Thursday 31 July 2014

Cane and Grain, Manchester

I kind of regretted accepting the invitation to try out Cane and Grain against my better judgement really. I tried to get out of it by saying that I had my dog with me so couldn't eat inside but unbeknownst to me, they had an outdoor space to the front. I'm also breaking my own website rules by reviewing a 'freebie'. It was convenient though as I'd be in the Northern Quarter anyway, waiting for Mrs Bacon whilst she was shopping.
I was interested in checking out this new bar though. First the good stuff, it's a quirky interior, each of the three floors is different (although they had a power cut when I was there so it was too dark to photograph properly). There is a secret staircase, a tikki bar (The Liars Lounge) and a NY style speak-easy. I'm told on good authority that the cocktails are amongst the best in the city. Obviously lots of thought and expense has gone into it all. The beer selection wasn't bad either, I settled on an easy drinking Red Hook IPA. Hardly an IPA at all but it went down easy enough. The £5 a pint price tag slightly less so. (I paid for all the initial drinks).
So where's the catch? Well for me, I don't really want to be the tw*t who rains on the parade, but the food was a massive let down. Apologies to all involved, but there's little point in having a website like this unless you say it how it is. Hopefully all feedback is helpful if constructive. Truthfully, this is not how it's meant to work. The blogger normally goes for a freebie and says how brilliant it was. (Throwing in a few tiny constructive criticisms). Job done, everyone's happy. But I can't in all honesty say it was.
They specialise in ribs and these were a let down. (As Reds True BBQ had been in hindsight).
Firstly though we got some bar snacks which where fine. Bacon Popcorn (I couldn't really taste the bacon, (£2) and BBQ nuts (£2) worked perfectly scoffing with a load of beer in the sunshine. (The pig fries were off, sadly for me).
The St Louis Spare Ribs were big buggers. Unfortunately they were hugely over dry. It was like they'd stuck my Mum's old leather handbag from the 70's in the oven for about five hours. They were frankly inedible. (Well I could have eaten more but there would have been no joy in it). The Jacob's Ladder (Short Beef) ribs weren't much better. They were less dry but there was something about the taste of them that wasn't quite right, something I couldn't put my finger on. This is the sort of meat that makes me feel like going veggie for a bit, and that's me talking. (By the way in contrast, the Jacob's Ladder at Chester's Sticky Walnut was one of the best things I've eaten all year so I know how good it can be).
We left both ribs hardly touched and filled up on fries, Truffle Mac and Cheese ( a very thin sauce with not much truffle) and the Corn Bread loaf (we liked this).
 In conclusion Cane and Grain is a great bar and addition to the Northern Quarter as a place to drink but I'm sorry to say that for us, on this occasion the food in general really was a huge let down. I feel a bit of a shit saying that (the staff were all absolutely lovely to make matters worse) but I was invited down for my honest opinions after all.
I know bars and restaurants have to go where the money is and that happens to be all things 'dirty' and American right now, but they would have been better making sure that they'd perfected their speciality down to a tee. I would return to Cane and Grain (if they'll have me) but for drinks only.
Cane and Grain on Urbanspoon

Wednesday 30 July 2014


Metaxa is so intrinsically linked with holidays in Greece that still now, the taste takes me back to those fantastic holidays. I guess the first time I tried it was as a complimentary post dinner liquor. It was the perfect meal in a perfect setting. You never forget your first time do you? Our first holiday in Greece was in Kefalonia. We ate a fine lobster spaghetti, the lobster caught by the owner himself that day in a little red boat. Afterwards, elderly Greek people started to slowly get up and dance to the traditional music. I fell in love with Greece at that very moment. That's when I had my first sip of Metaxa and there was no turning back, the genie was out of the bottle. It has a unique smooth herb-y flavour to it, a sweetness that I crave and that belies it's 40% alcohol. I usually find that the cheaper 3 star is fine (there's 3, 5 and the more mature seven stars which indicate the years it's matured). All I know is that one is rarely enough, just one more before bed.....

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Coriander, Chorlton.

We've been fans of Coriander for almost ten years by my reckoning, since they were only up by Southern Cemetery. More recently they opened another branch right near to us in Chorlton. It was a wise move by them, it's one of the busiest restaurants in the area. Like any of our favourite restaurants, we've been through times where we seem to be in there all the time. But we thought we'd give it a rest for a while, we've not been since Christmas, so we were excited to return for Mrs Bacon's Birthday the other day.
It was as busy as ever and they've recently got someone to tweet for them which obviously helps with free publicity, inviting bloggers in etc.
I think I may have been the first to review the Chorlton restaurant and have always recommended it as the best Indian in the area. I've always paid for my food as well. Unfortunately our last visit was not nearly so successful.
The first warning sign was the yoghurt sauce. It was unnaturally, overly sweet. I'd guess that someone had added sugar to this. A bad and unnecessary habit if so. (Mrs B tells me the mango lassi was over sweetened too). I let it pass, beer was flowing and those poppadoms weren't going to eat themselves. Also, complaining about every single thing puts a dampener on a convivial evening.
Starters were fine, an enjoyable enough spicy Sheekh Kebab (£3.10).
For mains we had a Chicken with Methi & Mint, Chicken with fresh mint, fenugreek & natural yoghurt (£7.70). Unusually for us, it was a mild dish, but a friend had recommended it to us and as we were ordering another spicier one to share, we thought it'd be a good balance. It wasn't. What I've liked about Coriander in the past are the clean, almost Thai like flavours, it was their unique selling point. That was missing. This just tasted sickly sweet and saccharine. My Lamb Chilli Masala (cooked with onion, Ginger & fresh hot green chillies, £7.90) was super hot, but again there was something missing from the food we'd had there previously. They've changed the chef I bet, I said to Mrs B. I'm almost certain of it.*
She couldn't eat her Chicken with methi & mint, so they kindly sent out an old favourite as a replacement. Urban Style Chicken, (Chicken, chickpeas, peppers, onion, & garlic, £7.50). Nope, that wasn't as good as usual either. (Again overly sweet). Mrs Bacon left it. She never leaves food! (We normally take out boxes to freeze for lunches).
We were so disappointed, this food was a shadow of it's former self.
Chef's come and go and restaurants change, but what was so special about Coriander was missing on this visit for us. I want to be fair on them and hope that it was a one off. But it has to be said that the food we ate on Sunday was not a patch on the food we've eaten there (and the original restaurant) many times in the last ten years. The dishes we had were either hot, sweet or both hot and sweet. There was no subtlety or clarity in this cooking. Perhaps we were just unlucky in ordering the 'wrong dishes'.
I hope for their sake that their head chef was on holiday, as they need to do something about this quickly. It won't take long for other customers to work out the difference either, if it's permanent. I certainly hope not.

* I've been in contact with Coriander since and they told me that they do not have a new chef. They say that they are taking my points seriously. I hope my constructive criticism is a help rather than a hindrance as we've been regulars for the past decade.
They've not got back to me since.

Coriander on Urbanspoon

Monday 28 July 2014

The Portmeirion Hotel Restaurant, Wales.

Portmeirion means more to me more than pretty much anywhere in Britain apart from home. This is because we got married there ten years ago and return every five years to celebrate. It never loses it's magic for us, it really has a special place in our hearts. If you didn't know, essentially, between 1925 and 1975 Clough Williams-Ellis built Portmeirion on the Welsh coastline, in the style of an Italian village, 'pay(ing) tribute to the atmosphere of the Mediterranean'. Which is exactly why we got married there. 
We always stay in the same room in the hotel, on the corner looking over the water. Most people staying there take the package which includes breakfast in the hotel and an evening meal there (or at 'The Castle' further up). We remember the restaurant as being pretty good on our last visit so we were excited to eat there again for our anniversary meal.
Sadly, the food was a huge disappointment this time.
We took drinks outside the dining room overlooking the estuary before being led to our table in the conservatory section. Service was friendly but amateurish at times and in need of stepping up a bit for what they're trying to achieve. I could tell that there wasn't a strong front of house manager running the show. The main problem with Portmeirion though is that it's incredibly expensive; Michelin star expensive. The meal is part of the package, but different courses have different amounts of supplements. It's a really confusing mess to be honest and desperately needs simplifying. You only really know how much you've paid until you check out. We got quite a nasty surprise last time. I suppose all the cocktails and oysters we had at the Castle mounted up!
So what of the food? The head chef is way out of his or her depth in all honesty, it really wasn't too impressive considering how much it was. I guess they have a captive audience but it simply wasn't good enough.
The little appetizers were quite nice, a few little snacks and then some gazpacho and salmon.
We ordered three starters as we wanted to try a few.
Langoustine tails, pink grapefruit, smoked apple and celery (Supplement £5.00).
Crispy duck egg with smoked duck and truffle soldiers (Supplement £4.50).
Black truffle tart, iced feta, asparagus and purple shiso (Supplement £2.00).
Confit chicken and foie gras terrine, red pepper chutney, treacle and stout loaf and marmite butter. (Supplement £5.00). All were little more than average, the confit chicken foie gras terrine had very little taste of foie. There is very little point in eating foie gras if you don't get that luxurious dreamy taste.
I had a slight sinking feeling but we were with our friends and the wine was flowing, we were having a good time despite the food. 
Loin and cutlet of Welsh lamb, potato dauphinoise, confit onion, purple sprouting, apricot, anchovy and mint (supplement £9.00) really wasn't that good. The quality of the meat wasn't great, it was overly fatty but without the flavour. I often order lamb, it's probably my most favourite meat, this was probably the poorest I've had in recent memory. Such a shame. I could have sworn I saw that it's £30 when paying as a none guest as well, absolutely incredible prices for essentially average pub food (I've had better lamb in pubs in fact).
 Wild Seabass, Aberdaron crab transparent ravioli, fennel, coriander, lemongrass and crab consommĂ© (Supplement £6.00) was even worse. It really was a dog's dinner this one. When you get food from a top chef, Simon Rogan for instance, they have the ability to make each flavour sing. In this case it was the opposite. The flavours were confused, muddy and weak. There was simply no love of food in this cooking.
Oh dear, it really was quite poor.
The desserts, Rhubarb and custard parfait, custard doughnut and rhubarb sorbet and the Coconut panna cotta with mango sorbet were both ok, but the presentation promised much more than what was delivered.
The problem with the Portmeirion Hotel restaurant is that it's in Portmeirion. It's like going to a restaurant with an amazing view. They don't always have to work so much as they have a captive audience anyway, in this case the guests who stay in this wonderful hotel. But really it could be and should be so much better. I hate saying it as this place means so much to me, but it's sadly the truth.
When we return in five years I hope we'll see an improvement but I wouldn't hold my breath as there's just no urgency for change.

Hotel Portmeirion on Urbanspoon