Tag Archives: Food

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

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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 pub down the road

24 Nov

“We’re off down the pub for a few pints and some dinner”. That sentence couldn’t be any more English if it was covered in clotted cream and its first name was Nigel.

The pub is a staple of British life, or at least mine. The development of the gastro pub has raised the standard of pub food from the traditional chicken in a basket of years gone by. So the Horse and Jockey on Chorlton Green is no slouch in pairing fine food with fine brews.

Since undergoing a massive overhaul several years ago, the Horse and Jockey has really become a corner stone of the local community. Hosting everything from Farmer’s markets to Bonfire night displays, this pub has also stepped up the food and drink on offer. As well as an extensive drinks selection, the pub now has its own microbrewery producing some tasty beers under the Bootleg Brewing Co. brand.

The food is split into two with the restaurant style menu and the pub menu intertwined. When I popped down with a few friends we took the sensible approach and ordered a few beers and more food than we could sensibly eat. The meal was nearly entirely derailed by the shocking announcement from the bar that there were no Manchester Eggs. Now I assume that a staggering demand for this god-like snack left them egg-less, because to have under-ordered would be bordering on criminal negligence. Anyway, hiccups aside we order our meals and waited.

All starters should be served in slab form

All starters should be served in slab form

The starters arrived first, as is the custom and the envy across the table was palpable. My choice of nachos could not have been more wrong. While the dips were good and the cheese was salty, they were average at best. My girlfriend’s choice of the chipolatas with Coleman’s English mustard couldn’t be a bad call as the sausage meat was great. The best choice by far on the table was the potted ham hock terrine with wholegrain mustard dressing and crusty bread. While I didn’t get to taste it, I’m assured it was good.

Corned beef isn't posh but its 100% class

Corned beef isn't posh but its 100% class

The mains were good, but my really interest was in the classic take of corned beef hash with fried egg and HP sauce. The hearty, meaty texture looked spot on and again the taste (I was told) was good. I would have asked for a bit but my steak and ale pie with fat chips or creamy mash, carrots and peas , a mammoth pie and mash combo capable of filling the gaps in your hunger like concrete filling foundations. It is however a little tastier. The main event for me was the burger. Specifically, the ‘Ultimate Burger’ which towers above puny normal burgers. I have a photo proving that this burger was as big as my girlfriend’s head, but she won’t let me use it, so I’ve done this artist’s impression.

My girlfriend and 'The Ultimate Burger' (To Scale...ish)

All in all, the food was good standard pub fare, but in a pub as long as the food is warming and homely, the beer is cold and crisp and the atmosphere is good, then I’ll happily stay for another pint.

Chocolate, Banana, Toffee and Lemon

14 Nov

Dictionary.com defines a cupcake as:

  1. A small cake baked in a cup-shaped container and typically iced.
  2. An attractive woman (often as a term of address).

As I would never be so crass as to discuss the second definition, I am of course talking about the first.  Sweet Tooth Cupcakery on Oswald Road in Chorlton. Situated next to some old garages in a building which you could easily pass off as being in need of some good demolition, the interior is what you would expect from the name. Floral patterned, pastle colours and a beautifully quaint wooden pull-draw display case housing the delicate looking cupcakes.

Despite really loving the cupcakes, I’ve found this blog really hard to write. Don’t imagine that this is because I didn’t love the cupcakes, because I really did. Even after a big sunday dinner, I still manged to eat two of them and that cream on top is rich and dense. The truth is I get a little too emotional about desserts. A long love affair with sugar based dishes started with my grandfather making me chocolate Angel Delight and carried on ever since. So now when faced with anything sweet and delicious, I find it hard to put into words how good it is.  So for a change and to get me out of forcing out an unsatsifactory blog, I’m going old school with a ‘Hartbeat’ flavour.

If you can’t see the gallery clips below, they are up on my Facebook page. I would also recommend having the Hartbeat gallery music to acompany this in the back ground, which you can find here. So as the irriplacable Tony Hart used to say ‘Now, it’s time for the gallery’

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Secrets from a Kosher Kitchen

20 Oct

The finisher: Amazing Cheesecake

Disclaimer: This is actually the second draft of this article, because the first one I wrote was part lies and part not very interesting.  The reality of the below is that I enjoyed the idea of this evening more than I actually enjoyed some of the dishes. This revision is at least more honest, if not quite as complentary and hopefully is slightly less of a car crash than the first draft.  It is also hopefully slightly more interesting…

‘Secrets from a Kosher Kitchen’ on Monday 10th October was the Manchester Jewish Museum’s contribution to the Manchester Food and Drink Festival. The event was a way to introduce Jewish tradition and culture as well as the idea of Kosher food and what determines wether a meal is Kosher. For a (lapse) Catholic boy like myself, this sounded like a very different cultural and culinary experience.

Learning with dinner

The main hall where we sat reminded me of being taken to church as a child. The rich smell of the wooden benches and the feel of worn carpet underfoot on an uneven floor made me feel strangely nostalgic in unfamiliar surrounding.

The meal began with an introduction to the two styles of cooking we would be eating. Ashkenazi (Eastern European Jewish) food and Sephardi (Middle Eastern Jewish) food. What I would love to do now is fly into an illustrative description of the cuisine and its cultural significance but there the  sheer volume of information we were presented with on the night (whilst eating) means that I am having trouble putting it into a narative. So instead, I’ll try to put what I can into the descriptions of the food.

Mmmm, Jewish Penicillin

Each course was a small taster to introduce some of the flavours of these two cuisines. The requirements of Kosher law meant that Ashkenazi and Sephardi cuisine developed from the foods which were available which could be prepared to be Kosher in those regions. One thing that was made clear to at the start of the evening was that there/ isn’t really such a thing as a Kosher dish. Its not really about the type of food, more how the food is prepared and the treatment of the food. Therefore, you could make a Kosher dish out of almost any dish. However as we worked through the menu, there were a few dishes which could be called ‘traditionally’ Jewish.

The chopped herring with matzo crackers and chrane mixed the dry crisp crackers with an unusual lightly sweetened fish, a combination I would never have put together. Even that most recognisable of dishes known as Jewish  penicillin: Chicken soup. The great broth with noodles and filling dumplings made me feel like I should have been wrapped in a warm blanket next to a roaring fire.

Tzimmes: Tastes better than it looks

The real surprises of the evening were the dishes I wasn’t expecting. Tzimmes was a revelation to me. A dish of chopped carrots mixed with sugar and dried fruits. The carrots are cut into rounds and are meant to look like coins. This is a common Jewish New Years dish to symbolise prosperity for the new year. I certainly prospered from having tasted these (Sorry, bad joke – and they were a bit too sweet).

The Hameen (Hamine) eggs were another great example. A Saphardi dish in which the eggs are boiled in their shells over night in a meat stew, they take on the flavour and colour of the stew, with some developing a marbled effect.

'Marbled' egg

The baked omelette was a really unusual dish. Served cold, these two omelettes made with spinich and leek were another example of a dish you wouldn’t expect to be sweet but really was. this was particularly true of the leek, which tasted close to caramalised onion was not my favourite dish of the evening, but like most of the dishes on this menu, it was like nothing I had tried before.

Leek or Spinich Baked Omelette? It's a tough choice...

The highlight of the evenings food was the sweet and creamy cheesecake, ahh the cheesecake, if they’d served it in table sized portions i would have belly flopped into it before doing my best Pacman impression.   The cake has no base, is pure cheese-cream and is perfectly sweetened and is available from Kosher Delights on Leicester Rd, Prestwich.

All of the dishes, the descriptions and the people we got to eat with were what made this a great evening. It was a meal that was also an experience, and all good meals should be an experience.

Kosher crackers

Links:

Manchester Jewish Museum website

Manchester Jewish Museum blog