Wednesday 19 December 2018

The Best of 2018.

We don't eat out as much as we used to. So when we do, it really needs to count. I am reluctant to take a gamble on an over hyped ultimately disappointing restaurant. For this reason there are quite a few old favourites this year with a handful of new gems, Xu in London and Tast in Manchester amongst others.
Etxebarri, Axpe, Spain.
This ultimate temple of the finest produce is always an absolute joy and even better, they let us sit on the terrace with views over to the mountains which we find to be even more special than sitting inside. The best thing I ate all year was their beef chop (pictured below).
Ynyshir, Machynlleth, Wales.
We celebrated Mrs Bacon's Birthday in style at what we consider one of the most impressive restaurants in the UK. A superb meat heavy taster menu from Gareth in an idyllic setting. (Not French Onion Soup, pictured below).

Zeruko, San Sebastian, Spain.
The new Zeruko a few doors down from the old branch (still there) in San Sebastian was a real surprise. It's more of a proper sit down restaurant than a pintxos bar. Presentation is often quirky as ever but everything still tastes good like this fabulous Pig's Snout & foie gras pictured below.
Mina, Bilbao, Spain.
Another return visit to one of our favourite restaurants is always such a pleasure.
XU Teahouse & Restaurant,  London. Such a fantastic lunch in a fine interior. I knew I'd like it but it was surprisingly our favourite on a recent London trip. Everything we ate was wonderful.
BRAT, London. Inspired by some of our favourite Spanish restaurants, it was inevitable that we had a good lunch here last weekend. Some highlights pictured below, the txuleta and the grilled wild mushrooms transported us back to the Basque country.
BAR FM, Granada. A second visit to this superb gastro bar with some of the highest quality seafood I've ever eaten.
Tast, Manchester. We enjoyed our first few trips to Tast and recently returned for more. We look forward to the high end dining room to open up in February.
El Campero. Zahara de los Atunes, Spain.
It was an unplanned trip to Zahara as we escaped the storms in Almeria, so we had to dine on tuna in a hundred ways at this old favourite modern gastro bar.
Deliciosa Marta, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain.
I never thought a restaurant in Gran Canaria would ever make the list but this place really impressed us. It's usually reserved for weeks in advance but we managed a last minute lunch booking. Deceptively simple and beautiful food reminded me of Sticky Walnut in Chester.
Special mention should also go to two excellent restaurants that opened in 2018 in Chorlton. Typical, you wait for years and two properly good local restaurants open at once. I hesitate to put on the list proper as they are clients of mine. (I shot for both of these restaurants this year). But we were seriously impressed by the food at both The Creameries and The Oystercatcher. (Both pictured below).

The Oystercatcher.
Lastly, a special mention to my favourite pizzas of the year (and another local client): Double Zero. I usually have a pizza of my making, four cheese and n'duja which I guess I've eaten more than anything else this year (often in my favourite bar, Strange Brew).
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Wednesday 19 September 2018

Ynyshir, Wales.

We're driving through heavy rain to get to Ynyshir, I'd forgotten what time our dinner booking was and we're stuck behind a painfully slow moving tanker round narrow winding Welsh roads. Why does this always happen when you're in a hurry? Three long laborious hours later, (from Llandudno too) we finally arrive and manage to move our reservation back half an hour while we check into our room (less than 30 seconds from the main building). The room is absolutely stunning, in a separate block from the hotel and a bathroom that's bigger than our whole ground floor at home. Some accommodation is dog friendly too so we settle our two down in the hall and have a pre-dinner gin and tonic for her and an Orval for me. (A great beer choice from Ynyshir there). We're here for Mrs Bacon's big birthday, we couldn't think of anywhere in Britain we'd prefer to celebrate.
After drinks in the room and finally deciding on the wine after several Goldilocks style tastings, we settle down to Menu 1 of two which is slightly more fish heavy although Gareth sends a few meaty extras out as we know each other from previous visits and me working on photos for them last year. This man is an legend as far as we're concerned, we're welcomed back like members of the family by him and the whole team.
I don't intend to take photos as recently on various jobs I'm taking and processing about 1000 photos a week but I can't resist whilst the light holds out.
Let's get straight into the taster menu....
Not French Onion Soup. A strong start for this classic, even better than I remembered.
Aylesbury Duck from Fishguard.
Bread Miso Cultured Butter, Welsh Wagyu Dripping.
The bread is amazing, some of the best we've had. I love the black crust.
Mackerel Fermented Raspberry, British Wasabi. This was insane but it works. I've recently been reading about proper Wasabi, that green paste you get with your sushi is not actually wasabi but horseradish. I think they say that this is the only real wasabi grown in the UK.
Crab Katsu.

Pork Belly. (Photos below). This is absolutely stunning. We can't remember ever having better. The meat dishes are the strongest for us.
Char Siu.
Pollock Shiitake
I can't quite detect the delicate flavour of the fish on a couple of these dishes but that's a reflection of where my own tastes are, for me simpler is better especially with fish, letting the product shine. But what you 're getting here is Gareth's unique idiosyncratic vision and kitchen alchemy. Each dish seems to have an insane amount of work and technique put into it. On the meat dishes especially it's all to one aim, to push those flavours up to eleven.
Cucumber Duck Liver Baked Potato - Eel.
I.0.W Tomato.
Garlic Prawn
Welsh Wagyu (aged from 05/1 2/17) British Wasabi - Fermented lettuce.
The mini Welsh Wagyu  burger was wonderful. I've eaten this before but this was even better, the ultimate gourmet burger ever for me, the flavours are all there and so strong. I'm transported back to a first childhood taste of burger.
We ask for a few desserts together as we're starting to tire now but it's all so good.
Tunworth Cauliflower Cheese (Optional).
Fermented Raspberry Slushy.
'Bread No.2 Raspberry Jam.
64% Manjari Shiitake.
Blueberries & Custard.
Miso Treacle Tart.
Strawberry No.1.
Welsh Wagyu Fudge.
It was a superb taster menu and evening..... 
Breakfast next day was excellent too. See photo below.
Recently I read an article that mentioned Ynyshir as the best value Michelin starred in the UK, I'd concur with that. It's all about the amount of courses you get (absolutely loads) and the price (great value). We loved our stay and the meal was even better than our last visit, next level stuff. Gareth and the whole team put absolutely everything into Ynyshir and it shows. This kitchen is working on a two star level in my opinion. I think you'd struggle to find better in Britain.
Our weekend for two cost us £652 including dinner, wine and hotel room. It was for after all a very special occasion.

Wednesday 29 August 2018

TAST, Manchester.

As passionate Spanish food fans we've travelled extensively across the Iberian peninsula, eating at some of the best restaurants along the way. El Celler de Can Roca, Quique Dacosta, Azurmendi, Akelarre, Martín Berasategui, DiverXo, Etxebarri, Aponiente and even El Bulli back in 2004. Although that's only half the story. You don't really have to be a Michelin star collector to eat very well in Spain. There's great food at every level. Food permeates the whole of society in a way that it doesn't here. Go to the fish section of a Spanish supermarket for example to see the huge amount of seafood everybody eats there. To eat well should be for everyone not just for so called 'foodies'.
We even invited some Spanish chefs here (the Nacho & Friends project) to show our city the finest food Manchester has ever seen. Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola came to one of these events. Sadly it turned out to be the last one. He is famously part of the team behind Tast along with chef Paco Pérez.
Pérez's restaurant Miramar on the Catalan coast has been on my 'to eat list' for some time.
So when I found out that he and Pep Guardiola were opening a restaurant in Manchester, I was genuinely excited. The menu reads very well, I couldn't wait. I marked all the dishes I wanted to try. The only problem was we couldn't get a booking. 
We got a (now extremely rare for me) PR invite. Then the PR company (or the restaurant) changed their minds. A few weeks later they changed their mind again and invited us to a bloggers lunch. Lunching with strangers? Nah you're alright, not for me, these events. (I'm not sure why PR folk still think bloggers have any influence outside of London, they don't). 
So we finally made a (paid) booking ourselves. The advantage of making your own booking is that you can order what you want and you can be brutally honest without feeling bad that you're being critical about a restaurant who has just paid for your lunch. To be brutally honest we loved it.
We were greeted by old friend Fernando Marques previously of The Midland Hotel and Mr Coopers. Interestingly he has bought some of his team from The French too. He guided us through the menu.
We've not actually eaten out for some time, I've been so busy travelling on various photo-shoots, so I was here to do it in style for a proper blow out.
To start we had a few items from the Muntandes part of the menu which are highly recommended as they're directly from two Michelin star Miramar.
The highly instagramable Duck 'In Donut (duck liver, chocolate and raspberry, £3.80) I knew I would love these and I did. These foie gras bites are smaller than I anticipated, I could easily polish off an actual full donut sized one. 
The Sandwich de  Formatge Trufat Tou de til-lers cheese, truffle confit (£4.40) was wonderful. Essentially a melted cheese and truffle sandwich using foamy meringue as the bread, absolutely delicious.
Coca de Vidre amb Tomàquet (£3.90) Light crunchy bread, tomato, olive oil. We've had better versions of this to be honest (Tapas 24 in Barcelona comes to mind). The bread should be thinner and crispier to my mind.
Various croquetas (£1.70, £1.90) were good and gooey inside with a nice thin breadcrumb.
Sarsuela d’Estiu, Monkfish, red prawns, saffron mayo (£15). Liked it.
Tomáquet bou de Mar, King crab, tomato, basil (£11). Many of these dishes are not what you expect, this was an espuma, like a cold, fluffy crab foam, another enjoyable if surprising dish.
Pop a la Boqueria. Octopus, romesco, potato, oloroso wine (£11) was lovely, with beautiful creamy mash that was just the right texture. One of our star dishes.  Below: Head chef Miquel Villacrosa prepares our octopus.

Ou d’Ànec, Xipirons i salsa tartar. Duck egg, baby squid, potato, tartar  sauce. (£10.50). They seem to specialise in dishes like this, I do like them. Fried squid with a fried duck egg that you mix in all together.
Tempura de Llobregant (£18) Lobster, potatoes, egg, lobster mayo. I like this but expected a little more lobster for the price. Occasionally things can get a little lost in the mix. A few things would be better simplified for me.
Anguila All I Pebre, eel, potato, red chili (£13.80) was another winner with us. I always order eel when I see it. When did you ever see eel on a menu in Manchester? Another real favourite and different from anything else in the city.
Bao fricandó (£7) was Mrs B's favourite. Wagyu brisket and mushrooms in a bao bun, a lovely biteful.
We finished off with two wonderful cocktails, Mrs Bacon had the Park  Güell BCN  Gin, Elderflower,  Suze , Jasmine, Aloe  Vera, Lemon, Tonic,  Ylang Ylang (£9.50) which she described as 'mental'. I loved the Bosc Fashioned Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve, Ardbeg, Yellow Chanterelle Mushroom, Truffle Tincture (£9.50). In fact I might even describe it as my favourite cocktail ever, like a walk in a forest with deep woody forest flavours, it works so well.
And finally a very decent Crema Catalana (£4) and a Xuixo like a cross between a churro and a doughnut (£4).

To conclude. We loved Tast. It's not exactly cheap but we did order way more than most people would. Our favourite dishes were the octopus, the eel and the bao brisket along with the Duck 'In Donut and the Sandwich de  Formatge Trufat. For me, they're the next level up from neighbour El Gato Negro (although to be fair I've not returned since they first opened). The menu is interesting, uncompromising and seems to be working right now as weekend bookings are full for weeks. I'd like to see a few more simple dishes where the product is the star like some carabinero prawns for example. However they're created a restaurant that is unlike any other with truly unique dishes.
We plan to return to have their signature rice and their planned tasting menu in the high end dining room when it opens on the third floor in a few months time. The planned top floor will, I imagine have Paco Perez's Miramar dishes in full. I hear a whisper that some famous guest chefs might make an appearance too. As his original restaurant has two stars, surely this must be nailed on for Manchester's first Michelin star since the 1970's?

Our bill came to £178 but you might expect to pay about half that if you order a 'normal' amount. About the price of a ticket to see Manchester City play.
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