The Old Blind School – Liverpool

“It’s was only A bit of brunch but it was still a good feed”

It’s 9.30am Sunday morning, the flame and I have awoken from a slumber caused by a Saturday night Kylie Minogue gig! What to do for breakfast? I rather hopefully suggested a date at ‘The Old Blind School’ in Liverpool. Surprisingly, the flame considered this a good idea despite Liverpool being a forty minute train journey! We were on! Just after eleven we sauntered in to the latest and grandest addition to the NewMoon Company portfolio. We are big fans of Manchester’s ‘Beef and Pudding’ and so ever since the Twitter hype started ‘TOBS’ has been high on the list.

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It cuts a fine dash on Hardman Street; it’s a hop, skip and a jump from The Philharmonic. It’s a fine old grade two listed building. It’s actually difficult to believe that this is a restaurant. It is huge. Once in, we settled stage right on the ground floor. We were a little surprised at the lack of eating height tables, but we had little to fear. Dave Mooney (one of the owners) was on hand to supply a quick tour of the place, proudly revealing a further couple of floors. Upwards, via a magnificent staircase a further three rooms provide a veritable platoon of quality settings.

Some fittings
Some fittings

The walls are scattered with artworks reflecting the ‘Scouse’ heritage. ‘Lennon’ prints and nods to the original blind school usage make it more like an art gallery than a high end ‘gastro pub’. Not that that’s a bad thing. Greys, blues and yellows combine with wood, leather and daring chandeliers. It makes for a truly sumptuous experience.

More fittings
More fittings

As it was Sunday morning it was a heavily truncated menu. Its weekend brunch time. One of my favourite meals. It’s a cracking little booklet. Some slight variations to the normal suspects as well.

The brunch menu
The brunch menu

The Flame went for the 3 egg omelette or ‘Arnold Bennet’ as its called. It comes filled with naturally smoked haddock, cheddar cheese and double cream (£7.50). It was a fair old plate full, piping hot and chock full of flavour. The Flame really enjoyed it, but felt it needed a bit of something else, maybe some tomatoes for a change of texture and taste, but we are splitting hairs here. I went for the eggs benedict (£5.95) which were terrific; the ham was off the bone stuff, no pressed, boiled ham here. The hollandaise adding a luscious edge to the perfectly poached eggs. I washed this down with some French toast, served with strawberries and raspberries (£5.95) and lashings of hot coffee. The toast, super sticky and sweet. Good stuff.

French toast, haddock omelette, eggs benedict
French toast, haddock omelette, eggs benedict

It was only a quick impromptu visit and the ‘TOBS’ team were psyching themselves up for the father’s Day onslaught (the place was booked up twice over before five!). We’ll definitely be back for a stab at the super looking main menu which as with all the NewMoonCo outfits use quality raw materials.

The main menu
The main menu

And judging by this little visit, it would seem there’s someone who knows how to cook behind that newly transformed galley? A well marshalled fleet of smiling service staff, (Emily and Beefy’s Ashley were on hand this time) should ensure continued progress and success. Liverpool seems to be following hard on the heels of Manchester’s foodie explosion. TOBS is here ready and waiting! Bring it on!

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The Old Blind School
24 Hardman Street
Liverpool
L1 9AX
0151 709 8002

http://www.oldblindschool.co.uk

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The Black Swan – Lower Withington, Cheshire

“Hope you’re hungry and like fast deer! Great country retreat…“

It’s a fairly drab Saturday afternoon in May, a shuffling sweep round the bathroom showrooms of Stockton Heath is not exactly getting the juices flowing. Still let’s not get too downhearted The Cooktwit had bagged The Flame a slap up binge at The Black Swan in somewhere called Lower Withington.

This black version is a stable mate of The Swan at Newby Bridge, a place The Flame and I have enjoyed on several occasions in the past. It’s a fair old romp to get there though. The M6 gets you thereabouts but then it’s a gentle swage through its leafier bits. Twemlow and Sweetenham are just two of the many haunts who gain your patronage on the way to this fine outpost.

They even do pizza outside in summer
They even do pizza outside in summer

The Black Swan makes a fine sight as you enter its domain. Its jaunty ‘swan with a cap’ brand lifts the spirits. There’s some serious hardware in the car park on arrival. Not too many beat up Mondeos here. I reckon some pretty hot horse, ‘rugger’ and ‘gunnery’ pastimes are enjoyed by the clientele here!

If you think the external branding is quirky, wait til you get inside! Whilst I am a fan of the industrial heavy metal of the Manchester scene it is a pleasant change to step into the chintzy country style of the Swan. ‘Sandersonesque’ prints swathe the comfy chairs and the odd wall. A flock of dead deer adorn one wall. They must have hit that wall hard! Mr Farrow and Mr Ball have done well. ‘Sagey’ greens get a good airing. The Flame is totally enchanted. It’s definitely a female setting, very homely. No harm in that, so its smiles all round as I quench my thirst with a pint of their very own local ‘Mucky Duck’. A light session ale with only three point six points on the ‘drunkometer’. It’s good stuff.

Chintz, Fast Sheep
Chintz, Fast deer!

We select from the ‘hand written’ black on white menu (always a good thing). For starts I go for the chorizo scotch egg with a saffron aioli (£6.95). The flame is teased into seared sardines with vine tomatoes, toasted brioche with salsa verde (also £6.95). At first my egg looks a bit lost and boring, but it soon livens up when I plunge in. Turns out it was rather good. The chorizo cover was lovely, particularly when married with the saffron aioli. I’m pleased to say the flames’ sardines are good too. She suggests the brioche is a little sweet for her, but all in all despite the long wait, we’re chuffed. image

Sardines and Chorizo scoth egg
Sardines and Chorizo scoth egg

For mains I am drawn straight away to the ox cheek ragout with pesto linguine and pecorino (£12.50). I’m partial to the cheek of ox (see recipe here). The ox cheek bit was plentiful and superb though I did detect a slightly curious, deep scented taste, which could have been basil or basil oil? Another pedantic note is that the sheer volume of linguine had even me quaking. I reckon at least a third less would have done me! The flame had the beer can chicken with chunky chips and ranch salad (£11.95). She elected to forego the sweet and spicy BBQ sauce. Again a good portion (I had to finish half of it!). We couldn’t really detect what the beer can had added. As expected it was good well cooked chicken. The salad was especially good being chunky and fresh.

Ox Cheek ragout, Beer can Chicken
Ox Cheek ragout, Beer can Chicken

As usual for research purposes I had a dessert. And boy what a dessert. Banoffee cheesecake with toffee sauce (£5.95). This really was good, as good as any I’ve had in a good while. Guaranteed as being homemade by Emma our young, smiling waitress it was a creamy and dare I say almost boozy triumph. A fine end to a most enjoyable hour or so.

Banoffee chessecake
Banoffee chessecake
More Chintz
More Chintz

Amongst the advertorial material on the country table was a notelet about a natty little walk. The suggestion being that one should troop round the advertised route and pop back to the swan for brunch (they are open at 10am). I think we’re on for this. That’s our next plot when we’re next in err……..Lower Withington. I reckon you should try it.

The Black Swan
Trap Street,
Lower Withington,
Cheshire
SK11 9EQ 01477 571770
http://www.blackswancheshire.com

Ormer – St Helier, Jerseys

“Another Michelin Star restaurant on Jersey, don’t mind if I do…”

The Flame had arranged a quick week in Jersey. No problem I thought, the place is steeped to the gills in Michelin starred restaurants and the place heaves with quality raw materials. Within minutes I’d booked Ormer. Its Michelin star has been honed by its mentor, Shaun Rankin. I couldn’t wait to get there. Mid hols we sauntered from our hotel through the mean streets of St Helier to Don Street. It’s just off the main pedestrian shopping area.

Smart decor. The pass from our table
Smart decor. The pass from our table

Ormer dominates Don Street with its smart double frontage. The bang on trend mustard leather chairs shine through the front window which itself is daubed in indigo. The theme continues inside, complemented with walnut and cream. You could be entering a smart Soho club. The gentlemen at The Drones would be most appreciative. I later discovered it was designed by Martin Brudnizki who has designed a good number of smart London eateries. My hunch was most accurate.

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We decided to go straight to the table. A phalanx of uniformed front of house executives enquired about our wishes. A couple of sherries were set down whilst we poured over the menus. We decided to go from the Spring menu (£48 three courses). Whilst the choice was limited, I was drooling. It seemed to tick all the boxes I was looking to tick that night. A taster menu for £75 was on offer as well as a stunning a la carte. As with most smart menus on Jersey, it’s local, high quality produce is high on the agenda.

The menu, arancini
The menu, arancini

From our seat we could see the pass via a classic chandelier. We could see Head Chef, Lee Smith and a pretty extensive team beavering away. It all looked pretty slick. A couple of crab arancini balls came through as an appetiser. By now a nice bot of Pinot Grigio was cooling in the wings.

Using the spring menu we simply picked the lot between us. The flame had the scallops, which came dressed with a carrot purée, cumin and lime marinated carrot, coriander oil and yoghurt. As you would expect, beautifully cooked, my tiny slice of scallop was perfect! It was all I could get. That said I think I won the opening round. I had the steak tartar, which itself came piled on a block of focaccia. It was accompanied by a stunning bowl of horseradish panacotta. It arrived dressed with colourful, foraged shrubbery and then slicked by a waitress with a dark green nettle purée. The combination was truly sublime. Possibly the best dish I’ve had in years. Flashes of the sort of dish we had at Simon Rogan’s The French.

Scallops, steak tartare with horseradish panacotta
Scallops, steak tartare with horseradish panacotta

For mains I had the lamb whilst the flame had the turbot. We opted for sides of asparagus and the ubiquitous Jersey royals. The lamb featured beautifully pink loins as well as sweetbreads. It came with an assortment of aubergine, pickled artichoke, tomatoes and a whipped goat’s curd. It provided a wonderful array of flavours and textures, a stunning plate. The Flame announced her fish, complete with cauliflower, samphire, a pine nut crust and a bevy of sea based foliage as a triumph. The morsel of turbot I had was superb.

Lamb, turbot, Jersey royals and asparagus
Lamb, turbot, Jersey royals and asparagus

The flame won the desserts. She had the soufflé with vanilla cheesecake ice cream, poached rhubarb and ginger and mascarpone foam. The soufflé was a warm, luxurious, creamy explosion of taste. My strawberry salad with yoghurt sorbet, meringue and strawberry broth was refreshing enough, and it looked the part, but a bit boring for me.

Soufflé, strawberry salad,
Soufflé, strawberry salad,

Coffee arrived with its own garden of delights. Nuggets of nutty popcorn a top soil of coffee/chocolate granules was a final treat. The white and dark truffles adding a further luxury touch. A cracking end.

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The final bill with service was just over £80 each, but this was a quality offer. This was a real treat for me. I thought it was a truly stunning meal set in wonderful elegant and classy surroundings. Despite the formality I still found it completely relaxed. The flame, however, felt it was a little too formal for her, particularly for a holiday binge.

That said, it’s a full recommend from me, I’m still having dreams about that steak tartar………………….

Ormer

7-11 Don Street
St Helier
JERSEY JE2 4TQ
+44 01534 725100

http://www.ormerjersey.com

Mark Jordan at the Beach – St Aubins Bay, Jersey

“Another restaurant with a ‘celebrity’ chefs name in the title. It must be good? It is…”

Mark Jordan and his duck
Mark Jordan and his duck

The Flame and I set about a short break in the largest Channel Island Jersey. A super little tome called ‘Appetite’ listed and described all the decent grub outlets on said Isle. A quick schufty soon had me planning the food for the week ahead. I’d seen Mark Jordan on Saturday Kitchen one time putting up a decent fist of getting Jersey ingredients on the map. I was bitten.

Told you it's by the beach
Told you it’s by the beach

Amidst a beautiful, four mile beach jaunt from St Aubins harbour to St Helier we stumbled upon the striking deep red exterior of ‘Mark Jordan At The Beach’. Bit of a mouthful, but the branding gets it over with a flourish of signature and contemporary font. It’s smart. I ambled in to book. As I was attired in the standard holiday fayre of tailored shorts, T shirt and Jesus sandals, I enquired on the dress code for a Friday eve. A smart, young Lancastrian called Andy suggested I would be welcome as I was, provided I didn’t add socks with the sandals later. Fine advice I thought. One for the gentlemen readers to take through life. As it happened, the inclemency of the weather on Friday meant that a longer pantaloon was selected with a full leather boot!

My tailoring advisor/front of house expert Andy, was on hand once more to welcome us in for our evening appointment. The room is light, long, narrow and bright. A super view to the sea. ‘Pebbly’, ‘sand duney’ artwork adorns the walls. We are by the beach after all. Tables are light wood with comfortable wicker seating. The option to sit outside beneath the stars was declined. Despite being the end of May it was a little too cold for that. A rather wonderful Innis and Gunn IPA had me purring with delight. Followed up by a splendid bot of ‘Dry River’ Shiraz for a mere £16. Top stuff.

Beer, butter and terrine
Beer, butter and terrine

A flurry of high tech menus came into view. The a la carte menu and the Jersey festival spring menu. It’s a British menu, using top, local ingredients. There’s a strong bias on Jersey fish and seafood, though being ‘crabbed’ out I went for meat tonight. Cheese straws with a flavoursome hummus came in as a pre starter. We munched away. For real starters I went for a cheesy crab risotto (£9.50) whilst The Flame plumbed for the ham hock terrine (£9). Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed my risotto I fear The Flame went 1-0 up. The ham hock was a cylinder of pure meaty joy, particularly when doused with the homemade piccalilli placed alongside.

Cheese straws humous, risotto
Cheese straws humous, risotto

Mains were meat based. The fish looked amazing but we had grazed on the sea all week. The flame had a wonderful medium rare Scottish rib eye (£19.50). Suspended on a trivet of sautéed potatoes and a bed of spinach it was cooked to perfection. The béarnaise sauce alongside adding the piquancy when required. I had the 30 hour cooked, Harmony Farm, short rib of beef (£18.50). It came with a flurry of watercress, pickled carrot and a horseradish mash. I wondered if perhaps the blade of bone was a prop to suspend the succulent meat, such was the ease at which my fork was able to tease the flesh from its setting. The mash was a delight too. I equalised, 1-1.

30 hour short rib,
30 hour short rib,
Rib eye, ham hock demolished, the bill
Rib eye, ham hock demolished, the bill

The flame won the dessert though. A salted chocolate tart with pistachio ice cream (£8.50). Beautifully presented with a swirl. I had the pear tarte tatin (£8.50) which our waitress informed us would be a twenty minute wait. No problem to us. This meant we could finish our wine!

Salted chocolate, pear tatin
Salted chocolate, pear tatin

Coffee arrived with a quirky selection of ‘lollipops’. We shared the fifth (a macaroon). A super end to a wonderful meal. The flame reckoned this was our best on the island, no mean feat after what we had had so far.

Petit fois, pebble art
Petit fois, pebble art

All in all the grub came in at a shade over £50 a head. Well worth it for the quality of food, service and setting that we enjoyed. The restaurant is run by Mark’s wife Magda, whilst he concentrates on his Michelin star effort ‘Ocean’. It’s a fabulous, relaxing place and has a great team. Definitely one to seek out if you visit this rugged little island.

And you can even wear your shorts! But no socks!

MARK JORDAN AT THE BEACH
LA PLAGE
LA ROUTE DE LA HAULE
ST PETER
JERSEY JE3 7YD
Telephone 01534 780180
http://www.markjordanatthebeach.com