Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Filthy Cow, Manchester.

Restaurants are opening up so quickly in Manchester that I can barely keep up. The problem is that some appear to focus on anything but their menu. So you get lots of photos of their flash interior on opening night and none of the actual food. I was initially put off Filthy Cow, a new burger place. Firstly because we really don't need any more burgers and secondly the branding didn't really do much for me. It all seemed a bit gimmicky. But by all accounts, the burgers are actually good and the real interesting story is that of Jordan Gallimore who runs the place is just 23.
Our lunch elsewhere is cancelled so we needed something quick and easy. We turn up at midday on Friday and by quarter past the whole place is full. It shows they're doing something right. They are, the burgers are good, simple how I prefer them and they taste of actual meat. They're kind of like you imagine McDonalds or Burger King to be in your head but they never actually are. (They must be filed along with chippy fish and chips and Mr Whippy as fond childhood memories that are disappointing in reality). It's twice as good as Five Guys too. (The food is served similarly on a tray out of paper).
We both go for the Filthy Beast (Beef Patty, bacon and cheese, sauce, pickled gherkin, beef tomato, lettuce £7.50) and share fries. What is blatantly obvious is that they've done their research and worked on it. It shows in the food which they've kept refreshingly simple.
So we've got no complaints here at all. Maybe I'd like mine a tad pinker but that's it really. I have a brief chat with Jordan when a large group request our window table, she handles it with charm and ease. (I need my light for the photos!) It's evident that there's no 'cooler than you' attitude here.
As someone who was bored of burgers, I've somehow managed to eat four in the last month or so. Surprisingly this was one of the best of the lot. We had no real intention of going here originally but sometimes you just want something inexpensive, quick and easy and at just £20 for two I'd put money on us going back.
Filthy Cow on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Common, Manchester.

It's a rainy, grey Sunday afternoon and I'm sat in my favourite Northern Quarter Bar with Sam whilst Mrs Bacon goes shopping. But it's a shadow of it's former scruffy self since a recent refit. They've had quite a lot of criticism on social media about the new look so I won't add to it. Although I abhor change too, I'm not so hostile to it and I see why they've done it when I try some new dishes off of their new menu. You could say it's more of a grown up space for more grown up food. I still miss the old bar but sat there for a few hours reading the papers doesn't really feel that much different to how it was.
I had planned to just have just a Reuben sandwich but of course these things always escalate with me. Looking through twitter, a few people mention some of the new dishes. They're moving away a little bit from the 'dirty food' thing here although you can still get burgers and fries but it's so nice to see some real proper food and fish too.
The best of the lot is the Hake with dhal, a most enjoyable dish that perhaps wouldn't look out of place at Mr Cooper's. Unfortunately they'd run out of the accompanying cauliflower so they gave us a fresh green salad instead. It's certainly a revelation to see me eat a salad in a bar.
We also enjoy the Salt & Pepper Squid.
And the planned Reuben sandwich & chilli cheese fries.
Finishing off with a very decent flat white.
Despite the much criticised refit, I still like Common very much, it's always had a mellow vibe, it remains dog friendly, has good service (Ellie is lovely) and low and behold they're taking the bold step of serving some more real food in the Northern Quarter. You have to applaud them for that. More please.
Most importantly of all, the price is right. It all came to just £34.60 for two including a reasonable £3.50 for a pint of cask beer.

To see the photos in all their glory click here.

Common Bar on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Fraiche, Merseyside.

The current Number One restaurant in the country (according to the Sunday Times Top 100 Restaurants list) is less than an hour's drive from my house and yet we still hadn't managed to secure a booking. The problem was that whenever I remembered it was the first of the month (when the on-line reservations open), it was already too late. I had a look the other day just to see how long you had to wait and surprisingly there was a table for two this weekend. Unfortunately, their website had actually crashed leaving them overbooked. But luckily for us, our reservation was confirmed a few days later.
Sunday lunch is a very reasonable £38 for four courses. When you consider what that gets you these days in contrast to the astonishing cooking of chef Marc Wilkinson, it's even more of a bargain.
People quite often say to me; with all the posh restaurants you go to, don't you get overly fussy? Yes and no. You can still enjoy a good burger but you inevitably judge it by all the other burgers you've eaten. In the category of single Michelin star restaurants, we've recently eaten at the likes of Fera, Clove Club and Kitchen Table. Strong competition. But Fraiche more than holds it's own. In fact we find it to be flawless cooking with bold (the beef for example) and delicate dishes (the asparagus) utilising faultless technique. But the innovation is never at the expense of the vivid flavours which as we know from experience, can be hard to pull off. I can barely even choose a favourite course, it is all so accomplished. He makes the ingredients really sing. We're cooing to each other, 'did you get that bit yet?' with each little delectable part. But it's fun too, a joy to eat, (not always the case) with the likes of the signature grapes that fizz on your tongue and space dust in the dessert that crackle in your mouth. (Always a favourite of mine). We rifle through a drawer full of menus, I take a look at El Celler de can Roca and ABaC (I still bitterly regret cancelling our reservation here due to lack of funds especially when looking at the menu). The inspiration from these world class restaurants is evident but it has it's own identity.
Service is accomplished and slick too. I know they've worked hard on improving the dining room. It isn't quite the elegant space it really could be but it's getting there and this really requires outside sourcing. I read that Marc likes to do most things himself. I'm hoping that he chooses the city stage of Manchester for a rumoured expansion.
Rice Cracker - yuzu - taramasalata.
Rhubarb bitters.
Shitake - beetroot - feta.
Asparagus - goats curd - hens yolk.
Cauliflower - mushroom - white port. 
Tuna - watercress - ung choi.
Dexter Beef - Kohirabi - salsify. If there has to be a favourite, I would choose this one. This beef is remarkable, it has a second distinctive note underneath, almost like a well aged cheese.
Cheese. We selected Pont-l'Évêque, Colline aux chèvres, Bleu des Basques, Ossau-iraty and Monks Folly from the impressive cheese trolley. (One is accompanied with fresh honey).
Chocolate-apricot-green tea. 
Fizzy Grapes. 
Petit Fours. 
Days later as I write this, I'm still buzzing off the food we had at Fraiche. If anything, instead of chalking it down as a 'done that' restaurant, it's made me hungry for more. Luckily for us, in the mix up of bookings we had a July reservation too. I wouldn't miss that for the world.
To see more photos in hi res click here.
Fraiche on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

A Day Out in Manchester.

Manchester has seen a huge growth in tourism in recent years. If you approach the city through the eyes of a visitor you perceive it very differently. For this reason, London for me is a wonderland of fabulous restaurants and glamorous cocktail bars. We exit Euston wide eyed and childishly excited in a way that we'd never do if we lived there. Everyday drudgery and the mundanity of commuting takes over like it has in Manchester. I've lived here since 1989 and Mrs B has been here all of her life.
But what if we pretend we are tourists for an afternoon? What would we do?
We begin at the newly refurbished Whitworth At Gallery. The fifteen million pound revamp has done wonders for the space. They've opened up one side of the building including the café which extends right into the park itself so you can have coffee and cake amongst the trees.
I started out my working life as a commercial painter/illustrator, so naturally I make a beeline for the Lucien Freud and Francis Bacon's but there is a lot to see here. We also enjoy Johnnie Shand Kydd's photographs of the 'Young British Artist' set on holiday in Greece. For me however, the real star of the show is the actual interior itself.
We head on down Oxford Road into town. We always approached the city this way as a student so it seems the most fitting. We lunch at the newly opened Hawksmoor. I can't quite stretch to steak prices today as good as they are, so we share a Chicken Poutine Barm (wonderfully mucky) and a Hawksmoor Burger each.
The burgers are very good (and pink) but I'm not getting quite as much of a pure meaty flavour that I'm looking for. I think next time we'll order some bone marrow to dribble on for extra richness. The stilton is most definitely the winning cheese topping. Surely this is the most handsome dining room in Manchester and it's extremely busy on Friday lunchtime proving that Mancunians and tourists will stretch their budget if the restaurant is as good as Hawskmoor is.
I'm ashamed to say that I've never visited The John Rylands Library before but it won't be the last time. Again it's the grandiose Victorian Gothic interior which is so impressive rather than one specific element.
The huge lunch however is slowing us down, so we finish with a coffee at Pot Kettle Black in Barton Arcade just off Deansgate. I've always loved this elegant Victorian iron and glass arcade. There's no need to visit a chain when there are fine independent cafés like this one around and it's busy which will hopefully bring some life to this undervalued space. (There is also a very popular looking Barber shop but I've not troubled the hairdressers since the 90's).
It's so easy to take living in Manchester for granted but taking some time out to appreciate it as a visitor with fresh eyes is such an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. And it didn't rain either.