Wednesday 5 August 2020

Baratxuri at Escape to Freight Island, Manchester.

Way back in May 2014 (I had to look it up on here) we were stood outside the shuttered doors of Levanter in Ramsbottom waiting for it to open for the first time. We were their first customers that day and were impressed with their authenticity from the start. As I started taking photographs professionally, Fiona and Joe were amongst my first clients, especially when Baratxuri opened. I think we were there on opening night, eating pintxos and documenting the occasion.
I like to think that as they have developed their restaurant business, I have developed my photography and we have worked together ever since. I've tried to repay their loyalty by always creating the best set of photos I possibly can for them.
I wasn't expecting a phone call from Fiona a few weeks ago as we're in the middle of a restaurant covid related shut down, only now are my clients opening up or considering doing so soon.
At that time Escape to Freight Island wasn't on my radar, I think it had been under wraps, and I'm no longer on social media so much, so I had no expectations and no real knowledge of what it was. I should have known that if Luke and Justin of Volta another of my regular clients The Refuge were involved, it was going to be a winner.
Fifteen years ago when I used to travel by train up to Yorkshire every day, I would park my car around these what were then run down dodgy back streets of Piccadilly near the station. Now this, the Mayfield Depot has been developed to the tune of £1.4 billion. It's just the beginning of this site I believe but it's a fantastic space and there's easily enough room for social distancing too. I've been twice now, once just working and a second time to shoot a little more and eat ourselves though the fine menu at Baratxuri.
I think Joe (pictured below) has been inspired by the open air grill cooking found in the Basque country Asadors.
Restaurants like Etxebarri in Atxondo and Kaia Kaipe and Elkano in Getaria have inspired our taste too. Give me this robust cooking over Michelin-style frippery any day, although I didn't always feel this way. Although seen as perhaps more traditional, I view this less is more simplicity as actually more modern than most over elaborate overly expensive, fussy high end restaurants, especially in this area.
Whole fish cooked over coals, BBQ'd meat, char-grilled veg, it's such enjoyable food to eat and to watch the theatre of it cooking on the flames and smoke.
I work with lots of chefs in my job. Their work ethic is a constant inspiration to me. It's quite rare to keep hold of the same chef over the years. Chef Rachel Stockley (pictured below) has been at Baratxuri from the beginning. Rachel's passion and skill with Spanish food makes Baratxuri a perfect team.
Whole Vegetable Skewers. Skewered whole red pepper, red onion and sweet potato, baked deep in the fire with chilli and garlic salsa. (£8).
Shell on BBQ king prawns. Whole king prawns, grilled over oak embers and served with bomba rice cooked with shrimp and clams. (£16).
Whole Grilled Sea Bass charred over the fire served with roasted new potatoes. (£16).
Rump Steak. Herefordshire 10oz rump steak with fire salt crust served with vine tomatoes and salsa verde. (£18).
Fire Roasted Pork. Pork Belly slow roasted over the wood fire with smoky new potatoes and chilli, garlic and sherry vinegar. (£9).
Some shots of the site.
We loved Baratxuri at Escape to Freight Island. It's an exciting space and the food is exactly the kind of food we like to eat.
To see the full set of photos in high resolution have a look at my photography website here.

Wednesday 29 April 2020

Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year 2020.

I like to describe what I do as a 'restaurant photographer'. It's a little bit different from a studio based food photographer although a large part of what I do is photographing food and drink and the people who make it. As a restaurant photographer, every job and shoot location is different with its own particular challenges. Light is the main one, it's taken me years to hone a lighting technique that I'm happy with, to replace an ideal beautiful natural light set up, as good lighting in restaurants can be in short supply, especially in the dark Winter months. I'm often working quickly to strict time limitations and around customers and in tight spaces. You often have to think quickly and adapt to the working environment.
I love what I do and I miss the 'buzz' of it now I don't have it, living in lock-down. We don't know when restaurants will reopen properly but they'll most likely be the last industry to get back to 'normal' again.
I'm entirely self taught as a photographer, I started this blog several years ago, just for something to do and gradually found that I was enjoying taking food photos more than I was as a freelance illustrator which I was originally trained in and did for many years.
Photography technique I developed by trial and error but there are times when you wonder is this the right thing to do? Is this any good? Self doubt drives me forward but too much is unhelpful.
I look on old work that I loved at the time in self critical horror, every new job I work extremely hard to try to make incremental improvements, you see the progression as your work improves.
Who knows if all my regular clients will reopen once all this ends? One certainly hopes so. I'm generally an optimist but hope is in short supply at the moment in the restaurant business which I consider myself a part of.
Which brings me to the Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year 2020.
After coming second in 2019 in my bloggers category (see photo below) in all honesty I wasn't sure if I was going to enter again this year. Why not leave it on a high?

 My work is improving I think all the time but you need a striking and memorable image like this one I believe to get through the strict judging process that's needed when so many amazing talented photographers enter from all over the world. I feel that you really need a unique photo-shoot scenario, but a lot of what I do isn't really going to lend itself to this as the work and food looks really good but this isn't enough, it needs to be a little different to get though to make it memorable and stand out. You're competing with the best in the world!
Then I got one of their final promotional emails, and a successful competitor from last year said she wasn't going to enter but did and ended up winning. I thought, 'what have I got to lose?' So I entered a few of my favourites shot this year, thinking I may just get through to the exhibition if I'm lucky. The odds were really against it I thought after last year. There's a part of me that thinks I just got lucky last time.
I was extremely surprised to get an email that a few of my photos had got through to the final stage and that this photo below would be in the exhibition. 
This photo was shot yet again in the kitchen in The Boathouse in Lichfield, quickly shooting chefs as they worked. I liked the simple composition of this one. Simple and beautiful is how I like to create images and it tells the story of the chef going through all the processes, laboriously making pasta properly.
Again as last year, to get though to the exhibition is an amazing achievement, especially as a self taught relative newcomer to photography. To be chosen amongst the best in the world is a real honour and huge confidence booster. It's a flag that says you're a part of the industry and deserve to be there.
We loved our trip to London last year to the exhibition and result at having come second. Full of high spirits, we taxied to Barrafina on Dean Street to do what we do best, eating copious amounts of tapas , the food was so good, I recall big red Carabinero Prawns and drinking my favourite Spanish beer,  cold foamy Estrella Galicia. It was a special night that we'll never forget.
This year would be different of course because of the Coronavirus. But it really worked virtually online with pop star and cheese-maker Alex James presenting the awards again. 
I had seen the amazing images in my category and thought I have absolutely no chance. I couldn't believe it when my name was announced as coming second again in the bloggers category for the second year running! I was honestly astonished. This is the best food photography awards in the whole world and I'd won a prize yet again.
This really means an awful lot to me, especially in these strange times when I don't know when I'll be shooting professionally again. 
See the awards in full below.

I received an award in 2018 for this photo of Turbot on the grill at Elkano Spain. This was my first taste of success at the awards. Seeing the print on the walls of the exhibition at The Mall Galleries was wonderful.

Monday 23 March 2020

Rothay Manor, Ambleside.

It seems pointless writing this review now, in the middle of the Corona Virus, where all restaurants here in the UK have closed but I have a lot of time on my hands now with my diary of all forthcoming photo-shoots inevitably and worryingly cleared but I know this is nothing in comparison to restaurateurs. In 48 hours alone, Rothay Manor owner Jamie Shail said the hotel had in the region of £30,000 worth of cancellations. Frightening and shocking times.
It seems a good time to recall happier days, first shooting for Rothay Manor (cards on the table, they're a client) then visiting as customers with our dogs in tow. Unique I think in Ambleside (which has no shortage of quality dining hotels) is that you can take your dogs into a separate elegant dining room.
Head chef Dan McGeorge is fairly new and makes a statement of intent along with a £1 million pound refurbishment. His food was awarded three AA Rosettes last year which is was well deserved. I'm sure the Michelin inspectors will be (back?) in when all this is over.
We sampled the 9 course longer Gourmet Taster menu (£90), the photos below are a mix of what we ate and what I photographed on two different occassions.
Hand Dived Orkney Scallop. Jerusalem Artichoke, Apple, Marigold.
Squab Pigeon. Faggot.  Turnip, Buckwheat, Green Strawberry.

Dover Sole with Salsify, Onionm Sea Beets and Lemon. (our replacement for the pigeon).

Turbot with clams, Alexander, Haricot Blanc and Elderflower.
Skrei Cod,  Cabbage, Kale Bacon.
Suckling Pig Loin Belly, Brawn, Onion, Chervil, Douglas Fir.
English Rose Sirloin of Veal with Walnut, Leek, Potato and Truffle.

The food is elegant and intricate and most importantly, the flavours are all there. We knew we were in for a good night when the first canapés were all excellent. (Cumbrian Venison Tartare pictured below).
I'd prefer a slightly faster pace on a long taster menu but I am fairly impatient.
The staff are delightful and especially kind to our two dogs, and we loved the stunning huge room we stayed in with its' own patio to the beautiful gardens.
When this is all over, hotels and restaurants are going to need our custom and I'm looking forward to the day that we embrace again the true joy of eating in restaurants like this one.

See the full shoot here.
To commission me for a photo shoot, email Bacononthebeech(at)