Thursday, 28 July 2011

The Windmill - Parbold

There must be a 'how to' guide on putting together upmarket country pubs that's doing the rounds of Northern villages at the moment. Roaring fires, mismatched furniture, real ale on tap, Farrow and Ball paint scheme and a gourmet burger on the menu.

The Windmill in Parbold has recently been revamped and it seems they have read the aforesaid how to. The dining room and snug are replete with old, mismatched furniture and a fire roars away in the main dining room. Conveniently for The Windmill they are actually located next to an interiors shop - which is good, as their walls are definitely Farrow and Ball Elephant's Breath. And yes there is a gourmet burger on the menu.

The Windmill Interior - with thank to The Windmill Parbold

The daytime menu (for it was daytime when we were there) is quite long, encompassing usual pub fare such as fish and chips, calves liver and steak and ale pie. For those who want something smaller/are on a budget, there's also the light bites menu. The menu promotes local food and suppliers, though unlike places such as The Clogg and Billycock, there is no mention of them in the menu, other that 'Scotts the Butchers.'

Fish and Chips

Food is well presented, but there seems to be something lacking in the execution. The venison and chorizo burger was small, very, very salty and dry; yummy mummy's risotto was soggy and badly seasoned, however there was no fault with the boy's fish and chips (could you get that wrong) and my duo of sausages on cheesy mash was well cooked. The mash was surprisingly light with just the right amount of cheese taste shining through.

Venison and chorizo burger

Puddings were also hit and miss. The brownie tasted fab; dark and bitter tempered by a hint of cheeky sweetness with a tangy berry compote that sent little electroshocks of sharp pleasure across the tongue. The dish was marred by the terrible consistency; the brownie was very gritty, almost as if it had been rewarmed in the microwave and the chocolate had split.

Sticky toffee pudding

The sticky toffee pudding was large and soaked with syrup, a little too cakey in texture for me; but I only tasted a mouthful as it was wolfed by the boy in record time (no matter that it was almost a million degrees either - maybe I should take advantage of this talent and make money from his speed eating?).

Service was friendly, if a bit slow and forgetful - but as we were there to enjoy a lazy Saturday lunch it's not something that we cared about too much. The staff didn't seem that knowledgeable about ingredients, but they were more than happy to go and find out from the kitchen.

The Windmill is a great pub if you live in Parbold or the surrounding villages. They've good ales on tap and have a snug that's brilliant for reading your book and watching the comings and goings of the villages. Whether you'd bother travelling far for another country village gastropub clone with only quite alright food is another matter.

Ps - if you go in winter wear your coat to the toilets, they are sub-zero freezing!

Cost for four mains, four puddings and drinks: £59.60

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

Total - 25/40

The Windmill, 3 Mill Lane, Parbold, Wigan WN8 7NU - 01257 462935  @TheWindmillPub

Windmill Hotel on Urbanspoon

Windmill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Wednesday Night Supper Club - secret location, Manchester

On a designated Wednesday night once a month, a secretive group of gastronomes comes together at undisclosed destinations across Manchester city centre to cook for each other and score each other against strict criteria.

It was with great honour that I was asked to judge the annual WNC competition last week, where the three highest scoring members presented me with a course each; the menu kept under wraps up until I was seated at table and the dishes placed in front of me.

With trepidation I sat down to eat, marking each dish on taste, texture, presentation and overall composition. I can't say I relished the job surrounded by those who do this regularly. I was a tough job, but someone has to do it!

To start I was presented with dainty pancetta parcels on a bed of bitter leaves and balsamic syrup; one filled with a Parmesan, egg and asparagus mixture; the other with goats cheese and caramelised onions. Each filling was light and soft, almost souffle like - a great texture contrast with the crispy pancetta on the outside. The Parmesan parcel was richly flavoured, but not overpowering thanks to the lightness of the egg mixture. My only criticism would be the caramelised onions were lost under the goats cheese. However the dish was a well thought through bringing together of contrasting flavours and textures.

Starter - cheese and pancetta parcels

Mains followed a little while later - I was banned from the kitchen and the whole enterprise was shrouded in secrecy: a little hard when the bathroom was accessed through the kitchen!

What was served next was an homage to a wonderful cut of meat, especially ordered for the evening from Manchester Market. A succulent fillet, cooked to pink perfection, wrapped in crispy pastry - that classic dish of beef wellington. Whereas starters had been dainty I was now treated to a large slice, accompanied by al dente veg and garlic and chive mash (of which the garlic was slightly burnt unfortunately). This was a filling and satisfying dish, that smelt and tasted gorgeous.

WNC beef wellington

Though I was struggling to find room the pudding that followed was such a delight upon all senses that I was instantly hungry and had to slow myself to appreciate what I was desperatly hurrying into my mouth!

Pudding was a trio of summer berries; comprising a mini strawberry cheesecake, homemade raspberry ripple ice cream and warm berry compote - all garnished with the cook's homegrown strawberries; small, sweet and succulent.

Berry compote was multi-layered in flavour, a delish shot of soothing sugeriness. The cheesecake, which was slightly unset, allowed the fruit flavour to shine through and wasn't masked by an overpowering sweetness that can be found in many cheesecakes. By far the most amazing part of the dish was the homemade ice-cream. This was a cream based, rather than a custard based ice-cream, with a very sharp berry ripple, cutting the sweet fatty sugar like a lightening dash across the tongue.

WNC Trio of berry puddings

Supper clubs are springing up across the city and it is amazing the level of care, quality and attention to detail present in all of them. As Wednesday Night Supper Club is only made up of amateur cooks, I was surprised by the high level of cooking skill on display and found it hard to distinguish between the many merits of each dish. However, I'm a girl after Greg Wallace's heart, and in the end my vote fell on pudding - every aspect of the dish was well thought through, well presented and well executed.

After such an enjoyable evening of great company and great food, I'd like to point you in the direction of the Wednesday Night Supper Club; but I fear that disclosing this sensitive information may result in my imminent downfall. You'll just have to hope that one day their invite drops on to your doormat...

Sunday, 17 July 2011

North Tea Power - Manchester

Tucked away in Manchester's Northern Quarter, sandwiched between a skate shop and a terrible bar which usually smells of sick on a Friday night is a new gem in Manchester's coffee house compendium.

North Tea Power is a small shop decked out in light wood, with small tables and and a large communal table in the middle. Soothing modern folk music can just be heard over the click of locals' keyboards and the quiet murmur of tea and coffee enthusiasts. The look is effortless and the feeling is relaxed and friendly.

North Tea Power - with thanks to city spy Manchester

Initially North Tea Power just served tea, coffee and cakes - they've lately added food and now alcohol to that mix. We've been popping in for a while and I thought it was about time I shared my little secret with you guys.

I have no idea about tea; but the boy tells me that the have a varied and interesting loose leaf range and provide such oddities as the tespresso and marmalade tea (tea with marmalade in obvs! - based on a drink the proprietors had whilst travelling in Asia). Served in glass french press cafetieres the teas look beautiful and (apparently) taste great.

It's the coffee that I'll shout about. North Tea Power serve the only macchiato I can drink without sugar - the roast is mellow, sweet and not at all bitter. They've stolen the coffee crown from Teacup for me and I'll always pop in when I have the time.

Cakes and bakes are sourced from a family bakers in local Chorlton that have been going since the end of the 19th century. I've eaten my way through a few baked delights (in the name of gastronomic research, of course!), but the one I go back for every time is the florentine. Densely nutty with candied fruit dotted across its surface, the florentine is coated in a thick, buttery toffee  and supported by the thickest dark chocolate base I have come across (I've come across many florentines in my time...). Divine, utterly sinful and will definitely brighten up any bad day, ever.

Flapjack picture as I ate all the florentine before I could take a picture!

Last time we popped in the boy tried the homemade red onion soup - it was well made and well seasoned. The soup was also thick enough to be substantial unlike some onion soups slopped out elsewhere. I tried the three bean and feta sandwich and have to say I'm glad I made the choice.

Served on a crisp ciabatta the sandwich was stuffed with beans with a pleasant bite, intermingled with salty spikes of feta and all covered in a delicious parsley/garlic/lemon/olive oil dressing. Lip-smackingly good and fresh as the spring rain to boot.

Prices aren't expensive, but they aren't the cheapest either. Sandwiches are around the £3.50 mark and cakes range between £1-£3.50ish, so follow other establishments in the area. However where some places can be accused of jumping on the Northern Quarter pricing bandwagon, North Tea Power's conscientious sourcing, friendly and very informative service and quality products makes them stand out from the rest.

North Tea Power is a great places for breakfast (they have muesli and toast and things), lunch or a quiet moment to reflect, collect yourself or just have some me time. My only worry is now I've let you in on my little secret I won't be able to get a seat the next time I need to reflect and collect (or quench my florentine addiction)!

Ps - if you like your drinks that much, North Tea Power does loose leaf tea and pour over beans to take away.

Pps - North Tea Power can be a little hard to find - it's located on a raised row of shops opposite the multi-story car park and up from Afflecks.

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

Total - 32/40

North Tea Power, 36 Tib Street, Manchester M4 1LA - 0161 833 3073 -

North Tea Power on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Join Us 4 Supper - North Star Deli, Chorlton

Last weekend I lost my virginity, that of the supper clubs that is and was lucky enough that my first one was a launch event for JoinUs4Supper at the North Star Deli in Chorlton.

North Star Deli - with thanks to the wonderful Christelle Vaillant, ace photographer and foodophile

The theme of the night was local food - as anyone will know I'm an avid supporter of local produce, local suppliers and few food miles, so this was right up my street. And the fact that I had won a ticket to attend was an added bonus (I never win anything so it really was an added bonus - tho somehow I ended up paying half for the the boy's ticket as well...not sure this is how winning usually works).

Arriving early we were greeted in the warmest manner by staff and other diners who had just arrived. The delightful aspect of a supper club is that once you're all in the door's closed, you're sat with people you may not know and you're all there for one thing - good food. I suppose the atmosphere is the same as in a liferaft, you talk to those you are unfamiliar with and weather the good times and the storms together. Thankfully there were no storms at North Star, unless you count the tsunamis of taste that assaulted by taste buds at every step!

Join Us 4 Supper Menu

North Star Deli is bright and fresh; white walls with clever signage, products on display and spaced apart tables. The feeling is welcoming and fresh; would sooth a hangover or perk you up on your commute to work (conveniently they are right next to the shiny new metro stop).

First course was a Mediterranean fish soup with rouille - the fish was supplied by local monger 'Out of the Blue' who are all about sustainability (soup included hake, pollock, clams and mussels) and spanking fresh, good quality produce. Support local and pay them a visit!


The fish soup was thick and tomatoey, really reduced and full of flavour. Thankfully sweet and not at all tinny (as some over reduced tomatoes can become). Packed with large lumps of fish this was as much as I'd usually eat for my dinner and it was only the first course. We were warned by chef Deanna that the rouille that accompanied the soup would blow us away (one chef wouldn't taste it as he had a date later!) and she sure was right. However the rouille was sweet and mellow without the harsh, metallic garlic twang that is characteristic of something under prepared.

Mains followed shortly with an introduction by local butcher Lee Frost; the boy was over the moon as not only was he sitting next to him (Northern men bonding over meat talk=good), but the lamb on the table had been slaughtered in Oldham. Lee knows his stuff and was really engaging, he explained the cuts of lamb being served, provenance (Cheshire) and other meaty facts. It was great to be able to meet the producer and heartwarming that North Star invite the suppliers and make them a central part of the evening.

Local butcher Lee Frost - man of meat

The lamb itself was cooked amazingly - well rested, meltingly tender, beautifully seasoned Dijonnaise crust and the quality of the meat shone through. The garlic and broad bean puree served alongside complimented expertly, singing with the sweet notes of the lamb.

Super succulent lamb

What was pudding? Well what else could it have been on a local food night? We were served magnificent slices of Manchester Tart with vimto sauce. The team had the foresight to lighten the serving and used an almost liquid creme anglaise rather than a set custard. This was cut through with the addition of the new season's sharp raspberries - yum!

All this was followed up by some of North Star Deli's famous coffee (rich and fruity) and THE best salted caramel macaroons - so squidgy and delicious! Luckily the boy didn't like his so I got two, bliss.

Maccaroons of doom - get some today!

North Star doesn't only do wonderful supper clubs featuring the best local produce and suppliers, they're also open from 8am everyday to sell you coffee, cake, teas, lovely food, smashing products and wonderful teapots. They're also right next to the new Chorlton metrolink, so all you townies can easily sample the delights.

I managed to grab a quick word with chef Deanna Thomas (who owns North Star with her brothers):

How come you set up the supper club?
We’ve become fascinated with social media and how the food world has embraced it. It’s been a perfect platform for the supper club movement based primarily in London but filtering outwards. Despite Manchester being the second city in terms of social media, we’ve been relatively slow on the uptake in this area. The Spice Club has been doing a wonderful one for a while now and there are monthly gourmet events such as Gastroclub, Guestrant at Elektrik and Gourmet night at the Mark AddyOur deli can seat 30 people comfortably and is available for events in the evening so we thought we’d start a supper club with a different theme every month.

How did the supper club start?
I did a tester on St Patrick’s day in March and it worked really well. Lots of different people including food bloggers came to meet and chat and there was a really unique atmosphere you don’t get in restaurants.

Why did you choose local food as your first theme?
We feel very privileged in Chorlton, people here are really supportive of local independent businesses and smaller events. We love the way we were so welcomed back in 2003 by other local businesses and we wanted our first event to recognise this.

As well as coming from a long line of butchers, Frost is an expert in his field and a very funny man which made for a great evening. Sustainable fish is a hot issue at the moment and we wanted Dave from Out of the blue to come along and champion some of the lesser known fish and give us some advice on buying and cooking seasonally. Unfortunately he couldn't make it, but we're sure he'll be at one in the future!

And finally why is supper club important and what does it offer that other restaurants don't?
Supper club is one thing that can be done by independents rather than the big bully supermarkets.

North Star Deli's supper club runs every month so follow their blog/site/twitter/facebook to find out more.

Supper club tickets are priced at £25pp for three courses - if you book early you get petis fours and coffee thrown in too - bargain!

Food - 8/10
Atmosphere - 10/10
Service - 8/10
Value for money - 9/10

Total - 37/40

North Star Deli, 418 Wilbraham Road, Manchester M21 0SD - 0161 862 0133 - @JoinUs4Supper

North Star Deli on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Luciano's at the Millstone - Anderton, Chorley

Luciano's is the recent incarnation of an Italian restaurant at The Millstone, it's been remade and done up - previously it was a sad, tired restaurant with peeling 90s wallpaper serving over-priced, over-cooked food apparently with a mediterranean influence ie. served with watery courgettes and a sprinkling of oregano.
From the outside the Millstone looks like an old-style country pub, however inside it's all white linen tableclothes and leather chairs. Luciano's is now headed up by Luciano Fortuna, who's gregarious Scilian personality can usually be found heading up the restaurant and welcoming guests with a twinkle in his eye.

Looks like a pub, is a restaurant - with thanks to Chorley Guardian

We were seated quickly even though we didn't have a reservation in the modern, clean dining room. Thankfully Luciano has a habit of seating guests near other tables and filling the restaurant up that way, so even if the restaurant is only half full it seems like there is plenty going on and the atmosphere is good.

There's a main menu comprising starters, pastas, pizzas and mains - plus a daily changing special menu. I decided to order the mussels off the specials and have to say they were freshest, tastiest and well cooked mussels I have had; the flesh was silky soft and the tomatoey broth thick with fragrant herbs and garlic, it was so good I asked for a spoon (they agreed without quibble)!

Spanking fresh mussels

We ordered pizzas and pasta as it was a relaxed meal - good wood fired dough, thin and crispy. However it was 50/50 as to whether they were worth it. A 'create your own' of rocket, calabrese salami and peppers was fresh and very tasty, but the prawn pizza was bland - far too much cheese, hardly any courgettes and a few tiny rubbery prawns, this sorry state was replicated in the Sciliana as well. A secret to pizza success here seems to be asking them to be easy on the cheese.

Overly cheesey, bland prawn pizza

Pasta was well cooked to the bite and the sauce well seasoned, the diavola being loud and shouty spice in your mouth - it could have been toned down a tad as the spice seemed to drown out anything else, but was overall rounded and well thought out.

Service was attentive, if somewhat over-bearing from someone whom we could only guess at being the head waiter - an over-the-top personality who made us feel very welcome, but whose schtick soon got a little tiring. Far more subtle and effective was Luciano himself, who glided around the dining room, was expertly knowledgable and liked to talk about proper Scilian and Italian food.

We've aslo popped to Luciano's for a drink after work - the beer garden here is pretty and good sized, though a little close to the road to really chill out (thankfully you can only hear it and not see it). It's good to see that as well as serving Peroni and other largers, they pay a respectful nod to the local Bank Top Brewery and serve Flat Cap on tap. Order the breads and olives whilst you sup - the chewy bread comes with some lovely, grassy olive oil and come very sticky, thick balsamic syrup.

Luciano's isn't a mecca for foodies, but for a local mid-week, fairly priced meal that's actually alright it hits the nail on the head. If Luciano could influence the menu to give the food a more Scilian slant I think they would be on to a winner.

Price for one appertiser, two starters, three pizzas, one pasta and drinks - £67.75

Food - 7/10
Atmosphere - 7/10
Service - 6/10
Value for money - 6/10

Total - 26/40

Luciano's Italian Restaurant, At the Millstone, Bolton Road, Anderton, Chorley PR6 9HJ - 01257 480205

Luciano's at the Millstone on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Evuna - Manchester

I recently entered Evuna with trepidation; not because I was dining with the father-in-law, more for the fact that I've had some decidedly dodgy tapas in the past, some of which has been served to me at Evuna. But buoyed by recent good experiences (see Charango and Salt House Tapas), and the fact that the father-in-law was paying, my hopes were as riding as high as my spirits.

Evuna with thanks to

Evuna is decked out in dark wood, evoking the romance and passion of Spain - it's quite easy to imagine a fiesty senorita turning down her matador lover in one of the broody corners of the restaurant. It's a lively place, lubricated by plenty of good wine and the darkness of the room only adds to the mystique. The bar features prominently as you enter; an important thing seeing that Evuna is Manchester's premier Spanish wine importer.

We were eating early enough to qualify for the lunch special (3 tapas for £10, Mon-Sat 12 noon-6pm), but decided to order mostly from the larger tapas menu, which offered far more variety. The specials of the day were roasted pork belly and braised ox cheek - both were ordered by myself as they sounded delightful and the boy had ordered nearly everything else off the menu anyway.

Unlike previous visits (I should mention previous means at leats two years ago) where food has been disappointing; the dishes this evening were very, very good. Notably the pork belly with it's crispy crackling and fruity breadcrumbs adding both a contrast in texture and a good foil for the salty, fatty cubes of porcine delightfulness. The ox cheek was delivered in one of the thickest sauces I have had, with a good punch of beefy umami leaving your tastebuds screaming for more.

The patatas bravas were fragrant with fennel, giving it a sweet yet lively taste that complimented the many pork dishes on the table. The Iberico Bellota was from a good quality, well sourced ham - the sweet nuttiness emanating through each generously marbled slice. The plate of ham was expensive, but it was a good sized portion and worth paying extra for the quality.

Iberico Bellota - yum yum

Thankfully most dishes sang to us that evening, the only bum notes were the dishes we had ordered off the special lunch menu - the tortilla was so bland I can't even think of any words to describe it and the chorizo in vino tinto was overly oily and a bit bitter.

There's one aspect where Evuna outshines everything (even the wonderful belly pork cubes) and that's on the wine (they are a well-respected importer...). The waitress guided us through the comprehensive wine list and chose a bottle that not only complimented the dishes we had ordered, but our wallets as well. When that wine was out she suggested a very agreeable alternative and allowed us to try before buying.

Evuna knows its stuff; their produce is well sourced, the staff are very knowledgeable and helpful and most of the dishes that come out of the kitchen grab your attention with their big punches of taste, clever layers of flavouring and generous (for tapas) portions. For a place that's got wine at it's heart, it's also a hub for good food, relaxed eating and reasonable prices.

Ps - If you love the wine you're drinking, or just want a really good bottle of Spanish wine, Evuna has a licence to sell alcohol for consumption off the property - the prices are also cheaper than the bottles you drink in house so you can carry on your party at home for less!

Pps - Evuna also holds wine tasting nights and other Spanish themed events - check out the website for more info.

Price for eight tapas, one lunch special (3 plates), one bottle of cava, one bottle of wine, one pudding, two PX sherries and three coffees - £158.27

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

Total 31/40

Evuna, 277-279 Deansgate, Manchester M3 4EW - 0161 819 2752 - - @Evunamanchester

Evuna on Urbanspoon

Evuna on Urbanspoon