Friday, 30 September 2011

Clandestine Cake Club @ Bean and Brush Cafe, Sale

Another month, another excuse to meet up with the lovely ladies of Manchester's clandestine cake club and another excuse to eat cake because "it's good to try other people's recipes in the aid of gastronomic research."

Cakes - before sampling

This time we were hosted by the quirky Bean and Brush Art Cafe, set in the centre of Sale; it's a revelation in do-it-yourself arts and would be a brilliant place to take the kids. If I had any. Never fear as there is plenty of great coffee, food and beer action that also makes this a wonderful place for the adults to hang out too (and you can join in the arts too if you like!). Indeed their coffee is very good and the staff are very friendly. The menu looks good for a light bite or spot of lunch too - it's kid friendly enough without being overly patronising to the little people.

Bean and Brush Art Cafe - with thanks to Gumtree

This month's Clandestine Cake Club theme was Fruit and Veg and this gave me the opportunity to, not only stuff my face with some very unusual cakes (courgette, sweet potato, avocado and pumpkin all made an appearance); but to bake my very favourite cake; my fall guy, my stand in, my back up, the cake I know works every time and always tastes fab.

Courgette, Cinnamon and Walnut Cake

As I was once again accompanying the talented, but dietary restricted, Pin Ups in Pinnies; I was inspired to create another gluten and dairy free cake. Instead of inventing my own this time (see my last CCC post for an invented recipe); I stuck to something tried and tested and just tweaked it to suit my, or rather Alex's, requirements.

Alex of Pin Ups in Pinnies and my 'muse' for the cake

The cake in question is Nigel Slater's Beetroot Seed Cake, which runs along the traditional type lines of a carrot cake but so much lighter, fragrant and full of an earthy sweetness from the beetroots. It's never let me down and do you know what? Even with the gluten free tweaks the cake shone through and I felt it was generally appreciated by all who tasted it; plus the gluten free flour retained the brilliant, vivid purple of the beetroot that is usually lost when combined with 'normal' flour.

Wheat and dairy free Beetroot Seed Cake

Don't wait to have a glut of beetroots for this one, it's too good not to be baked straight away!

Beetroot Seed Cake - gluten and dairy free
Feeds: 8-10 slices
Prep: 20 min Bake: 55 min

225g gluten free self raising flour - I use Dove Farm's blend
1/2 tsp cinnamon
180ml light olive oil
225g light muscavado sugar/soft light brown sugar
3 eggs - separated
200g raw beetroot - grated coarsely
Juice of half a lemon (a big one)
100g mixed seeds (I used pumpkin and sunflower)

For the icing:
8 tbsp icing sugar
lemon juice or orange blossom water
poppy seeds

1. Set the oven to 180c/gas mark 4 and grease and line a 2ld loaf tin.

2. Beat the egg whites; be sure there's no oil/fat in the bowl or on the mixer. The idea with the gluten free cake is to get as much air in as possible, so start off on the lowest setting and work up. Beat to soft peaks. Set to one side.

3. I another bowl beat the sugar and the oil together.  Then introduce one lightly beaten egg yolk at a time. With both the sugar/oil and the eggs, work through your mixer speeds to combine as much air as possible. You need to spend a good five minutes working on this stage.

4. In a food processor coarsely grate the beetroot (or use the coarse side of a box grater), then add to the mixture with the lemon juice and the seeds. Fold in carefully, trying not to knock the air out. Don't worry, it will look mostly like beetroot and not much else right now.

5. Fold in the flour and cinnamon, again being careful.

6. Fold in the beaten whites with a metal spoon (so not to knock the air out) and the pour your quite wet and very pink mixture into the lined tin.

7. Pop in the oven for about 50-55 mins. After about 35 mins pop a tin foil cap on the cake so the top doesn't burn. It's ready when it springs back on being touched and a skewer comes out clean. As gluten free flour is slightly thirsty, be careful not to overcook.

8. Take the cake out of the oven and let it cool in the tin.

9. When cool, make the icing; you'll need about 3tsp lemon juice/blossom water, but just add as you go, then add about 30g poppy seeds. You want the icing to be wet enough to drip down the sides of the cake.


Ps You can add raisins as well if you like. Only use 50g of seeds and add in 50g of raisins.

Bean and Brush Art Cafe, The Old Sorting Office, 12 Hayfield Street, Sale, M33 7XW - 0161 973 2140 - - Twitter

Bean and Brush Art Cafe (The Old Sorting House) on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Burt's Blue Cheese - Altrincham, Cheshire

It's British Cheese Week; the time of year which fromageophiles such as myself use as an excuse to stock up on the good stuff, retreat indoors and only emerge after the last gooey globlet has been wiped out of the fondue.

So taking a break from the annual face stuffing, I'm resting my mandibles and sitting down to write a piece about the one cheese you should be searching out this week.

Burt’s Cheese is the new kid on the artisan cheese block. Handmade with all natural ingrediants by Claire Burt in Altrincham since 2009 it's since gained such critical acclaim that the cheese took Gold in the Specialist Cheese Makers Class at the International Cheese Awards 2010 in its first year and is now featuring on the menus of some of the best restaurants in the North West.

Claire Burt with her gold award

Focusing on quality rather than quantity, Claire Burt hand makes the cheese herself in small batches with pasteurised milk from the local dairy co-op, in a small dairy one mile from her house. The cheeses are pierced during maturation, which encourages the blue veins to develop, along with the cheese's flavour.

So, what's it like? Burt's is a small cheese; a dainty blue truckle, with an interesting blue mould bloom covering the surface. Each cheese comes in an individual paper wrapping and sealed with the date it was made and when it will keep to. On opening you are presented with a very pretty, lopsided, circular cheese with a faint aroma of mushrooms. As Burt's is handmade in small batches, each one tastes slightly different and looks unique. If you can face cutting open something of such beauty, revealed is a beautiful off-white, soft cheese with blue veins running through the middle.

Burt's Blue - with thanks to Smell My Kitchen Blog

This isn't a knock your socks of piquant blue that you can smell from the other side of the room; it's far more subtle than that. Burt's Blue is very creamy and soft, with a luxurious mouth feel. After the initial heavy dose of cream, there's a marked sharp top note, followed by a salty, warmer finish.

The creamy density and slight sweetness of Burt's Blue is great with the sharp fruit around now, some cox apples went particularly well, as did the slightly under ripe pears I 'borrowed' off the tree at work. I wouldn't suggest you pair the cheese with overpowering flavours, but sitting on top of an oatcake really shows off the full range of flavours in the cheese. Chef Jason Palin has also come up with quite a few recipes for cheese including the Welsh RareBurt - proving it's versatile as well as tasty. However, for me, simple is the best - wedges of Burt's on its own – pure and delicious.

Burt's Blue showing blue veins

So impressed was I with the cheese I managed to pin Claire down in between cheese batches and caring for her young son Noah to give me a brief insight into how Burt’s got started.

How did you get in to cheese making?
I was working for Dairygold Food Ingredients in Product Development and was lucky to be sent on a cheese making course, plus got to visit dairies across Ireland, UK, Italy and Denmark. I got really interested in it, then I made some cheese in my kitchen and it started from there.

What was your first cheese like?
It actually turned out like a cheese! But I didn't unfortunately get to taste it as I'd just found out I was expecting, so my husband had to be my guinea pig. Luckily it didn’t do him any harm so I carried on.

How it all starts - the curds and why of Burt's Blue

So how do you get from cheese making in the kitchen to a proper product on shelves?
I kept making cheese at home and when I worked out it was something I wanted to do, I spoke to Environmental Health about a fit for sale product. From there it was about getting into the local shops and luckily both Red House Farm and my local deli in Goosegreen, Altincham were impressed enough to take the cheese on. I did go back to work as I'd been doing this on my maternity, but my heart wasn't in it and now I produce Burt’s Blue full time.

Do you still turn out the cheeses in the kitchen?
No! I've been very lucky to find a small room that adjoins the Cheshire Cookery School just up the road from my house, which is very handy. I had a few false starts finding places, but this is my permanent home now. I've kitted the room out with plastic wall cladding, vats, moulds and all the other cheese making paraphernalia. It's a proper dairy. The cheese is both made, matured here and packaged here.

Any disasters?
Thankfully not too many and not what you term proper disasters. We initially used a single farm to produce the cream and the milk, however they couldn’t change their rounds to suit us and this was a big problem in the warm weather. We now buy off a local co-op instead and this suits us much better. I think the only proper has been during the cold weather all the pipes froze so we had no water to make the cheese with. As they thawed they burst and we had considerably too much water!

Burt's Blue at four weeks old

What have you learned in the last year?
It’s been a massive learning curve and I learned so much, each day I’m learning new things and think I always will. Finding the right suppliers, working with stockists, getting the cheese right, all the different coats on the cheese; it just carries on. However sometimes you realise things are beyond your control. There's a saying that cheese never sleeps; I think that goes for the cheese maker as well! I still very much feel like a beginner and am very excited about what the future holds.

Ps The cheese is suitable for veggies too, so we can all enjoy!
Burts is now stocked in the following places: Cheese Shop, Chester; Cheese Hamlet, Didsbury; Barbakan Deli, Chorlton; Cheese Emporium, Altrincham Market; Red House Farm, Altrincham; Cheshire Smokehouse; Good Cheese Company; Pendrills, wholesaler (supplies into Northcotes); Sam's Fresh and Local, Bramhall; Cheerbrook Farm Shop; De Fine, Sandiway; The Hollies Farm Shop, Cheshire; Hopley House, Middlewich; Williams & Sons, Holmes Chapel; Yellow Broom, Twemlow; Sextons, Lymm; Pokusevskis Deli, Heaton Moor; Ken's deli, Westhaughton. And you can catch Claire at the Altincham Producers Market, held every third Saturday of the month.
Burt’s Blue Cheese, 14 Grosvenor Close, Altincham, Cheshire WA14 1LA –
07709 394292 – – Twitter

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Bolton Market

Foodies have long heralded the farmers' market; fair trade jute bag in hand, chatting to the suppliers over ears of freshly harvested corn and handmade gluten free cupcakes.

However we need to remember that the raise of the farmers' market is not just a modern phenomenon, but an extension of the traditional market that has been the mainstay of the populace's shopping experience for the past thousand years.

Bolton market is very much a product of the town's industrial past, housed in a Victorian market hall it's all tile, brick and iron. The town has held the charter to hold a market since 1251 and I can happily say this tradition is still going strong.

Last Saturday I did my usual shop at the market accompanied by the excellent food photographer, Christelle Vaillant (whose wonderful photos illustrate this edition of the blog - more of her work can be found on We spent a very enjoyable morning at the market, which won praise indeed from Christelle who hasn't seen such a market outside of her native France.

We've started shopping at the market after becoming increasingly depressed wandering round brightly illuminated isles, being over-charged for intensively packaged shiny fruits in the supermarket, or not being able to find much on the farmers' market in our price range - lovely for a spot of browsing or picking up something specialist; but not great at filling the shopping basket for the whole week.

Bolton's a usual mixed market, split in two; with general wares in one section and food in the other. You'll find the food market by following the fresh fishy smell and shouts of "seabass for for a fiver." Get ready for your senses to be assaulted as you're greeted on all sides by amazing sights, smells and sounds.

First stop is the fish stalls - there's a great selection at HJ Grundy; a good looking stall with spanking fresh fish. There's always the usuals, including staples such as cod and seabass, but it's also a great place to pick up the unusual. Last Saturday there were razor clams, live brown crab, prawns the size of my forearm, catfish and many others I've neither seen nor tasted before. The staff at Grundy's will clean, fillet and give you any bones of the fish you want. They're also very helpful when asking questions about what's fresh and when certain catches have come in. AND they stock local potted shrimps (Southport), something I stock up on at every opportunity!

On to Meat and Poultry for large, free range duck eggs and then over to Choice Cuts where you can get a good big slab of pork belly including nipple, a proper black pudding (Bury no less) and a cheeky chat with the guys on the stall. There's a handful of meat and fish suppliers here, so there's always plenty of choice for anything you need, including pigs feet and boiling chickens. As Bolton has a large ethnic community there are also a couple of Halal meats stalls with one specialising in super fresh Halal offal.

After the meat and fish you pop through to the fruit, veg and bakery section; which really is a riot of colour. Browse amongst the stalls for the best fruit and veg - most providers have grown savvy to the current localism trend and now mark on whether the stock is from the UK and even where about it's from; one of the stalls has some cracking Hesketh tomatoes at the moment. There doesn't seem to be one veg stall that's better than the others; it's a case of browse them all, picking up the freshest and the best. However there is a stall right at the back that's overflowing with chillies, fresh dates, Asian vegetables and humongous bunches of gorgeous herbs adding their heady fragrance to an already mind blowing shopping experience.

Special mention needs to be paid to Purdons cheese stall, selling a wide range of European cheeses and a large selection of local ones - this week I purchased a cracking Garstang Blue, which I decided upon with the help of staff (who kindly let me try quite a lot of samples).

Also worth a mention is Unsworth Deli, a places where real bread reigns supreme and you can pick up specialities like proper pancetta - not the flabby, little, flavoured lardons you pick up at the big four; but  a whole piece of cured meat off which you're sliced a lovely hunk. Plus the boy is very happy with their selection of pies (well he is Northern).

And last but not least Sweet Treats, found in the general side of the market. It’s a small, white sweet shop, but the only place you can find cream soda, plus you can put in a request for something you can’t find anymore and they’ll try to track it down for you. It’s recognisable by the yellow trays of Swizzles Matlow sweets reminiscent of the corner shop when you were eight.

Bolton Market's a brilliant alternative to the weekly big shop, you can sort all you food out but can't get everything there (such as toiletries); there's plenty of choice, the food's fresh and it's good to know that your money stays local.

Ps - Bolton Market has a market kitchen where they host cookery demos, even the Hairy Bikers have cooked there and they won Best Indoor Retail Market 2010. Even more reason to pay them a visit!

Pps - there's no parking at the market, however park at Sainsbury's on Trinity Street, parking's free for two hours. The train station is a five minute walk from the market and there's plenty of buses running in from the surrounding area.

Bolton Market is open Tue, Thurs, Fri and Sat - 9am-5pm. There's a second hand section on Friday and a car boot on Sunday.

Bolton Market, Ashburner Street, Bolton BL1 1TQ.

All photography in this blog has been taken by Christelle Vaillant, Food Photographer - check out more of her wonderful work here and here.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Relish North West Cookbook Launch, 2nd Floor Restaurant Harvey Nichols - Manchester

This week over 60 of the regions' top chefs, foodies and restaurateurs came together to celebrate the launch of a unique cookbook - the Relish guide to the North West and Cheshire.

Representing the top 20 restaurants across the region; the book features a starter, mains and pudding from each establishment's head chef. The book serves two purposes: a glossy, stylish cookbook for the more adventurous home cook who wants to turn out restaurant inspired dishes AND  a great guide of what's great/where to eat across the region.

Chris Nutter, Andrew Holland and Stuart Thompson pose with their dishes - thanks to

To celebrate the launch we were treated to a three course meal from three of the featured chefs' dishes from the book (a course each no less), plus some wonderful wines supplied by Boutinot.

First up was the North West's poster boy; Andrew Nutter, who has been involved with the North West's dining scene since the tender age of 21 and now heads up the family run Nutters in Rochdale. Andrew's starter of brill with roast pepper crust, seared scallops and black pudding ticked all the boxes for me. The fish (supplied by Neve) was light and fell apart, the sweet scallops expertly seared and caramelised around the edges, with thin slices of black pudding adding a delicate but earthy porcine element that brought the whole dish together.

Andrew Nutter's Brilliant brill - with thanks to Mcr Confidential as I ate mine before I remembered the photo

The main dish highlighted not only the exceptional cooking of Chris Holland from the Alderly Edge Restaurant, but fabulous local produce supplied by W.H.Frost Butchers of Chorlton (the lamb sourced from Cheshire). Chris presented his dish; tasting of lamb, hot tomato terrine and basil croquette, beautifully. The lamb was succulent; small nuggets of cannon sitting alongside a salty, deeply savoury shoulder confit and a crispy sweetbread to mix it up in the areas of both taste and texture. A real love song to a sheep this dish and something chef Holland can be very, very proud of.

Chris Holland's Tasting Dish of Lamb

Pudding was a deconstructed brulee flavoured with maunka honey, with burnt sugar jelly and delightful, crunchy honeycomb; all exceptionally cooked and presented by Stuart Thompson, Head Chef at Harvey Nichols' Second Floor Restaurant. The ingenious addition of bitter grapefruit segments cut through the almost cloying sweetness of the rest of the dish and the honeycomb added a welcome crunch.

Stuart Thompson's Manuka Brulee

The event was a great opportunity to meet some of the North West's top chefs and suppliers; including the creative seasonality of Robert Owen Brown from the Mark Addy and the wonderful Ed Cross of Boutinot Wines. I had a great chat with ROB about his commitment to seasonality and spoke to the chefs at Chester Racecourse's 1539; whilst trying to turn down the many glasses of wine passed my way by the ever sociable Andrew Nutter (I failed miserably, thanks Andrew!).

Chocolate truffle pops served with coffee - once I popped I couldn't stop!

Relish Greater Manchester and Cheshire is a glossy and well presented testament to the creativity and volume of aptitude the North West has to offer and is worth seeking out even if you don't attempt to create alginate water so you can create spheres of fish stock for your tasting of langoustine; it's just lovely to see North West talent being given the platform it deserves (and of course helping me choose where my next meal is coming from!).

Relish Northwest and Cheshire is available at Harvey Nichols Manchester, Amazon, bookshops across the region and through the restaurants/hotels featured for the reasonable price of £17.50. It can also be purchased direct from Relish here. And don't fear those in other regions, as Relish produces a book for each of you too!

The Second Floor Restaurant, Harvey Nichols, 21 New Cathedral Street, Manchester M1 1AD - 0161 828 8898 - - Facebook - Twitter

Second Floor Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Teacup and Cakes - Manchester

Sometimes the best things in life are the most simple. No faff, no pretence and therefore no mess ups. This is the philosophy of Teacup and Cakes' new evening menu; now offered on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays in the hip eatery that usually serves tea, cake and soup during the day.

Teacup and cakes - with thanks to The Local Data Company

There's not much to the menu - pick your meatball; fear not veggies, there's halloumi ones - for the pescaterians there's prawn. Then you pick your carb - there's the usual spaghetti or mash, but there's also some unusual options including haricot beans and wild rice.

So you've got you meat, you've got your carbs. What else? It's just sauce choosing now and then you're done. (Well, you could choose a starter, a side or a pudding if you wanted to...)

Mixing traditional with something a bit new, I ordered the beef meatballs with tomato sauce and the haricot ragu. The meatballs were full of flavour, succulent and a good texture. Teacup are obviously procuring good quality produce here. Same story for the sauce; thick and full bodied, no watery pap in sight.

And the unusual bean ragu? It was alright, needed some seasoning and was a bit dry; but after I mixed the tomato around the beans and coated them, it brought out the pleasing fresh, chalkiness of the beans and the slightly crunchy texture played well against the soft give of the meatballs and the smoothness of the sauce.

The lamb meatballs were lovely and warming; Moroccan flavouring spicing things up with a comforting, yet exciting fragrance. The spaghetti that accompanied was cooked al dente. A simple meal, but the marriage of such good quality ingredients with some conscientious cooking provided a happy and filling experience.

Teacup and Cakes keeps it usual raft of fresh, home baked cakes available into the evening service, so we ended our meal with a very delicious vanilla cheese cake. As we cut in to the smooth filling, a surprise caramel liquid flooded out from a reservoir under the surface of the cake.

Cheesecake with the surprise caramel inside!

Teacup and Cakes has taken a concept, pared it down to it's simplest minimum and in doing so has created a refreshing change to the  dining scene in Manchester. If there'd been one more meatball per serving and the cakes weren't so damn expensive, it would have been as close to perfect as you could get.

Ps - Can't fit a cake in but want something sweet? Teacup and Cake make their own chocolate truffles in the store. The dark chocolate and rosemary or the milk chocolate and anise are well worth the £1 (each!) that they're charging. Good quality chocolate has been expertly mixed with subtle flavours that compliment the cocoa rather than overwhelming. Go on, treat yourself!

Handmade truffles

Pps - Teacup and Cakes has a bring your own policy and no corkage, so make sure you remember your own bottle (there's a couple of corner shops up the road if you do forget - ask the staff and they'll point you in the right direction).

Price for three meatball dishes (mains), one cake and five handmade chocolates: £40.45

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

Total - 29/40

Go again - yes I would. The food and the service were spot on. £11 for meatballs is a little steep, but when they're that well cooked it doesn't really matter.

Tea and Cupcakes, 55 Thomas Street, Manchester M4 1NA - 0161 832 3233 - - Twitter - Facebook

Teacup on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Mr Vikki's Chutneys and Pickles - Penrith, Cumbria

I've long been on the search for chilli jam that doesn't place heat before flavour, only burn the back of your throat and leave a chemical aftertaste, or be so vinegary as to make me pull a face akin to the one I pulled when I was seven and my 'best mate' dared me to eat an entire packet of super sourz gobstoppers. At once.

Stopping off at an unknown village, whilst conducting a whistle stop tour of the lakes with the Legal Eagles, we chanced upon a stall selling Mr Vikki's. After not falling for tasting the King Naga sauce, made with the hottest chilli - the Naga (I learnt my lesson with the gobstoppers); we settled for a jar of the chilli jam and thought nothing much of it.

That was until we came home. Searching around for something to pep up eggs on toast, we can came across this little jar in the cupboard and thought, 'well it's that or dry bread.'

What a revelation! Not only did Mr Vikki's chilli jam make that the best damn eggs on toast I've ever had; it opened my eyes that somewhere in the distant Northern lands known as Cumbria, there was a company making what can only be described as God's preserves. No argument.

Chilli Jam - three chilli rating; King Naga is a massive eight!

The chilli jam is a richly spiced and multi-layered with a full, sweet and very distinctive taste. Large slices of garlic add their warmth to a thick base of peppers and tomatoes - none of this watery supermarket slush here. Mr Vikki's uses a combination of Naga and Habanero chillies; both hot, hot, hot - but this means there's also oodles of flavour. There's a slight citrus upnote from the habanero and then deeper sweetness and almost savoury notes of the naga, then a bit of a bam on the old tongue from the chilli. But that's not it; behind all that, washing over you in waves is all the spices used - I'm not going to guess, but there's some fennel in there, some mustard seed and some nigella too if I'm not mistaken.

This chilli jam has the ability to pep up everything and compliment so many flavours, instead of drowning them out in the usual hot sauces fashion; aforementioned eggs on toast, with cheese, dip apples in it, add it to pizza, makes wonderful sandwiches or just have it on toast (there's also recipes on the Mr Vikki's website). We have been advised to pop some on vanilla ice cream - sadly a jar hasn't lasted long enough for us to try that experiment yet!

Tomato and Nigella - only one chilli, still got a kick to it!

After the revelation that the Chilli Jam was so brilliant, we have been eating our way through the other products on offer from Mr Vikki's; Green Chilli Jam - very fresh version of the original, Aubergine Brinjal - very spicy, soft and smokey; Gooseberry Chutney - sweet and sour with a hint of spice and the wonderful Tomato and Nigella - much milder, but with a lovely fragrant taste capitalising on the wonderful marriage of tomato and nigella seeds; it leads a happy dance across the tongue and makes for happy meal times.

Mr Vikki's is a rare find; a collection of well thought out, original creations, lovingly created and with not one bad product (that we've found so far) in the range. We've started on a wonderfully fragrant and tasty journey sampling all that Mr Vikki's has to offer and are very excited about some of the jams and marmalades that will be available soon - with a hint of naga to really wake you up in the morning! However it doesn't matter what different products Mr Vikki's produces, there will always be a jar of the original Chilli Jam in our cupboards (it won't last for long though!).

Mr Vikki's produces chutneys, jams, pickles and curry pastes - the only places I know that carry stock near me are Harvey Nic's food hall in Manchester or Tebay Services/Westmorland Farm Shop and random farmers' markets throughout the Lakes; though you can order online and I'm sure if you follow @MrVikkis you can ask the man himself where you can sample his delights. Spice up your life!

Mr Vikki's, Welcome Inn, Eamont Bridge, Penrith, Cumbria CA10 2BD - 01768 899023 - Twitter - Facebook

Thanks to Mr Vikki's for the images, blatantly taken off the website/Facebook!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

The Beeches - Standish, Wigan

I am highly suspicious of a place that offers an overly extensive menu, how does the kitchen keep so many ingredients fresh and concentrate on so many dishes?

The Beeches at Standish is one of these places; the menu itself is rather long, however this is accompanied by a 'specials' board that is actually longer than the standard menu. Something seemed afoot and it wasn't just the dated carpet, soulless dining room or house wine that took the enamel off our teeth.

Bog standard interior - design style 'labour club'

Scanning the menu highlighted the kitchen's trick - repetition. Many dishes were either similar reincarnations; chicken New Yorker (cheese, bacon and BBQ sauce topping) becomes steak New Yorker, or different dishes are served with the same sauces; for a large menu there was surprisingly little choice.

Black pudding with onion gravy - the most ugly dish ever served?

Starters arrived and we were duly impressed and disappointed. Size is not an issue at The Beeches; indeed Legal Eagle's Beeches Platter was so large the rest of us shared it and it would have done myself and the boy for a Saturday afternoon lunch.

Beeches platter - large, but poor quality ingredients

The mussels were surprisingly well cooked although not served with mariniere sauce chosen, rather a thick, creamy, lumpy, tasteless mushroom sauce that was so hot I can only guess how it was heated. This sauce was not advertised on the menu (choice of mariniere, provencale or mild curry) and was presented to me as (viz waiter), "a beautiful white wine and garlic sauce, madam." I do not want to cast aspersions on the taste/level of culinary knowledge of the Beeches' usual patrons; but a kitchen that sends out one dish as another must have neither respect or care. (Surprisingly the dining room was quite full for most of the evening).

Well cooked mussels with mushroom sauce marauding as mariniere

Mains also showed a distinct lack of consideration; my medium rare fillet came out blue with a fridge cold middle, accompanied by anemic, greasy button mushrooms. The boy's lamb wrapped in bacon was an ugly, phallic like dish - thick, low quality, flabby bacon wrapped around an overcooked, tough piece if lamb. The dish was indeed an insult to both animals that had died to make it and to us as customers.

Lamb wrapped in bacon

We declined to have pudding and left thankfully left at the end of the main courses, muttering that we would not return again!

Price for four starters, four mains, four glasses of house wine and four pints: £111.30

Food: 4/10
Service: 6/10
Atmosphere: 5/10
Value for money: 4/10

Total: 19/40

Go again? No - the prices are expensive for such rubbish food. Indeed the portions are large, but it's just a case of quantity over quality. Never again shall I venture here, be warned!

Ps - if you do wish to visit, The Beeches runs a shorter, special menu with two courses for £8.95. I suspect this and the large portions is what makes The Beeches attractive to its clientele. Even for this price I wouldn't be tempted back.

The Stables Brasserie, The Beeches, School Lane, Standish, Wigan WN6 0TD - 01257 426432 -

Beeches on Urbanspoon