Wreckfish Bistro – A Masterclass – Liverpool

Wreckfish…..(great name for a bistro) is the fourth in a natty little run of openings by Gary Usher, the infamous, crowdfunding, twitter speak chef. Having raptured through Sticky, Burnt and Hispi (reviewed previously). it was time to get ‘wrecked’ in Liverpool. This time to luxuriate in an all day masterclass with the maestro himself. The winnings for stumping up a few bob to help this wonderful Seel Street edifice spring to life.


Its set in what seems to be quite a hip neighbourhood, smart urban boutiques and bars abound. That said Wreckfish itself leaps out. Its smart two-tone grey exterior with understated branding cuts a serious dash.

Table and kitchen ready, preparing, torching and crowning a pigeon

I’m early, but i’m made more than welcome by FOH Pete. He sees me right with a brew and a danish in the well-appointed bar area. The street level floor is flooded with natural light and has already been converted into a multi chef workspace. Long tables are set with folded aprons, towels, squirty bottles and sharp knives. The flash, stainless kitchen is bristling at the far end. Gradually the other fourteen contestants slip in. We’re all a bit nervous until Gazza steps in with the itinerary.

Preparing the vodka cream, gossamer thin, golden pasta, lentils and pork at the ready

The demos are fronted by Gary. We all listen and laugh at the right places. He’s good, he’s got the obligatory rock star tats, he’s charismatic, he articulates with his hands as well as explain the tricks with his confident Cheshire brogue…..And he can cook……but not only that, so can his team that have stepped in to help today. Rich, Luke and Ryan are on hand to correct him and sell their improvements and help our little pairings pull off the steps. It’s important we do a decent job as most of the gear will be sold in the restaurant later, as well as becoming our afternoon lunch! No pressure then!

Rich shows us how to pipe ricotta, pasta making and serve with parmesan and squash puree

We start by making pasta. Given I often make my own I’m thinking this is going to be straightforward. But no, I hadn’t bargained on the passion and attention to detail that they all exude. It’s only egg yolks used here, no salt….Oh and don’t forget to add the saffron reduction for that spectacular golden hue. Its kneaded forever before being cling filmed for posterity. Suitably rested the whole team support Gazza in rolling out the longest piece of gossamer thin, golden plastic. We ‘squodge’ the ricotta to one side along its length and then communally fold and tease into tortellini ready for our starter later.

Salmon time! blow torching, set with pickled cucumber and our vodka cream

Next it’s the salmon. This is our next course. A huge slab is presented to our teams of two. Again, easy this, just carve up into sections. But no, first up slice along the base 3 mm above the skin to cut out the bloodline! Slice in two and take out more of the fat. Cure in sugar and salt for fifteen minutes, ready for cooking in the water bath and being finally blowtorched for presentation and flavour. I was nearly right!

Vodka cream next. A chefs palate test. Who gets the vodka, sugar, salt content right? They all do I reckon.

Paul ties up ‘our’ pork belly. Served with lentils and salsa verde

We then stuff a glorious slab of well hung pork belly with a mix of bread, prunes and sautéed onion. Its rolled then we all learn to do the butchers knot and tie up this wondrous dish. It’s all in the double twist of the hand and the pulley system. We learn this is normally cooked for over ten hours after an initial blast to get the crackling going. One or two get the chance to prepare some pigeons.

We then take turns in the kitchen finishing off the dishes and getting to work the pass and shouting “service”. I totally loved it. I was buzzing.

Action shots!

I was on boiling pasta duty with partner for the day Paul, whilst others got to dribble beurre noisette, blowtorch salmon, roast pigeons and plate up pork. We then had the enviable task of eating it all washed down with plenty of white wine. We even slurped a champagne toast during an impromptu Q&A.

Rich’s Madeleines – sublime

Sadly, after a sumptuous four course meal, it all came to an end, though not before a flourish with a trio of Rich’s glorious madeleines. Then it was hand shakes all round and we all ventured off. A magical day and further confirmation that the latest venture Wreckfish is up there with the best.

Armed with Gary’s infectious drive and his uncanny knack of building empowered teams, each with the freedom to develop the brand, maintaining consistency and quality along the way, it seems inconceivable that Wreckfish is the last. Surely its just the start? I reckon this story will run and run. Cant wait to get back to Wreckfish……and another masterclass.

Wreckfish Bistro
60 Seel Street
L1 4BE
0151 7071960


Top Dishes of 2017

It’s that time of year again, a time to whip out the old phone pics and bag a quick blog post. Its my eating highlights of 2017. As ever there has been some great feeds. I have merely chipped a few down that seem worth mentioning. I’m sure I know I will have missed a few out, but here goes…..

First up, one of my fave new places, ‘Friends of Ham’ in Leeds. A simple slice of pigs cheek on sourdough with a potato salad and a pint of hazelnut mild. Simple but delicious. I urge everyone to try.


Had a super meal at the rejuvenated ‘Beastro’ (review here) in Spinningfields, Manchester. Steak is a speciality. They go from strength to strength. Well worth a visit anytime of day. The signature breakfast wrap sooths hangovers like a dream……


An unusual but rather splendid meal was had at a campsite in Conwy, North Wales. It was at ‘Signatures’. Despite catering for thirty odd people, a fine dining experience for just over thirty quid was enjoyed. Get your camping gear on chaps…..


One found oneself wholed up in Tenby, South Wales. A rather agreeable crab timbale and a fresh sea-trout at ‘The Plantagenet House’ by The Harbour worked wonders for the soul. recommended if you’re ever as far west in Wales as you can possibly get.


A surprisingly decent crab salad with herbs and asparagus was had at ‘The Rose and Crown’, which was sadly a rather garish and unassuming gastropub in Fishguard. That said they have a chef who knows what he is doing. Simple exquisite.


Ventured to old favourite ‘Baratxuri’ in Ramsbottom for a lunchtime snack, ended up sat in their new ‘comedor’ (dining room!) having a full chicken with all the trimmings! I’ve run out of superlatives for this place. You must go.


I love a reuben! Manchester’s street food heroes ‘Northern Soul’ do a superb New Yorker. Cheese toasties on steroids.


Seafood specialist and newcomer to Manchester ‘Randall and Aubin’ (reviewed here) provided a sumptuous array of oysters, crab and tuna for our wedding anniversary this year. Their twitter feed highlights many other delights. The fish and chips looks like a winner.


Talking of fish and chips, we stumbled on ‘The Ferry Tavern’ in Penketh near Warrington.  It’s all it does! It does it well though and a nice view of the Mersey gateway Bridge…..


Took a colleague for a corking lunch in Manchesters Nothern Quarter. They have a new authentic mexican restauraunt called ‘El Taquero’. We loved it.  Pork and pineapple taco anyone? Say yes when asked…..


I’ve mentioned many times that you can press a pin blindfold onto a map of The Ribble Valley and you will find somewhere decent to eat. Came by accident across ‘The Aspinall Arms’ in Mitton near Whalley. Corking pigeon starter amongst.


Trooped round Shoreditch on my own one Saturday. Fellow foodies pointed me to Smokestak. Unfortuantely I’d eaten but managed to squeeze these sticky pig tails in as a little snack. Will be back for a full feed one day.


The Boys hit Dublin in a rainy January. away from Temple Bar we stumbled on Darkey Kellys. Best Guiness and a blimnding Guiness stew for a hearty lunch. Recommended.


Finally and easily the best meal of the year for me. My birthday bash was spent at Simon Rogans’s Michelin starred L’Enclume. Stunning food in a fabulous setting with a glorious front of house. I need to go again and again. Review here.


So there it is for now. By no means exhaustive. I could have added many burger pics! but youve seen them before. Hope to add a bit more diversity in 2018, going to Cuba soon. What do they eat there?……

Shears Yard – Leeds

“Found another gem deep in the bowels of Leeds. Im starting to really like Leeds”

Whilst on the one hand I had to take The Flame to a James Blunt concert, it did mean on the other hand In could eat and drink in Leeds again! I like Leeds. We lunched on charcuterie at ‘Friends of Ham’ whilst quaffing Hazelnut Mild! And then hit The Reliance for an after show pint and whisky. Great start to the weekend.


Next day, a Sunday, we met up with long time chums who had setup lunch at ’Shears Yard’. Set in the old, cobbled, under developed section of the town, behind the incredible Corn exchange, we were greeted with a huge monolithic concrete arch. Some chap had skilfully chiselled the name into the plinth above. It’s a grand entrance.


It’s no less splendid inside as you step down into this former industrial yard. Its been stripped back and spruced and fitted out with stringy lights, blonde wood tables and chairs sprinkled with the odd sage upholstery. Lights beams in from the roof lights, bringing an orange glow to the open brickwork and concrete half walls. I loved it.

Decent choice of ales, though I actually chose a can of Sputnik IPA, very pleasant too. As it was a Sunday the menu was a single sheet of A4 extolling the virtues of a Sunday lunch. It read well. A variety of locally sourced produce listed.


We ordered up and soon our starters arrived. The Flame went for the soup of the day, which on the day was a fine, fiery red, tomato and chilli for £6. I went for the cured sea trout, smoked trout croquette, wasabi mayonnaise with cucumber and apple (£6.50). Very delicate and light, beautifully presented.

mackerel, cured trout, risotto

Others had the ‘risotto’ of pearl barley and Jerusalem artichoke, grapes, truffle butter, artichoke crips and parmesan (£6). Looked a little messy on the plate but rather good I’m told. The real winner for me was the mackerel fillet mi cuit, smoked mackerel mousse, pickled kohlrabi, leek oil, dill and black onion seeds. Looked super and tasted sensational, wished id have ordered it. Great start.


Mains for the male specimens in the troupe featured Sykes House farm sourced pork and beef for the trad Sunday lunch. Both £13.50, both splendid examples. The seasonal vegetables equally decent. The ladies both went for the salmon fillet with a brown butter sauce with capers and lemon, served with roast beetroot, chard and a dill yoghurt (£15). A bowl of hot, triple cooked, salted chips were used to mop up the juices.


From a fine range of desserts I went for the front of house recommended eton mess, which was flavoured with blackberry and green tea, a blackberry compote, matcha meringue and a yoghurt sorbet (£6). As good as it was the real gem was the Jerusalem artichoke and coconut cake with coconut cream frosting and frozen apple (£6). The cake was a moistened triumph. Ive never had Jerusalem artichoke in a cake before! Superb.

The menu changes quite a bit and is seasonal. Jerusalem artichokes did well this week! I would love to get back some time to try the a la carte. It’s a fine environment to eat and testament to the fine eateries that are popping up in Leeds. Its a thumbs up from me.

Shears Yard
11-15 Wharf Street,
The Calls,
tel: 0113 244 4144


The White Hart – Sabden, Lancashire

“Looks like The Ribble Valley has another gem! This time in Sabden!”

The latest instalment of our tri-annual jaunt with Yorkshire folk led me to stick a pin between the grand metropolis of Leeds and the less grand, township of Newton-le-Willows. The pin fell in Sabden, a quaint village set in the bowels of a huge, natural bowl between the majestic tarmac strips of the A59 and the M65! The pin further picked out ‘The White Hart’, a hitherto unknown emporium of fine ales and home cooked fuel. The Flame and I set out to meet our Yorkshire counterparts.


The plan was to walk around the nearby reservoir and retreat to ‘The Hart’ for refreshments. What really happened was that we sat in, had a pint and called in our two thirty appointment an hour early. The delightful Lydia led us to our spartan table. Our initial comfort hindered by the brilliant winter sunshine pouring through the untreated windows. A large, well balanced menu card was hastily positioned to ward off the blinding light.


Its smart enough from the outside. Like many of the refurbished Thwaites outlets, its white with gold lettering and the red logo. Inside, It’s a large square room with the bar set in the centre. You can walk round it and set down in one of four separate spaces. Its very much brown and beige. Not too many soft furnishings. It’s a bit spartan to be honest, but cosy enough once we sat down.

Settled in, we marvelled at the sensational menu and specials board. A veritable phalanx of Lancashire classics swept across my vision. Could have placed a pin anywhere and I would have been in heaven, lamb confit hotpot, goosnargh chicken, Lancashire cheese and onion pie……superb stuff. IMG_1827

We ordered up and soon our starters of Risotto Verdi, asparagus and pea in a parmesan basket (£6), homemade mushroom soup (a mere £4), brisket corned beef hash cake, poached egg (£6) and a roasted sardine with caper dressing (£6), turned up, together, all piping hot. We were all suitably enthralled with our choice. My parmesan crisp a delight, the corned beef hash a major triumph.

For mains I went for the Pendle rack of lamb, tempura black pudding, black pepper mash (£19), a fellow cohort went roast goosnargh chicken breast with garlic dauphinoise potatoes, crispy bacon and sage (£16), The Flame a baked fish pie (£14) whilst our final guest went braised steak and blue cheese pot pie with crushed garden peas, puffed pastry top and fries (£15).


The lamb rack beautifully pink and soft, chicken moist and tasty, the fish pie as good as anywhere and the braised steak reported in as a revelation. As I think you’ll agree it all looked rather splendid.


Only a couple of us went sweet. Me the bruled lemon tart, whilst Julie went for the poached rhubarb cheesecake with a milkshake, both £6. My tart was presented wonderfully and rounded things off superbly. The cheesecake though, even better. Great portion too.


The chef today was Martin. The owners Dan and Becky have really got things going well here. They have also taken over The Griffin in nearby Huncoats and also The Station Inn in Clitheroe centre, which Dan was painting on the afternoon we were there! If this is what we can expect then theres another two fine additions to The Ribble Valley experience. The scene is really prospering up there. I think Ill be up there every week…….

The White Hart Inn
36 Padiham Road
01282 777862

Randall and Aubin – Manchester

“Another London restaurant gives Manchester a try. This one can stay for me. Probably the best seafood in town?”

Twenty-eight years of marriage, where do you go to celebrate that? Well, I chose ‘Randall and Aubin,’ latest addition to the Spinningfield end of good old Manchester town. I love seafood and I just fancied some. Thankfully The Flame doesn’t mind fish either! We were on. Couple of pre meal cocktails around town before sauntering along Bridge Street to the good old R&A. Looks good from outside. Two ‘Parisienne’ awnings with ornate script set it apart. I fully lit, street facing flash of seafood on a bed of ice, add a decadent touch.


We enter the long narrow room. A seated bar to the left, our coats are wafted behind a screen by front of house to the right. We feel very welcome. We are escorted to table 86. The initial excitement dips. The tiny round table is set hard against the wall. We feel hemmed in. Our next table of two, merely inches away, bask in acres of space. We mention this to Zak, our excellent waiter. Within minutes a nearby table, twice the size, swept down one side with banquette seating is cleaned and prepped. Immediately our enthusiasm is back up to ten and climbing. Bottle of ‘Mad Fish’ Sauvignon Blanc (£35)! Corked (well unscrewed) and cooling. Six plump, french oysters arranged neatly on a wire heightened platter (£15). We slurped our entree while taking in the fine ambience.

IMG_1808The idea, one presumes, is that you imagine you’ve been whisked to an elegant Parisienne Brasserie on the Champs Elysee? It works to an extent, reminded me a bit of the old ‘Cafe Rouges’ though. ‘Moulin Rouge’ mirrors and velvet curtains abound. The exposed ‘air-con’ ironmongery on the ceiling detracts slightly, but I’m quibbling.

Whilst fish and seafood is the main intent, and what we came for, the menu boats a collection of fine rotisserie meats too. The menu is extensive, a quid or two up compared to some others in town, but it is indeed a fine offer. I started up with the New England clam & bacon chowder with fresh corn bread (£5.50). A hearty meal in itself, robust flavours, loads of clams in a creamy broth. Utterly wonderful. The Flame went for the R&A crab cakes with lime mayonnaise, watercress & radish salad (a fairly hefty £9.85). Again rather good. I was allowed half of one!


For mains I went for ‘full faff’ whole, cracked, brown crab mayonnaise with R&A potato salad (£19.85). The ready dressed ‘low faff’ Dorset crab with R&A potato salad is £2 cheaper! Have to say it was sensational. Struggling to recall a better crab, good size too, but the potato salad is worth a mention. Piquant and tasty, perfect accompaniment to the main event. Thankfully, The Flame was perfectly happy catching up on Facebook whilst I cracked and crunched my way through this king of crustaceans!


The Flame had the Grilled line-caught tuna with roasted Mediterranean vegetables, feta cheese & an olive oil oregano tapenade (£19.85). A thick steak of tuna, cooked perfectly pink on a colourful bed of aubergine, peppers and onions.


By now we were stuffed, but couldn’t resist a sweet finish. The desserts, Sticky Date Pudding – with vanilla ice cream & caramel sauce and my Baked Vanilla Cheesecake – with caramel & salted caramel ice cream (both £8 each), both homemade were perfectly decent, but by then we were a bit over faced, especially after our rather splendid anniversary ice cream, presented by young Zak.


The bill romped in at a fairly hefty £135 including a 12.5% discretionary tip. But as we know, seafood in particular exerts a premium. Have to say this though, despite our initial hiccup with the table we thoroughly enjoyed our time here. The service was bright, attentive and knowledgable. TV chef Ed Baines is behind the R&A. The original is in Soho in London. I hope his selection of Bridge Street in Manchester as the next foray works out. We’ll definitely be back. This could well turn out to be one of our favourites places, watch this space……

Randall & Aubin Manchester
64 Bridge Street,
M3 3BN
Tel: +44 (0) 161 7111 007
Email: mcr@randallandaubin.com

Five Guys – Arndale, Manchester

“Not sure my valet would approve but this fast food burger chain can certainly turn out a decent burger”


Its become a bit of a Friday treat. Even become known as burger Friday. Working in Manchester I have been gradually schlepping round the hip burger joints with a group of like minded cohorts. We’ve done the usual suspects Byron, Solita, Almost Famous, Yard and Coop, Common, Reds, Westcorner and others. However, nagging away at the back, big ‘Dazzer’ kept banging on about Five Guys. “Where is it?”, “in the Arndale” he quipped. “Good Lord, my valet wont let me go in there, thats for the youngsters, how will I dress? What jacket will I wear?”, “No honest its ace, just keep with me you’ll be fine”.


The Arndale is Manchester’s compendium of garish retail emporiums, so loved by the ‘yoof’. I felt so out of place in my Harris tweed. Dazzer led on, armed with a full hipster beard, he took looked the part and soon led me to the double height cathedral of glass and red panelling. Five Guys cuts quite a dash, you cant miss it.

We queued in. A riot of formica with the odd daub of oak. I was encouraged by the claim that ‘chips are hand formed and sourced locally,’ from some farm in Huddersfield today by all accounts.


Dazzer clearly experienced in the protocol quickly ordered the burger with a riot of extras (there are 15 to chose from!), lettuce, jalepeno, cheese, onion, hot sauce and various other ingredients. To avoid confusion and embarrassment I simply ordered the same, but with a salted caramel milkshake instead of one of about 170 different coca cola flavours!

We then waited out front whilst the uniformed operatives set to work. It’s an impressive set up. All the workings are on show. A huge metallic range applies the necessary heat to the foodstuffs whilst an overhead cowl hoovers up the steam and sweat of honest toil. Within minutes our number is called and we grasp our feed. Its all wrapped in brown paper.


Have to say it was very good. The burger was tasty and moist. Probably overdid it with the extras as it disintegrated into a gooey mess. A lovely gooey mess though. The skin on chips were historic. Proper fantastic. The milkshake was up there with the best too.

Came it at around £12 a head, so whilst its fast food, it’s not necessarily fast food prices, but well worth it.


Whilst I went to the Arndale in Manchester there is one in the Trafford Centre too. That said they are sprouting up everywhere, emanating from London as ever. Worth a try if you happen to be in the type of place they happen to be! Not sure Jeeves will let me out again, but that doesn’t stop you though…..

Five Guys
Somewhere near you soon….

The Pit Smokehouse – Culcheth, Cheshire

“Our very own dirty food emporium, right on our doorstep!”

The great burger revolution that has swept through, well err…. Manchester over the last few years has shown little sign of abating. Solita, Byron, Almost Famous, Reds, Five Guys and various Smokehouse empires have grilled into the fray with apparent success. Followers will know I am a fan of a well turned out burger. So it was with a welcome heart that I slumped into a relatively local joint called The Pit Smokehouse. Its housed in a sort of house/shop type set up in Culcheth. Culcheth is a fairly well heeled enclave outside Warrington in leafy Cheshire and only a few miles from my home town of Newton le Willows.


The site formerly housed a haphazard attempt at fine dining called ‘Duck Egg Blue’. The decor has been completely swept aside in favour of the customary ranch style set up that is de rigeur for a ‘smokehouse’. Big rustic tables, cow horns, logos branded into wood, you get the picture, its all to make you feel like you’ve hit the deep south, roped yourself a bucking longhorn, had its backside wiped and slapped on the barbie. Even had Lynyrd Skynyrd on the house PA!


I surveyed the menu. It’s a fine body of work, if you like grilled and smoked meat. I ordered a cowboy sized peanut butter shake (shouldn’t that have been a bourbon on the rocks? – Ed) and set about my order.


For starts I signed up for some smoked chicken wings in a Jack Daniels honeyed coat (3 pieces for £3.95). They turned up smarttish and crikey they were good. These chickens must have had a good life, I reckon they could’ve flown for miles. They must have been the biggest, meatiest wings Ive ever had. Cracking start.


From the impressive burger list I plumbed for a ‘Volcano’ burger, which promised to be hot with jalepeno and their signature chilli. It came in at £11.95 with skin on fries. It came, teetering on a board, stabbed in place with a menacing, but necessary sharp knife. Such was the ‘immenseness’ of the offer I had to deconstruct it to do it justice. For me it was probably too big. Most of the constituents were as expected. The chilli was hot and flavoursome, cheese oozed from various ports. The only slight disappointment was the actual beef patty (or should I say patties). They were a little dry for me. We know we can have juicy pink when the meat is of this quality. A shame really as this could have been a solid 9 out of 10. The dry beef making it a 7 at best. The chips were good, but I hardly touched them after all this!


I couldn’t fit a dessert in. All in all an encouraging find. I’d definitely give it another go next time I need a dirty food fix. Worth a try, just ask for the one burger, and make sure its pink!

The Pit Smokehouse
453 Warrington Road


PS One in Widnes too

FOOD! Reviews and Recipes by an Enthusiast!