Wednesday 26 June 2013

Artisan Kitchen & Bar, Manchester.

Artisan is the brand new Kitchen and Bar by Living Ventures, Manchester's most successful restaurant group. This is surely the most ambitious of any of their ventures so far though. It's seriously impressive when you first walk into the space over the bridge from the reception area. First of all it's absolutely massive. It was buzzing when we went yesterday evening, there were loads of staff milling around being trained and generally looking busy. We were shown the private dining area, a very long table that sits well over 20, with views over Bridge street.

The thing that struck me first was that this is a really big professional operation as you'd probably expect. The style has been perfectly realised with stripped back walls and artistic touches. Whereas Neighbourhood is all shiny glitz and glam, this feels different, like a cool NY loft apartment. It'll be interesting to see if the clientèle are similar to their brash noisy neighbours.

We settled into our booth (of course). We both felt really privileged to be invited to somewhere like this, for us it's still really exciting, and the nervous energy of the place as hundreds of people get ready for that evenings service is really infectious.
As we weren't paying, naturally I went for the most expensive beer they do; German Wheat beer Erdinger. Are people in Manchester really happy to pay £5.75 for a bottle of beer though? We'll see I guess.

To start with I ordered a portion of Salt & Pepper Pork Crackling with apple sauce (£3.50). I have to say that these were pretty much the best pork scratchings we've ever had. Crispy and crunchy, not dry and dusty, and actually proper moist and meaty in parts, the hot chilli Thai inspired elements really worked adding a very pleasing spiciness. An absolutely flying start, and a very generous portion as well.

Next, Sticky Pork Rib with chilli and garlic (£6.95). Nothing wrong with this either, perfectly pleasant, sticky tender meat that fell off the bone. For £7 though I could have done with two though (had I actually paid for it). But it was big, easily enough to share.

I also tried the Stevens Point Pale Ale (£4.95). This was a fairly decent enough American craft beer. (Nowhere near the best you can get by any means).

But it's a strange choice, in fact the beer menu is down right weird, they have 8 bottled beers, nothing on tap (as far as I know), including the Flemish Duchesse de Bourgogne. This is an extremely sour red ale, that people will either love or hate. (I cannot drink it, although it has it's few select fans), but if you have only 8 beers on, to include it is total madness! There's also the really dull choices of Stella, Brahma and the annoyingly ubiquitous Peroni.

The menu is a really interesting one I think, I could have ordered so many things, but I settled on the Artisan burger with crinkle cut chips, (£10.50). Totally excellent, really juicy and medium as I asked for it. It was big as well. I was just confused by the crinkle cut chips. I mean they were ok, but I've not had crinkle cuts chips I think ever in a proper restaurant. Although it used to excite me as a child going round my granny's house and eating them there with runny fried eggs. (Unfortunately I've always been really obsessed with eating). But I wanted the chips to be proper thin crispy frites like at the sadly closing Le Relais de l'Entrecôte.

 The Smoked Salmon in a can, (£12.95) was good, although I'm not sure what the can actually brings to it taste wise, but it's entertaining enough seeing them opening it up at the table. We also enjoyed dipping our chips in the Hollandaise sauce.

As they're specialising in pizzas, I thought we should order one of those too. Now I'm not normally a purist for food rules, my only rule is if it's good I'll eat it. (I'll probably eat it if it's not so good either to be honest). But pizza I think is different, there are many things that shouldn't be put on a pizza; pineapple, sweetcorn, well the list goes on. But here they've thrown away the rule book. Well I may as well go the full hog and order something that's totally wrong in so many ways. I'm glad I did though, the Lamb Donner Kebab (£10), was exactly as I wanted it to taste, err like a donner kebab on a pizza with all the fixings. Brilliant!

 Neither of us could actually eat the side Salt baked new potatoes, (£2.95). I know they're salt baked but they were way too salty for us. We both quite enjoyed the Garlic field mushrooms (£3.50) though.

We also relished the pudding of Champagne jelly with an ice cream sandwich (£5.95). Great fun, like a grown up version of a kids dessert. I'm old enough to remember when you could buy ice cream sandwiches like this in shops. 

Also two scoops of ice cream (gingerbread was the best) and a cocktail, a soothing Cucumber and Elderflower Cooler, Beefeater gin, elderflower liqueur, mint, cucumber lime juice and lemonade, (£6.50). The cocktails are reasonably priced at around £6 which isn't bad for the town centre. Some of the other prices I have to say may be off putting to some though.

We had a really enjoyable evening at Artisan. I think that's the key. There are some who criticise Living Ventures and their omnipresence in Spinningfields. People will always knock success won't they? But I think they're always interesting restaurants to visit at least. What makes them work? They're not really 'foodie' as such like The French, the food is never really the star, it's the combination of all the elements combined that make them as successful as they are. As I always say, most people are not foodies, they're not obsessed with eating (as perhaps bloggers are), they just enjoy it as a part of their night out. Living Ventures obviously know this and cleverly give the people exactly what they want. (Or they wouldn't be as profitable as they are). Besides which, the food at Artisan was good fun, a well designed menu with perhaps a touch of nostalgia. All the usual bang-on-trend suspects were there (burgers, ribs, etc). Although it didn't totally blow us away, it's not really there to do that.
As MD Tim Bacon (no relation) himself says of Artisan; "It’s the people, the art and the food, you should always leave with a story." 
We did, and for us it was a happy one.

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Artisan on Urbanspoon

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Four Fine American IPA's

The self education of American Craft beer continues. Until recently it was almost impossible to find these beers in the UK apart from a few like Sierra Nevada and Goose Island, but Beermoth in the Northern Quarter is stocking even more than on my last visit. They have a large area wholly devoted to America, and are very knowledgeable and helpful in assisting my decisions on what to buy.
I asked them, why so many cans? It's apparently because most parks and open spaces in America ban the use of glass bottles, so all these craft brewers started packing their beers in tins as people there tend to be discerning drinkers and won't drink crappy Budweiser.
They don't come cheap these beers, but for me it's worth it every now and then, when it comes to this style of the highly flavoured American IPA's they really are world leaders and any British versions although may not necessarily be inferior, they are indebted to the originators of this Northern American version.
Maui Brewing Big Swell IPA. (£4.05)
Fruity, dry, fresh and hoppy, not too grapefruit-y, it's clean and fresh and crisp.Very glad to have tried it, lovely stuff. 

Sly Fox 113 IPA (£3.55)
Not that pale, a litttle too caramel malty for me with a bitter finish, not too sharp though. Pleasant but not outstanding.
Stone IPA (£3.15) 
Yes! A great beer! It has that tropical taste that I really crave. One of the best IPA's I've ever had. Extremely good. Star Choice.
Odell Brewing Myrcenary Double IPA. (£5.95)
On first taste; overly bitter, then I start to like it a lot more. Fruity complex, tropical, hoppy and bitter, a very nice beer. I've tried quite a few beers by Odell now, and they've all been top notch, and this is no different.

Monday 24 June 2013

Changos Burrito Bar Manchester.

It took us three attempts to get into Changos; this newly opened little burrito bar on Oxford Street. First I got there at one o'clock on Friday lunch time, only to be confronted by a long queue of at least 15 people patiently waiting on the pavement. I gave up almost immediately, and we went to Brewdog. They must be doing something right. I reckon it was the price. It's underneath a fiver for a large burrito, and I think Mancunion's generally don't want to spend over that for their lunch. So it's a good deal, and it's freshly made.

So we tried to go on Sunday at about midday, they told us that they wouldn't open until half past. We went over to the Cornerhouse nearby to get a coffee and to see our film. (By the way I think the Cornerhouse is one of the best things about being in Manchester, we'll be sad to see it leave their current premises for the new building on First Street).
We returned at about 3 on a very dull Sunday afternoon, I was half expecting it to be full of hungover students, but no, it was thankfully fairly quiet. First impressions are that it's a fast food café not too dissimilar to Barburrito.

The Spanish(?) woman serving us was very friendly, giving us a taster of the chilli and the beef, so we could make our minds up which we'd like best. The other fella with her did not look that happy to be there to be honest, and wasn't overly friendly. This wasn't a proper restaurant with service, this is clearly a take away venue with a few seats added. A little effort has been made of the interior, but it's like they gave up half way through. There are cardboard boxes on display, and it's just a little bit scruffy despite being new. I liked the mural though and the bits of graphics they have dotted about.

We went for the large Changos Burrito x2, one with Slow Cooked Beef, the other Pork Shoulder. They make it up for you as you wait. We got everything on it, one with hot sauce; Fiery Fiesta, the other with Mango Lime & Hot Habanero.
Also, we though we'd try the Mexican soft drinks they have; Jarritos. Firstly these; they make J20's look like a health drink. The mango was ok, but the Mandarin was just so saccharine and unnatural in taste. Mrs B thought it tasted like tinned mandarin, it reminded me of Mr Freeze orange flavour ice pops I used to love as a kid. It says 'natural flavour' on the bottle; but it's mainly sugar and fake flavouring, no we won't be getting these again, they were pretty damn awful to be honest.

The burritos themselves were ok, they tasted fresh enough, but neither of us could tell which meat was which. We probably made a mistake in ordering all the fixings, as it dilutes the flavour of the meat and makes it bland. I wasn't getting the heat off the hot sauce either, I could have added a load more off the table, but it was too late by that stage as I'd scoffed it all.

don't forget the hot sauce...

But what's the bother? It only cost me £15 for both of us, and we left after about 10 minutes fairly satisfied. I couldn't tell you if Changos Burrito is better or worse than Barburrito, they seemed about the same to me.
With Mexican inspired places popping up all over town, and with Lucha Libre opening shortly, it seems Changos have appeared at just the right time. It's always interesting when somewhere is so busy they have a queue at lunch time, in this case I think it's the right product at the right price and most importantly the right location.
So, is it worth queuing for? No, not for me it isn't.
But it is a fairly decent lunch and a much better bet than a supermarket pre-packaged overly chilled bland sandwich. And it is a great little business, so good luck to them I say, though it doesn't look like they'll need it.

Changos Burritos on Urbanspoon