Tag Archives: Restaurant

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.

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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

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

Rosso

16 Jun

I’m not one for change. Bizarre really, given the shit I do in the name of feeding this blog (and my ever growing butt), but if I could eat at dirty old gastropubs, day in day out, I would. Vats of red wine, haunches of meat and a thickly wedged cheese board to boot would see me right to the end of my days. Nothing outstanding in terms of innovation, but here be my heart’s desire, and though I hate to consider myself judgemental – being a girl of simple pleasures and all – anything other than hearty, flavoursome food in a rough-around-the-edges package tends to send me running for the chippy.

This inverted snobbery of mine has led to me shunning many a ‘fine dining’ styled restaurant in my time. Trussed up service, polished cutlery and overcomplicated menus all give me the willies, and having been invited to review Rosso Manchester – paean to all things slick and celebrity in our fine city – I managed to postpone accepting the opportunity for months, in fear of loathing the whole experience and having to write a mean-spirited review. Manchester, how foolish I have been.

Rosso, Manchester

Rosso, Manchester

Rosso, without a shadow of a doubt, is smooth. Fancy pants building (grandiose, grade II listed and built in 1887), fanciable waiting staff and fantastic service, the guys and gals here know how to put on a good show.

The service as I experienced it was second to none.* Amiable men and women all, largely seen but not heard, taking care never to interrupt mid-conversation and enabling wine glasses to magically materialise a near constant level of white wine.  Given the rough and tumble of my usual type of gaffe, being wined and dined at a spiffy Italian restaurant was both a revelation and a real treat.

There were a few unnecessary flourishes. The silver tongs used to spoon ice into my water glass gave rise to a wry smile, and the purposefully papped pictures of football players adorning the walls shaved off two shades of class, but otherwise, it was a wonderful. My friend Aoife and I relaxed right into our surroundings – the watermark of any good dining experience – though completely forgetting where we were was near impossible with a live singer roving the restaurant.

Wall of Fame

Wall of Fame

Sashaying his rump round, crooning rat pack favourites and classic Italian tunes, the evening’s entertainment was a surprise success. What on first appearances seemed to be a shed load of parmesan, piled on top of an otherwise beautifully presented evening, turned out to be the umami rich mouthful of entertainment the evening needed. Usually disdainful of any unnecessary distraction from conversation, (or masticating for that matter), it was a welcome break in between the carefully timed courses to aid our digestion of the mountainous plates of food dished up.

Sweet Pepper, Mushroom and Tomato & Basil Bruschetta

Sweet Pepper, Mushroom and Tomato & Basil Bruschetta

Now, about that food. Slow cooked pig cheeks in Parma ham were divine. Meaty, moreish and oozing a bitter sweet black treacle jus, it took mere minutes to demolish, though Aoife’s antipasto board – a meal unto itself of artisan cheeses, pickled artichokes and a basket of bread – required a doggy bag and whole extra day to finish. Having already troughed a perfectly pitched sweet red pepper bruschetta in waiting for our starters, we were comfortably full whilst only half way through.

Antipasto

Antipasto

Naturally, I had ordered a plate full of pasta – chilli garlic taglierini topped with half a roasted lobster to be exact – just to keep things breezy, you know. A lip (and face) smackingly fresh dish of pasta ribbons, complete with fiddly fork to fish out every last morsel of the delicate, perfectly pink and aromatic lobster, I was simultaneously in heaven and hell as I sunk the whole dish. The shame! Resultantly, all I could stretch to was a couple of scoops of decent (though sadly not naturally flavoured) pistachio gelato despite the presence of an appetising looking tiramisu.

Lobster Taglierini

Lobster Taglierini

The menu is slightly overwhelming, with over 40 mains in the offing and with each dish handsomely priced, it’s a dear do, but to my mind, understandably so. Working such quality ingredients and classic service, not to mention portion sizes that are purely Northern, it works out as excellent value for money. It’s enough to tempt me back anyhow, if only to double kiss my waiter on the cheek again out of sheer gratitude and my best attempt at a belly-bursting grace. Colour me classy, ladies and gentleman. I’m a changed woman.

* Given I was on a review, a little showboating was to be expected. Naturally, all is forgiven.

Rosso Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

3TwentyOne

2 Jun

I always used to wonder why food writers were such curmudgeons. More often than not dripping with disdain for the chef’s / front of house’s / interior decorator’s efforts and whip-smart snarks following on from some lengthy prose about anything but the food.* How could you make a misery out of something so inherently joyful in a review? Then, I started a food blog.

My passion for eating out turned into a twice a week habit which, after nine months of scoffing and scribing, turns out to be just enough time to make you gag each time you gorge on the latest food trend. Having a healthier base for comparison raises your expectations beyond measure, and in the name of having something interesting to say, forage endlessly for innovative ingredients and fresh food concepts to write about. The more you indulge, the harder it becomes to find satisfaction, and after a while, it all sort of blends into one. It seems gluttony quickly runs to ingratitude.

It’s a hard life, no?

No, I don’t think so either. I can’t sympathise with anyone enjoys such privilege, myself included. I’m exceptionally lucky, not only because I can afford to eat out on a regular basis, but also because I occasionally get invited along to review restaurants for free. So, having found myself overfaced and underwhelmed of late, I’ve had to have a long hard look at myself, especially after a perfectly lovely dining experience initially left me with little to say, and the only thing left wanting was my attitude to it all.

If you keep abreast of the Manchester food scene, you may have heard something of 3TwentyOne. Just another meat mecca, I thought, albeit with its own smoker and a penchant for good liquor. An invitation to the grand opening evening for Manchester media mavens was missed on account of birthday celebrations with much loved friends, so was invited to come along at a later date when the cacophony of blogger’s gums smacking around short ribs and Singapore Slings had died down.

Sadly, they forgot I was coming, and much to mine and my friend Mal’s discomfort, asked to check my email invitation, then spent half an hour playing Chinese whispers with the waitress and owner about exactly what was included in the review. This, and the fact she harangued us until we placed our order whilst simultaneously trying to settle into our surroundings and say our hellos were the only low points of the night. The rest was just… fine and dandy.

Espresso Martini

Espresso Martini

The cocktails were a wonderful opener. My espresso martini of Kahlua, vanilla vodka and butterscotch syrup was perfectly pitched – neither overly sweet nor strong on the coffee – whilst Mal made appreciative noises over his Tommy’s Margarita. On reflection, it might be worth heading back and working my way through the cocktail menu alone, if nothing else than just to gaze on the bearded (slightly dour) hunk of a bartender, but I digress.

To its credit, the menu managed to distract me much more effectively, pared down as it was. Six starter and six dessert choices made the beginning and end of the meal fairly easy to navigate, but working your way through a list of four steaks, two types of ribs and a whole host of other hunks of meat made for a much beefier task.

Pork Ribs

Pork Ribs

The ribs weren’t bad. Both stickily coated and meaty, my barbecue pork ribs were a little fatty, though the pig happily fell off the bone and was made moreish by a boozy bourbon glaze used to jazz up the dish. Both mine and Mal’s beef short ribs were subtly smoked – a small disappointment given its billing as the main attraction – but had a decent flavour to them and were stacked high, making me grateful my eyes weren’t bigger than my belly in ordering more sides than the one that comes with – in my case crispy on the outside, fluffy within paprika-dusted fries. Perfection.

Manchester Egg

Manchester Egg

The Manchester Egg – black pudding and sausage meat wrapped round a gooey egg all deep fried in breadcrumbs – was a delight, as was the lightly smoked, tender boneless chicken wings with a creamy blue cheese sauce. Both disappeared pretty quickly (much to our waitress’ delight), though the puddings took longer to shift. A rich, fairly heady mud pie of rich chocolate ganache and Oreo biscuit base – from a fairly standard menu stretching not far beyond cheesecake – was lovely but a little too much to stomach, even with a sizeable dollop of Cheshire Farm ice cream to balance it out.

Mud Pie

Mud Pie

If I had never enjoyed the bounteous beauty of deep fried coke or eaten ribs fresh off the back of a pit barbecue, my review might have been much more evenly tempered, but for what it’s worth, 3TwentyOne is a lovely little establishment serving up simple, hearty food. Whilst the glut of Manchester food blogs reviewing the gaffe has paid testament to the shonky service, I suspect such teething problems will be soothed over time, and with soft, modern décor and an enviable location next to the Deansgate Hilton, will attract a good crowd once the blogger rush is over and done.

So, here’s hoping they get a little more heavy-handed with the smoker. That and another espresso martini is all it would take to tempt this blogger back.

* Equally guilty on the waffling front. Do forgive me. I am but human (and a gob shite).

3TwentyOne on Urbanspoon

Albert’s Square Chop House

21 May

To my mind, it seems each and every one of us has a style of dining establishment towards which we lean. Some prefer the silver fork shininess and artistically constructed dishes of fine dining for their socially aspirational sins, whilst for others, the queue handling and heady chip fat aroma of the local chipper brings them somewhat closer to their own personal foodie nirvana.

My own particular preference sees me lean towards the modern British Gastropub, preferably with a hint of the old man’s watering hole about it. Lacquered wooden surfaces, dog-eared beer mats and pies with a crust as thick as your heel,  I relax right into my surroundings, eat and drink myself a week’s worth of calories and find that contented state we all yearn for once in a while.

Albert's Square Chop House, Manchester

Albert’s Square Chop House, Manchester

The eponymously named Albert’s Square Chop House isn’t quite that. Invited to review by Manchester Confidential, I was most excited, as going by the traditional chophouse dogma of hearty, often suet based dishes and intriguing residences brimming with architectural intrigue, I thought myself to be in for a night of fabulous fodder with one of my favourite people; my lovely brother Dan.

The exterior has something of the historic come hither about it. Gothic arches, thick wooden doors and stone steps to scale, the entrance of the Memorial Hall gives way to an intimate yet ultimately posh pub chain style décor – light wood furnishings, roughly exposed brick and soft brown leather banquettes – losing a little of the promise made on the cobbled approach over Albert’s Square. So far, so-so.

The soft leather banquettes were a little hard to squeeze into, though very comfy once in.

The soft leather banquettes were a little hard to squeeze into, though very comfy once in.

The à la carte reads a whole deal more refined than the group’s customary offering, which generally is no bad thing. With a nod to the seasonal and a healthy smattering of locally sourced ingredients – the delights of corn fed Goosnargh chicken and a Homity pie made wonderful with Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese – the stellar line up of dishes made better the far less exciting interior.

Though the menu for the most part read beautifully, the delivered dishes weren’t always successful. My starter of poached salmon, though delicately smoked had been left too long to soak, losing ALL the fishy potency desired. Further doused in vinegar-logged artichoke, the dish was a wash-out which no carefully balanced salad of samphire and pickled radish could save. Shame.

Salmon and Pickled Artichoke Starter - sadly a serious wash out

Salmon

A chocolate soup, recommended by our incredibly sweet and attentive waiter, had the consistency of three day old semolina, but the accompanying milk sorbet was a thing of wonder, and the Thai basil garnish – which I originally suspected to be mint – worked surprisingly well. Despite these few digestive hiccups, the rest was perfection, with clever Dan striking gold with all three dishes.

A lad of simple pleasures, he plumped for a bumper portion of pate, teetering on the terrine side of things and flecked through with the sweet tang of pickled capers to balance the sheer force of all that pork. Followed by the most perfectly pink, elegantly chargrilled sirloin with fat chips, I had serious food envy throughout, though my Mettrick’s sourced Spring lamb was pretty otherworldly itself.

Spring Lamb - perfectly pink perfection

Spring Lamb

Cooked just the right side of pink, served with wild garlic mash and spinach, for me it was the menu’s most redeeming feature, though Dan’s surprising dessert choice of raspberry soufflé served with vanilla bean ice cream and lemon balm sauce proved to be another highlight. Perfectly light, pink and collapsing upon touch, understandably, big sister rules meant he had to share.

Raspberry Souffle

Raspberry Souffle

Over and above the food, the real success of the evening was the fabulous wine cellar. As with Tom’s and Sam’s Chophouse, the wine list reads like a Shakespeare classic; impossible to decipher at first glance but eventually yielding up some serious gems to wrap your mouth around. Having a sommelier on hand, however, makes the translation a whole lot easier. Carlos was incredible, making the whole evening a real treat.

Friendly, willing to answer inane questions (me) and explain why the food pairings work (Dan), my usually non-boozing brother decided to give each recommendation a go, and proved to have an exceptional nose for flavours, identifying a rhubarb note in the 2012 Colombard Sauvignon to accompany the salmon. The 20 year old Sandeman Tawny Port paired with my dessert – like burnt toffee – is also worth a mention, and made me one seriously happy lady.

2010 Colombard Sauvignon Blanc

2010 Colombard Sauvignon Blanc

The drink offering alone puts Albert’s Square a step ahead of your usual gastropub – it blows my usual foodie boozer out of the water – and when executed well, the food here can be wonderful. They won’t be winning awards for originality anytime soon, though their support of local and seasonality is applaudable, and for the most part, I massively enjoyed it.

Albert’s Square Chop House has a little something for everyone it seems. Just follow your nose on the food and the sommelier’s nose on the wine, and you’ll be guaranteed to have a good time.

Albert Square Chop House on Urbanspoon

Pie and Ale

27 Apr

This, my friends, is an ode to pie; that gloriously edible artefact of humble majesty. Soft, yielding, slow-cooked meat, a few of your five a day thrown in for good measure and ALL the rich, meaty gravy just waiting to spill out… your mouth waters just to think of it.* Crowned in halo of crumbly, buttery short crust pastry, (puff pastry my arse), the pie is a thing of simple beauty that, in my embarrassingly considerable pie-eating career, you simply have to indulge in every once in a while.

Whether eaten hot from a paper bag straight from the local bakery or baked and broken out round a table filled with friends, this sometimes fast, incredibly fatty and always filling food stuff is much loved – second only the Coulman family obsession with the equally unassuming pasty – though sadly something I rarely indulge in these days, and with pretty good reason.

Most mortifyingly, one particular pie eating occasion gave rise to my second most embarrassing food encounter, ever…

Many moons ago, after a demanding day of shopping and boozing, my friend Alison and I found solace and sobriety in two hefty portions of pie. Face down for a good ten minutes, we both surfaced to find ourselves being admired by four firemen, each evidently in awe at the – lets be frank – hog-like nature in which we laid waste to our pastry-topped objects of affection. Pink cheeked, crumb-nosed and as yet, unable to physically move, they passed comment, and we near passed out with shame.

Years later, just the simple recounting makes me blush. I swore I’d never touch a pie again, but who was I kidding? A heart attack in a foil tin it may be, when complex carbohydrates are your only vice, you feed the beast as sparingly as you can, and preferably in the company of many, many others who can keep your troughing in check. Then, you go for long repentant run.

So, imagine my horror when pie was touted as one of the next big trends to follow on from last year’s burger binge, quickly followed by the news that not only would Pieminister be setting up shop in Manchester, but that Bakerie’s new venture would be paying homage to pie and ale, the other major hipster food trend of 2013. The temptation to be a pie eater and a beer-swilling lout proved too much to handle. Pie and Ale was in my sights.

Much tweeting (read stalking) ensued, politely enquiring for an opening date and many months later, the oven doors creaked opened. Such was my need, I took two friends along. There’s safety and strength in numbers, so that no-one need witness my second pie-related fall from grace…

Mercifully, I behaved myself. It’s seems boys – especially those sporting sexy beards – like pie, and I hate to learn a lesson twice. Unfortunately, this also means I won’t be visiting the gaffe again.

Whilst the pastry is excellent – thick and sturdy short crust of soft yielding crumb, chock full of that buttery flavour you yearn for – the fillings, by no means disappointing, just didn’t excite. A much anticipated lamb and potato number came in a mildly, spicy tomato based sauce, and I couldn’t get past the lack of sweet, meaty juices I was hoping to be hit with. The chicken and chorizo was a vast improvement, but slightly too sweet to contemplate the whole pie, which I will warn you was of a considerable size.

Pie and Ale, Manchester

Pie and Ale, Manchester

In itself, no bad thing, but when the chef is skinny with the mash and mushy peas, both which were full of flavour and perfectly turned out, you are left with a lot of pastry to go at, which no miniature jug of red wine gravy can rescue. Thankfully, the well chosen ales on tap amply whet the whistle, most notably the Boggart Brewery Rum Porter of herbal note with a smooth and rich coffee and cocoa finish – a great brew.

Boggary Brewery Rum Porter

Boggary Brewery Rum Porter

A pie should be a flavour-filled hug that leaves you side-bustingly satiated, and if it wasn’t for the charming, funny and friendly staff and ridiculously good value on offer – my bill came in at under £12 for a plateful of pie and two half pints – I’d have felt much less magnanimous about the experience. Other than the skewed portions sizes and fillings, Pie and Ale is a great little place, but as it turns out, a pie should be worth making a fool of yourself over, and most unfortunately, these aren’t.

Lamb and Potato Pie - one of three choices updated daily at Pie and Ale

Lamb and Potato Pie – one of three choices updated daily at Pie and Ale

* When it comes to pie, it has to be meat. Who chooses vegetarian pie? Unless its cheese and onion. Thick, mature cheese slick with crunchy onion and a thick pastry crust. Choosing cheese and onion is fine.

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