Thursday 28 July 2011

Aiden Byrne’s – The Church Green

Yesterday, on my way home from the International Cheese Awards, I took a short, unplanned detour to Aiden Byrne's ‘bar & restaurant’ The Church Green. I have eaten there now a number of times.

Many of you will know Aiden Byrne thanks to the Great British Menu television series where he has competed for the North West region against the talents of Nigel Haworth, Lisa Allen and the colourful Johnnie Mountain.

All week I have been looking forward to Friday evening when my wife and I will be dining at the official launch of Aiden's hotly anticipated collaboration with Macdonald Hotels at the new ‘Aiden Byrne's British Grill’, at their 4* Craxton Wood site.

Aiden started cooking at a young age in top kitchens such as those of Chester Grosvenor. An early starter, coupled with a prodigious talent, Aiden soon landed a head chef position at Adlards in Norwich. Here, at the tender age of 22, he was awarded his first Michelin star - making him the youngest chef ever to achieve such an accolade!

Including spells at Danesfield House and The Commons in Dublin, Aiden went on to work at some of the countries finest eating establishments. It was at the two-starred Pied à Terre that he met Tom Aikens (another young talent who, for a time was the youngest Chef, at 26, to win two stars; beating Marco Pierre White by a year). He later left with Tom to become Head Chef at his eponymous Chelsea restaurant.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Aiden then moved onto the prestigious Dorchester Hotel, on Park Lane and headed up The Grill. The Dorchester was no stranger to appointing talented young chefs; in 1975 they appointed a 28 year old to be their youngest ever Maître Chef de Cuisine, a certain Anton Mosimann.

To have such an esteemed employer with exceptional culinary credentials it certainly surprised many when Aiden took a huge gamble, seizing an opportunity, with his life and business partner Sarah Broadley, to return to the North West and open the refined gastropub, The Church Green, at Lymm.

A large leafy village, Lymm is easily accessible for foodies from Manchester, Liverpool and Cheshire who may want to sample Aiden’s food. It is home to various celebrities, including Sir Bobby Charlton, Ian Brown (the singer from the Stone Roses) and Sir John Stalker (who interestingly, used to live in the house where I now live!)

On arrival, I was greeted warmly and offered the choice of eating in the restaurant, bar or outside in the beautiful garden and spacious terraced areas. In the reception area, next to the frosted reminder of whose establishment you are about to dine, is a glass display cabinet showcasing Aiden’s ‘Made in Great Britain’ book, oils and bespoke collection of Spode tableware and cookware, called Asymmetry, which are all available to purchase.

I took my table in the restaurant, which is tastefully decorated in the typical modern British gastropub style: heavy wooden furniture; comfy leather chairs; parquet flooring all enhanced by rustic hues with subtle splashes of colour from artworks and, in places, the bold floral patterns of feature wallpaper. Individual touches including, a large collection of new and classic cookery books to peruse and some old church pews evocative of the ecclesiastical environs.

I had spent all morning sampling an abundance of cheeses so quickly dismissed the great looking Tasting Menu and instead opted for the two course 'Keeping it local' set lunch. The menu featured some tasty looking dishes. The choice of four starters including: Soup of the day (I didn’t ask, and was not told what flavour this was); Cured salmon with salad from our garden and Pork rillette with apple and walnut salad. The mains included: Poached chicken, truffle green beans and pomme mousseline; Whole grilled plaice, new potatoes and herb butter and Goat’s cheese with tomato and rosemary risotto.

I opted for the Queenie scallops with red pepper risotto to start. Service was friendly and efficient and the food arrived promptly. The dish was vibrant and beautifully presented, with well cooked rice and scallops. I do not want this to be a criticism, but the dish was a little too sweet for my taste, appreciating that this is a nature of the component ingredients and that I simply did not choose too well.

For my main, I selected Tomato and paprika sausage with new season bean fricassee – attractively presented in Aidan’s signature Spode crockery. This was another poor choice on my behalf; although, again cooked perfectly well with fresh quality ingredients, the dish once more was a little sweet for my palate. My wife, who enjoys a sweeter tinge to her food and tomato based dishes, would have loved this. Myself, I feel I should have opted for the grilled plaice.

Wednesday 27 July 2011

Pointing Dog

PLEASE NOTE: I have been back to the Pointing Dog on several occasions since writing this post and its contents are no longer valid. I have had a number of disappointing experiences with the food and service - so much so that I now only refer to the pub as the disapPointing Dog - I'll remove this note if I feel it ever picks up again.

I’ve had a bone to pick with my local area (Cheadle Hulme) for quite some time, namely the lack of decent places to eat. However, if you hear me bitching in the future, don’t get all hot under the collar, just politely remind me that I am barking up the wrong tree – for now we have a pawfect new gastropub!

The old Smithy pub on Grove Lane had gone to the dogs and was a little ruff around the edges. At least, that was the case, until the owners of Manchester’s Grinch Wine Bar and the Felicini Italian Restaurants spent in excess of £1.5 million on its refurb - giving it a new leash of life - rebranding as the Pointing Dog.

The branding is indeed excellent; Kirk & Co Creative Graphic Designers have done a great job on the Pointing Dog logo that by can be seen on the sign outside; the classy website ( as well as the funky foldout menus, printed on sober brown packaging paper.

Samuel Pepys described the pub as the ‘Heart of England’ but good English pubs have been declining in numbers over the past few years. Often being closed completely or replaced with ‘generic boozers’, lacking in heart or soul. This is not the case with the Pointing Dog – for the area (Cheadle Hulme) the venue is refreshingly different. The décor has a rustic edge with an overall contemporary feel. This is achieved through a harmonious use of natural and ‘industrial’ materials. Perhaps, best seen in the picture of the bar area, which shows: the earthy ‘vegetable crate’ light fittings, wooden furniture and tiled stone floor - contrasting with the bar: fronted with galvanized, studded steel and bejeweled with sleek, shiny steel taps and spotlights.

My wife and I had popped into the bar a few nights prior to my lunch visit and were impressed with the selection of beverages on offer. They serve, some quality draught and cask ales, beers and ciders. A different guest ale from local producers, the Dunham Massey Brewing Co will be available at all times. We also noticed a selection of ‘Summer Cocktails & Pitchers’ that I’m sure, will go down well on a sunny day, when the floor to ceiling doors are swung open, allowing the inside to flow seamlessly into the terrace and al fresco dining spaces of the 1.4 acre landscaped site - ‘Truly British’ Bombay Sapphire Gin, Pressed Apple Juice & Elderflower, particularly catching my eye.

Inside, the dining areas include: to the rear of the venue, a large and spacious canteen style area and a smaller, more intimate, room; adjacent to the side bar, some higher stools and tables fringed by the well stocked wine racks; the more comfortable and informal front lounge, with a mixture of seating, including comfy settees upholstered in various muted hues and to the right, as you go in, a spacious bar area, which can also be used for informal dining. Fans of the old Smithy may lament the removal of the large screen TVs, pool table and other gaming equipment – but this is not the old Smithy, it’s the Pointing Dog and for me, gladly so.

I chose to enjoy my lunch in the smaller and cozier of the two rear dining rooms. The concord between countrified and contemporary continuing with the presence of wicker chairs and a log burning stove; set against a stylish light, airy room with elegant table settings and quality cutlery. The prominent features of a steel framed entresol; large sliding door and vibrant splash of colour form the beautiful arrangement of flowers in a sleek modern vase, give the room its modern, sophisticated character.

I opted for the two course set lunch. Intrigued, I also went for the side dish called ‘Bag of Bread & Butter’ and it did exactly what is said on the tin bag - another great example of the delightfully modish Pointing Dog branding. Inside the bag, a warm French baguette, considerately part sliced for ease of tearing. Although fresh and tasty I was a little disappointed as I had, optimistically hoped for a small selection of artisan breads; even something as simple as a slice of white, brown and a flavoured.

The lunch menu features a wide variety of dishes and global culinary influences. Sparking my appetite, the Chilli Squid Taco; Chicken & Ham Hock Pot Pie and the 28 day aged Beef steaks all sounded marvelous.  One negative being, that the menu seemed a little light on vegetarian options – the evening menu just offering a choice of salads! – It is, however, important to consider that this is their first week of opening; I’m sure the menu will change to respond to feedback from customers, hopefully with local products, seasonality and vegetarians being more widely considered. 

To start, I opted for Creamed Mushrooms on Toast Sauté Button Mushrooms with Porcini Cream & Tarragon, served on Toasted Rosemary Foccacia. Classic flavour combinations; fresh mushrooms; well cooked and seasoned. The bread was light and flavoursome with an almost brioche like texture - A highly recommended dish.

For my main course, I chose the Fish & Chips Beer Battered Haddock, Crushed Peas, Homemade Tartare Sauce & Chip Shop Chips. Good fish and chips are not necessarily easy to get right; pleasingly, I could not fault these! Crisp golden batter; a slice of lemon; tasty tartare sauce; excellent chips – crisp outside with a fluffy centre and peas, crushed with mint leaves to a pleasing consistency. Wonderful!

I also want to add, that, for me the service throughout was faultless. Noticing that I was taking pictures, as I was leaving, one of the owners, restaurateur (and now publican) Ged Lynch came over and introduced himself - A friendly man and proven businessman; he and the Pointing Dog are welcome additions for the more discerning hungry and thirsty people of Cheadle Hulme.

My final thought, the dog is considered man’s best friend and some may consider the pub to be the English man’s best friend. Both should be welcoming, friendly and reliable - The Pointing Dog is all these things, and more; for it will do one more thing that a pet dog can’t do… and that is good you a cracking good meal!  No dog’s dinners here just a great venue that, locally, is leading the way in top notch pub grub!



International Cheese Awards - Nantwich Show

Today, held at the Nantwich Show, I went to the International Cheese Awards!

On the way in, I saw that some of the people of Nantwich live on rather lovely canal boats.

Inside the show, I saw that others stay in delightful old fashioned Romany wagons.

The people of Nantwich may not have ordinary houses, but they do have very big cars!

When I arrived, the cheese tent was not open; so I had a look around. 

First I saw some sheep;

Then a cute little calf;

And a cow?

And a man in a Bowler Hat looking at a Shire Horse.

I saw big tractors;

And little ones too.

Later on, I saw some cocks:

James Martin
I didn't stick about to see 'King of the Jungle' Gino; but I photographed his flyer. 

Eventually, I saw what I had come for… cheese!

Lots of cheese!

Lots and lots of cheese!

Some of the cheese had come from Lincolnshire. I bought a lovely Double Barrell Poacher from this man.

Some cheese had come from Devon. I love Quickes Traditional Cheddars – Today I bought a piece of delightfully smoky Oak Smoked Cheddar which I hadn’t tasted before.

Some cheese had come from Holland. I bought a Gold Medal Winning Old Amsterdam Gouda.

Some cheeses had come from France.

I saw ‘Martin Platt’ from Coronation Street peddling his cheese.

Some of the smellier cheeses were kept in a temperature controlled room;

Others, in an inflatable cave.

Some cheeses were displayed as cheese boards.

Some were very imaginative;

Some were displayed as lollies;

Some boards were quite serious;

Others more trivial.

Some cheese was highly commended;

Some won awards.

Silver awards;

And Gold awards.

This man, from Ford Farm, with his cave aged Cheddar, won a trophy for having the best cheese – The Supreme Champion 2011! 

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