Saturday 22 December 2012

Freemasons at Wiswell.

I'm always late to the party. I start a food blog about three years too late just as food critics are rounding up on them.  I finally end up going to restaurants bloggers have all raved about three months later. I've still not managed to get in at the Fat Duck, just as critics have said it's getting a bit same-y and not moved on.
So it was that we drove up from Manchester in the rain early one Friday evening to the Freemasons at Wiswell. I was determined not to be late on this one. I'd read about this place whilst looking at restaurants not too far for me to drive to, that are in the Michelin Guide, but as yet don't have any stars. The food on the website looked amazing. There had been a few amateur reviewers giving glowing reports but not too many as far as I could tell.
 In truth we weren't in the mood. Mrs Bacon had had a hard final week at work after taking exams and I'd got the dull remnants of a hangover from last nights Folk train to Glossop.
We got there early. It's beautiful inside, just as a country pub should be. Small little rooms all leading into the bar area. It was very early evening so there were few people apart from us.
We were shown to our table, there was quite a long wait until any food arrived. To be fair we'd arrived an hour early, but it would have been nice if they'd have told us when service was starting.
They bought us some sour-dough bread. It was ok, but a choice of maybe three types of bread would have been better.

Perhaps I'd better not expect high end food, it is a pub after all I thought.
They showed us the upstairs private dining rooms you can rent for free for small parties, it looked beautiful and opulent. The stag heads and foxes head would have put off a few of our animal loving friends, but we loved it!
Opulent upstairs private dining.

The first course was Pumpkin & Parmesan Soup, & A Pulled Pork Sandwich. It looked great, a tiny cup with a baby sized sandwich next to it. I really liked it, the soup was nice and tangy, the pulled pork lovely and juicy. Mrs Bacon was not overly impressed, she thought whilst nice, it lacked the wow factor like the soup we had at Aumbry not so long ago. She wanted that creamy luxuriousness which it lacked.
Pumpkin & Parmesan Soup, & a Pulled Pork Sandwich

Next, Beetroot; Salt Baked, Blue Cheese, Orange and Walnut. Now I pride myself on eating just about everything, I can't bear fussy eaters, for me they've just not grown up properly like the rest of us (I was actually a fussy eater as a child.) However Beetroot is not at the top of my list of favourite foods. Funny that, as every Michelin star meal we've had recently has had at least one course with beetroot in! (Including  L'Enclume, Northcote, Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley and the aforementioned Aumbrey) This dish looked beautiful. I liked it despite my ambivalence towards beetroot. Mrs Bacon however was going to be very hard to overly impress tonight. Although she thought the beetroot sorbet genius.
Beetroot; Salt Baked, Blue Cheese, Orange and Walnut.

Next was an extra course,  I think it was Hay Smoked Pheasant, Shaved Chestnut and Winter Truffle in a little jar on the side. Good, but again lacked that Michelin star quality for me. Perhaps we'd been spoilt of late and expected more. This was very good food indeed, and we were in a pub!
Hay Smoked Pheasant, Shaved Chestnut and Winter Truffle.

Monk Fish poached in brown butter, pork belly, onion and piccalilli came. The monk fish was beautifully tender and the piccalilli element was good although a little over powering. The Pork belly was gorgeous, juicy and tender. Although my wife thought that a crackling topping would have made it even better.
Monk Fish poached in brown butter, pork belly, onion and piccalilli.

The next course Hand Dived Scallops Tandoori Roast, Pig’s Trotter Nuggets, Pumpkin, Apple and English Wasabi was very good. I thought this a Michelin star dish, the scallops perfect, delicate and tender, but neither of us were sure if the English Wasabi (more like a curry flavour) was necessary.
Hand Dived Scallops Tandoori Roast, Pig’s Trotter Nuggets, Pumpkin, Apple and English Wasabi

For mains Venison Loin and Bolognaise, Mulled Pear and Celeriac, Smoked Chocolate and Pomegranate. The bolognaise in the pear really worked and like everything else we ate that night, the presentation was perfection. This reached a new level when desserts came.
Beautiful looking dish.

Blood Orange Meringue Pie, Agen Prunes, Salted Walnut Ice Cream was truly a dish worthy of a Michelin star restaurant and a better dessert than at nearby Northcote, in fact one of the best looking desserts I've seen. It tasted like heaven too. Mrs Bacon thought it looked like a mini Olgas (a mountain range in Australia.)
Blood Orange Meringue Pie, Agen Prunes, Salted Walnut Ice Cream

Mandarin; Dark Chocolate, Honey and Pistachio was great fun with the addition of space dust which is always a winner in my eyes. Two really great puddings I thought.
Mandarin; Dark Chocolate, Honey and Pistachio.

So to conclude, the food here varies between the best pub food you're likely to eat (round these parts anyway) and Michelin Starred greatness. We noticed a lot of locals eating off the a la carte, I'm not sure how many taster menus are sold in comparison. You cannot afford to scare off your core business with food too outlandish after all.
If you do judge it by pub standards, it's pretty much top level. If you judge it by nearby Michelin star Northcote, it's just very slightly underneath. But it is £25 cheaper for a taster menu here, you pay your money you take your choice.
I can't put my finger on it, everything looked amazing, but some of the food just didn't smell like Michelin star food; yet. Some of the sauces and elements didn't have that flavour so intense like you would get high end restaurants like L'Enclume. But that is being quite unfair.
Chef Simon Rogan is probably the best chef in the country right now, and I know chef Steven Smith of the Freemasons is a fan. Here's the thing, he's clearly on the right path and undoubtedly we'll see him win a Michelin star or two at the rate he's going. (If he wants to go down that path that is - it's not the be all and end all - as more formal dining normally comes along with that, which is not often found or wanted in a pub.)
His food can only get better and more refined. Whether the highest accolades will be at The Freemasons or not I don't know. I hope so.
We really enjoyed eating there and the food of a very talented chef and future star.
And we'll have the petty satisfaction of being able to say we were there at the beginning!

We paid £134.50 for 2 7 Course Taster Menus half a bitter & three glasses of wine.
Excellent value for food of this type.
Service: Very Friendly, the waitresses were all very sweet.
Atmosphere: Cosy warm & inviting.
Food: Excellent
Star dish: Blood orange Meringue Pie.

The Freemasons at Wiswell
8 Vicarage Fold  
Clitheroe BB7 9DF
(50 minute drive from Manchester)

Freemasons at Wiswell on Urbanspoon

Thursday 20 December 2012

Chortlon Green Brasserie.

It used to be the case that in Chorlton, if a new restaurant opened up it would be either Turkish, of average quality, or both. I like Turkish food, but we already have a few good ones. We have five Indian restaurants, but no decent Chinese. There is a German restaurant, but nowhere to go for a quality burger. Very strange. We looked in envy at West Didsbury, why do they always get the best places?
The logo is perfect.
But things are looking up. Within weeks of each other, we had the opening of The Beagle and The Chorlton Green Brasserie. With a pedigree of Aumbry behind them, we had to visit The Beagle first, and very good it was too.
Cosy and inviting inside.
Last night we went to the brasserie, well it would be rude not to, it is barely 60 seconds from our front door. First impressions are good. We've actually been in for a coffee before. It has a casual charm about it. The staff are really lovely. Within minutes, we are swapping dog tips with the charming manager, and she shows us photos of her cute puppy in a stripey jumper. It is dog friendly in here up to about half way up. It's small and cosy inside.
The menu looks good. I know I'm going to order the Pork two ways as I was cruelly robbed of it at The Beagle as it wasn't on until later that evening. We order a glass of Soldiers block Australian Shiraz each. I like that on the Wine list they have categorised the wines into 'good', 'great' and 'brilliant'. We stick with 'good' tonight as Mrs Bacon is paying. 'Nice and smooth' was her assessment of the wine.
We go for the Christmas set menu, 2 courses for £18.50 and 3 for £22.50. Seems pretty good value. For starters we fancy the Potted Crab Custard and manage to get the Eggs and Bacon; poached duck egg on a pea and bacon pototo cake with buttered kale and hollandaise. This wasn't on the set menu, but they were happy with us to have it. We waited a while for it to come. Service was slow all night, but we were enjoying the relaxed warm atmosphere. The only thing was that for me, the music was too loud. If music is played at all, I want something so inoffensive; at this time of the year Phil Spector's Christmas album would be great or Nat 'King' Cole. Instead we got modern MOR rock pop. Didn't seem to fit with the feel of the place to me. And it was on a loop so if you're in there for a while you can remember hearing it first time around.
The Potted Crab custard was fab, pity they burnt the toast, but they did bring us extra (not burnt this time) as we were sharing. They do a similar dish at  nearby Parlour. I noticed quite a few of these going out, they are rightfully popular.

Potted Crab. A nice starter.

The Eggs & Bacon wasn't up to the heights of the Pearl Barley Kedgeree (which it reminded me of) from the Beagle but it was nice enough.
Mrs. Bacon cannot wait to dig in.
For mains we were going to order two portions of Pork two ways, but Mrs Bacon feels deprived of turkey (I like a Gressingham duck on Christmas day. Turkey for me is a disappointingly boring meat which is why we only eat it once a year.) So we went for The Christmas Dinner. This was turkey stuffed with fennel and yuletide fruits served with almond sprouts, carrots, pigs in blankets (well one large one) roast potatoes and cranberry gravy.
The star of the show: Pork two ways, caramelised red onion potato bon bons & a berry cider reduction

I dug into the Pork two ways first. It looked great, the twice roast organic belly pork was a delight, the fattiness of the perfectly crunchy crackling top balances beautifully with the soft meat underneath. The smoky belly pork was so nice, surely it could only have come from Frosts. We had belly pork a few months ago from Parlour and this beat that dish hands down, it could have come out of The Beagle's kitchen it was that good. There's a lot of Pork belly about these days, it's fashionable of course, but most importantly of all, it's delicious. I know I'll return here for this dish again and again.
Turkey stuffed with fennel & yuletide fruits, almond sprouts, carrots, pigs in blankets roasties, cranberry gravy
I'm afraid The Christmas dinner didn't change my feelings about turkey. Dense, slightly dry and a bit tasteless was my assessment. I wouldn't really blame the chef, it's just the nature of the bird. The rest was all good, I enjoyed the large pig in a blanket, but then I always do.
Desserts were good too. Especially the Christmas Pudding Tart, a lovely moist affair with brandy and cinnamon custard in a little pot.
Christmas Pudding Tart, brandy & cinnamon custard.
We thought the Death by Chocolate pot tasted of the chocolate you get with the Spanish Chocolate con Churros. Our charming waitress disagreed. But then she would know, she's from Barcelona you know. The chocolate could have done with being a bit darker for me, but it was enjoyable all the same.
Death by Chocolate & Beetroot short bread.

Overall we really enjoyed our dinner at the Chorlton Green Brasserie. It's definitely good competition for neighbours Parlour, with similar food. The only thing missing for me is real ale, especially if you're serving pies - they just belong together. On a night out, if we wanted food like this, I can imagine us and friends of ours, opting for Parlour as there is a great range of Cask ale. All the best and most popular places in the area have a good range, a lot of people round here demand it. One bottle of dull old stalwart Black Sheep isn't going to really cut the mustard.
Space is clearly an issue, so I would recommend the new style of craft keg from the likes of Redwillow, Thornbridge or Marble. A dark stout/porter a pale session ale and an IPA (like Jaipur) would be good. The kegs are smaller and easier to maintain than cask proper.
Small but cosy.
But then again I noticed rather a lot of women in there when we were eating, maybe it was a coincidence, but I guess this place could appeal more to women. Of course women drink real ale too, but take a trip to any beer festival or real ale pub, and you'll see the demographic is favoured more towards men.
There is nowhere in Chorlton like this place, it has a different mellow atmosphere. The food's not quite as good as The Beagle, but that space is cold and not cosy. People don't go out to restaurants just for the food, and I think the Chorlton Green Brasserie will do well.

The food is good though (miles better than the unfathomably popular neighbour The Horse & Jockey on my last visit.) It's on a par with Parlour I'd say, and that's always busy.

All right thinking people agree that Sunday Times restaurant columnist AA Gill is a terrible man, but he was right about one thing. When asked about the best restaurant to go to, he answered something along the lines of it being that local little place where they know your name and always treat you like old friends. It's cosy and comfy like a pair of well worn slippers. (The slippers would definitely be from M&S here.)
This place with a few tweaks could be one of those places.
In fact I think it already is.

We paid £63.75 for 3 courses each including 3 glasses of wine. 
Pretty good value for the area.
Service: Friendly but slow.
Atmosphere: Cosy & inviting.
Food: Good
Star dish: Pork two ways

Chorlton Green Brasserie.
137 Beech Road
M21 9EQ.
Opening hours:  8am - 11pm Daily

Chorlton Green Brasserie. on Urbanspoon

Wednesday 19 December 2012

Belgian Christmas Beers

I couldn't find a proper round up review of Belgian Christmas beers anywhere on the internet. So I thought I'd do it myself. It's a tough job but somebody has to do it!
After all I've been enjoying this stuff for 20 years.
My main suppliers are Biercell in Altrincham and The Bottle Stop in Cheadle.  Occasionally I'll make the journey to The Beer Emporium in Sandbach.
If you want to go out and drink Belgian Beer, the best places would be Mort Subite in Altrincham and Port Street Beer House in Manchester City Centre.
Of course this is not an exhaustive list by any means, there are plenty of Belgian Christmas Beers I've not included, I've just reviewed the ones I was most aware of and could get hold of here in the UK.
Some were difficult find here in the North West, so I had them sent over from Beer Planet in Brussels, which seemed to me had the largest range you could buy on-line.
Warning: These were tasted over several sessions. Don't drink all these beers in one go!

De Ranke Père Noël
Style: Strong Pale ale.
ABV: 7%
I'm a huge fan of this brewery particularly XX bitter and Guldenberg, and this special Christmas beer is similar in style. It pours a cloudy copper colour with a large fluffy white head. The taste is extremely dry, peppery, bitter, hoppy, fruity, slightly tart but fresh and clean.
Bought from: Bottlestop. Also available from Biercell.

Abbaye de Rocs Noël
Style: Strong Dark Ale
ABV: 9%
It's a hazy brown colour and quite lively, it fizzed all over the glass upon opening, releasing a large head and little floating sediments into the glass.
It has a dark toffee-ish caramel flavour with spice fruit and malt notes.
This is not really my favourite style, but a solid beer nonetheless.
Bought from: Bottlestop. Also available from Biercell.
Cazeau Tournay de Noël
Style: Strong Dark Ale
ABV: 8.2%
A new brewery on me this one. Another dark brown brew, it's like a barley wine with that typical Belgian alcoholic heat that hits you in the back of the throat.
Quite bitter, nutty and complex. Has that dubbel mouth feel.
Bought from: Bottlestop. 
Gouden Carolus Noël
Style: Strong Dark Ale
ABV: 10.5%
This is my favourite Christmas beer, I've been drinking it every year since the days of the sadly lamented Belgian Belly in Chorlton.
 I love the the label as well!
It tastes like a dark fig dandelion and burdock barley wine with liquorice and dark fruits notes. The bitterness and sweetness are in total harmony. It's just delicious.  9/10
Bought from: Bottlestop, (large bottle) Beer Planet in Brussels (small bottle)
Also available from Biercell (large bottle.) BEST BUY
Gordon X-Mas Ale
Style: Scotch Ale
ABV: 8.8%
Apparently this beer started the tradition of Christmas ales in the 1930's in Scotland. I believe it's brewed mainly for the Belgium market.
It's like a dark toffee brown ale, but it's not overpowering, it hides it's alcohol content very well. It'd be a potent session beer!
Bought from Biercell.
Available in Gift Packs.
Delirium Noël
Style: Strong dark Ale
ABV: 10%
Another dark brown brew, like liquidised fruit cake. A little too tart and malty for my tastes. Not one of my favourites, but it's highly rated amongst those who enjoy this style. 6/10
Bought from: Biercell
Also available from Bottlestop.

Bush Noel (Also sold as Scaldis Noel)
Style: Strong dark Ale
ABV: 12%
Even though it's 12%, it doesn't taste as strong as it is . More bitter and hoppy than malty, but slightly sweet and fruity.
Bought from: Bottlestop, & Biercell.
Struise Tsjeeses
Style: Saison
ABV: 10%
I didn't think I'd like this beer from the infamous De Struise Brouwers as I'm not keen on the Saison 'farmhouse' style as it's often quite tart and sour. But I loved it.
Complex and cloudy, fruity and bittersweet.
Bought from Beer Planet in Brussels (As far as I'm aware, hard to source in the UK)
De Dolle Stille Nacht (2011 Vintage)
Style: Strong Pale Ale
ABV: 12%
On first sip I thought it was a bit too tart for my palette. Actually by the second sip I'm enjoying it a lot more. No wonder, it's 12%! It's candy sweet which balances the very slight sourness perfectly.
Bought from Beer Planet in Brussels
(Hard to source in the UK, although they have it at the Port St. Beer house)

St Feuillien Cuvée de Noël
Style: Strong dark Ale
ABV: 12%
Another dark brown brew, it tastes quite weak and thin in comparison to some of the brews I've been drinking of late. Different from the others, it's not at all bitter with very slight hints of fruit. An ok session beer. Love the label though!
Bought from: Marble Bar Northern Qtr.
Also available from Biercell.

Corsendonk Christmas Ale
Style: Strong dark ale
ABV: 8.50%
A very typical dark Christmas beer. Quite sweet, not bitter with notes of raisins and currents.
Balanced soft and smooth.
Bought from Beer Planet in Brussels.

Slaapmutske Christmas
Style: Strong Dark Ale
ABV: 7.4%
This ones nice and soft with a very subtle spicey back note. Not complex but surprisingly drinkable.
Bought from Biercell.

St. Bernardus Christmas Ale
Style: Strong Dark Ale
ABV: 10%
It pours a nice dark mahogany colour. It has that slight Dandelion and Burdock flavour like the Gouden Carolus Noël but not as pronounced. Caramel sweet and velvety without any discernible hop presence, it's not overpowering at all despite being strong in alcohol.

St. N'Ice Chouffe
Style: Strong Dark Ale
ABV: 10%
I'm a fan of the strong blonde Chouffe beers. This one though is a brown malty light bitter. It's quite acidic. Not one of my favourites.
Bought from: Bottlestop.

Sadly I was unable to get hold of any Fantôme de Noël, Affligem Noël, Kerst Pater Special Christmas, La Moneuse Speciale Noël, La Rulles Cuvee Meilleurs Vieux,  Postel Kerstbie (and many more)
Maybe next year!

Further internet reading:
The two main beer review sites have a pretty much all the Belgian beers reviewed.

100 Belgian Beers to Try Before You Die! - Tim Webb
All Belgian Beers - Jaak Van Damme (2nd edition)

Bier Cell, Altrincham WA14 1R
The Bottle Stop 136 Acre Lane  Cheadle Hulme SK8 7PD
The Beer Emporium 8 Welles Street  Sandbach, Cheshire CW11 1GT
Micro Bar, Arndale Food Market Manchester also stocks a few Belgian beers.

Online Sales:

Bars in the North West:
Port Street Beer House Northern Quarter, Manchester M1 2EQ 
Mort Subite 28-32 Greenwood Street Altrincham, Cheshire WA14 1RZ

*Since the government's minimum pricing came into force, sadly these beers are even more expensive than they were, the small bottles are between £2 & £4. The large bottles a lot more.

* Since writing this I was tweeted by the fantastic brewery De dolle Brewery via Biercell in Altrincham. It reads:
" You should have been at Kerstfestival in Belgium last weekend. 
174 Christmas Beers !"
Now I knew there'd be a lot that I've not covered.  
But 174! I've barely even scratched the surface of the wonderful world of Belgium Beers!

Tuesday 18 December 2012

J. B. Richardson Traditional Bakery

A few years ago, a sandwich shop and café opened up on Beech road with a Hacienda theme. Sadly I knew the writing was on the wall from the off, and gave it six months. This is because locals and anyone working in the area knows that the best take out sandwiches to be had on Beech road are from J. B. Richardson traditional Bakery.
If you open up in competition to this place you had better make sure you are better or cheaper, preferably both.  Unfortunately this place was neither, so it didn't last too long. (It's now been replaced by the Chorlton Green Brasserie of which more later.)

 J. B. Richardson has been going since 1947 and is now in the third generation of the family. So they know something about running a bakery. What I like about this place is that they stick to what they do best; British bread and cakes.
I'm a real sucker for their pies and pasties, and the traditional cakes are hard to resist. The vanilla slice is a particular favourite. You always get served with a smile, and when I was in there taking photographs they were rarely without a queue.
 They invited me to take a look at the just baked chocolate orange cakes, the smell was incredible, I was very happy to take a free one with thanks!
For this tasting I'm choosing my regular buys; a small granary loaf and a Cornish pasty. (if we get a sandwich made, it's most likely we'll go for egg mayo.)
The Cornish Pasty is one of their best sellers along with the fantastic steak and kidney pie. The pasty is warm and comforting with crisp pastry. Just a little touch of pepper mixes up perfectly with the savoury meat and potato filling as you bite in. Gorgeous!

The granary is perfect, nice and crisp with a satisfying crunch to the crust.  I used to love their super thin slicing machine, that made the finest ham sandwich known to man (with ham from J Robinson) But it broke so they got a new machine that cuts it thicker.
Nice cakes

Happy Gingerbread Men.
The friendliest staff
This place is another brilliant thing about living in the Beech road area. 
Here's to the next 65 years!

J. B. Richardson Bakery
95 Beech Rd

Manchester M21 9EQ

Sunday 16 December 2012


We'd been on a Northern Quarter pub crawl for a few hours.
I'd been drinking halves, so didn't feel too drunk, but I doubt I'd have been able to operate heavy machinery.  I knew just what was in order, The Christmas Burger at nearby Solita I'd read about in the excellent Foodgeek blog.
I explained the concept of the food at Solita, to my 3 friends.
"You know, it's like the food you get on 'Diners, Drive-ins and Dives'.
They looked at me blankly.
"You know, it's on the Food Network all the time" I said. "
"What's the Food Network" they said.
Feeling I was losing the crowd,  "They do a Christmas dinner in burger form" I explained.
They seemed to like that idea.
So we passed the queue for Almost Famous Burgers (I'm a fan, but at this stage of the evening they wouldn't have put up with waiting around in the queue in the cold for at least half an hour, and I'm not sure they'd have appreciated the studied 'coolness')
I've actually been to Solita before.  I enjoyed it, but wasn't as overwhelmed as other reviewers had been. We didn't actually rate the hanger steak much, (it was a bit chewy) the burger was good, but I felt I wanted the portions more like the ones you see on Triple D. The star of the show was the much lauded pulled pork sundae, this is great fun, the pork warm and comforting, with creamy mash, and I love the crackling on top.
Everybody likes the Pulled Pork Sundae

I managed to persuade my friend Dave to order this, and I had to have it again of course. It didn't disappoint either of us.
Nice bar area.
We were sat on the tall stools on one side which work well socially. The bar area is really nice, but I don't like the other chairs and tables, they maybe expensive, but remind me of a 'posh' Indian restaurant.
This place is really crying out for booths on one wall. I'm not sure they have room though, but I'd like to see it a bit more like an American Diner (not too tackily themed like Ed's Easy Diner in London though, as this place is obviously a lot cooler than that.)

We all had the Christmas burger. Which was a venison patty, fried turkey, sage and onion hash brown, purple sprout tops, spiced cranberry salsa, topped with sliced chestnuts.
It came with fantastic thin and crispy fries all like the bits you get at the bottom from a chippy. Also shoestring parsnips which were super thin & crispy.
Great crispy fries.

I was starving and really looking forward to this.

The beer Hornbeam Top Hop was nice but a bit too cold.
To be honest, I was a little disappointed. I'm not sure what it was.  It was a bit dry, probably from the hash brown, and battered turkey, there was cranberry sauce to compensate, but I wanted to ask them, "has tha' got nowt moist?" (I like a lot of gravy with my roast dinner!)
It was good, it just wasn't great, and I regretted not ordering a standard burger.

That's pretty much my opinion of Solita, I read other reviews about it and somehow expect it to be better that it actually is.  Maybe I've just got high expectations.
I would definitely return to Solita if I was in the area and want a decent burger and would probably order the Pulled Pork Sundae again, and maybe some rooster scratchings which I enjoyed on my last visit.  But I'm yet to try the likes of GorillaSouthern 11 and Mud Crab Cafe in Didsbury all serving similar style food.  So I'm not in a rush to return for a while.


37 Turner Street  
Manchester M4 1DW
Solita Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon