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!
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!
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.

The Artisan Market – Knutsford

The Artisan Market – Knutsford 4/8/2013
The summer of 2013 has seen the incarnation of ‘The Artisan Market’. Already a National Award Winning event it takes place most weekends at one of several Cheshire market towns. I along with the wife (the flame) scuffed along to the first Sunday of the month event at Knutsford. It operates on Princess Street from 11am till 4pm. The market features food, drink, art and crafts.

Whilst we have had a scorching summer the forecast suggested we were in for a more normal summer day, sun and showers! We docked in early, elevenish, but already the crowds were in session.
At a rough guess food, my passion, accounted for half the stalls. It proved to be quite possible to kit the pantry out with a whole host of culinary treats. I was able to purloin oils, olives, iberico ham, scotch eggs, chillis, cup cakes, sweet and savoury tarts, legumes, sauces, dips, bread and goosenargh duck. I could have doubled up on cheesecake, pies, a whole host of Asian foods and more. I was like a kid in a sweet shop, in fact yes you could get sweets as well!

The flame really enjoyed herself, she weighed in with a leopard print scarf and Jemima the purple booted duck, such was the variety of booty on offer.

The common thread running through the whole scheme was quality. There was no burnt out Black and Deckers here. Mind you, a fat wallet would be handy, plastic cards struggled to swipe down this thoroughfare of dreams.

After sauntering down the one side of the street the avenue opened up to reveal the bit where you sat and ate. A jaunty, ten piece band kept the throng entertained as they queued at the impressive array of hot street food venders. The flame fancied the peri peri chicken which was searing gently on easily the biggest barbie I’ve ever seen. Coupled with salad, hot rice and chilli sauce it was a mouth watering treat.

A scoot back down the other side of the street brought us gently into the welcoming arms of ‘The Old Session House’. A thirst quenching ‘Sessions’ ale supplied by the Tatton Brewery provided a much needed restorative.

All in all a fantastic few hours. I would heartily recommend The Artisan Market. Look out for it in Wilmslow, Northwich and Nantwich as well as Knutsford.

See for more details.

Jack Spratt – Manchester


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 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!

Kenyon Hall Farm weekend 31/5/13

I have just spent a sunny Saturday afternoon down at Kenyon Hall Farm near Winwick just off Junction 22 of the M6. They held what was billed as a Vintage Craft Fair & Family Fun Day. As a keen, amateur cook I am a regular user of their fine local produce.

On this particular occasion a bursting car park, donkey rides, bouncy castles and fairground slides allied to an unusual weather pattern (it was sunny!) made for a very different visit to the norm.
The vintage craft fair was held in the barn behind the brick built farm shop and cafe. The barn was walled with real hay! As well as the obligatory ‘Keep Calm…… Signs’ the fair featured lots of different stalls selling jewellery, books, ceramics, wood crafts and more. My particalur favourite was the local beer stall featuring fine examples from Tatton Brewery and George Wright. A snifter of Tatton’s Blonde helped to quench a simmering thirst.
The real star of any trip to Kenyon Hall Farm is the colourful array of verdant fruit, vegetables and herbs. Being June, local asparagus dominates the entrance to the well stocked farm shop. A colourful flash of fruit and vegetables creates a tantalising barrier between the shop and the cafe. The cafe serves hot and cold food using much of the produce that the farm itself creates. Being a special weekend the kitchen staff all had painted faces!

It looked to me like everyone was having a good time and judging by the queues, the tills were ringing nicely. For me, the asparagus was the best buy along with the new Cheshire potatoes. They helped form an experimental Roquefort and asparagus tart all washed down with a bottle of Blonde!

Another special weekend is planned for the end of June. I would say get down there and make sure your larder is empty. You’ll be kicking yourself if you’d just done the weekly shop at Tescburys!

FOOD! Reviews and Recipes by an Enthusiast!