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Manchester Food and Drink Festival 2013 – Seasons Eating Supper Club and Final Festivities

5 Oct

Cue mass devastation and weeping, people. Manchester Food and Drink Festival is ready to wrap up for another year, and Albert Square will become a desolate wasteland, sadly devoid of the food, booze and live music we have become accustomed to of late. I’ll soon be back to scouring street food festivals to get my Chaat Cart dosa fix, and bumming around the glut of beer festivals across the North West for the next few months, but until then (and the Manchester Christmas markets, of course) there’s always the memories…

Seasons Eatings Autumn Supperclub at Trove (Wednesday 02 October)

Every year, without fail, the festival gifts me something new. A Manchester venue I’ve never visited before, a cider producer I wasn’t aware existed or a type of street food which becomes an on-going obsession. This year has proved no different, and quite frankly, come up trumps. Scouting the listings early October, I clocked Trove would be hosting an autumn supper club, and having never visited this highly recommended bread haven before, put it top of my festival have-to list.



Autumn Supperclub Menu

Autumn Supperclub Menu

They’ve teamed up with Seasons Eatings – two highly talented lady chefs who met at uni and currently hail from the kitchens at Trove and Damson Heaton Moor – to bring the lovely people of Levenshulme and Manchester a monthly feast chock full of seasonal inspiration. This being only the second supper club to date, I’m glad I caught them early, as once word gets out about their affinity for classical flavour pairings, eloquently presented and delivered with a lightness of touch, it will be much harder to get a seat at the table. This is not your standard ‘supper club’ experience.

Roast Guinea Fowl, Celeriac, Apple. Chestnuts

Roast Guinea Fowl, Celeriac, Apple. Chestnuts

Caramelised Fig, Goat's Cheese Ice Cream, Chocolate

Caramelised Fig, Goat’s Cheese Ice Cream, Chocolate

The two standout dishes were the guinea fowl main and chocolate dessert. Tender, earthy white meat topped with a crisp, salty skin and rich, breaded confit guinea fowl balls – masquerading as the menu-promised chestnuts which peppered the rest of the dish – were naturally paired with soft apple thins, parsnip crisps and smeared celeriac puree with a rich, gamey gravy. Perfectly pitched, plates naturally cleared quickly to make way for the caramelised fig, mild tang of goat’s cheese ice cream and salted chocolate ganache served with an elegant edible viola flower. It silenced the room.

Scallop, Radish, Seaweed, Citrus Granita

Scallop, Radish, Seaweed, Citrus Granita

Marshmallow Tree

Marshmallow Tree

Edible herbs and flowers were a feature of the evening, with the scallop starter being served with an oyster flower, which upon eating overwhelmed all the other flavours (in an exciting, non-dish ruining kind of way). Thinly sliced, raw scallop topped with a sharp, sweet lemon granita, it was on occasion difficult to taste the freshness of the seafood, but the textures of the dish, along with the bursts of colour brought by the accompanying slices of radish, made for the most beautiful dish I’ve ever seen. More fun came in the form of apple floss and a coconut, gingerbread and vanilla marshmallow tree.

Otherwise renowned for the breakfasts, organic and florally adorned loaves and top notch pizzas, I’ll be back to try Trove’s day to day offering, though I have my eye on the Christmas do from Seasons Eating. It’ll give me something to look forward to now the festival’s all but gone… Although it’s not quite over yet though folks. Here are a few of the festival’s final hurrahs!

Manchester Food and Drink Festival Awards (Monday 07 October)

Did you vote? The survey closed earlier this week, but this coming Monday night will see the glitzy gala dinner and awards ceremony take place at Manchester Town Hall. With the eagerly anticipated restaurant of year award to announce (The French are in the offing for the prize) and hotly contested newcomer prize being fought out between Solita, Luck Lust Liquor and Burn and Artisan (to name a few) it promises to be an interesting night. Keep your eye on the @MFDF13 Twitter feed for live updates.

The Whisky Festival (Saturday 12th October)

Should parting ways with the festival prove difficult, The Whisky Lounge is hosting their fifth annual Whisky Festival down at Bridgewater Hall. Last year, in the name of furthering my food and drink education, (cough), I doused myself in craft beer at Indy Man Beer Con, and now considerably more learned in the art of pint drinking, plan to humbly dedicate myself to the dram. With beginner’s workshops, expert master classes and tastings included within the price (£30 for a full day), the lesson starts here.

So, did you enjoy the festival? What were your highlights, and is there anything you’d like to see more or less of next year?


Manchester Food and Drink Festival 2013 – Festival Hub and Highlights

30 Sep

Another year, another Manchester Food and Drink Festival and all the gut busting tucker and inebriating boozy joy it brings. Unlike 2012, I won’t be covering the whole festival as the ‘official blogger’ – I have neither the stamina or dress size to spare – but will be pootling along to a few of the events over the course of the two weeks, keeping my (greedy sausage) fingers on the pulse and providing you with piping hot tips on what to wrap your chops around.

Manchester Food and Drink Festival Hub

Manchester Food and Drink Festival Hub

Here’s a few of the highlights from the upcoming ongoing festival programme to look out for.*

Albert Square Festival Hub (Thursday 26 – Sunday 06 October)

Alright, alright, I’ve already been twice. Once on launch night, where I nibbled on wedges of freshly baked focaccia and sipped red wine from Bakerie, followed by a largely unexciting chicken tikka wrap from Zouk washed down with a marvellous tequila slushy from Apotheca. Both have set up shop alongside Robinson’s Brewery in the beer tent, making them ridiculously easy to locate.

Pulled Pork Tacos

Pulled Pork Tacos

The second time I hit the street food stands, I plumped for pulled pork tacos from Margo and Rita. Tiny, pretty little things, shockingly priced at £5, and a little too deconstructed and lacking in that big-hitting flavour you come to expect from Mexican food. The big purple van is cool though. The hot tip for the hub is to try out Mumma Schnitzel, who are only about until Tuesday 01 October, for intensely moreish chicken burgers.

Margo and Rita, Manchester

Margo and Rita, Manchester

The street food vendors switch over on Wednesday 02 October, bringing a few more Manchester favourites in the shape of Fire and Slice Pizza and Levanter Fine Foods. It’s here that the likes of La Tasca and Chaopraya move on, who in taking space are using up the opportunity to showcase some of the city’s more creative and independent food outfits.

Bigger brands are a big feature of this year’s festival unfortunately, presumably in the name of making rent. The Famous Grouse has taken up the centre of the square to sample new product, Ginger Grouse, and Arm and Hammer are bizarrely handing out tubes of toothpaste?!  Sorely missed are the quality producers from in and around the region, of which there is only a light smattering currently, but this should be rectified when Booths rock up Friday 04 October with their Indie Producers Fair.

Ginger Grouse

Ginger Grouse

Much like super heroes, local chefs and food aficionados saved the day weekend through running a series of master classes; Mary-Ellen McTague of Great British Menu fame taught simple shellfish techniques, and the legendary Harry Yeung of Yang Sing did dumplings. Much more the thing.

The Liquor Market (Saturday 05 October)

Last year, I attended the Big Indie Wine Fair – back then it was ripe with cheese producers and fine food delis too – and whilst doing its thing again this coming Saturday 05 – Sunday 06 October, my money would be on the Liquor Market being this year’s big success. Hosted at the newly opened Rosylee Tea Rooms with Dave Marsland, the Drinks Enthusiast, guests get to sample a host of boutique spirits including G’Vine Gins and Excellia Tequila, all for just £7.

Book Here:

Chinatown Revealed Tour (Saturday 05 – Sunday 06 October)

Sadly, I’m away for the weekend, luxuriating in the glorious beauty of the Lake District and eating ALL the bread and cheese in Cartmel, but were I not, I’d be hot-footing it round China Town with Manchester Confidential head honcho, Jonathon Scholfield, who’ll be taking tours groups around one of Manchester’s most distinctive areas, discussing the history and providing the opportunity to sample some of the food along the way.

Book Here:

Other Highlights

Hanging Ditch – The Unites States of Ditch (Tuesday 01 October)

Trove – Seasonal Eatings (Wednesday 02 October)

Grenache – Special Festival Menu (All Festival Long)

* Always late to the party. Shame really. You always miss the canapés.

MFDF: Awards

9 Oct

So, that’s it for the Manchester Food and Drink Festival (MFDF) for another year. No more binge eating street food on Albert Square, supping beer and cider by the pint, ace value restaurant taster menus or local producers schlepping their wares. Were it not for the copious amounts of food and drink consumed in the name of capturing all that has been great and good about the last two weeks, I’m sure I’d feel empty. Instead, I’m in dire need of a detox and a miniature blogging break.

Thankfully, not all is lost. Finishing on a high note, the final fanfare in the form of the MFDF awards has helped pinpoint all that is currently great and good in the food and drink scene across our fair city, providing a handy guide to get you through the coming winter months, when the need for sustenance and great hospitality is at an all time high. Taking place last night at The Lowry Hotel, the winners were announced following the annual gala dinner, which lying tucked up in bed, (praying I be spared from festival-induced gout), I sadly didn’t get to enjoy.

What I did get to enjoy was the live Twitter commentary from the ceremony, particularly the run up, where everyone tweeted how off their tits they were, though who didn’t enjoy the pictures of Lee Frost of WH Frost Butchers fame, winner of last years Best Food and Drink Retail Outlet, in a bow tie?

So, in case you missed it, the winners of the MFDF Awards 2012 are…

Restaurant of the Year Aumbry, Prestwich

Chef of the Year Andrew Nutter, Nutter’s, Rochdale

Pub of the Year Port Street Beer House, Manchester

Bar of The Year Liar’s Club, Manchester

Newcomer of the Year Bakerie and Bakerie Tasting Store

Food Pub Of the Year Shoulder of Mutton, HolcombeVillage, Bury

Casual Dining Venue of the Year Teacup, Manchester

Food and Drink Retailer of the Year Booths, MediaCity UK.

Coffee Bar of The Year North Tea Power, Manchester

Wine Retailer of the Year Hanging Ditch, Manchester

Food Pioneer Almost Famous, Manchester

Family Friendly Venue of the Year Croma

Food Hero Beau Myers, Marie Carter and The Team at Almost Famous

Howard and Ruth Award for Outstanding Achievement David Fox, Tampopo

Truly Good Food Award Trove, Levenshulme

Voted by the public, there wasn’t a great deal in the way of surprises, though how the pig did Home Sweet Home lose out to Teacup? (Shocking service, FYI). Aumbry, still setting the fine dining bar across Greater Manchester, makes for a very deserving winner of the highly coveted top prize, further cemented by its number 57 ranking at last night’s National Restaurant Awards. Bakerie’s arrival on the scene, bringing a much needed easy-going and perfect for sharing dinner option is also a joy to see on the list, as are the two award nods for Almost Famous.

Trailing a blaze this year with the pop-up gone permanent burger restaurant, and a master class in how to deliver a buzz through social media, Almost Famous has played a huge part in putting some oomph into the Manchester restaurant scene and delivered some of the craziest fricking burger concepts known to man. (The 50 Shades of Bacon Burger was a particular highlight). Food hero indeed!

Other winners have delivered some of the best experiences of this year’s festival, including Andrew Nutter, with his proper local food cook off with Robert Owen Brown, not to mention whacking his jewels out for charity, plus Port Street Beer House, winner of pub of the year, which delivered a blinder along with Common in organising Indy Man Beer Con, a beautiful lesson in how to truly celebrate real ale.

So, that’s my two penneth worth. What do you think of this year’s winners? Any establishments from those nominated you were sad to see miss out? Who should be on the list next year, following the recent crop of new establishments, especially in the Northern Quarter, with the arrival of SoLita and The Blue Pig? Which Manchester food and drink diamonds do you want to see shine?

MFDF: Indy Man Beer Con and Oktoberfest

6 Oct

Indy Man Beer Con

The past few years have seen a creeping revival of the British booze scene, witnessing everything from boutique gins to farm house ciders become more prevalent, thanks to artisan producers of some serious craft injecting real energy and excitement into the drinks of our history and heritage. For its part, real ale has spearheaded this resurgence, moving through the ranks from old man’s treasure to hipster tipple of choice, headlining the agenda at the local boozer to its current mainstream status, with larger swathes of supermarket shelf space dedicated to independently brewed beer than ever before.

It hasn’t blown wide open quite yet however, and is highly unlikely to, given the complex flavours and process geekery inherent, ensuring it will never truly ensnare the masses. Resolutely remaining an acquired taste for the largely long-haired, beard-wearing crowd, said crew were on show at Indy Man Beer Con, the latest offering in beer festivals. Headed up by the passionate folk at Common and Port Street Beer House, they put on a do aimed to out-do all dos at the most stunning of Manchester venues, Victoria Baths, and as part of the Manchester Food and Drink Festival (MFDF) programme, I felt compelled to go along.

Victoria Baths, Manchester

Indy Man Beer Con Events Hall, Victoria Baths, Manchester

Now, largely a red wine, rum and cider drinker, the real ale movement has somewhat passed me by, apart from the occasional half pint of Robinson’s Old Tom and a recent flirtation with the brewery’s collaborative beer with Elbow, Build a Rocket Boys. I know cock-all about the terminology, processes and drinking culture involved, so was half bricking it, half tingling with anticipation over what a day of learning and drinking would bring. A warm fuzzy glow as it turns out, and a burgeoning relationship that I hope grows into a full-blown love affair.

Indy Man Beer Con, Cask Room

Pumped up and ready to go… (sorry)

Having wandered the venue (a treat in itself) and clocked the cask, keg and event rooms squirreled about the place, (and a nifty little Brew Dog pop up to boot), I broke myself in gently with a pale ale, as you do, from Yorkshire based Magic Rock Brewing Company. Curious by name, curious by nature, it unexpectedly tasted of mango and smelt divine, with citrus fruit wafts emanating tantalisingly from the third of a pint chalices we were given by the organisers, with the aim of ensuring we tried as ‘broad a spectrum of beer’ as possible. Excellent idea, and more than manageable for a rookie like me.

Magic Rock Brewing Company, Curious

Magic Rock Brewing Company, Curious

Unlike many of the attendees, pottering around with beer sheet in hand and ticking off ales as they inhaled them,* I winged it , wandering round sans sheet and talking to brewers for want of clue, and did fairly well (I think). The joy of the pale ale led to me trying a Blood Orange Tea collaborative number from Stockport’s Quantum Brewery and North Tea Power, a slick, fruity ale with a bitter back hit that set me nicely on course for a stout, mixed with chilli and chocolate by the magicians from Brewing Bitches. Cack name but cracking stuff.

Brewed specially for the event, it comprised cocoa, scotch bonnet and naga chillies to make for a sweet initial hit, which gave way to rich, dark flavours followed by a tingly sensation. Incredible! All in all, the day was a revelation. I learnt the difference between cask (twice fermented and traditionally hand pulled) and keg (brewery pasteurised with added gas), the history and characteristics behind a session beer (less than 5% ABV and drinkable over a period of several hours), and that traditional brews are complex, flavoursome and happy drinks, produced and supported by some incredibly passionate people.

Indy Man Beer Con, Portable Street Beer House

Indy Man Beer Con, Brew Dog Pop Up

Much to my dismay, I also learnt that drinking real ale turns you into a big old pig too. On arrival, I had myself a pork shoulder barbecue roll from Mal at Fire and Salt BBQ (smothered in the fast becoming legendary Alabama red sauce) and heading out the door snaffled myself a Dachshund Dog of smoked polish sausage, stout-soaked sauerkraut and Bavarian smoked cheese joy from those geniuses at Dirty Dogs are Hot. After four hours of drinking, I was in sore need of a smackerel of something to soak up all those beer juices, and serious sustenance to power me through the 40 minute walk back to town. That’s my story, is all…

The Dachshund, Dirty Dogs are Hot

Having attended the beer lite session during the day, I missed out on the potent promise of the evening’s festivities, which served up beer talks on yeast, hops and craft beer at large, brewer tastings and live music, plus the true excitement only apple candy floss can bring from the guys at The Moss Cider Project, in attendance with their co-operatively produced Cider Pony. From all reports, the evening was a great success, and with more of the same today and tonight, I’d heartily recommend you try bag yourself a ticket. I’m already putting myself down for next year, all in the name of continuing my education, of course.


Final weekend of the MFDF and its all eyes to the festival hub, where street food still reigns supreme, plus more beer based fun for your roving (and now rolling on account of all the MFDF food and booze consumed) reporter. The beer tent has morphed into (what I suspect to be a slightly watered down version of) Oktoberfest, with German beer brand Veltin’s sponsoring. Packed to the rafters with after-work drinkers and kids kicking off their weekends, the whole of Albert Square was in excellent spirits on the final Friday of the festival.

Oktoberfest, Veltins

El Kantina, Pulled Pork

With the street food changeover taking place earlier in the week, my flatmate Aoife and I tucked into pulled pork nachos from El Kantina, though Chaopraya and Levanter Fine Foods were also pulling the crowds with Thai delights and paella respectively. All washed down in the beer tent with a pint of Veltin’s, an easy-drinking clean and herbal beer, we were serenaded by a lederhosen toting oom-pah band, who had the crowds up on the tables dancing to Poker Face, Delilah and Bohemian Rhapsody, not to mention a rousing Happy Birthday for an eighteen year old I’ve ever met.

Oktoberfest, Table Dancing

Great food and drink and great atmosphere, take yourself along to the festival hub to see MFDF out in style.

* Real ale drinking may just be the train spotting of booze. All little beardy men with sheets, ticking off the beer supped and looking sublimely happy as they go.

MFDF: Aumbry

4 Oct

Having been brought up on a solid 80’s diet, with a few northern classics thrown in for good measure, I oft lament the fact that my poor palate is not as experienced or educated as it should be, given its enthusiasm and my endless greed. Since the day of my enlightenment, involving The Bridge, Robert Owen Brown and a dish of rabbit and wild mushroom pie, (a story for another time), I have been on a pilgrimage for a more comprehensive understanding of flavours, skills and cuisines, but have always stopped short at fine dining for fear of being out of my depth.

A girl of simple pleasures, I much prefer a restaurant with a homelier feel. Something a little rough around the edges with a gamey, modern British twist, offering an experience you can sink right into and cosily lose yourself in; your table an island, as it were, that only you and your fellow diner(s) exist on. Luckily for me, in Manchester such gaffes are ten a penny, with The Mark Addy, Sam’s Chop House and of late, The Blue Pig all welcoming the hungry masses into comfortable surroundings and hours later sending them sated and carb saturated on their merry way. The joy!

Whilst the city’s fine dining scene is no less prevalent, few of its restaurants make noise enough to ensure people return on a regular basis in the face of bold chefs, elaborate menus and pricey bills, which sadly make this kind of craft less accessible and keeps girls with a preference for pie and chips (albeit of the venison and thrice cooked variety) away. Gladly something Aumbry doesn’t suffer, despite its unassuming nature and out of the way Prestwich location.

Much mentioned amongst Manchester food types, on account of its delicate, imaginative cooking style, fondness for local produce and clever plays on traditional dishes, this Michelin-listed establishment only ever gets good lip service and a steady stream of customers to the converted cottage in which it is housed. Traditionally offering up 6 and 9 course tasting menus and a compact al a carte offering, my Dad and I lucked out on the very reasonable Manchester Food and Drink Festival (MFDF) 5 course tasting menu at just £25.*

An amuse bouche of salt beef stovie, luxuriously reminiscent of northern favourite corned beef hash, got things off to a very agreeable start, followed by a heavenly, lightly smoked fillet of mackerel on zingy strips of poached rhubarb and a gentle mustard sauce. As one of the few fresh ingredients of my childhood, despite the dish’s excessive plate to food ratio, it felt like coming home, though to a slightly more refined, less freezer dependent version, proving itself a decadent trip down memory lane.

Salt Beef Stovie

Home Smoked Mackerel, Poached Rhubarb and Mustard Cream

The field mushroom soup topped with truffle oil gave way to a little mouth orgasm, or as my Dad more lyrically put it, mouth scenes reminiscent of a forest fuck. You can take the boy out of Rochdale… Simple ingredients, powerful flavours, it’s a dish you never want to end, though excitingly gave way to the main event of hare loin. Being a game bird, I fully expected to be blown away, and though the dish was beautifully cooked, had strong liver undertones that I couldn’t quite get past. Personal preference is all.

Field Mushroom Soup with English Truffle Oil

Loin of Wild Hare, Swede Puree, Cavolo Nero and Barley Grass

A pre-dessert of grapefruit posset topped with celery granita and a spoon of sherbert gave way to a little mouth party, surprising given I usually avoid such tastes like the plague, but the real delight was the dessert of macerated Yorkshire strawberries with black pepper meringue, balsamic mousse and creamy rosewater pannacotta. A dainty dish of delicious and well-delivered ideas, this trait carried through the whole evening, seen over in the beef dripping to accompany our bread and white chocolate and burnt butter petit fours of popping candy centre excitement, all playful touches which more than made the meal.

Grapefruit Posset with Celery Granita and Grapefruit Sherbet

Yorkshire Strawberries, Rosewater Cream, Black Pepper and Violet

For my money, (or my Dad’s in this case), Aumbry is fine dining at its best. Expertly executed, classic combinations are stretched and re-imagined without ever taking you outside your comfort zone; the food felt familiar but exquisitely so, with a warmth and elegance that extended beyond the kitchen. Professional staff and graceful décor, the chintzy plates and burnished cutlery took me back to my Nana’s dining room, a homecoming of sorts for my Dad too, all in all resulting in the most relaxed of evenings, completely engrossed in one another’s company and forgetting where we were. A bigger compliment I could not give.

* Tasting menus range from £51 to £66, not including wine, with the a la carte offering starters from around the £10 region up to £26 for the mains.

MFDF: The Big Indie Wine and Cheese Fest / The Liquorists #mEAT

1 Oct

The Big Indie Wine and Cheese Fest

A mainstay of Manchester Food and Drink Festival (MFDF), The Big Indie Wine and Cheese Fest is the one event I attend religiously. Much like speed dating, it’s the perfect way to try out potential new keepers, and at just £11 entry for an afternoon or evening of grape-based fun, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t also a cheap way to get merry. Characterised by empty wine glasses being held forth, the gorgeous and infinitely more knowledgeable Helen and I worked the stands, pushing ourselves to try new grapes, regions and styles of wine in the name of educating our palates and prepping ourselves for the mother of all late-afternoon naps.

The Big Indie Wine and Cheese Fest. Freemason’s Hall, Manchester

With wine producers and merchants alike lining up to tout their wares, we tried an intriguing 100% Sauvignon from Château Haut-Terrier, fragrant with apricot and melon notes and lightly green in hue, and a sweet white from Domain du Noble, golden delicious with honey and apple flavours, offered up by two lovely gentlemen from the Commanderie de Bordeaux. From France to New Zealand, we moved on to the red, with Helen sampling a notable Mount Hector Pinot Gris with an unusual but not unpleasant earthy, smoky base, courtesy of T. Wright Fine Wines of Horwich.

Next stop Spain, with a heavy Cal Pla 2006 Crianza, that would take an age to drink in its entirety, such was the lesser distilled and heavily sedimented red so tannic it rendered a snarl. Noticing our distaste, Spirited Wines followed up with a rich, fruity Cins de Montsant 2010, the kind of red you could party on all evening without needing a nap. My favourite sip was a McManis Viognier from California however, surprising due to my usual disdain for American grapes, and thankfully forced by Helen, to reveal a tropical, citrus burst that I could have happily drank all day.

Spirited Wines, Cins de Montsant 2010

The new addition of inviting forth delis and cheese producers is an inspired one, allowing for the building of cheese boards to carry around whilst canvassing for a new tipple. Chorlton favourites Hickson and Blacks were in attendance, offering up some of the more interesting cheeses from the North West and beyond, including the ever delightful Mrs Kirkham’s Tasty Lancashire and the necessary Blacksticks Blue, plus a semi-soft Ardrahan Farmhouse Cheese from Cork, pungent and intense on the nose, with a deep buttery flavour that was a real revelation. Delicious.

The only sadness was the loss of the classes featured in prior years, proffering useful snippets of information on grape varietals and the like, all desperately needed to help me feel one step closer to being the oenophile I’ll never be. Held at the Freemason’s Hall down on Bridge Street, the new venue lacks the character and warmth of The Pump House out the back of The People’s History Museum, despite being infinitely more grand, but given the generous measures and educated patter of the wine merchants and producers, these two minor snags won’t keep me away.

The Liquorists #mEAT

As menu propositions go, one titled #mEAT is a pretty intriguing and lusty prospect, and out of the many specialist events put on over the course of MFDF, this was the one I was raring to attend. Ran out of The Liquorists HQ down at 22 Redbank, directors Tom and Jody teamed up with Iain Devine (aka @drunkenbutcher) to plate up an evening of inspired offal and meaty treats, accompanied by carefully selected cocktails (and a wine) to match.

Alive and kicking, the night started off with prawn cracker styled crackling, heavily seasoned with salt and Sichuan pepper – lip-smackingly good shit which gave way to a thirst that was skillfully quenched with a refreshing lemon sherbert and blood orange infused gin number. Porkfiteroles (yes you read right) followed. Choux pastry chock full with pulled pork and drizzled with intense meaty gravy. I won’t elaborate. Just let your mind run away with you.

Sea Salt Crackling

Chilli and Soy Pig Cheek

The star of the canapé show however, was a tender pigs cheek chunk marinated in soy and chilli. Bold umami flavours and moreish in the extreme, it beats the crap out of pineapple and cheese on a stick for getting a party started. As you can imagine, expectations were high. We moved from the bar to our table, comprising a table of food bloggers and enthusiasts, including social butterfly Charlie of Gin Fuelled Blue Stocking fame and Mal, the Mangechester meat man and southern barbecue guru.

Caipirinha Style: Aguardiente Apasionado, Cazadores Tequila, Passionfruit Jam, Jura Whiskey Rinse (Accompanying the #mEAT Platter)

A meat platter comprising a bacon-wrapped country terrine, a bourbon and marmalade glazed ham and the most tender, pretty pink pastrami was shared nicely against our better nature, with big hunks of homemade sourdough and wheat bread to host, plus a heavenly whiskey-based bacon confiture that I would have happily spooned right into my mouth.

#mEAT Platter

Herb and Lamb Fricassee with Deep Fried Sweet Breads

Plates cleaned, the starters arrived. Herb and lamb fricassee boasting deep meaty flavours, swimming with sweet red peppers and topped by golden, melt in the mouth sweetbreads. Swimming in juices, the plate had to be cleaned. Now, the first rule of being a fattie is never fill up on bread. NEVER. What did I do? I mopped up that juice with a hunk of olive bread, though behaved slightly better than my friend Helen, who got right down and literally licked her plate clean. Good girl.

The Draque: Thyme, Mint Infused Bacardi Superior Rum, Lemon Thyme Sugar, Lime Juice, Sparkling Water (Accompanying the Lamb Fricassee)

You need to be seriously earnest about your meat to make your way through a menu of this beef, and as a table we did ourselves proud. We attacked the main of hangar and rib-eye steak, cheek ravioli, braised shin hash and deep fried bone marrow with gusto, though there was plenty of groaning and sadly too few clean plates at the end of the dish. We consoled ourselves with the earthy South African Pinotage that was paired.

Steak, Cheek Ravioli, Shin Hash and Bone Marrow

Jam Suet Pudding and Custard

A jam suet pudding with custard (continuing the piggy theme) finished us off, though some of our party opted out at this stage to enjoy the spicy, sherry topped Old Fashioned made with a raisin infused Woodford Whiskey and a dash of absinthe, for our sins. With passion on show from Ian’s painstakingly planned and prepared dishes and serious skill from The Liqourists, now top contenders for the best cocktails in town, we finished our night with a few more Caipirinha-style cocktails comprising tequila, whiskey and aguardiente, keeping us partying long after the food coma should have suffered us to.

MFDF: Proper Local Food Day / Festival Feast

29 Sep

Proper Local Food Day

The hotly contended cook off between Robert Owen Brown (ROB) and Andrew Nutter was THE top billing for the Manchester Food and Drink Festival (MFDF) proper local food day, challenging The Mark Addy and Nutters chefs respectively to deliver three courses in 30 minutes using only ingredients from the attendant local producer’s stalls. Each entering with their own entourage, Nutter’s bedecked in Union Jack flags and ROB flanked by a cowboy and cave girl (?!), our two local lads were in it to win it.

Robert Owen Brown v. Andrew Nutter

With banter, bad jokes and improvised commentary from festival director Phil Jones, the cook-off wasn’t polished but it was fricking entertaining, with the chefs scrabbling around the marquee to grab produce from Bobby’s Bangers, The Bury Black Pudding Company and The Chocolate Café, all beacons in the local food scene and thankfully open following the show-down to lay your mitts on their fabulous wares.  

MFDF Proper Local Food Day Cook Off

ROB’s Menu

Starter: Bury black pudding, sausage and roasted tomato stew

Main: Roast lamb chop with roasted beetroot and pepper accompanied by a duck egg and Singleton’s Creamy Lancashire cheese omelette

Dessert: Chocolate and honey cream

Nutter’s Menu

Starter: Breakfast omelette souffle

Main: Goosnargh Chicken with Singleton’s Creamy Lancashire cheese with an olive and roasted vegetable fricassee

Dessert: Dark chocolate and strawberry souffle

Nutter’s friendly patter and wild enthusiasm won the crowd, but with a small judging panel boasting Phil Jones, Fergus Henderson and Sarah Howsen from Visit Manchester, the crowd didn’t get to taste the food, but on account of an exceptional omelette and his ongoing support for local producers, ROB won the day.

MFDF Proper Local Food Day Cook Off

MFDF Cook-Off Judging Panel

MFDF Cook-Off Winner Robert Owen Brown

Festival Feast with Fergus Henderson and Robert Owen Brown

Humble, earthy, British dishes are my delight, so the temptation of an evening of  food with Fergus Henderson, of St John and Nose to Tail Eating fame, and ROB, a game man of considerable skill, was too exciting to pass up. Hot on the heels of Fergus’ second Michelin star, the latest awarded for his new St. John Hotel venture in London’s Chinatown, not to mention the ripe success of ROB’s MFDF cook-off win, it was a poignant occasion for the hungry and expectant Manchester crowd.

Held in the cavernous festival hub marquee down on Albert Square, the evening kicked off with an intro from Manchester Confidential’s Gordo, who despite his best efforts to eulogise the work of the two attendant chefs, was repeatedly thwarted by a wonky PA system. (Much mirth, especially when he threatened to kick the damn thing to death). A warm and effusive Fergus followed, introducing the off cut and off-piste menu, and affectionately praising the work of ROB before passing us off into his very capable hands.

MFDF Festival Feast Menu

A starter of brawn and pigs ear salad had the evening off to a good start. Rich, meaty brawn accompanied by an acidic caper-flecked salad, topped with crunchy shreds of pigs ear* set the tone and a level of expectation for the evening, which the main event of partridge more than lived up to. A game meat light in tone, cooked perfectly pink and moist, the bird sang, and accompanied by roasted onion, carrots and a fondant potato, it was a simple and effective dish that fully deserved the clean plates sent back to the pass.  

Pressed Brawn with Crispy Pigs Ear Salad

Red Legged Partridge with Orbs of Joy and Bread Sauce

The Carrageen pudding was less successful. After the richness of the first two courses, the thick seaweed jelly, topped with tart blackcurrant and a quenelle of vanilla cream should have cut through and cleansed the palate, but was too bizarre to contemplate. The final billing of Leagram’s organic goat curd held promise, but the heavy-handed addition of brandy made the dish cloying and inedible. Accompanied by celery or something similarly fresh, the dish might have worked, but the proffered tuile biscuit was one sweet step too far.

Carrageen Pudding

Leagram’s Goats Curd

The evening was imperfect, but as with any good offal, treat it well and you have magic on your hands. Slow service, on account of the brigade working out the back of a marquee, loud and obtrusive sound from the nearby live music stage and near mid-winter temperatures aside, the convivial and friendly company from the long table set up, imaginative if not always enjoyable food and the chance to meet Fergus and ROB was a real joy. Festival in atmosphere and a feast for the senses, I’d do it all again.

* A more intense, less fatty take on pork scratchings.