Archive | October, 2011

Fire, Salt and Grits

31 Oct

Can't even remember what this cocktail was called but look at it. It comes with cheese for God's sake!!

Searing summer heat radiates down as we walk across the bleached white stone-covered car park. The wooden shack we’re heading to is cobbled together from a blend on mesh, stone and timber covered in flaking paint. This fragile-lookingstructure holds something much more wondrous than you would imagine; the finest smoked brisket, sausage and ribs in Texas.

I don’t normally start a review of one restaurant by talking about another; however the taste of good home-style ‘Deep South’ barbeque takes me back to that smoke shed in Texas. Southern 11 fits nicely into Spinningfields by pulling off the slick interior and ambient lighting which almost seems to be a pre-requisite for restaurant ownership in the area, however much like that shack in Texas, the appearance is misleading (I’m not sure if I’ve over-used my trip to Texas enough in this post yet… I went to Texas you know). Inside you’ll find a restaurant that is putting out plates of authentic barbeque food and at very reasonable prices.

A few of the states that make up 'The Southern Eleven'

I took a few friends along with me so that we could eat party style: a few mains and all the sides we could stomach. Fried chicken, smoked beef brisket, pork ribs and pulled pork.  The smoke cooked meat is always tender due to the low heat and long cooking process allowing the meat to retain all its moisture while absorbing the smoky flavour. The pulled pork was a great example of this, being salty, moist and beautifully flavoured by the hickory smoke.  As I said in my previous blog from the Manchester Food and Drink festival, the only slight disappointment (and I do say slight) is the brisket. A slow smoked brisket (8 hours or more) will have what’s called a smoke ring running through the meat demonstrating how much flavour it’s holding. This is where the ribs swing into play to save the day. Tender, meaty and embalmed in a sticky BBQ glaze, they hit you with the sweet bbq sauce before delivering the finishing blow with the great rib flavour.

Ribs and fries served on a slab of wood

All of that’s great but you need a break from all of that meat, so I started to work through the sides. The parmesan truffle fries were just exceptional. Never before have I been so wowed by chips, but a cheesy, intense flavour from a light, crispy chip is too good not to rave about. The barbeque beans were a favourite on the table and avoided the trap of just being beans in a gloopy BBQ sauce. The spices in the sauce cut through the sauce creating a warming sensation inside that is as much emotional as physical. My personal favourite side though had to be the sweet corn pudding. Now this I had never come across. I think Nigella Lawson summed this dish up better than I could as ‘particularly gratifying’. A sweet, sticky side that goes excellently on pulled pork over some jalapeno cornbread.

Ok, you've got yer bbq beans, yer cornbread and yer sweetcorn pudd'n

My main was the Southern Chicken dinner. The name alone sparks the image of a home-cooked fried chicken dinner that the dish itself more than delivers. The chicken is tasty with a beautifully crisp skin that has great flavour. Add to this a slather of sausage gravy and that cripsy skin is excellently complemented. The Pulled pork however is a personal favourite of mine. Slow cooked, traditionally over an open barbeque pit, this pork is so soft it can literally just be pulled from the bone in strips. Great with the sides or just on its own I took more than my fair share from my girlfriend’s plate.

Winner, Winner, Chicken dinner.

What more can I say, the atmosphere was lively, the food was great, the service was friendly if occasionally duplicated with our drinks arriving several times and to cap it all of the cocktail menu was great. I got so many great shots from the meal that I’m putting even more on the facebook page. The best type of cooking is the kind that evokes emotions and pulls you straight back to another time or place. Southern 11 has this quality in spades and I didn’t even make it to the dessert menu. Still, there’s always next time.

Southern 11 on Urbanspoon

Manchester Food and Drink – Round up

24 Oct


The Manchester Food and Drink Festival has been and gone for another year. For those of you who made the most of it, visited events, ate a lot drank even more and hopefully learned something, this post is a warm reminder of a well spent week and a half. For those that didn’t get the chance or just didn’t have the time to get out and taste it, take heed, as this is a quick round up of some of the restaurants and general purveyors of good grub you need to be keeping your eyes peeled for. Here is my quick round up of some of the best food at the festival hub

Round 1

The Festival hub at Albert Square was filled with food stall and caravans as you may have noticed, a lot of them changed during the week. This was all part of the plan as the food stalls were planned in two ‘stages’. The highlights of Round 1 include:

Almost Famous – From the guys at Home Sweet Home comes Almost Famous. First up for two reasons; 1. They were the first stall I went to and 2. Their chilli dog was so good it’s still making my mouth water right now. Thick, rich chilli (US style not UK style), a splash of good mustard, a well toasted bun and a good quality juicy hot dog combined to bring me back here a second time. As a side note, the burgers were excellent quality and easily on par with the dog, but I couldn’t bring myself to attempt their Double Double burger. Mega.

Chilli Dog of Delight

Slow/Fast– Masterchef finalist Tom Whittaker was on fantastic form throughout the festival, and being directly next door to Almost Famous meant it was a short trip to more amazing food. The Black pudding and fennel sausage roll was deliciously salty, surrounded by light crispy pastry. Being asked whether I wanted gravy on it was just the icing on the cake (and also the gravy on the sausage roll).

Pork, Black pudding and fennel Sausage roll

Home Sweet Home– For the sweet toothed segment of the evening, we went across to Home Sweet Home, while I loved the look of the place and had a chat with the guys serving, my friend was less than impressed with them. Not because of the food, but because when I said I’d agreed to come over to ‘hold his hand’, he may have possibly said that my he only looked about seven years old… and I may have gone along with this statement for comic effect. Anyway, putting that aside, the chocolate brownie was dense, moist and the right sugar to chocolate ratiomade it tasty but not sickly.

The scene of the crime for shockingly good brownies

Memsahib Eastern Eatery– Towards the end of our evening, after several ales had gone down nicely me and my friends were sat our under the big gazebo as the rain lashed down watching it all go off at the silent desk, naturally I wanted a Lamb Karahi with a freshly made naan bread. Oh look, Memsahib Eastern Eatery are serving them! Fancy that. The Karahi ticked all the right boxes with a thick sauce, well spiced with a dry heat to it that is not that commonly found in take away curries and the fresh hot naan soaked up the sauce perfectly I didn’t even have to lick the bottom of the box.

Tikka and Karahi, together in harmony

So that was round 1, but what about the next wave of gastro-street food. Ding Ding,

Round 2

Mauritian Street Food – I know so little about Mauritius that I had to look it up on a map before writing this article. It’s east of Madagascar by the way. There is however one thing I know about Mauritius; if there street food is this good, I’d happily go tomorrow. The two snacks on offer were a Du Pan Frier which was a fried chickpea roti (I think, I didn’t write it down at the time) served with spicy sauce and chopped chillies and a cocktail umbrella to top it off. As the spicy sauce also seemed to be tomato based it added a fresh taste to the fried snack which meant there was no risk of this being too greasy or crisp. The Chaud Roti was a tasty wrap with a butter bean and spicy sauce. Both were delicious and both would warrant a trip. The Mauritian Street Food ‘van’ tours the country so if you want to see where they are next, check out their website at www.mauritianstreetfood.co.uk

Southern 11 – Since going to their street food stall, I have also eaten at their restaurant and the quality of their street food made the transfer pretty well from the restaurant. The choice was good between the brisket, pulled pork and burger. We went for the brisket. Having been lucky enough to have eaten in one of the best BBQ shacks in Texas, I’m a hard man to impress when it comes to smoked brisket. This one was not world class, only being smoked for 4 hours but it was a well-cooked piece of meat., Having tried their menu in full, there are plenty of great options, with the pulled pork being some of the best I’ve ever tasted.

Manchester Egg– Every great city needs its signature dishes. To quote comedian Stewart Lee, not every town needs a cake named after it, but I would argue that having an egg named after it should be a bloody necessity. Manchester egg takes a normal pickled egg and coats it in black pudding and sausage with breadcrumbs. What a flavour sensation. The salt and vinegary taste of the pickled egg alone made my taste buds sing, though possibly also my arteries harden a little. Add in a little chutney and you’re onto the perfect bar snack. Trying to take one of these in hand, the crumbliness of the coating meant I was taking massive bites, to stop bits of it falling away. You almost couldn’t imagine a snack like this coming from anywhere else other than Manchester.

The Great Manchester Egg

Woodburns Espresso Pizza Bar – Towards the end of another Saturday evening at the festival hub, we wanted one last tasty treat to keep us going for the tram ride home, queue Woodburns. Operating out of a classic Citroën van serving espresso and Italian style pizzas as first seen in London espresso bars in the 1950’s. The pizza was made in front of you and offered up with a selection of toppings. The wood burning cookers give the thin base that great crisp flavour. This was all we needed to end the day and the festival right. Fresh ham and mushroom pizza, the buzz of the festival and fading light left us leaving the hub with plenty to talk about and burn off on the walk back.Wood fired pizza

Secrets from a Kosher Kitchen

20 Oct

The finisher: Amazing Cheesecake

Disclaimer: This is actually the second draft of this article, because the first one I wrote was part lies and part not very interesting.  The reality of the below is that I enjoyed the idea of this evening more than I actually enjoyed some of the dishes. This revision is at least more honest, if not quite as complentary and hopefully is slightly less of a car crash than the first draft.  It is also hopefully slightly more interesting…

‘Secrets from a Kosher Kitchen’ on Monday 10th October was the Manchester Jewish Museum’s contribution to the Manchester Food and Drink Festival. The event was a way to introduce Jewish tradition and culture as well as the idea of Kosher food and what determines wether a meal is Kosher. For a (lapse) Catholic boy like myself, this sounded like a very different cultural and culinary experience.

Learning with dinner

The main hall where we sat reminded me of being taken to church as a child. The rich smell of the wooden benches and the feel of worn carpet underfoot on an uneven floor made me feel strangely nostalgic in unfamiliar surrounding.

The meal began with an introduction to the two styles of cooking we would be eating. Ashkenazi (Eastern European Jewish) food and Sephardi (Middle Eastern Jewish) food. What I would love to do now is fly into an illustrative description of the cuisine and its cultural significance but there the  sheer volume of information we were presented with on the night (whilst eating) means that I am having trouble putting it into a narative. So instead, I’ll try to put what I can into the descriptions of the food.

Mmmm, Jewish Penicillin

Each course was a small taster to introduce some of the flavours of these two cuisines. The requirements of Kosher law meant that Ashkenazi and Sephardi cuisine developed from the foods which were available which could be prepared to be Kosher in those regions. One thing that was made clear to at the start of the evening was that there/ isn’t really such a thing as a Kosher dish. Its not really about the type of food, more how the food is prepared and the treatment of the food. Therefore, you could make a Kosher dish out of almost any dish. However as we worked through the menu, there were a few dishes which could be called ‘traditionally’ Jewish.

The chopped herring with matzo crackers and chrane mixed the dry crisp crackers with an unusual lightly sweetened fish, a combination I would never have put together. Even that most recognisable of dishes known as Jewish  penicillin: Chicken soup. The great broth with noodles and filling dumplings made me feel like I should have been wrapped in a warm blanket next to a roaring fire.

Tzimmes: Tastes better than it looks

The real surprises of the evening were the dishes I wasn’t expecting. Tzimmes was a revelation to me. A dish of chopped carrots mixed with sugar and dried fruits. The carrots are cut into rounds and are meant to look like coins. This is a common Jewish New Years dish to symbolise prosperity for the new year. I certainly prospered from having tasted these (Sorry, bad joke – and they were a bit too sweet).

The Hameen (Hamine) eggs were another great example. A Saphardi dish in which the eggs are boiled in their shells over night in a meat stew, they take on the flavour and colour of the stew, with some developing a marbled effect.

'Marbled' egg

The baked omelette was a really unusual dish. Served cold, these two omelettes made with spinich and leek were another example of a dish you wouldn’t expect to be sweet but really was. this was particularly true of the leek, which tasted close to caramalised onion was not my favourite dish of the evening, but like most of the dishes on this menu, it was like nothing I had tried before.

Leek or Spinich Baked Omelette? It's a tough choice...

The highlight of the evenings food was the sweet and creamy cheesecake, ahh the cheesecake, if they’d served it in table sized portions i would have belly flopped into it before doing my best Pacman impression.   The cake has no base, is pure cheese-cream and is perfectly sweetened and is available from Kosher Delights on Leicester Rd, Prestwich.

All of the dishes, the descriptions and the people we got to eat with were what made this a great evening. It was a meal that was also an experience, and all good meals should be an experience.

Kosher crackers

Links:

Manchester Jewish Museum website

Manchester Jewish Museum blog

What’s with the bacon, Mr Black?

10 Oct

A short blog really to talk about a one of the best bacon sandwiches I’ve ever had. Hickson and Black in is one of the relative newcomers to the deli scene in Chorlton but made a good name for itself. The deli / cafe has all the classic deli ingredients: fine cheeses, cured meats and olives the size of your head.

On Friday night we had a friend staying who had come up from ‘that London’. We’d had a few at the Horse and Jockey’s beer festival followed by some 7 year Rum back at ours. All of this adds up to the need for a good hangover breakfast.

One of the secret weapons that Hickson & Black’s has in its arsenal is the bread. From the bloomers to the barms to the bagels, I have never managed to find a baked product here that I don’t enjoy.  However if you find yourself ordering a Bacon barm from here, you’ll come up against a killer combination of the beautifully crusted yet light bread coupled with bacon so finely cured you’d swear it had been cured in even more bacon.

I dare say as I get round more of the delis in Manchester, I will add to the list of great bacon sandwich providers, but for now this is on my recommend to visit list.

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Asha’s (Birmingham City Centre)

5 Oct

(Yes, this is not a restaurant in Manchester. A poor first showing for a blog about food and drink in Manchester, but forgive me this one as it is well worth the journey if you’re in Birmingham)

Asha's Entrance

Certain things help to announce the arrival of the weekend better than a professional announcer announcing the arrival of a new personal announcement system. My favourite one of these is a Friday Night Curry. So you can picture the delight on my face when I found myself at one of the finest curry houses in Birmingham; Asha’s.

Anyone who knows curry, knows that Birmingham spoils you for choice and that there is some debate about the best curry house in town. Many will side with Lasan, made even more famous by its appearance on that Gordon Ramsey programme (just checked, it was the F word), however there are people who will tell you Asha’s is better, namely some people I spoke to. I haven’t been to Lasan yet so I can’t comment, but Asha’s is definitely worth your time.

Food

Straight to business. You can’t go far wrong on this menu as it is not the small telephone directory of curries you find in some restaurants. The portions are not mean either. Say a big yes to the poppadoms. This is a fine call as there is a selection of plain and seeded poppadoms to go with the four great dips.

Amazing dips. I like the green one

We started off with the Fish Amaritsari (£5.95). The mint and cardamom really came through which is pretty impressive for a fried fish cake. The batter was light, dry and crisp outside but the inside mixed with the fish to give a really meaty texture. Here was a thin strip of sauce across the plate which tasted like tamarind which was so deliciously sweet with the meaty fish that I could have had a jug of it.

For the main, we went to town. The last time I was here we ordered the Tandoori Raan (£24.95) which was a sumptuous leg of lamb so tender it lept willingly off the bone and onto your fork, however it is overfacing and I wanted to try something different.  The Chicken Dhaba Curry  (£13.95) though prepared in a ‘road-side’ style had an incredibly delicate and zesty flavour to it. This went perfectly with the Peshwari naan which tempered the zest and let you enjoy the succulent chicken.

The Panjim Fish curry didn’t light up my world but the richness of the flavour and the flaky fish were just what the meal needed. For the veggie option we took the Hare Baingan Ka Bartha which consisted of a beautiful roasted aubergine dish that works so well on its own I just eat it from the dish.

One of the other nice touches here is the drinks

menu. The list of cocktails is extensive for a restaurant and as the bar is a great stand alone feature of the restaurant, they are professionally made. The Asha’s Spiced Tea was brilliantly refreshing but I thought the drinks menu did a better selling job than I could so ‘Premium vodka, gin, spiced rum and tequila shaken with fresh pressed lime juice and chai syrup served long over ice and charged with ginger beer.

Service

Normally not a major concern. Either the service is good and you’re happy or its shocking and you try to trip the waiter up as he ignores you and rushes past your table (honestly never done that). Here it was a little different. Our server gave us some recommendations, such as the peshwari nann with the Dhaba curry, which work to make the meal that little bit better. If I were rating the service I would give it 5 tricycles…and that’s why I don’t give ratings

Get yourself to Asha’s if your in Birmingham and if you’re not in Birmingham, they have convenient locations in Kuwait, Qatar, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain, so you have no excuses not to go. Chop Chop!

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Asha's on Urbanspoon