Category Archives: Eating Out Reviews

At restaurants, pubs and other fine eateries

El Rincon De Rafa – Manchester

El Rincon de Rafa is a Spanish Resteraunt plonked out of the way behind a Sainsburys. Although it is difficult to find I managed to stumble across it, with a couple of pals, after a very pleasant saunter through the principalities many and varied hostelries. Being a fleet of peckish males we plundered the menu with the veracity of piranhas bumping into a three legged buffalo kipping in a swamp with a bad cut.

I decided there and then I would have to bring the flame to sample the delights in a more refined manner. We were able to give it another chance on a casual Sunday afternoon with a couple of Yorkshire people! The main pad is decked out below ground, shrouded from the outside with a few simple tiles to point out that you are venturing into something special. The decor is dark wood panelling, painted walls and a flock of signed football shirts. I understand the local football fraternity grace the gaff on a regular basis.

This is a Spanish Resteraunt with a capital ‘S’. Traditional main plates such as paella can be ordered but we pitched in with a tranche of tapas and a couple of bottles of house red (a perfectly acceptable Temperanillo). We ensured a stock of ‘potatos bravas’, salad and bread remained on tap whilst we subjected ourselves to the unctuous flavours that come to those who have chicken livers swamped in rich red wine sauces, scallops basted in creamy jus and rice, wild boar, tortilla, olive oil drenched sardines, salty anchovies, spicy prawns and a sensational dish of scrambled eggs with black pudding. Whilst we were suitably stuffed from those wondrous flavours we then plumbed in for something sweet. The flame had a beautiful almond tart. One friend sampled the rolled almond and custard slices which were to die for. A couple of brandy coffees rounded everything off. A couple of hours had wizzed by. We had to part with around £30 per head for the privilege of having a fabulous meal with great friends in a superb, authentic, holiday atmosphere. The staff were Spanish and wonderfully attentive.

All in all this is a special place and when all the talk is of new resteraunts opening with celebrity chef patronage this has to be one of Manchester’s best kept secrets (if it is a secret!). These lads are going to have their work cut out to beat this.

Jack Spratt – Manchester

NOW SHUT. THIS IS NOW A THAI RESTAURANT

Having crept into Jack Spratt a couple times for lunch and hugely enjoyed the odd burger with chips and special sauce, I thought it only right to give the old place a check out at night, or rather evening. Being a tight wad The Spratt establishment tempt the after work brigade with a three course binge for £17 between 5-7pm. It was during these teasing hours that I was able to sway the wife (hitherto referred to as ‘the flame’) to travel into Manchester and see for herself what I had occasionally banged on about.
Clearly the early start was having the effect, by 6.30pm the place was humming gently. Jack Spratt is placed handily in Manchester city centre with Albert Square nestling over its shoulder. It is set in a rather bland, grey, square building and the chaps have to work hard to get it to stand out. Wood panelling and jaunty graphics give it a fun edge. Inside its a more bistro/cafe than fine dining splendour, but it suits the mood.

The waiters are clad in denim, sneakers and facial hair all adding to the relaxed feel. They know their stuff though, helping to describe the dishes in detail when required.

Things really spice up when you get the menu. Could have started with Smoked haddock and cod gratin served with a lemon and brioche breadcrumbs! But I went for Paprika and orange soaked baby back pork ribs to start with a beautifully dressed sweet potato, beet root and green salad. The flame went for the Continental platter, which contained ‘Borettane’ baby onions? pesto marinated feta, garlic marinated button mushrooms, Sicilian olives, grilled halloumi, mozzarella and marinated peppers. A fine start.

The mains shook things up a bit. The flame loves fish, chicken and numerous other tasters but was slightly put off with the unusual accompaniments. She plugged in for the ‘JS demi primo burger’ (6oz ground beef chuck, flat iron and short rib, caramelised onion & bacon jam, ‘Makers Mark’ bourbon whiskey BBQ sauce, pulled pork, coleslaw, smoked applewood cheese and an onion ring, all in a glazed brioche bun with a tin of twice cooked fries) with an additional splash of the highly recommended JS chilli burger sauce. It looked and tasted great.

I went off beam across the page to the ‘Mexican Mole’, described as 48 hour slow cooked lamb in a chocolate infused Mexican chilli sauce served with desiccated coconut and almond red rice, tortilla bread, mint salsa and radish shavings. It was very unusual in that the textures were mixed, cold salsa, warm rice, hot mole. The overall effect was rather splendid, but going ‘off piste’ as it were cost me £14.

Desert was a traditional lemon posset and was a dream. This topped the meal off rather splendidly.

Total cost with very nice vino and a fine bottle of Thwaites Wainwright ale came to £52. Well worth a try for those looking for something a little different.

Book online www.jack-spratt.co.uk or

11 St James’s Square

John Dalton St

Manchester M2 6WH

0161 833 1016

The Axminster Canteen (River Cottage)

The holidays for 2013 found the cook twit in east devon on the south coast. Crab was plundered with the veracity of a wigan bar tender looking to reduce his stock of pies. However, as an alternative, a look on the map quickly picked up on Axminster home of Hugh Fearnely Whittingstall’s River Cottage offshoot Axminster Canteen. This is often featured in the TV programmes where his mate and fellow chef Sam challenges his lordship with alternative recipes (and often wins!)

The canteen is set in a double shop frontage in the centre of this pleasant market town. It doubles up as a deli and cafe in the day and features the HFW and River Cottage ‘merch’. The resteraunt bit is at the back in a sort of Victorian hanger. The decor is eclectic, rustic with a nod to ‘upcycling’. A gentle jazz soundtrack permeates.

As if to emphasise the sustainable and local ethic the menu is chalked up on blackboards along with the names of the local producers of the ingredients on offer. It is clear that no Belgian truck driver has laid down his sleep overnight to bring the food here tonight. It was most likely dropped off by wheelbarrow earlier in the day by ‘Georgie’ from Elbow Farm.

The menu is not extensive by any means but it is novel and seasonal. Rabbit and Ewe curd on bruschetta to start anyone?
My wife opted for what I called the ‘three shades of hummus’ starter. Very colourful and big on taste, one was scented in cumin, one in beet root and the other with mushroom. I had a standard but very pleasant plate of Exmouth mussels.

For the bigger dish I had slithers of venison loin with mash, jus, beautiful buttered cabbage and a green salsa while my wife had sustainable pollack, devon spuds with roasted tomato. We shared a beautifully dressed bowl of organic leaves, featuring pea shoots complete with flowers. Portion size might concern some, but we were perfectly satiated.

For the sweeter end we both plumbed for the gooseberry crumble. Presented in a big jar, the chantilly cream, gooseberry mush and crumble was layered several times to create a wonderfully sweet desert.

With a fine Lyme Regis Cobb beer and a glass of red, the bill came to £62 for the two of us. An acceptable total for what was a truly pleasant meal served in a warm atmosphere by very friendly staff.

The place was packed out even on a Thursday night from 6.30pm onwards. It would seem that booking would be a good idea!