Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Artisan - Manchester

I am unashamedly middle class. I'm not going to make excuses for my up-bringing, values and identity. I'm not going to pretend anymore, or make a mockery of where I fall in society - yes I worry about minor infringements of manners and I really like aspirational magazine; there's nothing wrong with being in the middle sometimes.

And that's why I like Artisan, the new-ish Spinnigfields offering from Living Ventures (Australaisa, Oast House, Alchemist). Artisan is not trying to be fine dining, it's not trying to be hipishly down-at-heel, it's not trying to push boundaries and it's not jumping on any bandwagon. It's just a comfortable, relaxed space, with great food and good drinks.

We visited mid-week and were pleasantly surprised that a) it was pretty busy for mid-week and b) that the vast, 12,000 ft space seemed really rather cosy. As with other Living Ventures concerns, there's been a conscious and very obvious effort to ensure the design encapsulates everything this space is about - comfort, cosiness, chatting with your friends, with a touch of something special to make you feel great being there.

As with all Living Ventures places, the staff have been expertly trained - we were met, welcomed and seated by genuinely friendly people and the staff knew most of the curve ball questions we threw at them (bar the whiskey question, but they were good enough to go and find out from the well-stocked bar).

The premise at Artisan is to relax and order food to share - we took advantage of this attitude and ordered a phalanx of nibbles and starters:
  • Olives; you can actually go wrong with olives, but Artisan have been clever enough to ensure they're bloody fresh and bunged a load of herbs on top.
  • Focaccia with dips; the bread was super fresh and straddled the just salty enough line with aplomb - the accompanying dips could have been a little more punchy, but we made up by dipping it in the camembert.
  • Baked camembert; melty cheese, what could be better? Artisan sprinkle said melty cheese with pine nuts and rosemary - simple, but inspired.
  • BBQ pork rib; a massive hunk of meat, soft and succulent in a pretty good BBQ sauce. The sauce could have been a bit more zingy, but was tasty enough for us to lick our fingers afterwards.
  • Wood baked sardines; out of the starters, this was the bum dish. The salsa
    that accompanied the fish had a great kick, but the sardines were dry and served on an over sized piece of wood. Now I understand Artisan's schtick is to cook stuff in the wood-fired oven, but the fish to wood ratio was ridiculous and we couldn't see how the wood had affected the taste of the fish.
  • Baked mussels - we thought these would be horribly chewy, having been in the oven, but this dish was amazing. Moules marinares steamed to perfection under a dough duvet - I'm not sure if you're meant to eat the crust, but it made a great plate to mouth transport devise for the sweetly, garlic rich sauce.
As we reached mains, we decided to save our waists a little and order only one dish apiece. The pulled pork burger was a solid, comforting dish with plenty of salty, soft meat. The salt baked sea bass was a star of a dish; perfectly steamed and seasoned in its salt crust, with the added theatre of it being hammered out of said crust by a member of the waiting staff, whilst we watched, goggled eyed.

Unfortunately my dish of pork tenderloin, let the side down. The dish itself was a great contrast of sweet and sharp tastes; apples and a mustard sauce cutting through the sweet fattiness of the pork. However the pork itself was over cooked, dry and slightly chewy - a shame, as if it had been spot on, this may have been the winning dish of the evening.

We were stuffed, but salted caramel baked bananas was too much like yum for us to turn down, so we
managed to find space - glad we did, simple yet delicious, the gingerbread ice cream was a perfect match for the warm, gooey, savoury-ish bananas.

Artisan is a great space; the food is mostly excellent, the staff are brilliant and it's not too heavy on the pocket (unless you try and eat the whole menu, like us gluttons). For a simple, laid back and definitely better than middle-of-the-road meal, go visit.

Price for five starters, three mains, two sides, three puddings, two cocktails, three beers, a whisky and two glasses of pudding wine: £139.85

Food - 7/10
Atmosphere - 8/10
Service - 9/10
Value for money - 7/10

Total - 32/40

Go again - yes, it's a great place to hang out with friends.

Artisan, Avenue North, 18-22 Bridge Street, Spinningfields, Manchester M3 3BZ - - 0161 832 4181 - Twitter - Facebook

Please note, I was given this meal gratis, but as you can see from my varied review of the dishes, I wasn't under any obligation to say anything nice.
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Delonghi Motiva Coffee Maker

Christmas has come early in my household - those lovely people at Argos have decided to send me a coffee maker to try out (so this post's in conjunction with them). I'd like to think its due to my winning ways with words, but in all likelihood they've looked at my morning time twitter feed and seen I was a girl with a serious coffee problem.

My usual coffee ritual starts with bleary eyed me remembering I can't get coffee on the way to work or anything other than instant at the office (I'm not starting the instant/fresh coffee debate here. Let's just say I don't understand why anyone would drink instant). Then a mad dash to get a cafetiere on before I tear out the door, then come back in to pick up the cafetiere I've forgotten, then dash down to the train. Please don't think I take a full coffee set on the train or that I can run with a glass french press; I have a very useful, lockable, plastic travel cafetiere, which double as a thermos and drinking vessel (ooh, look at me being practical AND safe).

Until now, I've looked on coffee machines as one of those aspirational luxuries that I'd never allow myself as I'm too damn practical to let loose and live a little. So when the Delonghi arrived I felt naughty, but like I'd made it into one of those middle class homes magazines my Mother likes to buy.

This is the coffee machine for semi-idiots - it's not one of those types that you just put pods in and press a button, the Motiva takes both ESE espresso capsules and fine ground espresso coffee (which I have tons of - perks of having a Dad who lives part of the year in Italy) - but it couldn't be simpler to set up as it's basically already done, you just have to put the coffee in, add water and attach the arm thingy (that's a technical term, by the way). Oh and turn a knob.

The  Motiva has a removable, external water reservoir - simply ingenious as you don't have to take the machine to water or need to cart jugs across the kitchen to fill it up; just click it out and fill from the tap. The coffee is put in a little holder and then can you feel all proper barrista like as you tamp it down on the tamper attachment, twist said holder and arm into the machine, turn a knob and the espresso pours out, just like it does at any well known coffee chain.

Our first few attempts at making a coffee did result in some exploding mishaps - the only downside to the easy picture instructions is that they don't tell you how much coffee to put in the holder, or how hard to tamp it down. Three goes later though and we had it to a tee.

The Motiva makes excellent espresso, you get a lovely crema on top and the espresso is sweet and smooth. I tried a taste test with my Biretta mokka hob top (also Daddy/Italy present), using the same Lavazza Rossa espresso grounds. The Biretta produced a more watery, bitter result (and I'm a pro at using my mokka, so don't even question my makery ability), which needed a good spoon of sugar to bring out the chocolaty flavours of the coffee. However the Delonghi espresso needed no sugar and was much smoother.

The Delonghi makes espresso, pure and simple - however you can also use it to add hot water to your drink (Americano, anyone?) and there's a very capable milk frother attachment - so you can make all your favourite drinks off one small, compact and very neat machine. It's made of plastic, but it pretty sturdy - I've got super guns of steel/am exceedingly clumsy and it's bearing up eminently under these tough conditions.

All in all, the Delonghi's a simple, easy to use machine that's great for someone without much space. It'll take one morning of getting used to and then there's quick and tasty coffee on tap whenever you have that craving. Argos do other coffee machines too, but I'm going to stick with this one.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Albert Matthews Butchers - Bury

Writing this blog, there are many people I come across, working in all walks of the food sector. There are charming front of house staff, knowledgeable bar specialists and creative chefs - but there's nothing that impresses and excites me more, than someone with passion.

Finding a passionate individual or company is what reminds me why I love food. Luckily for me, I've found another.

Winning an award
Albert Matthews is an award winning butchers based in the historic Bury market, with a pedigree as impressive as they produce they sell. Set up in 1935 by Albert Matthews, from the word go they have only ever sourced local, rare and traditional British breeds.

Albert Matthews built strong links with local producers, many of whom the business still uses today. Albert's dedication to good husbandry, high welfare and the continuation of traditional, rare breeds saw him purchase a farm and abattoir in Cheshire, grow the business to be one of the most successful in the region and become a top supplier to the high end restaurant trade.
Bury stall

In the past few years Chris and Sarah Matthews, grandchildren of the great man himself, have set up shop in Bury Market, to bring local, rare breed, quality produce back to the customer. But let's stop talking about history and talk about the food.

The first thing I like about Albert Matthews is there dedication to explaining their produce to you. They are so proud of their producers in fact, that there are pages on their website dedicated to where they source from, why, what feed the animals eat and their high welfare standards. If you go into the shop, the customer service and the knowledge is second to none.

Beef aging
The stand out item I tried was the 56 day, dry aged Galloway sirloin. Yeah, I just said 56 days - that's eight weeks for you struggling with the maths. Dry aged beef is what you want and is a true sign of quality and care on the part of the butcher. Hung on the bone in their cool store, the beef is allowed to age naturally, taking on a dark hue as the enzymes in the meat break down the tough fibres and the beneficial bacteria help develop an amazing taste. Hung like this, the meat loses a lot of water and weight - good for the customer, less profit for the butcher, hence why you won't find dry aged steak in your supermarket. Those wet, bright red lumps on the shelves? Not aged at all (see how much your steak shrinks as it cooks = water loss). Supermarket packs stating 28 days aged? Unless you see the magical word 'dry', the meat will have been sealed in its pack and left for 28 days; no bacteria or enzymes can make their way through that shrink wrapped plastic.

Meat lesson over - the steak was, quite literally, the best steak I have ever tasted. And I'm not exaggerating. The smell during cooking was intensely beefy, akin to a really good stock mixed in with some frying dripping. The taste was intense (I'd cooked them with the merest hint of salt and nothing else); deeply savoury, umami filled, the beefiest beef. To top it all off, the meat was silky soft - think fillet softness, but with a the flavour of a harder working cut. It's taken Albert Matthew's quite a while to develop this product and you can tell.

Another winner was the Black Strap Bacon; rare breed (Saddleback/Old Spot), slow grown, dry cured and then cured with molasses. The bacon is deeply porky, the sweetness of the pork shining through and then a big smoky/bitter hit off the molasses. Thick cut, no water/white ming seeping out - the ultimate bacon sarnie bacon.

I'd asked Chris if he could find me some wild rabbit (if your rabbit packet ain't sating wild, it's reared in appalling conditions a la battery farmed hens. Just so you know) and one of my favourite meats, pheasant. This was no problem for a company with strong links across Lancashire, Cumbria and the Forest of Bowland.

I also tried the diced heather fed lamb, which made a great hot pot and had a beautiful sweetness, plus two minces, pork and beef. It's been a long time since I cooked with mince and have memories
of buying the cheap stuff when I was a student; greasy, flaccid, grey, tasteless meat. Both the Albert Matthews minces had a good fat/meat ratio and the resulting mince (before the addition of any other ingredients) had a fine flavour (yes, I was eating mince straight from the pan, I'm not ashamed), which still shined through on the addition of other ingredients.

Because I'm a greedy guts I also tried the beef topside (tasty roast) and the Goosnargh corn-fed chicken supremes - oh my gosh these were a) tasty b) stayed moist and c) massive, great value for money.

I'm a convert to Albert Matthews - I care about the provenance/welfare of my meat, so it's great for conscious carnivores like me and all the produce is top quality and great tasting. The good news for lazy people like me, or those that live a little too far from Bury, is that they have a wonderful website, which has all the finer details of their producers, their products and some cracking offers; my favourite being the Choose Your Own Box (comes in totally recyclable packaging) - a good value box of a selection of different meats that you choose yourself; like a meaty veg box but without getting items you don't want that rot at the back of your fridge for a year.

So get off your bottom/get your laptop out; stop buying cheap, mass produced, grey tasting meat from the supermarket and get some passion in your mouth.

Albert Matthews Butchers, The Meat and Fish Hall, Bury Market, Murray Road, Bury, Lancashire BL9 0BJ - - 0161 341 0528 - - Facebook - Twitter

Please note, I was given my box of meat for free, but am under no obligation to say anything nice - it's just hard to say something bad against wonderful, passionate people.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Yo! Sushi - Trafford Centre, Manchester

I have a dirty secret, a secret I probably shouldn't share on a food blog, a blog that's here to educate gastronomically and to highlight the best of our region has to offer - I'm in love with Yo! Sushi.

Food on a belt!
I know it's a chain, that the selection of fish stretches to two, three if you count prawns and four if you separate smoked/non-smoked salmon and I'd avoid it if you have an aversion to bright colours. All that said, I love the place; they cater for most people (even non-fish eaters), there's the hypnotic parade of dishes speeding past you on the belt and their menu's genuinely, unpretentiously fun.

My first foray into Yo! was in the sadly now departed Selfridge's Exchange Square food hall; eighteen years old, never having eaten sushi, my senses were assaulted and I relished each visit, popping in for a plate of hamachi sashimi and a bowl of miso - as much as my meagre student budget would stretch to.

Over the years it has been a place to tell my brother (when he had a whole futomaki stuffed into his mouth) that he was eating fish eggs (cue him trying to get said futomaki out of his mouth as quickly as possible), to giggle uncontrollably (you mean snort? - ed) with friends and *blushes* as a date destination.

Yo! Sushi has just released a new menu inspired by street food at their Trafford Centre Selfridges

New menu
store (soon to be rolled out across the country) - I'm not going to discuss the morals of restaurants incorporating street food dishes onto their menus and the whole street food shebang (there will probably be a blog about that in the not too distant future...) - so naturally, new menu, any excuse to pop down.

The Yo! Sushi at Selfridges Trafford Centre has just had a major refit (indeed, I tried to pop down three weeks ago and it was closed. No weekly Yo! fix for me!). The old white store has been replaced with striped wood, shot through with the recognisable Yo! Sushi colours. There's less bright orange (good) and the whole place generally looks cleaner, brighter and more modern. So it's not just the menu that has changed.

Whilst we were trying out the street menu (six dishes, of which we tried four), we naturally had to sample as many of the other dishes we know and love. Because that's how I roll at Yo! (and then roll out the door).

Off the new menu - Chicken karage is a fried chicken dish (like popcorn chicken, my companion's observation) - salty with a crunchy outer layer, pretty moreish and probably very bad for you. We didn't like the processed tasting wasabi mayo dip that came on the side, but a dousing of soy makes this dish even better (or use the dip that comes with the goyza, takes it up another notch again).

Salmon harumaki; a crisp filo roll, filled with nori and salmon, then fried. I've never had cooked nori before, but it's something I'll definitely try again. The pastry gave a pleasing crisp crack and the fish inside was perfectly cooked, the nori seasoning it all beautifully. Only issue was that the pastry was soaked in oil - luckily it didn't taste stale, but left a little too much grease in the mouth.

Bum note was the duck and hoisin salad - some bland, soggy leaves shot through with massive chunks of onion and then topped unappetisingly with cold, unflavoured (just a hint of five spice was all I was getting) duck that had lumps of white fat and flabby skin stuck to it. We didn't finish it.

Luckily all this was saved by the dish of the day - salmon sashimi with an yuzu salsa. Miles away from the duck; spanking fresh, full of heady, fresh citrus perfume, zingy spice and sweetness from the salsa. I could have eaten this all day.

Then we started on dishes from the original menu; the usual, plain salmon sashimi was what it said on the tin - fresh but a little fatty. A tuna handroll was full to bursting and the staff were more than happy to skip the mayo as per my request, they did however, get a little trigger happy with the spicy sauce - it took three glasses of waster to stop the burning and my lips looked like they'd had some pretty full on filler work done (not that I minded, I'm addicted to that spicy sauce).

Because I'm a glutton/had to research I had the rice rolled salmon maki - there's no rice, the nori is replaced by summer roll wrapping and there's some avocado and cucumber in there - super light and refreshing, another winner that I'll add to my list of 'dishes I have to have every time I visit Yo!'

Yo! Sushi isn't for the sushi gourmand, that's not why I go there (try Umezushi instead if you're after that), but it's a great place for to grab a bite to eat that genuinely is different from the flabby sandwiches and bland soups that are your other lunch time/chain options.

Yo! Sushi operates a range of set prices for it's dishes, the colour of the dish denotes price - they go form £1.90 (green) to £5 (grey).

Food - 7/10
Service - 9/10 (Jamie is amazing, he's the most lovely, helpful man ever)
Atmosphere - 8/10 (rammed, mid-week lunch)
Value for money - 7/10

Total - 31/40

Go again - already been. Twice. Since last week.

Yo! Sushi Selfridges, The Dome, Trafford Centre, Trafford Park, Manchester M17 8DA - 0161 747 7689 -

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