Showing posts with label food. Show all posts
Showing posts with label food. Show all posts

Friday, 5 September 2014

Dukkah - recipe

Dukkah (or dukka or duqqa) is a North African condiment most usually attributed to Egypt and which comes in many different guises - the simplest being a few herbs, salt and pepper sold in paper cones for use in the home, the most complex being a mixture of herbs, spices, salt, pepper, seeds and nuts (traditionally hazelnuts, which I think work best).

It's one of those things I've been meaning to knock up in the kitchen for a while, but had sort of forgotten about it until a meal at Drunken Butcher's, in which he served it as part of the starter. So I sat down, read through a ream of recipes and tried a few out until I was happy with what I was eating.

This recipe started life as Yotam Ottolenghi's dukkah recipe, but I wasn't happy with the taste and I found using pre-skinned and ready toasted sesame seeds a lot easier, plus the poppy seeds add a depth of flavour you don't get in the original recipe; so this is my personal version.

Traditionally, all dukkahs are made to personal taste with each chef, cook, home and restaurant producing their own version. As there's no set recipe for what to include, use this as your starting block and then add anything you fancy. Have fun!

15 mins - makes a jam jar full.

50g hazelnuts (skin off)
2 tblsp sunflower seeds
2 tblsp pumpkin seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tblsp cumin seeds
3 tblsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp nigella (kalonji/black onion) seeds
2 tblsp toasted sesame seeds (you can just toast your own at home if can't find toasted)
3 tblsp poppy seeds
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp sea salt (I used Maldon, but any good quality, flaky one will do)
Good few grinds of black pepper (I used about ten).

1. Preheat the oven to 160c and put the hazelnuts on a baking tray. Pop in the oven and keep an eye on them to avoid burning them. They'll need cooking for about ten minutes; you want them a deep golden brown, but not burnt.

2. After five minutes, add the sunflower and pumpkin seeds to the baking tray and return to the oven. If you're toasting your own sesame seeds, add them two minutes before the nuts/seeds need to come out.

3. Whilst the nuts and seeds are baking, dry fry the whole spices one at a time in a dry frying pan on a medium hot heat. Each of the spices is done when they become fragrant - this time differs from a few seconds to about half a minute for each one. Stand over the pan and when you smell them, pop them into a spice grinder or pestle and mortar.

4. When all the whole spices have been toasted, grind them. I like to keep mine quite chunky so you get a good bit of texture in your dukkah (it's easier to do this in a pestle and mortar), but it's up to you. Once you've ground them, pop them into a jam jar with the salt, pepper, paprika, poppy seeds and toasted sesame seeds (if you're not toasting your own).

5. Take the nuts and seeds out of the oven and tip onto a wooden chopping board. Give them a minute to cool and then roughly chop them. I chopped mine into coriander seed size, but again, it's up to you how fine you make them. I do feel a bit of chunk means you can taste them better.

6. Add the nuts and seeds to the jar and screw on the lid. Shake around till it's all combined and then stick your finger in (or a bread stick) to taste - add more salt, pepper, chilli, nuts, seeds etc as required for your taste.

7. This will keep in the jar for a week or two, but I bet you can't make it last past a few days - you'll end up putting it on everything!

How to use: Dukkah is traditionally used as a dip with bread or vegetables, but it makes a great addition to salads, on toast with butter, on top of avocado on toast, with eggs. I mostly eat it with:

Avocado mushed onto brown toast with lemon and olive oil or

Lentils stirred through with harissa and lemon, topped with roasted tomatoes and soft boiled eggs rolled in dukkah.

Dukkah goes with: eggs, avocado, bulgar wheat, cous cous, spices, yoghurt, bread, veg crudités, humus, tomatoes, lentils, chilli, squash, parsley, coriander. 

NB: Toasted sesame seeds can be hard or expensive to track down in the supermarket, I usually have better luck in the Chinese or Asian supermarkets.

Tip: If you cook with a lot of spices, eschew the over priced/tiny packaged dust you find in the supermarket spice isle and either find the Asian part of your supermarket (larger supermarkets in or around cities are better for this) or Asian stores (in areas such as Rusholme) and buy spices from them. They come in much bigger bags and are better quality. A jar of nigella seeds in my local large supermarket is £1.50 (20g), a bag of them from the Asian isle in the same supermarket is 99p (300g).

If you're struggling to find spices because you don't live near a big city, then try Spices of India, good value large packs or try Bart Spices or Spice Mountain if you just want small amount and very good quality.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Red's True Barbecue - Manchester

I'm jumping belatedly onto the meaty bandwagon with this post, just as we could say that Red's True Barbecue has jumped on the current Americana obsessed culinary zeitgeist. I know everyone's already blogged about. I know most people cream over it. Whatever.

Red's True Barbecue has apparently come to Manchester to rescue us from the bad British BBQ (what, who doesn't like burnt sausages in soggy white baps?). Located on Albert Square in what used to be Livebait, they've installed traditional American smokers and grills and decorated the whole place like a bad 90's barn dance.

St Louis Ribs
The menu consists of a range of meats, dry rubbed, smoked and finished with sauce. There's the traditional ribs, chickens and wings padded out with burgers, steaks and some salads (most of which contain meat from the smoker). The sides are pretty traditional Americana fare - mac n cheese, fries, slaws, hush puppies ad nauseam.

Taste wise, Red's food is perfectly ok; if you like salty, smoky, sweet meat doused in slightly cloying sauces. It's the cooking skill that's all wrong - one meat item being dry would be passable as a fluke mistake, however all three (starters and both mains) was unforgivable.

Half a chicken
Luckily the sides were bang on. Mac and cheese was nearly as good as my Mum's, thick cheesy sauce and a good crispy crust; the slaw added a nice tang to the dishes and the heavily salted fries hit the heavily-salted-potato-products spot we all have. But for somewhere that bangs on relentlessly about how bloody good their food is and the religion of the meat etc etc needs to step up to that rhetoric and deliver.

Apart from that we were served by a series of nonchalant and not very tuned in servers, who must have been hired for their looks because that was the only thing going for them. And I'm not even going to start on the enamelled dishes.

All in all the only thing I like about Red's is their clever marketing campaign, which says a lot about the place - all style, no substance.

Cost for one starter and two mains (sides come as part of the mains) - £30.40 plus drinks and service.

Ps No photos, it's way too dark in the venue to take any so I've nicked 'em off Red's website. Please note, our food didn't look anywhere near as good as these staged shots.

Food - 5/10
Atmosphere - 7/10
Service - 6/10
Value for money - 7/10

Total - 25/40

Go again - No thanks, they're not doing anything special.

Reds True Barbecue, 22 Lloyd Street, Albert Square, Manchester M2 5WA - 0161 820 9140.

Red's True BBQ on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Artisan - Manchester

I am unashamedly middle class. I'm not going to make excuses for my up-bringing, values and identity. I'm not going to pretend anymore, or make a mockery of where I fall in society - yes I worry about minor infringements of manners and I really like aspirational magazine; there's nothing wrong with being in the middle sometimes.

And that's why I like Artisan, the new-ish Spinnigfields offering from Living Ventures (Australaisa, Oast House, Alchemist). Artisan is not trying to be fine dining, it's not trying to be hipishly down-at-heel, it's not trying to push boundaries and it's not jumping on any bandwagon. It's just a comfortable, relaxed space, with great food and good drinks.

We visited mid-week and were pleasantly surprised that a) it was pretty busy for mid-week and b) that the vast, 12,000 ft space seemed really rather cosy. As with other Living Ventures concerns, there's been a conscious and very obvious effort to ensure the design encapsulates everything this space is about - comfort, cosiness, chatting with your friends, with a touch of something special to make you feel great being there.

As with all Living Ventures places, the staff have been expertly trained - we were met, welcomed and seated by genuinely friendly people and the staff knew most of the curve ball questions we threw at them (bar the whiskey question, but they were good enough to go and find out from the well-stocked bar).

The premise at Artisan is to relax and order food to share - we took advantage of this attitude and ordered a phalanx of nibbles and starters:
  • Olives; you can actually go wrong with olives, but Artisan have been clever enough to ensure they're bloody fresh and bunged a load of herbs on top.
  • Focaccia with dips; the bread was super fresh and straddled the just salty enough line with aplomb - the accompanying dips could have been a little more punchy, but we made up by dipping it in the camembert.
  • Baked camembert; melty cheese, what could be better? Artisan sprinkle said melty cheese with pine nuts and rosemary - simple, but inspired.
  • BBQ pork rib; a massive hunk of meat, soft and succulent in a pretty good BBQ sauce. The sauce could have been a bit more zingy, but was tasty enough for us to lick our fingers afterwards.
  • Wood baked sardines; out of the starters, this was the bum dish. The salsa
    that accompanied the fish had a great kick, but the sardines were dry and served on an over sized piece of wood. Now I understand Artisan's schtick is to cook stuff in the wood-fired oven, but the fish to wood ratio was ridiculous and we couldn't see how the wood had affected the taste of the fish.
  • Baked mussels - we thought these would be horribly chewy, having been in the oven, but this dish was amazing. Moules marinares steamed to perfection under a dough duvet - I'm not sure if you're meant to eat the crust, but it made a great plate to mouth transport devise for the sweetly, garlic rich sauce.
As we reached mains, we decided to save our waists a little and order only one dish apiece. The pulled pork burger was a solid, comforting dish with plenty of salty, soft meat. The salt baked sea bass was a star of a dish; perfectly steamed and seasoned in its salt crust, with the added theatre of it being hammered out of said crust by a member of the waiting staff, whilst we watched, goggled eyed.

Unfortunately my dish of pork tenderloin, let the side down. The dish itself was a great contrast of sweet and sharp tastes; apples and a mustard sauce cutting through the sweet fattiness of the pork. However the pork itself was over cooked, dry and slightly chewy - a shame, as if it had been spot on, this may have been the winning dish of the evening.

We were stuffed, but salted caramel baked bananas was too much like yum for us to turn down, so we
managed to find space - glad we did, simple yet delicious, the gingerbread ice cream was a perfect match for the warm, gooey, savoury-ish bananas.

Artisan is a great space; the food is mostly excellent, the staff are brilliant and it's not too heavy on the pocket (unless you try and eat the whole menu, like us gluttons). For a simple, laid back and definitely better than middle-of-the-road meal, go visit.

Price for five starters, three mains, two sides, three puddings, two cocktails, three beers, a whisky and two glasses of pudding wine: £139.85

Food - 7/10
Atmosphere - 8/10
Service - 9/10
Value for money - 7/10

Total - 32/40

Go again - yes, it's a great place to hang out with friends.

Artisan, Avenue North, 18-22 Bridge Street, Spinningfields, Manchester M3 3BZ - - 0161 832 4181 - Twitter - Facebook

Please note, I was given this meal gratis, but as you can see from my varied review of the dishes, I wasn't under any obligation to say anything nice.
Artisan on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Yo! Sushi - Trafford Centre, Manchester

I have a dirty secret, a secret I probably shouldn't share on a food blog, a blog that's here to educate gastronomically and to highlight the best of our region has to offer - I'm in love with Yo! Sushi.

Food on a belt!
I know it's a chain, that the selection of fish stretches to two, three if you count prawns and four if you separate smoked/non-smoked salmon and I'd avoid it if you have an aversion to bright colours. All that said, I love the place; they cater for most people (even non-fish eaters), there's the hypnotic parade of dishes speeding past you on the belt and their menu's genuinely, unpretentiously fun.

My first foray into Yo! was in the sadly now departed Selfridge's Exchange Square food hall; eighteen years old, never having eaten sushi, my senses were assaulted and I relished each visit, popping in for a plate of hamachi sashimi and a bowl of miso - as much as my meagre student budget would stretch to.

Over the years it has been a place to tell my brother (when he had a whole futomaki stuffed into his mouth) that he was eating fish eggs (cue him trying to get said futomaki out of his mouth as quickly as possible), to giggle uncontrollably (you mean snort? - ed) with friends and *blushes* as a date destination.

Yo! Sushi has just released a new menu inspired by street food at their Trafford Centre Selfridges

New menu
store (soon to be rolled out across the country) - I'm not going to discuss the morals of restaurants incorporating street food dishes onto their menus and the whole street food shebang (there will probably be a blog about that in the not too distant future...) - so naturally, new menu, any excuse to pop down.

The Yo! Sushi at Selfridges Trafford Centre has just had a major refit (indeed, I tried to pop down three weeks ago and it was closed. No weekly Yo! fix for me!). The old white store has been replaced with striped wood, shot through with the recognisable Yo! Sushi colours. There's less bright orange (good) and the whole place generally looks cleaner, brighter and more modern. So it's not just the menu that has changed.

Whilst we were trying out the street menu (six dishes, of which we tried four), we naturally had to sample as many of the other dishes we know and love. Because that's how I roll at Yo! (and then roll out the door).

Off the new menu - Chicken karage is a fried chicken dish (like popcorn chicken, my companion's observation) - salty with a crunchy outer layer, pretty moreish and probably very bad for you. We didn't like the processed tasting wasabi mayo dip that came on the side, but a dousing of soy makes this dish even better (or use the dip that comes with the goyza, takes it up another notch again).

Salmon harumaki; a crisp filo roll, filled with nori and salmon, then fried. I've never had cooked nori before, but it's something I'll definitely try again. The pastry gave a pleasing crisp crack and the fish inside was perfectly cooked, the nori seasoning it all beautifully. Only issue was that the pastry was soaked in oil - luckily it didn't taste stale, but left a little too much grease in the mouth.

Bum note was the duck and hoisin salad - some bland, soggy leaves shot through with massive chunks of onion and then topped unappetisingly with cold, unflavoured (just a hint of five spice was all I was getting) duck that had lumps of white fat and flabby skin stuck to it. We didn't finish it.

Luckily all this was saved by the dish of the day - salmon sashimi with an yuzu salsa. Miles away from the duck; spanking fresh, full of heady, fresh citrus perfume, zingy spice and sweetness from the salsa. I could have eaten this all day.

Then we started on dishes from the original menu; the usual, plain salmon sashimi was what it said on the tin - fresh but a little fatty. A tuna handroll was full to bursting and the staff were more than happy to skip the mayo as per my request, they did however, get a little trigger happy with the spicy sauce - it took three glasses of waster to stop the burning and my lips looked like they'd had some pretty full on filler work done (not that I minded, I'm addicted to that spicy sauce).

Because I'm a glutton/had to research I had the rice rolled salmon maki - there's no rice, the nori is replaced by summer roll wrapping and there's some avocado and cucumber in there - super light and refreshing, another winner that I'll add to my list of 'dishes I have to have every time I visit Yo!'

Yo! Sushi isn't for the sushi gourmand, that's not why I go there (try Umezushi instead if you're after that), but it's a great place for to grab a bite to eat that genuinely is different from the flabby sandwiches and bland soups that are your other lunch time/chain options.

Yo! Sushi operates a range of set prices for it's dishes, the colour of the dish denotes price - they go form £1.90 (green) to £5 (grey).

Food - 7/10
Service - 9/10 (Jamie is amazing, he's the most lovely, helpful man ever)
Atmosphere - 8/10 (rammed, mid-week lunch)
Value for money - 7/10

Total - 31/40

Go again - already been. Twice. Since last week.

Yo! Sushi Selfridges, The Dome, Trafford Centre, Trafford Park, Manchester M17 8DA - 0161 747 7689 -

YO! Sushi on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Cicchetti - Manchester

Unlike swathes of my friends, peers and fellow mancunions, I had yet to have eaten at Cicchetti, the latest (though not that new now! Get with the times etc! - ed) offering from the San Carlo group.

Part laziness, part skintness and part 'every-time-I-go-in-the-service-is-appalling-and-I-leave-before-I'm-seated-ness', has kept me away. Till now. Because we were very hungry and mother was paying.

Packed, even on a rainy mid-week lunchtime, we were asked to wait at the bar; we ordered a coffee, we watched the world pass and this time, we were treated with impeccable service. The relaxed opulence, the hurry-scurrying of the waiters and the fact everyone seemed to either be speaking in Italian (staff) or to be extremely tanned (well-heeled customers), made us feel 'like us on us 'olidays, in Italy, like.'

Buzzy, busy - Cicchetti at lunchtime
Capricious menu
Cicchetti's premise and inspiration, is the cicchetti bars of Venice; where small plates are brought out with drinks, tapas style. The menu is quite vast and I could have happily eaten most of the dishes on there – however we were advised that five between two would probably satisfy (and they were correct, pudding was noted to have 'pushed us over.' Mother was smug, she didn't eat pudding).

Despite sitting in an Italian restaurant and feeling rather continental, Mother and I bickered in the most British of fashions, suggesting dishes and immediately deprecating said suggestion in favour for anything the other suggested. Luckily I went back five days later and ordered all the dishes I'd conceded.

In the end we settled on the Goat Ragu (this month’s special), a meaty, soft, delicate and satisfying dish with some of the best pasta I’ve eaten (family gossip, my little brother has started making his own pasta) and the best dish of the day (we may not have agreed on which dishes to order, but we both agreed on this important fact).

We also chose the buffalo mozzarella with tomato; a very small dish, but the sheer amount of flavour, seasoning and quality made up for it. There were butterflied sardines on toast with a caper and roasted tomato sauce, more capers were needed in my opinion, but Mother was happy as she hates them (this was a dish she had conceded to me, her special spoiled princess).

We also ordered the duck and apple salad, expecting more apple than duck, a la everywhere else I’ve ever eaten. Instead we were confronted by what must have been at least a quarter of a duck; super soft and sweet, with peppery rocket and fine slices of sharp apple to cut through the buttery meat.

And then there was the dish of green beans. This could be construed as a boring choice, actually it was my attempt to inject something healthy into the meal. The beans may have been green, but I would guess that at least 200g of butter had been melted over the top of 100g of beans. This is how beans should always be served. Take note.

Quick aside - run down on the dishes I order five days later minus mother, plus friend who I practically bullied into these choices:
1. Terra board - the creamiest, dreamiest mozzarella scattered with slices of charcuterie.
2. Calamari - my 'kitchen competency test' - just cooked, the sweet squid was encased in the lightest, well seasoned batter.
3. Courgette 'chips' - see beans above. Everything that applies to them applies to this dish.
4. Mushroom pizza - anywhere else this would be an amazing dish, but with everything else on the table, this was obscured.
5. Dolce cicchetti - a big board full of puddings, great for sharing, not a patch on affagato (see below).

Full, satisfied and utterly charmed by our waiter, we finished on coffee – well Mother did, I had the affagato, because coffee is always better when it super strong, poured over ice cream and finished with a good kick of amaretto.

Cicchetti’s a rare place where you can either order a quick, small plate for one at lunch (sit at the bar, listen to the waiters, pretend you’re in Venice and have sunny fantasises before heading back to the office) or sit down for hours, order plate after plate of inspired, brilliantly cooked food and share them with sunny laughter, gossip, wine and friends – and anything in between.

I'm not sure why I stayed away for so long!

Price for five small dishes, two glasses of wine, two coffees and one pudding – £53.35

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

Go again – see above. Yes, yes, YES!

Cicchetti, House of Fraser Ground Floor (private entrance off King Street West), Deansgate, Manchester M3 2QG - 0161 839 2233 - - Facebook - Twitter

San Carlo Cicchetti on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Neighbourhood - Manchester

Neighbourhood has been on my ‘to visit’ list for some time now, securing a place through good reviews and some shameless self-promotion (restaurants, please do not retweet every tweet people make about hanging out with you, thanks); but each time I have ventured near, the overspill of leopard print, shiny suits and false nails pushes me on elsewhere.

Neighbourhood - with thanks to Likerish Split
A few weeks back I was taken there; wasn't my choice, but my new personal development challenge is to stop being a dining control freak – NEWS FLASH – I am letting other people choose where we  go to eat (sometimes) (and not making bitchy comments before we have, at least, eaten there). I can't say I still don't get sweaty palms doing this, but if the meal is a disaster I am no longer crushed by catholic levels of guilt for weeks after.

Neighbourhood is located on the outer edges of the corporate world of Spinningfields. Owned by those chaps at Southern Eleven (all meat, stripped wood and Americana), Neighbourhood has been designed to recreate the feel of a Manhattan neighbourhood bar; unfortunately, like Spinningfields itself, it's all a little too clean cut, carefully constructed and image conscious.

Underwhelming shrimps
Dining on a Tuesday night didn't feel very neighbourly, in fact we didn't have any neighbours at all; our waiter made up for that, his customer service was spot on, he knew the menu inside out and wasn't afraid to describe the negatives as well as the positives of the dishes – this service, coupled with the good reviews and enjoying the food at Southern Eleven, initially promised good things from the night to come.

The buttermilk fried Chicken Lollipops we had to start were sweet, moist and salty - all my food cravings rolled into one great little dish; I am underlining the word LITTLE here. We'd ordered the Shrimp, Crackle and Pop because it sounded fun, a case of 'shucks you are so cool for putting rice crispies in a dish' – what actually came to the table was not fun; an overly reduced bisque with a cloying, metallic taste (that tainted my mouth for the rest of the evening), two chewy prawns and some very soggy rice crispies. For £9.

Baked Lobster Mac 'n' Cheese has been the one dish receiving constant rave reviews, my twitter feed is littered with it, however our experience of it was anything other than rave. How Neighbourhood managed to create a dish of pasta that was simultaneously dry and chewy on top, whilst soggy and swimming in pasta water on the bottom, I have no idea. There was little sauce, any to be found was watery and under-seasoned; there was no hint of cheese and very little of lobster (two, chewy, tiny pieces) - at £15 the dish left a hole in both stomachs and wallets.

Rubbish picture, not much better dish
The Grilled Rock Bass with clams and spinach was the best dish of the evening, but don't take that as a ringing endorsement. The fish and clams were well cooked, obviously lobster mac chef didn't cook this one, but that was the only thing going for the dish. The accompanying sauce was so insipid it may have been better to leave it off as it was so unnoticeable, the spinach was limp, the taste akin to eating solidified dishwater and I doubt any salt had even been near the dish, let alone added to it.

Sweet tooth pizza - £15
For some reason we decided to stay for pudding; maybe it was hunger, maybe we wanted to find a saving grace, maybe I have such a dazzling personality (definitely not the latter – ed). We picked the Sweet Tooth Pizza to share; a car crash of brownies, marshmallows, pecans and caramel loaded onto a sweet pizza base. The base was overly chewy, the brownies overly dry - the marshmallow was nice and that's about it. At least this dish was big enough to fill us up.

Neighbourhood's menu promises taste, comfort and competent cooking - but just like Spinningfield itself and Neighbourhood's usual punters, the food is all about show rather than substance.

Price for two starters, two mains, a pudding and two glasses of wine: £71.50

Food - 4/10
Atmosphere - 5/10
Service - 7/10
Value for money - 3/10

Total 19/40

Go again? - No thanks, I'll stick to somewhere that knows money/looks aren't everything.

Neighbourhood, The Avenue, Spinningfields, Manchester – M3 3JE – 0161 832 6334 - Twitter

Neighbourhood on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Can Do Crumb - 22 Redbank, Manchester

There are many people who will tell you that carbs are the devil's work and must be avoided at all costs. Ignore them.

You need carbs in your life. I'm not going to give you a lecture on the health benefits of including a moderate amount of complex carbs in your diet, as this is an enjoyable (I hope) food blog and not some whiny vegan shite. I am, however, now going to write a post all about bread. Get over it.

When I moved out of my chaotic student house, I took a flat with the girlfriend of one of my housemates; as much as he supported this decision (well, his two favourite ladies in one place, who wouldn't?) he failed to see how this would work - 'but Sarah doesn't eat toast' he exclaimed to my future flatmate. Kat loved bread. She ate a lot of toast and I was a notorious toast dodger. He just didn't see how we'd be compatible (for posterity - we got on very well, one of the best housemates I've ever had).

Until recently, this bread aversion has always been the case, I just didn't eat a lot of bread. I had no urge, no need, no craving for buttery carbiness; I hated sandwiches (still do in most cases), would only eat toast if there was NOTHING else to eat and just didn't get why my sane, intelligent friends would find it so hard to cut out a bit of bakery for a few weeks to get in to a bridesmaids/wedding/party/delete as appropriate dress.

And then I started frequenting a local bakery and making the odd (very worthy but I persevered eating it anyways) loaf - a world of chewy crusts, delicate crumb, sour taste, the crack as the bread knife broke through the freshly baked crust... toast was soon something I was getting excited about before going to bed; I got scarily interested in flour types and even, once, contemplated making a sandwich (I didn't do it).

Can't beat a good loaf
After this awakening, I now perceive my current bread intake to be horrendous, however chatting to colleagues and friends I realise it's only horrendous in relation to the amount of bread I used to eat. I'm not going to name and shame the 'whole loaves in a day by themselves' people I know. They're northern.

A few weeks back I was invited to 22 Redbank; the funky office come bar come photo studio come space that houses The Liquorists and Tone Photography. 'Come and learn to make some bread' they said - not sure I was up for spending my Saturday night being lectured at by some Cheshire-set-WI-wifey who teaches/patronises idiots like me for a bit of pin money, whilst hubby supports the whole shebang by creaming it off the oil industry - 'there will be free food and cocktails from The Liquorists.' Oh alright then, free booze/food always gets me out of the house and my homemade bread is shocking, so I reasoned it was worth it.

Pushing open the door to 22 Redbank (guys, please fix the bell, rapping hurts my little girl hands) I was greeted by a quiet, but friendly bunch of young people with drinks in their hands, making introductions and chatting with one another. Over bounded a petite brunette in an apron with her hand thrust out warmly ('kitchen help girl,' mind thought; oh damn you first impressions/stereotypes). 'Hi, I'm Jess, I'm going to be your teacher and I'll forget your name, so you're called sweetypie.' Suddenly, I realised this was no stuffy bread making class, this might actually be fun....

Bread. Booze. Boom.

Introductions over, we all trooped downstairs, where Jess gave us a little bit of her background (talented lady) and a quick introduction to the mechanics of 'how bread works.' For people like me who need to know why something happens before we can master it, this was perfect; unpretentious, funny and very interesting, I nearly didn't notice a new cocktail being placed in my hands. Nearly.

Next we tasted a few different breads, which had been made fresh by Jess and chatted about what we liked about each, whilst learning about the different technique/ingredients required for each bake. Throughout this, Jess confidently and engagingly fielded numerous questions from novices and those wishing to learn more - why won't my bread rise, the texture is wrong when I bake, why do we need yeast.... and so on - we had a lot to ask.

And then it was our turn to have a go - as we were only there an evening, Jess instructed us on one of the easiest breads around; Irish soda bread (risen with baking soda and not yeast so no need to knead/prove/knockback/etc) (get you with your lingo - Ed).

First off 'taste this buttermilk Sarah', 'er ok;' cue the most screwed up face I have ever made and chortles all round (I was not chortling, damn my curiosity!), a quick instruction on how to make the bread and then it was all bunged in the oven. During baking time, Jess regaled us with tall bread tales and showed us different techniques to use when making a yeast based loaf. AND busted all the myths that you need expensive, fancy kit to make bread. You don't even need yeast! Just hands, flour, water and an oven.

The night was finished off by more cocktails from Jamie Jones, bartender extraordinaire and part of The Liquorists - he even made a passable Chocolate Old Fashioned - in real person's terms, this was AMAZING and should probably win awards; I still don't think you should mess with an old fashioned though. Oh and a nice wee dram of whisky that I'm not allowed to tell Jody we drank...

Jamie Jones doing his 'ay ees Massimo' impression

Can Do Crust isn't a night for experienced bread makers to get together and discuss the finer points of flour rising technicalities and neither is it a night for personal, solitary learning - it's a fun, sociable get together, where you learn some pretty useful skills and get pretty tipsy too. Got a birthday/meet up planned, bored of the meat market that town is, want to make some new friends? Get yourself booked on to the next one HERE.

Can Do is part of a monthly series of events organised by Tone Photographer in conjunction with The Liquorists at 22 Redbank. In the next few months they will cover Crumbs (cake), Crunch (biscuits), Cremes (custards) and Confectionery (petit fours) (lovely alliteration there) and each one is priced at £35 for 3 hours full of learning/making/taking home and a selection of cocktails.

Can Do, Tone Photographer, 22 Redbank, Manchester M4 4HF - website - twitter - facebook -

Please note, I was given my ticket to this night for free, but wouldn't have written such a glowing report if I hadn't had one of the best nights out that I've had in bloody ages. I implore you to go along, you won't regret it.

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 ( 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 -

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.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Ten @ The Violet Lounge - West Didsbury, Manchester

Seasonality and locality are BIG THINGS right now; we're encouraged from many sides to pop down to the local  greengrocer and forego air-freighted beans wrapped in 72 layers of polythene and I think that's all good (just don't ask me about my tomatoes...).

Sensing a trend, many restaurants have jumped on the seasonal/local bandwagon and started touting how local and in season their veg is, despite whacking on a side of asparagus in December and counting local as sourcing their produce from Smithfields and not checking where the actual stuff itself is from (I'm not going to name you, you know who you are).

Ok I'm badmouthing, there are true stalwarts such as Gabriel's Kitchen/Whitworth Gallery Cafe, et al getting it right, there's just a lot of hot air and foreign raspberries on menus these days.

Another place getting it right is The Violet Hour; an opulent drinking den located on West Didsbury's trendy Burton Road, who have just started serving food - to kick off all their food based offerings and going so far as to positively celebrate seasonality, they have started Ten, their pop-up menu.

The menu - a seasonal celebration and super scrummy

Ten is the concept of owner Dan Pollard and chef Phil Cook (oh what a wonderfully apt name!); the menu takes inspiration from the ten best seasonal ingredients and from this they create an innovative exploration through the tastes of the season. Oh and for a twist, they pair the menu with cocktails - because that's what they do so well at The Violet Hour.

After a quick relax in The Violet Hour's comfortable and muted surroundings, we were ushered upstairs to an explanation of the menu and our first course - a native oyster with vodka granita and blood orange pebble; cue much discussion as to how that pebble was made - looked like the forgotten grey sponge in a student's bathroom, but tasted divine - like a chewy, sweetly perfumed, citrus foam. The oyster was spanking fresh - I'm going to be picky and say why waste a native with a vodka granita (no matter how delish) and they could have got away with a plain  old rock oyster - but that wasn't the aim of the menu, which was an incredibly opulent celebration of the amazing produce we get in the UK at this time of the year (ok, blood oranges are from the Med, but they're in season at the mo, so don't go leaving me arsey comments).

Next a pretty, rustic tart topped with lashings of Burt's Blue, cauliflower and edible flowers - pungent, salty and superb - but it was the accompanying cider broth that we rated most; deeply savoury with a hint of sharpness that matched brilliantly with the cheese. This course was paired with the Cuban Beekeeper (white rum, honey, lime, grape, apple, black pepper) - a honey based cocktail that softened out the sharpness in the cheese and the broth, but which was a little too sweet for me (please remember that I'm a booze and ice kind of girl, so many cocktails are super sweet in my opinion).

Cuban Beekeeper - with cute cocktail cards to remind you of your drink

The fish course was the best of the evening - a sliver of salmon cooked sous vide to 40 degrees was firm yet wobbly and jelly-like, I loved the yielding texture. This was sat atop salsify and the most savoury chicken broth in the world; the rich, deep, satisfying flavours a true testament to the skill in the kitchen.

Best dish of the night - 40c salmon

Closing the savoury courses was a just cooked dish of venison and celeriac - unfortunately ours had been left on the pass for slightly too long and was pretty cold by the time it reached it, however this didn't take away from the obvious quality of both the cooking and meat. Could have done with a bigger portion and some carbs! To pair with the venison, we were served a Thyme is of the Essence (gin, peche liqueur, lemon, thyme) - a fluffy, perfumed thyme infused cloud of herby sweet sharpness accenting the wild nature of the meat, which was the best of all the drinks in my opinion.

Cue a long wait for pudding, a little too long, in which we were served the matching cocktail - a Deerstalker Old Fashioned (bourbon, chocolate, sage, blood orange). Now, here's where I'm going to have a little moan.... I love an Old Fashioned, it's one of my very favourite cocktails and one that I've actually learnt to make at home. I even make a cake in homage to this drink. As many of my friends will tell you, I'll wax lyrical about it and bore the balls off you - so in my eyes no one should fuck with this cocktail. A Deerstalker contains chocolate and it was awful - that's my opinion, everyone else in the room raved about this drink, but I found it a travesty of a mighty cocktail.

So after that rant, the pudding was a very rich chocolate ganache (beautiful) and a pineapple upside down cake with spiced rum - loved it, but again, needed it to be bigger as my tummy was still rumbling after five courses.

Pudding - that ganache is out of this world - I need the recipe!

Ten is a wonderful concept, bringing together top quality ingredients with exceptional cooking skills and a good deal of creative flair. There's the small issue of needing to work on their timings and maybe throwing in some carbs or sides of veg for gluttons like me, but they're just little things and you know I like to be picky/have something to moan about.

Just a shame it's only once every two months, the next one's already in the diary!

Ps The Violet Hour are also rolling out a weekly food menu - it's gourmet bar snacks and Pieminister pies in the week and then Sunday club - roasts and Bloody Mary's on a Sunday. And of course, they'll be serving their very well made cocktails as per usual. Get down there and get your belly filled!

Cost for five courses and three cocktails - £35pp

Food - 8/10 (one off for being a bit cold)
Service - 8/10
Atmosphere - 8/10
Value for money -  9/10 (really, five AMAZING courses AND booze for £35, it's a steal!)

Total - 33/40

The Violet Hour - Burton Road, West Didsbury, Manchester - Twitter - Facebook - - 0161 434 9521

Please note, I was given my place at Ten for free as Dan knows how much I like to eat - as you know I don't say nice things unless I actually want to and from my nit-picking above you know I'm telling the truth about EVERYTHING.

The Violet Hour on Urbanspoon