El Gato Negro Tapas – Manchester

“Finally made it. And yes, The Black Cat can still do it”

Bit late to the party! El Gato has been wowing the Manchester scene with its high end Spanish tapas for a couple of years now. After a few abortive attempts I finally took The Flame along for a pre-gig tea.

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I’ve been a few times for cocktails and have marvelled at the quality of the fit out that has been applied to this fine, three story, former retail outlet. It was pitched straight into the pedestrianised high end clothing scene in King Street. It was a strange location at the time, but it seems to have held its own despite a couple of other close by failures.

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There a swathes of polished oak, and potentially lots of cattle have laid down their lives for the seat coverings, (though I’m sure high quality faux may have been used!). If you’re really interested in the fit out, Sian Astley describes it far better than me in her Moregeous blog link here.

We were on the second floor facing out to ‘Jack Wills’ and ‘Rapha’. Arguably the ‘golden table,’ it was a cracking spec. The menu preamble from chef patron Simon Shaw suggested three tapas each to start, so we duly obliged. A bottled pale ale and a mango fizz started the liquid proceedings.

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Within minutes the sourdough bread with oil and balsamic, the mixed salad with avocado and the Serrano ham with celeriac roulade were in place ready for battle.

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Further down the line my chargrilled octopus with capers and the morcilla scotch eggs on a mushroom duxelle with aioli arrived. Both triumphs. The soft grilled richness of the ‘pus’ offset wonderfully by the pickling and sharpness of the shallot and caper. The soft boiled quails eggs revealed their innards to perfection after bequeathing their meaty outer shell of blood and crumb, truly historic.

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In keeping with the tapas tradition, whereby chef simply releases the dish as soon as it is ready, it was a fairly lengthy wait for the final flourish of chicken thighs with mijo picon and shallots. Worth the wait though.

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I then had a traditional almond tart with cream to finish. I begrudgingly allowed the two spoon option, thus allowing The Flame a morsel or two. All in, the event turned in at a fairly hefty £72, which for a quick tea might take some swallowing for some. Its quality stuff though and walking round the place it soon became apparent that the place is holding up well. Most tables were full and the third floor boasts a retractable roof giving it a tremendous outdoor feel.

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We loved it, definitely put it on the list for a special event on your next visit to Manchester.

El Gato Negro Tapas,
52 King Street,
Manchester,
M2 4LY

0161 694 8585

http://www.elgatonegrotapas.com

 

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The Hinchcliffe – Cragg Vale, Hebden Bridge

 “A tucked away gem. My Hinch was well and truly cliffed”

 Whilst plotting a Sunday out in Yorkshire to meet some chums, I stumbled across The Hinchcliffe Arms in Cragg Vale, three and half miles outside Hebden Bridge. To add to my glee I also stumbled on the whereabouts of one of my long time favourite chefs, Robert Owen Brown. He has previously shot and cooked his way through various short lived enterprises in Manchester. He specialises in game.

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The Hinch is set in a glorious, leafy glade deep in the Vale of Cragg, beside an incredible church. It’s a beguiling first impression. Wonderfully understated.

Stepping in there’s a Scottish feel to the place, tartan flooring, simple country trimmings rounded off with glorious open fires. Thankfully they were switched off as it was a hot and humid Hebden today! The Scottish theme continued as our friendly hosts welcomed us with a Scottish lilt.

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We surveyed the beautifully presented menu, bound in tan leather whilst quaffing the Hinch pale ale. The offer is trademark Owen Brown. Seasonal, local, quality. My type of menu.

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We started with new season asparagus, Rob’s own smoked haddock with jersey royals, the crispy black pudding potato cake with a (sadly) hard poached egg, a sensational goats cheese salad and a delightfully, vibrant, fresh garden pea soup. Ranging from £5 to £7 they were all superb. Lightly smoked haddock, tangy goats cheese and tremendous black pudding.

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Two sprightly old dears recommended the sharing platter Sunday roast. Feeds two for £30. I reckon four could have gone away happy! A poussin, three or slices of glorious rare beef and three or four slices of arguably the star of the show, locally reared pork with all the trimmings…..and some ratatouille. Truly incredible. The finest roast Ive had in a long while. The girls had flash fried mackerel and the loin of cod. Both beautifully cooked and presented.

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To finish….what else….Vimto trifle and a scrumptious banana sponge with  a salted caramel and banana syrup.

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As there was four of us, catching up on the news, service was perfect, though I dare say a young couple eager to get home for ‘Love Island’ may have found it a little pedestrian. We were in the there a good two and a half hours. The bill came in at £130, we were all seriously chuffed with our lot. The Hinch is truly a find. The epitome of a country pub, presumably one of JW Lees finest? I cant wait to go back on a full a la carte day to get another fix of the magic of Owen Brown and his team. A definite Cooktwit recommend.

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The Hinchcliffe Country Pub & Restaurant
Cragg Vale,
Hebden Bridge,
West Yorkshire,
HX7 5TA,
+44 1422 883256
ww.thehinchcliffe.co.uk

The Clog and Billycock – Pleasington, Blackburn

“These RVI (Ribble Valley Inns) pubs are still doing it well, though others are cathcing up”

Been to a few of these, there are four in total. The Three Fishes in Mitton was our first. They all boast high standards of produce from local artisans. Images of Jeff and his bangers, Mavis and her sourdough and others adorn the walls  to emphasise the deal. The Clog and Billycock in sleepy Pleasington, a rural village on the outskirts of Blackburn, maintains the tradition.
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Another feature of them all is the smart decor and impressive fit out materials. No nailed on OSB and cheap ply in the Ribble Valley Inn group. Veneered, light oaks and high end fabrics create a sumptuous feel.
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The menus and food are great too. Its extensive Lancashire based fayre. Nigel Howarth’s hot pot, fish and chips, black puddings, scotch eggs, they’re all here. As it happens we chose from the rather inviting separately printed, spring menu.
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The Flame had wonderfully spiced chicken livers on sourdough, my slightly disappointing start was a rather dry fish cake, with an equally dry egg, which was, however, just saved by the swamp of creamy leeks that it sat on.

Mains were a triumph. Super fish pie whilst I had the best moules frites since an alfresco lunch in Lille in 1990!
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I finished with the delightful white chocolate and lemon curd posset which came festooned with spring fruits.
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Since we went a few weeks back the press later announced that the Northcote/Nigel Haworth alliance was selling the four RVI emporiums. I hope they go to a good home and maintain the standard. They are a rare treat.

The Clog & Billycock
Billinge End Rd,
Pleasington
Blackburn
BB2 6QB
T 01254 201163

http://www.theclogandbillycock.com

Trains and Food – The Cumbrian Hoovers – Pathfinder Tours

“Not your normal restaurant, service a bit wobbly, especially by the sea!”

What could be better? A journey across some of England’s finest railway scenery on board a luxurious carriage, pulled by a brace of English Electric’s finest. The tour was called ‘The Cumbrian Hoovers’, a nod to the nick name given to these fine old machines by trainspotters of yore. Tremendous stuff.

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Photo by Liam Barnes

A gentlemen’s day to Carlisle and back via Settle and the breathtaking Cumbrian coast started on a bracing morn in Warrington. Within minutes a traditional breakfast of muesli, yoghurt and a fine, full english fry up was on the plate, deftly, sprung by ‘The Frying Scotsman’. Lashings of hot coffee served in the finest bone china completed the set.

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The trip organised by Pathfinder Tours started in Birmingham with a few pick ups along the way. The chief attraction, for rail enthusiasts was the fact that the train was lugged around behind a pair of preserved, Class 50, diesel locomotives, which just by chance were originally manufactured some fifty years earlier, at the Vulcan Foundry in my home town of Newton-le-Willows. As a fifty something myself, heritage diesel locomotives represent the similar whiff of nostalgia that my father would find with steam locomotives.

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The train soon veered off the beaten track and the ascent to Settle and the famous Ribblehead Viaduct was underway. A stop at the wonderfully preserved, Hellifield station providing a welcome leg stretch. The hordes disembarked and flooded the platforms with high tech, digital imagery equipment. The locos were seemingly highly photogenic in some of their former liveries. Indeed the surrounding countryside was littered with folk eager to see and video proceedings.

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Lunchtime saw us arrive in Carlisle. Some early scouting had daned that  The Kings Head in the centre to be a venue capable of providing suitable sustenance. A couple of Windermere pale ales quenched our thirst. For the record I hereby vouch that Carlisle has the largest block paved patio in the world. The whole town centre is covered in it!

Back on the train we set out on a different loop to venture down the stunning west Cumbrian coast. Whitehaven, Maryport, Ravenglass, Foxfield all glided past, whilst the sun covered sea stretched out to the horizon.

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By this time, our genial hosts were serving up our 5 course gourmet meal. Confit duck leg with roasted vegetable cous cous salad, to start. Baked gammon, pineapple, Cumberland sauce with new potatoes, fried courgettes and red cabbage with a ginger and garlic sauce. It was all rather wonderful. We finished with a bramley apple and damson pie with custard followed by a fine cheeseboard and coffee. A couple of nice bots of merlot and the odd ‘Spitfire’ helped it all down.

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After another photo stop in Barrow, amidst bemused onlookers, we were soon barreling through Grange Over Sands and over the famous Kent bridge at Arnside, (see image at the top of the page by Darren JB).

Soon we were back on the straight and narrow west coast main line and my arrival in Warrington beckoned. My chum Craig and I had pretty much spent eleven hours venturing around the hidden lines of Lancashire and Cumbria. A fantastic day had by all.

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If this is something you would in interested in doing, the premier class trip that we did costs around £259 each, though a standard class seat without the food costs around £75. For details of any further trips around the country please visit the website below. I’ll certainly be on the lookout for more.

http://www.Pathfindertours.co.uk
01453 835414 or 834477

Café Murano – London

“Angela Hartnett’s informal Italian emporium doesn’t disappoint”

 Housed alongside more mainstream offers in Covent Garden the Cafe Murano cuts a rather elegant dash. Tastefully understated sagey green paintwork with gold lettering smacked of class. We’d booked a 5.30 session on account of a classical ‘Evanescence’ gig on the South Bank (a pleasant stroll over Waterloo Bridge).

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We ventured in. Its like The Tardis, it goes back miles. Its already bustling, so much so we are eventually seated upstairs beneath a latticework roof. Blue leather, smart oak work and graphical prints took the eye.

We’re soon on the menu. A sumptuous a La Carte is on offer, though we plumb for the single A5 sheet, easter special, three courses for £28. A sixteen pound demi decanter of red is soon in situ, along with the branded water.

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An amouse bouche of mushroom arancini is wolfed down with glee. I order up the octopus with baby gem, datterini and basil salad. Perfect slices of tender tentacle with a beautifully dressed, simple salad. The Flame went for an equally simple tuna cappachio, grapefruit, samphire, chilli and hazelnut salad. Both exquisite.

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For the main course I went for the lamb roast, salsa rosso, jersey royals with mint and fennel. For an extra £4 I went for a cheesy dollop of salty polenta. The lamb melted with flavour. The Flame had the sea bream with baby gem and a Sicilian caponata. She also had a mixed salad side. By now the place had filled up and the wine was flowing.

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Our service, as expected was exemplary. We chose desserts off piste so to speak. I had arguably the best tiramisu Ive ever had. Wonderfully soft, boozy and creamy. The Flame had a slightly disappointing cheese dish. Marred slightly by the mustard jelly accompaniment which wasn’t to her taste at all. It was pretty powerful stuff I must admit.

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All in all though a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Smart service, elegant surroundings with beautifully simple food made using the finest ingredients. Angela has a deli next door (Pastificio) and another smarter gaff in St James Street. We didn’t get chance to check the others out but I’m sure they’ll all be quality. I’d be there again in a shot…

0203 535 7884
coventgarden @cafemurano.co.uk
34 Tavistock Street
London WC2E 7PB

020 7240 3654
coventgarden @cafemurano.co.uk
36 Tavistock Street
London WC2E 7PB
Pastificio

020 3371 5559
reception @cafemurano.co.uk
33 St. James’s Street
London SW1A 1HD

The Jumble Room – Grasmere, Cumbria

“Jumble by name, Jumble by Interior and menu! But it all turned out rather splendid in the end….”
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I’ve fancied this for years. It was featured in the Sunday Times as a top bistro type affair. I finally made it over the weekend when out schlepping round Grasmere and The Lakes with some chums from Yorkshire. The Jumble Room is set down a leafy track from the centre of arguably the prettiest village in Cumbria. It’s a tiny space that juts out from nowhere in a riot of haberdashery which festoons two large windows. Its family run by Chrissy and Andy who’ve run the place as an independent, gastronomic emporium for over 23 years. I’m sure you’ll agree a fine and enviable achievement.
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We surveyed the elegant, single page menu whilst marvelling at the eccentric interior. Platoons of intricately embroidered cushions litter the basic wooden benches, while the vibrant red walls house a flurry of hand painted caricatures of the local cattle and sheep. Comics, Indian sayings and ‘Herdy’ salt and pepper cellars complete the look. I loved it.
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The menu is short, a few starters, a few mains, a few desserts. Cuisine is from all over the place, though mainly eastern. How about Persian lamb? The Thriller from Manilla? Pinatubo Chicken? This is not a chips, steak and onion rings type of place!

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Spanish salad, the menu, decent pale ale, crab crostini

We started with a slate of kicking crab crostini, Whitby crab laced with basil, coriander and a fleck of chilli (£8.50) a bucket of plump olives with homemade bread (£3.95) and a glorious Spanish salad, marinated figs, manchego cheese with hazelnuts slicked in a red wine and balsamic dress (£7.95). The Flame loved her salad (as always!) Whilst I woilfed the spicy crabby crisps.

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Malaysian seafood curry, chicken pinatubo, persian chicken, teryaki steak

For mains I went against my normal mantra of not having a restaurant curry by having the Malaysian seafood curry (£20.00), featuring prawns like babies fists, hunks of hake and glorious lumps of salmon. A veritable feast of flavour. The spice building beautifully with each tender morsel.

The Flame swapped the lamb for chicken in the Persian dish (£23.00). It came served on hummus, roasted aubergine, butternut squash drizzled with pomegranate molasses. A riot of flavour and textures…..glorious.

The Pinatubo Chicken (£18.00) was tested out by Julie. Set with a spicy lemongrass and coconut sauce and a fragrant annatto egg fried rice and greens. I managed to sneak a bit of the rice which was laced with peanuts too. Another tremendous dish.

The fourth member of the team had some difficulty finding something from the menu, so we requested a simple steak and chips which the team duly brought together, albeit swamped in a teriyaki sauce and a flurry of stir fried veg.

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The cheeses, pavlova, gingerbread cake

We even had desserts. Me a towering pavlova, whilst many adopted the sumptuous, family recipe of rushbearing gingerbread cake and ice cream, each at £7.50. Gingered and moistened upto 11, historic. We then munched on probably the most beautifully presented, complimentary, cheese boards ever.

IMG_2174 With a couple of house bottles the whole lot cruised in at £190 for the four of us. For me it met all expectations. A wonderfully eccentric decor allied to a wonderfully eclectic menu made a thrilling experience for me. Such is the small layout it does suffer from having two doors that head straight outside to the street meaning on a cold day/eve one could suffer on certain tables from a touch of leg draught, but its all part of the fun. Its probably not for anyone with simple tastes, but as we found, don’t be afraid to ask. This wonderful team are more than happy to switch things around to accommodate.

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The whole place is quirky and fun, it even has a Slade album cover in the loos……It’s a must do from me……

The Jumble Room
Langdale Road
Grasmere
Cumbria
LA22 9SU
T 01539 435188
http://www.thejumbleroom.co.uk

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
Liverpool
L1 4BE
0151 7071960
http://www.wreckfish.co

FOOD! Reviews and Recipes by an Enthusiast!