Category Archives: Eating Out Reviews

At restaurants, pubs and other fine eateries

Greens – West Didsbury

‘Greens’ as the name suggests, is the place to go for a big fat juicy steak! Only kidding, Greens is a vegetarian resteraunt occupying two shop fronts in the Cheshire village of West Didsbury in south Manchester. It is just one of the many foodie joints that keep the well heeled, Cheshire set fed and watered.

Greens is the brainchild of two Simons, one called Connolly and one called Rimmer. Simon Rimmer is probably better known as the shaven headed TV chef who currently fronts Channel 4’s ‘Sunday Brunch’. Despite being a staunch Liverpool FC fan he seems to be an all round good egg who can knock up some decent scran.
The flame and I rocked up on a Friday lunchtime, we were aiming for a 1pm start but the 20 minute scour round for a parking space meant we were running late and feeling peckish. It might be a good idea to venture in on the tram which has just started to skirt the village. Nonetheless once we’d stepped in we were quickly welcomed and settled in by our young, wiry, bespeckled, waiter Anthony. He explained the menu, lunchtime three courses for £19 or a reduced a la carte. We chose from the a la carte.

The room is plainly decorated with the odd flock feature wall. Plain, dark wood chairs and tables complete the retro, bistro look. Blackboards pick out the special ales available along with future gourmet nights with ‘The Rimster’ (well that’s what I call him anyway!).
To start we shared a platter (£10.50) of smoked cheese sausages, veggie black pudding on lemon mayonnaise, potatas bravas, olives, bread and a lovely mint based salsa. A cracking start.

For mains the flame undertook a huge filo pastry pie (£13.50) filled with nuts, spinach and ricotta all settled on a slew of chick pea stew with some vine tomatoes on the side. She heartily approved.

I chowed through a rather agreeable kedgeree (£13.50) which featured the veggie black pudding again. It had lentils along with the rice, all mildly curried with a soft poached egg on top. It was big, hearty stuff, we could have had sides for more money but thankfully we didn’t as we were well stuffed.

Purely for research purposes I managed to wolf down the ‘Orange blossom, polenta cake with lemon curd and raspberry eaton mess’ (£5.95). The research revealed that this was excellent and that you should keep a bit back for a sweet!

All in all this was a stunning meal, perhaps a bit pricey for a lunch (£48 for the two of us) but I can imagine Greens would be a great night out. To think that normally we would chose a slab of meat or fish and get some veg and spuds spread round the side. It really is a refreshing change to have the pulse, the grain, the legume and the fruit take centre stage in a meal. So even if you consider yourself ‘a meat and two veg man’ I would fully recommend a trip out to Greens, you will not be disappointed.

Greens
41-43 Lapwing Lane
West Didsbury
Manchester
M20 2NT
0161 434 4259
www.greensdidsbury.co.uk

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Toulouse Lautrec – Kennington, South London

Work commitments found me cooped up in a back street boozer in London’s Elephant and Castle, south of the river. Upon enquiry with my host as to the whereabouts of a decent nosh up, it was suggested the ‘eat as much as you can’ Chinese on the first floor of the local shopping precinct was as good as it gets! I was somewhat perturbed. Further pressure finally coaxed from the depths of his memory murky details of a little French place somewhere close. He even recalled that cockney regular Terry, had “took his a bird there but it cost him hundred nicker’. I pressed further and within minutes I had stumbled into Toulouse Lautrec situated on Newington Butts in Kennington.

It was a warm and welcoming entrance, particularly as I was dining without the flame. The dining room is long, narrow and on two levels. Dark wooden panelling and wooden steps gave the impression I was walking onto an old galleon. A very pleasant French waitress set up a single table on the upper deck right by the window looking out onto the busy street. Several tables were already burbling away nicely with business chaps. Jazz music, evidently a big feature of the place was plonking away in the background. Having forgotten my readers the exquisite font adorning the menu made me plump straight for the three courses for £27 special. And ye gods it was special.
Starters was a clam and mustard cassoulet, in basil cream and crispy toasts. It was absolutely sensational, one of the finest starter dishes I have had in many years. Great flavours and beautifully presented in a small cast iron pot.

Main course was guinea fowl, courgettes, garlic mushrooms and beautifully soft, barrel shaped fondant potatoes. Set in a large blue and yellow bowl it looked and tasted superb. The sommelier, clearly very talented brought me a glass of light, Spanish red to accompany. All rather grand. As good as this was I couldn’t help looking across with some envy as three chaps dove into a huge hearty bowl of cassoulet to share. The groans of delight seemed to suggest that this was also ‘hitting the spot’.

I finished off with my standard tarte au citron, complete with ‘kumquat’!

I have to say after what was looking like a night in my room with a KFC and pint of mild, Toulouse Lautrec came bounding to the rescue to produce arguably the best meal I’ve had in ages. So, even as a Northerner helpless in the great Metropolis, I would have no hesitation in wheedling out this gallic gem.

Contact Us:
140 Newington Butts, Kennington, London SE11 4RN
0207 582 6800
info@btlrestaurant.com

The Three Fishes – Mitton Nr Whalley, Lancashire

After a splendid morn at a local food festival in the beautiful Lancashire fells, the flame and I were faced with a dilemma. Where to eat lunch on a sunny bank holiday Sunday? By chance we hit upon a sign for Mitton. A light flickered, “I’m sure that means The Three Fishes is near here” I beamed? Sure enough a few moments later the oasis homed into view. Bingo, lets hope we can get in!

A friendly chap suggested we get a brew while we wait the forty five minutes for a table. Despite an initial disappointment that the Thwaites Wainwrights was off, spirits were quickly raised once we were sat outside in the sun with a pint of Moorhouse White Witch and an iced spritzer. It wasn’t long before we were beckoned to our beautifully lit table in the long stone room inside.
To those who don’t know, ‘The Three Fishes’ is the first of four posh grub outlets schemed into view by Northern Uberchef Nigel Howarth. Branded as the ‘Ribble Valley Inns’ they champion fayre that is grown, butchered and caught in and around Lancashire and its coast. And a splendid job they do.

The Fishes has just had a makeover. I remember it in light oak panel work but it now seems to have more exposed stone and it looks like the ‘Farrow and Ball’ shop has done well. But hey it looks great, teamed up with bright red leatherwork it ticks the contemporary stable box for me! The food hero pics still adorn the walls.

The RVI’s all feature traditional British favourites done with a new look twist. We started with a shared dips and bread. We were presented with a mound of bread, crackers, pickled veg, dips and crudités. It was supposed to be a light starter as the flame wasn’t that hungry but by hokey it was good. The flame munched into a creamy fish pie whilst I plumbed in for ‘Nigel Howarth’s Lancashire Hot Pot’. I’ve always wanted to try this having seen him make it on telly a few times. It didn’t have the lamb chop poking out, but ye gods it was packed with hunks of lamb, peppered beautifully with onions topped with waffer thin spuds. Spicy cabbage and chips accompanied. It was all unctuous and filling.

I couldn’t resist and had to try the Black Forest cheesecake. It was sensational, pepped up nicely with kirsch saturated cherries. The flame even got a bite size Eccles cake with her coffee!

It looks like all is well at Howarths. The place was packed and we were served wonderfully by Lucy, who even suggested I keep some of the bread from the starter to dunk in my hot pot. You can’t beat that for service!

thethreefishes.com
The Three Fishes, Mitton Road, Mitton, Nr Whalley, BB7 9PQ
01254 826888

Wasabi Teppan-Yaki – Stockton Heath

We all know its tough getting a new restaurant up and running so its always interesting to try out a new one that seems a bit different. Stockton Heath is already a bit of a hot spot for trendy bars, topline chains and swanky eateries. It competes for the Cheshire set disposable lolly with Knutsford, Didsbury, Wilmslow and others. The latest effort to hit the Heath High Street is Wasabi Teppan-yaki which as you may have guessed is a Japanese Restaurant. Teppan-yaki means, cooked in front of you! There is a clue there as to what it is that is different!
The restaurant is a large fronted room in what is currently the least trendy end of town. It will be interesting to see if it gets people to move down from the hub further up. Some dosh has been spent on the gaff. It is resplendent with silver chairs, swanky lights, moody mirrored decals all complimenting to give a contemporary feel.

The room is then dominated by the three Teppan-Yaki tables. These are effectively big hot plates on which the resident chefs conduct their food acrobatics and food alchemy. One chef cooks for up to ten people. The patrons are seated on three sides of the chef.

Having selected our theme, I went for “Umi” which was a tranche of standard fare alongside tempura prawns, griddled salmon and scallops. The common thread through each theme is salad, egg fried rice, soup and various dips. After being served the very pleasant, fresh salad, we had an additional special called ‘dragon roll’. Prawn wrapped in veal, avocado and then encased with a nutty batter and wasabi. Arranged on a plate to look like a dragon it was indeed a very tasty morsel which served to bring in a miso soup and the tempura prawns.

Once the starters were consumed the main event got under way. Andre our chef clicked into action. A clatter of metallic utensils dancing around his body landing on the hot plate at rhythmic intervals created the drum like entrance. He then proceeded to introduce himself and the other guests around the table. Flames licked up to to the overhead extractor whilst eggs cracked theatrically onto the warmer parts of the plate allowing him to chop through them when the plain rice needed to become egg fried.
With the accompaniments set into their recepticals, Andre set off supplying all the guests with their own individual requirements, quite a challenge as we all seemed to have something different. My tact was to simply keep accepting everything he threw at me and devour it before it got warm. My scallops were the highlight of the main course. Chef razored through them to create a criss cross effect on their succulent, crispy tops. I slipped through several slices of medium cooked salmon all
washed down with various tangy, hot dips.

Once all the theatrics had died down we slumped across to a normal table to finish off with a wonderful plum mouse with strawberry and mint. A very welcome, sweet end.

This all cracked in at £35 per head which was quite a bit for a quiet Thursday night. You certainly couldn’t quibble at the quality and quantity and after all where else can you eat with such drama. All in all a great evening was had. Definitely worth a try with a party. Good luck Wasabi!

www.wasabiteppanyaki.com
Wasabi Teppan-Yaki Japanese Restaurant
19-25 London Road, Stockton Heath, Cheshire WA4 6SG
01925 211222

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!