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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]

Restaurant Review: The Mark Addy

If you want to know what The Mark Addy is like, all you need to do is take a look at its waiting staff (all female on the night we went to visit).

There are no divas amongst them. Nobody posh or snooty or who gives the impression they’re in need of high maintenance. Nobody with delusions of grandeur or a rod stuck up their arse. Just an extremely nice group of honest people – friendly, charming and a good laugh.

You could imagine marrying the lot of them. And you’d expect to be made very happy indeed.

The Mark Addy dining room overlooks the River Irwell

Such is The Mark Addy on the Salford bank of the River Irwell.

I don’t think I’ve been to a restaurant before with a bouncer on the door to turn away scumbags. I certainly can’t remember the last time I ate at a restaurant with worse toilets, where you can expect to line up alongside the head chef at the urinal trough. Stepping into the bar area was like breaking open a time capsule to a low-end 1980s pub. The only thing missing was a pool table with a ripped cloth and a missing cue ball.

Before we’d even sat down, I’d said to my wife: “If the food here’s as good as it’s meant to be, I think I’m going to fall in love with this place.”

The Mark Addy dining room

You see, there’s nothing pretentious at all about The Mark Addy. It’s a very honest restaurant, true to its roots and the city it’s in. The formality of restaurants can be intimidating to some people, but you get the impression anybody could walk in here and feel right at home. I really like that.

It’s also clear, if you look past the slightly grubby facade, that a lot of care goes into the place. On appearance, you’d expect the bar to be selling flat lager in plastic glasses – the sort of drinks that taste and smell like bananas because nobody has bothered to clean the lines for half a decade. Instead they’re serving top quality ale in glass pint mugs. My pre-meal Mark Addy-branded beer was, for that particular moment in time, as close to perfection as you can get.

A lot of thought also seems to go into the dining area, where the tables are nicely spread out and candlelight lends further atmosphere to the gorgeous brick-arched ceilings and broad views over the river. It looks fantastic. In this recent, and slightly unfair, review, the critic kept banging on about The Mark Addy being a pub that sells food. But sit down to a meal on a Saturday evening and you’ll be in no doubt that you’re in a restaurant.

And what a good restaurant it is too. I’ve already hinted at the great vibe and fine service, but the food – which is obviously the most important part – delivers as well. It’s big, hearty, interesting British fare, at prices most good places in Greater Manchester haven’t had on their menus since years started with a 1 and a 9.

Deciding what to eat and what to drink with it was a bloody nightmare. My stomach only had enough room to rescue some of the dishes from the kitchen; the rest were going to have to be left behind.

I had shrimp soup to start – a shrimp bisque served under a dome of puff pastry. It was extremely simple, but bang on the money for a rainy night in Salford, warming me right down to the tippy toes of my soul.*

(Incidentally, I would’ve killed for someone to make it for me earlier this week when I was suffering from a cold. It was that sort of food.)

For my main, I had a whole roast grouse with a large fondant potato, bread sauce, jelly, gravy, potato crisps and a gun cartridge (!) stuffed with herbs.** The grouse was overcooked, and the potato was perhaps a little under, but there was still a lot to like about the dish – being able to pick up the bird carcass with my hands and gnaw away at the bits of meat I couldn’t get with the knife chief among them.***

It was probably half the price of the grouse I had at Northcote Manor last month, but it was just as much fun to eat. All the condiments were excellent and it made for a nice little feast.

I was already full come dessert, and the cheeseboard pretty much finished me off. The cheese itself wasn’t anything remarkable, but the accompaniments and quantities had to be applauded. Four large triangles of cheese, four full sticks of celery, a dozen biscuits, half a bunch of grapes, about 50g of butter… It was what I would call “a proper cheeseboard”.

I managed about two-thirds of it before throwing in the towel and called for the bill. But in fractions signalling victory rather than defeat, the cost was about two-thirds the size of what we were charged for a vastly inferior meal at Jem&I a few weeks earlier. It was a satisfying way to end the evening.

It’s been a while since I walked away from a restaurant in Greater Manchester with such a big smile on my face. It’s been even longer since I walked away from one thinking that I really got my money’s worth. And my memory definitely doesn’t stretch back to a time when I’ve walked away from somewhere already planning a return visit.

The Mark Addy isn’t a looker in the traditional sense. Neither is it snobby, precious or grandiose. It’s just a very good restaurant – generous, affable, kind.

And it rocked my world.****

Mark Addy on Urbanspoon

Food: 9.5/30

Service: 6.5/10

Dining Room: 4/5

Experience: 7/10

Overall score: 49/100 (Good)

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*Or it would if I still had one. My memory’s a little hazy, but I’m pretty sure I sold it to a friend for some sweets in my early teenage years.

**There may have been more things – it was kind of awesome.

***You’ve got to love a restaurant where you can feel comfortable doing that. Without using my hands and teeth in tandem, it would’ve been impossible to get all the meat off the roasted bone marrow my wife had for her starter.

****These asterisks exist because I forgot to mention the wine. They’ve got an excellent list, short, comprehensive and relatively cheap. We had the rather lovely Soldiers Block Shiraz, Mclaren Vale, Australia 2007/8, plus a glass of Krohn Colheita Port, Portugal 1978 with pudding. Sadly they were out of the 1968…

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