Tag Archives: Cocktail

Solita Brunch

9 Feb

Brunch [bruhnch]
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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.

All Star Lanes Manchester

16 Apr

As far as fun childhood pastimes go, for me, bowling is the one most steeped in nostalgia. From my first ever game with my overly competitive Dad (where under no circumstances was I to have the advantage on account of my age) to childhood birthday soirees, where me and ten plus friends got high on Coca Cola and between us – Uncle Buck style – managed to knock down the least amount of pins in the history of the game, this imported American pastime plays host to many a happy memory.

In later years, retro dates were the order of the day, though why on earth baring your arse to your beau and showing your inability to throw a ball straight is considered attractive is beyond me. These days, the thought of hurtling a bowling ball down a well greased alley just doesn’t appeal, but when two new venues opened in Manchester, throwing a heap of fine food and drink into the mix, well… you know what happened next.

I managed to tag along (thank you North West Nosh) to the opening night of Dog Bowl, the second Manchester bowling alley to burst onto the scene in recent months from the guys behind Black Dog Ballroom. Dark and self-consciously trendy (naturally), the food was decent (bad tacos, good ribs), the Doritos mariachi band delightful and the clientele interesting to say the least – we found ourselves in a Corrie sandwich whilst on the lanes – with the great and good of Manchester turning out to posture and get papped.

Not my scene, sadly, so an invite to review the USA-inspired All Star Lanes, whose launch event I sadly missed early March was hotly anticipated. The first venue north for this London-based boutique chain – boasting an impressive location out of the imposing Great Northern – I expected all out Americana but instead encountered a far more classy rendering, with soft lighting, colourful retro decor and surprisingly un-kitsch waiters and waitresses in bow ties and ankle socks. Cool, but not doggedly so, if you catch my drift?

All Star Lanes Manchester

All Star Lanes Manchester

All Star Lanes Manchester

All Star Lanes Manchester

Rather than take a friend and get high on Coca Cola (and rum), I decided to take my brother for a sibling rivalry revival. Plenty of smack talk went down (though not about our Mother), with Dan promising an ass-whooping the size of which I had never before seen. Fat chance! Those nifty bowling shoes are levellers for all, though he did just manage to pip me to the post with a couple of strikes and a 78-70 final score. I won at the food though. I WON AT THE FOOD!*

Dan 'man' handling his hamburger

Dan ‘man’ handling his hamburger

The menu read like a high-end American diner; classic short rib starters, southern fried chicken sandwiches and hamburgers for the main event, though the potted shrimps, mac and cheese (truffle optional) and grilled lobster with hollandaise sauce takes dining at the lanes to a whole other level. The popcorn squid with aioli was inspired – a light golden batter with a mild chilli hit was the perfect foil for the soft, yielding squid. Cutely served in a Chinese take out box and picked at with chopsticks, the dish had some serious chops.

Popcorn Squid with Aioli

Popcorn Squid with Aioli

Baby Back Rack of Ribs

Baby Back Rack of Ribs

The rest of the menu proved hard to master, but rocking out with a Josper Grill, it had to be the rack of baby back ribs. Cooked sous vide then finished off over the charcoal to make for a tender hunk of meat that falls apart under the fork, ensconced in a sticky, sweet and smoky based sauce, it was with a heavy heart that I left some to spare. The ridiculously moreish rosemary salt fries took a battering though, in no small part due to home-made hickory smoked barbecue sauce on hand to dunk them in.

The drinks menu was something else. The cocktail menu rolls out originals and classics with dexterity; a rum, lime, honey and prosecco cocktail proved just the thing, as was the much needed Woodford Reserve Mint Julep to cleanse the palate after so many intense flavours. Daniel scored a strike in tapping up the milkshake menu, though. A heart attack waiting to happen ‘peanut butter and jelly’ number – aptly named the Elvis Shake – brazenly brandishing a slick of candied bacon was the highlight. They do boozy ones too!

The infamous Elvis Shake

The infamous Elvis Shake

Whilst bowling has never been a cheap do, on first appearance, the prices seemed highly inflated. At almost £9 per person a game and averaging £17 for a main, it all seems a bit much for a trip down memory lane, but with All-American portion sizes, quality ingredients and a deft touch with flavour and heavy hand with measures, All Star Lanes bowled me away. The USA-styled service polished with a touch of northern humour and highly informed hospitality made a pretty competitive evening all the more chilled out too.

So, go, relive your youth. Throw balls around and eat stack loads of food with someone you love spending time with (and can comfortably kick their arse without causing a ruckus). And whilst I wouldn’t recommend this very grown up fun emporium to families, it’s definitely the place to relive your teenage years. Just make sure it’s with someone you don’t mind flashing your arse too, especially after a 1970’s Presley inspired shake.

* Appears my Dad taught me well.

All Star Lanes on Urbanspoon

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!

The Liquorists Ceylon Arrack Trail

3 Mar

I know, I know, another review of The Liquorists and their trails, but I love them, OK. Every time I rock up, I learn something new about alcohol production or the history of some spirit or another, and see a brilliant idea for food matching or nifty new cocktail combination. Plus, they serve up passion for their craft by the punch bowl and seriously know their shit. Good drink, good food, good people; would you turn a night of free drinks and fabulous company down? I didn’t think so.

On this occasion, The Liquorists teamed up with Ceylon Arrack, a niche and little heard of Sri Lankan spirit, to support them breaking the brand in Britain. The marketing geek in me adores the hyper-localised strategy concocted – launching exclusively in Manchester with the trail I attended and teaming up with bartenders across the city’s finest drinking establishments to create arrack based cocktails – but the booze hound in me is simply stoked that we Manchester dwellers get to sample it first.

Ceylon Arrack Bottle

Ceylon Arrack Bottle

Now, all the big spirits have a tale to tell. Rum and its connection to the slave trade is wholly telling of the liquors history, later romanticised through its connection to piracy and made popular again most recently by the rebirth of the classic Mojito. Gin on the other hand made its name in the 19th century gin palaces of London. Sold cheap in place of unsafe drinking water, its reputation was in ruin upon Hogarth’s characterisation of the spirit in Gin Lane, but has seen a big revival with the boutique gin brands flowering of late.

Keeping with tradition, arrack doesn’t disappoint. Exotically originating out of South Asia, it thought to be the oldest spirit ever recorded, first made mention of during the 13th century in the writings of Marco Polo. Considered in Ancient Ceylon to be the drink of the gods, (compounded by its stint as the exclusive sipping spirit of Sri Lanka’s royal families), it wasn’t long before the good news travelled fast, with arrack becoming a banner term for all distilled liquors during that era of exploration and adventure.*

Naming conventions aside, arrack is something quite special. Made from the coconut flower, its milky sap is coaxed from the coconut tree by toddy tappers, who scale the trees and tap the stem of the flower until the juice is ready for releasing. A skill passed on through generations, the sap is collected in clay pots hanging round the toddy tappers waist, who tight rope walk between the trees until their pots are filled. A true island adventure story (though much more adult and boozy), no?

At Ceylon Arrack, where the same family have been producing the spirit since 1924, the spirit is distilled within 24 hours then aged in Sri Lankan halmilla wood, which gives the arrack a pretty golden hue. With a delicate floral and slightly citrusy nose, giving way to a creamy – reminiscent of coconut, as you’d imagine – taste and mouth feel, this is one seriously elegant sipping spirit, but deceptively so. Its subtle nature means it can be paired with just about anything, which I soon found out to my own detriment.

Starting out at 22 Redbank, we first tried the brand’s bread and butter cocktail – arrack, fresh orange juice, ginger ale and bitters – taking inspiration from the traditional Sri Lankan pairing with ginger beer. Sweet, refreshing, it was perfect pairing for the Sri Lankan curry we ate (for responsible drinking purposes and The Liquorists’ no hangover guarantee policy) before heading out into the night to try more punches and cocktails dreamt up by creative bartenders across the city.

A coconut and pineapple number started proceedings at Apotheca before a brief stopover at Hula, where the Saz-arrack (lolz) brought about the beginnings of the group’s demise. Mixing Ceylon Arrack, cognac, absinthe and cloves, all garnished with a twist of lemon, made for the most potent but perfectly formed cocktail. Followed by the Brewdog IPA and peach bitters combo at The Whiskey Jar and a champagne and elderflower liqueur cocktail at Epernay, you can well imagine the scenes.

Actually, you’ll have to. I was so busy having me a good time, I hardly took any pictures, which pretty much tells you all you need to know. I have ‘borrowed’ a picture of the Ceylon Arrack bottle from their website, just because it’s floral design and pretty pink bottle is a real winner. When it comes to the delicious food (cheese and meat platters abound), excellent tutelage (thanks to Jody of The Liquorists fame) and versatile and wonderfully inventive ways of Ceylon Arrack, you’ll simply have to take my word for it.

Better still, go on a little adventure and seek it out for yourself.

* Not to be confused with arak – or raki – an anise flavoured beverage popular in the Middle East and North Africa.

Neighbourhood

12 Jan

Old habits die hard, no? Particularly in January, when your average diet lasts as long as the use by date on that optimistically appropriated fruit and veg, and New Year’s resolutions wax and wane with the advent of your first full week in work. The food trends of last year have been mulled over and found wanting, and no matter how much you try to convince yourself you’re in the market for something new, your overstretched belly wants comfort. This, my friends, is why I found myself hauling ass to Neighbourhood, the latest American inspired eaterie from the good people behind Southern Eleven.

Neighbourhood, Manchester

Neighbourhood, Manchester

As one of the staunchest food trends of 2012, Americana was going to be a hard habit to shake. Having gorged myself silly on burgers and barbecue in the name of feeding this blog, (cough), you’d think I’d have had enough, but the grim winter weather inspired in me the need for a good hearty feed and familiar cuisine. Now, New York aficionados will know that as food experiences go, big apple eating is much in the same vein as Christmas, so following in the heavy-footed footsteps of the past few weeks, I took myself off in anticipation of a gut-busting lunch.

Much like the city that never sleeps, Neighbourhood’s food offering covers all hours, thankfully meaning that much like its inspiration, it has something to tempt at any time of day.* Breakfast buttermilk pancakes with pancetta, a reuben sandwich for lunch and everything from oysters to chateaubriand on the dinner menu, this is one (pretty extensive) menu to explore. Sadly though, I’ll have to wait for a return trip. Whilst never one to bandy the dreaded ‘D’ word around, like most of the population, the purse strings are pulled tight post-Christmas, so one course and a cocktail was as far as I could stretch.

The desired indulgence came in the form of a lobster roll. Light, fragrant lobster in a pale pink sauce, heady with lime and fresh parsley, it was truly delicious, and perfectly presented on top of a sweet brioche bun. Granted, it wasn’t the heavy load I was looking for, but the high quality and freshness of the ingredients elegantly put together more than made up for it, even distracting me from tackling my friend Aoife’s plate of prosciutto and red onion pizzetta. Enjoyed with one of the most intensely moreish Bloody Mary’s known to man, with a mean pepper kick, it was the loveliest lunch I’ve enjoyed in a long time.

Lobster Roll at Neighbourhood, Manchester

Lobster Roll at Neighbourhood, Manchester

Prosciutto and Red Onion Pizzetta at Neighbourhood, Manchester

Prosciutto and Red Onion Pizzetta at Neighbourhood, Manchester

The stunning surroundings no doubt contributed. Having spent the last twelve months frequenting burger bars and back street dives in the name of scoffing street food, rocking up to an actual restaurant, where waiters wear bow ties and napkins are provided took a while to adjust to. Matte white brick walls framing a grandiose bar, polished mirrored tables and booth seating, not to mention quaint tea tables set out with roses, it took a good half hour to stop me gawping, though once I relaxed into the experience and enjoyed the professional (to the point of being invisible) service, the conversation easily flowed.

Booth Eating at Neighbourhood, Manchester

Booth Eating at Neighbourhood, Manchester

Tea Tables at Neighbourhood, Manchester

Tea Tables at Neighbourhood, Manchester

This place is an altogether classier rendering of the American food trend; the perfect step change in breaking old habits and embracing the new. It’s an ideal place to bring friends still chasing down mac and cheese and the like, though topped with lobster, even I’d consider giving the dish another chance. The menu is reasonably priced for the quality of food plated up, and with a fun cocktail list drawing you in for after work drinks and a dairy heavy dessert menu that cries out for late night visits, Neighbourhood might be just be the thing to ease me into 2013.

* Though sadly not the 2am take away crawl. Crap sticks. Even I would feel no shame waking up to a half eaten Neighbourhood pizza come morning.