Friday, 24 August 2012

The Liquorists Rum Trail - Northern Quarter, Manchester

What do you do if you want to a) drink a lot but not fall about with the masses b) go on a bar crawl but not have to queue for drinks/stand up all night/get refused entry for being a large group - you book a Rum Trail! (or Vodka, or Whiskey, or Tequila...).

The Liquorists are a plucky pair of alcohol aficionados that are using their considerable skills, knowledge and contacts mixed with verve, passion and cheeky chat to create The Trails - an upmarket bar crawl that aims to teach you about what you're drinking as well as get you well lubricated around the bars of Manchester's Northern Quarter.

As you all know, I like a drink; I'm not very good at drinking, but I do like one. With an invite from Tom (one half of The Liquorists) sitting in my inbox to try their new incarnation of the trail, Rumberdrone 3 (clue, this one is about Rum, it's in the name, see) and having no clue about rum mixed with a need to educate/distract/make a fool of myself I accepted in a heartbeat.

Tom  - our cocktail captain for ther night - "a gipping yarn I can tell ye"

This is the third rum trail The Liquorists have run and in order to debunk the myth that the third of anything is always bad eg albums/films/tv shows (they obviously weren't thinking about threesomes) they've gone all out on this trail and upped the number of bars/shorts/cocktails to six (from five) with a 'very special something at the end.'

We were met at Hula by the effervescent Tom and quickly got the first rum down us - a Plantation, which is special because each barrel is individually sampled and only those showing the true characteristics of the rum are bottled. Fact. Oh and it's bottled in oak casks, then transported to France and finished in cognac casks. Double fact. Hula had also created an Atlantic Boatclub Daiquiri with a Plantation 3 Star, which we matched with bananas and toasted pineapples. Think I offended Tom by leaving most of the cocktail, but I was seriously suffering from the Almost Famous Pig Out the night before and my hands were still shaking at this point.

Plantation rum, Atlantic Boathouse Daiquiri at Hula Bar

After a good chat and an introduction to the other ten rum-trailers (nothing like a good bit of booze to loosen the tongue) we headed off to THE home of rum in Manchester, Keko Moku - a tiki bar that makes insane cocktail creations and probably has more booze soaked in to its fabric than I do after a clumsy bar room fumble/night out. Here we tried my favourite two drinks of the night - an El Dorado 12 year - forget what you think about rum (yeah we all downed Bacardi aged 16 thinking we were both big and clever and no, this is nothing like that...) - this is the purest honey, caramel, toffee, butterscotch all the way from Guyana. Smooth and slipped right in; absolutely beautiful. This was followed by a Sanguine Sizzle, an award-winning cocktail created by Socio Rehab's (Keko's sister bar) head barman containing blood orange, grapefruit, peychauds bitters, maraschino liquor and earl grey tea. Looked girly, tasted fruity with sweet, floral undertones. I finished this on off and mysteriously my previous nights DTs were gone.

Smooth as silky legs - El Dorado 12 year Keko Moku

A quick trot across the road and we landed in Odd - a Manchester stalwart with seven years' service under its belt - however not a cocktail bar. Hmm, where was this going? First up the Matusalem to taste and during sipping we were recounted of turbulent tales, money lost and general intrigue from Tom. And then Odd showed us how a non-cocktail place does a cocktail; they give you a steel bottom. That's not a euphemism, but two glasses - one with rum in and one with beer, idea is you take a sip of each. I liked it, many didn't, horses for courses as they say. Here we ate mojito skewers - a cheeky rum based cocktail nod from the non-cocktail bar there.

A view of my steel bottom at Odd Bar

On again to Tusk, a new bar that's decked out like some exotic 70s boudoir and staffed by some of the friendliest people I've ever met; here we encountered the hard stuff - a 63% Wray and Nephew, that we were advised to 'soften' with water - I did, it could still knock me out at 100 paces. Luckily there was some kick ass homemade chocolates that contained the rum as a match - much softer, much more me, many were in my mouth, some of it dribbled down my chin - and a Hipster Daiquiri with so much lime in, that I continue to believe it was placed at this part of the trail to stop us slipping in to some comfortable alcoholic coma sleep.

After being thoroughly abused in Tusk we headed over to another Northern Quarter newbie - The Blue Pig. Very Parisian, very chic, very not like I would ever think to drink rum here. We settled back to a Brugal, very dry compared to some of the earlier rums we'd been drinking and a very luscious apple daiquiri.

Chic and sophisticed - Brugal and Apple Daiquiri at The Blue Pig

And then it was on to something special - a ten minute trek through some 'ahem' less than salubrious areas (yes, even less salubrious than the areas I usually inhabit) and into a railway arch. What was this? This turned out to be 22Redbank, or The Office, as The Liquorists call it (seriously, can I have a job here. Its has a bar and a ping pong table and golf clubs and a glass cabinet and everything). I'd probably call it something way cooler like 'secret underground booze bunker' but that's just me. Settled in leather couches we tried Pussers Navy Rum (yeah, I had a good time with that name), at 54.5% it's the original strength they'd drink in the navy and was as dark and thick as treacle. The guys also produced the Painkiller, a mix of Pussers and pineapple which did a great job at soothing out tongues from the spicy Thai curry we'd just been served up.

The Rum trail, or any trail that The Liquorists run, is a well thought out alternative to crowding in to sweaty bars, tipping overpriced drinks down your neck, jostling at the bar and generally trying to have a good time but it soon becoming a sweaty, rubbish cattle market. Each tour is well planned, all the bars know what time you're coming and have food/tables/booze ready for you and for the price you pay, you get more booze than I can drink in a week (well I am a cheap date), plus nibbles and a proper meal at the end. The Liquorists know their drinks, they can spin a yarn or two and it's been one of the most interesting nights I've been on for a while.

Ps All I can say is 'Sorry Tom, next time I won't have a hangover/go to Famous the night before. Promise.'

Rum Trail 3 is on for the next five weeks - book yours HERE. If not, keep an eye on their site for the upcoming Belvedere Vodka Tour and, rumour has it, some Tequila madness near to Christmas.

The Liqourists - Twitter - Website

Please note I was invited on the Rum Trail for free, but am under no obligation to write nice things, I just had a bloody good time! On and I got to meet some wonderful people - for their take on the trail click on their names; Old Fashioned Susie, MM Online, Drinks Enthusiast, Mel Hughs

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Fire and Salt BBQ Pig Out - Almost Famous, Manchester

We all know I like a good piece of meat in my mouth - so when Almost Famous announced that they were teaming up with Fire and Salt BBQ Company for a night of Pig Out piggy porn, you know I was first in the queue for my ticket, my palms sweaty with excitement, pulse racing.

Unlike the usual no booking malarkey that Almost Famous runs, this night was a) out of their normal Thurs-Sun opening hours/days (exciting! Clandestine!) and b) ticketed (strangely conventional for Famous). Watching Twitter, like I do because I get bored at work/have nothing better to do with my life, the tickets sold in double quick time promting Famous/Fire and Salt to roast two piggies and put on a double sitting.

The premise of the night was turn up, eat pig, leave satisfied - however being an Almost Famous night there was also plenty of chutzpah and theatre thrown in for good measure. Not only did we get to eat pig, we got to see piggy as well - before we tucked in he was wheeled out for us to page homage, straight from the BBQ. Oink oink.

Hey there little piggy, you going to get in my belly?

The pig had been cooking for the past two days in Fire and Salt's traditional southern style BBQ pit (and Southern style doesn't mean like Essex here); basted, tended, cared for, obsessed over (pretty much how I like to be treated) and then the kitchen monkeys at Almost Famous had created some absolutely blinding dishes for us to get wet over (like the state I get in if I'm treated like that piggy...).

First out  - pork scratchings; well you couldn't have a flithy night of pigging out without the most dirty, salty, crunchy bar snack ever - seemed to get everyone right in the mood as by the time the ribs came out everyone was practically drooling about what was to come - hyped up by the frenetic finger picking of the the banjo player and the skimpy shorts worn by the waitresses (my, they were skimpy!).

First out were Fuck Yeah ribs, totally melt in the mouth - in fact not even mouth as the bones came out in my fingers and just left the spicy, smoky, sweetness of the meat for me to shovel in - needless to say I ate as many of these as I could and greedy nicked any spares that were lying around, baring my teeth if others came near.

One of the three portions of ribs I manged to gobble

Then a double dish for double fun - on one side, a bacon sandwich with the Famous makeover; basically that finger-lickin' famous ketchup, god I could murder one of these every morning. Then a carnita; a soft little taco filled with achingly tender pork, hot sauce and a lime laden guacamole that lit up your mouth and made your eyes pop out of your head.

Carnita and bacon sandwich *drools*

Out came a slider - a mini-burger that was modelled on the eponymous Famous burger but topped with JD maple candied bacon, BBQ onions, baconaise (yeah like there wasn't enough pork on the menu), cheese and BBQ sauce. Mini-burger, but a mighty mouthful.

Then, when I really couldn't fit in any more food and was beginning to feel a little Man Vs Food, out came the pork platter. An overflowing plate of porcine perfection, served on Famous sweet potato and potato fries and accompanied by a selection of sauces and dips, including butter, because we all needed more calories/fat/death in our bodies right then.

In case I hadn't had my fill of meat, some pork for me to stuff in my (mouth) hole

All the while we porked out the drinks were flowing; the staff were chatting, relaxing and serving the needs of the of us vile gluttons in the true friendly Famous style. I stuffed pork in my mouth, gobbled inordinate amounts of meat, tasted a range of wonderfully thought out flavours and licked my fingers almost to the bone. Evern thinking about it now brings me out in goose pimples.

From the smiles and full bellies of the diners the night was a super success - it's good to see somewhere trying something a little different. As with anything that's put on at Almost Famous you know the crazy amount of dedication and passion that has been poured in to every detail of every dish and at Pig Out, you could definitely taste it.

Ps Keep an eye out on the Almost Famous website/twitter for more food obsessed nights as I'm sure there will be plenty to come.

Almost Famous, 100 High Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester

Almost Famous on Urbanspoon

Almost Famous on Urbanspoon

Friday, 17 August 2012

Liquorice Bar - Manchester

So lately on the blog we’ve gone through dirty meat, we’ve gone through posh restaurants; but now, dear readers I think you need some booze and some posh booze in the form of a new cocktail bar called Liquorice.

Located on Pall Mall, off King Street – one of Manchester’s more salubrious streets and based on the old Destino’s site (it’s still got the same owner, they wanted to rebrand and thought a cocktail bar would be a great addition to that area of town), Liquorice is an upmarket bar that sports neutral walls, leather banquets and a wood topped bar.

Serving cocktails and drinks, it’s aiming to be an after work place during the week and then a bit more upbeat at the weekend. Their manager Ben Brooks (who was trained by Neil Garner and, claim to fame, was on Come Dine With Me) has designed a cocktail menu that’s inclusive rather than one that alienates people with unknown liquors and bizarre taste combinations; however there’s some still signature flares thrown in for good measure, which will make Liquorice stand out from the crowd.

When we visited there was a relaxed after work vibe and we managed to get a seat at the bar; chatting with the staff it was clear that a) they’re a friendly bunch and b) they know what they’re talking about. After sampling some of the more usual drinks I plunged in to that signature cocktail – after all, I am a massive fan of liquorice, so why wouldn’t I?

The sharpness of the orange is toned down by the salty, sweetness of the liquorice – sort of like chewing a fruit salad and a blackjack together, but without the chewy gak on your teeth or diabetes. It’s a stunning looking and lovely tasting signature drink that I think Ben can be proud of knocking up.

Chatting to Ben, the idea is to get the place buzzing and build up the clientele going form strength to strength and just making it a fun place to hang out and get some good drinks – there was even a cheeky hint that they may go on to open other things. If they keep the winning formula of good drinks, good chat and good atmosphere; then I don’t think it’ll be too long before they do that.

Ps Liquorice is also serving food, so you can line your bellies before imbibing too much (Nosh knows all the consequences that brings!). There’s going to be some old Destinos favourites on the menu such as pumpkin ravioli, seabass and meatballs.

Pps If you go this weekend (17-19th Aug) it's their opening weekend - so expect lots of freebie and fun!
Go and see them, you need cocktails!

Liquorice Bar, 50 Pall Mall, Off King Street, Manchester M2 1AQ - Twitter - 0161 832 4600

Liquorice on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Opus One, Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel - Manchester

After my dirty meat munching last week, it was healthy respite to find myself in the spacious, opulent surroundings of Opus One at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Manchester.

Decked out in red and black with starched white cloths the cosy, upmarket bar opens out in to the capacious dining room. The staff are professionally absent, yet there as soon as you need them. They’re polished, knowledgeable and the place runs like unstuffy clockwork.

Interior of Opus One - with thanks to Sage Door

The menu is a nod to the current trend for seasonal, sustainable, local and British; interspersed with ingredients such as Vimto, Burt's Blue, organic Framgord salmon, hand dived scallops and ‘rooftop thyme.’ I’m hoping this is off the actual hotel roof; I like to think of the little KP having to risk life and limb, scaling the front of the building and climbing on to the roof, all wind swept and thinking gallantly, “I must succeed to feed the diners of Manchester with the freshest and highest quality of produce..”

Back in the dining room (and away from the roof) I couldn’t resist the Burt’s Blue Tempura with vegetable pressing and am glad I chose it - little gooey blobs of Burt's blue oozing out of rooftop thyme scented, light as a feather batter - the rich cheese set off beautifully by the cool terrine of British veg. The only down side was the the leek the terrine was wrapped in was a little slimy - no worries it hardly mattered and I slid it to one side.

Brilliant Burt's Blue and roof top thyme - bad photo

My companion (yes we're all posh in this post, so it's companion) opted for the hand dived scallops - I may have just declared that those eaten at Grenache were the most massive ever, but these were a very close second. The accompanying crab, sweetcorn and scallion broth provided a wonderful sweet, earthy warmth to the shellfish and didn't overpower at all - we could have just had a big bowl of the sauce and been quite happy.

The Radisson has got their service spot on, we waited for our mains - not too long, not too quick - enough time to listen to Lucy Hope who they had singing. Singing in a restaurant you say? Well I've never been keen but this was surprisingly unobtrusive, her repertoire limited to 'old crooners' and softly, softly in the background. If we hadn't been able to see her it could just have been a very good CD.

My main of seabass was just cooked and arrived on a bed of samphire - not the overly salty, flaccid stuff you usually get; this was crunchy and just steamed perfection. The shrimp croquettes were massive and full to brim of the shrimpy little blighters (just the way I like it). The smoked cod broth was delicious and brilliant with the croquettes - all this was cut through by the tempura fennel - a great addition and created a well rounded and properly through out dish.

Sea bass with samphire, shrimp and fennel - big plate for a fair price

The main of butter baked turbot was sumptuous luxury to say the least - super creamy, but with much less on the plate than the seabass, just some saffron potatoes, greens and an accompanying sauce - however this was such a rich dish that it was ballsy/brilliant of the kitchen to send it to table so pared back and let us choose what accompaniments we though suitable - we chose saute potatoes with bacon, way too decadent, but we didn't regret it (our waistlines did though).

Butter baked turbot - rich and wonderful

To this point the food had been brilliant - we'd even had an inspired amuse bouche of prawn dumpling (light, salty, sweet, moreish) and kiwi gazpacho (spicy, tart, brilliant combination) and some very good homemade cheese bread - but now puddings came out and I was a little disappointed.

Textures of rhubard

The texture of rhubarb was all one texture - soft. The was a very creamy parfait with the barest whiff of rhubarb, a little shot of compote with far too much cream on top and a crumble brulee - translated as overly sweet rhubarb compote with a brulee topping. The marbled ice chocolate parfait followed the same formula of three things on the plate - a creamy parfait, some melted chocolate in a pot and three of the tiniest skewers of marshmallows you have behold in your life - not worth £6.85. Shame, another great Manchester restaurant is let down by overly expensive, poorly executed puddings. Beware rant coming - restaurants need to look at their pudding offerings and stop using them as an excuse to make shed loads on some very basic ingredients. If you do need to make money this way, at least do something interesting. Rant over.

Et voila, pudding two, same formula

Bar the puddings Opus One is a fabulous place - it's calm, serene, polished, a little posh without being stuffy or exclusive and most of the food is very, very good.

Price for two starters, two mains, one side and two puddings (amuse bouche and bread are included gratis with the meal) - £71.60

Food - 9/10
Atmosphere - 8/10
Service - 10/10
Value for money - 7/10 (let down by over expensive puddings, the other dishes are expensive, but are good sized portions and are very well executed)

Total - 34/40

Go again? Yes the food, service and setting are lovely - posh without being overbearing and a nice quiet space from the hustle and bustle of the city. I won't be ordering pudding again though.

Please note the restaurant knew I was there to review them and my meal was free, however all views are my own and I am under no obligation to say  nice things (as you can tell from my pudding rant).

Opus One, Free Trade Hall, Peter Street, Manchester M2 5GP - 0161 835 8904

Opus One Bar & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Grenache - Walkden, Salford

From the outside you’d be forgiven for walking past Grenache and just passing it off as another little neighbourhood place with outdated dishes and staid ingredients; but if you did walk you’d be missing a trick. Give this neighbourhood place a try and you'll be wishing your local streets had a little gem like this.

Located on a back street in the area of Salford known as Walkden, Grenache is a small place with a lot of attitude - they recently won The Good Food Guide's Best North West Restaurant and have a new chef at the helm who's got some big ideas. Couple this with the big personality of the owner and a friendly front of house team you know it's not just the Good Food guide that's going to be throwing accolades their way.

Grenache - small and surprising thanks to Phil Taylor Photos

As I was dining on my own (sob sob) I asked the kitchen to send me our their favourite dishes - I was keen to see what their new chef, Mike Jennings, had been concocting. First out was a light as air smoked haddock ball – full of fish, slightly smoky and matched brilliantly with a mustardy piccalilli on the side (a smooth piccalilli, controversial, but much better for dipping).

Big salty ball

Then the biggest scallops I have ever seen – placed on a bed of avocado, radish and fennel; I was a little sceptical of the match, but the chef has obviously thought this through a great deal as it was served with a bloody mary jelly that brought the whole dish together - cutting down but also being calmed down by the avocado and scallop, with a crunchy freshness from the radish and fennel. Could have done with a little less tabasco as I began to loose the sweetness of the scallop, but still an inspired dish.

Bigger scallops

Another dish that surprised was the mackerel with goats cheese – I’m one of those old fashioned people who doesn’t like to pair fish and cheese, but again each constituent part of the dish played out in harmony. The lightly baked fish was cut through by the slight sharpness of the cheese and mandarin – the wafer thin beetroot provided an earthy undernote, but the whole dish was kept light and fresh; delicious on a humid evening.

Surprising makeral

Next out was the softest, most succulent and massive piece of lamb I’ve eaten in a long time. The spice crust wasn't over powering, just warm and smoky playing into the subtle sweetness of the lamb and adding a delightful crunch to a dish that could otherwise be over soft. Ensuring there was a lightness about the lamb and lentils, a salad of carrot and creme fraishe was a welcome addition to the plate rather than a boring garnish as you find in many places.

Smoky, sweet lamb and lentils

Having ensured after all that food I had room left for pudding (I’m a girl, we have another stomach for puddings. Fact.) I was then surprised with a pudding amuse bouche – a light little brownie with divine candied orange peel. And then the main event; I was talked in to the panna cotta because it was lavender – I hate panna cotta, but this was edible in a big way. The merest hint of lavender combined with the floral notes in the sweet slivers of strawberries, the berries adding a slight tartness that the dish needed to stop it becoming over-powering.

Perfectly perfumed panna cotta

Grenache really is a super surprise – given the d├ęcor is a little Homebase and the music needs an overhaul, but for food and service you can't fault it. A few little tweaks here are there and this will definitely be an award winning destination.

Ps try the homemade focaccia - the best I've had in Manchester.

Price for all the above food – £35.65

Food – 9/10
Service – 9/10
Atmosphere – 8/10 (one knocked off for the awful music)
Value for money – 10/10 (the portions are VERY healthy and you get two amuse bouche AND homemade bread)

Total – 36/40

Go back? Yes definitely – I want to see Mike grows as a chef and how the food develops, plus I had a bloody good time so will be back!

Please note the restaurant knew I was there and my meal was free, however I am under no obligation to write nice things and all views are my own.

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

Grenache on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Dirty Dogs are Hot - Port Street Beer House, Manchester

Who doesn't like a gob full of sausage? I'm one who can't complain when offered a mouthful of meat, so when I heard a pair of plucky food lovers were bringing their take on American style hotdogs to one of my favourite beer haunts I just had to go and see what all the fuss was about.

Dirty Dogs have a passion for good hotdogs; seeing that no one else was selling them in Manchester and feeling some love for the whole 'street food/pop up' scene, they've decided to give it a go. They also got a mission - feeling that hotdogs in this country give this American institution a bad name, they're determined to save us from a surfeit of substandard sausages.

Me and the poster lady; total sausage lovin'

Set up in the back yard of Port Street Beer House, the smell of cooking hotdogs and sweet, sizzling onions hung heavy in the air. We got there pretty early having been tipped off that there was a limited number available - good thing, the queue was already out the door.

Sausage fest

Opting for the night's special, The Port Street; a Barbakan bun was loaded up with sweet onions, a massive smoked Polish sausage, topped with IPA soaked sauerkraut and all cut thorough with lashings of dijon. The sausage was enormous and I had trouble fitting it in to my eagerly awaiting lips (yeah, I just had to get some smut it) - the flavours all worked supremely well - smokey sweetness cut through by the tangy sauerkraut and all pepped up with generous amounts dijon.

Smoked polish sausage with IPA soaked sauerkraut

We also tried the Dirty South - pork frank on red cabbage slaw all smothered in pulled pork and BBQ sauce; yup, that's pork on pork baby. The frank for this dog was smaller than the smoked sausage, but had a good bite, a sweet/salty taste and was not too fatty, which was a major plus. The pulled pork was a tad dry, but these guys were cooking on hot plate in beer garden - and this was 100% better than anything I've had in a similar setting.

Pork on pork loving with the Dirty South

The dogs ran out quickly, the topping quicker; fellow blogger Mangechester was left with a pork frank with an extremely arty lattice of ketchup and mustard. Nice, but certainly no cigar.

Dirty Dogs have started small; they're concentrating on getting the recipes just right, securing spot on suppliers and making sure they can please the crowds - they're well on their way to doing just that. There's a few things they need to pull up on; they're quite slow on the hot plate, they need to work out how many toppings they bring and that pulled pork needs work. But for a fiver, you get a big, tasty mouthful and I haven't had a better bit of sausage than this in my mouth round the back of a pub before.

There's the whole argument that this just jumps on the current trend for American fast food, tarted up and served street side - yeah maybe, but this being Manchester we don't have that much street food as we're ten steps/years behind London. Doesn't matter if it's on trend at the moment; Dirty Dogs' hotdogs taste good and I don't care if it's so now, so last week, or if it was never in anyway - the food tasted good and that's all I care about.

Where can you catch them? Check out their Twitter feed and hopefully you'll be able to take part in some hot sausage action; I know I'm certainly gagging for more.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Dining Alone

I've never dined alone before - this statement doesn't count the hours I while away in coffee shops, the sushi I grab for my lunch or the food eaten al desko - to qualify, this statement relates solely to evening restaurant dining; table for one, ALONE. And something I experienced first hand last night.

Don't wheel out the violins and women beating their chests just yet; this wasn't through a total shunning from my nearest and dearest, a work related enforcement, or the fact I have no friends - I merely chose to go to a restaurant, get a table for one and eat alone. Nothing strange about that, I needed food, I didn't want to cook and I fancied being somewhere warm/loud/jolly. From their faces, I don't think the other diners shared this sentiment, but stuff 'em (please excuse my French).

Eating solo (that sounds rude doesn't it?) has its advantages; I was practically poured over by the staff, I managed to distinguish and remember every part of every dish (a feat, I have more than destroyed my brain cells over the years), I relaxed and read my book. At the end the Chef even came to speak to me and illicit my feelings on each and every dish (well, we all like to be made to feel special).

I could eat lazily, quickly, slowly; it really didn't matter when I dropped food on myself and I was spared the poor eating habits or monotonous conversations that are so readily found when dining with companions. I was contemplative, I was relaxed, I planned my entire weeks' work, I read three chapters of my book. I was productive, it felt good.

That gllowing testement is a strong argument for eating alone; but, even after all this praise, would I fly solo again? I may be a lover of food and this intimate tete a tete gave me time to savour each morsel: the experience certainly wasn't disagreeable - but, and here is the but of all buts - food has always been a sociable activity for me; talking, comparing, giving, nicking off each others' plates. I come from one of those families where my mother would make sandwiches for my friends who came to pick me up for a night out (but they're not even coming in, I'd wail uselessly) and I too, feel the need to feed random strangers who call at my home and worry if young men in shops are eating properly. In a restaurant I may focus on the food rather more than your average punter, but I relish the bonhomie that comes from sharing something you are passionate about with someone you know - for me to truly enjoy food, I need some enjoyable company.