Thursday 31 October 2013

San Carlo Bottega, Selfridges, Manchester.

I just made a flying visit to San Carlo Bottega in Selfridges. We liked Aubaine, the previous incumbent, (especially the Mille Feuille) and were sad to see it go, but judging it from the first few days, San Carlo Bottega has already made a flying start. I was queueing at midday to get into the M&S and Selfridges car park, although it was half term. I made my way through the floor with make up counters on it (everyone was made up in a gothic way as it's Halloween today.) I used to really love the old food hall in the basement, and remember fondly the launch night of the Manchester Food Festival there several years ago - 'the best night of my life' as I always tell Mrs B (free food from the various counters, a Marble beer stall, plus sushi ladies dressed in Japanese costume giving out free sushi - ah the memories.)

I recognised a few of the staff from my visit to Cicchetti last week. I took a seat at the bar and ordered the Bouillabaisse as I'd seen photos of it on twitter. I always ask if I can take photos, but these days hardly anyone even bats an eyelid. But this time I was collared by Mr San Carlo himself demanding to know where I was from. He didn't look too happy. Put it this way, I'm guessing this boss maybe a hard taskmaster of the old school variety! Fair enough if he's agreed an exclusive with the Evening News or whatever, this place isn't even officially open yet and he had no idea who this bloke was taking all the photos. I managed to placate him though by telling him about this here website. Just about.
He needn't have worried though, the Bouillabaisse (Provençal fish stew, £11.95) was absolutely fabulous. I couldn't even spot it on the menu, but they need to put it on permanently if it's not already. Beautifully cooked using quality produce and with a wonderfully rich tomato stock (not too salty as is so often the case,) this alone made for an excellent lunch. It was only a quick visit to see what it was like, but I hope to return to San Carlo Bottega sooner rather than later, and next time hopefully I can make friends properly with Mr San Carlo, if he lets me in that is.

Soundtrack: The Boss - James Brown.

San Carlo Bottega on Urbanspoon

Wednesday 30 October 2013

Ocean Treasure 235, Manchester.

Me and Mrs Bacon agree on most things food related with only a few exceptions; Chinese food. She loves it and is always bemoaning the fact that she hasn't had her 'fix' for a while. She grew up eating it on meals out with her family, I didn't. I didn't grow up on Indian food either, but I took to that like a duck to water. Less so Chinese food with the possible exception of crispy duck and pancakes. All too often I've found gloopy MSG heavy sauces, poor quality meat, rubbery prawns and abysmal service. There are a few exceptions in Manchester of course; The Yang Sing and Red Chilli are favourites. (Especially the more 'authentic' Beijing and Sichuan dishes at the latter.) As is Ocean Treasure 235 which is part of the same group as Red Chilli. The majority of the menu here is actually traditional Cantonese.
It's underneath James Martin's new venture (see here) and part of the same casino. We were invited to try the new menu, so went on another horrible Friday night; it was truly filthy weather (as Mrs B calls it) but it was fabulous to never have to go outside from the car park as it's all interlinked. Mrs Bacon was well looking forward to some old favourites as well as some new stuff to get her 'fix' and it was right cosy inside.

I've always been surprised at how few reviews of Ocean Treasure there are online, as we've found the food to be really good, and the service notably to match, the interior is chic and modern too. Maybe it's been overlooked because of its location in a casino and out of China town, but the Great Northern Warehouse has really taken off now with All Star Lanes and soon the highly anticipated Lucha Libre, I think this will help Ocean Treasure in terms of exposure, but they're already a very well run operation any way.
If anything it's even nicer than on our last visit, we were given a beautiful table with linen semi-opaque curtains around it affording us a degree of privacy but still enjoying the atmosphere and subdued beautiful lighting of the restaurant as a whole.

We ordered a few 'must haves', Crab Meat and Sweetcorn soup for her (she reckons it was one of the best she has had and she's an expert of some years standing) and a Hot and Sour for me.

Then we had my favourite; Aromatic Crispy Duck, which is theatrically shredded for you at the table at some speed. Lovely, juicy and moist, it didn't disappoint either. In fact in terms of flavour, it would stand up to any duck we've had at any restaurant. Good home made pancakes too.

We also enjoyed the Chicken and Prawn seaweed rolls and Quails Egg Sui Mai. 

For the mains we put ourselves in their hands, which is often the best way, I just asked for their signature dishes. Sadly the soft shell crab wasn't available due to shortages in their supply, so we had;
Beef and ginger dim sum. 

Szechuan Monkfish, easily our favourite dish of the night, a beautiful silky texture, soft and delicate but spicy too.

Teriyaki Fillet steak Japanese style. 

Scallops and Prawns. Fine; not rubbery as is so often the case.
 Chinese greens. Mrs Bacon loved these.
And to follow some custard spring rolls with a rich chocolate sauce and some sweet doughnut like delicacies.
Overall it was an extremely enjoyable evening, great food in a beautiful restaurant with good service. Has it brought me round to Chinese cuisine in general? I'm not so sure if it is my very favourite still, but if we are going to go for a Chinese again as I'm sure we will, Ocean Treasure remains at the top of our list along with a few select others.

* We did not pay for this meal, it made no difference to my opinion as we were already fans of Ocean Treasure and this meal just confirmed my existing views.

Soundtrack (as played): Barry White - What am I gonna do.

Ocean Treasure Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday 29 October 2013

Zam Zam, Chorlton.

It just looks so unlikely, Zam Zam is opposite Electrik bar in Chorlton sandwiched between Subway and Dixy Chicken, it doesn't really look much better than either to be honest. I'd seen people praising it on a local website, but it wasn't until someone mentioned the chops being as 'good as Tayyabs in Whitechapel' that I thought I'm going to have to give it a go. Tayyabs is famously one of the best rated traditional Punjabi restaurants in London, high praise indeed.
Entering Zam Zam, it looks like any other scruffy takeaway, serving kebabs as well as pizza is never normally a good sign. The fella behind the counter couldn't understand me either, I was trying to ask him for his advice as the Nihari wasn't on - what would be a good alternative? Maybe he hadn't been asked for his opinion before and I was confusing him by asking him baffling questions, plus I guessed English wasn't his first language. This is not a restaurant and there is no pretension of customer 'service'. You go in, you order and you f*** off with your food. You don't, like me try and ask for 'advice'.
I settled on Tandoori Lamb chops (5 pieces £5.50 with a nan), Karahi Kofta (£6.30), Karahi Lamb Chops (£6.50) After a quick drink in Electriks (the fabulous Thornbridge Jaipur IPA) plus meeting Blue, the dog and bar mascot we took our precious package home.

The Lamb Chops to start, they were bloody sensational with that burnt charred crispiness but underneath, rich tasty juicy lamb meat, it's brings out a kind of caveman instinct gnawing on a lamb bone like this, I felt a genuine sadness when I'd finished them and carefully picked the last remnants of flavour off the bone.
The Karahi Kofta and Karahi Lamb Chops were equally as tasty, rich intensely flavoursome sauces with both, we were both highly impressed with these authentic traditional curries from the most unlikely of locations. So it looks like another addiction has started....

* Since writing this I found out that the family who run this used to own The Tandoori Kitchen, an excellent Rusholme restaurant that's sadly no longer there.

Soundtrack:  I Just Can't Get You Out of My Mind - Four Tops.

Monday 28 October 2013

Cornerhouse, Manchester.

The Cornerhouse has been a part of my life since I first came to Manchester in 1989. It's outlasted friendships even, partners too. For me it's honestly one of the best things about living here. I've seen so many amazing films there. Too many to mention in full, but ones that come to mind are; Cyrano de Bergerac (1990), Reservoir Dogs (1992, Quentin Tarantino actually gave a talk there when he was just an unknown cult director on his first film), Life is Beautiful (1997), loads of Studio Ghibli films (notably Spirited Away; 2001), The Spanish and Latin American Film Festival (where I first saw Pedro Almodóvar films), and more recently last years stunning Moonrise Kingdom and Beasts of the Southern Wild. 
 So you may be thinking this is a food blog; get on with it, but if you're not already a fan and live in Manchester I'd describe it in this way. Everyone loves a burger right? But you don't want to be eating them all of the time. Imagine life without Sushi, Chinese, Indian, Tapas, Italian etc? Basically I'm making a clumsy metaphor between food and film. There is a world of amazing stories at our fingertips, and it doesn't always revolve around the Hollywood machine (although like a burger, sometimes that is all you want.) Well as we were going to see the new Woody Allen film Blue Jasmine (a superb film by the way), we thought we'd take in a pizza before hand. It handily linked in with my search for fantastic pizza which is proving more difficult than I first imagined. 
The café on the first floor is always busy. We settled in a corner and ordered two of the Napoli-Style Stone-Baked Pizzas. The Polpette, Mozzarella, beef & pork meatballls, (£8.75) and the Formaggio di Capra; Goats cheese, roast peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella & tomato (£7.75).
When they were arrived they were surprisingly MASSIVE! Looked good, I tucked in. Here are my comments; the base is too thick, (although good that it's made on the premises), not enough tomato sauce, and the meatballs on mine tasted a bit weird and processed although they looked home-made. Mrs Bacon's was better, the goats cheese adding a nice tangy flavour. The cheese on both had got that sort of congealed skin on, not quite right - maybe a little over loaded. I'm being super picky though, we both we enjoyed them for what they were - pretty good enough pizzas in a gallery/cinema café. At least they weren't being stingy with the ingredients.
I'm not sure you'd ever go specifically to the Cornerhouse purposely just for food; there are better places top eat pizzas in town, (and worse) but it serves its purpose, and it is really popular. By 6pm every table was taken. Service was of the student getting through college waiting tables type, but that's kind of its charm too. We finished off with a perfectly fine walnut and chocolate tart.
We were discussing the Cornerhouse and it's moving to a purposely built complex on First Street. Neither of us think it was a good idea. The location for a start is far worse, it's so well placed where it is now as Oxford road is so convenient. Mrs B used to work on First Street and it is a bit out of the way for buses etc plus we think much of its charm will be lost. Bigger is not always better.
However, I'm sure we'll always still visit The Cornerhouse when it moves.
To conclude the pizzas do not make it to my personal favourites in Manchester, but the cinema will always be a large part of Manchester and of my cultural life here.
Soundtrack: A House Is Not a Home: Burt Bacharach.

Cornerhouse on Urbanspoon