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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.

Aumbry

#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.

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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

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

Details:

  • 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.

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.

Yang Sing – Gastro Club (Chinatown, Manchester)

21 Jun

Have a look around the dining room

Tucked away on the edge of Chinatown is a bedrock of the Chinese restaurant community since 1977. Yang Sing is a restaurant that’s often mentioned yet never have I visited. I’ve got my favourites in Chinatown: my favourite Cantonese restaurant, favourite Sichuan, favourite bakery, so why do I need another restaurant? In hindsight that’s a bit like saying “I’ve already got this block of gold, what the hell do I need another other one for?’

Yang Sing appears palatial upon entering through the entrance of rich dark woods into a dining room decorated in ornate wall paper and seemingly intimidating aura. The reality couldn’t have been further from the truth. Even after turning up (fashionably) late thus forcing the staff to put an extra seat at the table, the service was nothing short of delightful. Polite but still friendly and our host for the evening Bonnie was accommodating to a level I’ve rarely seen from a restaurant, especially considering the number of people in the group. 

My first visit to Yang Sing was as part of the Gastro Club and as such, a fine banquet of a meal. To see how fine, I’ve included the menu below:

Menu from the Gastro Club evening at Yang Sing

 

Now before you get too swept up in the pageantry of this menu (easily done), just take not of one interesting part of it. Specifically the part that says: ‘Our ostrich comes from a farm in Preston

A Preston based Ostrich farm? Really? Really! And here it is – Preston Ostrich Farm

But we’ll come back to that in due course. Firstly, you need an overview of this seemingly overfacing menu, so let talk about some of the highlights on offer here. First and foremost is a great dish, the Steamed razor clams crowned with vermicelli, golden garlic and premium soy.

Steamed razor clams crowned with vermicelli, golden garlic and premium soy

On being presented with this dish, it looks like it’s just washed up on the beach and been scooped up onto your plate. I mean that in a good way of course; the noodles and the soy make this look like an assortment of seafood fare that’s been caught up in a razor clam in the tide. Great presentation and thankfully backed up with great flavour. The clams were excellently cooked with a good bite but soft texture. The soy adding the salt that the slightly seafood sweet clam balanced and the vermicelli giving the final substance to the dish. You could probably have a whole plate of these, but whose got room for that when you’ve got more dishes on the way.

From the mains there were two great dishes, the King Prawns in Saffron had a wonderful flavour of fresh garden peas. Considering the vibrant colour and mildly creamy texture of the sauce this was the last flavour I would have expected which led to me spouting the sentence ‘ It tastes like peas’ with a level of amazement that might suggest that I had just discovered the taste of peas for the first time and needed to inform the others. The prawns kept up their end of the deal in this dish to being plump and just the right amount of meatiness. The colour that the saffron infused into the sauce to give it a brilliant yellow without fear that you may be about to swallow a small chemistry sets worth of food colouring and e-numbers (I hope).

King prawns with saffron sauce

Can you see any of the garlic in there? Trust me, its there.

The Stir Fried Cheshire Pak Choi acompanied by longevity, prosperity and garlic cloves gets top marks for a poetically pleasing name but also for its taste. Pak Choi was crisp in a broth base with the flavour of garlic and duck eggs mildly seasoned and spiced to give this dish a refreshing quality typically only found in chinese dishes. The part I particularly enjoyed was the whole garlic cloves which had been mellowed by the broth leaving them with just the subtle undertone of garlic as you bit through them.

Tjhe one dish I wouldn’t have expected to be talking about by the end of the night was the dessert. When someone says to you strawberries and popping candy, it doesn’t put you in mind of a Heston Blumenthal classic. Having said that though, this dish prompted more conversation around the table than any other. The strawberries were perfectly ripe and packed with the sweet, moreish fruit juice that you hope for but never get in supermarket strawberries. The popping candy melted into the side of the soft strawberry flesh and was already partially popping before you got it in your mouth. Then you just sit back and let the popping candy do the work. The simplicity of this dessert was such a great decision at the end of this lavish meal that it felt refreshing and reinvigorated the room. Wouldn’t have traded it for any other dessert at that point.

Strawberry and popping candy mash-up

By the end of the meal, that seemingly intimidated dinning room seemed a lot cosier and a more relaxing place to be. I think that’s part of the charm to this restaurant, that beneath the imposing appearance is a warm inviting place to eat. You may even want to just drop in for some dim sum and a sit down, but should you want the full banquet experience, there’s enough here to satisfy.

Yang Sing on Urbanspoon

You f’coffee? – Nespresso Boutique (Manchester)

26 Mar

Being a blogger has finally started paying off. I’m of course talking about freebies. Thanks to a fellow blogger, I scored my first free press-only event and felt like a winner. Problem is, now I’m tainted. How can I  write an independent review while I can still taste the free chocolates I received as we left?

Well the truth is I’m not really writing up the event for the freebies or even to talk too much about the coffee. I’m writing it up because of this man:

Thoughtful gaze at coffee

I’ll be honest, he didn’t look that pretentious all night, in fact, he was more like this.

Andrew Nutter and some random bloke

Andrew Nutter,  owner of Nutters restaurant in Rochdale and seemingly all round nice bloke had been shipped in by the good people at Nespresso to create a coffee based tasting menu for the launch of their new Nespresso boutique at the Trafford Centre. If you’ve never set foot in a Nespresso boutique, well the name gives you a clue of the setup. It’s a boutique, not a shop. As such you’ve got large, open floor space, beautiful dark wood paneling and everywhere you look, neatly displayed rows of Nespresso capsule boxes.

The technicolour Nespresso Coffee Wall

All of which provided a great backdrop to the tasting menu, which if I’m honest was the real reason I was there. So at this point, I’ve still not talked about the food. Let’s get going.

·         Cocoa Roast Beef Carpaccio with Chicory and Rocket –Served with a full-bodied Arpeggio Grand Cru

·         Slow Braised Pork Belly with a Hot Bean Casserole –Served with a woody noted Roma Grand Cru

·         Chocolate and Malt Crème Brûlée – Served with a honey and malt noted Dulsão do Brasil Grand Cru

–      Nespresso Ristretto Coffee and Toffee Eccles Cake  Serve with Nespresso’s Ristretto Grand Cru

You haven’t misread the last one. That’s a Nespresso inspired Eccles cake. The flavour of this cake was ridiculous. I’ve never been a huge fan of Eccles cakes and as such have felt like a food traitor, like a Frenchman who doesn’t care for Beef bourguignon or a Wigan man who’s never had a steak pie in a barm cake. This Eccles cake really turned that around for me. The condensed milk toffee and the Nespresso Ristretto coffee made a great kept the currents tasty and sweet. The Ristretto coffee is described in the blurb as

A blend of South American and East African Arabicas, with a touch of Robusta, roasted separately to create the subtle fruity note of this full-bodied, intense espresso.

In short, this translated to the usually tart flavour I have had in previous Eccles cakes becoming a sharp, sugary coffee taste. Truly brilliant.

Nespresso Eccles Cake

The other dessert dish I loved was the Chocolate and Malt Creme Brûlée. The flavour of a chocolate was great with the coffee, but the treat was in the carmelizing of the sugar on the brûlée. Using a special solution (which I no longer have the description of) onto the sugar topping of the brûlée and then ignited using a chefs torch. Then the magic happens and the sugar continues to caramelise as the solution burns off. Check out the video below to see what it looks like.

The flavour of the chocolate and malt drew out a comforting taste described by the chef as being like eating a gooey Mars bar with the crack of the sugar crust being the textural topper. to mix with this Mars bar in a pot was the Dulsão do Brasil coffee. The Dulsao do Brasil came described as:

SWEET AND SMOOTH:
A pure Brazilian Arabica, Dulsão do Brasil is a blend of red and yellow Bourbon coffees. Separate roasting of the beans ensures roundness and balance while revealing sweet notes of honey and malt
.

I’m not a coffee drinker so the extent of my coffee knowledge ends at understanding the sizing menu at Starbucks, but a coffee that works to enhance the flavour of a creme brulee was a real revelation to me. The Brasil was a great coffee for this dish and sipping it before the brulee intensified the chocolate and sugar in the brulee.

Sweet desserts and rich coffees. Can you imagine how much I bounced off the walls on the way out. This was a great evening and a brilliant way to celebrate the opening of the new Nespresso store, but more importantly it didn’t feel like a cynical bit of marketing. The menu, the food and the coffee were all prefectly blended to make a great event and show what coffee can do to enhance food.

I didn’t even get to the savoury dishes either, so there may be a ‘Part 2’ to this post coming up soon.

Now, to prove that I clearly didn’t sell out…

Nespresso’s luxury boutique at the Trafford Centre is now open.  Visit www.nespresso.com

And to see Andrew Nutters restaurant visit www.nuttersrestaurant.co.uk

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