Posts Tagged ‘restaurant’

Midsummer House

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

Almost a year ago, Sir Pubert’s mum, Katy, told me about a restaurant that she and and her partner Ken had eaten at. These two occasionally spoil themselves and eat out at fancy restaurants and they highly recommended the two Michelin-starred Midsummer House situated on the riverside in Cambridge.

Not only did they recommend it, in December Katy decided to book a table and the earliest Saturday night they had available was the 19 September. Luckily I had decided to pop over to Australia for eight months so the wait wasn’t an issue.

Last Saturday night, Katy, Ken and I glammed up and forced Sir Pubert into wearing a shirt (which he refused to tuck in). I’ve never been a very girly-girl and I don’t understand makeup in the slightest but I do enjoy having an opportunity to wear slightly dressier dresses. It means they weren’t a complete waste of money, plus it’s nice to look pretty every now and then.

Midsummer House isn’t the location of many murders, extramarital affairs or religious sacrifice, but instead is an understated house that has been transformed into a fancy-pants restaurant on the banks of the river in Cambridge. We were greeted about approximately seven chirpy wait staff who were all exceptionally happy to see us. The overly cheery welcome unnerved me slightly but thankfully it soon calmed down and the staff turned out to be sarcastic, witty and easy-going people. They were extremely good at their jobs and the service throughout the evening was exceptional.

Midsummer House

Midsummer House

And then there was the food. We had the seven course degustation menu with the matching wines. This started with some canapés which continued to arrive from the kitchen and you were never quite sure when it was all going to stop. And then came the main dishes, each plate delivered with a synchronised placement on the table so that everyone was served at exactly the same time. I loved this.

Overall, the food was beautiful. It looked good, tasted good and brought smiles to our faces. Of the savoury dishes, the highlights were a crab, avocado, champagne and pink grapefruit thing (my grandmother would describe it as ‘fluffy’ and I would concur), the roasted beetroot with frozen goat’s cheese and quinoa (all of my favourite things on one plate), and this quail mousse on sourdough. The roasted quail was an extreme disappointment and so was the duck. If I’ve learnt anything from watching hours of Master Chef it is that duck fat needs to be rendered and the skin should be crispy. This was neither of those.

The ultimate highlights, however, were the two desserts. Yes, two. The first was called the ‘pre-dessert’ which is a plate that I am introducing to my daily life from now on.

This pre-dessert was an aerated lychee and mango dome with crunchy meringue and mango shards. I don’t particularly like mango, or lychee, but WOWZERS! This was light, tangy and refreshing, plus it just looked beautiful.

Pre-dessert

Pre-dessert

However then came my overall favourite dish of the evening – described as “Pickled blackberry, pastis and pear, blackberry ‘Marquise'” the final dish wasn’t at all what I expected because they failed to mention ‘chocolate’. Yes, the holiest of ingredients. The pear sorbet fizzed in your mouth, and the blackberry marquise had a fantastic berry flavour. The little crisp sitting on top had a subtle pastis flavour (highly appropriate as I had played petanque earlier that day) and then there was a small ball of dark chocolate and blackberry ganache that just added a depth and richness to the whole dish. It so good. I ate it as slowly as possible with a big grin on my face. I could have eaten 5 of those.

Dessert #2

Dessert #2

After all of this food we were brought chocolates and doughnuts which none of us really wanted but we all tried anyway. The homemade chocolates were quite interesting – particularly one which was flavoured with bay leaf. I have recently had rosemary and chocolate and bay leaf and chocolate. All winners.

The meal was lovely and the quality of the food, the presentation and the staff was outstanding. It wasn’t the greatest meal that I have ever eaten in my entire life and I’m not necessarily going to rush back, but it was definitely one for the food memory bank. Thanks Katy and Ken for a lovely evening and my first ever Michelin star experience!

A Two Hour Drive for Lemon Ice Cream

Friday, October 10th, 2014

*Warning: The following blog post contains discussions of food regurgitation (aka vomiting.) If you don’t want to hear about it, don’t read further.

I will travel great distances for good food and when my cousin, Les, told me about a lemon ice cream that could only be described as “orgasmic,” I decided I needed to try it. I have never heard anyone describe a food as orgasmic as repeatedly as Les did about this ice cream. Clearly it was good and clearly I needed some.

The fact that the ice cream was located a two-or-so hour drive at the Inn at Brough in the Lake District didn’t really bother me. Thankfully Les was so keen on this ice cream that she was willing to drive me there as a “Birthday Adventure Treat.” So yesterday my birthday continued in the form of a drive through the rolling hills of the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District and an amazing lunch at the Inn at Brough. I’m a lucky girl.

We arrived at the Inn for our booked time slot of 1pm and were greeted by the very friendly staff members who knew that Les was ‘that woman who keeps calling to check they will have the ice cream.’ The restaurant was empty, but it was a rainy Thursday and apparently the place is booked out on weekends. I could see why – Brough is a small village and the Inn sits proudly in the centre, offering a comfortable place to come and sit, drink and eat. We were looked after by a delightful lady who was friendly, welcoming and very, very polite. The Inn is attempting to be a little bit fancy and the service reflected this. I preferred when she kept looking out of the window and across the road to her house where a man was pruning her trees.

View from window

Our rainy view

We ordered some wine and then our food, our grumbling stomaches dictating that we should both splurge and try the lamb and redcurrant pies seeing as the lamb would be local and therefore delicious. This was Error #1. Our menu reading eyes and greedy stomaches were far too hungry for their own good. We were told the pies would take 25 minutes to cook during which time we just salivated more and more for tender baby sheep.

When our food arrived we both recoiled at the size of the serving and made “Gosh, I’ll never finish this” noises. But as we tucked in and tasted the tender lamb, buttery pastry, crisp potatoes, sweet carrots and some heavily buttered snow peas, we couldn’t stop. Soon we had both devoured the majority of our food, not quite finishing simply to ‘leave room for the ice cream.’ This was Error #2. Hindsight suggests I should have chosen a cheese and pickle sandwich but I know it wouldn’t have been as delicious as the pie.

Lamb pie and vegetables

Mmm… pie.

It was really good – the meat wasn’t fatty and the flavours were fantastic although I didn’t taste much redcurrant. The chips were seriously crispy – these giant potato chunks had obviously been doused in some sort of animal’s fat and deep fried. Too good to stop eating. The vegetables were alright but nothing special. The snow peas were limp and dripping butter and the ratatouille looked and tasted like it had been made a few days ago and reheated. But overall it was a top plate o’ food.

The lovely server knew we were wanting the lemon ice cream for dessert and said she would give us ten minutes to digest before bringing it out. Such a wise lady. She would have been even wiser to suggest that we have a cup of tea instead. But no, we were there for the ice cream and so we should have it. Error #3.

Three balls of soft yellow ice cream were served rolling around on a plate with a chocolate swirl biscuit as garnish. It didn’t look beautiful but who cares? If this ice cream is really orgasmic then does presentation really matter?

Lemon ice cream

It ain’t pretty but it sure tastes good.

Les dived in first as I took the necessary photographs and there was that silence that you only get when people are sitting enjoying food on the other side of the table. She was a happy lady. The ice cream was creamy but not overly sweet with the lemon tang biting through. It was really, really good, although I kept getting strong hints of egg which kind of put me off. After one and a half balls I was reaching my cream/fat/excess food limit but I struggled on for the sake of having driven two hours to eat this dessert.

Was it orgasmic? I’m not quite sure but I am not a citrus lover. I also have difficulty eating large amounts of cream-based items and would never normally have three scoops of ice cream. But the flavours were definitely delicious and it was very good homemade ice cream. Compliments to the chef.

Reclining back in our seats, our over stuffed bellies were now grumbling in disgust at our greed. I had a cup of peppermint tea to aid my digestive system and Les had a cup of coffee. Both were served with shortbread biscuits on the saucer. Perhaps these were the ‘waffer thin’ mints that broke Mr Creosote in the infamous Monty Python scene. We were both feeling a little unwell.

I would like to point out, highlight and emphasise the fact that neither Les nor I believe the Inn at Brough was to blame for the events that followed. The food was perfect, there was absolutely nothing wrong with it whatsoever and I think you should definitely eat at the Inn. It was our own personal greed and in ability to handle rich food that led to us both experiencing moments of nausea that may or may not have resulted in one of us revisiting her lunch near the roman ruins of Brough Castle. Let’s just say, I will do anything to avoid vomiting so you can add up the clues by yourself to work out who it was.

Brough Castle

Scene of many battles and at least one upset stomach.

And so, with our disgruntled bellies and our acceptance that it just served us right for being greedy pigs, we headed off on an exploratory journey of the Lakes and the Yorkshire Dales. Apart from intestinal explosions and the fairly insistent rain, it was a great day out and the meal at the Inn was definitely worth the drive. Perhaps not surprisingly, neither of us are in a huge rush to go back for more lemon ice cream, no matter how orgasmic it may be.

Trough of Bowland

A yellow beetle is the only way to roll on the Trough of Bowland

I Ain’t Got Beef Wiv Dat

Wednesday, 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.

He’s Back!

Tuesday, 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.

Super Mega Fun Birthday Crazy Times!

Wednesday, 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…

Food, Friends and Family

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

I need to become a food and travel writer. What am I saying? I am a food and travel writer – what else have I been doing for the past 3.5 years if it isn’t writing while eating and travelling? I just need to convince someone to pay me to do it because it is currently 11.11pm and instead of going to bed like a good girl should, I can think of nothing but turning on my computer and writing about the glorious food experience that I have just returned home from. And while I may not post this until tomorrow when my sober eyes are able to check it for spelling and grammatical errors and perhaps resize and insert some photographs, I am writing this while still high on my foodie buzz. Life is good.

I have just spent the evening with 20-something fellow food lovers (aka Yelp Elite members) at the Bar and Grill restaurant at the Lowry Hotel. We had been invited for another complimentary meal to thank us for writing about restaurants/bars/cafés on the Yelp website.  I was particularly excited about this Elite event – a five course meal with matching wines. If there’s anything in this world that I truly love it is a multiple course dinner with matching wines served in separate glasses. I am but a snob.

Recently relaunched and situated in one of Manchester’s most hoity-toity hotels, we were welcomed to the restaurant with big smiles and friendly service by the lovely staff. Canapés, prosecco and cocktails were served liberally in the ‘library’ (not much reading was done) but most of us headed out on the balcony where we had great views over the brown Irwell River and a lovely 70s mission brown office block. If you squinted it was actually quite pretty.

View from the balcony.

View from the balcony.

We headed inside to the private dining room which, like most private dining rooms, was a bit of a squishy little box but it seated 24 people perfectly and had doors opening out into the balcony area. I was seated next to the door so I had a nice breeze wafting in. Quite pleasant. There was plenty of excited giggling and we were invited to take as many photos as we wanted on our phones. This was a room of happy people.

My name, my seat, my Yelp sunglasses.

My name, my seat, my Yelp sunglasses.

Huseyin was the main man for the evening – he was in charge of everything and knew what was going down. He was smooth with the ladies and suave with the gents and made everyone feel right at home. He introduced us to our first wine for the evening and then out came the asparagus with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. I have never really liked eggs. I think hard boiled eggs should be used as weapons and never consumed. However, I was determined to enjoy this and cracked open that egg sack and watched the yolks flow. And BOY, OH BOY was it good! The asparagus were cooked perfectly with a wonderful chargrilled saltiness and the egg and hollandaise just screamed to be wiped off the plate with a piece of bread. Luckily they gave us bread rolls to do just that. That’s initiative.

Asparagus. poached egg and hollandaise.

Asparagus. poached egg and hollandaise.

We were then served a small amuse bouche of gazpacho served in a small coffee cup. You picked it up and drank it like a coffee and felt the huge kick of cucumber and spice. It was a powerful beast and went down well although I needed to break the code of etiquette and use my mains fork to eat the chunks of cucumber and tomato sitting in the bottom of the cup. Other people were doing it too so I figured it was ok.

Gazpacho.

Gazpacho.

I had been drooling about my main course since I first read the menu about a week ago. My recent realisation that I love eating small birds was elevated further when I discovered I would be adding guinea fowl to my consumption list. To be honest, I wasn’t certain what a guinea fowl looked like or how big it is but clearly it is larger than I imagined. The large breast that I was presented with was significantly meatier and more chickeny than I expected. And geez was it tasty. Crispy skin, a fantastic marsala cream sauce, girolle mushrooms, broad beans and a truffle risotto. It was salty,  creamy, mushroomy and it made me happy. I could have done with more sauce as the guinea fowl was quite a hefty bird and the meat was a little dry. I am horrified to announce that I didn’t manage to eat it all, something I am not proud of. However, for a five course meal, the portion sizes were all quite large. While eating I was reminded so much of the food that I ate while living in Paris, and I couldn’t help but think that the portion sizes were twice those you would get in France. This doesn’t necessarily represent better value for money – instead I felt stuffed and didn’t finish my food which I really dislike doing. But dessert was coming and I couldn’t not eat that.

Hello, guinea fowl.

Hello, guinea fowl.

The guinea fowl was served with a pinot noir from New Zealand, taking me back to an evening I spent with my best friend, Gill in Sydney, at a New Zealand wine tasting event. Oh, we drank some Pinot Noir that night… Anyway, it was a mighty fine wine and I am once again willing to admit that the New Zealanders can make a nice drop. And they should continue to do so.

Dessert was interesting. Clearly not a regular item on their menu, it was a roll of frozen strawberry cream wrapped in a sheet of meringue that had the Yelp logo printed on it in edible ink. Sadly it looked a bit horrible. At each end of the ice cream cigar were clumps of cold cream that didn’t do much for the presentation. A smudge of caramelised meringue that looked a little bit like the guinea fowl had made a mess on the plate was apparently decoration. Then there were some strawberry jellies and tiny strawberries cubes. It tasted quite good – the strawberry cream wasn’t too sweet and the meringue was nice. But overall it was a bit clumsy and far too big but I give them credit for designing something for the Yelp event. Dessert was served with a dessert wine from Chile which wasn’t too perfumed and worked well to cut the sweetness of the cream and meringue in the dessert. Big win.

Yelp-flavoured dessert.

Yelp-flavoured dessert.

Tea and coffee were served with little macarons which appeared to be encasing blackberry jam, a slice of some sort of cheese and a mint leaf. Pure BRILLIANCE. It was fresh, clean and not sweet. The perfect end to the meal.

Crazy macaron.

Crazy macaron.

I spent the evening surrounded by lovely, friendly Yelpers who were chatty, easy to get along with and just generally fun. Who knew a Monday could be so good? I had spent the day visiting family, driving around the English countryside in a yellow Beetle convertible with the roof down, and I had eaten amazing food with wonderful people next to the stinky Irwell River. This was one of those days that have popped up in my life over the past few years that make me want to chain myself to a tree and refuse to leave the country when my visa expires. Maybe these experiences exist in Australia as well but right now Manchester is really delivering. It must be summer.

Magical, Mystical, Marvellous Food

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

I have great news, boys and girls. Last week my dedication to writing restaurant and bar reviews on Yelp was rewarded. I, Jessica Davies, have officially become a member of the Yelp Elite Team, making me one of Manchester’s most Important People. Ok, that last bit is an exaggeration but I now have a little “Elite ’14” badge on my Yelp profile and I get to feel special. Coinciding with this promotion in Yelp status, I was lucky enough to be invited to my second Yelp Elite Event. Last month’s japanese saké and food extravaganza continues to sit fondly in my memory, occasionally bringing back taste-bud-memory hits of wasabi and soy, and so I was a wee bit excited when I received my invitation to March’s Magical Mystery Tour. Where we would go and what we would eat was kept a big secret from us all. Nobody knew. Let the tour begin.

Meet at Apotheca at 6.30pm

This was our only clue as to what the night would entail. Apotheca is one of the Northern Quarter’s hip and cool cocktail bars and somewhere I had been wanting to try. I once danced the night away there on a make-shift dance floor that my friend and I created but I had never sampled their cocktails. The Yelp Elite Team had the downstairs bar area to ourselves where we were greeted by our always-cheery host, Jonny, and a mojito. After standing around and meeting and greeting fellow Elite members, we were then treated to a variety of pizzas from Dough, the adjoining pizzeria. I had eaten at Dough once previously and while I enjoyed the slightly adventurous toppings, the bases were a little disappointing. Why can’t anywhere in Manchester make a decent pizza base? Once again I found the toppings delicious (the lamb with spices and sultanas was particularly tasty) but the bases were thin, cracking and far too perfectly shaped. They collapsed in our hands and had soggy bottoms.

While we were eating, we were invited to get behind the bar and have a cocktail making session with the mixologists. We could choose our drink of choice from their great range of drinks and then make them ourselves with the guidance of experts. I chose to make a cocktail called Just Beet It which contained vodka, beetroot juice, balsamic vinegar liqueur and basil. After adding all of the ingredients and giving it a good old shake, I was then allowed to drink my concoction. Amazingly good! I think my inner mixologist is bursting to come out.

Just Beet It

Just Beet It

I had to drink it fairly quickly though as our next destination awaited and it was time to move on.

Venue #2 – Pie & Ale

I had managed to get my friend and office-buddy, Hannah, to be invited to the Elite event so we were both a little concerned when we found ourselves walking back to the office. Pie & Ale is located next door to the office space we rent and we often get to enjoy the enticing smells of baking pies. Thankfully this time we were actually going to get to eat the pies – sixteen of them, to be precise. We were guided upstairs to a lofted seating area where we met the manager of Pie & Ale who explained what our next food and drink experience was going to involve. The chefs had prepared sixteen different pies for us to stick our forks into and sample and we would have three different beers to wash them down with. I tried to sample as many of the pies as I could – rabbit, wild bore, chickpea and, one of the highlights, crocodile. They were all very tasty although I think they could refine their pastry – it is very doughy and a bit excessive. And this is coming from someone who loves pastry and believes more is more.

Crocodile pie

Crocodile pie

The beers we tried were the Golden Arrow, Yippee Pie Ale and the 10 Storey Malt Bomb – basically golden, pale and dark. All very delicious with the dark ale coming out as my favourite. But who doesn’t like liquid caramel?

Our tour didn’t stop here – oh no. Why only go to two venues when you could go to three? Time to move on.

Venue #3 – Bakerie

We didn’t have far to walk to get to our next location. Bakerie is located next door to Pie & Ale and owned by the same company. Despite these connections, Bakerie is a bit more ooh-la-la and focuses on its wine. And cheese. You can imagine the delighted faces of us already happy Yelpers when we discovered we had free access to the “Wine Jukebox” – a glass fronted box containing approximately 12 wine bottles. Inserted into each wine bottle was a plastic tube. Above each bottle was a button. Push the button and wine is sucked up the tube and into your glass, giving you a taster-sized serving to enjoy. Glorious. Paris and all that I learnt about wine flooded back to me as I made a strategic decision about which wines I would try. My choices ended up being two of three most expensive wines in the jukebox – an Argentinian Malbec and the French Bourgogne. They were both amazing and the sort of wine I will drink when I am a world famous author. They were made even better by the cheese platters placed in front of us. Blue, smoked, goat, soft and squeaky (halloumi) – the cheese and wine combo made Jess a very happy girl.

This was the end of our mystery food tour and we all sat around rubbing our bellies, unable to believe just how much we had consumed and how wonderful the experience had been. The Yelp Elite are a great bunch of food-loving people and it was a really fun night out. It is nice to meet people who appreciate good food as much as I do and a huge treat to be able to be invited to such a gluttonous event. Bring on April!

Hello Sushi.

Friday, February 28th, 2014

I am trying hard to be accepted into a group of elite. This group isn’t about money or social status. No, something far more valuable and important. FOOD. I recently met the dude in charge of Yelp (an online review website for restaurants, bars, shops and services) in Manchester and he has encouraged me to write reviews of places I eat/visit in exchange for potential free food eating opportunities. Basically if I write enough reviews of places in Manchester, I will be invited into the Yelp Elite and be invited to attend amazing food events.  It wasn’t a hard sell.

On Monday I was fortunate enough to be invited to the February Elite event as a taster of good things that could come my way. A small Japanese restaurant, Umezushi, was booked for just the Elite and we were served an amazing meal of small dishes accompanied by a range of sakes. I spent most of Monday thinking about my evening ahead and arrived full of anticipation – I was not disappointed.

The head chef, Terry, talked to us about each dish and each of the sakes we were served, moving from the lowest grade sake to the highest. Each sake had a distinctively different flavour – some far more floral than others. I think most of us voted for the first drink as the most enjoyable – a plum flavoured sake served as a kir-like cocktail with sparkling rosé wine. We all wanted more.

Cheers!

Cheers!

The food was astonishingly good. Tempura vegetables and white bait were followed by tempura seaweed with wasabi fish roe. We had fish wrapped around rice, octopus with seaweed salad, and sushi rolls. I was a little concerned about the sushi factor as a sushi eating experience that I had at primary school in 1994 has completely destroyed my ability to eat and enjoy seaweed wrapped rice. I went to Umezushi with the intention of eating and trying everything and when the sushi was presented I went in with guns blazing and a desire to enjoy what I was eating. IT WAS AMAZING! Such fantastic fresh ingredients and beautifully presented – my taste buds were overwhelmed by the wonderful flavours. I have been officially converted into a sushi eater and I am so happy about this fact. Exciting sushi eating times ahead for me!

 

Who knew that seaweed, fish roe and wasabi could taste SO GOOD?

Who knew that seaweed, fish roe and wasabi could taste SO GOOD?

Mmm.. raw fish...

Mmm.. raw fish…

The octopus was a little chewy for my liking but that seaweed salad was amazing.

The octopus was a little chewy for my liking but that seaweed salad was amazing.

I love sushi.

I love sushi.

The final sake was a rich, plummy flavour and it was served with a wonderfully dark and rich chocolate fondant. You may have learnt by now that I am a chocolate fondant snob – I know what I like and what makes for a chocolate fondant failure. I didn’t have high expectations as we were eating japanese and not in a fine dining French restaurant. So imagine my pure delight when the fondant was crunchy on the outside, soft and gooey in the middle and the perfect balance of richness and sweet. Perhaps it was the large amount of sake that I had consumed but I was a very happy girl.

Chocolate-fondanty-goodness

Chocolate-fondanty-goodness

Our evening ended with a local artist, Naomi, talking us through making origami frogs and rabbits. We all sat with our tongues poking out the sides of our mouths as we tried to work out what folds we were supposed to make next. The end result were some very cute mini-paper-animals that we all proudly took home to show our mums.

It's a rabbit!

It’s a rabbit!

It's a frog!

It’s a frog!

I hope I will be accepted into the Elite club – not just because of the free food but eating and writing about my food experiences is something that I just love doing. Food is something to celebrate and it is so wonderful to find a group of people who feel the same way as I do about experiencing new restaurants and discovering new flavours. Time to get reviewing!

Disappointing Dessert

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

I had high hopes for Rosylee Tea Rooms in the Northern Quarter. They opened their doors towards the end of summer last year and I had been wanting to try their food since. On Thursday night, after being ‘arty and stuff’ and attending an exhibition opening, Pooja and I had dinner at Soup Kitchen before heading across the road to Rosylee for dessert. We were excited. We had heard good things and the photographs on their website suggested we were going to be very happy.

It wasn’t a great start – the staff ignored us as we walked in and looked obviously annoyed that we had entered their restaurant at 8.30pm when they had seem some potential for closing early. We were eventually invited to take a seat of our choosing and we then were presented with dessert menus. Rosylee has a fancy-vibe going for it. Lots of shiny things, black and white furnishings and the waitstaff look like they want to take your coat. It could be elegant but the restaurant was half-empty so it just felt a bit uncomfortable.

I went down a classic route and chose the plum and apple crumble served with cinnamon clotted cream. It was the clotted cream that got me and I promised to share some of it with Pooja. The chocolate item on the menu was a chocolate marquis with cherry which I knew I wouldn’t like because chocolate should never, ever, ever be put together with cherry or orange. Plus I was feeling like something cozy and comforting so crumble it was.

Apple and plum crumble

Apple and plum crumble

It was disappointing. I could have made a better crumble – the apple and the plum were both undercooked and the crumble topping had nothing interesting to it. Plus the custard was lumpy. The clotted cream was good (of course) but that’s because it is clotted cream and it is impossible for that not to taste amazing.

Pooja chose a Baileys crème brûlée which tasted nothing like Baileys. And it was overcooked and slightly curdled.

Baileys crème brûlée

Baileys crème brûlée

Both dishes looked very pretty and there was a moment of joy when they were placed in front of us. But sadly the joy ended as we dipped our over-sized spoons into delicate pots. Such a shame.

We had both independently decided against ordering tea when we had seen the price – £3.60. That’s a lot of money for some hot water and tea leaves. We were sad that our Rosylee Tea Room experience hadn’t been more successful, and while we agreed they weren’t the worst desserts we have ever eaten, they were overpriced and just not great. The final interesting moment was when our bill was plonked down on our table, signalling it was time for us to leave. And most likely never go back.

Keeping it Local at the Mark Addy

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

While volunteering at the Manchester International Festival, I was lucky enough to sample the brilliant food made by Robert Owen Brown, head chef of the Mark Addy. Since then I have been wanting to eat at this local pub and eat more of his delicious, delicious food. On Saturday night, my cousin, Sophie, and her boyfriend, Ed, were visiting for the weekend and we scored a table at the Mark Addy. I was excited.

The Mark Addy is located in Salford on the edge of the River Irwell. We had a table next to the window with a view out over the river. On a summer’s evening this would be fantastic – sadly the winter darkness made it difficult to see through the reflective glass. The pub is cozy with a bar area and a large dining space and all of the staff were very friendly and welcoming.

I continued my new found desire for eating small birds by choosing the pheasant stew. It was fantastic – a large serving of dark game meat with roasted potatoes and spinach. It was rich, tasty and I wished it would never finish.

Pheasant stew

Pheasant stew

Sadly it did but that just meant it was time for dessert. The three of us shared a Cambridge Cream and the Eccles cakes – the cream was similar to a crème brûlée but less sweet. It had a crunchy caramel top and was served with an espresso shot and ice cream. Very good. The eccles cakes were three (handy) rounds of pastry filled with sultanas and served with clotted cream. The pastry was flaky and warm and the sultanas buttery and sweet. Enough for a perfect sweet finish to our dinner.

Cambridge Cream

Cambridge Cream

Eccles cakes

Eccles cakes

I am very excited to have found another food delight in Manchester and will be bringing everyone I know to eat here. Rob Brown has recently released a cook book and supports local producers. Got to love that.