Top Dishes of 2016

Its that time of year when all the old repeats come on the telly. All that airtime to fill, the TV bosses know its easy to just throw a few extra editions of ‘Morecambe and Wise’ (or some Peter Kay!) on and its job done. Well it’s the same with any self respecting food blogger, this is the time we can scan the laptop and dust off a few food pics and get another post in before the end of the year without leaving the house!

2016 from a food perspective has been another decent one for me. Plenty of new places opening, particularly in my adopted city of Manchester. That said, quite a few shut down too. Proving it’s still a tough gig keeping us fed. Competition, food trends and urban redevelopment just some of the bullets an honest restauranteur needs to dodge to keep afloat.

The images and references below are just a brief round up of what was great this year for me. Ive probably missed out loads, but, in no particular order, here goes…..

The Granddaughter wanted a swanky Indian to celebrate her 21st. Tattu in Manchester worked a treat. Had my first (of now quite a few) skate wings. Poor image but it is dark in there!

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We went to Florida for our hols early on in the year. On Key West I had my best meal over there ,’Stoned’ Crab claws at The Stoned Crab! with seafood and a broth. Historic. A special mention to Key Lime Pie. I had one every night for 14 days!!

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Had a memorable night alone in Newcastle. Social media led me to The Broad Chare by the Tyne. Super little ‘gastropub,’ had a simple but utterly gratifying ‘bubble and squeak’ with homemade brown sauce.

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A definite highlight the magnificent ‘mariscada’ (festival of seafood) by Ramsbottom’s very own slice of Spain ‘Baratxuri’.

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As you may know, I like a sunday roast. I’ve had some belters this year. A toss up between The White Swan at Fence with their dexter beef and The Church Green’s version (with Aiden Byrne back on the tools the day we were there). Both absolutely sensational, but I should mention totally honourable efforts by The Star Inn the City, The Yew Tree and Burnt Truffle all mere specks of beef fat behind.

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TL White Swan, TR Star Inn The City, BL Church Green, Middle R The Yew Tree, BR Burnt Truffle

Loved the short rib and peas dish at Andrew Nutters latest The Bird at Birtle.

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Our one foray into Michelin star territory this year brought us to Alimentum in Cambridge. Possibly the single best dish of the year for me the cannon of venison, stunning.

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Special mention to my streetfood heroes of the year. Working in Spinningfields, Manchester, for the first half of the year, I often frequented the streetfood pop up sensation ‘The Kitchens’. Particular favourites the chicken kharti rolls from ‘Chaat Cart,’ the pork belly bao rolls from ‘Dim Sum Su’ and the stupendous steak wraps from ‘Well Hung’ (now Beastro).

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Pulled pork bun, Well Hung wrap, Kati Roll

Having now moved further east in the city, brunch with eggs by Federal Cafe, deserve a mention. I think I’ve been through the card now. Halloumi and shrooms a particular favourite.

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If pizza’s your thing, Ive had a couple of very decent ones now at The Sand Bar, Manchester.  Last but not least you have to love and use your local restaurant. Ours is Ariete in Newton le Willows. It’s a smart Italian, and I love normally to try all the specials, but one day this year I had the basic spaghetti bolognese. Ive never looked back. Had it about five times since! You cant beat the classics…..

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Hispi – Didsbury, Manchester

“There cant be many better bistros in Didsbury named after a cabbage?”

Im probably a bit late. Gary Usher’s latest, crowdfunded eatery blistered onto the scene a few months back. Every dish has been ‘socially media’d’ and all the big reviewers (well the paying ones)! have been and gone. Glowing trails of foodie prose lies in their wake. We all loved ‘Sticky’ and ‘Burnt’ (click to read how much) and so it was expected that Hispi would follow suit.

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We romped in on a cold Sunday afternoon. We had booked, you have to it would seem. The place was packed when we got in. Set moments from the centre of Didsbury Village it cuts a startling dash in its boxy, sagey green exterior.

We were met enthusiastically and set into the lower room. The other two or three rooms move upwards a bit, one gets set in the roof. Decor is smart and uncluttered. Walls are either clean exposed brick or super smooth off white paint. Various shades of contemporary wood fill in the rest. The big crowdfunders get their own mirror. Nice touch.

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Our Sunday menu was printed (as ever) on one side of an A4 sheet. Three courses for £22, two for £18. You get four choices of start and dessert with five go’s at a main. As ever I could have had any. The Flame as ever, struggled a bit! The menus vary slightly depending on time of day, there’s an early doors menu and an evening dinner menu. It probably goes without saying that they then vary seasonally.

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For start The Flame edged into the Squash soup with curry oil, yoghurt and rye bread, though she requested that chef left out the curry. It turned out rather good. Velvety, hot and super tasty, she loved it. I went for the charred mackerel, Jerusalem artichoke, lemon tapenade and parsley. Im not too sure I got all that but it was presented rather nicely and the mackerel itself, with a touch of all the trimmings on each forkful, provided a good few mouthfuls of delight.

It was then a rather over long wait for the mains, as I said they were busy. I had selected my new favourite fish, pan roast skate wing, mace butter, saffron potatoes and spinach. The only downside was that i could have had about four wings rather than the one. The golden spuds were delish too.

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The Flame having furrowed her brow at the choice, mentioned in passing that she loves chicken! She ordered the beef, only for Ashley, our super waitress, to inform us that chef could rustle up a turkey dinner. The Flame was in raptures, and even more so when it turned up. A glorious chunk of moist, yes moist turkey, with a sausage meat patty and cranberry topping. Lovely jubbly.

We then had the cheese course, a Beenleigh blue, with rye crackers and chutney and a whipped fromage blanc with pear, meringue and almonds. The dessert whilst not looking too great and being over simple was actually flipping gorgeous, just up my street. Perhaps it may have looked a bit better in a dark bowl, but hey Im being super churlish here.

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All in all another great little outing at an Usher gaff and get this…ahem…the ‘cookery’ is always ‘on point’ (whose been watching Masterchef? – Ed) and always well presented using great local produce. The DNA set by owner Gary Usher washes through the place. As if to emphasise, we were wonderfully served by Gareth and the ever bubbly Ashley. Both bright and confident with the right tinge of humour.

As the late AA Gill commented, something along the lines of “Your local restaurant should be treasured, use it, cherish it and it will pay you back in spades”. Didsbury has been dealt a good hand with this smart little bistro. I reckon every town and village should have one. Maybe the city’s should have one too, perhaps even Liverpool? Think it should be called ‘Wreckfish’…..watch this space.

Hispi
1C School Lane
Didsbury Village
Manchester
M20 6RD.
Tel: 0161 445 3996
http://www.hispi.net

The Star Inn The City – York

“There can’t be a better setting in York to enjoy a scrumptious Sunday lunch”

We had the enviable task of meeting up with some fine old, Yorkshire folk in the beautiful city of York. Social media advice suggested ‘The Star Inn The City’, sister to Michelin starred ‘The Star Inn Harome’ would provide a suitable setting. Boy they were right. Located in the Old Engine House on the edge of York’s Museum Gardens in a riverside setting close to the historic Lendal Bridge, The Star Inn The City is superbly positioned overlooking the wonderful Ouse.

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Both ‘Stars’ (York and Harome) are headed up by celebrated and inimitable chef Andrew Pern. By pure coincidence the Star in York chef Michael Wilkinson featured on Masterchef days later. Humour and quirkiness lurks in the DNA, as depicted by the many cartoon images and fun menus. It’s a mixture of old and new. Half the place is a space age glass house which is welded onto the old engine tower. Its in the glass bit that you dine. It’s a lovely space overlooking what Im sure in summer would be a packed outdoor deck.

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As the place was packed out and we were thirty minutes early for our 3pm slot we downed a pint of hand pulled ‘two chefs’ ale in the old, wonderfully quaint river room, before moving across to the sleek, new bit and choosing from the colourful menu.

I started with the Posh Peeled Prawn Cocktail with Oak-smoked Salmon, Bloody Mary Sorbet, Green Pea Purée, Marinaded Tomatoes and Fresh Basil (£12). It came in a huge, glass goblet, packed to the gunnels with fishy goodness. There must have been a pound of salmon in there! It was a far cry from the bright pink 1970’s efforts I’ve had before. Glorious. The Yorkshire gent went for Deep-fried Devilled Whitebait with Lemon and Cracked Black Pepper Mayonnaise (£7). It arrived on a plank, the whitebait settled into a large bowl. Another corking portion.

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Enormous prawn cocktail, goats cheese, scallops en croute

The ladies went for Baked King Scallops ‘En Croûte’ with Fountains Gold Cheddar, Smoked Bacon & Creamed Leeks… cooked to order (at a fairly eye watering £15) along with the Deep-fried Breaded Lowna Dairy Goats Cheese with Stewed Fig Chutney, Candied Walnuts and Mulled Wine Syrup (£9). The scallops a triumph, the goats cheese (according the The Flame) a little less so.

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The fun menu, whitebait

For mains two of us went from the specials menu and had the roast waterford farm sirloin beef and all the trimmings (£19). One went for the rather stunning ’10oz’ Gammon ‘Rib Eye’ with Fried Free Range Egg, Honey’d Pineapple and chips (£15). The Flame unusually went for the ‘10oz’ Marbled Rib-eye served with ‘Viking Buttered’ Flat Mushroom, Chip Shop Chips, Bloody Mary Ketchup & House Salad £28). Bizarrely all were served on long, narrow plates and arranged sideways. Unusual, but it all still tasted great. The beef particularly good, cooked as god intended with a slightly pink hue. The gammon wonderfully thick and salty.

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As ever the sweet tooth took over, so I ordered up a rather stunning Baked Rice Pudding with English Toffee, Hedgerow Jam & Sugar’d Skin (£8). Came in its own skillet, really looked and tasted the part. Loved the crunchy top. One went Baked Ginger Parkin with Rhubarb, Ripple Ice Cream, Hot Spiced Syrup (£8) whilst one went for the dramatically presented Mulled wine baba, yorkshire honey granola, glazed figs, mascarpone and goats curd cream, with lime (£8).

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Rice pudding, mulled baba, parkin

The bill for four came in at just over £200. Possibly a touch weightier than a normal Sunday lunch? No doubt the extra is for the fine local produce and the famous locality and to be the fair there was plenty to go round. Either way we all agreed it had been a fabulous afternoon and thoroughly enjoyed. Will have to have a go at the Harome version….

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The Star Inn The City
Lendal Engine House
Museum Street
York
YO1 7DR

T: 01904 619208

Email us: info@starinnthecity.co.uk