Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Almost Famous, Northern Quarter.

It's time Manchester grew up and started eating some proper food for a change. Yet the 'dirty food' band wagon keeps on rolling. I hear we're soon to get an Ed's Easy Diner. You know, that American themed restaurant that was all the rage in London twenty years ago. No less than two cereal cafés are opening shortly too.
Apart from some big name additions, (Hawksmoor, Ibérica), I plan to eat out less this year and blog more selectively. (All the best laid plans and all that).
Having said all of that, sometimes a big sloppy burger is the only thing I want. Like a curry or a kebab, nothing else will do. Trash was calling both of us after a post Christmas near starvation diet last month.
I've not eaten a burger in Manchester for months so we wanted to make sure we did it properly.
If you ask me, burgers are better, simpler with minimal toppings. However, nobody buys these as they don't look any good on instagram etc (and I know I can talk). A case of supply and demand.
These ones at Almost Famous are not minimal at all. (Although you can get their standard Almost Famous burger). They are nonetheless, great to shove in your greedy gob at great speed. I'm pretty good at doing this if I say so myself.
We start off with a Crack Baby, cheese - chillies - chorizo - Caesar shoestring fries - garlic butter salt & vinegar Walkers - chorizo aioli - bleu cheese dressing - Cholula (£9). This is good but slightly muddied by all the toppings, we can't taste the meat so much. (Famously supplied by our local butcher, W.H. Frost).
Better is the California Screamin', spiced cheese - herb butter brioche - crispy smoked bacon - grilled onions avocado - lettuce - tomato - chillies - lemon 'erb mayo - chorizo aioli - Cholula (£9).
The touch of spiciness adds that pleasing bit of heat and the avocado is a lovely creamy addition. Best of all, these toppings are not masking the actual flavour of the burger meat. I'd have preferred it a little bit pinker (I'd asked for the burger rare) but it's too late to worry about that now it's in my fat belly.
We've probably consumed as many calories in 20 minutes as we have all week, but no matter, the dirty deed is done. We'll most likely be back in another few months when we get that urge again. It's our none guilty pleasure.
Almost Famous on Urbanspoon
To see more photos in hi res click here.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Double Zero, Chorlton.

Good pizza has become a near obsession for me in recent years. It's still a rarity in Manchester for some unknown reason. Most of the good ones are street-food traders, although the best in the region, Honest Crust are now permanently housed in Altrincham Market. I also have high hopes for Ply, due to open shortly in the Northern Quarter.
Why is it such an obsession? Well for me, when you're in the right mood, nothing comes close to the sheer joy of shoving a great big juicy pizza in your face. It also seems to be such a deceptively simple thing to get right. The first thing is that you must want to do things the right way. This costs more in time and money.
You have to start off with quality ingredients, spend time developing and perfecting the dough and the sauce. Having a blisteringly hot wood fired oven helps enormously too. It only takes about a minute to cook in one of these.
They seem to have thought of all this at the new pizza place in Chorlton; Double Zero. I was excited to check them out. Even though we earmark Thursday to go, I can't wait, I have to sneak in on my own the night before too.
It's fairly cold and barely decorated inside, unfinished wood and plaster, like a log cabin.
People in Chorlton do love those style over content places, see Croma and The Laundrette for details. With this in mind, a bit more thought on making Double Zero a bit cosier wouldn't go amiss, including the stark lighting which makes the place feel cold and uninviting.
I have the first pizza of the evening as soon as they open at 6pm, which the owner says will be 'the worst of the night'. This is because the oven, a wood fired Stefano Ferrara imported from Italy at great expense, (several thousand pounds) takes a few attempts to perfect as they gauge the temperature and exact cooking time.
It's not perfect but it's still a really good pizza. By a country mile, the best in Chorlton. I just hope if they can just find that formula to get it right every time.
It's imperative to use quality and fresh ingredients, and here at Double 00, they're only using products from the Campania region. This includes Mozzarella di bufala Campana, canned Strianese Italian DOP Whole San Marzano tomatoes and La Farina di Napoli  00 Pizza flour (hence the name).
Like I said, these things matter if you want to do things properly. This is why the likes of Croma, The Laundrette and Pizza Express irritate me so much. They're not doing things properly because these things cost more. They often skimp on cheaper ingredients and in the case of Croma minimise the pizzas and toppings to maximise profit. Who cares? Most people don't seem to notice.
In terms of ingredients, less is usually more with pizza. Thankfully at Double Zero they're not adding anything daft. Strict rules are best followed in this particular style. There are no stupid toppings to speak of. Although I see they sneak in some caramelised pineapple onto one of the pizzas which I can't approve of. A bit of my favourite, N'Duja on the menu wouldn't go amiss either. I have a Calabrese, spicy salami (£8 for the Margherita with additional ingredients, £2.50 extra). It's BYOB though which means that £10.50 is my total spend of the night which is a bonus for me right now.
Neapolitan pizzas are wetter and saucier than the ones you find in Rome, so you'll not normally see them sold by the slice. I think I prefer them, the combination of the sweet tomato sauce, generous amounts of molten cheese (not tiny blobs that you normally get here, a pet hate) and in my case, spicy sausage, is an absolute winner. I'm guessing that the sourdough base is the element which is the trickiest to perfect along with the exact perfect cooking time, seconds can make a difference.
I return the following night with Mrs Bacon and a couple of pals.
There are more mixed results in all honesty. Some pizzas are too sloppy, overloaded with toppings, others are slightly overdone. There is very little of what the experts call 'leoparding', those black char spots you often see on the edges of Honest Crust pizzas. The pizzas are not the main problem though, these can be addressed with practice. There are huge issues with the service which is slow and amateurish at times. It is obvious that they have no experience in running a restaurant. They desperately need an experienced manager to organise them properly on service which is always at least as important as the food. People will forgive sloppy pizza but not sloppy service.
But I'd prefer to cut these guys some slack as they've only just opened and it becomes busier as word of mouth spreads. We still have an enjoyable boozy evening and with the BYOB it didn't cost us much.
New restaurants are more often than not a disappointment but I hope this won't be the case here. Double Zero have seen a massive gap in the market and dropped straight into it. They've done their research so they have a great product. If they can hopefully deliver this properly when the restaurant is full, you have the makings of one of my favourite Chorlton openings of the year. Proper pizza from a wood fired oven just 10 minutes from my house? I'll happily take that.
Double Zero on Urbanspoon

Postscript. After I published this review it seems word got out that Double Zero have taken a lot of inspiration from Paulie Gee's in Brooklyn US.
Restaurants here often take inspiration from the States, that's one thing but in this case it appears to be a near copy including the dark lighting, the wooden interior and the most importantly, the logo which is a problem. I think they may need to address this issue too.

Menu here.
 
358 Barlow Moor Rd, M21 8AZ.
*Paid in full on both occasions.
15% discount for take-away.
 Click menu left to enlarge.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Why I hate Valentine's Day.

Hate is probably too strong a word. I'm ambivalent to Valentine's Day but it doesn't quite have the same ring to it does it? I see it as seasoned drinkers judge those occasional pub goers who drunkenly litter our hostelries at Christmastime. Valentine's Day is not the best day for eating out if you love going to restaurants as I do. In fact, along with Christmas, it's the worst.
It's too crowded for a start off. Sitting in a restaurant full of other couples is not my favourite thing to do. Being annoying, on their phones, taking selfies, talking loudly, breathing. Other people are hell, especially if I have to sit right next to them. It's hardly conducive to a romantic meal is it? I don't mind a few other people if they're at least 20 yards away on that table way over there, murmuring in soft focus.
It's too expensive as well. You can hardly blame restaurant or pub owners for making a special costly themed menu if everywhere else is doing it. I'd do the same thing too if I was in their shoes. I bet they're absolutely gutted that it falls on a Saturday this year, the worst day it could be when they'd probably be full already.
I really shouldn't really bite the hand that feeds me though. I have sometimes made a few quid from Valentine's Day myself, such as these recent photos below for All Star Lanes.
 I also occasionally design greeting cards in real life, so I am myself a small part of the commercial conspiracy of 'the day of love too'. For that I'm truly sorry.
I guess I tend to eschew Valentine's because it's this idea that we all have to do the same thing at the same time, like the forced jollity of New Years eve. It's the opposite of romance, the whole thing is a big dirty cliché.
However if you enjoy it, then why not? And if you make money from it, even better. We'll be at home with an M&S £20 meal deal (pushing the boat out) and I'll be back in the restaurants on the 15th when the insane madness is over. Happy Valentine's Day!


Wednesday, 4 February 2015

GRUB Winter Beer Fest, Manchester.

As I've said previously on this website, I've not always been convinced about the merits of Street Food Festivals or even Beer Festivals for that matter. At their worst they're a rip off, often housed in cold uninviting warehouses or outside in all elements, usually charging extortionate prices for the pleasure. I usually leave about £50 down, thinking that I could have saved myself a few quid by going to the local warm pub followed by a curry. Like restaurants and farmers' markets, street food traders range from blatantly rip off, band-wagon jumping merchants to those offering something different and originating from passion rather than a way to make a quick buck.
Thankfully the food we ate at GRUB last weekend was certainly some of the best we've ever had at a Street Food Festival, in fact it's some of the most enjoyable food of the year so far and it didn't cost a fortune. We start off with Fu Schnikens who specialise in handmade Taiwanese steamed buns.
Christ, these are so good. They're just perfect bundles of soft, pillowy buns filled with slow rich tender pork belly. They have a slight almost Chinese, sweet element too which works so well. It's no wonder that these guys won a recent best street-food in the UK award.
There is also Sticky Soy Ox Cheek, Pickled Beetroot, palm sugar, chives sesame (£3.50) which is so good too. I go back for more of the Glazed Pork Belly, pickled mouli & carrrot, hoi sin, sesame, coriander, palm sugar, panko crumb. 
I'm actually starting to wonder how many of these I could eat in one sitting, 5, 10? But no, I must be good, there's other stuff to be eating.
I must mention the beer selection too, it really is rather good. Well you'd expect it, we are sat in the Runaway brewery. 
My only criticism of the event is that it's bloody freezing inside but we're well prepared in our thick Winter coats and hats. 
Back to the beer, I'm in the mood for IPA so I go through my scorecard at a speedy rate. What beers did I drink? I really have no idea but there were a few from Blackjack and I didn't sample one that I didn't like. But do I really want to be one of those who people score every single beer I drink? (Pathetically, I do sometimes). Blogging is bad enough and it's enough to take photos of every bloody thing I eat.
Next up is COMIDA, Spanish Street Food from former bloggers, the Manchester Foodies. The squid wasn't quite right yet, they were still tweaking it so didn't charge me for it. The Croquetas though were top class. if you follow this website, you'll know about my Spanish croqueta obsession and these were the best I've had in absolutely ages. In fact they are easily the best I've had in the UK. 
It's the gooey béchamel sauce, which oozes out as you bite into it. We had both the Truffle and Manchego (£4) and the Squash and Blue Cheese (£4.50) and scrape up the fantastic garlic alioli with our fingers.
What I liked about GRUB is that rather than moan about the state of the Manchester Street Food 'scene' which is what  I do, they've gone and done something about it and put on a great festival themselves, hand-picking their favourite quality traders. I'm told they have something even bigger planned for their next one in May and a permanent art, drink and food space, all under one roof called Keystone. You can support them via Kickstarter here.

To see more photos from the event, click here.