Archive for the United Kingdom Category

Leeds – The Victorian Quarter – The Man Behind the Curtain

Posted in Leeds, United Kingdom, Victorian Quarter, West Yorkshire, Yorkshire with tags on February 10, 2017 by gannet39

Even though I only live a short drive away, I stayed in Leeds for one night as I’d been tipped off by Chris Feinmann, a fellow foodie friend, about a very special place to eat…

The Man Behind the Curtain (Advanced A+), 68-78 Vicar Lane, on the top floor of Flannels clothes shop, www.themanbehindthecurtain.co.uk

I don’t have time to wax lyrical but suffice to say, this is my favourite fine dining experience in the North of England. Not only are all the dishes visually spectacular, the flavours are there as well.

Due to its success, reservations are essential. Access to the restaurant is quite unconventional as you have to walk through a men’s clothes shop to take the lift to the top floor.

You have to have one of the tasting menus (lunch or dinner), there are no other choices. I had the £65 evening menu with the wine matching add on for £50. It probably costs more now since they got a Michelin star in 2016.

You’re not supposed to take photos but I got a few sneaky ones in to give you an idea of the amazing creations that were put in front of me.

Upon arrival I was greeted with a glass of nutty Chenin Blanc champagne (A).

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Cooked Oyster & Pearl with the ‘pearl’ containing oyster emulsion (A+).

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Next an Olive Sachet (A) with the instruction to dip it in my drink. Sorry, I couldn’t really take photos of the wine so I can only occasionally tell you what it was.

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This with a Rioja by Bhilar which had a fantastic nose (A+).

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Next, Mackerel Wrapped in Pak Choi Leaf with Lime (B+).

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This with a Beaujoulais made from 100% Gamay grapes by the producer Lapierre of Morgon; one of the best wine villages in the Beaujolais region.

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The Red Mullet Allioli and Sea Fingers with Ham Fat and Sweet Corn was fantastic (A++). I liked the Sauvingon Blanc and Semillon blend by Exmoor Drive from Western Australia that came with it (A).

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Slow Cooked Egg with Bread and Squid Ink Cinders with an Edible Shell made of milk!! Visually it scored very well (A+) but not so well on taste (B). This was served with a great Vouvray Chenin Blanc (A).

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I was given a sweeter wine, a Riesling (B+), to go with the Black Cod with Fried Potato and Squid Ink and Squid Ink Cinders. It was the coddiest tasting cod I’ve ever tasted! It started well (A+) but the cinders became slightly overbearing so my score went down (A).

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Next, the Roast Duck with Beetroot Sponge, Caramelised Pineapple and Orange Sauce was amazing (A).

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The best thing I ate were the Sweetbreads (thymus glands) with Black Pudding Gnocchi and Parsleycake, always a favourite but here one of the best times I’d ever eaten them (A++).

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I got a Basil Sorbet palate cleanser before the sweet.

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The dessert was a Milk Chocolate Violet Ice cream with Potato and Vanilla Custard, Salt and Vinegar Rice and Beetroot Vinegar. This was very good as I remember but I’d lost the plot when it came to grading by this point!

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It was served with a nice glass of Els Pyreneus Maury Grena; a sweet red wine by Jean-Marc Lafage from the Languedoc-Roussillon region.

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After this I added a Baron de Sigognac Armagnac to finish things properly.

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Next to arrive was a ‘tree of spoons’ containing various sweet tasty things. I was delirious with pleasure by now and totally forgot to record things! The last item was this ‘Cupcake’.

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Overall a fantastice experience. Michael O’Hare is a genius in my view. You definitely need to check him out.

Marina O’Loughlin agrees.

Please see my previous post for pics of the Victorian Quarter where the restaurant is located. You’ll find it on my Google map.

Leeds – The Victorian Quarter – Architecture

Posted in Leeds, United Kingdom, Victorian Quarter, West Yorkshire, Yorkshire with tags on February 9, 2017 by gannet39

Although Leeds is only about 45 minutes drive away from my hometown, Sheffield, this was only the fourth time in forty years that I had come to visit the neighbours.

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Naturally there’s a lot of competion between the two cities, especially when it comes to football and my previous experiences as a visiting Sheffield United supporter to the Elland Road stadium had been less than pleasurable to say the least!

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On this occasion though I was visiting for work and I could walk around and appreciate the good things about the city centre without worrying about my choice of football team.

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I’d never realised it before but the Victorian Quarter, the main shopping district, has some beautiful architecture.

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Quirky period buildings are at every turn.

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I particularly like the galleries of the old shopping arcades.

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Here’s my Google map. Please see my next post for a great place to eat in the Victorian Quarter.

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2017 here we come!

Posted in United Kingdom on January 9, 2017 by gannet39

Dear Readers

First of all I want to thank you all for your support and comments in 2016 and wish you a very happy New Year and all the best for 2017 🙂

Secondly, I’d like to apologise for being so quiet in recent months. Those who follow this blog will know it alternates between bursts of intense activity, in my off season when I have no employment, and long dormant periods when I am away working and too busy to update and upload my latest experiences. Now in chilly January I finally have the time to try and catch up on my travels and relive all those happy memories.

I’m currently 18 months and about 6 countries behind but I hope to catch up as much as possible in the coming weeks before I set off again. Wish me luck!

As ever, please feel free to comment, correct and ask questions.

Right, lets hit the road! 😀

Raif x

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Manchester – Vietnamese food in Northenden

Posted in Manchester, United Kingdom with tags on November 20, 2015 by gannet39

I love Vietnamese food and will happily travel a long way to get my fix (please see my Hanoi and Saigon posts), so when I heard about this place in Manchester I was on the train and through the front door like a ferret in a drainpipe.

Mi & Pho (Elementary A), 384 Palatine Rd, Northenden www.facebook.com/miandpho

According to people who keep an eye on such things, Mi & Pho came out of nowhere and became the Trip Advisor #1 restaurant in Manchester, a position it held for a month before somebody mucked up their algorithm with a poor review (inevitable, there are always snarks). More recently they have won Restaurant of the Year for the North of England in the Food Awards.

Such accolades are quite an achievement for a small no-frills café located in Northenden, a highly unfashionable part of town. They’ve done it on the strength of their food which is authentic and healthful while being excellent value for money. Much of this is down to their chef, a cousin of the owner, who quit his restaurant job in London to come and work up here. It also helps that they are nice people who give all their customers a warm welcome.

Three of us were made to feel very much at home by the young owner before tucking in to…

Gỏi Cuốn – rice paper summer rolls with prawns and roast pork. I make these at home with leftover roast chicken, love them so much.

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Gỏi Du Dử – green papaya salad with mango, carrots and mixed herbs. Not as spicy as it can be, which is good, as a version I once had in Thailand with grated chilli is officially the hottest thing I’ve ever eaten in my life!

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Bún Huế – hot and spicy soup from Huế province with bún noodles, and in our case tofu and vegetables.

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Bún Sài Gòn – southern style stir fried marinated pork with onions, lemongrass, chilli and beansprouts served with bún noodles, mixed salad, pickled vegetables, crispy shallots and crushed peanuts.

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Pak Choi Chinese cabbage stir fried with tofu.20151102_191241

Salt and pepper spare ribs.

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Bánh Xèo – pancakes made with rice flour and coconut milk and stuffed with pork and bean sprouts. A bit oily but oh so good.

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This would be a bit of an overkill for three normal people but we finished everything off! It’s the kind of food that’s so good you just can’t stop eating, and it feels okay to do so because so much of it is healthy veg and herbs.

We didn’t get round to trying the Pho (pronounced ‘fur’) as it’s a meal in itself. But I’m sure it’s very good given the quality of everything else.

My only criticism is that they should get an alcohol license. You can BYOB and we got our beer from the Polish shop a few doors down but they are missing a trick by not selling it themselves.

So, top marks (A). Just wish we had an authentic place like this in Sheffield.

Manchester – Chinatown

Posted in Chinatown, Manchester, United Kingdom with tags , , on November 20, 2015 by gannet39

Every now and then I get a bit of work in central Manchester. I always head for Chinatown for lunch as there are so many good places to eat there.

My current favourite is…

Siam Smiles (Elementary A), 48A George St, www.facebook.com/siamsmilescafe

I have Marina O’Loughlin to thank for this one as she gave them a rave review in the Guardian.

It’s a no-frills place with plastic chairs and condiments in Tupperware boxes, located in a cellar which doubles as a Thai supermarket.

It’s quite easy to miss as there’s no sign but when you’re on the street just keep an eye out for a downward flight of stairs. It’s just about opposite to the Hunan restaurant below.

As I only ever have lunch, a bowl of Kuay Tiew soup noodles is all I can manage. Pictured is the Chicken Kuay Tiew with flat rice noodles in a Nam Sai (clear) broth. Simple, clean and delicious (A). And very good value as well.

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Haven’t had the chance to go for an evening meal yet but it needs to be done, soon.

Hunan Restaurant (Intermediate B+), 1st Floor, 19-21 George St (opposite Siam Smiles), www.hunanrestaurant.co.uk

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I like my Chinese food spicy so I usually go for Sichuan food. It’s quite unusual to find a restaurant that specialises in Hunan cuisine.

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Both provinces are neighbours and both like to put a lot of chilli in their food. However the Hunanese tend to use fresh chilli more whereas the Sichauanese dishes prefer dried chillies.

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Also, Hunan cuisine is described as being dry hot (干辣), as opposed to Sichuan cuisine, which is hot and numbing (mala) due to the inclusion of Sichuan peppercorns.

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In reality you can get dishes from both these regions in this restaurant (eg the Sichuan classic Kung Pao chicken) but suffice to say whatever you order will be packing heat!

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I last came here for a birthday treat so I didn’t take any notes, but it’s all top tackle!

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Wong Wong Bakery (Elementary B+), 28 Princess St, www.wongwongbakery.com

If I’m in a rush for my lunch I tend to just get a Char Siu Bau (steamed barbecue pork bun) to eat on the hoof. This small Chinese bakery does a very good one (B+).

London – Kings Cross – St Pancras

Posted in King's Cross, London, St Pancras, United Kingdom with tags , , , , on October 30, 2015 by gannet39

St Pancras station is one of my favourite buildings in the world, partly for its architectural beauty and partly because it’s the station that I, and my fellow Yorkshiremen and East Midlanders, always alight at when arriving in London, which usually signifies the beginning of an adventure of some kind.

Built in 1868, it had at the time the largest single-span roof in the world. It’s a masterpiece of Victorian Gothic engineering and for me, it’s one of the most elegant train stations in the world.

Station buffs may be interested to know it was also the model for Victoria Terminus, now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, in Mumbai, which looks like a fancier version with several Indian adornments added.

The station was renovated between 2001 and 2007 to be a public space in preparation for the London Olympics, and there are now a few places to go for a drink or a bite. The oyster bar is a bit out of my price range so if I really need to eat, when I’m waiting for my off-peak train, I invariably end up at Carluccio’s where you can get decent Italian food at a good price. They have a deal where you can get two courses for a tenner, and add on a dessert or a glass of wine for £3.50 or so, which isn’t bad. You can sit outside and take in the enormity of the roof above you.

I’m also a fan of ‘The Meeting Place’, the huge bronze statue created by Paul Day which is just by the restaurant. Supposedly showing an amorous couple, either meeting or saying goodbye, the woman is looking at her mobile phone over the shoulder of her lover! I also like all the small friezes cast in the plinth of the statue.

Click on the photos for a better view.

For a good cocktail in splendid Victorian surroundings, I like to go to the bar of The Gilbert Scott (out the front of the station and turn right, the entrance is at pavement level in the west wing of the station building), a brasserie named after the station’s architect. It’s on the ground floor of the old Midland Grand Hotel, now the five star Renaissance Hotel, which occupies the distinctive frontage of the station.

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I like the building so much that I’ve hired the station clock tower to celebrate my 50th birthday in 2016, but more of that in this space next year!

If you have a bit more time and want something cheap and spicy to eat then I strongly recommend Roti King in the basement of Ian Hamilton House at 40 Doric Way (just five minutes around the corner). Their rotis are sublime and the curries are pretty good. Marina O’Loughlin likes it too.

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London – Islington – Chapel Market

Posted in Chapel Market, Islington, London, United Kingdom with tags , , , on October 29, 2015 by gannet39

Chapel Market is how markets used to be in London, before all the farmers and artisans appeared on the scene. It’s a good place to come for some good old fashioned Cockney grub.

Alpino’s (Elementary B+), 74 Chapel Market, open 06.30 to 15.00

A classic old Italian café that’s a local institution. This is the place to come if you want a proper greasy spoon full English breakfast for a fiver (B+) but they also do Italian specials as well. Friendly and very popular.

Manze’s Pie & Mash (Elementary A), 74 Chapel Market www.manzepieandmash.com

One of a chain of four Manze’s, the original is in Deptford, a family that have been making pie & mash for over 100 years. Double pie and mash is the way to go for a bellyful of satisfying stodge. You will also need a good pouring of ‘liquor’, a parsley and cornflour sauce made with the water from stewing the eels.

Get Stuffed, 105 Essex Road, www.thegetstuffed.co.uk

Although nothing to do with food, I feel a mention should go to this nearby institution who proclaim themselves to be ‘the UK’s premier taxidermy company’. A peak through their windows is a quite a trippy experience with crows, albino peacocks and birds of prey tussling for space with giraffes, antelope and zebras!

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London – Soho

Posted in London, Soho with tags on October 28, 2015 by gannet39

Barrafina (Advanced A-), 54 Frith Street, Soho www.barrafina.co.uk

On the Soho scene since 2007, Barrafina is very much trying to emulate the Barcelona institution Cal Pep by providing high end Spanish cuisine in a tapas bar setting. (please see my El Born post)

Like Cal Pep it’s not possible to make reservations but you can have drinks and nibbles in the queue while you’re waiting (about 40 mins in my case). Again like its counterpart, it’s not cheap, but the food is usually top notch. Since my visit in mid-2014 they’ve been awarded a Michelin star which goes some way to justifying their prices.

I started with Chorizo & Potato Chips which were a bit of a surprise as they looked more like spring rolls than ‘chips’. Don’t recall being particularly blown away by them (B). Gambas (just two) al Ajillo (A) and the Morcilla Iberica with Quails Eggs (A) were more to my taste and Chips with Brava sauce were okay (B+). To drink their cheapest wine, a Humilitat red, off a pricey list, was pretty decent (B+).

This place is great if you’re flush and happy to pay top dollar for good food. Personally I found it tough to justify the expenditure because I know I can get as good or better on my travels, and for less money. Don’t let me stop you going though, it’s definitely a good foodie experience.

London – Shoreditch

Posted in London, Shoreditch, United Kingdom with tags , on October 27, 2015 by gannet39

Came down to the big smoke in 2014 to try a couple of the new kids on the block that were creating a stir. In a nutshell I loved the first more down-to-earth place but felt ripped off by the second more pricey establishment.

As a consequence I’ve virtually given up on high end eating in London as it’s so hard to get value for money. Yes the quality is there but you have to pay through the nose for it, and I know I can get better food for a fraction of the price on the continent. But then that’s London for you…

Lyle’s (Advanced A) , Tea Building, 56 Shoreditch High St, www.lyleslondon.com

The no-choice set menu was a good deal at £39 for 7 courses with extras like bread, water and petit fours. The menu is constantly changing depending on what’s available that day. I came here in October 2014 with my buddies Tom and Toby. We had:

Blood Pudding
Mackerel Broth
Squid & Tomato
Middle White, Pumpkin & Chestnuts (Middle White is a rare breed pig from Yorkshire)
Pear, Wigmore & Walnuts (Wigmore is a soft sheep’s cheese from Berkshire)
Plums & Vanilla Ice Cream
Les Clapas Cote de Rhone 2012 (Garnacha/Syrah blend)

I was having fun so didn’t take any notes but it was all B+/A as I remember. Décor is all white ceramic tiles which complements the simple, practical feel of their food philosophy. Service was friendly and efficient and we were able to take our time over the food. Would definitely go again.

Clove Club (Advanced B), Shoreditch Town Hall, Old St, www.cloveclub.com

I came by myself and had the £65 set menu (plus a supplement of £12 for the scallop) for which I got 6 courses and 3 extras, and the wine matching for an additional £50. The menu stated:

Wild Irish Trout Tartare, Citron Baches, Sesame & Chives
Raw Orkney Scallop, Hazelnut, Clementine & Perigord Truffle
Cornish Pollock, Peas, Ham, Morels & Wild Garlic
Slow Cooked Black Faced Suffolk Lamb, Wild Seaweed & Spring Cabbage
Amalfi Lemonade & Sarawak Pepper Ice Cream
Warm Blood Orange, Ewe’s Milk Yoghurt Mousse & Wild Fennel Granita

nb Perigord truffles are named after a region in France famous for black truffles.

However there were several free extras, such as a short section of sausage, Longanzina I think, a piece of fried chicken, and a freshly baked Madeleine. I also added a cheese board to the bill. I can’t remember that are in a couple of the pics, but I do remember it was all very good!

Again no notes were taken, but everything was excellent if occasionally over presented (like the single piece of fried chicken in a basket of pine twigs, what the hell?). They make their own bread and even have a specialist citrus supplier.

All the wines were very big on the nose but didn’t seem to linger on the palate as long as you’d think they would. I also noticed this at Man Behind the Curtain in Leeds so perhaps it’s becoming a trend to serve more pungent wines.

Service was friendly and efficient but the next morning when I reread the bill I was disappointed to see that I’d been upsold a glass of wine that cost £22 just by itself. If I’d been told the price before I had it I’d have refused it, or at least savoured every valuable drop.

I can’t even remember what the name of the wine was, but here are some of the others:

La Morandina, Moscato d’Asti, 2014 is £12.50 a bottle from here.

Richard Leroy’s ‘Les Noels de Montbenault’ Chenin 2011 was unavailable on the net but the 2013 is around €30 on this French website.

Solera 1842 VOS (Valdespino) is a medium sweet Oloroso blend from Jerez. What’s known as an ‘Oloroso Abocado’. Gets 4 stars on this wine tasting website.

Clos Thou, Supreme de Thou 2010, Jurancon France. Complemented the dessert fruits I had but a review suggests that it’s not best drunk on it’s own. The 2014 is €17.50 here.

Service was also 12.5% which although the industry standard in London, is pretty hefty for a provincial like me in a place like this. The total cost of £175 left a sour note on an otherwise enjoyable experience. I did complain, and was offered a free course next time I came, but I have no plans to go back, even though they now have a Michelin star.

UPDATE: Clove Club now ask that their diners pay in advance, to cut down on losing money on no-shows. It will also hopefully cut down on problems like the one I had.

Getting it on with the Green Fairy

Posted in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, United Kingdom, West Street, Yorkshire with tags , , on March 20, 2015 by gannet39

I’m occasionally asked by chef and restaurateur friends to come and eat at their places and give my opinions about their menus. I tend to avoid blogging these experiences as it’s a good way to lose friends, and besides my readers would think that my opinions were biased, and they’d probably be right.

20140514_221143However I did want to share my experience at my friend Dave’s place (the Wick-at-Both-Ends  on West Street, in my hometown, Sheffield) for two reasons. Firstly to big them up for being a quality establishment (great cocktails, good food) in a sea of city centre mediocrity, and secondly to show you the pictures of their beautiful antique absinthe fountain (please click on them for a better view).

20140514_221353Absinthe was originally invented in Switzerland, originally as a medicinal drink, but it became most popular in 19th century Belle Époque France, especially with artists and writers who attributed drug like effects to drinking it, which ultimately led to it being banned. Science has since proved that absinthe is no different from any other alcohol in this respect but the reputation has remained.

20140514_221227Absinthe is known as ‘the Green Fairy’ because of its psychedelic reputation and the colour of the spirit (due to the inclusion of green anise). Absinthiana, the equipment needed for the preparation ritual, has become very collectible for its aesthetic beauty.

20140514_221914The traditional ‘French method’ of preparing is to put a sugar lump on a slotted absinthe spoon on a glass containing the absinthe and slowly drip iced water onto the cube and then into the drink turning it cloudy (absinthe was the forerunner of French pastis). This ‘louche effect’ creates a microemulsion of tiny oil droplets in the water, bringing out subtle flavours that wouldn’t be so apparent in the neat drink.

20140514_221640Absinthe fountains allow the water to be dripped evenly and slowly out of two, four or sometimes six spigots. This meant the fountain could be shared with groups of friends.

20140514_221236With the more modern (since the 90s) ‘Bohemian method’, also known as ‘The Flaming Green Fairy’, you douse the sugar cube in alcohol, set fire to it and drop it into the glass to ignite the spirit. The flames are then put out with a shot of water. Although more spectacular, purists say this spoils the taste of the alcohol.

I think we tried both methods but I wouldn’t like to say which was better!

20140514_224334Thing is, although I love the ritual I’m not actually that keen on the drink, which is unusual for me! I used to DJ at a night called Absinthesis that received sponsorship from a drinks producer in the form of free absinthe, so I remember the terrible hangovers only too well! It’s nice to pretend you’re a French artist for a couple of drinks though.

I love the art of the period. Check out these absinthe postcards.

The food was good too, but I’ll let the pictures do the talking for that.

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Thanks to Dave, Chloe and all the staff at the Wick x

ClandesDine #2 Back Street Banquet

Posted in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, United Kingdom, Yorkshire with tags , on May 11, 2012 by gannet39

Easter Bank Holiday Friday April 6th saw the second outing for ClandesDine, a secret supper club for discerning food and fun freaks!

Psychadelic plates
The ‘secret eaters’ had to call a special number on their ticket to discover the location, which turned out to be a cosy little works on Queens Rd, known to locals as Haggler’s Corner, now revamped to house artisan workshops, a yoga studio and a cafe.

Haggler's entrance
Unfortunately the capricious April weather saw the event retreat from the al fresco surroundings of the courtyard to a long wooden-beamed room indoors. However this atmospheric space had the benefit of a large bar, ably presided over by everyone’s favourite bar meister; Mr. Okie Dulo.

Dining room
The loft room was soon humming with merriment as the guests tucked into canapés and glasses of sparkling wine.

Canapes
Proceedings were occasionally interrupted by the sound of an electric drill as our barman Okie Dulo found alternative means of opening bottles, following the disappearance of the corkscrew.

DIY Barman

Bottle o Barolo
Next in line was a starter salad of freshly picked Mixed Leaves (from chef Richard Henderson’s own garden), served with Roasted Pumpkin Seeds and edible Spring Flowers.

Salad army
Downstairs, in the shell of the future cafe kitchen, Richard magicked up a seasonal multi-course lunch on a small cooker, two camping stoves and an oil-drum barbecue.

Men at work
The forty diners could choose one dish per course from a choice of three dishes for each of the three courses.
A popular choice for many was the Native Oysters, the first coming Au Natural and the second with a Tabasco-based Bloody Mary vinaigrette. Both were great but the third little bivalve, doused in a sublime coriander and lime juice dressing, was the star. Certainly a taste epiphany for this writer!

Oi oi oysters
Another delicious starter option was the Calf’s liver, perfectly cooked (still tender and bloody) in butter and sage and served with butter beans on the side, the coarse texture of the beans perfectly complimenting the grainy meat.

Lovely liverStarter line up

The novelty award however had to go to the third first course option of Soft boiled Duck, Hen and Quail eggs, served on wooden planks with holes in them drilled by Richard to form eggcups of varying sizes.

These were seasonally decorated with freaky little chicks, guarded by a rank of asparagus soldiers;  a feat of timing and presentation that made this the most popular dish of the evening.Incoming egg

What you looking at

 

A spear of grass soldiers

Braised lambsageFor the main What you looking atcourse, meat-eating guests could choose from Braised Rabbit with Mustard or Braised Neck of Lamb, while the vegetarian minority feasted on Rotola of Roasted Butternut Squash, with Spinach and Ricotta, all delicious in their own ways.
All came with bowls of Spring Greens, Rainbow Chard and terracotta flower pots of New Potatoes, again locally sourced from Hendo’s back yard.

Pots of potatoes
Some people just couldn’t get enough of them!

Spud head

The dessert course saw a frenzy of spoon swapping as a trio of tarts (Lemon, Poached Pear & Chocolate, Fig & Frangipane) finished things off nicely.

Poached pear tart

Fig & Franzipan tart

Backed up tarts

Mr Dulo however, took things a stage further with a flurry of Margaritas, Attitude Adjusters and French Martinis that put a wobble in several people’s walks.

Cocktailers

Margherita SourAfterwards the party made its way to local hostelry The Vine on Cemetery Rd to schmooze and dance into the small hours at sister music promotion Nano.

ClandesDiners

The sultry tune selections and mixing skills of The Gannet, The Funk Master General and The African proved the perfect end for an evening of excellent food and company.

Secret EatersKeep your ear to the ground for the next outing of this top little food event, hopefully sometime in August.

ClandesDine – Secret Eating in S4

Posted in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, United Kingdom, Yorkshire on September 18, 2011 by gannet39

On a soggy Saturday in September I attended the first outing of ClandesDine, a pop-up supper club for a group of foodie friends. The ‘Secret Eaters’ were given a mobile number to call for directions to the hush-hush meeting point, which in this case was a portable bar on a wooden river jetty overlooking a picturesque weir in the lower Don Valley. Actual ownership of this spot is uncertain but it probably belongs to some musician friends whose warehouse studios back wall supports the jetty.

Brunswick Weir

Cava loverA grey crane and the odd swan looked on while a giggling gaggle of gourmets knocked back glasses of cocktails and cava, and gobbled down trayloads of canapés.

Cava communist
All day bursts of strong sunshine had alternated with brief but heavy showers which threatened this wholly outdoor event with potential ruin. Nothing could dampen the spirits of this jolly gang though who were prepared for any eventuality.

Well adjusted attitudes!

Thankfuckfully, after one last shower at the beginning, the rest of the evening was dry and quite warm.

Umbrella weather


 

 

 

Sheffield’s favourite landlord, Mr Okie Dulo, was in charge of pouring the wine and mixing the Attitude Adjusters, basically a Long Island Iced Tea (equal measures of vodka, tequila, gin, rum, triple sec, sugar syrup, lime juice and mixed en masse) but topped up with cava rather than cola. It was a moreish but very heady mix!

yes please
The food was provided by Nikki Harris, former proprietor and chef at Kumquat Mae, a much missed local vegetarian restaurant. The most visually stunning canapés were the mini-Yorkshire Puds with Soured Cream, Spring Onion and Lumpfish Caviar.

Yorkshire Puds with Soured Cream, Spring Onion & Lumpfish Caviar

Canapes comin at ya
The first tray of titbits to be finished were the Rolled Pancakes with Cream Cheese and Sundried Tomato Tapenade.

Rolled Pancakes with Cream Cheese and Sundried Tomato Tapenade

Canape queen

My personal favourites were the Bouchees of Chicken Liver with Marsala Wine.

Bouchees of Chicken Liver with Marsala Wine
After demolishing all available supplies our by now very merry crew made their way a few minutes down the road, past aging warehouses and factories, for the main event in yet another industrial setting. Again the actual whereabouts were kept secret until the last minute which made the surprise of arriving in the canal boat yard all the more special.

Mirth merchant

A line of picnic tables in banquet formation awaited us under gazebos on the towpath while Nikki cooked up a storm in the kitchen of one of the long boats. As dusk fell in this pretty spot, candles and lanterns made from brown paper bags were lit up giving the yard an ethereal yet cosy atmosphere.

Boatyard

cheers

Round two involved an earthy ‘Grande Mezze’ of twenty different dishes, including starter nibbles of Roasted Nuts…

Roasted Nuts

…Hummus and Tsatsiki…

Hummus

with Crudités and Breadsticks…

Marinated Olives…and homemade Sunflower Seed Bread.

Sunflower seed bread

A seemingly never-ending bombardment of dishes ensued as Nikki kept the obliging servers constantly busy with a stream of plates coming out of the hatch.
I particularly liked the Briouats (filo pastry rolls of spicy Merguez sausage and butter beans) and Spanakopitta (filo parcels of spinach and feta) which came with a tangy Sour Plum & Balsamic relish.

Briouats & Spanakopitta

The vegetable side of things was well covered; Beetroot & Pomegranate Salad.

Beetroot & Pomegranate Salad

Also Tabbouleh with Fresh Herbs & Lemon.

Tabbouleh with Fresh Herbs & Lemon

Stuffed Vine Leaves with Roasted Lemon & Garlic.

Stuffed Vine Leaves with Roasted Lemon & Garlic

Roasted New Potatoes with Lemon, Green Salad, Tomato & Basil Salad, Garlic & Rosemary (really loved these!), Broad Beans stewed with Lemon Fennel, White Wine and finished with Truffle Oil,  Ratatouille-stuffed Aubergines in Tomato & Cinnamon Sauce and topped with melting Gruyere.

Ratatouille-stuffed Aubergines with Tomato & Cinnamon Sauce & Gruyere
For the meat heads flavoursome Lamb Meatballs with Ras-Al-Hanout and from the open-air grill; Barbequed Sticky-Pork Ribs and Char-grilled Chicken Thighs Marinated in Yogurt, Chilli & Garlic.

Ribs and beans

To finish, dates and grapes, and Dark Chocolate Truffle Cake with Fresh Raspberry Coulis.
All this went down with a fine selection of French and Spanish reds and whites gathered from the organiser’s trips abroad. Digestifs were on hand for those so inclined and several of us retired to the sofas by the wood stove to let digestion commence in comfort.

Wood stove

I had the best time but to be honest, the drink had started to take over from the food quite early on! The excitement of being with a great bunch of people in such an unusual spot meant that I did not do everything justice. Too busy tittle-tattling!

Mid banguet

Hopefully another ClandesDine won’t be too long away so we can all get another helping. Make sure you keep your ear to the ground and your taste buds in training for the next secret feast, somewhere in the Sheffield twilight zone.

Party peeps

The Gannet September 24th 2011

London – Whitechapel Curry Crown

Posted in London, United Kingdom, Whitechapel with tags , , , , , , on March 23, 2011 by gannet39

Not being a fan of fine dining in London, I tend to head to Whitechapel for a cheap curry. Not only is it easy on the wallet but the area has some of the best curry houses I’ve ever been too. These are my favourites in order of preference.

Needoo’s (Intermediate A-) at 87 New Road in Shadwell is my favourite. It’s the best for food (great curries, sublime breads) but the service isn’t as cheerful as it was when it opened just a few years ago. The Bollywood surroundings give it a bit more atmosphere than the others, and you don’t have to queue.

The Lahore Kebab House (Elementary B+) has been a legendary East End destination for lovers of good Bangladeshi food since 1972. Whether it deserves its self-awarded title as ‘the most famous Hal-al restaurant in the world’ is another matter.

Modest LahoreSomeone didn't see the warning sign

 

Kitchen

The place is certainly popular, with queues down the street on weekend nights.Fortunately we arrived early on a Thursday evening and were seated by the head-mic wearing greeter within a couple of minutes of walking in the door. The decor is downmarket, plain and simple cafe-style, except that it’s in a very large room. Every one of the 100 or so seats seemed full when we were there, most noticeably with big groups of raucous middle-aged Bangladeshi men enjoying the bottles of Johnny Walker Black Label that the BYOB policy allowed them to bring in. On the way to the table you pass the kitchen with a small army of chefs labouring away over rows of pans.

Masala FishMutton TikkaMogoA quick survey of the tables told me that the lamb chops were the starter of choice. Sadly though due to one of several language confusions with our waiter these, along with any sign of a popadom, were not forthcoming, although we did get a plate of wilted salad and a bowl of yogurt to look at while we waited for our other starters.  Although these were poorly presented, slapped on the plate rather than arranged in any way, they did include some delicious chunks of Masala Fish (B), a small but tasty Mutton Tikka kebab (B)  and something called Chilli Mogo, which we tried because we’d never heard of it. It tasted and looked something like parsnip to us but our struggling waiter tried to tell us it was potato (I later discovered it was cassava). It was interesting and tasty, but we couldn’t finish it all (B-).

The mains were pretty good too, the Lamb Curry (on the bone) being a good choice (B+).

Lamb on the boneThe chef’s special Batera (Quail) was nicely gamey but the curry sauce it came with could have done with some more kick (B-)…

Quail

…and the Saag Panneer was fine but unspecial (B-).

Saag Panner

The star, as so often, was the Taarka Dahl which had a slightly unfamiliar but sublime spicing (A). The Coriander Naans were nice as well (B).

Taarka Dahl

Coriander NaanSo the food is good but not the greatest (although better than anything I had in Bangladesh!) but at £15 a head for seven dishes with rice and naan you can’t really complain. You can get drinks from the corner shop over the road (large Cobras are £2.50).  I’d definitely come here again, but try to make better selections next time.

Two weeks later and I’m back in town again, this time to check out Tayyabs, another famed curry spot that’s been packing them in since 1974.

Tayyabs

Again we grabbed a few Cobras from a shop on the main road before we came. The queue inside on this Saturday night was insane, as usual,  running the full length of the restaurant and spilling out of the door. There must have been over two hundred people crammed into their seats with forty others standing waiting to take their places (Overheard: ‘I don’t queue for clubs but I’ll queue for this place!’). Fortunately we had booked ahead and were seated by a polite greeter (not everyone’s experience on some forums but maybe they didn’t deserve it) within five minutes of stepping in the door (although I have waited for twenty minutes before, with a reservation). Compared to the stark walls of its competitor, the lighting is lower here and the rooms smaller, making the atmosphere (once seated) more relaxing.

After some preliminary popadoms (served with mint yogurt, chutney, an amazing tomato and chilli dip (A) and a wilting salad) and Sarah’s very pleasant Onion Bhaji (B), Stuart and I were reduced to groans of pleasure as we tackled a joint plate of wonderfully delicious Tandoori Chicken (A+) and sublime Lamb Chops (A+), which have to be some of the best we have ever tasted.

BhajiChicken and chops
Our mains were recommended to us by a friend and weren’t apparent on the menu but the waiter seemed to know what we wanted. The vegetarian Karahi Mixed Veg (B+) and Aubergine Dahl (A) were great too and Baby Chicken Karahi was another winner (A). A karahi is a big pot, like a flat bottomed wok, that the curry is cooked and served in.

Aubergine DahlBaby Chicken Karahi
The rice was perfect and the garlic naan was crispy yet soft.

Nice naan
Seeing all this on the table together (everything arrived simultaneously except the bhaji) was quite daunting but unbelievably we did the lot in.

Karahi Mixed Veg

 
The restaurant has a sweet counter with a huge array of Pakistani sweets which, although very pleasing to the eye, were a bit too bulky to contemplate putting in our bulging bellies so soon.

Balls of delight

 

 

 

 

Mmmore sweetsMore sweetsSweetsThe bill came to £50 for three, slightly more than at the Lahore but then we had less meat there. Good luck getting in!

The winner!

 

Brick Lane Beigel-Off

Posted in Brick Lane, London, Spitalfields, United Kingdom with tags , , , , on March 14, 2011 by gannet39

Aah beigels, little gluten-packed balls of pleasure. What distinguishes the London beigel, apart from the spelling (the rest of the world spells it ‘bagel’) is its harder surface (achieved by boiling the dough before baking) and the coarser texture of its interior. Originally Jewish, they are ideal for breaking fast after the Sabbath because they can be prepared beforehand and left to prove on the day of rest.

Beautiful beigel

Two shops have been fixtures on Brick Lane for donkeys years Beigel Shop (to the left as you’re facing the shops) claims to be Britain’s first ever beigel shop, opening in 1855, and the Beigel Bake (aka Brick Lane Bakery, to the right) which opened in 1974. Along with the local synagogue, they are last historical vestiges of the local Jewish community, many of whom settled here after escaping persecution in Eastern Europe during the 30s.

Beigel Shop

Legend has it that the Beigel Shop at #155 was owned by two brothers who fell out and one went off to open the Beigel Bake a couple of doors up at #159.  Still others say they are the same business. I’ve never had the courage to ask the stroppy staff which story is true but I suspect both are just urban myths! Here’s a video about the Beigel Shop.

Brick Lane Bakery

 

Both shops are open for 24 hours and  sell bread and cakes as well with most of the baking being done in the small hours.

Sweet stuff

This was how I first discovered them, at 4am in the morning after a hard night on the town, as part of a long queue of hungry clubbers, policemen, refuse collectors and other assorted nighthawks. There’s something very warming about coming into a bakery while it’s still dark outside.

stack em high

What blows me away are the huge tidal waves of beigels pouring out of the ovens and moving glacially down the production lines (the Bakery alone produces 7000 a night).

Ready for boiling

I try to drop in whenever I’m in nearby, eat two on the spot and take at least a dozen plain home for breakfast and the freezer.

Beigels for days
So which one is the best? I decided to have something from each to decide.

First I had the classic Hot Salt Beef beigel from the Brick Lane Bakery; thick slabs of hot salted meat, topped with fiery mustard and a cooling slice of pickled gherkin on request, although they forgot the gherkin (A-). The beigel itself was perfectly baked with a nice shiny firm surface all over, uniform colouring both top and bottom and a softer yet firm interior that was a joy to bite into. I bought half a dozen plain beigels here as well.

Hot salt beef and mustard
At the Beigel Shop I had the Chopped Mackerel option, the pickled vinegary taste of which appeals to my Nordic taste buds (A). Sadly however, the bun was disappointing, nicely firm and browned on the base but overly soft, pale and squashed on top, as were the half dozen plain ones I bought on the side.  It seemed I’d been unlucky and hit a bad batch. At 25p a throw you can’t complain too much though. Not that you’d want to, as service can be brusque (but generally friendly) in both places.

Mmm, chopped mackerel

As you can see, quickly filled beigels aren’t particularly photogenic but I can assure you they are much tastier than they look. Equally classic would have been the Salmon and Cream Cheese version but you can make those at home. I also had a huge apple turnover from here too which was hearty and tasty if lacking in finesse (B).

Price listThe next step was to cross reference my findings with a couple of local friends who I had blind taste the two plain versions as well as tell me their usual preference. The results were split, with current tastes conflicting with historical experience. It seems the Brick Lane Bakery at #159 had the best tasting beigels on the day, but usually the Beigel Shop is better.

However, it was pointed out that my testing was fundamentally flawed due to not having the same fillings from both shops. Seems that I’ll have to rerun the tests a few times to be completely sure. Bear with me.

Butty Boys at Borough Market

Posted in Borough Market, London, Southwark, United Kingdom with tags , , on March 9, 2011 by gannet39

 

Legend has it that Borough Market began life at the end of the original London Bridge when it was built by the Romans. Or was it King Canute? Anyway, the first written record of its existence dates from 1276 and it moved to its present site nearby in 1754, which at over 250+ years, still makes it London’s oldest market.

Under the arches

The surrounding Victorian streets and buildings have been used as set locations for several films, including Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Richard III and the Elephant Man.

Things have changed a lot since the good old days of course. Now Borough is justifiably famous for its farmer’s market which attracts an upmarket crowd, ready to pay top dollar for quality produce. On Saturday when we went it was heaving with Londoners and tourists, all hungrily perusing a massive range of artisan food stalls.  As well as handmade Melton Mowbray pork pies, Lincolnshire sausages and Wakefield rhubarb, this is the place to come for your German bread, Spanish charcuterie, Greek olives and fresh Mozzarella di Bufala (flown in every morning), and it’s all top tackle.

Cheesus!Pig piecesCrumblesOlioLebanese treatsSour doughsMuch shroomsShoalQuality mouldPorcine pleasureBread breedsMushroom freakDon't fancy yours muchThat's hanginRhubarb from Wakey

Stick and I were here to graze rather than to gather and, after a starter of samples of exotic cheeses and bread dipped in various grades of cold-pressed olive oil from several stalls, we settled down in the yard of Southwark cathedral next door to devour delicious grilled koftas, sandwiched in French bread, topped with charred halloumi and dripping with harissa. These went down with hearty tumblers of hot, spiced red wine and cider and a duo of Portuguese egg custard tarts finished things off nicely. Multi-cultural munching is the way forward.

Chilli and tuna tin installationWholesale is from 2am every day and retail from midday on Thursday and Friday and all day on Saturday. Many of the traders here can also be found at the much smaller but equally excellent Broadway Market on Saturdays in London Fields. Get to both if you can.

Get to Chequers mate

Posted in Derbyshire, Froggatt, United Kingdom with tags , , , on February 13, 2011 by gannet39

The Chequers  (Intermediate A) Froggatt Edge, Hope Valley, Derbyshire, S32 3ZJ (about 20 minutes by car from Sheffield), Tel: 01433 620 231

ChequersChequers loungeChequers barThe Chequers has always been one of my favourite pubs for Sunday lunch, and after a short lapse, they seem to be back on top form. As it’s located in an isolated row of cottages on the road below Froggatt Edge  (usually a great place for a walk beforehand) you definitely need a car to get out here. Besides serving excellent food they have a garden with nice views out the back which is a great place to eat al fresco in the summer. Not on this February day though as the drizzle kept falling relentlessly. On the plus side it meant we didn’t bother reserving though it’s probably a good idea on better weather days.

Easy Rider yeah!thats betterThe interior is typical English country pub with the only wall ornaments of exception inexplicably being a few old wooden plane propellers on the walls, perhaps the remains of some failed attempts at flight from the edge rising up behind the pub. There’s a fair choice of hand pull beers including Farmer’s Bitter and one of my favourite pale ales; Easy Rider from Kelham Island Brewery .

The main reason to come though is the food, and they take it very seriously here with locally-sourced, quality ingredients from a host of reputable suppliers. It’s not cheap (£12 for Sunday roasts) but it’s one of the best with only the Plough in Hathersage being a serious contender locally. I hadn’t eaten here for a while as the last time I went for the pork and was disappointed to receive two miniscule chops which hardly even began to satisfy. After a suitable period of boycott in protest (in my typical cut-of-your-nose-to-spite-your-face style) I returned with my tail between my legs and meekly asked for the beef please.

sex on a platethe spreadIt had always been a winner in the past but I think on this occasion it even surpassed those previous great moments. Two hearty slabs of melt-in-your-mouth beef, on a foundation of succulent carrots, supported a hefty smear of delicious mash holding aloft a grotesquely bulbous Yorkshire pud, all surrounded by a moat of darkly flavoursome red wine gravy. On the side, a dish of lightly steamed courgette, mange tout and Savoy cabbage; bright green and glistening with butter. Everything cooked and presented perfectly.

porcine pleasureAlthough I tried to put them off due to my previous experience, my dining companions brashly ignored my warnings and went for the pork. Thankfully their instincts were right and they received a much better showing than I did; two thick  shavings of flavoursome piggy, coquettishly crowned with a dinky Yorkie. The only criticism was the absence of any crackling, perhaps because we’d arrived a little late in the day. Although the pork was good (A-), the beef won out on this visit (A+). There are lots of other British and European options on the menu too, which I’m sure are great, but I’ve never been brave enough to break away from the classics.

muffinsticky toffeeThe puddings (£5.75) are cracking as well of course. On different occasions I’ve had the Sticky Toffee Pudding with Butterscotch Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream (A), the Chocolate and Orange Brownie with Chocolate Sauce (A), the Drambuie Crème Brulee (A) and the Bakewell Pudding (B), and would happily order all but the last one again. Although sourced from The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop  the poor little pud just can’t quite compete with those other big hitters.

What else to mention? The service I’ve received from the youthful waiting staff has always been friendly although the manageress was a bit brusque this time. The pub is also a hotel and they have an outside catering company. And they’ve recently opened a sister establishment, the Sir William in Grindleford , which is where I’ll be heading for my next Sunday lunch.

Grumpy Grindleford

Posted in Derbyshire, Grindleford, United Kingdom with tags , , , on February 6, 2011 by gannet39



One of the great things about living in Sheffield is you can be in out in the countryside in just a few minutes.

Padley Gorge

 

One of the prettiest local beauty spots is Padley Gorge, which takes in a gentle walk beside a gushing stream, through woods of wind-twisted trees growing amongst moss covered boulders.

Padley Gorge mossy rocks

Bloomin Padley GorgeThe downstream path leads to Bole Hill Quarry where you can still see the signs of the old industry all around: abandoned millstones, fragmented rocks, piles of slag, all now overgrown.

MillstoneIn this interesting article about the history of the quarry there’s some old pictures showing how it once was. They show the machinery used to winch down the big blocks of stone (for building the nearby dams) to the railway in the valley below. Local photographer Phil Wostenholme has also taken some stunning pictures around here.

 

Grindleford cafe
A group of us took this walk for my brother Dan’s birthday walk, ending at the legendary (or is it infamous?)  Grindleford Station Cafe (Elementary B), a few seconds from the station and beside the mouth of Totley Tunnel.

Grindleford station

Birthday boyThe tunnel was the longest in the UK at 5.7km when it was completed in 1893, a major engineering feat at the time built at great human cost, in part due to the Duke of Devonshire who didn’t want too many air shafts on his grouse moor above!

If the weather is clement you can sit outside on picnic tables, next to the tunnel entrance although it feels very English to drink tea next to what looks like the gateway to hell.

Drinking tea by the devil's throat

 

It’s more cosy to sit inside though, near the roaring fire in the first room if you’re lucky or in the second room where you should just be grateful to get a table.

Grindleford  cafe interior
They brook no nonsense here as the signs on the walls will tell you (people come here just to read them!) “Uncontrollable children” and mobile phones are banned.

dont block the bloody fire

That's told ya

Apparently a Canadian visitor was once cuffed round the head for asking for Worcester sauce! (It’s Henderson’s Relish round here just so you know).  A bit unfair really as there’s no warning sign.

This is a walkers’ cafe and it’s set up to feed an army with the minimum of fuss.

An army marches on its belly
You pay for your food at the counter, get your number and wait till it’s called over the Tannoy. There’s no chance you’ll miss your turn as the volume is cranked up to max over the ancient crackling speakers. We wanted to stay until they called 180 but sadly had to leave at around 145. Make sure you clear your table for the next people or expect to be tutted.

Although the food gets good reviews on eggsbaconchipsandbeans  I would score it a C to be honest. It’s perfectly edible standard English fare, nothing to write home (or a blog?) about. But that’s not really the point of the place, it’s all about stoking you up cheaply for marching about in the elements. You’re here to be fed and fed you will be.
The portions are huge; a full English breakfast (£5.70 with a pint of tea) involves a pallid egg on soggy fried bread, buttressed with a stack of salty bacon, and separating two seas, one of beans the other of tinned tomatoes. The world’s longest ever Walls sausage defends two triangles of bread and marge on the side. You can’t argue with the drinks though (A). Complet anglaisTea, coffee, hot chocolate and Horlicks come in two sizes, half or full pint.

Pint or a half sir

Personally I’m glad I did my walking first as I wasn’t going anywhere after this.

The cafe also produces its own mineral water from the grounds.

Grindleford spring water

wot a beautyWhat better way to finish than with a picture cake! I’m duty bound to include this photo of my brother as it’s the most embarrassing one we could find. Happy Birthday Dan! x x x

Korea comes to Mancunia

Posted in Manchester, Northern Quarter, United Kingdom with tags , , on February 4, 2011 by gannet39

NOW CLOSED!

Baekdu Korean Restaurant (Elementary A), 77 Shudehill (corner with Hanover St), Manchester, M4 4AN, Tel: 0161 834 2227 GEM ALERT!

I’ve been going to stay with my old buddy Luke in Manchester for over twenty years now. Our shared love of good food has meant that eating well  is always top of our agenda when we get together. His flat is in the Northern Quarter, a cool counter-culture area that’s slowly being reborn out of the textile trade twilight zone to the east of the city centre.  It’s a great place to live with lots of little boutiques, bars and record shops on the doorstep.  Strangely though the restaurant scene here has always been lacking. Sure there are some great curry cafes, like Al Faisal and Yadgar on Thomas St where you can get a good lunch for next to nothing, but there has never been anywhere to get cheap quality food in the evenings. Until now that is.

Baekdu is located on the edge of the Northern Quarter, in an unattractive spot on Shudehill. It’s completely authentic serving classic Korean dishes to a predominantly Oriental clientele. The interior is basic with modern cafe bar furniture and bleak white walls, which make it a little too bright to be truly relaxing, but forget that, it’s the food that you’re here for.

Korean cuisine is hearty, healthy and hot. Most dishes come with Gochujang, fermented chilli paste, a distinctive ingredient which sets it apart from neighbouring cuisines.

The national dish is Kimchi, fermented Chinese (napa) cabbage with gochujang, which is eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can see huge earthenware pots on very balcony in Korea which contain a year’s supply of fermenting cabbage for the family. Done well, it can be really delicious and the version at Baekdu is no exception (A).

Another distinctive Korean dish is Bulgogi (“fire meat”), usually wafer-thin sirloin marinated in soya sauce, sesame oil, sugar and garlic which is then grilled on an open flame. In more upmarket Korean BBQ restaurants the customers grill the meat themselves on small grills built into the tables, or even on hot stones, but here it is pan-fried. We had Dwaeji Bulgogi, a version made with pork, onions, peppers and chilli paste which was pretty good (B).

Also very famous is Bibimbap, literally meaning “mixed meal” which in its most basic form is simply a big bowl of warm rice topped with chilli paste and Namul, various small portions of shredded vegetables, some of which can be quite exotic (Bell flower roots and fern shoots anyone?) but not here as it would add too much to the expense. The version we had was Dolsot Bibimbap (B+) which consists of fried beef and a basic namul of mushroom, carrot, spinach, together with a raw egg which is stirred together will dollops of chilli paste. It’s served in a hot stone bowl coated with sesame oil which is so hot that it cooks the rice and egg forming a delicious crust is on the sides of the bowl (B+).

Some of our favourite dishes were the vegetarian ones; such is Sigumchi Namal, spinach blanched and seasoned with garlic, soy, sesame oil, sesame seeds and sugar (A) and Oi Muchin, cucumber salad, seasoned with garlic, spring onions, sesame seeds and chilli paste (A).

Gal Bi are delicious barbecued spare ribs that have been marinated in rice wine, soy, sugar and garlic (A).

Also the Haemul Pajeon seafood pancake (made with squid and spring onion) is wonderfully crunchy and tasty (A).

The only let down is the Hite beer (C-), which should be spelt with an S at the beginning, but despite that this place is a real find for me. When I lived in Japan, Korean food was a welcome alternative to the delicious but rather bland local fare, kind of like the role curry plays in the UK. Until now I had to go to London to get my fix (in particular Kimchee in Golders Green) but now it’s just a short drive over the Pennines, a sign the world is getting smaller. A real gem, don’t miss if you’re in the area.

With thanks to Luke Una

Rules rules

Posted in Covent Garden, London, United Kingdom with tags , , , on November 3, 2010 by gannet39

Rules Restaurant (A+), 35 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London, Tel. 0207 836 5314

Rules is the quintessential English restaurant, specialising in preparing the highest quality meat, game and fish for the moneyed classes.  Tucked down a Covent Garden back street, it was founded during the Napoleonic wars in 1798, making it the oldest privately owned restaurant in London.

Rules

They even have their own country estate in Lartington, Teeside from which they source much of their produce. What better place then to treat my old mate Andy on the occasion of his 40th birthday.

Ham Hock Salad and Duck Egg Mayo

After gaining admittance from the top-hatted doorman, we were advised by the accommodating Maitre d’  that our reserved table would not be ready for a few minutes so we adjourned upstairs for some pre-prandial martinis in the plush surroundings of the cocktail bar.

Bar

Mr Silva the head barman made us feel very at home and mixed us perhaps the finest dry vodka martini I have ever had.

Stirred never shaken

 

After a short while our table was ready so we moved downstairs to the opulent dining room. The decor is in a brasserie style with lots of red velvet, dark wood and stained glass.

Dining Room

On the walls, old prints, deer and antelope skulls compete with many other kinds of eclectic memorabilia collected over the last 200 years.

Hatstands

 

 

Dear deerFireplaceAs well as various kings, notable customers have included Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, Graeme Greene, Evelyn Waugh, John Le Carre and Dick Francis, and consequently the restaurant has been mentioned in several novels.

Because of its history Rules could easily be a tourist trap but, while you might hear the odd American accent, it seems to have avoided being overly commercialised. Indeed, many Londoners have never even heard of it, unless they have a fair bit of disposable to burn that is. The table next to us were bemoaning the fact that mummy had been worried about the health of the family dog so she had sent it urgently to the vet, by helicopter!

To start proceedings we decided to compare the two kinds of oyster on offer. We found the Maldon Rock oysters to be much sweeter and creamier while the West Mersea Native variety had a firmer texture. Both benefitted from the wonderfully pungent shallot and red wine vinegar dressing that came in a gravy boat on the side.

Rock and native oysters



It was at this juncture that we had our only disappointment. The bottle of Sauvingnon Blanc we ordered was not chilled enough so we sent it back and went instead with an excellent Albarino from Galicia.

Albarino

This was also a good match with my Ham Hock Salad with Quail’s Eggs, Chickweed and Split Pea dressing and Andy’s Duck Egg Mayo with Wild Watercress.

LambGrouseFor my main I got the Whole Grouse with Game (parsnip) Chips, Bread Sauce and Savoy Cabbage. The bird was seated on a piece of toast covered in delicious grouse pate.  My friend had the more interesting looking Roast Salt Marsh Saddle of Lamb with Carrots and Rosemary Mash.

The wine was a great Tempranillo from Ribeiro del Duero which also went well with the complementary spoonfuls of Cropwell Bishop Stilton we wheedled from our kindly waitress.

Stilton

To finish, my Perry Jelly with Poached Pears and Pear Ice Cream was wonderfully clean.

Jelly on the plate

Andy’s Sticky Toffee Pud with dates and walnuts was rich and full of flavour. These went down with two glasses of  excellent Sauternes dessert wine (Chateau Rolland A.C. Barsac 2003). A fine end to a fine meal.

Toffee pud

Rules is not cheap of course, expect to go into three figures per head if you’re doing it properly, but the service, surroundings and the food are exemplary and we left glowing with contentment.  All you need to do is find a special occasion.

Pilgrimage to Pilsley

Posted in Derbyshire, Pilsley, United Kingdom with tags , , , , , , , , on October 10, 2010 by gannet39

Six of us went to the Devonshire Arms in Pilsley for Sunday lunch on a lovely sunny day. Recently reopened after a half-million pound refurbishment, this is the sister pub of the other Devonshire Arms in Beeley, also owned by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and attached to the Chatsworth Estate.

Devonshire Arms

The new decor is modern but with a retro feel, I quite liked the pink wallpaper with the stag skull motif in the dining area. The food here is more down-to-earth and better value than in Beeley where we had felt rather ripped off on a previous visit. Couldn’t fault milord and lady here though.

pretty Pilsley

All of us had the Roast Beef which was cooked to perfection, beautifully pink, full of flavour and good value at £9.50. The Yorkshire puds were of monstrous proportions, crispy on the outside but with soft interiors hiding deep reservoirs of darkly delicious gravy, and perched on top of a quality dollop of mash and a scattering of roast potatoes.

single mindedness
The accompanying beans, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower were also done perfectly.

perfection on a plate

Nitpickers that we are, we were saddened by the absence of roast parsnips but otherwise this was a faultless performance, a new challenger for the Plough in Hathersage perhaps.

monster pud
Beer wise, there isn’t a big selection but they do have the excellent Jaipur from Thornbridge and Chatsworth Gold from Peak Ales, both fine draught tipples.

Chatsworth Gold

The puds were pretty good too. The champ was the Apple and Blackberry Pie with Vanilla Custard which triumphed on looks and flavour.

Apple and Blackberry pie

The Baked English Custard pot looked rather beige but was in fact wonderfully tasty, again.

Baked English Custard

The cheese board with chutney from the farm shop was a nice nibble too.

cheesyAs well as the daily specials there are lots of other good options on the a la carte menu. Starters start at £3.50 for soup and go up to £6.50 for Duck Salad with Romaine Lettuce, Orange and Pomegranate. Mains range from £8.50 for the Mushroom and Stilton Quiche to £12 for the formidable Mixed Grill. My only real criticism was the lack of vegetarian and other roast dinner options on the menu. So, a winner all round if your a meat eater but don’t bring any veggie friends.

The nearby Chatsworth Farm Shop is a good reason to come to Pilsley in itself. It’s only a five minute walk from the pub and the chefs try to use the shop’s produce as much as possible in their kitchen. It has a bit of a posh supermarket feel, with most things in packages and a rather disappointing bread section reminiscent of Waitrose but the meat counter is fantastic and all the meat, including venison, comes from the Estate. The sausages (I went for the Old English Pork with 96% meat content), pies and pasties are great too and there’s a good selection of cheeses. After tasting, I got some mature Gorge Cheddar and Stinking Bishop. Other things that went in the basket were quince jelly, honey combs  and a couple of haggis.

meat counterpiesscone baskethoneycomb

All in all a pretty good haul; a full stomach and a full rucksack.

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