Saturday 28 December 2013

Superstore, Manchester.

I normally get to hear about places these days before they open, but suddenly everybody was talking about Superstore in the Northern Quarter and it was already up and running. We went the other day for lunch but as it was that strange time in between Christmas and New year, their full menu wasn't available, which I think is fair enough as many places weren't even open at all.
I had in mind one of those New York shop/delis when I heard about what this place was (bar, restaurant and grocery combined), but downstairs looked more local corner shop than the cool NY delicatessen I'd envisioned. Although it did look well stocked, and I guess it's more practical if you live in the area. Upstairs they have the typical NQ look, industrial, exposed brickwork etc. I like it though and it was a pleasant place to sit and read the papers and mess with my phone (mandatory if sat alone) whilst waiting for Mrs B to do her shopping.

I love the idea of 5 small dishes for £20, but as I say this wasn't possible. However we did manage to get the Panko Coated Braised Pork cheeks, parsnip purée, curried split peas, coriander salad (£4.50). This was very enjoyable, although gone in about two mouthfuls with me. Mrs Bacon noticed the nice little salad you got with it with a flavourful dressing.

Less successful was the Tempura Battered Cod, chips, wasabi mushy peas, chilli tar tar sauce (£10). The chips were limp and soggy, and the fish although lightly battered was anaemic looking and tasteless as cod tends to be. They had readdressed the balance a little with the wasabi peas which made for a nice twist on the classic.

The Super Lamb burger, onion bhaji, cucumber raita, spinach, tomato (£8) was pretty good. I enjoyed the addition of the bhaji and raita but the taste of the meat was lost in the mix for me. Sometimes less is more and keeping it simple does the job more effectively.

The trouble is though, if I wanted a burger in the area (wanting the best) I'd go to Solita or LLLB, if I fancied fish and chips it'd be Rosylee Tea rooms as you can get superior versions of these there. Competition is fierce round these parts and it'd be better to do something different to stand out from the crowd. Having said that, I think the small plates menu looks pretty good and a little different, so if we returned, we'd go for that.
We left not really disappointed as such, but not buzzing with any complete 'wow' moments either, but I think these are getting rarer. Despite these few little niggles, I think Superstore is another interesting addition to the ever growing Northern Quarter.
Price: £30 for 2 for lunch. No booze. Not bad.
Service: Both waitresses were lovely.
Food: Pretty good.

Star dish: Pork Cheeks.  
Score: 5/10.

Soundtrack: He's a superstar - Roy Ayers.

Superstore on Urbanspoon

Saturday 21 December 2013

Sticky Walnut, Chester.

I was a fan of Sticky Walnut before I'd even visited. This is because chef Gary Usher is one of the most entertaining, funniest people that I follow on twitter. He always seems to be on the edge of a minor breakdown and anything can push him over the edge (usually a Tripadvisor review). Rather like Basil Fawlty thrashing that car, it's actually really funny reading their twitter feed and as a punter you get a real insight into the madness of running a restaurant. It was the wittiest response I've ever read (to a petty minded and stupid review as they tend to be), that first caught my attention a few months ago. It was the first time I can recall where a restaurant actually draws your attention to a bad review but flips it on its head by illustrating with humour how absurd many TA 'reviews' are.
On the day that we visited, it had been some idiot entering a full restaurant demanding a different table (not near the toilets), walking out, and then reviewing a meal that he'd never actually had. You can feel some sympathy with people who who work in the trade that come against people like this who themselves are the problem but who can legitimately write a review as now everybody gets their say (even nob-heads). I don't want to know the opinions of everybody, especially on food, as many people don't actually know what they're talking about. A lot of people are just unreasonable with their expectations aren't they? (See the excellent Northern Snippet blog for details). People seem to want to take revenge for things not going exactly their way. We know a few like that too.  
Naturally the chef posted a photo of a table in the toilet itself, saying; what was his problem? - I nearly spat my tea out! So following the exploits of all the team (stockwatch, his love of Wongo etc), I was really excited to be visiting on Friday lunch time. (Oh the chef's pedigree of The Chester Grosvenor, Chez Bruce, and Jamie’s Italian is impressive too, so I knew the food would most likely be tip-top).
It's a cute little place in a quaint neighbourhood of Chester and only 45 minutes drive away from us in South Manchester. We were greeted warmly, (by Emma who is lovely) and got our table by the window (I'd put in a request the day before). Every table downstairs was already taken. We started off with some Rosemary and thyme focaccia bread
I think they're rightfully proud of this, it's gorgeous, fluffy and light, a very good sign isn't it that the bread is good and home-made on the premises? To start we shared a Crispy lamb’s tongue, chickpea, goats curd and green charmoula (£6) and a Sea bream ceviche, chilli and lime, avocado, courgette salad and hazelnuts (£8). We started on the sea bream, fresh, light and mmmm that taste, full of flavour. We were impressed from the off. 
The lambs tongue was superb too, the crunch of the outer layer against the meat that's so intensely lamb (obviously what else would it be), it had the strength of flavour that we crave though. We were comparing this place already with restaurants we'd been to that were three times the price but which hadn't delivered this. Over priced my arse, very reasonable prices we thought for food this good.
We were sharing both mains, and they had thoughtfully remembered and brought out separate plates for us. I dug into the Shin of beef, winter roots, potato gnocchi and parsnip purée (£11). 
A beautiful looking dish, really gorgeous and full of flavour, all the elements worked, I especially liked the gnocci. We started fighting over the sharing process as usual, don't eat all the gnocci etc. The star dish has to be the Rolled and stuffed pork belly, smoky bacon lentils (£10). 

It's an impressive portion this. But oh, that combination, the crunchy crackling outer layer against the fatty inner layer and then the meat - absolutely perfect. This ain't rocket science, it's just great unpretentious food made with care and love by someone who can cook, it's that simple right? If only it were, we couldn't think of a single place quite like Sticky Walnut in Manchester, a lovely little bistro owned by the chef. Maybe the high rents only attract big chains/restaurant groups. (Few of which can seem to achieve food as good as this in my experience).
Great truffle and parmesan chips too

Desserts were both ace too. Our resident Sticky Toffee Pudding expert rated this as one of the best she's tried, it was warm and comforting but light and fluffy. I really enjoyed my Dark chocolate and cherry mousse, fresh honeycomb (both £5), especially the home made honeycomb element. It's these little details that as foodies that eat out a lot that you notice. (You also notice when they're not there as well). 

We both LOVED Sticky Walnut, I had a feeling the food would be good, but it exceeded expectations. There's nothing pretentious or fancy about this food, it's simply very good indeed and it made us happy. That's it really. What more can you possibly want?

Price: £64 for 2, including 2 glasses of wine, 3 courses, sides and coffees. 
Good value if you love great food.  
Service: Lovely.
Food: Excellent.
Star dish:
Pork Belly. Up there with the best pork belly we've had.
Score: 8.5/10.

Soundtrack: Let's Lovedance Tonight - Gary's Gang.

Sticky Walnut on Urbanspoon

10 Desserts of the Year.

Pudding is usually an afterthought for me, I normally like something light like ice cream, a Panna cotta or a Crème brûlée. But here's some good ones from this year.
1. Sour-dough Ice cream. El Celler de can Roca, Girona. It moved round and round like a Dr Who alien! It tasted completely amazing too.

2.  'Xaxu' and foaming Coconut Ice Cream. Akelaré, San Sebastian.

3. Còctel refrescant. Les Magnòlies, near Girona. Served on a block of ice.

4. Tender Almonds Kiss. Sant Pau, Sant Pol de Mar.

5. Lime Lemon Passion. Calima, Marbella.

6. Buttermilk custard with caramelised quince, rosehip, muscovado, honey oats. L'Enclume.

7. Lemon curd, meringue; wild rice and blueberries. The Lord Clyde.

8. Gooseberry. The Parkers Arms.

9. Grapefruit Posset, Celery granita & grapefruit sherbet. Aumbry.

10. Sticky Toffee Pudding. Sticky Walnut. Our resident STP expert reckoned this was the best she's had, so light and fluffy. James Martin 235 was a close second.
Soundtrack; You turned my bitter into sweet - Mary Love.

Thursday 19 December 2013

50 Favourite Dishes of the Year.

Here are my 50 favourite plates of food I've had this year eating at every level. It reflects what I like to eat, mostly meat and fish it seems. These are in no particular order, just as they occur to me. (Puddings are a separate list/stomach).
"Betizu" cow tail raviolis. My dish of the year. Chef: Eneko Atxa at Azurmendi, Spain. I think about this dish quite a bit, the intense meatiness against the crunchy outer layer. Nothing comes close.
Egg from our chickens, cooked inside out and truffled. Chef: Eneko Atxa at Azurmendi. Down in one exquisite bite. 
Crab/Mushroom Parfait. Chef; Stosie Madi at the Parkers Arms, Newton-in-Bowland. These have ruined all other parfaits from now on, as they won't ever compare!
Cheese and Onion Pie. The Great North Pie Company Manchester. Still the best pies I've tried.
Pizza from Honest Crust. The best pizzas in Manchester.
Valley venison, charcoal oil. L'Enclume. (A variation at The French). Classic.
Aromatic Crispy Duck. Ocean Treasure 235, Manchester.
Burger from Almost Famous Manchester. Never beaten.
 Sashimi from Yuzu, Manchester.
Eel with Almond Summer. Calima, Marbella, Andalucia, Spain.
Cold clam juice with plankton. Aponiente, Andalucia, Spain.
Mexican gazpacho, wasabi and avocado. Mr Coopers House & Garden, Manchester.

Oysters.  Wensleydale Heifer, Yorkshire
Steak and Chips. Relais de Venise L'Entrecôt. (RIP). I miss it.

Cheeseburger Toastie. Home Sweet Home, Manchester. Comfort and joy.
Thai Crab risotto. James Martin 235.   Spherical "Olivas". Tickets, Barcelona.

Jamón ibérico. Cal Pep, Barcelona.
DIY Steak Tartare. Solita, Manchester. Burger. Parlour, Chorlton. Meaty goodness.

 Makhan Chara. Great Kathmandu. 20 years I've been eating this, man and boy.
Pani Puri.
Hungry Gecko at the Beech, Chorlton.
Tigretón. A Fuego Negro, San Sebastian.  
Sautéed Fresh Foie Gras. Akelarre, San Sebastian.
Roasted baby Pig. Akelarre, San Sebastian.
Salt & Pepper Pork Crackling. Artisan, Manchester. Proper ace.
Lamb Chops Tikka. Mughli, Manchester. Never bettered.
Nihari. Mughli.
Butter Chicken. Mughli.
Prawns. El Celler de can Roca, Spain.
McFoie. Tapas 24, Spain.
Lightly Smoked Mackerel. The Lord Clyde, Cheshire.
Royal de Foie. Les Magnòlies, Spain.
Cod bonbon. Nu, Girona, Spain.
Veal Cheek. Borda Berri, San Sebastian, Spain.
Yew Tree Farm Herdwick hogget. The French, Manchester. 
A Taste of Spring. The Square London. 
Sauté of Langoustine Tails. The Square London. 
Lasagne of Dorset Crab. The Square London.
Dirty Chicken Street Taco. Lust luck, liquor and Burn, Manchester.
Lamb. The Lord Clyde, Cheshire. 
Nidderdale  Lamb. Freemasons at Wiswell. I like lamb don't I?  
San Juan Chorlton.
Nordic Landscape.
41 Degrees, Barcelona.  
Squid, chicken, ricotta.
El Campero, Spain.
Bread and dripping.
Foie gras semifreddo and Suckling pig 
from Casamar, Spain.
To see how my dish of the year is made click here. It's in Spanish I'm afraid.