The French – Midland Hotel, Manchester

“Its food Jim, but not as we know it”

The Flame and I had the very good fortune to experience the phenomenon that is The French. I’m sure many know it is one of the restaurants overseen by chef extraordinaire Simon Rogan. It is set in a grand room within the equally grand surroundings of The Midland Hotel in Manchester City centre. We graced the hallowed theatre a few minutes before our allotted start time of 7pm.

image

It was a Saturday night which means your choice is taken away. It is preordained that thy shall have the ten courses listed. Drinks however, are a different matter. You need to plough through at least two handsome volumes to determine what you want to drink. We each settled to a ‘livener’ of our choice. A “down the rabbit hole” and a “Perennial Julep”, both absolutely delish. Whilst The Flame selected a water, I plumbed into the £60 option of a five glass ‘wine flight’. Each selected by the sommelier who explained which tree each glass had come and when. I’m not a wine buff but they were all excellent.

image

Soon things got underway. Swarms of ruddy cheeked, young waiters set to the task. Nothing seemed too much trouble, brows were mopped, napkins were folded, glasses re-filled and prongs of cutlery were placed at a prescribed jaunty angle at a pre-set time. They did however struggle to stop the intermittent waft of chilled air that swept over us when the air conditioning kicked in!

But then to the food. I’m not about to wax lyrical about acidity, sweet, sour, crunch and texture. I don’t think my palate knows enough about that, but I know a man who does! Hence the reason we were there. I left all the taste and texture matching to Simon and his team. Suffice to say it was incredible.

The first course was effectively three! A trotter coated in breadcrumbs with ham fat cream and sage, a shrimp, celery and tomato salad on a chick pea crisp and a baked potato filled with soft cheese in a sack of soil made from beetroot dust. What a start.

Trotter, Chick pea crisp, Potato in a sack, The Bread
Trotter, Chick pea crisp, Potato in a sack, The Bread

We then had the only dish that The Flame wasn’t too keen on. It was turnip dumplings, marrow and horseradish with a beef and onion broth. The turnips were so soft they simply melted. The broth so beefy.

Turnip in beef broth
Turnip in beef broth

Next one of the highlights, the raw Ox in coal oil with pumpkin seed, kohlrabi and mustard leaf. The coal oil brought an amazing smoky tinge to the whole dish.

Ox in coal oil
Ox in coal oil

One of the weaker dishes next, a breaded oyster with butternut squash with bacon buttermilk and mint. It was still great though.

Breaded oyster
Breaded oyster

Next up was another surprising highlight. Pickled red cabbage with beenleigh blue cream cheese, some violet mustard, linseed sand and walnut. Texturally this was incredible; it had everything, crunch, soft, sour and sweet. Superb.

A cheese course
A cheese course

Then it’s the fish course. Plaice, barbecued purple sprouting broccoli, chicken fat potatoes and pennywort. I’ve never had potatoes like this, soft and so much flavour. By this time I’m on the third glass of matched wine!

Plaice and potatoes
Plaice and potatoes

The main course. Reg’s duck, roast parsnips, cavolo Nero with old tom vinegar. The duck beautifully soft and pink. A meaty jus spooned over gently by one of the waiters adding the final touch. A robust, red Syrah accompanied.

Duck
Duck

We then got on to the first of three sweets! Beetroot meringue crisps with sheep’s milk parfait, frozen blackberries and chestnut. Absolutely gorgeous.

Beetroot meringue
Beetroot meringue

Sweet number two. Another wine. Quince, pear, ginger and butterscotch set on a slate. Superb. Apologies for the basic adjectives.

Quince and pear
Quince and pear

Last up ‘Sass n soda’. Basically this was a sandwich of sarsaparilla meringue, a sarsaparilla lollipop and sarsaparilla juice to finish. Astounding.

sass n soda
sass n soda

I then snuck another bourbon on at the end just to sooth things down. The Flame had a coffee with chocolates. Needless to say another winner.

The chocolate end
The chocolate end

The food part of the scheme was presented as a gift and cost £170. The drinking part was funded ourselves and added a further £105 to the bill. All in all we are talking the thick end of £300 for two at The French. Whilst not necessarily a once in a lifetime event it is nonetheless a ‘special occasion’ one for us. If you’ve not eaten like this it is an unforgettable experience and one that I urge all to try at least once.

Any ideas when L’Enclume next has some tables free?

 

The French
Midland Hotel
Peter Street,
Manchester M60 2DS

+44 (0)161 236 3333

http://www.the-French.co.uk

Advertisements

Gusto – Manchester

We all like a bargain when we see one. January tends to shout out a few more than usual as an antidote to the ravenous Christmas binge. A mindful soul had the good sense to order seven place settings on a round table for a busy Friday lunch at the recently opened Gusto on Lloyd Street in Manchester. Ostensibly Italian, we pre-booked on a deal. If you book during January for slots outside the busy weekend, you bag your grub for half price. As it is set approximately thirty paces from the office it was the work of a moment to get down there. Good job really as it was absolutely tipping down!

image

It’s an impressive place. An understated entrance from the street gives way to elegance personified. A grandiose, central, square canopy delineates the bar area. Padded stools line up all round in readiness for the cocktail crowd. Our table was up on a side mezzanine which was filling up nicely with business clients and lunching ladies. Chairs in orange and green with matching dark wood tables, crisp linen and sparkling tableware sets the scene. We settled whilst a bright, uniformed, smiling waitress brought us a sobering dash of water and the odd ‘full cooking’ coke. The days of a long, lazy, boozy lunch are sadly long gone for us flashing young interior types!

Smart interior
Smart interior

As an added point of interest we were sat next to a roped off bit. Inside a clearly talented young cove was delicately touching up some cobbles with a long brush. He was quietly fettling the ‘Coronation Street’ section of a huge Manchester scape that was morphing before our eyes. It was only in sketch form with a few splashes of colour, but it will be an impressive adornment to the Gusto legacy sometime soon.

The mural coming along
The mural coming along

We were presented with two menus, the specials and the a la carte. It was sometime before we ordered food and as it was a quick lunch we all simply ordered a main course each with the odd side from the a la carte which is the one that attracted the discount. As the crowds were gathering for the bargain lunch, it was a fairly lengthy stretch before the goodies arrived. But boy they were goodies. Everyone was pleased with their offer.

The menu
The menu

Pick of the bunch was Dom’s seared tuna steak marinated in balsamic and soy with a fennel and orange salad and green gazpacho (£18.95). Cooked to perfection, a rare centre with a seared outer.

Salad, tuna, toilet floor!!
Salad, tuna, toilet floor!!

Paul’s Baked fillet of seabass (£17.95) with roasted pepperonata, drizzled with lemon purée looked a picture as did Mel’s salad of home-cured salmon, shaved fennel, orange, radish and radicchio with a crème fraiche dressing (£10.95). They all hit the mark. I myself (as a crab addict) had the white crab, chilli, garlic and fresh lemon spaghetti (£15.95).

Crab chilli spaghetti, seabass
Crab chilli spaghetti, seabass

We all concluded that it was a fine feed and a stunning location. Once we’d finished taking pictures of the interior! we coppered up and went on our way. Including a take out there was eight of us. With the 50% deal in place the bill came to £70. Less than a tenner each. Given the surroundings and the quality I would have happily paid the full price. Give it a try.

http://gustorestaurants.uk.com/restaurants/manchester/

GUSTO MANCHESTER

4 Lloyd Street
(off Deansgate)
Manchester
M2 5AB

T: 0161 832 2866

The Laundrette – Chorlton, Manchester

“No you can’t bring your smalls for a quick spin, but you can get a decent feed”

I have mentioned in a past scribe that The Flame is rather partial to the John Lewis retail emporium in Cheadle. Sharp eyed cartographers will be aware that JL is a mere five miles or so from the ‘fashionista’ foodie haunt of Chorlton. I have had my stomach set on an award winning Sunday roast at The Parlour for some time now but never got in. This day was no exception! so it was a weary and hungry twosome that trundled down the hip thoroughfare of Beech Road in search of some sustenance. To the rescue came The Laundrette.

The smart frontage, alfresco dining
The smart frontage, alfresco dining

Set in a corner plot, it makes for an attractive settlement just yards from local greenery. It cut a pleasant dash in the low, mid winter sun. A jaunty logo set on a battleship grey surround, above the door echoes it’s themed, former soapy past. Like The Parlour, it seemed to be suffering from the lamentable plague of too many customers! But being a cheeky twosome, we managed to bag the last two seater by the door. A booming Ellie Goulding dance track allied to the ‘saloon like’ outside door, wafting the December breeze into The Flame’s lap, all contrived to make the early running tetchy at best. The Cooktwit having realised his spot was bathed in the warming busom of a well oiled blast heater made a timely swap with the loving relative and all was calm. A pint of spin drift and a black coffee soon got the pleasantries going.

Urban Interior
Urban Interior

A review of our surroundings confirmed it was in keeping with the urban trend. Exposed brick, tiles from the past, schoolboy chairs, welded frame tables and of course the obligatory jam jar water vessels. It’s all here. In contrast to some though the long, narrow dining area is significantly boosted in capacity by a healthy outdoor section. Festooned with awnings and polar bear sapping heaters many of the trendy throng imbibed their luncheon alfresco. One can only imagine the size of the scrum to get down here on a barmy, summers eve.

Jam jars for glasses
Jam jars for glasses

By this time a review of the menu and a nod at some of the scran emanating from the kitchen had us purring in comfort. For me one of the finest inventions of the gastropub scene is the plain black on white menu which then doubles up as your placemat. The Laundrette thankfully honours this tradition. Perked up with some soapy humour and vintage adverts it is a fine document.

The jaunty menu
The jaunty menu

Whilst pizzas dominate, The Flame went for her standby dish, lasagne (£9) taken from the ‘Full Load’ part of the card. A mixed salad (£3) settled alongside. It arrived in a ‘Le Creuset’ type casserole dish with lid. Made with homemade fresh pasta it was dubbed ‘The best lasagne I’ve had in years’. I was allowed my standard fork full, to confirm that it was totally delicious. Bags of beefy mince and Italianate flavour. The salad was also up to the mark.

Lasagne and salad from the full load
Lasagne and salad from the full load

I went for the ‘famous’ Sunday roast (£10.75) built up with porchetta rather than my standard beef. It arrived on an organic plank. A porcelain disc turned up as well. This meant I could gently transfer elements of the substantial feed onto a more manageable palette. Long, well cooked carrots and parsnips mingled with broccoli, roast potatoes and two nice slabs of pork each complete with a pleasing blister of fat and crackling. A boat of hot gravy completed the offer. And what an offer. As good a roast as anywhere. No wonder it’s famous. I watched with a little envy as many others shared a rare beef version. I’ll be back for that.

The famous roast with pork
The famous roast with pork

For research we shared a ‘Calzone Dessert’ (£6). It arrived hot. A folded pizza filled with Nutella, banana, marshmallows and swathed in salted caramel sauce with a blob of vanilla ice cream to mop up. It took some eating. Apparently it’s the best seller and why not? Due to a mix up in service we waited some forty minutes for it. But fair play the chap in charge ‘comped’ us the dessert and threw in two coffees. Can’t say fairer than that.

The dessert calzone, next doors beef!
The dessert calzone, next doors beef!

Have to say having settled on The Laundrette as second best we left feeling we have found another gem. With lots of January being left as I write the £10 voucher to spend again will come in very handy. Another free dessert at least!

The Laundrette

32 Beech Road, M21 9EL

Phone: 0161 88 15777

E-mail: info@thelaundrettechorlton.co.uk

http://www.thelaundrettechorlton.co.uk

La Casa Vieja – St Helens

“A little bit of Spain, in St Helens!”

It was a cold winters night. The Cooktwit and The Flame had bagged a spot in a party of ten at ‘La Casa Vieja’, a spanish restaurant in the heart of St Helen’s arty George’s Quarter. We were guests of St Helens ‘digital print magnate’ Keith Hughes. After a momentous Cooktwit paella cooked on a spade while camping in summer, Keith ‘the signage entrepreneur’ had declared that I need to get to La Casa Vieja to sample theirs. The time had come.

The courtyard, the castle gates, red/yellow signage
The courtyard, the castle gates, red/yellow signage

I entered the complex via the imposing castle gates, each decoratively regaled with a smart red and yellow sign (done by Keith!). I swept through into a quaint courtyard of jasmine and pergolas. Once more the red and yellow signage leapt into frame. One can imagine in summer this would be a thriving little spanish village. As it was deep December even the smokers had stayed away.

The Spanish Interior
The Spanish Interior

Once inside the Spanish theme is maintained. Guitars, hams, donkeys, lutes and various maps And paintings litter the walls and ceiling. It’s all rather quaint. A small half of ‘Alhambra’ lager was ordered as I waited for the rest of the gang. As we were the first in, the waitress handied us a couple of menus to peruse. I could be being a little churlish here, but in the subdued light the obligatory shiny, red, yellow, laminated menus were difficult to read and understand. Dishes flashed all over the place. And there was some large sums involved with some of them. Written with a felt tipped pen, a casual glance suggested this would not be a cheap night out. £6.75 for a dessert! This needed to be good. The menu format had an air of ‘English bar in Spain’ for me, but as I say I could be being churlish. Clear black on crisp white always works best for me.

The menu
The menu

Then the entourage assembled. Head visual guru Keith suggested we scrap the menu, go upstairs and see head chef and owner Manolo and see what’s in. Great call, I headed up and sure enough amongst the flurry of flames, steam and wonderful smells, a burly, rosy cheeked, Mediterranean chap, burst into song. We flung our favourites at him, liver, fish, seafood, steak, anything. He laughed and roared that everything is fresh and he has everything. “how many of you?”, “ten” we shouted. “Leave it to me, I will keep sending down the food”. It all seemed fair enough to me. I rushed down excited.

The start of the show, Manolo himself
The start of the show, Manolo himself

Sure enough the food started to arrive, olives, prosciutto, bread to start, then came meat balls, liver, beef in red wine, chicken in cream, chicken with chorizo and a glorious fruity salad, all gleefully imbibed by the waiting party. But the best was to come. After a short delay, in came an enormous silver platter drenched in food of the sea. Sadly my photos don’t do it justice. We drew our collective breath and dived in. Huge prawns dominated, closely followed by belly loads of squid, mussels, clams before moving down to flanks of salmon, sea bass, dorado all slicked in garlic, herbs and a light, seafood broth. It was divine. Despite ten of us piling in there was plenty to go round. We all got a bit of everything. Truly superb.

The fish platter, various dishes, salad and the specials
The fish platter, various dishes, salad and the specials

Toward the end Manolo himself came down to see how things were going. The thumbs were all well up. After asking whether the desserts were fresh and homemade and receiving a clip round the ear! He recommended the ‘Torija de vino’ fried marinated bread pudding in red wine, which sounded a bit dubious to me, but he was right. It was the best of the bunch. A caramelised egg flan and a chocolate mousse was up there too.

Marinated bread pudding, egg flan, chocolate mousse
Marinated bread pudding, egg flan, chocolate mousse

Having quaffed red wine as well as the food. The bill tipped in at a reasonable £40 per head (with tip). We had a great time. I would definitely try it again, it is always gratifying to see at first hand, top raw materials being cooked fresh on the premises by a passionate chef. Service by most of Manolo’s family is top notch as well. St Helens has a little gem here. It’s very own morsel of Spain.

La Casa Vieja
6-12 Bickerstaffe Street,
Saint Helens WA10 1DH
01744 454613
http://www.lacasavieja.co.uk