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!

 

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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.

 

Beautiful and Creative Food at the Brand New Allotment Vegan Restaurant, Stockport

I’m loving that two fancy restaurants are opening in Stockport.  It makes me very happy that I don’t have to schlep all the way into town to get a lovely dinner.  The Allotment Vegan Restaurant opened mid August and the intriguing Where The Light Gets In is due to open very soon.

The Allotment is in the beautiful old town part of Stockport.  The lovely architecture in the old town is in stark contrast to the 70s blandness that is the Mersey Way shopping centre. And the Allotment fits in with the old town beauty perfectly – it’s appearance is unassuming but quietly stylish both outside and in.

 

We were greeted by a warm friendly waitress who explained the menu to us, opened our BYO wine and made us feel at home. It was full and buzzy with an interesting cross section of people, all enveloped in an enjoyably intimate and calm atmosphere.

I was delighted to experience my first ever amuse bouche of multi-coloured raw beetroot sticks and hummus.  I didn’t realise that raw beetroot crudites were a thing – they are not unlike carrots and I’m very much converted.

Jamie’s starter was soup of the day which was Root Veg and Chimichurri. It was super tasty but I definitely won on the starter front with my Shitake Parfait and Seasonal Berries which was OUT OF THIS WORLD.  It was basically a rich mushroom pate which was taken to another level by the berry sauce. Sounds like an odd combo but it stopped me in my tracks – the sharpness and the sweetness of the berries against the creaminess and earthiness of the mushrooms just worked.  The raw mustard seed crackers were excellent too.

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Amuse Bouche of Beets and Hummus, Root Veg & Chimichurri Soup, Raw Mustard Seed Crackers and Shitake Parfait and Seasonal Berries

My main was  a ‘Mixed Grill’ of roasted buckwheat sausage, grilled portobello with smoked cheese, hot fried cauliflower and confit peppered aubergine steak.  It was divine – the stand out piece being the aubergine which really did compete with a real steak for flavour – smoky and rich.  The deep fried spicy cauliflower was also exceptional.

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‘Mixed Grill’

Jamie’s maincourse was ‘Pineapple and Aubergine’ – the same delicious aubergine steak as my mixed grill served with blackened pineapple, lemon grass and tofu cream and all sorts of other goodies.

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‘Pineapple and Aubergine’

I decided to forgo ordering a separate pudding and just share Jamie’s Chocolate Mudpie and Sweet Potato Custard.  Lucky Jamie getting to share his food with me.  However first there was a ‘pre-pudding’ – what a bonus.  Peaches with a hazelnut, tofu cream.  Yum!

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Pre-Pudding of Peaches and Tofu Hazelnut Cream

And then came the exquisite Mudpie and Sweet Potato Custard.  Sounds like it’s going to be vegetably and worthy, but oh no.  This was an absolute highlight.  A rich moist brownie style mudpie with the sweetest creamiest most un-potatoey custard you can imagine.  And it was a huge portion, so Jamie and I both had plenty, although in hindsight, I could happily have demolished my own.

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Semi Demolished Mudpie and Sweet Potato Custard

Whether you are a vegan, vegetarian or hardcore carnivore you will love the Allotment. And whether you live in Bolton or Liverpool or Stockport – it’s worth the trip – this is exceptional, imaginative food served in a lovely, welcoming and thoughtful atmosphere.

To find out more click here: http://www.theallotment.info/

 

Eating Three Courses for £7 at Books for Cooks, the Famous Notting Hill Cookbook Shop

I need to clarify to begin with that I didn’t in fact eat three courses for £7, I ate two courses for £5.  But I needed you to know that you COULD eat three courses for £7. This is such a deal!

My friend Lolita let me in on this hidden gem back in May.  Books for Cooks is a fantastic bookshop entirely dedicated to cookbooks and so it’s my idea of heaven.  And! Even better they have a daily test kitchen where they sample recipes from their cookbooks and serve them to the public at a meagre cost.  I was shown photographic evidence of the food Lolita had eaten and I knew I had to go as soon as possible.

My visit wasn’t entirely straight-forward.  I was accompanied by my friend Vic and her toddler Bella, both Vic and I accepting the challenge of entertaining a toddler during quite a fancy meal.  We could do this surely! Well Bella was certainly as enthusiastic as me about the cookbooks. She merrily pulled as many as she could off the shelves to have a good old look.  As the delicious starter (chilled minted pea soup) arrived, it became apparent we would need to eat in shifts.  One to walk Bella outside, one to eat and repeat!

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Chilled Minted Pea Soup

Chilled minted pea soup then?  Little did I know how much I would like a cold soup – it sounds a bit weird.  But it was thick, refreshing, sweet and delicious – it was a winner.

Next up was beef bourginon with crushed new potatoes.  What’s not to love about a beef bourginon? It was admittedly a small portion, but with pudding in mind and it only being midday, this did make sense.  And it really was a rich, tender bourginon and those great buttery crushed potatoes on top were a lovely touch.

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Beef Bourginon with Crushed New Potatoes

Unfortunately despite having plenty of room for a pud, Bella had reached her saturation point.  I jealously surveyed the three varieties of cake being doled out (guinness cake, apricot sponge and carrot and walnut cake).  I just about managed to be a grown up about it, promising myself that I would return one day and have the full three courses.

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The day’s menu and the delicious cakes I nearly ate
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Delightful Bella, momentarily distracted from pulling all the books off the shelves

I heartily recommend you visit the test kitchen at Books for Cooks whether you are interested in the cookbooks or not, you will be very interested in the delicious and bargain priced meal.  The staff were lively and welcoming and clearly loved having their bookshop crammed with greedy customers.  I will most definitely be back to browse the colourful bookshelves and eat more food.

Find out more about Books for Cooks here: https://www.booksforcooks.com/

Sunday afternoon tapas at Manchester’s El Gato Negro

It wasn’t out of choice.  We did actually want to go on Saturday evening, but El Gato Negro is so popular that we had to opt for a 2.30pm slot on Sunday. This award winning restaurant originally based in Rippendon launched in Manchester’s King Street on 22nd February is booked up for weeks on Fridays and Saturdays.

But actually, what a great time to eat – we felt pretty chilled and sophisticated as we leisurely tucked into our elegant tapas dishes in the simple and classy surroundings of this restaurant.

So I’ll cut to the chase.  The highlight for me without a doubt was the tortilla with white onions and potato served with aioli.  I wasn’t over the moon when Jamie ordered it as my experience is of something dry, bland and a bit pointless really.  But OMG – when this tortilla arrived, I forgot about everything else on the table.  It was just so light,  fluffy, moist and flavourful – stuffed to the gills with some kind of fresh herbs (no idea what – I was too busy eating it).  Go to El Gato for the tortilla alone.

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The other food was also excellent – charcuterie; freshly grilled sardines with lemon, garlic and parsley butter; lamb skewers with spiced chickpea puree and harissa (Jamie’s favourite).  But again it was something more ordinary that captured my imagination: a tiny bowl of celeriac remoulade (aka coleslaw) with the meats.  Oh yes!  This stuff hit the spot – just creamy, nutty and sweet.  I could have polished off a big bowl of that.

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Another unexpected delight was the Navarrico chickpeas with butternut squash, chilli, garlic and caramelised cauliflower.  Obviously with those ingredients the dish was bound to look a bit beige – but the flavour – my! This spicy treat was a fabulous accompaniment to all the dishes – however El Gato’s chefs made some magic that elevated the dish to special status.

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There was something classy and uncomplicated about the whole afternoon, helped by the staff being attentive and friendly (and a lot of them seemed to be Spanish).  And what I love about tapas is it feels like Christmas to me.  You order a load of stuff and then it keeps appearing one dish after another each like a brand new surprise.  And being surrounded by lots of nibbly tasty things is officially the best way to eat.

It’s worth giving this place a whirl – it’s beautifully and simply decorated and above all the food is authentic and brilliantly executed. Cost-wise – our meal came to £68  – including wine, beer, five tapas dishes and bread. Apart from the restaurant – we had a good sneak around and there’s a lovely looking bar on the ground floor (pictured below) where you could just go in for some simple cold tapas.  Even better, tucked away on the top floor  is a cocktail bar with delightful views of the city and a retractable roof! I’ll so be there in summer.

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Have you been to El Gato Negro? I’d love to hear your thoughts. And I’m keen to know about any other great tapas experiences to be had in the North West.