International Food Porn

13 Jan

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:

Oxnoble (Castlefield, Manchester)

30 Nov

by Annabelle Williams

(Just to make you aware, this was a free meal offered by the pub. Wanted to let you know that)
Not being particularly well versed on Georgian potatoes, I had assumed the Oxnoble to be named after some kind of valiant bullock. Clearly, this made more sense when it was explained to us that we were sitting in Potato wharf… ‘but of course’.  Inside, the Oxnoble feels like a ‘proper pub’. There’s a log fire, there’s woods beams, there’s tinsel (?) and there’s also a really warm, convivial atmosphere. Generally lovely.
A 'proper pub' - The Oxnoble

A ‘proper pub’ – The Oxnoble

Alex, the manager gave us a brief history on ‘Potato wharf’ and the prominence of that particular spud being sold just over the road, back in the day (1804). It was interesting to hear his vision and how he’s keen to remain true to the pubs roots whilst also offering food that’s a little different (I see you, Pan fried wigeon breast). Also important to the pubs ethos is the ability to source local produce, to which the chef has a pretty free rein, I like that kind of freedom, always have. Alex encouraged us to give genuine feedback on our experience of the meal and so we began….
Ham Hock Terrine

Ham Hock Terrine

For the starter we began with a Ham Hock Terrine served with curried chutney. This wouldn’t be something I would normally choose, and infact I didn’t, Nina did. I tried it though, rich, curried, cold. I’m sure well cooked, but not my thing.
Pan fried wigeon breast

Pan fried wigeon breast (starter – Specials menu)

The Pan fried wigeon was pretty damn lovely, though the fact  I’ve been unable to get the phrase ‘the cat amongst the Wigeons’ into this review in a clever way feels like a failing. I don’t know how many of you have tried Widgeon before but it’s a little duck, a dabbling duck. To be fair, I chose this dish as it seemed an unlikely starter, but also because it was served with black pudding mash, chocolate red cabbage and green beans and it sounded like it had sass. True enough it was a small bundle of full on flavour and nice to try something I’d not encountered before. Success.
I’d just like to stop at this point to acknowledge my confusion over the two menu’s which seemed a little disparate in terms of price point and produce. Whilst I like the philosophy that most people could eat here, I’m not sure if one menu is to the others detriment? The two for £10 (which I think is bloody good value) just feels like a completely different offering than say the Braised venison. Not an issue for me enjoying my meal but potentially making it harder to truly promote whilst it’s being all things to all people. Anyway, on to the mains..
Braised venison shank

Braised venison shank (main – Specials menu)

Bearing in mind my plus 1 (hey Nina!) is not often a meat eater I was a little taken aback nay, astounded, that she chose this. As it’s brought out of the kitchen this is the type of dish that commands attention, presented as an imposing structure sat on a bed of bubble and squeak.  I don’t want to have to talk about meat falling off the bone and yet here I am…this isn’t a portion for the faint-hearted though, I would suggest you try and finish it only if perhaps you pursued the deer, caught it with your hands, and broke its spirit over a series of days…
Corn fed chicken breast

Corn fed chicken breast (main – specials)

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. 


Chocolate and Hazelnut dessert

Chocolate and Hazelnut terrine (dessert – Specials menu)

Nina and I were split on this one however I was pretty excited to have another terrine that wasn’t made of ham, and found the cherry kirsch to be a nice sour counterpart to the richness of the chocolate.

In summary, despite my turmoil over the double menu the Oxnoble is a cracking pub that I would happily eat in again. I like that there’s not a pub like this on every street corner, I like that the chef’s classically trained and I really like that it serves beautifully cooked food without a hint of pretension. I expect that it continues to be popular, because it’s easy to support a pub like this. Although not hidden away, finding such a place in the city centre which doesn’t feel like the space it inhabits can sometimes be pretty damn precious.

Ski Club – Manchester

21 Nov

Bring me a cocktail and the thickest woolly cardigan you have please… image courtesy of SundaePR

(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.

Arancini balls of doooom

Alpine Meats and Cheese platter – £12

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.

Red Velvet Cobbler – just delicious

The Liquorist – Tequila Trail

15 Nov

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.

The treasure map – image courtesy of Google Maps

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.

The Don – Don Julio Tequila

Mango and Rosemary Margerita

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.

Margarita in a mug. Just the way mum used to serve 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.

TripAdvisor does Manchester

10 Oct

It was our first birthday last week ! So are we doing what we set out to do? The whole reason that I started this blog was to share some of the best food in Manchester, so being one year old, I wanted to see what a phenomenal impact I’d had on the world and the restaurant review landscape of the internet. Surprisingly not that much, but I did find a few interesting things. When looking at the view of food and dining in Manchester, the first place to look is on the review websites.
For visitors who don’t know any better though, you may come across TripAdvisor’s restaurant review. I wanted to show you a few choice examples of where TripAdvisor is suggesting. Bare in mind, the numbers represent how HIGHLY rated these places are. Here goes:

Pacifica Cantonese

#2 of 903 restaurants in Manchester

Photos of Pacifica Cantonese (Manchester), Manchester
This photo of Pacifica Cantonese (Manchester) is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Bizarrely, I’ve had the pleasure of eating here. It’s fairly middle of the road Cantonese food and not a single thing about the menu stood out to me. I can’t for the life of me work out who thought this was a fantastic restaurant. I can’t for the life of me think why this is so highly rated and certainly not anywhere I’ve ever heard anyone talk about. Maybe I missed something while I was there, because judging by the comments, we should all be trying to get a table here.
I felt that my confusion was summed up by John H of Eccles, who gave Pacifica Cantonese a rave review for its excellence with somewhat contradictory  title “Never fails to dis-appoint……….”

Krispy Kreme

#35 of 903 Restaurants in Manchester

Photos of krispy kreme, Manchester
This photo of krispy kreme is courtesy of TripAdvisor

I like Krispy Kreme. It’s a great little treat, especially every now and then after suffering Death by Trafford Centre. Not only do I like the place, but as you can see from the adorable photo that someone put on  TripAdvisor, so do kids. It’s position in this restaurant list however,  I just have to chalk up as an anomaly  Not only is it 35 in a list of 903 restaurant in Manchester, but it is suggesting that Krispy Kreme is more highly considered than the following restaurants:

  • The Grill on the Alley (#41)
  • San Carlo (#49)
  • Yuzu (#54)
  • El Rincon de Rafa (#74)
  • Bakerie (#84 and Winner of Manchester Food and Drink Festival ‘Newcomer of the Year’ award)
  • Sam’s Chop House (#100)
  • Sweet Mandarin (#111)
  • Almost Famous (#147 and Winner of Manchester Food and Drink Festival ‘Food Pioneer’ award)
  • Yang Sing (#196)

You get the point anyway. Now I accept that these are personal opinions and that Krispy Kreme may be frequented by more people therefore receive more reviews, however this is not a good situation. If I’m looking through this list, am I getting an accurate guidance on where to eat? I some what doubt it. There is also the question of what it is doing to the better restaurants in our city. Are they getting any of the recognition that they should be getting through review sites. Well, take a look at the next one and I’ll let you tell me.


#3 of 14 Restaurants in Prestwich

Photos of Aumbry, Prestwich
This photo of Aumbry is courtesy of TripAdvisor

After their recent double success of wining Manchester Food and Drink Festival ‘Restaurant of the Year’ and the National Restaurant Awards listed it as the 57th Best Restaurant in the country, Aumbry seem to be setting the standard for dining in Greater Manchester… well not on Trip Advisor as they still trail behind Rare Grill and Restaurant and The Prachee. See for yourself here. Hopefully this may change soon.

In case you thought that was odd, Urbanspoon currently have Aumbry sharing a level pegging with the surely well-renowned ‘China Xpress’. Not heard of it? Well unless you’ve been getting your Chinese takeaway from Bury, then you probably wouldn’t have.

Joint-57th Best restaurant in the country? I doubt it. – image courtesy of Google Street View

So what does all of this tell us? Well if you’re a hardcore foodie, you probably know better than all of this and we know that one person’s great food is another person’s mediocre. However, there is a point to be made here. The point is that there is a major outlet for tourist information out there, giving a warped perspective of the dining options available in this city.

I have used Trip Advisor in other cities while on holiday to find places to eat when we’ve been stuck for ideas, but after these little revelations I may have to think again before trusting my dinner choices to these sites. I feel motivated to start leaving reviews and feedback, not just dismissing review websites as something to take from but never give back to.

While I’m not trying to start a moral crusade of ‘do-gooders’ leaving their informed opinions about restaurants, I would suggest that people use this as a warning that not all is as it seems when it comes to restaurant review websites.

Thomas Restaurant (Northern Quarter, Manchester)

6 Sep

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.

Potted Smoked Duck Breast

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’.

Yorkshire Lamb Shank

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.

Artichoke Risotto

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.

Tart Tatin

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.

Lemon Tart

Thomas Tiramisu

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
M4 1NA
0161 839 7033

Solita (Northern Quarter, Manchester)

9 Aug

NB I’d like to point out that I was invited to a free evening before the opening of the restaurant and did not pay for my food and drink, however I have still written an independent review.

If you’re looking for reviews of Solita, there are plenty to choose from. Given their expert courting of the restaurant reviewing and food blogging communities of Manchester, they’ve managed to get the kind of press coverage typically reserved for a small-scale city-council scandal.

I must admit, I liked the place. The food was really good quality, the staff were friendly and despite the fact that the target dempographic came off a bit as being ‘All things to all men’, there was a clear vibe to the place that said that great food was the first and foremost focus.

So everything you need to know about this menu has already been blogged. Hungry Hoss gave the place a fair and thorough menu review (though I’m fairly sure he’s been adopted as the unofficial mascot of Solita judging by the Twitter feed), Things To Do in Manchester confessed to a new-found Bacon Jam addiction thanks to the menu and Andrew Stevenson made no bones about the areas for improvements, as well as praising some of its ingenuity.

So what am I bringing to the metaphorical table then. Well, the place mats of course.

Allow me to explain. One of the points that stood out to me in this stylish red leather and black wood bar was that the place mats on the table were also the menus. Seemed at odds with the slick look, but it worked, but the thing that it was missing were some descriptions of the items. You don’t want to have to break out your smartphone at the table and pull up a blog to find out what the Pulled pork sundae or the salt cod balls are all about do you? Of course not! So I’ve made a new menu. This one gives you a bit of a heads up about the dishes. It’s a menu and a restaruant review, or for those of you who like a good portmanteau (two or more words bashed together to make one new word) its a ‘Revmenu’ of a ‘Restremenu’. Just print out a copy and take it with you. You’re guarunteed to be considered a sophisticated, ‘in the know’ sort of diner.

If anyone does take a printed copy of this with you, please, please, please send me a photo.An entire review condensed into a menu sized print out.

Your new A3 placemat menu, just print off and take with you.

What more could you want? Now run along you cheeky scamp and grab yourself a Pulled Pork sundae and some Salt Cod Balls.

Dirty Dog Hot Dog’s (Manchester)

3 Aug

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.

Great looking menu – Courtesy of Dirty 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.

The Bare Naked Hot Dog

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.

The Parlour (Chorlton)

19 Jul

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.

Heavenly beef, top class roast spuds and that Yorkshire pud

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.

Competition – Barbecue Taste Testers Wanted

19 Jul

We urgently need your help! We are cooking up huge quantities of barbecue food to make sure that our recipes are perfect for our Southern Summer Barbecue but we need someone to help us taste it all.

If you have what it takes to kick back with us in the yard, sample barbecue food, sip on a beer or a bourbon and just generally be cool, then you’re the person we’re looking for.

You have 48 hours from the time the competition opens (12:00 GMT BST, 19th July 2012) to get on Twitter and retweet one of our competition tweets or alternatively, just tell the world why you should be our barbecue taste tester with the hashtag #southernbarbecuetime


  • You will need to be able to get to the Chorlton area on the afternoon of 5th August and have an hour or two to spare
  • There are two positions available for this role and we will allow one guest for each person
  • The competition will close at 12:00 BST on 21st July 2012 and the winner will be announced on Sunday 22nd July 2012
  • Details of the day will then be emailed to you
  • You may not get to try the entire menu, but there will be plenty of good meats, sides, sauces and bourbon to keep you going

Good luck and hope to see you soon.