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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.
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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.

www.thomasrestaurant.co.uk

Thomas Restaurant & Bar
49-51 Thomas Street
Manchester
M4 1NA
0161 839 7033

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.

14 North (Isle of Man)

5 Jul

Tower of Refuge – image courtesy of Wikipedia

Within Douglas bay in the Isle of Man is St. Mary’s Isle or the ‘Tower of Refuge’. Built as a refuge for shipwrecked sailors in 1832, it was commissioned by Sir William Hillary, founder of the Royal National Lifeboat Institute. Looking out at this seemingly submerging keep in the bay, you may ask why the architect designed it to look like a castle but you may equally well ask ‘Why would you stop there if you’re that close to the shore?’ The same could be said about finding a great meal on the promenade at Douglas. So why would you stop here when just five minutes down the harbour you can find 14 North.

The entrance to this little restaurant was a welcome sight to escape from the summer rain as we arrived. Led up the small staircase to the first floor dining room, the restaurant had a cosy intimacy that puts you at ease quickly, making it a more relaxing meal.

Diving straight into the menu I began eyeing up some good-looking dishes and because it was a business trip, this meal was going to be a bit of a feast. For the starter, I opted for the Goats cheese terrine. The cheese itself was flavoursome, with a creamy textured flavour. The beetroot puree added sharper overtones to the creamy cheese flavour and was topped with the flavour of the pickled beetroot. The sharp beetroot flavour giving way to the smooth cheese meant each mouthful left you wanting that tanginess from the next bite. Moreish stuff.

goats cheese terrine with pickled beetroot, beetroot puree and toast

Along side our starters, we were presented with a plate of queenies. A bit of a delicacy from the waters of the Isle of Man, this plate of Queen scallops were exceptional. Served up in a garlic butter and pesto sauce, the clean seafood flavour of the scallop shone through in what was an amazing example of fine scallops.

Queenies in garlic butter and scallops

Before moving onto our main course, we tried out some of the flatbreads. The original mozzarella flatbread was well made and had a deliciously firm dough base, but the winner out of the two that we ordered was the Smoked cheddar flatbread. Smokey, tangy cheddar atop tomato and mozzarella with red onions and sauteed potatoes. Sauteed potatoes were a small stroke of genius, adding a chunky bite to the smoked cheese flavour. Too rich to eat in quantity, but just right between courses with its convolution of flavours. I’d describe it is a high-end comfort food dish.

Smoked cheddar flatbread with sautéed potatoes and red onions

For mains, the roasted hake grabbed my eye. Served on a bacon mash with green beans and a mustard cream sauce. My personal favourite aspect of this dish was the rasher of bacon, cooked crispy and protruding from the hake. Even when having a sophisticated meal with colleagues, a big piece of bacon still makes me smile more than it should. The hake still stood up for itself though. Beautifully cooked to ensure the meatiness in each bite did not prevent the fish from flaking evenly and in full pieces. The roasting kept the fish moist meaning it was great too with the bacon mash. The mustard sauce was creamy, spicy and combined with the mash made a flavourful mix of salt and mustard spice. The sauce almost overpowered the fish but it all managed to hold together with the green beans to make a well-balanced and warming dish.

roasted hake, bacon mash potato, green beans and a mustard cream sauce

Rounding this meal off, mainly because I was physically running out of room to eat much more, I had my arm twisted to try the vanilla fudge cheesecake. Beautiful. Just beautiful. Taking the typical cheesecake topping and adding in a velvety rich fudge made the texture almost like a thick marshmallow spread. Sweet and chewy with a crunchy base. Too rich to finish after all of that but well worth the effort.

Vanilla fudge cheesecake

Leaving was hard, not just because I was weighed down by a massive meal but it was also a fantastic experience that I didn’t want to end. I’ll certainly be back again the next time I make it across the water and this will definitely be the only refuge I need.