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Top Dishes of 2015

I can see a bandwagon coming along. Yep, I’m on it. Welcome to my 2015 food review! It’s now customary to provide a small compendium of what has been quaffed over the last year. I did one for 2014 and that seemed to go down well. I’ve already read a few this year. They’ve generally been a more exotic round up than mine, but nonetheless the grub featured here is top stuff.

Like last year this isn’t all the top grub, but merely the ones that have stood out slightly from the rest. As ever, the joy of a decent feed comes not just from the food itself but from that certain feeling of well being that one feels as the plate, dish, tub, tray, slate (or even flowerpot) is first placed down in front of you and the experience starts.

The meals featured are in no particular order. Just generally great.

Early doors we went to Simon Rogan’s, The French in Manchester. This gives a reason to show some raw beef in coal oil again. I could have shown loads more. Suffice to say The French was very good indeed. But you already knew that.

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I love a decent burger. A newcomer to Manchester this year has been Filthy Cow. Young Jordan has done really well there. The filthy beast is a beaut, and washed down with a Ginger Comfort milkshake you really are on a winner.

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I love a good pud and have had many fine ones. Albina‘s (in Crosby) really hit the spot with their old school jam roly poly and custard.

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We went to Jersey for our hols. Michelin starred Ormer was a highlight. Loved the steak tartare with a horseradish cream. Jersey is a fabulous place to visit and eat. Mark Jordan on the Beach another one to recommend.

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Big treat for me is a Sunday Brunch. We had none better this year than at NewMoon’s spectacular, Scouse opening ‘The Old Blind School‘. Eggs Benedict and French toast, it was boss.

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French toast, haddock omelette, eggs benedict

 

 

Bit of a Spanish explosion in Manchester this year. Had wonderful octopus at Levanter, which is a sensational tapas bar in Ramsbottom (but somehow seems to be considered as near Manchester!). Had a corking paella in Iberica in Spinningfields and wonderous Iberian ribs at the Barton Arcades Lunya. All three will be on the list again for 2016, along with my old faithful El Rincon De Rafa.

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No year would be complete without a good steak. Didn’t have a better one that at Hawksmoor, Manchester. Sensational rib eye with anchovy mayonnaise and thrice cooked chips! Had a wonderfully indulgent lobster in a bun too.

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Had a short break in Barcelona for my birthday. Glorious tuna at the infamous Pinotxo Bar in La Boqueria market. Finished off the break with a suckling pig dish at 4 Gats in the old town.

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I love a Sunday roast, had none better than at Freemasons Wiswell. Simply stunning. Will admit though that The Bay Horse Inn (Lancaster) came up close.

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If pizza is your thing, (and occasionally it is mine!) newcomer to Manchester, Tariff and Dale in the northern quarter do a pretty mean one. Check them out.

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Best scallop and lamb meal was had in one sitting at The Cartford Inn (Little Eccleston) Pretty incredible really, never had lamb like it, totally historic.

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The Flame (the wife!) loves fish pie. Couldn’t get by without mentioning The Bulls Head at Mobberly. She reckoned that’s the best this year. Full of fish, beautiful.

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Love seafood. Who doesn’t? Didn’t have it prepared any better than at The Easy Fish Company in Heaton Moor. What a plaice this is! Well worth a visit. Has a lovely piece of plaice with a slash of Crustacea and shells. Incredible.

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Plaice with all the trimmings

 

Working in Manchester as I do, I couldn’t finish without mentioning The Kitchens. A new, six pop up, street food outlet in Spinningfields. All six are ace, I had them all. Long time favourite Mumma Shnitzel maintained remarkable, consistent quality for their chicken based burgers. Young Richard at Bangers and Bacon (as well as Well Hung) rocked up with superb meat based offerings. Hip Hop Chippy Shop did what it says on the tin with a cracking fish and chip butty. Chaat Cart (Indian Canteen) with the wonderful Aarti at the helm delivered amazing chicken kati rolls. Yakuhama and Wholesome and Raw brought some slightly less carb loaded nutrition to the table.

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Chip butty, bean salad, avocado scrambled egg breakfast, banh mi, kati roll, schnitzel.

All in all a fabulous year for food. I’m sure I’ve missed loads out. I could have added loads more too. Who will forget the Solita Christmas burger? and the lemon posset in a flowerpot at The Royal at Staveley? If you follow on Twitter you would have seen all this anyway. If you read the blog you would have had a bit more detail on these too. Read on if you really haven’t anything better to do!

Anyway that’s it. Happy new year. Let’s look forward to trying more great dishes in 2016!

Lunya – Catalan Deli & Restaurant – Manchester

“Utterly fabulous Catalan Tapas and Deli opened on Manchester’s Deansgate……..Quality”

Having been to Barcelona a couple of times recently, eating small plates of food has taken on a new relish. Even The Flame has come round a bit to the idea. So it was with a jaunty air that we trained back into Manchester mid-afternoon to conduct a bit of pre-Christmas reconnaissance followed by a slap up binge at the newly formed Lunya. Its parent has been around in Liverpool to much acclaim for a small while already.

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The place has four entrances, two from the main drag on Deansgate, two from the back from the rather grand Barton Arcade. Two entrances take you into the Deli section. Here you can buy the incredible produce yourself and take it home. The other two take you into the bar area, where you can have a drink and casually sample the fayre on high stools and poseur tables. A staircase takes you up to the more formal sit down arrangement of a standard restaurant.

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Upper deck, bar area

The upper floors offer fine views over Deansgate or equally fine views of the upper decks of the arcade. It was the latter section that the Flame and I eventually settled. Being sixish it was pretty much full systems go in the bar area whereas our seating upstairs was only just starting up.

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We started our review of the extensive red and yellow menu. A bottle of Moritz, a Barcelona brew, was used to quench the initial thirst. Our table was a little isolated and given the air con setting a little cool. A nearby representative adjusted things so that we could remove our coats! Once settled we made our choice of three tapas each.

Croquetas (£6.50) croquettes of the day. This time made with crab and leek. Five, hot balls of crunchy goodness with a crabbie inside. Delish. One of my choices.

Costillas Ibericás (£7.75) slow roasted ribs from the giant Ibericó pigs, falling off the bone, in a special Catalan BBQ sauce with tamarind, orange and fennel seed. Pic of the dishes. Arguably the finest ribs I’ve ever eaten. The sauce with the fennel was simply ‘historic’.

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Iberico ribs, croquettes, hotpot

Catalan Hotpot (£6.95) a signature dish blending Catalunya with the North West of England, made with chorizo and morcilla. Reminded me of Nigel Haworths lamb version, but not quite as good. That’s no slight though, still thoroughly enjoyable. A bit more Morcilla would have helped for me.

Chickens strips wrapped in broken potato crisps (£6.95). Inspired by a good friend, Albert Adriá. Served with a stunning pimentón infused allioli. The flame loves chicken so this was hers. Decent enough, the allioli was stunning. We used it for dipping throughout the meal, superb.

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Sticky chicken, grilled aubergine, chickpeas

Escalavida (£5.95) chargrilled peppers, aubergines, onions, courgettes on toasted sourdough with a romesco sauce. Probably our least favourite dish. No particular reason, just not as good as the rest. Wouldn’t have this one again.

Garbanzos (£6.55) middle eastern spice infused chick peas with butternut squash, almonds and apricots. Picked by the flame, she loves chick peas. To be fair these were great too. Decent bowl full, these went a long way. Cumin was in there along with the nutty crunch. Very good veggie dish.

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Cheese and cheesecake

As I hope you have come to expect, I ventured to the end with a sweet dessert. White chocolate cheesecake with a quince jelly topping (£5.95). Absolutely superb. Love white chocolate, love cheesecake. Perfect for me. The flame went for a two cheese platter (£9.45). A bit steep for the money. Came on a plank with a fig chutney and quince.

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The deli section

I have to say all the dishes were delivered hot and fresh. Bill came to £66 for the two of us. Sam our new, spanish, waitress was bubbly, efficient and helpful. I’ll definitely be back. There are too many wonderful dishes on the menu that have to be tried yet. I reckon a casual slide in the bar next. Pull up a pew, a glass of Rioja, those ribs again and then start hitting the fish dishes. It looks like I’ll be back many times yet. Highly recommended. Oh and they do paella… forgot about that, so yes got to go back.

Lunya Manchester
Barton Arcade,
Deansgate,
Manchester,
M3 2BB
Tel: 0161 413 3317
http://www.lunya.co.uk

Els Quatre Gats (The 4 Gats) – Barcelona, Spain

“A sumptuous meal in the most elegant and historic surroundings imaginable…..”

It’s our last night in Barcelona, it’s a Sunday, The Flame and I are desperate for a decent parting memory after a glorious few days. We had tramped round Gaudi’s fair city for a good forty miles in three days. Something close to our headquarters was called for. After consultation with our trusty ‘Lonely Planet’ guide a tucked away hideout “Els Quatre Gats” was earmarked.

The Flame illuminates the 4 Gats exterior!
The Flame illuminates the 4 Gats exterior!

Honest Catalan cuisine in a lovely back room was promised. We set forth. We weaved our way through a maze of dark alleyways (close to the famous ‘La Rambla’) to be confronted with the grand, subtly lit archway. A few souls hung outside debating the menu, I simply brushed in and asked for a back room seat for two. A dusky young maid agreed this was possible provided we were having dinner. If you wanted tapas you stayed in the rather more modest, but no less authentic, front room.

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We sat at our beautifully set table. White linen and silver cutlery beckoned. We gaped in awe around us. There can’t be a room anywhere so clearly designed as an area to dine with a loved one. Elegance radiates from every angle. A huge column of white roses dominates, whilst a dark wooden veranda encircles the space from above. We were downstairs in the centre but one can only imagine the further delight of dining upstairs. Pictures hang around the room depicting the ancestral lineage of this historic room.

Elegance
Elegance

Salvatore the current encumbent announces his arrival. With his boyish, ‘Rockstar’ looks he exudes front of house charm. He guides us expertly through the card and applauded The Flames’ choice of his Grandmothers cod recipe. Romeo, the grumpy ‘penguined’ waiter wafted around us reading Salvatore’s instructions before throwing our bread down. We glance in amusement as he ‘harumphs’ his way round the room. We decide later that this is all part of the charm. Turns out Romeo is high up the chain, a nod and wink later we realise he loves us really. Especially when he saw how completely I had demolished the suckling pig. A gushing ‘gracias’ greeted my empty plate.

Starters
Starters

For starts The Flame won, again! A mixed salad of goats cheese, with walnuts and tomatoes (€12) arrived. The cheese, warmed and encased in a gossamer of scorched filo. The flame crushed though the side to reveal the warm gooey goodness which was mixed with candied fruits. She proclaimed that she could have had this three times over for a main and dessert! It was her sort of dish. By slight contrast I had a warm mushroom soup with black pudding (€12). Watching some of the other dishes coming out I realised I had made a small error here. The lobster risotto should have been my choice. That said the soup with the black pudding lollipop and egg yolk was a delight, very ‘mushroomy’ as you would expect. It had a very thick consistency, never more apparent than when Romeo poured it quickly over the egg and pudding!

As mentioned for mains The Flame picked the cod (€21) which came with a gorgeous aioli on top with a crumb, quince jelly and a smear of salty roe. All set on creamy spinach. My morsel was sublime. The flame once again raptured. Not to be outdone though my suckling pig with sweet potato, candied pears and orange sauce (€26) was a triumph. My, albeit, sharp knife sliced through the crusty skin into the sweet, sticky flesh with ease. Mopped up with sauce and a flash of pear and spud it was a taste sensation. All that was left was a pile of stripped sinewy bone. Romeo was impressed.

Suckling pig, grandmas cod, bones
Suckling pig, grandmas cod, bones

For dessert I had the cheesecake with coffee pastry and nuts (€9) whilst The Flame opted for the apricot cake, a ginger jam, topped with a coconut cream and lemon (€8). Both were works of art and gastronomy. Presented on a slate with swirls and swishes of sauce they could have come straight out a Parisienne patisserie. Both sublime.

The menu, desserts
The menu, desserts

We enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine and some fine coffee. The bill came to (€109) which is about seventy quid. Pretty much English ‘gastropub’ money. We both concluded this was one of the best dining experiences we’ve ever had. Made no doubt as much by the surroundings as the food. We whiled away a tad more time with the wonderful live singer, strumming Joan Armatrading tunes. A gleeful Salvatore thanked us for coming. We ambled into the night truly satiated. A fine end to a wonderful holiday. Picasso knew what he was doing when he came here, I urge you all to get the next flight out…..enjoy!

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4 Gats
Carrer de Montsió, 3,
08002 Barcelona,
España
http://www.4gats.com