Friday 21 February 2014

Holiday Response.

We will be baking ourselves on the beach in Gran Canaria next week.
Expect some fine Spanish food reviews on our return.
Back on Pancake day.

Australasia, Manchester

As someone who is food obsessed with expensive tastes that are not matched by my actual budget, I plan to spend my money this year in only a few places. Perhaps five or six local restaurants that I suppose you could describe as 'foodie' favourites. These include Sticky Walnut in Chester, Mr Coopers in Manchester and select country pubs such as The Parkers Arms. (Not including an occasional burger, a curry in Mughli or new place that opens of course!)
But when I get invited* to visit somewhere that I probably wouldn't go to otherwise, it's a good opportunity that I grab with both hands.
 We really enjoyed Australasia a few years ago but maybe in my head I deemed it not 'foodie' enough and if I was spending my own money should I be able to afford it right now, I'd probably go to more recent high end arrivals like The French to be honest. Also because of all the baggage that goes with Living Ventures restaurants, it's filed in my brain as more glamorous and 'showy' than properly serious about food.
However I think it's important to judge a place as you find it, in our case the taste of the food, so I leave any prejudices at the door. Besides Australasia has a new chef in Australian David Spanner.
The service and interior was as slick as ever as you'd expect. It's just such a nice space with jazz playing although slightly too loudly we thought.
As we recently went to Grand Pacific their 'extension', we swerved the oysters and sushi on this occasion. We started off with Foie gras brûlée with lavas bread and roasted pistachio (£13).
We loved this, the Foie gras, was super creamy but there was a very slight bitterness which I could have done without, not sure what that was from. Beautiful dish though. The Hand dived scallops with belly pork, chilli caramel and cucumber pickle (£13.50) was very good too with lovely plump juicy scallops.
The quality of the produce they get here is second to none. The star of the show was the Black cod roasted in hoba leaf. This was absolutely stunning and as good as anything we've eaten this year. I'm going to do a Favourite Manchester dishes soon and this will appear there's no doubt. At £22.50 it's not cheap though. Nothing here is.
For mains we had the Roasted monkfish with razor clams, chorizo and squid (£21). Another winner.
It was also hard to resist the Pot-roasted lobster with a coconut and lime broth at an eye watering £47.50.
Bloody hell this was so lovely. At almost £50 you'd expect it to be. If I had the money I'd eat this dish every day. We started fighting over the precious juices and lobster.
A de-constructed Black forest gateaux  for pudding totally worked, the new Carrot cake with cream cheese ice-cream didn't at all for us. Very nice ice-cream though.
Our trip to Australasia was a really big surprise. Yes it's glamorous and glitzy which isn't really us, but judging it purely on the taste, it was excellent and even better than our previous visit a few years ago. All the food was good but there were two dishes that really stood out as being amongst the very best in the city in our opinion. The Black cod roasted in hoba leaf and the Pot-roasted lobster will long stay in our memory as they were quite simply superb.

* We were invited to Australasia at their expense but always tell it as it is.

Australasia Manchester on Urbanspoon

Wednesday 19 February 2014

Dogs n' Dough, Manchester.

I joked on twitter the other day; 'Michel Roux Jr. is making hot dogs on the telly, does he not know that you can get 8 at Aldi for £1.89?' Behind the joke was a dirty secret, I quite like these cheap hot dogs. I know they're made from pigs eyeballs and shavings from the abattoir floor, but I blame my childhood. I envy these kids (usually foreign) that I see on TV programmes eating oysters etc. For us in the 70's it was a big thing when we discovered Frazzles.
Anyway Dogs n' Dough were promoting their new menu so invited local press, bloggers, blaggers, free-loaders etc. We went down on Friday, Valentine's Day. Their hot dogs are a lot better quality than those shitty supermarket ones. We've been before and really enjoyed it. They saw a gap in the market and that gap was hot dog shaped, reasonable prices too. They do pizzas as well (hence the dough obviously) but to be honest I'm quite fussy about pizzas and judging from just the photos, I could see they weren't quite right. I'm clearly less fussy about hot dogs but these are good ones. We had The ADB; BBQ beans, crispy bacon, poached egg (£6.50). This simply worked, it was ace. We still find the sausage skin a tad too tough but that's being super fussy.
Even though I may be a pizza purist, I thought I may as well go for broke and try the Mac n' Cheese Pizza. Did it work? Well sort of, in that I kept on eating it. It needed a few tweaks though. It was under seasoned and needed the bacon (hopefully crispy) to lift it, but Mrs Bacon had said we didn't need it. We did. (Like any good marriage these gripes are stored for use in arguments later). She reckoned it wasn't saucy enough as well like a proper Mac n' Cheese is. It would really work with blue cheese added I think. I know that's not Mac n' cheese but it would lift the blandness. It really was carb overload, I had to take 2 slices home. (We never waste food in our house).
We were offered a chocolate pizza for pudding which we just couldn't manage. I think they're missing a trick by not having Mississippi mud pie, NY cheesecake etc as desserts, I can never imagine eating a sweet pizza on top of all that.
The chilli fries are good too.
We enjoyed Dogs n' Dough as we had last time, the prices* are good and this time they'd added some craft beer. Kona Big Wave Golden Ale is light and floral and just right with this big food. If we returned to Dogs n' Dough we'd probably stick to their hot dogs though as that's their best thing I think.
Valentine's Day treat.
*We weren't asked to pay for this food on this occasion. As ever we just offer our honest constructive criticism if necessary. What do you want me to do? Stay at home with a cup a soup on Valentine's Day?

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Monday 17 February 2014

Fideuà on the Beach.

It was the last day of our Spanish holidays. We checked into our room at the Hotel Mediterrani in Calella de Palafrugell. The woman behind the desk was one of those efficient but cold types. Luckily Lluis stepped in. We'd had an email chat whilst booking. I'd mentioned that I was looking for a sea view as it was our anniversary (well it was the same month anyway) and it transpired that he'd got married in the same year. He remembered us and stepped in to take over the booking. I could tell that she was going to put us in the basement. (We're as obsessed with hotel rooms as we are restaurant tables/seats).
I opened the blinds of our room on the top floor and was greeted with the view, the glittering sea and the beach below us. Perfect! 
We changed into our swimmers in super quick time. Come on, no time to waste, we have to get on the beach before all the Spanish get there and bag all the best spots. We hurried down and then spent the next 10 hours at the waters edge, sitting, reading and swimming with the fish. Instead of the little boquerones you usually get, these were big 10 inch silver fish, it was like swimming in an aquarium. People threw bread in to watch them thrash about.
Later, I asked Lluis where's good for Fideuà? On the last day of our holidays, we traditionally have a paella, but we'd had memories of this dish several years ago when we were in Catalonia last time. It's similar but instead of rice, they use thin noodles like vermicelli. He pointed us to the restaurant below on the beach, The Fiego. Every table was taken but they told us to come back at 10.
There's something so very Spanish about eating dinner at 10 with your feet in the sand, something that's just not possible in the UK. The Fideuà was brought over to us and like a paella, it's so big, it gets its own table. I love the theatrics of this. The waiters always make a big thing of serving it with giant silver spoons. We dug in. I was disappointed. It wasn't like I remembered at all. This was way too bland, it needed more stock, more flavour. Still we made the best of it and peeled the giant prawns, licking our fingers on the juices.
So perhaps this wasn't a totally perfect day, but it's as close as we got.

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Saturday 15 February 2014

Keeping it Authentic

Someone pulled me up the other day on my use of the word 'authentic' in relation to my review of Red's True BBQ. In hindsight I probably shouldn't have used the A word. There are plenty of experts around who will tell you that no this is not authentic American food at all, but a bastardised faux version, as far removed from the real thing as McDonalds. People often say the same in relation to 'ethnic' food, that it's nothing like the cuisine you get in the homeland. This week, someone on twitter was complaining about the gunpowder chips in Mughli for this very reason. (Quite wrongly in my book. Does it really matter if you can't find these in India if they're as tasty as hell?)
These people suck the joy out of everything like Buzz Killington from Family Guy. Yes we should try and look for 'authenticity' I guess, but any restaurant over here, by it's very nature will be a British version. If we stick to the strict rules on absolutely everything all of the time, we're left with a country like Italy. Although their home-grown cuisine is fabulous, the rules people follow are so strict that they will not allow any deviation. So even modern Michelin star restaurants are fairly thin on the ground over there because of this conservatism.
I'd argue that it's precisely when cultures combine and clash that it gets interesting. Everybody knows that Chicken tikka Masala wasn't created in India, but it doesn't stop it being a classic, and sometimes it's just what you want, albeit after several pints of lager (another Great British tradition).
So at the moment there's the never ending burger craze, now it's hot dogs and perhaps BBQ. (I'm hoping for pizza next). We've taken from America just as we've taken from everywhere else, this in fact is the British way.
I've been here in Manchester for over 20 years and it's really never been better for eating out. Yes I moan as much as anyone, we always want it to be better still, but look at what we had even 5 or 10 years ago. It's staggering how much it's changed for the better. There's so much choice now. If you want high end Michelin style you have The French or Manchester House, right down to cheap eats. There's loads of places to get a good burger (no matter what the purists say) in Solita and Almost Famous et al. Indian restaurants are getting more authentic, but they'll do it in a British way like Mughli have done. Taking the best bits and adding their own twist. Cuisine evolves, and things will only get better.
So sod authenticity, whatever it means. I'm going out for a dirty hot dog tonight. (Does anything say Valentine's more than a tube of meat?)  It might not be exactly like Nathan's in NY (or wherever) but does it actually matter if I enjoy it?

Disclaimer: I am not an expert, I just like to eat.