Monday, 30 August 2010

Weavers - Haworth

I don’t usually go to a restaurant without any type of research as in the past I have had my fingers quite badly burned (or should that be my tongue?).

Having gone away for some girly time with the Mother I let her book a restaurant for our first night in Haworth and went to it blind, but thankfully not to the slaughter.

Weavers in Haworth is tucked up off the main, cobbled street at the top of the hill in an old house, quite unassuming from the outside. Walking in we were seated in a waiting area by the bar and offered drinks: a lovely slate floored room filled mainly by the bar, decorated tastefully with unusual bits and bobs, giving the eye something to digest whilst we absorbed the menu and waited for the meal to be ready (at Weavers you are not shown to the table until your food is near to being served) – my only grumbles being the cold from the door we were seated near and the lack of cucumber for the gin, I did get ice and tonic with so can’t be too picky.

Weavers Haworth - with thanks to the

In comparison to the light but small bar area, the dining room at Weavers is very low light and sumptuous with its crisp linen and dusky burgundy walls.  The room still has a very relaxed feeling and this helped by the charming, attentive and unobtrusive staff. Our waitress was brilliant, even allowing us to try a wine off the list before we chose. (and so nice she let us sneak in the next day and peek at the bedrooms upstairs – if you can get in do, they are very lovely).

Bread was served as we sat down with fresh, salty butter – proper butter, proper salty butter, none of this health conscious stuff and was I glad of it? You bet.

To start I had ordered the carpaccio of salmon cured with whiskey and dill off the specials and the Mother ordered Morcombe Bay shrimps on toast. The carpaccio was lovely and smooth but I couldn’t taste the whiskey, merely the dill – however it was a pleasing dish with a light, fresh and capery dressing that contrasted beautifully in taste and texture. Mother’s Shrimps on toast was a large portion of the little local beauties served in a lovely spiced butter with flecks of parsley stirred in to it that brought the taste to life on the tongue. The toast was crisp and provided the perfect foil for the hundreds of soft bodies piled up.

Mains followed and we both ordered the fillet medallions of outdoor reared pork, carcklin’ belly,  sticky fruit chutney and crushed organic potatoes.

Medallions of outdoor reared pork and cracklin' belly

When the dish came we were both struck by the delicate presentation – for a plate that contained so much pork it was presented delicately and beautifully. The pork medallion was juicy and not dry in the slightest. I was hesitant about the chutney sauce but was relieved to find it deeply satisfying with a huge depth of favour and was almost a gravy. It complimented the succulent pork amazingly and was subtly spiced with layers of not too sweet flavour and that all important umami.

The belly pork came replete with some of the best crackling I have ever crunched my way through – seasoned expertly and as crisp as it can be, without being burnt or having been speedily finished under the grill giving it that usual polystyrene texture as you get in some restaurants. The pork itself was meltingly tender with only the smallest amount of fat remaining. I was left wanting so much more (although I don’t think my waistline was crying out for anymore). The dish was accompanied by crispy strips of pancetta and crushed organic new potatoes that had chopped parsley crushed in with them – a really refreshing note that lifted the dish to no end. 

Even though my belly was bursting I couldn’t resist the pudding board and however tempted I was to try the Yorkshire Tea ice cream, it was the summer berry and champagne jelly that seemed like the much needed light end to a deeply satisfying meal and I wasn’t disappointed.

Champagne jelly

The jelly was perfectly set with a generous portion of seasonal berries suspended delightfully throughout its wobbly persona. What really took my breath away was the concentration of taste. Like no other champagne jelly I have eaten in any restaurant, this jelly imparted the crispest, biscuity tang of champagne and I could feel the fizz of the bubbles tickle across my tongue whilst just the right level of sweetness flowed into my mouth and caressed my taste buds – here was a jelly I could taste at last! No more ‘champagne jelly’ that tastes of nothing, it was a revelation and I was actually in ecstasy whilst spooning the soft, unctuous delight in to my eagerly awaiting mouth – my only complaint? I couldn’t finish it.

Cost for two starters, two mains, one pudding, one bottle of wine, two gin and tonics and two coffees - £91.70

Value for money: 8/10
Atmosphere: 7/10
Service: 9/10
Food: 8/10

Total: 32/40

Weavers restaurant and bar with rooms, 15 West Lane, Haworth, Nr Keighly, West Yorkshire, BD22 8DU –
01535 643822

Weavers on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The Railway - Euxton, nr Wiagn

Needing somewhere hearty to eat after an evening of helping the Boy in his endeavors, I had stumbled across The Railway at Euxton through my faithful friend Google, and after comparing it with other local establishments was impressed by the website's description; 'our menu embraces our love of Lancashire and its wonderful flavours which is reflected in a wide variety of freshly prepared local dishes made from the finest locally sourced ingredients of the finest and all at very accessible prices.' (Ok, maybe I wasn't impressed with the grammar, but that was by the by).

The Railway Euxton - with thanks to

Coupled with the fact that The Railway won the Marston's Food and Drink Awards Best Newcomer 2008/09, has glowing reviews from Taste Lancashire, Sugervine. com and it all sounded promising, or so we thought.

Arriving at 7.45pm on a Wednesday evening we were greated by an almost empty dining room, save one couple who were wiping the corners of their mouths after what seemed like a satisfying pudding. The dining room is decked out in classic new gastro pub indentikit attire; leather sofas, soft lighting, wood and teal paint on the walls

The indentikit furniture - with thanks to

After choosing from the vast array of seats we were shown the menu and it really does read like a who's who of quality and recognisable Lancashire producers: Mrs Kirkham's creamy lancashire, Goosnagh chicken, H Greaves of Upholland, Hesketh salt marsh lamb, Walling’s Farm ice cream and so on.

Liking the sound of 'sirloin steak 5 weeks matured on the bone, hand cut chips cooked in dripping,' from the specials board (not very special with only that and a salmon dish on) myself, Best Friend and Mutual Blonde Friend all chose this option - only the Boy chose differently and opted for the six hour braised pork belly.

As we were the only diners now sat in the room the food came out quickly and was well presented, although all three steak eaters were dissapointed with the numbers of chips on the dish, only six to be exact.

The steak

And that's not the only dissapointment we found. I had requested the sirloin medium rare and I was presented with something that was indeed medium (ok, they forgot the rare bit, but I forgave them) and was pink in the middle - however the pink was very bright and the meat, in contrast to something cooked medium was very dry and chewy. I cannot explain this from a well-sourced cut of meat but have come up with three senarios a) they are lying about the provanance and quality of the meat, b) the steak has been pre-cooked and then warmed through in the micro or c) they were using leather injected with dye having run out of steaks in the kitchen.  Indeed Best Friend noted this of his steak, though it was a little less dry – we discounted the Mutal Blonde Friend’s steak as she had requested well done.

The dissapointing chips were nicely flavoured yet a little soft and there weren't enough of them for a hungry girl to fill her belly with and the thyme roasted tomatoes seemed grilled rather than roasted and not done enough anyway, but the hint of thyme with them was very pleasing and I may recreate this at home at a later date (with more roasting).

The one pleasing point of this entire dish was the caramalised baby onions. I don't know where these have been all my life, but now they are very  much in it I cannot stop thinking about them. They were sweet, soft, unctous and gorgeous and very much saved the dish.

The Boy's six hour braised pork belly was good in comparison to our leather strips. The belly was soft, flavoursome and unctious with a good sized piece of crunchy crackling - you could tell this meat was from a quality source; however the only downside was that it was somewhat underseasoned (I'd prefer rather under than over though if you ask me, at least I can rectify it at the table some what). 

The braised pork

If the meat was great (I'm not going to say fantastic), it was the sides that let this dish down. They weren't awful and for the £12.95 they were asking it wasn't too much a slap in the face. The pureed potatoes were nice (not great, not awful, just nice) but there were a few lumps in evidence and the apple fritters were again nice (that word again!), but the batter was a little soft and had a hint of the frying oil.

To cheer ourselves up after the steak we ordered some ice cream and chose three different flavours each. The ice cream was lovely as ice cream from a good source is, but a very steep £3.95 for three very small scoops served with packet wafers and chocolate straws.

In all the meal was satisfactory; I had massive food envy over the Boy's dish as it was leaps and bounds better than the steaks, however I wouldn't have given up the caramalised baby onions for anything. Had the food been cheaper (the steaks came in at £16.95 each) I wouldn't have been so harsh.

With a list of exceptional producers and a price in the higher range of North West pub food (indeed they are not far off Nigel Howarth's chain including the Clog and Billycock and the Highway Man) the meals we were served should have been so much better than they were. It just proves that although it matters what goes in the food, you can't just rely on your producers alone - it's what happens in the kitchen that really matters and sadly The Railway seems to be just relying on the producers alone

Cost for four mains and two puddings (we bought drinks separately at the bar): £71.70.

Value for money: 5/10
Atmosphere: 3/10
Service: 7/10
Food: 5/10

Total: 20/40

The Railway Public House and Dining Room, Wigan Road, Euxton, Lancashire PR7 6LA – 01257 275005

Railway on Urbanspoon

Monday, 23 August 2010

Vermillion - Manchester

Readers I have a confession to make - I've visited Vermilion before and I had such an awful experience I swore I would never cross the threshold again. However, Best Friend wanted to spend her birthday there, and who was I to tell her the food was awful, the music was too loud, they refused to serve me tap water and the attitude of the staff would make Gandhi go postal.

In the belief of second chances, fair trials and being grown up about things, I promise I will leave that experience at the door whilst reviewing this time.

Vermilion and Cinnabar (to give it it's proper name) is situated out near Sports City in Manchester. From the outside Vermilion looks exactly like a warehouse, and the surrounding area is a mix of industrial, council estate, new housing and the City football ground.  It was initially built in anticipation of the super casino, the plans for this have been shelved.

Vermilion Cinnabar outside - with thanks to the

I have never entered a Bond Villian’s den, nor a Wag’s bedroom, but would not be shocked if they were identical to the d├ęcor inside Vermilion. Walls are decked out in black veneer with low level orange lighting and intricately carved wooden patterns. The greeting staff seem to be comprised of mysterious, long legged, beautiful East European ice maidens who, with minimal interaction, immediately whisk parties up to the bar in an incense laden, silent lift.

Walking out into the bar area you are greeted by a long bar made to look like ice opening out into an even lower lit seating area comprising bookable fibre glass pods and other seating. A large column of up-light Buddha’s heads breaks through the floor and drops into the dining room below.

Cinnabar - with thanks to

The bar was as silent as the staff save for the thudding dance music, I must note we were there early Saturday at 6pm.

Without a word we were immediately taken down to our table without the offer of a drink, once more in the over powering lift – even though the dining room is a mere floor below. We did ask to walk down the stairs, however we were declined.

The dining room is again decked out like an upper class tart's boudoir; low lighting, swivel chairs, marble, black veneer and strong incense. We had booked in for the early menu (I wasn't paying what I had previously paid for a meal that had the potential to be bad).

Vermilion Restaurant  - with thanks to Trip Advisor

It was not until the rest of our companions arrived (about ten minutes later), that we were offered drinks - here was the test, would they refuse tap water as before, even after I had got the manager involved? Birthday girl looked on in trepidation as I dared to ask for a glass of corporation pop; and to my relief (and that of the rest of the table), my order was taken and brought back without any quibble, I even got ice!

The early bird menu does not offer much choice, offering just five starters, five mains and three puddings compared to the fourteen pages of the a la carte/set menus.

After placing our order we hardly caught a breath before an amuse bouche arrived; a tiny samosa. Unfortunately it didn't amuse much – although presented mostly well the pastry was a bit thick, soft and with a spiced middle with the underlying taste of stale meat.

With quite a few vegetarians in the group we politely asked if the samosas were vegetarian and were reassured three times, by three different staff members that these were vegetarian - 'a type of pea, madam.' I must say it was the meatiest pea I had ever eaten.

Luckily, us carnivores in the group had started first, we complained twice, and finally a small plate was thrust in front of the veggies. This was a motley collection of flame sultanas, croutons that tasted of stale oil, soft cashews and a sweet, cloying mango chutney that tasted very much as if it had come out of a well-known, green labelled jar. A confused and unamusing concoction if I ever saw one.

Starters came out quite quickly and I was glad I ordered the Yam Ped (grilled duck breast salad with roasted herbs, served with chicory petal).  Beautifully displayed, though I could see no chicory petal or roasted herbs (with the level of lighting in the restaurant this wasn't surprising). The dish packed a sour punch with a contrasting crunch from the tamarind dressing compared to the duck which was meltingly soft, if not pink enough for my taste.
Yam Ped

Just as I was finishing my dish was whisked away from me whilst my companions were still dining; maybe Bond Villain was becoming bored with our presence, or maybe the restaurant was filling up and us early diners were not welcome any more?

Mains followed swiftly, unlike the starters these weren't presented in any delicate manner - school dinner-esque as I think Birthday Girl mentioned. Whereas I was very satisfied with the Yam Ped, my dish of Pad Thai Khoong Sod - stir fried rice noodles with prawns and tamarind sauce - was lacklustre, under seasoned with tough prawns and greasy noodles.

Course Mate's Veg Thai Green Curry (Kheang Keiaw Waan Jay) was an overly hot dish with a watery sauce - indeed the heat seemed to make up for the lack of flavour and depth,  accompanied by awfully disappointing rice - claggy, cold and over done - I won't go on.

Pad Thai Khoong Sod

Token Boy's Nue Pad Nam Hey (Stir Fried Beef and Oyster Sauce) was best described as flabby. I've had better from the greasy chinese round the corner at the end of the night, when drunk, and after I've left it to go cold.

The only redeeming main was Birthday Girl's Chicken Karahi - succulent, aromatic, deep flavoured, wonderful.

Again plates were cleared from the table whilst most of the party were still eating. We asked the waiting staff to stop but they carried on until Birthday Girl very firmly asked them to stop (she can be quite firm!). We relaxed and thought this was the end of premature plate clearing, however Bond Villain’s minions once again swooped in even though three were still eating – at this point we’d been in the restaurant for a mere 35 minutes, hardly out-staying our welcome.

Pudding came out quickly and some who had not ordered before the meal asked if they could in fact order some now,  'you should have ordered at the beginning,' was the courteous answer. Thankfully they were saved the boredom of the puddings: the fruit salad was just fruit in a bowl and the mango cheesecake could have come out of a packet.

To sum up Vermilion it seems to be all looks and no substance - a place where people go to be seen rather than eat the food. Yes the restaurant was designed by Miguel Cancio Martins (Buddha Bar, Man Ray and Opium) and is described as ‘the most luxurious and opulent restaurant and bar in Manchester…(a) lavish hidden gem.’ But like the Wags of Manchester City and casino goers it seeks to attract it is nothing more than style over substance and I wish it would stay hidden.

Please visit this place if you really enjoy flashing cash to impress, spray tans, leopard print, cleavage on show coupled with short skirts, high prices and bookable pods that come with thudding music and Verve. If you enjoy good food, courteous service and substance then please stay away.

Pre-theatre early bird menu everyday between 5 and 7pm –
2 courses for £12
3 courses for £15

Described as ‘for those in a rush…luxury food, service and atmosphere before the theatre..’ Indeed rushed, but in now way luxury in any category.

NB - although which theatre you will be attending near to Sport City I have no idea, unless you believe football to be the theatre of the masses.

Value for money: 4/10
Atmosphere: 5/10
Service: 2/10
Food: 4/10

Total: 14/40

Vermilion and Cinnabar, Hulme Hall Lane/Lord Street North, Sport City, Manchester M40 8AD – 0161 225 0055

Vermilion and Cinnabar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Tokyo Season - Manchester

Having become something of a Japanophile lately (mainly from copious amounts of comics and Mikado biscuits I have consumed) I was intrigued when the boy mentioned he had been recommended a Japanese restaurant on the edge of Manchester's china town.

The restaurant is non-discript from outside with a slightly garish sign, not the most welcoming. We entered and walked down into the basement, which is surprisingly light for a low level room. The restaurant is small and the tables somewhat basic and cramped, however we had the good sense to book ahead and were shown across the main dining area to the traditional japanese tables at the back. These had been updated for westerners so you don't have to kneel, but the effect is the same as your feet dangle down in to a carpeted well and look like you're sitting at a low table. These tables come with posher chopsticks (woo!) and traditional paper screens. (Wear good socks if dining this way as you have to take your shoes off).

At first the restaurant seemed dead, but by 7.30pm we were glad we had booked ahead as the place was chock full of Japanese - a good sign we thought.

For starters I ordered a miso soup, the boy and an ex-colleague had the sashimi rolls and our new friend went for the edamame.

The miso was miso; warm, salty and full of tofu and seaweed. The edamame were edamame, nothing special, but were clean tasting. To our consternation the sashimi rolls came out as salmon and smoked salmon, although the menu had said tuna. The boy was obviously disappointed at this, but this was made up by the inclusion of cucumber and pickled ginger in the centre, which added a great contrast in texture and fresh, zingy flavours (picture below).

As we had the taste for raw fish we ordered the Chef's Special Shashimi and Sushi 16 piece Platter to come out with the starters. This dish was presented traditionally as a selection of nigri, maki and gunkan, but disappointingly there was no sashimi as promised in the dish's title.

It was refreshing to be served a sushi platter that didn't pander to western tastes, with only one salmon nigri on the whole plate. There was a wonderful mix of seabass, spankingly fresh squid, flying fish roe, crab and others. The only disappointment came from the arctic clam which had definitely come from the arctic freezer and a soggy tuna mayo gunkan.

Mains followed swiftly and these consisted of the Tokyo Season Special Teppanyaki for the new friend, Unadon for ex-colleague, Beef Fillet Yakiudon for the boy and Sashimi Rice for myself.

The special teppanyaki was a mixed bag of various skewered things including very baby squid (they were tiny, it almost seemed a crime to eat them), prawns, beef and what we presumed was eel. Unfortunately the squid and the prawns were terribly overcooked, almost what I presume chewing tyre rubber is like. The beef was soft but unremarkable but the eel was very, very good. The poor cooking of the seafood was, however, saved by the delectable sauce everything had been cooked in.

Unadon was eel cooked in sauce over rice. The eel was brilliantly cooked in a lip-smacking sauce, the only downside being the skin on the eel. This maybe how it's eaten, but I personally like my eels skinned at the skin had gone a little sticky and gloopy.

Sashimi rice was as it said on the tin, sashimi on a bed of rice. Again the selection was varied and I was surprised at the inclusion of Sea Urchin, not at all western and somewhat a luxury for the price of £12.95. This was only marred by the obviously defrosted arctic clam that had reared it's ugly head in the chef's platter.

The boy's food came out much later than everyone else's (much to his dismay), if we had not been sharing everything I think we would have mentioned this to our server. The wait was almost worth it - the noodles in the dish were soft and unctuous, deeply filled with the flavour of the sauce and masses of them. The beef though wasn't that great, thin strips were presented in a way that looked like the beef you get from a second rate chinese takeaway - but for £9.50 and being tasty we weren't complaining.

Throughout the evening the service was charming without being over-bearing. We did occasionally have to wait for a server to notice us, but in a very busy restaurant this was understandable and we were always greeted with a bow, a smile and the utmost friendly charm I have ever come across.

Tokyo Season was a good night out with friends, it wasn't spectacular or mind-blowing, but for a  tasty mid-week meal it was fun and we were throughly looked after.

Cost for four including four starters, five mains and six beers cost £99.97.

Value for money: 7/10
Atmosphere: 7/10
Service: 8/10
Food: 6/10

Total: 27/40

Tokyo Season, 52 Portland Street, Manchester M1 4QU - 0161 236 7898

Tokyo Season on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Grill on the Alley - Manchester

Sometimes you just need meat - a statement that will antagonise environmentalists and vegetarians alike - however a statement that sometimes rings true. With this sentiment burning in our bellies, myself and my companions choose Manchester's Gill on the Alley, part of the the Blackhouse Restaurant Bar chain to satisfy our recent carnivorous cravings.

Grill on the Alley could no more be an homage to the steak than Shaun of the Dead is to zombie movies, the menu sporting all the old favourites - sirloins, fillets et al, plus a few treats such as the £55 Wagyu 'Kobe' fillet and exotics such as ostrich. To add to the foodie credentials and appease the environmentalists all the steaks are hormone free, from farms with good husbandry and allowed to hang for 28 days, plus there is a monthly guest steak; this month's being British Blue.

The restaurant also claims to have a 'healthy obsession with the freshest produce from our seas' and has many usual fashionable fish menu items including rope grown mussels, sashimi tuna loin, baby scallops and lobster - for somewhere claiming to have a 'healthy obsession' you could comment that these aren't very sustainable items, but then I was about to just stuff myself with a fat piece of red meat I couldn't really comment.

The restaurant itself is all wood, exposed bricks, low lighting, leather booths and close tables; a comfortable and lively experience when the restaurant is full. We were seated by the open kitchen and had a good view of the unflustered chefs as they prepared the vast quantity of meat trotting out of the kitchen (excuse the pun).

To start I had the Morcombe Bay Shrimps on Toast, which did what it said on the tin. The toast was crisp and the shrimps nicely spiced. My companions shared the Blackhouse Platter which was a mix of fishcakes, calamari, skewered satay chicken and duck spring rolls.

The calamari came battered, however it was a little greasy. Some of the calamari was brilliantly cooked, light and soft - although some must have been left in the fryer as it was quite chewy. The chicken satay was ok, the duck spring roll crisp but not that exciting. However the fish cakes were moist and zesty - I have to admit to stealing more of my companions' fishcakes than I was permitted and earned a rightful fork in the hand!

Predictably we all chose steak - I'd like to say we managed the wagyu, but as I'm not paid to write a blog we settled on the fillet. As steaks are only served with potatoes (chips, jacket or new) we also ordered a side of broccoli and another of green beans with shallots, plus one of my companions ordered the peppercorn sauce.

The steaks arrived cooked perfectly, though I wished I had heeded the advice of our waiter (brilliant by the way, a mix of Mancunian chat, attentiveness and delight - we tipped well in return) as those that had chosen medium rare were much more tender than my slightly chewy rare.  The steaks were nicely chargrilled, adding a crunchy, smoky element to the deep succulence. The chips were crisp yet unctuous and not greasy or tasting of the fat they were fried in at all.

Unfortunately we were less impressed with the sides which were very small. The green beans and shallots were at least sweetly smoky after coming off the griddle pan, but there were only seven of them for the £3 paid! The broccoli was awful, there was one middle size floret (yes, just one), it had been simply boiled or steamed, was plain and soggy and was more than a punch in the face for £3. The peppercorn sauce wasn't exciting, but at least wasn't congealed or cold; at least this was less of an insult at only £2.

To accompany the meal we had a bottle of prosecco, expertly chosen by the aforementioned waiter. It was refreshing to be recommended a wine that was not the most expensive on the list (and for it to be good). The night was also kept lubricated by the jug of tap water that was constantly refilled without us having to ask.

We had no room for pudding and finished the meal of with a couple of glasses of port, a just end to a meaty meal - all I needed was a smoking jacket and a pipe.

In all the meal satisfied our meat cravings and was a pleasant experience. The majesty of the steak was dampened by the lack lustre, expensive side orders; but the whole experience was greatly levitated by the kindly attentiveness from our waiter. In all I think we'd go back to the Grill on the Alley if we needed some meat as it's a perfectly alright way to spend the night.

Cost for three including two starters, three mains, one sauce, two sides, a bottle of wine and two glasses of port: £99.95

Value for money: 6/10
Atmosphere: 8/10
Service: 10/10
Food: 7/10

Total: 31/40

Grill on the Alley, 5 Ridgefield, Manchester M2 6EG - 0161 833 3465

Grill on the Alley on Urbanspoon