Tag Archives: italian

Café Murano – London

“Angela Hartnett’s informal Italian emporium doesn’t disappoint”

 Housed alongside more mainstream offers in Covent Garden the Cafe Murano cuts a rather elegant dash. Tastefully understated sagey green paintwork with gold lettering smacked of class. We’d booked a 5.30 session on account of a classical ‘Evanescence’ gig on the South Bank (a pleasant stroll over Waterloo Bridge).

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We ventured in. Its like The Tardis, it goes back miles. Its already bustling, so much so we are eventually seated upstairs beneath a latticework roof. Blue leather, smart oak work and graphical prints took the eye.

We’re soon on the menu. A sumptuous a La Carte is on offer, though we plumb for the single A5 sheet, easter special, three courses for £28. A sixteen pound demi decanter of red is soon in situ, along with the branded water.

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An amouse bouche of mushroom arancini is wolfed down with glee. I order up the octopus with baby gem, datterini and basil salad. Perfect slices of tender tentacle with a beautifully dressed, simple salad. The Flame went for an equally simple tuna cappachio, grapefruit, samphire, chilli and hazelnut salad. Both exquisite.

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For the main course I went for the lamb roast, salsa rosso, jersey royals with mint and fennel. For an extra £4 I went for a cheesy dollop of salty polenta. The lamb melted with flavour. The Flame had the sea bream with baby gem and a Sicilian caponata. She also had a mixed salad side. By now the place had filled up and the wine was flowing.

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Our service, as expected was exemplary. We chose desserts off piste so to speak. I had arguably the best tiramisu Ive ever had. Wonderfully soft, boozy and creamy. The Flame had a slightly disappointing cheese dish. Marred slightly by the mustard jelly accompaniment which wasn’t to her taste at all. It was pretty powerful stuff I must admit.

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All in all though a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Smart service, elegant surroundings with beautifully simple food made using the finest ingredients. Angela has a deli next door (Pastificio) and another smarter gaff in St James Street. We didn’t get chance to check the others out but I’m sure they’ll all be quality. I’d be there again in a shot…

0203 535 7884
coventgarden @cafemurano.co.uk
34 Tavistock Street
London WC2E 7PB

020 7240 3654
coventgarden @cafemurano.co.uk
36 Tavistock Street
London WC2E 7PB
Pastificio

020 3371 5559
reception @cafemurano.co.uk
33 St. James’s Street
London SW1A 1HD

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The Pasta Factory – Manchester

“Another branch of Manchester’s ‘Little Italy’ is doing the business. If its pasta you need you’ll go far to get any better than The Pasta Factory in Manchester’s Shudehill”

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Rather than pail and wallow, The Cooktwit when left to grapple as one is a hardy soul. Indeed there are times when dining on ones lonesome can be considered one of life’s great pleasures. Such a time occurred recently when I stumbled upon The Pasta Factory. Set in what one may describe as ‘the edgier side of town*’ this oasis of egg and flour turned out to be a surprising little gem.

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The starter menu

The building itself is a fine old pile. A former bank HQ no less. Considering the rampant authenticity of the offer, ‘The Pasta Factory’ strikes as an unusual moniker. The playful logo, the assertion that ‘You Will Eat Pasta’ and the entrance wall of text are straight from the nearby Northern Quarter cafe start up manual. Inside its different though. You fall straight into Puglia**. Tiled floors, dark matching furniture, ubiquitous pasta cues, wine displays, chalk board specials all wrapped in rough hewned red and white paintwork. Allied to the Mediterranean backing track it’s a wonderfully informal setting and one that immediately set the solitary frame of The Cooktwit at his ease.

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Antispasto, Italian IPA

The engaging front of house chaps soon had the spartan menus up for perusal. Starters (or Taglieri) are simplicity itself. Its antipasto for one, two, three, four or five! I had it for one (£7). Aged ham wrapped around melon, a ricotta tartlet, cubes of salty, thyme infused feta, crispy kale, anchovies, pickled vegetables with tuna, olives and flatbread. I might have missed a bit too. It was exquisite.

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The main menu is an A4 sheet in yellow and red (though you get a vegan page too). Its basically pasta. No chips, pizza or anything deep fried here. The pasta is freshly made on the premises and are sold in packs to take out too. It comes in all shapes and sizes, most of which I have never seen or heard of before. The pasta comes with a variety of sauces each with seafood, vegetables or locally sourced venison.  My selection for the eve was ‘Bucatini Nero con il Polipo’ (£13.50), which is squid ink pasta with marinated octopus with sun blushed tomato and basil. It was a smashing portion. Perfectly cooked pasta, with ‘globs’ of octopus, slicked in a rich, deep red tomato sauce. Very satisfying.

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I had to finish with something sweet. The menu offers three standards that are on all the time. I was tempted by the panna cotta but then went for one of the specials chalked up on one of the many chalkboards. I had the passion fruit and coconut cake with passion fruit sorbet (£5). Bit like a proper baked cheesecake on a hazelnut crumb base. It came on a heavy slate sprinkled with coconut. Again really good, if not slightly unusual. Perhaps I would have preferred ice cream but hey if this is how The Pasta Factory do it. Who am I to argue?

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With a ladies glass of ruby red Barbera (£8), a belated slug of a sensational, hand crafted Italian IPA and a super cafetiere coffee, the whole lot came in at £35. If there is a better way to spend one and half hours on your own in Manchester then I would like to know all about it. A thoroughly splendid binge. If ever you find yourself straying from the centre don’t forget to head up Shudehill, there’s a treat waiting….

* Though no doubt will soon be slap bang centre of the latest hip Manchester scene!
** Not that I’ve ever been, but I imagine this is what it would be like!

The Pasta Factory
77 Shudehill Street
M4 4AN Manchester

Email : ciao@pastafactory.co.uk
Phone : 01612229250

Gusto – Manchester

We all like a bargain when we see one. January tends to shout out a few more than usual as an antidote to the ravenous Christmas binge. A mindful soul had the good sense to order seven place settings on a round table for a busy Friday lunch at the recently opened Gusto on Lloyd Street in Manchester. Ostensibly Italian, we pre-booked on a deal. If you book during January for slots outside the busy weekend, you bag your grub for half price. As it is set approximately thirty paces from the office it was the work of a moment to get down there. Good job really as it was absolutely tipping down!

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It’s an impressive place. An understated entrance from the street gives way to elegance personified. A grandiose, central, square canopy delineates the bar area. Padded stools line up all round in readiness for the cocktail crowd. Our table was up on a side mezzanine which was filling up nicely with business clients and lunching ladies. Chairs in orange and green with matching dark wood tables, crisp linen and sparkling tableware sets the scene. We settled whilst a bright, uniformed, smiling waitress brought us a sobering dash of water and the odd ‘full cooking’ coke. The days of a long, lazy, boozy lunch are sadly long gone for us flashing young interior types!

Smart interior
Smart interior

As an added point of interest we were sat next to a roped off bit. Inside a clearly talented young cove was delicately touching up some cobbles with a long brush. He was quietly fettling the ‘Coronation Street’ section of a huge Manchester scape that was morphing before our eyes. It was only in sketch form with a few splashes of colour, but it will be an impressive adornment to the Gusto legacy sometime soon.

The mural coming along
The mural coming along

We were presented with two menus, the specials and the a la carte. It was sometime before we ordered food and as it was a quick lunch we all simply ordered a main course each with the odd side from the a la carte which is the one that attracted the discount. As the crowds were gathering for the bargain lunch, it was a fairly lengthy stretch before the goodies arrived. But boy they were goodies. Everyone was pleased with their offer.

The menu
The menu

Pick of the bunch was Dom’s seared tuna steak marinated in balsamic and soy with a fennel and orange salad and green gazpacho (£18.95). Cooked to perfection, a rare centre with a seared outer.

Salad, tuna, toilet floor!!
Salad, tuna, toilet floor!!

Paul’s Baked fillet of seabass (£17.95) with roasted pepperonata, drizzled with lemon purée looked a picture as did Mel’s salad of home-cured salmon, shaved fennel, orange, radish and radicchio with a crème fraiche dressing (£10.95). They all hit the mark. I myself (as a crab addict) had the white crab, chilli, garlic and fresh lemon spaghetti (£15.95).

Crab chilli spaghetti, seabass
Crab chilli spaghetti, seabass

We all concluded that it was a fine feed and a stunning location. Once we’d finished taking pictures of the interior! we coppered up and went on our way. Including a take out there was eight of us. With the 50% deal in place the bill came to £70. Less than a tenner each. Given the surroundings and the quality I would have happily paid the full price. Give it a try.

http://gustorestaurants.uk.com/restaurants/manchester/

GUSTO MANCHESTER

4 Lloyd Street
(off Deansgate)
Manchester
M2 5AB

T: 0161 832 2866

Osso Buco – Braised Veal Shin by Jamie Oliver

Saw this dish first done by Jamie Oliver on his Comfort food programme. I know quite a few serious foodies don’t seem to rate Jamie as a serious chef, but I don’t mind the lad. He knocks out a decent feed, and he doesn’t seem to say ‘pucka’ anymore.

This dish’s primary ingredient, veal shank, is common, relatively cheap and flavorful. Although tough, braising makes it tender. The cut traditionally used for this dish comes from the top of the thigh which has a higher proportion of bone to meat than other meaty cuts of beef. The shank is then cross-cut into sections about 3 cm thick.
Ossobuco or osso buco translates (rather unflatteringly) in Italian for “bone with a hole” (osso bone, buco hole), a reference to the marrow hole at the centre of the cross-cut veal shank.

Two slices fresh from the butcher
Two slices fresh from the butcher

I got two big slices from my local butcher (Nicola at Red Bank Farm Shop) for just under £8.

Although recipes vary, most start by browning the veal shanks in butter after dredging them in flour, while others recommend vegetable oil or lard.The braising liquid is usually a combination of white wine and meat broth flavoured with vegetables.
The traditional accompaniment for the great ossobuco is risotto alla Milanese, commonly known in Italy as risotto allo zafferano – that brilliant yellow saffron risotto. But I couldn’t be bothered doing that and had mashed spuds instead. To be fair this or polenta is a still pretty good as a simple serving suggestion.

Ingredients to serve 4

4 ossobuco, (cross-cut veal shanks, bone in, roughly 1.5kg in total – order in advance from your butcher)
1 whole nutmeg, for grating
plain flour, for dusting
2 knobs of unsalted butter
olive oil
2 onions
2 small carrots
2 cloves of garlic
2 sticks of celery
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
200 ml Pinot Bianco , or Verdicchio (white wine!)
1 tablespoon tomato purée
1 litre chicken stock
For the gremolata:
2 small cloves of garlic
30 g fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4. Season the ossobuco lightly with sea salt, pepper and a grating of nutmeg, then dust them in flour, shaking off any excess. Put your widest ovenproof pan on a medium heat with the butter and a really good lug of oil, then add the ossobuco, making sure they’re not touching each other. Fry for 10 to 15 minutes, or until nicely golden, turning halfway – the more care you put into building up good colour now, the better the depth of flavour will be later.

fry first and get a good colour
fry first and get a good colour

While they’re cooking, peel the onions, carrots and garlic, trim the celery, then finely chop it all with the rosemary leaves. When the veal has browned nicely, remove it to a plate. Drain away most of the fat from the pan, then add all the chopped veg and rosemary and cook for 15 minutes, stirring regularly.

chopping and sweating the veg
chopping and sweating the veg

Pour in the wine and cook it away, then stir in the tomato purée and stock. Bring to the boil, using a wooden spoon to pick up all the sticky goodness from the bottom of the pan, then turn the heat off. Return the meat to the pan, cover with a damp sheet of greaseproof paper and tin foil, then carefully transfer to the middle of the oven. Cook for 2 hours, or until the meat is tender and falling apart – check on it halfway, adding a splash of water, if needed. If there is a lot of liquid I just put back on the hob and reduced it down, keeping the meat warm on a plate in the oven.

The result with the gremolata and the hole in the bone
The result with the gremolata and the hole in the bone

With about 30 minutes to go on the ossobuco, you could start your risotto allo zafferano (or your mashed spuds!) When that’s done, to make a quick gremolata, peel and roughly chop the garlic with the parsley leaves, finely grate over the lemon zest, then chop and mix together until fine. Divide the risotto or mashed potatoes between warm bowls, then place the ossobuco on top. Season the cooking liquor to perfection (loosening with a few splashes of boiling water if needed) and spoon over the top, then scatter over the gremolata – as soon as it hits the heat of the meat it will explode with wonderful fragrant flavour. It’s well worth doing the gremolata, it’s easy to do and gives a real burst. Enjoy

I based my recipe on Jamies link below
http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/beef-recipes/ossobuco-alla-milanese

Bacaro – Liverpool

“The more sophisticated member of the Salt House family. Lovely”

Occasionally the Cooktwit ventures west. A Manchester United supporter will sometimes allow a jaunty surjourn into the lofty, port side metrop of Liverpool. In fairness the sea frontage is a thing of beauty. In this instance the cooktwit. with a nod to his arty side was nipping into the Tate to view a couple of blocky, coloured pics by a long departed French cove called Piet Mondrian. Apparently he got quite famous for painting coloured squares and had some digs in London in the early 1900’s specifically for the cause. Naturally the jaunt had to include some decent grub and a beer.

The understated outside. Smart inside.
The understated outside. Smart inside.

The selected establishment this time was Italian Tapas experts Bacaro. Bacaro is the sister of its noisier neighbour Salthouse Tapas that I reviewed only a few weeks back. I was impressed that time and had heard that this was even better. It took some finding. I actually fired google maps up to discover we were across the road. It doesn’t exactly shout out from the street, subtlety being the word here. But hey once inside things start to look up. A dark, classical decor harks to a more sophisticated atmosphere than its sister. Quieter, higher quality fittings. You could turn up with your tinsel and tiara here or your jeans and fit in quite nicely.

the lunch menu, smart interior
the lunch menu, smart interior

The flame and I settled on a table for two in the centre. A schooner of ‘Meantime’ London Pale Ale had the cook twit settled in a thrice. Things were looking good. And then we got the menus. No readers meant the grey on brown menu was hard to decipher. The lunch menu much easier to digest, £12.50 for three courses. As we were on a mission we quickly decided this was for us. A choice of twelve delicious sounding dishes. As with most tapas restaurants the dishes simply rock up when chef gets them ready. This can lead to a pile up at certain points.

The amazing a la carte menu
The amazing a la carte menu

Things started at a pleasing rate, charcuterie platter and some lovely rosemary faccacia bread with oil. We each munched along with a joyous smile. Then entering side right, the pan fried sea bass with cannellini beans, feta and tomato. We decided to split in half. The beans were a bit cold but the sea bass was wonderful, tight crisp skin over succulent white flesh, very nice. For me The Flame wasted one of her dishes by having the house salad, it was pleasant enough, but salad! My chicken and aubergine pizzette turned up. Nicely mounted on its own board complete with its own chrome pizza cutter, nice touch. It tasted good as well. Again we split two ways.

pizzette, sliders, sea bass, pork belly
pizzette, sliders, sea bass, pork belly

While I wasn’t looking in popped another of my choices. Chicken Caesar sliders. These were a revelation. As we got two, it was an easy share. Basically it was a mini schnitzel on a brioche bun with salad and mayo. Top dish. The plates were flying in by this time. Belly pork with butternut squash sage and chilli was next. What can I say? soft fatty, luscious pork with a shield of crispy crackling down one side. I managed to cut, roughly in half. Some might say my half was biggest but who’s counting? Set on a very tasty mash of butternut squash, it was another cracking little dish.

charcuterie, foccacia, coffee, cheesecake
charcuterie, foccacia, coffee, cheesecake

For research purpose I had to try the cheesecake which had apple and caramel popcorn on it. To be fair this was pretty standard ‘moussey’ stuff and at £4.95 I could have missed it. We then finished with a decent coffee. All in all a very pleasant luncheon. It set us back £44, not bad with the drinks and the extras. I would have to say this was better than Salt House Tapas for me. A bit more grown up, nicer atmosphere. I would definitely come again and try something from the sensational looking full menu. The Flame has it on her radar for when she comes shopping with her mates. So there we have it another one to try in Liverpool. It’s looking good.

more smart interior shots
more smart interior shots

Bacaro

47 Castle St,

Central,

Liverpool L2 9UB

0151 665 0047

http://www.salthousebacaro.co.uk

Jamie Oliver’s Trattoria Richmond

The daily rags have been gloating lately over the apparent demise of some of Jamie Oliver’s Italian outfits. Word is that they are lacking a bit of the old folding stuff and the reaper is beckoning.  The Cooktwit in times of panic is occasionally secreted to pastures elsewhere, leaving the North West to fend for itself. One such episode left the Cooktwit schlepping round the southern, luvvie and rugby enclave Richmond Upon Thames. As his want he needed to satiate in unfamiliar territory. After some rather pleasant examples of standard pub grub he plumbed into the strangely named ‘Trattoria Richmond’. A bit confusing really but there’s plenty of branding around to let you know Jamie Oliver has got his paws in the till.

Vintage font and cistern!
Vintage font and cistern!

Given I had spent most of the day inspecting old school furniture, I had a wry smile as most of the furniture in here looked like the stuff I was advising others to throw out!! Still, the surroundings were pleasant enough, although the chair I selected at my table for three was a bit saggy and low due to its previous forty years of use! The whole affair screams vintage, right from the menu font to the gents water cistern!

Focaccia, squid, truffle pasta, berry frangipan
Focaccia, squid, truffle pasta, berry frangipan

The food worked out well enough. I ordered a large glass of deep red ‘Montipulciano’, some tap water and some focaccia with olive oil and balsamic (£3.00). I secretly hoped the bread would be warm but it was cold. Still it was tasty enough and helped stave off a raving hunger.  Next up was some deep fried squid with lemon and garlic mayo. It came on a paddle and some chintzy napkin. The rings were a bit small and so the taste of batter pervaded rather more than it should, but it was crunchy, hot and not bad for £3.50. My main dish was Truffle Tagliotelli. I’ve never had truffle so I was really looking forward to this. It didn’t disappoint. Some of the blurb boasts that they make their own dough and pasta. If that was true it really worked, the pasta strips were perfectly cooked and tasted superb, arguably the best pasta I’ve had in a long time (including my own!!). The truffle sauce was lovely and ‘mushroomy’ and thankfully I had saved some bread to mop up.  A berry, frangipani tart with clotted cream finished along with a black, Italian coffee.

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All in all a top bit of Italian scran, all for £28. I was in quite early around 5.30 on a Thursday eve. There wasn’t many in at the time and so it was a bit quiet, but by the time I came to pay, a good ninety minutes later, the long narrow place was buzzing and operating at three quarter pace. Service was efficient and friendly, so let’s hope these Jamie’s gaffs get a pick up and keep going, I’d go again.

Trattoria, 12-13 King Street,  Richmond,  TW9 1ND Jamieoliver.com 0207 096 3930

 

 

Ariete – Newton-le-Willows

Spare a thought for my humble home town of Newton-le-Willows. A small lump of coal of maybe 20,000 souls, nestled between the great metropolis’ of Liverpool and Manchester. Famous for it’s has been rock star Rick Astley and having the first bloke ever to be killed on a railway.

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As far as gastronome is concerned it’s all a bit flat. A few decent pubs, it’s own curry yard, a phalanx of kebab shops and that’s about you’re lot. It does however, have at least one beacon of hope in Ariete, an Italian restaurant set in the oldest building on the High Street. The High Street is part of the great North/South highway known as the A49. It’s one of my favourite roads! Ian Botham went through it once on a sponsored walk. This is how good this road is. Ariete is housed in the best building on the best road.
Formerly the grand entrance to the Haydock Park Estate it provides a rather splendid facade, particularly at night when some bulbs light it up. In case you wondered Ariete is Italian for ‘Ram’.
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Inside things change a bit. Basically they have grafted a huge hangar on the back of this wonderous folly, complete with skylights and conservatory style windows. I reckon it could cope with 150 covers easy. As well as big it is high, which means the noise can bang on a bit. It’s not what you would call intimate. It sets up better for bigger parties really, but nonetheless the flame and I regularly walk down for a plate of pasta and a bottle of house red. Having said that, they have recently grafted on a ‘specials’ menu which changes pretty often, possibly weekly, so there is always something new to try.
We went in for Christmas Eve so we caught it this time on absolute top form. Completely full, the atmosphere and sense of occasion was bang on. A bottle of Italian Merlot oiled the pipes while the flame plundered a toasted muffin slathered in chicken livers, themselves spiked with chilli and herbs. She was well chuffed. I wafted into a spicy chorizo and squid stew, also set on a crouton with a wodge of rocket leaves. The squid was plentiful and well cooked, criss crossed and curling after a quick ‘shufty’ in a hot, oiled pan. It was a corking starter.
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For mains the flame had another starter! But by hokey what a starter, she was stuffed as were the peppers, with beef mince, herbs and spices. She had a ‘small’ mixed salad to accompany. I had a spaghetti with spicy meatballs. Standard fayre I would agree, but if you do want a decent feed, you can’t really beat here. The portions are stupendous. Also worth a mention, is that the garlic bread is based on a massive pizza base. No couple of slices of baguette here, It’s a meal in itself so be warned if you order one with your starter!
I finished off with a creme caramel. A light delight to finish, very nice too, freshly made on the premises that day according to eccentric host Giovanni. We have had ‘a la carte’ here and enjoyed that too. The quality and value is hard to beat. £52 for two for three rollicking  courses, wine and coffee on a Christmas Eve. Not bad in my eyes. I’m not saying you should all trek across from the foodie enclaves of Chorlton or Didsbury or any of the other Cheshire outfits that lead the way in food nearby. I would suggest however, if you ever come to the races, or find yourself trundling down the A49 when the M6 at Thelwall viaduct shuts down for a bit of wind, you could do a lot worse than check out Ariete, The Ram of Italy, you’ll get a decent feed for not much money.
Ariete
136 High St,
Newton-le-Willows
01925 291555