Category Archives: Manchester

Restaurant Review: Aumbry revisited

If there’s one thing I’d like to echo from Giles Coren’s mixed-to-positive review of Aumbry in the Times the other week – and believe me, there are few things of his I would ever want to echo – it’s that their treacle tart is awesome.

On my first visit in February I was relatively underwhelmed by the puddings and wondered whether the kitchen lacked passion for the sweeter parts of the menu. But second time round I ate this mini-masterpiece: a skilfully-made pie with tart lemon jelly and a deep frothy warming cup of Earl Grey cream tea on the side. It more than proved me wrong.

It was the balance that was so exceptional. I’ve had better desserts this year* but I can’t think of any that was so well-conceived. The marriage of flavours was wonderful and all my dining companions agreed. My dad claimed it was the best sweet he’s ever had.

The other big highlight from the six-course tasting menu was the potato and wild garlic soup, which swung bag after bag of flavour at my grateful tastebuds. When you get soup of this quality, it makes you want to question why higher-end restaurants don’t do it more often. Done right it can be such a beautiful thing; here, with a glass of chardonnay on the side, it was.

Head chef Mary-Ellen wasn’t in the kitchen this evening but there appeared to be no adverse effect on the food being produced – certainly there were none of the technical errors Coren wrote about. I wanted more from the slow-cooked wood pigeon dish, which seemed to lack the usual Aumbry wit and needed another element to lift it, but the cooking was faultless. I was particularly impressed by the accompanying chicory, a bitter leaf which has murdered many a game bird in its time but was held firmly in check through careful braising.

Here’s the menu with pictures. My dad and I also shared a cheeseboard at the end.

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TASTING MENU ǀ SIX COURSES

Amuse Bouche

Potted shrimp

Home Smoked Mackerel

Poached rhubarb & mustard cream

Potato & Wild Garlic Soup

English truffle oil

Cumbrian Wood Pigeon

Braised chicory, grilled grelot & lemon balm

Grapefruit Posset

Celery granita & grapefruit sherbet

Treacle Tart

Lemon jelly & Earl Grey cream

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Cheese

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After February’s meal I declared Aumbry to be the best restaurant in the county. Eating there four months on with my family in toe, there was nothing to make me want to rescind that statement.

Admittedly, I wasn’t quite as thrilled by the experience this time round. Greater familiarity with the menu (I’d hoped for more change between the two visits), staff who kept dropping things (spilling a glass of wine all over our table was probably the worst of the half dozen or so slip ups) and a random diner who kept looking at me like she wanted to stab me in the face all helped to dampen the magic.

Nevertheless, it was still a top meal, better than any other restaurant has given me for about four years round these parts. I’ll look forward to going back.
Aumbry on Urbanspoon

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*These superior desserts would be the ones I had at The Square and The Ledbury, so it’s not really a fair fight. If there’s a pudding better than Aumbry’s treacle tart in Greater Manchester right now, I’d love to know about it.

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Foods To Try Before The Radio

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have seen that I was on BBC Radio Manchester (95.1FM) this week, giving a live interview about my Foods To Try Before You Die list on Heather Stott’s show.

If you live in the UK, you can listen to it here – it should be available until May 9th. I was on Wednesday’s episode (02/05/2012) and my five-minute piece with Matt White is about 2hrs 40mins in.

It was a lot of fun doing this and hopefully I can go back on in the not too distant future and give an update on some of the foods I’ve been trying and what new things have been catching my eye.

Items from my list that get mentioned this time around include Chicken Cooked in a Pig’s Bladder, Potted Shrimp, Goose, Capon and Steak Tartare!

Restaurant Review: Yuzu

The other week I was reading an interview with Nobu Matsuhisa, the multi-Michelin-starred chef behind the famous Nobu chain of Japanese restaurants. I got two questions in before deciding I wasn’t really interested in anything he had to say.

The reason I took the snap decision to just skim the rest of the article instead of reading it properly was down to Nobu – and I know this will sound strange – making it very clear how much he loves rice. You see, I just don’t get rice. I don’t understand how it’s something people can enjoy; how it’s anything more than just dull filler to bulk out a dish.

So, in light of not having much time for reading at that particular moment, I decided if Nobu wasn’t going to talk about a food I find appealing, I didn’t care to hear any more.

Dining room of Yuzu Manchester

Yuzu

The first thing I did when I got back from my meal at Yuzu on Thursday night was dig the interview up and read it from start to finish.

I’d heard a lot of good things about Yuzu, a fairly recent Japanese addition to Manchester’s Chinatown, before my visit. Most of the praise was for the freshness of the ingredients and the supremely polite staff, with the odd mention of ‘fantastic value for money’ thrown in. Not much was made of the rice*, but that wasn’t particularly surprising. Why would anyone waste sentences talking about confetti substitute? The best you can hope for is that the bland grains don’t distract from the food you actually want to eat.

But, inconveniently, the rice at Yuzu was a distraction – a massive one. That’s why I’ve been banging on about it for the last 300 words! I’ve been able to think of little else since.

It was sort of – a little bit – bloody brilliant.

I’m not entirely sure what it was that made it so delicious, or at least, I don’t think I’m capable of putting it into words. It certainly wasn’t that different to every other bowl of rice I’ve had before. It just seemed to be perfect in three (presumably) very important areas: texture, temperature and salt.

I definitely won’t be so dismissive of it again.

Kaisendon sashimi at Yuzu Manchester

Kaisen Don – fresh tuna, organic salmon and sweet prawn sashimi served over sushi rice in a donburi bowl

The rice was part of our final dish of prawn, salmon and tuna sashimi**, all of which was wonderfully fresh and sweet. Kyotoya in Withington offers a cheaper and more generous sashimi platter, but this was of vastly superior quality, with the tuna particularly good. A small dollop of past-its-best, flavourless salmon roe felt a little out of place, but I could forgive it.

Prior to the sashimi, the food had ranged from solid to very good. Pork yaki udon was cleanly cooked with decent noodles, though the pork was slightly dry and bland and there was nothing special about the pitiful amount of vegetables it came with (I think Kyotoya might have spoilt me in that area).

Chicken katsu, with an excellent golden bread crumb coating but slightly dry meat, was enjoyable as far as chicken nuggets go; the yakitori with sauce, a char-grilled kebab of chicken thighs and spring onions, was of a level you’d find at a merely decent takeaway.

Chicken katsu at Yuzu Manchester

Chicken Fillet Katsu – chicken fillet cooked in bread crumbs

Yakitori with sauce at Yuzu Manchester

Yakitori (with sauce) – freshly made skewered chicken thighs with spring onions, char-grilled in Yuzu’s original yakitori sauce

Gyoza was the best of the small plates by far, the prawn dumplings absolutely beautiful, although it probably deserved a better sauce than the meek combination of soy and chilli oil that was served alongside.

Gyoza at Yuzu Manchester

Gyoza – freshly made prawn dumplings served with soy sauce and Japanese chilli oil

The bill for the five courses – easily enough to stuff the two of us – plus four bottles of beer came to a little over £40. For the quality of the food on offer, I think it’d be fairly difficult to do better than that in Manchester city centre.

The staff were indeed supremely polite and the authentic-feeling dining space was very pleasant. As we got up to pay the bill and leave, my wife spotted a specials board with deep-fried whole sea bream listed on it.

“Now there’s a good excuse to go back,” I said.

As if we needed it!
Yuzu on Urbanspoon

Food: 8.5/30

Service: 6.5/10

Dining Room: 3/5

Experience: 7/10

Overall score: 46/100 (Good)

 

Note: I’ve returned to Yuzu several times since this first visit and each time has been better than the last. I’ve revised the score up on my Restaurant Ratings page accordingly.

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*Andrew Stevenson’s review is an exception. You can read it here.

**The sashimi was meant to include scallops but they didn’t have any in.

Nespresso coffee and food tasting

Coffee room at the Nespresso Trafford Centre boutique, Manchester

Those who know me as a lifelong hater of coffee, who only last week was saying how he’d rather shoot himself in the face than go to the Trafford Centre again, might be surprised to hear that a coffee-themed event managed to drag me back to the Hell Mall on Monday.

It’d been six blissful years since my last visit and if anything was going to persuade me to go back I definitely didn’t think it would be the bitter muddy stuff. But I simply couldn’t resist when a PR company for Nespresso invited me along to a coffee and food tasting being run at the brand’s new boutique.

Firstly, I was intrigued to see whether food and coffee pairing works – would the coffee not just overpower everything else? Secondly, I was keen to try the food of Andrew Nutter, the chef from the well-regarded Nutters in Rochdale, who’d been drafted in to design the Taste of Manchester menu.

Andrew Nutter presents coffee tasting at Nespresso Trafford Centre boutique, Manchester

Chef Andrew Nutter talks us through his coffee pairing menu

The food certainly didn’t disappoint. The flavour of the beef in a well-balanced carpaccio salad was the standout for me, but I also very much enjoyed the homely warmth of the pork belly and bean casserole, and the rich creaminess of the panna cotta and crème brûlée dishes.

Unfortunately, the much-heralded Eccles cake was less impressive. It was clear from the way he spoke that Nutter’s very passionate about this local delicacy, but I am too and I didn’t think the espresso shots lacing its innards did it any favours.

As for the coffee pairing, my overriding feeling was that it wasn’t really worth the effort. The chef did a pretty good job of creating dishes that would be enhanced by the coffee, and the drinks definitely brought out notes on each of the plates. But the improvements were so subtle and so small I couldn’t really see the benefit of pouring these liquid exhaust fumes into my mouth to achieve them.

Andrew Nutter presents beef carpaccio at Nespresso Trafford Centre boutique, Manchester

Granted, I don’t like coffee but even trying to be objective I still don’t think it worked. The joy of wine pairing (if you get it right) is that both the food and the drink are improved by the match. They complement each other to create a whole that’s better than the sum of its parts; it’s a loving, caring marriage of flavours.

In contrast, the relationship between food and coffee is that of gimp and dominatrix. The coffee brutally spanks out its flavours and takes absolutely nothing in return. It has all the romance of a ball gag.

I don’t just mean this from a taste point of view either. Temperature was another clear issue. I can’t imagine even the most ardent coffee fan coming away from the evening and deciding next time they do a salad at a dinner party they’ll stick a hot cup of espresso on the side. It was seriously weird.

The only match that came close to success in my eyes was the crème brûlée pairing; the coffee was mild enough and the dish creamy enough that they sort of went together.

I couldn’t help but think, however, that a much better liquid accompaniment could’ve been knocked up by the two mixologists doing wonderful things with espresso martinis and mojitos on the other side of the room.

As I said, the food was good, but I don’t think coffee pairing is going to catch on anytime soon!

Here’s the full menu with pictures:*

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TASTE OF MANCHESTER

 

Cocoa Roast Beef Carpaccio with Chicory and Rocket

Nespresso’s Arpeggio Grand Cru

Andrew Nutter beef carpaccio, Nespresso Trafford Centre tasting

Slow Braised Pork Belly with a Hot Bean Casserole

Nespresso’s Roma Grand Cru

Andrew Nutter pork belly, Nespresso Trafford Centre tasting

Nespresso Ristretto Coffee and Toffee Eccles Cake

Nespresso’s Ristretto Grand Cru

Andrew Nutter Eccles cake, Nespresso Trafford Centre tasting

Chocolate and Malt Crème Brûlée

Nespresso’s Dulsão do Brasil Grand Cru

Andrew Nutter creme brulee, Nespresso Trafford Centre tasting

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I must say – my feelings on coffee aside – it was a very enjoyable and interesting evening. I was genuinely impressed by the Nespresso store, its products, its staff and the way the whole event was put together. It was all very slick.

I obviously can’t comment on the quality of the espresso itself, but it did seem to me that the company has something really unique and exciting going on with this new offering. While it’s evidently not up my street, I do hope some other drinks manufacturers take a leaf out of its book.

Nespresso’s luxury boutique at the Trafford Centre is now open. Visit www.nespresso.com

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*As mentioned, there was also a panna cotta dish but I have neither the full details nor a clear photo of that so I’ve left it out. If you look closely at the Eccles cake snap, you’ll see it loitering in the background.

Restaurant Review: Aumbry

I love writing scathing reviews. There’s nothing more fun than donning the hat of mean and being a complete and utter bastard.

I’m much better suited to making negative comments than positive ones, or at least that’s how I feel. I certainly know far more insults than compliments. There’s just a pleasure to be had from constructing phrases of harsh ridicule that isn’t there when writing praise. I think I’m better at it, and when I have bad things to say, I reckon my posts are more interesting.

So do forgive me if I bore you to death while recounting my meal at Aumbry, which last week gave me the best meal I’ve ever had in Greater Manchester.

It’s the little things and how well they’re done that make Aumbry such a good restaurant. The tiny dining room – a converted domestic lounge which looks to seat 28 but felt nicely full with half that number on my visit – is a wonderful place to eat. Quaintly adorned and warmly lit, it’s cosy and intimate and has a lot of character. The open kitchen at the back provides a refreshingly un-showy focal point.

The team of waiters is small too – and magnificent. I can imagine it’s very difficult to get the balance right in a place like this, where high-end food demands rigid formality but the dining room calls out for casual friendliness. Each of the two staff members walked this fine line with aplomb, proving extremely efficient, charming and knowledgeable as they flawlessly tended to our table.

The small things done well theme continued into the food, where a focus on the little details gave everything a lift.* The bread wasn’t particularly special but the bread course was. Two types of butter including a wonderful brown nut variety were served in one pretty little pot; joyous beef dripping – the bread accompaniment of all bread accompaniments – was served in another.

In the nine-course tasting menu, it was the little things that outshone everything else. The Scotch eggs were excellent but it was the ketchup that made the dish, a luscious red sauce that had me raking at the plate to scoop up every drop. A hexagonally-cut mushroom, an ingredient so often an afterthought, was immaculate too. On a plate of turbot – my favourite fish – the itty-bitty frogs’ legs stole the show. On the cheese board, it was the beetroot and rhubarb condiments that stood out and sparkled.

Given the passion the kitchen clearly has for the fiddly bits, it’s perhaps not surprising that the first two dishes were the most successful. The most diminutive, refined and delicate of the lot, each of the morsels they encompassed was delicious individually; combined they truly excelled.

Home-smoked mackerel with poached rhubarb and mustard cream was my favourite, an absolutely dazzling dish from the top end of the 1-Michelin-star spectrum. But the home-cured ham with Derbyshire oatcake and potted cheddar that preceded it was every bit as good. My wife’s dish of the night – the Scotch egg – completed a very strong first act.

I didn’t feel the middle part of the meal quite reached the same heights, but there was still plenty to adore. The hogget was beautiful; the pearl barley and braised shoulder served under it inspired. I’ve already mentioned the frogs’ legs, but the smoked eel pudding was just as big a delight.

I did have a couple of quibbles, however. The cauliflower and oat groat porage wasn’t really to my taste,** and it felt a bit like porage overload given its similarity in texture to the hogget’s pearl barley accompaniment. There was a lapse in the precision cooking in this section as well. In fairness, it was the only blip during the whole meal, but it was not an insignificant one: the turbot was overdone.

The final act started with an attractively presented cheese board – six different varieties of cheese, three different condiments, two different ports, one big dose of heaven. This was followed by two very capable, if slightly uninteresting, desserts. Each was well-made, but I felt they lacked a bit of the imagination so prevalent among the other seven courses. Still good, mind!

The full menu (£60) with matching wine (£38) is below. All of the wine pairings worked well and I’d highly recommend it if you have the nine-course tasting menu.

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TASTING MENU


Home Cured Inglewhite Ham

Potted cheddar & Derbyshire oatcakes

Prosecco di Valdobbiadene 2009

Home Smoked Mackerel

Poached rhubarb & mustard cream

Chablis ‘Le Grand Bois’, Domaine Grande Chaume 2008

Bury Black Pudding Scotch Egg

Mushroom relish & tomato ketchup

Morgon Les Charmes 2009

Cauliflower & Oat Groat Porage (v)

White onion purée & cauliflower cheese beignet

Lapostolle Chardonnay Cuvée Alexandre 2009

Roast Wild Turbot

Smoked eel pudding, frog’s leg, parsley root & verjuice

Picpoul de Pinet, Languedoc 2010

Slow Cooked Herdwick Hogget

Pearl barley, braised Shoulder, smoked shallot, crispy lamb belly, Madeira jelly

Crozes Hermitage, Etienne Pochon 2009

British & Irish Cheeses

Rene Mure Gewurztraminer Late Harvest 2006 & Krohn Colheita Port 1978

Grapefruit Posset

Celery granita & grapefruit sherbet

Chateau Jolys Jurancon 2008

Beetroot & Chocolate Cakes

Heaton Park honey, hazelnut, caraway & bee pollen

Jean Bousquet Malbec, Dulce Naturale 2007

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Overall I had a fabulous meal at Aumbry. It wasn’t just the best I’ve had in Greater Manchester, it’s the best I’ve had in Greater Manchester by a long, long way. The couple we got talking to at the table next to ours seemed to be having a similar experience, breaking out the superlatives for every dish. There were just so many high points and nothing much in the way of a low. The four of us agreed that places this good don’t really exist around here.

I want to give a special mention to how well the kitchen catered for my wife’s dairy allergy. I’ve complained in the past about expensive restaurants promising it won’t be a problem and then doing a terrible job of it, and it’s always a big fear when we splash out on a meal. But Aumbry were outstanding; as accommodating as any place we’ve ever been. Discussing it afterwards we decided they were probably as good in this area as Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, and better even than The Waterside Inn (both three-Michelin-starred restaurants, in case you didn’t know). A specially-made dairy-free chocolate petit four was the icing on the cake.

I’ve already convinced my family to give Aumbry a try – we’re planning to head back to celebrate my dad’s birthday in May. But if you live in Greater Manchester, you really need to try it too. I’m pretty sure it’s the finest restaurant in the county. And I doubt you’ll be disappointed.***
Aumbry on Urbanspoon

Food: 17.5/30

Service: 8.5/10

Dining Room: 3.5/5

Experience: 8.5/10

Overall score: 69/100 (Excellent – must try for locals)

 

Note: I returned to Aumbry in June 2012 and took some pictures of the experience. You can read that review here.

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*I forgot to mention the pre-meal nibbles: a couple of decent gougères and some seriously addictive crisps.

**I’m not saying the cauliflower dish was bad, just not up my street. I don’t particularly like cauliflower, nor am I that into foods that have a grainy consistency. Interestingly, when I discussed the meal with my sis-in-law’s fella, who’d eaten at Aumbry a few weeks earlier, this was the dish he really raved about. Different strokes…

***In case anybody is wondering where the food pictures are, I didn’t bother to take any. I was enjoying myself so much I didn’t remember my camera until after the bread, following which I decided snapping away would probably detract from the experience. Certainly, it would’ve been distracting, and I’d rather have a great meal distraction-free than a blog post full of pretty pics.

Restaurant Review: Sam’s Chop House

There are few places in Manchester’s centre that are as charming as Sam’s Chop House, a haven of Victoriana in a 21st century city. The below-street-level timbered bar, with its olde-worlde fittings and characterful warmth, is as good a room to drink in as any in town. The dining area – a tiled jewel every bit as pretty as the centuries-old Paris bistros tourists go so wild for on holiday – is even better, and for years it had food to match.

I vividly remember my first visit in 2005, when I was left awed by an incredibly simple but immaculate plate of smoked salmon, seasoned only with capers, egg and spring onion. An award-winning roast dinner followed: generous slices of stunning beef, gravy made from the pan juices, one crisp giant of a Yorkshire pudding, beautifully cooked buttery veg and that ultimate restaurant rarity – acceptable roast potatoes.

I went back time and time again for the roast when I lived in the city centre. The portions were monstrous but I’d order other courses when I felt manly enough. There was the legendary brown onion soup, cooked for three days ‘til rich and sumptuous, and deeper than a poem by Sylvia Plath. There was the house-made corn-beef hash, a luxurious take on the tinned working class favourite; comforting and tasty enough to be a serious contender for a death row last meal.

It wasn’t entirely consistent, but the fabulous surroundings and wine list were always the perfect plaster for any cracks. Sam’s was, quite simply, the best place to eat lunch in Manchester.

Last week, after a two-year hiatus*, I decided it was finally time to go back.

The usual crowd was in for a quiet Tuesday lunchtime. A few City-types enjoying business lunch over a bottle; an old retired couple trying admirably to conquer a full three courses. Not wishing to spend too much money or be full to bursting, we elected to just have two courses and drink beer.

My hanger steak carpaccio had decent flavour and went well with a watercress, radish and horseradish coleslaw, but it felt more like sandwich filling than a complete dish. Certainly, it would’ve been more interesting between two thick slices of white bread, and I probably wouldn’t have felt so cheated by the portion size.

My wife’s starter of scallops with ham hock and a butternut squash purée was better but similarly uninspired. The purée was sickly sweet and the scallops, though well-cooked, were dismally small. The combination of hot scallops with fridge-cold ham hock and lukewarm butternut squash was slightly disconcerting.

(We did take pictures of both of these, but they were crap, so I’m not going to bother putting them in.)

Belly Pork at Sam's Chop House restaurant, Manchester

Pork belly from Wilson’s Farm, Helmsley slowly braised then roasted with mustard swede, black pudding mash & finished with a light pork sauce & crispy crackling

One disappointment I experienced on an earlier visit to Sam’s was a dish of belly pork that was absolutely delicious but didn’t have any crackling with it, which sort of defeats the point of pork belly as far as I’m concerned. Seeing crackling specifically mentioned on the menu this time, I couldn’t resist giving it another go, and I found myself disappointed all over again.

The skin itself was fine, though nothing more than that; the pork was very dry. Stodgy black pudding mash and somewhat out-of-place slices of mustard swede completed the dish. In a lot of pubs this would be adequate fare, but not in Sam’s, a place that one critic once said did “cooking like your mother wished she could”. I can’t imagine many keen home cooks being proud of this.

Steak and Chips at Sam's Chop House restaurant, Manchester

8oz 28-day aged Pennine Hills prime sirloin steak with a slow-roasted seasoned plum tomato, a garlic & thyme-roasted flat mushroom, Chop House chips & peppercorn butter

The best bit of the meal was probably the chips served with my wife’s steak, although in a world where the triple-cooked variety is becoming increasingly common, they’re nothing to write home about. The steak seemed to be a lovely piece of beef, but of course in this meal of letdowns it was unevenly cooked; one half the requested medium, the rest more or less well done. It wasn’t a patch on the steak I remember ordering from here back in the day.

The bill came to £66, which included three-and-a-half pints of Stella Artois and a 10% service charge. This seemed rather expensive given the quality of the food and compared to what we’d be able to get for the same price elsewhere in the city (a far better meal at The Mark Addy, for example). It was by no means a terrible experience, but it was thoroughly average.

In the past, when I went to Sam’s Chop House, there was always a bit of magic about the place. If something wasn’t right, there was normally something else to make up for it; at the very least, there was the feeling that next time it would all be right again.

Regretfully, on this visit, the magic was gone. Unless it’s just for a drink, I don’t think I’ll be going back.

 
Sam's Chop House on Urbanspoon
Food: 9/30

Service: 5/10

Dining Room: 4/5

Experience: 5/10

Overall score: 42/100 (OK)

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*In case you’re scratching your head and wondering why I stopped going if I loved it so much, I had to cut back a lot on restaurant visits between 2009 and 2011 as I saved up to buy a house and pay for a wedding. It’s only been open season again since August and now I don’t live in the city centre, lunch at Sam’s is no longer as convenient as it used to be.

Restaurant Review: The Rose Garden

I think it takes real balls to open up a serious restaurant on West Didsbury’s Burton Road. There are few, if any, places in Manchester that offer such fierce competition. Dozens of eateries lie in the vicinity, including several of the city’s most successful and revered.

Directly across the road from The Rose Garden sits Rhubarb, “the only restaurant in West Didsbury to be recommended in the Michelin guide”.* Around the corner is the granddaddy of the local dining scene, The Lime Tree, which has been picking up awards for decades.

But if such competition has had an adverse effect on The Rose Garden, you’d never be able to tell. With a menu and dining room that ooze confidence, it was completely full when we arrived for our 9pm booking on a Saturday night and it was still buzzing when we left almost two hours later.

Table at The Rose Garden restaurant, West Didsbury

A friendly waitress seated us at a small but serviceable table by the door. First impressions were far better than I expected them to be. Pictures of the restaurant online made it look like this bleak, dystopian nightmare of a place – snowblind-inducing white walls with cold splashes of modern art. But packed to the rafters with people it was warm and intimate; a lovely space to be.

There were a lot of good options on the menu, so it took us a while to make up our minds. My wife drank a gin and tonic whilst perusing while I got straight on with the wine, a perfectly acceptable Vina Cobos Malbec Felino 2010.

2010 Felino Vina Cobos wine at The Rose Garden restaurant, West Didsbury

2010 Felino Vina Cobos

It took about 30 minutes for our starters to arrive but mine, I felt, was worth the wait. The well-cooked glazed pigeon breast was in perfect harmony with the crisp salad, sweet popcorn-esque toasted walnuts and tart orange vinaigrette served alongside it, and it all went down very nicely. It wasn’t the most exciting of dishes, but definitely a very pleasant way to start the meal.

(‘Pick the walnut shards out of the tooth cavity’ was a fun game for my tongue to play between courses.)

Glazed pigeon starter at The Rose Garden restaurant, West Didsbury

Glazed pigeon: Cheshire wood pigeon breast, orange glaze, toasted walnuts, celeriac and radish salad, orange vinaigrette

While I was eating that, my wife had a black pudding and venison scotch egg, which would’ve been great had it not been let down by a couple of things: a disappointingly overdone egg yolk and far too much black pepper. The combination of flavours was good, with the chutney particularly outstanding, but it wasn’t executed as well as it could’ve been.

Scotch egg starter at The Rose Garden restaurant, West Didsbury

Scotch egg: sausage meat, black pudding and venison, boiled egg, crisp breadcrumb shell, rhubarb chutney

For mains we both ordered two-way beef – a 4oz fillet with braised shin, fidget pie and roast tomatoes. This wasn’t as ugly as the below picture suggests and definitely didn’t merit my wife’s suggestion that someone had “shit on the plate”, but it wasn’t going to win any prizes for presentation. What could win prizes, however, was the absolutely incredible shin of beef, which brought up memories of all the best stews I’ve had in my life and showed them two fingers. The chef’s heavy-handedness with black pepper aside, this was about as good as warm, homely comfort food can get.

A little too good, if I’m honest, for the fillet steak. This wasn’t a bad chunk of meat by any means and it was well-cooked, but it was easily outshone by its rustic partner. The contrast was interesting for a bit, but I think I’d rather have done without it. The superb fidget pie and tomatoes were accompaniment enough.

Two-way beef main at The Rose Garden restaurant, West Didsbury

Two-way beef: 4oz fillet of Cheshire beef, braised shin of beef, fidget pie, roast tomato, rich beef gravy

Each of us had a different tart for pudding: an orange and pistachio tart with blackberry compote and clotted cream pour moi and a Bakewell tart for the missus. Both were pretty solid efforts and I don’t have much to say about either, other than I’d happily eat them again. Dessert wine options weren’t particularly strong, but there’s worse things that can happen.

Pistachio tart dessert at The Rose Garden restaurant, West Didsbury

Pistachio tart: ground pistachio, orange essence, sweetcrust pastry, blackberry compote, candied orange, clotted cream

Bakewell tart at The Rose Garden restaurant, West Didsbury

Bakewell tart: classic raspberry and almond tart, St Clements dust, spun sugar (note: this is normally served with house-made vanilla ice cream)

Service was charming and efficient, and the whole evening was very satisfying; that I went home afterwards and cracked open the Hennessy XO says volumes about what a good time we had. My only real complaint about what was otherwise an excellent meal is that the prices (£7 starters, £20 mains, £6 desserts) seemed one or two pounds higher than they should’ve been. But given how packed the place was, the locals are clearly happy to pay this much.

And for a meal this good, so am I.

 
The Rose Garden on Urbanspoon

Food: 10.5/30

Service: 7/10

Dining Room: 3/5

Experience: 6.5/10

Overall score: 49/100 (Good)

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*I don’t rate Rhubarb at all, having had a very poor lunch there a couple of years back. But a lot of people do seem to like it.

Foods To Try Before 2013

I have plans for 2012. I have plans that involve a new passport, trips to Belfast and Bangor, and London and Paris; plans that must be executed before a bun appears in my wife’s proverbial oven, forcing them all to be put on hold.

My plans will see me scratch the itches left over from 2011 and tick the boxes I thought by now I might’ve already ticked. They should take me on a fabulous roller-coaster ride of flavours, textures and aromas, like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.

My plans will see me cross many more items off my list of Foods To Try Before You Die.* It is my greatest hope that they will see me eat the meal of a lifetime.

These are my restaurant plans for 2012:

Manchester

Aumbry

The River Restaurant at The Lowry Hotel

Belfast

Deanes

London

Koffmann’s

Ledbury

Paris

Le Meurice

The dining room at Le Meurice, Paris

And these are the Foods To Try Before You Die I’ve got my eye most closely on:

Abalone

Capon

Éclair au Chocolat [from Jacques Genin]

Goose

Icewine

Macaroons [from Ladurée]

Macaroons [from Pierre Hermé]

Omelette Arnold Bennett

Pig’s Trotter stuffed with Sweetbreads & Morels [at Koffmann’s, London]

Rose Veal

Roast Rib of Beef

Salt-Baked Fish

Tarte au Citron [from Jacques Genin]

I wish you all a Happy New Year!

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*My apologies for neglecting the primary focus of this blog in the last few weeks. As you’ll have seen, a killer Japanese restaurant, end of year lists and Christmas have been taking centre stage in my mind. I haven’t completely forgotten about The List though. I’ve been adding new items to it as ever – it’s now up to 66 – and another of my plans will see me recap the eating of these four bad boys in the coming weeks:

Food #9: Confit de Canard

Food #10: Raw Oysters

Food #11: Valrhona Chocolate

Food #12: Victorian Mince Pie

Restaurant Review: Kyotoya revisited

Reviewing a restaurant just a few weeks after I last visited and reviewed it feels a little strange to me. In the past (see Mark Addy), I’ve simply tacked a few comments about the revisit on to the end of the original post because there’s not much more I need to say – certainly not enough to write a whole new article.

But Kyotoya last night was the first meal I’ve had since setting up the blog where I’ve bothered to take pictures,* so I figured sod it, let’s give it a go!

The dining room at Japanese restaurant Kyotoya in Withington, Manchester

There were two dishes I was desperate to eat on my second visit to Kyotoya: the shichimi chicken breast I adored so much last time and the spicy whole sea bass, which I’d heard good things about. Being a budding fatso and in the position of choosing food for the whole table of three, I also ordered the shichimi salmon and shichimi beef, and the house special fried rice and fried noodles.

The salmon arrived first, alongside a delightful beansprout salad. I’ve never used the word ‘delightful’ to refer to anything featuring beansprouts before, as I’ve traditionally considered them an abomination. But there was nothing soggy or gritty about this salad; nothing so stringy you could floss your teeth with it. This was just supremely fresh and crisp, and the perfect foil to all the meat we were about to consume.

(I did take a photo of the salad, but it was crap, so I’ve left it out.)

The salmon itself was moist and full of flavour, but had a little bit too much soy sauce on it for my tastes. I don’t know what else to say about it, which probably says enough. I’m glad I ordered it, but I don’t think I would again.

Shichimi salmon at Japanese restaurant Kyotoya in Withington, Manchester

Salmon shichimi, grilled in a garlic and chilli sauce

While we were busy eating the fish, the beef arrived, cooked nice and pink in the middle and with wonderfully crisp fat. Going off its appearance, I was expecting it to chew like a rubber band, but it was so tender you could pull it apart with chopsticks and it melted in the mouth. Unfortunately, it was salted to the point of mummification, which held it back from being the dish of the night for me.

Shichimi beef at Japanese restaurant Kyotoya in Withington, Manchester

Beef shichimi

The rice, noodles and chicken came more or less together. A wanton dusting of black pepper spoiled the rice to the point of unpleasantness, but the noodles – with prawns, salmon, bok choi and assorted veg – were lovely. The chicken was every bit as gorgeous as I remembered it; so succulent, so juicy, and so, so, so addictive.

Special fried noodles at Japanese restaurant Kyotoya in Withington, Manchester

Kyotoya special fried noodles

Shichimi chicken at Japanese restaurant Kyotoya in Withington, Manchester

Chicken shichimi

After we’d demolished the shichimi, it was time for the main event – the spicy whole sea bass**, which was stuffed with a leek, lightly battered and deep fried before being dressed with a spicy sauce. I don’t think there are many more exciting things in a restaurant than being presented with a whole fish to share, and this definitely looked the part: an angry monster fish, roaring up from a blood-red lagoon. Every diner in the restaurant turned their head as it was brought out; it was stunning.

Spicy whole sea bass at Japanese restaurant Kyotoya in Withington, Manchester

Spicy whole sea bass

Spicy whole sea bass at Japanese restaurant Kyotoya in Withington, Manchester

If I’m honest, it didn’t quite live up to expectations. The meat was a touch overcooked and it didn’t pack the flavour I’m used to with sea bass. That said, the sauce was spot on and the crispy skin was incredible; there was a great big dose of happiness with each salty, crackly bite.

We’d eaten far too much food by this stage, but we still managed to polish the fish off, autopsying it until every shred of flesh was found and devoured. Despite the faults, I’m struggling to think of a single restaurant dish in Manchester which comes anywhere near this in terms of value for money. For £12, it’s an absolute cracker.

Spicy whole sea bass at Japanese restaurant Kyotoya in Withington, Manchester

On the whole, this meal was a sizable step up from my first experience of Kyotoya. There were far more highs from the food and the lows were all fairly minor. There were no service issues to speak of and I’ve even grown slightly fonder of the dining room, thanks to a seat that allowed me to watch the kitchen and kept me out of the path of the hurricane winds which blow in under the door.

The improvements did come at a price. We visited at 6pm – too early for me – when the place was pretty much empty, and we spent around £6.50 more per head, although admittedly this was for far, far more food.

Nevertheless, I think it was a price well worth paying. Even at £20 per person, including wine and beers, Kyotoya is a bargain. And now I’ve revised its scores up, I make it the second best East Asian restaurant in the city.

I said this last time, but I’ll say it again – if you live anywhere near Withington, you definitely need to go.
Kyotoya on Urbanspoon

Food: 9/30

Service: 5/10

Dining Room: 1.5/5

Experience: 7/10

Overall score: 41/100 (OK)

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*I should apologise for the standard of the images. I can assure you that in real life, the salmon didn’t look like the chicken and the sea bass wasn’t served on a plate of gore. At the moment, I’m just experimenting with photos using a crappy cameraphone. Once I’ve worked out what I’m doing – and whether it’s something I want to continue doing for my restaurant reviews – I’ll upgrade to a proper camera.

**Do bear in mind if you go and want the sea bass (they do a sweet and sour version as well), you’ll need to pre-order it.

Best of 2011: Restaurant Dish of the Year

As you’d expect given the incredible foodie year I’ve had, I’ve eaten some truly sublime things in 2011. Here I run down the best dishes I’ve eaten overall, and the best dishes I’ve eaten in my home city of Manchester, during the last 12 months.

TOP 10 RESTAURANT DISHES OF THE YEAR (OVERALL)

The Waterside Inn view

The view from The Waterside Inn

  1. Warm Raspberry Soufflé [The Waterside Inn, Bray – August]

Out of everything I’ve eaten this year, this is the one I find myself day-dreaming about the most. My mouth moistens, my memory goes back to a perfect summer’s evening and I want more than anything to be sat in the dining room of The Waterside Inn, gazing out over a moonlit river and eating this faultless raspberry soufflé.

I’ve had many more profound eating experiences during 2011; revelations that changed my whole outlook on food. But this relatively simple dessert handily beat each of them in the most important category of all – taste.

I had often wondered what the fuss is with soufflés; this featherlight version, with the texture of a celestial cloud and the intense flavour of fresh English raspberries (aided by a tart raspberry coulis), explained it better than words ever could. A symphony of pleasures from the moment it arrived on the table to the last spoonful, no dish has ever given me greater joy – and I think it might be a long time before another gives as much again.

2.      Roast Foie Gras, Isle of Skye Sorrel, Gooseberry & Cardamom [Hibiscus, London – July]

3.      Fillet of Beef Rossini, Crunchy Cos Lettuce, “Sacristain” Potatoes [Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, London – August]

4.      Seared Scallop, Pea Purée, Toasted Coconut and Morteau Sausage Emulsion [Hibiscus, London – July]

Done correctly, scallops can be remarkable little morsels – jewels of the sea – but I had no idea how good they could be until I had this dish, with a big, fat, hand-dived specimen at its centre. The accompaniments were impressively made and the whole dish was beautifully presented and cooked, but it was Mother Nature who made it sing through the creation of this exquisite central ingredient. So fresh and so sweet, it almost makes me scared to order scallops again in case they’re just not this good.

(You can see a picture of the dish, as well as a picture of the number ten on this list, here, via Nordic Nibbler. I think I might’ve actually been there on the same night as him as I had the first four dishes he had, as well as the same amuse bouche, pre-dessert and first dessert course.)

 5.      Roasted Challandais Duck with a Lemon and Thyme Jus, Potato and Garlic Mousseline [The Waterside Inn, Bray – August]

The Waterside Inn is all about the duck. They float down the Thames as you sit out on the terrace, pictures of them adorn the walls and menus, and the smell of them roasting permeates every inch of the restaurant (delightful when you’re waiting for your food, not so delightful when you wake up hungover in the morning).

I believe it hasn’t been off the menu since it opened well over three decades ago and I found out just why when I had the chance to try it: it’s a total classic. I loved the theatre of the whole duck being presented at the table then carved in front of us. I also loved the little puff pastry duck served alongside it. But, as you’d expect, the dish was really all about the duck itself, which was stunning.

It was supremely old-fashioned, and it looked it, but this is my sort of food. If I ate at The Waterside Inn ten more times, I don’t think there’d be a single occasion where I wouldn’t order the duck.

(You can see a picture of the dish, as well as a picture of the number nine on this list, here, via Food-E-Matters.)

6.      Porterhouse & Bone In Rib-Eye Steaks (150-day Corn Fed USDA Angus Beef), Hand Cut Chips [Goodman Mayfair, London – August]

7.      Baba like in Monte-Carlo [Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, London – August]

8.      Macerated English Raspberries, Fine Puff Pastry Layers, Lime and Yoghurt Custard, White Chocolate Shards [Northcote Manor, Langho – August]

9.      Terrine of Foie Gras with Lightly Peppered Rabbit Fillets and Glazed with a Sauternes Wine Jelly, Salad of Chinese Cabbage Leaves and a Violet Mustard-Flavoured Brioche Toast [The Waterside Inn, Bray – August]

 10.      Tartare of King Crab, Sweetcorn, Meadow Sweet & Smoke Kipper Consommé, Sea Herbs [Hibiscus, London – July]

This dish was my intro to two-star Michelin cooking and I could immediately see the difference between it and everything I’d had before at one-star level. “The Red Guide inspectors aren’t completely clueless,” I thought. It was an unusual dish, absolutely nothing like anything I’ve ever had before or since, but it was such an awesome way to start a meal. A fascinating exploration of different tastes and textures, it was a real treat for the senses, and one I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

TOP 5 RESTAURANT DISHES OF THE YEAR (MANCHESTER)

1.      Bone In Sirloin (Belted Galloway), Bone Marrow, Mushroom, Chips [Smoak, City Centre – October]

2.      Rib-Eye Steak, Chips, Humitas, Baby Gem salad, Tender Stem Broccoli and Peppercorn Sauce [Gaucho, City Centre – July]

Gaucho might not do the best steak in town anymore, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t still do a bloody good job. Had an excellent meal there on my stag do, the highlight of which was a main course featuring humitas (a paste of sweetcorn, onions and goat’s cheese, boiled in a corn husk). I’ve never been a big fan of sweetcorn, but these were a revelation – a wonderful sweet accompaniment to the perfectly-cooked beef.

3.      Eccles Cakes with Double Cream [The Mark Addy, Salford – November]

When I got married earlier in the year, I had an Eccles cake mountain instead of a traditional wedding cake (below). It looked good, it tasted good; the guys from Slattery’s in Whitefield did a great job. But when I tasted the Eccles cakes at The Mark Addy a few months later, my first thought was: “Why the hell didn’t we get these guys to do our Eccles cakes instead?” Absolutely gorgeous and, as I said in the comments here, the best I’ve ever had.

Eccles cakes wedding cake, Slattery's

My Eccles cake wedding cake, or as Michelin-starred chef Alexis Gauthier described it: "Brilliant croque en bouche a l'Anglaise."

4.      Pigeon, Bury Black Pudding, Belly Pork, Apple [The Lime Tree, West Didsbury – November]

5.      Chicken with Garlic [Kyotoya, Withington – November]

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