Turtle Bay – Manchester

“This is one for a big group to have some fun”

Cast your mind back. England unlucky against Italy, so all is well as we get fired up to slaughter the much unfancied Uruguay in World Cup 2014. The Cooktwit has plotted an intricate web of beer, food and mayhem on the way to any Manchester hostelry that possesses a big telly. However, there is an hour to kill. Planets have aligned and so it is an unusual troupe that joind the Cooktwit on this merry stroll. Little bruv and his learned fledglings join the fray.

Outside, the welcome
Outside, the welcome

Sophistication is not top of the list. Cheap, quick, hip and happening is where we need to be. Turtle Bay in Manchester homes into view. What do you think of here? A quick nod and were in.
Turtle Bay is a Caribbean experience that has recently set up shop on Oxford Road next to The Paramount Wetherspoons. Not the most glamorous part of town. And given the chaotic roadworks that blight that part of town it didn’t look too inviting from the outside. But fair play to ’em it’s great inside. A mixture of high and low tables, booths, shacks, coloured crates and hip graphics combine with a groovy soundtrack, neon signs and metallic chic. It really is a jolly place to enter. The spirits were on the up. England couldn’t fail after this.

The inside, vibrant and colourful
The inside, vibrant and colourful

Holly our bespectacled, pink hostess took us to our high table for four and explained how the whole chebang operates, Chelsea took over when the the action really started. We quickly racked up some sickly sweet cocktails which were half price until 7pm. The youngsters, despite the funny hat and wearing an England shirt, declared the opening events to be most encouraging. The only gripe was that there was no telly so we could carry on watching the match from here!
It’s a great menu, lots of different intriguing dishes. Subtitled Cutters, Lunch N Light, One Pots & Jerk Pit BBQ there’s something for everyone. I settled on a burger from the jerk pit section. You can watch the jerk pit in action, flames licking round the slabs of meat. The ‘Jerk Pit burger’ which means it came (as well as all the other standard accoutrements) with a slap of jerk pulled pork. It was accompanied with some slow and sweet potato fries all for £9.85. If I’m honest it wasn’t the best burger I’ve had. A bit too much fire had licked its flanks for me, me preferring a moist pink bit in the middle a la Gorilla, Solita and others I’ve had in the town. It had a great charred, BBQ taste though and the pulled pork gave it a nice kick. The fries hadn’t seen a frier for quite some time though as they were cold.

Goat curry, the jerk out and the burger
Goat curry, the jerk out and the burger

Others in the posse had the goat curry and the fish curry. These both came in a big white metal dish with a lid. Nice touch really, gave it a bit of drama. Sadly I didn’t get a taste of them as they wolfed it down without a murmur. All gave it the thumbs up though. Looked a good portion, plenty of goat in the goatie effort and some decent squid knocking about in the fishy one.
Given that the main reason for being out was the football with a few scoops I didn’t get chance to sample a desert. Will give em a go next time.

Funky graphics
Funky graphics

All in all a pretty decent effort for a ‘chainy’ type restaurant. Apparently there is a few more Turtle Bays down South and one in Nottingham. I think I’d give some more of the ‘jerky’ stuff a try, probably the chicken. I’d recommend a try with a few mates after work, just the job.
As you know England lost again 2-1, Suarez biting two goals. Some good beer in the Lass ‘o’ Gourrie though, so it wasn’t all bad!

Turtle Bay
33-35 Oxford Steet
Manchester M1 4WB
0161 236 4101
http://www.turtlebay.co.uk

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Salvi’s Cucina – Manchester

Possibly the best Italian meal I’ve ever had?

Salvis Cucina (kitchen in Italian) is a new, rather understated eatery that has sprung up in the nondescript concrete avenue of John Dalton Street in Manchester. I sportingly took The Flame there as recompense for a forthcoming road trip with a couple of gentlemen friends to watch a bunch of rock debutants in North London outpost Enfield.

The outside
The outside

Salvis sprang forth in the mind as one or two local work pals have raved over their pre existing ‘Mozzarella Bar’ down the other end of town in the ill fated Corn Exchange Triangle. Salvis are an Italian dynasty that has purveyed quality Italian ingredients in Manchester for a few years now. And after our meal I wholeheartedly suggest they continue.
Decor is rather modest, the odd flash of colour from a strategically placed painted chair. The open kitchen dominates, the hardworking chefs plunder their skills amongst a plethora of shaving, slicing and turning machinery. It’s a pleasing sight.

Menu, colourful chairs, the kitchen, the specials roll
Menu, colourful chairs, the kitchen, the specials roll

Our table was preordained after I had ventured in earlier in the day. Our table was set right up against the semi height glass frontage. As this was a sunny eve our table was streaked with fresh sunlight and fresh(ish) Manchester air. It was wonderful. Our delightful Italian waitress plied us with water and wine and took our order after explaining the specials in the most delicate Italianate English. To further help the specials are scrawled on a large brown paper roll. Nice touch.
Our antipasti soon homed into view. Mine first, ‘Cappachio Di Nanzo Rucola E Grana’ (beef, rocket, Parmesan, drizzled with olive oil, balsamic and lemon £8.50). It was wonderful, ‘waffer’ thin slices of raw beef with a cheesy, oily, herby coat. As a treat I did ask if I could try some smoked mozzarella as I was intrigued. Rather than the slither I anticipated I was graced with a fully dressed ball in a separate bowl. It was a bit too much to eat in one lump but I loved the smokey rind, definitely one to bear in mind.

The antipasti
The antipasti

The flames starter was a bit of a strange one. Entitled ‘Timbalo Di Venture Con formaggio Di Capra E Pesto’ it was subtitled as mixed grilled vegetables stacked with goats cheese and topped with pesto (£8). It turned out to be three deep fried orbs set on a base of dressed leaves and a super homemade pesto. It wasn’t what was expected but it was still delicious and was gleefully mopped up. The grilled veg were merely slithers mixed in with the cheese and deep fried.
We both went for simple pasta dishes for mains but even these were a step above the norm. Mind you I could argue they should have been at £11.50 and £13 a plate. It isn’t cheap, but ye gods they were both sensational. The flames ‘Pasta Con Pesche Spada, Melenzane, Scamorza E Pinoli’ (swordfish, aubergine, pine nuts and smoked mozzarella) probably shaded it. The pasta itself beautifully cooked and seasoned. The tastes and textures sublime.

The mains and the tiramisu
The mains and the tiramisu

I had a pasta off the specials board. ‘Pasta alla Salvis Whit Salsiccia et asparigi’ (sausage and asparagus). Finished in a tomato sauce (or ‘sowse’ as our waitress called it) it was still a simple pasta dish but somehow it just tasted so much better than most I’ve ever had before. I can’t really explain why but it was. You’ll just have to try yourself!
I as usual I rounded off with a desert for research purposes. I run a personal competition to find a tiramisu to match my childhood version as provided by Culcheth heroes ‘Don Luighi’. I think I have found a joint top version. It seemed a bit too thick at first but deep down the ‘V’ shaped flask the moist, boozy, creamy loveliness came bounding through. A triumph at any price but at £4.50 it had no equal.

Smoked mozzarella
Smoked mozzarella

Whilst us chaps all know brownie points have ceased to be legal tender in most relationships there is no doubt Salvis worked its magic on The flame. The Gentlemans weekend continued without a hitch and there is no question we will be back. Going forward I can see this being one of our favourite staple restaurants. Highly recommended.

19 John Dalton St
Manchester
M2
http://www.salvismanchester.co.uk

Salthouse Tapas – Liverpool

Yet another northern torrential downpour threatened to dampen the hungry spirit as The Cooktwit and The Flame headed East on one of Northern Rails, 1980’s, heritage trolley carts, such is the downtrodden quality of 21st century transport when heading to the Liverbased metrop of Liverpool. We were heading to highly recommended gastrogaff ‘Salthouse Tapas’. The place is sited close to the mega retail emporium ‘Liverpool One’, a sort of posh, newer version of Manchester’s Arndale. In truth The Flame is not a great fan of the small plate, informal dining experience known as ‘tapas’. So given that this was my choice, it was with some slight trepidation that we ventured along the rain soaked streets. To be fair a late burst of evening sun had lightened the mood. We even skipped the last few yards!

The curved frontage
The curved frontage

From the outside things are promising. A lofty, Victorian structure, complete with curved frontage and contemporary, bold font signage. A roped off alfresco area sits out front. The afternoon’s inclemency meant that only a few random smokers were braving it when we arrived. We stepped up into the fray to be confronted by a riotous din. The bar hits first, a table of eight drinkers were seemingly well into the final throws of stupor as they shrieked their conversations. It wasn’t the best start. To be fair within seconds a lean, bearded chap had ushered us to our table for two. The noise seemed to continue and reverberate throughout the set. We quickly realised this is how it is. Thankfully having asked the flame for her hand in marriage thirty years ago, I knew I wouldn’t be required to go down on one knee and whisper sweet nothing’s tonight. I spared a thought for any hapless young buck who did have it in mind though. I doubt his future betrothed would have heard a word he was saying! Still mustn’t quibble, Anna (our initial waitress) had us settled and a Mango Margerita and a Campari were soon winging across. Flipping lovely they were too.

The interior
The interior

As is the norm nowadays a quick survey of the decor confirmed that we were indeed in a trendy place. The obligatory old school chairs were strewn around the place. The place settings doubling up as your menu (a la Beef and Pudding, Solita, to name but a few). I must say I quite like this idea. Keeps everything simple and as a bonus I could read it without me specs. We were downstairs in the main room which was filling up nicely. A mezzanine above seemed full as well. The atmosphere was building.

The menu
The menu

 

Quirky loo sign
Quirky loo sign

We ordered a bottle of Malbec (£16.95) and a shared platter of charcuterie to start (Monroyo Serrano ham, loin, chorizo, salchichon, bead and olive oil £9.95). We had developed a bit of a habit of ordering this in Sicily recently and this brought it back. If I’m honest this was better. Delivered on a table tennis bat it looked and tasted wonderful.

Wine, charcuterie, mango Margerita
Wine, charcuterie, mango Margerita

The reason(s) the flame has reservations on tapas is several fold 1) she doesn’t want me dipping in, sharing her food across the table (as if – Ed) and 2) she doesn’t like having food on her own as tapas doesn’t always arrive together as in a normal three course dinner. We ordered two dishes each after the ham platter. Bang on cue, within a few minutes the two dishes ordered by the flame turned up. In fairness though they were both very good. First up The roast hake fillet with Serrano ham, fennel and sherry jus (£6.50). The picture doesn’t do it justice, a soap bar sized slab of pure white beautifully cooked fish bathed in a sweet sauce with fennel julienne layered on top. I managed a morsel and it was delightful. The flame loved it and declared dish of the day. The second dish was the hot smoked salmon with a Bloody Mary salad (£5.50). Not my cup of tea to be honest but bang on for the flame. Despite not being ‘hot’ as such she declared it a winner.

Salmon, hake and lamb
Salmon, hake and lamb

Then came my first choice ‘Roasted lamb rump with broad beans, olives and red peppers’ (£7.50). This was superb. The lamb perhaps a shade more well done than I would have preferred, but nonetheless the combination of colours, the sweet, slightly crisp lamb (on the outside) and the olive oil dressing made for a stunning dish. It wouldn’t have looked out of place at Mr Coopers. My second dish was the ‘Galician Octopus with sautéed new potatoes, lemon and paprika’ (£5.50). Lots of smokey, paprika flavours. I would have liked a few tentacles on there to give it a bit more drama and look a bit more like octopus, but a lovely dish. I did notice quite a lot of ‘Malaga Fried Fish with lemon and aioli’ coming out. Looked like you got a decent portion and looked great on its plank.

Octopus, chicken chorizo sliders
Octopus, chicken chorizo sliders

After a few minutes rest and deliberation we decided to plumb for another quick savoury dish. We noticed the special of ‘chicken and chorizo sliders’ (£5.50) were flying out as well. As there was two per portion we had one each. Miniature brioche bun with mini chicken schnitzel, chorizo sausage and cheese skewered together in a neat little package. Hot, well cooked and very tasty. A lovely final tapas. As ever I ventured into the desert section and wolfed down a ‘Roasted Rhubarb Pavlova with Chantilly cream and passion fruit syrup’ (£4.95). Oh boy, I like my ‘meringuey’ deserts and so this hit the spot no problem, sweet, sticky and tangy. A lovely end. A decent brew mopped up and left us to pay the £75 all in.

Pavlova and coffee. A lovely end
Pavlova and coffee. A lovely end

I love El Rincon in Manchester. You can’t beat the Spanish atmosphere, but I’d have to say the presentation and quality of food at the Salthouse was better, and for similar money. There’s still plenty on the menu to try so I reckon we’ll be back.

A romantic stroll afterwards
A romantic stroll afterwards

We went for a romantic evening stroll down the Liverpool front afterwards. What better way to help get the digestive juices flowing? We had a great night. We will defiantly be giving Liverpool another go. I wonder where to next? Salt House Charcuterie and Tapas 1 Hanover Street Liverpool 0151 706 0092 http://www.salthousetapas.co.uk

Open Farm Sunday 2014 – Red Bank Farm

The Cooktwit is blessed. No question, He is blessed. He lives near Red Bank Farm. Red Bank Farm is in Newton-le-Willows, a small industrial town, famous for locomotives, canals, arches, The Bulls Head and biscuit machinery! Sadly, all that has gone (including The Bulls Head!). It now has lots of houses, but, within a short scutch of its heart, rolling fields of grass and golf start to appear. Arguably the greatest use of this green bit of Newton-le-Willows is the provision of sheds and grazing pasture for an array of farm animals notably cattle, sheep and pigs. Red Bank Farm studiously manages the raising of these beasts and then rather thoughtfully, arranges to have them slaughtered and beautifully butchered for me to buy. I have tried many cuts over the years and never been less than stunned at the quality. So when a national initiative called ‘Open Farm Sunday’ breaks out it was the work of a moment to get down to Red Bank and see what happens.

A celebration of farming
A celebration of farming

Open Farm Sunday began in 2006. The idea quite simply is for participating farms to open up behind the scenes and allow visitors to wander round and see the animals and machinery that make it all happen. As you might expect the emphasis is on making all this appeal to families and in particular children. Whatever Red Bank Farm had laid on this year seemed to have worked. Newton was in gridlock as cars filled the makeshift carpark and lined the main A49 road into the town.

Crowds and machinery
Crowds and machinery

As myself and The Flame had walked it was a stress less entry to the hallowed grounds. I guess there was hundreds of people milling around the farm. Farm hands thoughtfully placed to explain to the children what the animals are and how they are managed. Shetland ponies gently sauntered, whilst all the remaining animals where caged but prominently displayed for the children to see and touch. Hefty, high tech machinery was strategically placed for child photo opportunities. I tried to get one myself but the flame wouldn’t let me! Birds of prey swooped in and out from up high, taking one child high up in the sky before letting him drop (no I made that up, just adding a bit of texture!!).

The stars of the show. The animals
The stars of the show. The animals

Highlight for me was the butchery demonstration. Scheduled for 1pm, big John, dressed in red in a red tent behind some red bunting stepped forward with a side of pig over his shoulder. The crowd went wild. Well the kids did anyway, I couldn’t get anywhere near. John started to hack, saw and slice his way through this wondrous pink carcass. The kids remained transfixed wondering why there wasn’t any blood! It was amazing to watch. The quality of the meat was clearly evident. John merely having to rest his knife on the flesh to create another saleable cut. After about twenty minutes the beast was left presented in trays. All yours for £100. A bargain.

Big Johns butchery demo
Big Johns butchery demo

The first Open Farm Sunday welcomed around 30,000 visitors. Since then, Open Farm Sunday has achieved visitor numbers of over 100,000 each year and on 9th June 2013 had a record 200,000 visitors! To date over one million people have attended Open Farm Sunday events since it began. I’m sure this year has been just as successful. The sun was shining and the cars kept coming even when we left.
Thankfully I can come back next week and keep on buying this amazing produce. I am immensely proud having been born in Newton that I can buy meat raised and butchered (by Nicola and Joanne) here in Newton as well. Having read Jay Rayner’s wonderful ‘Greedy man’ book, I accept that globally, communities cannot all sustain themselves and that I am extremely fortunate to be able to buy this produce locally and afford to buy it. At least I know by supporting local businesses I am helping in a small way for a local business to survive. Long may Red Bank Farm and all other farms continue. Use them or lose them, that’s what I say.

The produce
The produce

Red Bank Farm Shop,
Winwick Road,
Newton Le Willows,
WA12 8DU
Tel: 07824 369174
http://www.farmshopnorthwest.co.uk

 

 

Southport Food and Drink Festival 2014

He was feeling rather sorry for himself the Cooktwit this sunny Sunday. He was aimlessly reeling from the news that The Flame had bagged herself a day out with the girls. Despite it being ‘on the calendar for weeks’, there was still obviously far too little time to rustle up a couple of pals for an afternoon sesh. As we all know an off beat pint like that takes months and hundreds of texts to arrange. Despite this set back (and having touched the flame up for £20) The Cooktwit lurched onwards to the 2014 Southport Food and Drink Festival with a spring in his step and a gay song playing in his heart. In short things were on the up.

Setting the scene
Setting the scene

The sun was shining and good food beckoned. Working in Manchester the Cooktwit is used to aiming east from his suburban pile, but Southport is a heady forty five minutes west and the notorious single track highway that snakes into Southport is a known summer hotspot. Cunningly the newly acquired ‘satnav’ lead me through pastures new and avoided the tiresome thoroughfare. I was holed up in the £4 parking lot in no time.
I soon ventured under the ‘free’ entrance banner, yes, free! A welcome surprise. The large open space of Victoria Park had been grafted into a foody heaven by arranging nigh on eighty stalls in a huge square with a couple of sponsors tents in the middle. It made for a spacious and easily navigated experience, something not always possible in town centre food and market events.
As is tradition I do a first ‘mine sweep’ just to see what’s here. There’s nothing worse than blowing the budget early doors and then finding a diamond near the end!

Some of the booty. Beer, Mauritian treats, ham shanks, artisan bread
Some of the booty. Beer, Mauritian treats, ham shanks, artisan bread

The food producers were down one side while the street food vendors and bars were on the others. I swept down the produce and made a few notes. I ended up with a ‘Thai Pie’ which sounded good. I deliberately got a frozen one to cook myself. I’ll let you know how that goes. It should be good for £2.50. I also ended up with some cake, a ‘Mrs Shah’s Curry Mix’, a ‘Romana’ style herb and spice rub by ‘Simply Sprinkles’. Looking forward to trying that, could be good. I didn’t get much else in fairness but could have easily weighed in with cheese, meat, preserves and host of other goodies. One particular regret now is not getting a good stock of ‘Bobbies Bangers’. I’ve heard of these on twitter and their sausages didn’t half look good, especially the jalapeño ones. It’s a good job I have a good stock of my favourite ‘Red Bank Farm’ ones in the freezer.

Some of the street food stars
Some of the street food stars

For the street food the choice was incredible, and the quality looked good too. A couple of known favourites were on, including ‘Pizza Peddlers’ in their blue and cream H van and ‘Mr Meatballs’. I was negotiating a ‘chakalaka’ veggie wrap with ‘Safari’ only to be told they had sold out. They’re usual 5% of sales for veggies having upped to 15% over the weekend and caught them on the hop! In view of this I moved along to ‘The Wrap Shack’, which in fairness was sporting the most inventive stall. As the name suggests it was done up like a shack and as it had a Mexican theme, it piped in its menu with red, yellow and green hues. Striking it looked too. Not wishing to become overawed I opted for a small, smoked Mexican bean wrap for £5.50. It’s a good job I got the small, as I had to munch through a fair bit of beans, salad, jalapeños, olives and cheese just so I could actually start to create the wrap! Once ‘wrapped’ the thing was wolfed in a matter of minutes and the Cooktwit lunch was sorted. Very nice it was too.

The wrap shack, smoked bean wrap. No additives!
The wrap shack, smoked bean wrap. No additives!

A Lancaster blonde ale quenched the thirst and an apple, almond bakewell completed the alfresco feed.
One of the highlights for me at these events is the cooks demonstration tent which tend to feature one of the celeb chefs. Sadly there didn’t seem to much going on today. Reading through the blurb and on twitter it would seem an entertaining sesh had been had on Friday with Andrew Nutter. I would have liked to have seen that.

Simply Sprinkles, Bill and Ben, My haul.
Simply Sprinkles, Bill and Ben, My haul.

Sunday the last of the three day event was bathed almost constantly in warm sunshine. Naturally the crowds swelled to pleasing levels.  Families and couples of all ages were represented. Without counting I would guess we were talking hundreds if not thousands of people. I shudder how dented the figures would have been in England’s rain? But hey that’s looking at the half empty glass. It was a great day and I would definitely recommend it as one for the diary. Roll on the rest of the foody festival season.

The ambiance
The ambiance