I Ain’t Got Beef Wiv Dat

October 1st, 2014

Innit.

Another week, another Yelp event with more food than even my endless stomach could handle. Last night I headed to Handmade Burger Co on Deansgate with my fellow Yelp buddies for food and frivolity. It was part of the Carnivorous Maximus series of food events being run by Yelp where a group of us go to a meat-tastic restaurant and gorge on cow/pig/chicken/whatever. My current cooking habits and the regularity of my friends saying, “But I thought you were vegetarian, Jess?” would suggest that I am more of a vegetable than meat lover. I would always choose a spinach and feta filo tart over a plate of ribs. Broccoli excites me and pumpkin… wow. Don’t let me start talking about pumpkin. But every now and then my inner beast craves a big chunk o’ meat. A nice rare filet steak with peppercorn sauce, my mum’s various one-pot chicken dishes, or a juicy burger are always welcomed by these taste buds.

I purposefully avoided over eating in the lead up to this event. Burgers are filling things and I wanted to ensure I had enough space in my belly to fit it all in. Plus there would undoubtedly be chips. Mmm… chips.

On arrival we were offered a drink and I was a little disappointed by the beer options as they were your fairly standard Peroni and Coronas. I had come picturing myself with a pint of ale in one hand and a dripping burger in the other. But some clever reflection on the situation made me realise that a glass of wine is far less stomach-swelling than beer and their New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc was a much better choice anyway.

After a bit of mingling, we sat down and ordered our food at which point my thoughts on Handmade Burger and Co skyrocketed. I had spotted the “Specialist Cheese” burger – beef patty, salad, tomato and onion with a choice of ‘fancy’ cheese. One of the cheese options was “blue cheese mayonnaise” which sounded both fantastic and disgusting at the same time. Why ruin a perfectly wonderful cheese by adding mayonnaise? The particularly friendly and organised host serving us delivered the best news of the evening when I questioned how ‘mayonnaisy’ the cheese would be. She simply asked the chefs if I could have plain blue cheese added to my burger and my request was made! No hassle, no rolling of the eyes and I’m fairly certain they didn’t spit in my burger. Wonderful. Now that is customer service.

Handmade Burger Co burger

Look at that Stilton.

The burger arrived and I was thrilled to see a sourdough bun instead of the sickly sweet brioche buns most other burger companies insist on using. It wasn’t the greatest bread but at least I didn’t feel like I was eating a very expensive Big Mac. The beef patty was well cooked and still juicy in the middle and the blue cheese was fabulous. Normally I feel slightly ill after eating a burger and regret the decision – not this time.

I did, however, regret the plain potato chips that I ordered as my side dish. While they may be hand-cut, they lacked any flavour and were just a bit stodgy. You certainly get a lot of them though – I was served at least five potatoes worth. Fellow Yelper, Becs, made an excellent comment saying they should recommend sharing a bowl of chips between three people. There were a lot of wasted potatoes on the table last night.

After stuffing ourselves silly on cow and carbohydrates, a selection of what I can only describe as novelty-sized sundaes were placed down the table for us to share. These beasts were massive heart attacks and we were all a bit overwhelmed by the sugar overload. Sure – they were tasty but I would never, ever order one. Once you start piling cream, brownie pieces, ice cream and sauce, into a giant glass, you lose all concept of flavour. I prefer more refined and less sickly desserts but I have a certain housemate who would make that thing disappear in record time.

Handmade Burger Co sundae

What a whopper.

I was quite impressed by Handmade Burger Co and would put it as one of my better burger experiences since moving to the UK. Nothing beats my favourite Jus Burgers back in Perth, but it is nice to see a burger company offering an interesting range of burgers that stems beyond added copious amounts of bacon.

Not So Homemade

October 1st, 2014

The other day while walking home through the Northern Quarter, I spotted this item through the kitchen window of one of the Northern Quarter’s hippest, grooviest and most pricey restaurants.

Wellocks Luxury Mayonnaise

For the most luxurious mayonnaise experience, try Wellocks.

While I know restaurants don’t make everything from scratch, it was just slightly scary to see that a key ingredient in this largely ‘sandwich focused’ establishment came out of a plastic tub that was a similar shape and size of a pot of paint or glue.

Perhaps they should consider hiding this little secret slightly better, or at least keeping it away from their very large windows for passing customers to see.

Speculaas Induced Memories

October 1st, 2014

I am currently sitting at my kitchen table working on my laptop and being easily distracted by Facebook and photographs from last night’s Yelp event. I have just made myself a cup of coffee and am eating a speculaas biscuit that was hand couriered from The Netherlands by Sir Pubert Gladstone when he last visited his Dad.

Speculaas biscuits

Speculaas biscuits – Photo from www.enjoybettercoffee.com

Despite the uniquely spiced flavours of this Dutch speciality, all I can think about when I eat speculaas are summer holidays in Perth when I was a kid. Every day mum would take my brother, his friend, Alan, and me to North Cottesloe beach for a swim. After an hour or so of catching waves on our boogie boards or floating on our backs in the flat water, we would run back to our towels and Mum would give us speculaas biscuits. It would taste of sun-warmed spice, sea salt and sand. After scoffing one or two we would race back for more wave action, squealing a little as our bodies readjusted to the water temperature.

North Cottesloe beach

North Cottesloe beach – photo by Al Black on Flickr

Midday would approach and we would brush the sand from our feet and sit on the hot car seats, the seat belts scolding our bare skin. On the way home, mum would stop at the bakery in Claremont for poppyseed rolls and jam doughnuts. As we waited in the car, Ben, Alan and I would compare who had the most sand in their bathers and think about what video we wanted to watch that afternoon.

It is amazing what a flavour can spark in your memory bank. This week I was fortunate enough to be given a piece of homemade Princess Cake. The making of the cake was inspired by The Great British Bakeoff but for me, Princess Cake means family gatherings at my Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Out of date juice boxes, teal coloured floral plates, cake forks and the celebration of one of my grandparents’ birthdays. Green marzipan domes will always remind me of this, and while Princess Cake was never my favourite (I’m not a huge fan of soggy sponge and cream), spending time with my family has always been something I have enjoyed. So while they may all be living on the other side of the world, as I ate the green marzipan I felt like my grandma and grandpa and the Miss Maud’s bakery were just next door.

 

Princess Cake

Mary Berry’s Princess Cake

Off We Go to Westward Ho!

September 22nd, 2014

WARNING! WARNING! Word-nerd alert! I spent the weekend staying near a town with an exclamation mark in its name! When I first learnt that I needed to get to the Royal North Devon Golf Club in Westward Ho!, I presumed my friends were just really excited about the location of their party. So imagine my utter joy when I saw signs saying, “Westward Ho!.” I put this on par with visiting the train station with the world’s longest name in Wales.

There's an emergency! Westward Ho!

There’s an emergency! Westward Ho!

I am now planning a trip to Quebec to visit the other city in the world with a very exciting name; Saint-Louis-du-Ha!-Ha! beats Westward Ho! by one whole exclamation mark. It must be incredibly annoying for all of its residents when they need to write their address in online forms. Poor dudes.

Dancing Badly at Weddings is OK.

September 22nd, 2014

I spent the weekend in sunny Devon where the sun really did shine and there really were Devonshire teas. Slight warmth and scones make Jess a very happy girl. The purpose of my trip was to provide emotional support and additional hands to my friends, Pooja and Jonathan, who were having Round 2 of their three part wedding. Already hitched in Harrogate a few months ago, they were now bringing together their friends and family from all over the world to eat cornish pasties and samosas in a Westward Ho! golf club.

As most wedding receptions seem to go, there were drinks followed by food followed by the establishment of a fairly ordinary dance floor. We are talking portable disco lights and a music playlist Pooja and I had thrown together that morning being controlled from an iPad. It was quality stuff, and so was the dancing.

On the dance floors of weddings anything goes. Arms flail, feet step and bodies bounce somewhat in time to all your favourite dance hits from the 80s, 90s and today. You are free to express yourself and let yourself go without being judged because everyone else looks just as ridiculous as you. You can’t get away with this sort of shoddy dancing at a night club or concert because there people really are watching. At a wedding, the positive vibes of love and marriage bring an over riding power that allows you to do no wrong. If you feel a sudden urge to body pump, go right ahead and do it. Half of the dance floor will mostly likely join in and body pump with you.

As you would most likely expect, the dance floor on the weekend was 90 per cent female. The occasional male was dragged out to dance, kicking and screaming, giving in for one song before running back to the other blokes who stood around smirking. There were, however, token men who took hold of the opportunity to be surrounded by twelve dancing ladies and who ruled the dance floor with charm and smooth moves. A tip for all of the men of the world – if you want to have well dressed females throwing themselves at you, learn to dance.

After two hours of toe-tapping, spirit-fingering and hip-shaking, my fellow dancers and I were now all the best of friends and have added each other on Facebook in the hope we will meet on a dance floor in the near future. There is an unexplainable bond that forms on a dance floor that cannot be achieved anywhere else. When you have communally sung loudly and tunelessly and made up ridiculous dance steps to classic 80s tunes, nothing can break that.

So to my new friends that I met on Saturday night in Westward Ho!, thank you for the good times. May one of our mutual friends get married soon so that we can meet and get our groove on once again.

Splish, Splash, I Was Taking a Bath

September 16th, 2014

Through a series of fortunate events, I discovered at exactly the right time that last weekend was the annual heritage open days where lovely old buildings are open to the general public. On Sunday morning I found out that Manchester’s Victoria Baths were open for free, a building I had been wanting to explore since I moved here. What luck! So that afternoon I stepped out into the remarkably warm Manchester weather (no rain and some sunshine! AMAZING.) and headed south.

First opened in 1906, the Victoria Baths were where you would come either to be seen or to have your weekly wash. It was divided into three rooms, each with its own pool – Women, Second Grade Men and First Grade Men. The quality of the rooms, size of the pool and cleanliness of the water depended on which of these categories you fit into, with women coming in last.

As a lowly female, this sign brings me a bit of joy.

As a lowly female, this sign brings me a bit of joy.

The building is now used for arts and community events and is currently the location for a Romeo and Juliet production. I was told on multiple occasions by various members of staff that I could have my wedding here. That’s nice.

The First Class Men's pool has been transformed into Juliet's death scene.

The First Class Men’s pool has been transformed into Juliet’s death scene.

The baths received funding through a television show to undertake its upgrades and still requires an additional £26million to complete all of the work. They hope to have the baths and the turkish sauna rooms back up and running – it would be fantastic to see the building returned to its original glory.

Changing rooms.

Changing rooms.

Fancy tiles.

Fancy tiles.

Old Woman Whinge

September 16th, 2014

I warn you in advance that this blog post is likely to sound like an old woman whingeing about “The Youth of Today.” Feel free to move on and maintain a positive outlook on life and not be bogged down by my complaints. HOWEVER, I write this having been woken up at 5am to the sound of some sort of pre-dawn chorus. It sounded similar to cats being strangled but I believe it was a group of drunken students singing along to an unrecognisable song completely out of tune. I suspect their performance took place on one of the balconies of the surrounding apartment blocks, their voices bouncing off the concrete buildings, entering my bedroom window and attacking my sleeping ears. Just brilliant.

Now, I admit that I did reach my “There are a bunch of drunken students singing outside” call without any proof of a. who was singing or b. their sobriety. However, recent events in Manchester forced me to jump to this conclusion and really there was no other possible explanation for the unforeseen concert.  September has arrived and Manchester has been taken over by students. THEY ARE EVERYWHERE. The centre of the city is swarming with young, barely-dressed teenagers buying pillows, saucepans and bottles of vodka. Now, my after work pop in to Aldi to buy vegetables for my dinner has become a elbow fight with 17 year olds carrying shopping baskets. Luckily, not many of them know what vegetables are so there’s still plenty left for me, but if I ever went mad and decided I wanted to buy frozen pizza, I would be in trouble.

Yesterday it took me an hour and fifteen minutes to catch a bus from Manchester city centre to West Didsbury. It is a five mile journey and one that I once ran in less time. Why did the bus take so long, I hear you ask? Because I happened to be taking the £1 Magic bus ride that goes past two universities and almost every location for student housing in south Manchester. I get it, students need to catch buses, too. But do they need to push the button at every stop and slow the bus down so frequently? Can’t they get off at the same stop (preferably mine) and walk a little bit?

The bus travel time isn’t helped by the fact that two or so weeks ago, a HOLE OF DEATH opened up on the main road into town (the road my bus drives down) and therefore traffic has been diverted onto smaller roads that can’t handle the extra traffic. This HOLE OF DEATH is really just a small gap in the already dodgy bitumen and not the massive sink hole the local authorities are making it out to be. Perhaps I should be grateful that they are looking after my safety, but really I’d just like to be able to spend less time on a rickety bus full of young people who say “Ummm… like totally.” a lot.

Ok. Rant over. I LOVE STUDENTS.

He’s Back!

September 9th, 2014

About six months ago, I learnt the sad, sad news that one of my favourite local chefs, Robert Owen Brown, was closing the doors of his seriously great restaurant, The Mark Addy. I will admit to weeping a little – this was devastating stuff! His delicious pheasant had made me a very happy girl and I wasn’t going to be able to eat his food ever again. THE HORROR.

So I write to you with great news, kids. My constant interest in Mancunian food news meant that I learnt he had moved to the location of one of my most disappointing restaurant experiences in Manchester and had taken over the kitchen. Two great pieces of information in one big ball of goodness. So when my Australian cousins, Sophie and Kate, came to visit me this weekend for delayed birthday fun, we went for dinner at the re-branded Rosylee to visit Mr Brown.

Clearly not many people have heard that Rob is back in action as the restaurant was basically empty. This did mean we could easily get a table on a busy Saturday night in the Northern Quarter. My previous visits to what was the Rosylee Tearooms had been very disappointing. Not great food being sold at excessive prices isn’t my thing and I had always left feeling very disappointed about what could have been a great restaurant. But I was determined not to let this ruin my experience this time and went there with high hopes and good intentions.

After umming and ahhing over the menu, each of us changing our minds multiple times about what we wanted to eat, we finally ordered – Kate and I both choosing the wild rabbit while Soph went for spatchcock marinated in dandelion and burdock. And it was all so GOOD! My rabbit was flavoursome and tender, served with a little layered potato stack and a couple of vege.

Bunny rabbit

Bunny rabbit

Sophie’s spatchcock was really tasty with its sweet marinade but smokey barbecue overtones. We were three very happy ladies eating good food with a nice bottle o’ red.

Spatchcock. Aka mini-chicken.

Spatchcock. Aka mini-chicken.

Of course, there was then dessert. Kate’s options were limited by her gluten free requirements so she went down the cheeseboard route. Four large chunks of cheese with an excessively large number of packet biscuits (none of which she could eat.) The cheese was great but the inclusion of celery on the plate was a bit odd. Celery after dinner? Really?

Cheese. But mostly crackers.

Cheese. But mostly crackers.

Sophie had the rhubarb and custard fool which was HUGE and required a vote amongst the table as to whether or not she was supposed to eat the twirly decoration on top. We decided it was raffia and therefore not designed for human consumption. I hope we weren’t wrong and the chefs in the kitchen weren’t all hitting their heads in disgust at our lack of food knowledge. Anyway, it was mostly cream and about the size of Sophie’s head so she gave up half way through. Brave soldier.

Foolish rhubarb

Foolish rhubarb

I went for my staple choice on any dessert menu – the chocolate based item. This time it was a dark chocolate tart served with a hot custard and caramel shards. Not bad for a chocolate tart although the filling was very soft and almost liquid and I prefer a firm centre. It was rich, dark and not too sweet, which is always a tick from me. The custard was served in a shot glass on the side and was really just confusing and weird. Custard is always nice but it doesn’t really go with a chocolate tart. A dollop of ice cream would make more sense – may I suggest salted butter caramel? I exchanged my caramel shards for Sophie’s ginger snap as I have never really understood the point of melted and re-solidified sugar. Overall it was tasty but not mind-blowing.

Mmm… chocolate tart...

Mmm… chocolate tart…

Overall this was a very tasty meal and it was exciting to once again eat some hearty and wholesome food served with style. The service at the Rosylee wasn’t great but it just felt like no one had put any effort into training the wait staff. It wasn’t that they were bad – they just didn’t really add anything to the experience. And I still hate the fake flowers on the ceiling. But other than that, the Rosylee is on the improve and I will be going back for more rabbit. And perhaps the Lancashire hot pot.

The 29th Year That Was

September 6th, 2014

My birthday has been and gone and I realised I haven’t had time to ‘think and reflect’ on the year that was. And we all know I love a good reflection! So let’s do it – in some sort of random point form!

  • This time last year I was in Croatia with my best friend, Gill. Good times were had, great food was eaten. I am now Personally-Elected-Faux-Aunty-Jess to her beautiful daughter, Stephanie. Apparently babies can happen in a year.
  • I worked at the Co-Operative as an IT Analyst, helping people with their IT issues. Then I was laid off due to slight economic issues at the Co-Op.
  • I had a rather gross case of conjunctivitis. That was less of a highlight.
  • I went to Wales a few times.
  • I went to Scotland and saw the Edinburgh Festival and Loch Ness.
  • Christmas happened. Ate lots. That’s about it.
  • Spent New Year’s dancing in my brother’s lounge room and playing Celebrity Heads.
  • Climbed a big(ish) hill in the Lake District.
  • Went to London once or twice.
  • Explored lots of really cool places within a 2 hour drive of Manchester.
  • Saw gravy wrestling, worm charming and chicken racing.
  • Moved apartment and started sharing a house for the first time in my life. My housemate is AWESOME.
  • Am currently dating a man who once sold burritos. He hasn’t made me a burrito yet so the verdict is still out.
  • Started writing for Yelp and have since received lots of AMAZING FREE FOOD AND DRINK. Best writing decision ever.
  • Started working full-time in The Classroom and now Zaum is a fully-fledged and somewhat profitable copywriting business (contact me for all of your wordy needs.)
  • Went to a conference in York. I felt very professional about that.
  • Attended a couple of weddings.
  • Met lots of cool people and made lots of great new friends.
  • Grew cos lettuce.
  • Didn’t poison myself, fall off any high places or break any bones. That’s a successful year, right there!
  • Oh yeh, I ran a marathon and a half marathon.
  • Went to Paris. That was fun.
  • Learnt that networking is good for you.
  • Ate a seriously large amount of food and managed to not get fat.
  • Had multiple picnics next to things on top of hills.
  • Generally survived another year without doing anything that wrong.

It has been a year of less travel than my previous years, mostly due to travel requiring money and me not having much of that. But as a result, I have managed to settle more into life in Manchester and have built myself a very cosy nest with friends, family, work, food and fun. And as the time on my visa slowly ticks away, I become less and less inclined to pack up my stuff and move yet again. So if anyone wishes to donate £200,000 to the “Keep Jess in England” fund and/or marry me, that would be GREAT! Until then, stay tuned for more exciting adventures in the World of Jess.

Super Mega Fun Birthday Crazy Times!

September 3rd, 2014

I am now officially closer to being old. Luckily my inner 12-year old lives on and she was particularly disappointed this morning that my birthday has been and gone. Why does time speed up on birthdays? The injustice.

Yesterday was my 29th birthday and my lovely boss, Myself, gave me the day off work to pursue the pleasures of being the Birthday Girl. I am particularly good at being a Birthday Girl and greatly annoy everyone around me by constantly reminding them of my elitism. Luckily it is only for 24 hours (if you don’t include the count down period and the week-long extended celebrations I like to undertake.).

Sir Pubert Gladstone was my elected chaperone and slave for the day and what a day it was! I slept in! Amazing. Breakfast and present opening involved delicious homemade muesli from Dad, stewed damsons from my friend Hannah, and opening a little white box containing one of the best looking black resin and pyrite rings that I have ever seen in my life. Pubert had clearly picked up on my previous blog-inserted hints and had sourced a ring from one of my favourite local jewellery designers, Jade Mellor. It is a truly beautiful object and it is sitting proudly on my hand as I type this. Fabulous work, Jade, and thank you, Pubert.

Designed and made by Jade Mellor

Designed and made by Jade Mellor

After completing a few errands, Sir Pubert took me for a weirdly timed meal (at 11.30 it was neither morning tea nor lunch) at Teacup where I had my first piece of cake for the day. Slightly dry but still quite tasty, this pear and almond cake sat nicely in my birthday belly.

Pear and almond cake from Teacup

Pear and almond cake from Teacup

Then there was Skype and present opening time with the family back home. I am becoming very experienced at not having my family at my birthdays, however no matter how frequently it happens or how old I get, it is still hard to not get a hug from my Mum, Dad and bro on the Most Important Day of the Year.

My family in electronic form.

My family in electronic form.

So to cheer me up, Sir Pubert and I decided to expand our minds by visiting the Museum of Science and Industry for the Hadron Collider exhibition. I had won two tickets to see the exhibit so was looking forward to learning about particles and Higgs Bosons and what exactly happens in that giant doughnut. To be honest, it was a little disappointing. We entered not really understanding much about what goes on in the collider and we left with just as much confusion. At no point do they really explain what the Higgs Boson is, despite it being a fairly significant finding within the whole collider-building-thing. I learnt a lot about how the collider works but I did spend most of the visit with an “I don’t understand…” frown on my face. Any additional wrinkles on my forehead are due to this confusion and not old age. So if anyone would like to explain Higgs Boson particles to me, please do.

Whoa, technology.

Whoa, technology.

With our tired brains we headed to the twenty-third floor of Manchester’s tallest (and essentially only) skyscraper to the Hilton hotel’s Cloud 23 bar. This swanky, overpriced and poorly decorated bar offers some great views over Manchester and the surrounding countryside and I had been wanting to come since moving to Manchester. The scattered cloud yet relatively clear sky produced some excellent views and Sir Pubert and I slowly drank our expensive (yet tasty) cocktails while staring out the window. It was Monday night and the bar was practically empty, so my Cloud 23 experience was better than what I had been told by some friends who had been before. Definitely a great place to watch the sun set on my birthday.

Goodbye, sun.

Goodbye, sun.

But the day didn’t finish there; MORE FOOD was needed so Pubert and I went to one of the reasons I moved to Manchester – Australasia. I love this restaurant. The decor is stylish but not trashy, the staff are friendly and know what they’re doing, and the food is just damn good. We shared salmon and black rice sushi, yellowfin tuna, goats cheese with beetroot, and seared teriyaki beef. Oh and the boy wanted chips.

Seriously tasty yellow fin tuna with sushi rice and just enough chilli

Seriously tasty yellow fin tuna with sushi rice and just enough chilli

Salmon wrapped in black rice

Salmon wrapped in black rice

Beef.

Beef.

Cheese of goat.

Cheese of goat.

But even the chips were the best deep-fried pieces of potato that I had ever had. It was well crafted, beautiful and delicious food and it made me very happy. What made me ecstatic was the chocolate soufflé with chocolate sauce and raspberry sorbet that I had for dessert. It was sadly a little undercooked and therefore a bit eggy, but it was rich, gooey and choc-tastic. The raspberry sorbet added the perfect amount of tang, while the tiny pile of vanilla salt added absolutely nothing.

Hello chocolate soufflé

Hello chocolate soufflé

It was a seriously good day and I really was sad when it all came to an end. Now I have to wait another 364 days until I can do it all again. I wonder where in the world I will be next year and who will be coming to my 30th birthday party…