Friday 31 May 2013

Olive & Thyme, Chorlton.

Regular readers may remember that back in January I went to newly opened Chorlton restaurant Olive & Thyme. Oh dear, It didn't go very well at all. It was my first 'bad review' and generally I like to be positive. In truth, it was a total disaster. See here if you didn't see it. My complaints mainly centred on getting charged £3.40 for half of dull old Peroni beer. I also thought that the Mixed Mezze dish I had priced at £13 was too expensive for what I received. Surprisingly, I recently got an email from them explaining that the price had been incorrect on the Peroni, and the portion size of the mezze platter was wrong too. As they had just opened up at that time and these were teething problems would we like to return? I thought it was only fair to give them another go.

As I said in my original review, they've done a pretty good job on the conversion. It's a great shame that a joyrider recently drove into the terrace area rendering it out of action until next week (and at least nobody was badly hurt).

The complimentary lavas bread to start was excellent, even better than last time. Big and fluffy with a nice little pot of garlic butter and some olives.

Our proper starters were the Lux Meze Platter for two (£13.90). This was a decent collection of Turkish meze washed down with a pint of Peroni which is still too expensive in my book at £4.20 a pint. Nice to see it at a fairer slightly more reasonable £2.60 for a half though.
Since we've been holidaying in Greece over the last few years, I became obsessed with Tzatziki. I had to have it on everything I ate. This was a super version, probably the best I've had in the UK, so I ordered more. We enjoyed all of the mezze, it was definitely more generous although I'm still not totally convinced that it's worth nearly £14 for this selection of simple homemade Turkish food.

For mains we opted for the O&T’s Mixed Grill: A combination of chicken & lamb shish, minced lamb köfte, lamb chops, served with vegetables, rice & salad, £15.90). As you'd expect it being attached to the excellent Panicos kebab shop, this was a good selection of grilled meats. The lamb chop was great (better than a recent one at 3:21) the chicken wasn't bad, perhaps a little bland as it can be, but my personal favourite was the lamb shish. Considering that you can get this amount of meat next door at Panicos for about £10 less though, is it still overpriced?

We also got a Lamb Moussaka (Oven baked layers of aubergine, carrot, courgette & potato and minced lamb in a rich creamy white sauce, topped with grated cheese, served with rice & salad, £12.90). This was like a home made dish, hearty and tasty but essentially unremarkable. This is big food, even we were starting to struggle at this point, and we're 'professionals'!

 We managed to share a dessert, the Baklava was rich and sweet, but sadly the ice cream that came with it was awful, tasting of nothing but 'pink' with crunchy ice crystals all the way through it. Little touches like making sure the ice cream is a nice one (maybe even a locally made one) matter.

We settled our full stomachs with a Turkish Coffee, (and Turkish delights), this was enjoyable and felt authentic.
The owner came over, an amiable fellow. Explaining their concept (and their start up mistakes). Even though I felt justified in my criticisms, it brought it home to me - that these are people's livelihoods. I'm no Jay Rayner with thousands hanging on my every word, but who am I to come in and criticise a restaurant when it's just opened? (He didn't ask me this, he was way too polite and friendly!) Well in the age we live in, I figure that everyone's now a critic, and O&T have taken steps to rectify the problems they had (perhaps some of which I pointed out). I'm justifying it by saying that criticism can be helpful if it's constructive. Restaurants needs to know when something is wrong otherwise how can they improve? It is of course a learning curve. He explained that this is his first restaurant.
It's a really tough profession. Most fail.

The main problem I have with Olive & Thyme though is the whole concept. The 'mediterranean' theme doesn't work for me. I know what they're trying to do; when you get a big group in and people want different things it works for them. But I feel that many people these days want 'authenticity' whatever that is. If they want to eat out at a Turkish restaurant they want Turkish, if they want proper Italian, they'll go to one. There's just so much choice now more than ever.
We personally always avoid restaurants that deal in more than one cuisine, because the impression I always get is that they'll do them both badly. By trying to appeal to everyone, you appeal to fewer as your 'brand' appears to be diluted.
He is however proud of their risottos and their signature dishes the Lemon & thyme chicken (I rarely order chicken out) and the Sea Bass (normally sourced locally from Out of the Blue, a mark of quality). We didn't taste these so I can't comment. But my advice (should it be asked for) would be to remove the Mediterranean theme and do Turkish proper. I've never been to Turkey, but imagine that there are many more dishes you can get over there that you don't normally get over here. I think people want that. I would at least ditch the pizzas (they looked average and Croma are the market leader anyway round here anyway).
So I think they should concentrate on the things they do best. Our favourite parts of the meal were the most authentically Turkish, the bread at the beginning and the coffee at the end.

In conclusion, a much more successful visit to O&T this one. The food was pretty good of its type. The pricing needs attention still though I think, perhaps introduce some cheaper set menus and early bird specials - the Chorlton food market I believe is predominantly driven by cost. People are counting their pennies and it's highly competitive. But lower the prices and you'll likely get more customers in, simple as that. Anyway I wish them luck, they're making a go of it, and I'm sure they'll improve even more as time goes on.

Olive & Thyme on Urbanspoon

Thursday 30 May 2013

Barburrito, Manchester.

I was going to try and be clever with this post of Barburrito, and review it in one sentence: "like Subway but Mexican." But Mrs B reckons that this is quite unfair. Her exact words were, "the bread is sh*** at Subway, it's much better than that." Indeed, she's right, Barburrito is better than Subway. So I'll do a proper review.

I'm all for the slow food movement. But sometimes you just want to go, eat and f*** off.
I cannot be bothered with waiters sometimes. I'm just so impatient. Must I ask for a jug of water for the third time? So fast food is what I want. We were sent some vouchers for Barburrito, so we went to the Deansgate branch on Friday evening. Does it matter which one we go to? I'd imagine they're all similar.

First of all you can see straight away that it's not a proper restaurant, but a fast food joint. I had no preconceptions about Barburrito, I've never been before. You order at the counter and it's made up for you fresh out of serving trays.
I wasn't prepared for the 50 questions they ask you in rapid fire as you're ordering. Making decisions was never my strong point, so this was confusing, do I want hot sauce or medium, do I want this or that for 50p extra? I'd no idea, so I just said yes or no in random order. So I'm not sure exactly what we had. Well I think it was a Spicy Shredded Beef Burrito (£5.50) and a Char-grilled Chicken Taco (£5.15). The chicken first. This was as dry as a bone. The sauce helps a little, but the best I can describe this as is edible.

The burrito was much better, especially with the Chipotle hot sauce. Yes we liked this, it was spicy and tasted fresh not fast. Although it was gone in a moment.

We went back to the car and f***** off. We'd been exactly half an hour. Now that's fast!
Would I go to Barburrito again? Yes probably, it's a good concept, it's quick, it's cheap, and it's easy.
And it's way better than Subway.

Barburrito on Urbanspoon

Wednesday 29 May 2013

Flying Dog Craft Ale.

As I was waiting for an Indian takeaway the other week at Mahbub, I popped into the local corner shop next door, the Chorlton Off Licence to pick up some cold drinks to go with it. To my surprise this little place had an excellent craft beer section. A range of no less than four Flying Dog ales caught my eye, especially with the striking Ralph Steadman illustrations on the labels, so I had to buy them. The prices were very attractive too, I've never seen these American beers at such a good price.
Raging Bitch Belgian Style IPA (£2.75).
Very very dry and bitter, you can taste the Belgian yeast but with the American hoppy twist. Too much for me I'm afraid. I think I have a sensitive palate, and this for me was like sucking a beer soaked lemon. If you like doing that, you'll love this beer.

Snake dog IPA (£2.20).
I preferred this much more, it's more balanced, clean, slightly malty and bitter, but not too much. There is still that grapefruit taste, but not too overpowering. I liked it.

Doggie Style Classic Pale Ale. (£2.10).
It's a bit of a three 3 bears scenario this tasting, as this one was perfect for me. Not too bitter, not too malty, but just right. Very pleasant; my favourite I think.

Underdog Atlantic Lager (£2.10).
This is a soft easy drinking lager, nothing special.

Chorlton Off Licence
520 Wilbraham Road.

Tuesday 28 May 2013

Coriander, Chorlton.

We always really liked Coriander Indian restaurant in Chorlton, we were fairly regular when it first opened several years ago. But the problem for us was that it wasn't really in Chorlton. It was up the road near to Southern Cemetery, (famously featured in The Smiths song Cemetery Gates). However, this was too far for us to walk to when there are four Indian restaurants right on our doorstep. If we were driving, we would probably go the extra mile up to Didsbury to The Great Kathmandu on Burton Road. But the brand new Coriander opened up this week right next to three other Indian restaurants on Barlow Moor Road. We went along to find out what it was like.

It's smart and modern inside with clean cut lines. They've avoided the overly fancy 'bling' of other new Indian restaurants, and it's certainly an improvement on the old Coriander which is still open by the way, much to my surprise.
The poppadoms arrived sharply, they were crisp and fresh and the dips good, slightly different from the usual. We especially liked the spicy tomato one.

It was starting to get busy now, service was good and friendly, although they did struggle at times, it was a touch slow, but we were in no rush and to be fair they've only just opened.
To start with Mrs Bacon and I shared a Mixed Grill Platter (chicken tikka, sheikh kebab, chicken patties & a traditional onion bhaji £7.90, for two). This was decent, the bhajis especially crisp and crunchy.

Our friend Dr Gambas really enjoyed her pumpkin puri as well.
The menu is different from the usual run of the mill curry houses, and a lot better for it. They also promote 'high quality ingredients', no MSG and colouring, another plus point in it's favour. One thing I have confirmed with the restaurant manager Matin, is that all their meat is sourced as locally as possible; the lamb and chicken from local farms and the beef from nearby or Scotland. This is a real positive point especially in light of food scandals and quite unusual I believe for an Indian restaurant.
So anyway, after a bit of a wait our mains finally arrived.
I got a Chilli Garlic Masala (lots of garlic, ginger and chilli, £7.50). This was excellent, hot and spicy and it tasted 'clean'; not too much ghee which takes me several hours to digest (it does make a difference to me as I often cannot sleep well after a curry - no such problem here).

The garlic nan was excellent and crispy, although as usual there was NOT ENOUGH GARLIC on it. I'm guessing some people complain if it's too strong. In my book, they shouldn't be ordering garlic bread/nan if that's the case.
Mrs B's Urban Style Chicken (Chicken, chickpeas, peppers, onion, garlic & coriander
£7.20) was pretty good, she really enjoyed it, but I preferred my dish.

Dr Gambas's Royal King Prawn (King Prawns cooked with mushrooms & coconut milk £12.90) was delicious, creamy and comforting. You could detect the lemongrass which you don't really see that often in Indian restaurants. Coriander bill themselves as 'authentic Bengali dining', so it is a step above the usual fare. I also had a taste of the Biryani, which was also well-tasty.

We asked for some water, but I had to send it back a few times as it tasted plastic-y, they handled it very well though, explaining their supply had only just been fitted.
We also had to ask for the bill a few times, as I mentioned they were surprisingly busy considering they've only just opened.
However, all in all, we really liked the new branch of Coriander, it's definitely the best Indian out of the four of its closest neighbours if not in Chorlton. So it's returned again to being our personal choice local Indian restaurant. And as it is now only 5 minutes from Bacon towers, we will I'm sure be regulars once more.

Sadly since this review last year, the food at Coriander has declined in quality.
To see a more updated review click here
Coriander on Urbanspoon

Sunday 26 May 2013

Torres Viña Sol.

 Viña Sol to me tastes like a day on the beach followed by that first sip of cool white wine sat on the balcony at dusk, slightly sunburnt but extremely happy. This is because most times I drink it, I'm on holiday in Spain. It's fresh, well balanced, clean fruity and dry. Like biting into an apple. I just love it.

Region:  Catalunya , Spain.
Grapes: Parellada.
Price: £5.99
ABV: 11.5%
Closure: Screwcap in the UK.
Cork in Spain.


Friday 24 May 2013

My 10 Favourite Dishes in Manchester.

This post was inspired by the former food blogger @FTTBYD over on twitter and originally from an article on London’s Best Dishes that you can read here.
This list is a personal list of some of my favourite dishes in Manchester. It's not necessarily the 'best' food, just those that I can recall enjoying immensely at the time.
I tried to put them in numerical order, but it just proved to be too difficult!
I was going to choose the Ox in coal oil at The French.  But my favourite dish of that amazing night was the Yew Tree Farm Herdwick hogget. The best tasting lamb.

Makhan Chara: The Great Kathmandu.
The ultimate comfort food for me, smoky, creamy and gorgeous.
Bread & Dripping: Aumbry. 
There have been a few imitators, but this is still the best. Sunday dinner in golden liquid form.
Mac & Cheese: All Star Lanes. Homely, comforting and absolutely delicious. Loved the additional truffle oil!
Pumpkin Risotto with blacksticks blue cheese :Damson Media City. I adore really intense flavours, so the strong blue cheese was a real winner for me.
Street Tacos: Luck, Lust, Liquor & Burn. Embarrassingly, I exclaimed 'mmmmmm' out loud.
Gaeng Panang from Thai Spice. Perhaps a surprising choice, but it's just that sauce, it's devine!
Pearl Barley Kedgeree from The Beagle. A perfect starter.
Pork two ways from The Chorlton Green Brasserie.  Love the crackling!
Vanilla & Greek Yogurt Panna cotta from Linen.
Pudding is normally an after thought for me. But I though I should include one, and this is the one I chose.

Compiling this list, I tried to be as honest as I could with myself. It surprised me how many comforting dishes there were in there. Maybe on a different day, there would some others included. What are yours?

The Aldi Exquisite Collection. New World vs Old World Wine.

I'm no Robert Parker, I cannot claim any specialist wine knowledge whatsoever, I'm just an amateur enthusiast who just likes to drink the stuff. I am slowly working my way through the Aldi Exquisite Wine Collection. Here I taste two reds, one from the new world one from the old. They are not really comparable in any way, not the same grape or style, but they are comparable in one way: I've got £6 to spend on a bottle of red in Aldi. Where do I spend it?

The Exquisite Collection Fleurie 2010.
This wine is apparently from one of the top ten Beaujolais Cru's. But I don't really care about that. What's it actually taste like? It's ripe and savoury with red brambly fruits and soft tannins. I expected it to be more floral as a Fleurie would normally indicate. I liked it, I just didn't love it.
Region: Beaujolais, France.
Grapes: Gamay.
Price: £5.99.
ABV: 13.0%.
Closure: Screwcap.

The Exquisite Collection Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011.
At my price range, I often go for new world wines, maybe I just have an immature palate, but I like wines like this that taste like concentrated blackcurrant juice! For me, there's no comparison between this and the previous French one. This is my favourite sort of wine; soft plummy and luscious but with that strong fruity flavour intensity kick. It's big, bold and Aussie, I loved it!
Region: Clare Valley  Australia.
Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon.
Price: £6.49
ABV: 13.5%
Closure: Screwcap.