Saturday, 24 December 2011

Café jem&i

Every December for the past few year it has been tradition that my wife would take her two grown up daughters (my step-daughters) out to a local eatery for a festive meal. This year, one of the girls’ girlfriends was also going to attend. Hearing that partners were invited, and imagining some sort of scene from ‘Sex and the City’ (and knowing that they needed someone to drive) I invited myself to tag along on their girly Christmas lunch (which turned out to be an early evening meal).

Now that they had a chauffeur, the options of where to go increased slightly - my wife asked me to choose a restaurant that was a) ‘not too far’ b) ‘not too expensive’ and c) ‘nice’. jem&i in Didsbury Village, South Manchester immediately sprung to mind.

Opened in 2003 by Jem O’Sullivan (MFDF’s 1999 ‘Best Chef’) & his wife (I), jem&i is a multi award-winning restaurant, well regarded with locals and critics alike. The restaurant’s name is an obvious play on the word ‘Gemini’ due to the fact that they are proud parents of twins – see what they did there? 

The restaurant held a Michelin Bib Gourmand for several years and, more recently, was crowned Cheshire Life’s ‘Best Restaurant’ (2008-09). Despite having good experiences in the past, we have not dined at jem&i for quite some time (in fact, not since their 2006 refit and extension) and were subsequently long overdue a return visit.

Our meal started with a Selection of Bread, Homemade Houmous & Olives (x3) - the olives were great quality; the bread fresh and the flat bread delicious. Being picky, for my taste, the houmous could’ve done with an extra squeeze of lemon juice but for £3.25 a board it was excellent value.

I couldn’t resist the Canapé Mini Fish & Chips, which turned out to be a lightly battered goujon with crispy strands of potato served in a cone of newspaper with a tartare dip and lemon – lovely!

For my starter, I chose Roast Duck Breast with Grilled Black Pudding, Parsnip Puree & Lentil Jus – a fantastic combination of flavours, all cooked to perfection. The crispy parsnip slices delicately balanced on the top were a most welcome addition to the dish.

The girls all opted for the Crispy Salmon & Cod Fishcakes with Dressed Leaves & Basil Mayonnaise – I managed to sneak a couple of tasters and was very impressed.

My wife opted for the Beetroot Falafels with Tzatziki, Feta Cheese & Rocket Salad - my fellow local food blogger at ‘Foods To Try Before You Die’ (see here) recently posted about jem&i’s penchant for rocket, which was evident on this dish. The falafels themselves were wonderful – great colour, texture and taste.

For my main I chose one of the vegetarian options, another rocket fuelled dish, the Filo Pastry with Spinach, Chestnuts & Sage Derby Cheese with Rocket Salad – the warm, whole black olives (not on the menu) were delicious as was the balsamic reduction. A good vegetarian course, but if I was to make this dish at home I’d perhaps dress the salad with some toasted chestnuts and some crispy sage leaves.

Two of the girls opted for the Confit Duck Leg with Creamed Cabbage, Bacon, Celeriac & Chestnuts, Poached Pear & Red Wine Jus – a wonderfully festive combination; the pear, presented with flair. 

The other two girls (one girl and my wife) went for the Crispy Pork Belly with Cheddar & Onion Mash, Onion Rings & Sticky Spiced Jus – I was unsure about the sprig of rosemary speared into the dish but they seemed very happy. My wife gave me a taste of her pork, which was moist, flavoursome and with great crackling.

Greedy as we are, despite three hearty bread boards we also ordered a side of excellent Brussels Sprouts with Sage Butter; some Caramalised Onion & Cheddar Mash and two portions of Fat Chips (the diets start in January).

All the dessert dishes are priced at £5.25. I chose the Selection of Cheese & Biscuits with Seasonal Chutney – value for money wise, it was very good, although I’d prefer an option to pay a little more for a greater selection or larger quantity of cheese. Pleasingly, jem&i serve my favourite Krohn ports and I treated myself to an incredible 1967 Colheita.

The three girls all plumped for the Classic Eton Mess with Whipped Cream, Meringue & Summer Berries – they complained that it was too tart, but they do all have a particularly sweet tooth so I wouldn’t like to judge. I would question, given the season, why not serve it with ‘winter’ berries? 

My wife chose the Classic Vanilla Crème Brûlée – sadly I cannot let you know what it was like as my wife wolfed it down before I could sneak a taste! She said it was, ‘Perfect!’

All in all a very good meal and excellent value for money. This time, we will make sure it’s not so long before we return. 

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