Manchester House

22 Sep

I’m a recent convert to the religion of fine dining, and like most new believers, have found myself quite happy to sign over a tithe of my salary in the name of finely paired wines and silver service. I was baptised at Northcote Manor, and attended full mass (see: the ten course taster menu) at The French in Manchester shortly after it re-opened, but being freshly versed in the ways of the cheese trolley and formal attire, felt too inexperienced to share the epiphanies I experienced. I simply held the joy of dining under two very talented Michelin star chefs close to my heart.

Only an invitation from Living Ventures, to break bread with the latest fine dining disciple on the Manchester food scene, has encouraged me to sing out.* Thanks be to God (and Aiden Byrne) that it was good.

Having experienced so little, and nothing beyond the cloistered confines of the North West, I have a limited base for comparison, though to be fair, so does the rest of Manchester. Until April this year, Abode and the Old Testament version of The French (see: white tablecloths, full drama cloche service) were the only fine dining wafers available for nibbling. Then word was out. Both Simon Rogan, of L’Enclume fame, and Aiden Byrne, youngest chef ever to be awarded a star were coming to Manchester to convert the poorly palated (not a word but it works) masses.

To what exactly – back in March before our city rose again for a new foodie beginning – I wasn’t sure. With molecular gastronomy having made a name for itself through the efforts of El Bulli and Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck, then Noma, with its naturalistic view of dish development being awarded Best Restaurant in the World three years running, I was aware of the major trends; but, unable to afford international indulgences or cite chef’s names like saints, had no real idea what to expect.

From famine to feast, it seems, here in our most irreverent city, with Rogan preaching the bounteous beauty of foraging and Byrne turning water into wine with his scientific take on things. Whereas The French offers delicate textures and intricately built up floral and herbaceous flavours, all in the majesty of The Midland Hotel, the newly opened Manchester House restaurant – just £3m in the making – is a far more eclectic affair.

Manchester House Kitchen

Manchester House Kitchen

Manchester menu classics of the likes of Boddingtons steak and ale pie and Manchester tart sit seemingly uncomfortably against frogs legs kiev on first reading, and the unbecoming 1960’s business block gives way to a laid-back, comfortably glamorous and (not too blingy bar) with some of the best views out over Manchester, followed by an understated dining room inspired by Manchester’s textile and industrial heritage.

Clever really, playing up to us sentimental, slightly sensitive Mancs, who sing Smiths and Stone Roses songs like they’re psalms, and never tire of drinking in the blood of pig through the unholy medium that is black pudding. Tim Bacon, CEO of Living Ventures has paid testament to the need to meet Manchester on its own terms, and the latest venture is making sure it contains a small sermon on everything we know and love, even if the pricing is enough to convert you back to pasty and peas. Flattery will get you everywhere, especially with an increasingly moneyed Manchester crowd.

Tim Bacon and Aiden Byrne

Tim Bacon and Aiden Byrne

Having spent lunch sat with Mr Bacon, and half an hour in Q&A with Mr Byrne, we learn the menu has been pulled together through each dish’s playfulness, and a commitment to convoluted techniques that intensify and juxtapose flavours, served with a soupcon of the miraculous about them, (as opposed to Rogan’s more seasonally rooted, breathtakingly pared-down presentation, I guess). Despite initially being a doubting Thomas, it all works wonderfully, and the food, atmosphere and service from the knowledgeable, warm and polished staff is worth paying homage to.

Oxtail Consomme and Beetroot Oyster

Oxtail Consomme and Beetroot Oyster

Oxtail Donut (of dreams)

Oxtail Donut (of dreams)

Sampling across the al a carte menu, an oxtail consommé, fragrant with anise and rich with slithers of oxtail meat offset a light, moreish oxtail donut, revealing the best of the beefy, pulled meat within – not to mention a tantalising taster in the form a beetroot steeped oysters – was a firm favourite, despite being served on a slightly showy tray of liquid nitrogen infused with smells of the sea. Far less showy, but no less successful was the intensely flavoured bacon and onion brioche with pea butter (essentially pea matter when whizzed round a centrifuge) and the ultra-fresh remaining pea juice. ^

Squab Pigeon and Cherry

Squab Pigeon and Cherry

The star of the show was undoubtedly the cherrywood smoked squab pigeon, liberally sprinkled with toasted almonds and pistachio and served with two cherries, one which surprisingly revealed itself as an artfully disguised slick of foie gras, achieved through equal parts liquid nitrogen and miracle, it seems. The freeze dried cherry powder wasn’t necessary, however, overpowering the pink and tender meat with its sharp tang, simply adding a bright splash of colour to an already pretty dish.

Prawn Cocktail

Prawn Cocktail

Two dishes from Aiden’s foray on Great British Menu made an appearance too. The prawn cocktail dish, complete with chilli and shellfish powder atop a mess of golden and ruby beetroot was completely dominated by the showy and tartly flavoured passionfruit orb, which once tapped, dissolved onto the dish, and again overwhelmed the delicate flavours below.

Er, Meat?

Er, Meat?

The beef dish, however was a much more pared down affair, even though the presentation was pure machismo. Pink welsh beef, mouth-watering nuggets of hickory braised oxtail, bizarre clay potatoes and weathered (charred) salsify, and who can argue with a rich, light truffle jus served in its very own horn of plenty? Playful, deep punchy flavours and theatrical presentation, the dish summed up everything Aiden is trying to achieve with various menus available, from the fixed price lunch at £27.50 to the twelve course taster at £95 per head, allowing you to sample as much or as little as you like.

Without doubt, Manchester House will be a success. For a city little exposed to such polished hospitality and fine flavours, along with The French, it’s a massively welcome addition, especially for those of us who suffer the cardinal sin of gluttony. For those who make regular food pilgrimages, or travel the long, dusty road out of London up North, doubtless it will have all been seen before, and the tricks plated up alongside the painstakingly designed dishes may seem a little tired to some.

For a city that prides itself on its individualism and creativity, such endeavours tell the gospel truth, showing the majority of our food inspiration comes from beyond the M60, (see: Almost Famous and Solita). Here’s hoping any such judgement sees beyond our capacity for enlightened thinking, and is solely reserved for the class of the cooking and non-pretentious, Northern hospitality for which we’re renowned. After such a goddam long wait, Aiden Byrne and Simon Rogan are finally helping turn us into the food heaven we have yearned so long to be.

So, here’s praying one of them earns a Michelin star, even if just to give us something new to sermonise about. We can’t wang on about Oasis and the industrial revolution forever.

*Though mostly, it’s part of the oath you take when you’re invited to eat for free, or if you will, a chosen one, (albeit who will do your preaching for free).

^ Or pea wet, depending on just how Northern you are.

Manchester House on Urbanspoon

Rosylee Tea Rooms

8 Sep

The thing I adore most about living in a city is the smorgasbord of entertainment it offers up, and should you happen to live in a particularly good city, the variety of tastes it appeals to and adequately caters for. Each and every bite of a different piece of the city offers up its own unique flavour, shaped by the bars, restaurants and shops that set out their stall and the unique set of people it subsequently attracts.

As recent press coverage has testified, Manchester is a particularly tasty city, and as regular readers well know, I like to wrap my chops around it regularly. As a food blogger, my particular poison is food, and love knowing that heading down to Spinningfields for an evening will offer me all the spit, polish and slicked back hair I need for an evening of classy cocktails, or that King Street will see me rub shoulders with an overpaid footballer and my head over an overpriced Italian meat platter.

My favourite piece of the Manchester pie has been always been the Northern Quarter. Sure, it’s overrun with hipsters, but it’s always a joy to see the latest trend in facial hair, and I love the creative, visually louche attitude of its inhabitants and the indie bars and restaurants the population supports. These red brick walkways support many a mean tea shop (see North Tea Power) and real ale havens (see Port Street Beer House), and there’s not a month goes by that sees itself without a pop up cocktail bar or new street food concept being trialled

Changes are afoot though, people. With many southern businesses moving north to take advantage of the talent in and around Manchester, and its bold new face as the north’s media hub bringing an influx of new professionals looking for fine experiences to spend on, the city’s offering is naturally changing with it. The mushrooming of fine dining establishments pays testament to that. Both Simon Rogan’s The French and Aiden Byrne’s soon to open Manchester House are prime examples of food businesses ripe to take advantage of a more monied and cultured clientele.

Living slap bang in the centre of the Northern Quarter, the change has been marked. No chain restaurants as yet, but now in-the-know party goers from Manchester’s surrounding area have marked the land west of Great Ancoats Street as their playground, and the too cool-for-school drinking dens and never-say die-burger joints (come back, Almost Famous) proves an irresistible pull for young professionals. Only on a weeknight does the alternative soul of the Northern Quarter live on, but with more concepts opening and appealing to the masses than the traditional niche, for how long?

Rosylee Dining Room

Rosylee Dining Room

Case in point, Rosylee Tea Rooms. For months, I’ve watched with interest the development of the vast space above Hula, wondering how in the face of Sugar Junction and Home Sweet Home, it would carve itself a place in the heart of the city’s twee café culture. Going upmarket, is the answer. The décor is breath taking. A slick monochrome and red brick colour scheme, with soft lighting and garlands hanging from the walls – not to mention the largest outdoor seating space in the area – the summer soft launch has already proved it to be an irresistible draw.

Rosylee Bar

Rosylee Bar

I paid a short visit after a long holiday in Cornwall, and though I couldn’t quite bring myself to tackle afternoon tea after two weeks of inhaling every cream tea I came across, I did manage a cocktail and a couple of ‘light bites’. One week into opening, the service was a little shonky, taking over twenty minutes to place my order, but the girls in pearls (as seems to be dress code) were lovely, and very passionate about the new venture. Passing here on my way home from work every night, the service appears to have settled in. Well, the punters always seem happily fed and watered, anyway.

Goat's Cheese Bon Bons

Goat’s Cheese Bon Bons

Twice Cooked Chips

Twice Cooked Chips

The food was faultless. Goat’s cheese bon bons lightly seasoned with black pepper and made moreish with lemon zest were perfectly bread crumbed, and the accompanying twice-cooked chips (forgive me, I’m northern) were fat, crisp and golden. It’s enough to tempt me back, and having read other decent reviews, will be returning soon. The iced tea cocktail was less successful, on account of a heavy hand with the sugar syrup, obliterating the exciting breakfast tea, rhubarb and lemon juice flavours promised, but the feedback was taken on board, which is always a good sign.

Breakfast Tea Cocktail

Breakfast Tea Cocktail

In the name of pulling the restaurant theme together, the menus are a little overly conceptualised. Wordy introductions and mellifluous naming conventions jar a little, but with a fairly standard but well put together food offering – niçoise salad and steak crostini – and some interesting cocktail flavour introductions – kaffir lime and plum – for an establishment that wouldn’t look out of place on King Street, it should continue to do well, and should they sort the cocktail issues out, perhaps draw in some of the old school NQ crowd? I’ve yet to spot a bearded wonder, but there’s time.

So have you been to Rosylee Tea Rooms? What did you think of the food and drink? Are establishments like this a welcome addition to the Northern Quarter or simply contributing to its gentrification? All comments welcome.

Rosylee Tea Rooms on Urbanspoon

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.

Artisan

6 Aug

I’ve been on a bit of a journey of late. Re-prioritising areas of my life, working out what’s really important and challenging myself to confront preconceived ideas I had which might previously have been holding me back. With this blog in particular – a challenge which just one short year ago I relished – I’ve ridden myself into a bit of a rut, finding that the big dream of learning about food and drink, developing my writing style and promoting the idea of bringing people together through food and drink hasn’t fully borne fruit.

Beyond sharing funny anecdotes, it’s wildly inappropriate to share the intimate details of your conversations and your life (endlessly difficult for a gobshite like me) and whilst gluttony has long proved to be my favourite vice – making eating out once a week amount to being handed heaven in a bread basket – my waistline is in jelly belly hell, and such over indulgence has revealed what may just be a gluten intolerance (which I’m currently having tested). Rats!

So, what’s a girl to do? Start work on a new project of course – one which I’ve been maturing for months now – and should I be able to get my act together early next year, hopefully fulfil all my original dreams. Until then, the continuing joy of discovering new foods and embracing new dining experiences, not to mention indulging my never-ending hunger for honing my vocabulary, should see me amply nourished (and this blog fed on a reasonably regular basis for the foreseeable).

Enter, fine dining. Just six short months ago, I would never have willingly stepped foot into a Living Ventures (LV) establishment. Previously perceived as all style over substance, and expensive for the sake of making the more moneyed mortals of the Manchester feel like they had somewhere to splash the cash, only the surprise success of a recent trip to Rosso and the heart breaking ten courses I seemingly dreamed my way through at The French made me see sense. Not before time too…

With a second Simon Rogan venture, the Aiden Byrne / LV project about to launch over at Manchester House and the PR fanfare surrounding the ever affable James Martin’s arrival at the city’s 235Casino, the Manchester restaurant scene is about to come over all fancy pants, and thanks to some lovely invites and impeccable experiences, I’m poised. A recent review arranged at Artisan, LV’s latest food establishment, has helped better my previously belligerent attitude towards slick service and scaled down portions more so than ever before.

Artisan

Artisan

With its hybrid art collection cum excitably curated and oh-so-current food concept, what was anticipated to be all booth space and shiny surfaces actually transpired to be a Northern Quarter inspired eaterie. All exposed brick walls (natch) and original concrete roof panels, so far, not so fine dining. Being situated on the outskirts of the city slicker haven that is Spinningfields, it made for a much welcomed and not too unfamiliar an environment, though not so new a dining experience after all. No bad thing. It seems LV are loosening up! *

Whilst not quite to the extremes that some Northern Quarter establishments provide casual service – usually ranging from indifference to downright ignorance of customer needs – the staff were amiable, attentive and relaxed, regularly checking in and making confident recommendations on the large and slightly overwhelming menu (on account of it showcasing so many blockbusting dishes) making it near on impossible to choose. Ingeniously, bringing different samples of wine to a friend made navigating the drinks list a whole lot easier.

Salt & Pepper Pork Crackling with Apple Sauce

Salt & Pepper Pork Crackling with Apple Sauce

So, that menu! Along with the art adorning the walls (in which sadly I have little interest), the food offering has deservedly garnered the most PR. Its dude food done with polish, with a few grown up dishes thrown in for good measure. Sense reigns mainly on the mains menu, with mackerel baked on pine and pork and duck cassoulet in the offing, but it’s the pizza menu, closely followed by the vast array of small plates (starters) and desserts which give cause to excess salivating.

New York Deli Pizza with Pastrami, Pickles, Smoked Cheese and Mustard

New York Deli Pizza with Pastrami, Pickles, Smoked Cheese and Mustard

Artisan Burger - with bacon and/or cheese - stands alone as Artisan wisely chooses not to compete in the Manchester burger wars

Artisan Burger – with bacon and/or cheese – stands alone as Artisan wisely chooses not to compete in the Manchester burger wars

Doner kebab or pulled pork pizza (in a fun riff on ham and pineapple) anyone? How about salt and pepper crackling to nibble on (crack like in its moreish-ness) or potato wedges cooked in paprika and beef dripping (fat ass and succulent). Classics of the like of artic roll and baked Alaska adorn the desserts menu, though the salted caramel drowned banana with gingerbread ice cream found a special place in my heart on account of the sweet, salt and spicy flavours proffered and gooey texture to tackle.

Salted Caramel Baked Banana with Gingerbread Ice Cream

Salted Caramel Baked Banana with Gingerbread Ice Cream

I loved the place so much, I’ve been back since my original review as a fully paying member of the public and plan to go again. The menu is far too fun to try only a couple of dishes, and despite a few snarls from Spinningfields shemales sporting gold brocade, and too, too many deck shoes treading the reclaimed floorboards, it’s a warm, inviting environment to eat and be entertained in, offering that holy grail of experiences of forgetting where you are, whilst whiling away the hours with good company, food and drink. My kind of place.

* So much so, that the DJ played everything from 70’s hip hop to Britney Spears. L.O.V.E.

Artisan on Urbanspoon

Levenshulme Market

27 Jul

I can think of few more pleasant ways to spend a Saturday than pottering round a food market. Chatting ingredients with local producers, picking up a few (read fridge full of) nibbles for chowing down on later and shoving your face full of hot, freshly cooked street food… What’s not to love?

Now, we do a particularly good turn in markets and festivals here in the North West. Our bounteous region proffers two of the best traditional British cheeses in Lancashire and Cheshire, not to mention the luscious pastoral land across both counties, allowing for the breeding and feeding of some fabulous beasts – Tatton Park venison and Goosnargh chicken to name just two. Throw into the mix a thriving brewing industry and the burgeoning street food scene in Manchester, and you (read me) find yourself with the adult equivalent of a Saturday afternoon kid’s party on your hands.

The resurgence in farmers markets back in the early noughties brought local markets back to fore, out of the shit storm that was the BSE crisis when it was all hands on deck to support our local and regional producers. Since then, supported by the back bone of local food halls like those found in Bolton and Bury – each to this day doing a roaring trade from the respective fish market and black pudding stalls – markets have always been a mainstay of our regional food experience, but of late, more entrepreneurial, community managed and socially marketed co-operatives have come to the fore.

Both Levenshulme and Heaton Moor have been on the scene for a while now, but ever the late adopter (and lazy arsed town dweller), I took my merry old time to mosey on down and lay down some dough. Both organised by locals, the atmosphere down at a last month’s Levy (as it’s more affectionately known) is manifest with community spirit – laid back, friendly and with an impressively supportive environment. Traders recommending one another, sharing insider knowledge on the best Manchester markets to attend and happily chatting for half an hour about their recipes. Happy days.

Fat Jax

Fat Jax

Organic bread from local treasure Trove, a wild garlic wrapped Cornish Yarg from Winter Tarn and a roasted red pepper chutney from Fat Jax to try had me set up for the evening, plus some keenly snaffled Ploughman’s sausages (stuffed with vintage cheddar cheese) from Bobby’s Bangers and a selection of chipotle chillies from new favourite Some Like it Hot promised to see me through the coming weeks. The more pressing need for sustenance proved to be a harder decision, however, with Fire & Salt BBQ and Barn House Bistro (both of Guerrilla Eats fame) on hand, but rather than opt for old favourites, I chose to try out the new kids on the block instead.

Some Like It Hot

Some Like It Hot

Having predicted (read hinted) that the UK’s new food obsession would (should) be all things South American, Manchester food bloggers Good Gobble Blog have set up their own Colombian street food concern, selling the mighty arepa – a maize flat bread filled with many mighty combinations. I personally enjoyed a spago chicken number, complete with a lime salsa and freshly made guacamole. Soft, pillowy and chock full of flavour, juices dripping down my hand, these deceptively small bites are ridiculously filling, meaning I couldn’t get me some barbecue after all.

Arepa

Arepa

Sweaty, happy and out of food by 1pm, they were a smashing success and a colourful addition to this already well balanced market. On that note, happy stall holders tells you all you need to know about a market, too. Having worked in food festivals and food markets back in the day, a good mix of non-competing products, interesting traders and a steady stream of customers is all it takes to put a smile on a stall holder’s face, which in turn makes for a happier environment.

Good promotion and good weather helps too, but rocking up midday during a traditionally dank Manc summer day to such welcoming, vibrant scenes, of jute bags bursting and juices dripping down chins tells you all you need to know about this little market. So go. Enjoy!

Solita NQ Part 2

21 Jul

What to say about Solita that hasn’t already been said? As the darling of the Manchester blog scene, it’s safe to say it’s pretty much been covered. Already a stalwart of the city’s food landscape, it’s incredible to think this ballsy restaurant burst on to the scene just 12 short months ago. Arriving boldly with an Inka-smoked bang and the tantalising smells of pulled pork sundae, Solita made all the right sounds in the year that burgers, barbecue and increasingly dirty riffs on dude food made it big, and understandably, drew us food lovies right in.

One year on, and with all the noise on social media, you’d be forgiven for thinking the place simply made its living out of big beefy burgers, and whilst this past year there has been a crowd-pleasing bent towards serving up beast in a bun, the menu still offers much, much more. Lesser celebrated cuts of meat like hanger steak, the now ubiquitous deep fried mac and cheese and over the course of the year, legendary specials such as the brioche buttressed lobster roll and current favourite, tuna tartare, which will always hold a special place in my heart.

A recent jaunt showed the new summer starter menu to be much in the same vein. Scattered amongst the classics of rooster scratchings and the like, the crispy fried chicken livers with bone neck gravy and the new wings menu – offering everything from chipotle and tabasco and promising escalating levels of flavour and fear – all stand out. Challenging ingredients combined with classic flavours is one of Solita’s favourite party tricks, but in preparation for the oncoming beasting I planned to give myself in tackling the main menu, I opted for the seemingly innocuous option of beer boiled shrimps with old bay.

Shrimps

Plump, tender and flavour packed, the shrimp were a beer bursting success, though my feelings towards the seasoning were altogether more ambivalent. Bitter and overpowering, I deftly skirted round the shrimps laid siege to. Traditionally a classic crab accompaniment in the good old US of A, the mace, cloves and allspice included were a tad too overwhelming for my palate, but given I’d been served a sharing-sized portion (as standard at Solita) I still managed to amply fill my face.

Lucky 7 Dip

Lucky 7 Dip

More sparsely used, the seasoning might have worked, but as with all new dishes, feedback is taken on the chin and used to improve, which is one of the gaffe’s greatest facets. That, and the ability to pair dishes right down and do the simple things stunningly makes eating out at Solita a less risky prospect than often first anticipated; case in point my friend’s lucky 7 dip, of cheese, guacamole, salsa and refried bean fun, plated up with eye-catching blue corn chips. Light, refreshing and encouraging you to dig deeper for joy, it was perfect for the hot summer night we dined.

Less ideal, but no less tempting, were the burger specials. Not on account of the component parts or creative integrity that went into conceiving them. No. The sod of a hangover and skinniest four hours of sleep stolen the night before rendered me incapable of overlooking the carbohydrate comforts of the behemoth that is a Solita burger, and without thinking of the belly bursting consequences, dived right in.

Murray Burger

Murray Burger

The burger of choice? An on special Murray burger, of course. Now an international headline grabber, on account of the Ayrshire bacon, haggis topper and Irn Bru / whiskey sauce combination concocted to celebrate the first male Wimbledon win in 77 years, it’s a show-stopper in many ways. Pillowy, subtly spiced haggis and the sweet, peaty sauce played wonderfully against the salty, crisp bacon, but with a doorstopper for a piece of beef ensconced in the standard brioche bun, it stopped the show for me. Half way through in fact. I left my burger, and I’ll never know its beauty again.

Buttermilk Chicken Burger

Buttermilk Chicken Burger

Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one. My friend, suffering the same fate as me, cried off from finishing her buttermilk friend chicken burger on account of the heat and hangover too (though that’s on main so I’m thinking, rematch?), with only the comforting sting of a passion fruit caipirinha to wash away the shame. Obviously, I couldn’t manage even the softest scoop of ice cream for afters, but as the new dessert menu launches tomorrow, it gives me a good excuse to scuttle on back to address my shortcomings.

Rocking up red faced, without doubt there’ll be a new special scrawled on the board, challenging both the senses and my good sense, and I’ll do it all over again. Will I be sorry? Not likely. This boldly challenging, constantly innovating feeder of a restaurant always proves too much of a temptation, but long may Solita hold such sway over me. Here’s to many more years of doing it the Solita way.

47 King Street West

14 Jul

You win some, you lose some. As a self-confessed gannet, nowhere is this turn of phrase more poignant than when ordering off an à la carte menu, and no pain more keenly felt than watching your dining companion win out on every course, with your own lacklustre choices leave you, quite literally, with a bitter taste in your mouth.

Such was my misfortune during a recent dinner at 47 King Street West. Doors open since 2011, an invite to a restaurant over a year in age can be quite telling, indicating either a much needed menu refresh or desperate plea for a publicity boost. This, added to the usual trepidation I feel around playing patron at fine dining styled establishments had me think twice about attending, but two recent positive experiences at Rosso and The French, (not to mention an unhealthy bout of inquisitiveness about what they were trying to sell), incentivised me to turn up and tuck in.

I can’t say it was all bad. The staff proved charming and eager to please, and dealt quite well with the loud banter between me and North West Nosh, my delightful date for the evening. For every clumsily delivered course, Nosh received a blinder, which I can confirm due to the generous portion sizes affording me plate pinching rights.

A pretty plate of pan fried scallops and a tiny tower of chorizo cake doused in coriander oil disappeared before I could get my mitts on it, but the perfectly pink lamb, cooked just the right side of ‘shit, is that done?’ with expertly creamed sweet potato mash and the sharp, offsetting tang of pickled carrots made it near close to my ideal dish.

Scallops and Chorizo Cake

Scallops and Chorizo Cake

Lamb and Sweet Potato Puree

Lamb and Sweet Potato Mash

Inexpertly, I chose sautéed asparagus to start, which whilst perfectly seasoned had been seared just a second too long, losing that all-appealing crunch you look for when biting into a sharp-looking spear of asparagus. Served with what appeared to be a pear syrup – simply a splodge of liquid sugar with indeterminate flavour – and a finely chopped salad overloaded with garlic, ginger and onion, the flavours were all too overwhelming to enjoy the gentle green tones of what should have been the star of the dish.

Sauteed Asparagus

Sauteed Asparagus

Duck Breast with Raspberry Jus

Duck Breast with Raspberry Jus

My pan fried duck breast, requested medium, came out chewy, making for an interesting juxtaposition when atop a soggy pak choi and slightly burnt rosti. Slightly bland in flavour, bizarre in its composite texture and weirdly offset by a sharp raspberry jus, I was most displeased, and despite my parents best efforts to encourage me to always finish my plate, just couldn’t behave myself despite my inherent greed.

Happily, the desserts went some way to redressing the balance. Nosh’s hot chocolate indulgence pudding was light, rich and perfectly portioned, balanced with a scoop of vanilla Cheshire Farm ice cream. The raspberry crème brulee I tackled was decent. A sharp crack to the burnt sugar and a smooth, rich cream on the base helped me forget the travesty that was my main, and whilst competent, added nothing more exciting that a raspberry sauce and a few scattered berries.

Hot Chocolate Pudding

Hot Chocolate Pudding

Raspberry Creme Brulee

Raspberry Creme Brulee

The drinks were wonderful, however. A sharp, sweet and moreish apple and elderflower martini set the evening up beautifully, and the Malbec ordered to stand alongside the duck brought a deep, rounded mouth feel ripe with luscious cherry flavours. The atmosphere was warm and inviting – always a good sign of good hospitality – and could have even achieved the holy grail of forgetting where I was, were it not for the wannabe wag clientele peering past our window table to see who was traversing the steps up to neighbouring San Carlo.

Apple and Elderflower Martini

Apple and Elderflower Martini

Constantly craning your neck to see if something better is going on elsewhere sums up the evening perfectly. Taking into consideration my being invited to review, its likely they were bringing their A game, and despite the positive experience going down across the table, the lack of consistency in the food is a worry, especially when you’d be expected to shell out around £17 for your main course. With far better experiences to be had across Manchester’s other fine dining establishments, my dining disappointment means 47 King Street West has lost a potential patron for now.

47 King Street West on Urbanspoon