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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

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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