Hawksmoor – Manchester

“It would seem all the hype was right, a simple menu done extremely well”

The grand exterior
The grand exterior

It was The Cooktwit birthday, mid-July as always. My aim was to hit two Manchester biggies! An afternoon with the boys yielded a long sought after sortie to Iberica. That was brilliant. For the big day itself though, The Flame treated me to my other ‘on the list’ eatery ‘Hawksmoor’. It was heralded by many as Manchester’s most eagerly awaited restaurant opening. Its original London based versions are still lauded as places to be. Lots have been written about this Manchester version. I doubt I can add too much, but I’ll try!

The pass, the gleeful bar staff
The pass, the gleeful bar staff

It’s a grand space. Housed in an, old, former, Victorian courthouse on Deansgate. The grandeur is replicated within. Mahogany panels and leather seating defines the look. You enter the dining area via the bar and the spectacular pass. The gentlemen’s club persona continues. One could easily imagine Bertie Wooster treating Gus Finknottle to a snifter and a scotch egg whilst Jeeves* waits outside with the umbrella. Our Jeeves operated indoors by the name of Alex. Wearing a spectacular beard he sat down and explained in perfect detail as to how best to negotiate the evening ahead.

The dining room
The dining room

A Buxton IPA was his first recommendation. Needless to say that worked. He then led both The Flame and I through the card before delivering a stunning, three course meal. It’s a fairly simple menu. Meat or fish with all the trimmings. The only complication is working out whether to buy your steak by weight (about 10 pence per gram!) or as an individual cut and which sides to add.

For starts I had the scallops. Four massive roasted scallops, scalded to their shell with a crumb and tarragon, garlic butter. They cost £14 mind but blimey what a start. They were plump and delicious. The flame had the smoked salmon and soda bread (£9). Again, simple quality.

Bream in a bag, scallops, ribeye
Bream in a bag, scallops, ribeye

For mains we went for the royal sea bream with rosemary, garlic and chilli (£18). It came whole ‘en papillote’ with sweet potato side and buttered greens (£3.50 each). Cooked to perfection, the flame stripped it bare in no time. I went for a medium/rare rib eye steak (£26) with triple cooked chips (£4) and an anchovy hollandaise sauce. Hawksmoor is renowned for its steaks. It was easy to understand why. I’m struggling to recall a better steak. I’m not sure I’ve had one, it was off the scale tender. A word about the side. Chips for me nowadays are a rare treat. In the words of Michael Winner these were ‘historic’. A mild crunch outside with a soft centre, pure bliss. It’s worth coming here for these!

As ever desserts were called for. The flame opted for a very neat cheese selection (£10) complete with Apple and walnuts, whilst I went old school with a sticky toffee pudding and ice cream (£7.50). Both great.

The puds
The puds

If you’ve been adding up whilst you read, you may have noticed the cost was racking up! The bill came in at £121. Now that’s quite a lot. If you reckon on £80 for a good ‘gastropub’ equivalent you are looking at a good thirty percent more here. Is it worth it?…..I reckon so. We both thought it was a superb meal. Everything, as you would expect, was presented piping hot, cooked to perfection. Service was impeccable. Atmosphere in the grand room was electric as the punters gradually filtered in. A simple menu, all done remarkably well. If you like good honest grub, it can’t really be beaten. Book in as soon as you can. Don’t wait as long as we did……

HAWKSMOOR MANCHESTER
186 DEANSGATE,
MANCHESTER M3 3WB
0161 836 6980

http://www.thehawksmoor.com

*Anyone under thirty google PG Wodehouse!

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Els Quatre Gats (The 4 Gats) – Barcelona, Spain

“A sumptuous meal in the most elegant and historic surroundings imaginable…..”

It’s our last night in Barcelona, it’s a Sunday, The Flame and I are desperate for a decent parting memory after a glorious few days. We had tramped round Gaudi’s fair city for a good forty miles in three days. Something close to our headquarters was called for. After consultation with our trusty ‘Lonely Planet’ guide a tucked away hideout “Els Quatre Gats” was earmarked.

The Flame illuminates the 4 Gats exterior!
The Flame illuminates the 4 Gats exterior!

Honest Catalan cuisine in a lovely back room was promised. We set forth. We weaved our way through a maze of dark alleyways (close to the famous ‘La Rambla’) to be confronted with the grand, subtly lit archway. A few souls hung outside debating the menu, I simply brushed in and asked for a back room seat for two. A dusky young maid agreed this was possible provided we were having dinner. If you wanted tapas you stayed in the rather more modest, but no less authentic, front room.

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We sat at our beautifully set table. White linen and silver cutlery beckoned. We gaped in awe around us. There can’t be a room anywhere so clearly designed as an area to dine with a loved one. Elegance radiates from every angle. A huge column of white roses dominates, whilst a dark wooden veranda encircles the space from above. We were downstairs in the centre but one can only imagine the further delight of dining upstairs. Pictures hang around the room depicting the ancestral lineage of this historic room.

Elegance
Elegance

Salvatore the current encumbent announces his arrival. With his boyish, ‘Rockstar’ looks he exudes front of house charm. He guides us expertly through the card and applauded The Flames’ choice of his Grandmothers cod recipe. Romeo, the grumpy ‘penguined’ waiter wafted around us reading Salvatore’s instructions before throwing our bread down. We glance in amusement as he ‘harumphs’ his way round the room. We decide later that this is all part of the charm. Turns out Romeo is high up the chain, a nod and wink later we realise he loves us really. Especially when he saw how completely I had demolished the suckling pig. A gushing ‘gracias’ greeted my empty plate.

Starters
Starters

For starts The Flame won, again! A mixed salad of goats cheese, with walnuts and tomatoes (€12) arrived. The cheese, warmed and encased in a gossamer of scorched filo. The flame crushed though the side to reveal the warm gooey goodness which was mixed with candied fruits. She proclaimed that she could have had this three times over for a main and dessert! It was her sort of dish. By slight contrast I had a warm mushroom soup with black pudding (€12). Watching some of the other dishes coming out I realised I had made a small error here. The lobster risotto should have been my choice. That said the soup with the black pudding lollipop and egg yolk was a delight, very ‘mushroomy’ as you would expect. It had a very thick consistency, never more apparent than when Romeo poured it quickly over the egg and pudding!

As mentioned for mains The Flame picked the cod (€21) which came with a gorgeous aioli on top with a crumb, quince jelly and a smear of salty roe. All set on creamy spinach. My morsel was sublime. The flame once again raptured. Not to be outdone though my suckling pig with sweet potato, candied pears and orange sauce (€26) was a triumph. My, albeit, sharp knife sliced through the crusty skin into the sweet, sticky flesh with ease. Mopped up with sauce and a flash of pear and spud it was a taste sensation. All that was left was a pile of stripped sinewy bone. Romeo was impressed.

Suckling pig, grandmas cod, bones
Suckling pig, grandmas cod, bones

For dessert I had the cheesecake with coffee pastry and nuts (€9) whilst The Flame opted for the apricot cake, a ginger jam, topped with a coconut cream and lemon (€8). Both were works of art and gastronomy. Presented on a slate with swirls and swishes of sauce they could have come straight out a Parisienne patisserie. Both sublime.

The menu, desserts
The menu, desserts

We enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine and some fine coffee. The bill came to (€109) which is about seventy quid. Pretty much English ‘gastropub’ money. We both concluded this was one of the best dining experiences we’ve ever had. Made no doubt as much by the surroundings as the food. We whiled away a tad more time with the wonderful live singer, strumming Joan Armatrading tunes. A gleeful Salvatore thanked us for coming. We ambled into the night truly satiated. A fine end to a wonderful holiday. Picasso knew what he was doing when he came here, I urge you all to get the next flight out…..enjoy!

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4 Gats
Carrer de Montsió, 3,
08002 Barcelona,
España
http://www.4gats.com

Levanter – Ramsbottom

“A sumptuous crumb of the real Spain…….in Ramsbottom!”

The Flame and I (mainly I) love Ramsbottom. Whenever we are stuck for a ride out, its first on my list as a place to hit. I’ve already jotted a few words here and there about the Sunday market, Hearth Of The Ram and dining on The East Lancashire Railway. It’s a super spot, and now (well for several months actually) to top it all Levanter Fine Foods have opened a quaint, shops width of Spain. What an inspired enterprise this is.

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I’ve stumbled across Fiona and Joe (husband and wife team who own Levanter) several times over the last couple of years. I had the pleasure of devouring a plate of Joe’s paella at a Manchester food festival. I’ve bought their ‘sabrasada’ and fine iberico ham from the stall on Ramsbottom market. They’ve now ditched the outdoor stuff for a more ‘grown up’ existence running their tapas bar. It’s set left just off the Main Street as you walk up from The East Lancs Railway station.

Bar, boards and range
Bar, boards and range

As I say it’s no more than a shop, but somehow, using ‘tardis’ technology they’ve levered in a bar, some tables and chairs, a raised section, some menu boards and a range to cook on. The whole ensemble creates an enchanting Spanish space. And when combined with the wonderfully excitable Fiona marshalling front of house operations you are soon left with that wonderful feeling that you’ve landed in just the right place at the right time.

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After some deliberation The Flame decided a couple of stools at the bar would work for us as we were only ‘nipping’ in for a light lunch. I just about managed to stop myself ordering the Sunday special of 1kg of ‘Txulerton’ Galician steak. At £45 a pop it’s become something bordering on legend status in these parts and it’s easy to see why. We saw a couple come out while we sat at the bar. Read Bacon On The Beechs synopsis here for more details and fine images.

We settled for a more modest selection but nonetheless they all hit the spot. Being a Sunday (and following on from a hectic Saturday night) one has to consider the possibility of certain items being ‘sold out’. Despite the beautifully scribed chalk boards citing an array of fine foods we were encouraged to consult a printed sheet for Sunday lunch. Still plenty to go at.

Tortilla, mixed fish
Tortilla, mixed fish

We settled on a selection of artisan breads with salsa (£3.50), the flame chose slices of acorn fed Iberico Lomo (loin) with rocket and olives (£6) while I settled on the mixed fish of octopus, red mullet, king prawn, whitebait, baby octopus with aioli (£6). We finished with a San Sebastián tortilla (£4) which came out as a sort of warm, fresh, oozy, potato, eggy pie. Being the sweety that I am I had a slab of plum shortcake with cream to finish.

Iberico Lomo, plum shortcake
Iberico Lomo, plum shortcake

Even the flame (who is not a big fan of tapas) was moved to conclude that it had been an absolute delight. She wasn’t too keen on the tortilla and wouldn’t contemplate going anywhere near the baby octopus, but revelled in the quality and variety of the breads, the iberico ham was sublime and even had some of the octopus tentacle which was cooked to perfection. A very decent coffee finished a most pleasurable hour.

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As you can see we didn’t exactly go through the card, but I reckon it must be a revelation to land here on an evening with an empty stomach and a few hours to while away. There’s a good selection of Spanish beers to complement the food. With Joe cooking, Fiona on welcoming duty and a selection of pleasant and eager helpers it is a thoroughly splendid offer. If I thought I liked Ramsbottom before, the opening of Levanter has just moved it to stellar status. I might even have to move here…………

Levanter Fine Foods
10 SQUARE STREET,
RAMSBOTTOM,
LANCASHIRE, BL0 9BE
Tel: 01706 55 1530 (opening hours only)
Email: info@levanterfinefoods.co.uk

Town Green Brasserie – Aughton, Ormskirk

“Looks like this Seafood Pub Company have got things going in the right direction”

That’s three out of six we’ve done now. Assheton Arms, Farmers Arms and now the Town Green Brasserie. I don’t think I’m being too disingenuous to suggest that the Town Green Brasserie is slightly the less salubrious of the three so far. After all ‘brasserie’ is defined as ‘a small restaurant serving beer and wine as well as food; usually cheap’. It’s smaller than the others with less outdoor space. Not that that stopped the locals slurping outside until the last remnants of the evening sun ebbed away.

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It’s the newest though. Open six weeks. The decor as you would imagine is pristine, green, wood and more wood. Seating is basic, no lounging here, hence the brasserie tag? It’s the usual quality menu though. The Flame and I were well impressed with the fayre on offer.

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After the gentle breeze out to the sticks (the Cooktwit driving) a local, lonely Burscough brew pale ale had us settled and choosing from the premium card. Seafood features. So it was pretty much seafood that we went for. Whilst we stuck to the menu there was a great selection of specials too. The grilled mackerel, plaice and new potatoes, enthusiastically and expertly explained by our young waitress.

Starters up first. We both went ‘terriney’ and ‘hocky’, me devilled crab, with salmon and shrimps (£6.50) the flame traditional ham with cheeses and chutney (£5.50). They were both presented in a similar fashion, plate, clam shell jar. Both looked good, both tasted very good. My crab had a little kick, the flames ham featured big chunks of the stuff.

Starters, devilled crab and ham hock
Starters, devilled crab and ham hock

Mains rocked up. The flame won this one. Storming piece of hake on a slurry of peas, smoked bacon and onions, (£13.50). The hake was beautifully roasted! She loved it. I went for ‘posh’ scampi, made up of monkfish and king prawn (£18.50) dusted in a dark, crispy coat. If I was being picky it looked a bit boring, but to be fair it was what it said it was going to be so I can’t really argue. There was some big chunks of fish buried in there. The king prawns particularly hunky and flavoursome. Great chips too.

Scampi and hake
Scampi and hake

As usual I went for a dessert whilst the flame sat back and quaffed a light red wine and a coffee. I went for the passion fruit and strawberry mess with little coconut meringues (£5.95). Lovely end to the meal. I know it’s easy but I love a good mess and this hit the spot.

I love a good mess
I love a good mess

All in we were at £35 a head. Pretty standard nowadays. We really like what The Seafood Pub Company are doing. We’ve set our mission to do them all. We’ve a few to go. If they all keep up this standard they really are a credit and an asset to their creators and local community alike. A true delight and a worthy alternative to the Nigel Haworths RVI chain that operate in these parts too. Lancashire has some fantastic places to eat. Long may it continue…
Town Green Brasserie,
Aughton,
Ormskirk,
Lancashire,
L39 6SE
Phone: 01695 420 883
Email: info@towngreenbrasserie.co.uk
http://www.seafoodpubcompany.com

TNQ – Northern Quarter Manchester

“Another good feed in Manchester. Nice view too….”

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Every once in a while The Flame and I entertain a rather super Yorkshire couplet. A touch of jovial rivalry ensues. We take them to a Lancastrian offer whilst they treat us to a Yorkshire trek. See here for previous encounters! It was our turn this cold, blustery Sunday in June. We met in a (fairly) central location…Manchester! I decided to stick to the Northern Quarter end.

First stop (the now famous?) Port Street Beer House. We take a fine window table on the first floor. A pint of Bread and Butter! settles the nerves, the conversation flows. Next stop Ply. Charlie is impressed by the ale and the plain wooden furniture. It’s all going well. Three o clock dawns and we hit our preordained slot in TNQ. It’s been ‘on the list’ for some time now.

menu, whitebait
menu, whitebait

We enter the smart, green corner plot and nestle into our superb table for four. Right in the corner by the big front window. A fine view of the old Smithfield Market façade. The Yorkshire folk are chuffed. Charlie is quite particular about his table. We all issue a sigh of relief. It’s a great table set in a simple room. Green dominates outside and in. Simple wooden furniture keeps us and our plates off the floor. A nice IPA and some red wine have us purring, we flit down the simple Sunday roast menu. The menu is set out beautifully; its rear side boasts its local provenance. There’s plenty to go at for a quick Sunday menu and we all soon know what to have. Its good value too £16.95 for three courses.

squid, salad, soup
squid, salad, soup

The Yorkshire contingient went fishy for starts. One went White bait with a cheeky, chilli and paprika mayonnaise, the other salt and pepper squid, which arrived with a noodle salad and a chilli and lime dressing.
The Flame went for the healthy beetroot and goats cheese salad whilst I go very safe and play with the asparagus veloute. It all looks well and the report card from all has a big tick on it. My soup boasts a quails egg. I think there was one somewhere but it was severely deformed and didn’t have a yolk. The soups was good though, very nice.

One half of the Lancashire and Yorkshire contingent went chicken pie whilst the other went traditional roast. I say chicken pie, it should more accurately read goosnargh chicken with wild mushroom pie. It came with some super chips. The pie had a puff pastry lid. Lifting up revealed a big tasty filling packed with chicken and flavour. I’m sure there was some tarragon in there during my customary mouthful. Wonderful stuff.

Goosnargh chicken pie
Goosnargh chicken pie

Such is my lust for conversation and all round bonhomie I’m half way through my roast before noticing that my freshly ordered pink Cheshire lamb is in fact a few good slices of medium Cheshire beef! Feeling a little perturbed I plough on. My fellow roast compatriot goes for a sensational looking ‘Barry Pughs suckling pig’. It’s a decent roast, no danger.

decent roast, salted cheescake
decent roast, salted cheescake

Whilst all around pale and quake, The Cooktwit presses on. A salted chocolate and honeycomb cheesecake with pistachio sauce rounds off a very pleasing luncheon. We all agree the Lancashire bar has been set high once again. It’s up to Leeds next time! I might have lamb next time…

TNQ
108 High Street,
Manchester M4 1HQ
0161 832 7115
http://www.tnq.co.uk