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Seasons Eatings Supperclub

2 Mar

Food trends can get pretty tiresome, no? Even if you personally called the latest fad to topple dude food, or find yourself basking in the glow of uncovering the contender to Simon Rogan’s crown – smug sensibilities aside – you will inevitably suffer the indignity of seeing your find trampled upon by every food nerd in town, followed by a spate of pretenders springing up to steal your prize discovery’s sunlight…

Seasons Eatings January Supperclub Menu

Seasons Eatings January Supperclub Menu

Green Shoots

Not emotions ever experienced by me, you understand. An eternal late bloomer, I’m far too rooted in (read weighed down by) last year’s fried chicken trend to outpace this country’s ever-evolving victual vogues, and living in Manchester, have needed peer no further than my Twitter feed to keep abreast of original ideas from our fair capital taking seed in our increasingly food obsessed city.

Marmite Butter and Trove Baguette

Marmite Butter and Trove Baguette

Of late though, it seems a spring awakening is occurring in our little corner of the North. Green shoots in the form of undiscovered cooks, inventive little food producers and the occasional lesser spotted food concept – we’re nurturing home-grown talent which has real potential to blossom into something beautiful. All quite exciting, really, but how to find them?

Pastures New

Having eschewed overly conceptualised restaurant openings and corporately sponsored food festivals of late, I started trawling local markets, and keen to get away from the foodie rent-a-crowd, stalking supper club owners on Twitter. Street food stalls, off-the-beaten-track eateries and food clubs have all been on the agenda, with each and every one providing shiny new eating experiences in abundance (and not a Manchester Confidential critic in sight).

Beef and Rye

Beef and Rye

How else would I have gotten to try Colombian street food if it wasn’t for the street-side ministrations of Arepa! Arepa! or understood the true potential of bacon if Bobby’s Bangers (of Levy Market fame) hadn’t cured it in marmite. It’s this new crop of food markets, home-hosted supper clubs and street food festivals that enables the more adventurous foodies of our fair city to set out their stall for minimal outlay, and the rest of us to feast anew.

Seasons Eatings

Most brilliantly, it allows producers to tweak recipes and chefs to shape their style over many months, all whilst building a following, which is exactly what the gifted ladies of Seasons Eatings have been doing. Since I first encountered them late last year at their supper club promoted through MFDF, they’ve blossomed from a monthly event rooted in the ambient surroundings of Trove to more regular appearances at North Star Deli in Chorlton and the fabulous Fig + Sparrow in town.

Brill and Clam

Brill and Clam

Determined to nurture their own style, between them having worked in everything from city restaurants to private yachts, Issy and Suzy’s use of unusual, seasonal ingredients gathered in and around Manchester isn’t anything new, but their execution is. Toying with techniques to best showcase flavour, the girls’ keen palates and deftness of touch makes for dishes which allow big hitting ingredients to shine, all whilst bringing together beautifully the composite textures and tastes across the plate. Budding talent, indeed.

Budding Talent

At the supper club I attended in January, two dishes truly shone. First up, the starter of rich, raw beef fillet served on crisp rye bread, expertly balanced by the sweet tang of pickled shallots and flecked with olive oil powder, all of which emulsified and spread the earthy, piquant flavours featured in the most mouth-watering way.

Rosemary, Praline, Artichoke and Orange

Rosemary, Praline, Artichoke and Orange

The rosemary ice cream served on a sesame praline inspired most awe, however. The fragrant, herby flavours paired beautifully with the nutty, umami rich base, making for an intensely moreish few mouthfuls. Sadly, the accompanying artichoke and white chocolate mousse failed to see the unique flavours come through, though the use of blood orange fruit and jelly unified the dish texturally, and introduced much needed sweetness as a foil for the creaminess of the dessert.

Milk Chocolate and Vanilla Black Pepper Marshmallow

Milk Chocolate and Vanilla Black Pepper Marshmallow

Home-made marmite butter slathered over a freshly baked Trove baguette to open, pillow soft vanilla and black pepper marshmallows served with coffee and a fruity, rum based Campari cocktail to whet our appetites before the main, even the punctuating dishes and drinks served packed a mean punch, constantly keeping you keen for the next dish (or supper club, should you sadly find yourself at the end of the meal).

Fresh Flavours

More often than not, Season’s Eatings ingenious use of ingredients works wonderfully, and reading their Twitter feed – the only place they post pictures and detail their upcoming events – continue to become more bold and inventive as feedback pours in and more people shout about their food. Its people like Issy and Suzy who are keeping our food scene fresh, rather than buy into the same old food trends creeping up from London. Who needs another dirty burger, anyway?

So, you heard it here people, (though not first, naturally). Loathe as I am to share, for fear of never getting a seat at the table again, their next supper club at Trove is on 03 April 2014. Don’t all rush at once, now…

The Drunken Butcher Sous Vide Supper Club

19 Jan

I love and loathe January in equal measure. Nothing is more tedious than hearing people wax lyrical about the paces they’re putting their digestive system through, and how their John Wayne style walk is everything to do with the squats they did last night and absolutely nothing to do with the festive chafe they’re still experiencing. The only things more tedious is dieting itself, and whilst I never partake fully in the mass January purge, I do love to indulge in a little resolution making, setting out my stall for the things I want to experience and enjoy throughout the year.

Life is just too short (and dieting largely unsuccessful) to strip away the small and consistent pleasures that food brings, which is how I found myself at a supper club before January’s joys and miseries were barely off the mark. The fact that frequenting the supper clubs of Manchester sits high on my New Year to do list is no coincidence, and happens to be one of the happy – and hopefully very achievable – habits I hope to keep.

Supper Club – Sale Style

A supper club, I believe, is the perfect way in which to enjoy food. Blogging last year saw me chasing down sparkly new restaurants or hovering round canapé tables fighting my fellow fat-fingered bloggers for the remaining Char Sui Bao. Constantly taking pictures or circling a room is in no way conducive to meeting people and having a lovely conversation over a delicious meal or socially relaxing bottle of wine – one of the main reasons I set up shop in the first place. Supper clubs, on the other hand, afford that very experience, and for that alone, I love them.

The Drunken Butcher

The Drunken Butcher

Cue the Drunken Butcher, who is fast becoming a stalwart of the Manchester supper club scene. Having first stumbled across him at a pop up down at The Liquorists gaffe, where his meaty inclinations met the bar consultant’s proclivity to create beautifully paired cocktails, I quickly fell in love with his porkfiteroles (cough) and found myself determined to taste more. Over a year later, after many informal soirees at his Sale-based gaffe and testing out each and every one of his kitchen gadgets, I was invited along to see what wonders could be conjured with his latest toy, a sous vide.*

Sous Vide Mackerel with Apple and Lovage Puree

Sous Vide Mackerel with Apple and Lovage Puree

Having previously feasted on deep fried tempura battered bacon and heavily smoked saddle of venison courtesy of Iain’s (his actual name) tinkering, a noticeable step change took place in our meat-obsessed friend’s output. The water bath method of cooking turned our dear butcher tender, and the usual blood lust that accompanies the generous meat mountains that Iain lays out was replaced by a seven course supper of (mostly) fish, elegantly plated and served to me and the seven other food fans and bloggers in situ.

Sous Vide Super Power

Fresh fillet of mackerel with apple and lovage puree fell apart lovingly, and the sous vide treatment afforded the meaty monk fish and sea bass main – swimming (soz) in a heavily reduced fish soup served with a refreshingly light lemon and fennel salad – a luscious melt in the mouth quality. Duck breast, scored then seasoned and cooked slowly for four hours at 54°C, shows just how tender and flavoursome this style of cooking renders its ingredients, lightly seared and plated with a rich Cavolo Nero sauce to finish up.

Sous Vide Duck Breast and Cavolo Nero Sauce

Sous Vide Duck Breast and Cavolo Nero Sauce

Iain’s truly distinctive style shone in the home-cured smoked salmon, contrasted beautifully with a tart cider apple brandy and a little heat from the accompanying horseradish sauce. The applewood smoke permeated the Kilner jar it was presented in, administered using another nifty tool from the sous vide range, and made for a potent, intensely moreish pot of food, though no more so than the duck confit, which couldn’t have been more Drunken Butcher than if he’d lasered his logo on it.

Home Cured Smoked Salmon with Apple Cider Brandy

Home Cured Smoked Salmon with Apple Cider Brandy

Duck leg, salted for 24 hours then vac packed with goose fat (hurrah) and constantly cooked at precisely 63.5°C for up to 48 hours – all before roasting (to reheat), shredding and topping with mash – made for the cleanest yet most disgustingly decadent duck confit I’ve ever experienced. Meat cooked confit this way would see me the happiest and most lard-arsed lady ‘til the end of my days, and if weren’t for the threat to our most beloved NHS, I’d give it a damn good go.

To Sous Vide or not to Sous Vide?

Delicate, wholly flavoursome on account of cooking in its own juices and brightly hued due to the gentle application of constant heat, without doubt, sous vide turns out its ingredients beautifully, and in the hands of someone as creative (and talented at sauces) as The Drunken Butcher, makes the food fun to eat and wantonly moreish too.

Sous Vide Confit Duck

Sous Vide Confit Duck

Would I want to spend precious meeting and eating time working out it takes an hour and a half to make a custard base at 80°C – as mastered for our spiced red wine poached pear dessert with home-made cinnamon ice cream – or sous vide a piece of rib eye steak that then required finishing off as traditional in the pan? No, even if the beef had given up all resistance to canine intervention, and the smoothness of the ice cream rendered dessert a dream.*

Life might be too short to sous vide too, it turns out, but never too short to go supper club (or restaurant) where they make good use of one.

* I wouldn’t mind that Polyscience smoking gun though. I have my heart set on home-made smoky old fashioneds, people, and lo and behold, I have a birthday coming up (hint, hint).

Iain was gifted his the smoking gun by industry suppliers Sous Vide Tools (already being in possession of a sous vide). The food was not gifted, and like the good bloggers we all are, admirably coughed up for the delicious food Iain waited around an age to cook. We were grateful; Iain was remunerated. All is well in the world. 

The Liquorists’ Gincident

26 Aug

You’d be forgiven for thinking that a booze cruise called Gincident would be impossible not to wreak havoc on. Considering said do contained a potent brew of sipping spirits, lethal cocktails and gin and tonics aplenty, all hosted on a canal boat traversing the waterways of Manchester and Salford, I was slightly trepidatious to say the least.

Throw into the mix my history of becoming a serious narky knickers when quaffing gin, plus a gregarious group of Manchester food bloggers and friends on board, my expectations were no lower than total ruin (and potentially a dip in the disgustingly dirty Irwell).

All Aboard

All Aboard

I should have known better, my friends. Having been on many a night out hosted by The Liquorists – talented bar aficionados that they are – not only was the evening highly educational, but also included a boat load of delicious fodder, which curtailed the worst excesses of this emotionally efficacious drink.

Thankfully, it also helped deliver on their no hangover guarantee, resulting in a surprisingly fresh-faced lady the following day, and a new love for food soaked in (and chased) with gin. All hosted on a beautifully kitted out canal boat with the charismatic Tom Sneesby and Jamie Jones as our comperes, all in all, Gincident proved to be without incident.

Jamie Jones Talks Gin

Jamie Jones Talks Gin

Naturally, we were pissed. Three shots of gin to sip started the evening off spectacularly. Each glass demonstrated the development of the spirit from its earliest incarnation as jenever – the first juniper distilled spirit made popular during the 17th century by the Dutch – to the distilling of the far drier, London-style gin, first enjoyed on a mass scale during Britain’s 18th century’s gin craze.

Immortalised in Hogarth’s Gin Lane – a social commentary on the widespread impact of the then cheap and sanitised drink on the poor of the day, we thankfully experienced far more refined gin brands such as the classic Plymouth Gin, not to mention some of the more creative boutique labels of the likes of the elegant and floral Bloom Gin.

Gincident Food

Gincident Food

The food came served with the classic G&T, making good use of the world’s first premium gin – Martin Miller’s Gin – and Fever Tree Tonic. Accompanied by the back story of the quinine-laced mixer being paired with the spirit during the reign of the British Raj in India to help prevent malaria, we digested said information whilst diving into the delicious food. Cured salmon with gin soaked cucumber (seriously good), delicately spiced and fragrant ham flecked with juniper and cous cous and a melt-in-the-mouth strawberry and feta salad as a pseudo dessert.

Message Gin a Bottle

Message Gin a Bottle

Continuing the mouth-watering trend for intense flavours, the cocktails were a master class in creative naming and clever ingredient combinations. ‘Message Gin a Bottle’ (for real) was a personal favourite – an easy-going combination of Martin Miller, Kaffir lime, jasmine tea and The Liquorists’ homemade ginger beer – all packaged in a short green bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag. Surprisingly classy, despite the wrapping.

La Floraison D'être

La Floraison D’être

The highlight of the evening was the ‘La Floraison D’être’ from Jamie, winning cocktail and bartender of the 2013 Gin Connoisseur Programme with G’Vine Gins. Making poetic use of their Floraison Gin, whisked up with framboise, elderflower tonic water, lemon juice, pink peppercorns, olive oil (?!) and egg white, this delicately perfumed and lighter than air cocktail finished our evening beautifully, and unsurprisingly, merrily too.

With no hint of the gin monster in sight, it was one of the silliest and simultaneously scholarly evening’s I’ve had in a good while. Good company from the likes of North West Nosh and Manchester Foodies (both who have also written up excellent reviews), great cocktails making skills from The Liquorists’ Massimo and generously portioned and delicious food from the kitchen, we skipped to shore and took our happy gin-gurning faces off into the night, wishing we could set sail and experience Gincident all over again.

Massimo

Massimo

Luckily for you, there still a few September sessions left aboard the good ship gin. Check out the dates here. Bon voyage!

P.S. These elegantly shot photographs are evidently not my own – you’ve seen my other efforts. Instead, they’re from a talented chap by the name of Peter Sheppard whose work you can find at www.tone-photographer.com.

The Liquorists’ Gonzalez Byass Sherry Evening

9 Jun

Three things, when pushed, that people most commonly associate with sherry:

  • Sickly sweet
  • Christmas
  • Nanas

Three things I associated with sherry, before I paid up to play at The Liquorists’ Gonzalez Byass sherry shindig:

  • Ice cream
  • Christmas
  • The go to bottle at the back of the shelf when I run out of port

Wrong. We’ve all been quite wrong, apart from the ice cream association of course. Sherry kicks the crap out of fudge sauce and chocolate sprinkles any day. Trust me. It’s the thing.

Turns out, there’s far more to this finely crafted fortified wine than I ever imagined, as many hip foodies down that there London can testify, with their fancy pinxtos bars and walls of sherry bottles to sample from. This elegant wine from Southern Spain is seeing a much needed demographic shake up, and for good reason.

After sipping my way through every type of sherry Gonzalez Byass sell, from a delicate, dry fino to an intense, unctuous pedro ximenez (PX), I was blown away by the complexities of the styles on show and majorly impressed with its ability to pair with just about any flavour.

So, as a full-fledged member of the sherry fan club, here’s what I now know…

Sherry is not always sweet

Having been weaned on the sweeter PX style stuff – admittedly a whole lot more sophisticated than my earliest incarnation as a food philistine when I solely quaffed Croft – my lips went loco for the dryer fino style sherries, made from the elegant palomino grape.

With sherry being fermented first and fortified after to further boost the barrel’s ABV, the grape’s natural sugars convert completely to alcohol, so only the grape used and subsequent ageing introduce any trace of sweetness. As you can imagine, sipping a sherry akin to a dry white wine – grassy hay in colour, sharp pear flavours and fragrant almond notes – the Tio Pepe first provided was a serious revelation, and gave my palate a good kicking to prepare it for the forthcoming wines.

Wine glass followed wine glass, each gradually darkening in colour and introducing caramel and citrus nuts in the amber-hued Vina AB amontillado, and an unusual woody, nutty yet sweet toffee hit in the 10 year aged Alfonso oloroso-style sherry, despite all being made from the same grape.

Turns out, whereas lighter, younger fino sherry is biologically treated during its time in the barrel, the older, darker sherries are allowed to oxidise during the ageing process. Turning the wine attractive caramel and toffee colours as the liquid evaporates – allowing for a stronger sugar concentration – the oxidisation introduces a hint of sweetness without actually adding any extra sugar. Only when you start producing sherry with the sweeter PX and Moscatel grapes do you get the real sugar hit.

The mahogany-coloured, velvet rich Solera 1847 – made from a 75% PX and 25% oloroso sherry mix – had deep raisin and strong liquorice notes, reminiscent of bonfire night, with the creamy sweetness achieved through the six week soleo process they put the PX through, laying the freshly picked grapes out in the sun to increase their sugar level. Intense, but no more so than the pure PX-based Nectar, viscous like treacle and just as sweet.

Surprising in its variation and each glass a revelation, I’m still no sherry aficionado, but can now firmly identify as an oloroso girl, and feel safe in the knowledge that a solid sherry habit (which I fully intend to take up) won’t lead to type 2 diabetes. Huzzah!

Sherry is for life, not just for Christmas

Whilst I’d happily let someone buy me a bottle of the expensive sherry for Christmas,* I’ll no longer be consigning my sherry sipping to the most wonderful time of the year. Instead, I plan to make each and every season wonderful by drinking and pairing this fine, fine fortified wine regularly, and here’s why.

Not only did I get sloshed after two glasses, but it was the happiest session I’ve had in a long time. I found myself giggling – giggling for Christ sake – at my two companion’s banter and drifted off into a happy daze, where I dreamily contemplated the joys of life.

I now see why Nana’s hammer the Harvey’s Bristol Cream come Christmas Day. All those sugar high grandbabies running amok and turkey related tension – you need a hit of happy to see you through to New Year. I say, why wait til old age?

For a girl who comes over all Grinch like after one glug of gin, or an incoherent sack of spuds upon necking cider, the light-hearted highs of sherry drinking makes it just the tipple for me.

Sherry is not Port’s poor cousin

Yes, they’re both fortified wines, and yes, they both enjoy the lofty stature that comes with being assigned PDO status. Let’s give pause and celebrate the fact that only the white grapes grown around Jerez de la Frontera are used to create this refined drink, safeguarding the history, production and unique flavours this skilfully created sipper offers. Let us not, however, underestimate what sherry can stretch to, and automatically assume the answer to every question is port. (Just me?)

Far beyond the usual port and cheese pairings or the majesty of the red stuff as an after dinner digestif, the white grape base means a fino can be paired with everything from fish and vegetables to fruit and cheese, whilst the sweeter grape varieties understandably ally to dessert with ease.

The Liquorists’ pairing of mussels in white wine and bacon worked wonderfully with the Tio Pepe, and as we moved on through to the darker colours and caramel flavours, found the morcilla pinxtos and manchego and fig pairings a real feast for the senses. The PX paired best with crumbly, buttery richness of the most perfectly pitched rhubarb crumble I’ve ever eaten, and worked wonderfully with a dollop of dense and dreamy ice cream, natch.

Most importantly though, don’t condemn it to the dusty recesses of your drinks cupboard- or cabinet if you’re wanky like that – like you might be inclined with port. Sherry is a fortified white wine – the clue is in the name. Chill it in your fridge. Sup a fino within 4 or 5 days like you would a sauvignon blanc, though admittedly, the PX-based bottles can last a little longer.

Too much, you say? You’d be surprised at my capacity for port, which in comparison to a fino or amontillado is far more challenging to put away.

So, sherry’s secret is out. Sorry Nana.

* Any bottle of the Gonzalez Byass classic range will do, ta.

G’Vine Gin Connoisseur Programme – Manchester Bartender’s Ball

17 Mar

I’m no gin aficionado. Christ, I only started drinking the stuff again several months ago, turned off in my youth by the complex botanical flavours and bitter tonic pairing, which sadly no lime or cucumber garnish could save. Mix in a considerable emotional response each time I took a sip (or two) of the aptly nicknamed mother’s ruin, I spent years convinced that one hit of the spirit would wreak a Jekyll and Hyde style transformation upon me, (turns out I was just a grumpy bitch), until I tasted a friend’s Tanqueray and tonic, and found myself to be both pleasant and pleasantly surprised.

Since then, I’ve been working my way through the major brands and classic cocktails, so when an invitation landed in my inbox asking me along to the G’Vine Gin Connoisseur Programme’s (GCP) Manchester Bartender’s Ball, it would have been churlish of me to refuse. An ideal way to extend my education, don’t you think? Sampling a new gin and quaffing the creations of some of the city’s best bartending talent – invited to compete in G’Vine’s global quest to find the world’s best gin bartender – the evening promised to be a sublimely sensory and highly educational experience.

Hosted at the spiffy Epernay Champagne Bar, (where most of The Liquorists trails end and the start of temporary memory loss begins), I walked in to a room of tables and crowds, with each bartender setting out their stall to pitch their cocktails creations to the gathering of gin-lovers. Using either the uniquely grape-based London dry style G’Vine Nouaison or softer, floral tasting Floraison, our regional contenders were tasked with creating something special for the crowds and locally selected judges to vote on in the hope of seeing them through to the GCP’s national heat.

Largely picking up on the earthier tasting notes in the Nouaison, we experienced a smoky, almost medicinal concoction of malt whiskey, apricot brandy and vermouth from the bartender at The Blue Pig, whereas the earnest bar keep from Browns muddled grape, ginger, lime and bitters into a perfectly puce coloured cocktail, garnished prettily with a rose and grated nutmeg. The Floraison expressed in a new take on G&T – named Cherry Vine on account of the inspired inclusion of cherry liqueur shaken with lemon juice and Benedictine – made for a refreshing and slightly sweeter take on an old classic.

A sophisticated smoky number from The  Blue Pig

A sophisticated smoky number from The Blue Pig

The Floraison proved to be the more successful choice of the night, with the first runner up and winner making use of this subtle, fragrant spirit. A Lily Fizz comprising the unusual but piquant flavours of rhubarb syrup, cardamom bitters, fresh ginger and rose lemonade made for stand out drink, winning the young gentleman from Room a case of the French brand’s finest, but the top prize went to Jamie Jones of The Yacht Club fame, who on account of the surprising ingredients in his carefully thought out and experiential cocktail will go on to the national meet later this year.

Pretty in pink... The cocktail offering from Browns.

Pretty in pink… The cocktail offering from Browns.

Home-made lemon sugar and egg white mixed with extra virgin olive oil provided the most exquisite mouth feel, shaken with St Germain, Martini Extra Dry and ground pink peppercorns to bring about an intelligently pitched sweet, dry and earthy cocktail, served up with a pink macaroon and a spritz of Jamie’s own rose and lavender perfume to elevate the floral notes in the gin. Clever stuff, and a seriously strong start to hopefully see him through to the G’Vine Summer Ball in Cognac to compete against 12 international contenders in the name of winning the title and role of G’Vine brand ambassador for a year.

G'Vine GCP Manchester Finalists, with winner Jamie Jones rocking the bow tie.

G’Vine GCP Manchester Finalists, with winner Jamie Jones rocking the bow tie.

Following the excitable announcement, the remainder of the evening was spent celebrating Jamie’s success. We finished the evening with one (or was it three) G’Vine Nouaison G&Ts. Dry, sweet and crisply clean, they were the perfect antidote to an evening of ambitious and excitingly flavoured cocktails, and not a bad mood in sight. I’d even go so far as to say, its one of the happiest hangovers I’ve had in a long time!