Thursday, 26 January 2012

Diablo and Supper Join Us for Supper Club - North Star Deli, Chorlton

Food and wine, wine and food - always a great combination and even better when it's with friends. Last week's Join Us for Supper at the North Star Deli in Chorlton was a a great catch up with chef Deanna Thomas and a lovely bunch of usual blogging faces, plus the added bonus of some new ones thrown in too.

North Star Deli - with thanks to

The premise of the night is usually; go to North Star and fill up on three courses of local, seasonal, well cooked scoff, have a chat and make some friends. However this was a Join Us for Supper with a difference - having teamed up with Caillero del Diablo wines, we spent the night having wines matched to our foods and being regaled by tall tales and wine facts alike by Hans Jocham Wadsack (or Joe), who is in fact THE nicest chap slash wine buff I have ever met.

Lots of wine!

Things kicked off to a bad start with trams being delayed and our travel plans awry, but upon walking in to North Star we were met with friendly faces and three glasses of wine each - that's a good enough start for any night; plus a rabbit empanada was thrust in each hand by the lovely Adam - which was crispy, salty and hit the spot.

Seared scallops arrived on a bed of puy lentils surrounded by a creamy champagne sauce - all light, bang on and perfectly seasoned and the sauce made a wonderful change from the umpteen usual scallop accompaniments that are turning up on menus everywhere right now ie. the bacons, peas and blackpuddings. We were given a chardonnay and a sauvingon blanc with our starter, both very good wines but the chardonnay (even though it was the cheaper wine) had the slight edge with it's deeper, more savoury flavours.

Scallops and champagne - high style dining

We chatted and drank some more - well I offloaded some wine on to the very pleased boy and the very accommodating Arty Tom and then out marched the mains - ruby red, soft venison sitting atop savoy cabbage and accompanied by a celeriac and venison cottage pie and finished with a red wine sauce. One big, red, meaty hit of pure unctuous meat to chase away the chills outside. This was all washed down with a glass of big, punchy and far too tannic shiraz (apparently it would have been much better with a steak, I might have even liked it then) and a beautiful carmenere; a native French variety with a lot of interesting history and some smooth berry and chocolate flavours, which set off the venison a treat.

Venison - photo makes it look awful, but it was very good
Full of wine I was happily buzzing along and welcomed pudding with that sweet toothed longing you get after more than half a bottle. A silky blood orange tart with Deanna's trademark thin, crispy pastry was a little too sweet for my liking. I'm all about tart fruit flavours and it would have been nice for the orange to shine through a little more, but it was a still a good pudding. Another wine was matched and this time we were given a syrupy pudding wine, just released in the UK and we were the first to try it (get us!) - all floral honeys and orange blossoms, akin to a muscat. Lovely, but drowned out a little by the super pudding.

Join Us for Supper was once again on top form, highlighting North Star's commitment to quality, local produce (Chorlton's Out of the Blue and WH Frosts supplied) and great cooking. Usually PR run nights are frightful shows of posturing and lovies air-kissing, but Casillero del Diablo and their PR company, Cube, seem to have got it right - probably helps with the addition of Joe Wadsack and the fact they piggy backed on one of the best supper clubs in Manchester.

Ps - North Star have now opened a new deli on Dale Street in Manchester, a great place to stop on your way to and from the station or get a decent bite to eat at lunch.

Food - 8/10
Atmosphere - 8/10 (bonus booze points)
Service - 8/10
Value for money - no score as this was a promotional event

Total - 24/30

Go again - yes, they're a friendly bunch at the deli and it's a pleasure to see them - and supper club is always a good place to meet new people.

Join Us for Supper, North Star Deli, 418 Wilbraham Road, Chorlton, Manchester M21 0SD - Twitter - Facebook

Please note - I was invited to this event for free, however all thoughts are my own. The usual price for Join Us for Supper is £25, tickets available from the deli/website.

North Star Deli on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Grenache - Walkden, Salford

Small, high street restaurants can be a gamble; much loved by regulars they never have to change the menu, busy because they're convenient but that's all they have going for them, or ghostly vestiges hanging on with dated curtains and dead flies on the windowsills.

Grenache in Walkden is a little high street affair; sitting off the main street in a quiet residential area, it's not much to look at from the outside. We stepped inside to a warm welcome from the proprietor and were ushered into the tightly spaced dining room.

Grenache, not much to look at - with thanks to

Grenache has been quietly making a name for itself lately and we were here to see what the fuss was about whilst celebrating a friend's birthday. The menu is pretty standard; a mix of modern British, bistro classics and Mediterranean influences. Some of the dishes we spied coming out of the kitchen looked a little dated and clunky (the salmon and the steak). But we were not to be disappointed when our dishes arrived.

Initially we were treated to a canape of feta omelette - cute little circles of well seasoned eggs on top of a sharp and salty middle. Canapes were not something we had expected - the decor and pricing suggesting family bistro, not fine dining.

Itsy, bitsy, little salty feta omlette bites

Lamb skewers were dainty, soft and charred on the outside, brushed with a moreish mint sauce - the cous cous; under seasoned and tasteless didn't add anything to dish, but nothing else was needed thanks to the exceptional lamb. The game terrine, again beautiful, fell short of the high precedent set by the lamb; a nice enough dish and beautifully set out, but the lumps of unidentified game were dry and lost in the strong liver pate that surrounded it.

Lamb skewers with the fab mint sauce

Choosing off the early bird menu (before 6.30pm on a Sat) I had felt somewhat disappointed with the choices for the mains;  but thankfully was surprised when my dish came out. Juicy pork loin was thinly sliced and covered in a thin, smokey, sweetly spicy layer of paprika - not enough to be overpowering, but enough to perk up what could have been a very boring but very well-cooked piece of meat. A red-wine poached pear cut through the sweetness of the meat and the crispy sage leaves added texture that could have otherwise been missing. The boy's duck with cherries and our friends' lamb dishes displayed the kitchen's knack at getting the meat just right, coupled with well thought out accents to liven up standard fare.

Pork and poached pear

Another surprise was awaiting - this time a sweet canape. Not something I have experienced elsewhere and a lovely, caring gesture that was all the better for being great; a buttery, melt in the mouth star shaped shortbread with a raspberry on top.

Sweet canapes - an ace idea!

My pudding of chocolate torte was cleverly jazzed up with shards of caramel and crushed pistachios - a dence chocolaty slab of decadence; no fine dining, pastry chef creation - just an honest and well made pudding. Spotted dick was warm and comforting; tending to our primal, nursery needs - but weirdly served with a very watery, almost stone cold creme anglais. When we mentioned this to the proprietor he testified that this is how creme anglais is served - really, what about it being able to coat the back of a spoon? You don't pull the wool over Nosh's eyes that easily! (Either it was porkies or I'm seriously worried at the level of food knowledge here; judging from the rest of the menu I'm going with porkies).

How big is this serving? (ashamed to say I scoffed the lot!)

Apart from the odd custard slip up, the service couldn't be faulted - we were well looked after and made to feel very welcome. Our complaint of feeling a little cold was met with the immediate rustling up of a floor fan, turning up the overhead heater and a fiver off our bill. Tables are a little squeezed in, sometimes giving you a feeling of having people on top of you - but it made for good atmosphere and for  spying on other guests' food.

Grenache isn't going to win any awards for gastronomic brilliance or cutting-edge cookery with boundary crossing ingredients and I take a little offence to being told obvious porkies about the creme anglais; however it's a place where you can be sure of a pretty good meal and some very good portion sizes. The fact it's slightly out of Manchester means the pricing's pretty good too.

Price for two starters, three mains, two puddings off the a la carte, plus a three course decadence menu and drinks: £108.80

Food - 7/10
Atmosphere - 7/10 (one knocked off for the cold)
Service - 8/10
Value for money - 7/10

Total - 29/40

Go again? Yes I would if I was in the area, though there's more exciting places on my list to try.

Grenache, 15 Bridgewater Road, Walkden, Manchester M28 3JE - 0161 799 8181 -

Grenache on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

The Northern Quarter Restaurant Revisited - Manchester

As an avid eater I'm forever hunting out new places to eat, being thrown new concepts by restaurateurs desperate to find the next big thing and picking my way through cuisines like a traveller in a Lonely Planet guide.

Sometimes, you need something familiar. Somewhere you know, somewhere with no nasty surprises and somewhere that delivers consistently good food. For my first few years in Manchester this was The Northern Quarter Restaurant - a light and airy space overlooking the historic fishmarket, the restaurant taking it's name from Manchester's independent and bohemian area just off the city centre.

The Northern Quarter Restaurant - with thanks to

My first meal here was exquisite - starting out on my foodie quest, having just learnt to cook imaginatively for myself, I relished the modern British cuisine and their quirky take on traditional dishes, coupled with understated presentation and graceful service.

Over the years I have returned regularly, greeted by familiar faces and familiar dishes on the menu- however a couple of years back this cosy, special relationship began to sour. Staffing because sloppy and  waiting for everything became a regular frustration. Dishes came out cold, under seasoned, small - the list of misgivings became endless. Like a dying relationship I kept trying, blaming myself; but countless friends noticed the difference and it looked like The Northern Quarter and I were no more. (read about it here).

With trepidation I returned the other day on the insistence of a family member who, even through the bad days has stuck close to The Northern Quarter Restaurant like a true and faithful friend. I am happy to report, things look like they're turning the corner.

Smoked haddock scotch egg

Mussels with wheat beer were soft and well cooked, the portion size pretty generous- prices aren't cheap here, so a large plate of food is a bonus. Chicken livers on brioche with grapes was a warm hug of a dish, the soft livers pink and faintly metallic with a thick sauce soaked into the brioche. A smoked haddock and egg dish came out beautifully presented as a scotch egg, grown-up nursery food at it's quirky best. Pigeon salad was a little lack lustre, I expected a lot of pigeon for £6.25, but it seemed like one small breast sliced and it was pretty dry to boot.

Chicken livers on brioche

Main of sea bream was just cooked to perfection and hinted of spring to come with top notes of lemon and dill sauce softening the spiky saltiness of the added olives. Roasted suckling pork loin with blackpudding croquettes was fragrant, sweet and warming; paired with sharp apples and sage it was a classic porky pairing that hit all the right notes. Again there were a few off dishes, the most notably the venison casserole which was great, thick, warming and with a wonderful smoked garlic mash. But at £19.95 the portion was small, the meat a little dry and I can't remember the last time I've ever been asked for 20 quid for a casserole.

Sea bream

The Northern Quarter Restaurant won't blow your socks off, but you will normally get a plate of mainly great, unsurprising food and it seems the service problems have been ironed out. It's good to see The Northern Quarter on the way back up to it's old, familiar standards; a few extra tweaks and I'll be back every week.

Price for four starters and four mains: £98.65

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

Total - 29/40

Go again - Yes, it's a familiar friend but it does have it's flaws. Some of the dishes weren't up to par and the prices are a little high, even for the city centre.

The Northern Quarter Restaurant, 108 High Street, Manchester M4 1HQ - 0161 832 7115 - facebook - twitter

Northern Quarter on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Clarence House - Dalton, Barrow-in-Furness

Eating in a hotel is always an uneasy business; are there certain tables reserved for guests only, will you trip over baggage in the hallway and will the menu try and encompass every taste for the people stopping there?

Luckily Clarence House Country Hotel and Restaurant, has addressed the problem and feels very much more restaurant than hotel. Yes, the name includes the word hotel and when you enter there’s a bell and the front desk and the ubiquitous tourist information leaflets; but apart from that the whole ground floor is given over to the restaurant, bar and lounge; it helps that when you arrive you're immediately whisked in to the conservatory for drinks and canapes. Very suave.

Clarence House Hotel with thanks to themselves

Canapes seem to be the done thing in restaurants of a certain calibre these days and those that imitate them - sometimes you wonder whether the kitchen should have served up the lukewarm attempts at creativity at all; but at Clarence House I can report a consistently high standard - moreish chilli nuts, salty parmesan twists and pork terrine with apple sauce whetted the appetite and ensured we practically bolted in to the dining room when we were called to table.

Generous canapes

The dining room itself is understatedly sumptuous and takes up over half of the ground floor – white linens, heavy drapes and an attention to detail that is replicated in the gorgeous dishes that arrive from the kitchen and the attentive, professional staff. There's the main area, an orangery overlooking the manicured garden and the terrace for those few days of the year it's warm enough to eat outside.

Pan roast scallops with curry and cauliflower textures was a tastebud revelation. Beautifully seared the soft shellfish contrasted brilliantly with a curried nut crumble, the spiciness tempered by a beautifully silky foam; the nutty edge of the cauliflower highlighted this usually underrated vegetable and the whole dish was given a dash of freshness and colour from beautiful micro leaves (apparently grown by chef himself). 

Soft, salty, spicy, sensational scallops

Local partridge with confit leg was exceptionally well cooked; the small, sweet, crisp little leg was a salty and delectable morsel and I wish there had been more of them; sat atop fondant potatoes and drizzled liberally with a savoury and lip-smacking red wine jus, this dish screamed refinement and continued the high quality and excellent vein of the meal.

Partridge with more of chef's homegrown greens

The menu at Clarence House reads like a what’s what of the region; sitting at the bottom of the Lake District and Cumbria, they are surrounded by a plethora of exceptional produce that this region is so famous for. Thankfully there's a high level of skill present in the kitchen that puts this to exceptional and imaginative use. The menu is short, concentrating on a few exceptional dishes rather than try and cater to every different traveller's taste. Really it should be Clarence House Restaurant and Country Hotel.

Eating at Clarence House is a pleasure. The amazing, almost secret, setting with the orangery, terrace and the gardens ensures the experience is magical. And most surprisingly it’s tucked away on a residential street – you can almost drive past it, if you’re not lucky enough to know that it’s there!

Ps - although Clarence House is located in a little bit of a weird location it's actually very good for accessing the lakes or if you have business in Barrow-in-Furness (let's face it, Barrow isn't known for it's touristy side - although there is an exceptional birding site there called Walney Island, especially good for migrating sea birds and has resident populations of twites and eiders).

Price for two starters and two mains - £64

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

Total – 33/40

Go again? Yes, it would be lovely to stay there and it’s great for a special meal with a loved one or for a family gathering in the orangery.

Clarance House Country Hotel and Restaurant, Skelgate, Dalton-in-Furness, 
Nr Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria LA15 8BQ - 01229 462508

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