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

Salt Yard (Central London)

20 Mar

Not far from Euston station, which is of course the key navigation point in London for anyone coming from Manchester, there’s a place called Goodge Street. On this street there is a dimly lit place called Salt Yard. And in this ‘Salt Yard’ there lurks an unassuming dish called ‘Truffled Macaroni Cheese. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Salt Yard has been serving tapas with an Italian and Spanish feel for years. It is a highly regarded, award wining restaurant given praise in the press and through general reviews. The atmosphere is intimate, the decor is modern but luxurious and the menu looks exciting. All of which makes the experience a little more enticing, but ultimately it all comes down to the food. We took a range of dishes here but the key one which stuck with me was the Truffled Macaroni Cheese. So without any further ado, here it is:

A cheesy thing of beauty

Now let’s not be too hasty to move on. Let’s soak up the image here for a moment and contemplate this dish. The crisp, baked topping gave a parmesan flavour with a satisfying crunch. You can see at the edges of the dish, how creamy the cheese was and the rich consistency was matched by its flavour. The buttery cheese flavours were at no point overpowering as they were perfectly complemented by the spices in the mix. The overall effect was a silky, slightly sweet cheese cream. The macaroni was cooked just to the point it became soft so as to keep its hearty pasta ‘chomp’ without becoming soggy in the cheese. But there in the middle is the crowning glory of the dish. Its shaved truffle turned this great macaroni cheese into a masterpiece of flavoursome, luxurious delight.

I honestly can’t oversell this dish enough. To the point where writing about any of the other excellent dishes would just be redundant, because this dish alone should be enough to make you throw on your best eating trousers and make travel plans to get to this stuff immediately. For those who enjoy a little more salacious food photography however, here’s the highlight reel.

Venison carpaccio, Lardo, Dandelion, Marcona Almonds and Qince vinegarette

Cripsy Soft Shell Crab, Fennel Salad and Piquillo Aioli

Grilled Underblade Fillet of Beef, Artichokes, Black Olive and Piquillo Salsa

Need I say more. At between £6 – £8 a dish, it’s not that shocking that you’ll need to book ahead. I’m booking train tickets to London as we speak.
Salt Yard on Urbanspoon

Almost Famous Burgers (Manchester)

13 Mar

About a week ago, I wrote this on Twitter:

@mangechester: Reading the twitter feed for @AlmostFamousMCR. I’d gladly not blog a word about it to get into one of the launch nights. Sounds epic.

This was in response to their No Bloggers, No Photographs policy. So I’m in a pickle because I’m a blogger but also a man of my word. I’m also a squirrel, but that’s not improtant right now.

I had to make a decision to blog or not to blog… which is when I decided to do both. I promised not to write a word about Almost Famous Burgers, so I haven’t. I have taken all of the menus and leaflets that I was handed at the door and used them to make a short write up. Not a single one of these words is mine. In fact this is written more by the guys at Almost Famous than by me, so thanks guys. Here’s their review… of them… which I made…?

Just click the image below

——–

Ed’s Easy Diner

6 Mar

Step back in time for classic American diner food

I was down in London a few weeks ago staying near Euston station. Anyone who’s been through Euston will have probably spotted Ed’s Easy Diner outside. Giving that 50’s rockin’ vibe to diners since 1985, Ed’s is a small chain with a good rep and good food, but on this particular occasion, I went for one dish. Ed’s All American Pancake Stack. I decided that if I was going for an American diner breakfast staple then it needed to be done properly, which is why I opted for the bacon on top.

The flavour was great. The fluffy, thick pancakes sucked up the maple syrup like no-one’s business and the strawberries and blueberries, while not the most flavourful, fitted in great. What I didn’t expect was for the bacon to work in there so well. I’ve had these salty/sugary breakfast combos in the US and not been won over, as an uneaten croque-monsieur covered in powdered sugar showed in San Diego. This one was perfect the crispy bacon giving the fluffy pancakes the crunch they needed to stop this dish becoming monotone. There was also the light smoke from the bacon that just made such perfect sense when mixed with the sweet syrup.

Bacon and syrup on pancakes. Naughty breakfast

I’m not saying much more. From a diner, you’re really looking for simple, no-nonsense and tasty plates of food. Ed’s is doing a pretty stand up job on this front.

For anyone in the Midlands, Ed’s has now opened up at the Selfridges in Birmingham and I’d I’ll keep an eye out for it in Manchester, but if you’re stopping in, try the pancakes, or at least let me know what else is good on the menu.

The Hungry Gecko

4 Mar

Supper clubs. While the idea may be relatively new in terms of its uptake, especially here in the North, already a lot of ink has been splashed and a lot of keyboards hammered to lay comment upon them. Before writing this I have read at least four other blogs and articles about supper clubs to get a feel for what’s been written. In all honesty some of them have probably already captured the essence of them more than I could, or certainly with a better vocabulary. So if I can’t depict the event like a journalist then the least I can do is tell a good story. I had booked two places for myself and my girlfriend at The Hungry Gecko supper club. The Hungry Gecko is the idea of Jackie Kearney, one of the finalists from 2011’s Masterchef. Already I felt a little intimidated heading to the home of a top class chef.

This is a jackfruit. It becomes relevant later on in the post.

We pulled up slowly outside the house having reversed back down the street looking for the right house number. A clump of change for the taxi driver in one hand and a steadily warming bottle of white wine in the other, I pushed the door open, paid the taxi driver and made my way to the door. At this point my nerves were still with me as I wondered if it was too late to just sack it off and dive in the taxi to pick up some fish and chips to go with the Savingon Blanc. No, just ring the bell and wait. This must be the right house and I’m sure everything will go fine. Ten seconds late and we were warmly greeted at the door. We shuffled in and hung up our coats by the door as we were shown to the dining room. The table was beautifully set with restaurant quality touches such as the rustic style water bottles and the script-fonted place cards. As we had arrived at exactly 7:30 we were the second group to arrive. As we chatted with the other two guests who had already arrived, we were slowly joined by more people, each going through the same arrival procedures as ourselves; greetings exchanged, coats deposited and seats taken closely followed by the rearranging of place cards to suit.

With everyone seated and nicely relaxed, service began. The amuse bouche was a sweet and sour popcorn tofu. The paprika in the coating was a great light spice flavour but it was the texture of the tofu providing the backdrop to the sweet and sour. My bouche was thoroughly amused.

The starter was a great little soup listed on the menu as ‘ Buddha’s Delight, Chinese noodle soup with exotic mushrooms & bean curds, Served with crispy kale & chilli cashews’. Not to seem to have missed the point this, but I really loved the chilli cashews on the side. They seemed to be encased in almost a caramel substance. Crunchy, chewy, chilli. I almost forgot to eat the soup, which was prepared with 14 ingredients and tasted exceptionally fresh.

The Chilli cashews are in the bottom left, oh and there's also the soup

Any food that comes on a stick is tops in my book, but smokey tempeh and tofu on lemongrass skewers kicks it up a notch. Again, as a regular meat-eater, the texture was the first thing I picked up on, being softer and more uniform. What this actually meant was that the flavour from the satay sauce was fully absorbed by the tofu. I also have to say that the portion sizes were certainly to my taste. The jasmine rice mopped up the remainder of the sauce and nicely filled any remaining holes.

Balinese Satay Sticks and jasmine rice

Fortunately, there was still plenty of room in my dessert stomach so the next course was great and also my favourite named course of a meal ever: Pre-dessert. A duo of jackfruit & mango sorbet and lime & coconut sorbet. I hadn’t come across a jackfruit before but the menu description described it as an earthy pineapple and that pretty much spot on. This mixed with pineapple and coconut didn’t just clear the palette but striped it clean and left it zingy fresh.

Finally, pre-dessert gave way to the main event, dessert. The dessert was (and to add impact, I’m copying straight from the menu)

Pear & frangipane tart with vanilla & star anise ice cream,

Served with salted almond praline & goji berry sauce

Best Dessert Ever. I tend to talk food up a lot but this honestly is the best dessert I’ve ever tasted despite the fact that I’m a massive chocoholic. The pear and frangiepane was sweet, slightly firm and casually delicious. The ice cream brough the star anise flavour through beautifully holding the aniseed’esqe flavour excellently inside that creamy ice cream. The salted almond praline gave it the deep flavour and the goji berry added the high notes. For me this dessert practically sang, giving me one of those rare moments in a meal where I actually sit back, stop and muse over the flavours I’m experiencing. This wasn’t just the end of the meal, it was a true show-stopper.

The dish to beat

A great evening spent with good people in a lovely home enjoying exceptional quality food. I’m amazed that I left. I’d like to extend my gratitude to Jackie for the evening. I know that for the time being there aren’t any more supper clubs in the diary coming up, but I would highly recommend keeping your eyes on The Hungry Gecko, as I’m sure there will be some great things to come.

Why I Fell in Love with Goat’s cheese

20 Feb

My god, I bloody love cheese. For Christmas my lovely girlfriend bought me a box of Pong cheeses. The fact that I’ve eaten a third of a wheel of Stinking Bishop despite the fact that I don’t really like the smell, is firm testament to my unwavering affection for what is essentially gone-off milk.

And it goes with so many things as well. In Hong Kong recently, I had a cuttlefish ball filled with American cheese and by Jove the flavour worked! My favourite cheese based fusion however is the Goat’s cheese salad at Croma. Now before I fall into the cliché of verbally drooling over the object of my affections, I want to set the scene.

Place yourself in a restaurant. It’s warm and the night outside is bitingly cold. The place is busy and the air is filled with conversation and laughter from other tables, but the most prominenty thing in your mind is your hungry. And what a hunger it is. Starving, famished, ravenous. You scan the menu looking for something to fill this hole and it needs to be rich and satisfying. Then as your eyes flit down the page, they fall upon this:

The main event - Goat's cheese salad

Goat’s cheese baked on olive bread, served with mixed salad leaves, olives, roasted pine kernels and sun-blushed tomatoes, with a tomato and balsamic vinaigrette

It’s a genious dish. Creamy and partially crumbly goat’s cheese is excellently set off by the tomato and balsamic vinegarette. For the texture to match that soft cheese the olive bread is lightly toated and the crisp salad keeps it fresh. Its a dish that sticks in your mind not just because it tastes great, but because you don’t expect it to taste as great as it does.

But of course, man cannot live on goat’s cheese salad alone, so while we were here we thought we’d give the drinks menu a go. First upwas the Espresso Martini. Coffee infused martini with a vanilla vodka. In terms of the impact on your faculties, two or three of these may have the same impact as a Vodka Red Bull with its caffine-alcohol mismatched attack on the brain. The taste however is worlds apart and is a much more sophisticated, as you would expect.

Espresso martini for those who need a little caffine in their alcohol

The classic Margherita is well delivered here to. Sweetened lime and tequila with that salt encrusted glass. The only mistake I saw here was serving it in a martini glass.

Croma is a personal favourite of mine for all its menu fare, so I’ve held myself back from going on about everything on the menu. It does what places like Pizza Express fail to do; give that Italian pizzeria experience with great food and a simplified menu. Give it a go, and definately try the goat’s cheese.

Croma Chorlton on Urbanspoon

Our Man in Hong Kong – unknown restaurant

22 Jan

In preparation for the Chinese New Year celebrations, I’ve put together one or two posts about some of the best meals from a recent trip to Hong Kong and China

I’m in Hong Kong on a trip / holiday but my secret mission is to taste the best Hong Kong has to offer.

First up is a little canteen opposite the Metropark Hotel Mongkok, directly opposite the garage entrance at 634 Portland Street. The reason I haven’t named the place is that its name is only in Chinese and I can’t read it.

If someone can tell me what this place is called, I'd love to know

An unassuming place. Lit to within an inch of its life and with 40 bamboo steamers going on the outside cooker, this place looks the business. The inside just got better; excessive use of mirrors, TV screens with local TV for those not inclined to talk and a frantic pace of staff flooding into and out of the kitchen. It is also open 24 hours a day, as I later found out from a friend who wandered over to pick up some char sui buns at 4 o’clock in the morning. The menu is typical Hong Kong fair of dim sum and Cantonese dishes, but with some noteworthy points to be mentioned.

My kind of menu - point & order

Firstly the two teas I tried. I initially tried the local Hong Kong tea which is a half/half mix of sweet tea and coffee brought about by the use of condensed milk in place of milk (common in former British colonies). It will certainly keep you awake with its sharp injection of caffeine and sugar. The second tea was the lemon and honey tea. I’ve had lemon and honey tea but not like this. No bitterness from the lemon or honey and the sugar level was perfectly balanced to make it easily drinkable.

Hong Kong Milk tea

The food was all fresh, which was the main selling point for me. Simple dishes but the quality of ingredients was what made it. The Gai lan and the prawns & scrambled egg dish we’re my favourites. Prawn and scrambled egg doesn’t seem to be ground breaking combination, but the adddition of sesame oil gives it a whole new dimension, putting the mild seafood flavour with the hint of egg in a slick sesame coating. Delicious.

Top notch prawn and scrambled egg

I didn’t get the names of all the dishes but with pictures to help, it’s easy enough to order.

For the vegetarians, there were excellent choices. The mushroom and bok choi dish was amazing. Thick, juicy shiitake mushrooms (or something similar) had the satisfying meaty chew that could replace any steak. Coated in the semi-translucent cantonese sauce with a distinct Cantonese spice it carries a mild sweet spice flavour. The same sauce coated the mushroom and fired beancurd as it satisfies the need for mixed textures of chewy, crispy and spongy with a great gusto of flavour.

Mushroom mountain in Cantonese sauce

Mushroom and beancurd. Get stuck in my good man

In the end with drinks, dishes and rice coming in at about HK$40 (£3.50 approx.) it was ten steps beyond the airplane food and definitely worth popping to again. The true joy here was the full-on Hong Kong canteen experience which made it worth every penny.

Pickly spice

14 Dec

The last few years I have been travelling to Birmingham from time to time. Not blessed with the exotic location status of Paris or Barcelona, or even the country charm of the south-west region it always has one card up its sleeve: the food.

Last week when I was helping my girlfriend move the last of her stuff out of ‘Brum’, we went out for dinner at the Indian restaurant, Pushkar. Based down on Broad Street, it feels like an equivalent to Deansgate but less rambunctious (yes, rambunctious) than Deansgate Locks ,although I was assured there are fights for taxis at 2am on a Saturday, so some things are the same everywhere.

Check out the swankiness - image courtesy of What's On Midlands

The restaurant immediately sets an intimidating mood for a man in a shiny bubble jacket and a scuffed-up old pair of trainers but not enough so that I didn’t go in. Inside the place oozed plush. If you ever wondered what happened for the love of white leather that was so prevalent in the 80’s and 90’s fear not, its spirit lives on through Pushkar’s furniture though surprisingly, it just works.

His and Her's menu boxes

After propping up the bar for ten minutes we were led to our seats. Our menus were contained in what I assume were faux crocodile skin presentation boxes with similar design for the menus all topped with gold embossed lettering. At this point I was expecting a menu containing Steak Diane and Black Forest gateaux aplenty. Alas, all I could find were a selection of South Indian classics and a few unique options.

We ordered and took the poppadoms in hand as they arrived. The plain and seeded poppadoms were good quality but the new comer for me was the spinach poppadum. With a much thicker and chewier texture, they were the true opposite to a traditional salted, crisp poppadum. Just to be sure of their quality, I ate 5 of them.

You can't hide in there spinach poppadom

After inhaling the poppadum’s we were more than ready for the arrival of the main. I love a little presentational flair to a meal and despite having been raised on Indian food, I can say I’ve never seen a biriyani brought to the table in the way this one was. Still topped with a thin pastry topping kept soft by the rice and meat baking underneath, our waiter sliced through the crust, peeling it back with a theatrical grace to reveal freshly baked goodness underneath.

The before..

... and after. Magic.

The Lamb Achari kicked arse. Picked and spicy, its had the same tangy, mouth-watering quality that you’d get from Sichuan pepper or a mouthful of gherkins. The intense flavour hangs around in your on the back of your tongue thanks to the semi-dry sauce.

I’ m a big curry-lover so even a mediocre curry would make the evening for me, but Pushkar’s is a great step out for high-end curry in palatial surroundings. Long live posh curry.

Pushkar Cocktail Bar & Dining on Urbanspoon

Get drunk, Cuban style

8 Dec

Once in a while, a great thing will happen. I love rum, specifically Cuban rum and I’ve drank more Havana Club than I should. I was recently introduced to a Havana Club I’d never heard of.

While dining out in Birmingham, I spotted this little gem nestled in amongst the rums at the bar.

'That one there please. The god-like one in the middle'

The 15-year Havana club is a special drink. For any spirit drink, the dream is all of the flavour with none of the harsh, bitter, throat gargling kick back (I’m looking at you Smirnoff vodka.. and you Gordon’s gin). Dash of coke, squeeze of lime and run the lime slice around the rim of the glass just for good measure. It’s so smooth, you’ll swear you ordered a glass of liquid velour. Deep warming flavour, tang from the lime and easily refined enough that you could sup it like Ribena

For £116, a bottle could be yours, or as I found £11.50 gets you a single measure. Give it a go but check the balance at the cash machine if your planning a heavy night on the Havana Club 15-year.

The Asian Express

29 Nov

Ready for the plate up. Five hundered salmon nigri please.Christmas is nearly hear and I was trekking through the Trafford Centre on an obligitory death march or ‘shopping trip’, whichever floats your boat. On the way, we decided to drop in to Selfridges for some Saturday shushi at Yo! Sushi. The sushi chain opened in 1997 in London to very favourable reviews, not only for good quality sushi but becasue who wouldn’t love a restaurant where your food moves round on a tiny conveyor belt. On a side note, I do sometimes wonder if they would have to close if that belt broke down. I’m not sure it would be the same to just have your sushi ‘handed’ to you.

Inari pocket is a sweet little treat

Regardless, we plowed through a mix of sushi and sashimi and other bits and pieces. The Inami Pockets were a great little start with rice and pickled radish surrounded by a fried soya bean roll (inami) which was sweet and sour in the right amounts. A spicy seafood udon soup had a great spicy tinge to the king prawns and squid cushioned on top of the thick udon noodles. The prawn katsu curry had the reliable comforting katsu curry sauce with fried prawn topped with tangy japanese pickle. From the sashimi menu we went with the classic salmon, which was a little on the bland side but more than made up for by the beef nigiri we had next. The crispy salmon skin ISO (inside out) roll was saltily good and a strong case for more use of salmon skin in dishes other than sushi. Before sushi fatigue set in, we made it to just one last dish of a crab hand roll and what a way to end. Tempura fried crab, rocket, more japanese pickle and a sweet chilli mayo wich proceeded to leak out onto my hand.

The higher end of noodle soup - Spicy Seafood Udon soup

The food is delicious and its one of the few restaurants where the food rotates more often than the customers your sat next to at the counter…

We didn’t stop there however as my sisters called and said they were coming down to do some shopping and would we like to get something to eat with them. ‘Could it be’ I thought. ‘Could I really be about to sample the forbidden delight of Double Dinner?’

So that happened a few hours later. This time we were in Tampopo sampling pan-asian cuisine. I hate that phrase ‘Pan-asian cuisine’ as it sounds strange in my brain, like the sound of a cat clearing its throat or listening to Enya. Its not wrong, just weird. Given that we’d already eaten, we went for a Tampopo Platter to Share. To cut down on the explination time, here’s what’s on the platter Goi Cuon (Vietnamese spring rolls), Gyoza (Dumplings), Bulgogi (mmm…beef), Coconut Prawns, Satay Chicken & Tod Man Khao Pod (sweetcorn cakes. The mix was amazing, six mixed starters and six sauces. I loved this dish more than I thought I would. The up-market, street restaurant style has a strange mix of trendy and traditional; the plush cushions on wooden benches is the best example of this. The decor was secondry though as this platter disappeared in about four minutes flat. Not bad from two people having their second dinner of the night.

The Tampopo Sharing platter - drink it in

 

Double dinner took us across the Asian continent. Now all I need is a balti and I’ve got a full house. Next time: Triple Dinner?!?