Fire & Salt Cookout (Manchester)

13 Jul

Fine, this is a piece of shameless self promotion. Since the Observer Food Monthly aren’t kicking down my door yet to write any articles about my food, I’ll just have to write it up myself. Now I can’t really be looked to to give an objective view of my own food, which is awesome by the way, so this is mostly going to be photo based. The people were great, the food was delicious and the night was a brilliant experience for me and for the diners. So here’s how it all went.

The menu for the evening went something like this:

Our little menu

After a day and a half of prep, with the house not just the food, we were ready to host a few guests. To start everyone off we put out a taster of our pork infused bourbon. With a twist of orange peel and some maple syrup for sweetness, these were a real hit, even if one person did accidentally swallow the orange peel.

Pork infused bourbon lined up and ready to go

So how did all of this barbecue delight go down? Here are the pictures.

Chow down folks!

Chow down folks!

Good times at the main table

Good times at the main table

Ribhenge

Ribhenge – no-one knows when it was built, but it’s a awe-inspiring structure

Caramel pecan pies

Caramel pecan pies fresh from the oven

Having had some kind tips at the end of the evening and one person ask if we would adopt them, I’d put this down as a meal well done. For a first time out this was a successful venture but like all perfectionists, as soon as we finished I was already planning improvements for our next event. Roll on August and our Southern Summer Cookout…

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

Thai Spice – Chorlton

7 Jun

Thai Spice – photo courtesy of toms-travel.net

Up front with this post I feel compelled to point out that I  hadn’t eaten much before we went out to dinner so by the time our meals arrived I was starving. Therefore my attention was off for this one and I may be missing some details, but I will try my best.

Different cuisines have differing levels of ‘public consciousness’. By this I mean if you stop the average man or woman on the street and ask you to tell them what they know about a type of food, they will be able to rattle of some standard items. If you were to do this with Thai food, there are a few standards: Phad Thai, Thai Fishcakes, Thai Green Curry. The recurring theme here is the fact that you rarely come across a cuisine which self references in the way that popular Thai dishes do. Despite this, there still isn’t really a great deal of public consciness around Thai food and certainly not of the great quality and variety of flavours it can offer. I have to be honest and say that I got a bit of a reminder of this myself recently at a restaurant called Thai Spice.

Thai Spice is a little restaurant on the end of the uber-trendy Beech Road in Chorlton. Home to some interesting little eateries and cafes, this is one place I’ve never set foot in despite having been intrigued by it. The small space creates a cozy atmosphere and a warm welcome at the door always helps. After being seated, we were straight down to the food and drinks (as I stated earlier, I was quite hungry). Being with friends who were willing to operate a share and share alike policy, we all ordered and shared. I picked out the Phad Prik Khing, which has a Thai Red Curry base.

Years ago I went on a Thai cookery course when I was in Chaing Mai and while I forgot most of it, I do remember the difference between Green curry paste and red curry paste. Its the chillies; Red uses dried red chillies and green uses fresh green chillies. So this dish had some kick to it. The kick was well offset by the sweetness from the sauce.Another little piece of retained knowledge I kept from that cookery course was the use of sugar. Unlike in parts of India where creams are more commonly used to balance the spice in dishes, Thai cooking commonly uses sugar as the key ingredient to do this, with cream added for flavour. The downside of this can be syrupy sweet Thai curries, a trap that was well avoided here, The green beans were fresh and crunchy and while the beef was too thin and flimsy for my liking, this dish was well-balanced and delicious.

Beef Phad Prik Khing – If you considered laughing at this name, you may not be as mature as you think… which is not necessarily a bad thing

Having done a number on my own dish, I prowled the table for my next target. I came upon a a cod dish which I have since been unable to identify on the  menu and would appreciate some assistance in identifying. As a sidenote, one of the reasons that I’m not really cut out for the food reviewing game is that I’m just there for the food. The idea of sitting and taking notes, takes the fun out of the moment. The downside is that I forget some of the details… I may have to start stealing menus.

The unidentified cod dish

Anyway, back to the dish. This seemingly luminous sauce hides some excellently cooked cod fillets. Flaky, beautiful cod and a light batter which has resisted the urge to become floppy and soggy under the pressure of that sauce. The sauce is almost too much for this excellent piece of fish but it stays just on the right side of sweet and spice offering up a sharp tang with the fish. (Descriptions like that are why I really need to start remembering the names of dishes. If I go back now, all I have to work off is this photo.)

Now add into the mix the substance of the meal. Sticky rice is something I usually don’t go for as I have a massive boiled rice addiction (I just bloody love the stuff), but on this occasion someone ordered some for the table, Presented in a small wicker basket and still wrapped in its steam bag, it was a great example of the side dish. Flavoursome, glutenous to the right degree and well bonded enough to required a spoon to scoop up a chewy clump of lightly flavoured rice pillow.

After the polishing off of the mains, the dessert menu came to us. Normally most South-East Asian restaurants don’t have interesting dessert menus, in the same way you wouldn’t really expect to peruse the burger menu at a Belgian patisserie. It’s just not really its key selling point, but today something caught my eye. The Chilli ice-cream had to be tried.

Chilli ice-cream in large amounts – cause and cure of ice-cream headaches all-in-one.

The flavour had to be tried and the result was interesting. The cream tends to hide the spice up front so at first it tastes like a strawberry ice cream. Once it’s passed the back of your mouth, the spice sneaks in and kicks your tonsils on the way down. It’s a pleasant tingle at the end of a cold hit and the ice cream quality itself was of a good standard. My only issue was the size as I was struggling to get anyone to share this thing with me, I once again had to declare defeat to this dessert (as with my last post, this is becoming a bit of a habit of mine).

I’ve never been that favourable to Thai curries in general, either here or in Thailand as the sweet and chilli flavours are a bit hit and miss with me. On this occasion, they hit and I’d certainly give this place another go, just to find out what the hell that cod dish was.

http://www.thai-spice.co.uk/

Thai Spice on Urbanspoon

Round up post – Baekdu and Felicini

28 May

Here’s some short round-ups from my recent wanderings…

First up is Baekdu. Perched on the edge of the Northern Quarter just near Shudehill bus station is an unassuming Korean restaurant. Head through the doorway and it gets even more unassuming; very little decor, plain black furniture and big windows on one side. Having said that, if you’re coming to a restaurant for the decor, you’ve missed the point.

So if you’re not here for the look you’ll need to know what the foods like. The news is it’s good stuff.

The potato pancake is awesome on many levels. ‘How many levels?’ Good question. I’d say three. Firstly, it’s visually appealing. The orange hue from this pancake is great to look and the colour comes from the addition of carrots but also indicative of the great flavour. The outside is crispy but with a starchy centre which makes this almost comfort food-esque in texture and taste. The third and final part which brings it up from comfort food to moreish dish is the addition of soy. When dipped, this becomes quite an addictive salty dish, despite how filling it can be.

Potato Pancake – Crisp coating and a starcy, salt-flavoured centre

The bibimbap is also worth noting. Anything that turns up sizzling in a dish and covered in chilli sauce clearly has my attention. Warm rice, vegetables, mushrooms, chili sauce and egg all combined to give a fresh tasting but filling dish.

I’d say we struggled to find anything on the menu that wasn’t vibrante, well seasoned and full of flavour. And remember, don’t judge a book by it’s cover.

Next up was Felicini in Didsbury (not on the same night as Baekdu). Now I’m aware that Felicini isn’t new and ‘hip’, but it does one thing right. It makes good quality Italian food. So many places can get Italian dishes wrong, so you need a good staple for Italian food. This post however is about one dish. The Chocolate Brownie and Pistachio Sundae

This is the Sundae. By the way, that’s the Double Deep New York Cheesecake in the background. Also awesome.

It is every bit as deliciously decadent as it looks. Chewy, chunky fondant brownies with crushed pistachio over pistachio ice cream. Every bit was sweet, slippery goodness and perfectly balanced with the sugar content too.

Incase you were worried that you may have to get to the end of this dessert and look down at your plate with longing then fear not. This thing is massive. For the first time in my life I had to give up on it. Dessert 1 Me 0.

Sometimes a restaurant has one dish that is worth going back for, almost regardless of the rest of the menu. This is one of those dishes.

Check out the menu www.felicini.co.uk

Pitt Cue Co. (Soho, London)

21 May

Smoked ox cheeks. Soft as butter and drool inducing flavour.

A luscious aroma of beef and pork wafts on the air of this tiny restaurant bar whose footprint is similar in size and layout to a child’s bedroom and en-suite bathroom. The small space with its thirty covers is as would be expected, massively over-subscribed with queues forming outside half an hour before the opening. The continuing trend of food trucks turned restaurants continues to be the new torment of the lazy and impatient or the golden age of the patient diner, depending upon your perspective and views on queueing. For those persistent enough to make it to the front of the queue, you will be offered the chance to wait in the bar for some time before a table becomes available.

Here you have the chance to get some drinks in you before the main event. Of special note on the menu is the ‘Pickleback’. You will be offered two shot glasses; one containing bourbon and the second containing pickling vinegar. My first thought was ‘What the hell, why not’ but maybe it should have been ‘What the hell? That’s weird’. Regardless, it was quite the experience with the bourbon taking away some of the bitter notes of the vinegar and leaving you with a strong but partially sweet taste from the vinegar. The only question that lingers in my mind is did I do those the right way round.

Pickleback – Shot of whiskey chased down with a shot of pickle brine

At the appointed time we were led to our table in the dining room / basement area via a small staircase. The room was incredibly small without actually feeling cramped. At this point I may normally have taken the time to describe the décor in the room, however what I failed to mention earlier was that while queuing up outside, we happened to be queuing next to a pub called The White Horse which allowed you to take drinks out on the street, therefore by the time we made it to the into the dining room via the bar I was fairly well sozzled.

The part where my memory didn’t fail me though was with the food. The special of the day was Braised Ox Cheek (£15) which comes with a selection of pickles for two sides, the baked beans and the chipotle slaw. The slaw was runny but amazingly spiced and the beans superbly cooked in a barbeque flavour which was tangy and savoury-sweet. The braised ox cheek was a magnificently cooked piece of meat. Having an incredible rich smoked beef flavour coming from this tender meat which came apart under the knife with an excellent consistency that was just joyous. I was forced to stop at several points to make small moans of approval before continuing on.

The beef ribs were of equal note having an intensity I previously thought reserved from for a prime cut of fillet steak. Even managing to retain its pink inner texture. And the true stand out champion for the side dishes was the bone marrow mash. A bone marrow jus atop a puree-creamy mash was almost too much flavour to hold in one jar but still subtle enough to play side dish to the brilliantly cooked meats.

Look at the freaking beef ribs. Served with smoked chicory.

Determined to at least find fault with some part of menu, we opted for dessert and shared a chocolate and raspberry brownie, but to no avail. It was indulgent, well complimented with the slightly sweetened raspberries and topped with a vanilla ice-cream and chocolate sauce to add that final finishing blow of sugar indulgence.

Raspberry brownie and ice cream. I want it now!

When we finally surface from the dining room / basement we were all fuller, happier people and clear in the knowledge that Pitt Cue Co. have a created somewhere which offers flavoursome barbeque with no compromise in intensity or flavour than you would find anywhere else.

As an addendum, we did receive a slight shock at the bill the first time round as some extra noughts and numbers were added to it, as you will see below. The meal actually came in a little cheaper than this.

The meal was good, but not 600 grand good

Everyone’s a critic!

17 May

I hate being called a foodie. I can’t really avoid it but it’s one of those insipid words which seems to attach itself to being a food blogger like a slimy leech. Foodie conjures an image of a certain type of person. A middle-aged, bloated imbecile whose pretension is matched only by his smarminess. He will trap you in a corner at a party and spout drivel at you. He’ll bore you senseless with his diatribe on the foolishness of drinking any Argentinian Malbec other than those from Mendoza’s high altitude wine regions. The only thing worse than him telling you about the latest food trends is him telling you about the trends that are ‘so last year’. He wants to know what your favourite delicatessen is, he can’t wait to tell you that he’s visited the birthplace of his favourite cheese and God forbid he find out you’ve bought your weekly shop from a supermarket because he will rain down vengeance upon you! 

If you’ve ever been telling someone something along the lines of ‘Oh, we went to this pub down the road. The Sunday roast was quite nice.’ and this was closely followed by the sound of someone chipping in with counter points and ‘better’ recommendations, that’s the sound of Capt. Muppet from Tosspot Division. He’s on the case and he’ll get to the bottom of your inferior gastronomic knowledge in no time. My advise: run. And I can speak on some authority here as I used to do some of these things. But the thing that stopped me was the realisation that honestly, no-one really wants to hear it.

“…and I’ve just found this new pop-up Gastro supper club that serves Liberian food out of a tramp’s shoe. Have you been yet? Have you? HAVE YOU?!”

*sigh* I’ve been lectured too many times on the need to shop local, buy a slow cooker, try a gluten free diet or avoid deep fried food (as if that’s going to happen). The point is, I can’t understand why ‘foodies’ feel that they are allowed a degree of moral superiority due to that fact that they essentially just eat different stuff than other people. I’ve been lucky enough to try some spectacular foods. I’ve had fresh crab in Ha Long bay,  truffled macaroni cheese in London and amazing Polish bloomers from Barbakan deli in Chorlton. On the flip side though I’m not above the other end of the food spectrum. Cold curry sandwiches from leftover greasy take-away curry are one of life’s great pleasures. I’m not sure I could make it through the week without something full of fat, sugar and inordinate e-numbers. I’m not however stomping around the place demanding people eat more saveloy, try a veg-free diet and telling them they simply must get the new ‘Just Eat’ app.

Why? Because food is such a personal experience. The foods that I love and hate may be based on taste or they could be based on the preparation, where they come from and the history of the dish. Childhood dishes, family dishes, pick-me-up dishes and everything in between. We love food for a hundred different reasons. People should also be smart about food of course, it’s the main thing that keeps us all alive, but there’s a fine line between sharing your knowledge and preaching bullshit.

Knowledge is power and as Uncle Ben says ‘With great power comes great responsibility’. The responsibility of every ‘Foodie’ is to not turn in to a condescending pillock.

Project PIG (Manchester)

8 May

The Pig Picking: Them’s rich pickin’s

You may notice at the top of this blog is a tab called Project PIG. If you haven’t been there first, Id suggest you do. This will give you all of the background and shortly will contain much more about the day and the build-up. This post is to give you some highlights from one of the tastiest days of the year.

Project PIG had one aim: Could a man with zero pit barbecue experience, take a 30kg pig, a pile of building materials and a sack of ingredients and turn them into succulent, salty, juice-ladened pork. The answer was unreservedly: Yes! The feedback was insane. Everyone loved it and I mean loved it.

I am going to post a ‘How To’ guide from the event. In total it took use three days to construct, test and cook with the pit that we built and I managed a full three hours sleep on the day that we cooked the thing. But this post is about the food not the build. So let’s see the stats on how this little piggy was made into a prize-winning hog.

Firstly the pig. We got ourselves a half pig because I couldn’t physically fit enough people into my house to eat a full size boar. The pig was dressed and provided by W.H. Frost in Chorlton, a top-quality butchers if ever there was one. The also scored the meat before it was dropped off at my car. Once the pig was home, that’s when me and the boys (and girl) went to work on it. Step one was an all-over olive oil rub to crisp up the skin. The low cook temperature of the pit meant we couldn’t just rely on the heat of the flame like you would with a hog roast. Once that was done, next came the injections.

The meat injections – very important

The meat was injected with a sweet marinade made up of apple, white grape, lost of sugar and salt. This was to keep the meat sweet to go with the smoky flavour from the barbeque. This took a while and by the end we were injecting marinade through one hole just to have it pop out of the other (weird). The final step to this process was the dry rub for the inside. A mix of cayenne, garlic powder, paprika and several other sugars and spices went into the inside cavity for extra flavour onve the fat started to melt.

The last thing to do was fire up the pit (which took about 40 minutes), wrap the pig in foil to keep in the heat and then wait. The cooking process took 15 hours and as we were using an indirect heat method, the coals needed to be added to regularly, so we sat down, opened up a bottle of Jack Daniels and babysat that pig right through till morning…

Shhh! We’re putting the pig to bed

The next day, we had to strip the foil off the top of the pig. It had turned a glorious red and there were clear signs aroung the exposed meat of where a smoke ring had started to form (a ring of colour showing the depth of penetration of smoke into the meat).

Half an hour before serving the pig needed to be flipped. Being either brave or sleep deprived, I climbed up onto the grill to flip the pig. As we flipped, we realised how soft and juicy the meat had gone as it almost felt apart on the flip. Just about holding it intact, we gave it a glaze with a secret barbeque sauce using ketchup, garlic, spices and sugar to give it some extra zing. It then got covered for 30 minutes to finish.

“Spiderman, Spiderman.
Flipping a pig, it’s Spiderman”

When it finally came out, it was epic. The glistening glaze on top of that thick, succulent pork was captivating. So being a good host, I encouraged the guests to engage in the time-honoured tradition of ‘pig picking’: Pulling the pork of the pig with your fingers. There was trepidation at first but soon there was jostling at the grill as more and more hands dived in to tear tender meat from this awesome grill.

The carnage was immense, the flavours were epic but most importantly the diners were happy. Very happy in fact, and while the day is over, my house still smells like a Texan barbeque hut and my fridge is full of crackling and pulled pork. Despite this, the best part of the whole thing was the event it made. The meal had a certain pageantry to it, with the exposing of the pig, the flipping of the meat, the glazing of the skin and the devouring of a masterpiece nearly three full days in the making. My only regret is that I’m not cooking another one right now….

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The Rolling Gecko

17 Apr
Barbarella - The mobile home of the Hungry Gecko

Barbarella - The mobile home of the Hungry Gecko

Last month I wrote a little (but long) post on the Hungry Gecko and the excellent supper club. But now the Hungry Gecko is on the road. The whole operation is being run out of  ‘Barbarella’, the metal behemoth food truck which is the new home of Hungry Gecko.

So upon hearing that some of the best asian food in Manchester was out and about, I took myself out on to the mean streets of Ramsbottom during the Chocolate Festival as I knew this was where they would be. For anyone who doesn’t know what I mean by ‘they’, I’m talking about the Chilli and Sesame Cashew Nut Brittle bags. As I may have mentioned in my supper club post, I honestly love these. The sweet caramel is almost butter like thanks to the sesame but also the caramel being made beautifully thin and consistent. The chilli makes it tingle and excites the sugar flavour giving it a helping hand but it also leaves you standing there going ‘Haoaoaoa’ for about thrity second from the great afterburn when you hit a rich chilli vein.

A bag of the good stuff

The real dishes should not be overlooked. The Murtabak which is a crispy Malaysian pancake which tasted exceptional. This may have been partly because I ordered the last one and the bloke behind me sighed in disappointment, but even without the added schadenfreude, I think this is still a great snack. Light and crisp pancake, the tofu and potato giving a filling stisfaction that you want from a snack food. The flavour then jumps to another level with the hot chilli sambal,  a chilli based sauce which was thick but gave a clean heat. When you mixed in some srping onion greens with this, you have a spciy tang that starts to creep up you nose in that ‘just the right side of stinging’ sort of way that spice gives you. I went through this so fast that it lasted about one minute, and that was me taking my time so I could get the full flavour.

Murtabak - crispy Malaysian pancake (and look, there's my hand as well)

Need a dal dish that won’t give up on you, then try the yellow butter dal and aubergine masala. The dark brown bread sticking out of the corner in the picture is a cauliflour stuffed flatbread. The dal was creamy and actually put me in mind of a mildy spiced baby food. That sounds like a wierd description but it had a smooth consistency that belied a complexity of flavour underneath. It avoided the pitfall of lumpy textured dal, so I was sold. The masala provides the top notes to this dish with a mildly sweet flavour and the aubergine acting as the meaty substance. The flatbread was a bit of a bonus for this dish adding slightly salty, chewy base as well as a makeshift mop to go after any stragling dal or masala in the corners of the tub.

 

Yellow Butter Dal and Aubergine Masala... and my hand again

I have no concept of whether these were healthy dishes but they were really moreish and will beat a slice of pizza and a bag of chips at any festival. Hungry Gecko is now serving asian food the way it was meant to be served; fresh, hot, in a tub and ready to eat on the street. Check out the Hungry Gecko site to find out where they’re rolling to next.

 

The menu - I had this one, and this one and this one


Sugar Bun Sisters (Manchester)

11 Apr

Tucked away in a corner of the Traders Outlet in Sale you’ll find a lovely alcove put aside for the Sugar Bun Sisters. In case it ends up playing on your mind, yes, they are sisters. With that cleared up, there are the cakes. These are excellently crafted but the real appeal is the quirkyness.

Let’s start with names. Sugar Bun Sisters is a play in the Stone Roses track “Sugar Spun Sister”. And the theme carries on into the cakes with classic hits such as ‘Twisting my Lemons’ and ‘Red Velvet Underground’. There’s also a continuing theme with Manchester artists as seen from the Liam Frost and Frank Sidebottom cakes. However, I thought the best way to convey the coolness of these cupcakes was through an artistic and creative tool. I am of course talking about Powerpoint.

So grab a glass of milk, put on your best ‘watching a Powerpoint presentation’ face and enjoy.