Sunday, 1 March 2015

Altrincham Market & Altrincham Market House

When penning my blog posts I generally like to keep some vague chronology to them. As such, I should really be writing up the lunch I had at Manchester House, but seeing as chef Aiden Byrne is one of many who recommended I get myself down there, I’m sure they won’t mind “Alty Market” jumping the queue.

During ‘The Alt. Festival of Food & Drink’ on 27 - 29 March, Altrincham Market House will be hosting a collaboration between themselves and Manchester House – part of which will involve a special six course menu, created by Aiden Byrne, using seasonal and regional produce, inspired by the market’s regular traders.

I digress; this post wasn’t indented to tell you about a one off special event, its purpose is to tell you how amazing Altrincham Market House is day in, day out!

Open 6 days a week, until 10pm (6pm on Sundays / closed Mondays), the space has become akin to a modern day “town square” – a hub where people eat, drink, shop, relax, work and meet.

The main draw for me was the presence of Honest Crust; I’ve had their wood fired pizzas many times before at various festivals and markets around Manchester and Stockport, from their mobile oven. However at Alty, they have a permanent spot, home to their rather fabulous, fancy pants, shiny blue beast, imported from Napoli.

Those in the know, proclaim that Honest Crust serve the best pizzas you can find anywhere Greater Manchester, and I’m inclined to agree. As is often the case, I chose the spicy ‘ndjua topped ‘Atomica!’ As is always the case, it did not disappoint… quality ingredients, cooked to perfection.

Being a greedy so and so (and wanting to be able to show you the best there is on offer, natch) I also ate from Tender Cow (from thye folk behind Mumma Schnitzel). Tender Cow serves grass fed flat iron steaks in ciabatta bread with a choice of toppings – I went for the Steak, horseradish cream, tomato & red onion option. Cooked medium rare and brushed with a little garlic butter, it was hearty and tasty… great stuff!

When in Malaysia I developed a love for Nasi Lemak; traditionally a breakfast dish of creamy coconut and pandan infused rice, topped with a spicy sambal, peanuts, cucumber, boiled egg and delightful little ‘ikan bilis’ (dried salted anchovies). There was no egg with this version but it did come with a choice of curry to accompany – I had the Beef Rendang. The ‘nasi lemak’ part outshone the rending for me.

After a further mooch around outside, I purchased a loaf of Trove sourdough, cheese, eggs, wool and some dried pasta and tins from Bounce Back Food who make a “one for you, one for society” donation to the Greater Manchester ‘food bank’ Fare Share.

Back inside, I enjoyed a lovely ‘cortado’ from Market House Coffee and a trio of macarons from Sam Joseph Chocolatier next door – I love a good macaron and these were great flavours: Lemon & Apricot, Blackberry & Lime and Raspberry & Caramel.

So there we have, my first of many trips to Altrincham Market – it’s the best of its kind that I’ve ever been to, and definitely worth a visit.

It’s probs worth mentioning that there is often live music, stuff for the kids and some highly recommended bars nearby, Riddles Bar, Market Tavern, Mort Subite and Belgian Bar. Enjoy!

Friday, 27 February 2015

La Bandera – Spanish, Manchester

When La Bandera (‘The Flag’) opened its doors late last year, it did so with little fanfare.

The first many of the typically well informed Manchester based foodie busybodies had heard of the place was when Bacon on the Beech tweeted a link to the website.

La Bandera’s Twitter account was swiftly located; from this it seemed that City player, David Silva, had already been in for a taste of home. (La Bandera remains popular with both City's and United's Spanish contingents.)

As an independent operator that showed promise, I decided not to rush in but give them a couple months to find their feet before checking them out. With a few friends in tow, I ended up there sooner than planned late one evening.

We ordered several dishes for sharing… a few bottles of red and several reorders of food later, midnight was drawing in but with true Spanish hospitality they showed no signs of kicking us out… despite some mild rowdiness (for which I apologise).

Managing to fend off my greedy and impatient dining companions, I managed to grab a few pics of the food but plan to go back in the daytime when the light is kinder. I particularly enjoyed the “Gambas al Ajillo” “Espárragos Trigueros” and “Arroz Mar y Montaña”.

The “Patatas bravas” and “Ensalada de Pollo con brotes tiernos” were also popular amongst my fellow diners.

Pan con tomate – fresh tomato and garlic toast with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Acietunas de la casa – marinated olives

Patatas bravas – spicy potatoes

Espárragos Trigueros – asparagus

Lágrimas de Pollo con “piperrada” – chicken strips in honey chilli sauce with onions, peppers & tomatoes

Pulpo a la Gallega – octopus with paprika and potato

Puntas de Solomillo con Serrano – diced steak with garlic, olive oil and Serrano ham.

Gambas al Ajillo – king prawns in a garlic and parsley sauce with fresh chillies

Alitas de Pollo con Mojo verde – marinated chicken wings with coriander and garlic Canarian sauce

Ensalada de Pollo con brotes tiernos – baby leaves with smoked chicken, rosemary and apple

Arroz Mar y Montaña – “Sea & Land” chicken, pork and shellfish rice

Bacalao con salsa Vizcaina – wild cod fillet in a traditional northern sauce

Lubina al Pil Pil – grilled seabass in garlic, parsley and chilli sauce


La Bandera on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Fraiche 'Nature' – Oxton, Wirral

Looking through the Telegraph’s list of ‘The World’s Most Romantic Places’, one of them is the Sirocco Sky Bar in Bangkok, I’ve been… it was shit! 

My favourite restaurant for a romantic meal is Marc Wilkinson’s Michelin starred Fraiche in the village of Oxton where my wife and I have been lucky enough to dine on the last four Valentine’s days.

We used to be regular diners at Fraiche but it has become increasingly difficult to secure a table (unless you are more organised than me and remember to log on at 10am on the first of the month for availability 3 months from then). They say absence makes the heart grow fonder – with Fraiche this is certainly true.

In fact - forget that - it’s not ‘absence’ that has made Fraiche better; it's the positive changes that Marc has made to the food, décor and overall experience… it’s amazing how much progression there has been in just one year... even the name has been revamped as Fraiche Nature.

Marc’s skills in the kitchen and commitment to “keep pushing forward” that has resulted in Fraiche retaining its Michelin star for seven years and being voted the “best restaurant in the UK” on the Harden’s compiled Sunday Times Food List.

Nyetimber / Spiced pecans / Rhubarb bitters

Winter Tree” – presented on a tree that looks like has been plucked fresh from Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Room, the branches bestow a bounty of seasonal offerings… such wonderful ‘theatre’.

Oyster Wafer” – the wafer part is made from pure oyster that has been through a number of fancy pants modern processes but still retains the clean sea fresh flavour of oyster.  

Shiitake Hit” – an intense hit of shiitake dashi with a feta and beetroot.

Scallop Tartare” – a delicate dish of silky smooth textures comprised of compressed avocado, buttermilk and pink grapefruit gelée with pumpkin seed and mustard leaf. My wife’s favourite of the night.

Bread – the bread ‘courses’ at Fraiche have always been something special, this time the usual Multi-seed, Cheese, Granary & Treacle rolls were accompanied with Sourdough and Tomato crisp breads.

The next course “Quail, parsley, red cabbage” came in two parts; the first of which was my favourite. The ‘shattered red cabbage’, beetroot and parsley puree were great and, of course, the quail was delightfully cooked and a dinky fried quail egg is always a joy but it was the unique flavour of smoked Lapsang Souchong Crocodile Tea that really elevated the dish for me. Part two featured confit quail topped with a light potato mousse and rocket.

In the nest dish, “Smoked salmon”, each element was spectacular; citrusy Buddha’s hand and bergamot cream were enlivened by chive oil and fabulous squid ink crisps.

Another bread course, a Rosemary brioche, was served with an indulgent truffle butter.

As the dishes continued, it was clear to me that two Michelin stars is a very achievable goal for Fraiche. Each artfully presented, innovative dish was meticulously crafted with prime ingredients, accomplished techniques and a clever use of texture. Most importantly, the clarity and balance of flavours was exemplary.

Brill, celery, yuzu” – chervil root, smoked almond, Périgord truffle

Venison, celeriac, gem” – Venison loin, celeriac puree, charred baby gem, cocoa nibs and trompettes. The wow factor on this dish came from the ‘winter leaf’ tuiles and crisps made from spinach, potato, & celeriac.

When it comes to dessert at Fraiche, guests are asked “Salt or Sugar?

I chose “Salt” for the “Goats curd mousse, walnut, blood orange & truffle” as well as the “Cheese Chariot

My wife went for “Sugar” to have the “Lemongrass Panna Cotta with Sour Cherry” and the “Chocolate

Various other sweet treats including a “Coconut rice pudding & mango lassi” “Fizzy Grapes” and clever nitro poached “Eccles Cake” rounded off a perfect evening.

Fraiche on Urbanspoon

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