Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Northcote, Langho.

We last went to Northcote just before I started this website in 2012 so I never got chance to review it. I didn't even take any photos, imagine that? We really enjoyed it then but with a limited budget and time we've not returned until now. Also with shooting food in restaurants as my full time occupation now, we don't eat out nearly as much as we used to. So when they invited us down for lunch we jumped at the chance. I think we were clearly wrong to stay away for so long.
We start the seven course taster menu with some snacks in the bar area. This is the only thing I'd personally change about our lunch at Northcote. I'd prefer to have the option of going straight to our table on arrival in a restaurant of this calibre.
However this really isn't a problem as the bar area is pleasant and the snacks are excellent. A light little puff of beetroot meringue and a bite of moist and crunchy pork are lovely openings. Already we know we're in for a real treat, you just get that feeling. Looking at the menu too, there is nothing that we don't love on there.
Unusually for me I go for the wine flight to accompany the food. Often our friends do this in Spain. On multiple course tasting menus it can be a mistake as it's so easy to get legless without fully taking in the food properly but with seven courses it works well.
We are shown to our table into a busy dining room which has been modernised since our last visit, brightened and opened out. It still has the tablecloths etc, I like all these accoutrements of fine dining which fashion seems to (wrongly in my eyes) have turned against these days.
We begin with the Juniper Fern Cured Wild Sea Trout, Wasabi, Pickled Radish Shoots, Wild Herbs. Wine: Sancerre Rose, André Dezat, Loire Valley, France, 2014.
A lovely, light and delicate starter using some beautiful Scottish sea trout.
Next, Sticky Veal Sweetbread, Morrels, Verjus, Thyme Flowers. We're huge fans of sweetbread, we both loved this rich and deeply flavoured dish. Wine: Encruzado, Quinta dos Roques, Dao, Portugal, 2014.
Earth Baked Potato, Wild Garlic, Home Made Sour Cream.
Wine: Riesling, Loiserberg, Jurtschitsch, Kamptal, Austria, 2015. Another winner, so comforting and lovely. BBQ Monkfish, Roast Salsify, Tarragon, Apple Vinegar. Wine: Directors Reserve, Tokara, Stellenbosch, South Africa, 2012 The fourth course is a skilfully cooked beautiful piece of monkfish.
Herdwick Lamb, Sour Onions, Nasturtium, Whey Reduction. Wine: "Velvety" Monica de Peñas, Ribera del Duero, Spain 2015. I often go for this region's reds and this one was a stunner! The soft and richly flavoured lamb is some of the finest I've ever eaten in a long while. It gives me the classic memory of lamb from childhood.
Free Range Yorkshire Duck, Barley & Beer. Wine: Pinot Noir Block 5, Felton Road, Central Otago, New Zealand, 2013.
I only really need one dessert so was very happy with the Lemon Meringue Pie. Wine: Riesling Auslese, Schlossberg, Heinrichshof, Mosel, 2015.  A nice touch was when Nigel Haworth came down to meet us and give us a tour of the kitchen. He's charming and chatty and affable, exactly like he is on the TV!
It was an absolutely superb and faultless lunch at Northcote. Sometimes one might imagine somewhere that's had a Michelin star for 20 years (which is such an amazing achievement in itself) as perhaps being stuffy and old fashioned. But not a bit of it here, they've not rested on their laurels. This is simply excellent timeless cooking and top notch service which runs like clockwork. If any local Manchester restaurants want to see why they've not got a star yet, I'd suggest a visit over to Northcote any time.
It's a real joy to eat here and a reminder why we need fine restaurants like these in troubling times. Life feels good when lunch is as good as this.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Ynyshir, Wales.

Whilst more fame hungry chefs may grab the limelight, Chef Gareth Ward and his young team are quietly working away creating some of the best food in Britain right now.
It's a long drive to Ynyshir, at least from Manchester. The roads are narrow and winding. Better to stay over and not go there and back in a day like I did. The weather changed several times on my long journey, from dreadful to bloody awful. As I arrived the sun peeped out from behind the clouds.
I'm there to shoot the new bar area and restaurant, the chefs in action and maybe some of the deceptively simple yet brilliant food. But first breakfast. On many shoots, I turn up, photograph food all day and then go home, some days I don't eat anything. I'm so obsessive in my quest for good shots I often don't feel hungry. If it's a long shoot, I've taken to getting an Egg McMuffin on the way for fuel (a none guilty pleasure). One of the best full English breakfasts I've ever had is generously made for me especially. I eat it whilst working, my god those sausages are good!
The trick to shooting in a kitchen I think is to keep shooting. Most of your shots will be garbage, but you can select the better images later. Luckily, there are quite a few to choose from. Well luck really isn't much of a part of it, it's hard work, putting in the time and being vigilant. Hopefully this hard work reflects in part, a fraction of the huge amount of graft chefs like Gareth and the team put in here. It's not a job it's a life. For me, this work ethic is to be hugely admired.  
Below, the team tasting a new dish in development.

Gareth sums up his own style succinctly, "It’s not about producing pretty food, it’s about producing food that smashes you in the face with flavour". I can confirm that! After shooting the amazing Welsh Wagyu, Gareth says, "you might as well eat that". I pop it in my mouth and the flavour explodes, with deep meaty intensity. Give me this any day over a big pile of herbs that the chef has foraged. Who wants to eat that? Not me I'm afraid and I don't care if he's foraged it either. I'm just looking for flavour as it is here. Here there are rarely more than three or four ingredients on a plate. Simplicity is usually best isn't it?
Later on I'm shown the secret cold room where all the big hunks of meat are maturing at different stages. It smells almost like blue cheese. There's a digital clock in the kitchen apparently showing the exact time of maturation.
 But first the new interior, a more modern approach that says less country house and more destination dining.  Below, the bar area, a room with a view.

Gareth now has a share in the business with his partner Amelia.  He wants to make Ynyshir the first two star in Wales. I think he's well on his way. I can't think of many places I've been to in Britain with food I'd like to eat more. I continue shooting some more food ...The Welsh Wagyu Burger.
And more kitchen shots, sometimes black and white is the more striking way to go....

Finally the desserts including some theatre. Frozen eucalyptus & white chocolate petits fours created at the table using liquid nitrogen. This is not just for show, it creates another flavour bomb. Underneath; Tiramisu.
As dusk approaches, they light the candles in preparation for evening service and I stay a little longer to capture the blue evening shadows creep across the dining room.
I often find it hard to leave, there's always one last shot but in the end I think I have enough. It's a long drive home in the dark but Gareth sends me on my way with a fantastic BLT!
It's a magical place Ynyshir, with rarely brilliant food. Gareth has created his own idiosyncratic unique style here with incredible levels of flavour and it's food that I very much like to eat for this reason. Hopefully I did this amazing place justice.

More photos here.
Previous Review 2016.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Kiln, Soho.

There is no doubt that Manchester is getting better for restaurants all the time but we still have an awful long way to go to get to the general standard of our capital, without doubt one of the best cities in which to eat in the world at every level. It makes decisions on where to eat there so very difficult, there is too much choice.
Kiln is a fine case in point, it could only really be in London right now and it proved to be a wise option in city full of fantastic restaurants. Kiln is a thai restaurant but not as we know it. It's a thai grill and uses these claypots on open flames.

We had booked but rejected the un-atmospheric seats downstairs, much better to sit at the open kitchen counter and watch it all being cooked. We get the Lamb Skewers (£2.90, fabulous, just the right amount of fat), Mylor prawns (£5, pictured below), the Bream dry curry (£7.30), the Langoustines (£8.80) & Clay Pot Glass Noodles (£5.75, pictured underneath).
The food was just so good that we ordered more and more. The last two were amongst our favourites of the afternoon, the Laos Curried John Dory and the Long Pepper Curry were sensational. It reminded me a little of when we first went to StreetXo in Madrid, it was such a huge buzz, a really enjoyable experience sitting there are the counter. Inexpensive too considering, it only cost us £68.68 for two ordering loads and including beers, phenomenal value especially in London. You'd struggle to find anything this good in Manchester at this price proving once again that in London you can eat like a king at every price level.