Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Trof NQ - Northern Quarter, Manchester

Food fads, they come and go. 90s it was pesto, few years ago it was meatballs and now it's burgers and ribs. Well, that was the fad in London last year, obviously that means it's arrived up here now. So where better to find this latest foodie trend other than the hipster drenched streets of Manchester's Northern Quarter?

Trof NQ - with thanks to Buttered Crumpet

Whether Trof have spotted an opening after Almost Famous' truly phenomenal, short lived success; or were just impressed by AF's dedication to making the burger an edible entity rather than a formless, grey slush in between some disintegrating bun halves is a question I haven't asked anyone; however Wednesday nights are now slider time upstairs in Trof's new bourbon bar and their main menu burger (available every day) seems to have undergone a good-taste makeover too - when we mentioned this to our server she summed up, 'well we do have new chefs and they are good.' Good to know, seeing as I'll be eating their food.

New Wednesday menu

The short Wednesday menu is basically sliders, hot dogs and other Americana related items such as slaw, shakes and onion rings. Actually that's all there is on it.  There's a choice of three sliders, so we had one of each. Pulled pork was soft and smokey, rather drowning in a sweet, piquant sauce (no bad thing) but the adverted crackling wasn't self-evident. The lamb slider was delicious - a warm, cumin-y and in no way sweaty tasting. Beef and bone marrow was pink, tender, salty and moreish with all the good umami tastiness from the marrow without the greasy sloppiness you sometimes get from sucking it out of the bone.

Sliders - mini-burgers, maximum taste (ps I'm not into this slider fab BTW, make em proper size)

Taking advantage of the 'slightly less price if you buy two sides' deal we wolfed down some lightly battered but way too greasy onion rings and some tasty parmesan and truffle fries that were very sans truffle. I got a hit off one fry and that was my lot.
As mentioned before the Trof burger has had a little makeover, it seems almost the same, yet it's just been cooked/assembled well (maybe that's because they've got good chefs? - ed). I'm old enough to remember Trof when it was just a one place operation in Fallowfield, the burger was my treat each time that much needed loan cheque came in - when Trof expanded the quality of their burgers went steadily down hill - but this was a juicy, pink in the middle, charred on the outside delight served in a proper bun. Good to see them back on form.

Trof burger - back on form

Sitting in the bourbon bar we ditched the usual burger complimenting beer and supped (a lot of) cocktails (£5 before 8pm) - a parma violet aviation; sugary, minty julep; sharp Hemingway daiquiri and a smokey Martinez (precursor the martini apparently). All well mixed, all lethal; don't think I'd have the Hemingway again, it was just a little too sharp and a little too fruity, but that's just personal taste.

Martinez - dangerous and scrumptious

Trof's new menu makeover/new chefs/whatever is a good thing - there's care put in to the food, they're sourcing everything local/high welfare (eg. they use Frosts Butchers for their meat and he informs me it's all from Cheshire) and they obviously understand taste. Everything (bar the chips) had a perfect harmony of flavour with accompaniments cleverly chosen to cut through, highlight and compliment everything else on the plate.

And what do I think of sliders? Turn 'em in to proper sized burgers, I like more than a mouthful - especially when everything tastes so good!

Price for three sliders, two sides, one burger, one rendang and six cocktails - £60.40 (please note, the cocktails take up £30 of that!)

Food - 8/10
Service - 7/10
Atmosphere - 8/10
Value for money - 6/10 - the sliders are a bit expensive really.

Total - 29/40

Go again? Yes it's good for relaxed eats and the food has got back to its initial (good old days) standards.

Trof Norther Quarter, 8 Thomas Street, Norther Quarter, Manchester M4 1EU - 0161 833 3197 - - Facebook

Trof - Northern Quarter on Urbanspoon

Monday, 21 May 2012

The North West Spring Wine Festival - Manchester

Some readers may be a little confused by the steady drip of drinks related posts on the blog of late (awful pun most definitely intended); well sorry to say, this post is another homage to the hard stuff – but this time it’s a little more civilised than the usual whiskey and beer guzzling fests I usually attend. How can drinking be a lot more civilised? Well this post is about wine - and plenty of it too - at the recent North West Spring Wine Festival.

By accident I took a photo with a man in it who actually looks like he belongs at a wine festival

Held in the newly renovated St Peter’s Church in the Northern Quarter, the North West Spring Wine Festival was a collection of independent suppliers and boutique wines. The premise was thus; buy an entrance ticket and get given a glass, you then mill round the various exhibitors tasting wine and (they hope) buy some to take home with you. As well as the main exhibiting area, there were smaller masterclasses running - we chose to pay £5 extra each to attend the Aumbry wine and food matching class, bringing the price for each of us up to £15. For the amount of wine we put away, that was an exceptionally good deal. And yes, we did drink the wine – if someone’s pouring you a (rather generous) taster from a £20+ bottle, you’re not going to pop it in the spittoon are you?

The North West Spring Wine Festival was filled with about 12 different booze peddlers – from Manchester bar Epernay, to small wine producers, indie shops and some big brand names. In amongst this was a smattering of food producers, touting some very good local produce; much needed for soaking up everything we consumed. Not many exhibitors you may say, but enough for us and probably wise seeing that we didn’t see anyone else using the spittoons either – well accept to dump water in when they washed their glasses out so they could taste something else!

Spittoons - not used much

The Aumbry masterclass was hosted by the lovely Mary-Ellen (acclaimed chef-patron) and Siobhan, the brains behind the front of house. We taste three tasty morals from the Aumbry menu, each paired with two wines. Great idea; you saw how each wine changed each dish and in turn how each dish changed the wine. Stand outs were the amazing Clai from Croatia, which is full of heavy orange flavours and is naturally produced in small runs of 5,000 bottles; and a Brouilly served slightly chilled to inhibit the tannins.

Aumbry wine matching class with Mary-Ellen and Siobhan

Mary-Ellen and Siobhan were entertaining and passionate; it was great to see the thought process Aumbry puts into constructing dishes and how their wine choices influence their menu. I can’t say any of the food stood out because it was all bloody brilliant – a silky hare terrine, a smokey mackerel/sharp rhubarb nibble and a tarte tatin poached in liquid nitrogen (well there had to be some Aumbry kitchen wizardry, we'd have been disappointed if everything had been cooked conventionally!).

We had a great chat with Epernay who, contrary to every other table, were tasting spirits only – we tried the unfiltered Belvedere, quite raw and smoky, but an amazing vodka. This was followed by a locally produced, craft gin called Brockman’s. Distilled in Warrington it’s infused with berries, so perfect for drinking straight – must get me some.

Interesting drinks at the Epernay table

Some of the best tables at the show were the Spirited Wines chaps (used to be Nicolas’ on Deansgate) with bags of good wines and friendly, informed chat. We also hugely enjoyed chatting with Tour De Belfort who are based in the NW but own a small vineyard in France, producing some (almost) natural wine with very low sulfites (no headaches!); light and easy to drink, it would be a killer on a summer’s afternoon.

Lovely people of Tour de Belfort - search them out!

We did try and get to the Bakerie and the Hanging Ditch tables; two of our favourite places in Manchester, however they were totally mobbed so we hung out with the Co-op chaps and had a good chat about organics, fair trade and sustainability (well, that’s what I think we were talking about…).

Top of the food producers were the Cheshire Cheese Company; their range of cheese were going down a treat with the punters (t’boy didn’t think so, but he doesn’t like cheese). The poor staff had to cope with me eating all their cheese (for research, obviously) and blabbering on, but they were dears, even if I don’t really like their sweet cheeses – their four year old, Cheshire and Blue are another thing coming though (and yes I’m promising a future post about these guys, you heard it here).

Cheshire Cheese Company staff wishing I'd stop eating all their cheese

I couldn’t really round this post off without mentioning the lovely Ginger’s Comfort ice cream who created a special flavour of chocolate and spiced wine (double yum) for the day – poor lass was stuck outside in the cold and didn’t sell much due to the weather, however she was in good spirits and as always her ice cream was silky, soft and super moreish.

All in all it was a great day out for a very reasonable price. The whole affair was pretty civilised, professionally done and attended well. Some warm weather would have been nice, but by the end of the day I was pretty warm, all wrapped up in my tramp blanket.

"Ooh look at all this wine.."

Sad you’ve missed it? Don’t fear, there’s a summer festival on the way, so check out the Manchester Food and Drinks Festival website or follow them on Twitter.

Ps I was given my entrance ticket for free, though we paid for t’boy’s and the additional master class; however I was under no obligation to write nice things, I just enjoyed myself and thought the day was a bargain.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Brew Dog Bar - Manchester

Say ‘real beer’ and many people think of flat caps, tweed and country pubs that smell a little fruity. The following words do not usually signify real beer ‘punk,’ ‘young’ and ‘attitude.’ However some young punks on the British brewing scene are challenging this idea and last week landed in Manchester – home of flat caps and ale sippers galore – opening their alter to the craft beer with a big bang, right in the city centre.

Brew Dog's new Manchester bar - very busy already!

Brew Dog are newbies on the beer scene, first brewing in 2007 as a reaction to British beer being a choice between stuffy real ale or some watery chemical piss and nothing in between. Brew Dog are very much the in between with their feisty DIY spirit, their willingness to try new (and sometimes crazy) methods and their appeal to a wider, younger audience than the CAMRA crew. Obviously something's working as they've become Scotland's biggest independent brewery, bottling about 120,000 bottles a month for export.

Brew Dog Manchester, from the outside and much better than my attempt - with thanks to themselves

So this beer then? Based in Aberdeen you could think Brew Dog would go the way of a traditional Scottish mild, but instead they've looked over to the pond to the craft beers our American cousins are brewing, mixed it up with some crazy attitude and quality ingredients, then given a nod to another Scottish export -high strength tramp juice. Known as much for their high strength beer as their crazy stunts (they got in to a beer strength fight with a German brewer, made a beer called The End of History that was 55% and then bottled it in taxidermy - indeed, then got in to an eight month long dispute with the Portman Group...), Brew Dog are now branching out and taking their craft beer ethos to the masses.

So what’s the difference, it's just a real ale place right? No. Brew Dog Manchester is a proper bar, none of the old sticky carpet shtick – there’s funky neon lights in the company blue, there’s the on trend hip distressed look and there are actually other drinks on offer; mainly different craft beers they look up to - but there's also wine, spirits and the odd soft drink or two.

I liked this sign - craft beer gets a cool makeover

However we’re not here to chat about the other drinks, it’s the beer that does the talking at Brew Dog. The draughts and guest kegs change regularly - it's best to check their Twitter for the day's specials, or they can be found on the chalkboards that are dotted around the place: we sampled the Dead Pony Club, a light, malty session beer; their infamous (and the beer they first brewed) Punk IPA, a feisty, citrusy, tropical kiss on the gob that doesn’t taste half as strong as the 5.4% (my favourite); the ruby red 5am Saint and the Riptide, an 8% stout that’s full of chocolate, mocha and berry flavours. Yeah I just said 8% stout. Mental. And that's not the highest they had on when we were there...

Stout and a branded glass

As we has popped along on opening night, we also got to sample the limited addition Dog A, which comes in at 15.1%. Darker than the stout and served in an impressive branded chalice (to let the aromas out apparently) it tasted akin to salmiakki mixed with marmite. Not two flavours I’d put together willingly – I drank it because I know it’s about £20 a bottle – plus I was given it, so I would have been rude not to. I don't think t'boy was that happy with me drinking so much of it though. Let's just say I don't remember much of the journey home, apart from that he was driving. And grumpy.

This is 15.1% - that's quite a lot of 15.1%. I drank it all.

There's food too. Designed by an ex-masterchef person, they've gripped the zeitgeist with posh burgers, pizzas and the odd cheese/charcuterie board chucked in too. To be honest I'm not going to give them too much 'oh you're just jumping on the band wagon' stick for this as they are a bar and this is bar style food. From the bits we tasted they've done a bloody good job of it too, serving the burgers rare and juicy. Word of warning - don't venture near the veggie pizza unless you have an asbestos mouth - I had to gulp down a pint in record time (well a half, I am a girl you know) just to stop from jumping off the balcony.

I didn't take a picture of the food, so here is a picture of a man called Max who did the drinks tasting

Brew Dog's bar looks like it'll be a success and because it's owned by the brewery I'm hoping they won't be tempted to dumb down to the level of their neighbours just to pull in the punters; hopefully they'll spread the message that quality and quirkiness can go together to make a very drinkable, very likable product. There will be some bite back from the real ale purists, but personally I'd prefer to go to a place that I at least feel safe to sit down in as I know I'm not going to get stuck to the carpet topped bar stool that's had thirty years of over weight male buttock sweat seeping in to it.

Brew Dog Manchester, Peter Street, Manchester - Twitter