Thursday 27 March 2014

The Horse and Jockey, Chorlton.

I love living in Chorlton Green. I remember when I first came here 20 odd years ago, I can recall thinking then, that it was like going somewhere on holiday, pretty, quaint and leafy, yet only 20 minutes to the city centre. I've been living in the same little house since 1999, and still feel lucky to be here. Right on the green itself in the prime spot is the old Horse and Jockey pub. When we first came, it was completely rubbish, dodgy, tired and just unpleasant. There was always an inch or two of 'water' in the men's toilet.
Then in 2008, the Hoi Polloi Pub Company took over and converted it. They did a great job, things were looking promising. Then the rot set in. Tales of bad management, unhappy staff, inconsistent poor service, crap food and erratic beer supplies were the order of the day. I remember being told by the manager that the giant irritating TV screen in one room had to be on all the time as it was 'a feature', despite the fact that nobody was there but us. (It's still there). I knew then that we had to part ways, it was not our sort of place, despite it being only a minute from my front door. The other customers tended to be 'Cheshire types' too, rather than locals, so we stuck to The Beech.
In 2012, Holts came in and made the owners an offer they couldn't refuse. They took the money and ran. (Who wouldn't?) I didn't hear of any massive improvements, they were keeping the on-site brewery (a good thing) and the local events going like the market on the green (another good thing).
Annoying TV that's always, on drawing your eye.
They're now promoting their new menu and refurbishment, so I thought I'd go and take a look.
First of all, the £750k refurbishment. It's a complete waste of money in my opinion. Hoi Polloi did a good job of the conversion and spent a lot of money, so it only needed a slight spruce up. Now it looks soulless, like someone's idea of a 'posh' gastro pub. They're calling it an ‘urban country pub, unnecessary new carpets, new floor tiles and upholstery don't make for a better experience, and within a month or two they'll be as worn as the previous decoration which is only a few years old after all.
All style, no substance.
I've never liked the beer much here, but the Chorlton Pale ale wasn't bad as a light session beer. As they make it themselves on-site though, why is it as expensive as the other beer?
£4. Even though it costs them pennies to make.
I took a look at the menu. It didn't look good. In fact it's the worst looking pub menu I've seen for many years. Ranging from the bizarre, (hanging kebabs), dated, (lasagne) and behind the times bandwagon jumping (pulled pork). It's like it's been designed by committee (it probably has) to please everyone but in the end it actually pleases nobody.
I ordered the Jockey's 'Famous' Ultimate Burger which comes with chips, it's priced at a whopping £12.75. Since this is more expensive than Manchester's market leaders Solita and Almost Famous, I'd expect it to be good and made properly on site.
Firstly, where does the meat come from? I know where Solita and AF get their meat from, and locally in Chorlton, pretty much everyone uses Frosts.
As part of the Holts group, I was told that they use catering suppliers Brakes which were contaminated in last years Horse Meat Scandal. But let's be fair here, many others were too (not local butchers though) and I guess they must have sorted it all out by now. I asked them where they get their meat from and they told me Birtwistle's who are apparently are a local butcher who supply to the hospitality trade.
I'd prefer it if I actually knew the provenance of the meat and I want it to be local ideally. But I would forgive them if it actually tasted any good. I took a bite of the giant burger.
The worst burger I've eaten for many years.
Why is there a knife sticking in it?
First of all, the bun fell apart, literally disintegrated in my hand indicating poor quality catering bread. The meat was absolutely dreadful. I took another bite to make sure. It had a weird solid uniform texture and tasted just like those old Birdseye burgers did in the 80's. I actually think it was worse than McDonalds, it tasted and looked completely processed. I'd hazard a guess that it's not made on site, but by the suppliers and reheated, all for just under £13. Again I'm happy to correct this assumption if this is not the case.
When you eat burgers quite often as I do, you end up thinking most are much of a muchness, (with a few exceptions) but this was something else. I think it's the worse thing I've ever eaten since starting this blog. There was also chicken on it which tasted simply of nothing, it was as dry as a bone. The bacon was soft and flabby rather than crispy. The chips I quite liked. I left most of the burger in the stupid bucket from which it came (is this so you can be sick afterwards?) I must reiterate this, I never leave food either, but I couldn't stomach it and I regularly eat doner kebabs.
The Horse and Jockey is a completely lost opportunity and the new refurb is a total waste of money. The cash would have been better spent doing things properly. Employing a proper decent chef, ditching the poor catering quality supplies, and buying local. This is Chorlton after all, we have some amazing produce in Frosts, Barbakan and Out of the Blue, plus it's full of tree huggers round here, people are looking to buy local when they can especially after the horse meat scandal.
They just don't get it at all, we don't want a 'theme' or a 'concept', we don't require it to be 'poshly' decorated either. What we need is a great local pub, serving a small fresh menu of proper quality British classics, a decent selection of fairly priced beer and good service. The Horse and Jockey right now is none of those things, I don't think by the very nature of Holts being a chain, that they can ever deliver this, which for us locals is quite sad. We deserve so much better than this.
I've kind of given up scoring these days as I can't ever decide what to give but for this one time I'm bringing it back I was so disgusted.  1/10.

Horse and Jockey on Urbanspoon

Wednesday 26 March 2014

Asian Fusion, Chorlton.

Down at the bottom of our street on Barlow Moor Rd in Chorlton, there are four Indian restaurants in a row, more or less. The eldest, Azad Manzil is essentially 'dead man walking'; it's simply reached the end of it's natural life and not moved with the times. I doubt it'll be around for much longer, the writing is on the wall. The newest; Coriander is obviously the most successful in terms of décor, food and general experience, which is why it's packed to the rafters most of the time. However as possibly the best restaurant round these parts, we've visited it quite a lot in recent times. Tandoori flame, I'm afraid I dismiss also, as although the food is good, the FOH is clueless and it's more of a glorified take-away in reality.
So we're left with Asian Fusion. I would have dismissed this too, as a visit last year was little more than average, but someone told me that they'd got a new chef, so we thought it was worth giving it another chance.
The Chorlton Curry Club reconvened for another Sunday night session and after a few drinks in the Spoon Inn opposite we went along to find out.
First impressions weren't too good to be honest. Coriander was clearly rammed, whilst this place had just one table occupied. That tells you something straight away. The menus were filthy and the place desperately needs a spruce up, it's just scruffy and tired. The staff were friendly, as they've always been, so we set to order. The menu is confusing, there's a whole page of Chef's specials, plus all the standards, and another specials menu on a separate crappy plastic photocopy. We started off with some cold bland Cobra, and poppodoms, which were all fine.
I played it safe with the mains and went for a South Indian Garlic Chicken with a garlic nan bread.
Although service was slow all night (strange considering it was empty), the food wasn't half bad. Simple, hot and spicy it was in fact just what I wanted at that moment, a fairly good curry, hot and as unsubtle as a brick, but nonetheless well enjoyable for it. The garlic nan actually tasted of garlic as requested too, a miracle in an Indian restaurant it seems. The bread was too thick though, I much prefer the nan bread at Mughli in Rusholme.
The question is though, would I go back? Probably not to be honest. The fact is, there is only one really good Indian restaurant within walking distance of Beech road and that is Coriander. Sai Spice isn't too far away either and that was better than Asian Fusion too.
The food here was pretty good, better than last time to be fair, but it just isn't enough to make me want to return. This restaurant simply needs fresh investment, it's shabby and an overhaul is necessary if it seriously wants to compete with it's more successful neighbour.

Asian Fusion on Urbanspoon

Tuesday 25 March 2014

Weird Beard Brew Co.

I've not done a beer post for a while as I've been trying to economise, but I thought it was about time I tried some new beers. There's always new craft ales to try it seems, especially from the UK, where new breweries appear to be cropping up all the time. On this occasion it was from Weird Beard Brew Co and they all cost me around about £3.49 each. Little Things That Kill is a very pleasant session beer that belies it's 3.5% alcohol, it's soft and light but slightly hoppy and tropical. I could very easily drink a few pints of this preferably sat in the sun in a beer garden. 7.5/10
K*ntish Town Beard. There's a very interesting reason behind the naming of this you can read here. This is a tangy, hoppy, pine resin, almost gingerish ale and it made for some pretty good drinking. 7/10.
Hit The Lights (IPA). This India Pale Ale was not as hoppy as I'd imagined but well balanced and not bad at all. 7/10.
Black Perle. A coffee milk stout. I wasn't as impressed with this one, it was completely flat but quite smoky. 6/10.
Dark Hopfler. I love all the packaging on this beer (which of course makes a difference) and the little Mark Knopfler face logo is ace. Again, another low alcohol one (2.5%) but they've managed to squeeze lots of flavour in there. Surprisingly hoppy, tangy and dry, I liked it a lot. 7.5/10.
Decadence Stout. Gorgeous and silky smooth although perhaps a little thin. 7/10.

Monday 24 March 2014

The Bollington Packet, Cheshire.

Ashley Clarke, head chef of All Star Lanes invited a few of us down to Bollington in Cheshire to help promote his little side project; The Bollington Packet; a canal barge (or is it a long-boat?) he and his family are shortly to be running excursions on. Sounded like a great way to spend an afternoon, so myself, Mr & Mrs 'Hungry Hoss', The Manchester Foodies, (Anna Tully & Jamie Faulkner) and Franco (boss of Solita and family), all boarded for the trip down river, well canal anyway.
It's not sinking, just an arty-farty angle.

What followed was a very enjoyable afternoon yesterday, eating cold cuts (including beautiful bread from artisan baker Paul Robinshaw of Flour Water Salt) and locally made pies. I must say, listening to stories from the kitchen, chef and restaurant gossip and general chit chat, was fascinating for me, and the hour or two flew by. It was nice to actually be on the canal for a change, not racing along side it on my bike with the dog.
Ashley's charging £25 per head for this including the food (booze is extra but will be reasonable) for groups of up to 12. Sounds like a good deal to me, as I've previously looked into hiring one out with some mates for a birthday and it was ridiculously expensive.
Anna & Jamie.
The world passes by slowly.

Follow @BollyPacket on twitter for more details.

Bollington Packet Boat on Urbanspoon