Category Archives: Eating Out Reviews

At restaurants, pubs and other fine eateries

Eagle and Child – Ramsbottom

“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.

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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.

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Its smart inside too. A quality fit out, the bar area in particular is especially inviting.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Eagle and Child

3 Whalley Road,
Ramsbottom,
Lancashire,
BL0 0DL

Tel: 01706 557181

http://eagle-and-child.com

Beastro – Spinningfields, Manchester

“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.

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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.

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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.

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Pots and Plates, cheese, manchester egg, duck, bacon butter

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.

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mackerel salad, scallopp, cod in curry

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.

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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.

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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.

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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…..

Beastro

Irwell Square,
Leftbank,
Spinningfields,
Manchester,
M33AG ,
0161 327 0265

http://www.beastromcr.co.uk

West Corner – Northern Quarter Manchester

“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”

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

West Corner
21 Hilton Street,
northern quarter
manchester, M1 1JJ
0161 241 70 70
http://www.westcorner.co.uk

The Lost and Found – Knutsford, Cheshire

“Cant really go wrong with bottomless prosecco and brunch. Especially at a smart gaff where ladies doth lunch”. Did you notice that rhymed?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Lost & Found
Old Town Hall, Princess Street,
Knutsford. WA16 6BY
Telephone – 01565 760 096
knutsford@the-lostandfound.com
http://www.the-lostandfound.co.uk

No. 17 – Milnthorpe, Cumbria

“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.

IMG_0266It 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.

fullsizeoutput_14b7Our 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.

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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.

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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.

imageWe 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.

No17 Restaurant & Lounge,
17 Park Road,
Milnthorpe,
Cumbria LA7 7AD

www.No17parkroad.com

T 015395 64831

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