Tag Archives: Cheese Board

The Blue Pig Revisited

3 Apr

Favourite restaurants, like old friends, are a joy to visit. No sooner than having stepped over the threshold, you slip back into your old ways, entering into an instant rapport that only the familiar faces of front of house favourites and an intimate atmosphere can bring. Soon forgotten are the thrills and spills (in my exceptionally graceless case) of chasing down new gastronomic experiences or uncovering the latest food trend. You’ve arrived back at your third place, wallowing in the safe and easy comfort that whiling away a few hours there easily affords.

The Blue Pig

The Blue Pig

Uncle Sam’s Chop House does it for me, every time. The Mark Addy too, before it finally shut up shop, its musty halls and man-sized portions sadly never to be overcome again. Rich, hearty foods, generous of portion and dripping in Northern tradition call to me when I tire of hearing about another effing barbecue joint coming to “save our city”, or the ceaseless wave of chain burger bars capitalising on an already realised trend, clogging up arteries and available restaurant space that could be put to far more worthy calorific causes. Sigh.

Meat and gravy ensconced in suet will do it pretty much every time for me, though a monolithic platter of meat and cheese, washed down with a fruity bottle of red never fails to have me feeling right at home. Hence why The Blue Pig always remained a firm favourite, since an early doors review following its August opening last year. A comprehensive deli board and conspicuously continental menu – all around their unique ‘333’ concept entailing three options of three set courses for just £20 – this Parisian inspired space provided an ideal place in which to shrink away as NQ life rushed by.

The Blue Pig Deli Board

The Blue Pig Deli Board

Seemingly the three courses idea didn’t catch on, as early this year, they dropped the concept and pared back to a selection of crowd-pleasing dishes. Classic ploughman’s, steaks and salad dishes now feature, not to mention the ever ubiquitous burger, of which The Blue Pig has its own take, naturellement. Sadly, alongside the demise of 333, the once bright lights of the deli counter have faded too, with only a few select dips, meat and cheese choices available to make up a miserly board, though thankfully the bread selection is pretty decent, still.

Duck Salad

Duck Salad

Despite the turnabout face, the most admirable of The Blue Pig’s qualities is its commitment to buying local. Meat is sourced from the ever present W H Frosts of Chorlton, and the deli board is a roll call of legendary British dairy, including the blue cheese behemoth that is Cropwell Bishop. The ingredients used can’t be faulted, nor the cooking. An Asian-inspired noodle salad, complete with tender fall apart duck breast on a bed of umami rich greens was soon devoured, as was the Wagyu beef burger, complete with a well-balanced slick of wasabi mayo, thankfully all impeccably cooked.

Wagyu Beef Burger

Wagyu Beef Burger

Most disappointing, however, is the homogenisation of the new menu. When the rest of Manchester’s hospitality industry is stepping up its game and differentiating, why step back and serve up sexed up pub classics, when the venue and concept lends itself beautifully to a Parisian bistro that Manchester could (and would) make great use of. The renewed emphasis on the back bar has weighed heavily on the uninspiring menu, and turned this once conspiratorial environment into just another convivial NQ drinking den.

With more ‘me too’ venues popping up around Manchester to mirror those leading the way, combined with a city wide trend for eclectic menu compositions – essentially stealing the best of each culture’s cuisine – in attempting to stand for everything, these unimaginative establishments in the long run will appeal to no one. As new and unique movers and shakers make a name for themselves and the well-loved old establishments continue to pull in their loyal patrons, the middle ground is no place to be. Shame on The Blue Pig. They can do much better.

The Ski Club Manchester

12 Nov
When it comes to writing a blog, you are your own editor. No-one recommending where you review, helping you pull together a content plan or fine-tuning and editing your piece for publishing. For the most part there is great joy in that. It gives you the blessed freedom to push your own agenda and write in your preferred style, and given that the majority of blogs are self-funded, (this one included), it means you can eat and drink where the hell you like. So far, all gravy, but given it’s your hard earned cash being spent, you tend to stray towards those places you knows you’ll enjoy, resulting in largely warm to glowing reviews. 
 
Occasionally however, you are invited along to a free event, and whilst you are glad your purse is provided with a much needed night off, the do in question might not be quite your thing. Resultantly, the friendly tone that typifies your usual writing style takes a break too. Whilst it is no bad thing to stretch your mean muscles, and as a blogger, important to write fair and unbiased reviews, (especially when food and drink is being comped), for a lady who believes that unless someone had literally pissed on your chips, there is no such thing as a terrible experience, so forgive me if I choose to see both sides of the coin.
 
The latest free do I attended was one of the launch nights at The Ski Club, the newest venture from Heart Soul Rock and Roll, Manchester pop-up pioneers and the guys behind The Yacht Club. Fond of Spinningfields and taking inspiration from the playgrounds of the rich and famous, off the back of their first success seemingly believe themselves to have found a winning formula. Whilst not a fan of either Spinningfields (soulless and way too fond of a chain) or establishments characterised by overly coiffed hair and too much ankle on show (and that’s just the boys), I can concede that The Yacht Club was a cleverly thought out and well-executed idea.
 
The Ski Club however, not so much. Overly excited by the promise of fondue (which is making a comeback, don’t cha know) and a creative cocktail list, expectations were high. Sadly, these were quickly managed. Located in a business block to the side of Spinningfields, the place already lacks the prestige that The Yacht Club achieved, and welcomed by cheap roll-out carpets and sickly blue lighting, you quickly wonder where it all went wrong. The tacky fixtures and fittings won’t speak to the moneyed crowd the pop-up will be hoping to attract, despite the great people watching that the alpine-style window looking out over Spinningfields affords.

The Ski Club Manchester: Fondue

The Ski Club’s saving grace comes from the comfy seating and cosy atmosphere. Tucking into a cheese and meat board of French and Swiss provenance or spooning hot cheese into your mouth on the end of a sausage, you can’t help but relax and enjoy the company you are keeping. Minor blunders blighted the experience however. Too little bread for the cheese and meat board to share was a sloppy oversight, and despite some interesting flavours on show in the canapés, including bratwurst wrapped in pancetta and a wild mushroom arancini, the bites were dry and cold. Underwhelming to say the least.

The Ski Club Manchester: Cheese and Meat Board

The Ski Club Manchester: Bratwurst wrapped in Pancetta

As for the cocktails, the most that can be said is that they were bold. Truly a winter warmer menu, the list read with great promise. Cognac, brandy, sloe gin and port all featured across the board, but cack-handed delivery made for clunky cocktails where big flavours drowned one another, and despite some fun presentation, were largely disappointing. The Brandy Blazer was the best of the bunch, with Grand Marnier, apple brandy and hints of cinnamon and nutmeg to recommend it, but heated through prior to serving, the marshmallow-adorned brandy glass came with a nostril hair singeing amount of ethanol that took several minutes to dissipate.

The Ski Club Manchester: The Brandy Blazer

The award for the most fun cocktail to look at was closely contested by the bright blue and coconut-rimmed Tiffany & Coco, a bizarre and overly sweet Jack Daniels and blue curacao concoction, and the monstrously large Ski Club Punch Bowl, a kind of chilled mulled wine brew. Served in an oversized gold cocktail glass, it made quite the statement, but with a heavy dose of plum bitters and red wine, left an unattractive lip-curling skin on your teeth. Resultantly, the blue cocktail won out, but as beauty is only skin deep, I won’t be flirting with this cocktail menu again any time soon, nor the champagne or spirits by the bottle list, which stretches way beyond my budget.

The Ski Club Manchester: Tiffany & Coco

The Ski Club Manchester: Ski Club Punch Bowl

Had Heart Soul Rock and Roll not skimped on the décor, presumably to save money after the grandiosity of The Yacht Club, and paid more attention to the delivery, this could have been a wholly different review. Great ideas are all in evidence here, and hiring #22 Redbank to design the food menu shows they’re dedicated to seeing through a good concept, but the devil is in the detail, and they’re missing it. Small successes can be seen in the friendliness of the staff and a reasonably priced food menu, but in spite of that, I won’t be returning, despite the temptation of that delicious fondue.

I will be keeping an eye on future ventures from Heart Soul Rock and Roll, however. This kind of creativity is much welcomed, and has the potential to inject some much needed fun into the Manchester hospitality scene. Just not this Christmas sadly, kids.

MFDF: The Moss Cider Project at Common

26 Sep

Having had to delay my Manchester Food and Drink Festival (MFDF) binge until after the opening weekend, I couldn’t have picked a better way to start than at The Moss Cider Project and Common cheese and cider evening, held Tuesday night down at hipster headquarters on Edge Street. Headlining two of my all-time top five favourite things to ingest, it was always going to be a joyous occasion, made even more special by the fact that the night’s starring cider is locally produced and the result of a terribly worthy initiative to boot.

The Moss Cider Project

Concocted by Dan Hasler back in 2010, The Moss Cider Project takes apples (both grown and scrumped)* from donators in Moss Side and beyond to press for cider or juice. Donators receive back 50% of their juiced or fermented fruit to enjoy, and the project sells the remainder to feed profits back into the local community, bringing people together and delivering a delicious product off the back of it. Beautiful in its simplicity, and happily putting home-grown cider on the agenda to counter Manchester’s age old tradition of brewing beer, it’s an idea and an evening I was more than happy to put my (increasingly considerable) weight behind.  

Coming off the back off a successful evening with Port Street Beer House, the project’s MFDF cheese and cider evening promised a mix of the local brew and other traditional ciders, all independently made and matched with a local cheese. Treating my flat mate Aoife after a five month hiatus in India, the apple candy floss and La Cantina raspberry cider (bizarrely made by an Italian in Huddersfield) upon arrival resulted in the evening starting off all arse above tit, but after five more brews and damn near a truckle worth of cheese, who’s fussed?

Apple Candy Floss

La Cantina Raspberry Cider

We were treated to a 7.4% classic cider from Healey’s down in Cornwall. Oak-matured and golden in colour, it had undertones of sweet sherry and was super easy to snarf, whereas the 8% Brook Apple Farm Perry, lime-hued and cloudy in colour, took the palate a little more getting used to due to a medicinal quality, but eventually yielded pear drops much to my eternally youthful palate’s delight.* Some of the ciders were a tad too bitter, including a softer sounding 6% Nooks Yard of musty whiff which took an age to drink, but at the ciders got softer, the cheeses got stronger, meaning each pairing pressed your taste buds into working harder.

The Moss Cider Project Tasting Notes

Crumbly, short and salty, the Chorlton Cheshire Cheese from Malpas delivered a truly regional experience, whilst an oak-ash mottled goat’s cheese from Gloucestershire was a really special treat, pairing beautifully with an apple and figgy diggy jam from local favourite Clippy’s, another apple aficionado from the North West. Less delightful was the wild garlic yarg from Lynher Dairy in Truro, overwhelmingly bitter in taste and almost jelly like in texture, lovingly described by our table mate Will as being ‘about as firm as Vince Cable’.

Healey’s Classic Oak Matured Cider paired with Wild Garlic Yarg

Whatever the rap cider gets, for all the homogenised commercially-whored ciders of park bench fame, there are a hundred more independently produced tipples, and with all the cider apple varieties, blends and artisan production methods available, it’s rare you’ll get a mediocre cup. With the real ale revival hitting its stride, seeing more supermarket shelf space dedicated to the category than ever before, surely traditional cider, as another English sup of some serious heritage, deserves a place at the table?

It’s one of the most chilled out, refreshing and easy to quaff drinks, and now it’s brewed on our back doorstep, what’s not to get behind? The Moss Cider Project have now sourced land to plant their own orchards, but still need your apples, cider variety or no, to keep the project going, and are more than happy for you to pop down and crack open a communal bottle of cider on a Saturday afternoon, with last year’s crop offering a tart, sweet, if slightly watery experience. If mucking in doesn’t take your fancy however, there’s always the events, and for the generous portions and pure passion on show, at just £10 a head, how do you like them apples? (Soz).

* It’s not a word but roll with it. Please…

The Blue Pig

18 Sep

A good few years ago, one of the world’s loveliest gentlemen (made more excellent by the fact he works in cheese) explained to me the concept of the third place. Outside of work and your own home, it prescribes that everyone should have a “somewhere” they can go and just be. Pub, café, restaurant, wherever, its that other space where you can completely forget yourself and just sink into your surroundings, completely comfortable and at peace. A gorgeous concept, methinks, and one which has had me searching for years.

In Manchester, it’s not easy to find your third place. There are so many foodie dwellings, many of them excellent establishments, tempting me with delicious eats, flattering lighting and walls of wines and spirits, with new eateries popping up every day. In the name of keeping the blog interesting, it is my duty (cough) to test drive new places, so I rarely frequent the same gaffe twice. Now sure, variety is the spice of life and all that, but all this newness makes finding a hiding hole from the world bloody difficult.

In the space of just four short weeks however, I’ve have managed to visit  The Blue Pig twice, once in the name of trying it out, and second because I couldn’t keep away. A miraculous feat, given that it’s only been open since early August, and strong testament to what a little gem this place is. The latest venture from the people at Odd, The Blue Pig is a sophisticated and fun diversion from its usual fare, based on a Parisian salon, with the continental food and drink to match, (plus a few local treats to keep it real).

The Blue Pig, an all day affair

Having noticed the place weeks in advance of opening, hard to ignore with the hanging blue pig swaying in the breeze, from the outside, it looks cavernous and moody. All dark lights and big booths, I couldn’t imagine how it could be filled or whip up the atmosphere needed to make the place come alive, but I was wrong. It has been packed out every time I have been, with a perfect mix of NQ characters, from young professionals to hardened hipsters, creative types and the odd tourist wandering in from Market Street.

The Blue Pig, of moody lighting

The Blue Pig, where pigs hang out (sorry)

The gently buzzing atmosphere and happy eating and drinking provides an authentic salon feel, and though it’s a haven for people watching, you just melt into the background, perfectly cocooned with your companions despite the size of the place. The food helps too. Both times, my friends and I choose to build our own deli board from the enticingly lit cheese and meat counter, though you can also choose from the 333 menu, three courses of three options each for just £20, seemingly ace value for money.  

The Blue Pig, deli counter

The Bue Pig, 333 Menu

Mortadellabresaola and braised chorizo in a paprika laden oil, (perfect for dunking bread), brought the continent, with a Kidderton Ash goats cheese, a local favourite from Raven’s Oak Dairy in Cheshire, a creamy fresh Somerset brie and a gently tangy Shropshire blue, we had one pretty special sharing board, the best way I can think of to bring people together for a good catch up. Accompanied by an intense but incredible lamb’s liver pate and chutneys and hummus to finish off, we were in heaven.

The Blue Pig, deli board

The only bollocks is the size of the portions. Between myself, Danielle and Bev, my lovely companions on my second visit, we had cleaned the board within twenty minutes, and though the prices of the individual items don’t seem too steep, coming in between £2 and £4, it quickly adds up when trying to make a feast. Regardless of the girth of the meal, there’s just too much good stuff to be put off going, including the waitresses, full of personality and some seriously good banter, without ever being over familiar, who happily recommended matching drinks or new nibbles to try.  

I can’t wait to go again, especially to try the 333 menu, and if I’m ever around during the day, get my smackers around a bowl of breakfast churros, which sadly shut up shop at 4pm. The thought of going and getting lost for an afternoon, hiding in one of the booths with a  bottle of wine and hunk of bread and cheese fills me joy, so much so, I think I just might have found my third place. Where’s yours?