Friday 26 December 2014

15 Favourite Desserts 2014.

"Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the 'Titanic' who waved off the dessert cart." Erma Bombeck.  
"I don’t stop eating when I’m full. The meal isn’t over when I’m full. It’s over when I hate myself. "Louis C.K.
Here are some favourite desserts from this year, when as ever, I didn't often wave off the dessert cart and probably hated myself for it.
Amalfi Lemonade & Sarawak Pepper. Clove Club, London.
Apple Tarte Tatin & Calvados Crème fraîche. Clove Club, London.
Coconut Snow. DiverXo, Madrid.
 Sweet Tzatziki. Etrusco, Corfu, Greece.
Forced Yorkshire rhubarb, crab apple, Douglas fir oats, yoghurt. The French Manchester.
Forced Rhubarb Cumbrian Gingerbread. Old Stamp House, Ambleside. 
Mojito Sorbet and 'Orgasmo' Txikote, Conil de la Frontera, Spain.
Pistachio Cheesecake, marscarpone cream and fresh fig jam. Vassilis Taverna, Paxos, Greece. 
Yoghurt cream, warm rice pudding, rhubarb and ginger. Mr Cooper's House & Garden. Manchester.
Chocolate Tart. Sakana, Manchester. (Via The Ledbury).
Gooseberry fool. The Parkers Arms, Lancashire.
Churros con chocolate.  Chocolatería San Ginés, Madrid.
Classic Trifle. The River Bar & Grill, Manchester.
'Sweet Sea'. Aponiente, Spain.


Monday 22 December 2014

10 Best Meals of 2014.

Yes, it's yet another boring 'best of 2014' post as if you needed any more. Here's my end of year top 10 meals anyway.
10. The French, Manchester.
The French just keeps getting better every year. Not so far away from L'Enclume and Fera, for me. It's not if it gets a Michelin star but when. And yes it does matter.
9. Lake Road Kitchen, Ambleside.
One of the most exciting new restaurants of 2014 without doubt. We hope to return next year.
8. Man Behind The Curtain, Leeds.
One of my most popular blog posts in recent months, it could easily be somewhere that doesn't actually work in the wrong hands but it does and with some style too.
7. Punto MX, Madrid.
The best Mexican restaurant in Europe and now a holder of a well deserved Michelin Star. This actually changed the way we saw Mexican food.
6. The Clove Club, London.
This is what a modern one star restaurant looks like. It was such an enjoyable meal too. (The two are not always mutually exclusive).
5. Fera, London. 
We decided to go to Fera at the last minute as they had an offer on. I'm so glad we did as the food was nothing short of stunning.
4. Kitchen Table, London. 
A master-class in fine food and such an engaging experience.
 3. DiverXo, Madrid.
I wish we could do it all again without eating at Street-Xo for lunch. Mind-blowing and almost too much.
2. Aponiente, El Puerto de Santa María, Spain.
I've been championing this place for a year or two as it seems to be off the critics radar outside of Spain anyway. Now it has a second star that will change hopefully.
1. StreetXo, Madrid.
So good that we had to return the following day and eat every dish on the menu. Apart from the fact that we loved all of the food here, it inspired me to want to explore the original Asian cuisine that inspires chef David Muñoz. I can't wait until it arrives in London next year.
Dish of the Year; Pekines Dumpling. Pig confit ear and strawberry hoisin. Ali-oli.
50 Dishes of the Year.

Thursday 18 December 2014

Sticky Walnut, Chester.

"All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds." *

This quote popped into my head just as I was polishing off the tart at Sticky Walnut. It seems wholly appropriate as everything is as it should be here. The pork belly is the pork belly by which all others shall be judged and found wanting, usually. Gelatinous, rich and unctuous, oozing with lovely fat and with the satisfying crunch on the crackling. Like all sensible people, we're not scared of fat, we all know that's where the best flavour is. Large convivial Christmas groups all around us are tucking into turkey. (They have to put it on, people demand it in the festive season). I'm sure it's good here, as good as the naturally bland, dry bird can be but it can never in a million years touch the simple beauty of this pork belly. If there's a better example of this dish in the UK I'd love to know where it is. Answers on a postcard please.
The shin of beef is bloody gorgeous too. It's glossy and silky, luxuriously fatty. We saviour eat precious mouthful before we reluctantly swap plates.
Not everyone loves Sticky as we do, we leave them to write their bitter, poison pen letters via Tripadvisor. It's not perfect, nothing in life is. Most things here are as good as they can be, the warm friendly service, the charming uneven décor, the wonderful food of course (we ignore the self publicised giant air con whirring above our heads). Even so, we chose to look up not down.
For those that get it as we do, It's genius is it's simplicity. It's most definitely one of life's most enjoyable lunches.
Quote from Candide by Voltaire. Obviously I had to google it.
* Bill paid in full.

Sticky Walnut on Urbanspoon

Wednesday 17 December 2014

Milk & Honey, Soho.

I complain as much as the next person about this country and everyone in it but one of the things I do love about British people is our ability to queue. We are standing outside an unmarked door in the cold waiting to get into Milk and Honey on Poland street in Soho. As soon as new folk arrive, they arrange themselves in an orderly manner so as to suggest that they're not going to try and jump the line. The door opens just after 6pm and as I'm the nearest, I let the woman at the front in first. She's being joined by at least a dozen friends for a cocktail making class downstairs which looks like great fun.
We're not members but have booked a table ahead as guests (by phone). I know this puts a few people off, you might suspect that it would be a bit snooty. Not a bit of it, the staff are amongst the friendliest we encounter in London both in person and by phone. We're warmly shown through the heavy curtain.
The feel is of a cool, dark speak-easy. It's a small room with a row of booths on one side (we're shown to one, yes!) and a serious looking bar at one end. Early jazz music is playing softly. Perfect.
None of our party can read the menu and it's dimly but beautifully lit by candles but we've prepared ahead. This is one serious cocktail bar and I hardly recognise the list, the usual suspects are not on it.
I order a Penicillin, (Scotch, peated Scotch, lemon, honey, ginger, £9), Mrs Bacon wants a Florodora (Gin, lime, raspberries, ginger, soda, £9). Naturally the cocktails are fabulous, as you'd expect.
The west end is manic at Christmas especially and the strictly booking door policy allows this to be a wonderfully calm haven. In truth, they could never allow walk-ins here, it's way too small and intimate. Last time we were in London we'd tried a few cocktail bars on spec. There's very little chance that you can get in to the good ones, even early evening. Anyway, I think we've found a new favourite cocktail bar now as we enjoyed Milk and Honey so much.
Photos courtesy of Milk and Honey as it was too dark.

Tuesday 16 December 2014

La Bandera, Manchester.

I never get any interesting emails these days. My inbox is usually full of promises to enhance my flagging libido, Manchester Confidential offers, lottery wins in India, you know the sort of thing. Then last night I got an email from someone I don't know with just a link to a restaurant website asking me if I'd been yet. I'm not in the habit of clicking on email links from strangers. I typed in the address anyway to be safe;
Strange, this looks like a fully formed website of a Spanish restaurant in Manchester that I'd never heard of. There's no menu up yet but the food looks pretty good from the photos. I went onto twitter to ask those in the know. Those in the know didn't know anything about it. This is not how it normally works. We can't have a fully functioning restaurant just open without anyone hearing on the grapevine. We know about Hawksmoor, Wahaca, Ibérica and the rest opening in 2015, months, sometimes years ahead of time. The website mentions 'executive chef Josetxo Arrieta'. I google him. An impressive CV, he was educated at Akelarre a three Michelin star restaurant in San Sebastian. (See my review here). And he's done a course with Ferran Adrià. With over 20 years experience (including a 2 star in France), what's he doing coming to Manchester without anyone knowing about it?
Curiouser and curiouser, surely this was too good to be true. It crossed my mind that this was an elaborate joke. Then someone said they'd heard that it's "owned by two Spanish Manchester footballers..spending a lot of cash, they've imported a great chef." This maybe just rumour though, I never found out for sure. I went along to investigate anyway.
First impressions are good, with a very friendly front of house team and a bright yellow and white interior (maybe not to everyone's taste). I soon start chatting with the owner Yashin about Spain and the Canaries (He's from Tenerife). What is clear from the very start is that unlike other Spanish restaurants currently in the city, they're taking food very seriously. The menu will change daily depending on the season and on what's good at the time at the market. (He tells me that the chef rejects some tiger prawns today as he doesn't think they are good enough).
This is a very good sign. I tell him I'll eat anything and everything he and the chef recommend. I can't abide fussy eaters, to me they're just children who've not grown up yet.
After a few snacks on toast, (they are fine if not mind blowing), I kick off with Pulpo a la gallega (Octopus with paprika on a bed of potatoes, £10.95). Beautifully cooked tender octopus with a spicy paprika kick, it's over seasoned, and I can really take a bit of salt. With less salt it will be a real winner this one.
They send out some Patatas Bravas which are nice enough, I need to save myself though so I ask for a doggy bag to take home for Mrs B. This will earn me a few brownie points.
They will do smaller tapas versions of the large mains dishes, so I get the Carrilleras de Ternera (Slow cooked Ox cheeks, £7.95). These are rich and flavoursome as expected but need to be a tad softer so that the meat is more broken down and gelatinous. I should be able to eat it with a spoon. (After the feedback, the chef agrees and will adjust).
We continue with Papas arrugadas con mojo (Baby potatoes with spicy Canarian sauce, £5.45). I save some for Mrs Bacon once more as she demands these on our trips to the Canaries. Again the chef needs to go lighter on the salt.
There is also a selection of Croquettas (Cod, Jamón and Mushroom £6.85). Pleasingly gooey inside with enough béchamel sauce, I'd have preferred a slightly a thinner breadcrumb crust. I give all my feedback at the time to Yashin at the time which he's very happy to take in.
The Carrilleras de Cerdo (Slow cooked pig cheeks, £7.95) are much better, buttery soft and rich with meaty gravy stock.
I finish on a tapas version of one of their large rice dishes, Arroz Meloso de rape y calamares Creamy rice with monkfish and squid. (They send this out for me to try). The rice should have more creaminess and needs to be more infused with the stock giving it more of a rich flavour.
But I'm being super picky here. We've eaten in some of the best tapas bars all over Spain so I'm judging it by those high standards. Besides, you should never really review places that have just opened. Like any new venture, not everything works perfectly immediately. The chef hasn't got all of his equipment and the card and coffee machines aren't yet working. These are not necessarily criticisms, it's totally understandable, you just have to give them some leeway if you're visiting right now as I did (I'm afraid I couldn't wait but will return anyway).
Having said all that, this is a country mile away from the clichéd, crap chain, pre-packaged tapas hung over from the 90's when British people knew no better.
La Bandera is in fact very promising indeed, even accounting for the teething problems and natural tweaks that always occur. It's still (for the main part) easily the best tapas I've had in Manchester city centre because they're doing things properly from the beginning. Give them a week or so and go. This could very well be one of the most exciting restaurant openings for a while if they fulfil their potential (I'm very hopeful that they will).
With La Bandera, Ibérica and El Gato Negro, 2015 looks to be the year Manchester goes Spanish and that can only be a good thing for eating in our city.
To see the current menu click here.* It will change every day.
The wine list here.
Paid in full *apart from a couple of small sample dishes.
See more photos here
The Best 50 Tapas here.
La Bandera on Urbanspoon