A bloke from a little town called Newton-le-Willows in the North West of England. Works and plays in Manchester. He is of a certain age who likes his food and beer. This blog has foodie reviews. Personal opinions of the food and places I've been. Fully understands that preparing food is a tough gig. If I enjoy, it goes on here to let others know.
Likes cooking as well. Likes trying the dishes we all see on telly and in celeb chef recipe books.
You may notice 'the flame' gets a mention. She is my lovely wife who happens to have red hair! It's a nod to the musings of AA Gill whose wife he calls 'the blonde'. Enjoy
“Another London restaurant gives Manchester a try. This one can stay for me. Probably the best seafood in town?”
Twenty-eight years of marriage, where do you go to celebrate that? Well, I chose ‘Randall and Aubin,’ latest addition to the Spinningfield end of good old Manchester town. I love seafood and I just fancied some. Thankfully The Flame doesn’t mind fish either! We were on. Couple of pre meal cocktails around town before sauntering along Bridge Street to the good old R&A. Looks good from outside. Two ‘Parisienne’ awnings with ornate script set it apart. I fully lit, street facing flash of seafood on a bed of ice, add a decadent touch.
We enter the long narrow room. A seated bar to the left, our coats are wafted behind a screen by front of house to the right. We feel very welcome. We are escorted to table 86. The initial excitement dips. The tiny round table is set hard against the wall. We feel hemmed in. Our next table of two, merely inches away, bask in acres of space. We mention this to Zak, our excellent waiter. Within minutes a nearby table, twice the size, swept down one side with banquette seating is cleaned and prepped. Immediately our enthusiasm is back up to ten and climbing. Bottle of ‘Mad Fish’ Sauvignon Blanc (£35)! Corked (well unscrewed) and cooling. Six plump, french oysters arranged neatly on a wire heightened platter (£15). We slurped our entree while taking in the fine ambience.
The idea, one presumes, is that you imagine you’ve been whisked to an elegant Parisienne Brasserie on the Champs Elysee? It works to an extent, reminded me a bit of the old ‘Cafe Rouges’ though. ‘Moulin Rouge’ mirrors and velvet curtains abound. The exposed ‘air-con’ ironmongery on the ceiling detracts slightly, but I’m quibbling.
Whilst fish and seafood is the main intent, and what we came for, the menu boats a collection of fine rotisserie meats too. The menu is extensive, a quid or two up compared to some others in town, but it is indeed a fine offer. I started up with the New England clam & bacon chowder with fresh corn bread (£5.50). A hearty meal in itself, robust flavours, loads of clams in a creamy broth. Utterly wonderful. The Flame went for the R&A crab cakes with lime mayonnaise, watercress & radish salad (a fairly hefty £9.85). Again rather good. I was allowed half of one!
For mains I went for ‘full faff’ whole, cracked, brown crab mayonnaise with R&A potato salad (£19.85). The ready dressed ‘low faff’ Dorset crab with R&A potato salad is £2 cheaper! Have to say it was sensational. Struggling to recall a better crab, good size too, but the potato salad is worth a mention. Piquant and tasty, perfect accompaniment to the main event. Thankfully, The Flame was perfectly happy catching up on Facebook whilst I cracked and crunched my way through this king of crustaceans!
The Flame had the Grilled line-caught tuna with roasted Mediterranean vegetables, feta cheese & an olive oil oregano tapenade (£19.85). A thick steak of tuna, cooked perfectly pink on a colourful bed of aubergine, peppers and onions.
By now we were stuffed, but couldn’t resist a sweet finish. The desserts, Sticky Date Pudding – with vanilla ice cream & caramel sauce and my Baked Vanilla Cheesecake – with caramel & salted caramel ice cream (both £8 each), both homemade were perfectly decent, but by then we were a bit over faced, especially after our rather splendid anniversary ice cream, presented by young Zak.
The bill romped in at a fairly hefty £135 including a 12.5% discretionary tip. But as we know, seafood in particular exerts a premium. Have to say this though, despite our initial hiccup with the table we thoroughly enjoyed our time here. The service was bright, attentive and knowledgable. TV chef Ed Baines is behind the R&A. The original is in Soho in London. I hope his selection of Bridge Street in Manchester as the next foray works out. We’ll definitely be back. This could well turn out to be one of our favourites places, watch this space……
Randall & Aubin Manchester 64 Bridge Street, Manchester M3 3BN Tel: +44 (0) 161 7111 007 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
“Not sure my valet would approve but this fast food burger chain can certainly turn out a decent burger”
Its become a bit of a Friday treat. Even become known as burger Friday. Working in Manchester I have been gradually schlepping round the hip burger joints with a group of like minded cohorts. We’ve done the usual suspects Byron, Solita, Almost Famous, Yard and Coop, Common, Reds, Westcorner and others. However, nagging away at the back, big ‘Dazzer’ kept banging on about Five Guys. “Where is it?”, “in the Arndale” he quipped. “Good Lord, my valet wont let me go in there, thats for the youngsters, how will I dress? What jacket will I wear?”, “No honest its ace, just keep with me you’ll be fine”.
The Arndale is Manchester’s compendium of garish retail emporiums, so loved by the ‘yoof’. I felt so out of place in my Harris tweed. Dazzer led on, armed with a full hipster beard, he took looked the part and soon led me to the double height cathedral of glass and red panelling. Five Guys cuts quite a dash, you cant miss it.
We queued in. A riot of formica with the odd daub of oak. I was encouraged by the claim that ‘chips are hand formed and sourced locally,’ from some farm in Huddersfield today by all accounts.
Dazzer clearly experienced in the protocol quickly ordered the burger with a riot of extras (there are 15 to chose from!), lettuce, jalepeno, cheese, onion, hot sauce and various other ingredients. To avoid confusion and embarrassment I simply ordered the same, but with a salted caramel milkshake instead of one of about 170 different coca cola flavours!
We then waited out front whilst the uniformed operatives set to work. It’s an impressive set up. All the workings are on show. A huge metallic range applies the necessary heat to the foodstuffs whilst an overhead cowl hoovers up the steam and sweat of honest toil. Within minutes our number is called and we grasp our feed. Its all wrapped in brown paper.
Have to say it was very good. The burger was tasty and moist. Probably overdid it with the extras as it disintegrated into a gooey mess. A lovely gooey mess though. The skin on chips were historic. Proper fantastic. The milkshake was up there with the best too.
Came it at around £12 a head, so whilst its fast food, it’s not necessarily fast food prices, but well worth it.
Whilst I went to the Arndale in Manchester there is one in the Trafford Centre too. That said they are sprouting up everywhere, emanating from London as ever. Worth a try if you happen to be in the type of place they happen to be! Not sure Jeeves will let me out again, but that doesn’t stop you though…..
“Our very own dirty food emporium, right on our doorstep!”
The great burger revolution that has swept through, well err…. Manchester over the last few years has shown little sign of abating. Solita, Byron, Almost Famous, Reds, Five Guys and various Smokehouse empires have grilled into the fray with apparent success. Followers will know I am a fan of a well turned out burger. So it was with a welcome heart that I slumped into a relatively local joint called The Pit Smokehouse. Its housed in a sort of house/shop type set up in Culcheth. Culcheth is a fairly well heeled enclave outside Warrington in leafy Cheshire and only a few miles from my home town of Newton le Willows.
The site formerly housed a haphazard attempt at fine dining called ‘Duck Egg Blue’. The decor has been completely swept aside in favour of the customary ranch style set up that is de rigeur for a ‘smokehouse’. Big rustic tables, cow horns, logos branded into wood, you get the picture, its all to make you feel like you’ve hit the deep south, roped yourself a bucking longhorn, had its backside wiped and slapped on the barbie. Even had Lynyrd Skynyrd on the house PA!
I surveyed the menu. It’s a fine body of work, if you like grilled and smoked meat. I ordered a cowboy sized peanut butter shake (shouldn’t that have been a bourbon on the rocks? – Ed) and set about my order.
For starts I signed up for some smoked chicken wings in a Jack Daniels honeyed coat (3 pieces for £3.95). They turned up smarttish and crikey they were good. These chickens must have had a good life, I reckon they could’ve flown for miles. They must have been the biggest, meatiest wings Ive ever had. Cracking start.
From the impressive burger list I plumbed for a ‘Volcano’ burger, which promised to be hot with jalepeno and their signature chilli. It came in at £11.95 with skin on fries. It came, teetering on a board, stabbed in place with a menacing, but necessary sharp knife. Such was the ‘immenseness’ of the offer I had to deconstruct it to do it justice. For me it was probably too big. Most of the constituents were as expected. The chilli was hot and flavoursome, cheese oozed from various ports. The only slight disappointment was the actual beef patty (or should I say patties). They were a little dry for me. We know we can have juicy pink when the meat is of this quality. A shame really as this could have been a solid 9 out of 10. The dry beef making it a 7 at best. The chips were good, but I hardly touched them after all this!
I couldn’t fit a dessert in. All in all an encouraging find. I’d definitely give it another go next time I need a dirty food fix. Worth a try, just ask for the one burger, and make sure its pink!
“Well thats one on the bucket list ticked off! Think Ill go again and again though…..”
Finally done it. Finally absorbed the foraged and farmed nutrients of Simon Rogans’s Cumbrian bounty. His two Michelin starred restaurant L’Enclume. Took 55 years exactly to do it mind, but I did it. And it met all expectations. An astounding experience.
After a gentle meander in the ‘Rogan L’Enclume’ shop, (where I just managed to avoid buying a stainless steel quail egg topper!), we trudged the two hundred yards or so through the torrential rain from the quaint little square of Cartmel to the stone, understated former smithy that now houses this edifice of gastronomic wonderment. Indeed the anvil (English for L’Enclume geddit?) is the only exterior nod to the great place inside. We entered for a lunch time treat starting at 1.30pm. The place was packed! We were greeted with extraordinary enthusiasm by the ecstatic front of house team. There seemed to be hundreds of them.
Once ensconced at our generous, organically shaped table we allowed the experience to wash over us. A large, cumbrian G&T to settle the nerves. And then we were off. The eight course extravaganza was underway. I now merely quote from the wax anvil (natch) sealed envelope which housed our menu and wine flight in full.
First up a gentle start of stringy leeks, garlic and ashes, with deep fried ball of pork and eel with ham fat. We gingerly tucked in. Needn’t have worried. Glorious start. To think my food hell is beetroot. Up next a stunning puree of beetroot with pine and a quail egg underneath. Arguably the best course for me. It could have been a dessert such was the wonderful sweetness and luscious texture of the mousse. Historic.
Next up aged veal with a touch of coal oil, radish and oxalis. A rather dainty dish this, dwarfed by the heady circumference of its earthenware dish. Next another highlight, Candisa cabbage, english wasabi and fermented mushroom. The cabbage was charred, the mushroom augmented with truffle. Sensational. I must mention the breads and butters at this stage. They appeared in various guises throughout. All warmed with pasteurised or unpasteurised butter. All utterly faultless.
Next a saddle of lamb and turnips with sweetbreads and glazed kale. Wonderfully cooked. The kale supplied with other foraged specimens. Then the sweet bits started. First up a symphony of strawberries, malwina ones with verbana.
Another sweet bit next, rhubarb with yoghurt a sweet cicely. We elected to sample the cheeseboard as an extra. Super local ones with an array of fancy crackers.
As it was my birthday I got my own individual almond cake. With coffee we then plundered the kendal mint cake ice cream balls and the edible moss gel! Amazing stuff.
The whole lot came in at £300 with tip. The lunch itself is £55 with the wine flight a further £49. We were there for nigh on four hours. A stunning experience. We left with beaming smiles on our faces. I have to say it was faultless. Everything was just so. Front of house, the ambiance, the decor, the cookery, the wine all exemplary. I just wish I could eat like this every week. Just do it people…..
“I think I might have to move to Ramsbottom. It seems like some sort of heaven…….”
I’ve already splurged a few tomes extolling the wonderment that surrounds this fine old Lancashire town. Already blogged Baratxuri, Levanter, Hearth of the Ram, the artisan market as well as The Red Rose Diner courtesy of the East Lancs Railway that steams right through it. Now it’s the turn of the recently refurbished ‘Eagle and Child’. It doesn’t disappoint. To be fair it shouldn’t given the long list of accolades that have followed since its current imcumbents set to task.
I booked the table for a late Sunday lunch allowing us time to enjoy a leisurely stroll around nearby Summerseat and the wonderful Nuttal Park. As the time approached we eagerly sprinted up the hill from the town. The Eagle is a fine looking, simple stone building. The refurb has grafted an architectural glass box onto the back with fine views of the Irwell Valley and Peel Tower. The bright red Thwaites logo gives it a little lift….And that means it sells ‘Wainwrights’ golden ale. This is good thing.
Its smart inside too. A quality fit out, the bar area in particular is especially inviting.
We perused the Sunday lunch menu (£22.95 for two course, £25.95 for three) in its red binder along with the hi tech iPad specials board.
The Flame pulled her nose a bit, “Theres no chicken”, she observed*. As ever I was sticking pins in to decide as it was all glorious to me!
She settled on tomato soup to start. A little boring we thought, but she was very pleased with what turned out. Full of flavour, she agreed it was a fine start. Easy pick for me, the smoked haddock scotch egg with curried mayo. Terrific start. It would seem many shared my view, they were flying out with empty plates coming back.
For mains I went from the specials board. I was lured by the inclusion of hogget. A chop with a disc of braised shoulder, a potato gallette, some french peas and red wine jus (a fairly hefty £21.95). Ive never had hogget before but wow, the chop in particular was a treat. Beautifully tender with a fullsome, lamb taste. The rest was fine too. Thoroughly enjoyed. The Flame went for the vegetarian option, charred aubergine with spicy cous cous and goats cheese. Not my bag really but The Flame loved it. A decent looking dish.
For dessert I had the mille fleur, beautifully presented with a passionfruit cream. The Flame went for the rather splendid cheese board, wonderfully explained by Rosie.
Rosie (along with Glen and Alex) was clearly part of the management team here. She went on to explain their work with the incredible edible garden that is being cultivated at the back of the pub. We went to have a look and feed the chickens. It’s a great space that I’m sure will be packed on a fine summers day. She also explained about their work in training troubled youngsters to be chefs and waiting staff. It’s a fine story.
And did I mention the accolades? I almost forgot it had won Sunday roast of the year a few times, I was reminded many times why as plates of slavering lumps of tender pink beef wafted by. Ill be back for one of those…….
*And The Flame needn’t worry about the lack of chicken. Rosie said to give us a ring next time before you come. She was sure chef Alex could rustle something good up.
“Our bangers have been ‘bobbed’, we’ve been ‘well hung’ over and now its time for the Beast!
Great story this. Ive seen James, Heather and young Richard plunder the streets of Manchester and the farmers markets of the North west for several years now. ‘Bobby’s Bangers’ purveyors of fine sausages and latterly ‘Well Hung’ equally fine purveyors of well grilled, non vegetarian foodstuffs have set up shop as ‘Beastro’. By virtue of winning a ‘streetfood comp’ they’ve bagged one half of Spinningfields’s ‘Leftbank’ in the well heeled business district of Manchester.
The trio have grafted for a few months to convert the old three unit space into what is now a rather splendid and hospitable cavity. It’s an ‘L’ of a space, pigmented in a ‘duck eggish’ blue, with smart, light grey ‘countrystyle’ dining implements. If dining alone, it’s perfectly possible to hop on a stool and reside at ‘The Chefs’ table and watch young Rich et al. prepare your nourishment ‘live’ before your eyes.
As we were a gang of four we settled on a four berth bench by one of the large, floor to ceiling windows that light up one side of the space. We were able to choose as we were the only ones in. We surveyed the stark, black on white menus. As it was 3pm we had a choice of finishing off the brunch menu or firing up the evening card. As fine as the brunch menu read it was the serious evening stuff that we had come to trough.
We plundered the ‘pots and plates’ section first while we read the starters, mains, desserts and wines. A Manchester egg (£4), the cheese platter (£8) and some fine bread with bacon butter (£2.50) rocked up first. Richard even threw in a light smoked duck dish with leafy greens and heritage vegetables that he was pondering for a future menu. We lapped it up. The Yorkshire folk were thrilled with the cheese whilst us Lancastrians weighed in with the egg. The bacon butter won many compliments too.
For starters we notched up a smoked mackerel salad with new potatoes and poached egg (£6), and a cod, scallops and curried fondant potato (£7). The salad looked a picture and tasted superb. If I was being picky with my Masterchef hat on, I could say the curried cod was the least refined dish on show, but as ever it was all wonderfully cooked and tasted tremendous.
For mains we tested out the true beast in us. Three steaks (rib eyes at £22.50) and the pork belly with sour apple, celeriac mash and crispy pig (£15.50). Normally a steak out can be a risk, but no worries here. Perfectly cooked, seasoned and delivered with vine tomatoes and beef dripping chips.
As ever I had to let you see what the desserts are like! My lemon meringue (£5) and the girls scone and jam (£4) were as delightful as they looked.
The bill came in at nearly £200 for the four of us, complete with a couple of bots of a rather spectacular red Malbec. Tne bottled beers look good too.
It was 3pm on a Sunday afternoon when we turned up. We were, and remained throughout the two hours, the only people in. Rather a shame really. It is early days and of course the main foot fall will happen through the week as the offices spill out at lunch and home time. Its open at 7am too, hopefully it can prise away some of the lucrative breakfast trade from chainster Greggs.
They have a fine vision. They use local produce, they aim to charge a fair price and attract a loyal following who’ll use them regularly. They are certainly passionate having traded from the streets to this fine eatery. Definitely give them a try night or day. You deserve it…..
“Yawn, Its another new eatery in the Northern Quarter! It’s a good addition this though, I could be going back to this time and again”
Billed as a ‘deli-diner,’ ‘West Corner’ has transformed the ‘corner’ plot that was once occupied by the famous ‘Koffee Pot’ in Stephenson Square. Its gone against the stock NQ trend of raiding the local Travis Perkins trade counter to bag it’s lighting, electrical containment and plywood bar. It also ignores the local scrap dealer for its tables and chairs. Instead it’s all highly polished laminates (bit too highly polished) that adorn the fixed booth tables and benches. Greens, blacks and fake teak are the hues of choice. Hey its different.
It does breakfast from 7.30am through the week. Ive enjoyed some fabulous eggs hollandaise at this ungodly hour. That said on this occasion I decided to try a teatime slot. In order to tempt The Flame to a Dream Theater* rock gig, I played up the idea of absorbing some nourishment first. Always a winner that!
Despite there only being The Flame and I, she selected a leatherette booth that could take six easy. It was early so the pleasant young Irish waitress had no issues with us taking it. We surveyed the one sheet menu. It’s an extensive list of hot sandwiches, burgers, salads, mains, desserts and milkshakes. Classic diner fare.
The hot sandwiches have regional names giving a slight clue as to the origin of some of the ingredients. The Flame plumbed for the West Coast C.A.B which translates as a chicken, avocado, bacon, chimmi-mayo, baby gem, beef tomato and melted swiss cheese sandwich on toasted bloomer (£8). The Flame switched to a ciabatta but otherwise it was as nature intended. It came with a touch of house slaw. She also ordered up the triple cooked chips (£3.50). To be honest she wasn’t over enamoured. She felt it lacked taste. But I had a mouth full and thought it was pretty fine. The chips were good though, hot and salty.
I on the other hand thoroughly enjoyed my curried hake and clam chowder with scorched baby gem and jerusalem artichokes (£12). I had expected a thick creamy affair, but was greeted with a very pretty dish of fishy broth brimming with goodness. There was only four clams though. The fish on top, beautifully cooked. All in all a real triumph for me. The Flame was gutted. Never had scorched gem lettuce before either, but this really added flavour to the ensemble. Super stuff.
I then finished off with the homemade apple pie and vanilla ice cream (£4.50). Rarely do I give the accolade of ‘historic’ but I think this was it. Super soft pastry case around a glorious splodge of stewed apple. I reckon its well worth coming for this.
As I work round the corner ill be giving this a few more goes. I hear the burgers are good and they do a corking Reuben! Ill let you know how it goes…..
American prog metal twiddlers who do very long guitar solos
“Cant really go wrong with bottomless prosecco and brunch. Especially at a smart gaff where ladies doth lunch”. Did you notice that rhymed?
Strange one this. Stumbled on it as part of my day job (as someone who specifies furniture). A rather creditable outfit called ‘Revivalist’ pointed out that one of their more recent successful fit outs was their conversion of a Town Hall into a high end bar called ‘The Lost and Found’ in Knutsford. They proceeded to pepper me with wonderful, high res images highlighting their craft of making places look smart. As a fan of Mr Osbourne’s part time residence I decided to treat The Flame once again and head over there for a light brunchette. We like Knutsford, you may remember me in previous blogs, like ‘The Old Sessions House’ and the wonderful ‘Makers Market’. Despite the early start (11.30am) the website recommended booking for brunch. So we did.
We duly arrived at the imposing old building, suitably spruced. We booked in at reception and admired the spacious downstairs bar. However, the receptionist radioed into a ‘walkie talkie’ to announce our arrival. Moments later we had trudged up several flights of stairs to the top floor dining room. Once we’d ventured through the smart navy doors you are greeted with a huge, naturally lit space. Divided in two along its length. A tiled mezzanine, sprinkled with Eames inspired wire side chairs sits to the right whilst the lower left half houses a series of booths, the bar, the pass and more tables. It is impressive. This could be the first restaurant review you read with the word ‘biophillia’ in its prose! Trees and various branches of foliage abound, bringing nature and the outside in. The lack of soft furnishings and the huge original windows make it a tad noisy though.
We are presented with our ‘bottomless prosecco brunch’ menu. As it’s not compulsory we elected to miss the £15pp extra for two hours worth of free plonk and settle for a quality black coffee and some tap water. It’s a great menu, small plates and mains, all done with a twist.
The Flame went for her favourite Smoked salmon, black pepper and lemon cream cheese, dressed rocket, open malted brown bloomer (£7.50). She also asked for some avocado which was duly provided for only a £1 extra. Have to say it looked very good if you like that sort of thing. The Flame was in raptures, loved, loved, loved it.
I went for their full breakfast which was Bacon, grilled Cumberland sausages, black pudding, fried, scrambled or poached eggs, roasted vine tomatoes, flat mushroom, house beans (£8.50). For research purposes I had Brown butter pancakes, banana, hazelnuts, chocolate sauce too (£6.00). The breakfast was fine. The sausage rather good, the bacon a bit too crisp for me. The house beans added a twist. The pancakes were hot and plump, sweet and nutty. A fine end to proceedings.
A little, local bird told me that the place had a rather stuttering start, inexperienced staff, cocktail making by numbers, poor beer stocks and lacklustre management. It would seem much has improved. Whilst it shouldn’t be too difficult to rustle up a good breakfast and serve unlimited prosecco, the staff we encountered, particularly Dianne our American? waitress was experience, warmth and ‘attentiveness’ personified. As I mentioned the place had started to fill considerably, with couples and groups of lunching ladies. The Flame was well impressed and has already earmarked some girlie events here in the future. Its on the list to try for a proper meal. Its worth a punt for the grand view alone. On a nicer day, you can always walk off the excess with a walk round Tatton Park. Give it a go.
“A pleasant little gem, buried in the village of Milnthorpe”
We love Arnside. It’s an hours scurry up the M6 for us. It was a fairly ‘grimmish’ Saturday but we were determined to make a day of it. Arnside isn’t exactly blessed as a gastronomic paradise. Its got a cracking chippy, The Albion pub on the front is decent enough and the Old Bakehouse next door cooks up as good a pie and a brew as anyone. But, whilst hungry for lunch on the way nothing was floating our boat.
Hang on I quipped “A friend of mine keeps banging on about somewhere in Milnthorpe with a number as its name”. The Flame accepted the terms and gave the thumbs up to proceed. Milnthorpe is a couple of miles from Arnside and on the way too. We gingerly edged through the village before stumbling upon the smartly turned out, double fronted ‘shop’ with the sign ‘No 17’ above. We parked round the back. It turns out this is the way in anyway. The front door on the street is locked up.
It looks very smart from the outside, very tempting. Basically No17 is described as “a contemporary style eatery with a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. Its run by Kate Cook and Chef Graeme Shuttleworth for locals and visitors alike. It boasts the use of premium local produce, complimented with fine local ales, affordable wines, champagnes and cocktails”. Its hard to disagree with any of that. As we ate at lunch it was fairly full, as it would seem lots of us had decided to turn up unannounced! Nonetheless is was still very relaxed and pleasant.
Our waitress gave us our printed ‘specials’ sheet along with a handsome, bound A5 booklet describing the rest of the offer. It makes fine reading, something for everyone, with a touch of the extra, befitting of an independent restaurant looking to pull in people from miles around.
Lunch offered quality open sandwiches and salads, pizzas as well as some smart mains and deli boards. The Flame went for the seafood deli board (£12.50) served with Organic Bread, Chutney, Dipping Sauce & Side Salad. It was an array of fish, Smoked Salmon, Smoked Mackerel, Crayfish & Prawn Cocktail, Mini Fish & Chips and King Prawns. I dare say it could have done two as a starter but The Flame put the lot away as a main. It certainly looked the part. All the bits and pieces tasted good too. The Flame was well pleased. The Meat and Cheese board with Serrano Ham, Ham Hock, Honey Roast Ham, Cheddar & Smoked Wensleydale looked decent too.
I went for the ‘market fish special of the day,’ Sea Bass, baby corn, sugar snap peas in a Penang Thai curry with fruity cous cous (£12.95). Again beautifully presented. The fish pan fried to perfection. For me there wasn’t quite enough curry sauce and it wasn’t spicy enough, always the danger when ordering a curry in a generic restaurant, but it tasted great and the cous cous mopped up nicely.
We didn’t have dessert as we wanted to press on to Arnside. They looked good though. The table of four next to us all had burgers which looked tremendous, whilst an elderly couple had fish and chips, all done well. I’m not saying you should all head on up here but I would definitely recommend the diversion from a gentle stroll along the Cumbrian coast. I can well imagine it being a thoroughly civilised interlude on an evening, when you can sample the wines a little more and maybe the more intimate atmosphere of a darkened outdoors. Great job by Kate and Graeme, Definitely one to try again.
February 2017 will go down in the anals for The CookTwit. Coupled with The Flame and her sister Laura and hub John, the four of us trooped round New Zealand’s South and North Islands, culminating in a final flourish in Sydney Australia. This is the story of what happened and what we ate!
Its was a marathon thirty hour flight via Dubai (and 8 episodes of Family Guy) before we arrived in Christchurch, the capital of New Zealand’s south island. Sadly Christchurch has suffered terribly from the 2010 earthquake, devastation still reigns. The once magnificent cathedral is now propped up by steel girders, awaiting the go-ahead and the cash to repair it. Despite this it still boasts a vintage tramway, a botanic garden and lots of building work.
We struggled to find anywhere to eat, but finally decided on the Old Government Building or OBG for short. A lively bar with full hipster bar staff, it offered a brief menu of great burgers, both chicken and beef along with awesome chips and hand pulled craft ale. The ‘Three Boys IPA’ was a winner. Not bad for £10 a pint!!
Day 2 sent us via coach to Mount Cook, the highest, (and consequently snow capped) mountain in New Zealand. We travelled through the Canterbury plains via wonderful one horse towns like Geraldine, Ashburton, and Fairlee as well as the spectacular blue lakes of Tekapo and Pukaki. Most towns are single story, colonial and impeccably kept.
Our chalet (part of The Hermitage Hotel complex) featured a clever, sloped snow cheating roof. The view from our room was quite good! (see featured image on the title bar!) Here we enjoyed a fabulous buffet of seafood including the ubiquitous green lipped mussels. The Old Mountaineer restaurant nearby provided warm muffins and coffee for a less formal dining experience. Walking is what you do here. There is a Sir Edmond Hilary centre here after all. A hike across The Hooker Valley and a climb to the Red Tarns just two tracks we ventured on.
From here we moved to the stunning lakeside town of Wanaka. Our room at The Moorings offered a sensational view of the mountain backed lake. First night grub was a rack of lamb at The Speights Alehouse. We learned that these are our equivalent of Wetherspoons! There is one in every town in the South! From here we walked round the lake to the Rippon vineyard and enjoyed spectacular views over the vines and the lake. A corking pork belly roti at the ‘Edgewater’ complex helped us through. ‘Alchemy’ and ‘Relishes Cafe’ served up wonderful breakfasts and a gurnard with cauliflower puree dinner! Both these smart, antipodean eateries are recommended. Suprisingly, Wanaka houses the southern hemispheres largest Transport and Toy museum. Well worth a visit. As an aside the toy museum also houses the Jabberwocky microbrewery! Why not?
Next it was on to Queenstown, another lakeside town via Cromwell and ‘Jones Fruit Stall’. Queenstown is larger and brasher than Wanaka but no less beautiful. We arrived late and bagged a decent pizza from ‘Winnies’. ‘Halo’ provided the breakfasts, mountains of muesli, porridge and eggs. ‘Public’ a lively bar fed me Osso Bucco and a huge trifle for tea. We often relaxed at ‘The Bath House’ on the front. A Monteith’s summer ale was always welcome. A recommended boat trip is the hop across to Mount Nicolas Farm. A relaxing retreat amongst the hills and 29000 sheep.
A trip up the Skyline cable car to the mountain topped Stratosfour restaurant was another feature. Stunning views and another buffet of seafood and pavlova. A deserved mention for ‘Bespoke Kitchen’ and their tremendous smoothies.
From here we headed back to Christchurch. Another burger in OBG and a waffle at the rather wonderful street food gathering in Cathedral Square. Our magnificent train journey was cancelled due to a massive bush fire. So another equally magnificent coach to Greymouth on the West coast. Truly stunning landscapes, many featured in ‘The Lord of The Rings’ were enjoyed before a quick stop at Arthurs Pass and The Wobbly Kea Cafe. From here we headed to Nelson in the North via the incredible ‘Pancake Rocks’ and the spectacular Tasman coastal drive. Arriving late we dined in our surprisingly good motel restaurant ‘Flames On 40’. A very decent seafood chowder and a chicken schnitzel on the menu.
Next day we took a cruise up the Abel Tasman coast to Medlands Beach on Barks Bay. It was our very own desert island. We took a picnic of bread, ham and cheese, courtesy of the ubiquitous ‘Countdown’ supermarket chain. A deserted Nelson at night left us venturing to the New St Steakhouse, a non descript sports bar. However, it served up some oysters and a truly top ribeye with bernaise sauce. Peer pressure meant I had to renege on an apple and berry crumble.
Next day we coached up to Picton to get the ferry to Wellington, thus ending our tour of the South Island and heralding the start of our time in the North Island. Windy Wellington lived up to its name. It was sunny though. The promenade is very well done. Dinner was at the bustling ‘The Crab Shack’ down on the harbour front. Mussel fritters with jelapenos was a highlight. Crab and clam fettucine was my main. A very decent bottle of ‘Little Creatures’ IPA at £7! was well received.
For breakfast we ventured (on a tip) to Cuba Street and had a fabulous bacon butty at Fidel’s. Could have come straight out of Manchester’s Northern Quarter. A super place. More smoothies, up a cable car and a fabulous walk down the hill via Wellingtons botanic gardens and the haunting Bolton St Cemetery.
After our Maori taxi driver Linda had picked us up from our high rised hotel. It was a short flight to Auckland. Here we picked up our aged Toyota Camry and met our hosts for the next few days George and Carol. After a decent chicken Harissa at the ‘Zsimpla Gastropub’ right by Auckland airport it was a three hour late night dash to Opoutere and George and Carols incredible, self built beach villa on ‘The Coromandel’.
After a morning dip in the crashing waves of The Pacific on our deserted beach and a hearty, healthy breakfast, cooked by Carol, we set off on a day trip to Cathedral Rock and Hot Water Beach. Both key tourist must do’s on The Coromandel’. At night we picked the ‘Pipis’ for Georges Pipi fritters (see recipe here). We cooked them the next day. It rained all day here, the only rain on the three week jaunt.
We then sped across the north of the island back to Auckland to George and Carols bayside apartment in Takapuna which harbours stunning views across to Auckland City. It was here I was introduced to Stoke Brewery IPA, wonderful stuff. It was also here that I had a Chinese massage. My back is in poor condition apparently. We enjoyed more healthy home cooked food during our time here. Carol introduced me to Thai cooking and the abomination that is sugar! Lessons learned.
Nearby Devonport provides a regular 15 minute ferry to Auckland City. A deep fried snack at ‘O Hagans’ on the harbour ensued. A gentle stroll through the harbour via ‘The Auckland Seafood School’ a particular highlight. At night a big sharing plate at Francs before finishing off with a lamb dish at Regatta on Takapuna’s seafront.
Next day it was another cruise to ‘Rangitoto’, a volcano. It takes one and half hours of torture to get up there and not much easier back down. It rained up there too. Our standard ham and cheese picnic served us well. More milkshakes at ‘Sienna’s ‘ in Devonport to quench a thirst.
After a wonderful walk down the rugged coast of Takapuna and another welcome shake at the Takapuna Beach Cafe it was a car return to the Jetpark Hotel by Auckland airport. Another burger at Zsimpla!!
Up at 4.15am and a three hour hop across to Sydney. A $60 Taxi to our high rise Meriton Apartment on Pitt Street. A great location in the heart of the city.
We set about getting our bearings and ended up in Darling Harbour. A modern harbour featuring the maritime museum and a host of tourist eateries, mainly owned by Nick! A lunchtime pulled pork baguette at ‘Olive’ was backed up later at ‘Cyren’ witn a pretty decent seafood risotto and a Baileys Brûlée. Darling Harbour is endearingly wonderful at night as all the high rised banking headquarters light up and overlook the water bowl.
Next day we ventured on what turned out to be huge walk around the city. We started at Darling Harbour walking up through Bangaroo to Circular Quay. Not before seeing Sydney Harbour Bridge for the first time, walking beneath and seeing The Sydney Opera House. Both iconic. Circular Quay is the bustling epicentre where all the cruise ships land and all the ferries bob in and out of. It is lined with chain bars and restaurants. Walking through it and round you venture up close to the Opera House and then into the spectacular botanic gardens. Here you can get superb views of the two icons. We walked back at night down wonderful George Street via the Queen Victoria building to ‘The Rocks’, a small hub of shops and restaurants to one side of the quay. A high quality spaghetti bolognese and a huge lemon meringue was enjoyed at ‘The Rocks Cafe,’ a traditional, old world restaurant, very pleasant.
Next day we ferried ourselves to Manly Beach, a scorching day. Egg mayo butties from the 711 provided the day time sustenance! Arguably the best pint of the holiday was enjoyed at ‘The Endeavour Tap Rooms’. Based in ‘The Rocks’ area it boasted its own microbrewery. I opted for an Imperial pale ale and watched the world go by. Another £10 pint mind!
At night we made our first mistake, dinner at ‘The Hard Rock Cafe’. A display of Motley Crue’s farewell tour kex didn’t compensate for the cardboard burger and poor beer. My lamb cutlets weren’t bad but weren’t great either. Our final meal down under was breakfast at ‘Two Good Eggs Cafe’. A lovely walk via Hyde park and Oxford street led us to this off the beaten track delight. A proper eggs Benedict complete with avo was enjoyed by all. Best coffee americano too.
And that was it! Uber back to the airport and thirty hours back to Blighty. Qantas scrambled egg, flatbreads and pizza helped us home.
A truly life changing experience. One for all to try. Please go if you can.