Thursday 28 November 2013

How I fell out of love with the Christmas Markets.

First of all let me say that I love Christmas. I love everything about it, the tackiness, the presents, the food (obviously), the booze, the parties etc. I always have done. I'm generally not one of these people who moan about the season to be jolly. I've been going to the Manchester Christmas Markets since they began 15 years ago. I visit religiously every single year, at least three or four times. I walk up and down looking at the stalls, past the giant singing moose head trying my best to feel 'christmassy', taking photos usually, I've always enjoyed it.
But recently a nagging sinking feeling has been eating away at me. I've started to enjoy it less and less each year. Perhaps it's me I thought, I'm just getting more miserable with age. But it seems quite a few people on twitter seem to feel the same way.
These are my main points.
1. Expense.
The prices are ridiculous, they're charging as much if not more than local pubs for drinks but without as many overheads such as seating, heating, service, etc. Although I have heard that it costs £3500 to rent a stall/cabin for a week. If this is true, it just illustrates how much profit they must be making on top of that. It seems that they can charge whatever they like and people will pay it. How did we get in this situation where a market stall can be more expensive than a proper restaurant? Meanwhile half of the shops on King street lie empty, which is ironic considering the market takes up all of this street currently. What happens when they leave? It'll be quiet again, like a ghost town.
Many restaurants profits are down because they drain all of the potential customers to the markets instead. Even proper successful restaurants like Yuzu* and Solita report quiet nights - all because of the markets. They don't have a level playing field. Most of their profits are likely to leave the local economy too.
2. Over crowded.
Last year we went to Prague and the markets there were simply stunning. Having them in a beautiful massive medieval square helped obviously, but they didn't overcrowd the square. They could have filled it several times over with stalls, but you had room to walk around. They provided lots of other things for children too, such as an animal corner in a little petting zoo, a beautiful stairway to look out from, a manger etc. It seems our council just want to ram as many stalls into the space as possible to maximise profits for them, making it difficult to move around.

Prague Christmas markets. Not overly filled.
3. Quality.
I've eaten from many stalls and I can't recall anything being that good. I'm sure there may be places that do decent food, I just can't think of any at the moment. The sausages are often just your standard mass produced rubbish. Why do we put up with it? We wouldn't eat that crap at home. There are a few quality stalls down in Spinningfields like Mumma Schnitzel and Margo and Rita, but these are more permanent street food operators that you see all year round and stand apart from the the main Christmas market in Albert Square which I'm mainly referring to.
So there we have it in a nutshell; over crowded, overly expensive and often poor quality, it's time to re-think the markets. Bigger is not always better. Or perhaps profit must always comes first? 
I'd recommend you do like I did on Friday evening after the hell of the markets; to retire to a nice calm quiet restaurant or bar where it's warm and there are seats and you get this thing called service! At Mr Coopers Bar I enjoyed a lovely Rum and Raisin Old Fashioned cocktail (or three) for the same price as a Glühwein served in a naff plastic cup standing out in the cold, freezing my nuts off! So that's how I will be feeling 'Christmassy' this year; cheers to that!
This makes me feel 'Christmassy'.
*Yuzu reported sales of just 25% of the previous weekend on Saturday 23rd November due to the markets.

For more information on the income the Council made from the Christmas Market stall holders from previous years see here. In 2012 it was £1,474,256.56.

Soundtrack: Christmas Time is Here - Vince Guaraldi Trio.
Illustration and photography ©  
If you want to 'borrow' any photos, please ask. Full res pictures are available to purchase.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Arepa!Arepa!Arepa! Levenshulme Market.

We finally made it down to the monthly Levenshulme Market on Saturday to get our first taste of Arepas from the good guys at the Goodgobble blog. (I just like saying that). Their stall Arepa!Arepa!Arepa! seemed to be the busiest in the whole of this cute little market. I ordered a Butifarra: Peruvian Pork with yellow chilli mayo and sweet potato. (£4). I loved it straight away. At once familiar but somehow unfamiliar at the same time, the actual Arepa is a dough like maize flat bread that would be a perfect hangover cure, I wolfed it down and poor Sammie didn't even get any.
 I had to order another for Mrs Bacon, and while we were waiting we shared an Ajiaco chicken soup which has Guascas in it. You can taste this specially imported herb, it adds that little difference which all this food has. We both really enjoyed this warming broth.

They also gave us a taste of some gorgeous cheese balls called Bunuelos.
What I think is clever is that they've been inspired by travelling to Colombia and done something that nobody else has over here (in Manchester anyway). This food tasted home made in the best possible way, unique but hearty, and just bloody tasty, it was the first but it won't be our last taste of Arepas.

Check out their blog here:

Soundtrack: ‪Mi Gent‬e - Hector Lavoe.

Tuesday 26 November 2013

My Five Favourite Pies.

The Americans don't have savoury pies. I think it's to do with the idea of hiding what they imagine could be poor quality meat inside. They're missing what for me is one of my favourite go-to comfort foods. As I'm from the Potteries I grew up on Wrights Pies, and Pukka from the chippie. (I still have a weakness for these.) Thursday was and still is my favourite night, as at that time we had swimming club, it was Top of the Pops and my mum used to make steak and kidney pie for tea. Life didn't get much better than that in those days, and pies don't get much better than these here:
Here's my Top 5 to eat in or take-out in and around the Manchester area. (Click on the titles for full posts).
1. Great North Pie Company.
These really are artisan pies and the best I've eaten. It's the attention to detail with the superb pastry along with the slightly different fillings which make them my number one 'foodie' choice. The seasonal flavours are coming out soon, can't wait to try them.
Favourite Pie: Cheese and Onion.
Available from Chorlton Green Brasserie, and Out of the Blue in Chorlton, Altrincham Market and many more. See for details.
 2. All About Pies.
I get my fix of these from The Beech, (still only £5 with a pint), Epicerie Ludo and the monthly markets on Chorlton Green. I especially love the pastry, and the fillings are excellent too.
Favourite Pie: Homity.
3. Andrew Jones Pork Pies. The best pork pies I've eaten. I can't resist the cheese encrusted one. It's amazingly good, I have one nearly every week, yet another addiction. From Robinsons Butchers, Chorlton.
Favourite Pie: Pork and cheese.
 4. Pieminister. 
They may be 'mass produced' but the filling combinations are unbeatable. From Pi in Chorlton and Pieminister in the Northern Quarter.
Favourite Pie: Moo Pie.
5. Pie and Ale.
Proper home made on the premises in the Northern Quarter.
Favourite Pie: Steak and Stilton.
Soundtrack: The Flamingos - I Only Have (P)Eyes for You.

Monday 25 November 2013

Honest Crust, Manchester.

It seems that the simplest things are often the trickiest to get right, and in my quest to find fantastic pizza in Manchester, I've sadly found this to be all too true. It's hard to believe that in the city centre, only Kosmonaught really came up to scratch to be anywhere near decent pizza. They've been helped by Honest Crust who everyone says are the best street food pizza operators. So always last to the party, I finally caught up with them at one of their regular pitches at Altrincham Market yesterday.
Sadly they didn't have any N'Duja on this occasion, (my number one pizza topping of choice), so I went for the Smoked Pancetta and Mushroom but with extra goats cheese added. (£6).
I can confirm what most of you probably know already, it was a mighty fine pizza. In fact it was bloody great. The perfect combination of the reet proper base, well tasty toppings and gooey melted cheese absolutely perfectly cooked. Everything was just right which is clearly not actually as easy to achieve as you may imagine. If it were, surely everyone would be doing it. I will be back for more.
 Soundtrack: Back to my roots - Richie Havens.

Saturday 23 November 2013

Lucha Libre, Manchester.

I went to the much anticipated Lucha Libre for lunch yesterday. I'm not going to pass any major judgements on the place as they've only just opened, so teething problems are to be expected. This doesn't apply if somewhere is charging a fortune for food but Lucha Libre is relatively inexpensive and they seemed to be doing a roaring trade already from nearby offices.You can order online to take away too.

I had home made Guacamole and Chilli jam with tortilla chips. I really liked the chilli jam especially.

A variation of The Street Food Tray: Pil Bil (Pulled Pork) Tacos, Al Pastor Tacos (Pork Belly), Chicken and Chorizo tacos, Prawn and Mango tacos. (These were my favourite ones). You get three of the same in each portion. I ordered the fish one but that didn't arrive. Neither did my quesadillas, there was a mix up with the order, so I quickly ordered a simple plain quesadilla to finish. I wish I'd chosen another, as I wasn't keen on this, it was a bit bland. For me, all the food needed to be hotter and spicier, but as I said, it's early days for Lucha Libre. I guess they'll tweak it according to customer tastes. But already it seems to be another potential success story and an interesting new addition to Manchester.
Pork Belly

Prawn and Mango tacos.

Pulled Pork Taco.


Soundtrack: ‪Rotary Connection‬ - ‪Respect‬ (Don't forget the hot sauce).

Lucha Libre on Urbanspoon

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Casa Francisco el de Siempre, Playa del Palmar, Spain.

Remember summer? We've barely scraped into winter, and it seems to be but a distant memory. Only a few months ago we spent the day on one of the Costa del la Luz's finest sandy beaches, and I spotted a restaurant that rang a bell in my head. I'd noticed it in the Michelin Guide when looking out for local places so was excited to try it, especially as it was a few seconds walk from our spot on the beach. El Palmar is a bit hippy-ish, windswept and out of the way of the general tourist routes so it was surprising to see it appear in the Michelin Guide. However this is not always a good thing.

Not a bad view from the restaurant.
We had:
A complimentary beetroot dish.

Carpaccio Lomo.

Croquetas de Gambas.

Ensalade Atun.
 Tartar de Atun.
It was all decent enough, but the food was not necessarily special enough to warrant a price tag of €70, and this I presume was most likely because they feature in the Michelin Guide. The restaurant looked exactly like many other traditional places that you find all over Spain too, these are usually noted for their very reasonable prices.
Strange that the nearby El Campero which is cheaper but twice as good doesn't feature in the guide. It just goes to show you, you can't always trust Michelin. So whilst we enjoyed our  lunch in the fine setting over looking the beach, it wasn't the best meal of our holidays. Still, I'd go back there in heartbeat if I could.

Soundtrack: Summer Sun - Koop.