter fruit perfectly prepares the palate for the dinner to follow. I, however, am not a fan and boringly opted for a Hendricks.

We were recommended the bread and homemade dukkah to begin, which was a surprising delight despite popping whole coriander seeds in the mouth in one go. Jamie commented that it reminded him of Modernist Cuisine's fish spice mix, and once we dissected the individual spices realised how clever it was of them to serve this unusual accompaniment: all of the individual spices in dukkah (hazelnuts, coriander, sesame, cumin, fennel and poppy seeds) compliment the flavours of seafood.


 We cheekily decided to start by trying a selection of the oysters - 3 tempura'd (that's definitely in the dictionary) and 3 natural. All were delicious, but I particularly enjoyed the deep fried ones, accompanied with a cucumber pickle. The waitress told us they used to do a crab and pickled cucumber spring roll but took it off the menu. Bring it back! Please! Having since read that 75% of raw British oysters contain norovirus, you've got carte blanche to stuff your face with the deep fried morsels. Get in!


J decided to go old-school and opted for the prawn cocktail. The waitress was very serious in letting us know that there was nothing fancy about this: like Ronseal, it does what it says on the tin. It was a pleasant enough dish, though I found it slightly odd that they served extra Marie Rose on the side of a sauce-heavy dish. I opted for the anchovy and tomato bruschetta as I can't get enough of those salty little sea monsters and will happily eat them by the bucket-load when I can get my hands on the fresh ones. These were delicious and plentiful so I was pretty happy, though felt the dish slightly off-balance. I wanted to taste the anchovies more but felt a harsher acidity was present - perhaps from an addition of red wine vinegar? Jamie, however, poo-poo'ed my suggestion and said that he thought the dish was perfectly balanced. (That's me told.)


Most of the mains sounded delicious and I was struggling to decide between the plaice and the bass. Suddenly my stupid brain went left-field and opted for the scallops. Five little beauties, served in the shells with a piece of chorizo on top of each. They were cooked beautifully, though I would have loved the coral to have been served with them, but I never understand why chorizo and scallops are served together. Maybe it's just me but I think the strength of the sausage is too overwhelming for the delicate seafood to fight against. I ate most of them without the piece of meat, and found that the hint of fatty spice from the chorizo's juices worked well. If it were me, I'd consider serving them with just a chorizo butter (or foam as Jamie suggested: he's been reading too much Mugaritz). I'd been forewarned that they came as they were, but I couldn't help feel that a little more effort could have gone into making the scallops into more of a dish. Maybe I'm just talking rubbish though, and I'm just trying to turn a more than decent seafood restaurant into something it's not.


Or maybe it's just because I had serious food envy of Jamie's sea bass, which I'd originally wanted. It came with a sorrel and garlic sauce and potato galette. It was so good. I would actually go back just to have this dish. The skin was crisped to perfection - maybe they'd read my last write-up! ;) - and you could taste the beautifully browned butter on the delicately cooked fish. We accompanied the dishes with chips, because we're heathens, and the waitress made us feel good about doing so, so she gets brownie points too. Having recently been disappointed with neighbourhood's excuse for fries, I was very happy with these. Being something of a chip aficionado, I'm going to make a bold claim and say these are probably my favourite fries (very different from chips though, please note). They actually surpass the old-style Burger King ones and take pride of place in my fried potato hall of fame.

Our meal was accompanied by a bottle of Picpoul de Pinet, a recommendation from the waitress. We'd told her we usually went for an Albarino when eating seafood, and had suggested this as an adventurous alternative. A fairly dry white, it complimented all of the courses well and would happily opt for this again.

Dessert saw us share the trio of puds - something chocolatey with delicious salted caramel, a fresh cheesecake with homemade honeycomb, and something lemony. All pleasant enough, though nothing to steal the spotlight away from the oyster tempura and the sea bass.

All in all, the meal and service were definitely good enough to say that I would go back, and I was glad to see that they'd corrected the fatal flaw of floppy skin from last time! Obviously we were guests, so one would hope our experience would be good, but everyone else seemed to be enjoying themselves and their food as well. I have to say, it's such a wonderful space that I really do wish Mancunians would try it out more, as I would absolutely love to see it buzzing. I'm not sure what the plans for 2013 are for the restaurant but I hope they give a nod to some of the current food trends as several are made for this place.

I think my only criticism is of myself, for not listening to Giles. Instead of opting for shells, I should have heeded his advice and ordered the bloody fish...

Livebait
22 Lloyd Street, Manchester
M2 5WA
0161 817 4110
Livebait on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Tequila




Tequila has a bad rep.

And I’ll freely admit that until recently I was among its detractors. I’m betting most people’s impressions of tequila are associated with the cheap stuff reserved for shooting - the stuff that leaves a foul taste in your mouth, even if you omit the obligatory salt and lime. I, for one, not so fondly remember drinking far more tequila than any 15-year-old should, looking deeply into my then girlfriend’s eyes and promptly throwing up all over her lap. The experience put me off this Mexican spirit for the next decade; but now all that’s changed.
          
5 years ago if you’d scanned the back bars of the better-stocked establishments in town, I can guarantee there would have only been a limited selection of tequila. Fast-forward to the present day and more and more tequila is making its way across the ocean as consumers outside of Mexico and America are realizing how deliciously sophisticated this spirit can be. The aged tequilas easily rival single malts, cognacs and bourbons in their complexity and flavour profiles.
          
Tequila is made from the hearts of the cactus-like blue agave plant and produced in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. The agave hearts, which can weigh as much as 45kg, are steamed then mashed with water before being fermented. The resulting liquid is distilled and bottled or aged for various lengths of time as you will see below. When aging tequila, producers might use barrels that once contained bourbon, wine or scotch in order to impart different flavours to the base spirit. Combine these flavours with the distinctive agave taste of tequila and you’ve got a very diverse product, which sits comfortably between ‘white’ and ‘brown’ spirits.   
          
So what should you look out for when choosing tequila? Look out for 100% agave or agave azul on the label (although this isn’t necessarily a signifier of quality, take Jose Cuervo Tradicional for example). In the UK, you’ll usually only encounter three types of 100% agave tequila:

Blanco – usually bottle immediately after distillation or aged for less than 2 months and clear to straw-coloured in appearance.

Reposado – aged for at least 2 months but no longer than a year in primarily oak barrels giving a darker appearance and a smoother more developed flavour.

Anejo – Aged for over a year but no more than 3 in small oak barrels giving an amazingly complex dark brown spirit.

There also exist extra anejo tequilas which tend to be rare and prohibitively expensive. Blanco tequila has a distinctive flavour with light aromas of charcoal, flowers and vanilla. It takes on bolder characteristics as it matures and, depending on the types of barrel it’s aged in, can resemble a fine, unctuous white wine or a bold, fruity cognac.     

So if you want to break free from the salt, lime, and shots here are my recommendations:

3 Straight-sippers
If you glimpse these behind the bar, order one of these straight up if you can take it, or on the rocks if you want to soften the blow.
El Jimador Reposado
Tapatio Reposado
Don Juilo Anejo

3 Cocktails in the city
Beginner: for the tequila initiate, why not try Sandinista’s ‘Zapatista’. This is a tequila-based take on an espresso martini using Patron silver and Patron XO Cafe. The tequila is subtle enough that a newcomer won’t be put off but holds its own against the coffee background.

Intermediate: wanna go a bit further? Try Corridor’s take on a ‘Fool’s Gold’. I’m not sure if it’s still on the menu but I can testify that the bar staff will happily make you one...or three. This is not lengthened as much as the Zapatista so expect more tequila but balanced harmoniously with chocolate and orange (or at least that’s what I get!).

Advanced: if you can handle a real tequila hit then opt for The Gaslamp’s Margarita. The classic combination of tequila, cointreau (or other orange liqueur) and lime is lifted by using a very good reposado tequila and increasing the level of booziness. If you like this, you’ll be hooked! 

Monday, 14 January 2013

Hervé This - Building a Meal : From Molecular Gastronomy to Culinary Constructivism






For many there could be nothing more tedious than reading a philosophical and scientific investigation into the preparation of six ‘bistro favourites’; for foodies of a particular bent (read me!) there could be nothing more edifying.

Let’s start with the title. Read the words ‘Molecular Gastronomy’ and your brain will probably conjure up a beatific mug shot of Heston Blumenthal and images of Masterchef contestants unsuccessfully trying to create caviar out of things that don’t normally lend themselves to roe-like presentation. In short, it’s become the buzzword(s) for weird and wonderful ways of dealing with ingredients. Read ‘Culinary Constructivism’ and most of you will already be heading for the door, asking yourselves ‘Am I back at uni? The only –ism I cared about then was plagiarism’. I’m not going to even attempt to broach the topic of constructivism, that’s a lesson for another day. Suffice it to say, Hervé This analyzes why we have chosen to construct dishes in certain ways: the pairings, the cooking methods, the chemical reactions and our various responses to it all.

A small amount of background: Hervé This is a renowned chemist and head of the world’s first lab devoted to molecular gastronomy. He is the spiritual father of Blumenthal, Adria, Achatz and many other chefs who have pushed the boundaries of culinary science and practice. By his own admission he is crazy: “Some who wants to change the way people are cooking, you have to be crazy”. Watch him on film and it’s not hard to imagine a future where he resides in a padded cell muttering incontinently “an egg white coagulates at 61oC...an egg yolk coagulates at 620C...onsen tamago...mayonnaise”; and every once in a while tries to discover the specific heat of a nurse’s arm or at what temperature human-brain proteins denature.

Anyway, to return to the text: when you read the list of dishes covered (hard-boiled egg, simple consommé, lamb and green beans..) you might remind yourself that Monsieur This is French and thus the bistros he eats in are different to the ones you or I would frequent. In fact, listening to him, he’s probably not eaten in a bistro since the 70s, hence the anachronistic menu! Never have I seen a hard-boiled egg with mayonnaise on a bistro menu; however, the dishes have been selected as they permit the examination of some important cooking methods: egg-cooking, stock-making, braising, grilling, deep-fat frying, custard-making, and so on.

The results of Hervé’s investigations are fascinating. Here are a few highlights to whet your appetite:
  1. For cooked green beans to retain their green colour, it is not a matter of ‘fixing the chlorophyll’. It is dependent on several factors: the beans must be fresh enough that the chlorophyll has not been degraded; they must be cooked quickly; and the water they are cooked in must not be acidic, lest the magnesium in the chlorophyll molecules be eliminated.
  2. Bringing out the flavour of meat depends in part on how much fat the meat contains. British chemist David Mottram discovered that Maillard reactions (the reactions which cause that lovely brown crust on a steak) produce different odorant compounds depending on the presence or absence of fat.
  3. After you take your chips out of the fryer, you only have a minute to wipe off the excess oil before the pressure inside the chips drops and it absorbs the oil on its surface. This applies to all fried food!
  4. If you want soft cookies, pre-cook the flour (in an oven or under the grill) and the gluten proteins are deprived of their ability to harden the cookies.

These examples will give you some idea of whether this book is for you (and whether you want to spend £10.99 on it!). I would like to clarify that the text does contain more than just intellectualized cooking tips. What Hervé has to say about diet is particularly interesting, especially for his lampooning of conventional wisdom: for instance, the Mediterranean diet (as if it existed) is constantly being extolled yet around a third of children in Greece are obese. One caveat, the book can have the whiff of ‘manifesto’ about it at times, which can become tiresome. For what it’s worth I think if you’ve given yourself the goal of changing the public’s attitude towards cooking then you’re probably going to come across as self-righteous and a little doctrinaire.

So, if you’re a hopeless skeptic, as I am, then you will be spurred on by Hervé’s endless probing: ‘Making a stock? It’s so simple that it hardly seems worth explaining. One puts meat in water and heats it. Ah but what sort of meat? From what part of the cow, if it is a beef bouillon? Fresh meat or meat that has been aged? And how much meat for how much water? What kind of water? Salted? Heated in what sort of pot?’ It goes on. Make no mistake, this book is not for the faint-hearted foodie: the chemistry can be complicated and his philosophical meanderings might try the patience of a commis chef whose been given the unenviable task of plucking a million partridges; but I would encourage those interested in the science of cooking to persevere. And if challenging culinary orthodoxy is your thing then grab a copy of Harold McGee’s ‘On Food and Cooking’ and you've got the two testaments of modernist cooking.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Top Ten Cheap Eats in Manchester

Need I bother with an intro? You know the score, it's January, we're broke, the weather's pants and we're getting sick of staying in. Given that the Guardian's version of Manchester cheap eats is hideously outdated, we'd thought we'd do the chivalrous thing and provide you with a selection of places to dine when dealing with a 5 week wait from one pay day to the next. The numerical order is simply for ease of reading purposes, and in no way is meant to resemble a reverse Top of the Pops. I ought to also pop in a disclaimer that as Rusholme residents, places listed are generally within easy reach of our natural habitat.

1. Yuzu, 39 Faulkner street, China Town



Chloe Sevigney supposedly claimed Yuzu served the only decent food in Manchester whilst working here. Having been both for lunch and dinner, I can verify her claim (though would contest the rest of the hip New Yorker's outlandish statement). Their lunch menu ranges between £5.95 and £7.95, with classic Japanese dishes such as tonkatsu and sashimi all served with rice and miso soup. We'd already checked out dinner and though disappointed at their lack of fish (on a seafood-based menu) I can confirm that their gyoza and karage are the best you'll get in Manchester and their ponzu dipping sauce takes fried chicken to a whole new level. Special mention also goes to showing China Town how to do ambience with simple and relaxing jazz tunes.

Yuzu on Urbanspoon

2. Al Jazeera, 22 Wilmslow road, Rusholme


Ty, the doorman at Jamie's work, really set our expectations high when he told us this place does the best rice in the whole of Manchester. Not comparable to the sticky white rice of Japanese cuisine, their offerings are just as honourable: flavoursome and perfectly separated grains. We've yet to arrive early enough for the Qabili Pulao (spelling varies) but I could eat their kobeda kebab time and time again. The chicken's not bad - flavoursome enough - but slightly dry when I tried it, though who's complaining when £4.50 gets you a half chicken with rice. I'm bold enough to proclaim they do the best naan in Manchester: lovely blackened edges and thin enough to stop the bloat. This caff, pretty it ain't (nor warm, keep your coat on!) but it's worth a trip for the kobeda kebab alone.

3. Frankie's Fish Bar, 178 Burton Road, West Didsbury
NOTE: This place has now been overtaken by 'Fishbait'. I'm yet to try their deep fried delights!
Posh fish and chip shop, Frankie's deserves a mention; at least for making it feel acceptable to eat deep fried food not just on Fridays (disclaimer: I am not condoning daily consumption). Haddock, chips and (at lunchtimes) a complimentary side comes in at £6.50. They regularly offer mackerel as a special for £3, as well as sweet potato fries if you want to mess with traditionalism. Their sausages are from Axon's down the road if saveloys were never your thing (personally, I miss them), and thankfully, they're not too posh for pies. It's not exactly buzzing with atmosphere but it makes a nice change to see a chip shop championing sustainability in fishing, and at a reasonable price, even for Burton road. Coca-cola in glass bottles adds a nice touch for kids (and Jamie), although you should obviously be keeping them away from fizzy drinks and fried food (I do try, but at 5'11 it's hard to store them out of his reach).

Frankies Fish Bar on Urbanspoon

4. Kyotoya, 28 Copson Street, Withington
I was apprehensive about this place for a while before I tried it. It was hard to believe that there could be another Japanese cafe in Withington, and that it would be any good. I'd already been let down by little Samsi, so I was hoping that Kyotoya would be my sushi savior when in need of a healthy hangover cure. I was pretty happy when it lived up to expectations. Talking cheap eats, you need to get the deal for 2 for £22. For £11 each, you share the following courses: miso soup, sushi, gyoza, chicken teryiaki and beef kimchi, served with rice. The first time we went, I asked if I could swap the gyoza for tempura (I was an uninitiated fool having never eaten gyoza before). Chef wouldn't hear of it and insisted I try the gyoza and the tempura for no additional cost. The main dishes also came with Chinese greens, and we had plenty left over for lunch the next day. Service has greatly improved over recent months as they seem to be more prepared for how busy they're likely to be, and on our last trip our party of eight were given complimentary ice cream "because it's a hot day". Nobu it ain't, but for Withington, it may as well be; this really is one of those 'hidden gems' you always hope to find... and now you have!

Kyotoya on Urbanspoon

5. Jaffa, 185 Wilmslow road, Rusholme


If ever a place could sum up Rusholme so well, it's this one: a total melting pot of ages, genders and nationalities. From students to families to business men in smart suits, Jaffa attracts everyone. A little apprehensive on my first visit as there didn't appear to be an orderly queuing system (how British of me!), but the friendly staff soon sorted me out. Within minutes I was munching happily away on a chicken schwarma, accompanied by a plate of mixed mezze (around £7 in total). Having seen some of the teenagers gorge on pizza-looking things, I was determined to go back to try the fatayer (the Middle East's answer to a steak bake). Personally, I don't think they're for me - slightly too stodgy, but Jamie enjoyed his, and so I still recommend you see for yourself. I was much happier with my falafel and another portion of mixed mezze; their hummus is beautiful and I love the chick peas in the spicy tomato sauce. They also usually have a special, for example lamb pilau with soup for £4.50. More please!

Jaffa on Urbanspoon

6. Phetpailin, 46 George Street, China Town
Most of the eateries on the list so far have been closer to the cafe persuasion, usually not offering alcoholic beverages nor being the kind of place you'd want to drink one. Phetpailin falls into the former category, but is one of those rare breeds of non-Indian dining establishments that every city needs - it offers BYOB. Though the menu itself isn't 'cheap', it isn't expensive, and being BYO, it certainly drives down the cost of a meal, thus justifying a dinner out in the bleakest of current account months. It's also great for groups - our friends had a leaving party here where we paid £18 p/h for a selection of starters and mains, and pretty much tried every dish on the menu (the tamarind duck and the panang curry being stand out dishes in my mind) with leftovers for everyone. A meal for two comes in at around £35, with two courses, though I suggest you attempt to skip the first course as the portions are generous (this is harder than it sounds: the mixed starter selection is a variety of deep-fried delights). Special mention also goes to Jamie's favourite, Choo Chee Pla, a tender tilapia fillet cooked with red curry paste, coconut cream and lime leaves; it's a little too hot for me to handle, but even Jamie - as adventurous as he is - chooses it every time.

7. I am Pho, 44 George Street, China Town
George Street, it appears, is faring well. Nestled next door to our above entry, we have I am Pho, another welcome addition to Manchester's China Town. All I've heard is good things about this place; unfortunately we didn't give the menu as comprehensive a seeing to as Hungry Hoss & Manchester Confidential (click for reviews). This Vietnamese basement cafe boasts brilliant pho (Jamie was thrilled when the waiter told him his pronunciation was 'spot on'!) in a variety of flavours as well as other Vietnamese classics such as summer spring rolls and Banh Mi. Jamie went classic (beef), and I opted for the prawn and pork; both delicious, and with the option to spice it up as much as you liked with fresh chillies on the side (as well as Thai basil, coriander and beansprouts). Our noses running, we were happy and most definitely full. I'd wanted a starter though had managed to resist as I had heard how large the portion sizes were. Jamie couldn't resist the Vietnamese chicken wings and can confirm that these are up there with his fried chicken favourites.

I Am Pho on Urbanspoon

8. Antalya Cafe, 78-84 Wilmslow Road, Rusholme


Another great Rusholme find, as recommended once again by Ty. Jamie couldn't get over how good his chicken schwarma was - stuffed to the brim with salad, chilli sauce and garlic yoghurt - all sat comfortably on a huge, soft piece of Turkish bread. It's £4 whether you sit in or take out, and it's worth sitting in as you also get chips with it if you do. There's not much to say about this other than it's the best schwarma we've had on the Curry Mile, and was worth every penny. I can't wait to go back for the marinated & barbecued sea bass, served with chips and salad. The price? A mere £7.


9. Seoul Kimchi, 275 Upper Brook Street, Victoria Park



Seoul Kimchi - a hybrid of Japanese and Korean cuisines - serves up great one bowl dishes that will see you through to your next meal time just as well as Shreddies, though it's hard to resist their other offerings (the gyoza nearly as good as Yuzu's). On various trips, we've managed to try their sushi, donburi, bibimap and bulgogi. The tastiest (and most expensive of dishes tried) was definitely the latter, experimenting with Korean surf and turf in the form of pork and squid; I developed serious food envy. The eel donburi was also delicious though I felt they were a little tight with their fish (though having recently seen eel on sale for £30 a kilo, I can see why). The prawn bibimap was also short on our fishy friends, though complimentary sides of kimchi and miso helped bulk up the meal. Expect to pay around £10 per head, and a little less for takeout at lunchtime.

Seoul Kimchi on Urbanspoon

10. Dosa Xpress, 19 Copson street, Withington
Having never actually set foot inside, I suppose this review ought to be taken with a pinch of salt, though I would argue that food which can survive the transit from Withington to Rusholme is likely to be even better on its home turf. Gobi Manchurian was the stand out dish in my mind, somehow feeling meaty despite its vegetarian status. The paneer chilli dosa was equally as good, and the individual pots of chutneys and sambars complimented it beautifully. I'm not well informed enough to be able to differentiate them all, but the one that tasted like South Indian pea soup was heavenly. The daal and butter chicken were also good, though I wasn't so keen on the Oothappam dosa; I'm happy to blame this on my ignorance as I was expecting something more like the traditional dosa, rather than an Indian take on the Spanish tortilla. This place is a bargain - £24 fed two of us over two meals, both times stuffed to the brim. A unique place with great home delivery!

DosaXpress on Urbanspoon

We make no claims that this list is all encompassing and would love to hear what other purse-friendly favourites you have to share with us; this is but a small selection of cosy and cheap eateries where we have enjoyed several meals, and hope you might too. Recommendations tell me that Vnam Cafe on Oldham Road, and This & That in the NQ are also worth a trip. If you want to taste the best falafel wrap you've ever had then Go Falafel at the start of Rusholme is the place for you, and at just £2.50 - with regular free falafel if you're waiting a while - it's healthily nudged its way into my favourite hangover food.