Archive | November, 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.