Friday 30 December 2011

Vermilion & Cinnabar, Manchester

Vermilion is an orangey red pigment, which naturally occurs in ‘cinnabar’, a mineral that is the principal ore of mercury. Together, Vermilion & Cinnabar is also the name of a huge three storey, East Manchester ‘Thai fusion’ restaurant, near to Manchester City’s ground in industiral Eastlands.

Having recently written about my ‘Best of 2011’ (see here), it seemed fitting that I should also enlighten you with my worst dining experience of the year.

Previously I have stated that, when disappointed by a meal or restaurant, I may not necessarily get round to writing about it, for the simple reason that I would much rather write about something or somewhere that I have enjoyed. Although, people have said to me that I should share more of my negative experiences, which may in turn save others the same misfortune.

Vermilion & Cinnabar make some bold claims on their website and I must admit, in many respects, the £5 million venue does impress. Designed by Miguel Cancio Martins (famous for designing the Paris Buddha Bar and Alain Ducasse’s Crystal in Marrakech), the décor is an eclectic mix of Asian inspired artefacts and hues. Vermilion is described as a fusion between, ‘ultra-modern design with traditional Asian antiques’ - to me, in places it seemed as though someone had been given a blank cheque and performed a trolley dash in the homeware section of T.K. Maxx with the brief to grab anything vaguely ‘ethnic’.


Popularly known as 'Mr. Shrimp' or 'King Prawn', Iqbal Ahmed OBE, a Manchester based entrepreneur of Bangladeshi origin, is the man behind the venture. Originally making his fortune in shrimp, the success of Iqbal’s two companies, Seamark and Ibco have earned him the accolade of the wealthiest British Bangladeshi to feature on the Sunday Times Rich List.

The 200 cover restaurant with three private dining areas boasts onsite car parking for 300 and an ‘urber’ (their spelling mistake) cool bar with a capacity of 400 people standing and 150 seating – this strikes me as a lot of potentially disappointed people. With a claim of one of the best sound systems in Manchester and a 3:30 am licence – this strikes me as a lot of potentially disappointed people for a potentially long time!

Overseen by one of Thailand’s most well ‘respecting’ chefs, Master Chef Chumoi Jangprai, Vermilion & Cinnabar are rightly proud of their state of the art see through kitchen. Designed by one of the world’s best kitchen designers Ken Winch; whose company Sefton, Horn, Winch has completed projects for fine dining restaurants and Michelin Star establishments such as Hakkasan, Yauatcha, Bar Boulud, The Fat Duck, Dinner by Heston (as well as Tate Galleries, Buckingham Palace and the Royal Palaces in Abu Dhabi), it’s a shame the food is not befitting of a kitchen with such illustrious associations.

After attending a meeting at the nearby City of Manchester Stadium, I visited on a Tuesday lunchtime, back in October. As a huge fan of chickpeas, I chose to start my meal with Aloo Chana Kuchmur ‘a refreshing mix of chopped onions, tomato, cucumber and potatoes’ I found the dish, buried under crumbled poppadoms, uninspiring and unpleasant to eat – the dish (potatoes especially) was served too cold direct from the fridge and the dried spices tasted powdery and too aggressive in their raw state.

My main of Phad Thai Khoong Sod did not fare much batter. Overall I found the dish bland - the tamarind sauce did not deliver the expected depth of flavour and the tiger prawns were rubbery. As is common with Asian dishes, so that the diner can adjust the flavour to satisfy their palate, chilli (dried flakes) was served alongside (as were some stale tasting peanuts).

Disappointed by the previous courses and thinking to myself, ‘You can’t go wrong with a fruit salad’, for dessert I ordered the Vermilion Fruit Salad served with Wild Honey & Raspberry Sauce. Here, some reasonably fresh fruits (again served too cold) had been dumped arranged in a bowl and promptly ruined by being slathered in a sickly sweet sauce which had been seemingly applied with the elegance of a squirting elephant. As for the honey, the bees needn’t have bothered.

All in all, as beautiful as the venue is (in parts) if the food is not up to scratch then I’ll not be returning or recommending. My colleague who suggested Vermillion to me proposed the meal may not have been such great quality because it was a Tuesday lunchtime and there was only two other tables being occupied; for me, as a paying customer, it should not matter how busy a restaurant is, or what time of day it happens to be – the food was simply not up to the standard I expected.

Wednesday 28 December 2011

Albert’s, Didsbury

Conveniently located on Barlow Moor Road, between trendy Didsbury and ‘up-and-coming’ arty Chorlton, Albert’s Restaurant & Bar is the swanky South Manchester sister to the popular city centre Dukes 92 and Albert’s Shed.

The story goes, that the owner (Salford lad, bookmaker and key person responsible for the redevelopment of Manchester’s Castlefield area) Jim Ramsbottom acquired the name from his Uncle Albert who would only relinquish his tool store to his entrepreneur nephew on the condition that the shed was duly honoured.

Uncle Albert
The restaurant and bar is sleek, modern and chic – to quote a friend of mine, “It’s certainly had some money thrown at it!” The whole space was light and airy; every surface was polished and gleaming; the chairs were both funky and functional (all too many restaurants seem to order their chairs from a catalogue on the basis that they have the right look but then prove crippling to sit on!)

For me, no matter how perfect the environment is, if the food and service isn’t up to scratch – I won’t be going back! The service was perfect for the type of establishment and luckily, the food was good enough… just! (The saving grace being the fact that we opted for the excellent value lunch deal of two courses for £10.95).

We started our meal with Albert’s sharing board – roasted garlic and cumin hummus, black olive tapenade and smoked salmon and dill mascarpone served with hand presses chilli and spring onion flatbreads and a rocket and parmesan salad.

The flat breads were especially decent enough and presented in faddish miniature galvanised buckets (the other alternative these days is the ‘mini frying basket’ – at least they have stopped those towers of crisscrossed chips!) Although they did not ‘wow’, the accompanying dips were fine but, to me, the rocket salad tasted as though it had been doused in Sarsons – it was far too vinegary.

Despite its reasonable value at £4, the Garlic bread with mozzarella and tomato was also a little disappointing in that, although there was nothing ‘wrong’ with it, I believe they are tastier at local places such as Gusto or Pizza Express.

On a more positive note, my brother in law was very pleased with his Pan fried chicken livers in a marsala cream sauce, with sweet white grapes and toasted pine nuts – it certainly looked good.

My wife and her sister really enjoyed their Wild mushroom and truffle soups. I had a cheeky taste and also found it well executed

My starter of Bury Black Pudding and potato cake with served with a spring onion potato cake, soft poached egg and HP sauce was well put together and did exactly what it said on the tin.

My wife and her sister both opted for ‘Today’s fish’ – which was a smoked trout risotto with mussels, lemon and parsley. I wouldn’t like to comment on the flavour because the forkful that my wife gave me had been slathered in lemon – they were both happy with their choice. 

Featuring another appearance from the itty-bitty bucket, for my main I chose a favourite dish of mine which is always a good benchmark of quality, Beer battered fish & chips (cod fillet in a beer batter served with proper mushy peas, bread & butter and homemade tartare sauce) – it was tasty enough, although it pailed in comparison to a similar dish served at the nearby Pointing Dog (see here).

My bother in law’s Wild mushroom linguine (linguine with oyster, field and button mushrooms in a cream and white wine sauce topped with fresh rocket) looked good – it certainly appeared to have a generous quantity of mushrooms.

Decorated with information on famous Alberts
Overall first impressions: not excellent as I think there are other places in the area that offer slightly better food with similar value for money. Saying that, I’ll definitely go back and give it another chance. 

 Alberts Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Hungry Hoss’ - Best of 2011

Inspired my Twitter friends ‘The Critical Couple’ and their ‘Best of 2011’ post (see here) I decided to put together my very own ‘Best of’ to create my ultimate dégustation.

For me, 2011 has been a seemingly nonstop fabulous foodist adventure and deciding which dishes belong on this menu was not an easy task. I have eaten some wonderful food at some amazing restaurants this year - my trip to Singapore was phenomenal (we hope to return in 2012) and the magical meal at Mozaic in Bali was momentous as the place where I decided to start this blog.

In May, Hungry Hoss was born. I find it hard to believe that I have had this ‘hobby’ for only nine months! Through the blog and my Twitter account I have met many good people who have supported, encouraged, inspired, advised, fed and entertained me.

Someone deserving a particular mention, as one of my biggest champions, is Franco (@sausagemaking). Not only does Franco regularly ‘re-tweet’ my posts to his foodie followers, his kind invitation to his @ChromaKnives Charity Supper Club (and subsequent events) remains one of the highlights of the year. At Franco’s, as well as meeting his lovely wife and family, I was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of other foodie types, such as @ThomHetheringto(n), TV’s @GizziErskine and @GordoManchester  from @mcrconfidential.

Also present at the supper club, I’d like to thank for feeding me (and looking after me) on several occasions throughout the year (and I’m sure next year too) the 2011 MFDF Manchester’s Best Chefs, Mary-Ellen (@_aumbry) and @Laurence_Tott from Aumbry; Monica and Aj from @TheSpiceClub and the hugely talented @aidenbyrne and his partner @SarahBroadleyW from The Church Green.

At Franco’s I also met Niamh Shields (@eatlikeagirl) the author one of the UK’s leading food blogs and the fabulous cookbook Comfort & Spice. Other bloggers who I’d especially like to thank for their support this year are Alan (@sped98) who took the time early on to give me camera and picture advice; @FFTBYD for sharing local knowledge; @laissezfare for including me in his blogroll and supporting my work via re-tweets and, the aforementioned, @CriticalCouple for their inspirational posts.

So after much deliberating, I’ve managed to whittle the menu down to a reasonable fourteen courses:

Canapé: L’Enclume – a delicious Stichleton Sablé biscuit with a silky, smooth Avocado Crème (I have yet to complete my write up from my most recent visit to L’Enclume but I’ll be working on my ‘Top 3’ in the New Year!)

Amuse bouche: The Box Tree – bias aside, the Celeriac Espuma with Bacon Foam that I cooked whilst working at The Box Tree as ‘A Chef for a Day’ was simple, yet packed with flavour.

Bread: Simon Radley at The Chester Grosvenor – the bread selection at Simon Radley’s restaurant is second to none. Full sized breads in an amazing array of flavours: Sourdough; French Baguette; Stoneground Farmhouse; Bavarian Rye; Lancashire Cheese & Onion; Boddingtons & Mashed Potato; Fig & Walnut and Cottage Granary.

Vegetarian starter: Sketch – simply called Tomato this dish was so full of flavour. Having enjoyed Sketch so much, in 2012 we plan to visit Pierre Gagnaire’s eponymous 3-starred restaurant in Paris.

Fish starter: The Ledbury – such a light and summery dish, the Thinly Sliced Courgettes with Hand Picked Crab, Wakame Oil & Frozen Parmesan sums up our wonderful al fresco experience enjoying Bret Graham’s phenomenal two starred food in the sunshine.

Meat starter: James Lowe of The Young Turks – as part of The Fat Duck charity reunion meal at Aumbry, James’ Raw Hereford Rib with Oyster & Wild Watercress was one of the nicest things I’ve eaten all year. When I visit London in 2012, wherever James and his crew are cooking, I will be there!

Fish main: The Fat Duck – again, prepared at Aumbry as part of The Fat Duck charity reunion by Heston Blumenthal’s Head Chef Jonny Lake, the Sound of the Sea was every bit as good as I remember it at his three starred temple of gastronomy.

Meat main: Aumbry – served at the Chroma Knives Supper Club, the Slow Cooked Cumbrian Boer Goat, Pearl Barley, Cauliflower & Smoked Shallot was undoubtedly the star dish of the evening.

Meat main (2): Les Amis – Les Amis, in Singapore, is one of Asia’s and indeed the world’s most prestigious restaurants. The Chargrilled Wagyu Rib Eye cooked in hay, Sunchoke, Spinach & Sauce Périgourdint has to be considered my most supreme steak of 2011.

Cheese course: Le Gavroche – as well as visiting the International Cheese Awards at Nantwich this year, I have had some wonderful cheese boards in restaurants and found some great cheese shops and suppliers, such as the excellent Cartmel Cheeses (see here). Of all the cheese boards Le Gavroche’s was by far the most comprehensive and the Plateau de fromages included the wonderful Boulette d'Avesnes.

Pre dessert: Fraiche – one thing that I am certainly looking forward in 2012 is the publication of Chef Marc Wilkinson’s first cookbook; mostly because he assures me that it includes the recipe for his amazing signature pre dessert, the Lemongrass & Vanilla Panna Cotta with Sour Cherry.

Dessert: Aiden Byrne’s British Grill – of all the desserts I’ve had this year, Adien Bryne’s Triple Chocolate Mousse with Gingerbread & Warm Cherries may not be the most ground breaking or intricate; but what it lacked in terms of theatrics, it more than made up for in flavour! The gingerbread was simply perfection!

Petit fours: Café de Paris (Malaga) brought out as part of the ‘tapas’ upgrade: a chocolate macaron; an iced orange bonbon, a sticky sweet financier; a passion fruit cheesecake and a dusted chocolate rock. All were great – my favourite the passion fruit, a great intensity of flavour.

The final decision is where to eat this perfect meal? Winning hands down, the paradisal lush, tropical gardens of Chris Salans’ Mozaic in Bali.

Here’s to 2012!

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