10 Great Places to Eat in Manchester

I’ve been doing A LOT of eating in Manchester this year.  Jamie and I made it our mission to eat in as many of the best restaurants, supper clubs and cafes in Manchester as we could.

Here’s a little countdown of some of our faves from 2016 in no particular order:

1. Yazu, Chinatown

This is a tiny, very homely and simple restaurant that sells beautiful honest Japense food. We had stunning sashimi and tempura, and the atmosphere was delightfully low key and pleasant.

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Sashimi and veg tempura

2. Rudy’s Pizzas, Ancoats

Do incredible stonebaked pizzas.   The white pizza below called Ancozzese, with wild broccoli and tuscan sausage, was sensational.  Rudy’s is a gorgeous and effortlessly trendy glass fronted venue in a pretty square in Ancoats.  The staff were lovely and the venue was buzzing.

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Ancozzese pizza on left, and jolly Jim the owner on the right

3. Hawksmoor, Deansgate

This is a glamourous art deco venue and they serve fabulous meat – steaks are the focus although other options are available.  The service is impeccable and it feels like a treat being there.

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Steak and chips!

4. Trove, Levenshulme

I love going to Trove just for a coffee or lunch.  But they also do brilliant supper clubs.  We recently went to the Maple supper club – every dish had maple syrup in it.  It was mouth wateringly good food.  In the photo below, on the left are homemade pittas, falafels, pickles and courgette salad and on the right is lemon almond tart with balsamic strawberries.  I didn’t want the food or the evening to end.

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Falafels, pitta and pickles and the best lemon almond tart

5. The Buttery, Levenshulme

I met Neil Buttery when he was running a pastry class with Cracking Good Food.  As he was such an ace pastry chef I wanted to try his new restaurant, the Buttery.  It’s an intimate venue, with arty vibes and a welcoming atmosphere and just damn good pies, beers and wines and all at very good prices.

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Jamie downing some top notch ale at The Buttery

6. El Gato Negro, King Street

This classy new venue opened at the beginning of the year.  The interior is elegant and stylish and their tapas is equally excellent.  Along with some other wonderful dishes, I ate the best tortilla of my life – moist, rich and herby.

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El Gato Negro – it’s just classy

7. Lunya, Deansgate

We popped in here for a cheeseboard one evening.  Lunya feels so spanish.  Sitting up at the bar (which is next to their deli), Lunya felt alive with hustle and bustle, and the cheeseboard was divine.  We came back a few days later to try their restaurant upstairs, but the atmosphere just wasn’t the same as the buzzy excitement of the bar area.

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More cheese please!

8. The Walled Garden Vegetarian Supper Club, Whalley Range

In May I went to Eddie Shepherd’s supper club for the second time.  He’s a charming host and his 14 courses of experimental and delicious vegetarian food were just as good as the first time.

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Eddie’s experimental vegetarian cooking

9. Brassica Grill, Heaton Moor

On hearing that Brassica Grill had been nominated for a Manchester Food and Drink Festival Award , we were keen to try it out.  Whilst my starter and main were good, they weren’t memorable, what stood out was the delightfully relaxed and friendly atmosphere of the restaurant and the staff were adorable.  AND most importantly my pudding was off the scale: raspberry souffle and lemon thyme ice-cream.

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A raspberry souffle to die for

10. The Allotment Vegan Restaurant, Stockport Old Town

The recently opened Allotment vegan restaurant is one of the best meals I’ve had this year. Taking vegan food to another level.  It’s high end food, I’d say on a parr with the quality of food served at the French.  The shiitake terrine with berries blew my mind, the creamy rich pate complemented by the sweet sharpness of the berries.  And the aubergine chargrilled ‘steak’ was so beautifully seasoned it would give any meat steak a run for it’s money.

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Shiitake terrine and aubergine steak

And ten of the places I still want to eat (I could easily make this a list of 30 if I wanted to – there’s too many good restaurants!)

  1. Grafene, King Street
  2. The Refuge at the Palace Hotel, Oxford Road
  3. The Hearth of the Ram, Ramsbottom
  4. The White Hart, Saddleworth
  5. Where the Light Gets in, Stockport (due to open soon)
  6. Hispi, Didsbury Village
  7. San Juan, Chorlton
  8. Grays Larder, Chorlton
  9. El Rincon, Deansgate
  10. Manchester House, Spinningfields

What are your favourite places to eat in Manchester? Please comment below so I can add them to my wish list!

 

Cooking the Books Retro Style – a Review of Nigella’s Classic ‘How to Eat’

Nigella’s How to Eat is considered to be a cooking bible for many.  It’s held up for it’s beautiful prose and her ability to empower the reader to cook confidently and intuitively. It’s also known for being good for explaining classic recipes in a really straight forward way – roasts, stews, pastry, victoria sponges, trifles – it’s all there.

I fully expected to be wowed by this 1998 legendary cookbook. It had been sat on my shelf for two years untouched apart from a stunning mushroom ragout I made as part of the 69-er cookbook challenge. Neglecting this book had actually been more to do with it not having any photos than anything else. But I felt duty bound to review read it as part of my  ‘Cooking the Books’ series because I’m such a big Nigella fan.

My Nigella experience until this point has been a heady one.  I’ve been cooking her recipes for over seven years and everything I’ve ever cooked (with perhaps two exceptions) has been not just a success, but a true triumph.  Her recipes combine incredible and exotic flavours with an idiot proof recipe – allowing me to be lavished with praise by work colleagues and dinner party guests in exchange for very little effort on my part.  Favourites included the toffiest banoffee cheesecake, the sweetest, juiciest egyptian tomato salad, a fragrant courgette and lime curd cake, a dense chocolate guinness cake and the laziest, but most impressive cherry cheesecake. In fact I could fill the page with my Nigella wonder dishes – she’s done a lot for me (and my popularity!).

But How To Eat was a different deal.  It was classic food (little of her more recent fun stuff) and if I’m honest a little on the dull side!  And the sprawling way it’s written and designed makes it an uphill battle – there’s Nigella ramblings about general cooking and eating advice, interspersed with haphazard recipes on the same page and with NO photos.  I really wanted to like it, but I found it a drag.  However as you can see below we did still enjoy some really tasty food so I won’t knock it too much! I guess I just didn’t find it punchy and inspiring like her other books.

The Favourites

  1. Pea orzotto – effectively pea risotto made with pearl barley instead of rice with loads of cream and butter! Unsurprisingly it was creamy and rather tasty.
  2. Mushroom risotto – just an easy and delicious risotto with some porcini mushrooms thrown in.
  3. Lebanese moussaka – not a moussaka as we know it. In fact barely anything like it.  A stew of tomatoes, chickpeas and aubergines with cinnamon and all spice. Earthy, sweet, spicy – a great dinner.
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Pea orzotto, mushroom risotto, lebanese moussaka

The Disappointments

  1. Vegetable Curry – as curries go this was again ‘alright’ but quite bland for a curry. The raita saved it, but it wasn’t even Nigella’s.
  2. Sausages and onion and wine gravy – I think we didn’t help ourselves by buying crap sausages – butchers’ ones would have made a big difference.  The gravy was just very average if I’m honest – for the 30 mins of simmering you would expect it to pack a punch and it didn’t.
  3. Fish pie – again, I thought – a Nigella fish pie, she’ll take it to another level.  She didn’t.  It had some porcini mushrooms in it which I thought might spice things up, but nope, there was nothing special about this pie.
  4. Beer braised beef – I thought this would be amazing – it was just quite nice.  The prunes were a lovely touch though!
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Vegetable curry, sausages and onion and wine gravy, beer braised beef, fish pie

I’m glad I did this How To Eat immersion, just so I can say I’ve read it as it’s held in such high regard.  But it’s definitely not a book for contemporary recipe inspiration! Yes it was written in 1998 so you can’t expect it to be that modern, but Nigella’s Domestic Goddess was written in 2000 just two years later and is bursting with adventurous, inspiring bakes that still stand up in 2016.  Clearly things got better on the recipe front for Nigella after this first book.  But that’s my slightly negative experience of the book, if you like Nigella’s writing style and want to learn how to cook some classics in an idiot proof way – fill your boots!

Making a Splash at Victoria Baths’ 110 Year Birthday Celebration with the Manchester Real Junk Food Project

The chance to visit the beautiful architectural phenomenon Victoria Baths AND eat food by the Real Junk Food Project was too good to pass up! Jamie and I signed ourselves up back in August.  I didn’t really think more about it other than, how cool, I’m going to a beautiful old building and I get to try celebrity chef Mary Ellen McTague’s food.  I was also excited about experiencing The Real Junk Food Project who make their dishes with food donated by supermarkets and other food suppliers that would otherwise be discarded.  What a great concept.

However Jamie’s mum came round for a cuppa a few days before and gave a whole new angle to Victoria Baths.  This was a place that meant a huge amount to her.  Christine’s eyes lit up when she heard we were going.  Not only had she gone there as a child for her weekly bath, but it’s where her mother had done her washing.  Her mother would go there on the same day every week with her friends and they would sing their hearts out to pass the time while they did the washing.  It was a place of community and happy memories for Christine.  And as a young adult she had gone there with work colleagues to enjoy the Turkish Baths where you apparently you got scrubbed to within an inch of your life. That had been a lot of fun too. So going to the 110 year birthday celebrations took on added meaning and depth after that lovely insight.

It was a Thursday evening and as we arrived we were given a glass of prosecco and were given free reign to wonder around the building.  And what a treat that was.  We started in the Turkish baths area where deck chairs, towels and scrubbing tools were laid out artfully to help stoke up your imagination as to what it must have been like.

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Jamie having a good scrub!

Then we went into the pool area which just felt opulent and beautiful.  We loved wandering around taking photos of the old changing booths and walking up to the spectators gallery and enjoying the fantastic views from up there.

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The stunning pool area and the beautiful and battered changing booths
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A wistful moment for Jamie on the spectator gallery

And after a bit of pleasant ambling and prosecco sipping it was dinner time!  I had no idea how this was going to work other than the food had been donated that day from supermarkets, bakers and other food suppliers and Real Junk Food Project muster up a menu based on the goods that come in.

This was the menu we received:

Garlic sourdough

Roast cauliflower and rice with cumin, ginger and lime

Scotch broth

Lentils, paneer, tomato and coriander

Roast courgette and pepper

Sweetcorn and seafood chowder

Birthday cake

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Birthday table – with vintage plates and serviettes
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Garlic sourdough with green salad, roast cauliflower & rice, Scotch ‘broth’, birthday cake

The food was delivered as sharing plates – dish after dish was brought out and we piled stuff on our own plates.  In my enthusiasm I took hearty portions of everything thinking we had got our full quota of food on the table.  But no, more goodies kept coming out, recipes that weren’t even on the menu.  I may have been full but I had to keep trying everything obviously! This was Mary Ellen McTague’s food – I wasn’t going to miss out on any of it.

My overall impression of the food was that it was very good, imaginative and wholesome food. Fine dining it wasn’t – it wasn’t that fussy and finessed – it felt more like an amazing and exotic buffet – which was a vibe I loved.

Firm favourites were definitely the garlic sourdough (great idea) – and the bread was apparently sourced from Trove Bakery.  I also LOVED the scotch broth, which had us all baffled because it was most definitely not a broth – it was in fact pearl barley with some very tasty lamb on top.  No idea if there was a change of mind regarding the initial idea of scotch broth but either way I was very happy with the succulent, earthy risotto-ey outcome.  I was a big fan of the creamy sweetcorn and seafood chowder too.

I thought the sharing plates were great for a party atmosphere.  What better way to get to know your table neighbours than by passing around new intriguing dishes that you have to identify and discuss! Especially as there seemed to be several additional curveballs like spinach, chorizo, chicken and a watermelon salad that weren’t on the original menu.

The evening ended with a delicious slice of birthday cake with chocolate icing and a lovely speech from Corin Bell, Director of Real Junk Food Project Manchester and chef Mary Ellen McTague.  They run regular pop ups in Manchester where the food is provided on a pay as you feel basis.  They had wanted to contribute to the Victorian Baths birthday celebration as it was a cause that they identified with – taking something old and finding a new purpose for it.

All in all it was a fabulous night – it was a fun indulgent evening, whilst supporting two great projects – the Victoria Baths Restoration and the Manchester Real Junk Food Project.

 

It’s damn well bloody over! 69-er is COMPLETE.

And it ends with mixed feelings (and an expanded waistline!).  I’m sorry that there’s no longer going to be anything pushing us out of our comfort zone of routine dinners.  That there won’t be anything that motivates me to whip up a cake or some scones after dinner when I normally couldn’t be arsed.  That it may not occur to me any more to sling together a casual salad or soup for a saturday lunch instead of a sandwich.  However I am relieved that I stand a chance now to lose the weight I’ve put on in the last 9 weeks.  And that I can do other things in life other than cook and pick recipes!

So what have been the wins?

Engaging with cookbooks I normally can’t be bothered to open has been a wonderful discovery.  Who’d have thought that cookbooks without photos actually work?  I love a visual demonstration of a dish to inspire me but a number of my cookbooks didn’t help me out with that. And guess what? The food tasted just as good without the photo.

If a cookbook is old it doesn’t stop it from being excellent – Jamie Oliver’s Naked Chef (1999) helped me to make the best beer bread in the world and Nigella’s How To Eat (1998) provided the recipe to an exquisite mushroom ragu.

Even if I don’t particularly like a chef on tv (Rick Stein – I find him very whingey) doesn’t mean that they can’t write an amazing cookery book. I was literally blown away by Rick’s creamy leak cannelloni.

It’s forced me to try different sorts of cooking – I often avoid my Asian/Indian/Chinese cookbooks because the ingredients can be difficult to source.  But we managed and the dishes were a joy.

Conquering bread was a HUGE deal for me.  I’ve talked about making bread for YEARS and with this challenge I made pitta bread, beer bread and potato bread.  My fear of breadmaking has gone.

It’s confirmed to me that some of my favourites will remain favourites.  I refer to them again, but Nigella and Jamie never failed to deliver amazing food throughout the challenge.

And what will I be taking with me going forward?

I’m going to be more curious about my cookery books and not stick to my comfort zone of my three favourite healthy cook books. Different styles of cooking have different merits and it’s fun to mix it up.  I hope to make an attempt to return to as many of those 69 books as possible.

Finally let me talk you through the last eleven recipes of the challenge. They were all pretty lovely – apart from the Basil and Mango Smoothie (Innocent Smoothie Recipe Book) which was a bit bland.  You can look at all the dishes on the collage below, but I’ll pick out my top 3 faves.

  1. Beetroot and Feta and Mint Salad – Fabulous Baker Brothers.  A bit faffy to make as you had to roast the beetroots then de-skin them with rubber gloves.  Messy work I can tell you. But this was a beauty of a dish – fresh and wholesome and deliciously oniony.
  2. Leek Cannelloni – Rick Stein.  This took ages to make and involved four pans on the go at once.  Every element required steeping and simmering and several stages (eg infuse the milk for the cheese sauce for 20 mins with bay leaves, onions & garlic before you even make the cheese sauce!).  And the lasagne sheets we had to boil in a pot ended up stuck together so we had to chuck them out and have a pasta-less cheese bake. However this didn’t matter and the effort was worth it.  It was out of this world.  The tomato sauce was rich, the leeks with ricotta were a great combination and the cheese sauce was so  flavourful and creamy – it was the icing on the cake.
  3. Baked Cheesecake – James Martin.  I went through a phase about six years ago when I’d have people over for dinner and I’d ALWAYS make a cheesecake.  I was obsessed – I must have tried ten different varieties of cheesecake.  So since that overkill, I don’t make cheesecakes, until the challenge that is.  As it turns out I think it’s the best cheesecake I’ve ever made – the lemon zest and whisky soaked sultanas added a subtle and sophisticated twist to a traditional recipe.

So now 69-er is over, what next? Well certainly for the next two weeks before my holiday I’m going to be doing a lot of healthy eating recipes to lose those extra pounds I’ve gained. So expect a post about that.  And for the next challenge – I’m not quite sure yet, but it would be nice to start another juicy challenge in September.  A food waste challenge or mastering a cuisine are appealing ideas.  Do comment and let me know if you have any suggestions for me!

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69 in 69 – I’m raising the bar

We’re only on day 14, and we’re up to 15 recipes, so it feels appropriate to change the challenge to completing 69 recipes in 69 days.  I’m sure we can do it and I’ve moved the deadline day to 28th July instead of end of September. Go us!

And rather than drown you in detail, here is a quick whistle stop tour of all the nine recipes we cooked this week:

Beetroot Brownies: Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache (all the cakes in this book are made from vegetables).  These brownies were a revelation.  Easy to make even if the beetroot peeling and chopping was a little messy on the hands.  And MY GOD, they packed a punch – moist, rich, earthy.  I couldn’t get enough of them.

Moroccan chicken kebabs and panzella salad: Good Housekeeping Step by Step Cook Book. I’ve wanted to make panzella salad ever since I had one that blew my mind in Tuscany a few years ago.  Who would have thought that some stale bread, tomatoes and cucumber could taste so good?  But it’s quite something.  And the whole meal was a magical combination for a stunningly sunny bank holiday sunday.

Griddled nectarines with feta salad: Good Food 101 Veggie Dishes. This was a saturday lunchtime quickie – just a few simple ingredients compiled in ten minutes.  A gorgeous, light combination of salty feta, sweet melty hot nectarines and fresh mint.

Jamie chose a slow roasted Persian Lamb recipe with pomegranate salad: Good Food 101 Slow-Cooking Recipes. I was not keen – it involved pomegranate molasses and a pomegranate – I wasn’t convinced we’d find either of those in the Stockport suburbs of Hazel Grove.  However Jamie’s enthusiasm won out.  He even MADE the pomegranate molasses!  The thing that impressed us most was the pomegranate salad.  Yes the lamb was succulent and delicious (four hours of cooking in molasses), but the salad was tart, juicy and beautiful – a wonderful compliment to the lamb.

Smoked haddock with white beans and parsley : Gordon Ramsey Cooking for Friends was last friday night’s supper treat.  Jamie found it a bit fiddly – there was pureeing and faffy stages to the dish, but as the consumer of the dish, I was delighted.  It was stylish and showy to look at and just felt like something that you would be served in a posh restaurant.  Bacon and smoked haddock is a great combination and the bean/thyme mash was lovely.

Jamaican chops: Caribbean Food Made Easy with Levi Roots.  A week day simple dinner for us – pork chops slow cooked in a fiery, sweet tomato sauce with celery, peppers and lime. Easy to assemble, tasty and comforting.

Salmon fillet wrapped in proscuitto with herby lentils, spinach and yoghurt: Jamie Oliver The Return of the Naked Chef was a desperation choice.  It was late in the evening and I needed to pick something easy for the next day.  Everything else in this cookbook looked long-winded, but when I spied this I was a happy girl.  Speedy, simple and healthy.  And it really delivered.  It’s not the most aesthetically pleasing dish but prosciutto and salmon REALLY works – the salty meat enhances the salmon and those herby lentils were a nice earthy, flavourful background to the dish.

Keralan Coconut Curry: Anjum’s Indian Vegetarian Feast.  Another beautiful book that had never been cooked from. The curry was creamy, spicy and had lovely depth – for me it was delicious but nothing earth shattering as I’ve had many similar curries, but it really wowed Jamie.

Spurred on by last week’s pitta success I baked oatmeal and potato bread: Home Baking Cookbook.  It was a cheap and easy number (apart from having to make the mash which was a pain!).  Admittedly we did burn the entire top of the loaf, but it really had no affect on the flavour.  It was a dense bread wholesome bread – perfect for making picnic sandwiches with the leftover feta from the salad. I’m definitely getting into this bread making thing – it’s satisfyingly easy and I love the therapeutic process of kneading the dough.

It’s been an intense week of cooking and eating and I’ve loved it.  This challenge is proving to be a real adventure – it’s a heartening and nostalgic experience re-connecting with my neglected books.   Fancy joining me in a similar challenge? Comment below and fill me in!