Tuesday, 21 May 2013

3TwentyOne - Deansgate, Manchester

Oh my god; MEAT and BOOZE and MEAT and SMOKE and AMERICA and DID I MENTION MEAT - let's get excited and all love THE IN THING RIGHT NOW.

It seems a week doesn't go by without a burger bar/street food stall/festival/restaurant/supermarket/supper club/excuse for a PR agency in Manchester popping up or jumping on the dirty meaty bandwagon with their, giggle, slightly rude names for foods in plastic trays; so when ANOTHER 'smokehouse and liquor' place opened their doors and invited me along, you can imagine that I wasn't that keen (er...it was free food and you're telling me you weren't keen? - ed).

3TwentyOne has opened above The Deansgate pub and unfortunately my first impressions weren't great - opening night clashed with THAT FA Cup where Wigan gave Man City a proper beating - cue little me trying to cut through drunken, burly types in a dress that was unintentionally too low cut. Fun. Thank god first impressions can be changed, hey?

The restaurant isn't remotely faux dirty Americana - they may have jumped on the smoke/meat/bourbon train, but they've done it in their own comfortable, Farrow and Ball, restrained restaurant way. Maybe proper crockery is not for thems BBQ purists, but I was there for the food and if I can be comfortable/clean whilst eating, then all the better for this old fusspants.

3TwentyOne has their own smoker in-house and this certainly pays off; the chefs have also worked out a pretty good smoke for the food (they've been experimenting and it seems current winner is hickory wood chips) - rather than an acrid tasting crust, the smoke is sweet and subtle, but very definitely there. Deboned chicken wings were a massive hit and the ribs a smokey, tender trio that were incredibly meaty. Lip smacking/finger licking good - just could have done with a bit more....

It would be rude to go somewhere dedicated to meat without sampling the steaks - especially as they were given such prominence on the menu - RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE. The hanger and the rib-eye were both cooked exactly as we demanded (well, asked for in a polite/humble/if it's not too much of a bother British way); both were soft and buttery, great tasting pieces of high quality meat - the rib-eye was better, but at £7 more, it should be.

Sides are worth mentioning because they were delicious and because this is a food blog and you like to know that kind of thing - corn from the griddle was charred, plump and juicy; thrice cooked chips fluffy, crisp and light; smoked garlic butter, DIVINE; chimmicurri, fresh and sharp to cut through the fat on our plate and the BBQ sauce is addictive, so only go there if you can handle having to use everything in reach as a means to getting it in to your mouth, no matter how ungainly (sucked clean rib bones, fingers, bits of celery, the end of a fork... yeah I went there).

Because I wasn't full enough already (that's a lie, by the way) I decided I definitely needed the most hip-hugging puddings on the menu - not like I should be worrying about my weight so I can bag a fella, in this overtly image dominated world we live in. Ah well, you only live once and all that shiz.

The oreo mud pie could have done with some obvious bits of oreo, mainly because I like them, but was  fully chocolaty enough without being super sweet - good thing for this dark chocolate fiend. And we couldn't help but order the sundae, as we were in a sort of American restaurant (and inside I'm actually five). Piled high with delicious Cheshire Farm ice-cream, 3Twentyone had dressed it with a proper chocolate sauce, which went all hard on the ice-cream (ace). One downside was that the cream that was piled on top, it was over-whipped and had vanilla added, which it definitely didn't need it as it made the whole thing a little too sweet. We just pulled the cream off and gobbled the ice-cream instead; then got brain freeze, but that was ok, because, without the cream, it was an ace pudding.

Service was a little first night shakey, the staff are sweet but some of them need to become a little more au fait with the menu/drinks list and they need to learn the table numbers - however, they're friendly enough and that's the important thing. Oh and some of the barmen are super sweet on the eye...

3TwentyOne has taken Americana, worked out that it's the quality of the food, not making a fast buck (refreshing!) that's important; then sat down and had a good, long, hard think about how to produce this type of food and how to make it exceptional. It's Americana for grown-ups, and seeing how I'm meant to be somewhere near grown-up, that appeals to me. There's no need to slather everything in sickly sauces, the food speaks for itself and it's refreshing to hear it speak.

Price for two starters, two mains, three sides, two sauces, two puddings, two large wines and a cocktail - £82.85

Food - 8/10
Atmosphere - 9/10
Service - 7/10 friendly, but needs to settle in
Value for money - 7/10 drinks and starters are a little expensive, but mains are great

Total - 31/40

Go again - Hell yeah! Need some more of that meat in my life; great place to take the carnivores in your family.

3TwentyOne, Upstairs 321 Deansgate, Manchester M3 4LQ - Twitter - Facebook - 0161 839 5215

Please note - I was invited to review 3TwentyOne and my meal was free, but I'm not required to say anything complimentary and you know I'm so vile I wouldn't be nice unless I actually enjoyed myself.

3TwentyOne on Urbanspoon

Friday, 17 May 2013

The Cornerhouse - Manchester

There are two surprises in life - those hideously awful ones where you wake up from your little rose tinted bubble to realise the things you thought have been disastrously wrong. And then those lovely simple ones that take your breath away.

Luckily the meal at The Cornerhouse was of the latter variety - life that followed the meal was unfortunately of the former; but that's not a story for this blog.

The Cornerhouse has been a constant staple in the twelve years I have called Manchester home - a cosy, reliable friend that I'm prone to forget about, only to catch up with and then feel like I've never been away. It's been almost a year since we last caught up and in that time it's obvious that we've both done some growing up.

Eating there last month I expected the usual homely cooking and slightly-rough-around-the-edges-but-always-tasty-food that's been the staple of The Cornerhouse kitchen for a long time. Scanning the menu, out jumped the usual favourites - lamb burgers, dips and pitta, pizzas - but this time, there were a few unknown dishes thrown into the mix. Intrigued. Like finding out your other half leads a double life. Unnerving/fascinating/exciting.

Had to have the dips to start - I know they're good here and this time was even better. A gorgeously smokey, creamy borani badejman (bit like baba ganoush) and some sweet, earthy roasted garlic and beetroot hummus, all topped off with a pile of pitta shards - I ordered the small version, there was enough to feed three of us to start. Bargain and beautiful with it.

Arty shot for an arty venue - tremendous trio of dips

Never having seen fish on the menu at The Cornerhouse (or maybe never noticed it?), I jumped on the special of sea bass and was bloody glad I did. Cooked perfectly and accompanied by the lightest, yet complementary tasty caper and shrimp sauce. Lip smacking and only a tenner? What?

Look at how pretty this is! And perfectly cooked! And a tenner!

And so we had to have a pudding, doing that girly thing where we pretend that we're really fat and that we shouldn't, but it's ok 'cos we only had soup for lunch' and then giggling insanely about how terribly naughty we are. Yep, I really do conform to my gender stereotype sometime and in that sentence have just reinforced some patronising, misogynistic view of the female race - but hey, I'm writing a food blog, is anyone really taking this seriously?

Pudding - this tart was so chocolaty - yup, female stereotyping again...

As per usual The Cornerhouse was filled to bursting; with windows foggy, cosseting us from another wet Manchester night. The warm fug of a million conversations hung around us; couples, groups and the odd singleton all enjoying the friendly atmosphere exuded form each other and the attentive staff.

We were there to relax; the mood and food at The Cornerhouse suited this perfectly, however the one small glitch was the wait on food - we were warned by staff that there was a slight slowness to the kitchen, but the wait between courses (and even between ordering and starting) was more than mediterranean. Needs work.

The Cornerhouse has grown up a good 'un and I'm glad we caught up once again - there's an educated nuance to the food; the balance between relaxed and well executed spot on. And the price? Anywhere else and that sea bass dish would have another fiver chucked (at least) on the price. Get there and get well fed by a dear old friend and wonder why you haven't seen them for so long.

Ps The Cornerhouse has started making all their bread and cakes in-house. Another reason to love this friend.

Price for one starter, two mains and two puddings - £30 give or take a few pence.

Food - 8/10
Atmosphere - 9/10
Service - 6/10 (for slowness, otherwise 8 for affability)
Value for money - 9/10

Total - 32/40

Go again? Of course, and I shan't leave it so long for a catch up next time.

The Cornerhouse, 70 Oxford Street, Manchester M1 5NH - 0161 228 7621 - info@cornerhouse.org

Please note I was invited by The Cornerhouse and my meal was free - however you know what a grump I am and how much I like lambasting establishments, so if it was shit I would have said so.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

COMPETITION TIME! Foodies Festival at Tatton Park

It’s that time of year again – no not the one where we get a few small days of sunshine and all the fat lasses get their wobbles out; not the one where we finally get a rest from overpaid roustabouts kicking a pig’s bladder round a field and no, not the one where I stop drinking for a bit (that never happens, nor even when everyone else hates themselves in January. I never hate myself).

No, much better than my self love - Foodies Festival has once again returned to the North West, hurrah! The UK’s largest celebration of all things food and (more importantly for Nosh) drink is once again popping up at Tatton Park from the 17-19 May; cross fingers for the return of the sunshine!

Expanding on the well-loved format, this year sees a bigger and better festival, with new stages and areas for you all to explore – including a zeitgeist-y Cake and Bake theatre where, you guessed it, baking and cake chat will happen; including a participant lead bake-a-long, Great British Bake Off’s Ruth Clemens and steampunk Emilly Ladybird whizzing up some Hendrick's inspired treats.

Much to my delight, other new areas for this year include a theatre dedicated to Chocolate, with daily demos from David Greenwood-Haigh of Divine (wonder if he’s single…?); a dedicated BBQ area (another big trend, may go for a snoop with my Guerrilla Eats head on…) and a theatre dedicated to BOOZE, including a cocktail area (dear organisers, please reserve me a seat next to the demonstrator...).

As well as all the new stuff, there’s the usual Producers’ Market, selling all sorts of wonders to take home with you; al fresco dining areas with food served by places such as Ning, Chaopraya and Stolen Lamb; the Kid’s Cook School, so we can get the little ones interested and the Street Food Market (yup, another Guerrilla Eats snoop a comin’) with some wonderful traders like my good friend and producer of actually addictive ice-cream, Ginger’s Comfort.

All in all it’s going to be a great weekend of gluttony and sheer unliscened bacchanalian fun – so get your tickets HERE.

BUT STOP PRESS – I’ve got 2 x pairs of tickets to give away BECAUSE I LOVE YOU (read – am good at blagging things). All you need to do is comment BELOW or on my twitter feed (@northwestnosh) about why I should pick you, funnier the better. I’ll get one of my amazing work colleagues to randomly pick you out of a hat (probably a yoghurt tub, glamorous!) on Wednesday 15th May.