Friday, 5 September 2014

Back on The Beach

We're back in Spain for some more beaches and plenty more eatings. We'll be doing a food road trip in Andalucia, taking in Seville, Cádiz, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, El Puerto de Santa Maria and our long standing favourite Conil de la Frontera, no doubt tweeting as we go. See you soon....

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Manchester Favourites.

As I'm often asked by out-of-towners for food and drink advice, I thought I'd put them under one post. I've not been to every restaurant in Manchester but I've tried quite a lot and these are my own personal favourites. (There are of course always more to try). As ever they're my opinions only, you may prefer others I've omitted, we can't always agree on everything can we? (Click on links for full reviews).
Favourite Japanese. Yuzu without doubt. Favourite Dish. Sashimi.
Favourite High End Food. There are only two main players if you want the best food in town and money's no object. My preference is for The French, there's also Manchester House. (I've not actually been back for a year until today, review up soon). Favourite Dish. Ox in coal oil. (The French).
Favourite Mid Range. For when you want some nice scran but don't want to go full high end. There's only one choice as far as I'm concerned. Mr Cooper's House and Garden. Favourite Dish. Malabar pilaff, lamb rumps.   
Favourite Burgers. I've always like Almost Famous and their daft OTT offerings, but recently had a great burger from Solita. So between these two for me.
Favourite Dish. Almost Famous; Butter Blood & Bleu.  
Solita; Hemingway Burger. (Ltd edition).
Favourite Cheap Eats.
I'd go for Vietshack in the Arndale food court and plenty of others do too so be prepared to queue. Favourite Dish. Bahn-Mi.
Favourite Indian. All right thinking people know that it's Mughli, no doubt.
Favourite Dish. The Nihari.
Favourite 'Chinese'. (Cantonese). It's not my favourite cuisine but I thought Ocean Treasure was pretty good on our last visit. Favourite Dish. Aromatic Crispy Duck.
Favourite Thai. It's newcomer, cheap and cheerful Siam Smiles. Favourite Dish. Kuai Tiew Duck.
Favourite Italian. I'd go for independent Salvi's Cucina
Favourite Mexican. Despite a mixed night last week, my choice would still be the new El Capo.  Favourite Dish. Moronga, Paraguayan slow cooked pork stew.  I must also mention Luck Lust liquor and Burn though as they remain a favourite, albeit American/Mexican.
Favourite Cocktails. 
I like Dusk til Pawn in the Northern Quarter, for a cool, dark underground vibe. If you're looking for cocktails with a view, Manchester House's 12th floor lounge is the place to head for. They both make a mean Smoky Old Fashioned.
Favourite Bar (A place for Hipster Watching, with or without your dog). I've grown fond of sitting about Common bar in the Northern Quarter (obviously) lately. Favourite Beer. Their revolving house cask is pretty good value at £3.50, last week it was Red Willow Directionless.
Favourite Old Fashioned Boozer. The Castle Hotel.
Favourite Cake. Home Sweet Home.
Favourite Spanish. Nowhere in the city centre until Ibérica arrive. Try Levanter in Ramsbottom, only 45 minutes drive away if you want great tapas.
Favourite Craft Beer Pub.  Port Street Beer House.
Favourite  Place for Dessert. The River Bar & Grill at The Lowry Hotel Favourite Dish; Trifle. I do love a trifle, me.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

El Capo (Full review).

I've not got much time for those who say they don't like twitter. I've met some fantastic people I'd never have met otherwise and countless others (worldwide) I've made a little connections with, all due to our love of good food.
Two lovely folks from twitter came to El Capo with us the other day. You might follow Ian Deveney @DeKroonCat and Amanda Goodwin @MandaGooders yourself, especially if you're a follower of @FamousEats. I doubt if many have eaten more Almost Famous burgers than Ian. Coincidentally, two other people I sort of 'know' from twitter were in El Capo when we were. I never thought I'd ever say the line; " 'Scuse me but are you Beetroot rabbit?" in my life but @Beetrootrabbit and @emmmmerla happened to get the seat next to us. It was great to finally put faces to names. So I'm not going to write this review. They are. (For the main part anyway).
I thought it'd be interesting to see what they thought of this new Mexican. It turns out that it was a mixed bag to say the least. We were really excited to be returning, things looked promising from last week. But I'll hand over to them.
Ian Deveney @DeKroonCat.
"I thought the service was excellent. Even though we were all gassing away and not looking at the menu, the lady came back a few times and was really nice. Right, the food... Not the best Mexican if I'm being honest. The chicharrons were tasty and not greasy at all, the meatballs were spot on. Amanda loved the Mi Corazon (heart), me not so much. The wings were pretty bland I thought... Needed much more flavour I couldn't taste any cumin on them and it said they came with "sh*t loads of garlic"... Did they f*ck! And as for the tacos... Pork ones were okay but it was peppers on them and not pickled chilles the "charred" chicken ones were RANK!!! Amanda thought the Manila Galleon was sublime. Overall I'd give them a 6.5 out 10
Would I go back? Yes but not straight away... I'd give them a few weeks."

Amanda Goodwin @MandaGooders.
"Our over all experience while at El Capo was good with a good atmosphere and great cocktails but things need to be tweaked slightly on the food front.
We had the char grilled chicken (3) and Beef tacos (3), Chicken wings, Cow’s heart, Meatballs and Chicharron crispy skins. The chicken Tacos were bland and not charred, the pieces were just too big to eat for a taco, they reminder me of supermarket chicken in a pack. We were advised they had changed the chicken from thigh to breast due to the complaints of thigh being too fatty, I would have to disagree fat means flavour !!!  The beef was slightly better but with no hint of chilli as per the menu. Their meatballs worked well with a little kick of chilli to accompany the tomato sauce. 
I loved the cow’s heart and found that this was a lot like small strips of steak with a beautiful flavour.
Chicharron’s were really crunchy and salty with great flavour and I would have them as a tasty bar snack any day.  I have to say the desert that we had was amazing, chocolate pudding which we demolished and said we needed a bigger bowl along with the three ice creams in the skull cups."

Photo below, the chorizo which was pretty good.
Nichola @Beetrootrabbit.
"I thought the service was good. Staff attentive but not too in your face. Listened to our feedback on the food. They knocked off the food we weren't happy with from the bill.
The appetisers. We had the skin. We couldn't decide which to have (pork or chicken) so waitress offered us a selection. I can't remember the chicken but the pork skin tasted stale. Also had the chicken wings with garlic. First lot sent back because they were cold. Nothing special about them. Pretty bland. Wouldn't order again
I had the pork burrito for main. It was pretty good. Lovely smoky taste. Cassava chips were bland & mushy. Was looking forward to trying the churros but not doing them, which seemed odd. All in all, for the burrito & taco experience Lust Luck Liquor and Burn is far superior food wise, but El Capo's service is much better. I'd give it another go. "
emmā @emmmmerla.
"Food was crap, service was lovely. The blandest Mexican food I've ever tasted. It is a shame because I had high hopes, you saw my food so I can't lie. I wish I would have ordered the other stuff then. The guac I had off Nichola's plate/board was very nice *scrapes the barrel for positives. I think Frank (the dog) would have turned his nose up at those tacos."
Oh dear, Mexican food should never ever be bland, I had a taste of the chicken and it was some way off where it should have been. These opinions might seem a little blunt but these guys all eat out quite a lot and are pretty discerning about exactly what they want! There have been more positive reports from bloggers @MrsPetticoat, @FoodChoiceMCR and also @getapad.
But after a very promising start last week, things didn't quite live up to expectations if I'm honest. I have to say that again we seemed to choose the strongest dishes, the ceviche from this time, (which was a good fresh dish, photos below) the morongo stew and cow's heart from last time. In fact most of what we ate last time was actually good. But other dishes were not, strange.
It just shows you, you can order the weaker dishes and have a completely differing opinion of the restaurant as a whole because of these inconsistencies.
It also illustrates how a restaurant needs to hit the ground running in these days of social media, people will be quite rightfully vocal about if they like somewhere or not and with immediate effect, to their followers.
Coincidentally, I think one of the things that could make this place the great restaurant it should be is the input of another ace person we've met in real life; Grace Josephine. @HelloGracieJo works very closely within the team at El Capo. As an American, she's very familiar with proper Mexican food so I know she will push for big improvements. (She was already on the case after our feedback on the night).
I'm hopeful and confident (as an optimist) that El Capo could be a really good and different addition to Manchester. Personally I think they've only just been open a week so it'd be a bit harsh and premature to write them off just yet. Or maybe I'm too optimistic, that it'll never be as good as I'd wanted it would be? I really hope not. If you do go, let me know what you think, via twitter of course.

Read about the best Mexican food we ever had here.
Preview of El Capo here.
*50% off deal, some dishes removed from the bill plus desserts on the house after complaining.

El Capo on Urbanspoon

Monday, 1 September 2014

Sunday Dinner at Parlour Chorlton.

Everybody in Chorlton knows that Sunday Dinner at Parlour is a winner. It even got an Observer award for 'best in the country' a few years back. I suppose it helps that nearby newsagent Etchells is said to sell more Guardians (and Observers presumably) than nearly anywhere else in the country.
If you turn up at ten to twelve even before the doors open, you may not be the first there, we weren't. We were keen though to return after about a year.
It could be easy for them to rest on their laurels like Croma have. To snip a bit back here and there, hoping nobody will notice. Restaurants often do this when they get a reputation for things. You could hardly blame them in a way. People will come here no matter what. Folk living in Chorlton love style over substance, you don't have to go too far down Beech road for further details.
Interesting to compare them with their near competitors as well. It's £12.95 as opposed to around about a tenner elsewhere on the street. However that extra few quid gets you good quality meat from local butchers Frosts as opposed to cheaper suppliers. Parlour have very sensibly kept the bar high.
Style over substance is not the case with Parlour. If anything the Sunday dinner was actually better than our last visit. Last time about 6 months ago we had a beef butty and the meat was a little gristly and over-sinewy. The meat this time was absolutely spot on, perfect in texture and flavour. Great roasties too, nicely crisp on the outside (I like mine quite well done) and super fluffy on the inside. I washed it all down with a very drinkable smoked porter from Macclesfield's Red Willow brewery. (Not too smoky as some can be).
As we were ordering I got a 'not enough food panic'. This happens to greedy bastards like myself. Mrs B will tell you stories of pizzas as large as dustbin lids on holiday because I 'wouldn't share'.  In this case it wasn't actually necessary, but I ordered an extra portion of roasties and extra gravy just in case. (A bugbear of mine is never enough spuds and gravy). Obviously I scoffed the lot. I needed a bit of a sleep afterwards.
Parlour don't need me to say how good their Sunday dinner is, they're busy enough. This time the people of Chorlton have got it spot on, it's a winner their Sunday dinner.

To see high res photos click here.

The Parlour on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Croma Chorlton.

Good pizza should be made with love, with care and attention with the very best ingredients. Some people think, it's just pizza, it doesn't matter. It does matter and can be such a real joy when done properly. It'll never be those things at Croma. Croma is not that bad, it's just not a proper restaurant. It's a chain run by accountants in restaurant form.
It wasn't our choice to go there. Our conversation went something like this;
Her; "all our friends are going to Croma tonight for pizza. Shall we go"? Me, "You're paying then." So we went. She wasn't happy about paying. She was even less happy afterwards.
That's another thing about Croma, people say it's cheap. It is not cheap, costs mount up and you're left £60 down for two, money you could have spent in a proper restaurant with a proper chef, you know, like cooking you stuff.
It certainly looks like a proper restaurant inside, it's busy busy busy. It's the most popular restaurant in Chorlton. There are proper napkins and tablecloths. The huge, long empty table(s) next to us, looked like a bomb had hit it, and about 30 screaming kids 'expressing themselves'. Luckily they'd left by the time we arrived. People always say that about Croma, it's great for kids.
I ordered a carafe of house red, I was going to have a good time, despite myself. I did actually enjoy our evening but not because of the food. I was with friends chatting, wine was flowing and the conservatory area is quite a pleasant space if a little noisy. The carafe of cheap red house wine comes in at a whopping £18.95 for a litre, but she was paying like I said.
For starters I got a Mushroom Bruschetta (£4.90). It wasn't really too bad. It's the smallest portion they could get away with for a fiver though. Mrs Bacon's prawns were even worse. You can see the accountants there saying 'no, it can never ever be more than four prawns'! Four tiny prawns. Everything is counted out precisely to maximise profit. Mrs B said the prawns were ok.
The pizzas are the same. Why are they so small? Because they've reduced it down to the smallest it can be. I had my usual, a Garstang Blue with Chorizo added. It comes in at £7.30 plus £1.95 for three pieces of chorizo. I counted them like they had done. It wasn't a bad pizza. Those accountants have been in snipping cheese back here and there though, so it was very thinly spread. You could just about taste the Garstang blue. All around me people were struggling to cut their pizzas up, the base is thin but springy. I just picked mine up and pulled it apart. It took me about 3 minutes to eat it. The Tiramisu was standard supermarket in taste. It used to come in a large coffee cup, no longer. Economics again I'm guessing. 
Croma isn't that bad, it'll do for some. Like Pizza Express does, or Costa Coffee will do. Not for me though. It represents everything that's crap about modern chain restaurants. It's run by accountants not chefs. There's no love in there, no passion for food. It's bland, it's uniform, it's safe. But people do love it. Me, I can't stand the place.

Croma Chorlton on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

New menu at Mughli.

We traditionally go for a curry after a weekend away and this bank holiday Monday was no different. So we went to sample some of the new dishes on offer at Mughli (easily my favourite Indian restaurant in Manchester). They now have one whole menu page devoted to Street food and the other side for larger mains curries. Haz is persuading people to order a number of smaller dishes rather than just one, as Indian families would tend to do at home. Being greedy pigs, obviously we ordered from both.
Chilli Paneer. Mixed peppers, onions and baby corn. (£4.50). I got a delayed reaction to the spiciness, then it kicks in. Wow, it's a hot one this! A nice crispy, zingy texture as a starter dish.
Keralan Fish cakes (£4.50). Salmon and haddock fish cakes, seasoned with potato and ginger and coated in puri crumb. (£4.50).
The problem I have with fish cakes generally is that they can be bland and dry with the potato and breadcrumbs in the mix. These weren't bland by any means, but they were a little dry and I'd have liked to have seen a little more spice in there to lift them.
Pau Bhaji. Smashed and spiced vegetable and potato. (£6). I'd never have thought from the description how good this actually was. Possibly one of my most favourite Mughli dishes ever, it has that same comforting silky smoothness that the aubergine mash has. The vegetable and potato has been mixed down to a gorgeous spicy mash. So addictive, I wanted to gobble it all up but the three of us were sharing.
Saagwala (£9). Paneer in a spinach based sauce. We've not had this before, although it's been on the menu for a while. It's a true classic. I love how the velvety spinach congeals into the sauce and the squidgy cheese.
Nihari. (£9.90) Lamb shank, marrow juices, roasted spices, onions, ginger and coriander.
How do you improve on perfection? By leaving the lamb on the bone and serving it that way. (Actually easier for them, and we get the joy of gnawing on the bone and pulling that sumptuous, delicious fatty meat off). One of my best dishes of last year, doubtless will be this year too. Just lapping up that meaty stew with a spoon was a joy. Superb.  
Also, the Laziz. (£8.50) Chicken in Malai sauce, gently spiced with ginger and creamy yoghurt. This was fine mixing it together with the other dishes, a good alternative to the (quite rightfully) banished khorma but we wouldn't order this again. I'd prefer the more kick ass butter chicken personally.
Goan Fish Kari. (£9.50). Haddock slow cooked in creamy coconut sauce, mustard seeds and fresh bay leaf. Our second favourite mains, a gorgeous creamy sauce and delicate soft tender fish.
We waddled off in the rain, another successful trip to Mughli under our ever straining belts. I can guarantee we'll be back for more, addicts always do.

Mughli on Urbanspoon