Posts Tagged ‘Yelp’

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.

Count Down #29

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

I appear to have forgotten to mention that the most important day of the year is fast approaching. There are only four sleeps until my birthday! WOO! As per usual, my inner child is feeling excited; about as excited as my outer adult was about this free beer at the latest Yelp event.

Photo credit: Lucas Smith and his Yelp camera

Photo credit: Lucas Smith and his Yelp camera

Kurt, Steven and Yelp are Close to my Heart

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

Last night brought another delicious Yelp Elite Event into my life – this time we were welcomed by Bar 21 in the Northern Quarter to sample their wares and check out their disco-tastic dance floors. In recognition of Bar21‘s ‘Movie ‘n’ Music’ theme, the evening was to be focussed on all things famous. It was suggested that we dress up as something film-related. Considering my very poor effort at the previous Elite event where we were asked to dress in ‘Summer attire’ and I wore sunglasses, I decided to actually think about my outfit for this event. With the use of my office’s printing facilities, a pair of scissors and a box of safety pins, I transformed an average red dress into HOMAGE TO B-GRADE MALE ACTION MOVIE STARS THAT I LOVE.

So many handsome men have attached themselves to me.

So many handsome men have attached themselves to me.

Steven, Kurt, Chuck, Jean-Claude, Arnie and co were well received by my fellow Yelpers and there were some mighty fine film and music related tees worn on the night as well.

I had never been to Bar21 before and, to be honest, I had purposefully avoided it. From the outside it had always appeared a bit concrete and uncomfortable, so I was pleasantly surprised when I ventured inside and discovered a bright and cheery bar full of memorabilia. Anywhere with a giant photograph from Back From the Future on the wall is a winner in my world.

We were allowed to choose a drink from their extensive Happy Hour list and Hannah and I were particularly happy to see that Doom Bar ale was an option. An excellent start to the evening.

The super friendly staff made us feel very welcome and took us on a tour of their downstairs dance floor. I think I will need to return for some serious hot-stepping one evening. It has been a long time since my last dance session… too long.

Next was a cocktail master class where we were shown how to make two drinks and then allowed to sample the tasty concoctions. Unfortunately (although probably luckily for our brain cells) there were 30 Yelpers and 15 glasses of each drink so there were a few sharpened elbows pushing their way through to get their drink of choice. Humans + free alcohol = messy. Hannah and I decided sharing is caring and went halfsies. The cocktails were good although neither would be something I’d normally choose. One had a cream layer and the other tasted like liquid Haribo. SWEEEEEEEET.

Mixology madness

Mixology madness

After the cocktails we were all in need of some food and we were overwhelmed by the smorgasbord of dishes put out for us to gorge on. It was a meatlovers’ delight with chorizo, salami, ribs, burgers and more kinds of chicken wings than I’ve seen in a long time. And it was tasty! I wouldn’t normally have chosen to come to Bar21 for food but I was really impressed with what I ate. The beef burgers were served with proscuitto and blue cheese – so good. Sadly, they were also drenched in some sort of brown sauce that was far too strong and completely overpowered all of the flavours. After I had attempted to remove most of the sauce the burger was definitely a winner on my plate.

Food! Photo credit: Hannah's phone.

Food! Photo credit: Hannah’s phone.

Dessert came out as we were still stuffing our faces – lime curd or chocolate mousse tartlets were our choices. Surprisingly I went for the lime as the chocolate didn’t look dark enough for my liking. And the lime was good – nice and sharp and served in a deliciously buttery pastry. Yum.

If we hadn’t consumed enough, out came a birthday cake to celebrate Yelp Manchester’s 10th birthday. Marzipan covered red velvet cake anyone? Yes please. As we forced the cake into our mouths (ok, there was no force involved. It was delicious.) Bar21‘s Thursday night quiz began and in our teams of 4, 5 or 6, we competed to the death to win great prizes and ultimate glory. My team failed miserably and finished in third-last place. We were largely let down by the Australian on our team who didn’t know how many stars were on her own country’s flag. Yep. For shame.

As the evening came to a close and I headed home to bed like the Grandma I have become, I felt that great sense of pure satisfaction after you have had a great night out. Good food, good drinks, good friends, good times. Looking forward to Yelping it up once again in September.

P.S. My stupid phone died during the cocktail master class so I have a serious lack of photographs of food. Very disappointing.

It’s Official – I Don’t Like Hotdogs.

Monday, August 4th, 2014

Over the past year or so, Manchester has been hit by a Hotdog Frenzy with multiple sausage venues popping up around the city. Hotdogs are the new burger with even more overly processed bun and ‘what is this meat?’ for your buck. I have never been a huge hotdog fan, unless it is a good old aussie snagger unevenly charred on a barbecue, served with a good dollop of tomato sauce. At least you know what you’re getting with a butcher’s sausage – a lot of fat and a bit of beef. With these new-fangle sausages, you need to sharpen your teeth to get through the red outer skin and then sit and chew for awhile so that your stomach has some chance of eventually digesting it.

Last week I was invited to another Yelp Elite event at The Fruit Exchange where we were served fruit juices spiked with rum and Caribbean flavoured hot dogs from Dogs ‘n’ Dough. The alcoholic juice was just win win win, but as I opened the box containing my hot dog, I just had no desire to eat it. This isn’t anything against Dogs ‘n’ Dough – some of my fellow Yelpers were hoeing into their sausages with gusto and delight. It was purely my disinterest in boiled frankfurters and sweetened bread that turned me off. But I wanted to give this craze a chance and so I ate my hot dog. I chewed on that sausage and washed the gluggy bread down with rummy juice. And I will admit to giving some of the excessively sweetened pineapple away to Hannah, who had announced she likes ‘sweet with meat.’ But as I shoved the last mouthful into my gob, my gut wished I had listened to it saying, “No, Jess. You don’t want to eat that.”

This is a hot dog.

This is a hot dog.

It just wasn’t enjoyable. Chewy sausage skin, unrecognisable meat, doughy sweet ‘bread’, and toppings that didn’t really add much to the eating experience. It did have barbecued chicken on top which was probably the best part of the whole dish. At least I could eat the chicken and say, “Ah! I’m eating chicken!” Every other part of the hot dog had an element of mystery to it.

So I have decided to never eat a hot dog ever again. Sorry, hot dog restauranteurs – don’t take it too personally. Your wares are just not my thing.

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!