Wednesday 29 April 2015

The Parkers Arms, Lancashire.

Every bank holiday we go with a load of mates, camping somewhere in the countryside. Except recently they've all upgraded to camper vans and trailer tents. As all our spare money goes on fine food, we're usually in the local B&B. We get to visit quite a few rural country pubs on out trips. In general the food is pretty standard at best, more often than not, disappointing. Far from being a nation of 'foodies' as some people would have you believe, most people seem to be happy with the poor quality food you get in most places. We've got quite adept at knowing what to order and what most pubs will mess up, in fact few offer anything different outside of fish and chips, pie and chips etc. The general state of pub food may be better than it was twenty years ago but it's still nowhere near good enough. Proper good food pubs are more unusual. This is why we cherish and support places like the Parkers Arms.
In an ideal world all pub food should be like this but in my experience it's so unusual because chefs like Stosie are actually out of the ordinary, in a pub anyway.
On this occasion we have a taster menu made up for us on a long leisurely afternoon with our genial host A.J. I'll judge it against other taster menus rather than normal pub food of which the Parkers is much superior. Any of our comments are really down to our own personal tastes and palate and it's important to be honest and constructive on a website like this if you're going to do it properly. We find Stosie generally favours a more acidic flavour to us but that comes down to our personal taste which maybe different to yours.
Spring Taster Menu.
Taramasalata & flatbread. We both love this tangy fish roe dip and of course flat-bread made in house. 
Parkers Potato skins & salsa. These are the best I've had here, hot, crisp and salty. (Sam likes these as we can hear from his loud crunching under the table). The salsa is even better than I remember it.
Stosie's curd cheese Za'atar & scorched broccoli. The charred, crunchy broccoli and that smoky soft cheese is such a joy to eat. A simple and lovely dish.
Taboulé Lancashire Gem. A fresh zesty salad.  
Cured wild sea trout, Beetroot, creamed horseradish, sorrel. Stosie has made up this menu with us in mind and knowing our personal tastes (lighter fish dishes). So we love this one, especially the delicate fresh trout which is beautiful, although the horseradish can be a little overpowering. It doesn't need so much, as the fish is so beautiful on its own virtually unadorned.
Charcoal grilled Cornish mackerel Tarleton fir potatoes, Lancs rhubarb. I'm a big fan of both rhubarb and mackerel, so this will always be a winner with me. Lovely crispy skin too.
Oat crumbed Cods tongue. Wild Garlic Asparagus & lemon. Mrs B thinks the sauce to this is too acidic, perhaps a little too much lemon that is slightly overwhelming. The cod's tongue has a stronger texture but is so tasty in the crunchy breadcrumb.
Seared peppered Newton venison Damson dressing, Mrs Kirkam's Lancashire. The flavour and exquisite mouth feel of the venison is beautiful but again we find that there's too much pepper which is unbalancing the dish a little. It would be better to just let the wonderful product speak for itself and tone back the pepper as it's overpowering.
Lambs liver, crispy belly (*or more correctly breast according to our local butcher Frosts), Grilled Hesketh bank spring cabbage hearts, creamed mash, mint & onion dressing. Our favourite of the mains without doubt. The crispy belly especially, so good and full of rich fatty flavour. Again, we're loving the grilled charred veg.
Lemon Posset & Oat crunch Lancs garden rhubarb. Possibly my favourite dessert of the year so far. Stosie's desserts are always very strong and the combination of creamy sharp lemon and tart rhubarb works so well.

Valrhona 70% Chocolate Trifle Chocolate crisp, salted caramel. This is luxuriously gorgeous and rich, I'd probably have preferred this without the salted caramel as it was much too salty for us.
On a surprise taster menu like this one there will always be dishes you prefer over others but this was probably our favourite of the taster menus at The Parkers. We especially liked the char-grilled flavours coming through which I don't recall from previous trips. We caught Stosie on a stressful day but it didn't show in the food. They've had a lot to put up with lately with idiotic football 'supporters' protesting about a manager who lives nearby and the ridiculous Tripadvisor spiteful fake 'reviews' that followed. Even more of a reason to visit the Parkers. It's important we support rare gems like this or we'll be left with just those cheap two for one chain pubs.
Most things here are sourced locally and seasonally. Where there is flatbread for instance, it's a given that it will be made in house as the fish and meat is cured on site. It's hundreds of these 'small things' (which are not of course) that are often overlooked elsewhere and corners are cut. Never here. Like I said, pubs like the Parkers are uncommon. It's everything British pub food should be.
More pics here.
The taster Menu costs us £35 each at quiet times only but you can still get extras if you let Stosie know via twitter and her #tweettreats.
  Parkers Arms on Urbanspoon

Wednesday 22 April 2015

Filthy Cow, Manchester.

Restaurants are opening up so quickly in Manchester that I can barely keep up. The problem is that some appear to focus on anything but their menu. So you get lots of photos of their flash interior on opening night and none of the actual food. I was initially put off Filthy Cow, a new burger place. Firstly because we really don't need any more burgers and secondly the branding didn't really do much for me. It all seemed a bit gimmicky. But by all accounts, the burgers are actually good and the real interesting story is that of Jordan Gallimore who runs the place is just 23.
Our lunch elsewhere is cancelled so we needed something quick and easy. We turn up at midday on Friday and by quarter past the whole place is full. It shows they're doing something right. They are, the burgers are good, simple how I prefer them and they taste of actual meat. They're kind of like you imagine McDonalds or Burger King to be in your head but they never actually are. (They must be filed along with chippy fish and chips and Mr Whippy as fond childhood memories that are disappointing in reality). It's twice as good as Five Guys too. (The food is served similarly on a tray out of paper).
We both go for the Filthy Beast (Beef Patty, bacon and cheese, sauce, pickled gherkin, beef tomato, lettuce £7.50) and share fries. What is blatantly obvious is that they've done their research and worked on it. It shows in the food which they've kept refreshingly simple.
So we've got no complaints here at all. Maybe I'd like mine a tad pinker but that's it really. I have a brief chat with Jordan when a large group request our window table, she handles it with charm and ease. (I need my light for the photos!) It's evident that there's no 'cooler than you' attitude here.
As someone who was bored of burgers, I've somehow managed to eat four in the last month or so. Surprisingly this was one of the best of the lot. We had no real intention of going here originally but sometimes you just want something inexpensive, quick and easy and at just £20 for two I'd put money on us going back.
Filthy Cow on Urbanspoon

Wednesday 15 April 2015

Common, Manchester.

It's a rainy, grey Sunday afternoon and I'm sat in my favourite Northern Quarter Bar with Sam whilst Mrs Bacon goes shopping. But it's a shadow of it's former scruffy self since a recent refit. They've had quite a lot of criticism on social media about the new look so I won't add to it. Although I abhor change too, I'm not so hostile to it and I see why they've done it when I try some new dishes off of their new menu. You could say it's more of a grown up space for more grown up food. I still miss the old bar but sat there for a few hours reading the papers doesn't really feel that much different to how it was.
I had planned to just have just a Reuben sandwich but of course these things always escalate with me. Looking through twitter, a few people mention some of the new dishes. They're moving away a little bit from the 'dirty food' thing here although you can still get burgers and fries but it's so nice to see some real proper food and fish too.
The best of the lot is the Hake with dhal, a most enjoyable dish that perhaps wouldn't look out of place at Mr Cooper's. Unfortunately they'd run out of the accompanying cauliflower so they gave us a fresh green salad instead. It's certainly a revelation to see me eat a salad in a bar.
We also enjoy the Salt & Pepper Squid.
And the planned Reuben sandwich & chilli cheese fries.
Finishing off with a very decent flat white.
Despite the much criticised refit, I still like Common very much, it's always had a mellow vibe, it remains dog friendly, has good service (Ellie is lovely) and low and behold they're taking the bold step of serving some more real food in the Northern Quarter. You have to applaud them for that. More please.
Most importantly of all, the price is right. It all came to just £34.60 for two including a reasonable £3.50 for a pint of cask beer.

To see the photos in all their glory click here.

Common Bar on Urbanspoon

Thursday 9 April 2015

Fraiche, Merseyside.

The current Number One restaurant in the country (according to the Sunday Times Top 100 Restaurants list) is less than an hour's drive from my house and yet we still hadn't managed to secure a booking. The problem was that whenever I remembered it was the first of the month (when the on-line reservations open), it was already too late. I had a look the other day just to see how long you had to wait and surprisingly there was a table for two this weekend. Unfortunately, their website had actually crashed leaving them overbooked. But luckily for us, our reservation was confirmed a few days later.
Sunday lunch is a very reasonable £38 for four courses. When you consider what that gets you these days in contrast to the astonishing cooking of chef Marc Wilkinson, it's even more of a bargain.
People quite often say to me; with all the posh restaurants you go to, don't you get overly fussy? Yes and no. You can still enjoy a good burger but you inevitably judge it by all the other burgers you've eaten. In the category of single Michelin star restaurants, we've recently eaten at the likes of Fera, Clove Club and Kitchen Table. Strong competition. But Fraiche more than holds it's own. In fact we find it to be flawless cooking with bold (the beef for example) and delicate dishes (the asparagus) utilising faultless technique. But the innovation is never at the expense of the vivid flavours which as we know from experience, can be hard to pull off. I can barely even choose a favourite course, it is all so accomplished. He makes the ingredients really sing. We're cooing to each other, 'did you get that bit yet?' with each little delectable part. But it's fun too, a joy to eat, (not always the case) with the likes of the signature grapes that fizz on your tongue and space dust in the dessert that crackle in your mouth. (Always a favourite of mine). We rifle through a drawer full of menus, I take a look at El Celler de can Roca and ABaC (I still bitterly regret cancelling our reservation here due to lack of funds especially when looking at the menu). The inspiration from these world class restaurants is evident but it has it's own identity.
Service is accomplished and slick too. I know they've worked hard on improving the dining room. It isn't quite the elegant space it really could be but it's getting there and this really requires outside sourcing. I read that Marc likes to do most things himself. I'm hoping that he chooses the city stage of Manchester for a rumoured expansion.
Rice Cracker - yuzu - taramasalata.
Rhubarb bitters.
Shitake - beetroot - feta.
Asparagus - goats curd - hens yolk.
Cauliflower - mushroom - white port. 
Tuna - watercress - ung choi.
Dexter Beef - Kohirabi - salsify. If there has to be a favourite, I would choose this one. This beef is remarkable, it has a second distinctive note underneath, almost like a well aged cheese.
Cheese. We selected Pont-l'Évêque, Colline aux chèvres, Bleu des Basques, Ossau-iraty and Monks Folly from the impressive cheese trolley. (One is accompanied with fresh honey).
Chocolate-apricot-green tea. 
Fizzy Grapes. 
Petit Fours. 
Days later as I write this, I'm still buzzing off the food we had at Fraiche. If anything, instead of chalking it down as a 'done that' restaurant, it's made me hungry for more. Luckily for us, in the mix up of bookings we had a July reservation too. I wouldn't miss that for the world.
To see more photos in hi res click here.
Fraiche on Urbanspoon