Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Farmer's Choice Online Butcher

Operating a strict dietary policy of organic or free range meat and dairy, I often find myself at a culinary loss. Large items aren’t a problem – free range chicken is available at the supermarket, lamb is free range and anything else I can source from the network of local-ish butchers I have built up.

The questions is, where do you get free-range chicken livers for pate? What if I want to make sticky wings or BBQ ribs? How about bacon? Or pancetta? Luckily there’s a place I can turn to and I don’t even have to leave my lounge. Famer’s Choice is an online cornucopia of free-range products, dedicated to sourcing from a range of free-range suppliers with rare breeds, no GM/hormones and good husbandry. The company has been in the same hands for twenty years and this leads to a flexibility of service and huge range of choice, there’s over 600 products and cuts you can order.

Tony - the orignal Farmer's Choice butcher, still looking after the business today

My delivery was sent to work; Farmer’s Choice will send anywhere so you don’t have to worry about meat being left on your doorstep or in a sunny porch. Packed in a sturdy cardboard box and insulated with wool, the meat arrived frozen and stayed rock solid until I got it home five hours later. I had initially been worried that it would start to defrost, but the care taken over packing and the sensible use of materials ensured everything stayed as frozen as when it left the Farmer’s Choice depot.

The wild boar haunch I ordered was two good slabs of dark pink steak that we fried up and ate with caramelised apples and a juniper sauce. The meat was gamey with resistance in the bite, without being tough or chewy and had that lovely sweet porcine flavour, but deeper, more robust and more savoury.

Wild boar with thanks to Farmers Choice

I chose the slower growing, free-range chicken from Farmer’s Choice as I was intrigued at how an older bird, slaughtered at 56-60 days, would taste compared to a supermarket free-range bird killed between 36-40 days. They source their birds from Childhey Manor in Dorset, who have specially selected a breed that suits this slower growing. I was impressed that Farmer's Choice/Childhey Manor free range is properly free range; hens live small flocks in insulated arcs and are allowed to go out after three weeks to scratch around and become 'proper' chickens (apparently before they're a favourite food of the magpies!) - supermarket free-range birds live in enriched, open sheds, but hardly roam out as they like to stay by the food troughs.

Chicken as it arrived

Following my usual roasting times I cooked the chicken on a trivet of stock veg, added apples, sage and onions to the pan and roasted my potatoes around the bird – pretty usual fare in the Nosh household. There was a definite difference in the quality of the bird, the boy noticing it as soon as he put the first mouthful in. Compared with a supermarket chook, the Farmer’s Choice bird had a fuller flavour and the meat had more bite. This is not to say the bird was dry or tough, just wonderfully chewy rather than dull and pappy.

Ready for the oven

The accompanying juices that came off the bird also had a depth of flavour I haven’t had from a supermarket free-range bird before. Indeed they were so thick and flavoursome that I didn’t need to make a gravy from them, but used them strained straight from the roasting tin. We ate the cold meat over the next few days and the dark meat was superb, adding deep savoury flavours - I can't wait to taste what the stock is like from the bird.

Ready for my tummy

Initially I had been put off Farmer’s Choice as the meat is all frozen, however when it arrived I realised this was far more beneficial for me, as it stayed fresher as I was at work and I could bung it straight in the freezer (which was where it was going anyway!). After processing the meat at Farmer's Choice is blast frozen to ensure it's frozen properly, with no loss of taste or quality - this was obvious from the meat we ate, there had been no deterioration.

The produce from Farmer’s Choice isn’t cheap, but that’s something to be expected from a specialist producer sourcing rare breeds and quality meat - it's certainly not overly expensive or charged at a premium. The old adage that you get what you pay for is certainly true in relation to Farmer's Choice.
Farmer’s Choice is an excellent resource for those of us who care about the food that we eat and it’s the choice and variety they offer which is the real bonus here. There’s free range stock bones, offal, chicken wings, game, cured meats – products I usually can’t get hold of, even at other online suppliers and have had to fore go many a time.

Please note I was sent my delivery for free, but the views expressed in this article are my own.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Red Chilli - Manchester

Manchester’s Chinatown offers avenues for culinary exploration and sensory stimulation to visitors and Manchester’s large Chinese population alike. One of the largest Chinatowns outside China, it inhabits a distinct area just off the city centre and is vibrantly spread over four streets. Chinatown boasts a beautifully ornate arch, bustling Chinese supermarkets and a phalanx of restaurants to stimulate your senses.

Manchester Chinatown with thanks to Panoramio

One restaurant on the edge of Chinatown, which is rapidly gaining credibility with the more adventurous of eaters, is Red Chilli on Portland Street. This restaurant is the original, with branches popping up across the North West; there’s a second, bigger version in Manchester’s university area on Oxford Road.

Red Chilli - with thanks to the Local Data Company

Red Chilli on Portland Street is pretty cramped, dark and a little dingy. It’s full of dark wood, mirrored walls and a few Chinese carvings with plenty of brooding atmosphere. Apparently it’s been done up lately, but the stairs up to the toilets are still pretty grimy and the seats in the waiting area are a little past their best.

However this isn’t a style blog so let’s move on for the main reason you’re reading this – the food at Red Chilli is influenced by the Sichuan and Beijing areas of China, so there’s plenty of small sharing plates, royal style dishes, dark soy sauce and bold, punchy spice. The extensive menu reads like a what’s what of animal parts and makes use of stronger meats like mutton, which can stand up to the challenging and potentially overpowering flavours of this style of cuisine.

Chilli beef

Shredded chilli beef was pleasingly crispy, crunchy and sweet; small strips of beef that had been chucked into oil and coated in a thick sauce flecked with little bits of chilli. Sliced duck breast with young leeks was the most conservative of dishes we tried, however still managed to deliver on the flavour front; the sauce was rich, dark and full of salty flavours that married well with the sweetness of the duck and the leeks.

Duck with young leeks

Dan dan noodles were shared between the table; the waitress making ceremony of measuring them out in to individual bowls and passing them round. The flat noodles had been cooked in a spicy broth with the addition of very soft, minced pork. The soup was surprisingly deep in savoury flavours with tongue numbing Sichuan pepper combing with chillies and the fresh bite of spring onions to create a balanced dish with a huge spectrum of flavours.

Dan dan noodles

Whether Red Chilli was having an off day, or whether it was because we were a table of small European girls, the food at Red Chilli didn’t quite offer the spicy assault on our taste buds we had expected. After eating a lot of the noodles our mouths were starting to numb and tingle, but I managed to have thirds and could still feel my tongue. The spicy chilli beef could have benefited from the supposed chilli that was meant to be there; coupled with the crispy, gloopy, spicy beef it would have been completely divine.

Apart from the misplaced heat, the food at red chilli is delicious and extremely moreish. Their approach to delivering properly regional dishes and their bravery at including all parts of the animal is refreshing when most Chinese restaurants are content with delivering the same anglicised versions of mediocre dishes.

Ps Try the pork buns, we didn’t have them, but they are a bit of a delicacy. If you go to the bigger restaurant on Oxford Road you can also have more ‘upmarket’ recipes such as Peking duck.

Price for three mains (we shared between four as the portions are large and we still didn’t manage to finish it), four beers and rice: £38.50

Food – 7/10
Atmosphere – 6/10
Service – 5/10
Value for money – 8/10
Total – 26/40

Go again – yes I would. It’s not expensive and the food is always interesting.

Red Chilli, 70-72 Portland Street, Manchester M1 4GU – 0161 236 2888

Red Chilli on Urbanspoon

Friday, 9 December 2011

The Chetham Arms - Chapeltown, Bolton

I’m in fear of shocking you readers, but there’s something to be said about the North West’s dining scene; if you only eat in the cities because you 'know' you're guaranteed the best food, then you're getting a raw deal - the best food, the best service and the best prices are all found outside town.

I’m going to propose a theory; no matter the quality, a city restaurant it is always guaranteed custom as long as it's cheap enough or flashy enough. There’s the footfall, the tourists, the convenience, the being part of a scene (ad nauseum) and these factors ensure bums will be on seats and food will be in mouths. (Seems many restaurants in Manchester are surviving very well on just being flashy; but that's another rant and another blog).

Take an eatery out of the city and suddenly things change. There’s no guaranteed footfall bar a few pint seeking locals, so quality suddenly becomes very important; as does reasonable prices and staff that are capable of serving rather than just looking good.

One such place proving this theory is the newly refurbished Chetham Arms in Chapeltown on the outskirts of Bolton. Nestled away in a quintessentially small Northern village, it has been taken over by the powerhouse that is Chris Yates. At the tender age of 24 he already has two very successful ventures under his belt (Elephant and Castle, Shoulder of Mutton) with a raft of awards to boot and an inclusion in the Relish cookbook, along with such luminaries as Robert Owen Brown and Andrew Nutter.

The Chetham Arms - with thanks to themselves

The Chetham Arms doesn’t look anything special, in fact it looks like a local that’s had a little bit of a makeover in the main dining room; nothing stuffy or over pretentious. The staff are very welcoming and there’s plenty of good ale on tap. Even the menu is unassuming; filled with local produce and hearty sounding dishes: it doesn’t give an inkling of what’s to come.

A soup of jerusalem artichokes was rich and velvety without being overpowering; the accompanying truffle cream added a heady perfume that matched with an earthy brilliance. The cream had been foamed slightly and this added a lightness to a dish that could have suffered from being far too heavy.

Jerusalem artichoke soup and lightly truffled cream

Isle of Skye scallops were sweet, caramelised and cooked to perfection - nothing rubbery or anaemic here. I’m not one for foams when they’re just ‘there,’ but the addition of a smoked bacon foam added a salty punch that brought the dish together amazingly well.

Isle of Skye scallops - yes, this was served to me in a pub! (pint just out of shot)

Homemade black pudding with quails egg came with a moreish pineapple relish and julienned sour apple slices; a quirky slant on a well known food pairing. An accompanying fritter was light with no hint of grease - a testament to the chef's skill and one which added a lovely crunch to the dish.

 Black pudding, quails egg, pineapple relish and black pudding fitter

For mains we had burger, it would have been rude not to whilst sitting in a pub. The patties were amazing; not too salty, not too greasy, not too bland, not too much bread. Everything was spot on with this dish; from the handmade ketchup (heavy hints of star anise) to the onion relish, to the home picked onions to the toasted muffin and it was served pink to boot. Perfect!

Best burger I've ever had - please note this is a smaller portion than the usual one served

Finding space for pudding was hard, but after the quality of the proceeding dishes we reasoned we should try and find space. Rice pudding and treacle tart were very well constructed, but the most amazing pudding was the simplest – a raspberry parfait with orange rind compote. I’m not sure how the chef had managed to create such intense flavours, but the small quenelle packed a massive punch of fruity flavours -  the balance of sugary sweetness and the underlying tartness was just right, leaving you neither sugared out or pinched in the mouth.
Lovely puddings - yum yum yum

Usually in an evening there is always a bum note or some aspect of a dish you'd change. At The Chetham Arms the composition of each plate that came out was perfect; obviously Chris Yates has thought long and hard about each and every aspect of each and every dish; ensuring texture, taste, look and smell were balanced and come together to create a harmony not often found in restaurant food, let alone pub food. 

The Chetham Arms may be a simple pub with good, honest grub; but the high standard, creativity, skill and reasonable prices means this is likely to become a definite go to destination and proves that out of the city it's the food, service and price that does the talking.

Ps - I try not to go to the nth describing every dish or go in to raptures of delight on my blog, however the food at The Chetham Arms was so surprisingly good and priced so extremely fairly I'm sorry, it was needed this time!

Price for taster menu and drinks: £34.60 – as The Chetham Arms is newly opened the staff gave us a small taster menu for the same price as the three course market menu (13.95 for three courses lunch time and 5.30-7pm Mon-Fri).

Food – 10/10
Service – 9/10
Atmosphere – 6/10 (they were a bit empty, but the staff made up for it)
Value for money – 10/10

Total – 35/40

Go again? Yes, we have already booked to have Christmas Eve there and will go back time and time again.

83 High Street, Chapeltown, Turton, Bolton BL7 0EW - 01294 852279 -

The Chetham Arms on Urbanspoon

Monday, 5 December 2011

Nutters - Rochadale

There's something of celebrity about Nutters, a whiff of expectation and an air of grandeur - it does help that Nutters is set in a eighteenth century manor house in rolling grounds, approached by a long drive, with a polished and warm welcome from Nutter Snr himself upon arrival.

Nutter's - with thanks to UK Parties

Seated in the newly refurbished bar area we were served a selection of canapes whilst choosing from the well balanced menu; a fish goujon was light and delightful, however the wrap was fridge cold, soggy and tasted no more special than philadelphia in corn tortillas. The waiting area has been newly decorated; whether this is being rolled out throughout the whole restaurant I'm not sure, but the decoration jarred with the old school, main body of the restaurant, which is characterised by sumptuous royal blue carpets, dark wood, low lighting and white table cloths.

Starter of carpaccio was lightly seared and wonderfully soft with a parmesan crisp that added a welcome crunch of texture and salty savouriness, although the accompanying crispy vegetable nibbles were soft rather than crispy and didn't add anything to the dish. Vine ripened tomato soup was deeply flavoured with a warm evocation of late summer, but the truffled chives on top added nothing to the dish; the perfume rather overwhelmed and rather jarred with the sweetness of the tomatoes.

Carpaccio with parmesan crisp

Mains were well constructed and obviously well practised by Andrew Nutter and his team. Brill with a red pepper crust with black pudding and scallops was dainty and soft, the porky sweetness marrying well with the rest of the dish. Hake with a tomato and scallop tart was brilliantly executed, the pastry light and crunchy. Steaks came out faultless, cooked to our exact specifications and were obviously good quality hunks of meat.

Hake with tomato and scallop tart

So swiftly on to pudding; a delectable chocolate delice with proper, handmade peanut brittle. This was a chocolaty, creamy delight with great shards of hard, salty brittle and tempered dark chocolate, set off by a caramel/peanut ice cream: I was in rapture and can still taste it now. For the rest of the table a small plate of petits fours arrived; small, sweet, but not anything out of the ordinary.

Chocolate delice and peanut brittle

Wine at Nutters is managed, advised on and served in style by Nutter Snr, your glasses constantly topped up without you noticing, whilst he glides around the floor chatting to the clientele - this is clearly a man who loves his work. The operation at Nutters is smooth and well polished; food comes out silently from experienced and well kept waitresses. Service was outstanding; however we did have a little trouble in locating staff between courses, they came out with the food and then disappeared again as if by magic.

Petis fours

I had initially been worried that the grand exterior, the white linen and the dark panelling would have equalled a dated, fusty experience, but felt at ease whilst eating here. Although the mains were skillfully put together, some dishes failed to live up to the standard conjured up by the grand setting. Prior to eating at Nutters we had heard such glowing reviews that we expected impeccable food in an amazing surrounding. Whilst neither was achieved, Nutters came very close and was certainly a thoroughly enjoyable meal.

Price for four starters, four mains, one pudding, pre-dinner drinks, two bottles of champagne, one half bottle of port and three coffees: £245.50

Food - 8/10
Service - 7/10
Atmosphere - 8/10
Value for money - 7/10

Total - 30/40

Go again - yes I would, I think there's many positive points here and it's worth another visit.

Nutters, 691 Edenfield Road, Norden, Rochdale OL12 7TT - 01706 650167 - - Twitter

Nutters on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 1 December 2011

WH Frost Butchers - Chorlton

It's good to support your local shops and indeed I try to. I have a local butcher and he's very good for your standard fare; the meat's well hung, the sausages are made by the butchers themselves, they're friendly and the meat's local. Sounds perfect you might think, but there's one big snag; when asking for free range chicken, game, mutton or anything a bit, well, different I get the following: "ooh not much call for that round 'ere." This article is a confession; I'm seeing another butcher.

WH Frost and Sons has been selling meat to Chorltonites since 1910 when the shop was opened by Jack Frost; the business is still in the family and is growing from strength to strength. Dedicated to sourcing quality local produce, Frosts won the Manchester Food and Drink Award 2011 for Best Food and Drink Outlet and is a member of the Guild of Q Butchers. Chorlton is not local to me and has never been; but I have yet to find anything that beats them for quality, dedication, customer service and scope of produce.

The dedicated commitment and care that WH Frost displays in their attitude to working is not only appreciated by Chorltonites and foodies like me; WH Frost is an ever expanding empire with 22 full time members of staff sourcing and delivering produce to pubs, supper clubs and restaurants - with some Michelin starred customers having kept long running accounts. Unlike other catering butchers they do not find the cheapest meat from the easiest source (usually countries like Poland and injected with water to plump it up); instead they ensure everything is British unless it is a specific product eg. poulet de bresse.

Paul Kitching's 21212 is just one of WH Frost's famous customers

For a high street butcher, Frosts is well stocked; the meat sourced from farms in and around Cheshire and the North West. The meat is hung properly, the beef for a full 28 days (you can ask for it longer) so you'll find no bright red, sweaty polythene packs or the 'aged' steak you find in supermarkets (most supermarket steaks are cut and put in the packs from freshly slaughtered animals, they are then held in refrigeration units for a set number of days; so not matured properly allowing the fibres to relax and water to come out).

As well as beef, lamb, chicken, pork and the handmade sausages, there's plenty else to tickle your taste buds. Venison chorizo, game from local shoots, whole legs of serrano ham, pickles, duck eggs and even cheeses such as the wonderful  Burt's Blue from Altrinham and the hard to source Norwegian Brunost.

The variety of choice doesn't end there. Want something special for that Masterchef menu you're perfecting or a quality bird for Christmas? Frosts will source what you need (marrow bones, rose veal, bath chaps, goose, smoked back fat) or they can suggest meats, foods, cooking techniques and even life advice.

Obviously you're impressed and want to pay them a visit; this is where WH Frosts is moving with the times and keeping abreast with the modern customer. My local butcher opens at 9am and closes at 5pm sharp; they don't open on Wednesday afternoons and are only open until noon on a Saturday. I'm out before they open, home after they close and am pretty lazy on a Saturday morning/go away a lot. WH Frost is open Mon-Sat 7am-5pm (plus if you follow them on Twitter you can get a sneaky order in at midnight when you're craving some chicken livers) and they've even been known to drop orders for repeat customers at a location to suit them.

One of the Frost brothers (Lee) with his sausages out!

You're not going to find bargain basement prices, lucky dip meat bags or chickens for less than a fiver here. What you will find is consistent quality and pride in the way they work and what they sell. You can get carried away with the expensive produce, however shop wisely and ask questions; the staff will point you in the direction of cuts you can't get in the supermarket and you'll be rewarded with something that tastes fantastic and something you can resolutely trust is good quality produce.

Ps - Get your Christmas meat orders in quick! WH Frost sources quality free-range birds such as Copas turkeys and Gressingham geese; plus they ensure the birds are slaughtered as close to Christmas as possible. Some butchers and supermarkets will have their birds slaughtered from late November and then kept in bubbles of inert gas to keep them fresh until Christmas - not a concept I find appealing and I'm sure you don't either.

WH Frosts, 14 Chorlton Place, Chorlton-Cum-Hardy, Manchester M21 9AQ - 0161 881 1827 - Twitter

Thursday, 24 November 2011 - online butcher, greengrocer and dairy

I’m not a lover of veg boxes. As I’m a Guardian reading, left leaning Liberal it may come as a bit of a shock to you, but I find there’s either too much trouble with delivery (I don’t have somewhere or someone to leave it with), there’s too much repetition of produce, there’s far too much produce that’s not from the UK – even when it’s in season, or that the produce is a bit ropey. I may be asking a lot from a box scheme, but I’m a picky old thing; that’s why I write a blog!

Farmison are a new online retailer that have started a box scheme and are approaching things from a different angle. Sure there’s the boxes for families and basic boxes, but there’s an emphasis on good quality, hard-to-source produce; plus gourmet products thrown in for good measure (there’s a foodie box, for those that are that way inclined).

From the lovely marketing ladies I chose the Foodie Box (of course) and chose this with relish – big juicy garlic cloves, beautifully fragrant unwaxed lemons, sticky figs, romesco cauliflower, two varieties of cress, shallots, massive Muscat grapes, yellow beetroot, jura potatoes, cheese and yoghurt. My box arrived quickly and I was heartened to see that most of it could go in the recycling/compost – they’d even used paper straw to pad out the dedicates rather than polystyrene beads.

Foodie box with dairy - with thanks to

Opening the box I was like a child at Christmas – all the produce was in peak condition and lasted longer than supermarket produce. However the potatoes didn’t last very long at all and had gone mouldy by the end of the week.

The inclusion of the dairy in the box is a good idea – allowing you to mix and match what you get and add a little extra for your weekly menu. The quality of the dairy products was even better than the fruit and veg. Montgomery’s cheddar was an unpasteurised delight with a rich, almost farmyardy smell and a real tangy bite. The yoghurt was from Preston; thick, creamy and a true delight – it was hard not to eat the whole tub in one go.

Farmison’s philosophy is to offer excellent seasonal produce from traditional and artisanal producers across the UK – offering products that are not available elsewhere online. This commitment's splashed right across their website; their stock of cheeses is enviable and a fromageophile’s equivalent to online porn.

Cheese box - yes, you can even pick your own cheese and put it in a box - with thanks to

Compared to other box schemes Farmison’s prices aren’t much more expensive, but for me I still prefer to be able to fondle my fruit and veg; plus only the cress, cauli and potatoes were from the UK in the foodie box I received. I appreciate that certain products (ie the wonderful lemons from Italy) can’t be sourced in the UK; but for me, even as a foodie, I’d rather fore go most items that are out of season, rather than substitute with those that from a different country (though not those lemons!).

For me, rather than the box scheme, Farmison excels on their meat and dairy; each cut of meat has multiple choices for the consumer, for example there’s four different types of lamb noisettes from North Yorkshire, The Isle of Man, Lancashire and Suffolk. Each entry has details about the farm it’s from, the breed and which chefs in the country use it. You can even click on farm name or the breed and you’re linked to more detailed information. 

Photo of Abbotts Farm, Yorkshire from their producer section - thanks to

Farmison’s dedication to quality sourcing and care of provenance shines through from their well thought out and well designed site. Farmison are putting choice and power back in the hands of the consumer and that’s a good thing in my book. It might be a little pricey, but I like to think that I'm paying for quality, good husbandry and utter trust in the provenance of the produce I buy. I doubt I'll use the box scheme, but that's just me, however for meat and dairy I'm already there!

Ps - I was sent a box by Farmison, but not in the expectation I'd write super nice things about them - all the thoughts are my own and they haven't seen this piece before I publish it.

Pps - Sorry for the lack of pictures, technology problem.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Cafe Vnam - Ancoats, Manchester

The best things in life are free, good things come to those who wait, patience is a virtue and other such adages litter our collective linguistics; phrases that have sprung up over time to impart useful information or just to quell over excitement in small children.

Maybe over time another turn of phrase will spring up in relation to Manchester’s ethnic dining scene; the grottier the better. In my recent travels around the city it seems that those restaurants that look like they’ve been stocked with the furniture from someone’s back yard and have menus that are wipe clean, are the ones delivering the most tasty, most honest and properly priced bowls of food.

Readers of my blog will remember previous glowing reviews for Baekdu, BBQ Handmade Noodles and Izakaya Samsi – well here’s another to add to the list: Café Vnam.

Cafe Vnam interior - with thanks to Manchester Confidential

Located on an unassuming stretch of Oldham Road, Café Vnam is easy to overlook; especially with the monstrous behemoth of Wing Yip and the Royal Mail sorting office overshadowing it from across the road.

Café Vnam is a very simple place; it’s décor from the bargain range in Homebase, bright lights and a laminated menu. However the place is clean, there's a great smell of food and the service is prompt. We started with Gui Cuon, or Summer Rolls, and were delighted at the fresh, zesty flavours that slapped us round the face and made us sit up and take notice of what came out next.

Fresh, herby vegetable summer rolls

The Boy’s Beef Pho was wonderful; a deeply flavoured bowl of steaming soup and noodles with hints of clove and star anise. The pho comes with extras so you can customise your bowl to suit yourself; this included generous bunches of mint and coriander, heaps of bean sprouts and the fieriest little chillies I’ve had in a while. (Cue hilarious hand waving from the boy as he pops one in his mouth by mistake).

Pho Bo - beef pho

BBQ lamb chops were charred and sticky; the meat super soft and moist within – a real testament to the skill of the chef. The chops were topped off with caramelised spring onions, not something I’ve seen before, but the sweet smokiness combined extremely well and jarred well with the sharp, vinegary, spicy sauce accompaniment.

Com thit cuu nong - BBQ lamb chops

The food at Cafe Vnam wasn’t awe-inspiringly creative, didn’t push any boundaries and didn’t look like a work of art - however it was honest, tasty and fresh; and that's something I appreciate much more in a meal when I can actually find it.

Ps – Café Vnam doesn’t have a licence so don’t get giddy and expect to have a beer.

Pps – maybe some of the cheaper English places should take a leaf out of Café Vnam and others’ books and serve fresh, tasty food rather than tasteless, fatty cardboard.

Price for one starter, two mains and a glass of coke: £15.10

Food – 7/10
Atmosphere – 7/10
Service – 7/10
Value for money – 9/10

Total – 30/40

Go again – definitely. And you can park outside as it’s not fallen foul to Manchester City Centre’s daft new 8am-8pm money making parking sham.

Café Vnam, 140 Oldham Road, Ancoats, Manchester M4 6BG - 0161 205 2700 -

Vnam Café on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The Rose Garden - West Didsbury

Situated in the middle of Burton Road, which is West Didsbury's equivalent of a high street, The Rose Garden shines out as a paean to modernity and minimalism. Located in an area overloaded with faux vintage, twee cupcake shops and folksy frontages, the clean lines and stark white interior of The Rose Garden make a refreshing change.

The Rose Garden exterior - with thanks to Deanna Thomas and Didsbury Life

The restaurant is totally family run; William Mills is the chef, his dad designed the restaurant, his brother kitted it out, his sister works there (and was our very eloquent, attentive and excellent waitress for the night) and I've heard a rumour that it's named after his mum and she does the books.

With seasonality and locality underlining the restaurant's ethos coupled with the stunning interior design  I was already smitten with the restaurant before eating there. All I needed was some good food and I can say I wasn't disappointed.

Starters were large and flavoursome - a fish pie was just on the right side of heavy without being too filling and the mussels in cider with bacon melted in the mouth. The combination of seafood and porcine sweetness highlighted Chef Mills' ability to pair complimentary flavours in order to create something simple yet stunning.

Mussels with cider and bacon

Mains carried on excellently; beef two ways was a big, burly dish of succulent, rare fillet and and tender slow cooked shin. The perfectly pink venison with 'rubik's cube roasted veg' further highlighted the chef's brilliant cooking skills. However this dish was priced at £21.95 and was tiny compared to the beef, plus the rubik's cube was far too faffy and the veg cubes far too small. I can think of better things to do with roasted root veg than spend my time arranging them into a neat little box.

Teeny, tiny venison portion

A pistachio tart was the final flourish to an exceptionally well put together meal. The taste was very subtle, but in no way would I call this tart bland; the flavours sweetly whispered their existence. Underlying fragrances of orange blossom and cardamon layered beautifully and I can say this is one of the best puddings I've had this year - and I'm not even going to gripe about the price!

Wonderful tart with an intense blackcurrant tuile - more please!

The Rose Garden is a special place; great food put together with great care by a great family, the only issue is the great (as in expensive) price of the mains, bring these down a few quid and then the future is, well, rosey.

Ps - The Rose Garden does have a cheaper set menu that's available all day early in the week and then as an early bird later on in the week - check it out here.

Price for two starters, two mains, two puddings and a glass of wine: £70.80

Food - 9/10
Service - 9/10
Atmosphere - 9/10
Value for money - 7/10

Total - 34/40

Go again? Yes, for a special occasion or if I wasn't having three courses.

The Rose Garden, 218 Burton Road, West Didsbury, Manchester, M20 2LW - 0161 478 0747 - - Twitter - Facebook

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Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Planet Pavillion - Jodrell Bank, Macclesfield

Located in Jodrell Bank's new visitor centre, with excellent views across to the impressive Lovell radio telescope; the Planet Pavilion Cafe is the latest outpost of the Modern Caterer, a small company headed up by award winning chef Peter Booth, that has sustainability and seasonality as its core.
The Modern Caterer at The Planet Pavilion - with thanks to Relish Publications

Dominated by the large windows focused on the iconic white radio telescope; the cafe is a fresh, modern space with quirky facts along the walls and lines of clocks displaying various space related times such as the time on Venus and in a black hole (with handy explanations for the non-physicists underneath). There's the ubiquitous blackboard you find in many little cafes with piles of fresh veg underneath and heaps of homemade cakes on the counter.

Views out to the Lovell radio telescope - with thanks to Manchester University

The menu is a mixture of usual lunchtime fare; sandwiches, soups, wraps and whatever. It's was a bustling little space, even on a wet Tuesday afternoon and whilst we were there it was obvious that staff from Manchester University's Astrophysics Department often pop in. And who wouldn't?

Dishes displayed a simplistic elegance and a genuine care for the ingredients involved; the daily special of parsnip soup was creamy yet light, with a sweet whisper of sharp apple underlying the whole dish. Alongside was bread supplied by (fairly) local bakery, Barbakan of Chorlton - and, considering how much their loaves cost, there was a substantial amount of one on the side of the plate.

Parsnip soup and loads of bread

Potted Cheshire Pork (the meat supplied by award winning WH Frosts - also of Chorlton) was wonderfully soft and surrounded by the lovely, scrumptious fat and topped with the sharpest slivers of apple - a brilliant essay in why salty, sweet and sour works so well together. Could have done with a little more seasoning, but that was my only gripe.

Potted Cheshire Pork

We followed these tasty, simple lunch dishes with a full five minutes considering the distortion of space time round the hefty body of homemade cakes on offer. After much deliberation we chose a light and fragrant orange and poppy seed plus a dense and chewy brownie, which were eaten in three seconds flat; proving the point that space time does indeed slow down and then speed up round heavenly bodies.

Cakes - look boring, tasted fab

The Planet Pavilion is a great cafe for a museum, or for anywhere to be honest. There's no pre-packaged sandwiches; there's the excellent cooking; there's large portions, there's sensible pricing and there's an obvious commitment to deliver good tasting, sustainable food in line with their ethos rather than simply using it as a catchy and on-trend byline. I wish other establishments would take a leaf from Jodrell and realise overcharging for plastic crap is something that should only happen in the gift shop.

Ps - The Planet Pavilion Cafe also has a licence and serves Cains, so you can calm your nerves if contemplating the universe gets too much.

Pps - you don't have to visit Jodrell to go to the cafe; but I'd recommend it, just for a walk around the massive grounds and to stand by the radio telescope and pretend you're Brian Cox or (even better) Sir Patrick Moore.

Cost for two dishes, two cakes and a beer: £14.75

Food - 8/10
Service - 7/10
Atmosphere - 7/10
Vale for money - 9/10

Total - 31/40

Go again? Yes, any excuse for sustainable, well cooked food AND learning about astrophysics. I'm there!

The Modern Caterer at The Planet Pavilion, Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre, Lower Withington, Macclesfield, Cheshire SK11 9DL (sat navs use SK11 9DW) - 01477 571766 -

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