Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Sticky Walnut, Chester.

A little interview I did with chef Gary Usher of Sticky Walnut and Burnt Truffle fame along with the recent photo shoot.
BACON: I was a bit surprised when I first met you as you weren't really like I expected from your twitter 'bantz' and rants. In the early days especially was it that you let out your understandable frustrations and stress on twitter?  
GARY: Yes. In the early days I wrote many responses on Tripadvisor and deleted before sending because I didn't want potential guests to think I was arrogant. Instead I took the piss on Twitter with all the people who loved us.
BACON: It's also an addictive media, it's easy to get hooked to the buzz of on-line chat. Is it something you've taken a step back from at times too?  
GARY: Yes, quite publicly I have my mini breakdowns where I say I'm going to leave twitter forever. At the time I say it I mean it but so far have always ended back on it. 
BACON: I think it became so popular because it was incredibly funny and rang so true to people working in the industry and gave a genuine insight into the ups and downs of running a restaurant. I also think people hold you and Sticky in great affection, that's why the crowd funding for Burnt Truffle worked so well. Did it also give you a huge feeling of responsibility?
GARY: Yes it did. Although it looks like I say things without thinking, I'm very careful not to offend any of the people (guests and followers) who have supported us over the last five years.
BACON: Having recently done a shoot at both Sticky Walnut and Burnt Truffle and spent time at both your restaurants as a customer too, they feel like genuinely lovely places to be and to work. (Although obviously long hours and hard work etc) How important are your team to you? 
GARY: Simple. Put it this way. I don't know who our Chardonnay is from, how we cook the lambs tongue or what our opening hours are. That's how important the team are.
BACON: I always think your menus read so well, it's unfussy and deceptively simple but brilliant cooking. Presumably you'll be bringing this to Chorlton next year?
GARY: Yes. Same deal, different place.
BACON: How damaging is Tripadvisor to the industry? 
GARY: It's not. It's damaging to humanity! Some people write some lovely comments on it. However it's "Derek and his wife Irene" that feel the need to comment adversely on the pine furniture or the table next the bog, or the fire exit, or at the top of the stairs that make a mockery of it.
BACON: Have you seen the recent campaign (by Tom @EaterWriter) 'no receipt no review' which seems a good idea to try and stamp out fake reviews?
GARY: I have and that is a good way to eliminate that aspect but in all honesty my gripe is with the people who have eaten there and lie about their experience.
BACON: On the more positive side you were recently name restaurant of the year by the AA guide, how did that feel? 
GARY: Any praise we receive for what we do is a huge pat on the back and morale boost for the staff.
BACON: Who else do you admire in the industry? 
GARY: Ainsley Harriott! Fit! 
BACON: Where else do you like to eat? 
GARY: I like to get a fry up in a local café called Fude
The current Sticky Walnut menu includes....
Venison haunch and artichoke.
Burata salad.
Focaccia Bread.
Shin of beef and chips.
Duck and blackberry.
Clam and white wine risotto.
Desserts; Parkin with yoghurt sorbet. Porter ice cream, caramel, treacle tart and prune.
BACON: One last thing, Gary what would you eat for your last meal?
GARY: It changes all the time. Probably something like an apple tart tatin for 6 people with a kilo of clotted cream.

  Sticky Walnut Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Tampopo, Manchester.

I was commissioned by David Fox of Tampopo to take photos over three sites for their new website. They've been a constant of the Manchester restaurant scene for 18 years, that's an awful long time in this business. David asked on twitter recently, of the 43 restaurants listed in the Manchester City Life Guide in 2000, how many are still open? *
The answer is 16 are still trading, leaving an astonishing 63% closed.
So I asked him a few questions on this very thing.
BACON: Manchester is barely recognizable from 2000 in terms of restaurants. Why do you think Tampopo has stood the test of time when so many others haven't? 
DAVID FOX: We are owner managed and based in Manchester. Evolution is fundamental, you cannot stand still but it's not revolution.
BACON:  You often hear of restaurants shutting because of landlords increasing rents, presumably you've been quite fortunate at your original site at Albert Square whereas I believe you had to close another site down south?
DAVID FOX: Rentals are one reason. You have to have a restaurant that makes money, many don't and eventually they will close. Also location is key and locations do change re good/bad. Think of Albert Square. When Peter Street had bars and the council was in, that was good. When the council moved away (to First Street where Home is now) for nearly three years, Peter Street had tumble-weed down it. Now Peter Street has been re-invented and the council are back. But now St Peter's Square tram is closed and that has effected business. If our costs had been too high we would have lost money and may have closed and gone bust.
Many businesses open with a good idea but they haven't quite worked out if they make money and many times they don't. Making money = survival, not being rich beyond your wildest dreams although some do make lots of money.
BACON:  You're soon to open in The Corn Exchange. How will this differ from your other restaurants? Why do you think this time this site will work this time? 
DAVID FOX: It worked for us when we were in there before. It's a good location near shops and the MEN arena.
BACON: How has Tampopo altered over the years, is it still fairly recognizable from the year 2000? 
DAVID FOX:  The menu offered has completely evolved, both in terms of dishes offered and the underlying quality of the dishes. We work hard at improving our offer all the time. Customer service standards have also improved as expectations have. We also had a new design in 2007.
BACON: Who else do you admire in the city? 
DAVID FOX: Luke and Justin (The Unabombers, DJ's and restaurant/bar owners). My favourite bar is Electrik. I like what they are doing with Volta. In town I like the 'Manchester-ishness of Manchester House. I think Mr Cooper's is great value for what it is. Last time I was there, the service was also top drawer.
BACON: Obvious question but where are your favourite places to eat here?
DAVID FOX: For a special occasion it's a trade off between Manchester House and Mr Cooper's. I can't resist a family dim sum Sunday lunch at Tai Pan on Upper Brook Street. Large table, lots of noise, lots of kids, green tea, chicken feet and other lovely dim sum things.

* Restaurants long gone in the 2000 guide might have included Lounge 10, Palmiro, Petit Blanc, Lincoln, Juniper, Mash & Air, Simply Heathcotes and Palmiro.
Here's some more of the photos taken so far.
Tampopo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato