Everytime I travel somewhere I come back meaning to immediately do a post showcasing the fine foods I have sampled, however I’ve never got around to it so here is a roundup of some of my food highlights of 2012:
by Annabelle Williams
Never one to shy away from too much meat, I went for the chicken. Nicely cooked, but what stood out was the parmesan and sweetcorn souffle..I know, I know but really, it was light and cheesy with a touch of the sweetcorn cutting through. I have to say that the courgette fritters were disappointing. Not might I add, due to how they were cooked but more to do with the accompanying creme fraiche and sweet chill sauce drowning the crunch and becoming a little cloying.
(As per our agreement, I always let you know when I’m on a free drinks and food review. This was one of those)
Perched atop a small staircase next Spinningfields you’ll find the coolest bar the 1980’s has ever seen. When you get inside, you’ll find yourself in a strange place. The décor is painstakingly self-conscious about adhering to the Alpine ski lodge theme. From the rich mahogany surfaces to the smoked glass light shades all the way to the skis mounted on the walls, everything about the Ski Club wants to have you believe you really are indulging in a little après ski. Whether it succeeds is for those of a more style-centric nature to decide, but I could see Marty McFly spending his time here over winter. Anyway, I’m just here for the food and the drink.
This evening we were here to test out the menu for the venue, which included both food and drinks. Starting with the important things first, I sampled one of the cocktails. The St Marion Sprits, a delightful cocktail with a subtle orange tang.
Before long, the canapés began to arrive. Being presented on slate (not very 80’s), there was a rollercoaster of tastes, both great and dismal. The mozzarella skewers with sun dried tomato and pesto were seemingly simplistic but phenomenally packed with fresh flavour. The two low points were the Arancini balls with mushroom and truffle oil, which resembled moth balls in both appearance and flavour and the pork roulade with a cumin spiced mayonnaise which had the greasy, monotone flavour and soggy breadcrumb coating that would have put it on a par with turkey twizzlers with a cumin spiced mayonnaise. I did like the mayonnaise though. The saving grace of the canapés then was the Pigs in Blankets. Nice smoky sausage meat, light pastry with the right mix of crispness and chewiness and finally a small topping of caramelised onions. They turned it around with that one.
I’m pleased to say, the food just got better and better from here… for a bit. The Alpine Cheese and Meat board was heartily enjoyable. A good selection of strong cheeses (brie, gorgonzola, goats cheese) and one of the best cured salami slices I’ve tasted for a while. I assume that the charcuterie for this wasn’t done in-house though, so not sure how much praise can be assigned for that one. (If anyone knows differently, please feel free to correct.)
Finally, the moment we had all been waiting for arrived. However, instead of arriving like an explosive grand finale, it arrived more like the finale of Lost, leaving people confused and saying ‘Is that really what we’ve been waiting for this whole time?’ The cheese was fine, but it went cold quickly and left you scraping the bottom of the dish for slabs of cheese. The fondue dipping items were average. Toast squares and a selection of sausage pieces.
For me the saving grace was the cocktails. My favourite of the evening being the Red Velvet Cobbler. A cocktail based on a cake immediately has my attention and this one didn’t disappoint I have to say. Taking the contrasting elements of tart and sweet that make a great Red Velvet cake, this cocktail skirted the line of being bitter, but just stayed on the right side of it.
The menu had more ups and downs than a jaunt across the Alps. And If I’m going to stretch this metaphor to breaking point, then my final thought on the Ski Club would be that sometimes, you are going to fall flat on your arse while having a good time. Have fun, but don’t expect plain sailing.
I can’t bloody stand Tequila. It’s a cheap, nasty tasting alcohol requiring lime and salt to keep it down. So thank God someone invented a top flight Tequil trail to show me the error of my ways.
The Liquorists are a team of liquor and cocktail aficionados operating from their base at 22 Redbank. This is where the Tequila trail started, however its not where mine really started. An accident on the Mancunian Way saw me arrive late to 22 Redbank 40 minutes late. I had just enough time to grab a tube of nachos before the taxis arrived to take us off on the trail.
The concept for the evening was simple, 5 tequilas, 5 cocktails, 5 locations and at each one, an insightful description of the history and process behind the drink. Having missed 1/5 of the evening, I was keen to make up time on the trail.
From the map above you can see our trail. We began our trip at Apotheca with a shot of Don Julio Reposado. Being aged for only a short period it was light and sweet but with a stronger flavour than I’d expect for a ‘young’ Tequila. The cocktail made from this Tequila was a Mango and Rosemary Margerita. The sweetness of the cocktail meant the tequila flavour blended seamlessly making this cocktail easy to drink. Almost a little too easy. Thank goodness for the Liquorists ‘No Hangover Guarantee’. Before I could ask for another round of these great cocktails, we were of to the next stop on our trail.
Socio Rehab was our next stop and our Tequila was El Jimador Blanco. As an unaged Tequila it had a clearer, more distinctly spicy scent to it and had none of the mellowing that the aging process offers. Even so, it’s still easily drinkable on its own as a spirit. The cocktail we were presented with for this spirit was the Paloma cocktail. This cocktail is grapefruit based and was made with Ting. If you’ve not come across Ting, check out the wiki here. It’s a Jamaican grapefruit juice drink, giving this cocktail a delicious tanginess to go with that spicy Blanco tequila.
Two drinks to go and we had to walk a full 3 minutes across to Stevenson Square and down the stairs into Hula Tiki Lounge. Here is where we took in a different ‘presentation’ of cocktail. This is certainly the first time I’ve ever been issued a cocktail in a mug. This Tommys Margarita was mixed using Casa Herradura Plata and a simple mix of agave syrup and lime. This was my personal favourite of the evening, having the warm tequila spice mixed in with the cooling flavour of the agave syrup to temper it.
We wrapped up the evening in Kosmonaut, one of the latest bars to pop up on the fringes of the Northern Quarter. To be quite honest, by this point I was that engaged in the conversation with the rest of ‘the Trailers’ and having not eaten enough before we set of, that I didn’t really take in much about the last tequila and cocktail. I do remember that it was made with Tabatio Anejo Blanco tequila, as I was wise enough to get a shot of the bottle. I also remember particularly enjoying the cocktail as it was go very quickly. The rest however escapes me. This is why I’m a blogger and not a journalist: attention to detail.
As the trail came to an end and people began to dissipate I headed home, musing on the events of the evening (I didn’t really muse on anything but it’s important to say that I did in order to make the narrative of this section flow and draw this review to a neat conclusion). I recall musing on whether the evening had changed my view of Tequila? Would I now drink the stuff? Yes. Would I order it in a bar? Yes. Would I order it over my regular spirits of rum or whiskey? I’m not too sure.
The important thing to remember is that if you want your world view of spirits changed forever, or if you just want a series of stunningly sublime and sippable cocktails, you need to speak to the Liquorists. You’ll be in good and knowledgeable company.
Written by Annabelle Williams
Arriving at Thomas Restaurant and bar I was a little flustered and nervous, especially given that I have never attended a food blogging event.
When I first spotted this place on Thomas St in the Northern Quarter, I had to admit it looked ever so slightly incongruous, compared to some of the other establishments on Thomas St. It just looks, I don’t know, slicker than some of its neighbours.
Inside, despite it being a rather gloomy Wednesday afternoon, the restaurant’s got a light and airy feel with high ceilings. It’s a good-looking joint and perhaps it was the French wine but the inside space felt almost ‘tardis’ like with a mezzanine floor and open kitchen. The bar and seated dining area are on the ground floor and the first floor features more open dining space, the kitchen and an outdoor terrace. Finally on the second floor, there is the Clubroom. This room’s a cosy and comfortable spot for all manner of music, drinking and bonding with friends. There’s even some talk of jazz nights coming soon.
When asked what cocktail I would like (you had me at ‘hello’ Thomas people) I saw the words ‘Joan Collins’ on the menu and couldn’t resist. I didn’t take a picture of it because I was too busy enjoying its majesty. A long, refreshing, summery (yes, I know) cocktail with Gin, lemon, grapes and tonic. Classy but satisfying.
For starters we were presented with Crab Cakes, Potted Smoked Duck Breast and Warm Goats cheese & Onion Tart.
I’ve always had a hard time picking favourites as I am an indiscriminate lover of all things food. However, given that crab cakes are one of the few things I tend to avoid (so easy to get wrong) these were rather lovely. Comforting yet elegant and well complemented by the lime and mango; my mind may have been changed.
The Potted duck was rather nice to look at, and equally as enjoyable to eat, though I do feel like there can never be enough Chorizo salsa in the world. Finally the Goats Cheese & Onion Tart was a firm favourite around the table. *Did someone call it a cheesecake?* It was like that in the savoury sense of the word.
For the mains we shared Pan fried Fillet of Whitby Plaice, Yorkshire Lamb Shank and Artichoke risotto.
The Plaice was subtle and no doubt expertly cooked, I have to say that I tend to favour something with a richer flavour therefore the Yorkshire lamb shank was more my taste. This was a serious piece of meat and the Savoy cabbage and Pancetta combo hidden under the lamb was a nice counterpoint. Though, erring on the heavy side I would say that this would be a dinner time main.
I had at this point become ‘Meat drunk’ and stopped taking nice Instagram pictures and decided to go for the ‘Money shot’.
The artichoke risotto with a crumbed duck egg yolk was blinding. This was so..good. The egg actually oozed and the risotto was very rich and flavoursome.
So, then it came to dessert…typically this is where some people start to lose pace, but not I. The picture of the Tart Tatin below demonstrates this, I’m like a wrecking ball.
If I were forced to choose a favourite dessert (which is an infrequent occurrence in my day-to-day) it would have to be the Tart Tatin, but followed incredibly closely by the Thomas Tiramisu and Lemon tart.
Before I forget about the wine..
I do love me a good Viognier, aromatic, floral, apricot-y?…The Aimery Viognier we drank was no different. Also, the Macon Villages was rather special. Refined, floral, with good structure, and a nice acidity. Basically, good eatin’ wine. I didn’t try to food match with the wine, I drank it and enjoyed it.
Finally, I think a shout out (is that even appropriate?) should go out to the waiting staff who were charming and efficient and of course a warm thank you to Nicky and Yvonne for being such good hosts. So to wrap it up, a really lovely evening and some really good eating. Nice also to get out of the house and meet some of the Manchester foodie community.Thomas Restaurant & Bar 49-51 Thomas Street Manchester M4 1NA 0161 839 7033
Drunk nights out normally might end with a big greasy hot dog smothered in ketchup and mustard, but for this evening I decided to start with one. Port Street Beer House were playing host to Dirty Dogs. Getting away from tinned hot dogs, Dirty Dogs were offering a trio of quality dogs.
The three hot dogs on offer were a smoked pork sausage, a beef frank and a pork frank. Walking in the front door, I could already smell the hot dogs and onions from the grill so followed my nose out into the beer garden. What I hadn’t counted on was a queue. Not really knowing that there was big demand for these dogs, I queued patiently only to find that by the time I got to the front, they had run out of toppings. This was either poor planning or a testament to the popularity of these dogs.
So what did I end up with? I got the Beef frank without the toppings, but in their place I was given a mustard/ketchup lattice. The beef frank was great; good bite and salty flavour, but I really wanted to give those toppings a try. I was assured however by North West Nosh, who had thought to have one put aside for her, that they were great. I’ll just have to take her word on that one until I can track these Dirty Dogs down again and try the full thing for myself.
There are some strong opinions in Yorkshire about how a Yorkshire pudding should be made. Having said that there are generally strong opinions in Yorkshire on anything you care to ask a Yorkshireman about, but in this case they are justified. The consistency and shape of a Yorkshire pudding should be thick batter and quite flat. This is because it was traditionally served with gravy as a starter. It was designed to be a filling dish to compensate for a lack of meat in your main course.
Today however, meat is plentiful and Yorkshire pudding are light and are sometimes made to resemble a mushroom cloud explosion on a South Pacific island. At least that’s the case at the Parlour in Chorlton. Rated for having one of the best Sunday lunches in Britain by the Observer Food Monthly awards, the quality of every ingredient is expertly prepared. The Roast beef, provided by Chorlton’s own W. H. Frost (my favourite butcher) was cooked pink on the outside, browned on the out, but most importantly, the thinly sliced meat was moist and delicate. This was almost to the point at which it didn’t need the gravy, though I was glad it was there. Rich beef flavour and an even consistency coated the whole plate in a delicious, well prepared gravy.
Going back to the Yorkshire pudding though, I’m a purist and while the crisp, mega-pudding is eye-catching and tasty, I want the thick, chewy homemade style ones. So does that mean I didn’t enjoy the meal? Of course it doesn’t, Id be back there in a flash, but this is just proof that even with top quality ingredients and great cooking, you can’t please all of the people, all of the time.
This may sound like a negative end to this review but do believe me when I say, no matter how strong your opinions of Yorkshire pudding configuration, this is a lunch worthy of your Sunday afternoon.
Fine, this is a piece of shameless self promotion. Since the Observer Food Monthly aren’t kicking down my door yet to write any articles about my food, I’ll just have to write it up myself. Now I can’t really be looked to to give an objective view of my own food, which is awesome by the way, so this is mostly going to be photo based. The people were great, the food was delicious and the night was a brilliant experience for me and for the diners. So here’s how it all went.
The menu for the evening went something like this:
After a day and a half of prep, with the house not just the food, we were ready to host a few guests. To start everyone off we put out a taster of our pork infused bourbon. With a twist of orange peel and some maple syrup for sweetness, these were a real hit, even if one person did accidentally swallow the orange peel.
So how did all of this barbecue delight go down? Here are the pictures.
Having had some kind tips at the end of the evening and one person ask if we would adopt them, I’d put this down as a meal well done. For a first time out this was a successful venture but like all perfectionists, as soon as we finished I was already planning improvements for our next event. Roll on August and our Southern Summer Cookout…
Tucked away on the edge of Chinatown is a bedrock of the Chinese restaurant community since 1977. Yang Sing is a restaurant that’s often mentioned yet never have I visited. I’ve got my favourites in Chinatown: my favourite Cantonese restaurant, favourite Sichuan, favourite bakery, so why do I need another restaurant? In hindsight that’s a bit like saying “I’ve already got this block of gold, what the hell do I need another other one for?’
Yang Sing appears palatial upon entering through the entrance of rich dark woods into a dining room decorated in ornate wall paper and seemingly intimidating aura. The reality couldn’t have been further from the truth. Even after turning up (fashionably) late thus forcing the staff to put an extra seat at the table, the service was nothing short of delightful. Polite but still friendly and our host for the evening Bonnie was accommodating to a level I’ve rarely seen from a restaurant, especially considering the number of people in the group.
My first visit to Yang Sing was as part of the Gastro Club and as such, a fine banquet of a meal. To see how fine, I’ve included the menu below:
Now before you get too swept up in the pageantry of this menu (easily done), just take not of one interesting part of it. Specifically the part that says: ‘Our ostrich comes from a farm in Preston‘
A Preston based Ostrich farm? Really? Really! And here it is – Preston Ostrich Farm
On being presented with this dish, it looks like it’s just washed up on the beach and been scooped up onto your plate. I mean that in a good way of course; the noodles and the soy make this look like an assortment of seafood fare that’s been caught up in a razor clam in the tide. Great presentation and thankfully backed up with great flavour. The clams were excellently cooked with a good bite but soft texture. The soy adding the salt that the slightly seafood sweet clam balanced and the vermicelli giving the final substance to the dish. You could probably have a whole plate of these, but whose got room for that when you’ve got more dishes on the way.
From the mains there were two great dishes, the King Prawns in Saffron had a wonderful flavour of fresh garden peas. Considering the vibrant colour and mildly creamy texture of the sauce this was the last flavour I would have expected which led to me spouting the sentence ‘ It tastes like peas’ with a level of amazement that might suggest that I had just discovered the taste of peas for the first time and needed to inform the others. The prawns kept up their end of the deal in this dish to being plump and just the right amount of meatiness. The colour that the saffron infused into the sauce to give it a brilliant yellow without fear that you may be about to swallow a small chemistry sets worth of food colouring and e-numbers (I hope).
The Stir Fried Cheshire Pak Choi acompanied by longevity, prosperity and garlic cloves gets top marks for a poetically pleasing name but also for its taste. Pak Choi was crisp in a broth base with the flavour of garlic and duck eggs mildly seasoned and spiced to give this dish a refreshing quality typically only found in chinese dishes. The part I particularly enjoyed was the whole garlic cloves which had been mellowed by the broth leaving them with just the subtle undertone of garlic as you bit through them.
Tjhe one dish I wouldn’t have expected to be talking about by the end of the night was the dessert. When someone says to you strawberries and popping candy, it doesn’t put you in mind of a Heston Blumenthal classic. Having said that though, this dish prompted more conversation around the table than any other. The strawberries were perfectly ripe and packed with the sweet, moreish fruit juice that you hope for but never get in supermarket strawberries. The popping candy melted into the side of the soft strawberry flesh and was already partially popping before you got it in your mouth. Then you just sit back and let the popping candy do the work. The simplicity of this dessert was such a great decision at the end of this lavish meal that it felt refreshing and reinvigorated the room. Wouldn’t have traded it for any other dessert at that point.
By the end of the meal, that seemingly intimidated dinning room seemed a lot cosier and a more relaxing place to be. I think that’s part of the charm to this restaurant, that beneath the imposing appearance is a warm inviting place to eat. You may even want to just drop in for some dim sum and a sit down, but should you want the full banquet experience, there’s enough here to satisfy.